Red Sky In Morning . . . .

My grandmother had a poetic saying for every occasion.  UJ and I spent a lot of time with her during our childhood, and heard every one of her sayings multiple times.  They’ve become part of my permanent mental landscape and simply pop into my head, unbidden, from time to time.

Like when I saw this morning’s sunrise, shown above, with its striking red sky.  It immediately made me think of one of Grandma’s weather-related favorites:

Red sky at night, sailors’ delight,

Red sky in morning, sailors take warning.

To my knowledge Grandma never lived in a coastal community.  She didn’t have any close friends or relatives who were mariners, and I don’t remember her telling us any stories about receiving instruction from a grizzled sailor about his rules of thumb on the weather.  She may have been on a boat once in a while on her travels, but being on the open water wasn’t a regular part of her life in land-locked Akron, Ohio. 

Nevertheless, as a kid I believed that Grandma knew what she was talking about.  But these days I’m not so sure.  This morning the lobster fleet chugged out of port as it always does, without batting an eye about that red sunrise.  And my weather app indicates its going to be sunny today, with a high in the mid-70s.  Could Grandma have been wrong?

Or maybe the warning to sailors was about sunburns.

Blockbuster Nostalgia

With the year 2020 being what it is — and we don’t need to belabor the point, do we? — can we expect to see an increase in nostalgia for years and things gone by?  Even things that, at the time, seemed like unexceptionable, even annoying, elements of our daily lives and routines, like, say . . . Blockbuster video stores?

exterior-hero-newsroomfeaturedThere is reportedly one — one! — remaining Blockbuster store in the United States.  Once a standard tenant in virtually every strip mall in every town in America, as overwhelming in sheer number as the immense clouds of passenger pigeons that formerly filled the skies of the Midwest as they flew by, Blockbuster video stores have followed the passenger pigeon into extinction.  The last of its kind is located in Bend, Oregon, where the local residents have apparently made a conscious effort to keep the store afloat.  I suppose there is a certain point of civic pride in having the last Blockbuster in your town.

And now the proprietor of the last Blockbuster wants to thank its supporters and give those who are interested a little up-close-and-personal taste of the ’90s video rental experience.  For a measly $4.00 — one penny more than a movie rental — you can rent the store and spend the night taking in every kitschy detail of the Blockbuster experience, from the familiar blue and gold ticket stub shaped sign on the wall, to the racks of movies and “new releases” in their sturdy plastic boxes, to the impulse purchase shelves groaning with supplies of candy, chips, and soda.

I guess I can understand the urge to immerse yourself in an earlier, pre-coronavirus experience, when no one wore masks and everyone handled the same plastic video containers without giving it a second thought, but spending the night in a Blockbuster store gorging on junk food, guzzling Mountain Dew, and watching Independence Day wouldn’t be my choice.  For too many years, my overwhelming emotion in walking into a Blockbuster was a brimming rage at having to pay late fees for some crappy Hollywood product — late fees that were totally avoidable if the person who rented the movie had just watched it and returned it promptly.  Even thinking about it now, years later, I feel a sour taste of that unique combination of anger, disgust, and embarrassment.

I guess I don’t need to spend the night in a Blockbuster to relive that sensation.  The scarring late fee experience will be with me, always.

The Great Puffin Photo Challenge

Yesterday we took a “puffin tour” — a boat ride that took us several miles out into the Atlantic Ocean. Our destination was Seal Island, where we hoped to find puffins, and seals, and any other marine creatures or birds that might care to drop by. It was a beautiful day and a very enjoyable ride. We saw puffins galore, lots of seals, cormorants, sun fish, and even a few porpoises.  One person on the boat claimed to see a whale in the distance, too.

But puffins, really, were the reason for the excursion.  Puffins are cute little birds that look somewhat like a cross between a penguin and a parrot.  But here’s the thing about puffins: they’re pretty much impossible for the amateur nature photographer to capture. They float and bob on the ocean water, looking simply like indistinct black spots on the sun-dappled waves, as the photo above reflects. The water shots therefore don’t exactly make for striking pictures.  And when the puffins decide to fly, they take off very fast, beating their wings as rapidly as hummingbirds, and stay low to the water, skimming its surface. They’re notoriously shy, too, and scatter when a boat gets too close — so no close-ups. You might take hundreds of photos and be lucky to find one, like the one below, that gives even a reasonably decent look at a puffin in flight.

Seals, too, aren’t exactly easy to photograph. Yesterday they were in the water, looking at us, rather than lounging on the rocks and inviting a photo shoot. And seal heads popping out of the water to gander at a boat basically look like more black spots on the waves. 

Fortunately, the cormorants of Seal Island were willing to perch on the rocks and give us a chance to take a snapshot. They were far away, and they may not be as cute as those adorable puffins, but at least they stand still.

The puffin tour was fun and interesting, and the whole experience gave me a new appreciation for National Geographic photographers.

The Lobster Pot

Last night we broke out our trusty lobster pot for the first time this year.  With guests in for a visit, we needed to properly welcome them to Maine with a traditional lobster dinner.

Pretty much every household in Maine has a lobster pot.  They get handed down from generation to generation, or passed along to new people who are moving into the area.  We got our pot using the latter method.  We bought it at an estate sale, which is about right:  Mainers typically won’t let go of a good lobster pot until the Grim Reaper gives them no say in the matter.

The lobster pot has one essential function:  to hold huge quantities of water, and lobsters, until the water can be brought to a boil and the lobsters properly cooked.  Our pot, which has the kind of size and industrial appearance you’d expect to see in a kitchen of an army base, serves its role admirably.  I have no idea how much water it holds, but it’s enough. 

An important part of the whole lobster preparation process is turning the stovetop burners to high and then patiently but expectantly waiting for those uncounted gallons of salty water to come to a boil so the cooking can really begin. 

You don’t watch the pot during that time period, of course.

A Sad Case Of “Apple Scab”

There’s a little crab apple tree in the side yard of our place in Stonington.  I feel sorry for it.  The tree seems to struggle and has never produced fruit or flowers during the time we’ve had the place.  It has remained small and spindly despite my best efforts to help it grow.  I’ve tried watering it liberally, and I’ve driven those tree fertilizer spikes into the area around the tree to try to give it nutrients.  Unfortunately, it remains stunted.  It may just be that the rocky soil isn’t good for a tree.

This year, a kind of white discoloration appeared on some of the leaves on the tree.  In trying to figure out what it was, I learned something kind of cool about the University of Maine.  The U of M Cooperative Extension offers the services of a plant disease diagnostic lab that will test any sample you send and let you know what the problem is.  You just clip off some leaves that show the problem, put them in a plastic bag, give them your name and address and email information, and send the sample off to Orono, Maine for analysis. 

We took advantage of the service to send in some clippings from the little tree for examination and testing.  Yesterday we received a report from one of the scientists working at the lab — about a week after we sent it off.  That’s pretty impressive, and much appreciated.

The news about our little tree was bad and good.  The bad news is that the tree now has to deal with a fungal condition called venturia inequalis, which is commonly known as “apple scab.”  It’s not exactly an attractive name, but then fungal conditions typically don’t get lyrical monikers.  According to the report, “apple scab” is common on apple trees that have not been bred for resistance to the fungus — so now we know that the little tree lacks good breeding, in addition to its other issues.  The good news is that the condition isn’t fatal, or even all that serious.  The diagnostics lab scientist does not recommend fungicide, and simply recommends raking and disposing of the leaves after they drop from the tree this fall.  And a University of Massachusetts website identified in the diagnostics report says we can hope that the tree will be better next spring.    

So we’ve learned something neat about how the University of Maine serves the surrounding community, and confirmed that our little tree’s bout with “apple scab” means it has another challenge to contend with.  And now we can only hope that the little tree, like everything else, will be better — much better — in 2021. 

It Could Always Be Worse

2020 has been an exceptionally challenging year, so far, and we’ve still got nearly five full months of it to go.  But your perspective informs your view, doesn’t it?  My grandmother, for example, frequently said:  “Nothing’s so bad that couldn’t be worse, from the day you were born ’til you ride in a hearse.”  Drawing upon her wise counsel, I’ve adopted a world view that says we shouldn’t complain too much, because things could always be worse than they are.

And even in 2020, there’s no doubt that things could be worse than they are.  Much, much worse, in fact.

e0b8a5e0b8b4e0b887e0b887-2-1-copy-696x392-1Consider the plight of Lopburi, a city of 750,000 people in central Thailand.  It’s now being overrun by thousands of famished, libidinous monkeys who rampage through the city, gorging themselves on fast food, having sex on the streets, and attacking whoever stands in their way.

Interestingly, Lopburi has always been associated with the monkeys, a species called macaques.  For years, the monkeys have hung around the Khmer temple and Khmer shrine in the city, and have been fed by the locals.  And in November, the people of Lopburi put on the “Monkey Festival” to celebrate their crab-eating primate pals.

But now the monkey population has exploded.  Gangs of angry monkeys, with no fear of humans, roam through the city, taking what they want and terrifying the locals, who have barricaded themselves in their homes.  The monkeys live on a diet of sugary fast food that makes them even more unpredictable; one official made the terrifying observation that “[t]he monkeys are never hungry, just like children who eat too much KFC.”  (Anyone who has experienced a kid on a post-fast food sugar rush knows just how frightening that comment actually is.)  The number of monkey babies seen in the city indicates that an even bigger monkey population bomb may be getting ready to explode.  Police estimate that thousands of monkeys have established a base in an abandoned cinema, where they attack any human that tries to enter.  The police apparently believe that trying to disperse or deal with the monkeys is “hopeless.”

So yes, 2020 could be a lot worse than it is.  Until we open our front doors and are confronted by hundreds of ravaging angry monkeys eating cheeseburgers and eager to take a bite out of your skull, we haven’t really hit rock bottom.

N.P.A.

We’re getting closer and closer to the 2020 election. You can feel it.  And as Election Day draws nearer, one of the local shopkeepers felt compelled to post the sign pictured above.

The political types among us don’t understand this N.P.A. — No Politics Allowed — attitude.  They could rail against President Trump, or make fun of “Sleepy Joe,” all day long — and all night long, too.  They can’t get enough of the Politics with a capital “P,” and they want to make sure that everyone knows exactly where they stand.  To them, nothing is more important.  The very future of the country is at stake!  They’re immersed in it, they’re fascinated by it, they follow every development avidly, and they just can’t help talking about it and hoping that someone will be persuaded by their passion.

But there’s a solid core of people out there who are in a different camp.  They’ve got their political views, no doubt, but they don’t feel compelled to share them.  They don’t want to get into arguments about the election.  They may not find it all that interesting to hear people berate one candidate or the other, all the time, either.  Heck, they’d rather talk about COVID-19 mask designs than politics.  And they might also recognize that it’s very unpleasant to witness people get into a bitter political dispute — particularly if the people who are jawing at each other are patrons who are supposed to be enjoying a pleasant shopping experience.

So come in!  Look around!  Shop to your heart’s content!  But please . . . keep those impassioned political opinions to yourself, will you?  Please?

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.

Making You Stop And Think

I’m not a fan of bumper stickers. These days, they tend to be trite, or obscene, or at least crass — and usually a combination of those qualities. Bumper stickers, like Twitter, really aren’t suited for thoughtful discourse about anything more important than memorializing your visit to Wall Drug.

But every once in a while you see a bumper sticker that makes you stop and think — like the nifty message conveyed by this bumper sticker I saw on my walk this morning.

Going Business Side Down

We are in the midst of a great, prolonged debate in this country.  There are strong feelings and strong arguments on both sides.  And, as with many issues, once people have staked out a position it is incredibly hard to convince them to change it.  

I’m speaking, of course, of the Great Dishwasher Silverware Loading Debate.

How do you load your silverware into the dishwasher?  Do you put everything — knives, forks, and spoons — into the dishwasher so that the business end of the utensil is down in the basket, and the handle is up?  Or do you do the reverse, and go handles down for everything?  Or do you split the baby — an uncomfortable phrase when you are talking about knives — and put the pointy end of the knives in the basket, but have the bowls of spoons and the tines of fork up and flapping in the breeze?

Believe it or not, the experts and dishwasher manufacturers disagree about the best way to approach this common household chore.  Some say forks and spoons should be placed business end up and out of the basket to maximize water pressure and cleaning power, and to prevent spoons from “nesting” together and stray food particles from being trapped between fork tines and the basket.  Others says the fork tines should go into the basket for safety, to avoid scraped and punctured hands and fingers.  And there does seem to be consensus among experts and manufacturers that knives should go in blade down to avoid shredding the hands that reach down to retrieve them.  

I’m somebody who places all utensils, even spoons, into the basket business side down.  I’ve always done it that way, for a reason that the experts don’t mention — at the point of removal, when the human hand interacts with the sparkling clean flatware, isn’t it better to have the grubby hands grabbing the handles, which after all are designed for the human hand to hold, rather than the working ends?  Why have hands grappling with the metal parts of the utensils that interact directly with the food?  And I’ve got a simple answer for the concerns about “nesting” and food trapping — mix up the utensils when you put them in the basket, and if a utensil comes out less than pristine, put it back into the basket for the next dishwasher run. 

Sometimes “experts” really don’t know what they are talking about. 

Brainstarters And Timewasters

I’d guess that most of us have at least one app on our phone that we tap when we want to get our brains working in the morning, or to give us something to do to fill those random ten-minute snippets of the day that happen while, for example, we are waiting for our spouses to get ready to go out.

230896There are some crucial requirements for these brainstarters and  timewasters.  First, they need to be sufficiently interesting to actually get your brain working and allow you to fill the time you’re looking to occupy.  If the app is so boring that you lose interest and would rather sit there drumming your finders on the arm of your chair, it has failed in its essential function.  Second, at the same time the app can’t be so riveting that you can’t promptly stop when your spouse comes downstairs and is ready to go and would be offended if you gave her the one-minute sign and kept tapping your phone.  It therefore needs to be a game, or puzzle, or challenge that you can readily put down and pick up again at your leisure,  And third, if the app is going to have staying power on your phone, it’s got to be set up so that you’re always facing a new challenge.

Me, I’m a Spider Solitaire guy.  I picked up the free version from the app store, because I just wasn’t willing to pay for a timewaster, so before I can play a game I have to sit through the snippet of an ad for a new game, a new car, or something else — but reacting to that helps to get the brain started, too.  I come from a card-playing family, so a card game appealed to me.  There are thousands of different variations of how the cards can be dealt, so there’s no real worry about repetition.  It’s easy to put down mid-game and pick up later, and trying to figure out different approaches to how to win a game when the cards are really working against you keeps my interest.  And some appropriately triumphal music plays when you win a game, so you feel a certain sense of accomplishment with each little victory.

Brainstarters and timewasters aren’t the most important things in the world, of course, but they serve a crucial role in deflecting utter boredom and minutes that seem to stretch on for hours.  We’ll appreciate them even more if we ever get to the point of waiting at the gate for an overdue plane flight again.

Real Numbers

When we lived in our first suburban house in Columbus, on a street with about 30 other houses, our address was a four-digit number.  When we moved to another street in the same suburb that also had about 30 houses, our house number was an even higher number up in the thousands.

But the most ridiculous example of suburban address creation came when we moved to New Albany, where we lived on a stubby street that was a small cul-de-sac with only eight houses — and our house had the highest four-digit number of all.

Why do so many suburban houses have such absurdly high house numbers that bear no relation whatsoever to the length of the street, the number of houses, or any other discernible objective fact?  Did some property developer do a study at some point that found that houses with totally arbitrary four-digit numbers are somehow much more attractive to potential buyers and fetch higher prices?  Or are house numbers assigned by some crazed urban planner who has a weird fetish for meaningless four-digit numbers?

I’m happy to say that Stonington doesn’t go in for such nonsense.  The house numbers on streets start at 1, and on most streets don’t get higher than the low double digits.  And the house numbers seem to relate to an actual count of the number of property parcels that have been platted out on the street.  In short, the house numbers have some basis in objective fact, and the numbers do what numbers were originally created to do — keep count.

It’s refreshing, and actually kind of cool, to see real house numbers. 

The Greatest Public Auction Ever

Usually, U.S. Marshals Service auctions are a pretty tepid affair.  The auctions are a way to dispose of property that has been forfeited and confiscated as the illegal proceeds of drug operations or other criminal enterprises.  The typical items being sold at such actions would include cars, houses, other real property, and assorted household goods. The same people undoubtedly show up for them, yawn a lot, and use the auctions to stock up on their inventory of, say, used cars.

I’m guessing that the U.S. Marshals Service public auction that will be held on August 1 at 9 a.m. at Skipco Auto Auction in Canal Fulton, Ohio — that’s a tiny town located near Canton — will be a little bit different.

1431629947-marty-deloreanThis particular auction will include three replica cars that have a storied role in American popular culture:  the DeLorean time machine from Back to the Future, the “Ecto 1” 1959 Cadillac station wagon from Ghostbusters, and the Chevy Caprice Classic customized as the Batmobile from Batman Returns.  The three cars are part of the property forfeited by an individual who pleaded guilty to 60 counts of criminal activity related to a health fraud scam that, according to the government, illegally charged Medicaid millions of dollars for drug and alcohol treatment that was either never provided or not medically necessary.

Only 120 people will be permitted at the live auction site, due to social distancing concerns, but people can register and bid remotely — either by submitting their maximum bid in advance, or by participating in the auction on-line or by phone.

The auction raises an interesting question:  which replica car will sell for the most money?  I’m pretty sure it won’t be the Batmobile, because there have been so many different versions of the Batmobile in the various Batman movies (and the classic ’60s TV show) over the years.  As between the DeLorean and Ecto 1, it’s a close call– but I’m guessing the ersatz Back To The Future DeLorean will fetch the higher price.  Who knows?  Maybe the buyer will be hoping that Dr. Brown’s flux capacitor actually works and they can use the car to get the heck away from 2020, once and for all.

Local Sodas, Local Pops

Fortunately, there’s still a lot of regional flavor in the United States.  Despite the spread of standardized fast-food restaurants, and despite consolidation of businesses, when you travel around the country you can nevertheless find unique local food items that you’ve never heard of in your home territory.

What Midwesterners call “pop,” and people in the Northeast call “soda,” is a good example of that pleasant reality.  Coke and Pepsi might dominate the drink aisle, but most stores in most parts of the country reserve some shelf space for regional beverages.  If you go down to North Carolina, for example, you’ll find a cherry-flavored concoction called “Cheerwine.”  In Texas, the famed local option is “Big Red.”  In the Midwest, it’s Vernor’s.

Maine is well known for “Moxie” — which has actually been named the official drink of Maine.  Moxie was initially invented as a tonic and is made with roots and herbs that are supposed to help with your digestion.  Even its fans admit Moxie is an “acquired taste,” and I haven’t been brave enough to try it yet.  But Kish and I have become addicted to another regional offering:  diet Polar Orange Dry sparkling beverage.  It’s a tasty, brisk drink that has a lighter touch on the orange flavor than the other orange sodas I’ve tried, which pretty much punch you in the face with overpowering orangeness.  (I’ve always thought they gave Orange Crush that name for a very good reason.)  The Polar orange option has a much subtler, less cloying, more refreshing approach.  We’ve been shamelessly guzzling it during our stay this year.

But that raises a problem:  diet Polar Orange Dry isn’t sold in Columbus.  We’re either going to have to wean ourselves off this stuff, or stock the car with cases of it for the drive home. 

I have a pretty good idea of which option we’ll be going with. 

 

Resolution’s End (Cont.)

Of course, exercise equipment isn’t the only item that you might buy when your blood runs high and you are charged with enthusiasm — only to find that, a few months later, you desperately regret ever making that purchase.  Do-it-yourself projects generally, and yard projects specifically, also can suffer when someone loses their edge.

If you studied the arc of yard projects, the study would no doubt conclude that you’ve got to strike quickly — right after you go to the garden store to buy those heavy bags of mulch, manure, and garden soil.  The study would show that, for every day that passes before you open the bags and actually start working on your project, there is a cascading likelihood that the project will never get underway at all

Delay quickly becomes fatal.  After one or two days, you’re down to the 50-50 range on the odds of actually getting started, and after two weeks it’s more likely that you’ll buy the winning Powerball lottery ticket than that you’ll haul yourself outside and begin digging and spreading.  By then, the bags have just become part of the landscape.  You’ve clearly accepted, privately, that you’re never going to get started, but you can’t bring yourself to publicly acknowledge your failure by removing the bags.

So, the bags remain.  Eventually, they burst.  And it’s really bad when weeds start growing out of those sad, tattered bags, taunting the non-do-it-yourselfer and adding the mulch and weed smell to the ever-present reek of failure.