Monday, September 29, 2014

On the road again

The Guppy has now been thoroughly road-tested. We loaded it up a couple days ago and hit the road. The trickiest part in loading things up turned out to be something we'd never considered in the past: emptying the refrigerator in the house. We've had two refrigerators get fried by power surges in the past two years so even though there is now surge protection on the outlet, we decided not to take any chances. We did not want to come home in a few weeks to a freezer full of melted ice cubes and fermenting condiments. It's amazing how much stuff can be in a refrigerator even when it's is a small one.

The Guppy performed about as expected, right down to producing a number of annoying or mysterious noises. A few things that we didn't expect to slide around did, stuff we were worried about shifting stayed right where it had to been stashed weeks ago. I did figure out we need to invest in another roll of nonslip shelf liner. It worked great in the cabinets, but I think I want some for padding between things like the pizza pan and a cookie sheet. Metal pans aren't going to break if they bounce around, but they definitely made a lot of noise when the Guppy was rolling over rough pavement. Other than odd bangings and clankings from the kitchen area, though, the only worrisome noise seemed to come from the right front tire. The S.O. thinks that tire might be permanently out of round, i.e., it's got a flat spot because the Guppy spends so much time just sitting in one spot. He's going to swap that tire with the spare and see if the noise goes away. That's assuming the spare still holds air, of course.
Heading south on US-45 south of Bruce Crossing, Michigan

In any case, we've been talking about tires in general being an issue since we bought the Guppy last year. The tread still looks good on all of them, but we also know they're all real old. The previous owner put so few miles on the Guppy that he never felt the need to replace any tires; he put less than 1,000 miles on it in six years. Our concern, of course, is that even though the tires look good there's dry rot. We're not seeing any, but you never know.

Until we hit the road, we weren't real sure just how terrible the fuel economy would be. It was, as it turned out, every bit as bad as predicted. Dragging my car behind no doubt hurt. We did not stop at every gas station we passed, but it was beginning to feel that way. It probably didn't help that I'm used to doing long drives in the Focus. Its fuel tank is about 1/3 the size of the one on the Guppy but it can go about three times as far on that one-third the fuel. Every time we had to stop to refuel, I'd have a "What?! But we just did that!" reaction.

On I-39 near Mendota, Illinois
And now we're in Missouri spending a few days annoying the Younger Daughter.We start our first campground hosting gig on Wednesday. It should be interesting, although from what the Kid says, the most interesting part might be just getting to the park. I've driven the roads in Missouri, I've been fairly close to where Montauk State Park is located, I know that in general Missouri has remarkably good roads, but the Kid keeps looking at the Guppy and making dubious noises. She's making state highway 32 sound like a goat trail barely wide enough for a Vespa to handle. We shall see. . . .

I do not know how much time I'll spend in the blogosphere once we're at the park. I'm hoping hosting duties keep me busy enough that I can ignore the Internet a lot more than I do now.

And, yes, for those of you who worry, we will check all the gas fittings before turning on the propane when we reach the park. From the way things were bouncing around on the way down here, it's easy to see how fittings could work their way loose over not many miles on the road.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Valar Morghulis

A few days ago there was a post up on The Pump Handle reporting on the Institute of Medicine's report, Dying in America, that critiques end of life care and suggests ways to improve it. The post linked to to an essay by Ezekiel Emanuel in The Atlantic on the topic of old age and death. The essay has the rather catchy title of "Why I Hope to Die at 75."

As it turns out, Emanuel doesn't really hope to die at 75. He's just decided that once he hits a certain point in his life, he's going to refuse all medical interventions other than palliative care. I get it. I've worked in nursing homes. I know that despite all the hype about "60 is the new 40" and ads showing geezers having a good time, aging in general sucks. You get older and it's inevitable that you're going to start falling apart. No one has the energy at 80 that they did at 50. You're more susceptible to injury. Your skin turns crepe-y, you bruise easier, it takes longer to heal. A fall that would have been nothing when you were in your 20s can put you in the hospital when you're in your 70s. Old people look frail for a reason -- they are frail. They break easy. Your bones start losing calcium; if you're unlucky you end up with osteoporosis and discover that all it takes is a sneeze and you've got broken ribs. Everyone says getting old beats the alternative, but some days you've got to wonder if that's really true.

And then there are the cognitive issues. One of the most depressing aspects of getting older is witnessing friends and acquaintances slip over the edge into Alzheimer's or other forms of dementia. Alzheimer's gets a lot of attention, but it's not the only way to slide into senility. When you're in your 30s or 40s and you hear people talk about "hardening of the arteries" you may think "that can't possibly be a real thing." Well, it is. It's what cholesterol build-up does; the fat narrows the arteries, makes them stiffer, reduces blood flow. Reduced blood flow means less oxygen to the brain. Less oxygen to the brain means you get more forgetful, less agile mentally. The next thing you know you're one of those dithering old people who can't remember where they left their coffee cup or wants to tell you the same lame jokes over and over and over. . .

Not all geezers go senile, of course. One of my favorite people of all time, the philosopher Marjorie Grene, was still going strong in her 90s. She could argue circles around scholars a third of her age. But Professor Grene was an exception just like my own mother (who is now 92 and still sharp as the proverbial tack) is an exception. Based on my personal family history, I don't think I'm at much of a risk of losing my ability to think before other stuff fails, but you never know. The fact no one I'm closely related to has ever shown signs of Alzheimer's doesn't mean I can't be the first in the family to go senile.

Anyway, the more I see of the prospect of getting to be my mother's age, the less attractive it becomes. It has to suck to outlive all your friends. It's like signing up for a tontine where the only pay-off is you get to attend everyone else's funerals. So I'm thinking along the same lines as Dr. Emanuel. Once I hit my sell by date (which I'd mentally set at 75 long before I read the essay), it's going to be palliative care only. No trying to delay the inevitable in a way that enriches pharmaceutical companies or helps a surgeon buy a new Mercedes. After all, in the end it doesn't really matter what you do -- you're still going to die.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

More stuff accomplished

The pattern is called Blizzard, at least according to last year's Quilt a Day calendar. It is a a fairly rare type of quilt for me to make -- it's not a scrap quilt. Thanks to the Thelma stash, I had enough yard goods in a dark blue print to make a full-size quilt It is a large quilt because every quilt I make is intended to go on a bed. My sewing is utilitarian, not artistic. I machine pieced and hand quilted, as described in a previous post.

Until I went looking for the link to that previous post, I did not realize I've been slowly hand-quilting that sucker for almost ten months. Holy crap. No wonder I'm now looking at this particular quilt and thinking I'll keep it for us instead of giving it to someone at Christmas. Ten months! Granted, it's not like it was continuous. I didn't drag it along if we went somewhere, and I didn't work on it every evening we were home, but, still, ten months. If you figure two hours each evening 5 or 6 evenings a week when we were home, that's more hours than I care to think about. I could have written The Great American Novel in that amount of time, assuming I had any talent for writing fiction, of course.

I had actually been thinking that I'd finished this one a little faster than usual for me. Time is indeed relative.

And now I have to figure out what to do next. I'm currently in the unusual position of having no quilts in progress, either denim or more traditional. Maybe I'll focus on making a Christmas wall hanging or two instead -- I do have some Christmas prints, and a wall hanging would be small enough that I could machine quilt it if I wanted to. If I'm even semi-ambitious I could actually finish one in time to give it someone this year.

Or maybe not -- we're going off to play campground hosts soon, the departure date is now less than a week away, and I'm not planning to drag a sewing machine along on this trip. Maybe I would if I had a specific project in mind, but I don't. I may knit by the campfire, but I won't be quilting in the Guppy.

Friday, September 19, 2014

The guest cabin is done

Guest cabin right after dragging it home.
I spent part of yesterday doing some cleaning in the guest cabin, the formerly ratty travel trailer we bought last year. It's a 17-foot long Nomad that will wander no more, at least not in the foreseeable future. We put it up on blocks, the S.O. did a lot of repair work to the interior (there was extensive water damage and rot in the front end, and one back corner wasn't in real good shape either) and a permanent connection to the septic system, and we now have warm weather guest quarters. As long as the garden hose is connected, it has cold running water and a flush toilet. If a guest shows up who wants to be able to cook or to heat more than a couple cups of water at a shot, there's a small gas range, although we're not sure if the oven works. The S.O. had the propane connected just long enough to determine that the oven lights -- he did not keep it on long enough to determine if the thermostat for it also works and would shut things off after the oven reached the required temperature.

At one time, the trailer also had a gas furnace and a gas hot water heater, neither of which are functioning now. We have no plans to replace either. The guest cabin is meant to be temporary quarters during the months when we don't have to worry about water lines freezing. If it's warm enough that we're not worried about water lines bursting, it's warm enough that a person can manage with just an electric space heater to chase the morning chill away.
The interior at time of purchase. 

As for the hot water, when the bathroom is just a half bath (toilet and sink), we figured that any guests we have can get by heating water in an electric kettle to wash their face or rinse out their coffee cup.

We still need to do a carport-type roof over the trailer because that flat roof isn't going to handle Michigan winters very well if we're not here to shovel off the snow, and it would also be nice to replace the dead built-in refrigerator (currently serving as storage space for paper plates and napkins), but for now the trailer is basically done.

I'd also like to do a small deck, something big enough to maybe hold a lawn chair or serve as a convenient place to hang the solar shower, but that's a project the S.O. and I can talk about next summer.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Pulitzer Project: The Way West

A few months ago when I mentioned that The Way West was coming up next on the Pulitzer list, BBC commented that I'd enjoy reading it. He was right. There are some dark themes in the subtext of The Way West, but overall it does qualify as "light reading." I breezed through it pretty quickly.

The book has a sticker on the spine indicating that the library that provided it through Interlibrary Loan considered it a Western when they cataloged it. Technically it is -- it's the story of a group of people who decide to emigrate from Missouri to Oregon in the 1840s. Along the way they have all the usual adventures and mishaps typical of pioneers who decide to travel by wagon train: encounters with various Native American tribes, wagons breaking down, people dropping dead from fever or snake bite.

As might be expected, there's a potentially volatile mix of personalities in the wagon train company. The group's self-appointed leader, Tadlock, is a bit of a bully, a bigot, and remarkably inflexible, one of those people who's convinced he knows it all so he resents the hell out of having to listen to advice from the "pilot," the experienced mountain man they've hired to guide them from Independence, Missouri, to the Dalles on the Columbia River. He's also not real interested in listening to the company as a whole; he's pretty much a "my way or not at all" type of guy. It takes a few hundred miles, but eventually Tadlock's personality forces the group to think about a change in leadership.

There's soap opera material -- a married couple that's unhappy in the bedroom so the husband strays and in the process "ruins" a naive teenage girl. There's the usual colorful character, what I think of as the Festus type, the fellow who gets written into scripts for comic relief, although he's missing from the cast list for the movie version. No doubt the script writers tweaked another of the supporting characters to incorporate occasional humor just as they turned Mercy McBee's naivete into what one movie review described as Sally Field's on-screen debut as a tramp.

Although a goodly number of various characters are introduced, the narrative pivots around two men: Lije Evans, a farmer who mixes personal ambition with a desire to be part of something bigger, and Dick Summers, the mountain man. Summers is described as one of the oldest characters in the book -- he's 49 -- and there's a lot of concern expressed by the men organizing the wagon train company that Summers is too old, too much of a geezer to stand up to the rigors of the trip. Once the trek actually begins, of course, it's obvious Dick is one of the few people with the stamina and the smarts to make it all the way to Oregon.

Lije and Dick are among the handful of characters in the book who have actual first names. Most of the others are referred to only as "Daugherty" or "McBee." As the novel progresses, we view the action primarily from the perspectives of Lije and Dick, although there are occasional insights from supporting characters. Lije is looking forward to a new life in Oregon; Dick is looking back at his old life as a mountain man.

Overall, The Way West is an enjoyable read that manages to avoid sentimentalizing the hardships of pioneer life. Life isn't easy, but that's just the way it is. The characters who do muse about tough times also acknowledge they had a pretty good idea of what they were getting into before they headed out on the Oregon Trail.

I have not seen the 1967 movie based on this book. It starred Kirk Douglas, Robert Mitchum, Richard Widmark, and Sally Field. Based on the Wikipedia summary, the movie deviates wildly from the book -- about the only plot points they seem to have in common is there's a wagon train going west and a married man cheats on his wife. I liked the book so I think I'll pass on seeing exactly how it got mutilated for the big screen.

As far as where this book ranks in the overall list of Pulitzer winners, I'd put it in the middle of the pack. It's not up there in the top tier, but it's definitely readable. Some of the language is a little dated (the infamous N word gets bandied about a fair amount, which is a tad odd considering there are no black characters in the book), but not to the point where it slows a reader down. So would I recommend this book to anyone else? Yes, especially if a person likes historical novels or Westerns.

Next up? The Town by Conrad Richter.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Summer's over

We had our first Fall frost yesterday. As what seems to be becoming typical of the weather, which no longer does anything in half-way measures, it was a doozy. There was a time when Summer would kind of amble out gently, subtly hinting that it was leaving by toying with a few "light" frosts, the kind that would nip a few leaves in the garden and remind you that, hey, it's time to pick the tomatoes before they turn into ice cubes on the vine. Not this year. Moderate temperatures one day, definitely below freezing the next. There was none of that hovering coyly right around 32 and gently hinting -- it was barely 30 degrees and a total zapping of everything except the broccoli and aptly named snow peas. There wasn't so much frost coating everything as there was ice, thanks to the day or two of rain that preceded the cold snap.

So now it's September, we're having to put a fire going in the woodstove each morning, and I find myself thinking I need to start buying the L'Anse Sentinel again. Unless you're a big fan of local high school sports, the Sentinel is good for maybe three things: lining bird cages, housebreaking puppies, and starting fires. We don't need it for the first two so we only buy it during the cold months. But that's a digression.

What's actually on my mind is prepping the Guppy for travel. We're scheduled to spend the month of October as campground hosts at Montauk State Park in Missouri so need to finish a few minor things we've realized we needed (e.g., curtains for the cab) and make sure we've got everything stashed that we want to bring with us. It does help that the weather turned cold -- it'll make it a lot easier to remember to carry cold weather gear with us if we're wearing it. And we definitely need cold weather gear because we'll be back here in early November. I do not want to arrive home in a snowstorm dressed in high water pants and Teva sandals.

Earlier this week the S.O. took care of what was probably the most important part of prepping for hitting the road. He took the Guppy down to the local propane dealer and had the regulator replaced. We have now checked out all the systems on the Guppy when it comes to what we need to live in it, the Guppy itself is mechanically sound (tuned up and raring to go), the tow dolly is in good shape, and things in general are looking good. The S.O. picked up a bunch of cheap DVDs at a rummage sale recently so we'll even have some new (to us) movies to watch in the evening. At this point, we could take off tomorrow if we didn't have stuff we need to get done around here before we leave. Here's hoping the weather stays dry for a few days so we can get it all done without feeling rushed.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Here we go again

As I listen to NPR this morning, it appears that President Obama has forgotten that his stated Middle East foreign policy was to avoid doing anything stupid. The Stupid has begun -- we're about to start spending a gazillion dollars on air strikes against an amorphous threat that can't be defeated with high dollar, kills from a distance weaponry. The Islamic State (ISIS) is highly mobile and can easily fade back into the general population in major cities like Mosul. As soon as we start targeting urban targets, we've stepped up the jihad recruiting drive. There's nothing quite like losing kids or elderly relatives to a U.S. drone strike to turn people from neutral civilians into active anti-American jihad supporters. Scriptwriters for television shows and movies have figured this out, why don't the policy wonks in DC get it?

IMHO, you know what our foreign policy in the Middle East should be? We should just walk away. Not our circus, not our monkeys. Let the Sunnis and the Shi'ites and the Iranians, Iraqis, Kurds, you name it, just slug it out among themselves. We don't need the region's oil, we ignore humanitarian crises all the time if it's not in corporate interests to pay attention to them -- if you don't believe that, look at how quickly Congress said no to providing additional funding to help fight the spread of Ebola in west Africa -- so why do we care about ISIS? Yes, the execution of those journalists was barbaric, but (to be totally cold about it) those guys knew journalists get killed in war zones on a regular basis. They walked into a killing zone with their eyes wide open. Would we all be freaking out about taking out ISIS now if James Foley or Steven Sotloff had died by getting hit by a stray bullet or an IED blowing up their vehicle?

I know, I know. . . there's been a lot of handwringing about how some Americans, along with assorted European idiots, have managed to get recruited into ISIS and they could "bring the terrorist threat home." Oh really? And how are they going to do that? The last time I looked, you couldn't walk from Iraq to the U.S. What's the point of having customs officials at airports if not to prevent suspicious characters from entering the country? Instead of wasting money on drones and missiles, the U.S. should be stepping up intelligence gathering and figuring out just who some of the young idiots are that have been seduced by the prospect of LARPing Counter Strike or Call of Duty. Because, let's face it, the demographic ISIS and the other jihadi groups want to recruit are not geeks or serious religious scholars; ISIS wants the dudes in their late 'teens and early 20s who get off on shooting stuff. Their fantasies aren't about creating a caliphate that follows a pure version of Islam; they're still suffering from testosterone poisoning and dreaming about impressing everyone with just how bad ass they are. And, if they're lucky, they'll get laid in the process. Anyone who doesn't think that's part of the ISIS playbook hasn't been paying attention: kidnapping women and girls and doling them out as rewards to the "warriors" is SOP.

You know, if we really wanted to stop ISIS we'd figure out a way to cut off the flow of money. ISIS is managing to sell oil in Turkey -- how hard could it be to stop that business? But we're not going to do that -- and you know why? Because if we cut off the flow of money and ISIS withered into a nonthreat, Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, and the other defense contractors would end up with unsold inventory. Marketplace Money had a report yesterday on how much the various munitions cost. Every time the military uses a Tomahawk missile, it's just spent over $1 million. War is good for business; peace is not.

Monday, September 8, 2014

News of the News

For the past decade or so we've been listening to newspapers and magazines whine about the death of print. The Internet was killing traditional publications. Subscription rates were plummeting, ad revenues were down, life in general sucked if you were a newspaper or magazine publisher. At the same time, those publications created web sites that allowed the entire world to read their content for free. Oddly enough, people don't place a real high value on stuff that costs them nothing. Why subscribe to a hard copy of a newspaper when you could read what you wanted online for free? Eventually most newspapers swung back the other way and began erecting pay walls. You want to read The New York Times or The Washington Post? You get a limited number of free articles each month, and then you hit the pay wall.

Now the AJC -- the Atlanta Journal-Constitution -- has joined the pay wall crowd, albeit with a twist. They must know their audience pretty well. You can still read the news at the AJC site, but apparently they've figured out not many people are actually interested in the news. What do they have hidden behind their pay wall? The games: the crossword puzzles, sudoku, the Jumble, Word Search. . . .  The S.O. is not happy.

Then again, neither am I. It was the AJC, after all, that allowed me to earn my title of Sudoku Queen while working occupying an office at the CDC.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Summer is officially over

The driveway plowing bill for the 2014-2015 season was in the mail yesterday. Can this be far behind?
Even more depressing than the sight of the bill was the letter enclosed with it. The County Road Commissioners voted at their July meeting to discontinue the driveway plowing program. This coming winter will be the last one where I can do the dashing out to snap photos of the grader in our front yard; starting in 2015 we're going to have to keep our 600 feet of driveway open ourselves. Not a happy thought -- we can do it if it's a normal winter, but if we get one of those storms that dumps 3 or 4 feet of white stuff in a day? Well, let's just say we'll be happy we own snowshoes.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

It's that time of year again

Before canning
It's September, and once again I've been busily channeling my pioneer ancestors. The days get shorter, migratory birds start flocking up to prepare for the trek south, and I feel the urge to get out the canning kettle. Twenty-two pints of pressure-canned purple-hull beans that turned green when cooked, several batches of cucumber pickles, pickled cauliflower, Frog Balls (pickled brussels sprouts),  a batch of hot pepper slices, plum jam, 12 quarts of peaches, and I'm feeling compelled to can more.

After canning. Maybe next year I'll invest in a Frencher.
My You Can Can book has multiple recipes I'd like to try. Tomatillo salsa -- the tomatillo plant in the garden is loaded with fruit; there must be enough to make 6 or 7 pints of salsa verde. I've never canned salsa. Homemade fruit cocktail -- that's something that it never occurred to me to try making myself. Watermelon relish. Yellow squash pickles.

But even without the cookbook, I can think of things to make this fall. Awesome Relish -- a person can never have too much Awesome Relish on hand. Apple juice -- granted, there aren't very many apples in the orchard this year, but there are some feral trees near by that are loaded. Apple pie filling -- some of those feral trees must have good pie apples. Last year I put up about a dozen jars of apple pie filling -- they all got used. Ditto apple sauce. Green tomato pickles -- the tomato plants in the garden are loaded with tomatoes, and there's no way they're going to ripen before we have a hard frost. I'd rather turn some into pickles than deal with having multiple boxes of green tomatoes slowly ripening in the house. At this point, the big question is which I'm going to run out of first: ideas or jars. And once the jars run out, I can always buy more.