Monday, August 31, 2015

Time To Mulch

My yard is a cool yard... not flat like most but has some interesting quirks.  Let me explain.

When we bought our property back in 2005, there was a trailer of dubious quality.  The floors by the bedroom windows were rotted through so you couldn't get near any of the outside walls.  As one walked the hallway to the rear bedroom, if you did it properly, you could get a nice sway going. Okay, maybe not the best thing. (More on that later.) The fireplace seemed to work. (More on that later.) The kitchen was fantastic — large, open and extremely inviting. It also had an attached metal awning which extended 12 feet out from the trailer and was about 16 feet long and covered a cement patio.  So fantastic to sit under in the heat of the day and enjoy the cool, refreshing breezes.

BUT, the place, in reality was a dump.  Let me explain the "sway" that the trailer had.  The ground dipped and the 70 foot trailer extended out over this hill.  The previous owner created a "basement" of sorts with plywood.  Uh, would you believe at that the very rear of the trailer, it was not quite 12 feet from the ground to the bottom of the trailer?  Now for the sway.  The support was one single stack of cement blocks approximately 4 feet from the end — we're talking about 9 or 10 feet of cement blocks, each 8 inches X 8 inches X 16 inches. They were loose, not cemented together. The only other "support" was the simple 2-by-4 structure running the perimeter of the back to enclose the "basement" area.  The realtor even had the nerve to say "This will make excellent dry storage." as a marketing ploy.  Yes, the whole structure swayed as the trailer swayed.  To this day, I'm still amazed that the trailer didn't fall.

Remember I mentioned the fireplace?  We burned some wood in the fireplace a couple of nights.  We didn't spend too many cold nights in the trailer since they wanted us to get rid of the structure before we had our new home put on in the basic same area.  Anyway, when we told the trailer down, which didn't take too much work to accomplish, we attempted to save what we could: most of the appliances, some cabinets and counter tops, sinks and the huge garden tub.  We wanted to save the fireplace.  OMG!  Imagine our shock when we started to tear into the walls and discovered scorched insulation and charred wood.  We were very lucky.  The trailer could have burned at any moment with us sleeping — and it would have went up like "poof!"  We wouldn't have stood a chance of escape.

Oh, during the demolition we discovered the skeletal remains of a raccoon in one of the walls.

Now about that yard. With the new house coming in, a basement was dug and a lot of dirt got re-situated.  Then, when they put in the septic system, a new mound of dirt (call it a small hill) was created to cover the drainage area.  The basement stuck out of the ground for about 75% of the home so I had several truckloads of dirt brought in to create a walled terrace.  Here's a secret: You heard the phrase "dirt cheap" — well, dirt ain't cheap... especially when you build an 8 foot retaining wall.

So I have an area where my house is on one level, the driveway flows up to it and from the driveway the ground flows downward to a small area.  Across the front of the house, and in front of the retaining wall, it also slopes away.  Then where it all comes together, that's where the septic system creates another hill.  To the immediate side of the house, behind the 8 foot retaining wall and septic hill, the land is basically flat and is a walkout from the basement.  Behind the house, the basement is 60% out of the ground and that is the north wall so I've got some solid insulation in the basement on the north wall so help keep it sort of warmish.  In other words, during the winter, it don't freeze but it is a tad chilly.

So what does all this mean?  Lawn mowing is a bitch. Yes, the yard has character but it is an awkward act to mow.  Therefore, to help me (when I have to mow) and my son (who does most of the mowing anyway) — I bought a lot of mulch in the last couple of days.  I'm going to put mulch around the swing set so we don't have to mow that area.  I'm going to mulch my hillside flower bed so everyone will know what is grass and what is flowers (and weeds since I have so much trouble keeping them controlled) and I plan to mulch an area out closer to the road which has some "ripples" and gets a lot of stones pushed into it by my neighbor who plows his driveway snow into my front yard. It also has some small trees and a lilac bush which are miserable to mow around.  I'll mulch that area so no mowing.  Yay!!

I decided, while I was at it, I'd mulch behind and on the side of the garden which now is kept under control by the weed-whacker. Yes, my garden is in the front yard, up by the house.  We live in the country and when I had the garden in the backyard, the critters raided it before we had a chance to harvest.   Also, I have two raised flower beds that will be mulched so I don't have to weed them anymore.

As you read this on Monday morning, I will be killing the grass and weeds in those areas in preparation of putting down newspapers to be covered by mulch.  The newspapers will be a minimum of 10 sheets thick.  I don't want anything coming up through cuz I really don't want to have to use harsh chemicals like RoundUp to kill them.  Somebody suggested yard fabric.  It does nothing for the ground and if a mower catches it... what a mess.  At least, as the paper rots, it will improve the soil.  I did that with my raised garden in the front yard when I put it in two years ago and it is working quite well today.

Hopefully, the mulch will make my yard even more attractive AND much easier for me to deal with.

It's an old picture, but it shows some of the land's unique features. This is when the house was first built and we'd just finished building the wall.  The camera angle is from the septic mound. The swing set is now located approximately where the dirt and grass meet closest to you. My raised garden is located in front of the three windows (the kitchen) to the right of the front porch. I can come out the side door and collect my garden goodies and be back in the kitchen in seconds — we're talking fresh!

Maybe I'll update this with a better (aka more current) picture, but probably not. lol.

Okay, I updated. As you can see, the little tree at the corner of the porch has grown some. In front of the kitchen windows is the garden with pole beans standing in the back. The rest of the garden is now tomatoes, carrots, beets, garlic, onions, and peppers. The "corn field" has been pulled which completely covered the window to the left.  You can see the swingset and that horrible cluster of growth in front of the long retaining wall is what results in 3 weeks of camping and not weeding. My daylilies are in there — somewhere but are finished blooming.  I'll dig them then root out the weeds, plant the lilies and mulch.  That weed patch to the right (below the raised deck) is my rock garden, but again, the weeds took over while I was gone. Those Canadian thistles really enjoy growing in my soil where nothing else seems to want to grow.  Can't mulch a rock garden but will be putting more "small" stones in to fill it out.

Until next I ramble on...

Monday, August 24, 2015

Camping Lights

Remember those days of camping?  Out in the woods, sometimes even just a blanket made into a tent in the backyard!

Today, camping is something completely and totally unrelated to those tent days.

Over the years I've camped "under the stars" using just a sleeping bag made up folded blankets until I could afford to buy one.  I've camped in those old Army canvas tents.  Even the newer nylon ones.

As I matured (aka got old) I found that the ground didn't give as much as it used to when I was young.  In fact, it don't give at all.

In come the popup campers.  Shortly after getting married, we got a popup camper. My wife was insistent it had to have "solid" walls on the sides.  Don't ask me why!!  We bought a Palomino and it was great with an inside stove, frig and two slide-out beds and a large amount of storage.  She loved the fold-up cupboards.  And, yes, it had snap walls that created the illusion of solid walls.

But this was supposed to be about lights.  I'm getting there.

It was about this time in history, mid/late 70s that I noticed campers were getting a tad more sophisticated.  Electricity seemed to be more readily available.

Lighting up the campsite, at first, was using the Coleman lantern which, after you pumped it up and got the filament ignited - cast light at least 20 feet away.  In the Boy Scouts, about 4 of them and you had the area well lighted.

We finally moved away from the popup camper and got us a driving unit. Yes, the RV, the Land Yacht, as my one friend called it.  A simple RV - 28 ft long, sleeps 8 somewhat comfortably dependent upon size.  Everyone loves it since tooling down the highway, it is so easy for a person to amble back to the restroom and doesn't have to bother the driver to stop at the next available gas station.  Of course, most of the passengers get very upset if I decide to get up to use the rest room. For me, it is still about finding a place to pull over and stop.  Of course, it doesn't have to be a gas station.

Again, about the lights.  Well, my RV has a 16 foot awning.  It needed lights!  My first lights to buy were simple.  Plain lights, 10 of them.  Wow!  So impressive.  Next time out, I found a string of cool stars in red, white and blue.  Definitely, that was an upgrade.  Still, I wasn't satisfied.  I discovered a string of pink flamingoes - 10 of them.  Unfortunately, even though I was excited, my wife and our camping buddies, well, they weren't as excited about them.  So, I finally settled on a string of bamboo lanterns.

Sure, they looked good.  In fact, all of them looked good but... well, I wasn't satisfied.

I discovered LEDs.  In fact, I found a string - 16.4 feet long - consisting of 300 LEDs and the great thing was ... they could be almost any color I wanted them to be.  They flashed.  They faded.  They were fantastic!!  I was in Heaven.  Oh, did I mention there is a remote control so I can change the colors on the fly and decide if they will flash or fade in their rotation.  Here's some images.  Yes, I know it is daylight.  In the dark, they really stand out.
Let's make the lights red - my wife don't like this color...
(I think she associates it with some district. LOL)

This is with the lights on blue...

And now they're green...

Press a button - orange...
Here is what purple looks like...

And here they are - turquoise...

Yes, my lights were noticed by other campers - mostly kids who thought the rotating colors were cool.  One young lad brought his dad back to show him and they asked where I got them.  I wasn't going to keep it a secret.  I bought them on Amazon and the price was very good.  How do I know? Another camper talked with me and she was very upset with her husband because he got his lights at a certain camper store and paid over $200 for them last year.  Uh, I paid about $27 for mine.  What is really nice is the fact they are LEDs and don't use too much electricity and don't get hot.

This Halloween, the campground we go to on a regular basis will be having their bash. It is worth the trip just to see how the campsites are decorated.  I can only imagine the meters will be spinning so fast, you'll never see the marker on it.  They (the campers) decorate the trees, put out those blow-up Halloween decorations and it is just unbelievable.  We were leaving on Friday morning and some of the people had come in on Thursday and started decorating.  I couldn't believe it. Ghosts, goblins, witches, haunted this and that - I was going to be quite the show.  They even have a contest for the best decorated campsite.  THEN, the kids go Trick-or-Treating.  Imagine, 200 campsites and probably most of them are participating.  We wanted to join in the festivities this year but the two weekends are already booked full... over 2 months away!!  Next year, for sure!!

I've been moving all my outdoor lights at the house to LED.  Here's my simple glass ball globe that I have outside.  I change the color of it with the holidays.  At Halloween, I put orange string of LEDs in it.  At Christmas, a multi-color LED string of lights.  Valentine gets red and of course, St Patrick's Day gets green.  This is what the Christmas globe looks like.

The colors are muted due to camera, but in real life, there are points of different colors.

Yes, I love to play with lights. I got some ideas of other things to do - it just takes time to get all the kinks worked out.

Until next I ramble on...

Monday, August 17, 2015

A Needed Vacation

Retirement!  One doesn't realize just how exhausting being retired can be!  Think about it —

Sure, I don't have to go to work every day, but still, I must decide what I am going to do to fill my day and make it an exciting event.  Trust me, waking up in the morning is great (that means I'm still breathing!) but there is more to retirement than just sitting on the front porch, rocking.

The garden needs tending, the flower beds seem to sprout more weeds than posies and well, if I don't go get the mail at the end of the lane each day, who is going to do that?  Plus, the lawn needs mowed, the dog wants to go out and there are those constant doctor appointments one must make and attend.  In a hindsight thought, going to the doctor can be a good thing since it proves you're still kicking.

But, it is the little things that make retirement worth the wait.  Imagine the excitement of a broken/leaking waterline?  Or the phone ringing?  Who could it be?  Remember, with retirement comes a very dubious honor: pallbearer or mourner.

If your name didn't make the "obit" column, there's a great chance today is going to be a fun one!

Hold on a minute.

Remember?  You work 50 weeks a year … okay, take away another 2 weeks for sick time, another 2 weeks for holidays and extraneous non-work days — I could continue but that isn't what this blog entry is about.  Out of each year, at least 2 weeks — that TWO weeks, could be more since I was up to 5 weeks when I retired — that is dedicated to that family favorite: VACATION or HOLIDAY for my non-US readers.

Yes, when I worked, I took vacation. It was a my get-away moment; that time when I grabbed the family and escaped to some idyllic locale and vegetated.


You're wrong.  Strangely enough, being retired can appear and seem like an eternal vacation.  My joke is 6 Saturdays and 1 Sunday.  If it wasn't for Sunday and going to church, I'd lose complete count of time.

Just like a person who works full-time, a retiree needs a break from … well, being retired.

I did just that.  I just got home from a week in the wilds of mid-Michigan's southern section.  I realize that sounds a little silly but let me explain.  My wife's sister and her husband have a small place on a private lake.  It is down in a valley.  To get a better idea of ownership, think of a pie with the lake being in the center.  Each slice of pie gets a portion of lake and then anywhere from a minimum of 10 acres to over 25 acres.  They have about 250 feet of shoreline.  Being a private lake and "ruled" by the owners, there are no motorboats allowed.  Electric motors only.  The water is pristine clear.  The wildlife is amazing: loons, eagles, beavers, deer, rabbits, squirrels and chipmunks, of course.  Would you believe bear?  Yup!  Got them, too.  I saw the tracks of one AND the night camera picture, catching one in a berry patch.

A perfect place to sit under the shade of an oak tree and look out on the lake, listening to the wind whisper through the leaves and nearby pines.  What could be better?  Being on the lake, fishing.  I had two of my granddaughters along and we spent many hours on the pontoon, fishing.  Caught some nice bluegills and a couple of bass.  The girls are hooked on fishing.  They enjoyed catching small bluegills in the ponds at home but to catch the monsters we pulled from the depths — WOW!  Our first day fishing was astounding!  We caught enough for a great fish fry and the next couple of days brought in enough for us to bring some frozen fillets home.  As you can see, the fish were nice sized.

Corra with her bass

Corra with one her many bluegills

Hailey with her bass

Hailey with one of her four bluegills

A very proud ME with one of my many bluegills - no bass!
Notice the size - just a little over 10 inches!!
Some of the fish in the scaler - getting ready to filet.

No Internet and we barely had cell phone service.  My sister-in-law has a land phone and finally took the plunge for DISH TV since they live up there 6 months of the year.  Meals were simple.  Okay, we did have a couple of "big" meals: the fish fry and then a wonderful pork loin roast dinner.

I took my laptop along and was able to do a little editing and writing — very little.  I was relaxing, getting away from the frenzied life of retirement.

I might just have to make another trip up there real soon, maybe next month.

Until next I ramble on...

Monday, August 10, 2015

Some Ranting

I've noticed what I can only call 'absolute food waste' of late.

Today I stopped in at the local Chinese restaurant for some carryout (or take away OR whatever you call it when you don't eat at the restaurant - another rant later) and while I waited for my order to be cooked, I watched two young men eat from the daily buffet.  These were two well-muscled men of about 25-30 years of age, definitely laborers, not office types.

#1 pushed his partially filled plate away with a "This doesn't taste as good as I thought it would." He then walked up to the buffet, got a new plate and filled it with fried rice and the same beef mixture.


If it didn't taste good before, what miracle would make him think a second plate would taste better? He sat down, ate about half and then placed that plate on top of the earlier one with a "Guess I'll try something else."  Once more up to the buffet and gets a sugar dusted donut ball.  Sits down, eats maybe 2 bites of it and puts it on the dish. "Too sweet." Oh, you guessed it.  Back up to the buffet and gets another one.  One bite and it is on the plate.

During this time, #2 isn't inactive.  He has been eating from his plate of several things and he, too, pushes it aside and goes up to the buffet.  On the discarded plate I can see stuffed mushrooms and white rice.  The guy opens the white rice container and piles it onto his plate, then puts what looks like the same beef mixture he had on his first plate.  Yes, he also grabs about four stuffed mushrooms.  Bites into one of the mushrooms and says "They got a funny taste." and then eats about three or four bites of the rice and beef mixture.  Yup! That plate goes onto the other partially filled plate.  Back up to the buffet for an egg roll.  One bite, the rest is put on the plate to be disposed of.

The two of them start out the door and the owner says "See you Tuesday, yes?" They both nod their heads in agreement, wave and leave.

My order is ready and I nonchalantly ask if they are regulars.  They come in every day.  The owner says they really love the food.  I pay for my order, tell him to say "ni-hau" to his wife and daughter and I leave.  I walk past the table where the two men sat and am still amazed by the amount of food they took and left on the plates.


I was at a casino buffet in Detroit.  Three rather plump women and one extremely large man were enjoying the meal at the buffet.  Well, I thought they were.  Each of them came back from the food service with two and three plates each, filled with almost everything available.

Okay, I do watch people but there are some people who demand you watch them. This quartet not only demanded you watch but made sure you heard them, too.

"Oh, Lori. Did you get the Italian chicken? It melts in your mouth." She licks her fingers.
"John, are those potato fritters as good as they look?"
And the conversation bantered about the table as each tasted and sampled their delicacies.  You guessed it.  A nibble of this, a taste of that.  Four platters stacked in the middle, still heaping with food.  I noted that John had at least a half dozen chicken wings on his plate.  He took ONE bite of ONE wing. The rest were never touched... and he LOVED them.

The four moved again to the buffet line and once more returned with plates filled with yummy food.

We listened to them rave and moan about how great each thing tasted.  But they only took one, maybe two bites of each item, leaving the rest on the plate.

Then they headed to the dessert tables.  I couldn't believe the number of desserts they brought back to the table.  One of the women had a huge slice of strawberry pie that was fluffed with cream and drizzled with chocolate.  I'm talking decadent.  She took a strawberry from the top, bit off a small segment of the strawberry tip, told everyone how exquisite it tasted, put the strawberry down and ignored the rest of the pie.

The waitress asked us if the party had left when the first round of plates had been pushed together in the middle of the table. We told her we thought they were back in line.  She left the plates, unsure if they were done.  When they arrived, the waitress hovered in quickly and they informed her to please remove "those" plates as they were done with them.  She took off as many as she could and made two trips.

Finally, the three women got up and whisked away to go gambling.  John remained and he gazed at the plates of desserts and patted his tummy.  The waitress asked if they were done and he nodded in agreement.  She cleaned the table and he asked for a glass of water.  She brought him a tall glass of water filled with ice.  He took a sip.  Put it on the table, pushed away and left.

Did I mention, no tip?  Even in a buffet, the waitress does perform a minimum of service and I feel, if he or she does it well, deserves a monetary reward.  This waitress I felt went way beyond the call of duty.  But then, if one is willing to waste food in such a lavish style, I wouldn't expect them to squeeze a tip out.

What really got my goat was the fact these people went to the buffet, filled their plates with heaping servings and then only "tasted" the food.  How insensitive and wasteful.

This condition does not only exhibit in those of the world, but also within the family.  I was at a family get-together and I watched my nephew, age seven, go to the table of food with his mother, take a handful of black olives and bite each one, only to spit it out because he didn't like the taste.  He didn't like the sweet potatoes, potato salad or the ham.  He threw it all in the trash... and yes, proceeded to get another plate of black olives, sweet potatoes, potato salad and ham.  He tasted and threw it in the trash.  When he went back for the third time, his mother told him he shouldn't eat so much.  I made the mistake of informing the mother that he had thrown away the food. She informed me that he didn't like those items.


You knew he didn't like them --- yet you gave them to him?  TWICE??

Only in the last few months have I been able to look at my plate and push it away, knowing that I shouldn't eat that much.  For years I was the "garbage disposal" for the family of four boys.  We went to a restaurant, if they didn't like or want to eat a certain item, it went on my plate and I ate it.  Yes, the repercussions became quickly obvious - I gained weight.  But the mindset, I was paying for that food, it must be ate was a difficult one to overcome.  It is still an argument within me when I don't eat everything on my plate.

To watch other blatantly take and throw away food....

Until next I ramble on...

Monday, August 3, 2015

Never Saw This Coming

I think it was back in fourth grade, maybe fifth — our teacher had us estimate when we would retire. It was some sort of math thing but the reality of the moment never hit.  I was to retire in 2011 at the ripe age of 65. It was so far into the future …

When I state the reality of the moment didn't register, I mean the initial concept of being that old, so old, one would retire and not have to work.  Remember, this was back in the mid-late 1950s.  I think Eisenhower was the President then.  Hey, give me a break, in case you haven't noticed, it is now 2015, four years beyond my retirement estimate.

It was back then the teachers were attempting to get students to realize dreams of the future and what we could be.  I still played cowboys and Indians with my younger brother.  The thought of being a cowboy was still vivid in my mind but that was dashed when my bubble was burst with "Cowboys don't exist except in movies."

What did I want to be?  I considered being a person who painted - an artist. A few years more passed and once again I had to revisit the concept of "what do you want to be when you grow up?"

It was probably in early high school, Freshman year, I decided that I'd be either a teacher, a minister, or make my career in the Navy.  This continued to be my goal.  I joined FTA (Future Teachers of America) and became a nuisance at the church, hanging around constantly to help the minister.

Around the beginning of my Junior year, I realized I enjoyed writing and scribbled a short story which my English teacher edited. I sent it off to Children's Highlights.  Yes, it was rejected. My writing career was nipped in the bud early. The bright candle flame was snuffed.

Graduation was nearing — I was already over half way through my Senior Year.  In March, once more, they had a "Career Day" and I spoke with the Navy recruiter.  I spoke with my parents that night, and re-discussed the idea with my buddy, George, the next day.  We scheduled ourselves and signed papers for an "early up" into the Navy under the "buddy" system. (That's another story!)

Graduation was May 21, 1965. On June 6, 1965, I officially entered the Navy for a four year tour. My dream of being a career Navy man was now on the books.

What I never saw — What I never realized … there is more to life than just a career.  Yes, a career is important but that can change, as I learned.  Life was waiting just around the corner.

Strangely, I never considered marriage.  I always saw myself as the eternal bachelor, that favorite uncle in the family who came at Christmas time with all the wonderful packages and when a birthday came around, offered a fabulous gift the parents could never dream of giving.

I got married.  I had children … in fact, I had four sons.

This was not in my plans.  I went to college. I was going to be an accountant.

HUH?  What happened to Navy career? Minister? Teacher? A writer? Even the single life?

I was a family man. My life's goals were changing and I wasn't sure what was happening. So did my career. I stumbled from accountant into data processing, into computer programming —

My sons married.  They had children.

OMG!  I was a grandfather.

Wait a minute!!  Not once during my youth did I think/see myself as a father.  Now I was a grandfather.  I wasn't Captain Nailor in the Navy.  I wasn't Mr. Nailor, the education teacher. I wasn't Rev. Nailor, minister to a congregation.

I was Grandpa Nailor.

Huh! It was too late to step back and re-assess the situation. As the Unix Systems Manager with over twenty years with the federal government, I was retiring.  It was five years early — it wasn't 2011, but 2006.

This past week, another milestone — yes, once again, one that I didn't see in my youth — was passed.  I am officially a GREAT grandfather.  Okay, I've always been a great granddad, but now it is official.  My great granddaughter, Gracelyn Ann Nailor joined my family.

It was then I humbly realized that all my youthful plans had been secretly and silently weaving into my life.

I'm Captain Nailor, leading my family forward on the seas of life.
I'm Mr. Nailor, the teacher, showing my sons, my grandchildren and now, my great grandchildren the best way to handle life's realities.
I'm Rev. Nailor, the minister to my private congregation, giving spiritual guidance to my family.

Oh, and I'm a writer, too, sharing my stories with the world. This is only one.

Until next I ramble on …