Jun 24

Our 30-hour tour of southwest Connecticut

Having come up for a quick visit yesterday, we slipped away under cover of rain and darkness tonight. And then went back, for I realized I had forgotten my wallet and keys. It was one of those things where I looked directly at them, said aloud “Don’t forget your wallet,” and then … forgot them.

I do a ritual pat down to make sure I have all of my things whenever I head out from A to B. This evening I waited until I was in the car, and we were leaving the neighborhood, before I realized I wasn’t sitting on my wallet. Well, then, quickly back up the drive, collect the essentials, give one more hug, and then slip off into the darkness and rain.

We outran the rain, and made good time all the way home. The GPS is set to military time, and the initial projection was an arrival at 00:00.

Today we had lunch at a waterside seafood hut. You know the sort of place. You, or one of the people in your group, worked at a joint like this in school. That person also lost nine pounds a week over the course of the summer owing to the fryer in the back, and no cool breeze anywhere. This place specializes in fried seafood. It’s OK. I get a shrimp sandwich and some fries. Hard to go wrong. But you go there for the quite views.

A half-block up the hill is a beloved ice cream stop. And woe to those who must read everything on the menu and the signage.

Some people just know what they want, and they can order it straight away. No need to complicate things.

Sometimes being a kid again is as easy as going to your ice cream shop and getting the usual.

We had dinner with the in-laws, and then I washed the dishes and then we prepared to leave, and then left again. (See above.)

We drove by the George Washington Bridge, a double-decked suspension bridge spanning the Hudson River, considered the world’s busiest motor vehicle bridge (carrying more than 104 million vehicles in 2019) and the world’s only suspension bridge with 14 vehicular lanes.

I mention that because I got a fairly decent, from-the-hip, between-the-trees-and-street-lights, nighttime shot of the thing.

I did the dutiful thing of reading all the news of the day aloud while my lovely bride drove. It’s an important job, entertaining the pilot.

Into our neighborhood, into the drive, collect the things delivered to the front porch and garage and mailbox and then, inside, to attend to the handful of things one must do before one calls it a complete Friday night, on Saturday morning.

And, now, wait for sleep.

Have a great weekend!

Jun 24

Special Church Thursday

Around noon today we left the house, later than we’d planned. We’re working against a genetically inherited attribute of being late that afflicts millions of Americans every day. I am one of them. The primary concern is one of awareness. As in, we have to be aware how we make other people late. But today, we departed only six minutes later than planned. For me, this is an improvement over the average.

Those six minutes also meant that — after lunch on the road, coping with the designed inability to change directions on this state’s busy surface streets and one quick restroom break — we arrived precisely on time.

We returned to my lovely bride’s hometown, where her mother’s Special Church program was hosting it’s end of the year party.

Let me just revisit this, so that you’ll understand the special woman that my mother-in-law is. She is a retired nurse. She has been running this program for 20-something years now. She runs it because she volunteered prior to that and it all just came to her. This program is not even affiliated with her church, and yet she puts an incredible amount of time and passion and spirit into it, because that’s who she is. And this, somehow, doesn’t get in the way of the volunteering at her own church — where she just recently helped plan and pull off a gargantuan wedding. It does not interfere with her looking after her older friends. Special Church also led to her joining the board of directors of a special needs home in the town next to hers. And that led to her serving a three-year term as the president of that board. People tend to gravitate toward her kind of selfless compassion. Special Church — which has snacks and crafts and a Bible word of the week and music therapy and more — brings in a handful of members every week, and my mother-in-law has built up an equally impressive roster of volunteers that help pull the thing off every week. Also, she has an in with Santa and he shows up every year. Well more than two decades of this, now. And she’s not stopping anytime soon. She’s an amazing person, my mother-in-law.

So we were there to see the end-of-the-year party, because it’s a relatively easy drive. The people involved are all lovely and there are many smiles and the music is good. A talented young man who is a music therapist comes in every week and brings a bunch of silly instruments for everybody to play, bang and smash along with his guitar. The minister sat in on the drum today. And it was hilarious to watch him keeping the twos and fours as everyone sang along to Margaritaville, and he did too. Everyone loves the music, most of it is played by request, or standards the group is accustomed to. It’s chaotic and noisy and perfect. It’s a free spirited, high spirited, animated part of the day for everyone. One of the members of Special Church comes to shine when it’s time for music. She always sings a George Harrison song. A born performer, she brings her own microphone.

Today I handed out ice cream. I sat back and watched the crafts and games. I chatted away with one of the many friendly volunteers. I tried to make myself useful cleaning up at the end of it all.

After Special Church, my in-laws, one of their longtime friends, the music therapist, his wife and toddler, two of the other family friend volunteers and the minister all went for dinner.

My in-laws have been regulars here for years now. We’ve been semi-regulars for almost as long, I guess. We held their surprise anniversary party here 40 years ago. It’s a charming little mom-and-pop establishment. Ten tables inside, four or six more out front. This is the kind of place that closes a few weeks each summer when the owners go on a well deserved vacation. For a long time it was strictly a family affair — husband in the back, wife out front, young-adult children waiting tables and running food. Their kids are, I think, off running their own lives now, but the husband and wife are still at the heart of things.

I usually get a marsala; today I tried the piccata. You wind up trying something off everyone’s plate, so my decision
making will get much more difficult on our next visit.

Tomorrow, I’m sure, we’ll go to another of the favored local haunts, and then it will be back on the road.

Jun 24

Got a wrench? I’m going to need a wrench.

We were just heading out to the hardware store for an early evening errand — I needed a wrench larger than any wrench I own. I own many wrenches, a lifetime of accumulation will do that for you, but I do not own anything that will open 10-and-a-half inches wide. And, today, we had a reason to need one. So I resigned myself to spending a fortune for a tool I needed to use exactly twice, to take off a piece and, moments later, reinstall it. Then of course, I wouldn’t need to use the wrench again for a good quarter of a century or so.

We were at the end of our driveway and had to yield because our neighbors were returning home. So I walked over to see Joe the Elder as he got out of his truck. He’s got a great big smile, an across-the-street “How ya doing!?” and a positively enthusiastic handshake. Lovely people. He gave me two wrenches to try, and so we did not have to go to the store.

Both worked! And we needed both. And it took the both of us to complete the job. But we did! And, this part is important, it seems we got it right the first time. Nothing was broken, no utterances were uttered, and our cost, after the replacement part, were two stiff backs and a bit of sweat. Standard DIY invoicing.

The replacement part is a device that holds filters. Looks like a cup holder. We can hold four drinks in the thing. The previous one was broken, somehow, which is a mystery because the thing lives in a case that requires a metric wrench, a mallet and then some deliberate intentions to even get to it. We replaced it with a similar piece, but supposedly more sturdy, which is good, because if we have to go through the whole process again — after all of that to open it, we had to remove a threaded piece that was not installed in such a way as to grant easy access, then mallet hammer and pry one piece from the other and so on — I think we just might start over.

I took the wrenches back over and as ever, I am wondering what I can offer these nice people as a gesture of thanks. It’s one of those small-to-you, big-to-me things. This wrench was sitting in their garage, and that one was in his truck, and he wasn’t using them, but it saved me a small fortune, and a trip to one or more stores and the frustration that could go along with it. And they say, don’t ever go buy something, just come over here and get it. They really are quite sweet. We’re very lucky with the neighbors we picked.

When I woke up this morning I wondered if I should go for a swim, or a ride, today. I did both yesterday. And that was easy enough. Doing both two days in a row seems like a tiny challenge. And then I got up, and wondered if I would do either. I felt weary. But that’s no reason to stop, it’s just an excuse to slow down.

This afternoon my lovely bride was heading out for a ride and I invited myself to tag along, get dropped, and see her back at home. I predicted she would leave me behind in one of two places, both of which can best be described as “early in the ride.” And she did, in both places.

Somehow, I caught up to her again, which was great because that allowed me to ride in front of her in the one little tricky part of this route, a three-tenths of a mile stretch with a fork and an awkward merge. I sprinted through there with the only bit of energy I had and she stayed right behind me and that made the next turn easy.

This look right here?

This is the look The Yankee gives you before she rides you right off her wheel.

While I’d done the little lead out and made it off the relatively busier road onto some empty county roads, I could not keep up from here.

I lost sight of her a third of the way into the ride, and slowly diminished for the next hour or so. But this was too be expected. I don’t have a lot of miles in my legs right now, but somehow it feels like I do. Anyway, pleasant ride, even if I got in two seconds later than I’d anticipated from half-an-hour away. My riding buddy had no such problem. She pronounced it a strong ride, and, having spent the whole of the thing watching her disappear into the distance, I’d say she was being gracefully humble.

It’s time once more for We Learn Wednesdays, where we discover the county’s historical markers via bike rides. This is the 38th installment, and the 69th and 70th markers in the We Learn Wednesdays series. These are grouped together because they’re directly related anyway as we continue our exploration of Fort Mott.

In the last few weeks we checked out the old gun batteries and had a quick look at the observation towers that helped them in their work of defending the river and Philadelphia, beyond. Most recently, we took a quick glimpse at the parados and the moat that served as the fort’s rearguard. We also saw the signs for the generator, plotting and switchboard rooms at. (The signs are good, the rooms were empty.) Last week, we saw another empty room, the battery commander’s station.

The park has a map to orient you to the fort’s layout.

The river is on the left side of this drawing. You can see the pier jutting out into the water. Next to that you’ll see the long row of gun placements. You can see the moat, in blue, behind them.

Today, though, we’re starting off between the moat and the gun batteries, up near the top on the map, at Peace Magazine.

There’s no way to photograph the whole sign without the railing, which is, no doubt, period authentic. If you’ll allow me, then, the generous use of the blockquote …

A Special emphasis was placed on keeping the interiors of the defensive magazines under the various batteries dry. According to an excerpt from, “Reports on 5-inch Guns, Fort Dupont and Fort Mott, December, 1900, Operations” which references Battery Gregg …

“…ceilings of the magazines consist of flat arches of 6-inch hollow tile and the vertical walls are covered with 2-inch hollow tile furring and both ceilings and side walls are plastered with a thin layer of Portland mortar 1 – 3. Two hundred thirty-two linear feet of 3-inch vitrified tile were laid underground from emplacement number 6 to a manhole at the entrance of the west emplacement for carrying cables for electric light and power. Outside walls of the battery were roughly plastered and then waterproofed with paraffin paint #3 and coal tar. A 2-inch porous tile drain was placed around the foundations of each emplacement and covered with a layer of broken stone.”

Despite many efforts, condensation of moisture in the emplacements and magazines continued to be a problem that was never adequately solved. On June 11, 1903, the Chief of Engineers authorized an allotment for the construction of a new storage magazine to be detached from the main installation and located behind the parados. Money was also provided for the creation of a tunnel through the parados, and for extending the railroad tracks through the tunnel to the new magazine. The brick building, called the Peace Magazine, was finished in 1904. The structure was slightly more than eighteen feet by fifty-two feet on the inside, with a copper ventilating roof.

I’d like to think that Peace was named after someone who worked on the fort, or in honor of a soldier who served and died elsewhere, like so many of the parts of Fort Mott, but I don’t see any mention of it anywhere.

Here’s another angle of the magazine.

And one more quick view today from Fort Mott. This marker actually addresses what’s across the way.

At this section of the Delaware estuary, the waterway narrows from a broad bay into a river. Considered a strategic location early in the nineteenth century, military officials selected this area for a coastal defense fortification. Fort Delaware was built on Pea Patch Island during the first half of the nineteenth century. However, the advent of steam-powered naval vessels necessitated a more elaborate defensive scheme to adequately protect the upstream ports. Fort DuPont on the Delaware shore and Fort Mott on the New Jersey side were designed and built during the last half of the nineteenth century to reinforce Fort Delaware. The three fort system remained in force until after World War I.

Fort Delaware is visible on Pea Patch Island. Finished in 1859, it also served as a prison for Confederate soldiers during the Civil War. Many of the prisoners who died there are buried at Finn’s Point National Cemetery, located adjacent to the north side of Fort Mott.

(The state really should get around to updating some of these markers.)

The three photographs show Fort Delaware on Pea Patch Island, the view of Pea Patch Island from Fort Mott, and the last is an aerial view of the three forts that protected this section of the river. (All three were closed down when a more powerful and modern installation opened down river.)

And if you’re looking off into the distance, you can see a bit of Pea Patch island, and the fort that stands there.

You have to take a ferry to get over there. And maybe one day I’ll visit. There’s a lot of history over there, as well. When it was built in 1859, that hazy looking fort over there was a state-of-the-art example of American fixed fortifications. It also served as a POW camp during the Civil War. Almost 13,000 Confederate prisoners could be held there at once.

Back on this side of the river, Fort Mott became a state park in 1951, but it was a self-contained military installation in its day. At it’s busiest, Fort Mott had over 30 buildings, including two barracks that each housed 115 soldiers, commissioned and non-commissioned officer housing, a hospital, post exchange, library, a YMCA, a school for the soldier’s children and more. Most of those buildings were constructed between 1897 and 1905. It closed in 1922, when another, more modern, installation opened downstream.

We have just one or two more markers to visit at Fort Mott, and we’ll do that in our next installment. Until then, if you’ve missed any of those historical marker posts, you can see them all right here.

Jun 24

A mechanic, two hours of exercise, and music that still holds up

Took my lovely bride’s car to the shop yesterday and got it back the same afternoon. Regular maintenance sort of stuff. But things are better, she said.

The guy has a shop in the middle of a neighborhood. It’s a two-bay shop, with a slab that’s not big enough for the cars he has on the property. His office is all the way in the back, it’s a … careworn sort of place. That isn’t ordinarily the right word for this sort of thing, but it fits. No one is especially happy when they have to see their mechanic. You take a little angst and stress and — depending on your pocketbook or what’s going on — maybe a little anxiety to your mechanic. People bring in the things that make something careworn.

The couple of times we’ve been there, I’ve seen a few fishing poles in the front room. They’re just sitting there, on a pile of stuff that looks like it hasn’t been moved in a long time. Two rooms back, there’s the guy. A bit on the tall side, thick all the way around. Always wears a bandana. He strikes you as a time-is-money guy. He’s economical with his words, because if he’s talking with you he isn’t making money elsewhere.

I’m not even sure what the guy did to her car given the small amount of money he charged. I asked him to look into something about my car, too. And maybe he will. If he does, maybe he’ll charge me a low, low price, too.

It’ll cost more.

Monday was a beautiful, mild, sunny day. Today was perpetually overcast, but Monday was just lovely. The sort of day where you could unassumingly spend too much time indoors. The sort of day where you wouldn’t even notice it. I spent too much of it inside.

I did go for a little 30-mile bike ride, my first in eight days. I felt like I needed a few days after my last one, and then other things come along and fill your days and before you know it, you wonder if you’ll remember how to balance the thing. It’s embarrassing.

They closed a road while I wasn’t riding. The first sign I saw said the bridge was out. It’s an overpass over the freeway, and I figured it couldn’t be really out, because that would have inconvenienced the motorists below and surely I would have learned about this. So I ignored the signs and the barrels, rode right around them and up to the bridge. And only when I was on the thing did I worry, but the bridge is an engineering marvel and, halfway over, I rationalized that if it could hold itself up then whatever was going on wouldn’t be challenged too much by one guy and a bike.

Only nothing was going on with the bridge. The issue was a little further down the road. This was the issue.

Once I got around that I had, of course, another little stretch of road that was closed from the other direction for the same reason. Almost a mile guaranteed with no traffic. It was lovely! I should just go back and ride that over and over and over again, for as long as it lasts.

Meanwhile, last night was the night the local volunteer fire department … practices driving their trucks around? They actually closed down one road, and a volunteer who takes his traffic directing duties very seriously waved me onto this road.

I’ve never been on this road before! A new road! This particular area is laid out in a wide country grid, so I knew exactly where it would go. It was almost like being lost, but not nearly as fun. Being lost when your legs feel good is just about the most fun thing you can do on a bike. The other day The Yankee was telling me about a ride she had without me where she got turned around for a while and I said, “Really!?” a little excited, and a little jealous. So when I’m not haunting that closed road I need to find more new roads. (I have one in mind just now.)

I saw some beautiful cattle enjoying their evening graze.

Soon after, a fire truck passed me. And I met that rig two more times. I’m not at all certain what they were practicing. (And I know for certain it was VFD practice because they’d deployed signs in some of the areas that were impacted.) Maybe they have new drivers.

Early this afternoon I went for a swim. I put my camera on the bottom of the pool to document the experience.

The experience was laps. I swam, slowly, 1,250 yards. All part of the build up. The build up to swimming more, later. As usual, it took a while for my arms to feel like doing laps. The first 50 yards or so felt great. The next 600 and change felt sluggish. Somewhere between 700 and 735 yards, though, I felt like a champion swimmer. Long build ups, short peaks. Typical.

Actually it felt like a nice swim from about 700 yards through to the end, though I was ready to be done at the end.

Ever since I was a little boy, I said in my best Robert Redford voice, I’ve always gotten hungry around the water. Playing in it, splashing around in a lake, wading in a pool or swimming medium distances, they would all create the same deep hunger. It’s a familiar feeling that a lot of little boys and girls get. Only it never left me. I came to think of it as a physical and a mental need. I can just look at the water and get hungry, was a joke I told my friends. And so I had a second lunch today.

Which was great because, in the later afternoon, and into the early evening, I went out for a casual little 25-mile bike ride. I saw this tractor, which, if you look carefully, is dripping something on the road.

And I set three PRs this evening, all on (little) hills. I am not at all sure how that came to be, but I’ll take it.

Let us return, once more, to the Re-Listening project. As you may know, I’ve been listening to all of my old CDs in the order of their acquisition. I’m also writing a bit about them here, just to pad the site, share some good music and maybe stir up a memory or two.

And today we reach back to 2005, to listen to a CD that was released in 1995, Son Volt’s debut, “Trace.” Uncle Tupelo’s Jay Farrar left the band and that lead to the creation of Son Volt and Wilco (Uncle Tupelo sans Farrar). Wilco’s debut was released first, by a few months, but Son Volt’s debut, in September of 1995, was a bigger hit. Either way, listeners one. (Both bands were, and are, terrific. Two alt-rock, alt-country bands are better than one.)

“Trace” was a reasonable commercial hit, peaking at number 166 on the Billboard 200 chart and soaring to number 7 on the Billboard Heatseekers Albums chart. Perhaps even more importantly, it was a critical success.

“Windfall” was the first single, and the first track. This was the first Son Volt sound most of us heard.

Something about Farrar’s voice that conveys a desperate, lonely, honky tonk feel that you didn’t get a lot of at that time. It was the nineties! And this, for me, was a library pickup to help fill an important gap in the collection.

Here’s the thing, though. These guys could absolutely rock.

The first time I saw them live was at Midtown Music Festival, in Atlanta, in 1998. It was a three-day, seven-stage show. There were more than 100 bands there, absurdly good acts, and you could see the whole weekend’s worth of music — if you were willing to sweat and stand for the whole thing — for just $30 bucks. Son Volt played early Friday. Just after that we saw the Indigo Girls and in between songs Amy Ray said they’d been over to see Son Volt, too. “God bless those guys,” she said.

I saw them once more, the next year. On Valentine’s Day, in fact. I took a girl to a first date to see them. I’d met her in a record store — and somehow it seemed that we knew each other, or the same people, or people thought we knew one another — and music was important to her. Soon after, we worked together. I got tickets to the show and she decided to call it a date, which was unexpected, at least by me. We had a nice time, and I am came to find out later that I passed many tests that night. We dated for four months after that.

She’s manages a big construction company and is married to a realtor. They live close to the beaches where she grew up, close to her family. It looks pretty perfect for her. I wonder what sort of music she’s listening to these days.

If Son Volt is somehow on the list, she’ll have to travel to see them this summer. They are playing a few festivals. Still rocking.

Jun 24

Dance, then baseball, now old

On Saturday we went to high school. I can’t remember the last time I was in a school. Probably a dozen years or more. We visited one because my god niece in-law (just go with it) was in a dance recital.

I wasn’t really paying attention to the exterior of the building as we pulled up, but I did notice this near the door. When was the last time you saw a pay phone?

If you look closely enough, you can see there’s no receiver. So maybe it isn’t a phone anymore. Maybe the school just dragged it out there and it is waiting for a garbage pick up.

The school, from what we saw, seemed nice. Very big. Old school. Hallways full of plaques marking their distinguished alumni. Some of the plaques were a little basic, but others were quite remarkable. A lot of professors and authors and civic leaders. There was a music promoter, and a touring manager for U2. There was someone who won the Nobel Prize in economics. The inventor of Lipitor went to school there. The state’s first black attorney, a man born a former slave soon after the Civil War, was a student there. His plaque said he got paid for his work by bushels of food. I’d like to have time to read more of them.

But there was dancing to watch.

Our dancer took part in two numbers, a ballet and en pointe. She looked great, danced with nice confidence and had a lot of fun. Had we all not had favorites, everyone in the auditorium would have chosen the two little girls that opened the recital as the stars. They were two young beginners, wearing shimmering three-tone tutus, mimicking what their coach was doing from the floor. They were adorable and stole the show. But all of the numbers and dancers were delightful in their own way, and they kept things moving.

I’ve been to two dance recitals. The first was a two-day recital, if you can believe that. Every group was organized by age, and they all danced to the same song. We heard that same bad song dozens of time. I was working on the video production, which meant I had to be there. It was a lot of standing, no food, and that same horrible song several dozen times. I am quite certain it scarred me. This weekend’s show was much shorter, had a unique song and style of dance for every group, and it was over in a little under two hours. It was a much better show.

After dinner we all adjourned to the ballerina’s home. That evolved into a big baseball game in the front yard. All of the adults sat in lawn chairs and watched the kids play. And me. We had plate music and everything.

This became a two-hour game. Usually because the kindergartner had to dance to his song, “Texas Hold ‘Em.” And we had no pitch count. A pitch count would have moved things along, but most of the kids were too young for that.

The day’s star dancer hit two huge home runs off of me. That’s what happens when you grove your pitches. There were also a lot of little league home runs. After everyone else went inside for snacks, the 9-year-old boy and I stayed out to play catch. (It was a little bit special.)

I was in a dress shirt and not-the-right-shoes for all of this, and so I was sore the rest of the night and tired most of Sunday.

Yesterday, I was admiring the new growth on the pine trees, (Pinus strobus, I think).

We have three in the backyard. They are growing tall and close to the house. They help block the late afternoon sun. They can’t stay forever, but we enjoy them now.

And the sky was just so casually brilliant …

It was worth noting.

It’s time, once again, for the site’s most popular weekly feature. We must check in on the kitties.

Phoebe was nice enough to pose, ever so briefly, on the landing this afternoon.

I’m a real sucker for when she puts her face on her paw.

Poseidon has recently discovered the lamp I have behind my computer.

He came to quickly realize that the light bulb gives off a fair amount of warmth, and so he’s never leaving.

Now, the only way I can keep Poe from that spot is to not turn on the lamp.

He knows cozy when he sees it.

So the kitties, as you can tell, are doing just fine. They’re ready for another fun week. As am I. And i hope you are, too!