Tag Archives: work

Over the River, and To the Woods…

Being retired from the traditional workforce affords me a great deal of time to do things I really enjoy.  And busy I do stay!  One of those adventures which I recently undertook was the search for the perfect Christmas Tree.

It sometimes seems to me rather odd that we stick a tree in the middle of our house, but I do understand the history and traditions involved.  Both the long term story, and my own personal history with a Christmas tree.

Because I have the time, I like to be extravagant and drive up to the mountains of North Carolina where I can cut a live tree. That far north I can get a nice spruce or fir.  In my area I’d have to go for a cedar or cypress or even a white pine.  All beautiful in their own way, but not what I’m used to.

Many times I’ve gone to a hardware store or pop-up tree store and picked up a pre cut tree.  But I worry about how long they have been cut and how dry they may already be.  So for the past several years I have gone to Osage Farms to cut a tree.

It’s a mountain, and covered with trees.  Each one is tagged with a colored ribbon to indicate the height and price.  When I pulled up at the place this year the man working there asked me how big a tree I was looking for.  When I told him I just needed a little one, eight feet, he said that I’d have to drive down the road to where they had another mountain full of smaller trees. This hill was for the big ones.

Normally when I go to this place it’s packed with families trudging up and down the hills looking for their perfect tree.  This year I was able to go in the middle of the week, and was thus all alone on the mountain.  I drove down the road and found what I thought was the right section of the mountain for my size tree.  Orange tags for eight footers.  Yellow for five.  I needed one for my daughter too, and the yellow tag would be good for her house.

It was a beautiful day.  Cool, as winter in the mountains should be, but not cold. And of course sunny.  All I needed was some snow and I could have taken a million dollar Christmas card photo.

Lots of trees to chose from .  I enjoy climbing around on the hillside and examining each and every tree.  Is the trunk straight?  Any big holes in the branches?  Tall enough? Not too wide.  In her bounty, Nature creates many such trees.  And it’s always hard to choose what I think will be the perfect one.

But I do choose.  And this year I didn’t have to go too far up the hill to do it.  The first yellow tagged tree that I saw was the one I ended up with .  About five feet tall.  Very straight with no holes.  Of course I scouted out a number of others, but this was the one.  The orange tagged tree needed a little more of a search, but after looking at six or seven trees I found the one I thought was best.  I marked it so I’d know which one it was when I walked away to look at another.  It’s very easy to find a good one, walk away seeing another, and to never find the first one again.

The man came down from the other mountain, the one with the big trees and I showed him which two I wanted.  He pulled out the chain saw and in a flash both were cut, loaded onto this ATV and on thier way to the checkout table.  That was easy.

I’ve cut the tree myself before.  With a handsaw.  Now that’s some work.  So I let the guy with he chainsaw do it for me.  And I give him a tip for that.

On this tree covered mountain it seems like I’m in the wilderness.  And one year I did see a bear walking across the road.  But it’s only a few miles from the nearby town.  They have a little ski area there and today they have eight inches of real snow covering the mountain.  Glad I went last week.

So, with a perfect tree in my possession, I’m headed home to cover it with lights and decorations.  And that’s another story.

All of which is part of my story.  What’s yours?

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Fire

My neighbor told me the other day that if you have a fire in your fireplace before Thanksgiving you are a wimp.  Then added that he himself had indeed had a fire during wimp season.  I didn’t tell him, but I did too.

Early man must have been ecstatic when they figured out what fire could do for them.  Light, safety, cooking, warmth.  Just to name a few things.  Millennia later we still enjoy certain aspects of the power of fire.

My earliest memories are of a split-level house my parents owned in New Jersey.  Some very vivid images, but I can’t remember if there was a fireplace.  I remember the yard, the neighborhood, the stairs and the lower level family room.  And the bathroom downstairs and the garage.  Other than the living room I remember nothing of the upstairs.

When we moved to Pennsylvania in 1962 my parents built a new house.   It had a fireplace in the living room.  During the construction I remember going in and out of the house through the fireplace. Or the hole in the wall where the fireplace would be.  We had to walk across a board that spanned the hole in the ground that would serve as the ash chute.  I was in kindergarten.

That fireplace was often lit with a burning log. My dad let me crunch up old newspapers to build a base to start it.  He managed the wood.  On a winter’s night we would sit in front of the fire and read Shakespeare’s plays out loud. Or watch the colorful flames dance. Or wish that school would be cancelled because of the snowstorm raging outside.

They waited until I graduated from high school to move again.  This time into an old farmhouse in the country.  And yes, it had a giant stone fireplace.  I was in college by the time the first winter rolled around and I don’t remember there being a lot of fires in that fireplace.  My father preferred to sit in the kitchen next to the blazing coal stove.  But at Christmas there was always a burning Yule log in the fireplace.

The various apartments I lived in, and the first home I owned did not have a fireplace.  On a cold, cold day I missed that burning warmth.  So when I bought my second house I made sure it had a fireplace. I didn’t use it that much because by this time I had infant children in the house.  But one winter the power went out and I had to light the fireplace off to provide any heat in the house.

Part of the joy, and nuisance, of building a fire is that you have to build it, and tend it.  So, in my next house I had not just one fireplace built, but two, both with gas logs.  Flip it on and off at will.  Want a fire for fifteen minutes?  No problem! The main fireplace saw endless service! Almost every night from Thanksgiving until Easter, and often on a weekend during the day, that fire was burning. It was warm and tantalizing.

The house I’m in now, after “downsizing”, has a wood stove inserted in the fireplace.  That thing will crank out some heat.  And although I don’t light it up as often as I’d like, because you have to build it and tend it and so on, I do enjoy building it and tending it.  So I’ll light it up and settle into my lounge chair to feel the warmth and watch the flames.

With all the wonders of fire apparent, I have to remember that it is a powerful force.  And it demands respect.  I’ve seen scary and destructive fires.  It’s a sight you’ll never forget.

Like all of nature, we as humans can enjoy it in many ways, but we have to take care of it.  Future generations want to enjoy it too.

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

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Victory!

Sometimes you just can’t win.  Do your best, work your ass off.  To no avail.  There are forces beyond our control, much bigger than we are, that just can’t be overcome.  But if you keep plugging away you can at least hold your own.

Fall is my favorite season.  The weather cools off from the unbearable heat of the Summer, and the leaves on the trees turn so many brilliant, vivid and beautiful colors. The world becomes a palette of reds, yellows and browns. Driving up into the mountains to see this display of color is something enjoyed by millions of people.  And on a gorgeous Fall day, cool and brisk, you may find a long line of cars filled with sightseers.  Still beautiful.

But as Mother Nature moves through her annual cycle, all of these wonderful leaves begin to fall to the ground.  And cover my yard.  I am privileged to live in a place with a lot of trees.  Tall hardwoods like oaks and maples.  Each one with thousands of leaves.

The other day, when I noticed that I could not see any of the grass of my front yard, I decided it was time to tackle some leaves.  There are three ways to go about this, and none is perfect.  I can laboriously rake the leaves, or I can get out my noisy leaf blower and cause them to flutter on the breeze.  Or I can break out the big guns and hit them with the mulching lawnmower.

Raking is hard work and then you have to do something with the pile of leaves.  More work. Blowing the leaves is fun, but they tend to blow in unintended directions.  So I prefer the mulching mower.  I can do double duty and give the lawn a final haircut for the season and grind up the leaves at the same time.  Its actually triple duty because the mulched leaves serve as fertilizer for the grass.  That sounds great, but if there are a lot of leaves the mower can’t grind them fast enough and you get piles of semi ground leaves.  Which you have to go over again.

No matter how you do it, getting rid of the leaves is a lot of work.  So on this day I used the mulcher, went over and over the same spots several times, and finally was satisfied that I had once again made my lawn beautiful.

I looked at the lawn, and blinked my eyes. Then I felt a wisp of a breeze, and saw a leaf drifting down to the ground.  Then another and another and another.  Within a few minutes, hundreds of them had fallen from the trees and taken up a position on my freshly cut grass.  I know I’m going to have to do this all over again.  Several times.

It might be nice if all of the leaves fell off the trees at the same time.  I could clean it all up once and be done.  But like us, each leaf is unique.  Has its own mind and its own timetable.  It falls when its ready and not before.  And that’s what makes them all so beautiful.  Individuality.  Wouldn’t the world be boring if every leaf, or every person, was just the same as every other?

I can’t overcome nature.  She’s gonna make more leaves next year and have them fall when they are ready.  I’ll clean them up, several times.  And I’ll love every minute that I can spend in Natures wonder.

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

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It’s Everywhere!

When you are looking for something you need it seems like it’s often impossible to find. Once you have it of course you see it everywhere. And at a much better price. You might call that extra cost a convenience fee. Or just bad timing.

A couple of weeks ago the weather warmed up and the grass started to grow. And with it, the weeds. So, OK I thought, lets get out the weed and feed and kill some weeds and fertilize that good old grass. One problem: I didn’t have either the weed and feed, or the spreader to put it out. Off to the hardware store.

The weed and feed was easy to find. A dozen different choices. This one fertilizes and kills 250 different weeds. This one fertilizes for three months and kills every weed but crabgrass. And so on.

But wouldn’t you know it. There was only one spreader on the shelf in the store! The guy working there said that the warm weather had brought out the gardeners and there had been a rush on the spreaders the day before. Just one left. And more than I wanted to pay. But I got it because I thought I just had to have it to get this job done right now.

Fast forward one week. I’m on a road trip exploring Georgia’s longest yard sale. Two hundred and forty miles of highway lined with countless yard sales. And guess what I saw everywhere!

The first time I saw a spreader I thought it was humorous. Ten bucks. And then it seemed like I saw one at every sale. It was probably a dozen or so, and every one was ten dollars. Some almost new. Now I feel stupid.

What makes it even worse is that this weekend I went to a big sale at one of the local antique malls. Spring clearance! Half of the dealers were slashing their prices. And one guy had a, yes, a fertilizer spreader! It was very out of place in an antique shop as it was rather new. I think it was just there because the universe wanted me to feel even worse. Or maybe I just imagined it.

I’m in the antique business. I live in antique stores, thrift stores and flea markets. The only things I buy new are eyeglasses and food! Why did I buy that spreader at the hardware store? Who knows?

I learn life’s lessons well. Because I learn the same one over and over. Maybe one day I’ll remember what I’ve learned. Right!

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

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Sales Pitch

The sight of a twelve year old vehicle pulling into the lot makes a salesman drool. This guy has to be here to trade in that heap is the thought going through her mind. Let me at him!
I pull up to the service bay and notice her watching me. She’ll be waiting when I finish in there. When you bring the car in for service you can sit and wait or you can wander around and look at cars. Just be prepared for a sales pitch.
In another lifetime I sold cars. New and used. Luxury. And otherwise. I know the deal. Normally I don’t want to waste people’s time but I’ll at least let them try to do their job. You shut them down at the appropriate time.
Ok. Give it to me. I don’t have anything else to do for a little while. She asks what I brought the car in for. It’s been recalled I tell her. Nothing serious I hope she replies. I tell her it’s something about a shift lock mechanism. I don’t know if it’s serious or not. The manufacturer didn’t seem to be in a huge rush to fix it.
When I explain that the car is twelve years old she says the magic words. Have you thought about trading it in on a newer model?  Actually, I had.
What I have suits my needs well.  The right size. Easy to get in and out of .  Rides well. Looks like crap. But it’s always nice to think about a newer one.
I let her go through the spiel on new and certified used. We talk about what I’d be looking for. Oh, we have several of those she beams.  The idea is to get the customer into the car. To smell the new car aroma. To see all the features. Take it for s spin and get sucked in.  When she wants to get a key to show me the vehicle it’s time to shut it down.
She gives me her card and thanks me for speaking with her. If I can be of any service in the future please let me know. Car sales has a high turnover rate in salesmen. By the time I’m ready she may well have moved on. But someday I’ll have to get a newer model. And there will be a salesperson waiting for me.
That’s part of my story. What’s yours!

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Flat Tire

The sound was loud. Enough so that it could be heard trough the windows, coming from outside the car. Hissing, like a snake. The tire.

Crashing the wheel into the drain grate in the curbing, trying to parallel park, she had managed to pop the tire on my van. If it had just separated from the rim and lost its air it could be blown up. But no, it had a big hole in it.

I just happened to be there. But I wasn’t really of any use. My back is screwed up enough that I can’t change a tire, even though I sure would like to.

Fortunately I have roadside assistance coverage as part of my auto insurance. Call them up and they will send someone out to jump you off or change a tire. Even tow you away if need be. At this point I’ve used it for all three.

The towing was also because of a flat tire. I tried to change that one, but the lug nuts were on so tightly that I actually broke the bolts trying to get the nuts off. Three out of five. That vehicle is not driving anywhere!

So she called the roadside assistance folks. It would be a half hour. Since I didn’t have to work that day, I got to stay and wait.

He was early. Came from in front of me and drove by, giving me the eye. Then he turned around and pulled up behind me. I noticed he had a handicapped permit hanging on his rear view mirror. Oh boy, how’s he gonna change this tire I wondered. Turns out he had some special tools.

Not special really, just the right ones for the job. A power jack and an air wrench. So much easier with the right tools!

He was a very nice man, doing this work as an independent contractor. Works when he wants and enjoys meeting people. I told him I would have done the job myself, but he told me not to put him out of a job. I let him do it, but couldn’t resist helping just a little.

It only took about ten minutes to change the tire and put a little air in the spare. And off he went. Now I could go buy a new tire.

At the tire place we discovered that not only did I need one new tire, I needed two. And an alignment. A couple hours later I was all set. The van drives like a sports car now.

The next day as I was going to get into my truck, I noticed a tire was a little low. Nail. Dang! The universe seems to be trying to tell me something here. I hope it’s just that I need a new tire.

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

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A Minute

Commuting is an art form. Oh sure, anybody can hop into a car and drive off to work. But knowing exactly when to jump into that car, and which route to take, that’s the art.

When I was working a regular job I wanted to be sure that I was always on time. But at the same time, I didn’t want to get there any earlier than absolutely necessary. I didn’t get paid overtime, so I wasn’t giving any of my time away for free. So, I had to know exactly how much time I needed to get from home to office. Driving the truck meant one calculation. Riding the scooter called for another.

Of course variables like the weather and the local school calendar all had an Impact on these calculations. Even the day of the week could make a difference. It took years of practice and experimentation to get it all down. My brain did thousands of calculations each second. Never early. Never late.

When I quit working at the office I lost my touch. Only because I was out of the loop and wasn’t constantly monitoring new routes and changing traffic patterns. I didn’t have a need to be anywhere on time really. If I was a minute late, it didn’t matter. And I wasn’t going anywhere I didn’t want to be, so getting there early was ok now.

So this morning when I wanted to go somewhere, and needed to be there at an early hour of the morning, it didn’t occur to me that there would be heavy commuter traffic impeding my travel. It dawned on me when I was trying to make a left turn across what normally would have been a pretty lightly travelled road.

But this road is a direct feeder to the local high school a half mile down the road. Hundreds of kids either being dropped off by parents, or driving themselves to school. All trying to get there on time, but not too early. It was 7:45 AM, and being late was looking more and more likely to them. I waited to make my turn while an endless procession of cars went by.

And now my own travel plans were disrupted. This unexpected delay would make me late. Had I arrived at this intersection five minutes earlier, or five minutes later, there would have been no traffic. Make note of this newly discovered pattern.

I’ve already figured out that at 6:00 PM on a Friday, trying to merge onto the eastbound lanes of the highway from here to Atlanta is a lot harder than trying to make the same merge at 2:00 PM. Allow extra time when going late. A minute is sixty seconds, but it can make a much bigger difference. Something missed here, or another met there. Stay in the loop, or get into the slow lane.

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

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