May 2010

We got up early today so I could go and run the annual Pathfinder Yard Sale. We do this on Memorial Day because we have been renting our church facility to a church that meets on Sunday (though they are disbanding next month). So we need a weekday morning when everyone will be pretty much available. That means a Monday holiday.

We arrived just before 8:00 and dragged the tables from the basement to the yard. Then Ken showed up (right around 8:00) and we started shuttling stuff from the canopy garage to the front yard using his truck.

We had a pretty good crowd and lots of “goods”. I am always horrible at this, because it generally falls to me to dispose of the remnants. So I always lowball the price. I really don’t want to have to get rid of these “treasures” at the end of the day, so I am willing to let things go for way less than they are worth. Oh well. We get pretty good crowds, the goods are all donated, and the profit margin is 100%. We cleared over $500 today, so I call that a success.

Goodwill was willing to take our leftover clothing, but nothing else. Their warehouse was packed stem to stern with all manner of things just like we were trying to give them. Junk just doesn’t sell.

The Salvation Army was closed for the holiday, so we had to haul all the stuff back to the church and load it back into the canopy. I will go through it again in the next couple of days to see if there’s anything worth trying to sell on Craigslist. Otherwise, we will be making a dump run.

After it was over, Melissa (one of the Pathfinder staff members) treated David, Beth, and me to ice cream. This was a “thank you” for the work I’ve done with the Pathfinders. It was completely unnecessary, but also very much appreciated. We got home around 5:00pm.

Then Va and I decided it was time to have our anniversary dinner (a couple of weeks late). So we went out and left the kids at home. It was a nice meal, and the company was first class.

Next year we will have been married for 25 years. If we can swing it, I’d like to take her to Scotland (she has always wanted to go there). But we’ll have to see.

I guess I forgot to post last night. Oops!

After church, Va had her last Adventurer’s meeting of the year. They worked on the Starfish Award, and they all seemed to enjoy it pretty well (including Va). We went home, and in the evening, Beth, David, and I took Penny for a walk to Sandogardy Pond.

I saw something that I first thought was a fungus growing on some alder:

Fuzzgatoids on some alder bushes

Fuzzgatoids on some alder bushes

I was disabused of this notion a little later when I saw this firefly rummaging through the fuzzballs:
Firefly harvesting fuzz balls

Firefly harvesting fuzz balls

And then I saw some of the fuzz balls running for their lives. I think they are some variety of Wooly Aphid, but I don’t have any idea which species. I posted an image or two on Bugguide, but I haven’t heard anything yet.

I went into the woods to see if the Blue-bead lilies (Clintonia borealis) was still in bloom (it was) and was surprised to see that the Indian Cucumber (Medeola virginiana) was in bloom too. I really liked this shot:

Indian Cucumber Root (Medeola virginiana)

Indian Cucumber Root (Medeola virginiana)

This is an edible plant whose roots taste (and smell) just like… yes, cucumber. I would very much like to gather a great big bunch of it, but there’s just not enough of it to a) make a decent snack, or b) survive harvesting like that. It’s a biennial plant. In its first year it grows one tier of whorled leaves, and in the second year, it grows a second, higher tier with three leaves. It only flowers in the second year. I have it on my property as well, but still it’s not that abundant.

We ambled on home after a while, arriving well after Beth’s bedtime. Not that she seemed to mind.

This morning she and I went to Tilton to run some errands, and snagged three geocaches while we were out. That was fun. I worked a little on her log cabin this evening too, but it’s pretty hard to tell I did anything.

Tomorrow will be a brutal day for me. The Pathfinders are having our annual yardsale. I need to be there early to oversee the set up, and I’ll be there late to take the remainders to Goodwill/Salvation Army/Dump. It’s going to be a long day.

Today Jonathan got his driver’s license, yay! Va took him to the DMV this morning. They have a kiosk there for taking the written part of the test. It asks questions until is has either asked 40, or the examinee has correctly answered 32. Then a state trooper sat with him as he took a cruise through Concord.

He did pretty OK! He “needs improvement” in a couple of areas (checking mirrors when merging and parallel parking), but it wasn’t serious enough to prevent them from issuing him his license.

Shortly after he finished, I added him to our insurance policy. There goes most of his first paycheck, but at least he should be able to cover it with only one.

New Hampshire issues temporary licenses while they make the permanent one. The temp one is a pretty flimsy black and white job. Kinda like the temp tags they put on new cars, but small. He’ll get his real one in a couple of weeks.

This inspired David to ask me to take him out driving tonight. So I did. He did pretty OK too, but he has just barely started. He’s still not comfortable driving 30MPH on the little road we live on – even on the paved section. But that’s OK, he’s learning. We need to get out a bit more frequently though. I have already wasted about a year that I could have used for teaching him.

A while back I bought a printer for the school. My main selection criteria was cost per printed page, and good reviews from customers. That pretty much means a B&W laser. The one thing I neglected to consider, because it has been so long since i have run into anything like that, is that it should work well with Linux. Nearly any printer on the market works well with Linux these days. I managed to choose one that doesn’t work at all with Linux. In fact, it won’t work with anything but Windows. This is because all the brains in the printer are not in the printer at all, but rather, in the driver which resides on the PC. And that driver is Windows-only. The printer has an exo-brain.


Until today, I didn’t have any Windows machines in the whole school. But now I sure do. I set it up as a print server. Unfortunately, my suckage at Windows administration, or Windows’ suckage as a print server prevented me from having a seamless setup. My setup is full of seams. It’s the sort of thing that would make Rube Goldberg blush.

Jonathan and I spent three hours bodging it together after work. I’m thinking I should put this awful printer on the market and take a mulligan.

Last night after it had been in the fridge a while, I took out my lady Dobson fly and took several shots of her on a white sheet of paper. I like this one best, because she has such shiny eyes.

Dobsonfly (Corydalus cornutus)

Dobsonfly (Corydalus cornutus)

What a beautiful girl! She was about three inches long.

On the way home from work we saw a turtle in the middle of the road. I wasn’t sure if it had been hit or not, but since there are several species in New Hampshire that Fish and Game is interested in, I had Jonathan turn around and park near it. Yeah, it had been freshly hit (but not by us). It’s a bit of a gross photo, so if you’re squeamish, don’t click the “more” thing.

There’s methane hydrate crystals
In the tube
On the “dome”
On the BOP
On the pipe
In the hole in the bottom of the sea.

This woulda been better if I had thought of it three weeks ago.

Today when we were ready to go off to school and work, we found that my car would not start. But it behaved in the most bizarre fashion ever. Turn the key, and the fuel and temperature gauges started dancing up and down, all the dashboard lights began to flash, and the odometer started flashing 0000000.

Release the key, and the “dancing” changed, but did not stop for another five or ten seconds. I’m not a great mechanic, and this seemed pretty well beyond the scope of my automotive knowledge, so we took Va’s car instead. That obligated me to leaving work early to fetch Beth from school.

I called AAA and they sent a tow truck. I had them haul my car all the way to Concord where my normal mechanic’s shop is. AAA covers the first five miles for free, and anything over that is $3.00 per mile. I figure they’ll hit me for about $40 or so.

As it turns out, it was just a bad battery. I could have easily changed that myself had I known, but it’s the had I known part that makes it worth it for me to pay someone else to do the work.

I bugged out of work to fetch Beth, and while I was at the school poked around the network a bit to find out why our provider was saying we had been exceeding our bandwidth cap. According to my records, our traffic has been fairly light. So either I don’t know what I’m doing, they don’t know what they are doing, or they were just making stuff up to get me off the phone. I can eliminate option one with a high degree of confidence, so that leaves the other two options.

Beth and I went back to the office, and I finished off what I was doing. Then we headed home. As I was pulling out of the garage, the mechanic called to tell me it was the battery. They also noted that I was overdue for an oil change and my wiper blades were shot. So I had them take care of that too. I stopped by to pay so I could pick the car up later tonight after a church board meeting.

The guy running the place told me he hadn’t figured up the bill yet and really couldn’t until they finished the work. He suggested I just take the car home after hours and pay them tomorrow. That’s why I like these guys so much. It’s a lot easier to trust someone who trusts you back.

We picked up some Hut cuisine and ate that when we got home. Then Va and I headed back to Concord to attend the board meeting. We grabbed my car first though.

The bummer part is that when they disconnected the battery, it put the car stereo in the “Oh noes! I’ve been stolen!” mode. I’ll hafta take it back in the morning to pay them anyhow, and I’ll see if they can address that then.

As I was getting into my car after the board meeting, I spotted what I believe is a female dobson fly on the roof of my car. Va had already left, and my camera was in her car, not in mine. Boooo. So I fished around in my car to see what I could capture this little lady in. I found a box of screws, and that was the perfect size. I dumped the screws into the console and scooped the Dobson girl into the container. When I got home, I popper her in the fridge. That will slow her down so that she’ll hold still when I try to get a picture later tonight.

I needed to cut the grass about two weeks ago I guess. I planned to do it last Tuesday, but the fiddlehead ferns conspired to prevent me from doing it then. On Wednesday it rained, and on Thursday I went shopping for groceries for our camping trip. On Friday we camped. I got back pretty tired Sunday evening, but made an attempt to cut the grass then in spite of my exhaustion.

I made almost one lap before I ran into some pretty high grass that killed the engine. And then I couldn’t get it restarted.

On average, I’d say the grass was about eight inches tall, but there were places where it was up over two feet. I’m not that much into yard maintenance.

I figured I’d give it another crack tonight. Of course nothing was different (other than that I had more energy) and the mower wouldn’t start. So I dug into it.

The first thing I found was that the cable that engages the front wheel drive was stuck hard. I was able to move it in its sheath with a pair of pliers, but even with the liberal application of WD-40, I was not able to get it to move freely. Front wheel drive never really seems to make much difference in the amount of effort required to cut the grass anyway, or maybe it’s been that way for a couple of years and I’ve just gotten used to doing all the work myself, I dunno. But I figured that maybe the engine couldn’t get going with the front-wheel-drive system engaged, so I disabled it by loosening a spring. It made no difference. So I opened the engine cover.

It didn’t take long to find a broken spring connected to the governor. I could have held it open while I started the engine, but starting the engine requires two hands, and that was all I had available. But the spring was clearly broken. I dug out a parts list and found the part number, and then I called a place in Tilton to see if they either had the part of could order it for me. They didn’t/could, and it will be there for me to pick up in a couple of days.

Meanwhile, the grass is still two feet tall in places. Or maybe even 30 inches. It’s really bad. So I decided to see if I could jury rig the spring and coax the mower into working for at least a couple of hours.

I pressed a paper clip into service, and voila – I had a running engine. I cut the grass, and now the lawn looks a little more suburban than it did this morning.

Cutting the grass almost always causes me grief though, and not because of a broken spring. I cut down several sprigs of blue-eyed grass (in bloom), and nearly ran over a stand of bluets. I did place a rock in the yard next to the bluets to prevent an accidental cutting though. I ran right over the blue-eyed grass though. I would have spared it too, except that there is another stand of it in an unmowed part of the property. Still, it causes me grief to mow them down like that.

I led my pathfinder club no a campout this weekend. The weather was gorgeous, which is a little unusual; it usually rains when we camp.

We camped at the Washington Seventh-day Adventist Church, which is an historic place actually. It is the church where Adventists first observed the seventh day as Sabbath. Before that time, there were Adventists, and there were people who kept Sabbath on Saturday, but this was the first time those two beliefs came together.

They do not have electricity there, nor do they have plumbing. But they do have outhouses. We had to haul all our water there.

When we arrived and opened the trailer, I started hauling stuff out and almost immediately saw a couple of ticks. Uh oh. So before proceeding any further, I found the insect repellent and sprayed myself. Then I started spraying other kids.

We got all the tents pitched, made supper, and lit a campfire. I let all the kids stay up until 10:30. I figure tired kids sleep better. I let the teens stay up another hour or so, and we all turned in around 11:30.

The past couple of times we camped here, we tried to use a few large tents. That doesn’t work well, because we have to pitch them in the woods, and it’s hard to find a clear, level spot big enough to pitch a large tent. This time I changed strategies, and decided we would use many small tents instead. I was able to scare up enough three-man tents so that everyone either had a tent to himself, or was sharing with another kid.

At about 1:30 am one of the kids in a tent near mine woke up and started asking “Is it breakfast time yet?” I hollered to him to be quite, and that it was still the middle of the night. He did quiet down, and I went back to sleep.

The sun came up at 5:15. Some of the kids got up shortly before then. They proceeded to wake the rest of the kids, who all started running around yelling and screaming and having a good old time.

I did not sleep a wink after that, but I did not get up either. Not until 7:00 anyhow. I doubt that any of them had a timepiece of any kind. It was light outside, and they were awake, and that was all that seemed to matter to them.

After breakfast I told them that since they got up before 5:00am, they were going to have to go to bed early. If they would not sleep in the morning, I would make sure they slept at night.

We went on a long hike Saturday afteroon. It was uphill all the way there and most of the way back. Or so it seemed. We met a convoy consisting of two Humvees and a military truck on the “road,” and I’m using that term fairly loosely. Maybe it used to be a road, but I wouldn’t want to drive on it. It was pretty OK for hiking though. Apparently it’s pretty OK for training the Guardsmen to drive Humvees over unimproved roads.

We got back from that, took a short rest, and then set out for a geocache, which was another mile and a half away (and a mile and a half back). It wasn’t uphill in both directions, but it was unambiguously uphill on the way there. There was plenty of boulder scrambling involved. After on particularly steep incline we came to a rock cairn (these are common on the hiking trails in these parts), and curled up under a rock was a nice-sized milk snake (Lampropeltis triangulum triangulum). We found the cache, and then headed back to camp.

Then we had some dinner, and the kids ran around in the dark playing some variant of hide and seek. I don’t think any two of them had the same notion of what the rules were, but they did all seem to enjoy it pretty substantially.

I sent them to bed at 9:30 (as promised), and the teens and I turned in at around 10:30. At about 11:00 the coyotes started howling. I’m sure they were within a hundred yards of our site. They were pretty loud, and I sure thought it was pretty cool.

Shortly after that I heard something that did scare – ATV’s. They came roaring onto the site full-throttle and went tearing down the trail in the dark. Some of our tents were pitched partly on the trail, and I was afraid that these idiots (who were ignoring the “NO MOTORCYCLES OR ATVS” signs posted all over the place) were probably drunk, and maybe wouldn’t expect to find a tent on the trail. They didn’t venture onto any of the trails near us though. They did tear around for about an hour, and then went roaring outta there. I’ll take a pack of coyotes over a pack of ATV’s any day.

The kids miraculously slept until after 7:00. I didn’t wake up myself until 7:05. I don’t know if it was the dressing down I gave them the previous morning, or if it was the six miles of hiking uphill both ways, but they were all pretty dead to the world when I came around waking them up at a decent hour.

Connected with the Washington Adventist Church is a mile-long loop trail called The Sabbath Trail. There are 32 markers along the trail chronicling the history of Sabbath observance. I had offered our club’s services to do some trail maintenance while we were there. That was partly meant as payment for permission to camp, and partly because I like to teach the kids the meaning of community service. Anyhow, the plan was for us to work on the trail on Sunday morning. We did that after breakfast, lopping off thousands of branches overhanging the trail (at face level and lower) and hauling them into the woods. It took a couple of hours to do that, and the trail was far easier to navigate afterwords. I am secretly pleased that we did not do this before the ATVs arrived. I suppose ATVs have their uses. I just wish they were not used as a form of recreation.

They are noisy, they pollute, and I would rather not share the trail with them. They also do not extend the benefits of exercise to those who ride them. Similarly, I prefer to canoe and kayak over a jet ski, and I intend to take up snowshoeing before I ever ride on a snowmobile.

After we cleaned up the trail, we made lunch, ate it, and began breaking camp. That went pretty quickly. I really like using lots of small tents verses fewer large ones. They are easier to pitch and easier to strike, and the kids require very little supervision to do either. When we use big tents, it always ends up with two kids doing the work and three or four others watching them unhelpfully. This is much nicer.

So! That was my big adventure. I think it was a positive experience for everyone in my club. We won’t camp again (as a club at least) until September, as the Pathfinder year has almost drawn to a close.

Tonight before leaving the office, I spent an hour in front of my laptop updating a spreadsheet. This spreadsheet tells me how much of several types of food to buy for a campout (and we have our club campout this weekend, so this will prolly be my last post until I get back from that).

I added several missing food items to it tonight, so hopefully we won’t forget anything (like tomatoes and salad dressing). There have been… complaints.

Anyhow, in this spreadsheet I enter the average number of servings per person I think we’ll need for each item and for each meal. Not everyone eats every food we bring, and there are some foods that few people eat, but that I buy anyhow because I (and a few others) like them. So if I think 20% of the people on the trip will eat a serving, I enter in 0.2 for that item.

We generally eat six meals on these campouts, from Friday supper until Sunday lunch. So I have six columns in the spreadsheet. If we’re having PB&J for lunch and I think each person will eat an average of two sandwiches, I enter “4” in the bread row for that meal’s column (each sandwich requires two slices of bread).

Then I have another column that tells me how many servings of an item I expect to get out of whatever quantum it comes in. For bread, that would be 20, because the average loaf has 20 slices.

The spreadsheet calculates that I’ll need 4.25 loaves of bread, but it ups that to 5 since it’s hard to buy a quarter loaf. I also have (bad) estimates for how much each item costs, and it guesses the bill. My high estimates seem to cancel my low estimates, so it actually comes up with a reasonable number even with bad-ish data.

This has worked out pretty well in the past (except for the food items I forgot to include), and I’m thinking it should do pretty OK this weekend too.

After I adjusted the spreadsheet for THIS campout, Jonathan and I went shopping and bought the stuff on the list, except for a few items – some of which we already have, and some of which I will buy tomorrow (ice). Then we took it to the church, and grabbed the (mostly empty) food tubs out of the trailer.

One of the first things we found was liquified bananas from the April 30-May 2 campout. I thought I was going to hurl. I poured it into the dumpster as I retched, then filled the tub with water, emptied it out, and then filled it again. Then I scrubbed it out with dish soap. Ugh! The smell is mostly gone though.

As we were putting food into the tubs Jonathan had a brainstorm. I didn’t think we had time to execute it tonight, but I will surely attempt this on the next campout.

He suggested that we put Friday supper food in one tub, Saturday breakfast in another, etc. One tub per meal. We’d also have a common tub for stuff we use at every meal (like salt). We have three coolers, so we could put two breakfasts in one, two lunches in another, and so forth.

We already have a system for the equipment tubs that works very well. A couple of years ago we put numbers on every tub, plus a list of things that were in that tub. But the magic part is that I then entered all that data into a spreadsheet and sorted it alphabetically. Then I thought up every synonym I could for every item – plastic baggies, sandwich bags, ziplocks. I printed out this alphabetized list and posted in the trailer.

Before we did this, I would find myself rummaging through half a dozen tubs looking for duct tape or a hatchet. Now all I have to do is look at the alphabetic list and go straight to the right tub. To make this even better, I put the tubs in numerical order in the trailer, and sometimes when we get them out, I line them up in numeric order on the ground. It saves a tremendous amount of time. It also solves the problem of “where does the cutting board go?” Look at the list. Tub 10. By having everything in its proper tub every time, I have gotten to the point where I know a good deal of the list without having to consult it. Duct tape is in tub 1. Fire starting stuff in tub 2. Rope is in tub 5.

Since we did that, it is so much easier to find everything – with the notable exception of any particular food item. This is because the food tubs just say “food” and there are half a dozen of them to rummage through. So hopefully this tweak will make camping even better.

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