Take A Leap!

Shiver me timbers! Polar bears are well adapted to swimming in icy and frigid Artic waters. Fur and blubber insulate them well. Humans, well, not so well adapted to this sort of activity.

The little bit of hair I have on my highly evolved body won’t even keep me warm on a hot summer day. And while I do have a reasonable layer of blubber, it doesn’t do much in the way of insulation either.

So what was I thinking when I signed up to take a Polar Bear Plunge on a chilly day into an even chillier lake? Can’t say exactly because I’m not sure. Maybe it was an exercise in relieving boredom. Something to do. No, more than that. I have plenty of things to do. Perhaps it was more a calculated effort to try something new. Different. Outside my comfort zone and exciting. Something to make me feel alive.

Laying in bed, nice and warm, I was questioning my sanity and trying very hard to convince myself to get up and get ready for this thing. The warm bed was awfully tempting. Until I realized that I wasn’t getting any more sleep, and would be disappointed if I missed it.

Jumping into a thirty five degree lake on a thirty seven degree day will either kill you or revive you. Heading from the registration pavilion down to the lake I saw the paramedics standing by. I told them I was glad they were there. Not that I was worried.

This was my first ever polar plunge although I’d thought about it before. I had no idea what it would be like. Other than cold. As it turned out there were probably about a hundred people milling about the pavilion when I arrived at about twenty minutes to plunge-off.

There was a big fire blazing and several portable propane heaters blasting heat. Better to stay away from the heat and stay adjusted to the cold I thought, so I drank some hot chocolate and walked around checking out the crowd.

Costumes were a no brainer for an event like this. There were five guys wearing kilts, blue war paint, and nothing else. And three guys in red body suits with strategically placed fig leaves. I saw Supergirl, a giraffe, unicorns, Batwoman, and a guy in a wetsuit with goggles. That’s cheating!

As it turned out, most of the one hundred or so people there had no intention of taking the plunge. They were there to watch the crazies, and perhaps cheer on their own personal nut.

With less than a minute to go, I removed my sweatshirt and my sweatpants. Leaving me dressed in a t-shirt, a pair of swim trunks, and my sandals. The big question in my mind was do most people go all the way in, or do they just dip their toes?

Standing at the starting line, the woman next to me said she was going to go in until it hurt. That didn’t sound good to me. I’m here for fun. But the idea was to get all the way in.

So as the countdown went 5, 4, 3, 2, 1… I ran with the rest and hit the water. Yes, it’s cold, but I’m here for a reason. And on I went, running in the water. When I was waist deep I sat down and was all wet. Up to my neck. Success! And I turned around and ran back. I hadn’t had a heart attack. Or chickened out. And I didn’t even really feel that cold. It even seemed like I was in and out so fast that I barely got wet.

Charging back to the shoreline, I saw a few folks still very timidly making their way out to the deep. I hollered out, “the secret is to keep moving!”

And so it is with life. Keep moving. Forward. Along whatever path you are following. Taking all of the fascinating detours you can find.

That’s part of my story. What’s yours?

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Dim Bulb

Who would have guessed? When Thomas Edison created the first commercially viable light bulb in 1879 he never would have guessed. Or maybe he would have. Back then the light bulb came in one size. One color. One shape. Today, there are so many types of light bulbs that there are entire retail stores devoted to nothing but light bulbs.

There are fixed bulbs and replaceable bulbs. Some screw in and some plug in. The base of the screw in type comes in several sizes, wide and narrow. And the glass portion of the bulb comes in an endless variety of shapes. Round, elongated, tubular.

Of course you can get blue lights, black lights, soft whites and white hot lights. And any other color you can imagine.

Even the type of light comes in varieties. Halogen, mercury vapor, fluorescent, metal halide, LED. Special purpose and application lights abound. So who could blame me for picking the wrong one when I went to replace a bulb.

Late last year I bought a solar powered motion activated security light for my daughter’s house. She had told me how one night when a friend was visiting they had to venture out into the darkness from the front door to the driveway and her friends car. I could fix that. One way or another. There was the hard wired spotlight option. Or the solar option. Not being an electrician, I went the solar route.

After I installed the solar fixture and its small power panel I noticed that way up under the eaves, tucked away and blended into the soffits, was an existing spotlight fixture. Wonderful. I had to look at it like more light is better than less.

Taking a quick glance at the fixture I knew exactly what kind of bulbs were needed to get the newly discovered light working. Several months ago I had replaced a number of outdoor lights at my own house. A real hodgepodge of fixtures and lights. So I just knew form experience what was needed. And even better, I knew I had a pair at my house. Leftovers.

I confidently climbed the stepladder with the replacement bulbs in hand. After removing the first of the charred and blackened burned out bulbs it suddenly dawned on me. The replacements were too long. Everything else matched up, just the wrong length. Might as well have been a candle.

Head in hand I descended the ladder. Muttering a few words about the complexity of the light bulb. Tomorrow I’ll head to the hardware store to get the right bulb. And climb back up the ladder. What is it carpenters say about measure twice, cut once? Dang!

That’s part of my story. What’s yours?

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Nosey Neighbors

One reason that people move out to the country is for the open spaces. Acreage. Maybe to plant a garden or raise some crops. Or to raise a few cows or chickens. And to put some distance between themselves and their neighbors.

Not that country folks aren’t friendly. In fact quite the opposite is true. Neighbors come together to help each other. They just don’t want people breathing down their neck.

While I was out on the lower forty clearing some brush, I was a little surprised to see these neighbors staring at me over the fence. The fence marks the property line. It also keeps some tings in, and others out.

Silently they had all come to look at me. Who was I and what was I doing? I went over to introduce myself calling out, “Hello!” There was no reply, but I could tell that they were eyeing me, and seemed quite satisfied that I was friendly.

Until I got right to the fence and made a move to climb the small embankment that stands between my driveway and the fence. I made a quick movement, accompanied by a medium loud grunting sound as I leapt toward the fence. That sent the neighbors running.

Trying to regain their confidence I called out again. “It’s ok, come back.” They stopped, and turned. One by one the bravest moved toward me. And as they did, others followed.

Big family. I counted twenty seven of them. We chatted over the fence for a while. Or at least I chatted. They seemed more interested in staring than talking. And finally I decided to head on down the driveway to recover my newspaper.

As I walked down the driveway they began to follow me.  Still watching me.  I wasn’t sure what they were expecting from me. Just curious I guess. When I got to the top of the driveway and bent down to pick up the paper they all ran off again. Skittish bunch I thought. But eventually several began to follow along as I walked back down the driveway.

They didn’t say anything this time, but I have heard them many times before. Loud voices. Day and night. But not distressing or disturbing.

Not the kind of neighbors you’d have in the city. Or in a subdivision. Only in the country. They need a lot of space like the rest of us out here.

And it’s neighbors like these that brings many of us out to the country. And a way to get back to nature just a little bit.

That’s part of my story. What’s yours?

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Sprawl

The sign waving in the breeze said open. Last time I looked, the place was still under construction. Oh boy, a new fast food joint.

It was just another example of more and more growth sprawling out across the county. A year ago I had moved out of the subdivision and further out into the country to escape just such growth. Now, here it comes. My way!

When I moved to this area twenty years ago it was very different. A sleepy bedroom community for the nearby city and its hustle and bustle.

This particular intersection had been the meeting of a pair of two lane roads. With very little between this intersection and the next. On one corner stood the school complex. Across the way was a convenience store. The third corner contained a small shopping center with a family owned grocery store. And on the fourth corner stood a small cottage with a white picket fence.

The school complex is still there, but two new high schools have been built further out to accommodate the growing population. The small convenience store has been replaced by a gas station, a big convenience store and a drugstore. The family grocery store is still there, but has been joined on its corner by two banks, a hardware store, several restaurants, a gym and a few other things. And the cottage with the picket fence? Gone and forgotten. Replaced by a drug store, gas station, two pizza places, a chain grocery store with pharmacy, another gym, and half a dozen other retail places. Not to mention a second small strip mall. That includes, on its far end, the new fast food place.

Yes, it’s growing out here. And to manage the demand, the roads are expanding. They’ve been torn up and under construction for years. Some genius thinks all of this is a good idea. It’s a mess.

I know, you can’t stop progress. I’m situated now where it can’t get to me any time soon. It’s like everything else, some folks like it, others don’t. It’s ok.

I don’t like the sprawl, but I do like Burger King. So, yeah, yeah, as I say, not as I do. I stopped in there for lunch. And it was pretty good.

That’s part of my story. What’s yours?

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Boat Parade

On the approach, the new Mercedes Benz stadium was clearly visible. Unlike the path that the crow flies, the road system I was travelling did not go straight to my destination. I could see a nearby landmark, but not the road I needed to take.

And so, as is common to my travels, I took a wrong turn. The GPS rerouted and sent me on a new path so it was no major disaster. But it threw off my concentration. And I missed another turn.

Ending up in a parking lot full of nothing but boat trailers, I knew I was in the right area. But I couldn’t park there. The blue lot was my destination. There was a gate guard at the main entrance to the trailer lot so I stopped to ask him where I needed to go to reach my goal. He seemed a bit surprised that I came from within the trailer lot, but very kindly gave me the directions. It was just a around the corner and I was there in no time. Pretty good for me!

The boat show promised to provide the mother lode of boats to examine. I would like to buy a boat, but it’s hard to go to every dealership to look around. And even worse to have to face the scrutiny of hungry salesmen on the small stage of a single dealership. This big show was sure to be somewhat more relaxed. And would allow me to look at vessels I would not normally see at my local showroom.

The exhibit hall at the World Congress Center did not disappoint. It was huge. And filled with hundreds of boats of all sizes and shapes.  Long lines to get onto and explore the biggest and fancies yachts.

Actually buying a boat here was not in my mind at all. That would be way too impulsive. But as I walked around I did see signs on several boats indicating that they were indeed sold.

My goal was to clarify in my mind what type of boat I really wanted. Or more precisely, which type I should actually buy. I had three options in mind. In no particular order, they were sailboat, pontoon boat, and runabout boat.

Each type comes in many sizes and styles, but it wasn’t within these categories that I needed to decide, but rather between them.

I have had two sailboats and I enjoy drifting silently across the water powered by only a nice breeze. But there are places that sailboats can’t go, like close in to a shoreline. The pontoon will go anywhere I want it to go, carries a good number of people, and is easy to drive. But somehow it seems a tad boring. Now the runabout, a classic vintage one, is to me just the coolest thing ever. Lapstraked hull and curved windshield with that 35 horsepower engine. OMG! Not like the big offshore boat I saw with three 300 horsepower engines strapped on to is after end. But I didn’t expect to see an antique boat at this show. And quite honestly, I think I’d be afraid to drive it lest it get a scratch.

Row after row I looked, and climbed aboard several. The sales folks seemed to ignore you unless you sat on their boat for more than ten minutes. And very strangely, I noticed that every one of the people I spoke with had their hands and mouths full of food. Boring show?

There were several food and beverage options available at the show. Including beer and wine. Oh lord, a drunken sailor! And it wasn’t just boats on display. There were people selling lakefront real estate. And patio furniture. Skin lotions and clothing. Anything and everything that had even the slightest connection to outdoor and water oriented recreation. That part of the show I breezed through.

In all of my researching here I did discover one thing. While I love all three types of boats that I’ve mentioned, the pontoon is most practical for my desires.

It took a while, but I finally found an example of a pontoon boat that fit my needs. Especially in the price category. I don’t have six figures for a boat. Basic is what I want. Low budget. Not too big. Plenty of seating. And enough of a go fast device to go just fast enough.

But I won’t be buying one of these fancy new boats. Still out of my budget. I should say out of my will to pay. Instead, I’ll find an experienced boat, one well travelled and a little broken down. Just like me.

That’s part of my story. What’s yours?

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Suburban Archaeology

The phone rang and with some urgency the voice on the other end asked, “where are you?” It was my daughter and at this time of day her call could mean only one thing. She had a problem. And needed me to fix it.

The city water department had called her at work. One of her neighbors had called to report that my daughter’s yard was flooding. As well as her street. The city had sent someone to shut off the water. And they wanted her to fix the leak before turning the water on again.

No. I am not a plumber. But I’ve learned a few tings over the years and my kids have come to rely on me to know what to do. I told her that as soon as I finished dropping off my stuff at the recycling center I would come over to look. The water was off. Any damage that was done was already done.

As I turned into her neighborhood I noticed water in the street. I’m still a block and a half from her house, and not even on her street. Can’t be from her leak. I was still hoping that the water department had called the wrong homeowner.

Rounding the corner I could see more water. But indeed it seemed to begin at my daughter’s house. Damn. Parking in the driveway I got out of my truck to take in the situation. Puddles in yard. Water running across the sidewalk that goes from the driveway to the front door. The garage door was open. My daughter was there. Nothing wet in the garage. Or in the house.

Seeing the dry indoors I was able to breath again. I had been through a flooded house of my own. Not a pretty sight. Years ago we were selling our house and had gone out of town for Christmas. Coldest day of the year. And a pipe in an outside wall burst. Flooding the living room, the bathroom and the garage. And no one knew. Until the skating rink appeared in my yard. But we got it all fixed.

Tapping my feet at the soggy ground and digging around the foundation a little with my fingers I decided that the pipe between the water meter and the house must have broken. In one spot or several I didn’t know. And where was the pipe? Gonna need a shovel.

Before doing any more research I called a plumber. He said it wasn’t worth digging until the water was back on. We also called the insurance company. They told us not to let anyone do any repairs that involved tearing into walls, or jackhammering the concrete slab that the house sits on until they approved.

Now there’s a nightmare scenario. Hopefully the break was not too close to the house and none of that would be necessary. Might have to tear the whole house down to fix the leak. Damn again.

The plumber came out and I told him what I knew. Not much. He turned on the water and said we would just have to wait to see where it appeared. Then dig.

He left me watching the ground while he ran off to do some errands. Call me when you see some thing he had said. It took about thirty minutes, but there it was. Making a puddle. I moved a little dirt around with my fingers to try pinpointing the leak. Shortly after I called, he reappeared. And started to dig.

An hour or so later I heard him working in the garage. Bang, clunk. What the hell? He was turning on the water heater. The job was done.

Going outside I saw the plumber’s apprentice filling up a big hole with the wet muck they had dug out. There were piles of tree roots. Big chunks of plastic that seemed to be the potting containers from the original tree that had stood there. And small pieces of PVC pipe.

The news was that the pipe was broken at an elbow. One piece of pipe had slid out of the elbow. Not a frozen pipe as I had thought. The plumber then produced another artifact that he had uncovered. An empty beer bottle.

The evidence suggests that the plumber who had worked on the house during its original construction had downed the beer, and forgotten to glue the pipe sections together. For twenty years they had been held together just by the dirt surrounding them.

I can conjure up many thoughts and images as to the situation on the fateful day so many years ago. But I won’t because that will lead me to ask what other disasters are waiting to happen here. Isolated incident. Won’t happen again.

Archaeologists sometimes classify items as religious artifacts when they are not sure of their actual use. I’m going to put the empty beer bottle into that category. For peace of mind. Further exploration may reveal a more accurate picture. But there is no digging planned on this site.

That’s part of my story. What’s yours?

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The Gingko Tree

Everything had to be perfect. The shape. The size. And most especially the location. Visible from any angle. This was no ordinary tree!

Moving from my old house meant that I would have to leave all of my landscaping handiwork behind. Over the years I had touched every bush and shrub, and seemingly every blade of grass on the property. Much of the greenery I had planted. All of it I had nurtured. Redbuds, dogwoods and peach trees. Lenten roses in the shade. Flowering forsythia and camellia. Maple trees and two giant river birches. I loved them all.

The hardscaping was mine too. Railroad ties to create terraced steps in front and back. A slate paver patio. Brick retaining walls. And the koi pond. That was a real masterpiece.

But the greatest thing in the whole landscape, my very favorite item, was the gingko tree. With it’s green fan shaped leaves in the summer and the rich gold and yellow it transforms to in the fall, this most ancient of trees is simply spectacular. There are several majestic specimens in my town. They always catch my eye, and I have to stop dead in my tracks to stare and admire them. Even when the leaves fall off late in the season, the mound of golden leaves on the ground is worthy of tribute.

And so, I decided that the landscape at my home could not be complete without one of these trees. It wasn’t easy to find. And because of its combined rarity and popularity, it wasn’t cheap. Worth every penny.

The most magnificent specimen I had seen in town was fifty feet tall. With a trunk more than a foot across. My new acquisition, of which I was very proud, was four feet tall. And not quite an inch in diameter. Gingko are slow growers, so I knew I was in for a long haul with this tree.

I planted it where it would have good sun. In decent soil. And where it could be seen from the street and from every room in the back of my house. One day it would be spectacular.

The first couple of years were trying. I had to water it a lot. And indeed it grew slowly. But it sprouted leaves every spring. And they turned yellow every fall. But they didn’t hang on to the branches very long. That’s ok, the golden mound of leaves on the ground was still beautiful.

At some point something clicked with this tree. I guess the roots got happy and it took off. It grew, and thrived, and produced more and more of the golden leaves. The whole family loved it. But the leaves never did hang on very long.

When we moved, there was no gingko at the new house. I would have to plant one.   Even as a priority it took me nearly a year to find the tree, and the perfect spot. The tree was actually easier to find than the spot. Several times I passed on getting the tree because I hadn’t decided on the spot.

Good soil. Perfect sunlight. In a place where it could be seen from every room in the back of the house. But not too close to the house. And not in a place where it would block the view of the pond in the back.

Finally I bought the tree knowing that having it in hand would force me to find the right spot. Straight and well branched, it stands four feet tall. And measures about an inch in diameter. It had golden leaves clinging tightly to the branches.

The potted tree was placed in the yard. How did it look here? Or there? Move it a few feet this way, and back. Now six inches left and two inches forward. That was it. All of the siting requirements were met. Where is that shovel?

Having positioned the tree with laser precision, I knew that digging a hole would not be quite as accurate. Close enough. It was in the right place, and it was standing straight. I backfilled the hole with dirt, mulch and special planting soil. This tree will lead a pampered life.

My youngest daughter went by the old house to get a look at the gingko. It was now nearly twenty feet tall, and about four inches in diameter. The leaves had already fallen off. The new owners no nothing of the history of that tree. And might not even like yellow. Now my new homestead has a gingko to call its own. Or more likely, a gingko has this new homestead to claim for itself.

I’ll make sure that it is happy, as it makes me happy. That’s part of my story. What’s yours?

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