Spill-Proof

I’ve complained before about the spillage that inevitably occurs when you try to pour water from a standard coffee pot into the coffee maker to make coffee in the morning. Thanks to the capillary effect, water almost always spills onto the countertop, leaving you to mop things up. It’s a supremely annoying way to start the day.

But there’s good news for those, like me, who are easily irritated by such mishaps. Some profound product engineer has figured out a way to control the capillary effect and prevent spills. We had to buy a new Bunn coffee maker this week–the heating unit on the old one gave out, for no readily apparent reason, which was irritating in and of itself–and the new pot has a tongue that extends from the lid out over the spout, as shown in the photo above. It looks strange, and I initially thought it was one of those extra packing pieces you need to remove. But in fact it’s part of the design, and it works like a charm. The water follows the tongue, and every drop ends up in the coffee maker. Whoo-hoo!

It’s a pleasure to make coffee in the morning without dousing the counters and muttering dark imprecations as I swab up the spilled water. Such small advances make for a happier life. And it’s encouraging to know that, even with a standard device like a coffee pot, some nameless person is still thinking about improvements.

A Downyard Project Update

This summer I haven’t had a chance to do as much work as I’d hoped on the downyard—which is too bad, because it really needs the help. We’ve had a lot of rainy weekends, and other weekends have been devoted to travel.

This weekend, however, Mother Nature cooperated with the puny plans of mortal men, and I was able to devote a full day and a half to working on the project before the rain started falling around noon today. Because the downyard attracts weeds like mangy dogs attract fleas, the concept is to limit the potentially weedy areas and introduce plants that can hold their own against the weeds in the Darwinian struggle for survival. I’ve tried to do that by exposing the many rocks as possible (because I’d rather see rocks than weeds), digging out the weedy areas, and mulching over the whole rock-infested area.

In the process, I’ve tried to spot the small fern plants that naturally grow in the yard, weed around them, and then mulch around them, in hopes that once they’re freed from surrounding weeds and get more water and sun they’ll grow into bigger fern plants that will keep the weeds at bay. Those little green plants at the far end of the mulched area are ferns. I like ferns, and they seem to grow well here and are capable of holding their own against the weeds.

The project featured a fair amount of shovel work, lots of weeding, bug bites galore, digging out and tossing or carrying all kinds of rocks, hoisting and dumping five large bags of mulch and six medium bags of mulch, and then using a rake to spread the mulch. I could have used another bag of mulch to really finish the job, but I’m happy with the results.

Elsa’s Punch

Elsa arrived in Stonington yesterday and proved that even a depleted tropical storm can still pack a wallop. High winds rattled the windows, shook the trees, left our side yard covered with downed tree branches and twigs, and—as feared—broke off two of our towering delphinium flower stalks.

The storm also showed that I don’t have a future as a drainage engineer. Despite my best efforts to remove rocks and take other actions to discourage the pooling of water in the down yard, this morning’s sunrise illuminated a large new pond in the low-lying area, as shown below. In fairness to my drainage promotion efforts, Elsa brought so much rain in such a short period of time—between three and four inches in the space of a few hours—I’m guessing that even professional efforts would have been overwhelmed. The downpour left some of the lupines and ferns I’ve been trying to grow in the area partially submerged, and only time will tell if they survive the dunking.

Gardening and yard work projects are always subject to the whims of Mother Nature, and all you can do is accept her consequences and move forward. One positive in all this, though, is that Stonington had been experiencing a drought. After yesterday, I think there is a drought no longer.

Providing Additional Support

It’s been a good year—so far—on the Stonington gardening front. Whether through the power of marigolds, changed herd routes, or sheer dumb luck, the deer depredations have been minor, and while there are signs of some nibbling by other critters, most of the plants have been undisturbed. And the flowers and shrubs seem to like the weather, which has been mostly dry and sunny with an occasional driving rainstorm thrown in for good measure.

Our delphiniums, in particular, have thrived this year. These beautiful and distinctive plants, which give you a real tower of flower, have grown to about six feet in height and are dominating the right side of our bed under a small tree.

In fact, the delphiniums have become a kind of victim of their own success. Their stalks have grown so tall, and produced so many delicate blooms, that they are top-heavy and liable to topple over when a gusty thunderstorm rolls through. As a result, part of my gardening work this year has involved using bamboo shoots, and even a metal stand designed to hold a hanging flower basket, to give the stalks additional support. Every morning I conduct an inspection and reposition the bamboo, as necessary, to keep the delphiniums upright and shooting ever upward.

Who knew that gardening also involved application of engineering and construction principles? But the big test for my jury-rigged system of support pillars will come on Friday, when the remnants of hurricane Elsa are supposed to blow through town.

The Newest Little Library

I’m a big fan of the “little libraries” that have sprung up in German Village, in Stonington, and in many other communities. Books—especially paperbacks—shouldn’t sit on shelves gathering dust; once they have been read they should be shared with others. The little libraries are a great way to do that, and they also help to keep a house decluttered. We’ve contributed books to the little libraries in German Village and up here as well.

This new little library popped up in our neighborhood within the last week. I appreciate the nautical theme and the craftsmanship, too.

Balsa Wood Lessons

Yesterday on my walk through town I passed one of the local gift shops and saw this classically designed balsa wood plane in the window. The store’s proprietor knew what she was doing, putting that pretty little plane in the window for old guys and young kids alike to see. If the store had been open, and I’d been carrying my wallet, I might have been tempted to make an impulse purchase–because, for those of us of a certain age, a balsa wood plane brings back a lot of memories, and life lessons, too.

When I was a kid, I got a balsa wood plane as a gift. I don’t remember who was the giver, but I do remember being fascinated with the notion that the plane was made with a kind of wood. This was wood? It wasn’t the kind of wood I was used to in, say, a baseball bat or the trunk of a neighborhood tree. This wood was ultra-light and brittle, the better to glide through the air like the Wright Brothers’ plane at Kitty Hawk. Balsa wood planes were the definition of “flimsy.” That didn’t mean they were any less fun and weren’t cool, either. After all, this little plane could fly! UJ and I spent many happy hours playing with our balsa wood planes, trying to see whose plane could glide the farthest on a warm summer day.

But there were important lessons attached to the little balsa wood plane. The balsa wood plane may have been the first toy that I actually had to consciously take care of. It couldn’t take a beating like, say, a little rubber football. You had to be gentle in putting it together, or one of the wings would break in half or thin strips of balsa wood would chip off, interfering with performance. You couldn’t just leave the plane outside in the rain or on a chair where the plane could be crushed into smithereens by Uncle Tony’s descending posterior. And you had to be mindful of where and when you took the plane out for a glide, too. Really windy days were bad, because the wind inevitably sent the plane cartwheeling into the concrete patio or a neighboring house, and launching it anywhere near a tree was certain to result in your plane being firmly lodged in the crook of a branch or amidst the leaves and limbs, with no way to knock it down that wouldn’t bust the plane into sad little balsa wood shards.

I’m sure I went through countless balsa wood planes before these lessons really sank in–but I’m also sure that, if I bought a balsa wood plane now, all of the old careful handling reflexes and experiential knowledge would come back in a rush. The lessons that come from the disappointment and loss of a favorite toy that you could have avoided if you’d just listened to Dad and Mom and been more careful are lessons well learned.

Rising Floods

More and more, you see young, evidently fashionable men intentionally wearing long pants that expose not only ankle and sock, but even an expanse of the leg itself. In the vernacular of my youth, such pants were known as “floods,” and you could commit no greater fashion sin—or more readily expose yourself to ridicule—than wearing them. Can it really be that they are fashionable now?

I first learned about floods when I was about 10 years old or so, at the age when you first become dimly —and then pointedly—aware that there apparently is a prevailing approach to the world and if you vary from the acceptable norm you are exposing yourself to uncomfortable mockery. It was about the same time you realized that you might want to plead that your Dad stop giving you a buzz cut with the home barbershop kit he bought and let you go to a licensed professional so you could get a haircut that looked somewhat like what other guys had. But whenever the precise epiphany occurred, at some point the jeering comments and derisive laughter at the fact that your long pants weren’t quite long enough powerfully drove home the point that flood pants are an unforgivable fashion transgression. And ever since I’ve been acutely focused on making sure that any pants I’m wearing brush my shoe tops, if not (in the ‘70s) engulf my shoes altogether in monster bell bottoms.

But fashions change, obviously, and now it is abundantly clear that floods are not the anathema they once were. Maybe male ankle-displaying pant length will capture the culture and be seen everywhere—or maybe they will be as short-lived as past brief fads like Nehru jackets or Earth shoes. But even if floods become the norm, I think my indoctrination has been too strong and too ingrained. I’ll just keep my ankles to myself.

Freezer Follies

Freezers were a crucial invention in the march of modern civilization. They allow us to store and preserve food until we are ready to consume it. They allow us to make the ice that permits us to enjoy those ice-cold drinks we crave on sweltering summer days, and they typically hold some of our guiltiest guilty pleasures, like pints of ice cream and frozen pizza. Where would we be without freezers?

But every freezer houses a deep, frozen secret. It’s that leftover item, carefully sheathed in aluminum foil for safekeeping, that’s been in the freezer so long, and has accumulated so much frost and freezer burn, that its true identity is no longer reasonably discernible. Once, long ago, at a point lost in the mists of time, it was wrapped and placed in the freezer with the best of intentions, to be preserved for certain future consumption. But those good intentions went unrealized when the glittering foil rectangle was buried under other freezer items, shunted into a remote, icy corner of the freezer, and forgotten. Days, weeks, and months passed as the once-edible item maintained its lonely, frigid vigil and felt itself changing from a potentially delectable food item into a sad, frozen brick that has been in the freezer so long that the aluminum foil has permanently bonded to its surface and cannot be completely removed by any process known to mortal man.

At some point, though, the freezer is cleaned out and the item is uncovered. The freezer explorer looks at it, doubtfully, and asks, with genuine curiosity: “What is this?” But careful, skeptical visual examination, and prodding with a finger, can provide no illumination. Is it chicken, or beef, or a remnant of a veggie burger, or perhaps something else entirely? Is that its true color and texture, or has its prolonged arctic experience created those unusual hues and bumps and ridges?

There’s only one way to know for sure—let it thaw, cook it somehow, and take a bite. Few souls, however, are hardy enough to accept the risks of gross discovery and that stale, freezer burn aftertaste that lingers in your mouth like a rank dish towel. No, the better, wiser, safer course is to discard the item. Some mysteries are best left unsolved.

That Ol’ Marigold Magic

Beneath my veneer of civilized rationality, deep down in the ancient, primordial part of my consciousness, I admit that I am a believer in curses and jinxes. Being a Cleveland sports fan, how could it be otherwise?

So, I really hesitate to say this for fear that the fickle Gardening Gods will lash out and punish me for my heresy, but . . . the marigold approach to the deer problem seems to be working. Following up on local knowledge tips from local gardeners, I planted dozens of marigolds at strategic locations in the side yard and the down yard. They’ve all come in well and are pleasantly fragrant–which is supposed to be what keeps the sensitive deer, which purportedly don’t like the smell of marigolds, away from flower, plants, and shrubs. And, so far at least, the deer have avoided our yard.

The area in the crack between the two gigantic boulders in the down yard is a good example. It’s the spot that is farthest away from our house and close to a small creek, so it’s prime deer territory. Last year the deer repeatedly ravaged the plants in the crack and chewed the daisy in the foreground, just behind the marigolds, down to the ground. The other plants in the crack experienced similar depredations. But this year, the deer have stayed away, and the plants are looking much better.

Of course, it’s always difficult to determine cause and effect. Is it that old marigold magic, or is it the fact that the deer have found some other food source, or the fact that we’ve got a dog living in the house now, or the fact that the deer herd has migrated to a different part of the island, or something else? I don’t know for sure, obviously, but based on our experience this year marigolds are going to be a perennial (pun intended) part of the planting mix going forward. And they look nice, too.

The Path To Barred Island

They say that timing is everything. In the case of the hike to Barred Island, that’s literally true.

We’ve taken the rooty trail out to Barred Island multiple times, but when we’ve reached the vantage point of the photo above we’ve always encountered a full channel of frigid, leg-numbing seawater—which is why it’s called Barred Island. But on our hike on Sunday, we timed our arrival perfectly, and instead of seawater we found that at low tide a sandy, golden path had appeared, beckoning us over to Barred Island itself.

Once we got to the little island we learned that there were no interior trails, because of an ongoing restoration project. The only option for the visitor is to scramble around the shoreline, which can be treacherous due to slick, algae-covered rocks along the channel separating the island from the mainland. You really have to watch your step, and our sturdy, gripping hiking shoes came in handy.

Once you turn the corner and start to circle the island, the rocks—primarily striated granite—become larger, sun-baked, and a lot easier to navigate. In this area of the shoreline we saw a small furry critter—perhaps an otter?—scampering among the rocks. At this point of the circumnavigation of the island, you begin to see the other islands, and the lighthouse out in the Penobscot Bay.

On the far side of the island, the big rocks give way to a stunning collection of different kinds of smaller rocks, which meant that careful attention to path planning and foot placement was important. It was fun to hop from rock to rock and enjoy the colorful mosaic of the different colored rocks in the bright sunshine. If you like rocks and subtle colors, it’s a very cool area.

Following the shoreline inevitably took us back to the sandy spit linking the island to the mainland. We were glad we timed our visit so as to finally allow us to cross over to Barred Island and see what it had to offer. And speaking of timing, as we noticed the sun moving slowly toward the western horizon and glimmering brilliantly on the water, after a full day of yard work and hiking, we decided the timing was also perfect for some soft-serve ice cream.

Lupinalia

I’ve been working hard on the lupines in front of our house this year, and have been careful about weeding and watering and trying to do whatever I can to make them thrive. I’m happy to report that my efforts have been rewarded, as both of the big plants are doing well and have produced lots of blooms, which will mean lots of lupine seeds to harvest come August.

In fact, the lupine tending has been so successful that other lupines have taken root in the front of the house and seem to be doing well, too. That’s good news for me, because I think the lupines are pretty cool plants and look especially good against the rock outcroppings next to our front door.

Blue Skies, Again

After three solid days of rain, you wonder whether the blue skies will ever come again. And when they do, as they did with this morning’s sunrise shown above, it is a beautiful thing to see.

The sun rises early here in Stonington, on the far eastern edge of the Eastern time zone, which means there is a good/bad tradeoff on sunny versus rainy days. When the skies are clear, the first peek of sun over the horizon blasts through the heavy curtains of our east-facing bedroom and wakes me without fail. That means I get up earlier and earlier until we pass the longest day of the year. When it’s rainy and gloomy, in contrast, I can sleep later, and I don’t need to water the plants, either.

I’ll still take the sunny days.

Low Tide On Indian Point Road

Kish says I am a creature of habit. She’s absolutely right, of course: I’m about as wedded to routine as any non-OCD human could be. But every once in a while I like to mix things up a bit.

Today, I decided to vary my walking route. It’s a cold, damp day in Stonington with lots of rain in the forecast, and I wanted to get a decent amount of exercise before the raindrops start falling. So when I reached the top of the Granite Road hill I turned right, rather than my customary left, and rambled down Indian Point Road, heading away from downtown. It’s a winding street the hugs the shoreline then jogs inland.

It was low tide, which means the scenery looks a lot different than it does at high tide. I liked this vista of a homeowner’s dock left high and dry by the retreating seawater, pointing out at the boats at anchor and the many small islands in the harbor.

The Trouble With Harry

The other day I called up Google on my phone to do a quick search. As always happens, clickbait articles popped up, including this one on Yahoo about Harry Windsor sharing some new photos of his son and reporting on some of his child’s first words.

You remember Harry, I’m sure. He’s the guy who moved to the United States from the U.K. because he desperately wanted to get away from the suffocating attention paid to him and his extended family and go his own way with his wife and child. But poor Harry seems confused. He doesn’t seem to get the notion that if you want to live a private life and make it on your own, you need to actually live a private life. That means not giving interviews with famous celebrities and participating in docuseries and sharing details about your life that are sure to attract more of the public attention that you claim to abhor.

Harry’s evident problem is that he seem to really like the attention, which he’s gotten his entire life. But it has to be the right kind of attention. Positive attention is just fine with Harry, but negative attention, or any criticism, makes him wonder why journalists and paparazzi and commentators can’t just leave him and his family alone.

Harry’s approach reminds me of our kitchen screen door during the summer months when I was a kid. We didn’t have air conditioning, so the only way to get air circulation in the house on a hot summer’s day was to open the inner door and let any precious breeze come through the outer screen door. But with five children in the family and a neighborhood that was chock full of rug rats, kids were constantly going in and out through the door, which had one of those spring devices that made it shut with a loud metallic clang. After putting up with a few dozen unsettling bangs, Mom would say, in exasperation: “In or out?”

And that notion applies equally to Harry. When it comes to celebrity status, you’re in or you’re out. If you want privacy, live privately. But if you crave some of that celebrity adulation, don’t come around whining when somebody makes a joke at your expense or raises questions about whether you are profiting from your family connections.

In deference to Harry’s tender sensibilities, I haven’t included a photo of him with this post, and because I’m writing this in America, where we don’t have titles–except for nicknames, like the Sultan of Swat or the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air–I’ll just call him Harry Windsor. And in further deference to Harry’s apparent wishes, I also promise that I will never write about him again.