The Watering Circuit

It’s been blistering hot up here.  Of course, “hot” is a relative term.  “Hot,” by Stonington standards, means any temperatures above 70 degrees, and “blistering” means the thermometer touches 80.  (Given their sensitivity to heat, I don’t know what the good people of Stonington would do if confronted by a true Midwestern or southern summer, where temperatures in the 90s and above are commonplace.  Probably, they would be grateful they live up here, nod and say ayuh, and then stolidly retreat to these rockbound shores.)

But I digress.  On the days that promise to be hot and dry, I try to give our plants a good watering.  Because of the configuration of our yard and flower beds, that means using different watering devices and following a circuit.

I begin with the beds by our front door, where I can use a hose.  We don’t have a spray nozzle, so I use the thumb-over-the-water-flow method to achieve a sprinkle, and give the beds a good dousing.  They are on the western side of the house and won’t get sun for a while, so the water will get a chance to really sink in and do some good before the day heats up.  The hose water gets very cold against my thumb and helps me to wake up, and I do the watering while I’m making coffee so I can get a hot cup of joe when the watering is done and the hose is rolled up.

The next stop on the watering circuit comes later, after I’ve taken a walk and given the ever-hungry neighborhood deer a reasonable opportunity to eat more of the down yard flowers.  Because the down yard is in deep shadow in the morning, it can wait.  There’s no hose, so I need to use a watering can that I fill to the brim in our basement sink.  I carry the can down the steps and hillside and water three areas:  next to the outside stairs, where I’ve tried to transplant a lupine and set up a little flower bed, the flowers I planted in the crack between our two big rocks and next to the creek, and finally the vegetables we got from Russell.  It usually takes three trips and helps me to get my daily stair climbing in.  I also inevitably fill my daily quotient of obscenities when I survey the damage the deer have done to the flowers in the crack between the rocks, where we’ll probably never get the black-eyed susan blossoms — they always get neatly clipped off by deer teeth just as they are ready to bloom.  As I trudge back up the hill, cursing inwardly and trying to figure out some new, actually effective way to discourage the rapacious deer, I’ve become mentally ready to face the work day.

The last step in the watering circuit comes in the early evening, where I use a different hose to water the beds in the side yard and a little tree that has always struggled.  The side yard is starting to get shade by then, and the hose water feels cool and crisp after a hot day.  Watering, with its mindless back and forth motions to try to fully cover the relevant territory, is a good way to wind down after work and let the brain wander a bit.  The side yard beds also are a bit more uplifting to water, because the yard is fenced and deer don’t bother it, so the flowers are actually blooming rather than being consumed.  At the end of the day, it’s nice to see some fruits from your labors.

That’s my hot day watering circuit.  The deer appreciate my efforts, I’m sure.

Where Would We Be Without Willis?

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As we deal with another day of sweltering heat in the Midwest, let’s all acknowledge the huge debt we owe to Willis Carrier — the guy who invented air conditioning.  Where would we be without Willis and his life-changing invention?

Interestingly, Willis Carrier did not invent air conditioning to increase human comfort on scorching summer days.  Instead, he came up with his invention, in 1902, to try to deal with the problems heat and humidity were causing for a Brooklyn printing business.  It was so hot and humid during the summer months in the printing plant that the ink would not adhere to the paper, so Willis came up with the idea of moving air over cooled coils to lower the temperature and the humidity so the printers could function.  The decreased temperature in the no-doubt sweltering area near the printing presses was just a pleasant by-product of the invention.

Willis’ invention caught on and air conditioning was implemented in many businesses, but it would be decades before air conditioning became common in American homes.   The first two houses I remember living in didn’t have central air conditioning.  But now, 117 years after Willis Carrier was touched by a stroke of genius, central air conditioning is commonplace, and it’s really hard to imagine life without it.

Thank you, Willis Carrier!

Beat The Heat?

The Columbus area is bracing for absurd heat today.  The temperature is supposed to reach the mid-90s, and the “heat index” (which is kind of the opposite of the wind chill factor, and looks at temperature and dew point, to assess overall mugginess) is supposed to hit 105 degrees.  That’s hot enough that the National Weather Service has issued an extreme heat advisory, and some businesses, like my nephew’s pizza kitchen, are adjusting their schedules and practices to try to avoid exposing workers to dangerous heat levels.

1280x720_50116b00-xayzgIn short, we’ll be reaching the thermometer point at which, traditionally, your air conditioning goes on the fritz.

Is there a way to beat the heat in the beachless Midwest?  Not really.  The National Weather Service heat advisory recommends wearing lightweight and loose fitting clothing (no duh!), drinking plenty of water, spending more time in air conditioned or well-ventilated places, and avoiding doing much outside except in the early morning or late evening.  So you can stay inside, drinking cool beverages, crank up their air conditioning, and watch movies — but that’s really just avoiding the heat, not beating it.

Or you can follow the post-enlightenment advice of the Bill Murray character in Groundhog Day and go outside and embrace the heat.  Recognize that summers in the Midwest are often crushingly hot and that’s just part of the deal.  Walk around in air so scalding and moist that it feels like steam.  Note that the squirrels and birds aren’t exactly doing industrious things.  And sweat until even that lightweight and loose clothing that the National Weather Service recommended is soaked through, weighs a ton, and is clinging ferociously to every damp, broiling inch of your skin.

And then, when you realize that you are behaving like an idiot, come back inside, drink a cold glass of water, and hope for all that’s holy that your air conditioning doesn’t go on the fritz like it did last summer.

Flower Pot Fail

It’s been beastly hot in Columbus over the past few weeks, with temperatures in the 90s and very little rain.  You might aptly describe the weather as broiling — but that’s July in Ohio for you.

We’ve been gone for a few days during this torrid period.  That’s been good for us, because we were enjoying much cooler weather, but for the plants in our front flower pots?  Not so much.  When I got home they were dried out and teetering on the edge of death.  I’ve been watering them in the morning and again at night in hopes of saving them and am seeing some hopeful green signs, but it’s obvious the hot weather combined with lack of watering knocked them for a severe loop.  The flowers and plants in our beds, on the other hand, seem to have survived the hot dry weather just fine.

It makes me question whether having flower pots during a midwestern summer makes any sense at all — unless you are going to be around on a daily basis to water them.  Since we’re on the road regularly, I’m thinking that next year we might forgo the cruelty to the poor potted plants and the guilt that comes from seeing desiccated brown leaves.

Fire And Ice

It’s been so cold for such a long spell lately that it’s got me thinking about cold and heat — and which is worse to endure for long periods.

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Extreme heat is bad for a lot of reasons.  It saps your energy, you’re a sweaty mess for most of the day, and — for me, at least — it’s impossible to get a good night’s sleep in a hot room.  And, when a heat wave hits, you read stories about heat stroke and even death for people left in rooms without air conditioning.  Extreme cold is bad for a lot of reasons, too.  It’s uncomfortable and wearing to constantly feel chilled and shivery, bundling up produces hat head and static electricity shocks, and the cold, dry air leaves your skin feeling desiccated and cracked.  And extreme cold can produce frostbite and death, as well as sad news stories about unfortunate dogs being found frozen solid on porches in Toledo.

Right now, in the midst of an arctic blast that has kept temperatures in the single digits and teens for more than a week, I’m sure I would gladly trade brutal cold for heat — and come the next August hot spell, I’m equally certain I would happily swap terrible heat for cold.  But I think Robert Frost had it right in one of his early poems:  both heat and cold have their own distinctive destructive powers.

Fire and Ice, by Robert Frost

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

A Failing Grade In Sweaty White Guy 101

Today I wore a purple cotton golf shirt on our walk around Hyde Park. That was a mistake. In fact, Richard described it as failing to learn lessons I should have learned in Sweaty White Guy 101 — namely, wear an undershirt.

That’s20140628-152031-55231399.jpg probably true, but I’m not sure an undershirt would have made a significant difference under the circumstances. Today was one of those soupy, ultra-humid days where the air feels like electrically charged steam and thunderstorms roll through every hour or so. I could wear five t-shirts and I’d still be embarrassingly wilted and sweat-stained after walking only a few blocks.

At least Kish and Richard were able to do some Rorschach free-association analysis on the sweat patterns on my shirt.  And I would yargue that I didn’t completely flunk Sweaty White Guy 101 — I at least brought some extra shirts.

Our First Cold Morning In Months

This morning — only a day or so before the official start of autumn — we had our first cold morning in many months.

The last few weeks we’ve moved gradually from hot, sweaty, shorts and t-shirt mornings to cooler, pleasant, long pants and long-sleeved shirts mornings.  This morning, with the temperature hovering around a bracing 40 degrees, I had to break out my favorite hooded sweatshirt for the first time — and I needed it, too.

The night skies were clear and the stars blazed, and it was as if the warmth had been sucked from the world.  Water vapor billowed from the surfaces of the darkened ponds and creeks into the brisk air as we walked past, and we were just on the edge of frost on the ground and visible breath.  I felt the familiar sensation of numbing cold creep into the tip of my nose, my exposed ears, and my fingers.

As we neared the end of the walk, I looked forward with anticipation to a piping hot cup of black coffee.  We get accustomed to the heat, and then we get accustomed to the cold.  A steaming cup of coffee helps.

Spoiled Food, Cold Showers, And Hotel Hunters

The brutal thunderstorm that barreled through Columbus Friday night continues to have an impact.  Although our electricity was restored last night, I learned today that many people still don’t have electricity — and have been told they won’t have power until next Saturday, July 7.  An entire week without electricity, in modern America!

One of the people so affected is UJ.  Being of hardy stock, he plans on toughing it out.  He doesn’t keep much food in his refrigerator and he drank the milk that was there when the lights went out, so he hasn’t had anything spoil.  He’ll eat out, sleep with the windows open, grit his teeth through ice-cold morning showers, and hope that Mother Nature has pity on Columbus and allows for a few unseasonably cool days or some rain this week — so long as there are no storms that make things worse.

Other people don’t have that option.  If they are susceptible to the heat, they can’t take a chance on suffering heat stroke or dehydration in homes that have been heated to uncomfortable levels.  There’s been a run on generators, and I’m betting that there aren’t many available hotel rooms around.  And if you have a pet that you hope to keep cool, you’ll have even fewer hotel options.

Richard and I went to Kroger today to buy a few items, and the store was jammed.  People in our area lost just about everything that is perishable, and ice was at a premium.  When we were at the store the loudspeaker announced that the ice shipment had arrived, and shoppers made a beeline for the loaded pallet between aisles 11 and 12.  We also noticed that, on many of the refrigerated shelves, lots of the product was gone — presumably the result of shoppers who had lost their orange juice and milk and needed to replenish their supply.  Who knows how much food has spoiled because of the extended power outage?

I’m betting that people will be telling stories about the thunderstorm of June 29, 2012 and its aftermath for a long time.

Hitting The Triple Digits

Today the outdoor temperature in Columbus hit the triple digits.  According to the outside thermometer in my car, we got as high as 101 degrees, Fahrenheit.

I was feeling kind of sorry for myself and the rest of the overcooked residents of Ohio’s capital city until I talked to some folks in St. Louis and learned that, there, it was supposed to hit 106 degrees today and 109 degrees tomorrow.  109 degrees!  It sounds like part of a recipe, the setting on a sextant, or a section of the instructions on how to locate a distant galaxy in the evening sky, rather than part of the daily weather report.

I normally don’t really mind hot weather, but when the mercury hits 100 or more the nature of the heat seems to assume an almost physical dimension.  When I stepped out of my car at a gas station this afternoon, the wall of heat hit me like a fist.  When I drove home tonight at about 8:45, with the sun hanging low on the horizon, it was still 95 degrees.  I can’t imagine trying to sleep tonight in a room that isn’t air-conditioned — I don’t care how many fans might be running.

The Mountains In Summer

When the hot summer months hit — and they’ve definitely hit much of America, which is broiling under a hot sun and a stifling heat wave — our thoughts naturally turn to summer vacation.  For most Americans, that means a trip to a beach, or a lake, or some other water-bound destination where swimming will be a big part of the vacation activities.

It didn’t use to be that way.  Long ago, summer vacations were designed to get away from the heat, rather than seek it out.  For many Americans, that meant going up into the mountains to enjoy the cool air and breathe deep the scent of pine.

Somewhere along the way, however, trips to the mountains were eclipsed by the lure of the sand and the scent of suntan lotion.  That’s too bad.  Speaking as someone who has just returned from a trip to the mountains in Whistler, British Columbia, I would recommend a mountain vacation to anyone.

Our trip to Whistler was beautiful and refreshing.  The temperature during the day was in the 60s, and at night in the high 40s and low 50s.  A morning walk was a brisk experience and chance to gulp down cool, fresh air.  You could sleep at night with the windows open, and walk around during the day without becoming drenched in the sticky, cocoa butter-infused sweat of the beach.

With the emphasis on skin cancer and the aging effects of constant tanning, perhaps the summer trip to the mountains will make a comeback.  The only downside I can see is the shock to the system when you land back home, walk outside, and gasp at your first encounter with the 90-degree wall of heat.

Staving Off The Dreaded Brown-Out

These are the times that try yard owners’ souls.

Every summer a point arrives at which your yard begins to teeter on the edge of browning out.  In Columbus, that point is here.  You know it is coming when there are days of high heat and blazing sunshine and no rain, when the grass at the nearby park or playground turns brown and crunchy, when the ground feels like concrete beneath your feet.  At that point, a crucial question is presented to the suburban lawn warrior:  do you water incessantly, hoping to somehow stave off the inevitable, or do you give up the fight and let the hot summer weather chalk up another victory over the concept of the lush green carpet that is the aspirational goal posed by every lawn care ad?

No one wants to be grossly insensitive to the needs of our environment and basic principles of water conservation, of course, but no one wants to be the first house in the neighborhood with a dead straw-colored yard baked to a brick-like hardness, either.  June is awfully early to be presented with that difficult choice.  Usually we in the Midwest make it until mid-July, or even early August, before the obligatory brown-out occurs.  By then, our fellow homeowners typically will collectively throw in the towel and let Mother Nature do what may — in much the same way that gluttonous men at Thanksgiving dinner will abandon any pretense of pride and propriety, pointedly loosen their belts, and pound down another piece of pumpkin pie.

Of course, there is an alternative:  pray for rain.  You might just see me this week, making heartfelt sacrifices and doing a spastic rain dance in hopes of currying favor with the Rain Gods.

Horseshoe Hotbox

I’m not going to Ohio State’s home opener tomorrow, and I’m kind of glad.

Normally the first games of the year are great.  You get back into the football mode, do a little tailgating, watch the Buckeyes kick the butt of some overmatched team, and get to see lots of players play.  But tomorrow’s game will not be a normal game, and I’m not talking about the off-season developments or the fact that seven Buckeyes are suspended for the contest.

No, I’m talking about the weather.  The Buckeyes’ game has a noon start time, and the forecast is for temperatures in the high 90s.  The players on the field will lose hundreds of pounds in water weight, struggling through the steamy weather in their equipment and uniforms, but at least they have trainers to keep an eye on them.  I’ve been in the stands for early games where the temperature hit the low 80s.  When my seats have been in the sun field it has been miserable — the rays beating down, lots of concrete and plastic radiating heat, and tens of thousands of people sweltering in close proximity.

I can’t imagine how hot it will be, sitting in the stands tomorrow.  If you are a Buckeye Nation stalwart who is going to the game, remember:  Liberal deodorant application.  Suntan lotion.  Hat.  And lots and lots and lots of water.

Hot As Hen

We attended the annual father-son get-together at the Quinnebog Fishing Club on Old Hen Island this weekend.

As always, we had a wonderful time playing cards, throwing horseshoes, traversing the webby rim of the island, drinking beer, chatting with the other guests, and eating like gladiators.  The generous hospitality of the Quinnebog members is legendary in our family, and this weekend was no exception.  Thanks, gentlemen!

It was hot as blazes when we were there, with the sun high in the white sky during the day and the air heavy and sultry at night.  The heat posed sleeping challenges for spoiled wusses like me who are now so used to air conditioning that they get uncomfortable in any sleep environment that isn’t kept at a constant 70 degrees, or lower.  The dormitory building on the island is an older wooden frame building that has never known the niceties of central air.  It got a little warm in there.

In such circumstances, you just have to laugh at the outlandish notion of using a blanket, position yourself to take full advantage of any stray breezes that might find their way into your room, and recognize that waking up a little hotter than normal isn’t the end of the world.  After all, the hot summer days just make iced-down beers taste that much better, and you just can’t find a better place than the rocking chair porch of the Pete Nowak Lodge on a balmy afternoon.

Equally important, humans apparently aren’t the only creatures affected by the broiling summer days.  The sea gulls and other water birds spent a lot of time bobbing in the water, the fish generally kept to themselves, and even the despised biting black flies couldn’t be troubled to chomp on a bare leg.  If a little heat is what it necessary to avoid the welt-raising plague of biting insects, I’ll take it any day.

A Great Root Beer Float On A Hot Summer Day

There is nothing quite so satisfying on a scorchingly hot summer day as a well-made root beer float.

In this case, the root beer float was supplied by the Pied Piper in Huron, Ohio.  The Pied Piper is one of those places that has been around for decades, supplying soft-serve ice cream and milkshakes and banana splits to parched patrons during the summer months.  I can attest from first-hand knowledge that they know how to make a great root beer float.

The great root beer float starts, of course, with the root beer.  It has to be smooth yet flavorful, with that deep, dark tang that you find only in good root beer.  Then, you must add fine vanilla ice cream — soft-serve is best — in just the right proportion.  Skrimp on the ice cream, and you just end up with unsatisfying, milky root beer.  Put in too much ice cream, and the root beer is overwhelmed.  The ice cream also must be added in a way to create a kind of root beer foam at the top of the cup that can be skimmed off with a spoon and enjoyed as the ice cream begins to melt.

The implements provided also are key.  A straw is essential, both for sipping the root beer concoction (but watch out for brain freeze!) and for puncturing the bobbing blob of ice cream to facilitate the ice cream/root beer melding process.  And a spoon is crucial, not only for the preliminary foam skimming but also to allow consumption of the heavenly spoon-worthy slush at the bottom of the cup, after the melding process has been fully realized, and you are left with a rich, creamy combination that is fit for a king — or a Pied Piper.

As I said, there is nothing quite so satisfying as a root beer float on a hot summer’s day.

Hot Point

Yesterday the Webners went to Cedar Point.  It was by far the hottest day of the year– until today, that is.  It was brain-fryingly, stunningly, breathtakingly, ridiculously hot.

How hot was it?

It was so hot that even the coolest, skinniest people were bathed in that red-faced, sweaty glow that the more corpulent among us know so well.

It was so hot that a teenage girl waiting for Top Thrill Dragster collapsed from dehydration, causing friendly people in line to pass her their water bottles so she could try to rehydrate.

It was so hot that every shirt on every visitor was dappled with salt stains and sweat was running freely down people’s legs.

It was so hot that, even in the America where people crowd up to make sure they maintain their place in line, people hung back to avoid the portions of the ride lines that were in direct sunlight, allowing big gaps to form — without anyone complaining or trying to cut in line.

It was so hot that the cold water that was selling for the outrageous price of more than $3 a bottle seemed like a bargain.

It was so hot that even the misting machines didn’t do much other than add a layer of warm water atop the layer of sweat covering every inch of skin.

It was so hot that, after four hours and only three rides, we just couldn’t take it anymore and decided to hit the road — and felt good about the decision.

We got to ride the Millennium Force, the Gemini, and the Magnum, and had some terrible luck when, after waiting in line for more than an hour, the Top Thrill Dragster ride broke down just as we were on the ramp to the loading zone.  We waited for 15 minutes in the broiling direct sunlight, without getting any indication about how long the repair work might take, and then decided to throw in the (sweat-soaked) towel and get the heck out of there. 

I like sunshine, but a temperature of around 100 degrees coupled with extreme mugginess is no fun.