Jan 24

More presents!

This evening we wrapped up our last Christmas holiday of the season. The god in-laws (just go with it) host us every year. Two empty-nesters are at the center of a house of 15. There are presents. There is lasagna. There are many photographs. It’s a nice time.

Before that, though, it was errands! An oil change! Clothes shopping! Grocery shopping! Lunch! And so on!

I visited Target for the first time in … I don’t recall the last time I was at a Target, to be honest. More than six months. Close to a year? Maybe a year? Anyway, not much has changed at Target. Middle of the day on a Friday after the holidays is a good time to be there, even in one of those stores that feels a little old and tired.

One of the self checkout stations had just … had enough.

There’s a lot to consider here. Is it the neatly creased paper? The crumpled part of the paper? The frowny faces? The target in “broken”? That it says broken?

I think it is the crying frowny face. One is sad, but the other is in tears. There are two levels to the upset nature of things at Target, and that hits home while you’re buying socks at the next self checkout.

Near the house, the line crews are doing line work. It’s a cold day to be in a cherry picker.

At the last Christmas of the year all of the kids presents were a hit. My lovely bride nailed it again. One of the little boys bought me a present. He’s five, and thinking of others. It’s a toy dinosaur excavation kit. When he comes over next time, maybe he’ll help me uncover the bones inside the “fossil.”

Another one of the kids wrapped a present for me — a really awesome mug. You’re just touched when the young’uns think of you.

And the lasagna. First generation recipe. I just sit in the corner and discretely eat as much as I can. That brings this year’s three Christmases to a close with seconds.

Dec 23

Marginally productive, for a Wednesday

After a morning spent doing work stuff, I went downstairs to ride the bike. This would be ride three this week on Zwift. I did two short rides Monday, then last night’s projects got away from me. So I was going to ride long today. I am trying to ride all of the stages in the game, which is something I started last year. I’m almost there!

And so today I was riding Surrey Hills, in London, when I hit the wrong button. The game let’s you do a lot of things as you ride. You can send messages to other riders, you can change the “camera’s” perspective of your avatar. You can take screen grabs and more. The later is how I get the images I sometimes share here. (And I won’t do that as much this year, promise.)

Another thing you can do is hang a U-turn. When you do that you end the route. So there I was, halfway through it when I hit the wrong button. Human error. But there were too many other things I wanted to do today.

First, after a late light lunch, because I did get in 25 miles, I got cleaned up and set out to take on the world. Things to do! Items to scratch off the list!

I took out the garbage. Third time I’ve been to the inconvenience center in the last week, I think. Then, I visited one of the local hardware stores. This is a small place. A mom and pop place. An everyone talks to you place. A no-one-rushes-you-at-quitting-time place. In the back corner I found some cotton rope, which I need for an upcoming project. And then, just to mess with the guy, I asked about the zip ties.

He told me where they were. I looked them over and then said, Nah. You don’t seem to have the industrial strength version I’m looking for. Maybe, I said as I arched an eyebrow while staring at the rope next time.

And then I got my haircut. Clumsy woman, but at least I still have both of my ears. I thought she was going to take my eye, and it wasn’t even when she was attacking the waviest part of my hair. But she was nice. She’s over Christmas music. No need for the standards at Halloween in her book. She likes Prince. She told me about trying to understand “Raspberry Beret” as a kid. She started telling me the story about asking her mother about the lyrics. But I don’t know this woman, or her mother. Am I supposed to ask about this? Prince, I said, was a clever one, and I left it at that.She still goes to the mall for her Christmas shopping. (Is that a thing people do?) I was hoping for some last minute tips, but instead I heard about her brother who is an expert at guessing about what’s inside each present. It was all a blur. They don’t waste a lot of time on a guy’s haircut. No need, really.

Come to think of it, she didn’t even show me the back of my head via the customary handheld mirror.

Be right back.

OK, it is still there.

And almost every task of the day was achieved! Things put off until today were successfully addressed! If I could do that two more days in a row we’d have momentum.

Sounds stressful.

What else is still hanging around? This brief snippet of a video that I shot earlier this week, but haven’t shared yet.

This is the 20th installment of We Learn Wednesdays. I’ve been riding my bike across the county to find the local historical markers. Including today’s installment, we’ll have seen 39 of the markers in the Historical Marker Database. This one marks a 19th century building.

It is appropriate that there’s only wonderful, and generic, National Register plaque. I can find almost nothing about the house or its original owner, John G. Thackeay.

It was built as residence and store. It features three stories in a T-shape, and parapet chimneys. There are transom lights, broad pilasters and paneled shutters. The Greek revival style building went up in 1847.

It could be that this wasn’t John G. Thackeay’s place. There’s a John G. Thackray that lived in the area during that time. The dates, at least, make sense. But in the marker database, and some ancient county document that’s been uploaded to the web, they use the E spelling.

Thackray, though, was listed as a merchant in the 1860 census. His wife and four daughters were there. Two teachers, a hat maker and a servant were listed at his address. In the 1870 census, his last, Thackray is listed as a retired merchant. This house was a story, maybe that’s our guy.

He was laid to rest about a mile away, and almost all of his family is buried there as well. Today, his place is a store again. Hardwoods and carpeting.

In next week’s installment of We Learn Wednesday, we’ll go to school. If you’ve missed any markers so far, you can find them all right here.

Dec 23

Hey, that’s a Friday

I took the garbage to the convenience center Tuesday because, of course, there is no waste removal service in our neighborhood despite the two companies that send trucks up and down the road to visit their customers, our neighbors, every week. And so I do it the old fashioned way, by carrying things seven miles across town in my leather-interior car.

This is at least only a once-a-week exercise. It could go longer, but I’m not trying to ruin my chariot, or funkify its old car smell. Only this week I neglected to clean out the refrigerator on Tuesday. It would have been the sensible time to do so, just before loading up the car. But I did not. Which means it still needed to be done. And since we’re talking about it today, that means I did it this morning.

Removing some old things was fast. Looking for expiration dates might have been the biggest part of it. But by then I was invested, and so I might as well clean the refrigerator. Also it needed it.

There are many sections to our fridge. The freezer is on the bottom, and that has taken some getting used to after most of a lifetime with the freezer on top. Though we recently had a seven-year experience with a side by side, and that seemed to work out OK, even as it did feel a bit small. The point, I suppose, is that I am mentally agile enough to accept a radical change in my frozen foodstuff paradigm.

Inside the refrigerator section, there are three drawers. One for fruit and one for vegetables. Each is about half the width of the fridge. Beneath them both is a third drawer. We keep all of our cold hard cash in there. Previously it was just hard cash, but now it is cold. And also the bacon. The bacon is in that drawer, almost as valuable as the currency and one is definitely hiding the other.

Above the three drawers is the main section. Big items, your milk carton sized stuff, fit there nicely. Above that, there are two more shelves. One is rather small, but seems a custom fit to hold all of the last in crypto technology. And another is a medium size. It is full of my lovely bride’s breakfast and snacks and also some various cheese varieties. These cheeses are outcast from the door cheeses, which will hobnob with condiments, but not all of their dairy brethren. And, of course, the butter has sequestered itself. Snobby, churned product that it is.

And so I cleaned some shelves. And then I took the one bag from the refrigerator chore to the inconvenience center.

Somehow all of this took two hours.

And I just wanted to ride my bike. Last nice day for a while, and all. Probably the last nice opportunity for the year. Because soon there are the many holiday events and here comes the wind and rain and precipitous dip in temperatures and already I’m riding in two or three layers and full fingered gloves. All of which makes it a little more difficult to reach my phone and get the camera app open when I see random images I’d like to capture for no reason whatsoever, which is definitely one of the points of my bike rides.

Not too much longer after that I had a flat. I was only seven miles in, but that meant the end of the ride. It meant the end of the ride because, for some reason, the universe will not allow me to fix a flat and keep on going. There is always, always, always some reason that it’s over. I’ve learned to not fight it.

So I sent a message to my lovely bride that I had a flat and I would be replacing that tube and then limping back home. This, of course, leads to the hilarious four-message sequence where I get to assure her that I’m fine and I can change a tire and it does not require two of us, or her coming to get me, but definitely we should book an Uber Ultra, just in case.

Removed the rear wheel from the bike frame. I pulled the leaky tube from the tire and wheel. I inspected the tire. A little sliver of metal had worked its way through my Gatorskin tire, a heavy duty tire designed to prevent flats. And probably they do! How can I prove a false positive?

So I pulled that little bit of metal out of the radial and reached into my pocket for a spare tube and mounted it on the tire. It only take a few moments to do all of this. Before you know it, you’re getting an extra arm workout from trying to inflate the tire with the portable hand pump. That takes just about the same amount of time. But, soon, I’m back on the road. I thought: I could just keep going. But, no, the universe. And, also, I am now only down to one spare. So I turned around to head for home.

Not two miles away there’s a four-way stop. And a guy there decided he would like to almost hit me as I took my turn through the intersection. A woman was walking by and saw it and she was aghast.

“That idiot almost hit you!”

Somehow, the only thing that came to mind was, It happens every day.

In the seven miles between replacing the tire and the house, I had to stop and reinflate that tube five times. It seems the Presta valve was failing. And so going back home was the right move.

And I only got two more ridiculous close passes along the way.

Happens every day.

Safely back home, I started some laundry. And then, I started a fire.

The only problem being that now all of my clothes are clean or are being cleaned, except for what I am wearing, which smells like smoke.

The fire pit was worth it, though. We had a nice time. And then we had an even better time with s’mores. Haven’t made those in years. Which is probably how long we’ve had those marshmallows. They were sticking together in the bag, and to the bag. But put them over an open flame and they behaved just as they should.

And, now. I am grading things. This will be the beginning of the last big push of the semester. A little more grading this weekend. The final grades to be delivered early next week and then final scores tabulated for the semester. This is momentum.

But, first, the Barbie movie.

Later: That was fun.

Nov 23

Perhaps the most wind, non-storm related, I’ve experienced

We covered the fig tree in the backyard. This was a process. It took several days. First, you have to find out this is necessary. Then you have to make some attempts to find out how to cover it. Everyone has an opinion. None of them are authoritative. Some seem excessive — insulation! plastic! whale blubber! — and some some very casual. So who knows, really.

Anyway, get some burlap. Burlap does the trick. Burlap, you can’t find in stores. Oh you can find some useless burlap netting, which is meant to get in the way of your gardening, I guess, but it has no practical application. So finding burlap is the second step. We found some coverings. We put it on the fig tree. It was not big enough.

So we ordered a second burlap covering. That was step three. It arrived last Wednesday, and we put them on the fig tree on Thursday. One cover on the left half of the tree, the other cover on the right. It took the two of us and, there was a moment when a third set of hands might have been helpful. That was step four, I guess. One of the covers blew off last night, so today, step five.

And I got the fig tree, the part on the right, covered once again. All by my lonesome. And, oh, the details I could tell you about that. Only it was very windy today, so this was done in vain. The cover stayed on for … about two, three, hours. It was very windy.

This is how windy it was today. I went out for my bike ride and I went down this road. The map shows about six tenths of a mile, and if you go from right to left you’re on a slight, a very slight, downhill. You lose about 15 feet of elevation in that time. It’s nothing. But then there was the wind, blowing from the left to the right, gusting at 36 miles per hour.

I was in my hardest gear, pedaling as well as I could, and my Garmin said I was doing 8 mph. I was afraid I would just fall over from lack of progress. At the end of that image there’s a road that makes a big circle. Our neighbor, also a cyclist, says he’ll go ride that loop to hide from the wind. He says he’ll do 15 laps in there. It is almost 1.7 miles of a lovely wooded neighborhood, and it does keep a lot of the wind off of you. But that seems like a lot of repetition to me. Plus, three buses came in there during the short time I was there today, and I passed the same landscapers six times. They were beginning to get curious, and my feet were beginning to get cold.

The weather app said it felt like 25 degrees. And there were also flurries. Which is funny, because, before I consulted the app at the end of my ride, I thought I saw two or three suspicious things falling from the sky.

I’ve never ridden in flurries or snow before — because I used to have more sense, I guess, but we’ll get into that tomorrow — and I still haven’t, not really. I thought something was falling out of the trees. I thought I wanted to be inside, which is where I went, after I discovered that the second cover, on the right-hand-side of the fig tree, had blown off again.

Well tomorrow for that, then. This evening I had to make a run to the hardware store. I picked up some electrical tape for another project-in-vain, some more of that twine for same. And, also, a short length of garden hose. Like extension cords, you can never have enough garden hose. It’s been a while since I’ve purchased any hose. You have many options these days, and I have no idea which is the most appropriate for the particular planned drain duty. I chose the heavy duty version. It’ll probably last longer than any of the other ongoing outdoors projects.

And, now, to the grading! So much to grade! But a lot of it is fun stuff. So much fun stuff to grade!

Oct 23

The stuff that makes the hodgepodge of life

Welcome back to Catober, the only month that guarantees a daily post on the site, and constant pictures of the kitties. They’ll go up each day between 10 and noon, and we’ll take turns giving the spotlight to Phoebe and Poseidon, because they’re jealous furballs. Phoebe was up first today, Poseidon takes over tomorrow, and so on. If you miss a day (and how could you?!?!?) just follow the Catober category.

But that’s not the only thing we’ll see here this month, oh no. All of the usual stuff is on tap throughout October as well, of course. One of the key features will be an extensive denial of this being October — a recurring theme of the site until March or so, of course.

But I digress.

I spent the day elbow deep in making notes for class this evening. (Class went well, thanks for asking!) The students talked about Neil Postman, a Jonathan Haidt essay and Edward Bernays.

To balance that out, I left them with this uplifting little Ron Garan interview.

We also talked about some design composition rules and color theory, because this is a class that mixes the philosophical with production. It’s an unusual hybrid as these classes go, and the students, thankfully, are up for it.

Watching them get invested in understanding Postman and the Huxleyan warning was a great moment.

The Yankee went to campus with me, to take part in a regular feature called Pizza With The Pros, a program accurately named. They bring in a sports media pro, buy pizza for the students and learning and networking take place. My Monday night class take place during this program, so I might see a few minutes here or there this semester, but not much. Perhaps I’ll be able to see more of them in a future term.

Saturday I slept in. We went for a bike ride. It was a shakeout ride for my lovely bride, since she was doing a sprint tri on Sunday. I just tried to stay in front of her as we both complained about the breeze and our legs. After, we drove over to Delaware for first state chores.

We visited a Chick-fil-A in a mall, which is the slow-moving and entirely uninspired variant of an efficient fast food distribution model.

After that, we visited a museum’s gift shop, for gifts! Actually, we picked up our Bike the Brandywine shirts. This was a metric century to enjoy the sites of the greenest parts of Delaware and the Brandywine tributary. It was supposed to be last weekend, but it was canceled in light of the rain and huge winds. That was the right decision, honestly. No way in the world you want to be on soggy roads being blown into a bunch of other cyclists, if you can help it. But we have the map for the route, so we can go back. And, Saturday, we got our shirts. They’re a nice green.

We also visited Trader Joe’s, which wasn’t busy, but was crowded, and navigating those other customers was plenty of fun. We also visited another grocery store, a Food Lion, because they carry Milo’s Tea. We could get it closer, until about a month ago, when suddenly the local stores stopped carrying it.

Food Lion is an older sort of grocery store. Everything is manual. Everything is slow. And the lines are delightfully long. This allowed us the opportunity to strike up a conversation with the older gentleman behind us, who asked about my tea. Asked where it was from. And so I got to tell him it was from a factory on a hill not far from where I am from. He didn’t think I sounded like I was from Alabama, and he wasn’t sure, he said, if that was a compliment. He didn’t sound like he was from anywhere in particular. But he’d hitchhiked through Alabama when he was young, he said. Making him one of the few out-of-staters in his age group I’ve ever met who said they’d been to Alabama but didn’t say they were one of the Freedom Riders. (I wish I’d kept count on that over the years; I don’t think there were that many buses.) He said he’d been through Montgomery. Said his mother was from Tennessee. His wife was first generation from Germany or thereabouts, and his mother-in-law, he could understand some of her dialects, but not all of them.

I thought about turning the accent on, but there’s always a question about that. should I do the fake Virginia tidewater accent everyone wants to hear? The low country accent that I don’t have? Or should I just underwhelm with the low Appalachian hills-and-hollers sound that belongs to my people, but not me?

And by the time I’d figured out how to shade my vowels, it was, finally, my time to check out.

On Saturday it was cloudy in the morning and the sun came out just in time for that bike ride. Sunday was beautiful throughout. Not a cloud in the sky, 78 degrees and a light breeze. And so I took an afternoon bike ride. I noticed this mantis hanging out on the window as I got ready to leave.

My bike computer’s battery was dead, so I had no idea how the ride started, but it felt fast. I was moving well and not working hard. The wind was behind me on my out-and-back. I thought the road was pulling me forward, but it was the breeze pushing me on.

That was something I didn’t realize until I turned around and the wind was in my face. That explains why I wasn’t riding as efficiently on the way back. Also, I was being miserly with my fuel for reasons that made no sense. But here’s the thing. I found some really quiet roads. I headed southwest, which is generally a direction we haven’t explored here yet. I saw some beautiful countryside, and some Revolutionary War era sights. And this proud little municipal building.

Not bad for a township made up of just 2,580 people.

I went out that direction to find some more historical markers. It was a successful trip, and you’ll see some of those coming up on future Wednesdays. But these views made for a fine Sunday afternoon ride.

The only problem was that, for the whole of my route, there was nowhere to stop for a snack, and I started thinking about hamburgers and fries in such a way that I couldn’t shake it. There wasn’t even anyone grilling as I rode through, which would at least explain it. There’s only so long a PB&J can last, and that actually explains it.

But it was a lovely, lovely day to spend pedaling out to the saltwater marshes and the estuaries that dot the river coastline. The area was called Wootesessungsing by the indigenous people (the Lenape, I believe it was) before the Swedish, and then the English, came in the 17th century. I learned the name on one of the signs I saw; Wootesessunging has apparently never been published online, according to two different search engines. Just goes to show, you’ve got to get out there to see these incredible things. Not all of it can be found online.

Catober will be found, though, right here, all month long. So be sure you stay online for that.