Thursday, July 12, 2018

If It Ain't Fixed, Don't Break It.

     My title makes no sense. I'm just playing with the adage: If It Ain't Broke, Don't Fix It. That's one of my 11th commandments. Another is: If It's Just Broke a Little, Learn To Live With It.
     Last year I noticed a wet spot on the basement floor. My basement is a horror zone, a place zombies go for R&R. The utilities are down there, some shelving, some pallets to keep stuff above the high tide line. It would be damp and moldy if I didn't run a dehumidifier all summer.
     Anyway, the wet spot was by the furnace drain line. Did that have a hole in it? I got to the bottom of things, but the drain line looked fine. Then "plop," a drop. I stuck the trouble light into the floor joists. "Plop." A water line was leaking. Where does that go? I get disoriented in the basement. OK, there's the tub drain and hot and cold lines. This must be the line for the toilet. "Plop." I put an ice cream bucket under the leak and came back next day. It was filled a quarter of the way. I can live with that.
     The next time I was in the basement I looked at the problem more closely. A copper pipe came down from the toilet and connected to a plastic line that ran to the main water intake line across the basement. The leak was in the fitting where the copper and plasrtic lines joined. I could get a couple of wrenches and try tightening the connection. "You're kidding, right?" said my 11th commandment obeying self. I went away.  The next time I came down, the leak had stopped. "You see? Doing nothing is best," said my do-nothing self.
      Winter and spring passed. Summer started, and when I was in the basement the other day, the bucket was full to overflowing. I emptied it. The next day it was one third full, an amount I could live with. And then I came upon "Eisenhower's Box." President Eisenhower prioritized all his tasks into one of four "boxes,"
     First came important and urgent jobs. Those you did right now, like working on that speech you're giving in Congress tomorrow. Next came important but not urgent things, like exercising. Those things you scheduled to do. Unimportant but urgent things, like scheduling flights, you delegated to an assistant. Unimportant and non-urgent things like watching TV or checking social media, you deleted. Ike didn't win World War II by being a nice guy.
    At first I put fixing the leak into the second box. It was important, but not urgent. But was it really not urgent? It was getting worse. What if it broke loose while we were away? That would create a mess even the zombies wouldn't like.
    So I moved fixing the leak over to box one and got my wrenches. As I tightened the nut, the dripping increased. Hmmm. I tightened a little more. Now a steady stream shot onto the shelving that held a variety of boxes and bins. "Now you've buggered it, my boy!" I shut off the main water supply, ran upstairs and opened the sink faucets, flushed the toilet, and turned on the garden hose. When I got back to the basement, the leak had quit.
     "Here's another fine mess you've gotten us into," a little voice whined. I was now ready to delegate this job to a plumber, but delegating is supposedly for unimportant jobs. Here's where Eisenhower's Box started to break down for me.
     I couldn't quit so easily. I rummaged my brain pan. It may surprise you that long ago I was an auto mechanic for a couple of years. I used to put Teflon tape on threaded connections to prevent leaks. Maybe that would work. I searched my toolbox and found the tape. Its plastic container was yellow with age, but the springy tape was pristine. I wrapped a length around the threads then tightened the nut, and turned on the water. No leak! "God job, soldier," I imagined Ike saying.
     My next job was taking everything off the shelves so it could air dry. "If it's wet, let it dry," is another of my 11th commandments. I've got a million of 'em.

Before doing anything, play with this awhile.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Home Again

      My last blog told of our back-roads trip from our home in northwest Minnesota to Massachusetts, where our three sons and most of my siblings live. We left home in late March and told Google maps to avoid highways. We gave ourselves extra days and loved seeing the countryside up close. I appreciate freeways when we're in a hurry or need to get through megalopolises like Chicago, but we're not in a hurry anymore. We're retired.
     We gave ourselves five days to get back to Wannaska: 1700 miles, 350 miles per day. This time I planned to cross southern Ontario and then head north through Michigan and across the Upper Peninsula to home.
     We left my parents home in Hull on April 25. My parents have left this world, but my siblings have kept the house for summer rentals and the rest of the year for family fun. It was nine-thirty by the time we got the floor swept and the car packed. There was a light, steady rain which would continue all day. I had my phone give us a route out to the Finger Lakes in New York. I cheated a little and took the highway to the outer suburbs, but the roads were so clogged that I might have been better off taking the back streets through the inner suburbs as Google suggested.
   I'm not sure our map guide was the Siri that comes with my phone since we were using the Google maps app, but the voice sounded exactly like Siri, reasonable, persuasive, sometimes maddening.
    We took I-95 up to State Highway 9 then turned west through Wellesly, Natick, and Framingham. It was a gauntlet of strip malls and traffic lights. I really should have popped up to the Mass Pike a few miles to the north and taken the turnpike out to the west side of Framingham where Boston's gravitational pull begins to weaken. It took till lunch time to get into the countryside of long views and small towns. Lunch consisted of leftovers from Hull. Coffee came from the nearest gas station. Gas station coffee is hit and miss. I have to have it to stay alert, and it has to be really bad before I'll drive to another station to avoid poisoning.
    I lived in Massachusetts until my mid 20s, but I had never been on these roads before. Google seems to avoid city centers, opting for the suburbs of larger cities like Worcester or Springfield. One of the joys of the backroads travel is passing through beautifully preserved old towns like West Brookfield, with its mansions, each in the middle of a large lawn. Who pays to keep these up, I wondered. There's always one on the edge of the historical district that has not been kept up to show what neglect looks like.
    Some of the towns have nothing left of interest unless you need finger nail clippers. Then the Dollar General will be interesting. Places such as Ware were mill towns and are trying to convert old brick buildings to shops and condos. How many antique shops can the market bear?
    There were still hints of snow in the mountains between Massachusetts and New York, but that disappeared when we reached the lowlands. The Finger Lakes region contains 11 long, narrow, north-south oriented lakes. I'd seen these lakes several times from the air and was eager to see them at ground level. We were travelling along US 20 and the first of the lakes was Cazenovia, which is not officially a Finger Lake, but pretends it is. The beautiful town of Cazenovia sits at the south end of the lake and has a 19th century feel. It was a good half hour further on to Skaneateles, the first of the big lakes. Skaneateles City also had that old-time America charm. The tourist dollar was keeping these places pristine, as much as that's possible. The dollar stores are relegated to the outskirts of town.
     I had been searching for lodging for the evening and found a nice looking B&B in the town of Waterloo just west of Seneca Falls. People may badmouth the Internet, but it's great for the traveler looking for a place to rest. No more banging on doors as the sun sets with the owner saying there's no room at the inn.
     We checked in around six p.m. and our friendly hostess showed us to the Lincoln Room and recommended a restaurant back in Seneca Falls. We were in luck, it was half price wine night at the restaurant. We enjoyed our meal. just across the street was the Women's Rights Museum. Seneca Falls was the site of the first women's rights convention in 1848. It was also the inspiration for Bedford Falls, the town in the movie "It's a Wonderful Life."
      The great thing about slow travel is that you get to see places like Seneca Falls. The bad thing was that we did not have time to explore the points of interest we passed. Instead of five days, we should have given ourselves ten so we'd have time to do more than buy a postcard.
      We got  a late start the next morning because our hostess's wife was a loquacious sports nut. At a motel continental breakfast you barely acknowledge the other lodgers. Everyone watches the news as their waffles cook. At a B&B of course, everyone's expected to tell his or her life story.
      So we we didn't get on the road till 10:00, but that was ok. We only had to go 325 miles to Port Huron, Michigan that day. We were still eating sandwiches from Hull so didn't have to stop for lunch. We planned to cross into Canada at Buffalo, drive across southern Ontario to Sarnia, then cross back into the U.S. and spend the night in Port Huron. Highway 20 towards Buffalo lacked the interest of yesterday's drive, but at least the sun was out. I had heard how devastated Buffalo had been by deindustrialization and population loss. Since we'd be crossing the Niagara River to get into Canada, we had to go through the middle of Buffalo. First came blue-color suburbs, then two or three miles of neglected looking neighborhoods with no trees and little food/lottery stores on almost every corner. Suddenly, this shell shocked area turned into a lovely neighborhood of beautiful old buildings and parks, and soon after that, we were at the Niagara River.
     We crossed the high bridge and got in line at Canadian Customs. We had stressed a bit about what we had in the car. Teresa had bought some potted flowers when we arrived in Hull four weeks ago and I suggested we leave them behind as transporting soil into Canada was a no-no according to the websites. A couple of the cars ahead of us were sent to the inspection area, but we were waved on through. "Bienvenu," said the agent. French for, "You look harmless."
   We were quickly out in the Ontario countryside, following avenues of trees lining  water filled ditches. There were towering windmills everywhere. A pathetic little sign said "Stop the Windmills," to no effect. After fifty miles or so, the windmills gave out and we entered rolling farmland with stone farmhouses. I could see the tall buildings of London off in the distance. We would not be going there.
    We crossed into Michigan at Port Huron around four p.m. and looked for a motel. No problem on a Thursday evening. April is a good month for travel. The temps are mild and the tourists are waiting for their kids to get out of school. We found a restaurant on the top floor of an old warehouse with a good view of the St. Clair River. The river runs down to Detroit and on to the west end of Lake Erie. Lake Huron was just to the north of us.
     We got a late start next morning due not to a chatty hostess, but to us sleeping in. We only had 300 miles to cover up to Mackinaw City. The countryside that morning, while interesting, is not as interesting as in the eastern states, though Bay City had a string of amazing mansions.  At noon we started looking for lunch. The towns along our route each had several cafes. We wanted to avoid chains but the small cafes can be hit or miss. Again, the Internet is helpful. A cafe may only have a handful of reviews, and the reviews may be unreliable, but they're better than nothing.
    As we were ordering lunch in the town of Mio, we noticed that the waitresses were looking at us, or rather at Teresa. "She looks like Susan," one said loudly enough for us to hear. "Yes," said the other, "and she dresses like her too." I was told I did not look like Susan's husband.
     Back on the road, I started looking for a motel in Mackinaw City.  I like the Trip Advisor reviews. If the reviewers keep mentioning cranky staff, I move on. One guy said the big Best Western was not worth $200 per night even if it did have a great view of the lake. That was last July. Tonight, rooms were going for $81. I booked.
    We pulled into town around four p.m. As I checked in I noticed the giant swimming pool was being filled. The clerk gave us a room in a passageway with a great view of...the passageway. We hauled in our bags and after a minute Teresa said, "I don't like the view." We returned to the front desk. The manager was there now. "Of course you can have a view," she said. "We are just opening for the season today. We had three feet of snow last week." She picked up the phone. "Turn on the heat in room 212," and gave us our key. Our new room had a great view of Lake Huron. Definitely worth $81.
    We had stopped in this town for breakfast with the kids many years ago on one of our drive-through-the night cross country treks. It was summer then and all the shops were open and the place swarmed with tourists. Now, in late April, there were just a handful of souvenir shops and restaurants open.  Most of the snow had melted but there were still high mounds here and there. We walked out to the end of town, "the tip of the mitten," where we could see the great Mackinac Bridge to the Upper Peninsula, and off to the east, Mackinac Island. There was a plaque describing how treacherous the passage was between Lake Huron and Lake Michigan. A bridge had been dreamt of for a hundred years. One scheme proposed island hopping across Mackinac Island to join the lower and upper peninsulas. Mackinac Island is famous for its lack of cars and horse drawn carriages so it's just as well this plan went nowhere.
     You've probably noticed that Mackinaw City is spelled differently than the island, the bridge, etc. which end in 'c'. There are explanations for the difference on the Internet, none of them satisfactory. The last syllable of all locations is pronounced 'aw'.
   Nona Lisa's Italian Restaurant had fairly good reviews. Almost all the reviews noted the weird décor. The place turned out to be a combination of Mama Leone's and Cabela's Sporting Goods, with lions chasing wildebeests across the rafters. The place must be a madhouse in summer, but tonight we had a quiet pizza in the jungle.
    Next morning we crossed the five mile long bridge high above the sparling straits and under a cloudless sky. We had the road to ourselves as we headed west along the dunes of Lake Michigan. Eventually we veered north and west into the wooded heartland of the UP, home of "da Yoopers." Around lunch time we spotted a log cabin café in the middle of nowhere and pulled in. There was a wood stove in one corner opposite a short bar with four taps. There were two TVs with the sound off over the bar. We sat at the bar and watched a European soccer match on one TV, a history of cooking show on the other, and Darla cooking our burgers on the grill. A feast all around.
    Later in the afternoon, the road ran along Lake Superior, still a frozen desert under the warm sun. I sent a picture to my brother who captains a tug in New York Harbor and told him there'd be no shipping here for awhile. "Au contraire," he texted back. He has an app that shows worldwide shipping. He said there was a channel into Thunder Bay, Ontario over the horizon. I checked Duluth. The shipping season had started there two weeks ago. Amazing.
    We decided to call it quits in Ashland at 4:00. We could have gotten home by midnight if we pushed on, but that kind of death march is for working stiffs. It was Saturday so motel rates had jumped, but Teresa wrangled a ten dollar discount at the Best Western, built to look like one the grand old lakefront resorts. It was actually built in 1986.
   Asland was once a great iron ore shipping port, but the last shipment went out in 1965. The city is trying to reinvent itself but its old industrial self casts a pall. Most of the downtown storefronts were occupied. There's a brewpub of course and a tattoo alley, but it's still this side of true gentrification,  which may be ok.
   Continental breakfasts can vary greatly from motel to motel. Some are just a dry roll and a flyblown banana. One time there was a person cooking eggs to order, but that was one time only. The Best Western's breakfast was in the middle. We always pick a motel with free parking, free wifi and free breakfast. The breakfast supposedly saves us a few dollars, but they can be soul killing, especially if the TV is on.
   From Ashland it was just another hour to Duluth, Minnesota. We couldn't have taken a freeway  home from Duluth even if we wanted to. It was two hundred and fifty more miles on roads we'd traveled dozens of times.  Once home we called Steve and Jackie to thank them for taking such good care of our place. Nothing was amiss. Taking five days to go 1,700 miles we realized how remote we are from everything and we got a sense of how much of everything there is out there. I'm ready for the ten day drive to Boston.

Lake Superior, Michigan Shore

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Let Siri Do The Driving

   Over the past 45 years we've traveled between my old family home in Hull, south of Boston and our own home near Teresa's family in northwest Minnesota dozens of times. When we're in a hurry and can afford it we fly. When we had three kids or extra time, we drove. The distance is 1750 miles. The land record from home to Hull is 34 hours. This was set when shuttling the boys to their summer jobs in Boston. The boys needed a car for the summer so we'd leave home in the afternoon one day, pick up the interstate in Wisconsin, drive through the night taking turns at the wheel, and when we crossed the Mass line, I'd call my mother, and she'd lunch ready when we rolled in. After visiting the family a day or so I'd fly home.
    Driving the interstates is efficient, but monotonous. Now that we're both retired, we decided to take secondary roads as much as possible on our most recent trip to Hull in late March. We were able to find our way over to Duluth without assistance. Once we crossed the bridge into Wisconsin we opened Google Maps app on my phone. Superior is a city of many dead-ends, and you just have to trust that the voice on your phone knows what it's talking about.
   Normally, we'd take 53 to Eau Clair and hop on I-94 to Chicago. But instead, we stopped in Chippewa Falls just north of Eau Clair and found a motel. That was day one. After our fine continental breakfast next morning, we found a nice limited access highway, which I define as a four lane highway with access from side roads. Sometimes it goes around towns and other times it goes right through the downtown. On some stretches you can cruise along at 70 mph and other times you hit one traffic light after another for ten miles.
     Our goal today was the Milwaukee suburb of Brookfield where our old friend Ana lives. Along our route was the town of Marshfield. Our middle son Joe lives in Marshfield, Mass. and  whenever we mention Marshfield around our friend Catherine, she perks up, because she grew up in the Wisconsin Marshfield. Her father was a pilot and owned a small airline based there and Catherine had this  charmed childhood, so we felt we needed to swing by the airport and send Catherine a pic. The sign at the airport was surmounted by a Beechcraft D18 and the airport was named after Catherine's father. These are the kinds of things you won’t see from the interstate.
   Milwaukee was a little out of the way, but what’s that saying about the road to a friend's house is never long. When we were getting closer, we cheated a little and hopped on I-41 to Brookfield. We wanted time for a chat with Ana before her three girls got home from school. Ana was originally from LA. She had gone to law school in Milwaukee and took a job as a law clerk in Roseau because she wanted to experience small town life.  Teresa also worked at the courthouse and we became good friends before she moved back to LA.
     She got married to John from New York City, had her three daughters, and returned to Wisconsin when John found a job there. Ana is very involved with the girls school activities. “It’s nice to be able to do this while the girls still want me around,” she says. The family took us out for supper and we tried to reciprocate by making crêpes the next morning. Day two.
    After breakfast, we hopped back on I-41. I had no interest in messing with the back roads of Chicagoland. We were planning to visit my Aunt Mary and Cousin Liz at their home in the Beverly neighborhood on the south side of the city. Liz advised going straight through downtown. There are no stoplights on the interstate, just the guy in front of you who’s not moving. But the downtown jam soon unstuck and we arrived at Aunt Mary’s in the early afternoon. Mary, age 91, had a stroke last year which has limited her mobility and vision. Mary has always been a high spirited woman and while the stroke has slowed her down, it has not affected her demeanor.
   We had a fine visit with Mary and after watching Jeopardy, Liz's friend Ralph drove us over to the excellent Franconello's for an early super. We had to get back home to watch the local favorite, Loyola, beat Nevada to get into the Elite Eight. Madness! That was followed by two episodes of the overheated "Chicago Fire." Liz never watches this show, but a neighboring house would be appearing in that night's show.  Liz said their street had been sealed off earlier for several days during filming, a real pain for getting Mary out to rehab. But it was good for the economy. The local subshop had done $6,000 in extra business. The house in the show was empty and on the market. Liz said all the windows had been removed and replaced with temporary steel frames for giant propane tanks to belch out flames. We had to watch two hours of overwrought drama to get to the fire which was pretty impressive. Liz was disappointed she could not catch a glimpse of her own house down the block. All in all, Day Three was quite a day.
   On the morning of Day Four, Liz gave us a fine breakfast and a sack of sandwiches. We hopped on I-90 to get out of town. When we got south of Gary we headed south a few miles  till we found a limited access highway running east. It was 1,000 miles to Hull, or I should say Marshfield, as we'd be spending a couple of nights at young Joe's. I wanted to make around 350 miles per day and Akron, Ohio looked to be a good stopping point. Our road, U.S. 30 had me worried. There was a stoplight about every mile and we were hitting all the reds. But we were just too close to the big city. Once we passed Valpariso, the stoplights thinned out. U.S.3 was a fine road, but it was slipping south so at Columbia City Siri put us onto a narrow country road to keep us on track towards the south edge of Akron where the mid-range motels cluster. We were now on a winding, narrow road that appeared on our Rand McNally as a thin red line. I had selected the "No Highways" option on Google Maps and I later realized that Google was stitching together the shortest routes for distance, not time. This was perfect. I did not have to think about where to turn. In her friendly voice Siri alerted me to upcoming turns. I could just relax and enjoy the countryside. Traffic was always light on these country roads and we had no need to stop for lunch thanks to Liz's sammies.
   Only the small towns slowed us down. Some of these towns were neat and well preserved. Others were squalid, but interesting in their own way. This was working America, not tourist America, or show biz America. We were taking a break from those aspects of the country.  Teresa hates being boxed in by semis on the interstates, and had no problem with our slow pace. She had loaded a goodly supply of NPR podcasts onto her iPad, so we were doubly entertained. We had lots of leftover sweets from our recent St. Patrick's Day party. We really had no need to stop, except for gas and rest rooms. and we needed rest rooms more often than gas. We felt a little guilty using the facilities without buying anything, but didn't see a "customers only" notice until Massachusetts.
    Western Ohio was hilly, but soon gave way to flat farm country. We passed through an area of lakes and resorts between Akron and Canton and pulled up to our motel at five p.m. Not that it matters, but these motels are often located in mercantile wastelands of car dealerships, storage facilities, or the backsides of malls. There was a TGI Fridays next to the motel, with a deep discount for motel guests. This trip was not meant to be a gourmet tour. For being in the middle of such a lifeless area, we were surprised at how full the restaurant was. Of course it was a Friday.
   Day Five was to be a long. but pleasant slog out of Ohio and across the Alleghany Mountains of Pennsylvania and up to Binghamton, NY for the night. When I had looked at the mountain road on the map it seemed extra wiggly, but it proved to be an excellent road, uncluttered with traffic. Here we were, travelling across the most populous part of the country and the main impression was of emptiness and peace. We passed through a stretch of Amish country where every yard had a horse carriage and a long line of drying clothes. At the edge of a small town, we saw a young man in an open wagon, directing his horse to a hitching post in front of a store.
   We climbed through a beautiful national forest along the Alleghany River and across a pass and down into the valley alongside tumbling streams. We followed Route 6 through old towns with "Port" in many of their names. There were thicker or thinner deposits of snow along our entire route starting in Ohio. Again, the feeling was of being in a part of the country seen only by the locals.  We could have stopped and visited the shops and little museums, but we had not budgeted time for that. We had no time to meet the locals. We had to get to Binghamton and our motel.
   And again, our motel was located in an odd spot. Even Siri said "Good luck, guys." But it didn't matter. Once checked in we pulled the curtains and logged onto wifi. We are not big steak house fans, but we had an old Outback gift card, so we ate steak and watched Loyola beat Kansas State to get into the Final Four. It had been a fine Day Five all together.
     Next morning when the clock read six a.m. we jumped out of bed, eager to get an early start on our final day.  It took an hour to get organized, but the clock in the breakfast nook read eight. Housekeeping had neglected to turn our room clock ahead to Daylight Savings Time. That's an hour we'll never get back.  A couple of inches of snow had fallen during the night and as we made our way through the hills and towns of southern New York, we were in and out of sunshine and overcast.
     Siri guided us over the Catskill Mountains along highway 23.The panorama near Wyndham Mountain was the best of the trip since Duluth Harbor.  We crossed the Hudson on the Rip Van Winkle Bridge. Soon after we were being welcomed to Massachusetts. Siri has a charming habit of welcoming you to whichever new state you've just entered. When a few minutes later she said "Welcome to Connecticut," I wasn't so charmed. As we sat in a parking lot checking the atlas, she welcomed us back into Massachusetts. We'll not be getting one of those home assistant robots anytime soon. Here on the home stretch I really needed to break out of my Siri induced trance and take control. She was leading us down Algorithm Alley, long stretches of residential streets at 30 mph. But we were too committed to this track. And really, what's the rush. We arrived at the home of Joe and Ashley, Isla and Nash at 5:45 p.m. Plenty of time to pick up where we last left off.

                                                      Image result for panorama catskills winter
                                                                             The Catskills 20 Years Ago 

Monday, February 26, 2018

A Fine Mess

    I had just resolved to boycott FedEx for that company's failure to distance itself from the NRA when wouldn't you know it, a FedEx truck got stuck in our driveway. Teresa was just about to leave for town to help her sister. Now she was trapped. I had planned a quiet afternoon studying medieval British history. Instead, I put on my boots and grabbed a shovel.
    The driver had slid off the track that gets built up on our road over the winter. We are careful to stay on the track, but unwitting delivery men in a hurry sometimes slip into the valley and get hung up crossways in the road. That's what happened to this guy. He had 18" long steel tracks he was laying under his rear tires. I helped him shovel and replace the tracks for about half an hour when he gave up and called for a tow truck. "Here's your package," he said. "Thanks for your help."
      I started to heat my lunch when Teresa said, "He's shoveling again."  I went out to investigate. He said the tow truck wouldn't be here for an hour. "Read a book, man!" I thought to myself. "Queen Matilda's husband was only 14 when she married him. Middle Ages. Fascinating."
   I went to the garage and got two six foot planks and we stuck them under the back wheels. We were making progress. In three hours we would be in the yard where the van could turn around and carefully pick its way out to the highway. At last the tow truck came. He backed down the road, lights flashing and hooked up to the back of the van. As the truck drove ahead the van slid towards the ditch tipping so far the FedEx guy beeped for the tow truck to stop. I could see a consultation going on, and twenty minutes later a four-wheel drive tractor arrived. He plowed the road and pulled the van out of the ditch.
    The FedEx guy waved as he drove out of the yard. He's paid by the hour. I had the tractor guy, Andy, plow out the yard. I'm now on his list for snow removal after storms. His price is very reasonable and I have books to read.
The World Out of Time.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

A Month of One's Own

     People in nursing homes don't know the day of the month or, often, the day of the week. Even the undemented ones. There's no need. Knowing which season they're in suffices. After I retired, I started climbing into the same boat. Every day felt like Saturday, but it was annoying because I still had people expecting me to show up on time. I like the month of March because if I remember that Valentine's was on, say, a Saturday, I'd know for sure that March 14th was also a Saturday. It's because February has 28 days, four weeks, nice and neat.
     It would help everyone if all the months had 28 days. The extra days could be gathered into a new month, which I propose be named Mcdonnella. The new month could be slipped in anywhere except during winter. Winter is long enough. There are 29 extra days, so one of them should be made December 29 so as to mess up things as little as possible.
     Changes to the calendar are not  unprecedented.  In 1582, Pope Gregory changed the calendar to get Easter back to Spring where it belonged. We call his reform the Gregorian calendar. I plan to ask Pope Francis to help with my project. We'll call it the Francescan calendar as a way of saying thanks.  There's a February 29th every four years, which could also screw things up, so it will become the last day of the year when it occurs.  I suggest it be named "Teresa Day," in honor of my dear wife. That would really set her up for the new year.

Libera in toto orbe terrarum meum novum fastis*

*Deliver my new calendar to all the world.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

My So-called Retired Life

    Several months ago my California daughter-in-law, Ashley, who lives in Massachusetts with my son, sent us an email saying she had been perusing the Massachusetts Unclaimed Property website. She said she found my name on the list (but not her husbands). I try not to get too excited about these things. They're usually more trouble than they're worth.
    I followed the link just in case and found I was due $13.20  in insurance proceeds, probably from a small policy from one of my parents. I'd rather have my parents back, but sure, I'll take the cash. Another link led me to a form to be printed, filled in, and mailed back. "Please allow up to 180 days for processing." I'd also need to prove my tax identity so it could be reported to the IRS, and include a copy of my driver's license. Now I'm thinking: taxes, postage, envelope, possibility of paper jam.... I didn't hit delete, but I did allow the whole thing to sink under the daily accumulation of new emails.
      Every so often, Teresa would ask if I had done anything about that unclaimed property and I'd say, "yeah." Not a lie, but less than full disclosure.  Well today Teresa was cleaning out the in-box of her own account and found Ashley's email.  She asked again about the property. It was now so long ago I was able to feign forgetfulness. Teresa used to work for the State of Minnesota, and, being a loyal wife, she blamed the bureaucracy and not me. She clicked on the link and reached the same stage I had. I hoped she would continue with the heavy lifting, but she had plans for the afternoon. "You can buy groceries with that money," she said, using a non-sequitur that I could follow only too well.
     I printed out the two-page form with no problem and filled it in. I dug out my ancient Social Security card with my old Boston address and childish signature. I placed it atop the printer along with my driver's license and hit scan. Son of a biscuit! I should have hit copy. 'Scan' always causes a paper jam. From the bowels of the printer came the sound of crumpling paper. I had to rewatch the little video provided by the printer on how to remove paper jams. At last I got all my documents signed and in order. As I addressed the envelope, I imagined it being delivered with thousands of others to the jail behind the State House at the bottom of Beacon Hill. Processing these forms had to be the job of the prisoners with six month sentences.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Get The Iron Out

     Have you ever wondered why or when the Iron Age ended? We're still using lots of iron, but somehow we've moved on to whatever the current age is called. Take Britain. People have been in Britain for almost a million years. Right from the beginning they were using stones to make life better. The Stone Age didn't officially end until four thousand years ago when people figured out how to melt metal, copper mostly, mixing it with little tin to make bronze. Even with that breakthrough, lots of people kept using stone. It was free and was lying around all over the place.  The Bronze Age only lasted a thousand years. Iron was much stronger and more abundant. It was tricky to work with, but once they got the technique down, bronze was done.
     But what ended the Iron Age? My history book said the Roman conquest of Britain in 43 AD meant the end of the Iron Age. But the Romans used a ton of iron. Those swords, for example. But without further explanation, my book calls the next 400 years the Roman Age, followed by the Saxon Age, the Viking Age, the Norman Age, etc., etc.
     This really piqued my curiosity. I could call up the history department at my local college, but I'm too bashful. I could pore through my books for the answer, but that would take too much time. I knew the answer was out there somewhere on the Internet. I knew Wikipedia would have the answer. I just had to formulate my question correctly. After getting fancy with my google search questions, I simply typed in "Iron Age." Wikipedia had a gigantic article covering the Iron Ages in all the many corners of the world, but my answer was right there in the introductory paragraph: "The Iron Age is taken to end with the beginning of the historiographical record." So that's it! Once you start writing things down, you're out of the smoky, dirty Iron Age and into the lovely realms of paper and ink and memory palaces.
     No matter how sharp you are, if you don't take good notes, you're still a bit of a barbarian.
"We don't need no stinkin' books."