Thursday, December 22, 2022

Stuff you don't expect to say more than once in a lifetime

 "A drive shaft makes a really interesting noise when it falls out of a moving vehicle."

Okay, so this time it wasn't actually the drive shaft hitting the pavement that made the really interesting (and definitely scary) noise. It was the transfer case eating itself followed by the sound of metal hitting the asphalt. 

My friend Kaylyn is probably going to tell me that losing a second drive shaft is a strong hint that we shouldn't drive Fords. The Guppy was built on an E350 chassis; our current (sitting wistfully waiting for parts) tow vehicle is a 4-wheel drive diesel F350. I don't think the brand is an issue. The S.O. and I have been driving Fords for decades and have only lost two drive shafts in the past forty or fifty years. . . and given just how marginal some of those Fords have been but still managed to keep moving, I'm not inclined to assume the Ford name is a problem.

On the other hand, when a person is sitting on the shoulder of a highway in rural Missouri waiting for a tow truck, the jokes about FORD standing for Found On Road Dead hit a little close to home. 

The transfer case decided to cannibalize itself when we were about two thirds of the way to Hot Springs. As planned in the revised itinerary, we'd spent a night in Portage, Wisconsin, a second incredibly cold night at a KOA in Newton, Iowa (cornfields do not provide much of a wind break once the corn's been harvested), and were looking forward to checking out Pomme de Terre State Park in Missouri. The truck died about 3 hours short of that goal.

What made our situation slightly tricky, of course, was the fact we were towing a 5th wheel trailer. Fortunately, Magee is small for a travel trailer. As it turned out, the towing company that rescued us had space behind its garage for storing Magee while the truck is being repaired another shop in Trenton.

How long and how expensive will that repair be? It's the holiday season. That alone is going to slow the process down. Before we'd even talked with a mechanic I was guesstimating a minimum of 3 weeks, and that was assuming no glitches in the supply chain. Even if the transmission wasn't damaged (unknown at this point; it's possible the housing got cracked but the repair shop didn't know that yet when the S.O. talked with them yesterday) and the transfer case is repairable (probably not) for sure they have to order one new drive shaft. One of the drive shafts stayed attached and dragged; the other one escaped and rolled off into the wilderness. 

One good thing that came out of this mini-disaster was being reminded (again) that most people are basically nice. We coasted to a stop not far from the end of someone's driveway. It was rural Missouri, houses along the highway were relatively far apart, but we wound up close to one. Cell phone technology meant we didn't have to go ask for help, but after we'd sat there for awhile the homeowner came out to ask if we needed any assistance. We told him not to worry; we'd called AAA and a tow truck would be there soon. 

When that "soon" turned into multiple hours, he came out again to ask if we'd like to come into the house and get warmed up. We went in, were served hot chocolate, and thawed out. It was incredibly cold outside so the chocolate was much appreciated. As time went by, it became clear there was a problem with the towing company. When I called AAA a second time to find out what the delay was, they gave me the name and number of the local business. The homeowner then called them to ask what the problem was and found out the idiot owner of that business (Precision Auto in Brookfield, Missouri, if anyone wants to make a note about who NOT to call in that part of the state) hadn't believed it was an actual AAA dispatcher talking to him, wrote the call off as a hoax, and never sent a truck out. He then hung up on the guy who was helping us. [My suspicion is that the AAA dispatcher had an urban accent -- the two I talked with while asking for roadside assistance definitely sounded black -- and Precision Auto's rural racism kicked in.] 

So the homeowner contacted the owner of a towing company in Trenton and got the promise of a truck being out there fast. His wife then called a hotel in Trenton to find out if they had any vacancies, explained our situation, and asked them to hold a room for us. While we waited for the tow truck (that we now knew for sure was on its way) they fed us dinner. It hit me that the hotel might not allow pets, so we called to find out for sure. And they were a No Pets facility. So then these incredibly nice people offered to cat sit Bubba -- they had a mud room so could confine him to a small space. They were a multiple pet household (dog, cats, college age sons) and assured me Bubba would be no trouble at all. He wound up being there for two nights and apparently behaved himself. 

After the tow truck arrived, one of the college age sons played chauffeur for us: drove us to the tow shop so we could deal with the paperwork there and then got us checked into the hotel. His father insisted we take their phone number and emphasized that if we needed more help, like a ride to whatever garage would do the actual repair work, to call them. As it turned out, we didn't need to bother them again, but it was reassuring to know there was someone with local knowledge and contacts we could contact if we needed to.

We're now in Hot Springs. The Younger Daughter took two weeks of vacation so she'd be off work when we first got here. She didn't think that vacation would include an 8-hour drive north to pick us up, but stuff happens. The truck broke down on Sunday, Tammi got to Trenton late Monday afternoon, Tuesday morning we went over to where Magee is stored and removed everything that was perishable or would be damaged by freezing along with enough clothes to last me and the S.O. for a couple weeks, got checked out of the hotel, picked up Bubba, and here we are. 

I do have to say everyone we met or dealt with in Trenton was super nice: the homeowners who helped us, the tow truck guy, the people at the hotel, the mechanic who's going to work on our truck, the Missouri state trooper who spent an hour standing in the cold directing traffic and making sure no one ran into the back end of Magee. . . Which isn't actually that surprising. Given the opportunity, most people want to do the decent thing. It can be hard to remember at times because the jerks can make so much noise, but the cold, selfish assholes really are a minority of the population. 

Thursday, December 15, 2022

Words (almost) fail me

 As my two faithful readers know, I volunteer at the local county historical society museum. Things I've assumed responsibility for are the gift shop (such as it is) and online sales. I'm the person who orders books that might sell reasonably well in the gift shop, and I manage sales through Amazon and EBay. One of the books the museum has had consistently steady sales with is a local history, which describes the development and growth of a lumber company town, Pequaming. 

The book has been out of print for many years, but like many local histories the original press run was ordered by a historical society that (as usual) was wildly optimistic about how many copies they would manage to sell. Every time the museum runs out of copies, it turns out there is still another case or two of them stashed elsewhere in the county. We may be coming to the end of the infinite supply -- when I picked up a case of the books a couple weeks ago my source told me there were only two boxes left in addition to the one I'd just purchased for the museum -- but I know as long as we've got some, they'll keep selling.

The book had actually been out of stock in the gift shop for awhile. When the last one sold I'll confess I procrastinated about tracking down more. Still, once I did re-stock I figured we get enough questions about the book that it would be good to let people know. So I did a post on the museum's Facebook page advising folks that if they wanted a copy the book could be picked up at the museum in Baraga. $12 a copy, which is a bargain for a book that is really nicely done (hard cover, printed on glossy paper, lots of good quality photos, decent writing). All people had to do was email the historical society and we'd meet the buyers at the museum at a mutually agreed upon time. Alternatively, they could order the book directly from the museum for $16 -- $12 for the book, $4 for shipping and handling. 

A  couple people did ask about the mail order option. Gave them the mailing address for the museum and said we'd ship as soon as we got their check. Guess how many people have actually done that? To date, zip. Zero. Zilch. 

As for the pick it up in person route? Several people did ask about that. Two of them did make appointments. Twice each. Once again, guess how many bothered to show? If you're thinking it was like the no-follow-through on the mail order option you'd be right. No shows both times. Then one of them had the nerve to suggest trying a third time. 

Nope. Double nope. I figure the hours I wasted going down the luge run to town and back to sit in a cold museum waiting for book buyers that never showed added up to the equivalent of a full day. I live 14 miles from the museum so just the drive down and back can eat up close to an hour. I might go down the luge run like I'm practicing for Le Mans in the summer but once it's snow-covered? I creep. Not a fast trip either way. 

Granted, I did get stuff done while I was waiting at the museum. There is always stuff to do so it's not like I just killed time reading a first edition Tarzan of the Apes (which I actually am doing when I take a break to eat lunch down there; the mix of racism and sexism is kind of mind-blowing)(there were half a dozen Edgar Rice Burroughs 1920s' novels in a donation box; they're in the gift shop now except for the one I'm reading a couple jaw-dropping pages at a time). Nonetheless, despite the fact I did use the time productively, I have noped right out of meeting anyone at the museum during the off season. I may be retired, I may be a volunteer, but my time still has value.

So what happens now if someone wants to buy that particular book or any of the others we have listed on Amazon or EBay? I refer them to the appropriate link. The amount of stuff we have listed is fairly small. One Sterlite tote and it all came home with me. I'll even haul it along when we head for Arkansas tomorrow (assuming the storm has blown itself out and there's no freezing rain happening between here and Portage). But will people be getting that book at the bargain price of $12? Pshaw. Amazon charges fees. I've done the math. When you add in our costs (the price of the books, cost of mailers, postage, the fees Amazon sucks out) there's no way we can sell the book that cheaply. Anyone ordering it online is going to fork over $30.50. And, yes, that is more than double the in-store price, but, hey, not my idea. If anyone complains, I'll just tell them to talk to the folks who couldn't be bothered to keep their appointments.  

Sunday, December 11, 2022

Lucky accident?

If everything had gone as originally planned, we'd be somewhere in Wisconsin now. The Plan called for us finishing up loading Magee yesterday and heading toward Portage. We were going to indulge ourselves with a high class hotel room for the night (Days Inn located close to the intersection of I-39 and I-90/94), enjoy a gourmet dinner at the truck stop restaurant next door, and then get  on the road toward Iowa first thing this morning. It did not happen.

 The S.O. had some trouble getting the 5th wheel hitch lined up right. When he parked Magee in early October neither of us was thinking at all about what a pain in the ass snow on the ground might turn out to be when the time came to leave. We should have been. Turned out the ever-so-slight slope and the not totally straight back in meant more maneuvering was required than anticipated two months ago. It did not help that the high 20s-low 30s temperatures made the snow especially slick. Things did not go smoothly. Language got colorful. The S.O. wound up having to put the truck in 4-wheel drive to get the traction needed. And at some point the brake pedal got stomped on particularly hard. 

In short, a brake line blew. So today instead of enjoying being far enough south that it's raining instead of snowing, the S.O. will be slithering under the truck figuring out exactly where the break occurred and just what has to be replaced. He is not a happy camper. Neither am I. 

On the positive side, the maybe it really is apple juice in the glass and not piss interpretation, if a brake line was going to blow, parked up by the barn and close to all the S.O.'s tools was a much better location for it to happen than careening down a hill on U.S. 65 in Arkansas.  

Thursday, December 8, 2022

News of the weird

I have been seeing various references to Hunter Biden's laptop in recent days. Apparently the new Republican majority in the House of Representatives is looking forward to holding hearings regarding the laptop, a device that may have content on it that isn't exactly the national security issue the obsessives on the Right would like the rest of us to believe. Kevin McCarthy et al. will try to focus on various emails in which Hunter benefited from his family connections landing him salaried positions that didn't involve much work. You know, typical rich kid/child of an influential politician who gets hired to serve on boards or fill figurehead positions, which isn't a whole lot different than one of aWol's daughters ending up as a co-host on Today pretty early on in her journalism career. Granted Jenna isn't a recovering coke addict, but even so her career trajectory went a lot smoother and faster than is typical in broadcast television. But I'm doing my usual heading down a rabbit hole that doesn't have much to do with what I started to say.

Dick pics. The Republicans want to hold expensive, massive hearings discussing the content that was allegedly Hunter Biden's. If any one who remembers Bill Clinton's misdeeds thought the content of the discussions of Clinton's sex life made for television news not suitable for children, they're in for a treat with hearings going after Hunter Biden. The laptop is loaded with dick pics. Everyone viewing will be wishing for brain bleach. 

Whether or not they're actually Hunter's dick is debatable. The device has been handled by enough people that the chain of evidence, if one wants to call it that, has been shattered multiple times. For all any of us know there's been plenty of opportunity to do some photoshopping to provide Hunter with either a massiave wang or a microdick. And wouldn't that make for entertaining television: Hunter looking at a photo, declaring it's not his appendage, and offering to whip his actual dick out to show Jim Jordan what it really looks like. There are also photos of Hunter enjoying intimately good times with women. And, just to show that he wasn't totally obsessed with his love sausage, there are a few standard family photos. Nonetheless, I am hoping the Democrats on any committees push hard for the committee to show slides, lots of slides. Let the American public know in graphic, definitely TMI illustrations just what the Republicans are choosing to waste time and money on. 

As far as I can tell, the sole purpose of any proposed hearings would be to embarrass the Biden family. Hunter Biden was not a government employee nor did he represent the United States in any way. If representatives of other governments or foreign companies thought they could curry favors with the Obama administration by hiring Hunter at outlandish salaries to do not much of anything, that's their problem, not the American taxpayers'. I mean, just how dumb were those foreign nationals to believe that being nice to the son of the vice president would gain them anything? As John Nance Garner, a former vice president, once said, the vice presidency isn't worth a boot full of warm piss. The only power a vice president has is to break an occasional tie in the Senate. Oh, and maybe make their own menu choices when flying somewhere for a funeral when someone important dies. 

Saturday, November 5, 2022

Route planning

Sometime in the not too distant future the S.O. and I are going to hook up the 5th wheel (also referred to as Magee) and head South, destination Hot Springs, Arkansas. We know how to get there. US-41 to M-28 to US-45 to WI-17 to US-51 to I-39 to I-55 to I-40 to I-30 to US-70. Nice logical left, right, left, right, left, right, right, right, and right. 

The question is do we really want to go through Rockford, Illinois, again? Rockford itself isn't bad since there seems to be a lull this year in the endless construction projects, although the toll way is now kind of mysterious if a person doesn't have an EZ Pass (and we don't; why would we?). When we went down in April there no longer seemed to be an actual cash money lane for folks who are just passing through and don't plan to ever get on an other toll road in Illinois. 

But I can live with mysterious toll ways. I had actually been exploring alternatives to I-39 for awhile because there's a stretch of highway just south of Rockford that is remarkably rough -- it made the Guppy bounce around so much back in 2020 that the stove almost got jolted on to the floor, and it hadn't improved much when we went over it a few months ago. So, blue highways instead of Interstate. 

Google maps came up with one that involves zigging a bit west south of Madison, Wisconsin, and then doing some zigging east and then zigging west, all while more or less aiming south toward Bloomington/Normal while paralleling the Interstate. It didn't seem to make much difference in total miles, but I am of course dubious. The real trick is coming up with a route that will allow us to make reasonable stops, even if it's just in Walmart parking lots, because days have gotten shorter and it will be Real Winter by the time Magee is loaded and hitting the road. And we're old. 

Another alternative would be to skip Illinois and eastern Missouri completely. Just angle over to Minnesota or Iowa, go west until we hit I-35, and follow that down to where we could get on to I-49 and then aim for Hot Springs from the Fort Smith side of Arkansas. Maybe. A lot really will depend on the weather. The more miserable it is, the more likely we are to stick with a route we've traveled before.

Wednesday, November 2, 2022

The mind wanders

Insomnia does strange things to a person's thought processes. When you're wide awake at 3 a.m. do you count sheep like a normal, cliched insomniac would or do you go wandering down strange mental alleys?

Tool set for castrating chickens (available from Amazon)
Do you, for instance, ever think about capons? I mean, who was the first person who decided castrating chickens would be a good idea? Large livestock, sure, it makes perfect sense to lop the balls off bull calves or male sheep. It doesn't take much of an agricultural genius to figure out that turning your livestock gender neutral will make the beasts easier to handle and, major bonus for carnivores, fatter. But chickens?

Among other considerations, birds don't have external genitalia. If you want to know if a chick is going to be a rooster or a hen you have to shove a finger into the wee feathered friend's cloaca. Which brings up another question, naturally. Who was the first person to figure out that's what you needed to do if you wanted to determine sex before the birds fledged and  you could tell at a glance which ones were pullets and which were cockerels. One of my friends in grad school was a woman who once worked in commercial poultry production as a sexer. That's what she got to do for her 8-hour shift: shove a finger up a chick's ass and pronounce it male or female. It was not a fun job, albeit one that was apparently not hard to learn. For sure it makes for an interesting line on one's resume. 

In any case, capons are not as common in supermarkets and butcher shops as they once were. Maybe it's because commercial poultry operations have managed to breed broiler-fyers that are a whole lot meatier than chickens used to be -- some breeds now have breasts so large in comparison to the rest of the body that those breeds can no longer reproduce naturally because the rooster can't get close enough to the hens; their chests (the roosters') get in the way (and wouldn't that be a fun job, too, being the person who artificially inseminates chickens). Back in the primitive days of poultry production it would take many months for a castrated cockerel to get to Sunday roasting size; now there are broiler-fryers who go from hatched to marketable in barely 8 weeks. Why think about getting a capon when you can find individual chicken breasts that weigh as much as a whole bird used to? Call me old-fashioned, but it strikes me as profoundly unnatural for one boneless chicken breast to weigh over a pound. Mutants. Birds on steroids. Definitely not the same breed as the yard birds we raised in our back-to-the-land phase in the '70s.

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Lies, damn lies, and political ads

A bizarre political flyer landed in our mailbox the other day. The right-wing nut jobs have decided the way to defeat the reproductive freedom proposition that's on the ballot here in Michigan is by enrolling the specter of prepubescent children being allowed to request elective hysterectomies without bothering to obtain parental consent first. Apparently the Betsy DeVos crowd believes the average person is so brain dead that he or she will believe that allowing adult women to obtain abortions is going to lead to children deciding to change genders. 

The television equivalent of the print ad is pretty strange, too. As the text of the proposed resolution is displayed on screen, the word "sterilization" is highlighted while the voice-over talks about protecting children. The reason sterilization is in the resolution, of course, is that women often find it next to impossible to obtain procedures such as a tubal ligation if they're still of child-bearing age. Adults can make fully informed, conscious decisions that they do not want to have children and then discover doctors will refuse to perform the minor surgery involved because "you might change your mind." Doesn't matter if you already have multiple children and have decided that's enough, you've learned your family's medical history includes some potentially nasty disorders, or you simply do not want to be a parent, many physicians will still refuse to allow you to obtain a voluntary sterilization. Somehow that anti-choice crowd equates that with allowing minors to receive care for gender dysphoria.

The part where the stupid truly burns, of course, is when they suggest that children as young as 10 or 11 will be able to obtain prescription drugs or elective surgeries without parental consent. Does anyone with even half a brain believe there are physicians practicing who'd treat pre-pubescent minors without a parent or guardian present? Would a child even make it past the clinic receptionist?    

Then again, I find the whole trans-phobia phenomenon pretty strange to begin with -- trans people are not exactly everywhere so I don't get the fear factor at all. Ditto the paranoia about an occasional trans girl participating in sports and thus having an unfair advantage just through the possible possession of a penis. A few months ago there was a lot of fulminating about a trans woman on a college swim team who's came in first in a meet or two. Lots and lots of ranting about unfair advantage, especially from the young women who lost to her. What was totally ignored is that particular college athlete had been in quite a few meets and lost a bunch of them. If the having been born with a dick gave her a special advantage, her winning stats would be better than they are. 

In any case, it's definitely weird how the known existence of one trans person participating in a sport will suddenly have the bigots freaking out and apparently seeing trans people everywhere. I'm willing to bet that if you were to do a survey of college swimmers asking how many trans women are on swim teams the nation-wide answer would be "one." But that one person's existence has insecure cis people freaking out and warning that pretty soon hordes of men pretending to be trans will be trying to get on swim teams everywhere. It must be exhausting to be that paranoid and fearful all the time. 

And while we're on the subject of sports, why isn't anyone freaking out about girls playing traditional boys' sports, like football. One of our local high schools has at least one girl on its football team. I can't recall what position she plays*, but no one that I know of is throwing fits about it. On a macro level, I've noticed a number of articles this fall celebrating female high school football players, like the quarterback in Pewaukee, Wisconsin, whose team won their homecoming game 66-6. Of course, girls playing boys sports aren't view as threats because societal ingrained sexism doesn't take them seriously. It's more like, "How cute. She'll outgrow it."   

*I'm guessing either kicker or quarterback, as those seem to be the positions girls most commonly end up playing, although if she's fast on her feet running back would be a good bet, too.

Tuesday, October 18, 2022

There is probably a nap in my future

 Kind of wondering just how the S.O. is going to react after he's up and realizes the time showing on the clock radio is about 90 minutes fast. I got up thinking it was a little after 6, came downstairs, went through my normal first-thing-in-the-morning routine, and then after I was thoroughly awake discovered it was actually 4:45. Realizing I was up almost two hours earlier than normal did not thrill me. The power was out for maybe 7 hours last night, and obviously the clock radio no longer saves the time as accurately as it once did.

The power actually went out multiple times yesterday. It had gone out sometime during the night, came back on before I got up, was on for most of the morning, went  out again, then back for a few hours, and then gone again right about the time I normally crawl into bed to read for awhile. Heavy, wet snow and winds gusting up to 45 mph had the REA linemen working pretty much nonstop. We talked to one of them who said trees were toppling a lot faster than they could keep up with them all. He came through our yard twice checking for limbs touching the line. Never heard a chainsaw running, though, which surprised me. There is a section of power line that has never had a brush cutting crew go through it. It went from being open  field in the 1970s to thick trees, spruce and birch that's now pushing 40 years in age and growing a lot taller than the line, without ever seeing an REA crew, at least not doing routine tree trimming in decent weather. 

I am curious as to how much damage the snow did. I heard trees snapping each time I stepped outside yesterday.  There are a couple trees down close to the driveway -- a decent sized birch for sure and maybe a small black cherry. The yard is littered with pieces of apple trees. The lilacs got flattened, but they should spring back once the weight is off them. The S.O. said he noticed limbs down in the orchard, too, when he walked up to the 5th wheel to retrieve a battery-powered lantern.

How long the slush will sit on the ground is debatable. The temperatures are supposed to climb out of the 30s by the end of the week so some of it will melt. Every time we get snow in October there will be people claiming it's too early or it's not normal. Pshaw. I can recall slogging through snow trick-or-treating in Ishpeming in the 1950s. There was a reason so many parents opted for the basic ghost costume -- it's easy to wear a sheet over a snowsuit. The big question with October snow isn't why is it here but will it stick? Will we see bare ground again this fall or is this snow going to wait until May to melt?

Saturday, October 15, 2022

Supply chain issues

Our local community is currently reeling from the aftermath of a horrific accident that wiped out the Holiday gas station in L'Anse late Thursday night. A semi-truck veered off the highway, wiped out multiple pumps, struck and killed a customer pumping gas, and wound up smashed into the front of the building. An employee in the store was inured and required hospitalization; a customer talking to the cashier wasn't hurt. The fire resulting from the crash pretty much totaled the building. 

The truck driver and his passenger, a driver in training, were uninjured. The state police arrested the driver on suspicion of OWI (operating while impaired). He'll be in court on Monday for an arraignment on charges of OWI that resulted in death. And this the part that struck me: the dude is 22 years old. Twenty-two. Barely old enough to legally possess a Class A driver's license that allows for interstate operations. And he was training another driver.

Holy wah. In the weird way my mind operates the first thing that hit me after hearing the driver's age was just how fucking desperate is the trucking industry for drivers that they're resorting to using novices as trainers? The S.O. used to have a CDL. He did OTR for awhile. The company he worked for required all new hires to go through training regardless of their prior experience before they got turned loose on their own. His memory is that trainers were old. They were the guys who had hundreds of thousands, nay, millions of miles of experience. Just how much experience is it possible for a 22-year-old to have?

Then when I was going in to town yesterday to drop off my overdue library books, I saw the guilty truck being hauled up the highway, no doubt to a secure impound lot where the squints who do forensic analysis can go over both the tractor and the trailer with the proverbial fine tooth comb to make sure there's no possibility of a mechanical failure -- because you know that's going to be the driver's defense. It wasn't him: the steering crapped out or the brakes failed just as he came around that tricky curve on US-41.  And I did a double take. The name on the cab door of the incinerated truck was C. R. England.  

C. R. England is one of the more venerable names in the trucking industry. They're been around since 1920 (thank you Google). Unlike some other companies, they aren't the subject of jokes or general derision (like Swift, which has one of the more ironic names in the business). They're well established. They're not small. They don't (so far as I know) have a shady reputation. Just how pathetic and thin is the applicant pool when a company like C. R. England is resorting to using 22-year-olds as trainers?

I'll admit that I had been thinking the company involved would be one of the odd ones that to me always seem a little seedy, like Covenant. In fact, until I heard there was a trainee along for the E-ticket ride, I kind of assumed it would be a local owner-operator hauling wood chips to the bio-mass plant. Some of those guys do push the envelope when it comes to driving more than legal hours or skimping on equipment maintenance. But nope, C. R. England.  

I do find myself wondering just what happened to the trainee. Something tells me that person just might be considering different career paths now. . . Then again, having survived one dramatic truck crash, what are the odds they'd ever be in another?

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

So what's new at the museum, you ask?

Well, no one is actually asking but I'm answering anyway. 

We're living in exciting times. I was finally able to erase one of the "action items" off the list on the white board in the office. Number one for the past several years has been "flagpole." A few seasons back one of the flag clips broke. We bought new clips and then discovered the method of fastening the clips to the lanyard was a tad fucked up. The lanyard is a metal cable; the clips were clumsily safety wired in place. I brilliantly figured out there had to be a better way of doing stuff. 

At about the same time, it struck me that the flagpole didn't look real good. The dominant color for the metal pipe was rust. So the museum manager made an executive decision that we wouldn't settle for just safety wiring a new clip in place: we would paint the pole and replace at least one of the pulleys that was twisted in an odd way. Flagpole went on to the action items list. Time marched on. 

Tank float or finial? Inquiring minds want to know.
At some point we noticed a strange object on the ground near the flagpole. The wind (which down in Baraga blows more or less constantly) had managed to dislodge the finial from the top of the pole. After first doing a 'holy wah, what a clever hack' when it sank in just what the finial had been, new finial got added to the flagpole's refurbishment supply list. I toyed briefly with going looking for a new copper toilet tank float, but then remembered the eagle in the storage building. If the wind had managed to dislodge the original tank float finial, sooner or later it would blow an equally lightweight replacement off the pole. Granted, the original hung in there for over 20 years, but still . . . The eagle, which appeared to be solid cast iron, was definitely not lightweight. If there is ever a wind strong enough to blow that eagle off, it will mean the museum is probably gone, too. 

Where the cast iron eagle came from to begin with is another one of those unknown provenance cases that the museum is rife with.We have absolutely no clue where the thing originated. The bird weighed a ton (well, at least 10 pounds, possibly 20), had peeling gray paint, and was mounted on a broken cast iron base. After I remembered the bird existed the S.O. removed the base, figured out what size pipe was needed to fit neatly inside the flagpole, and then tack welded the eagle to an appropriately sized 3-inch nipple. (And exactly why are short chunks of threaded pipe referred to as nipples? It's a gendered part because both ends are threaded as male, so why is it a nipple? Why isn't it a dick?) The eagle turned out to be perfectly proportioned for perching on the pole:not too big, not too small.

Long before we figured out the eagle would be the perfect finial, I started spritzing penetrating oil on the nuts on the bolts on the base for the flagpole on a regular basis. That can of penetrating oil lasted a remarkably long time, through at least three summers, and it's not empty yet. I figured penetrating oil was a good idea because the bolts, nuts, and washers had had a couple decades to rust solid in. Turned out it wasn't that bad. When the time finally came to remove the bolts, the nuts came loose without much effort. 

The flagpole is set up in what is probably the classic fashion: two very solid supporting metal posts on either side of the metal flag pole; a couple of long bolts going through all three. If we pulled the bottom bolt, the pole would pivot and we would paint it and fix the lanyard pulleys. The trick was just going to be lining up some muscle to pivot the pole: it's got to be twenty feet long, maybe longer, and is an iron pipe about 3 inches in diameter. It has, to say the least, a fair amount of mass. 

We got the muscle in July. That's when we discovered that whoever set up that flagpole was determined it wouldn't go anywhere. In addition to the two very obvious bolts, it turned out there was a third one at ground level that didn't show until we got the middle bolt out and nothing was happening. I tend to view that as overkill but it's also typical of the museum: the things that don't matter were over-engineered; the ones that count are half-ass or worse. (One of these days I'll do a rant about the wiring: the open junction boxes, switches that don't control anything, and the ceiling fans that can only be controlled by turning a circuit breaker on or off.) 

So now the flagpole is back in position, We painted the pole silver and jazzed up the eagle with gold so the pole is looking good. We can start flying an American flag again and hope that the spotlight on the side of the building really does illuminate the flag after the sun goes down.. The only question left is just how long the current flag will last. The same wind that rips toilet tank floats off the top of flag poles does a remarkably efficient job of shredding fabric.

Monday, August 8, 2022

When are we going to stop wasting our time?

The S.O. and I made a classic mistake (for us) last night. We decided to watch Real Time with Bill Maher. Once again we found ourselves being relieved we don't actually pay for HBO -- the S.O. has become quite adept at figuring out how to stream stuff free that is supposedly only available by subscription so the only cost was to our time. 

Maher really has crossed pretty far over the line into old-man-ranting-at-clouds-you-kids-get-off-my-lawn ridiculous geezer territory. Some of the shit that emerges from his mouth definitely falls into the totally out of touch moron category, some is flat out stupid, and some is. . . I don't know. Bizarre? I mean, one of the weirder things Maher did in his latest show was disagree with the idea that good comedy should punch up, not down. You know, have the balls to make people in power wince instead of attacking folks already being shit on by society. This was in reference to Dave Chappelle getting chastised for doing exactly that: punching down with transphobic jokes.

Of course, Maher himself is pretty transphobic. He's right there with the TERFs in saying that if you emerged into the world with a dick instead of a clit you can never be a "real" woman. He's jumped right on the right-wing bandwagon that is pushing for doing actual genital checks of female high school athletes to make sure the girls are really girls. Unreal. Why don't these concern trolls ever talk about doing similar checks in boys' locker rooms to make sure everyone claiming to be a dude actually has a penis? (Obvious answer: because the middle-aged male perverts who come up with these ideas have no interest in seeing dicks; they want an excuse to sexually abuse adolescent girls.) 

And then there's Maher's pet obsession. The man really hates fat people. All the troubles in the world apparently can be blamed on obesity. He does say some remarkably dumb stuff when it comes to obesity, like saying there are no fat 90-year-olds. Obviously, he's never worked in a nursing home. Hoyer lifts exist for a reason. There are a lot of nurse aides out there who suffer from bad backs because they've had to work with incredibly hefty old people. If your genetics want you to pack on poundage, it's damn hard not to even when you've lost most control over what you're fed.

Sometimes the people on the panel can make up for the fact that Bill Maher is a shit. Some pretty smart and witty people are still willing to go on his show. Unfortunately, this latest episode wasn't one of those nights. Matt Taibbi used to fall into the smart and witty category but last night he just wanted to do his pet rant about internet censorship. Lis Smith, also a smart person, fell into the same trap of just wanting to rant about one thing. And then there was Maher, who for some reason seemed to view Pete Buttigieg* as endangering the Democratic Party's mid-term election chances by being too openly, happily normal while gay. So basically the audience got treated to three separate monologues. Taibbi would do a couple sentences on his pet theme, Smith would talk about abortion being on the ballot in November (which it isn't, at least not in a literal sense), and Maher would shout at clouds.  

One of these years, maybe we'll learn. . .

*Speaking of Buttigieg, he's changed his residency to Michigan. I am going to be vaguely hopeful that one of these days he'll run for either Governor or Senator. He's smart, he's personable, and he manages to tell unpleasant truths in a way that doesn't piss most people off. Senator Stabenow is 72 now and has been in the Senate for over 20 years; she needs to concede that she's earned a rocking chair and retire gracefully. 

Sunday, August 7, 2022

It was finally our turn

For the past couple of years we've been able to say No when asked about COVID: no personal infections, no contact with anyone who has tested positive for COVID. There was always several degrees of separation between us and people we sort of knew who did get sick: you know, friends of friends of friends, people we used to see occasionally but haven't moved in the same circles with in years. That changed this week. 

Am I allowed to complain that it's been remarkably anti-climactic? Nine days ago we went to a small, belated birthday party at a cousin's summer cottage. There were only 9 people there, the S.O. and myself included. As of today, so far as I know, SARS-COV-2 has zapped maybe six of us, five for sure. Every person there has taken COVID seriously: vaccinations, boosters, masking, avoiding large public gatherings, the usual life in the plague years behavior. The virus slithered into our small circle anyway. The S.O.'s cousin messaged him Tuesday to say that four of the people at the cottage had positive rapid test results. The S.O. told me that he'd felt all day like he was coming down with a head cold so he dug out the box of rapid tests a generous government sent us several months ago. His test result? Positive. So I swabbed my nostrils, too. Good news, at least that day, for me: Negative.  

The S.O. turned into a snot mass production facility -- he went through an amazing amount of Kleenex in one evening -- and called his PCP at the V.A. clinic Wednesday morning. She emailed a prescription for Paxlovid to the closest pharmacy; I picked it up Wednesday afternoon. He took the first set of pills and, maybe it was a placebo effect, but snot production slowed rather quickly. He's basically back to normal now -- or as normal as he ever gets. I felt fine but kept testing, kept coming up negative. Then we ran out of rapid tests. 

Naturally, that's when I got sick. Felt fine most of the day then got hit in late afternoon with a massive wave of fatigue coupled with a vaguely feverish feeling and a whole lot of body aches. Crawled upstairs, napped, stumbled downstairs, checked my temperature (101), and mumbled a lot about bad timing: getting sick on a Friday afternoon is not ideal, especially when we'd used all the rapid test kits in the house. I decided that, well, I'll suck it up and if I'm sicker in the morning we'll drag my aching body to urgent care. I must not have been taking it all too seriously because I didn't bother telling the S.O. to call an ambulance if he noticed me turning blue in my sleep.

Except in the morning I wasn't sicker. Felt a little stuffed up and a little more tired than usual, but no fever, no aching. And that was it. It's like I just experienced the world's shortest case of the flu. Okay, I know there's no way to know if it was/is actually COVID (I am not curious enough to do the 45 mile drive to Walgreen to pick up test kits). If it was, the brevity of the feeling like shit must be a good sign the vaccinations worked. If it wasn't, maybe it was a new personal record in getting over a summer cold.

I am vaguely disappointed things didn't turn more dramatic, although I'm not sure why. The appropriate feeling should be relief. Life is strange.

Tuesday, July 12, 2022

Science marches on

Or maybe the title should be 'welcome to another revenue stream.'

I got to experience a new-to-me preventive medicine screening procedure yesterday. A few weeks ago I had my annual wellness meeting with my primary care practitioner, the encounter I always refer to as the 'yes, I'm still breathing' encounter because it's not a physical exam in the old-fashioned sense of an annual exam. It's a question-and-answer session that doesn't go much beyond the practitioner demonstrating that yes, she does still know how to use a stethoscope to make sure you have a heartbeat. 

Anyway, as part of the Q & A, my PCP ascertained I had managed to dodge the tits-in-a-vise for over five years, had never been tested for Hepatitis C, couldn't remember the last time I'd gotten a tetanus booster, and had never even heard of being screened for an abdominal aortic aneurysm, let alone had that screening done. When did routinely doing ultasounds of geezers' guts become a thing? 

I do like to feel like I'm getting my money's worth out of my insurance premiums, though, so when I got told it was a covered procedure under Medicare, I said sure, schedule it. It's summer. I don't mind the drive from the ranch up to Portage Health in Hancock when the weather is good. I acquiesced on the tits-in-a-vise, too. I figured it's a waste of time, but didn't feel like arguing it. 

Then I started Googling abdominal aortic aneurysms. No surprise -- they're pretty common in the elderly. Not super common, but of all the age groups, old people are the most likely cohort to end up with blood vessel problems. You get old, stuff starts wearing out, including major arteries. And arteries don't come any more major than the aorta. If you think of the aorta as analogous to a rubber hose that is being repeatedly inflated and deflated multiple times per minute day after day, month after month, decade after decade, it's not surprising that it's doing to develop some odd bulges as it fatigues. Eventually the bulges can get bad enough, the tissues thin enough, that leaks develop. Or, worst case scenario, blowouts. 

So when did screening for potential blowouts become a routine procedure? As far I could tell, it goes back to 2015 and the recommendations of the United States Preventive Services Task Force. The USPSTF is an independent organization, a panel of experts that evaluates findings in scientific medicine, and comes up with recommendations for improving preventive care. Seven years ago the Task Force reviewed the extant research on abdominal aortic aneurysms and decided screening older persons who presented certain risk profiles would be a good idea. 

Who fit that profile, you ask? Overweight elderly men with a history of long-term smoking and high blood pressure. How did the Task Force feel about screening old ladies? Probably not beneficial for women. So why did I, a woman who has normal blood pressure and quit smoking over 40 years ago, end up getting referred for a screening? See the subtitle suggested above: revenue stream. 

In a Facebook post where I mentioned the screening, I described the experience as the hospital trolling for surgery patients. After all, that is the fix: treat the aorta like a bad tube on a tire by patching it. It can be patched in a minimally invasive way (insert a stent by slicing into the femoral artery and sliding a stent up to reinforce the aorta from the inside, a procedure that's still going to require a general anesthetic and no stair climbing for a few days) or you can slice the patient open and work directly on the bad section. So, yes, I'm still thinking trolling for candidates to slice and dice is an accurate assessment. The more old people you screen, regardless of whether or not they fit the high-risk patient profile, the more likely you are to reel in a few potential occupants of a surgery suite.

Am I likely to be one of those candidates? Based on the statistics I saw, this is a case where the odds are in my favor. Geezers might be the most likely group to experience abdominal aortic aneurysms, but even among geezers aneurysms are pretty rare. And then when you get into just how many people who have been diagnosed with an aneurysm, the numbers who experience actual ruptures isn't especially high. Yes, it's a risk, but in the overall scheme of things that might kill a geezer, it doesn't make the top ten. 

As for how I'd react if I did get told to consult with a surgeon, my feelings on medical interventions once a person hits their sell by date (or is close to it) have been documented elsewhere. Watching my mother age did a good job of convincing me I have zero desire to be a centenarian. She actually aged pretty well (no cognitive decline, for example) but it's still depressing as hell to become increasingly frail while watching everyone in your age cohort drop dead before you. Involuntary tontines suck; being the oldest person in the audience at someone else's funeral doesn't seem like much of a pay-off.

Sunday, June 26, 2022

Travel thoughts, more than slightly late

 Otter sculpture, Garvan Woodland Gardens

We've been back from our brief visit to the Land of No Snow for two months now. It always feels a little weird to visit a different season and then return to the tundra with its depressing sloppy April mix of mud and slush. May usually isn't a whole lot better -- if I recall correctly, our last spring snow in 2021 fell on May 15. Heading south we perked up when we realized we'd passed the snow line; on the return trip we groaned when remnant snowbanks began to appear around Rhinelander. By the time we got home, our driveway was, of course, still snow covered and the picnic table was still buried. 

It did turn out to be a late spring. Lilacs did not bloom until well after Memorial Day, neither did the creeping phlox.

Anyway, I've always liked Hot Springs, Arkansas -- it was one of my favorite places to visit for work back in my days with the National Park Service -- so would naturally would have liked to stay down there longer. 

One of the things parents always get warned about is trying to live their lives through their kids.Well, the Younger Daughter got a promotion and a transfer and is now duty stationed in Hot Springs. She's working on the Ouachita National Forest and eventually will be in an office in the forest headquarters (supervisor's office) in downtown Hot Springs. At the moment she's still teleworking -- the official move back into actual offices may take place around the end of June, beginning of July. If memory serves me right, she'll be right across the street from the National Park headquarters. Or maybe a block away, but not more than that. Does that count as me living vicariously? Or is it just a lucky coincidence? I'll vote for coincidence. 

Nifty garden train at Garvan Woodland Gardens  
I will take some credit for letting her know Hot Springs isn't a bad place to be -- we did a mother/daughter weekend trip there back in 2011 -- but I think the actual attraction for her (not counting the promotion) was the fact Arkansas is green. It's true the natural landscape can be hostile (briers and poison ivy [unofficial state flower of Arkansas], assorted snakes, wood ticks, chiggers) but it doesn't seem quite as determined to kill you in as painful a way as possible as the Arizona desert does. 

It was a quick trip, slightly over two weeks including the travel days down and back. Because The Kid has to work from home, we opted to stay at a hotel. She did take a week of vacation so we could play tourist (note photos from Garvan Woodland Gardens, a Hot Springs attraction), but we figured she'd be happier without us underfoot. Besides, we had Beelzebub with us and had no idea how he and Cupcake (Tammi's cat) would react to each other. If they never achieved an understanding, it would be a very tense two weeks, and if they became buddies then we'd get to feel guilty about splitting them up right away. So a hotel that was pet friendly seemed like the smart thing to do. 

I do not usually do hotel endorsements, but I've got to say the Hilton Home 2 Suites we patronized in Hot Springs was the type of hotel I would have killed for (figuratively speaking) when I had to travel for work. It had amazing work space (most of the time when I traveled for work I'd end up sitting on the floor with the laptop in order to have the phone cord reach an outlet -- we had to do a hardwire dial-up connection; no using public wifi), a full-size refrigerator (not one of those annoying dorm fridge things), a decent breakfast bar, and was clean and quiet. It also came equipped with basic kitchen supplies -- china, silverware, a couple microwavable casserole dishes, and a toaster. If I had to stay anywhere for more than a few days, I'd cheerfully stay at a Home 2 again. The rates were good, too. In fact, we paid a lot more for rooms that were not nearly as nice on our way to and from Hot Springs, with the most overpriced probably being the place we stayed in Poplar Bluff on the way down. Definitely more of a one-star type room with the added bonus of discovering during the night that the heat didn't work. We did get a partial refund when I mentioned the no heat problem during check out, but that's not going to get that particular Comfort Inn back on our list of places we're willing to stay. 

Not that we're likely to be staying in any motels any time soon. If everything goes as planned, the next time we're in Hot Springs it will be with the Bobber (the travel trailer) so we'll be thinking about campgrounds and not whether or not a hotel is worth whatever it might happen to cost.I really do not want to spend next winter in the U.P.

Sunday, May 8, 2022

Metal coat hangers poised to make a comeback

Like everyone else in the country, I have been thinking about abortion and a woman's right to control her own body. It's kind of weird how all those men who are so vehement about not getting vaccinated ("My body, my choice!!") refuse to apply that same concept of personal autonomy to anyone with a functioning uterus. They're also too rigid (and brain dead) to grasp the simple truth that abortion rates remain pretty steady regardless of restrictions on access. The only thing that changes is the death rate when the abortion moves from a clinic office to the proverbial back alley. 

I am tempted to do a real rant about the women who claim to be 'pro-life' because so many of them  are the worst hypocrites. Men have a sort of excuse when it comes to being anti-abortion: they're usually remarkably ignorant about how the human body functions to begin with, and quite a few of them really do want to control women. Maybe not always on a conscious level, but nonetheless they're totally on board with the idea of barefoot, pregnant, and not competing with men for anything. They're not really pro-life. They're pro-control.

Women, on the other hand, do know how women's bodies work, they all know someone who's experienced sexual assault or an unexpected or unwanted pregnancy, so why any woman would ever be anti-abortion baffles me. Too many women are pro life/anti-abortion until it's their own body or their daughters with the unwanted pregnancy. They'll go from standing outside clinics harassing patients to slipping in to get the procedure themselves to right back on the protest line calling other women murderers. I know a few myself. They've had abortions for various reasons but to hear them talk now abortion is the ultimate evil. Privately they'll admit it was one of the smartest things they ever did; publicly they're right there sticking crosses on the church lawn* and referring to anyone who has an abortion as a baby killer. I'm not sure what would be an appropriate label. Hypocrite actually feels a bit mild.

But I'm not in a solid ranting mood at the moment. Too early in the morning, not enough caffeine to sustain a long coherent rant. Instead, given the odd way my mind functions, I've been wondering where desperate women are going to find the coat hangers. Have you guys checked your closets lately? Plastic, thick, totally useless as a surgical instrument plastic. Coat hangers for abortion purposes have to be the lightweight metal ones, the kind dry cleaners might still use -- which is debatable, given how few

people still use dry cleaners for anything. You know, the kind of coat hanger many millennials and younger folk have never seen, the kind that you could untwist to create something to use in trying to unlock a car door back in the days when dinosaurs roamed the earth and you could unlock the doors on your Edsel by slipping the hooked end of the hanger down in the door to snag the lock release. The kind Joan Crawford could beat her daughter with when she violated the no wire coat hangers rule in the Crawford household. Of course, that's another thing younger folk have probably never seen: Mommy Dearest.

*Why only crosses? Why no Stars of  David or Hindu symbols? Are all terminated embryos automatically Christian?

Monday, April 4, 2022

So how's your Spring Break going?

It's been one of those weeks. I have thoughts, but they're not particularly coherent. It doesn't help that the Mud Season has arrived in all its glory. Our driveway is that interesting U.P. spring mix of mud and slush. Yesterday temps got up into the 40s, the sun was shining, and life seemed reasonably good. Today it's not as warm, it's gray outside, and there's a dusting of new snow. I was going to wander up to the Woman Cave to do some sewing, but am having a hard time working up the ambition to put on boots. 

My mood is not improved by the knowledge that the Original Plan for today was to pack. We were supposed to be heading south tomorrow, going down to Arkansas to visit the Younger Daughter and to scope out RV parks in the Hot Springs area just in case we decide we'd like to winter down there, but Life Interfered. Before we left we were going to gift our currently car-less Older Daughter with our old F150, which we refer to as Silver. The vehicle spent the winter buried in snow but started with no issues last week. It did take some shovel work and a tow with our plow truck to drag Silver out of the snowbank but we weren't worried about any mechanical issues. After all, it ran when we parked it. 

Famous last words. I got tasked with steering while the S.O. towed. I noticed the brake pedal felt soft. You know, soft as when I stepped on it the pedal sank gracefully and swiftly to the floorboards with zero resistance. "Sort of like stepping on a plum." This was not good. The S.O. did some checking. Turned out one of the ancient brakelines had rusted through. Why is a mystery -- the truck is barely 22 years old. Why would anything on it be rusted? Okay, slight delay in truck delivery. Had to make a run to the parts store for a new line and fittings, but it's mechanically a simple fix. The work gets done, everything seems good, the S.O. takes the truck for a test drive. 

He figures that's when he blew out an other brake line, the flexible rubber one. It's not as common a part as the metal brake lines. We checked online to see if Auto Zone had the line in stock at the closest store. Nope. We would have had to drive to Rhinelander, Wisconsin. This morning he called the local parts store in Baraga. They claim they'll have it by this afternoon. I'm not holding my breath. Once he gets the part, then he gets to do the installation . . . and we get to wait a bit to find out what will go wrong after that. 

I shouldn't complain. I'm not the one who gets to crawl under a truck that's parked outdoors on melting snow and try to loosen and tighten fittings in just barely above freezing temperatures.   

Rest in peace, C. W. McCall. Ever since hearing the song I've wanted to go over Wolf Creek Pass. 

Sunday, March 27, 2022


The old stove

I just went up to the Woman Cave to get a fire going in the new-to-me wood stove. Theoretically after it's burning for awhile it'll get warm enough in the WoCave for me to be able to do some sewing without wearing mittens. The only question now is how long it'll take. It was still below freezing in the building when I wandered back down the driveway in search of a hot cup of coffee. I do like the way my current stove looks but if I'm going to be honest, it does not draw nearly as well as its predecessor and does seem to take a lot longer to get things warm. 

The old stove, long time readers (all two of you) may recall, was a homemade box stove. It would probably have given an insurance agent nightmares, but once it got going it burned really well. I liked to compare its appetite for consuming wood to a wino's grabbing for bottles of Ripple. I once decided to ask the S.O. about the actual history of that stove. As I suspected but wasn't sure about, the stove was created locally. Charles B. Dantes (aka Young Charlie) built the stove in his garage/shop in beautiful downtown Herman. I do not know (and doubt if the S.O. knows either and I forgot to ask if he did) if Young Charlie built it meaning to use it in his garage or if it was purpose-built for where it went: the Waiting Shack, the small building the Herman kids hung out in while waiting for the school bus in the morning. 

Why was there a Waiting Shack? Because the full-size school bus couldn't navigate the side roads, or at least not the one that probably had the most kids living on it. The bridge over Dault's Creek (which is always referred to as the Herman Creek when you live in Herman but is Dault's on the maps) for the Summit Road was considered unsafe for the buses. The fact fully loaded logging trucks ran over it all the time was apparently irrelevant. It's one thing to chance dropping multiple tons of pulpwood into the creek, risking a busload of school kids is a different story. The school board dealt with the bridge issue by contracting with someone to drive a feeder bus, i.e., an ordinary car, out to the kids who lived on the various dead end roads that fan out from beautiful downtown Herman. (In retrospect, that car was like a rolling human sardine can, way more bodies crammed into it than it had been designed to hold, all sans seatbelts. Then again, nothing had seat belts back then. In a family sedan mom's lap was presumed to be the baby seat.) 

It is also possible the bridge wasn't an issue at all. The fact the back roads were pure shit may have been more of a factor, but I like the bridge story. 

The feeder bus would go up Lystila Road to pick up the kids from there, drop them at the Waiting Shack, and then go out the Summit Road to pick up kids, back to the Waiting Shack, out the Nestoria Road, and back, until all the kids were waiting for the big bus. Whoever drove the feeder bus got a fire started in the Waiting Shack before the first run out.  The kids who got dropped off would then toss additional logs on the fire if necessary while waiting for the rest of their colleagues to arrive. 

I'm not sure when the system with the Waiting Shack started. I never thought to ask my mother. She mentioned riding a school bus into L'Anse for high school in the 1930's but before that, i.e., first through 8th grades, she and her siblings either walked or skied to the Herman School. (That school closed around the time World War II began; the building is still standing, which is a real tribute to the guys who built it considering how long it's been sitting vacant.)

Anyway, back to stove history. At some point, the S.O.'s uncle Waino bought the stove. I'm not sure when the Waiting Shack stopped being used -- they were still using a feeder bus system the last time our kids were in the L'Anse schools, which was past the time when we acquired the stove, but apparently if the shack was still there it wasn't being heated anymore.

Waiting shack, Herman School in background
Not sure why the S.O.'s uncle bought the stove, but we acquired it from him in the late 1970's. We got it set up in what was then the back porch for the Shoebox (a mobile home) and it hasn't moved since. We did try to do it reasonably safely. As noted in other posts, we started covering the wall with a sheet of asbestos, which kind of shattered while being handled so it never really got all the way up. We also put an asbestos-backed metal pad under the stove. (Asbestos really was everywhere at one point. I'm always amazed there aren't more people dropping from mesothelioma. Check out an old Girl Scout handbook sometime: there are craft projects described in pre-1970's manuals that used loose asbestos fiber to mold candle holders.)

We got the old stove out of the WoCave last summer. We debated doing something with it, like turning it into a legal incinerator. Michigan now has a law stating that if you burn trash outdoors it has to be in an incinerator that includes a chimney. No more using a basic burn barrel or pretending we're in Texas or Missouri and burning trash in ditches. We've got some old brick we could have made a pad with so it wouldn't sink out of sight immediately. In the end, though, it went up to the field (or what used to be a field) to reside on the scrap iron pile. It's probably going to be in that location for a long, long time. It is made from really thick plate steel and isn't going to rust into nothingness any time soon. Does it count as a historic object? Now that it's on the scrap iron pile, knowing the provenance becomes kind of irrelevant.

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Once again, people are focusing on the wrong thing

I have been thinking about the rising price of gasoline lately -- not because I particularly want to, but because the media and social media are obsessed with it. As usual, it's occurred to me that as the meme suggests the problem really isn't that the prices are climbing. The problem is that too many people are getting paid shit wages. If you're on the low end of the income scale and living pay day to pay day even a minor bump up in your expenses is going to cause pain. 

I say "as usual" because every time the price of gas goes up enough to be noticeable I start hearing complaints from people that they're going to have a hard time keeping the tank filled so they can get to work or they're going to have to figure out what food item they can do without. I tend to believe that if paying $5 or $10 more to be able to get to work is going to destroy your budget you are either (a) incredibly bad at budgeting or (b) severely underpaid. 

Using myself as an example and being a person who doesn't drive a gas hog, I figured that if I was still working at my old job, the one with maybe a 5-mile round trip if I decided to drive to the salt mine instead of taking the MARTA bus, I'd end having to fill the gas tank every 12 or 13 days or so. The Focus has a 13-gallon tank, maybe. Think the most it's ever required at one feeding was about 12 gallons after the little low fuel warning lit up on the dashboard. So maybe my commute wasn't typical of the usual urbanite, so let's double the numbers. (I see people whining about long commutes if the drive takes more than 15 minutes, so one assumes most people don't actually have to drive much farther than I did.) Thinking big, maybe instead of only needing about 24 gallons per month for getting to work and running errands, I needed 48. Because I can be weirdly obsessive about some things, I took the time to do back through our credit union statements and found how much I paid a year ago and compared it with what I'm paying now. 

The numbers: rounding for the sake of ease of playing with this particular word problem, a year ago it cost me $20 to fill up the car. Yesterday it cost me $30. One does not need to be Ada Lovelace to recognize this is a 50 percent increase. So if I was still working, I'd be paying about $60 a month instead of $40, a $20 jump that would annoy me but not have me freaking out and coming up with conspiracy theories blaming whoever the current occupant of the White House happened to be. On the other hand, when I was working as a government office drone I made a decent (if not spectacular) salary so I might not even notice the increase very much. But if I were one of the poor saps working for the legal minimum wage, that added $20 expense really might mean opting for more creative ways to make pasta appetizing instead of being able to indulge in some decent protein. 

Or maybe it's just being old enough to remember when gas prices were also higher than anyone liked, 14 years ago when Bush the Younger was in office. It's hard to be upset by something when you've already seen worse. 

However, on the gripping hand, what would have me wondering and perhaps doing mini-rants about corporate greed would be noticing that two gas stations on one side of Keweenaw Bay were selling regular gasoline for $4.29 per gallon while on the other side of the bay two stations had regular priced at $4.06 (23 cents cheaper) and station number 3 had regular for $3.86. That's a 43 cent difference. Why? I can understand prices differing by a few cents, but 43? For what it's worth, the lower-priced station is locally owned; the more expensive ones are corporate. 

Anyway, circling back to a point I meant to make a couple paragraphs ago, maybe instead of bitching about how much gas costs and proposing truly stupid ideas like eliminating gas taxes for awhile (right, like that's really going to help fix the potholes or keep bridges from falling down) there should be an emphasis on paying people more. People who earned a living wage wouldn't have to compare brands of ramen looking for the least expensive option.  

Thursday, March 10, 2022

Do camels get a spa day?

I have been doing a fair amount of knitting lately and have begun thinking about non-acrylic yarns. For years I've been too cheap to work with most natural fibers, including even basic wools like the stuff that comes from sheep. Among other things, acrylic yarns are easily cleaned. When I knit stuff like afghans for infants or sweaters and mittens for kids, I want the garment to be machine washable. I might fondle the wool yarns in the store, but I'm usually unlikely to actually buy it. Some of it is basic cheapness -- if a sweater takes five large skeins of yarn to make, and each of those skeins is a natural fiber, a person can easily drop $100 just on yarn. Then when you add in the possibility that the resulting sweater would be one that shrinks to Barbie size and turns into felt if the owner foolishly throws it into a washing machine. . . acrylic seems like the logical choice for most of my projects. 

This winter, though, I've been doing small stuff. Socks. I am actually working with a sock yarn that's got a high wool content. Not a cheap yarn, by my standards, but one pair of socks doesn't actually require much yarn. Then a few weeks ago there was a discussion online among several virtual friends about hemp and hemp fiber. I did some musing about hemp yarn. I've never seen any, but have seen hemp cloth. I have a tee-shirt made from hemp that is lasting forever. The Michigan Tech chapter of NORML sold them back during one of the years I taught at Michigan's Toughest University, which means the shirt is now probably 25 years old. It still looks good. 

Anyway, I figured if a hemp tee-shirt was that durable, hemp yarn would probably stand up to a lot of abuse, too. It would probably make decent socks. So I went looking online for hemp yarn. Turns out there's a lot of it out there. Multiple companies have figured out industrial hemp can yield decent fiber. The hemp plant, the stuff planted in fields that makes it obvious hemp grown for fiber is actually pretty much of shrub, has two layers in the stem.One layer makes good fiber for weaving; the other layer is good for things like paper. Given that hemp is processed in a way similar to flax (source of linen), just on a bigger scale,  one has to assume it didn't take entrepreneurs long to find equipment and start processing hemp again.  So, lots of hemp yarn in a variety of weights/wraps/plies -- there are multiple ways of defining yarn. I'm happily comparing hemp yarns when suddenly a suggestion for something slightly different comes up.


Camel? Somehow I've never thought of camel as a fiber for knitting. Granted, there are things referred to as camel hair coats but it never occurred to me they might be made from actual camel hair.

The push for the camel hair yarn described it as being carefully obtained from Bactrian camels in Mongolia. The hair comes from combing the camels once a year, not shearing them, and is available in two natural colors: a tannish brown and a brownish gray. The price per skein is reasonable. I'm intrigued, but I was having trouble imagining the weight and feel of the yarn. I don't think of camels as having much in the way of hair. When I visualize a camel, it's always a dromedary, the one-humped Arabian camel, the ones zoos have for camel rides for kids. They've never struck me as having much in the way of hair -- they seem to have a fairly short coat. 

So I consulted my sister, the fiber expert. She has llamas, she spins, she weaves, she knows lot of people who mess around with various fibers. And llamas are distant relatives of camels. It turns out she does have experience with camel hair, but has never actually seen commercially produced camel hair yarn. She did a fiber arts project with kids once that involved hair from a camel ride camel. The camel hair was used to demonstrate felting. She said the kids had fun, but the hair was super dirty so things got kind of muddy. 

This raises an interesting question. Do they bathe the camels before they comb them? You know, do the Mongolian camel herders set up a day spa for the Bactrian camels and do the equivalent of a shampoo and blow dry before doing a comb out to get the hair? Or do they wash the mud off afterwards? And how dirty would the camels be when much of Mongolia is desert? Shouldn't the sand just shake out? It would be nice if the camels actually did get a spa day where they got to hang out, gossip over drinks, and get a nice massage and a pedicure in addition to the comb out. Nerf tells me that combing is a plus; it means they'd be getting the soft undercoat and not the much stiffer guard hairs.

Bactrian camels do have a lot of hair. They're much shaggier looking than dromedaries. It might be a really strong yarn. It could also be both fine and soft. According to Google, which as we all know is never wrong, some fibers that get marketed as cashmere are actually camel and not kashmiri goat. That makes the idea of buying camel hair yarn rather tempting.

On the other hand, the incredibly irritating hair shirts medieval monks and other religious ascetics wore as an act of penance were made from camel hair, so who knows? 

Tuesday, March 8, 2022

Let the whining begin

I saw the most bizarre post on Facebook this morning. A retired university professor, a dude who has a pretty generous pension and doesn't exactly live in penury, shared the fact he was going to stop driving his Dodge Ram truck and switch to using his car for running errands. The dude is a nice guy but I swear he does have moments when he's completely clueless. The urge to type something truly snarky in the comments almost overwhelmed me. I had to literally step away from the computer until the compulsion to type "Jeez, I didn't realize the state pension plan sucked that badly" passed.

It definitely does fall into a out of touch with reality upper middle class problem when you have to decide which of your two vehicles you're going to drive because it's going to cost you an extra $10 or $20 a month if you stick with your pickup truck. I can understand the people who live on extremely tight budgets now worrying about gas going back up to where it was under George W. Bush (the most expensive gasoline I've ever seen advertised was in October 2008), especially if you're commuting to work with a car, but a geezer with a comfortable retirement income? Not to mention having a spare car sitting in the driveway? And just how much driving does the typical retiree have to do in any case? The S.O. and I are retired; we both have places we go occasionally, but we don't put a whole lot of miles on our vehicle in a typical month. I joke about wanting to drive my 2009 Focus to the moon before it's completely consumed by rust, but at the slow pace the odometer is changing the rust is going to win.

On the other hand, I will confess I'm not looking forward to the next time we need to put fuel in our F350 pickup. It doesn't get used much -- we bought it to use primarily as a tow vehicle for our travel trailer -- but when it does get driven the mileage is not spectacular and the tank is apparently bottomless. 

Total digression: I keep looking at that jacked up pickup in the meme and wondering why anyone wants to drive trucks that have that much of a lift on them. What is the point? Do they think they're going to wander into an accidental mud bogging competition?