August 2010

Today after church I was talking to a few friends, when I noticed that I hadn’t seen anyone in my immediate family for several minutes. I thought they must be waiting in the car, so I went downstairs to the lower lot and looked – no one there. Back inside to look around – no one in my family there either. Back upstairs, and still no one! So I went out the front door and saw a fire truck, ambulance, and a police car in the road right in front of the church’s driveway. One of our church members had been in an accident. (No one was seriously injured.)

Beth had seen it as she was on the new climbing dome when it happened. Va was putting things in the car, and she heard it. David was outside at the time too, so he heard it. They were the first on the scene.

The member in the accident was one of our refugees from Africa, and she had her four daughters in the car (two of whom are in my Pathfinder Club). By the time I found out what was going on, they were loading the mother and oldest daughter into an ambulance. Va was carrying the youngest one back into the church, and two other church members were escorting the other girls inside. Their father was called, and he caught a ride with a neighbor post haste. Anyhow, there was lots of confusion and excitement, and they were released from the hospital later in the afternoon.

My plan for today was to take Beth and David on a little paddle trip down the Merrimack. I figured that with just the three of us, it would go much more smoothly than the raft trip did last week. But instead, it did not go smoothly at all! Jonathan took us to the put in, and he agreed to come and get us at the take-out when I called him later.

The first problem was that I forgot my hat. I bought my hat so that I wouldn’t get a sunburn on the top of my otherwise sparsely-covered pate. I hate to put sunscreen up there, but if I don’t, I pay dearly. I had some sunscreen in the car, so I slathered it on.

Then we put the boats in the water (one canoe, one kayak) and off we went. The hatlessness lead to the next problem, and that was that sweat started rolling down into my eyes, carrying the sunscreen into the right one. Man… it burns.

Pretty soon I found it almost impossible to see. It was incredibly painful – far more painful in fact, than any sunburn I have ever experiences (and I’ve had some doozies). Shortly after that, David experienced the same thing. And then we came to some very minor class I rapids. We got down them OK, but I was worried about shooting the rapids while nearly blind.

We shot a second set and again came out OK. But the eyes were just getting worse. David had pulled over to the shore, so I did too. We could hear traffic from route 3, so I decided to see how wide the shoulder was there (it was about a hundred yards away).

I didn’t like what I saw. The riverbank was very steep up, and then the roadway was very steep down, and I couldn’t find any sort of trail. The thought of hauling a canoe and a kayak through that was just unthinkable. So we crossed the river and looked into the situation on the other side. It was much better.

I went back to the boats and grabbed the GPS so I could tell Jonathan where we were. I tried to call, but the signal was dropped. I had zero bars. So I walked a short distance until I had one and tried again. I got his voicemail. So I called Va – dropped the call before I could say “boo.” I tried again and got her voicemail. So I called the house. Jonathan answered, and I was somehow able to tell him where we were, though the signal was so bad, that it was pretty iffy.

Then I went back to the river and David and I hauled the kayak up the bank and out to the road. I left him and Beth there with it while I went after the canoe and paddles.

Jonathan showed up a lot quicker than I thought he would. We loaded the boats up, and he drove us home, eyes still burning.

It has been over three hours since we got home and my eyes are still torturing me! I expect they’ll be OK by morning. I think next time, I’ll bring my hat!

Now that the raft trip is behind us, I have started to turn my attention to some of the other requirements for the Pioneering honor. One of them is for us to make flour from an edible wild plant. When we did this honor four years ago, we used clover flowers (dry them at a low temperature in the oven, and then use a mortar & pestle to grind it up). That made a very acceptable flour. We mixed it 50/50 with wheat flour and made pancakes.

This year I want to try it with acorns. Unfortunately, almost all of the oaks on my place are red oaks, which make for more bitter acorns. White oaks are far better. But I will use what I can easily get.

I gathered about a gallon of them today after work. I read recently that a float test will tell which ones have worms in them, and which ones do not. I’m going to try that and see.

Once they are sorted, they have to be shelled and then soaked in several changes of water. Acorns are very high in tannin, which makes them bitter (and red oaks are far richer in tannin than white oaks). Water will leach out the tannin and make them palatable. Or so I have read.

Once the bitterness is gone (you can tell by tasting), they can be ground up and dried, and then used as flour. Again, the flour can be mixed with wheat flour, but that might be less necessary than it was with clover. Acorns were a staple of the Native American diet.

If it turns out OK, then I’ll have to figure out how I want the kids in the Pathfinder Club to do this. We obviously won’t be able to soak the acorns in several changes of water over a period of several days during a meeting. I might take the cooking show approach, where we go through the steps with one batch, and then have another batch or two already at the next stage – that way all we skip is the waiting. But since I’ve never done this before, I need to give it a try before I teach the kids how!

Last week, I found myself feeling under the weather every afternoon after lunch. Burning eyes, runny nose, and fatigue. Then after I left the office, I would slowly recover and feel pretty good by about 7:00pm.

I felt great all weekend too. And then Monday afternoon – bam! Same thing. When I felt it coming on again on Tuesday, I decided that maybe I had a sick office. Maybe there is mold in the ductwork. So I moved to a usually-empty office used by some of our remote employees when they visit the Concord office. None were here, so I camped in there. But the damage was already done.

So I worked in there all day yesterday, and by the end of the day, I felt great! “Cool,” I thought, “there might be something to this.” But I drew no conclusions.

One day isn’t really enough to tell something like that. There could have been other variables, or there could even be some other root cause. For instance, it poured rain all day yesterday, so if it was a pollen thing, that would have been way down, and I’d have felt great.

So continuing the experiment, I worked in my own office again today. I expected a headache, runny nose, burning eyes, etc. But instead, I felt great. Bummer. 😦

Now I have no idea what the problem might be. The only thing good about this (aside from me feeling great), is that I get to complain about feeling great. And the irony there is delicious!

Today was Beth’s first day of fourth grade.

Fourth Grader

Fourth Grader

The school looks great, but the renovation is still not quite complete. Last night after work, Jonathan and I stopped there to put the network back together. We didn’t finish (nor did I expect to), so we stopped there again tonight.

We got two quad Ethernet outlets installed beneath the computer tables, hooked them into the patch panel, mounted the patch panel to a wall in the closet, and hooked it into the 10/100 switch. We also plugged the LTSP server back in, set up four thin clients and booted them. So that’s all working.

We still need to run a cable up to the office so we can hook this network into the Internet.

Giving the teacher a computer network that doesn’t connect to the Internet is like saying, “Here’s broom. I hope you didn’t want to sweep with it though!” We’ll get on that as soon as we can.

I also need to connect the printer and take care of some other odds and ends.

Computer Lab

Computer Lab

Yesterday we took our raft down the Merrimack. Here’s what it looked like:

Log Raft

Log Raft

We built it from pine and birch, which are both relatively light woods. Still, I’d guess it weighed 300 pounds. I was the first one on it, and about as I expected, it had negative freeboard – that is, it completely submerged with my weight on it. That is not the same thing as sinking – it floated, just not enough to keep me dry. When I tried paddling it, it was list from side to side. I found it nearly impossible to propel.

It was able to keep itself afloat when a kid was on it though:

It floats!

It floats!

She’s doing her best to paddle it, but it wasn’t going anywhere. You don’t have to look too closely to see that we decided to tow it. It’s tied onto a canoe.

Over all, the trip was pretty great. The kids sure seemed to enjoy it. It rained a bit the whole time, but I didn’t hear a single complaint about that. Since we were already thoroughly soaked from using the raft, a little rain hardly made any difference.

The river was pretty low. I read that New Hampshire is just barely on the wet side of a drought. We’ve had about a third as much rain as is typical this summer, and the river showed it. That makes for a slower than usual trip, even if you’re not towing a pile of logs. But that wasn’t what set our speed. Something else conspired to slow us down even more.

We had with us four canoes and four kayaks. We also had about seven people who were competent paddlers. That means, of course that at least one boat had no one in it who knew how to make it go straight. This was especially difficult for the kayaks, as an inexperienced paddler will tend to make it go in circles. When they finally did manage to make it go straight, it was more often than not pointed at one of the banks or back upstream. Our speed was negative in such times.

David, a highly competent paddler, was in a canoe, and noted that he paddled almost not at all, except to slow down. Drifting was too fast.

I did not sufficiently account for these factors when I estimated how long our four mile float would take. I figured about two hours. We put in at about 11:00 and took out at 2:30.

Then I had the task of loading eight boats onto the vehicles. We did take the raft apart while it was still in the river. I saw no point in hauling a 300 pound raft up the bank. We returned the wood to Ken, as he intends to burn it (though he will allow it to dry again first).

All that took two hours, and I was pretty tired when I got home. After a nice shower, the family went to the Outback to celebrate Jonathan’s birthday. I had Va drive though, as I was just too tired.

Today after church I changed clothes and headed over to my friend Bill’s house to get his canoe. Beth wanted to come along, so I said “Sure!” We arrived at his place around 1:30 and loaded his canoe onto my roof rack. I also borrowed his paddles and four life jackets.

Later in the afternoon Beth, David, and I took Penny down to Sandogardy Pond. I took pictures of flowers (but haven’t gotten them off my camera yet). Penny chased sticks. I’m always sure to throw several into the pond so she can get a bath (her ruff was looking rough). She came out nice and clean.

Today is Jonathan’s nineteenth birthday. We had a cake which I think everyone enjoyed, and we still have most of it leftover for later enjoyment. Mmmm.

After sunset, I took the roof rack off my car to change out the bars. I usually use the ones that came with it, and they are 48″ long. I can’t easily get two canoes on a 48″ rack, so a few years ago I looked into getting some 72″ bars. They wanted something like $50, which I thought was pretty steep for what is essentially a pair of one-inch diameter pipes. I bought some one-inch diameter pipes instead.

Once the six-foot rack was mounted, I heaved the two borrowed canoes up there. I had also put ten life jackets in the trunk and seven paddles. Tomorrow I’ll go pick up three of my Pathfinders and then go over to Ken’s house to load up the log/rope raft. Then we’ll all drive to the put-in near my house again. After we offload the canoes from my car at the put-in, I’ll head back to the house and fetch my canoe and kayak. I just hope I remember my kayak paddle.

It should be an interesting day.

Last night we were out at Ken’s farm building a raft for the Pioneering Honor. Before we were finished, I found out that Ken’s mother Emma had been admitted to the hospital on Monday. She took a turn for the worse, so Ken, his wife Joyce, and his two kids left before we were finished.

I am not terribly perceptive when it comes to these things, so I didn’t think too much about it. But when I got home, there was an email from Joyce conveying the gravity of Emma’s situation. She died last night around 1:00.

Joyce was the one who suggested we work on this honor, so it was largely because I wanted her kids to get it that we’re working on it now. Therefore, I told her I wanted to cancel our raft trip. She got back to me right away, telling me that Ken wanted us to go ahead with it and that she and the boys still wanted to go on the trip.

So we’re going to go on the trip.

Ken was scheduled to lead out in church tomorrow, but since he won’t be able to, I’m going to stand in for him. The sermon will be a DVD, which means that I would have been leading out solo, which I don’t like. So I asked my friend Jeff to come up with me. He agreed, and I do like it so much better that way. I think it goes much smoother when two people can tag-team through the service instead of just one person doing it all.

After work Jonathan and I headed to a co-worker’s house to get her canoe, life jackets, and paddles. Then we met Va, David, and Beth at Olive Garden for supper. Service was a little slow, so David and I had to hustle out to make it to the last evening of Honors Week. David taught the Endangered Animals honor.

We had a pretty good turn out too. This has been the most successful Honors Week ever if measured by the number of honors earned. I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback from parents on it too, so that’s also good.

I think this year we’re going to have 21 kids in the club – the most we ever had before this was 16, so that’s a pretty good-sized increase. I’ll also have 7 staff members, so I need to take a look to make sure we have enough tents and other equipment for camping. I’m pretty sure we have enough dinner gear, so that’s no worry.

It’s shaping up to be a good year!

Tonight we began working on the Pioneering Honor. This is one that can’t be knocked out in one night. It really can’t be done in one day either. There are a lot of requirements that take quite a bit of effort to meet.

We are going to meet the “big” requirement by building a raft and taking it down the Merrimack River. We (mostly) built the raft tonight, except that I didn’t buy enough rope. Oops. The trip down the river is Sunday.

Now I know how many people will be joining us on the river: 17. I have four canoes and three kayaks, so I think that should be plenty. I need to scare up half a dozen more life jackets too.

I woke up sometime before 4:00 this morning with raft trip logistics circulating unmercifully in my brain. I couldn’t get back to sleep. I was trying to figure out how I was going to get three of those canoes and two of those kayaks to the river. I finally got out of bed at 5:00 and read the Internets until 6:00. Then I went back to bed and got some much needed sleep. The alarm went off at 6:30, and I ignored it until 7:20. Then I dragged myself out of bed, straggled to the shower, got dressed, and let Jonathan drive us to the office. I tried to nap in the car, but was not very successful at that.

Then I figured out the logistics. We will put in and take out on the east side of the Merrimack instead of the west. That way, the put-in is less than 10 minutes from my house. I can shuttle the canoes in two trips without much effort. Problem solved.

We will finish assembling the raft at the put-in. I’m guessing that will take another hour. We’re going for an “open deck”. The kids will sit on the cross logs and dangle their feet in the water as they paddle it along. I told them all to wear swim suits and expect to get wet. That way it won’t matter too much if the raft has only a half inch of freeboard (or less!)

Tonight we worked on two honors – Food Freezing, and Bread Dough. Cheryl (the director who preceded me) taught Food Freezing, and her adult daughter taught Bread Dough. We split the kids into two groups – boys and girls, and attacked it that way.

Ken gave us half a basket of peaches for this. I stopped by his place after work to pick them. As Jonathan and I were driving to the church, we passed an unmanned vegetable stand on the side of the road. I bought four dozen ears of corn and eight squash for $20 (which I stuffed into the little lock-box). I might have bought less, except that I didn’t have change. So instead, I grabbed veggies until they added up to $20.

Cheryl picked up strawberries, zucchini, sugar (for freezer jam), lemon juice, pectin, and I can’t remember what else. Either she or her daughter also picked up several sacks of flour, a few boxes of salt, and some other stuff too for the Bread Dough honor.

The bread dough itself was about half salt and half flour – the intent being to sculpt things out of it rather than to eat it. I assume that since it consists of that much salt, not even insects would be tempted to eat it – but the kids sure were! I let them taste a smidgen to satisfy their curiosity. That was about all it took too.

After we were finished there was more than a little clean up to do. Somehow, the kitchen floor got a little sticky, so I mopped it. And somehow, we got flour on the carpet, so some of the kids vacuumed it.

Tomorrow we work on our raft.

Tonight for Pathfinder Honors Week, we worked on the Braiding honor. We had done this one a few years ago, but there are very few kids in the club now who earned it back then. So we gave it another go.

I did not earn it last go-round either, as I was so busy helping kids with their braids that I never finished mine. But this year I will finish it. I hope.

I got off work at 4:00, and the Honors don’t start until 5:30, so I had about 90 minutes to use for other purposes. I wasn’t hungry yet, so I went straight to the church and started pulling nails and screws from the lumber pile that used to be walls. I loaded two pine 1×10’s and eleven 2×4’s on my roof rack and brought them home. I plan to use them to build a bulletin board switcher contraption.

When I got home tonight, I finally remembered that I needed to deal with a yellow jacket nest at the foot of the deck steps. I handled them the way my grandmother used to deal with wasps (according to my Dad). She would boil up a pan of water and douse the nest. I figured that if it worked on wasp nests, it ought to be pretty effective on yellow jacket nests as well. Further, it should be a little easier, because yellow jackets build their nests underground instead of overhead.

I boiled up about two gallons of water and went out well past sunset. I had my hat-mounted flashlight so I could find their hole, and that wasn’t too tough. When I moved the grass back from it, I saw their sentry stir. I wasted no time pouring the recently-boiling water down the hole, and she never said “boo”.

I like this technique because it is both effective and non-toxic. It seems to have done the trick. Hooray!

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