Sunday, November 20th, 2022

image of a cat with its leg lifted over its head looking surprised

Yes, there is a yoga pose that looks a lot like this. No, it’s not called “lick the cat’s butt.” But that’s what it SHOULD be called.

lick the cat’s butt | 7:58 am CST
Category: random idiocy, Scooter, yoga
Comments Off on lick the cat’s butt

Saturday, November 12th, 2022

My hike around the arboretum this morning turned into a speed walk because it was a lot colder and windier outside than I thought it was. Also, it started to rain. Luckily I was wearing my heavy coat with a hooded foul-weather shell I could button up tightly to stay dry and reasonably warm, all except for my fingers. I’ve got to get better gloves.

The rain turned to snow on the way home. It was graupel, that kind of snow that’s little granular balls instead of flakes. It fell so sparsely at first that I couldn’t tell for sure if I was just imagining it but it quickly worsened until it was swirling across the pavement of the beltline highway like swarms of tiny white insects. By the time I got home there were tiny drifts of snow along the edges of the driveway.

graupel | 1:43 pm CST
Category: walking, weather
Comments Off on graupel

Monday, October 24th, 2022

I have spent another weekend cutting up lumber to make what I hope will be improvements to the camping thing. I’m still blinking sawdust out of my eyes this Monday morning.

At it again …

When I built the first iteration of the camping thing, I was inspired by a design I saw in a video on YouTube. I tried to get as close as I possibly could to that design, but the guy who built his camping thing shot a lot of video of his final product but didn’t shoot any video showing how he built it. I had to take a lot of screen caps and make a lot of guesses, but I think I came pretty close to his design.

What I liked most about his was that it looked simple enough that I could build it. It was a bed frame made to fit the floor in the back of the van, two cargo compartments on stilts that fit into the rear windows on either side, and an arch that reached across the width of the van just behind the driver / passenger seats.

The bed frame was made of two straight slabs of plywood screwed to a couple of 2 x 4s which anchored it to the floor — there’s more framing to it than that, but that’s the gist. It was topped by two pieces of plywood, hinged across the middle so I could lift up the front or lift up the back to access the space for storage underneath.

With the two cargo compartments on either side of the bed, there was so much storage space that there was no need to block the view out the rear by installing a kitchen, the way most people do when they adapt their minivans to camping. I could store all the pots & pans and food in the well where the rear seats used to go. I liked this very much because I bought a tent which encloses the back end of the van when the hatch is open, allowing me to look out the screened-in back when I’m inside.

This design also left a space between the bed and the first row of seats, which I thought would make it easier for me to get in and out. After a couple of camping trips, though, I discovered that most of the time I get into the van by simply climbing up onto the bed. Also, there’s only enough of a gap between the bed and the seats to sit hunched over facing forward, which isn’t really that useful.

When listing the pros and cons of this design, the feature at the top of the list of cons was that the bed frame was 52 inches from head to foot, requiring an extension which was stowed under the front lid, eating up a lot of valuable stowage space. The extension was a piece of plywood 48 inches long and 20 inches wide. After installing legs and reinforcing it with a rail underneath it was at least five pounds too heavy. I never did figure out a way of getting it in and out of the stowed position that wasn’t awkward and because of that, once it was in place I tended to leave it for the duration of the camping trip, so it might as well have been permanent.

I never did work out a way to sit up in this bed. I tried several different ways to prop open one lid or the other, thinking I might be able to recline on it, but I could never get comfortable. So with this particular design there was just no way for me to sit. There isn’t enough headroom between the ceiling and the mattress to sit fully upright, so if I wanted to write I had to stretch out on one side or the other, propped on an elbow, and if I wanted to read it was that or lay flat on my back.

Having an unobstructed view out the back turned out to be not as desirable as I initially thought. The only way I could see out the back was to lay on my stomach and prop myself up on my elbows, which is none too comfortable so I didn’t do it often. And my position in the van was higher than the screened opening in the tent, so mostly all I could see was the ground immediately outside the van. Even if I managed to lower the bed an inch or two, I can’t imagine I’d spend much time looking out the back.

And whether or not I wanted a chuck box / kitchen blocking my view, the back end of the van is pretty much the natural location for a chuck box or kitchen. That’s the only place in the van that makes sense for the fridge I bought. The minivan I drive, a Toyota Sienna, has a very deep well just inside the tailgate for two seats to disappear into. I yanked out the seats so I could stuff a fridge in there, with lots of room left over to stash food, pots, pans, plates & utensils, a cook stove, etc. So naturally whenever I was preparing for a meal or cleaning up after one, I worked out of the back of the van. Might as well put a chuck box / kitchen back there because it’s there anyway.

Even with all those drawbacks I was reluctant to give up on this design. If I’m honest, I felt that way mostly because I had already spent a fair bit of time building it out and didn’t want to spend even more time starting over from scratch. I tried a couple of really desperate modifications to avoid starting from scratch, like I tried sleeping on a 24-inch-wide mattress, thinking if that worked out I could carve out a place from the other half to sit up, but after trying to sleep on a 24-inch-wide mattress I learned that was a great big nope.

So I’ve started over. And just as I came to this decision, YouTube recommended a video of another design for a minivan camper thing that looked interesting. Stay tuned …

little boxes | 8:31 pm CST
Category: camping, hobby, play | Tags:
Comments Off on little boxes

Friday, September 30th, 2022

A day at the beach

I spent the weekend at the state park campground on North Trout Lake and it was glorious!

Last time I was here it was, ah, not so glorious. It started raining shortly after I arrived, kept raining all night and all the next morning. It was still raining when I packed up and left.

But this time, wow! The weather was so sunny and clear when I got there that I couldn’t resist taking the kayak down to the beach immediately to put it in the water and go for a paddle around the lake. I didn’t intend to go all the way around the lake but the day was so beautiful that what started out as a quick paddle turned into a long, lazy paddle all the way around the shore. I found several little sheltered bays and a beaver lodge down at the south end of the lake, then paddled up the western shoreline through the reeds until I got to the north end where all the houses were. Circling back, I got to camp a couple hours later and ate lunch.

After lunch I crossed paths with a guy about my age who was out for a walk with his wife. He stopped me to chat me up and, as you do, asked me where I was from. I said I lived in Madison, and asked where he was from. “Oh, have you ever heard of a little town called Waupaca?” I’m sure he thought he was going to stump me with that one. Why would anyone from Madison have heard of Waupaca? He was quite surprised when I told him I grew up in a little town down the road from Waupaca. “Which town?” he asked. When I told him, he said, “Manawa! Did you know either of the Baumer girls?” I said sure, Jeannie was in my class. “She’s my cousin.”

With the little time I had left in the evening, I hopped on my bicycle and rode down to Cathedral Point, a little spit of land that sticks out into the strait between North Trout Lake and South Trout Lake. It takes me about 40 minutes to paddle as far but only 20 mins to cycle there. I had a little walk around the point before cycling back.

I had just enough time when I got back to build a fire before the sun went down. It got dark quickly after that so I ate my supper by the light of the camp fire. I played with the fire for a couple hours, then waited for it to burn down to coals before I took a walk to the beach to see the stars. By then the crescent moon had set and it was dark enough to see the Milky Way. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen that many stars.

The moon setting over Trout Lake

When I got out of bed Saturday morning it was cold enough to see my breath. I built a fire for warmth and boiled some water to make coffee and instant oatmeal. The lake was smooth as glass and plumes of steamy air rose from it into the cold sky. It was almost too cold to go out onto the lake but I knew that if I didn’t, I’d kick myself forever, so I finished up my coffee, then trundled the kayak down to the beach.

Morning mist over the lake

Rowing through the mist was a dream. The bow cut through the water with barely a ripple. I paddled down past Cathedral Point and around the bend into South Trout Lake where I could ground the kayak, step out and remove my hoodie before going on. The sun was full on me by then and was more than enough to keep me warm.

There were three little islands at the northernmost end of South Trout Lake. I spent almost a half hour slowly circling them before heading back to the campground. Felt just a bit too confident that the kayak would easily slide over the rocky shoals surrounding the islands and got hung up twice, but backing off and going around was easy enough.

I had to fight a headwind and breaking waves to paddle back to camp. Not exactly the way I wanted to end a relaxing paddle and to make it just a little more irritating, the wind died just after I dragged the kayak back into camp, leaving the lake glassy-smooth again. If I’d waited another thirty minutes to head back, the return would have been so much easier.

I caught a few winks in my camp chair before going on a bike ride in the afternoon. I headed north past Boulder Junction a ways, not to the end of the trail but much farther than I had intended to go. The trail was so easy, though! I just kept going until I had been on the trail for a little over an hour. Knowing at that point it would take at least as long to get back, I turned around. Lucky for me, there was no headwind on the way back; it was as easy a ride on the way back as it was on the way out.

I was too tired to do anything else after returning, so I just sat with a book until I nodded off. When I woke it was getting dark as well as getting cold, so I built a fire and sat next to it for a couple hours playing with it until it finally burned out.

Burned out …
A Weekend at North Trout Lake, Sep 30 – Oct 2 | 9:22 pm CST
Category: bicycling, camping, kayaking, play, travel, vacation | Tags:
Comments Off on A Weekend at North Trout Lake, Sep 30 – Oct 2

Friday, September 9th, 2022

I took vacation on Friday, Sep 9, and Monday, Sep 12, so I could make a long weekend out of a visit to Big Bay State Park on Madeline Island, one of the Apostle Islands

Big Bay State Park

I’d been rained out of about half of all the camping trips I planned this summer and it looked at first as though I was going to get rained out of this one, too. Early in the week, the forecast called for rain all weekend, but as the week went on the three days of rain gradually shifted from the weekend to the week. I made no plans to go anywhere else. I was going to Big Bay come hell or high water.

It takes about six hours to drive straight through from Our Little Red House to Big Bay, but I did not drive straight through. When I was about an hour south of Stevens Point I realized I did not bring a book to read before bed. Knowing I would not be able to get a good night’s sleep without something to read, I stopped at Stevens Point to visit a book store, then continued on to Wausau, where I stopped for lunch at the Red Eye Brewing Company.

Until I left Wausau, the skies were clear and sunny, but just north of Wausau the clouds began to crowd in, and by the time I passed through Merrill, about a half-hour north of Wausau, it was raining. For the next three hours I drove through a steady, gloomy, cold rain from Merrill to Bayfield.

When I made plans to go to Big Bay, I originally thought I would stop at Copper Falls State Park to hike the trail for about an hour, but by the time I got to the turnoff to Copper Falls I was already more than an hour behind schedule. There was a ferry to catch from the mainland to Madeline Island, and I wanted to get to Big Bay before it was dark, so Copper Falls would have to wait until another time.

The ferry is scheduled to depart Bayfield at the top of every hour. Google Maps was stubbornly telling me that I was due to arrive at 5:05 no matter how much faster than the speed limit I drove. I typically drive about five miles per hour faster than the speed limit but I started pushing it to seven or eight miles faster when I saw I might miss the ferry. Didn’t make any difference to Google Maps. In the very rural stretch between Ironwood and Ashland I gave it still a bit more gas but still couldn’t shave any time off my estimated arrival. Eventually I surrendered to the inevitable, relaxed my foot off the gas pedal and eased into Bayfield at exactly 5:05 pm.

The main road into Bayfield ends at the Bayfield pier, where I could see a ferry tied up, so I parked the van nearby and looked for someone to buy a ticket from, but nobody was around. Asking around, I discovered the ferry departed from a wharf just to the north of where I was parked. I got back into the van and drove up there to an empty parking lot where a dripping-wet teenager in a rain slicker was selling tickets to a ferry that was nowhere to be seen. Thinking I’d just missed the ferry, I bought a ticket, parked the van (fourth in line behind other campers) and set out in search of a restroom. Just as I found a sign pointing the way, I glanced out across the water and saw the ferry arriving! Came back to find the ferry at the dock with cars streaming off the deck! There was just enough time for me to get back to the van and start the engine before we began to drive onto the ferry, which departed at 5:30 pm.

In the four days I was on Madeline Island, I never saw a ferry arrive or depart on time. To be fair, I saw them arrive or depart four, maybe five times, but still: never on schedule. I think they get there when they get there, and they leave when they’re loaded up.

I call this “Crazy Dude with Car Ferry” — La Pointe, Madeline Island

I drove straight from the landing at La Pointe, Madeline Island, to the state park, about 5 miles from the dock, and had just enough daylight left to unload the bike and the kayak, then set up the tent over the back end of the van. The gloomy overcast shortened the day by quite a bit. In the dim twilight I took a walk around the campground to get a look around. Saw several deer, which didn’t seem to be bothered by having people close by. It was almost too dark to see by the time I got back to the van, so I shook the rainwater off my coat and hat, climbed into the van, and buttoned up for the night. Read my new book until I couldn’t keep my eyes open any more.

A misty morning at Big Bay

Woke early Saturday morning, dozed until about six. Dressed and took a walk down to the beach, eager to see what the park had to offer. The beach is a barrier island which stretches almost all the way across the innermost part of the bay, creating a lagoon on the inland side. The barrier island is just wide enough that trees, grass, and scrubby little bushes have established themselves on the island. There’s a boardwalk up the inside of the barrier so you can hike from one end to the other without trampling the delicate flora growing along the way. It’s a long walk from one end to the other, about a mile and a half, and I hadn’t had any breakfast or even coffee yet, so I only went about halfway before doubling back.

On my walk I crossed paths with a flurry of three little kids chased by a mother with a coffee thermos. “HI NEIGHBOR!” the kids called out to me as they ran down to the beach. “WE’RE GOING TO SEE THE BEACH! WE SAW THE SUN SET LAST NIGHT! DID YOU SEE THE SUN SET? OKAY SEE YOU BYE!” I’m never not amazed by how much energy each and every kid can generate.

After a cup of tea and a banana, I took a drive around the island to see what there was to see, and also to find a boat ramp or some kind of public access to the bay where I could launch my kayak. Turns out there isn’t any. You can rent a canoe or a kayak from several places, but if you bring your own, you have to carry or drag it quite a ways to get it to the beach where you can launch it. For me, this ended up being about a five-minute walk from my camp site, not a huge inconvenience but this is one of the few state parks I’ve been to where there wasn’t easy public access to the water.

My drive around the island was pleasant enough but there wasn’t much to see outside the state park. Some of the shore line was nice but it’s clearly all posted private property, so I didn’t even think about stopping to walk it. Quite a lot of the island was accessible only on unpaved roads which were far from shore, so there’s not much to see that you wouldn’t see on any back road in northern Wisconsin. I drove almost every road on Madeline Island in a little more than an hour and was back to eat lunch before noon.

After lunch, I dragged the kayak down the trail to the beach. When I say “dragged,” I don’t mean that I literally dragged it on the dirt and rocks and roads of the park. I mean I strapped it to a tiny wheeled trolley and led it like a good little doggie. Just wanted to make that clear. “Why don’t you just carry it?” I hear you ask. Although my kayak only weighs about sixty pounds, I can’t carry it very far because 1) I’m old & lazy, and 2) my kayak is eighteen feet long, which makes it very difficult to carry for any distance at all. Hence, the trolley, which works a treat and which I can fold up and stow in the reach hatch of the kayak. If you have a canoe or kayak, get a trolley for it, they’re great.

Launching from the beach near the campground meant I had to paddle the length of the barrier island to get to the inlet to the lagoon, about a twenty-minute paddle. There’s a footbridge across the inlet supported by a couple of rustic timber-crib piers which don’t raise the footbridge very high off the water. I had to fold myself as tightly as I could against the deck of my kayak to get under it. Just to make it really interesting, there were a half-dozen children taking turns jumping off the bridge. They clearly knew I wanted to go under the bridge but they were so caught up in the excitement of jumping into the water that they couldn’t quite summon up the willpower to stop until somebody’s mother, watching from the shore, finally climbed up onto the bridge and held them back for the minute it took for me to squeeze beneath the bridge and paddle on.

The lagoon behind the barrier island is broad and beautiful and dotted with dozens of small islands, some no more than a muddy lump covered in brush with maybe a single tree sprouting from it. Others were much larger but none of them appeared to have any place to make landfall so I was never tempted to climb onto one and have a look around. The whole time I was there the water was glassy smooth, encouraging me to paddle lazily around the lagoon for about an hour before heading back the way I came.

All that paddling in the warm sunshine put me in a napping mood, so after a quick bite to eat I slouched in my camp chair and dozed for about 30 minutes. I do a lot of napping on trips like this. Why not? It’s usually quite peaceful and the hiking, paddling, and biking tires me out just enough to want to catch a few winks. I’ve also got a reclining camp chair that’s super-comfy and rocks back and forth, making it perfect for napping in. So of course I take a nap whenever I can.

After my nap I still had plenty of daylight, so I rode my bike to the southern part of the state park, locked it up in a rack in the parking lot, and walked back to camp along a trail that skirted the edge of the cliffs along Lake Superior. I almost didn’t. I’m not as active as I should be these days and my bones and muscles were complaining about being forced to walk uneven terrain, paddle for hours, and bike miles down the road, but I knew I’d kick myself if I didn’t try to enjoy every bit of the park I came so far to see. So after thinking it over an extra two-three minutes, I committed to walking the trail back to camp, and enjoyed it immensely.

Saturday night dinner was smoked salmon, cheese & crackers, and a cup of tea to wash it down. I took a walk around the campground after dinner to settle my dinner, then sat by a campfire until it was too dark to see.

Sunday morning was very chilly. Didn’t want to get out of bed, but very much wanted a hot cup of tea. Also, had to pee. In the end, I could not resist any of these needs.

I took my tea and a fig bar down to the beach to watch the sun rise, but the sky was overcast so no sun. Walked along the beach with a gentle surf lapping at my feet and a pair of sandpipers leading the way. Spotted the tracks of a doe and her fawn in the sand. They must have been there less than an hour before I was.

Paddling on Lake Superior!

After returning to camp for coffee and a bite to eat, I dragged the kayak down to the beach to paddle around the south end of the park where I suspected there might be some caves in the shoreline. Paddled for maybe twenty minutes when the shoreline went from tumble-down trees and dirt to solid rocks carved by the waves. Didn’t find any caves, or at least not what I would call a cave, but there was one very deeply carved rock overhang propped up by a column of rock that might’ve been a cave a long time ago. I ducked under it very briefly just so I could say I’d paddled my kayak into a “sea cave” on Lake Superior.

The wind came up as I paddled back to the bay, bringing to mind all the warnings about how quickly conditions on Lake Superior can change. It was never so windy that I was in danger of being swamped, or at least I don’t think it was. I never took any water in the cockpit, even though waves were breaking across the deck. But I am a totally neurotic worrywart so it was impossible not to think about rolling over and getting dumped as I made my way back to the beach. Which I did in good time, and completely dry. As I said, I just worry too much.

Back at camp, I traded the kayak for a bike, went for a ride to the ranger station at the entrance to the park, and left it there while I hiked along the cliff face to see if I could find the cave from the dry side of the shore line. It was easier to find than I thought, but much less impressive-looking from up top. Hiked a trail loop back to the ranger station and biked back to camp for lunch and a nap.

The nap didn’t work out this time, mostly because I strung up a hammock and tried to sleep in that instead of my tried-and-true camp chair. I’ve seen other people napping in hammocks and thought, wow, that looks comfortable, but I’ve bought two different hammocks and neither one of them is what I would call comfortable. They both bend me almost double in the most uncomfortable way possible and besides that, they completely wrap me up like a banana skin. I think I’ll have to give up on hammocks for now.

I wanted to get a shower before bed Sunday night. I can go one night without a shower, but two nights without a shower and I start to stink so that it bothers me. The showers at Big Bay State Park were closed because of something they were doing with the septic field, so I had to drive up to the campground at Big Bay Town Park where they had coin-operated showers. I’ve used coin-operated showers before but it had been a while so I’d forgotten the most important lesson of coin-operated showers: Just shove all your money in the slot. It says a dollar seventy-five for the first three minutes and twenty-five cents for each minute after, but that doesn’t mean you have to plug it every minute. If you’ve got ten dollars in quarters, shove it all in there and enjoy your shower instead of hopping out every minute. Hopping out only gets you frustrated and cold.

Went into town after my shower to hunt up some souvenirs and have a look around the town of La Pointe. There wasn’t much to see, so I didn’t stay long. I was back in camp well before sundown, where I feasted on just about everything left in the fridge. Built a fire after dinner, cracked open a beer, and settled down with a book until it was too dark to read, then played with the fire until I burned up all the wood before heading off to bed.

Didn’t get much sleep Sunday night even though I went to bed early. A trio of young women in the camp site across the road were up until the wee hours drinking and playing pop music on their boom box. Several people asked them to quiet down but they just laughed and kept partying. I don’t have any memory of when they finally shut off the music and went to sleep, but I got up before sunrise to have plenty of time to pack and get the first ferry off the island. Under any other circumstances I would have pulled out of my camp site with my only my car’s running lights on but on this particular Monday morning I was very happy to flood their tent with my headlights. Made sure I gave them the high beams, too.

I was first in line for the first ferry off the island, which was scheduled to depart at 7:00 am but which didn’t leave until almost eight. After stopping at a coffee shop in Bayfield to pick up a hot cuppa and a chocolate chip cookie, I set off at 8:15 am and arrived home at 2:40 pm, pretty good time considering I stopped at every wayside I saw to stretch my legs and get some air. There’s an especially nice wayside on Highway 51 between Manitowish Waters and Woodruff, overlooking Diamond Lake, where I stopped for lunch and lingered for about a half-hour. It’s almost entirely hidden from the highway and every time I’ve visited, there was never more than two or three people there.

Big Bay State Park, Sep 9 – 12 | 8:44 am CST
Category: camping, hobby, kayaking, play, travel, vacation | Tags:
Comments Off on Big Bay State Park, Sep 9 – 12

Saturday, August 13th, 2022

Rained out!

I got to North Trout Lake about an hour before it started to rain. Had just enough time to take one quick bike ride, then spent the rest of the evening sitting under the overhang of the tent behind my van with a book until it was too dark to read. Still raining when I went inside and read until I couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer. Rained all night.

It was still raining in the morning without any sign it was going to stop. The forecast called for rain all day Saturday and through the night into Sunday, so I packed up and went home.

North Trout Lake, Aug 12-13 | 12:48 pm CST
Category: bicycling, camping, hobby, play, travel, vacation | Tags:
Comments Off on North Trout Lake, Aug 12-13

Tuesday, June 21st, 2022

Photo of my van parked near the shore of North Trout Lake, just north of Woodruff, WI

I spent last Friday and Saturday night at a state campground on North Trout Lake to do a little hiking, a little paddling, but mostly just to sit and enjoy the peace and quiet.

The campground seems to be really popular and I can see why. It’s right on the shore of the lake, which is so picturesque it ought to be on a postcard (it probably is). Several of the camp sites are right on the shore; you could launch your canoe from them or just wade out into the lake, which has a hard sandy bottom and is very shallow along much of the shore line. If I had been lucky enough to snag one of those sites I probably would have set up my camp chair facing the water or strung my hammock between two trees on the shore and done little else but gaze out on the lake all weekend, it was that pretty.

I unfortunately did not have a camp site on the shore. Mine was in fact about as far from the shore as it’s possible to get and was rather ugly, which is probably why I was able to reserve it for a weekend at short notice. It was ugly mostly because of all the trees which had been cut down and left in heaps around the site. On the plus side the site got lots of sunshine, was open to the breezes off the lake which kept the bugs at bay, and it was very easy for me to gather firewood, but there was no getting around the fact that heaps of dead branches do not make for a good-looking camp site. I didn’t care much. It served its purpose as far as I was concerned. I had a place to park, a nice big camp site, and a ring to build a fire in. All good.

I left the house at about three o’clock Friday afternoon and arrived at the lake a little past six-thirty in the evening, making pretty good time but feeling more than a little fatigued, not to mention stressed out, after spending three and a half hours on the interstate highway with the hundreds if not thousands of other people heading north for the weekend. When I headed back home Sunday morning I stuck to county and state roads all the way, and it was honestly worth every minute of the additional travel time. I had the road to myself practically all the way, so the drive was virtually stress-free. A+++ would definitely recommend.

At six-thirty in the evening around this time of year there are still at least two hours of daylight left, so almost as soon as I got there I unshipped the kayak from the roof of the van, trundled it down to the shore on a handy-dandy little trolley I have just for that purpose, and launched it into the lake for a short paddle up and down the shore along the edge of the campground. The wind was rather brisk that evening so the surface of the lake was the tiniest bit choppy but not enough to make me want to head back to shore. I paddled around for thirty or forty minutes before I decided I’d better get back to camp so I had enough daylight to gather firewood and set up for overnight camping.

I had already collected a few fallen branches which I broke up into tinder to start the fire. After I got that burning, I began to collect larger pieces of wood to keep the fire going – a rookie mistake; you’re supposed to get all your wood together before lighting it off. I knew better than that, but it had been a few years since I’d built a camp fire from scratch. After gathering enough larger pieces to keep a fire burning for at least an hour, I broke up more smaller branches into tinder and built up a pretty respectable fire from the coals that remained of my original effort, then built a teepee over it with the bigger pieces I’d gathered.

Now that I finally had a proper fire going, I could prepare something for dinner and settle into my camp chair next to the fire. And when I say “prepare dinner” I mean that I smeared some salmon cream cheese on some thick-sliced nutty bread and called that dinner.

After gobbling down some carbs next to a crackling camp fire, I slept like a baby.

Saturday morning I woke way too early, but I had to answer the call of nature so I tottered off to the nearest pit toilet, which was not really very near at all, another shortcoming of my particular camp site. My site was about as far from the toilet to the north as it was from the toilet to the south, smack dab in the middle. Not a problem most of the time, but for that first trip of the morning I had to lengthen my stride and move with a sense of purpose and urgency. That taken care of, I crawled back into bed and dozed pleasantly for another hour, wrapped tightly in many many blankets against the early morning chill.

When the sun was finally high enough to shine its warmth down on my camp site, I begrudgingly extracted myself from my bunk and gathered up enough fruit juice, fig bars, and nuts to make a decent light breakfast, which I noshed on in my camp chair that I gradually scooted across the camp site to keep up with a passing sunbeam. I passed the time reading two or three chapters of the very excellent book “Allow Me To Retort,” by author Elie Mystal, who examines the ins and outs of constitutional law from the perspective of a Black American. Wonderful book, would gladly recommend it to anyone.

Once the fruit juice was gone it was time to move on to more serious stuff: coffee. I neglected to bring the fixings for coffee on my previous trip up north, but not this time around. With a pourover cone carefully balanced on top of a big mug I slowly brewed the java, then settled back into my camp chair to read two more chapters.

The important stuff out of the way, I set out on my morning constitutional. My initial thought was to walk the complete circuit of the campground road, but when I got to the beach I decided to include a detour to the boat ramp about a hundred yards away. At the boat ramp I noticed a marker for a paved bicycling trail that disappeared into the trees by the road.

If I’d known there were paved cycling trails for miles and miles up here, I definitely would have brought my bike but, sad to say, I didn’t. But I just had to get a look at the trail, so I took a short stroll along it, only as far as the first intersection, the road to Cathedral Point. Along that particular short stretch of trail it rose and fell over a few very steep hills and ducked around maybe half a dozen sharp turns, but the asphalt pavement was in good condition. Cycling it would be a lot of fun even though the hills would present a bit of a challenge for me, a rider who generally prefers straight and level trails.


Having gone as far as the first intersection, I turned around and shambled back in the direction of camp. I have to admit with no small amount of embarrassment that I accidentally left my hiking shoes at home for this trip. The only footwear I had with me were a pair of sandals, not ideal for long hikes. Also, they leave my feet exposed to the elements 24/7. When I was young and indestructible I would walk barefoot all day in the summer, over smooth ground, gravel or hot asphalt – it didn’t matter. My feet were tough enough to walk on anything. Well, they’re not now. I’ll spare you the details, but after tramping around all day in sandals, I had to carefully clean and bandage my feet Saturday night before bed. Used up half a box of Band-Aids and many a generous dollop of Neosporin. Which was why I was taking it easy on this short hike along the bike trail, loafing along at a leisurely pace. Even so, I got back to camp around ten o’clock, still plenty early for a morning paddle on the lake.

North Trout Lake is a fairly big lake, but Trout Lake, to the south (natch), is even bigger, and they’re connected through a narrow strait. My aim on this Saturday morning paddle was to go as far as the strait, have a look around, then come back. Which turned out to be exactly what I did. I had to paddle against a light but continuous breeze out of the south on the way there, but after I crossed through the strait it was almost dead calm thanks to a couple of islands at the north end of Trout Lake screening me from the wind. I happily paddled around on the glassy water for a while, circling the islands and drifting along the shore.

I grounded the kayak at Cathedral Point, jumped out and had a little walkabout to take in the surroundings. The point had picnic tables, a water pump, toilets, and fire rings, but looked as though it hadn’t been visited in a while. One teeny tiny little sign caught my eye and curiosity compelled me to get close enough to ready it. “This sign is surrounded by poison ivy,” it warned, “don’t touch it.” So warned, I tiptoed back to my kayak and paddled away.

I returned to my camp site at about half past twelve and made a hearty lunch of thick-sliced summer sausage on slices of nutty bread, then sat in the sun with my book as I ate. The air was still cool and the breeze was pleasant. It wasn’t long before I began to drowse. Napping seemed like a good idea just then, so I stretched out in the van and got myself a few winks. Best thing I could has possibly done. There’s really nothing better you can do in the early afternoon, especially after you’ve been active, than get a restful nap. At least, nothing better for me. You can do what you like.

And after a restful nap, there’s nothing better than driving into town to spend a little time relaxing in the local beer garden. There’s a brewery called Rocky Reef in Woodruff, about a twenty-minute drive from the campground. I’d been there once before and enjoyed sitting in the sun with a cold, refreshing glass of hefeweizen. There weren’t any open seats on the patio last Saturday because they had some live entertainment which had attracted quite a large weekend crowd. I only wanted to pick up some beer anyway, but hung around for about ten minutes to sample a beer they didn’t have on tap the last time I visited.

When I got back, I sat in the sun and read my book again, and in the evening I lit a fire and played with it because on the inside I’m still a twelve-year-old boy who does that kind of thing. There wasn’t much peace and quiet to enjoy Saturday night because all the other campers had returned from wherever they’d gone, and they all felt the need to yell at each other a lot and share their recorded music with each other. The popularity of state parks is the only thing I don’t like about them.

I packed up fairly early Sunday morning because I didn’t want to hurry getting home. I wanted to take the back roads and make a few stops along the way to get out, walk around and return home stress-free, and that’s pretty much exactly what I did.

North Trout Lake, Jun 17-19 | 8:05 am CST
Category: bicycling, camping, coffee, hobby, kayaking, play, travel, vacation, walking | Tags:
Comments Off on North Trout Lake, Jun 17-19

Sunday, June 5th, 2022

I booked a reservation for a two-night stay at Moose Lake Campground in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, not far from Hayward, Wisconsin. I even stayed overnight, but I got the hell out of there first thing in the morning because I have never encountered mosquitoes as voracious and unrelenting as the mosquitoes that were out in force nearly everywhere I went up north on this particular weekend. I had to spray myself over and over with the most powerful insect repellent I could find just to be outside, and even then the mosquitoes would buzz in a cloud around my head, stopping short of the cloud of DEET surrounding me.

I would add that there’s nothing much to do at Moose Lake. There are no hiking trails, and the campground is at the end of a long gravel road through densely-wooded country. I would have been perfectly happy to paddle on the lake for a while, then sit in a camp chair for hours on end, quietly reading a book, but the mosquitoes would not leave me alone even while I was drenched in repellent, so I spent most of the time I was at Moose Lake locked up in my van. Not ideal.

That’s a big Muskie!

The weekend wasn’t a total loss, however! I went through Hayward on my way home, arriving just as the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame opened. I don’t get up this way often but I have been through Hayward more than once and I knew that if I drove through it again without getting a photo of myself with the giant Muskie you can see from space, I would kick myself forever. I can finally check that off my bucket list.

I’m also happy to report that I spend a most enjoyable morning visiting the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame, partly because I had the whole place to myself for more than an hour, so I could linger over the exhibits as long as I liked and take lots and lots of photos. What I enjoyed most about it, though, was that it was the most gleefully over-the-top museum of fishing that I’d ever seen. I mean, why would you collect hundreds of antique outboard boat engines in one place unless you were obsessed with fishing? That’s not an exaggeration. I didn’t count them but there had to be more than one hundred outboards.

Moose Lake, June 5-6 | 10:18 am CST
Category: camping, hobby, kayaking, play, travel, vacation | Tags: , ,
Comments Off on Moose Lake, June 5-6

Friday, May 6th, 2022

A sunny day on Star Lake

My first camping trip of the year was a single night’s stay at Star Lake, north of Saint Germain. I had planned to stay two nights but wasn’t prepared for how low the overnight temps would get. I had flannel sheets, a blanket and a quilt, which had been more than sufficient to keep me warm through the night on previous trips, but it wasn’t enough to keep me warm through the coldest hours of the night, even thought I was wrapped up like a caterpillar in a cocoon.

This was also my first camping trip to the north woods of Wisconsin and I was not fully aware of how long it would take to get there. I set off from home at around lunch time so I didn’t get to the campground until about five. I set up camp as quickly as possible, then broke out the food and ate dinner, and by the time I finished it was already too dark to read.

The next day I put the kayak in the lake and went for a quick paddle, but the water was still so cold that it sucked way too much of my body heat away through the thin fiberglass hull. Not sure if there’s anything to be done about that short of dressing up in long underwear and wool pants. I didn’t paddle for very long, which is a shame because it was an otherwise beautiful day. Later I went for a hike through the woods behind the campgrounds, and I sat in the sun reading a pretty good book for a couple hours, but as the sun went down I knew that I was in for another night of near-freezing temps and the more I thought about that, the less I wanted to do it, so I packed up and left in the late afternoon, arriving home shortly before bed time.

Star Lake, May 6-8 | 9:36 am CST
Category: camping, hobby, kayaking, play, travel, vacation | Tags:
Comments Off on Star Lake, May 6-8

Sunday, May 1st, 2022

Check this out:

I froze my ass off to get that photo. I hope you appreciate that.

It seems a little funny that you can put on a sweatshirt and long pants and go out in fifty degree weather and think, “Oh, this isn’t so bad,” and you get so into doing whatever it is you’re doing that you don’t notice until an hour and a half goes by that you don’t have any sensation in your fingertips. I had to go inside at one-hour intervals after that just so I could continue to do manual labor. And no, I couldn’t wear gloves because I need to be bare-handed to do the delicate work of stripping wires and such like.

The arch isn’t done. I have to hang a curtain from it, just for example, but I’m so happy with the way the lights turned out that I had to snap a photo of the progress.

I also got the lights installed on the overhead storage compartments:

They are not lit in this photo because obviously they were not installed in the van which means the wires weren’t connected to a live circuit. They’re installed now, but I didn’t take a photo of them with the lights switched on because I forgot, and I’m not going back out now. Each light is at the end of a foot-long gooseneck and is dimmable, which will be very nice for reading a chapter or two before lights out. And there’s a USB port in the base of each light for recharging phones or whatever. I can’t wait to try them out.

All of this (and more!) runs off a house battery in the back of the van that I installed last week. Ran into a little glitch with the charger that I have yet to rectify, but progress! It’s being made!

wired | 8:35 pm CST
Category: camping, carpentry, hobby, play | Tags:
Comments Off on wired

Friday, April 15th, 2022

I spent my lunch break yesterday brushing polyurethane on these pieces, even though I shouldn’t have. The instructions on the can tell me I should wait until the temperature is at least sixty degrees but it was only fifty-two. I absolutely could not wait for it to warm up, though, because the forecast tells me it won’t get warmer than forty-five until next week. I’m so eager to make some progress on this project that I’m sure I’ll burst a vessel if I wait that long, so I cheated, cracked open the can of poly and brushed it on anyway. Checked it several times yesterday afternoon and evening and it looked fine, so I think I got away with it.

finished | 6:09 am CST
Category: camping, carpentry, hobby, play | Tags:
Comments Off on finished

Monday, March 14th, 2022

After what seemed like an eternity of sub-freezing weather, we finally had a day of sunny skies and temps in the forties. The forecast says we’re supposed to get at least one more week of this, but I’m taking it one day at a time because I know this is false spring and we’re going to get at least one more fall of snow deep enough to shovel off the driveway before winter is REALLY over, and I don’t want it to break my heart.

I took two really long walks around the neighborhood today, one this morning and another this afternoon, and wow am I out of shape. I don’t mind walking in the snow but I really can’t abide going for a walk when it’s cold enough to make my nose and teeth hurt just because I’m breathing in and out (it actually seems to hurt more when I’m breathing out – how the hell does that make sense?), and as I mentioned already temps have been hovering around zero for weeks and weeks now, so I’ve been lazy. I’ll have to make myself get out there every day. Lucky for me that budding trees draw me like a moth to a flame.

In between my morning and afternoon walkies I worked on the camping thing some more. It felt so good to get outside and work on it for more than five minute without losing sensation in my hands. It’s not quite warm enough to brush some poly on the finished pieces, so instead I figured out how to set up the arch across the front of the van between the driver’s cabin and the rear compartment. The goal is not to wall off the back from the front, just to give me something to hang a curtain from. In the original design it’s a combination curtain rod and coat rack, festooned all over with coat hooks, and it even has overhead lights. I’ll definitely do the coat hooks. We’ll see about the lights.

I cut out the uprights from half-inch plywood about a week ago on a day of warmish temps (maybe in the low forties?) but didn’t get a chance to finish them until today when I screwed a piece of 3/4″ poplar to the back of each of the pieces that look like half a spade. The arch doesn’t have to support a lot of weight, unless you hang a lot of coats and backpacks from the hooks. The poplar’s there mostly to stiffen the back of the plywood and to make each upright a little prettier.

It took me a while to work out how to build a piece that would clamp the uprights to the grab handles on the B-pillar. I thought I had it figured out about a week ago, but after re-watching some video shot by the person who originated the design I tried a different, simpler way to do it. That got way better results.

With the uprights firmly anchored to the B-pillars I could lay a batten across the tops, attach a piece of cardboard roughly cut to fit the contour of the ceiling, and joggle-stick a template for the cross-piece. I’m pretty new to the idea of using a joggle stick to make a template for unusual shapes so I’m still getting the hang of it, but it so far it’s been working well for me. I joggled the shape of the uprights so they would follow the profile of the window and clear the door handle, and joggled the face of the overhead bin so it would fit against the sloping ceiling in the rear.

After cutting out the basic shape of the cross-piece, I had to use a belt sander with a loop of extra-gritty sandpaper to smooth out the irregularities of the jigsaw cut, which was a little easier to do than I was afraid it might be. I still have more sanding to do, but that comes after I figure out how to join the two halves in the middle. The bit of scrap wood holding them together in the photo is temporary. That part will get cut out anyway to make a little headroom in case I want to climb into the back from the driver’s seat. An overlapping piece up front and a shelf in the back where the lights go ought to do the trick.

summon arch | 10:05 am CST
Category: camping, carpentry, play, travel | Tags:
Comments Off on summon arch

Saturday, March 5th, 2022

The dry fit of the overhead storage bins is complete. I had to take the right-hand bin apart four or five times, trimming off bits here and there each time, reassembling it to check the fit, marking places where it needed further trimming, then taking it to pieces again. It has to sit snugly in the window so it doesn’t get in the way of the lid for the rear storage space. Took me about an hour and a half, but I finally got there. The left-hand bin was easier because I already had a pretty good idea where to trim and how much. Only had to take it apart twice.

Now that the dry fit is done, I have to take both of them apart again, sand all the pieces smooth, reassemble them (this time with glue), and finally brush a couple coats of clear polyurethane sealer on them. I never thought about painting them because I like the look of wood grain, even when it’s plywood.

They don’t look like much from this angle, but each one of the bins is large enough to hold as much as those rolly bags you can carry on a commercial airliner. I could pack a week’s worth of shirts, socks, and undershorts in just one of them and still have plenty of room left for toiletries, a book or two, something to write with, and I don’t even know what else. That leaves all the room under the bed for food, utensils, and other essential camping gear.

dry fit | 2:22 pm CST
Category: camping, carpentry, hobby | Tags:
Comments Off on dry fit

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2022

Little by little, bit by bit …

overhead | 7:53 pm CST
Category: camping, carpentry, hobby | Tags:
Comments Off on overhead

Sunday, February 27th, 2022

It’s slowly coming together …

My woodworking “skills” boil down to tinkering. I cut a piece of wood. I cut another piece of wood. I discover one piece of wood is too long so I cut it again. I fit them together. I repeat this process until I have something which resembles the thing I had in mind in the first place. It’s not exactly what I had in mind, but it’s close enough as to make no difference. At least not to me.

The piece above is a perfect example. I started by cutting the piece at the bottom of the photo, standing edge-on to the camera. Its length was a total guess, but it had to be a certain width. Then I cut the piece that’s laying against the workbench. It used to be the same length as the first piece. I should have cut it to be three-quarters of an inch shorter, because there are two end caps made of three-eighth-inch plywood. I didn’t realize that until I tried to fit the pieces together, even though the end pieces were part of the build from the start.

To anyone who would say, “If you drew a plan ahead of time, you’d catch these rookie mistakes,” I would say, “Yeah, no.” I’ve drawn plans before. Trouble is, I think in two dimensions. If I drew all the pieces fitting together, my brain would think of them as having length and width but no depth, even while it knew that one piece is half-inch ply and the rest are three-eighths-inch ply. It’s this cognitive dissonance that lets me cut each and every piece to the wrong length, so that I have to make multiple trips to the table saw to shorten pieces up as I tinker them together.

woodwork, sorta | 11:46 am CST
Category: carpentry, hobby, random idiocy | Tags:
Comments Off on woodwork, sorta

Monday, October 5th, 2020

I haven’t done any shop work in a long time, mostly because I am very lazy but partly because every project I do generates a huge amount of dust, which makes the whole house dusty because my shop is in the basement, and the house stays dusty no matter how often I change the furnace filter because it just doesn’t move enough air, especially not in the basement. My Darling B’s allergies make it hard enough for her to breathe without me making more dust, so I’ve been trying to figure out how to get rid of it before it spreads through the house. Read the rest of this entry »

cleaner | 6:46 am CST
Category: hobby, Our Humble O'Bode, play
Comments Off on cleaner

Sunday, April 12th, 2020

Got my bike down from the rafters, pumped the tires full of air and took a ride around Lake Monona yesterday morning – an eleven-mile circle, the shortest route I could make – and it just about kicked my butt; the first ride of the summer season usually does. After a couple more rides I’ll start looking for longer routes, but I won’t be riding today because it’s cold and rainy and not otherwise inviting in any way. I think I’ve mentioned more than once I’m a fair-weather biker.

And except for the walks I’ve been taking around the neighborhood, that was the first time I’ve been out and about in three weeks – not counting two day trips I made to the office, and even then I didn’t go anywhere but straight to the office and straight home after work; no noodling around in town to sight-see or stop for provisions – and it was the first time in three weeks I’ve been in what I would rather loosely describe as crowds of people, really pairs or trios out walking, jogging or riding their bicycles. The only time I felt as though other people were crowding me was on John Nolan Drive, the causeway connecting the Monona area with the isthmus of downtown Madison. The trail along the causeway has always been a popular jogging and cycling path in The Before Times, and although there were fewer people on it yesterday, there’s not a lot of room to spread out, so even a dozen people bunched up together in a short stretch of the trail feels crowded. I had to follow several joggers at a discreet distance, waiting for an opening before I could pass, but after the causeway there was plenty of room again and I rode the rest of the way home without having to thread my way through clots of people.

Funny seeing all the masked people now. Some have what appear to be genuine N95 masks – where the heck did they get those? – but most are wearing home-made masks of one kind or another: simple bandannas, scarves, balaclavas, shemaghs, and one woman had what appeared to be several yards of fabric, possibly a bed sheet, wrapped around and around her head, leaving only the smallest of gaps for her eyes.

I myself did not wear any kind of mask at all, partly because I did not think I was close enough to anybody to warrant wearing a mask and partly because I don’t know that wearing anything less than a mask fitted to seal around my nose and mouth like an N95 mask would do any good. I don’t have an N95 mask but I still have the M17A2 gas mask issued to me while I was in the Air Force – the chemical warfare gear they issued to me was so old they didn’t want any of it back, and I threw everything out but the mask as a keepsake. If I wore it now, I think it would freak people out, which might be fun, in the right setting. Can’t imagine right now what that setting would be.

I unwrapped my kayak from its winter cocoon of Visqueen and stored the tarp the corner of the patio where I thought it might stay dry until I can clear a place for it in the garage – of course it got rained on before the day was done. Maybe that’ll teach me (but probably not). I briefly considered taking the kayak out for a paddle because the sun was shining and it was pleasantly warm in the back yard, but after thinking it over I realized it would very likely be uncomfortably cold out on the lake. The raised seat in the kayak would keep my butt from freezing but my lower legs rest against the hull below the waterline, and I’m pretty sure the surface water is not all at all warm yet. In a couple of weeks it’ll be like bath water; I can wait a couple of weeks.

And I’m still washing dishes by hand because I don’t want to even think about what might be wrong with the dish washer yet. When it’s switched on, the water doesn’t circulate inside the tub and it makes a noise like something broken is beating or grinding against something stationary; I’m thinking maybe an impeller blade got snapped off and wedged inside a pump, possibly breaking the pump’s drive shaft. There must be a second pump to evacuate water from the tub, though, because I was able to drain the tub. I considered buying a new dish washer just so I wouldn’t have to even try to fix what’s wrong with the old one, but the cheapest new one is around three-hundred dollars and I don’t want a cheap one. I’ll have to figure out what to do soon, or just keep on washing dishes by hand, which, as it turns out, is not the worst thing in the world. I wash them at noon and again before bed, and at that pace I can keep up with whatever piles up. And it’s a big sink, so even when My Darling B uses every last pot, pan, and spatula in the kitchen to prepare a meal, the pile of dirty dishes is manageable.

what’s going on | 11:28 am CST
Category: bicycling, daily drivel, hobby, housekeeping, Our Humble O'Bode, random idiocy | Tags:
Comments Off on what’s going on

Monday, April 22nd, 2019

First bike ride of the season yesterday — cycled the long route around Lake Monona and Monona Bay. Also a first: I was wearing nothing but my cycling shorts and a t-shirt (and a helmet, of course). I’ve always been way too self-conscious to wear those skin-tight shorts in public; too much like being naked. Always had to put a pair of regular baggy shorts on over them, but it was so nice yesterday that I said fuck it and went out naked.

First paddle around Squaw Bay on Saturday in the afternoon. The weather wasn’t warm enough in the morning to go out; I took a walk in the morning and had to bundle up in a winter coat, but by noon it was in the high fifties, and out on the water in the sunshine I was comfortable enough to bare my arms. Doing lots of naked stuff last weekend.

Firsts | 5:45 am CST
Category: bicycling, hobby, play
Comments Off on Firsts

Wednesday, February 13th, 2019

Fare thee well, Opportunity, and we thank you.

#thanksoppy | 6:12 am CST
Category: current events, space geekery
Comments Off on #thanksoppy

Saturday, May 26th, 2018

Fare thee well, Alan Bean, and thank you. 

It has been, and continues to be, a heartbreak to lose people who have dared to do great things.

With Alan Bean’s passing, there are just four living people who have walked on the moon:

Dave Scott & Jim Irwin, Apollo 15: July 30 to August 2, 1971

Charlie Duke, Apollo 16: April 21-24, 1972

Harrison “Jack” Schmitt, Apollo 17: December 11-14, 1972

Alan Bean | 5:03 pm CST
Category: space geekery | Tags: ,
Comments Off on Alan Bean

Saturday, January 6th, 2018

Fare thee well, John Young, and we thank you.

John Young

John Young | 11:43 am CST
Category: space geekery | Tags:
Comments Off on John Young

Thursday, December 21st, 2017

It’s been eighteen months since The Deluge, the plumbing accident that created a virtual monsoon in our basement. As bad as it looked then, and it looked REALLY BAD, quite a lot of our possessions escaped The Deluge unharmed. We had hundreds of books down there, for instance, and almost every one of them survived without water damage.

I started to build the model train layout of my dreams in the basement many years ago.  There’s no more to it than the bench and track; I never got to the point where I landscaped it, or built any tiny train stations or other buildings, and a good thing, too.  All of that would have been washed away by The Deluge.  The track wasn’t affected by the water; it’s still all firmly in place and shows no signs of corrosion.  The bench is made of scraps of lumber that doesn’t appear to have warped at all in spite of all the water that washed over it.  So essentially the layout is unchanged from the day before The Deluge, presumably in working order.

The room the layout’s in, though, has been a mess ever since.

Two of the overhead light fixtures fell from the ceiling when the water-soaked overhead wallboard panels began to buckle under their own weight and the anchors that held the light fixtures up lost their grip in the sodden panels.  Same with the electrical conduit and outlets I screwed to the ceiling to plug the lights into, so there’s been no electrical light in that back corner since The Deluge.

The floor was a scattered mess of scraps of drywall and all kinds of jetsam that got washed off the bench by the floodwaters.  Cleanup was such a daunting task I never quite mustered the motivation to get in there with a broom and a vacuum cleaner. It was too depressing to look at, much less think about cleaning up, until last weekend.

It began when I swept a path through the debris wide enough for me to walk in.  Then I ran a couple extension cords to the two overhead lights that remained hanging from the ceiling.  I crossed my fingers and yanked on the pull chains, not knowing if they still worked.  They did.  That gave me enough light to keep going.

I pieced together the electrical conduit and outlets that fell from the ceiling.  Wouldn’t do any good to hang the lights if I couldn’t connect them to power.  Putting the outlets back up was easier than I thought it would be and took less time; I dreaded the idea I might be at it all weekend, but they went up in just a couple hours.  I even did it right the first time: The lights came on when I flipped the switch, same as if I knew what I was doing. Always pleasantly surprised when that happens.

LoCo Railway

With the lights taken care of, I had to get down into the dirt.  Literally.  There was so much dirt and dust and many, many dead spiders. Lots of broken glass. Bits of wallboard and insulation everywhere. More dirt.  It was an unholy mess, and there was nothing to do for it but get down on my hands & knees with the business end of a vacuum cleaner.  Kept me busy for the rest of the afternoon.

The next step is to close off the room so the cats won’t be able to get in there.  No use wiring the track up again if they’re just going to swipe at the wiring like it’s their favorite new toy.  That’s a project for next weekend.

revenant | 9:05 pm CST
Category: LoCo Rwy
Comments Off on revenant

Sunday, October 22nd, 2017

We got rain today. I woke to the sound of great big sheets of rain drumming down on the roof of the house early this morning, and although the clouds are done dumping heavy rain on us, there’s still a steady fall of light rain this morning, so my plans to take my kayak out for a paddle around the lake are sunk, so to speak. I mean, I could still go. I’ve got foul-weather gear I could wear, and I could stop every so often to bail water from the bottom of the boat, but that’s not really the kind of experience I’m looking for when I go paddling, you know? I like to have the sun and clear skies above me and a gentle swell below, and I don’t necessarily shy away from a headwind but I’d rather not have to exert myself too much. One of the truly beautiful things I’ve discovered about paddling is there really isn’t any need for me to over-exert myself. The natural buoyancy of the boat does almost all the work; I just show up for the ride, and provide an occasional push. I’m not exaggerating here; I admit I oftentimes do that but honestly, if you knew how little upper-body strength I have, you’d believe me when I say paddling is not a pastime that requires great big guns of steel. I do not have those. My guns fire Minie balls. *rimshot* Sorry, gun nerd joke. Had to be done.

sunken plans | 9:04 am CST
Category: daily drivel, hobby, kayaking, play, weather
Comments Off on sunken plans

Monday, August 7th, 2017

I made my first road trip with the kayak on Saturday, to take it for a paddle on Mirror Lake near Wisconsin Dells. It’s only about an hour away from Our Humble O’Bode if you take the interstate, which I did on the way up, an experience I wouldn’t care to repeat. All three lanes were virtually bumper-to-bumper with every kind of recreational vehicle, as well as cars and trucks piled high with bicycles, canoes, kayaks, and camping supplies, all fighting for the honor of the front of the line like it was a Nascar race. If I ever go anywhere with a kayak strapped to the roof of my car again, and I’m pretty sure I will, I’m going on state highways. They may be narrow and some are in bad repair, but I won’t have to fight the constant backwash of one big-bodied vehicle after another blowing past me at eighty miles an hour.

Mirror Lake is beautiful, if maybe just a tad too popular. There’s a pretty little state park right next to it with two neat little campgrounds that I might have to check into one of these days. The park rents kayaks, canoes and those stand-up paddle boards that are so popular right now even though they don’t go anywhere at a speed faster than a lazy amble no matter how hard you paddle, so the south end of the lake by the campground is absolutely lousy with campers having fun splashing and tipping each other over. The farther I went from the campground, though, the quieter it got, so I kept to the shore and paddled off into every inlet and river I could find.

And there were a few of them. None of them were much longer than a hundred yards or so, but there was something to see in every one of them: muskrats, log cabins, a fawn wading in the weeds along the shore. The last one I went down turned out to be a river that connected to another lake after meandering for about a quarter mile through a picturesque sandstone gorge where the rock walls towered over my head. I didn’t have enough time to go further than about halfway down the river, though, so I’ll have to find another weekend to go back and get a better look.

After packing up and hitting the road, I made a wrong turn and my one-hour trip home turned into three hours because I thought highway 113 went straight through to Madison, and it does, sort of, but there’s a significant gap in it that I missed the first time I looked at the map. The gap first made its presence known to me when I got to Merrimac and turned south as the road signs directed. The road went directly into the lake. That can’t be right, I thought as I turned around and consulted my map. I went all the way through Merrimac looking for the highway before I noticed my map mentioned something about a ferry. Going back to the road that went down to the lake, I saw many cars lined up, and signs that also mentioned a ferry.

Ordinarily I would be totally down with a ride on a ferry, but this one could only take fifteen cars at a time, and there were at least thirty cars in front of me. My stomach was growling and I was already going to be late getting home, so I pored over the map for an alternate route. From what I could tell, though, the options for getting around the lake were limited. Essentially, I would’ve had to drive almost all the way back to Wisconsin Dells. Bowing to the inevitable, I got in line and waited.

As a consolation prize, there’s an ice cream stand on the Merrimac side of the crossing, and as I had to wait at least ten minutes for the ferry to cross over and come back, I took the opportunity to ask them to dish up a scoop of butter pecan for me. No more growling stomach after that.

When I finally drove aboard, thirty minutes or so later, the trip across was quick, maybe a little more than five minutes, and I was headed south again as fast as a county highway would let me go. Forty or fifty miles an hour, mostly, slowing down for the tight turns and to pass through the little burgs along the way. Didn’t pull into the driveway at home until just after seven o’clock where the rest of the O-Folk were patiently waiting for me to light the barbeque and grill the pork tenderloins we had for dinner that night.

Mirror Lake | 12:01 am CST
Category: kayaking
Comments Off on Mirror Lake

Wednesday, January 18th, 2017

Did I tell you about the juicy cobra? No? I didn’t? I CAN’T BELIEVE I FORGOT TO TELL YOU ABOUT THE JUICY COBRA!

It’s a yoga pose, sort of. Try to contain your disappointment. The pose we were doing was really a baby cobra, and that’s what the instructor called it the first couple times we did it, but after we were warmed up and started working the flow a little faster, she said something like, “Plant your hands, step back into plank, lower all the way to the ground and then get that big juicy cobra.”

I almost choked on my tongue.

After that, she wouldn’t stop saying it. “Big, juicy cobra,” over and over again. Nobody else seemed to think this was unusual, so after class when it was just B and I in the car, I said to her, “Big Juicy Cobra is my porn name.”

“I knew you were thinking that!” she said. “I half-expected you to say something like that in class!”

So I wasn’t the only one thinking it.

juicy cobra | 9:38 pm CST
Category: yoga | Tags: ,
Comments Off on juicy cobra

Monday, January 16th, 2017

Fair winds and following seas, Eugene Cernan.

Gene Cernan | 6:16 pm CST
Category: space geekery | Tags: ,
Comments Off on Gene Cernan

Saturday, January 7th, 2017

The yoga studio where we had a membership for more than a year closed a month or two ago, so now we’re trying out a new place. Nice place, lots of different classes, like the owner. We keep going back.

One very different thing about this studio than any other studio we’ve been to is that it has floor-to-ceiling mirrors along one wall, like a dance studio. In most of the classes we’ve been to, the mirrors were curtained off, which I thought was a good idea, because I don’t want to be staring into my own butt while I’m bent over in downward dog.

But in the class we went to this morning, the instructor asked us to line up along the blank wall so we could see ourselves in the mirror. “It’ll be good,” she said. “You’ll be able to check your alignment.”

I’ve been practicing yoga for almost three years now, long enough that I could dare to say I felt pretty good about the way I was aligning most of my poses, but after watching myself in the mirror today, I can say with confidence that I look like a bumpkin from Hicksville doing yoga for the first time. And I know it was probably a good thing for me to see what I was doing wrong so I could realign my poses, but deep down in the atomic bomb shelter of my soul I hope we don’t face those mirrors again any time soon.

reflection | 4:48 pm CST
Category: yoga
Comments Off on reflection

Monday, September 5th, 2016

Dammit, I did that thing again where I find a typewriter in a thrift shop, and then I buy it. I was getting pretty good at not doing that second part. And this was less than a week after I bought a typewriter from Goodwill. “I think there may be something wrong with you,” My Darling B observed as I tucked the typewriter in the back seat of the car, and she may not necessarily be wrong.

57 Royal Quiet De Luxe

There’s a resale shop next to the studio where we go for yoga on the weekends. It was open on Saturday morning after our class was finished and I haven’t been there in ages, so I told B, “I’ve just got to duck in here a minute, just to check things out,” and in I went. I don’t think she believed for a second that I was going to “just check things out,” but she went along with it anyway.

The shop sells stuff gathered at estate sales: furniture, china, books, tools for the work shop or the yard. They almost never have any typewriters, although a month ago, maybe two, I spotted an unusual Remington electric and wanted to see if it was still there. It was so broken that it would at best be a research project I would dissect and eventually throw away, so it would have to be marked down quite a bit for me to take it home, but I figured if it was still there, they might accept any offer, no matter how low, for me to take it off their hands.

As it turned out, they still had the Remington, but behind it was a greenish fiberglass carrying case that could only be holding a Royal portable. I cracked it open and, sure enough, I found a Royal Quiet De Luxe. It had a tan paint job and white key caps, the first one I’ve seen like that.

It was a bit dark in the corner of the shop where I found it, so I took it to the counter where there was some daylight, hauled it out of the case and got a good look. The poor thing was a mess. For one thing, it looked at first as though all the key caps had been painted white, or maybe all the letters had been rubbed off from heavy use, because they were all blank, but after I tapped one of the keys three or four times to see if the type bars moved freely, I could just make out the letter “G” on the key cap, and there was a gritty white residue on my finger. Every key had such a thick coating of this residue that they appeared to be blank.

The bail was sat cockeyed across the platen and I couldn’t straighten it out because a screw was missing and someone had rather flimsily repaired it by pushing a paper clip through the hole and bending it over to hold it together. It was not a repair that could have resulted in an enjoyable typing experience.

I already have two Royal QDLs at home: a 1951 QDL that appears to be the same model that my dad had on his desk, and a 1950, when they still put glass tops on the key caps. I didn’t need another typewriter. When you’re talking about need, one is the limit, two if you must have an emergency backup. I have more than two. In point of fact, the exact number of typewriters in my possession is not known, but it’s more than fifteen. So “need” is not a thing with me. I crossed the line into obsession long ago.

The typer was priced at twenty-five bucks. I offered the shop keeper ten, hoping he would counter with fifteen. Instead, he offered it to me for eighteen, still a pretty good deal. I took it home, spread newspapers on the dining room table, got some cleaning solvents from the basement and a pile of rags from the hall closet, and set to work.

rubbing the residue off the key caps

The white residue came off the keys very easily. I remember there was a similar-looking residue, although not as thick, on the keys of the Royal QDL that I’m going to call “Dad’s typewriter” from now on. I also read about it in the “My Old Typewriter” blog, where the blogger suggested removing it with Goo Gone. I used mineral spirits on half the keys, Goo Gone on the other half, and I have to say I think the Goo Gone worked a bit better. It also smells nicer. I don’t remember what I used to get the residue off the other QDL, but whatever I used, it hasn’t come back yet.

Almost all the type bars moved freely except for the “B” and the “K,” which wouldn’t fall back after striking the platen. I used a toothbrush to flush the segment with lots of mineral spirits while banging away at the keys, rapping out Quick Brown Fox and We, The People over and over until all the type bars rose and fell back freely.

While I was banging away at the keybank, I noticed that the ribbon failed to advance. I tried switching the ribbon direction, but it still wouldn’t advance and I couldn’t turn the spool with my finger in either direction. The mechanism seemed to be frozen. I lifted the Royal up so I could see it from underneath, shined a flashlight into the works so I could see what I was doing, and with a little experimentation learned that a piece of steel that was part of the bracket holding the advance wheel had been bent out of shape so it pressed against the wheel. I gently squeezed it with a needle nose pliers until I could turn the wheel with my finger. Presto! The ribbon advanced automatically once again.

After putting a new ribbon in the typer and rapping out a few more quick brown foxes, I could see that the key slugs needed a good cleaning. No matter how vigorously I scrubbed the slugs with a toothbrush or slathered them with mineral spirits, though, they remained stubbornly crudded up.

crudded-up type face

Turned out the filth clogging the key slugs was so old that I had to use a dental pick to get it out. The mineral spirits helped soften the collected crud, but the bristles of my toothbrush just weren’t stuff enough to dig it out of the tiny nooks and crannies in the type face. (Must remember to buy a brush with extra-hard bristles next time I’m in the store.) The dental pick was especially good at this, however. It was tedious work, but returning this crisp type face to the printed page was worth it.

type face on 57 Royal QDL

One of the last things I had to do before I called it a day was fix the bail. I could type on the machine all right, even with half the bail hanging at a wonky angle, but that bent paper clip was bugging the hell out of me. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a hardware store in town that had screws in stock that were small enough to do the job, so I had to “borrow” a screw that was holding down the cover of a junker Smith-Corona I haven’t gotten around to cleaning up yet. The screw was not quite as long as the one it replaced, but it was just long enough to do the job until I can source a replacement.

I haven’t cleaned the cover of the Royal QDL yet; that’ll be a project for another weekend.

57 Royal QDL | 9:02 am CST
Category: hobby, typewriters
Comments Off on 57 Royal QDL

Monday, January 25th, 2016

No weekend would be complete without a home improvement project, and no home improvement project would be complete until there was blood.

The spigot in the kitchen sink has been dripping for weeks. Okay, more like months, but it was a drip we could put up with when it started because it would drip for a little while, then stop. Then it would drip for a while longer, but it would still stop. Then we would have to jiggle the handle to get it to stop. And then finally, about a week ago, it wouldn’t stop dripping no matter what we did to it.

And it didn’t just drip from the end of the spigot. Somewhere in the innards of the valve, water leaked out the back and down through the bottom. I had to put a bucket in the cabinet under the sink to catch it. When you have buckets in your house to catch falling water, it’s time for a home improvement project.

So yesterday morning, after I’d had my coffee, I drove to the local Menard’s to save big money on a kitchen faucet. There is a long, long aisle for kitchen faucets, but they were arranged so that the most expensive were at one end and the cheapest were at the other end. I went to the other end. They had a pretty good replacement for our kitchen faucet that wasn’t the cheapest plastic spigot ever made.

To swap out the faucet, I had to dismount the garbage disposal, then twist myself into a pretzel to climb into the cabinet and wedge my head between the back of the sink and the wall, so all the yoga I’ve been doing finally came in handy.

Taking out old, leaky plumbing is just about the grossest thing a grown man will ever have to do. The joints are all crusted over with minerals, mold and corrosion, and when it’s above your head like this one was, all that crap runs down your hands and arms into your armpits, thanks to the leak. Changing diapers isn’t this bad. At least baby poop stays in the diaper. Well, most of the time it does.

Then there’s the blood. The gods of home improvement require a blood offering, else the repair won’t hold. I usually try to keep it to skinned knuckles, but for this job I guess the gods wanted more, so I sliced the end of my thumb open with a screwdriver. The pain was blinding and the blood ran in rivers, so this repair should last for decades.

there will be blood | 7:00 am CST
Category: adventures in plumbing, Our Humble O'Bode, yoga
Comments Off on there will be blood

Monday, November 2nd, 2015

New favorite moonshot find on the internet: recordings of the intercom chatter between flight director Gene Kranz and the members of the “White Team” that were on duty when an oxygen tank blew up on Apollo 13.

The cool of these guys is jaw-dropping, especially Sy Liebergot, the guy who eventually noodled out what had gone wrong. The pressure on him to come up with an answer for Kranz must have been colossal, doubly so when it turned out to be the answer nobody wanted to hear. “I’ve got a feeling we’ve lost two fuel cells,” he tells Kranz about twenty-six minutes after the accident. Up to that point, they had been working as if they might be able to fix the problem, even though Kranz already suggested they could use the lander to get home if they needed to.

This is a recording of the closed loop the flight director (Kranz) used to talk with the rest of the team, so the only time you can hear the astronauts is when the team members are not talking, and then only distantly, because they’re on another loop. But you can hear Lovell report about fourteen minutes after the accident that they’re venting something into space. I guarantee that chills will run down your spine.

chills | 8:00 am CST
Category: space geekery
Comments Off on chills

Sunday, August 16th, 2015

I’ve passed some time these last two weeks reading the Apollo Flight Journal, an annotated transcript of the transmissions from the astronauts who went to the moon. This is some pretty geeky stuff. The transmissions themselves would be nerdtastic all by themselves, but the annotations are so packed full of detailed moon-shot minutia that I may never stop getting my geek on.

But even if you’re not a space nerd, I thought you might enjoy this line of traffic from an astronaut to mission control about three hours into the flight:

002:56:10 Unidentified Speaker (onboard): [Garble] SECO [garble] gimbal [garble].

Speaking as someone who’s had to transcribe recorded conversations, I can empathize with a desire to get it all down in words, even when it gets crossed up with a frustration at not being able to make out all the actual, you know, words.

garble | 5:18 pm CST
Category: hobby, space geekery | Tags:
Comments Off on garble

Sunday, June 14th, 2015

After our weekly visit to the farmer’s market on Madison’s west side, My Darling B and I crossed the street to the Hilldale Mall where B had to shop for a dress to wear to a wedding. B hates shopping with the blazing white intensity of a thousand exploding suns, but the wedding is just two weeks away, so, even though there was still some time left to procrastinate, she decided it was time to get it over with. As luck would have it, she fell in love with the very first dress she found, but it’s fire-engine red and apparently there’s some rule about wearing a dress to a wedding that would upstage the bride. She put it on hold and kept shopping, eventually ending up with what she called “the granny dress,” a cream-colored, knee-length dress with lots of sparklies. B loves sparklies.

While she was trying on dresses, I wandered down the street a few blocks to a garage sale on Midvale Avenue that I spotted as we drove past. There wasn’t much that interested me, and the only thing I eventually bought was a book published by the Associated Press to commemorate the 1969 moon landing. Titled “Footprints On The Moon,” it was a coffee table book chock full of familiar photographs of the space race, starting as usual with Sputnik and ending with lots of lofty prose about how Neil & Buzz walking on the moon had ushered the world into a new era, yada yada yada.

When I picked up the book I had no intention of putting it down again. I’ll buy almost any book or commemorative nick-knack that came out of the space race. I’d never seen this book before and as I opened the cover I thought, Oh nice, something new for my collection, but I didn’t think it was anything extraordinary at first. Then the book fell open to the middle where the folded newspaper pages were tucked away. My heart sped up. It was the first four pages torn out of the Wisconsin State Journal dated July 21, 1969. “ON THE MOON!” the headline on the front page blared in block capital letters over a full-color photo of Armstrong and Aldrin in a training scenario, using tongs to pick up rocks in their space suits. An inside page ran a snapshot of the video feed from the moon, unfocused and about as black-and-white as any photograph could be. If you didn’t know what you were looking at, you might not realize what was going on.

I tucked the pages back in the book and carried it reverently to the front of the garage where a quartet of old friends were bantering with some customers about one of the items for sale. When one of them turned to me and offered to help, I handed over the book, which he opened to the inside cover to read the price: two dollars. “Footprints on the moon,” he said conversationally, flipping through the first couple pages before it fell open to the middle where he found the newspaper pages. I was sure when he saw those that he would either take them out because they weren’t part of the book, or at least charge me for them separately. He barely looked at them before he snapped the book closed. I held my breath. “Two dollars, please,” he said. I dug two singles from my wallet and handed them over; he thanked me, and I walked away with a tiny piece of history.

Shopping for dresses took a lot out of B, so we headed straight home where she planned to spend time in her garden to decompress. It had been raining for the past two days so the ground was probably too wet for her to plant anything. Even so, she figured she could at least pull weeds, but when we got home she wasn’t up for that any more. “A new bar opened in town with fifty-zillion taps,” she informed me, and she wanted to go there to see what that was about.

The bar was Mr. Brews Taphouse, a Wisconsin chain of bars that specializes in craft beers and features loads of local brews as well as national craft beers. I don’t know how many taps there were; it was too way many for me to bother counting them. We settled in at a hightop table next to the beer menu chalked on the wall, where I studied the options long and hard. I spotted a specialty brew called Sixty-One from Dogfish Head that a friend had raved about; I wish I could say it was as good as the hype, but I couldn’t be bothered to finish it. B ordered a delicious barrel-aged porter called Barrel Aged Brrrbon with Vanilla from Widmer Brothers Brewing in Portland OR. She let me taste it, then she let me taste it again, and then I tasted it some more. Eventually she just said to hell with tasting and we called it sharing.

After the first draughts were out of the way, we ordered a flight of four beers: Dynamo Copper Lager from Metropolitan Brewing in Chicago; Bean Me Up Scotchy from St. Francis Brewing in St. Francis WI; Shake Chocolate Porter from Boulder Beer Company in Boulder CO; and Quinannan Falls Lager from Bell’s Brewery in Kalamazoo MI.

We’ve been to Chicago on our own, but we have to go back soon on a proper beer tour because there’s some really good brews coming out of there. If Dynamo’s any indication, I could probably spend all day in the taproom of Metropolitan Brewing, sampling their beers.

St. Francis is just north of Milwaukee and we’ve enjoyed their beer before. Bean Me Up Scotchy is a barrel-aged version of their scotch ale, known as Pride, and I would guess they’ve added vanilla beans to the recipe to boot. Very smooth, and yummy enough to make me want more.

I don’t remember drinking any brews from Boulder Beer before, so that’s something I’m working on correcting, starting with this excellent porter.

Bell’s has been one of my favorite breweries ever since I tried Two-Hearted Ale, a very hoppy beer. I’m not so much into hoppy beers any more, but fortunately Bell’s has produced plenty of other styles that are ever so tasty, and this lager, I’m happy to report, is no exception. Plus, it comes from Kalamazoo, which gives me an opportunity to say Kalamazoo. I love to say Kalamazoo. Who doesn’t love saying Kalamazoo? Boring people, that’s who.

I can’t remember whether or not we visited Widmer Brothers when we were in Portland. Looking photos of the place and where it is on the map, I’m pretty sure we didn’t. If we didn’t, we were stupid. It looks like a pretty great place to visit. Plus, the vanilla porter we sampled was scrumptuous. Getting some right from the source would’ve been a treat.

Our sufficiencies well and truly serensified, we retired back to Our Little Red House to pass the rest of a quiet afternoon reading and napping until supper time. And that is a satisfying way to pass a Saturday afternoon.

walking on the moon | 9:04 am CST
Category: beer, books, entertainment, food & drink, hobby, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, space geekery
Comments Off on walking on the moon

Monday, May 25th, 2015

I just finished doing the almost unthinkable: I poured twenty-four pints of beer down the drain. That’s three gallons of beer, in case you’re trying to do the math in your head.

To explain: They were all home brews, and not particularly good ones. The vast majority of it came from a batch of brown ale that I screwed up and should’ve dumped out as soon as I tasted it. I’d made a vanilla extract for a batch of porter that was still fermenting, then suffered a major brain cramp as I was getting ready to bottle the brown ale and dumped the extract into it, instead. Didn’t taste awful, but didn’t taste very good, either. I was keeping it in the hopes that it would mellow a bit in the bottles and get better. It didn’t.

After dumping all that, I started looking around to see what else I had that should have been cleaned up. Turned out I still had about a half-dozen pints from the very first batch of all-grain brew that I made almost two years ago. If I hadn’t felt the need to drink that before, and I didn’t have a hankering to drink it now, which I didn’t, then I figured it was past its prime, and out it went.

And I had two big twenty-four ounce bombers of the second all-grain batch, which was a total clusterfuck from beginning to end. I kept it around only so I could perform various experiments on it. I’m all experimented out now, so it followed the rest down the drain.

Freed up a lot of bottles. Guess it’s time to brew more beer.

drainage | 11:16 am CST
Category: beer, food & drink, hobby, homebrewing, play
Comments Off on drainage

Saturday, April 18th, 2015

Phrases about working in the garden that sound normal when My Darling B says them but sound dirty when I say them:

  • pruning the sage
  • plowing the potato bed
  • weeding the patch
  • sowing the sweet peas
  • is that a dibble in your pocket?
is that a dibble in your pocket? | 11:06 am CST
Category: garden, random idiocy, yard work
Comments Off on is that a dibble in your pocket?

Wednesday, December 31st, 2014

Re-hung a door in the basement. This didn’t end well when I tried it once before. It didn’t end entirely well this time, either.

I know, in theory, how to hang a door. I don’t have much in the way of practical experience, though. If I’d kept track of the number of doors I’ve hung, I could probably count them on both hands.

And, as it turns out, the hinge at the top of door I was trying to hang is not attached the way it should be, so the door hangs just cockeyed enough that it grinds against the jamb opposite the hinges when I close it. I’ll have to take the door down again, remove the top hinge, rev up the router and grind down the spot where the hinge goes, so it won’t stick the way it does now.

But not today. Today, I hung the door. I’m done.

hanging offense | 2:16 pm CST
Category: carpentry, housekeeping, Our Humble O'Bode
Comments Off on hanging offense

Saturday, December 27th, 2014

Gah! The new motor I bought for this Bowser locomotive was supposed to be a plug-and-play installation: Unscrew the old motor, screw in the new motor, solder a few wires to complete the electrical connection, done! But no, that’s not going to happen with this particular locomotive because the holes where the screws go don’t line up. I’ll have to drill at least one new hole and hope that Baldwin, the patron saint of steam locomotion, smiles down upon us modelers, too, and will keep the gears on the motor tightly meshed together with the gears on the wheels. Yah, I don’t think they will, either.

model steam locomotive

praise Baldwin | 4:34 am CST
Category: hobby, LoCo Rwy, play
Comments Off on praise Baldwin

Sunday, December 21st, 2014

I spent a couple hours yesterday afternoon picking teensy-tiny little pieces of a model train engine out of the dust and dirt on the floor under the work bench, and when I say “teensy-tiny,” I’m talking about pieces as small or smaller than fingernail clippings. And just to complicate things, the dust and dirt was littered with little splashes of solder that froze when they hit the floor into odd shapes that looked a lot like pieces of a model train engine, so just to be safe I picked up all those up, too, and sorted through them after arranging them under the light on the work bench. This is how I relax.

The bad news is that I discovered one of the side rods broke when it hit the floor. Side rods are the long iron arms that connect the driving wheels of steam locomotives together. If you’re a Buster Keaton fan and have seen The General (and if you haven’t, HOW CAN YOU CALL YOURSELF A BUSTER KEATON FAN?), he sat down on the side rod and rode it up and down, up and down as the locomotive began to roll away in the first reel. Love that scene.

The good news is that I managed to find a shop on the internet that sold me a new set of side rods. They didn’t, however, sell valve gear (can’t explain, too nerdy), so I’ll have to figure out how to cobble those together myself, probably many years from now in retirement when I have oodles of free time and a lathe.

side rods | 10:10 am CST
Category: hobby, LoCo Rwy, play
Comments Off on side rods

Sunday, December 7th, 2014

I wasn’t sure why at first, but this photo of Christmas stockings hanging over a doorway (next to an upside-down Christmas tree) on the International Space Station warmed my heart:

Christmas stockings on the ISS

The photo was posted by Samantha Christoferetti in the on-line journal she’s been keeping while serving on Expedition 42 to the ISS. One of the comments left by a visitor to her journal noted that it was little things like this that made the difference between surviving in space and living in it. There it is; there’s the heartwarming connection.

stockings | 9:52 am CST
Category: space geekery | Tags:
Comments Off on stockings

Thursday, December 4th, 2014

We came this close to skipping out of yoga class last night. Neither of us got much sleep the night before and shambled through the day like a couple of zombies, so when quitting time came we wanted nothing more than to go home and blob out on the sofa watching YouTube videos of kittens.

But I knew I would probably sleep better if I spent just an hour stretching the kinks out of myself, so I went anyway, and My Darling B apparently felt too guilty not to tag along. Nothing better for a good night’s sleep than guilt yoga.

guilt yoga | 6:27 am CST
Category: yoga
Comments Off on guilt yoga

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014

In July, right after I started brewing beer using all-grain recipes, I made a batch of what was supposed to be a light blonde ale using a recipe I’d found on the internet. I don’t usually tweak the recipes I find; if they’re good, I keep brewing them, but if I don’t like a recipe, I look for something else, so I didn’t think much about the amount of grain this recipe called for until I had finished boiling the batch and started to pump it into a fermenter. Why’s it look so dark? I wondered. This was supposed to be a blonde ale. I re-checked the recipe and noticed, somehow for the first time, that it was enough to make a ten-gallon batch! I brew five-gallon batches! To say this was a high-gravity brew is, well, a bit of an understatement.

I bottled it a couple weeks later, but apparently didn’t wait long enough for fermentation to have finished, because the dimples in the caps on the bottles turned into bumps and every cap I pried off gave way with a POW! instead of the usual pffft! And the beer wasn’t all that good. Cloyingly sweet and, I don’t know, just off. But I hated to pour it down the sink without trying to save it.

For the sake of experiment, I thought I’d see how much further fermentation might go by pouring a couple bottles into a half-gallon growler and leave it for a month or two. I made the mistake of opening the first bottle without chilling it, which must make one hell of a difference to how fast the carbon dioxide outgasses from the beer. Instead of the usual POW! this one opened with a cannon-like BOOM! and nearly every drop of beer erupted from the bottle in a geyser that nearly reached the ceiling. Luckily, I set the bottle in a sink before opening it, so the beer went down the drain instead of all over the floor, countertop or wherever.

I put two 22-ounce bottles in the fridge and left them there overnight, so they were well and truly chilled when I popped the tops off them the next evening. This time I got most of the beer into the growler, sealed it up and left it on the back of a dark shelf in the basement.

Last week, I finally brought that growler out, left it in the garage to chill and opened it the day after Thanksgiving while we were playing Boggle. At first, I wasn’t sure I liked it, but I have to admit it grew on me. I downed a couple glasses while we played. Sean asked for a refill on his first glass, too, so it must not have been too bad. I’m not sure what it’s like; I wouldn’t exactly call it beer, but it’s not all that bad. I probably won’t be making any more, though.

bottle rocket fuel | 6:12 am CST
Category: beer, food & drink, hobby, homebrewing, play
Comments Off on bottle rocket fuel

Friday, November 28th, 2014

Bottling Day! About four weeks ago, I brewed up a recipe for scotch ale that I found on the internet. Four weeks is about as long as you need to ferment any batch of beer, even one that started out with a gravity as high as 1068. I considered leaving it until next week, but after a quick after-lunch nap today I changed my mind, headed down to the basement and started washing bottles. I could easily do without that part of the hobby; there’s so much washing and cleaning that I end up with dishpan hands on brew day or bottling day. But the beer I end up with is so goooooooood! And I made it! So until it’s no fun any more, I clean and boil and bottle and BEER!

This is the first batch of scotch ale I’ve tried to make. There’s a brewing forum I visit online that has an enormous library of recipes I keep going back to because I haven’t been disappointed with any of them yet. The high-gravity brews have been especially tasty so I’ve been tending toward those. Kind of odd that it’s taken so long for me to try a scotch ale. From what I can tell, it turned out pretty good. It’s a little flat right now and won’t have the nicely crisp bite that a few weeks of bottle conditioning will give it, but I like the flavor it’s got right now, and it can only get better from here.

I need a name for it, and I’m open to suggestions. Any suggestions.

scotch ale | 3:47 pm CST
Category: beer, food & drink, hobby, homebrewing
Comments Off on scotch ale

Thursday, November 27th, 2014

We played Bourbon Jenga last night, which is like regular Jenga but with cherry-infused bourbon. You can use regular bourbon if you like; it doesn’t have to be infused with cherries. It doesn’t have to be bourbon, either, but then it probably wouldn’t make sense to call it Bourbon Jenga. You still could call it that, I’m not going to stop you. It’s a free country, theoretically.

Anyway, Tim came over last night, thinking that he was going to have dinner with us but finding out as he came through the door that B & I were just on our way out to yoga class. Our instructor was recovering from a sinus infection that knocked her out for last Monday’s class but she was feeling well enough again to talk us through some restorative yoga exercises that mostly involved very heavy breathing and trying turn all the way around to face the same way as my butt. Couldn’t do either very well. I’m not a huffer-and-puffer kind of yoga guy; I think I get the importance of controlling my breath, but I don’t see why it’s important to make a big production out of it. Maybe that understanding will come later. And I’m not flexible enough yet to turn all the way around like an owl. I’m not sure that’ll ever come to a guy with a back as tired and crooked as mine, not that I won’t keep on trying. Our instructor can fold herself all the way over so she can stick her head between her knees, so I can see with my own eyes that it’s possible. I just can’t comprehend doing it myself yet.

By the time we got back home from yoga it was almost eight o’clock. Sean announced almost as we came through the door that they had been too hungry to wait for us, so Sean fed himself from the kitchen and Tim ordered take-out from the Indian place up the road. And kudos to him; that’s some of the best Indian take-away anywhere in the city. B & I were mighty hungry, though, so we sat down and tucked into the sloppy joes that B made earlier and left warming in the oven. When Sean caught the aroma, his face lit up and he took a seat at the table to devour a sloppy joe, too.

Then came the Jenga. I’ve wanted to play Jenga for weeks now. Can’t say where I got the hankering, but it’s been there long enough that I mentioned it to B a week or two ago and she put in an order with Amazon last week. I think it came in the mail the next morning. Same thing happened to the cook book I ordered and wanted to give to B for Christmas. I thought it would come maybe a couple days later and I would be able to fish it out of the mail before B would see it, but no, it came the very next day and was in a big bag with all the other stuff that she ordered from Amazon, so naturally she opened it. I didn’t even know it was in there until I heard her say, “What the hell?” and turned around to see her holding the cook book with a look on her face that went from puzzled to shocked realization to Oh Shit I’ve Opened My Christmas Present Early. I kissed her and wished her a Merry Christmas.

Okay, so back to Jenga, which became Bourbon Jenga when B got out the jar of infused bourbon and ladled out a shot for everybody while I set up the Jenga tower. We didn’t make it a drinking game; there weren’t forty-two overly-complicated rules about when you had to drink, it was just Jenga with drinks. Play the game, enjoy the bourbon, have a good time. Those were the only rules. We had a little trouble with the first one because I just wanted to play the game but B wanted to follow the instructions. Who reads the instructions for Jenga? But eventually we sorted that out and the game was played, the bourbon was enjoyed and I think everybody had a good time.

bourbon jenga | 9:53 am CST
Category: booze, entertainment, food & drink, games, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, Seanster, T-Dawg, yoga | Tags: , , ,
Comments Off on bourbon jenga

Monday, October 20th, 2014

Brewed a batch of beer yesterday and it kicked my ass. Brewing it, not drinking it. It won’t be ready to drink for weeks. Fortunately, I’m a patient man. And I’m in shape to do all the twelve-ounce curls there are in the world. But brewing it was like calisthenics and yoga and weight lifting all rolled into one.

I’ve got a process down now so that I don’t miss any steps or spill beer all over my shoes, but it still takes about six hours from beginning to end, I’m on my feet all the time, and I have to do more than a little bit of heavy lifting, starting with climbing up a step-stool with a five-gallon glass bottle filled with water cradled in my arms. Weighs about forty-five pounds. I climb each step very deliberately, pausing at the top to check my balance, because one false move and I would end up in the emergency room. Gotta invest in plastic water bottles some day.

After the brew was over and I finished cleaning up, I tramped up the stairs, went straight to the bedroom and rested my eyes for about thirty minutes, stretching out across the entire bed. Felt sooo good.

 

ass kicked | 8:49 pm CST
Category: hobby, homebrewing, play
Comments Off on ass kicked

Saturday, August 23rd, 2014

I am officially a dumbshit. You knew that. Shut up.

Some time ago I built what is basically a very big homemade refrigerator for two reasons: First, so I could control how my beer fermented. For that reason, this kind of very big homemade refrigerator is known among home brewers as a ferm chamber. Second, home brewers seem to be gadget freaks who like to knock together a lot of their own brewing equipment out of found objects. They most often turn beer kegs into kettles to boil beer in, for instance.

I made my ferm chamber by lining the space under a work bench with foam insulation, then using a chilling coil salvaged from a dehumidifier to keep it cool. It used to work pretty well, until it didn’t. There didn’t seem to be anything wrong with it, other than it didn’t get cold any more. The compressor kicked in, I could hear something circulating, but when I came back to it later it wouldn’t be cold. I read that sometimes the coolant leaks out and you have to take it in to get it recharged. I would rather pay to replace it with an all-new cooling unit, so I started hunting around for a small fridge.

I finally found one today, but while I was sizing up the job of tearing out the old unit and replacing it, I plugged it in one last time to confirm that it didn’t work. Nothing happened. Nothing at all. I thought that was unusual, so I plugged a fan into the outlet, and it didn’t work, either. That’s when I realized that I am officially a dumbshit.

The outlet is wired to a circuit that I ran directly from the breaker panel when I was putting up fluorescent lights in the corner of the basement that I rather grandly refer to as the brewery. They were ordinary workshop lights with pull-chains to turn them on and off. Eventually I got tired of stumbling into the dark corner, flailing in the dark for the ends of those pull chains, so I wired up a switch at the foot of the stairs. Presto! No more stumbling around in the dark.

I don’t remember if I built the ferm chamber before or after I cut the switch into the circuit. Doesn’t matter. The only important thing is, I wired the chiller to the same circuit that the lights are on, so whenever I turn the lights off, the chiller is turned off, too. And that’s why the ferm chamber hasn’t been keeping my fermenting beer cool. Dumb.

Dumb dumb dumb.

dumbshit | 3:27 pm CST
Category: hobby, homebrewing
Comments Off on dumbshit

Sunday, August 3rd, 2014

It’s brew day! I wasn’t sure I’d be ready to brew again so soon after I thought I blew a circuit breaker in the control panel of my electric brew kettle. A new one came in the mail last Thursday and I replaced it the same night, but it still wouldn’t work so that wasn’t the problem. I had to dig the schematic diagram of the control panel out of a box and trace all the lines to find out it was a wire I replaced wrongly the night I thought I blew the circuit breaker. The wire pulled free, as they do with annoying frequency when I open the door to cool off the controllers, and I thought I stuck it back where it should have gone but no, turned out I connected it to a switch that I wasn’t using for anything. Talk about a facepalm moment.

With everything functioning perfectly once again, I geared up to brew another batch. Didn’t even have to think about what I wanted to make; the last batch of vanilla porter turned out to be so tasty that I knew it would all be gone sooner than I’d be comfortable with. The grain bill is sixteen pounds of malted barley but if I can get this batch to taste like the last one, it will be well worth the expense.

brew me | 1:33 pm CST
Category: hobby, homebrewing, play
Comments Off on brew me

Tuesday, June 24th, 2014

I can stop wondering if biking around Lake Mendota is interesting enough to make it worth the trip. It’s not. It’s about five miles from my house to the point where the bike trail splits off and heads north, and I thought the next mile or so along the path was about as interesting as it got until I hit Middleton several hours later.

Most of the ride is along roads that are nowhere near the lake. I was within eyeshot of open water maybe twice: Once as I cycled past the marina at the northernmost point of the lake, and later when I stopped at the Memorial Union on campus for some orange juice and a Pop Tart. Otherwise I was either on a suburban street or on a back road through the country with nothing but potato fields to look at.

Finally, at thirty-four miles round trip from my front door, it’s a lot farther than I thought it was.

But now I can say, been there, done that. No t-shirt, though.

Mendota | 6:28 am CST
Category: bicycling, hobby, play
Comments Off on Mendota

Monday, May 12th, 2014

The Lost Continent Railway had its first visitors last Saturday, my cousin Carrie’s three boys, who are possibly into trains more than I am. Every one of them was wearing a train-themed t-shirt, and the oldest boy had an engineer’s cap (gotta get me one of those, no matter how dorky it makes me look). 

Their visit was the most fun I’ve had so far with the LoCo. I get a great big smile each time I can make the trains do what I want them to do, but this was the first time I’ve gotten a belly laugh making the trains go when someone else wanted. “Make the yellow one go!” “Now make the Polar Express go!” 

For the big finish, I crashed the train. Not on purpose, although if I’d known a crash would be as well-received as it was, I would have prepared for one in advance.

crash | 12:29 pm CST
Category: daily drivel, hobby, LoCo Rwy, play
Comments Off on crash

Saturday, April 12th, 2014

immersion heaterLeak check!

A replacement heating element arrived here at Our Humble O’Bode this morning. Sometimes I just gotta love Amazon. Ordered the element Thursday morning & got confirmation within 90 minutes that the element had shipped. I was in my basement lair this morning writing drivel when My Darling B called down, “Package!”

I installed it early this afternoon when my other chores were done, then filled the kettle with 7 gallons of water and let it sit for an hour or so to check for leaks – None! A first step toward success!

Next step: I plugged the burner in and, holding my breath, fired it up. The water began to simmer right away and, after five or ten minutes of tinkering around with the controls, I brought the temp up from 68 to 150.

Final step: Brew. That won’t be until next weekend at the earliest. Watch this space!

immersed | 2:11 pm CST
Category: hobby, homebrewing, play
Comments Off on immersed

cheater's witte beerThis is the batch I was sure I’d ruined last week by mashing it with water that was too hot. When I measured the temp of the mash just before I drained the sweet wort, it was about 170 degrees, maybe a little less. It was the first time I’d seen mash temps that high and I was pretty sure the batch was ruined, but I’d already put all that time and effort into brewing the batch, so I pitched the yeast into it anyway to see what would happen.

When I checked it the next day it was fermenting so vigorously that the air lock was full of foam and I had to replace it with a blow-off tube! So maybe not the complete failure I thought it was after all! Remains to be seen how it will taste, though, and I won’t know that for at least five, maybe six weeks.

Cheater’s Witte | 8:33 am CST
Category: beer, food & drink, hobby, homebrewing, play
Comments Off on Cheater’s Witte

Friday, April 11th, 2014

My Darling B has a whole new attitude about mice since she opened her garden shed and discovered they’d pooped and peed on just about everything in there. Before she was on Mother Nature’s side, making me trap them live so we could release them in a nearby city park, but now that she has to hose down everything that was in the shed and throw out all her gardening gloves, her ideology has gone from bunny-hugger to “Kill Every Stinking One Of Those Little Poop-Machines!”

I knew she’d come around eventually.

changeup | 1:59 pm CST
Category: garden, hobby, housekeeping, My Darling B, O'Folks, Our Humble O'Bode, play, yard work, yet another rant | Tags:
Comments Off on changeup