Thursday, December 31, 2009

31 December 2009 Fog on the mountain, fire in the stove

Slept in until just after 0700 this morning. I intended to get up earlier to call the VA hospital for some medication renewals. The lure of a warm bed and the ever-pleasurable presence of Gloria’s body against mine won out over good intention. Fortunately, the hold time was minimal this morning and that chore was completed before 0800.

The morning trek to recover the newspaper was accomplished in moderate fog. The daylight was softly subdued and the water droplets were cold on my face as I maneuvered the dog on her lead and the trash can up the driveway and across the road. Once we’d dropped off the trash can for pickup by truck we headed for the mailbox and the newspaper. Loki immediately took an interest in something that was or had been in the ditch and wanted to crawl into the culvert that runs next to the road, the old path for Cassi Creek. It took five minutes to dissuade her from her desire to follow it and to disengage her from the various blackberry vines that live on that part of the property.

Getting back into the house, I poke up the stove so that the logs left over from last night feel encouraged to burst into flame and warm the office into shirt-sleeve habitability. A good batch of wood will last from midnight to just about 0700 if bunkered down well. Some mornings it takes only a bit of coaxing, opening the damper and increasing the air flow into the combustion chamber. Other mornings, starting with difficult wood, I wind up rebuilding the fire. A couple of fat wood sticks will make a lot of difference in convincing a fire into life.

Today’s hike with Mike was largely uneventful. We did notice a dearth of dogs along the way. Normally, two –five dogs that live along the route will run out to exchange greetings with Loki. Today’s trip was dog-free.

However, other animals have been here in abundance. Gloria’s bird feeders have seen a steady parade of birds and squirrels eager to partake on a gray, rainy day. The flock has been in attendance at least twice as of 1530.

We’re fairly passive about New Year’s Eve. Neither of us have the urge to run back roads in bad weather. There’s a dance in Asheville tonight that we were invited to attend. But the weather today pretty much ensures some icy roads at higher altitude. Adding that to Gloria’s back and leg pain, dancing is not a good option for us right now. I know she misses being able to dance. She was quite excited to find a contra-dance community here. Hopefully the next repair will provide some relief and allow her to return to dancing. If not, we can always go and listen to the music, take tickets, etc.

We will do a bit more up-scale dinner tonight. I’m marinating two rib eye steaks to grill on the stove top along with two Maine lobster tails to add to the festive feel. I’ll fix a rudimentary Caesar salad and perhaps some greens. That should feed us nicely. We’ve a small bottle of Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin, my absolute favorite champagne to toast the New Year and each other.

We may download a new movie, we may play Scrabble, we may do both. We’ll probably make a few phone calls and Gloria will try to link up with her brother and his family, including her niece and nephew, in Peru.

One thing is certain. Tomorrow’s schedule does not revolve around any form of football or basketball. I would be quite happy if Comcast offered me a “sports”-free cable package. The allele expression that selects for any interest in team athletic events does not exist in my genetic makeup. I’m quite competitive. I just have no interest in team sports at any level from grade school into professional franchises. I object to our schools using tax monies in order to recruit and train a continual flow of gladiators for the ultra-wealthy franchise owners. To that end, I have no desire to watch such competitions, no falsely stimulated loyalty to any school or franchise team. So it is time to launch another round or letters to Comcast demanding they enable ala-carte packaging for their cable television programming. I recall when the broadcast networks fought cable television vigorously, claiming that the cable format would eliminate commercials and put the networks out of business. Now, we pay for cable instead of snatch it from the ether and the number of commercials per program has expanded exponentially. In point of fact, football games on television are routinely halted so that commercials may air. If I had shelled out for travel, tickets, parking, and food, only to have the players suspend play in order that some advertiser can hawk beer or other products, I’d consider organizing a fan’s strike over the practice.

As for me, I don’t care how often such games are interrupted. I’m not sitting in the stands. My objection to the practice resides in the delay in programming that such commercials, linked with endless other delays in the game, cause for those of us who might wish to watch something scheduled to air later that day. There’s another round of letters to network executives in that practice, too.

It’s been interesting today, reading the year and decade end columns in the newspapers. There is a drive to find a name for the decade beginning in 2000. The best I’ve seen offered is “The wasted decade,” by E.J. Dionne Jr. writing in the Washington Post. Most of the decade was subject to the Bush/Cheney desire to visit warfare upon other nations. They took a justifiable retaliation against the Taliban in Afghanistan, tied it to the legitimate mission to capture or kill bin Laden, and wrecked it by letting the Afghan warlords prevent our troops from actually taking bin Laden at Tora Bora. Then they warped those missions into an absolutely unjustified invasion of Iraq based upon cooked intelligence. The result was a war fought for Halliburton’s profit, for Cheney’s belief that sending others to die for profit excuses his refusal to serve in uniform when it was his turn.

Fog was ever evident during the decade. The Bush propagandists spread fogs of fear at every step. They used anthrax, Islamic fundamentalism, and non-existent weaponry to scare the American people into supporting their plans, or at least not opposing them. The spread a fog of confusion and deception abroad and at home as they deregulated the financial industry and nearly wrecked the world’s economic system while their lobbyists and propagandists blamed it on a political party that was not in power for six of the eight Bush years. Now that the Bush years are over, the GOP is spreading another fog made up of lies about health care, enlisting our American Taliban, the religious right, the tea party mob, and all the other base voters who seem to be sufficiently fogged of their own doing to buy into the GOP fog.

But there remains hope that the coming year will see more of the fog lift.

Happy 2010!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

30 December 2009 “Stihl ain’t going nowhere

Even at 1600 with an air temperature of 46°F there is still ice on the logs in the creek. Winter promises to be here in force over the New Year. The forecast is grim for many people.

Thursday: Chance of Rain High: 49°F Low: 29°F

Friday: Chance of Snow High: 34°F Low: 18°F

Saturday: Mostly Cloudy High: 31°F Low: 16°F

Sunday: Partly Cloudy High: 27°F Low: 13°F

Monday: Partly Cloudy High: 29°F Low: 13°F

These temperatures are fully consistent with winter in the mountains of N.E. Tennessee.

The necessity of having a working chain saw led me to Greeneville today. After the morning’s hike with Mike, I completed a few more chores and left Gloria and Loki to protect the house and the free world from cats, vandal dogs, and turkeys. Loki takes her tasking seriously even if Gloria has rarely met an animal she didn’t like.

At By-Pass Lawn and Garden I put my trust in the employees, told them what I needed to do and asked for recommendations. They universally suggested the top model in the Stihl occasional user product line. My research supported this model and I was going to buy it when I realized that the models they had were not upgraded to an easy start configuration and no-tool needed chain adjustment. They had no models in that configuration on the shelf so I stepped down one level. One of the shop salesmen indicated that his personal saw had the easy start modification and he felt it well worth the cost. Since I spent hours pulling starter cords Monday and Tuesday with less wood cut than I needed cut, I believe my back, neck, and shoulder will benefit. They also unanimously recommended I go out of my way to find non-ethanol –containing gasoline in order to obtain better service from the chainsaw engine. There is one station in the region that has gas blended without ethanol. So I bought a 2 gallon gas can, winterizer additive to use on stored gasoline already on site, and pre-payed for two gallons of gas, amusing the counter clerk quite a bit.

As luck would have it, the chainsaw purchase left me only a few meters from our favorite local barbeque restaurant. Dinner sits on the kitchen counter waiting to be warmed up a bit.

The final stop on the trip home was a brief stop to record a phone number from the sign on the back of a dump truck filled with firewood. We took delivery about 1430 and I spent about two hours doing outside chores, moving and covering wood, weighting a tarp down over it, carrying 40 pounds of salt pellets to the well filter housing and adding them to the softener, changing light bulbs in the filter shack. By 1630 I was glad to leave the out of doors to the turkeys.

At 1730, the sun has set, the temperature has begun its slide toward freezing, and it is a nice, quiet evening.

The last time I played and sang that particular Dylan song I was accompanied by Gloria and our very good friend Anna Fedrick. That would have been somewhere around 2002 at Temple Beth El, Bradenton Florida. Anna’s in D.C. Metro now. We keep inviting her down and we figure that she’ll knock on the door one day.

I have beef and shellfish thawing now for tomorrow night’s dinner. We have always tended to stay in on New Year’s Eve. There is little pleasure in dodging drunk drivers, particularly in bad weather. I’ve everything and everyone I need with me at home or within reach of a phone call.

Here’s to a quiet evening, a peaceful night, and the promise that tomorrow brings.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

29 December 2009 Change the batteries in the cold

Yesterday the temperature never climbed above freezing. Therefore, of course it was time to change batteries on my weather station. This process requires removing and replacing screws that are small enough to live in mechanical watches for three separate sensor systems, dismounting and remounting a mast, carefully aligning the entire mast with true north, and coaxing the entire system to transmit successfully to a receiver 50 feet away in the house.

Each sensor has different numbers of screws securing the battery compartment. Each sensor takes a different sized driver. Two sensors use AA Lithium batteries, one uses AAA lithium batteries. Each sensor also has a miniscule reset port that varies in size and shape and cannot be reached without dissembling each particular component from the sensor mast. Each reset switch must be tripped after battery replacement.

Just to make the task somewhat more difficult, I spent two hours coaxing a balky chain saw through pieces of firewood. That ensured that my fine motor control in both hands, rather than just the left, was blown for the day. There was also a stiff breeze blowing yesterday to add wind chills in the single digit range into the mix.

Rather than drop pieces onto the deck or the pool deck, I unshipped the entire mast and brought it into the house for better light, a restricted search area for any dropped points, and for a warmer work area.

After replacing, cleaning, rebuilding, and re-connecting I had the mast re-assembled and ready to put back into service. All components seemed to be working well and wind, humidity, temp and rain sensors were purportedly connected. Diagnostics built into the data-managing program I use to track and catalogue local weather indicated a green board. I noticed that there was not a lot of external temperature variation but put that down to the local weather.

This morning I noticed a red light on starting up the weather station software, a warning that some problem existed in the temp/hygrometer unit that dwells outside and reports to the warm and dry base unit, which dutifully downloads to my notebook. I reset the program twice with no resolution. It seemed that the data was all right, the com link was good, but the new batteries I had put in yesterday afternoon were reported as faulty.

After a rapid hike with Mike, discussing chainsaws as we walked, it was back to the weather mast. I partially dismantled the mast, removing the shield that shades the thermometer/hygrometer, slipped out the sensor, changed batteries – new lot number bought on a different date, and put it all back, more or less, together. Still that single accusing red light, flagging bad batteries.

The stove demands feeding if the power bill is to be kept at a lower total amount. So the chainsaw problem rotated to the front. I was hoping that letting it overnight in the house might make it more tractable. Yes, it has come to that point as all the troubleshooting guide has to offer for the constellation of problems I’m seeing is, “call dealer for service appointment.” There is no local dealer. This particular model was made to sell at Lowes to people who don’t want to spend what they should on a chainsaw. It is hard, next to impossible, to find chains for this model, no longer made or supported by the manufacturer.

With false hope in my heart, I put on the steps to sit in the sunlight. It started and then began to repeat yesterday’s performance. By carefully arranging the work area and flow I was able, about half the time, to cut a piece of wood, set the saw down, put another piece of wood in the device that secures it for the saw, and grab the saw before it sputtered to a halt. I cut and stacked about twice as much wood as yesterday.

Back into the warmth, the luxury of a shower, and back to the red light that won’t go away. The software vendor says, “Hardware problem.” The hardware vendor says, “Software problem, but take all the batteries out, reset everything, and power up.” I do, it goes away. So does the offset for external temperature calculated to be sure that below freezing temps are accurate. So vanishes 60 inches of rain recorded over the year. Fortunately, my obsessive-compulsive side has saved all this data on spreadsheets. One hopes this problem is resolved.

The chainsaw problem will continue. Sometime soon, it will have to be resolved as we intend to continue using the woodstove. Whether we manage to cut and stack all our own firewood or import it, there will still be need for the chainsaw. Property maintenance will doubtless require a working tool as well.

There’s little else to add today. .All things considered, a day begun well and likely to end well.

Monday, December 28, 2009

28 December 2009 No place else I’d rather be than here today

The alarm sounded off far too early. But that is what alarm clocks always do, isn’t it; drag us from our beds before we are ready? The dog and I braved the driveway for the newspaper and I could almost feel the temperature dropping as we walked back to the house.

While I was coaxing the stove into surrendering coals from last night for today’s warmth, a shadow outside caught my eye. Looking up and toward the creek, the turkeys were flying in. They came from the northwest and southwest as if they had been roosting in our hemlocks or pines overnight. That supposition was borne out by the steep descent they made. Their landings reminded me of watching Navy aircraft fly a steep glide path onto carrier decks in a controlled crash that everyone walks away from. One of the birds misjudged the landing and nearly wound up in the creek. A last minute diversion to creek-side brush kept her feathers dry.

The flock has been here, off and on, about half the day. They were here by 0800, left, returned, left, returned. One minute the yard is full of them, the next, they’ve vanished as if by magic. We’re trying to condition them not to flee when they see us.

The morning hike with Mike was a cold and breezy one. The temperature was about 24°F most of the morning. It may be time for the rabbit fur hat tomorrow. We were both considering ski masks by the time we were half way down valley.

The middle part of the day was spent fussing with a chainsaw that starts fitfully, stalls incessantly, and does not idle well at all. I managed to get some wood cut today but I’d have probably doubled the amount with a working chainsaw. I’ll talk to Mike about it tomorrow. It is probably some simple maintenance item that I have overlooked. That would be nice and the least likely to be costly to correct.

As the sun goes down, its warm and dry inside, windy and getting colder outside. We just found some good cold weather gloves for Gloria and they should make a difference for her when she goes outside.

Tomorrow, more conflict with simple tools. Tonight, contentment.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

27 December 2009 Naked Aviation

Yesterday the news was all about a Nigerian male who apparently tried to bring down a commercial airliner by means of self-immolation or self-detonation. The presumed terrorist may have used some powder components to attempt to bring down the plane over an urban area. He was reportedly attempting to cause a crash into an urban area in order to increase both the horror of the event and the number of casualties.

Now a wave of new security regulations will be unleashed in an attempt to counter this latest attack.

Among the proposed regulations is further limiting the number of carry-on items on flights into the U.S. This is not a bad idea at all and should be extended into the domestic travel market. I’ve spent far too many flights with other people trying to stuff the contents of their apartment into an overhead cargo space. I’ve spent far too many with people climbing back and forth over me to reach/take something from/put something back into an overhead cargo space.

Another proposed regulation will restrict passengers to their seats during the last hour of flight and will require they be holding nothing during that hour. No notebooks, no real books, no cell phones, smart-phones, I-any things, drinks, food, everything must be secured. The probability that someone will demand to use a toilet is 100%. The probability that someone’s kid will fill a diaper will increase with the kid’s proximity to you.

Well, it might not be all bad. The idea that aircraft are office extensions is not one I value. Not being a business traveler, I don’t have any sympathy for the people who insist on invading my, already too small and noisy, space with their business needs. If it were left to me, many times I’d put the business travelers in the baggage hold and let them text and e-mail in the noisy cold belly of the plane so that the rest of us can ride more peacefully and avoid the outbreak of instant shouting into cell phones the minute the plane touches down.

While we’re at it, there’s probably room for kids and parents down there too. They can ride next to the business travelers and compete with them to see who takes up the most space and makes the most noise.

It’s not likely that we will be required to undress for inspection before boarding planes, at least not in the near future. However, if terrorists carry out the madness of concealing weapons to its likely extreme, implanted, inserted, or ingested toxins, explosives, biological weapons, even, radioactive contaminants to contaminate aircraft and passengers; then the full-body exam is not improbable.

We may be flying nude before it is over. What a change from how we viewed flying in my youth. People used to dress up in order to fly. I’m not suggesting that we require coats and ties or heels and white gloves in order to board planes. Those days are far in our past.

However, the all-nude flights may become a thing of the future of necessity rather than the few that have taken place for recreational nudists. Could be interesting!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

26 December 2009 back up reverse or regret

About 1100 today, I started to back up my photos to an external hard drive. My intention was to do the same with my document files when the photos had been secured.

I then opened a maintenance program, “CCleaner,” and initiated a cleanup of old cookies, stored web sites, temporary files, etc. Since a new version “CCleaner” was available, I down loaded it and installed it then proceeded with my clean up. In the process, I overlooked the intended document backup.

Somewhere in the process, I hit an incorrect key, checked or unchecked the wrong box, missed a warning, or just plain screwed up. Somewhere in the host of old files and other electronic detritus being purged from my notebook was my 2009 blog directory and all the files saved into it since September of this year.

One of the good things about “CCleaner” is that it over-writes instead of just erasing data. Harder to recover such files. Harder, indeed! They effectively ceased to exist.

I down loaded a data recovery program from the folks who do “CCleaner.” It makes sense that if anyone can recover what their work vanished, it would be them. So after an hour of scanning my notebook’s hard drive, “Recuva”( I don’t name them, just use them ) told me that there were a few recoverable files on my hard drive, 450 or so, but that nothing I was hoping to find could be found.

Still, not all was lost. The blog entries were archived and could be down loaded, copied to a Word document , and recovered in that manner. Such a process would be tedious but better than lost files. Still, one last search among the backup files yielded a recent back up of the particular subset of documents I wanted to recover. There, waiting patiently on the external hard drive, were all the files from September through 7 December. Therefore, I quickly copied them back to the notebook, recovered the missing December files from the on-line archives, and then backed up the document files from the notebook to the external hard drive and to an SD card. Redundancy, redundancy, redundancy pays off sometimes. Obsessive-Compulsive behavior is not always a bad thing. Back when my most important personal files were secured on 3.5-inch floppy drives, I had three sets that I used for backups. Each day one of the sets had everything copied to it, the next day, a different set. redundancy.

Now I have to download the help files for “CCleaner” in order to figure out what error I committed resulting in loss of files. I am not about to blame it on software. I would like to but that would be like blaming sunburn on the sun.

I recall one 30th of December in Palmetto. We had bought a new Pentium desktop, complete with tape back up from an assembler company, one hoping to become a big brand. We booted the computer, it promptly crashed. Several phone calls to a customer service rep who must have had a hot date for a wild party resulted in little satisfaction beyond yelling at someone who was equally ready to yell at me but who couldn’t. The end result was that I spent the night doing complete software re-install, several times, essentially doing what the company should have done before shipping our computer out to us. There was no rest as the sun came up. We had to be in Tampa to rescue my mother from the airlines. Suffice it to say I’ll stick to brand names that have been around for some time and who show the probability of remaining in business. If nothing else, it helps prevent dozing off before midnight on New Year’s Eve.

So, be good to your selves. Backup, Backup, Backup!

Friday, December 25, 2009

25 December 2009 For the 11th day of Christmas – 11 Gobblers gobbling

Actually, no gobblers.

We had a sudden influx of guests yesterday afternoon. They devoured everything in sight, left a bit of a mess in the back yard, and amused us for over an hour.

After they left, Gloria broadcast more food over a broader area.


Those of you familiar with wild turkeys know how beautiful they are. For those of you who aren't familiar,

This morning, about 0730, before full sunrise and during rainfall of 0.11 inch/hour, I looked out back to check the creek and watched them come marching into the yard.

The morning was windy, gloomy, chilly, and damp. As they came walking slowly into the yard, heads down, closely ordered in a single file, I was reminded of cowled monks shuffling along in any of a hundred films of medieval Europe. With the rain dripping off their feathers the image of penitents in a pilgrimage was strong and lasting. They foraged under what overhead cover remained after two weekends of high winds and as the sun rose higher over the ridge behind us they moved out onto the more open ground where Gloria had scattered the larger portion of grain. About 1000 the sun began to break through the cloud cover and they began preening.

The flock behavior is interesting to watch. There is a definite hierarchy in this flock of females. There is a large hen with cinnamon tips on her tail feathers which seems to be the dominant hen. The others appear smaller in weight and size, and fit into the pecking order in some manner they can determine but that we can’t. If one hen gets pecked or shoved, it will peck, shove, or chase another. They peck hard enough to draw blood on occasion and could easily damage human skin. Preening is a solitary behavior but they all seem to preen simultaneously. They feed as a mob with one or two randomly wandering off as if to find another feeding ground. Either the flock will follow or the soloists will return.

At one point in the late morning the flock wandered up a trail along side Cassi Creek. they stayed in the brush and trees for a while and then decided to come back down into our yard. In another strongly suggestive behavior, they slid out of the brush onto the trail one at a time. Each succeeding flock member stepped out onto the trail only after the bird ahead was about ten meters down the trail. I couldn’t help thinking of a squad or platoon of soldiers breaking cover to re-position or to begin a section of a patrol. Given their size, there was also the image of aircraft taxiing into take off positions at an airport.

Sometime between 1200 and 1230 the flock went up valley. At 1400 they came back to feed again. I decided to see if I could slip out the front door, around the deck to the back deck in hopes of getting some clear shots. I wore plain dark clothing and stood close to vertical components of the house, hoping to avoid spooking the flock. As I moved onto the back deck, four went back up valley. However, they stopped on the trail and waited to see what I would do. As I stood still, so did they. The rest continued to feed and to chase each other about. Finally they wandered off, up valley.

At 1600 they came back again. It’s getting cooler, the sun has set behind the west valley wall, and they’re tanking up with fuel for the long winter’s night. I imagine that they’ll return as long as we feed them.

There may be a menu item in this flock for us next year. I've never been able to consider hunting so close to home before. The idea of setting up a blind on the back deck and then sleeping in a dry, warm, comfortable bed until just before sunrise is enticing. I find myself waking up at first light quite often anyway during that season. Very little hardship involved in this conjectural meal. I haven’t dressed out a turkey before and it has been a long time since I dressed out any fowl for the kitchen. Time to review what I once knew.

The Christmas shopping madness is nearly over. In another day it will be “auld lang syne” on the television coincidental to endless lists of best/worst of the year and decade. In a week, the muzak in stores will be back to normal cloying instead of Christmas cloying.

The Senate has voted to pass a bill which makes only the insurance companies and pharm houses happy. The GOP masks their pleasure in its passing as they know that their favorite lobbyists will be dropping off more campaign funds and other gifts that the public is not supposed to know about. The Senators have gone home for their Christmas break, a decidedly undeserved vacation that few of them have earned. Congressmen, Congresswomen, and Senators want us to believe that their jobs are exhausting but in almost every case that is far from true. They may miss some sleep or the random meal while giving a speech to garner re-election funds or backing. However, the number of meals they miss and number of nights they do not get to bed while actually working in their respective chambers is non-existent.

The next month will be an ugly time in our nation’s legislative history. The GOP will continue to do everything it can to prevent any positive action on anything Obama tries to have enacted into law. Obama has made the mistake of not acting from a position of power while he still had major public support. Now the good that he intended to leave as his mark on the nation will be dearly purchased and heavily limited by a coalition of racists, bigots, religious extremists, and tea party idiots who imagine that the nation can function without a tax base, legal system, military, health care network, and other infrastructure items. If it were possible, I would find some way for all of them, especially the 2nd amendment freaks, to spend some time in a failing state. They might find life to be different than they imagine after discovering that their arsenals are valueless when someone from a failing government actually does take them away from them; or when the opposition bandits need to re-arm. There would be no due process, no partial payment, no receipts; just broken bodies and broken locks. Very few of the people who belong to the various militia and toy army groups would be able to recognize when they would have to shoot first in order to survive. Therefore, they would not.

Perhaps the two major political parties will come to realize that they must work together for the good of the nation, not for the separate parties. We need that to happen and the sooner the better. Until we vote out the religious conservatives and remove their verbal and financial influence, it will be an uphill fight. Until our Congressional turkeys begin to talk turkey together, we are all looking for food in the rain.

So back to the beautiful turkeys that have graced our backyard all day. You can see my photos on Flikr at

Thursday, December 24, 2009

24 December 2009 Planting turkeys paid off

We are awaiting the onset of high winds and rain this afternoon. Currently the highest gust clocked at 13 MPH but I suspect that will be topped before night fall. The creek, which had fallen somewhat this morning, is rising again as the snow at higher altitudes melts and flows into the watershed. It should remain above freezing tonight, welcome in times of high wind and precipitation.

We anticipate another long scrabble game tonight. We’ll be dining on Venison/beef chili served over angel-hair pasta. The chili has been touched up in flavor by the addition of a bottle of Harpoon IPA and two squares of Lindt Chocolate with chili.

As postulated, at 1521, a 23.05 MPH gust just blew through. The wind is much easier to tolerate when it is still daylight. Loki is neither a gun dog nor a wind dog. Someone has been firing a large caliber rifle this afternoon and she is not happy about that. The wind will have her even more spooked.

The single turkey that grazed here last spring has been returning once or twice a day. We discovered that it seems to roost on the east side of the creek, probably on our back property. Its return means that we must not let Loki chase it or frighten it. It also means we have to check which door we use to go outside.

Gloria called me into the office this afternoon. There were turkeys all over the back yard where she’s been putting out food for the single turkey. We both stood at various windows, trying to get decent photographs through screened windows. The flock was fun to watch. There were at least two pecking orders, one based upon size and the other on something else. They chased each other back and forth. One group began to leave but changed its collective mind. They milled around for about an hour, scratching up the ground and feeding steadily. Both of us counted birds, not easy to do with their constant chasing and shoving. We were visited by 11 turkeys today.

Then they decided that it was really time to leave. One-by-one they went down to the bank of the creek and flew an explosive short hop to the other side. They are huge birds and able to fly quite well. Unlike their domesticated cousins, becoming airborne is critical to their survival. Even knowing how well they fly, it is still fun to watch them. I managed, only by luck, to slide a camera out the door and trigger a burst mode just as one flew through a corner of the camera CCD receptor’s image acquisition field. That blur in the upper left corner is the wing motion of an approximately 25 pound turkey.

This image was taken using a Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ7 in burst mode. There was an unknown degree of physical telephoto applied and framing was entirely “point, push, and hope.” To provide some degree of perspective, the vertical pole on the right is about 30 feet right diagonal, the stream bank where the two grounded birds are watching is about 50 feet front, and the creek is about ten feet across at the point where the right-most turkey is standing. As I write this, the creek has risen enough to cover the downstream (leftward) portion of the downed tree in front of the turkeys.

Gloria immediately took twice as much turkey scratch food as she usually broadcasts and scattered it so that the flock will find more food when they return.

To all a good night!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

23 December 2009 Feed the stove carefully and it will still rebel

The first load of firewood we purchased is about 70% consumed. The remaining 30 % is too long, too thick, to fit into the stove safely, effectively, or at all. The snow fall that did not initially dampen it has now changed to steady melt and run-off, dripping accurately into every potential leak in the tarps covering the wood.

Tonight, the wood is just too large and too damp to catch effectively. It is slowly burning, giving off more smoke than heat, never quite sustaining a good burn. I suspect that I will spend much of the evening trying to coax it into full-fledged flame. There’s nothing to watch on television anyway.

Gloria had stained-glass class today; the owners had a bit of a party for the class. After she returned, we headed out for Greeneville. We had a UPS package to drop off, bought new, longer, heavy duty scrapers for each vehicle and a collapsible snow shovel for each. We looked, again, for stove gasket and gasket cement. That will have to be ordered on-line.

The next two stops were some distance further. We needed to go to the Post Office, and we needed to shop for groceries. The Post Office on 23 December is no place to enter willingly. A grocery store on the same date is guaranteed to be filled with shoppers. Add in stockers, kids running under foot, people blocking aisles to carry on conversations, and the grocery store becomes a place to try my patience sorely.

The last stop was a very necessary one; the Pathfinder needed gasoline.

We left home about 1315 and returned about 1545.

I’m not the most patient of men. Gloria will attest to that it asked. Shopping in crowded stores, kids running loose, blocked aisles are all guaranteed to irritate me.

Today was a good day. Not one of our stops required us to stand in line behind anyone else. At every instance when we wanted an open but empty checkout line or service window, it appeared. How lucky to be me today. (Well, how lucky to be me every day – I’m grateful for the people and things that make my life enjoyable.) But the odds of finding open checkers, open Post Office windows, are long odds in late December.

So I suspect that if I fuss with the stove long enough the damp wood will catch more fully and eventually I’ll be rewarded with a nice bed of coals to put more wood atop.

If anyone reading this is currently traveling or planning to travel over the weekend, I wish you safe and timely arrival at both ends of the journey.

A lot of people will become gloomy or frankly depressed as the holidays wind down and winter hits the nation more heavily. December doesn’t bother me. One of the best events of my life happened in December. Poe wrote, “Nevermore.” I’m quite content with “Evermore.”

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

22 December 2009 Strange light appears in the sky

That strange illumination, unseen for nearly a week, is daylight, a product of the mysterious yellow orb which appeared this morning from behind the eastern valley wall. The older residents refer to the yellow orb as “the sun.”

Whatever it might be called, it does produce a brilliant reflection when the so-called day light meets the creek’s splashing water.

The current temperature, 44°F, is resulting in considerable snow melt. The layers of snow on the roof have been surrendering to gravity and shedding large blocks of snow that can no longer stick to the angled roof. The heavy wet “thud” alerts the dog, who barks each time some falls.

Resumed the hike with Mike today. Vague malaise and concern about road safety led me to opt out yesterday. Today confirmed the wisdom of that choice.

It is about 0.1 mile from our driveway to Mikes. The road curves sharply to the right while descending about 30 vertical feet. Normal pedestrian safety suggests walking so that one faces oncoming traffic. I always do. That put me on the outside of the curve in the road with black ice underfoot at the beginning of the hike. I slipped about four times in that short segment. The sun had not yet topped the ridge so the ice underfoot was relatively dry. We walked carefully on the downhill leg, black ice present at many locations. There was little vehicular traffic but we stepped off the road to avoid as much risk as possible. By the time we turned for the return, uphill leg, the sun was melting the surface of any ice on the road and increasing the slickness by an order of magnitude.

We’ve been enjoying a new feature on our land line; a buzz or static-like sound that is evident on all the handsets and is present whether we initiate or receive the call. Yesterday I called our provider, Century Link. After wading through the auto menu I reached Ulysses and initiated a trouble report. This morning, two vans with phone company logos prominently displayed passed us as we gingerly made our way back to Mike’s. By the time I made it up to our drive they were already parked and working. It appears that the boxlike structure that is on the line had seemed the appropriate place for some small animal to build a nest or at least shelter and leave fur behind. They cleaned it up, called our number to see if that solved the problem, and went on about their day. We’re content with the response time and the repair. Now we get to deal with the robo-calls asking us to input a number from one to five telling someone, somewhere, how pleased or not pleased we are with a, b, c, d, e, f, ad infintum. The last request was for me to tell them, in less than one minute’s time, why I would or would not recommend them to a friend.

Land line carriers are franchises awarded by a locality, a city, or some unit. The consumer has no choice which carrier he/she will use any more than they can pick a power company, water source, or other municipal utility. For that reason, alone, I wouldn’t recommend any utility.

And speaking of strange lights in the sky, the Senate is going to have to work on Christmas Eve. Good!

The current bunch of Senators, along with their partners in polarization in the House do not deserve any time off for any holiday. They’ve, collectively spent the last year doing very little for the nation but quite a lot for the insurance companies, energy companies, financiers, bankers, and lobbyists. While unemployment puts people onto the street, the GOP tries to obstruct any legislation being completed. While the Democrats have sufficient majority to actually do something that might benefit our citizens, they are too busy arguing about abortion to actually do what they are supposed to do.

Abortion is legal. No one is being forced to perform one or have one. Nothing else needs to be debated. People do not get to have a say in how the government spends tax monies. There are many things the government spends for that annoy or bother me. There are also things it does not spend for that annoy or bother me. But I don’t have the authority, and should not have, to dictate how tax monies are disbursed.

If the various churches want to meddle in politics then it is perfectly fine; so long as they immediately register as a political party and begin paying taxes on every cent that they collect. But since that is unlikely to happen, it is time to remind all churches that they have no right to lobby about legislation on immigration, citizenship, healthcare, or abortion.

It is time that we stop shutting down our government for Christmas and Easter. They are religious celebrations and have no more to do with American government offices than do Pesach or Yom Kippur. If Congress wants to establish a winter holiday week or a spring break that have no religious ties, I’ll support it. That could be an interesting letter to write. I’d be more than willing to bet that it would not be selected for publication in the local newspaper.

Monday, December 21, 2009

21 December 2009 the power and the story

With apologies to Phil Ochs.

In the aftermath of the blizzard that swept up the east coast we were able to see the damage reports yesterday evening. After a minimal period of power loss and 18 hours of cable/internet access on Saturday/Sunday, we’re operating pretty much at normal capacity.

We lost cable/internet about midnight last night and again about 1000 this morning. I don’t know how long it was off in the early morning, and the two hour slot this morning was just long enough to get some of my less pleasant chores completed.

We’re exceedingly lucky. The amount and weight of snow that fell in our region has left hundreds of trees and branches broken, power, phone, and cable lines broken or otherwise inoperable. Thousands, tens of thousands of our regional neighbors in TN and VA are still without power and my not have power service restored before tomorrow, according to last night’s local news.

I don’t listen to network/local news in the morning. CNN is barely tolerable. The amount of fluff and “cute” on the major morning shows long ago displaced any chance of actually hearing or seeing anything more relevant than local school closings. I had no interest in listening to children sing Christmas songs when my kids were in school and attendance was socially mandatory. I certainly have no desire to see anyone else’s offspring perform. In addition to lack of interest, lack of hearing in the frequency ranges that includes most young children’s singing voices makes me even less likely to tune into morning network news. There’s also resistance on my part to using “news” programming to pimp some new pop music video by having the performer lip-synch in the street outside a studio. So our next casualty and recovery information will be delivered at 1800 in that portion of the local evening news not committed to athletic events.

At noon, on the year’s shortest day, the outside temperature is 33°F. Astronomical winter arrives in 49 minutes.

In some ways, the loss of cable/internet is more frustrating than the loss of power. Power loss defines the limits very sharply. If it requires voltage, it won’t work. Feed the stove, read by the window, stay warm and dry. With power but no cable/internet the equipment sits willing but unable to take us beyond our home. We know it can function, we know it will function again unless it has been damaged by power fluctuations; we just don’t know when.

Our cable and internet access are important factors in our social and cultural lives. We live near the end of the road, near the point where the terrain is too steep and forested to be habitable by anyone not willing to be alone for 3-6 months at a time. In the other direction, down the valley toward the small cities and towns that make up this region, it is 15 -27 miles by road to a library, grocery store, restaurant or health care.

The churches are centers of social and cultural life here. I’ve never been able to develop an accurate count totaling the actual number of churches as announced by road-side sign between here and Johnson City. Suffice it to say there are a lot. As Jews, we don’t really qualify for inclusion in valley social life. Initial questions about “What church do you all go to?” generally ended that angle for social inclusion. We’ve never refused to answer that but initially offered, “We’re still looking.” That’s true, we are, we keep telling ourselves we’ll get it together to attend Congregation B’nai Sholom. But 75 miles or so is a long way there and back in bad weather on bad roads. We’re willing to “keep looking.”

The degree of consanguinity in the local area may be a bit higher than we are used to. Not being “family” leads to some degree of exclusion as well. Still, most of our older neighbors have adjusted to having us here and know who we are when they see us. It takes a long time to become anything more than a “new person living where so-and-so used to live.” That’s OK. We have time and we’re reasonably patient.

When our access to the world beyond our valley is cut the remoteness becomes more apparent. We keep in contact with old friends and family, with friends from fishing groups, on-line store groups, friends who share musical interests, and all sorts of people who make up our personal social networks. We’re not in constant contact as the generations following us. We can make a decision without involving ten other friends. We don’t tweet, don’t live with our cell phones glued to our heads, don’t drive while using cell phones, don’t send text messages or instant messages. In fact, after having pulled call for long numbers of years, a bit of time out of contact is welcome. But we do notice the lack of access when Comcast goes off-line.

For all our background abilities that allow us to enjoy living here, both of us have always lived in much more urban areas. We notice the separation from urban facilities in the best of times and even more so when the lines go down. We knew, sort of, what we were leaving behind by moving into this rural a location. It amuses me when we talk to others who have neither lived in such an area nor paid close attention to such areas when passing through them. The questions we get are amusing; the assumptions they apply to our locale worth a separate post. Perhaps tomorrow!

Yesterday afternoon we had a rather large visitor. I shot 114 digital images through a screened window. The turkey was about 50 feet from the house. I made no effort to go outside for a better photo. The last time I tried to open the sliding doors while she fed, that slight noise spooked her and she left for the day.

For some reason, this turkey has turned up here since spring. She always comes alone. Wonder who cut her social network ties?

Sunday, December 20, 2009

20 December 2009 not even winter yet

Winter officially begins tomorrow, 21 Dec. at 1247 EST. Looking out the door, it appears winter has already arrived.
The red rhododendron in our front yard will shake this off and bloom beautifully in the late spring of 2010. The plant is admirably adapted for mountain growth zones. Atop the higher Appalachian peaks, there are forests of rhododendron reaching heights that dwarf me and stretching for acres. I recall at about the age of 10, reading a Himalayan climbing expedition journal that mentioned traveling through dense rhododendron forests that exceeded 20 feet in height. At the time, I’d never seen a rhododendron of any size. Now I can think back and at least begin to imagine the beauty that surrounded the expedition members. For them, on their walk into base camp it was more obstacle than object to appreciate.

We turned in, last night, just past midnight, after a four hour scrabble game. We have one of the expanded sets with a game board that rotates on ball bearings and an increased number of letter tiles. During the course of the game we drew every tile from the bag and played all but three tiles. Each of us held a “Q” and Gloria had an “L.” She beat me by about 50 points or so. The couch has a back segment that folds down as a table. It provided a good place to put the game board.

I was up at 0430 to load the stove with more wood. I was up again at 0730 to take the dog out and retrieve the newspaper. There was still no cable/internet. After bringing Loki in, I cleaned another two inches of snow from the steps and deck. When I finished that and came in at 0820 we had both cable and internet. We still have no word as to what caused the outage. Gloria will ask for some sort of billing credit or refund due to the length of the outage. We might get something. We certainly won’t if we don’t ask.

Breakfast was buckwheat pancakes and thick-cut pepper cured bacon. I really love Burger’s dry-cured bacon. It’s hard to find but certainly worth it.

The rain gauge displays a rainfall total of 0.12 inches today and 0.08 inches for yesterday. The large dome of snow mounded over the collection funnel must be slowly melting and tripping the gauge. The rainfall equivalent for snow can be as high as 0.1 inch of rain for each inch of snow, or as low as 0.01 inch of rain for the dry powder common in the western U.S. The water content here was high; almost wet enough to squeeze water from. It would be good snow fort, snow ball fight, snowman material. It is bad snow for older men to shovel. I took great care to push it rather than lift it. Each shovel load was about 50-60 pounds. The water content made it fairly easy to slide each load off the deck. At least, I thought that yesterday afternoon. By this morning various muscle groups and bone spurs made me aware, yet again, that I’ve aged more than I care to believe. The damage done to my spine in September 1998 had long-term consequences that no neuro-surgeon can undo.

All things considered, Loki may have earned a new training collar. She’s a good dog if one overlooks a tendency to take off on trips that she shouldn’t take and ignore our command to return. There are quite a few dogs in the upper valley that run loose and have formed their own pack. We don’t need Loki joining a pack. There are also quite a few feral dogs in the county, a lot of abandoned dogs, and the random coyote pack; all of which are hazardous to the health of a dog that has been an indoor dog all her life. Neither Gloria nor I like using electrical training devices. But we like losing a dog far less.

The high temperature today, 31.82°F, was recorded at 0000, midnight. The snow on the ground has begun forming a crust, making it harder to walk in the snow. The melting driven by ground temps above freezing has put films of water onto the roads so the probability of glare or black ice is high as night falls. It will be treacherous out on the deck tonight when I drag the dog.

“Black ice” when I was growing up, was that horrid stuff found at the sides of roads, a mix of cinders, dirt, traffic trash, and anything else that wound up being compressed and re-frozen over and over. It often began as frozen slush, when it could form sets of tracks at intersections that destroyed alignment and controlled the paths of cars as surely as if the ruts were rails and the cars were on train wheels. “Glare Ice” was the term we used for the nearly impossible to see film of ice that coats roads and steals all hope of traction as you drive onto it. The meteorologists have assigned “Black ice” to the material I knew as “Glare Ice” with the latter becoming the alternative name of choice.

It’s time to start the clam chowder.

19 December 2009 Gate won’t close, the railing’s froze

Not only is the “railing frozen,” the weather station is snowed in. The anemometer, wind vane, solar battery extension panel, and rain gauge are all buried under several inches of heavy, wet, snow. Still, the system is transmitting as it was set up to transmit. The current set of batteries was installed in late February, ’09. I’m planning on replacing them as soon as I get a dry calm day. This personal weather station has really performed well and I’d recommend it to anyone wanting their own local weather station.

Best estimate this morning is that we received 4-5 inches of snow. All the trees around us are heavily bent under the load. They’ve started shedding the weight and returning to a more normal position. So far, we’ve been very fortunate and have cable, phone, and power. We know that the power is out in Limestone. Gloria’s stained glass class is taught in a studio in Limestone. The owners called about 0930 to report that they had now power, heat, or water; and that the Christmas party scheduled for this afternoon was canceled. Gloria offered them our house for shelter. They declined, not wanting to chance the roads today.

Our road has not been cleared today. Traffic in both up and down directions has cut ruts. There was no newspaper delivery this morning. In my opinion, a wise choice on someone’s part. No newspaper is worth running icy roads on a snowy night. Mail delivery is questionable. Interstate 81 is closed in Virginia. We’ve been told that the county has been on Cassi Road with salt and a blade. We may go out to eat tomorrow if we can. Most likely the three miles closest to home will be the worst stretch to negotiate.

We’ve had a couple power flickers this morning, probably un-weighted branches causing arcing along the transmission routes.

The cable feed has just failed. At 1205 we have no cable, no internet access.

Change in plans: We wrapped in many layers and took the dog out to cavort in the snow while Gloria dealt with bird feeders and some maintenance chores and I shoved snow off the rear deck and the front steps. I took advantage of the relatively warm temps to clean as much snow as I could from both vehicles. At least the door channels and windows are cleared and blowback from the hoods will be negligible. It’s becoming apparent that I need a longer scraper for the Pathfinder. I’m not tall enough to reach all the areas I need to reach.

As of 1400 we had no mail. I doubt they delivered today.

Power failed at 1245 and was off until 1430. As of 1530 we have power but still no cable and no internet access. We were able to call in our power outage using a cell phone. We called in the cable outage prior to losing power on our land line. If we had allowed either cable or land-line provider to have both services we’d have been further up the creek. With cable providing internet and phone, we’d have had no way to call in any outages. With land line provider providing phone and cable we’d have been unable to call in any outage. Some of our family members wonder why we have three separate carriers for cable/internet, land line, and cell phone. Redundancy pays off sometimes. If you have to ask, you don’t live as far off the beaten path as we do.

When the power came back on line it seemed to be below standard voltage. At 1600 it dropped out again for about 5 minutes and came back up, seemingly at full voltage. I guess the repair folks opted for some voltage ASAP and then a follow-on return to standard. I’d applaud that choice today. Comcast is still down at 1630. There is a new Dr. Who tonight that we’d like to watch. Time will tell.

2220 and still no cable.

Dinner – halibut steaks with lemon-dill sauce, steamed Brussels’ sprouts in a Dijon-mustard sauce.

Plan for 20th, Buckwheat pancakes.

Cable/internet outage still ongoing at 003 20 December 2009

This is one of my favorite shots from about 0800 today.

This is another. Looking south, up valley, on Cassi Road. Just where the road bends left, the name changes to Fish Pond Road and the Green County line crosses the road into our property on the left.

0800 today looking southwest from opposite our drive.

Friday, December 18, 2009

18 December 2009 Yo, ho, ho, and a bottle of rheum

I took Loki out at 0710 this morning. The deck was wet but there was no apparent rain in the air. I debated calling off the morning’s hike with Mike based on a large area of rain moving our way on the radar displays. Since there were two pre-emptions this week already, I gauged the approach rate, layered up and covered my upper body with Gore-tex, and cranked out the distance. What was a light mist when I got to Mike’s house became a light rain by the time we were half-way back up the valley. Between Mike’s driveway and our door, the rate increased sharply.

It has been raining at a light to moderate rate since then. At 1402 the rain gauge indicates 0.29 inches of rainfall today. I suppose we’ll be watching the creek by nightfall. By 1500 the rain total has reached 0.42 inches and the radar shows freezing precipitation within ten miles of our door. Even if there were no good forecasts, no national weather service, it would be fairly evident that the weather system moving in is a serious storm. The turkey made a morning appearance and ate greedily before heading back up valley and under cover. The two squirrels that believe the bird feeders are intended for them were particularly insistent this morning. The birds that normally feed and then rotate feeding access with other birds have remained on station today.

The mountain tops and the high ridge lines were cloud covered this morning. It is possible to vary our morning walk route just a bit so as to gain a view of the upper valley just after leaving Mike’s drive. For some reason we never do. The first glimpse of the upper valley normally comes as we reach the lower end of our route and head back up the gradual but definite slope.

This is a good day for winter meals and comfort foods. We’re planning on toasted cheese sandwiches for dinner tonight and halibut steaks tomorrow night. Weather allowing, we plan on dining out Sunday evening. If the roads are clear enough we will try for Outback. There are better restaurants but there is some tradition involved.

It was on a day much like this that I first met Gloria. It was gray and cloudy when I stepped off the plane and recognized her waiting for me. Her smile lit up the terminal and I’ve been enjoying that smile for 17 years now.

In addition to being the “holiday season,” this is also “cold and flu season,” and, no doubt, two or three other seasons defined by ad agencies, Congressional declarations, or traditions imported from half a hundred other nations by immigrants who could bring little but memories. The universities have either ended their fall semesters or will do so rapidly. Students will flood the airlines in order to return home for the winter holidays. Also standing in apparently endless lines to board commercial flights are singles going somewhere for the holidays, families flying to visit other family members, families flooding resorts and theme parks during high season periods. Add to that mix international students, singles, and families. Each aircraft becomes a high altitude infection system for any organism spread by hand-to-eye or hand-to-mouth transfer.

We have both received our seasonal and H1N1 vaccinations and they should be effective now. We’re pretty cautious about keeping our hands away from our faces while shopping or out in public buildings.

Still, there is something (there’s always something – I have a strong immune response) bothering my eyes and sinuses. I spend the later parts of the day sniffling and blinking, trying to keep my nose from dripping and my eyes from being quite so painfully dry.

This brings us to the end word in the title. It’s pronounced like the alcoholic beverage and comes from the ancient Greek. The chorus you are familiar with sounds unchanged. Should you feel piratical in nature, feel free to use the line with immunity. But be advised, the nom de guerre Cap’n Yid is mine.

Loki, on inside sentry detail.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

17 December 2009 Cheese burgers, impaired, advice

The kitchen counter has a plate sitting on it. The plate is fenced off from inquisitive dog noses by various salt and pepper shakers. On the plate are cheese burgers made from a pound of ground chuck, two large cloves of garlic, paprika – lots- ground cumin seed, ground black pepper, shredded myzithra sheep’s milk cheese, and powdered mint.

Waiting to host freshly grilled burgers are whole wheat Kaiser rolls, avocado, tomato, onion, and romaine lettuce. We’ll put mayonnaise on the buns and I’ll add some Dijon mustard to mine.

There are six bottles of Harpoon IPA in the pantry. I bought them, primarily, for cooking. Depending upon my mood at dinner, one may find its way from ingredient back to beverage. Or I may uncork the 15 year old Laphroaig bottle which graces the single malt shelf and reduce it in volume. I won’t consume enough to render me unsteady in gait or unable to escort the dog outdoors later. But for purposes of this title/header, it will have to do. The other word I might have plugged into that space is “un-paired.” I have no idea where I would have gone beyond that as all my socks are properly mated and my gloves and mittens have no lack for company.

Since I no longer work in a technical field where my co-workers or employees might bring technical questions, seeking answers not found in required manuals; I am rarely called upon for advice these days. Our neighbors, those who farm in particular, are knowledgeable in agrarian matters and adept at living happily here. Once in a great while Mike or Henry has asked a medical question. I rarely am called upon for advice and that’s mostly a good thing.

The lack of questions does not mean I don’t feel that I have advice to give.

The 1st Tennessee Congressional District has been a GOP fortress since the Civil War. Only one Democrat has represented the district in Washington D.C. since that war was declared over. The previous Congressman, David Davis was often the target of my advice in written and verbal format suggesting that he should vote in the best interest of the people rather than the business interests that supported his campaign. I also advised him that he was elected to represent all the people in his district, not just those who prayed in the same fashion as he prays. His replies indicated that he thought he was elected to represent Jesus more than people. After an answer like that, I found it easy to write some note once or twice a week that was calculated to annoy him and his staff. I felt no sorrow when he lost the primary election to another candidate.

Congressman Roe, who won the 2008 election and unseated Davis, may have been the beneficiary of cross party voting in the open primary. Davis certainly believes that to be the case. Since the Democrat’s candidate had not the ghost of a chance to win, it may well have been local party strategy to attempt unseating Davis for the slightly less fundamentalist Christian, Roe.

I’ve found lots of reason to offer advice to Roe as well. He pretty much represents every political position I oppose. He’s a retired OB/Gyn, parrots the party line whenever his mouth is moving. I’ve had to resort to sending him my advice in hard copy form. For some reason, his Congressional e-mail account seems to be in failure mode. Several times I’ve laboriously keyed in a page or so of advice only to see it rejected by the system. I don’t know if Congressmen can block e-mail addresses or not. This has happened over sufficiently long a period that I suspect it can be done. My advice to the Congressman is that he should not block any citizen of his district from the electronic communication network he is supposed to make available to citizens. We’re paying for that system, we taxpayers. The tea party mob has come down on Roe’s side of most things. But if they found out e-mail was being blocked, that might alienate them a bit.

I still send advice to our President, too. We even offered him an afternoon fishing our creek and dinner afterward. I’m pretty certain someone else advised him to avoid having a beer and a cheese burger here.

The turkey was back today

Today’s skies were partly cloudy changing to mostly cloudy. The forecast is for snow Friday and Saturday. Snow may also occur Sunday. Friday, 1-4 inches are forecast.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

16 December 2009 Pharaoh and the Sergeant – Kipling 1897

"...Consider that the meritorious services of the Sergeant Instructors

attached to the Egyptian Army have been inadequately acknowledged ...

To the excellence of their work is mainly due the great improvement

that has taken place in the soldiers of H.H. the Khedive."

(Extract from letter).

Pharaoh and the Sergeant – Kipling 1897

“SAID England unto Pharaoh, "I must make a man of you,

That will stand upon his feet and play the game;

That will Maxim his oppressor as a Christian ought to do,"

And she sent old Pharaoh Sergeant Whatisname.

It was not a Duke nor Earl, nor yet a Viscount —

It was not a big brass General that came;

But a man in khaki kit who could handle men a bit,

With his bedding labeled Sergeant Whatisname”

Today’s mail brought a very welcome box of oranges and grapefruit, courtesy of Gloria’s brother, Shea and his wife Brigitte. We’ll ration them out, one each/day and enjoy them greatly. It was nice having tangerines, navel oranges, kumquats, mangos, and avocados growing in the back yard in Florida. But the tangerine tree produced so prolifically that we could never eat what it grew. Nor could we give them away – everyone we knew had some sort of citrus fruit growing somewhere. The navel orange tree was old and slowing down but provided wonderfully juicy oranges. The kumquat tree provided marmalade one year but most years the fruit was used to amuse the dog. The avocado trees produced only about every third year, but the mango tree was marvelous. We planted it and it rewarded our care with the finest mangos I’ve ever eaten; syrupy, tender, non-stringy, and thin-skinned, with hints of honey in every bite. We miss those trees. But here we have hemlocks, pines, four seasons, and wild turkeys.

We received an amazing package from my sister, Suzanne and her husband Ernie today. It was filled with some seasonal plates and mugs, carefully monogrammed fatwood, a toy for Gloria to decorate her work area, carefully chosen small items to be opened on the appropriate night of Hanukah, and even a gift for Loki. Loki quickly realized what was hers and took it off to enjoy alone. She didn’t offer to share. Obviously Suz chose wisely!

Also in today’s mail, from Diana, Gloria’s niece, two very interesting cookbooks and a new kitchen scale. These followed and already happily received CD of Ozark fiddle tunes.

Gloria saw the neurosurgeon this morning. His verdict, surgery, a micro-decompression. She wants to try to ride it out until after her jewelry design class is over. I hope she can. We three all agreed that now is not a good time for elective surgery. We’ll see how this plays out.

The Obama plan for Afghanistan, much like the Bush plan for Iraq, reminds me all too much of a program I once watched fail, called “Vietnamization.” Our gallant allies in the ARVN were supposed to be trained up to speed and capability so that they could effectively wage war against the much more highly motivated PAVN and allow LBJ and Tricky Dick to bring home our troops. In fact, the entire reason for being in VietNam originally was one of training and advising them in how to slaughter the other side like the big kids do.

There are enough weapons floating around Afghanistan that no one need want. The means to deliver 7.62 mm bullets in an indiscriminant spray ate there for the taking. What the Soviets left behind during their withdrawal has been supplemented by the immense number of weapons we purchased and used to equip the jihadis of the Mujahidin in the last of our surrogate wars with the Soviets. Every male in the mountains can load and fire one if not maintain it well. For the long standing warrior culture of Afghanistan’s tribes, spraying death and making noise count for more than cleaning one’s weapons.

The thrust of our effort to train indigenous Afghan troops will fail, slowly or rapidly, but miserably as have all other attempts to forge tribal bandits and religious enforcers into a real working army. That certainty is guaranteed by the corruption of the national and local governments in Afghanistan and the culture that controls life in those mountains. The religious fanaticism of the Taliban meshes with the willingness of Afghan males to keep their wives and daughters unable to read, bare-foot, and pregnant. The tribalism overwhelms any chance of a working army because no “warrior” will willingly take orders from someone in another tribe. That same warrior will, however, happily call down an airstrike on a rival tribe’s military component of the local militia.

It seems that there has been little progress since Islam swept the “stans.” There has been little since the Mongols ruled the area. And there has been no progress at all since the British were shown the borders.

I’m sure it is politically incorrect to disparage the ability of the Afghan army. It was equally politically incorrect to cast aspersions on the army of South VietNam. It mattered not; the ARVN broke and ran, led by their officer corps. I saw Vietnamization fail. Anyone who really looks hard can see that no matter how much money and manpower we spend to rebuild the Iraqi army, it will likely fall apart along religious lines when we leave their soil. In fact, we’ll be lucky if it really holds together that long.

And “Afghanization?” Well, late night comics and op-ed writers are going to enjoy it. But our edition of Sgt. Whatshisname, who will have worked so hard to try to make an army of a mob, most certainly won’t enjoy it. Perhaps the next generation of politicians may remember the failure. One can only hope so.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

15 December 2009 Did you really want me to say that?

The day began foggy and drizzly. This view is about as clear as the sky has been all day. The smoke issuing from the chimney tells you that it is cool enough to want added heat in the house. It was 58°F at 0700 and is 46°F now, at 1630. It will probably drop to 20°F tonight.

The VA audiology appointment today went well. I was placed in a recliner in a sound-isolated room, hooked up to an EEG, and asked to watch a movie which had the audio track silenced and replaced by sub-titles. I was asked to avoid going to sleep. The sleep possibility was reduced somewhat by an earpiece placed in my right ear. The earpiece delivered as steady “beep-beep” or “Buzz-Buzz” along with varying levels of white noise – shortwave static limited as to pitch, during the whole movie experience. I hadn’t seen the movie. Even with limited sub-titles it held my interest well. I’d have liked to have seen the rest of it. If it shows up on cable I’ll watch it. After seeing only part of it, the primary plot was well-enough developed for me to realize that I’ve seen bits and pieces of the plot used in several television programs.

The second part of the study was quite different. Sound was again funneled into my right ear. A voice instructed me to “say the word ____.” While the woman’s voice was asking me to repeat her choice of words, there was background noise being piped in simultaneously. I could identify, or believe I could identify, restaurant chatter overlaid with many other voices at various volumes. The background made it very difficult to discern what word I was being asked to identify and repeat. This segment lasted somewhere between 5 and 10 minutes, with a new request about every 15 seconds. Then there were two more segments which were almost certainly the same fifty words requested over and then a third time, with background volumes decreasing with each test run.

I was told that I performed extremely well on the 1st hear and say run. I correctly heard and repeated 15 of the 50 test words. I’m happy that they find me a suitable test subject for this study. I’d hate to be the poor beggar who scores below 30% on that study. I can’t recall all the words I was asked to repeat. All of my responses were words that can be used in polite society. But I remember thinking that I would find it amusing to see what some of the more incorrect responses, mine and other study participants were. I can imagine that some people’s responses were less polite than mine.

I was paid $15 for my time this morning. In truth, I worked very hard to hear and repeat with all that background. The fact that I took away this morning is that the background levels I was challenged with are not at all uncommon background levels. I have a horrible time in a restaurant with a large table of people. Add in background music or, worse, televisions, and I’m pretty much isolated from the group by a wall of sound that I can’t penetrate.

Somehow, I can hear music somewhat better than conversation. Bad mixes, though, destroy any interest in that particular band or composition. Trying to dig lyrics or vocals out of a mix that focuses on bass and drums, accepts muddy or under-present vocals, is of no interest. Volume and power are not synonymous in music.

Brought home some more short ribs and some new cheeses today. Tonight we’ll have tuna sashimi and some spicy tuna sushi. Tomorrow we’ll have burgers. I have fresh ground chuck, avocado, tomatoes, onion, and whole wheat Kaiser rolls.

Monday, December 14, 2009

14 December 2009 turkey’s return

Above, female wild turkey forages for food

Below, turkey walking into brush and trees. Natural camouflage is remarkably effective.

We believe this turkey is the same female that spent part of April and May feeding alone on our property. It came every morning until Loki chased it one morning. The bird she chased ran about 50 feet and was airborne as if from the catapult of an aircraft carrier. It landed in a hemlock about 75 feet above the creek and then vanished.

Gloria put out some food designed to attract turkeys this morning. The turkey spent about 90 minutes after that feeding. It is a beautiful bird. If it returns we’ll get more pictures. We’ll wind up shooting them through the windows as nearly any movement or noise spooks this bird.

Today, the temperature reached 59.90°F. The low tonight is forecast to be in the low 40’s. I’ve let the fire in the stove burn out today. I’ll build it again tomorrow afternoon as the low for the following three nights is expected to be in the 20’s.

Tomorrow I will drive into Johnson City to James A Quillen VA Hospital and offer my body up for an hour or so of audiology research. My hearing loss pattern meets the criteria needed to participate in someone’s research project. I’ll get $10.00/hour which will pay my gasoline there and back plus offer another opportunity to have my glasses misadjusted by the contract optical shop on VA campus. I’ll get some grocery shopping done as well and provide Gloria a little time to herself. She and the dog can talk about me.

Gloria discovered a chocolate flavored peanut butter at Earth Fare that has no sugar added. She eats peanut butter nearly every day for lunch. The first package of this went quickly. She put it on the grocery list without realizing that I’d already included it. Perhaps I’ll get her two containers.

Tonight we’ll eat beef-filled ravioli with a putanesca sauce.

I spent about half an hour field stripping and cleaning my Glock 19 this afternoon. The gun was clean and hasn’t been fired for some months but was dusty, had lint in the works, and needed a bit of lubrication. Next week I’ll probably work on the other firearms. It was enjoyable work today.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

13 December 2009 Light one candle for the Maccabee children

No ice this morning.

Loki has always been a good watch dog. Unlike Tova, who we acquired in Florida, Loki is generally a quiet dog. Tova was a very noisy dog. She seemed to enjoy barking just to hear herself bark. She would bark if people came to the door but since she barked so much it was not always a good warning for us. When Loki barks we usually know the reason. Both were/are good dogs but Loki is head and shoulders better as a guard dog.

We know if the mail carrier pulls into the driveway or if UPS arrives. We also know when other dogs are running up and down the road, chasing cars or returning from having just chased cars. She has different barks for different alerts.

Other dogs trigger single barks followed by guttural muttering sounds. She’ll sound off and then run from one window or door to another looking for the best vantage point. She will sit in the front room with her head on the window sill watching the road and our land for interlopers. She is highly territorial and does not consider most dogs welcome. However the Newfoundland Retriever that lives up the valley seems to bring out the groupie in her. Like all Newfies, this is a beautiful dog that moves with purposes and grace. It seems to be very shy or perhaps frightened of people. On the single occasion when we met its owner it took the dog nearly half an hour to begin to make friends with Gloria and me. Loki would most likely follow this dog anywhere. It is the biggest dog in the valley as far as we know.

Cars or trucks in the drive cause a series of sharp barks and rapid motion to the front door, followed by circling and barking. We know to check the door. Once we reach the door she stops circling and the barking quiets. We can tell her to stay while we open the door to the deck and deal with whomever has climbed the stairs.

Small fuzzy creatures such as rabbits and squirrels elicit an explosive growling bark and a jump at the window or door behind which is the intended target. If she encounters such animals outdoors she chases them. She seems to stop at pre-determined boundaries, ones she has set. To date she hasn’t been rapid enough to catch either a squirrel or rabbit. We’d prefer she not. The larger scavenging animals, raccoons and opossums are here and often visit Gloria’s carefully tended bird feeders. Loki could be hurt by either one of those. Raccoons care rabies and several infected animals have been reported this year. We make sure all her shots are current. She received a three year rabies immunization last year in November, ’08. We purchased her other vaccinations last week at Tractor Supply in Greeneville and I did the injection to keep her immunities current.

Tonight I’m fixing ginger-pepper seared cube steaks for dinner. I’ll rub them with grated fresh ginger root and freshly ground pepper then sear them for about 1 minute on each side in a cast iron skillet. We’ll flesh out dinner by warming up the left over latkes from the first night of Hanukah. Tonight is the third night. Gloria’s chanted the routine blessing for lighting Hanukah candles as well as the special blessings for nights 2 & 3. The flame gives off a warm glow that is amplified and reflected by the wooden walls of the office and the sundown color of the living room walls. It’s pleasant to look at and the festive nature of the holiday is fun. But the origins of Hanukah are found in cultural and physical warfare. Judaism could well have vanished but for the Maccabean uprising. Assimilation is all too often easier than any alternate path.

There is a lot of commentary about just wars and justifiable wars today. When caught in the middle of them it can be damnably hard to figure out which war is just, which is justifiable. Sometimes the answer won’t be apparent until long after the last combatants are dust. Others are easy to classify and can be immediately catalogued. The more difficult wars to classify are often cast as “holy wars.” The Crusades were not at all holy but were fought over trade routes, merchant profits, and such cultural factors as the way property was inherited among ruling families in Europe. 2nd and later sons who had no hope of inheriting a title or lands in Europe were encouraged to free the “Holy Land” from Moslems and in passing, carve out as much territory as they could hold and defend. WWII was not a holy war but it saved a bit of European Jewry from wholesale extermination at the hands of anti-Semitism that riddled much of Europe. The recreation of Israel opened another so-called “holy war” as millions of Arabs declared war on the new state of Israel. In truth, economics and cultural/social factors are as much at fault in the Mid-East wars today as any religious cause. However, the fanatics in three religions are doing all that they can to label the Israeli-Arab conflict and the Afghanistan/Pakistan wars as the righteous uprising of Moslems against infidels. Call it that or not, there is an ongoing cultural war between the West, believing that religion should not be involved in governing; and the Moslem world, willing to accept religious control of legal, governmental, and cultural matters. Arab states, in particular have used Israel and the U.S. as scapegoats to distract their citizens from their own lack of personal rights and freedoms and the Arab world’s failure to reform religious and social/cultural matters. Until such reformation takes place we will continue to be at risk of attack by Islamic fundamentalists.

With that in mind, we’ll light the third candle tonight.


Peter Yarrow- ©1983 Silver Dawn Music ASCAP

Light one candle for the Maccabee children

With thanks that their light didn't die

Light one candle for the pain they endured

When their right to exist was denied

Light one candle for the terrible sacrifice

Justice and freedom demand

But light one candle for the wisdom to know

When the peacemaker's time is at hand

Saturday, December 12, 2009

12 December 2009 Don’t spindle, fold, or Staples

In the ever present search for a comfortable work chair, we wandered in Staples on the 9th of this month. We had found two chairs in their catalogue we wished to try for comfort. Both seemed to be what we were looking for. One was in stock, and of course, the other was not. Just before asking them to order the out of stock item for us we noticed that if we ordered both on line one would be $30 cheaper than in the store. We’d also receive a $20 discount and free shipping if we ordered them on-line. We ordered them that afternoon. In the resultant paperwork we noticed that one would be shipped by local courier and be delivered the next day, the 10th. The other would come by UPS and arrive the 11th. We figured this was a bit odd but of little concern.

At 1800 on the 10th, with no chair in sight and knowing that we would have to sign for the delivery, we called Staples. We were told the truck had broken down and we’d see the local delivery chair on the 11th.

At 0830 on the 11th we received a robo-call asking if we’d take delivery of the late chair. We, of course, agreed. At 1730 the 2nd chair arrived by UPS but we had yet to see the 1st chair. Back to the phones, only to be promised that the chair would still be delivered and that we would receive some coupons for our lost hours waiting to sign for the chair. At 1930 we called again and were told it that they were trying to track the chair. At 2300 I looked at the on-line documentation and discovered that the chair was reported as having been delivered to our front door at 1100 on the 11th. Back to the phones. The chair was still in transit but we would be compensated by refunding $50 and the chair would arrive NLT 1400 but they’d try for 1000.

At 1030 this morning I called yet again and was told the chair would have to be resent. At that point I told them to cancel the order for that item and to refund our money. I also discovered that the chair was to go on sale on the 13th so the $50 compensation was not so much compensation as we had thought.

We wound up going to Greeneville this morning and buying the chair at the local store, where the saga began on the 9th. We paid full price, the store could not honor the sale price slated for tomorrow. But the store manager was kind enough to tell us that if we bring the receipt in within the next week we can have the difference in price refunded to our credit card. Two extra trips, lots of phone time, and we will likely never know who, if anyone, got the chair we paid for that was supposedly left at our front door on the 11th.

I’d hoped to sleep in today. The dog had other thoughts. She began trying to wake Gloria about 0700. I dragged out of a perfectly warm bed to take the dog out, get the paper, start the coffee, and build up the fire.

At 0830 +/- we lost electricity for about an hour. The fire kept the main part of the house tolerable. There was enough light to read the paper and the coffee was brewed before we lost power.

We have a generator that will power the well pump and most likely the refrigerator and freezer. In order to use it, we have to disconnect the house from the power grid. I’ve got a printout of how to do this handy but for short outages it can be problematic. When we are disconnected from the grid we have no handy, available markers to let us know when power is restored. If we stay connected we can hear the switches and motors kick in. We can see light return and other markers. If disconnected we can look for down valley lights at night. But in daylight we have no markers at all and won’t as long as we remain disconnected. We also place anyone working to restore power locally risk if we run the generator for power while connected to the grid.

So for short outages, it may be better to sit and enjoy the quiet.

Post Script:

Gloria just came inside after walking the dog. Someone in a van drove up and said they’d been called this morning to deliver the missing chair. Gloria refused it.

Dinner tonight is expected to be waffles and eggs.

Ice over water again today.

Friday, December 11, 2009

11 December 2009 What kind of candles do you all want?

The temperature bottomed out at 15°F at 0740 this morning. At 1415 it reached a high of 30.9°F and then started back down toward an expected 18°F low for tonight. It won’t surprise me if we record a lower temperature than that. The sky has been clear much of the day so once the sun dropped below the western valley wall it was like pulling a plug and watching the heat vanish.

This is the ice over water I wanted to see yesterday. Certainly here today.

What kind of candles do we want?

Hanukah begins at sundown tonight. So does Shabbat. The custom is to light the Hanukiot before lighting the Shabbat candles. By doing this we avoid working on Shabbat. Yes, lighting a candle is work according to rabbinic law. Also considered work, flipping a light switch off or on, turning a cook stove or furnace off or on, starting the motor of a car, using a flash light, turning a computer, a radio, a television, an elevator, an alarm system, or any other device powered in any manner by the flow of electrons. Although science tells us that electrical discharge and fire are two different things, two different physical processes, and the appearance of a spark that might occur at the point when an electrical circuit is completed or broken is sufficiently flame like for Rabbinic law to consider the creation of a spark identical to lighting a fire. The spark of a flint and steel is in no way equal in nature to the visible flow of electrons across a gap. But when science and religion view the same problem, science, all too often, looses as there is far less understanding of basic science than there should be.

We’ll light one candle (actually two) tonight, two tomorrow, three the next, and so on. A box of Hanukah candles contains 44 candles of various colors and a base circumference about twice that of birthday candles. In most places I’ve lived, finding the candles has been easy. Generally, chain grocery stores will set up a Hanukah display and market seasonal items, candies, and foods. The only major chain grocery in our region is Kroger. In the three Hanukah seasons we have lived here, never has Kroger had such a display. At least one Kroger store in Johnson City is adjacent to the university. They have a large international food section but the kosher section is nearly non-existent. The first year we lived here we asked for Hanukah items and were handed an item request to fill out. Gloria stood there at the desk and filled it out, listing several items including candles. That took place in November. When we called in December to check on our order, we learned it had not been submitted to the regional distribution center. Since then, we have put in requests for Passover foods; again, we got no response from Kroger. The other grocery chains, smaller and local in nature, don’t even make a pretense of having kosher food sections. We’ve actually complained to the regional Kroger office but that drew no response either.

So our Passover foods, Hanukah candles, and even greeting cards, have to be purchased on trips to major metro areas or ordered from kosher supply houses. In some ways, it is still all too similar to conditions described in “The Jew Store.” There aren’t many Jews in the state and the few there are tend to cluster in the large cities.

This year we ordered our Hanukah candles from Israel. Shipping cost far more than the candles are worth. On the other hand, “tradition!” can be impossible to value.

We’ve grown tired of explaining that Hanukah is not “Jewish Christmas.” If you’re reading this, you already know that. So here’s an interesting article that I happened upon today that I find to be a great interpretation of the Hanukah legend and much closer to reality than most tales I’ve heard before.

Chag Sameach!

Shabbat Shalom!

Finished at 1632. Sunset is at 1716.