Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Michigan Rummy

 Our weekly habit is to play a hand of Michigan Rummy every Saturday morning with my brother. We're serious about winning and hold it over the others throughout the week like a grudge. Today - New Year's Eve - I asked Mom if she'd like to play a game.

 So mid-afternoon, out came three bottles of hand lotion (the better to hold the cards with), a sheet of paper and pen for scoring and our old, beat-up deck of cards. Don't feel sorry for us: we have half a dozen decks of cards, a couple brand new, but none feel as good as this worn deck.

 First step: hand lotion on all hands. Rub it in good. Add more ... lots more.

 First hand. Things are not looking good ... for Mom.

 Serious thoughts ensue ...

 And then we're ready for a move ...

Which is to throw down a card but not begin building any runs ...

 I'm getting ready to shuffle the deck for the next move.

 Mom makes a play on my side of the table ...

 This is what we've always called "Michigan Rummy" but I've had others watch us play and tell us that isn't what it is. You deal out eight cards to the one who begins the play, seven to all others. You try to lay down runs of cards (same card as on the left; a run in the same suit as on the right). Wild cards change with every hand, counting up from the ace (A,2,3 ...), and Jokers are always wild). This is hand number six. You then discard a card. When you're out of cards, you win (and the other person totals their remaining cards). The lowest score wins.

 Mom has a good hand and has six of her seven cards down on the table.

 We're getting down to the end and it's Mom's turn to shuffle. This is something she has a hard time doing. Her hands are too dry (even with the lotion) or too cold where she cannot easily feel the cards. I usually do the shuffling for those reasons.

 Here's how the scoring works. When you've finished all 13 hands, the low score wins the game.

 That's how our New Year's Eve afternoon has been progressing. Our actual New Years Eve will find us in bed! Mom will hit the sack about 7:30 p.m. I'll follow no later than 9 p.m. On the rare occasions where a distant neighbor makes some noise at midnight, I might wake up for a few minutes. But if it's like last year, I'll wake up to the new year tomorrow morning.

[This post was intentionally produced in b/w]

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Speaking of locks ...

 My favorite lock - including those on Pinehaven's doors - is not one of that group at all. Rather it's an old padlock I have displayed in my bedroom, hanging on my closet door.

It's a lock made by the U.S. Lock Company in the 1860-1880 time frame. It was from my Aunt Belle's estate (d. 1962). More than likely it belonged to my Uncle George.

 I've read little about these locks other than they were named after the planets. This is the "Mars" model.

 It opens with a simple skeleton key and could not have offered much security. It's probably very easily picked. I suppose it did little more than keep honest people out.
 The lock mechanism, considering that it may be nearly 150 years old, works smoothly.

 Here's a reverse view of the lock with the company name.

 Did the locks graduate in size based on the relative size of the planets. Was there a "Jupiter" model and was it the largest?
 The lock shown is 1.5" wide (the key is exactly the same length). The lock is 0.5" thick.

Replacing the Hydrant

 Our outside sources of water consist of one standard faucet (located on the south side of the house where we don't need it) and two "frost free lawn hydrants" at the rear (west). I used to use the one to fill a bucket whenever I wanted to wash the car. The other, closest to the garden, had the most utility.

Years ago, the first lawn hydrant failed. It began dripping even when it was turned off and we called a plumber. Down below the frost line (perhaps four to five feet underground) there's a washer on the end of a long brass rod. If the water is turned off, the rod can be extracted through the top. That's what the plumber tried. It continued to leak slowly. Eventually we got the leak to stop and we quit using it entirely.

But the garden hydrant could hardly be avoided. I water the garden almost daily in the summer. I'd notice that the hose always had a wet spot beneath it. Then, when the weather turned cold, the hydrant began developing a long icicle every night.

This would never do. Since the water wasn't being shut off below the frost line, the pipe, which extends above the ground, is continually filled with water. It'd freeze and burst in winter weather. I wrapped an electrical heat tape around the pipe and that kept it liquid. But it was using electricity (how much I have no idea) and it was a  bit of an eyesore, not to mention a kluge.

So we called the plumber again.

 A plumber worked on it on December 4. He eventually gave up. When he left, the leak was far worse than when he arrived. To be fair, however, I never expected the old fixture was non-repairable. But try the cheapest route first, right?

 A few days later two plumbers arrived with a backhoe to replace the faucet entirely. They dug a hole that was deep enough (five feet, at least) that when the one plumber crawled down in the hole, I could only see the top of his bald head.

 The work was completed just before the weather turned cold. Though the dirt was scraped back into the hole, a phone line which connects to the garage at that corner was left hanging loose and at an odd angle. Plus it was above ground at places in the yard and provided a trip hazard.

 I had to wait for better weather (spring, I thought) to place the phone line back underground and grade the soil properly. Two days ago I began but I found the topsoil was still frozen and was like digging in steel. Yesterday the temperature topped out at 53° and I was able to finish the work.

 My first job was to dig a trench and get the phone line back underground. See the gray phone box and black conduit on the side of the garage? That had to be set straight. Then I graded the soil as best I could, breaking the largest (still frozen) clumps and raking it out even. There was quite a pile there. Now it's beginning to look more like a lawn. I'll plant grass seed in the spring.

 I also had to move a stack of field stones away before the plumbers arrived. I use those as a splash guard for the downspout. You can see part of them on the right side of this picture. When I finished the dirty work, I had to replace the rocks one at a time.

 And here's how it looked when I wrapped up the project later in the afternoon.
 We're $531 "in the hole" after paying for the plumbing work. Let's hope this continues working for a long time to come. The existing hydrants were here when we bought the house so they certainly have been in use for over a quarter of a century, most likely 50 years (I believe the bricking of the house and garage was done in the 1960's). In any case, the work should survive me.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Bar the door!

  In just six days I'll have lived here at Pinehaven for 27 years. Previously, the longest I lived anywhere was at our second home in Miamisburg for 24 years (1956-1980). Being intimately familiar with a place, you begin to assimilate the structure into your very soul. I know every creak the house makes. I know when the desk in the living room will make a sound after the furnace has been on for some minutes. I can walk through the house in the dark, never having to feel for where I am. Pinehaven is part external body to me. It grows around me like a shell.

 Every waking day, I'm opening and closing doors. I often stop, though, and think about other hands that have grasped these same fixtures and I am somewhat taken aback by the shock of it. These same doors opened and closed to others! It is heady thought because I am no more than a visitor here, passing through.

 Take the second floor bathroom door for instance:

 This door has clearly had a torturous past. A somewhat modern sliding lock holds it closed. A wooden thread spool serves as white-painted handle. A keyhole sits below, unused ... unusable.
 To understand why, have a look at the other side:

 Did I say "torturous past" without reason? At one time in the house's distant past (probably late 1800's to the turn of the century), this door held a fine lock assembly with a skeleton key mechanism. It was ripped wholly from the door. How I would like to travel back in time to that event and see (and hear!) what happened. (This room would not have been a bathroom initially; there was no indoor plumbing at that time).
 I imagine the door was locked and someone wanted in. Now! They pulled and pulled the door with great force until the wood split asunder. Repairs were made with a wooden spool and a bolt placed through its center.
 (What's even more interesting to me is that this tiny room has two doors)
 I may have found the lock mechanism that once bared this door:

 I found it in the barn. The mechanism, if held against the splintered wood, seems to fit the profile. The lock was patented in 1863, mid-way through the Civil War. Abraham Lincoln had less than 21 months to live.

 This is the handle on the outside on my bedroom door. Clearly, this door is another that has seen better days. The wood is split from a violent pull in this direction (from outside the room). I have never repaired any of these defects. I like better to see them and reminisce about the wooden past. I would not cover up the violence. I would show it to the world for what it is.
 The wall in my bedroom above my desk has a bulbous wave to it. It is not flat. And though I might have sanded it down smooth when I removed the wallpaper after we first moved in, I'd never have considered it. I love character and perfect lacks it.

 I call this our "Rube Goldberg" latch. It locks the door going from Mom's bedroom out into the attic above the kitchen. That attic did not exist in the original house so this lock is not so old. Still, was there any need for the mechanism to be so complicated? I think the slide lock (original picture) makes more sense.
 And yet this is beautiful, is it not? It doesn't merely lock the door: it causes your mind to leave the road, wrecks it somewhere along the way, causes you to consider complication as the mother of invention. It doesn't just lock the door; it shows you how securely it is locked.

 I look at each of these locks daily, lay my hand where other flesh has grasped and know full well that while I hope to open other doors, I mostly open those already swung wide in the past.

Pinehaven is now an e-book

 Yesterday - Christmas Day - Pinehaven was released as a Kindle e-book. It's available by clicking here for just $0.99.

 This is a Second Edition (2013), different from the original print version ... 37 errors were corrected and some formatting changes were made (page numbers were removed, for instance).

I appreciate the wonderful support through the past 14 years and hope the electronic version receives a wide readership. Feedback is important. My final favor would be to ask you to leave a review on Amazon.com.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

December Flooding

I suppose there's something good to be said about all this rain:
      it wasn't snow.

The storm total I've just recorded was 2.79". To put that into perspective, our usual precipitation for the month of December is 3.02". We received nearly that entire amount in just 24 hours.

I drove over to Miamisburg as the "Action" stage of the Great Miami River near the Hutchings power station is 14 feet. The "Flood" stage is 17' though the system of levees throughout the valley prevent the sort of flooding we had in 1913. Still, the river's "instantaneous" height at 8:30 a.m. was 18.61 feet. I've watched it slowly recede (it is 17.79 feet as I type this mid-afternoon) and I don't believe the earlier forecast of about 21.5 feet by tomorrow morning will come to pass.

Still, the river is full, bank to bank, and it is flowing with great force.

Great Miami River - Miamisburg - looking south
Linden Avenue Bridge in distance

Great Miami River - Miamisburg - looking north
Route 725 Bridge in distance

 Yesterday I drove over to the Germantown Dam, also part of the Miami Valley flood protection system, and the water was rushing through the dam (on the far left, unseen) and flowing south in Twin Creek.

Germantown Dam - December 21, 2013

After yesterday's high of 64°, last night thunderstorms began rolling through about 9 p.m. A severe thunderstorm watch was posted until 3 a.m. Who expects this sort of thing in winter?

Farmersville Road - looking south

I heard that the bridge on Manning Road (German/Jackson Twp) was partly submerged (the guardrails, at least) so I drove over. This is as close as I could get. At the bottom of this road is Manning Road, running east/west. The bridge would be on the far right of this picture. There was no way of getting close - not even on foot - save swimming.

I reversed back up the hill on Farmersville Road, turned around in the driveway at the top of the hill and proceeded north to Walden Road which gave me a view of the valley that contains Twin Creek. There was little but water as far as I could see.

 This shot shows the valley of Twin Creek west of Germantown (and south of Farmersville).

 Another view from the high vantage of Walden Road (Jackson Twp.). It is not the dry rural valley of most of the year. I've seen it flooded a number of times in the past but I've never seen the water this deep or this widespread. The rain fell so heavily and in such a short time, that the relatively small Twin Creek couldn't handle the flow.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Pinehaven Pomace Fruitcake

 The apricot wine has been racked off, carefully placed in a large bottle where any sediment will settle to the bottom and the resultant clear wine bottled for later use. But what to do with the leftover fruit ... apricots, lemons, oranges and raisins?

That's called "pomace" in case you didn't know. It's slightly alcoholic since it's been submerged in wine-in-progress. It tastes fine to place a bit on breakfast cereal. But we have more than a bit. So, like two years ago [click here], we turned the pomace into fruitcake.

It's certainly non-traditional but it's also quite good. To add color to the batter, I bought a very small container of colored (red and green) pineapple slices. Citron, which would have been perfect, was only available in one pound packages. And I wasn't short of fruit.

 Here's how the batter looked before baking. We lined a metal loaf pan with parchment paper to prevent sticking and we baked the fruitcake for about two hours.

 I then turned on the oven broiler (high) for a few minutes to give the top of the fruitcake some color. It certainly took on a nice golden tan.
 For a darker fruitcake, dark Karo syrup could be used instead of the light (clear) we used.
 This is not so dense as some fruitcakes. Don't call this one a brick! Instead, call it delicious.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

One Week Till Christmas

To bed last night after an evening of snow flurries. As usual, I survey the surroundings from my second floor bathroom window before climbing into bed. Are there any unexpected tracks in the snow? I look upon a lightly-lit snow-scape. The moon will be full today and so the clouds are softly lit from above, making the ground give up its nightly secrets.

I look to my south and see Christmas lights. Erisman's have lights on the front of their house and in the yard, all white and green, and a small colorful display behind their house. Coffman's have an unusual blue-violet string of lights, perhaps on a bush, that attracts my attention. These are the total of the visible Christmas displays from my window. Our yard, by contrast, is dark, save but the moon.

This morning breaks clear - absolutely crystal clear - and I decide that a walk is in order. Sam plowed his lane yesterday and now I have a path. The tractor left the lane blessedly rough and so I have wonderful traction as I plod west. The full moon hangs just above the treetops in the distance, setting before me just as the sun rises behind me.

It is 18° and the snow crunches beneath my steps with an other-worldly crunch. And yet I am pleasantly warm. I've layered a jacket with a hood and a winter coat and I've pulled on a knitted cap and pulled the hood up over it, cinching the cord beneath my chin. After half a mile I can feel the bitter cold conducting upwards through my shoes and into my feet, spreading into my legs. And yet it is a pleasant sensation, a connection to this real world moving beneath my feet.

 This is the scene I see as I approach Sam's house, a third of a mile behind ours. I am thankful that my track has returned, that I can get some exercise again. It has been two weeks, at least, since I have been out here. How I miss the movement; how I miss the scenery.

 I am lit from behind and my left as I plod back the lane. The sun is still low and the snow rises into high relief. The surface shines in places, as though wet, and I might as well imagine a storm-tossed ocean about me. These are waves of snow, not drifts, and I might make one misstep, be sucked wholly into this scenery and never be heard from again.

 Looking down at the snow beside the lane, tufts of summer grasses poke above the surface. There is every season in every other, the one pushed down but never quite hidden. Each lurk forever awaiting their turn.

 The snow looks like a downy mattress. It undulates with the ground beneath, further sculpted by the wind. The air is cold and yet I am snug within my coats. There is not a wisp of wind. It is the calmest of fall mornings. Winter still beckons three days away.

 When I complete a length and turn to walk back out the lane, Pinehaven lies cold and serene in the distance. How efficient are our furnaces. A touch of a digital control and we are instantly comfortable ... if we can just afford to be. The heat pump runs continually in the background, the man-made hum of our modern winter.

 Finally I am back to where I started, 0.6 miles having crunched beneath my feet. The cold soaks quietly in. I can feel my feet stiffen. And yet with this calm golden sun, how can I be cold? As every morning, I am infinitely lucky to be here, winter and summer, as the seasons glide slowly by.

Monday, December 16, 2013

A Cold, Snowy December

 We're not used to this, not after last winter. December 2012 was +8.2° to normal. Where deviations are usually measured in tenths of a degree, that was a whopping change. This year, with half the month already recorded, we are running -0.9° to normal. In other words, we're more than nine degrees colder than last December.

 With regular nighttime snows and school closings, this month seems more like winter. And yet it is still autumn for another five days.

 Here's a visual look at the past week ...

 Last Tuesday (December 10) the arbor vitae outside my living room window developed masses of icicles. The rain gutter overhead had been melting snow and dropping an overhanging drift so that it coated this shrub with ice. Overnight we had added another 2" of snow.

 Late in the day, with the low sun slanting across the snow, I took this photograph of the wind-drifted snow, blue tinged by the sky, pink tinged by the setting sun. A few dark spots - last year's maple seeds - mar the surface along with the wind. A flat, blank surface would be a canvas unpainted; imperfection is often what gives the world interest.

 The following day (December 11) I noticed the north-facing window in Mom's bedroom beginning to take on crystals of ice as is its habit in the coldest weather. We rose above freezing during the day and part of the ice returned to droplets of liquid water.

 A day later (December 12) and Jack Frost got to serious work on the same spot. It dipped to 2° the night before (surely the coldest we've been in years) and the liquid water soon turned to feathery crystals of ice. I always marvel at the varied patterns. What sets the lines in motion, who determines where they cross? Why does a delicate feather sprout here? And why is this area devoid of ice entirely?

 This morning (December 16) we find that school is on a two hour delay and the road remains quiet at 9 a.m. I watched a snow plow work the road while I brushed my teeth (leaving the bathroom light turned off so I could stand at the second floor window and watch), spreading salt behind it. This view is out our back door, facing southwest. I have dug a small path to the garage, one to the driveway so I can get the mail when it comes, another to the rain gauge so I could measure the snow (the metal rain gauge is the small gray tube, centered in the distance).

 Speaking of the mail, the mailbox stands nearest the road and I always cringe when a plow passes it, throwing plumes of heavy snow against it. Two years ago our mailbox was destroyed by a passing snow plow. If it happens this year, I will ask Jackson Township to replace it.

 It is a good day to stay in. It's still snowing lightly at 9:15 a.m. and I've heard little traffic pass the house. It's just 25°. The rest of the week promises moderating temperatures. Tomorrow should climb above freezing and Friday's forecast calls for a temperature into the mid-50's. It'll be a nice respite from December's so-far cold and snow.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Smoky Mountains - October 4 - 6, 2013

Bob and his life-long friend, Sam Owens, went on their annual hiking trip to the Smoky Mountains from October 4 through October 6 this year. As always, they stayed in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. The only thing that was different this year was that the federal government was closed ... and hiking trails were, too.

Still, here's a photo tour of this year's trip:

An old chimney along the trail.
October 4 , 2013 - 9:28 a.m.

An unusual tree along the trail
October 4, 2013 - 9:43 a.m.

Evans Cemetery along the road
October 4, 2013 - 9::56 a.m.

Hiking suspended? Bob said he saw a bear this day.
October 4, 2013 - 10:10 a.m.

Wooden driving bridge on the way to Ramsey Cascade trailhead
"We had to park by the main road (321) and hike in on foot," Bob said.
October 5, 2013 - 10:44 a.m.

October 5, 2013 - 11:20 a.m.

Sam Owens
October 5, 2013 - 11:20 a.m.

Sam Owens
October 5, 2013 - 11:22 a.m.

Creek at Ramsey Cascade trailhead
October 5, 2013 - 11:23 a.m.

Footbridge at Ramsey Cascade
October 5, 2013 - 11:28 a.m.

Greenbriar area - Trauilhead creek to Ramsey Cascade Falls
Ten miles along the road but a trip to the falls would have added eight more
October 5, 2013 - 11:28 a.m.

Pancake Pantry - Gatlinburg - Front of paper placemat
Bob does this to torture me!
October 6, 2013 - 7:21 a.m.

Pancake Pantry - this is their famous French Toast with a wonderful cinnamon syrup that is so good
it makes my head spin. I've had it a couple of times where Bob gets to wrap his lips around it every fall.
October 6, 2013 - 7:30 a.m.

This is where the guys parked to access the Appalachian Trail
(Mt. Cammerer at Davenport Gap)
October 6, 2013 - 10:00 a.m.

October 6, 2013 - 10:01 a.m.

The asphalt road meets the dirt trail
October 6, 2013 - 10:02 a.m.

Day Three: Twelve mile round trip to Mt. Cammerer
October 6, 2013 - 10:02 a.m.

October 6, 2013 - 10:04 a.m.

October 6, 2013 - 10:22 a.m.
Robert J. Schmidt

Davenport Gap Shelter - Appalachian Trail
October 6, 2013 - 10:32 a.m.

October 6, 2013 - 12:15 p.m.
See the "wood sprite" looking out the hole in the log?

Here's a close-up of the same shot.
The gnome is visible now!

View along the AT on the way to Mt. Cammerer
October 6, 2013: 12:30 p.m.

Sam Owens along the trail
October 6, 2013 - 12:30 p.m.

Moss on a rock 
October 6, 2013 - 12:39 p.m.

Sam Owens
October 6, 2013 - 12:42 p.m.

Sam Owens
October 6, 2013 - 12:42 p.m.

Mt. Cammerer fire tower
October 6, 2013 - 1:32 p.m.

View from the tower
October 6, 2013 - 1:35 p.m.

Another view from the tower ... a minute later
October 6, 2103 - 1:36 p.m.

October 6, 2013 - 1:37 p.m.

Sam Owens (distance)
October 6, 2013 - 1:37 p.m.

October 6, 2013 - 2:13 p.m.

October 6, 2103 - 2:14 p.m.

Survey marker embedded in rock at top of Mt. Cammerer
October 6, 2013 - 1:39 p.m.

Credit: All photos © Robert Schmidt