Saturday, October 31, 2009

Equal time for Maple Leaves

The two previous entries on the fall colors here and here showed mostly oak leaves. So, here are some of the nice looking maple leaves (as opposed to the Maple Leafs) from the woods behind our office.

I always see acorns around but I rarely see maple tree seeds around (except in our gutters). I collect acorns and sometimes dream of planting them like the shepherd did in The Man Who Planted Trees (the text of the short story). It was later made into an animated feature.

I first saw the animated feature as a part of an animated film festival. I thought at first that it was a true story but it's not. It's still a wonderful story about a man who changes the lives of the people in an entire region by planting a forest one tree at a time. It really affected me not just for its optimism about how one person can make a difference but the animated feature is beautifully drawn. It's a style you don't see very often. The objects in the story are not as separated and distinct as is usual in animation. It made me think about how we are all part of the whole. We all affect each other for good or ill. We all have amazing power to help or hurt our fellow man. Let us all look to help each other as much as we can.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Halloween at work

Our office encourages people to dress up for Halloween. There is a doughnut eating contest and prizes for various categories of costumes. This year we got apple cider and danish pastries, too. I dressed up in my usual costume at the right. I use the same robe every year. It's funny to hear what people guess I've come as. Some say I'm Obi-Wan Kenobi, others say Gandalf. Still others think I'm a monk. I'm sort of like a Rorschach ink blot test. My costume is in the eye of the beholder.

Our family has mixed feeling about Halloween. As my wife points out, it started as a religious holiday but modern times have taken it far from that - sort of like what our modern society has done to Christmas. I don't like seeing people build up and glorify the evil in the world. But nice and good people are just too boring I guess.

As Philippians 4:8 says, "And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise."

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

More fall colors

A few days ago, I posted some pictures from the woods behind our office. Today, I have more.

First, on the top right, is a pretty yellow Sassafras tree. You can tell a Sassafras Tree because it has three types of leaves that look like a right-handed mitten, a left-handed mitten and a strange mitten for keeping the three middle fingers together! I'm told that my uncles used to make sassafras tea that my mother remembers drinking but I don't know how you do it.

The next tree is on the top left and is a pretty large Oak tree. I can't really tell if it's orange, burnt orange or brown. I just know it's pretty. I'll leave the color naming to my wife and daughter. They know more names for more colors than I can imagine. And they often have an adjective to describe the color. They'll say things like, "Oh, that's not blue is Midnight Blue!"

Finally, I have two individual Oak leaves. The one on the right is a solid color while the one on the left is an amazing mixture of colors. You can see how the coloring of the leaves follows the veins in reverse - they stay green longer near the veins where they still have nutrients. The new colors work their way in from the edges..

I've made the pictures especially small here so I could fit them all in on the short post. But, as usual, you can click on them to see them larger.

Monday, October 26, 2009

This day in history

Today is the anniversary (in 1825) of the opening of the Erie Canal. The story that brought this to my attention was on the This Day in History website. The picture at the right was used on the Erie Canal website but was used there by the permission of the Memorial Art Gallery of the University of Rochester.

Besides the building of the canal as a major engineering feat and an incredible accomplishment for the workers who dug it mostly using hand tools, the thing that caught my eye was how they were able to signal New York City that Governor Clinton was leaving the opening ceremonies [near Buffalo, NY] on a trip that would span the length of the canal route to New York City. They were able to send the signal in only 81 minutes by using cannon that were spaced along the entire route. As the first cannon was fired, it was heard at the next cannon placement so it fired and this continued all the way to New York City. It was the fastest communication of an event in the world at that point. A practical telegraph system wouldn't be available for 19 more years. This was a very limited signal, though. It could have meant anything (including that New York City was under attack!) but the meaning of the signal was decided before hand. The arrival of the signal meant, "Remember what we discussed before? That Governor Clinton was going to travel here on the new canal? Well, he's started."

It reminds me of the system described in The Return of the King (part of the Lord of the Rings trilogy) when the kingdom of Gondor sent a message to its ally Rohan by lighting huge bonfires along the route. Of course, that book wasn't published until the 1950's. But I wonder if somewhere in history, people were able to send messages over long distances using flags or fires in a similar way?

Friday, October 23, 2009

Fall color in a miniature forest

Back in March of this year, the town hired someone to come in a cut a fire break through the woods behind out office. I wrote about it here and here. It was a shame to see all the large, beautiful trees go. But everything is growing back pretty quickly. I don't know what is going to happen to the large trees that have now sprouted a lot of small shoots. Will they all grow together into one tree again or will some shoots out-compete the others and dominate? We'll see.

In the meantime, the fall colors haven't really hit our area yet - except for the small trees that are growing back in the fire break area. It's like a miniature forest. We can see over the tops of the "trees" as if we were flying over them in an airplane. I went out at lunch today and saw a lot of nice colors and took some pictures hoping to capture the beauty of the area. The top picture is a wide aspect view of all the mixed colors. Almost like a carpet laid down in the woods. The other pictures are pretty self-explanatory. The next picture is the only large tree (an oak) I took a picture of. Then come three different shades of maples.

It's almost as if someone set out to create a forest of bonsai trees. In this case, they get their shape because there are so many shoots rising out of the old tree stump. I don't remember the trees in this area being so colorful before. Even considering the pine trees among the tall trees on either side, the large trees aren't nearly as colorful as the new growth of trees in the middle.  I wonder if the stress they were under after being cut has anything to do with it.

As always with my pictures, you can just click on them to see the larger version. I've reduced the size of all of the pictures to help with the time it takes to upload them and to make displaying them faster. If anyone is interested in getting copies of the originals (my camera takes 6 megapixel pictures), let me know. I'm no great photographer but every once in a while I stumble into a nice picture.

The last picture is a small unknown red bush. It seems to like the fact that it isn't shaded by the trees around it for now. It won't be long, though. The way these trees are growing, the forest will be back in no time.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The moving motel room

On my way home from work the other day, I saw this driving down the road. I couldn't resist getting a picture of it. The sheer size of it amazed me. Then the progression from the huge RV to the smaller car (although not very small) and then to the bikes was intriguing. Finally, the idea of dragging around a car making the handling of this monstrosity even more difficult was too much for me.

You can click on the picture to get a larger view. It's not a very good picture because I took it while I was driving (!) through the windshield of the car. They were turning into a campground. If you can call staying in that thing camping.

I jokingly call it a "moving motel room" in my title but it's more like a moving motel suite. I guess you save the money of needing to rent a motel or cottage at your destination but what about the cost of gas? And if they didn't buy this RV but only rented it, wouldn't that cost factor into your calculations? There is probably a very good reason for them choosing to vacation this way. I just don't get it. Maybe this is all they have and don't own or rent a home. At least they brought the station wagon along. I'd hate to be in our town when they decided to drive the RV down the main street.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A good story ruined

Here's another story from my recent visit to see my mother.

Years ago, we used to all go to visit my mother around Thanksgiving (before we had been through some fierce November storms and moved our visits to the summer). Part of the trip involved our going to see my relatives. During one of those trips, my Aunt June showed us a clock that she had saved from my grandmother's throw-away pile. It had belonged to my great grandfather and was a small mantle clock. It was spring powered with a pendulum and hadn't run for years. We had another relative who worked on clocks for a hobby and Aunt June paid him to work on it. After many tries, he said he could do no more to get it going again and Aunt June just set it on a shelf because it still looked nice and fit in with her style of decorating. She kept trying to get it to run (making sure the spring was wound and moving the pendulum) but it wouldn't go until one year near Christmas. Amazingly, after years of not working, it started ticking again! After Christmas, though, the clock stopped. It didn't run again until the next Christmas when it started ticking again. This went on for a number of years. I always told people about this and tried to imagine what would cause it - from my great grandfather's ghost to changes in temperature and humidity around Christmas.

Well, during this visit, Aunt June got to telling stories and one of them was how funny her mother (my grandmother) was. And how Grandma believed in the magical Christmas clock. She even sent people over to see it and Aunt June thought this was strange. I didn't say anything but let her continue. "Mom (my grandmother) was so funny. She believed there was something mysterious making that clock run only around Christmas time. Well, it only ran at Christmas because that's when I wound it. After Christmas, I just let it run down and didn't try to start it again until next Christmas." Boy, was I disappointed. I wanted that clock to be special. I wanted there to be some fascinating explanation about its strange behavior. In the end, it was just ordinary. I didn't tell her that I'd also been fooled by the clock story.

I guess in the end, the clock is special. It's old and it still works. Aunt June thought enough about it to save it from destruction and she spent a lot of time (with our clock-repairing relative) and money to get it working again. And it was a nice looking clock and went well with Aunt June's living room. I guess we shouldn't look down on something (or someone) just because it doesn't measure up to what we think it should be. I wish I had a picture of the clock. I forgot to take my camera when I visited Aunt June this year. Maybe next time. And, I shouldn't forget, the clock hadn't run for many years and only started to run again around Christmas. There's a little magic there.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Final report on my hat

I wrote earlier about replacing my lost Red Sox hat and then wrote a short update on it. The short synopsis is: I lost my Red Sox hat last winter and didn't get a replacement until August this year. After buying the hat and wearing it, the fortunes of the Red Sox seemed to improve.

Well, the final (unfortunately) report for the hat is here. It did very well for the rest of the regular season. The Red Sox had 26 wins and 15 losses in that time. That's a winning percentage of .634. Not too bad but not good enough to win their division. Another team won the division but at least the Red Sox made it into the play-offs. And they were going to be playing the Angels who they always beat in the play-offs so things were looking good.

Well, today we face the reality that the Angels won three straight games against the Sox and now the season is over for my baseball team and my new hat. I'll be careful to pack my hat so I can find it next year as soon as the season starts.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

I outsmarted myself

Here's a story from my trip to see Mom last week. It happened before I even got on the train at Providence. Last year, we drove into Providence to find the train station and then, since we were early, I drove back out to show my wife the way to get home. But as I headed down Interstate 95 and then connected to Interstate 195 to head toward home, I had a hard time finding a way to turn around and get back to the train station before the train left. We made it but it led to some exciting talk in the car as the clock ran down.

This year, since it had been over a year since we'd gone to the train station, I decided to refresh my wife's memory of how to get back out of Providence and head back towards home. But wait - I had learned from my mistake last year and didn't head down the Interstates. I was smart and stayed on the local road and just crossed under Interstate 95 pointing out to her the entrance that she would take. Problem solved. Now, since I was on a local road, it would be easy to turn around and get back to the train station - we had plenty of time.

The picture at the beginning is a copy of the Google Map for the area and I've drawn our route in red. There are circled numbers that match up with numbers in my description here. If you'd like, you can right-click on the picture and open it in a separate tab to show it larger so you can follow along.

1) We're at the train station about 30 minutes early. My wife says that she can find the way out herself. "Remember last year," she says. "Don't worry, Sweetheart," I say, "I won't make the same mistake this year!"
2) We've reached the place where she'd turn to get on Interstate 95 to head home. Learning from last year, I just point to the exit and stay on the local road looking for the first turn off that has an obvious entrance. How hard could it be? It's a local road. "Define local," says a small voice in the back of my head.
3) After about a mile and a half, I finally see an exit that has a visible entrance on the other side. We've still got about 25 minutes. Plenty of time.
4) We have a little trouble finding a place to turn around but we do find one.
5) No problems now - we're headed back toward the train station. I tell my son, who is getting worried, that we have enough time to go home and come back again. A big lie but it eases the tension I sense in everyone.
6) I see I 95 again and we just have to pass under it to be within minutes of the train station. The local road splits into separate lanes and there are no signs but I'm sure that the lane I'm in the correct one. I have a sense about these things.
7) Well, here we are going south on Interstate 95 heading away from the train station and my jokes and false confidence are having no effect on my family. We'll just need to find an exit that has an obvious entrance on the other side. More people are getting nervous in the car.
8) After more than a mile, I see an exit that looks promising. I tell everyone that everything is going to be fine now. After we get off the exit, I recognize the area as a place we'd come about 10 years ago. It had no close entrances to I 95. Now I'm getting worried but I don't let it show.
9) After about a third of a mile of stop and go traffic, we finally get to the turn off to get back onto I 95. Everyone is telling me how to drive, to not bother waiting for people who have the right-of-way and to honk the horn at that idiot trying to cut us off. There are no rules now. We have less than fifteen minutes to get back to the train station.
10) We're back in I 95 heading back to the train station - for the third time today. All of a sudden, all the other drivers have slowed down. They are all talking on their cell phones and missing opportunities to move forward. Every driver in every car seems to have taken up smoking and isn't paying attention like they should be.
11) Finally, with about twelve minutes to go, we turn off on the exit we took about 30 minutes ago. Tension in the car remains high. I am told "don't stop or let anyone in front of us" or there will be trouble. I feel like I'm running for home plate and a large, grouchy catcher is in front of me with a ball in his hand.
12) With about five minutes to go, we arrive at the train station for the second time. I have to get my bags from the back, kiss everyone good-bye and pick up my prepaid tickets. I tell my wife, "Are you sure you know the way out? Shall we run through that one more time?" She gives me the "if your serious, don't bother coming back" look.

I made it with a minute (or so) to spare. After settling down in my seat, I got up to get a cup of coffee (ah, Green Mountain coffee) from the snack bar and thanked God for getting us there safely and prayed for my family's safe return home.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Back from visiting Mom

I made it back from visiting Mom who lives near Pittsburgh. It was a good trip and almost everything went well. The trip there on the train seemed to go much faster than its true 11 hour duration. I had some really good books to read. I read Band of Brothers, Gates of Fire, Red Harvest and Brave Companions. The first two I read from the beginning. The last two I had started a long time ago but never seemed to have the time to finish. Now I have. I'm still reading Gates of Fire and it is very good. I don't think it will take long to finish.

I did miss a chance of a lifetime - both the Vince Lombardi trophy (won by the Steelers in Super Bowl XLIII) and the Stanley Cup (won by the Penguins) were on display together in downtown Pittsburgh (pronounced by some as "dun tun Pixburgh") the day after I got there. But Mom had too many jobs lined up for me to take time off to go back into the city. It was satisfying to get so many things done for her, though, and by staying close to home, I got to see most of my relatives still living in that area. I've lost track of most of the people I went to high school with and the ones I have kept track of have moved away.

Mom is 84 and can't do as much as she used to. I was able to get things out of the attic, move big bundles of clothes, replace a plastic dryer vent with a metal one, find a replacement water filter when the old one was discontinued, move porch furniture into storage, fix a leaking water valve, change the battery on her garage door opener (which didn't fix a problem), buy a large sheet of plastic and cover a work area that hasn't been touched by the workman for two years and whose own plastic sheet had ripped and allowed water to wash into the work area, checked the fluids in her car, got a needle that had dropped down into the works of her sewing machine and then took the sewing machine to a repairman when the machine still didn't work right and took her to the eye surgeon who gave her the good news that the bleeding has finally stopped in her eye and that now another eye surgeon can finish the cataract operation that has been on hold for almost a year.

There are other things I've forgotten but the best part was just being with her and talking over things we remember from our life together and what the future may hold. Even though we have relatives living in the area, they have lives of their own and Mom gets lonely. Yes, the answer is for her to move near us but it's too big for her to handle now. I'm afraid she won't be ready to move until something forces her. There are a couple of stories that can be told about the trip. I hope to write them down here in the coming days.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Cute things kids say

One day, we found that the local Toys R Us ( I don't know how to get the 'R' to be backwards) was going to have a visit from some cartoon characters that our daughter Emma liked. So, we headed off for a round of picture taking. The pictures here are Emma with Strawberry Shortcake, Wubbzy (of Wow Wow Wubbzy fame) and one of the Care Bears. We all had a great time.

Part of the fun was tracking down the various characters. But we were having so much fun. we lost track of time. I always call my mother at the same time that day and we were going to be late. So, I was going a little fast and as we rounded one bend I saw the police car - too late. Sure enough, he pulled us over. Lucky for me, he just gave me a warning and made sure the kids knew that daddy did something wrong.

When we finally got home (now late to call my mother), Emma wanted to talk first because she said she had something important to say. "Daddy got run over by the police!" I had to grab the phone quickly to assure my mother that I was fine and had only been pulled over. A mother in her 80's could have a heart attack.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Another construction work story

Here's another story about a construction job I worked on. The stories here and here are from another construction job I'd been on. This was going to be one of the nicer jobs I'd had. It was close to home (most of the other jobs I'd been on were over an hour's drive from home). Also, it was on a small machine, a Gradall pictured here, which was relatively easy to maintain. The name is a brand name and comes from its usual job: grading almost anything. It could move and smooth soil at almost any angle. The job I was working on was a new road and heavier equipment would move most of the dirt into place. The Gradall would just be used to even up the edges so that grass or some other plants could be used to help hold the dirt in place.

When I started on the job, the road was well under way and the operator of the machine was cleaning up after the hard work. I could tell he didn't like me from the beginning but I couldn't help that. My job, as usual for an oiler, was to drive the Gradall where it was needed and keep it in good condition by greasing the fittings when the machine was idle. We worked in one place most of the morning and I only needed to make small moves. But at lunch time, I was going to be moving the machine further back down the shoulder of the road. There was about a ten foot drop off into the woods from the shoulder of the road which was wide enough to hold the machine - but just barely. I was going to have to back up the machine with little room for error but I figured I'd done it before with bigger machines. As the operator and everyone else walked off for lunch (the oiler always worked during lunch and I knew I'd get to eat later), I started to back up but there were no rear-view mirrors!

The operator should have never put me in that situation and if I'd been more assertive, I'd have either waited until he got back from lunch to help or insisted on someone else to give me signals in place of the missing mirrors. But I was trying to fit in and be a regular guy so I gave it a go. I'd back up a bit and then get out and look around. It was taking forever and I could see the guys at lunch laughing and pointing. So, I started to back up longer before looking around. After a while, though, I realized that the machine was slipping off the shoulder. I started to move forward but I couldn't and the machine was tilting more and more.

Finally, the operator came running up to the machine and pushed the boom and the bucket over the side to keep us from sliding over as I moved forward to get traction. Then, as I started to back up, men who were returning from lunch gave me signals and I was able to get the Gradall back where they wanted it. As I got out to get my lunch, the operator yelled that the boss wanted to see me first. The boss handed me my check and told me that was it. I'd been fired for the first and only time in my life. In spite of the fact that I could have gone to the Union and complained about the unsafe machine, I felt horrible. It taught me a real lesson, though, about the need to stick up for what is right. I shouldn't have tried to drive that machine without the proper rear-view mirrors.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

The Rules of Life - Part 2

I've got a non-regular, write-'em-as-they-happen series going on the Rules of Life. Rule #1 can be found here. Rule #2 has to do with borrowing. This area of life could probably have a dozen rules of its own. And maybe it will. But for now, I'll stick with one specific thing. I'm sure this has happened to all of us. You go to use something (a tool, a book, a TV remote) and it's not where it's supposed to be. "Supposed to be", of course, is a matter of opinion. How do you decide where something is "supposed to be"? Also, how should everyone else know where the thing is "supposed to be"?

It's really very simple, the thing that you borrow is "supposed to be" where you found it. If you buy the thing or someone gives it to you, you get to decide where the thing is "supposed to be" but when someone else owns it, someone else has decided where it is "supposed to be". This is especially important when the person who owns it doesn't know you are borrowing it. When they go to use it next, they are going to go where the thing is "supposed to be".

Rule of life #2 - When you borrow something, return it to where you found it. Not where you think it should be. Not where someone else tells you to put it. Put it back where you found it. That is where the thing is "supposed to be".