email: cavebear2118 AT verizon DOT com

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Another Good Workout In The Yard

While I'm waiting for The Next Step on the new deck (Monday), I spent almost all day outside.  No one particular project, but a little of everything.

First was watering the plants.  We've had more rain than average since last Fall, but it hasn't rained much for 2 weeks, so that was a priority.  I built a tripod watering stand a few years ago and improved it last Fall (changed the nozzle from a shower wand type to a fan type) and used it today.  Much better coverage in my long but narrow beds.  I use a cheap digital kitchen timer than resets to the previous time after running down.  Great for repetitive waterings as I move the tripod along the beds.  The fan spreads out about 9' wide and 6'deep, which is perfect.

And in each 6 minute I can do other things until the timer beeps in my pocket.  I had noticed poison ivy under the old deck after it was removed, so I dug that up.  That took one watering spot cycle.  On the next, I started cutting down junk tree saplings .

I should explain that.  I've left some of the back yard "wildish".  Meaning its not lawn, but not "woods" either.  Its awkward to mow, so ivy, native vines and trees keep trying to grow there.  After the deck is done, I think I will arrange to have it leveled.  I don't mind the ridge itself, but it is a never-ending source of weed-seeds that find their way into my flowerbeds. 

I don't love great expanses of lawn (I never saw much lawn I didn't want to plant something more interesting in), but if I could use the riding lawn mower to keep the brush down, that would be nice.

Anyone want to take away 1200 square feet of very healthy english ivy?  Free? 

But for now, I was just cutting down the 3" to 5' unwanted tree saplings.  I cut them down 2 years ago and applied Roundup to the stumps.  I think most of those died, but there are always new ones ready to take their place.  So I would like to end that cycle. 

Then after the timed watering cycles were done, there were individual spots that needed hand-held watering.  That took a half hour, but I was in the shade by then and it wasn't too bad.  Plus there was a Washington Nationals baseball game on the radio and they were winning.

Not to say that I didn't stop each hour for 15 minutes inside to cool down and relax a bit...

I finished the day with the boat.  Its not much of a boat.  Its a 16' aluminum shell jon boat that I haven't used for 5 years.  It was full of leaves.  But one of the crew that demolished the deck Friday expressed an interest in buying it as he was about to retire and just wanted a small boat he could fish from.  Said he had always wanted a small boat but couldn't afford one.

I suggested that, if I cleaned it up, I could get $1,000 (with the trailer).  He offerred $500, as is.  And I have to admit the "as is" was not very impressive.  It was full of leaves and there was even a plant growing up from the leaf compost.  And "as is" meant it might even leak.

I'm a softy.  I agreed to $600  "as is".  He said he would come by next week.

Well Gee, I couldn't just let the boat be driven away with leaves blowing out of it, so I decided to scrape them out.  And then old habits of cleaning the boat out took over.  After 21 years, I know the ins and outs of cleaning this boat, so I just did it!  Wearing heavy rubber gloves and using a wide push-broom, I went after the leaves.  And in a selfish sense, I coveted the 1" thick layer of leaf-compost covering the inside.

So I scooped it all out as best I could.  Well, after that, it seemed only reasonable to use a hose on "jet" to beat off the remaining debris off the floors.  Then there was all the planty debris floating around inside and I decided to remove that as best I could.

It became "A Project"!

I ended up cleaning the boat.  I don't mean scrubbing the benches and floors to get rid on mold or mildew.  But in a macro sense, I cleaned the boat.  Wearing rubber gloves, I scooped out all the large debris and powered the smaller remaining compost to the back where there is a drain hole.  That got clogged a lot, so I found a bit of tree branch that fit the hole and unblocked it frequently.

All the while, listening to the baseball game then classic music while having a couple beers.  I was actually enjoying cleaning the boat!  Until...

In the middle bench, there is fillable compartment for keeping bait or storing caught fish.  When I opened the hinged lid on the top, a wasp flew out.  I have a bad history with wasps.  I ran half the yard away until I could see it left the area (yes, I'm far-sighted, I could see the wasp 20 yards away).

When I got close again, I saw there were wasp nests all around the inside of the bait well.  I don't like to use poisons, but I cannot work around wasps or hornets.  So I searched deep into my under-the-kitchen-sink-cabinet and found some wasp spray.  I committed waspicide...

Even with heavy rubber gloves, I was twitchy about picking off the wasp nests and stomping on them.  Please know that I understand wasps are beneficial and I try to leave them alone.  They are good for my gardens.  But they can be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Can you imagine what might have happened to the guy who is buying the boat and after driving the boat for miles opened that bait door cover?  The wasps would have been in a REALLY bad mood. 

So I killed the wasps and gingerly poking around in the bait well, found the drainage hole.  It took a while to get myself to pick out the dead wasps and nests blocking the drainage hole, but I did it.  And got the bait well cleaned and draining free.

Then I realized there is another great place for wasp nests under the raised area at the front of the boat, so I sprayed into there too.  

So much for wasps...

After having pretty much gotten rid of all reachable leaf debris, I needed to know if the boat leacked.  After 5 unused years, who knows.  So I propped up a shovel under one side of the boat to make it perfectly level from port to stern (sideways).  Then I lowered the front so that water would fill it up evenly stem to stern (front to back).

That took a half hour, while I went around the yard digging up all the poison ivy plants I could find.

Finally, I got it up to an exact point toward the front I can use as a guide.  If the water level in the boat drops any below that (and after 6 hours it hasn't) and if I see no drips from the boat, I know it is still waterproof.

The guy buying the boat is getting a real deal.  Did I mention that aluminum Jon boats have only a 1/16th thick aluminum shell and bottom?  Well, I bought 3/32nds aluminum plate to put on top of that.  Over a cover of outdoor carpet to deaden the sounds transmitted through metal as you fish?  And more outdoor carpet on the top of the aluminum plate so it doesn't get hot in the Summer?

But so am I (getting a good deal).  What value is something you have stopped using?  I'm going to get another boat soon.  It might be a smaller Jon boat (easier to manage as one person).  Or It might be a fancier one I can take out on Potomac River waters.  I'll decide that after I am rid of the old one which is neither.

And I had a WONDERFUL time working outside today!

Friday, June 27, 2014

New Deck, Part 1

I finally decided to have the 24 year old 2-level deck replaced.  Even pressure-treated wood doesn't last forever.  I had gotten estimates last Fall, but put off doing anything while I decided whether or not to rebuild it myself.  After all, I built the original, 200' of 6' tall fence, a toolshed, and framed raised beds.  But on my birthday in May, I concluded that:
1 - I'm not 40 any more
2 - I can do rough carpentry but not nice design work
3 - After treating the house to new siding and shingles, why build another ugly (but functional) deck
4 - I could afford to have it done by professionals

So  yesterday, I removed everything from the decks, and closed the container plants (lillies and caladiums -bad for cats) in the catroom.  This morning, I closed the cats in the bedroom,  and the people arrived to tear down the old and put up the new.

Well almost.  I knew they would do the demolition today and build the new deck Monday.  Except I didn't quite ask the right questions about the schedule.  They will START building the new deck Monday.  Monday is for digging holes and laying in footers for the posts to rest on (the old upper deck was 12'x12', the new one will be 16'x16' and there will be no lower deck).  Tuesday will be for the County to approve the footers.  Then on Wednesday and Thursday and possibly Friday they will actually build the new deck.

The cats are horrified and I'm not thrilled either.  I thought they would simply build the entire new deck.  It only took ME a week to build the existing one by myself!  Oh well, "this too shall pass"...

While I'll put together a whole demolition-to-completion post at the end of the project, here are a few demolition pictures:

The original, with all the furniture and stuff removed.
The demolition begins.
Down to the joists.
Nearly gone.
It all fit into 1 trailer.
And the demolition is complete!  And BTW, for some reason, the new green siding always looks blue in my photos.  The old ledger board is left in place for now to keep hot air and wasps from getting into the basement through the bolt holes.
I sure hope it doesn't rain next week to delay things further!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

That Sad Red-Twig Dogwood Shrub

I bought a red-trig dogwood shrub 25 years ago.  It lives today.  But it was a poor variety bought cheap from a place that sells junk varieties.

I ignore it most times.  Just a sad plant in a corner.  But other stuff has grown up through it over the years.  I attacked it several days ago.  There were wild grapevines, Virginia Creeper, some thorny briears with heart-shaped leaves, and a sapling tree in there. 

I spent 2 hours with a lopper and prunners getting into the stuff that WASN'T red twigged dogwood.  And what was left wasn't pretty.  I think I will just remove the thing entirely.  No blame to the plant itself (it is was it is), but I think I will get a really good one with really red stems in Winter to replace it.

And because I am kind of a softy when it comes to innocent, but unloved plants, I will replant it in a far corner of the yard where it can grow happily by itself without feeling in competition with its fancier cousins.

Softy?  Yeah.  My house is full of plants saved from office trashcans.  I have a rat tail cactus that has been growing in a mason jar for 20 years,  Plus variegated ivy from about that long ago, 2 planters of sandsefcaria ("Snake Plant"), and spider plants collected over the years.  In fact, I don't have a single houseplant that I actually bought myself.

I have a Green Thumb when it comes to rescuing houseplants.  The one houseplant I have that I didn't rescue is a waxy hoya that my sister gave me as a housewarming present 32 years ago   And it is still thriving.

Now about that pruning attack I did today.  It was hot  and humid out.  90 degrees and 70% humidity.  And I have accumulated some interesting stuff over the years.  One I love is the "James River Hat".  Its a baseball cap with a 12' long flap of cloth that sits over the back of your neck to prevent sunburn.  It really works.

But when I came in for the day, I was drenched in sweat from top to bottom.  I had to change clothes entirely.  But I took a picture of my shirt.
And you should have seen the 2 dishtowels I used to wipe the sweat out of my eyes as I worked.  I could actually wring water from them.  I lost 3 pounds too.

But it was worth it.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Main Annual Bed

Finally got THAT done!  I was very pleased with the clearance sale orange zinnias I found at Walmart last year that I decided to plant zinnias myself this year.  But I found 2 I liked so I decided to make a pattern with both rather than just 1 big block.  One solid orange, and one mostly white with some slight pink stripes.  I'm calling it the Marley Bed (orange and white, get it?).

Since I came out with 27 each out of 36 seeds planted.  But what pattern of planting?  Well, I could have done "half and half", "alternating rows", or "every other one", but making dots on paper I realized I could make all the outside ones orange and all the inner ones white.  Well, that seemed different, so I went with that.

Now, planting things in a pattern can be tricky, so I made a measuring stick to help.  I found a 1"x2"x6' board and marked one side with 12" measurements and the other side with 9" measurements (actually, it was so useful I am going to mark the other 2 sides in 6" and 10" measurements).

I had eyeballed the general area of the bed.  It's wider at the back than the front.  And my eyeball measurements weren't perfect, so I had to adjust slightly.  With the measuring stick, I realized it was a bit wider at the back than I thought, so instead of perfect 9" spacing between plants, I used 12" spacing along the rows and 9" spacing between the rows.

Here is the before picture.
7' wide at the back, 5' wide at the front, and 6' deep.  Interesting geometric space to lay out.  I dug the soil up with my leverage fork, broke up all the soil clumps bigger (by hand) than a pingpong ball, and lifted out all the weeds.  Then raked as best I could.  Tossed the small rocks to the fence...  You can see a bit of soaker hose in the picture.  I pulled it all loose and set it aside.  I'll put it back in place next year.

And started planting.  The measurement stick really helped!  I use a bulb planterto make the holes for the seedlings. then add some fine topsoil to encourage root expansion and set the seedlings on that after loosening some of the roots.  Then add more fine soil to fill the hole.
But this year, using the measuring stick, I was able to plug out all the holes for a whole row at once.  Much better spacing than eyeballing it!  No matter how many years I go planting, I always learn something new each year.  I'll probably be getting it just about right by the time I die.

I didn't take pictures as I went (when you are "in the zone" you don't want to stop), but here is the completed bed.
Not all the seedlings had flowers, so I had to be careful to leave one flowering plant in each 6-pack as I went along so I could tell the color on the flowers remaining.

I ended up with one each orange and white zinnia at the end.  I'll put them in a container with the other orphans (I have salvia and forget-me-nots too).

I set up my new tripod-waterer after I was done planting.  The soil was dry as dust!  The previous tripod waterer had a shower wand on it, but I discovered last year that a fan waterer was better (wider area with less depth works better than circles for my beds).
I made a temporary try last year, and it was much more effecient at watering.  So I gave the back half 10 full minutes of full power watering, then 10 full minutes at the front half.  A lot easier with the fan spray as opposed to the round shower spray wand.

This may sound odd, but I will be cutting off all the flowers tomorrow.  I needed them to know which seedlings to plant for the pattern, but with the flowers cut off, more energy will go to the rrot development and the plants will send out more stems to become busier and grow MORE flowers in just a few weeks. 

I'll be sending more pictures of THAT!

Monday, June 23, 2014

Flowerbed Work

Well, while I'm working on the veggie garden, I can't ignore needing to plant the annual flowers I've raised indoors starting late January.  So I took out the leverage fork ( wonderful tool) and turned over all the soil in the large annual flower area of the flowerbed.

I like to listen to classical music while working, so I brought out an old (small) boom box and plugged it in with the outdoor extention cord I keep on the deck.  Got all the tools I needed fron the shed.  Ready to do some serious hard digging work (the bed was infested by some spreading grass weed years ago, and I've been eliminating it rather successfully over the past few years.

But just as I turned on my radio, the neighbor decided to mow his lawn.  So much for music...

SO, I started at the back and used the leverage fork (best invention since the shovel). 
 I went along the back row and did the same after stepping back 8" all the way to the front of the bed.  Then went and pulled out all the regular weeds but shoved my hands into the loosened soil to get those DAMN spreading grass runners from under the soil.  And I took the time to crush the hard clumps of soil as I went.

Well, you can't plant in hard clumps of soil, and breaking them up by hand is great finger-exercise!  I accumulated quite a pile of weeds and grass roots too.  I'll spread them out on a tarp in the sunlight to kill them before I add them to my compost pile.

I didn't plant the flowers there today.  For one thing, I want the soil to dry at the surface so I can rake it more easily, second, it is easier to see lines I draw in the soil to mark where where the new flowers go, and 3rd, it is easier to find and crush any remaining clumps of soil when they are dry.

Resting after the digging, I diagrammed my planting pattern.  I planted 36 each of a white and 36 of an orange zinnia and (by random happenstance) got 27 healthy plants of each.  So that suggested some designing.  They both grow to the same size, so I could have planted a few rows of one in the back and the rest in the front in big blocks (as usual), but I came up with something different.

The area is wide in the back and narrower in the front, so there were lots of odd patterns I could try.  Alternating the colors could be good, but as the rows got narrower towards the front, I couldn't keep thew pattern going.

I'm SO pleased with myself (yes, I admire my creative thinking often), but it took an hour of drawing rows of dots on scrap paper before I hit a pattern that used my 27 white zinnias and my 27 orange ones.

The bed will be outlined in orange zinnias and the center will be filled with white ones this year.  Hey, some people like the same patterns every year; I don't.  Last year, I did blocks.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Garden Renovation

Wow, it's been a week since I last posted...

I started renovating the garden area in April and found really hard work there.  I had put down various layers of weed-blocking material over the years, and they got covered with dirt.  LOTS of dirt!  Vining weeds grew among them and tree roots from the neighbor's' trees got in there too.

Pulling and cutting them all up was HORRIBLE!  It all falls into the "I can't believe I thought that was a good idea at the time" category!  I pulled the stuff up by brute strength mere inches at a time.  I shoved a 6' breaker bar under it all and pried it loose.  I cut it into manageable chunks with a curved rug-cutting knife and a razor knife.

I estimate it took 40 hours of hard frustrating work.  And it's not complete YET.  But is IS cut and removed for the area I want to rebuild framed beds with a chicken wire enclosure to keep the evil squirrels out.

I'm 64.  I can't do the hard work like I could when I was 35.  I had to do all of it 1 hour work, 1 hour rest inside and drinking gatorade to replenish.

But I finished it...

A few days ago, I hooked up a small yard cart (about 2.5 feet by 4 feet) to my riding lawn mower and started heaving the heavy sodden pieces of underlays into the trailer.  Then I drove my mower to the front yard and heaved those pieces into the 5'x8' hauling trailer.  It damn near killed me.  Then I drove the hauling trailer to the landfill, along with other junk and regular trash I have collected.  And hauled it all off again.  That means I had to handle each damn piece of underlay 4 times. 

Fortunately, I designed my hauling trailer so that I can remove the back and just drag all the junk off the back end.  And pulling the junk DOWN is going to be  LOT easier than lifting it UP.

The rest of the work is moving good garden soil from the existing (falling-apart) beds, breaking the old frames apart (and removing the old wood), leveling the new surface, building new beds, and moving the good garden soil to the new beds.

And even THAT won't be straight-forward work.  Since I'm rebuilding where the existing beds are (only place in my yard with half-decent sunlight), I have to do it in stages.  My old beds were small 8'x3' framed beds; the new ones will be 16'x4' (more space efficient because there is less wasteful path-space between them).  I will more than double my planting area in the same overall space.

I've moved enough existing soil and old frames to built the first new 16'x3' bed.  Then I will empty the existing beds soil into that.  Then I can tear THAT old wood apart and level THAT space and built the 2nd new framed 16'x3' bed. And THEN finally tear the old frames apart for the 3rd new framed bed...

WHEW!  And because the new beds will require more soil than the old ones, I'll only be filling each 1/2 way with existing soil.  So I'll be hauling in compost to mix in and fill the new ones. 

The good news is that the soil I've already dug up and piled onto other beds is now loose and easy to move.  The old soil had vine and tree roots in it and was Hard-As-Hell to dig into and move and I also had to spend time pulling the roots out of the soil lest they grow new Evil Plants.

My main gardening is not going to happen this year.  By the time I finish this rebuilding project, it will be too late to even plant crops for Fall harvest.  Fortunately, I took some space from my annual flowerbed to plant heirloom tomatoes, flat italian beans, and seedless cucumbers.  And I have bicolor corn, fingerling potatoes, and leeks growing in large containers.  Those are my favorite crops, as they are either expensive or difficult to find in local grocery stores.

Some pictures...

Prying up the old carpet.  Note the black plastic below that.  And there was synthetic (unrottable) "burlap" below that.
Had to pry it loose from below and the sides.
One of MANY piles of heavy pieces of cut carpet.  The pieces are deceptively heavy.
The lost herb bed.  I finally just dug it all up.  I'll start a new herb bed,
A 4" diameter tree trunk I had to dig out.  With axe, shovel, and pry-bar.

The first area cleared of soil, vines, unwanted tree saplings, and old frame wood.
A corn-planting container.  I have 3.  It's a month-old picture.  The 8 corns are 6" high, and I've planted leeks in between the corn .
I won't have a "normal" garden this year, but I'll get by.  Next year, I'll have a fine new enclosed garden the damn squirrels, rabbits, and groundhogs can't get into!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Father's Day 2014

I'm not sure what to say, because I just wrote a memorium for him a few days ago.  Yet, that was mostly about his life, not so much about our Father/Son relationship.  I'll think about that...

Dad was absent in most family photos.  I don't mean the formal family pictures where some else took the picture, but the everyday ones.  That's because Dad was taking all the pictures.  He just doesn't show up in the pictures of us kids much; they were of "Mom and Kids". 

But I have memories. 

1.  Every Summer we spent a week with each set of Grandparents (who lived in New England).  The trip was easy when we still lived in Massachussetts, but became longer as promotions brought us to Maryland and Virginia.  And there were few highways back then.  So we got in the habit of stopping at the same motel overnight on the way.  It was kept clean and there was a swimming pool.  Well, I hate cold water and one day I was standing at the edge reluctant to jump in.  Dad walked behind me and gave me the slightest shove that sent me in! 

Later, while Dad was watching my young sister, I walked behind him.  And with the confidence that comes of "growing up" (I may have been 11/12).  He fell in.  Frantically waving the towel he was holding.  It was the last dry towel we had.  Well, not after he fell in!

2.  At about the same age, Dad taught me golf.  I'm sure he mostly wanted me to learn the game that both he and Mom loved, but he also wanted a caddy.  I of course wasn't good enough at the game to actually play with his group (Dad was a scratch golfer in those days), but I could pull his cart.  Well, I wasn't much of a prankster, but I had my moments (and still do - and learned it from Dad - see #1 above). 

I had found a fake golf ball (made of chalk but with a plastic coating and label that made it LOOK real) at a store.  I kept it with me each week and waited, and waited and waited.  FINALLY, he had a bad drive and had to hit a provisional ball (used in case the first ball could not be found).

Dad asked me to toss him a ball from his bag.  He set it on his tee, swung, and the ball turned into a cloud of dust!!!  He stood there in complete shocked silence for about 10 full seconds before I, then a playing partner, then the other 2 collapsed in fits of laughter.  And Dad STILL looked around confused for a moment before he realized what I had done.  THE BEST TRICK I EVER PULLED ON ANYONE MY ENTIRE LIFE! 

But you know what?  He never ever mentioned it in my presence. 

3.  Dad HAD a sense of humor.  He had one of the first battery powered electric shavers.  I didn't know about that of course, Dad shaved in private and my parent's bedroom suite was as foreign to us kids as the Taj Mahal.  So when he was one on the adults chaperoning us Boy Scouts on Operation Icicle 1966 (Operation Icicle is when we camped out on the coldest weekend of the year, usually in snow, and it got down to -5F that year.

So the first morning, Dad got up and stuck the plug of his electric razor into tree bark and proceeded to shave!!!  We were all stunned.  To our astonished questions, Dad just replied "Its all about understanding how to use electricity".  Which was true, of course, but none of us kids knew about rechargeable batteries in 1966.

4.  This memory involves both my Dad AND his brother.  We visited New England one year and my uncle brought us to a lake he knew well.  Uncle Allan was a professional fishing guide, so anyplace he brought us was sure to be successful.  Basically, we trolled around the perimeter of the lake with trout flies on weighted lines (technical details on request, but its too long for here).

Well every time we passed a particular spot, I caught a fish.  And the 2 "better" fishermen didn't.  After it was 3-0-0, Dad asked to use my rod, same setup.  No luck.  So Uncle Allan tried it too.  No luck.  When I had the rod back, I caught another at the same spot.  It is a mystery to this day.  I think I just had the "right touch" of twitching the fly that one day. 

5.  This one is a bit indirect, so bear with me.  I have been tearing up my 25 year old raised framed garden beds and the stuff I set between them to avoid muddy paths for 2 months.  Today I started hauling out the cut up chunks of old carpet, synthetic burlap and black plastic sheeting, and dumping them in my hauling trailer.

The brother of a neighbor came by and mentioned he had landscaping work skills and wondered if I needed paid help cheap as a cash side job.  I was tempted.  I feel worn out by this garden renovation project.  At 64, I can't do wht I did here at 36.  I could hire people to do this while I watched.  But doing it myself is a point of pride.  I got that from my paternal Grampa and my Dad.  They both taught me that you do any work you can until you are exhausted then you rest a while and go back at it.

So the neighbor guy's offer of below-standard-pay help was very tempting, but I declined.  It won't mean anything if I don't do it myself. 

Dad did heavy work when he was older than I am now.  I honor his work ethic by continuing to do as much as I can for as long as I can.  Like Father Like Son...

As many differences as we had, we had that in common.  There are many things I have learned to do in my life that Dad had no part of.  But there are many more things I have learned that Dad taught my very deliberately. 

For those things Dad taught me, I thank him.  For those things I learned on my own, I thank him for that too, because he taught me to learn new things.

6.  I will no longer be making birthday and Father's Day cards for Dad.  I will no longer be arguing with him in my mind (tell me you never "argued" with a parent in your mind). 

But on this Father's Day, for the first time, I do not have a living father (and Mom died in 2010).  And it is feeling strange...  Not mournful, Dad was 92, and died of general old age.  Its a sense of absence of elders I suppose.  I'm now the eldest of my immediate family, and that feels VERY odd.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Old Photo

 My sister sent me the most AWESOME photo yesterday!
I can surely guess that it is from late Spring 1922, and probably where it was taken (Ohio).  I have no certainty who the 2 gentlemen on the left are.  I can guess about the guy on the right.  Why?

Because the baby being held is my Dad!

I'll assume the guy holding my dad is my paternal grandfather.  I'll make a logical guess that the 2 gentlemen on the left are my 2 paternal great-grandfathers.


Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Random Rant

I watched a TV "cause"  commercial yesterday.  The subject about starving children.  The host showed a child at his side and said "She won't eat today".   Wait, WHAT???

See something wrong here?  

That child was starving, and on camera.  And they wouldn't feed her?  That made no sense.  I HOPE they actually fed that child.  But that's not what they said would happen. 

I DEPISE people who make NO SENSE in order to influence others.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Yardwork Sunday

What with one thing and another the past month, I haven't been keeping up with yardwork.  But the weeds never relent. 

So as I walked by part of the yard today I just sighed.  Grass among the flowers and a nearly invisible garden path!
So I got down on my knees and got to work.  At least there is a path again.
But still SO much more to be done...

Tuesday, June 3, 2014


I love scammers, they are SO stupid.  I've mentioned before that they are endlessly amusing. 

Today I got three calls from "Jake" at "Microsoft" about a problem with my software.  I needed to update it "right away"...

Hint, if a company calls you, its fake.
Hint, if they want information they already should have, it's fake.
Hint, actually, if they call you at all, it's fake.
Hint, if it's "urgent", it's fake.

Companies don't call you.  They don't know you you exist..

Hint, if they speak bad local language, it's fake.
Hint, if they speak AT ALL, it's fake.  Microsoft isn't going to call you even if they knew a huge asteroid was about to land on your city.

Hint, if they all are named "Jake", its fake
Hint, if they call several times in a day and are too stupid to stop calling after you laugh at them, it's fake.

Hint, see above about "if they call at all", its fake.

I received a 3rd telephone call from "Jake" at "Microsoft" today (in different voices) and I stated to him clearly "Sir, you are an obviously liar and should be the victim of an honor killing".  THAT set him back a bit.  He asked how I knew. I just laughed and told him I sure wasn't going to help HIM learn how to scam others.

How did I know?  Well, all those hints above.  Plus dirty little secret; I don't HAVE a microsoft computer attached to the internet. 

But not like it would have helped him any if he had claimed to be calling from Apple...  I mean, obvious is obvious.  Apple doesn't know me from Adam either.  Maybe I'm running a Unix, LOL!

And there was the emails.  "My Microsoft email had exceeded it 20Gb limit, it said".  Three times in one day!  Straight to trash along with the emails from the Nigerian Prince. 

Remembering Dad

I just received The Call from my sister yesterday.  Dad is dead; my sister was pretty upset, but she’s been keeping the vigil there.  I've been expecting this call for months, but it doesn't make the reality any different.  For whatever it means, I am suddenly the oldest person in my immediate family. 

How to you interpret news like that?  It's not like I'm the patrirach or anything.  Sister is the executrix of dad's estate but mostly because she was nearest to him in his last year at the assisted living home, and she has some experience at this stuff.  According to family traditions, there will be a cremation.  I suppose as eldest, I might get his ashes.  Well, I have Mom's, they might as well be together.  Each of us kids have our own lives.  I mourn of course, but it wasn't unexpected.  I even expected it earlier.  Dad was physically incapable, in diapers, and demented.  I think he no longer knew who he was.  I consider his dying a relief from the struggle to continue living.  He didn’t want to keep surviving, himself.  It was kidney failure at the end.  He was 92.

But beyond that, I'm not sure what I'm supposed to do, if anything. We don't have a family tradition of funerals.  Dad will be cremated, and since I have Mom's ashes, I will probably receive Dad's.

I wrote the obituary.  Its hard to pack a life into a short space.  So that’s why I’m writing now.  He deserves more than an inch on newspaper column space…

Where to start?  Well, when I was a child, Dad was the most perfect person (next to Mom, of course).  He was the fixer of things, the person who built things, the person who just taught me how to DO stuff.  He knew EVERYTHING, until I was about 16.

Fast-forward some years...  Dad wasn't the genius when I was 30 that I thought he was when I was 10.  Well, who is?  I had my own thoughts at 30, and they weren't Dad's.  Some guys have the same political views as their Dad.  I didn't.  Mom and Dad were at my house when Barrack Obama was elected in 2006.  I cheered while Dad declared Obama "the most dangerous man on Earth".

I won't discuss our different political views other than to say Dad said "sink or swim" (and he meant it) and I said "I won't watch someone drown".

For all my adult life, I have had imaginary arguments with Dad in the privacy of my own home.  I always won those arguments of course.  But there will be no more even imaginary arguments now.  He's gone.  It is hard to imagine that.

He had great strengths and talents.  I feel stupid trying to even list them, and I can't do him proper justice.  He was an engineer and could build about damn near anything he wanted to build.  My early life was enriched by things Dad built.  30 years ago, I had the opportunity to visit the house we lived in in the 1950s.  The stone wall he built was still standing solid and proud (and I’m sure that, at 8 years old “I helped”).  There was no one home, and I decided not to trespass.  I wish someone had been there to talk to.  But I did look at the yard through Google Earth and some of the 1950’s work is still there.  My friends joke about me that I "over-enginneer" everything I build.  Well, I have a tradition to maintain.

Dad built ships during WWII and started college when he was 20 and met Mom at the Univ of NH when she was a freshman (freshwoman?).  She said she didn't date men who didn't play golf.  So he learned to play golf.  And with his usual determination, he was a 0 handicap golfer in a few years.  Damn he could hit a golf ball perfectly.  It would start off low and then rise as it went straight down the fairway as if drawn on the golf map with a ruler. 

He succeeded in almost everything he turned his attention to but he failed at some.  He was a terrible gardener , for example – Never paid much attention to the soil because there was FERTILIZER!  I learned my organic habits from Grampa.  Dad was bad at most cards, too.  You could practically see his tail wag when he had a good poker hand.  His Mom was a demon card-player; Dad didn't get those genes (so neither did I).  But he was a killer at any game that involved logic.  You could not beat him at Clue, for example.  He had a SYSTEM for showing cards (took me a year ta figure it out).  And we both got so competitive at stadium checkers together that we could call every marble drop for a full 360 degree ring rotation. Ruthless at cribbage, but I finally got about even with him by the time I left for college.  

Logic isn't strategy though.  Mom taught me chess and when she couldn't beat me at it anymore at age 10, she turned me over to Dad, who, when he couldn't beat me by age 12, decided it was a stupid game and never played me at it again.  Yeah, some Father/Son dynamics there.  Dad never had any sense of board strategy.  Hey, he was a engineer.  He wanted RULES to figure out, and strategy isn't about "rules".

But I owe him so much.  I know guys who can't drill a hole in a board because their dads didn't know how or never showed them.  But I do.  Yet he was better at it at 30 than I am now at 64.  Engineers study “perfection”.  I was a Political Science major and “What Works” was good enough. 

He hated the way I played golf.  He was methodical and I "went for it".  Golf course cards show straight lines to where par shots should go.  He lived by those lines.  I didn’t.  Sometimes MY ball went into the deep woods, but sometimes I could slice a 5 iron 200 yards and it landed on the sweet spot of the green while he did his usual methodical single-digit handicap round.   Drove him crazy...  But in 1988, I had the hot round of my life in the rain, and we won his Club's Member/Guest tournament.  Proud moment for us both.  Literally, “different strokes for different folks”, LOL!  Also the last time we ever played golf together.  He couldn't stop trying to "improve" my game (make it like his) and I was done letting him try.

I'll never be an engineer like Dad.  But he taught me enough that there is darn near nothing I'm afraid to try.  There's a fence surrounding the whole back yard, a 2 layer deck, and a toolshed (among other stuff) to prove that.  And he taught me a basic rule.  "If you need a hole in the ground, you dig one".  Which means, do what needs to be done, and sometimes plain hard work is important and pays off.

He taught me how to hunt.  I don't anymore for personal reasons, but I know how to.  Because of Dad, I can follow a trail of faint drips of blood every few yards through the woods.  If things went bad, I would not starve.  But there is more to the hunting story.  When I was 15, Dad decided that shooting deer with guns was “just too easy”.  So we (Dad, Me, and Matt) took up using bows.  I wasn’t really good with a bow (can’t recall about about Matt and I apologize for that). 

They say you practice something 10,000 times and you get good at it.  Dad did, I didn’t.  Hey, I was having more fun playing football with friends.  But he had an advantage.  In 1966, he was 44; I was 16.  He used a 60 LB bow with a 30” draw.  I could only use a 45 LB draw bow at 26”.  At 16, I was smaller and weaker than he was.  He was 5’10” and 170 pounds, I was 5’4” and 125.  Stronger bow and longer draw makes the arrow trajectory flatter and faster (meaning way easier to aim).  He could hit a 10” paper plate 80% of the time and didn’t miss the other 20% by much.  I was lucky to get 30%.  But I was game and decent in the woods (Matt was better in nature).  But it was also because he just practiced more.

Dad could always get a deer the first time we went out.  But I did have a talent and there were raised stands at some places we hunted.  I could stand silently for hours.  I did well on those.  One spot where I stood in the rain all morning, a single deer came by right under the stand.  I almost (REALLY) jumped on it from above holding a arrow to spear it.  I still regret I didn’t.  It would have been a family story for 2 generations.  But I shot straight down and it drove the deer to the ground.

And it got up and ran away and we never found it.  I was shocked, and so was Dad.  And while searching for it, I lifted a leg over a fallen tree and stabbed my self deeply on my very sharp 3 bladed hunting arrow head.  End of hunting for that year.

The next year, I was hunting with a friend of Dad’s, had a long shot at a doe, hit her right in the heart and she dropped like a rock.

But this is not about me.  I’m telling you that so I can tell you this about Dad.  When Dad decided we should start bow hunting, he went all the way.  Well, almost, we didn’t make our own bows.  But we made our bowstrings and arrows.  And Dad designed and built stuff to do that from scratch.  He made an adjustable bowstring maker with knobs to twist the bowstrings in 2 directions, a metal spool holder to twist heavy thread around the bowstring at the nocking point, a cutter template for making leather bowstring silencers, a gadget to attach feathers in a very slightly curved arc around the arrow, and even a heated metal wire to burn off excess feathers down to an aerodynamically perfect shape.  I came up with the idea of heating arrow nocks in hot water then squeezing them on a popsicle stick so that they barely held on to the bowstring but released easily. 

Yeah, there’s a “like father like son” thing going on too.  But the point is, he created ideas in his mind and then just casually went and BUILT them. I have to work HARD to do that, and I don't do it as well.

I recall Mom saying a few times that Dad endeared himself to her parents.  He would visit for a date and would spend an hour just “fixing things around the house “.  Bad light switch, radio antenna, leaky basement pipe, etc.  Drove her crazy at first, and apparently they arrived at movies and dances late sometimes.  And while impressing “the parents” is not the usual way to win a woman’s love, it WAS “some guy who was not her Dad or my brothers”, and seems to have worked.

And there was some religion involved.  Mom’s family was ferociously French Catholic.  As she used to say she was taught “If you were BAD, you went to Hell.  If you were worse, you became a Protestant"  But she didn’t like that idea very much and Dad was a Protestant (of no particular group – I think his Mom was a Quaker).

So in spite of the fact that her parents liked Dad a Whole Lot, they threw her out of the church for marrying a Protestant.  And amazingly, they were happy all their lives in spite of that.  And I mean, as close as I can tell as a child living at home, and as an adult afterwards, they were happier together than any 2 people I have ever met.  Things worked out VERY well...

One thing I can say for sure; I wouldn't be the person I am today without both of them...

So ends the story of Burdell Dodd Spencer and Doris Ursula Beaulieu, loving husband and wife for 61 years, both now gone from this world forever.  Unusual and special people both.  Their descendents remain to have our own stories, but we will never be them.

Monday, June 2, 2014


Well, Dad died this morning.  Technically, it was kidney failure, but at age 92, there wasn't much that WAS working.  He was basically comatose for the past week, but before that he had expressed a desire that all the difficulties "would just end"...

I wrote an obituary a couple days ago, but those are so incomplete.  I will summarize his life a bit more tomorrow.  We kids are sad that both Mom and Dad are gone now, but neither death was a surprise and my family has never been big on serious mourning.  Tomorrow, we will get on with the rest of OUR lives.