Sep 21

They call it The Smith II, no doubt

I had my car in the shop last week. Routine stuff. I needed new brakes. The mechanic called me to tell me I needed new brakes. That was thoughtful of him since, when I drove the car there, I told him I needed new brakes. So he put on brake pads and charged up the air conditioner and I got my car back just in time to drive it safely to the ancestral haunts and back here.

And, this evening, we shipped my lovely bride’s car to the mechanic. Her alternator died. The mechanic is making his boat payment this month off the Smiths.

Her car died in the parking lot across the street from the office. She’d gone to pick up my bike from the bike shop, which is also right across the street. (And, hopefully, this fourth trip for bike repairs for the year has solved the continual problems.) So it was that she texted me that her car died. We tried all the things you try, and, yep, it was dead enough for 5 p.m. on a Wednesday.

Fortunately, we have a roadside assistance service with our car insurance. It’s an app, and it warns you somberly that there are delays because of staffing and just, you know, the world. So since I was already at work, and had to be in the studio tonight anyway, I said take my car and go to the house and do stuff while I stand here with your car until the truck gets here.

Josh, the tow truck driver, was a bit late, but the app kept us updated enough, and the insurance people have an automated text message system that keeps tabs on the whole thing. But the weather this evening was nice and I was standing in the shade. Standing in the shade, that is, in between going into the building to vainly work on someone’s technical problems, poking my head into the studio, fielding insurance company texts and getting updates from colleagues, anyway.

Whatever she did with her time at the house, while I sat with her car, I hope it was productive.

She will drive my car tomorrow and Friday, at least. I will be on my bike which, hopefully, works. The mechanic will drive his boat, The Smith II. I hope it’s a great one. Nothing too overpowered or ostentatious, but nice enough for him to entertain his friends. And I hope they all laugh when he explains the vessel’s name.

Eventually Josh, the tow truck driver, came along. We pushed the car into position, hoisted it up and drove it the four miles to the mechanic. You presume that’s what happens. The man was a professional, after all. And what is he going to do with yet another car that isn’t operational at the moment?

And I got in the studio to see some studio stuff. The sports crew were working tonight.

Their first shows will appear later this week and, as is customary, I’ll put them here.

Speaking of the sports crew …

Michael is working in Iowa. News and sports in the quad cities.

And speaking of sports … this one is a high-water mark in baseball for me.

Read that and watch this over and over. Every part of it gets more interesting with each recollection.

As sports oral histories, that’s one of the better ones you’ll find.

Aug 21

Where I struggle hilariously with plant identification

We haven’t had a random flower post in a while. I didn’t even have to scour the archives to arrive at that conclusion. But I did arrive at a big bunch of these wildflowers at the end of my evening run. The exercise was nothing to write home about, but the rain to the north meant we had clouds, which kept the recent 100-plus heat indices at bay. And the views were lovely.

There’s something that flowers like purple torch out there (Bartlettina sordida), but I don’t think this is that. The inflorescence is similar, but the rest of the plant didn’t fit the bill. Lovely flowers, no matter the species.

Some good old fashioned ironweed (Vernonia gigantea). It grows everywhere around here. They’re all blooming in their glory.

This is perhaps either wavyleaf, a thistle (Cirsium undulatum) or meadow blazing star (Liatris ligulistylis). I could be wrong about both of those. Embarrassing, I agree. But, simply put, I didn’t have that many horticulture classes in undergrad.

And the ever-present wingstem (Verbesina alternifolia). It’s just starting to bloom, and will be with us until October or so. Butterflies love it.

I saw three butterflies. And there were a few bumblebees out enjoying the pollen from the wildflowers, but not enough.

Maybe they’re off buzzing around some other stand of flowers, but I can count on one hand how many I’ve seen this month. The recent heat has been a part of that. We know they don’t like temperature spikes, but their general absence feels a bit disconcerting.

And the birds! Haven’t mentioned this, but in May and June there was a local bird die off and the state Department of Natural Resources asked people to pull in their bird feeders. Our three little feeders provide no end of amusement in the yard, but we can’t have that while the experts are working out this puzzle. Avian disease scientists are trying to figure out the cause. They’ve ruled out a lot of things — avian influenza, West Nile and other viruses, various bacterial pathogens and the always tricky Trichomonas parasites — but haven’t been able to solve the mystery yet.

And that’s the story of the flowers, the birds and the bees, all between the apple and the sycamore trees.

Aug 21

My second plumbing project of the year

I got my socks wet this morning. There’s not much worse than that, but one thing worse than wet socks is not knowing the provenance of the water now in your socks.

I assumed it was a shower dripping scenario. Safe bet, considering where my socks got wet. Sometimes you’re too enthusiastic to meet the day and water winds up not in the towel, but on the tile floor. That was not the case, because that would be an easy fix and not really worth discussing here after the obvious notation of the unpleasant nature of wet socks.

No, it was more than that. We have a plumbing problem. (For the first one of the year, a simple and yet long-running kitchen odyssey that I finally whipped in April, go here.) Precisely the sort of thing you want to discover just in time to leave for the office.

It seems that the seal at the base of the toilet has failed. So turn off the water supply, empty the basin, dry the floor and deal with it later. Also, this is a good time to replace the lid, which earlier this week started giving signs of failing as well.

It’s not an old house, but it’s nice when things go in concert, I guess.

I immediately envisioned this as a two-evening process, because who has the energy to correct all of this in one brief evening after a day of work and a trip to a hardware store and so on.

The day at work was pleasant, until late in the afternoon when I remembered this new chore I had awaiting me at the house. I visited the local small hardware store, between campus and domicile, for something called penetrating oil. I’d noticed that the bolts holding the lid in place were fused solid and something must be done about that.

This is peculiar hardware. It’s designed to be unobtrusive and installed once. No thought of that design is given to removal. That’s only going to happen once, after all. It seats almost flush, so the head isn’t large enough to offer real purchase. There is no drive, where your screwdriver tip goes, to control a counter-spin. (I just looked up that term, drive. I’ll use it incessantly now.) So it won’t be a painless removal. It won’t be pretty. Most importantly, it won’t be done by the person that installed them.

The directions on the penetration oil, by the way …

You can see why I bought this brand.

I did all of that, and in the “wait a while” portion I decided to re-fill the tank — something my lovely bride said made me hope that it was actually an easier problem to solve — to test our theory about the wax seal. Turns out the leak is from the underside of the tank. There are three contact points on the tank, one where the water moves and two bolt holes on either side. The water is coming from one of those bolt holes, I think. So I remove the tank cover. Inside, the non-suspect bolt on the left looks a bit worse for wear, some sharp rusted points, but fine. The one on the right, is my likely culprit. I reached into the tank to touch it and it exploded. I wish I had a camera on it. It looked like this:

That’s a hardware failure. Good news, maybe it’s not the wax seal. Bad news, now I have all of this to clean up the mess and fix the problem.

So I dried and cleaned and removed the tank from the base and wondered exactly how the head of a brass bolt simply disintegrates on contact. What’s in the water that can do that? And, in light of that, should I be considered about our many other standard water uses?

To the seat, then, with it’s peculiar one-use hardware that was, it turns out, totally unfazed by the penetrating oil. Ultimately we wound up snapping the hinge points and working a hacksaw through the bolts. (When you’re working a hacksaw through rust and steel it is important to remain patient, especially if you’re doing this in close proximity to porcelain you don’t want to mar.)

After that I went to the second hardware store of the day. The mission: a new seat and lid, and some new hardware to replace the bolts and washers that had failed in the tank.

Saw that bit of the sunset on the way there. Had a very kind young man help me find the parts I needed, and then returned to finish this job. Because, by now, I did not want this to be a two-evening experience. Get all of your wedged-in-a-tight-space-working-at-awkward-angles humility in one afternoon, I always say.

Bolt the tank to the base. Return the water supply, notice the leaks, turn off the water supply. Dry the wet floor again, tighten the bolts to create a proper seal. (Do not over-tighten around ceramic.) And then install the new seat and lid.

None of this takes any real time if you are working with good materials. We’re talking about four bolts and nuts here. But if home repair was easy, anyone could do it, right? After all of the this, and cleaning up and returning the tools to their proper home and so on, it was about about a five-hour project.

But I saw that sunset.

And I purchased replacement hacksaw blades. And, finally, I bought some standard wrenches. I’ve always gotten by with a metric set and crescent wrenches but this evening, wedged between a wall and the plumbing fixtures I finally just thought, ‘You know what? Buy a set with a 7/16 in it like everyone else does and get on with your chores.”

And, tonight, I will rest happily in the knowledge that there are no more leaks. And that the next time that lid gets replaced, maybe it won’t be by me.

Aug 21

No splinters here

My lovely bride asked me to make her a computer stand. We settled on a less-is-so-much-more design. So awhile back I trimmed a nice piece of scrap board to the desired dimensions, sanded it to down to 400 grit and, this weekend, she started staining it. Monday I showed you her patent pending dot-dot-stain technique. We put a few coats on Sunday and Monday. Yesterday she attached the legs and put the thing into practice. This is what it looks like this morning.

To personalize the project, I stamped a little love note into part of the board. And now everything is the right height for when she wants to stand up to use that machine in her home office.

I tried standing up in my office office. It just seems silly and boring.

Today, I do my best writing and reading and emailing while sitting. Now, back in my broadcasting days, I did my best work will standing. Maybe I should have a movable desk in a studio set-up.

Or a split level desk! With risers! And wings!

You can see how this could get out of control. (My first desk did.)

I’ve got a list of other projects to attend to and finish, before even drawing up plans on another one. Miles to go before I sleep, and so much sanding to be done, as they say.

Elsewhere, today was quiet. Spreadsheets and email and heat indices well over 100 degrees. The heat is supposed to break tomorrow or Friday. Or maybe by the weekend. Until then, hydrate much, sweat as little as possible.

Aug 21

Blog birthday – the joy of expression and the possibility of “if”

On this day, 18 years ago, I started writing this blog. I was inspired by Salam Abdulmunem and Raywat Deonandan. Back then, Abdulmunem, writing under the pseudonym Salam Pax, was telling us about the war going on in his backyard, in Baghdad. Today he doesn’t seem to be blogging, but Abdulmunem is working for UNICEF. He’s also turned those early days of his writing into a book or two. Deonandan was and is an epidemiologist and professor at the University of Ottawa. He’s a talented writer.

It all stemmed from those two specifically, but also many of the other blogs I was reading, and the question of “What would it be like, if?” A few of those blogs, happily, are still active. But just a few. I stay up-to-date. Most moved on with their lives, of course. Some made an announcement, told of a better writing assignment or what have you. Others just … stopped. And I always wonder about those. And about this place. What happens, if?

Mostly, though, as it pertains to this blog, I wonder what I will write about each day. I wonder how I could do more here. How I can simultaneously use more regular features, but avoid them because they are repetitive. I wonder, how I could make it more interesting, find more intriguing things to talk about, fascinating places to visit and so on. I often wonder where I can find more time in the day in which to do it. There’s a lot that goes into the service of an active personal blog.* (We aren’t mentioning here things I’ve written for pleasure or professionally in other places and formats.)

On that first day, 18 years ago, I quoted a verse from Proverbs, one about humility. Nothing is more humbling than writing, I figured. Sometimes that is correct; often that’s wrong. But I did not have all of this wisdom then, see, that I have today.

I wrote two notes about Little Rock, one of them was a story I would have surely covered if I still worked there. (I was a year removed.) The other was about the terrific numbers my old station had in their latest ratings book. (They were the top station back then. They’re second today, according to the spring numbers.) I also had an observation about my family and the great Nanci Griffith, who I happened to be listening to that night. I listened to a lot of her music. Still do.

And that was 18 years ago, hosted on Blogspot, powered by Blogger. There were a few thousand posts there. I moved everything to this site in 2004 — my URL celebrates 17 years Friday. The blogging shifted to WordPress in April of 2010. Some 3,700-plus posts and counting since then. The site has welcomed 4.19 million users and the front page of the blog has had just over one million. When you count the many different pages it’s a bit more than that, but I don’t have a streamlined way to see that data.

And so we’ll start another year, right here. Let’s see what happens, if.

*I didn’t intend for this week to be grounded in random anniversaries, but themes have a way of writing themselves sometimes. Tomorrow, back to the normal stuff, I promise.