Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Santa Exposed

Much has been made about the physics of Santa Claus, often calculating his requisite speed in Mach numbers normally reserved for experimental aircraft. I'm told these calculations are a regular exercise at engineering colleges. All these theories are brought to naught, however, by the lack of plausible answers to one question frequently asked by children:

What does he do at the houses with no fireplace?

Ours is such a house. If anyone managed to get down our chimney, they'd end up in our harvest-orange Chrysler furnace. (Yes, Chrysler made furnaces, too, about as well as they made cars.) Houses with fireplaces are now, I believe, the exception, rather than the norm.

So what does he do?

I have an answer: he goes through the attic. Not only that, but, as you'll see in this photographic evidence gathered a week before Christmas, the presents are already there.

This is troubling data, indeed. The presents are already there? A week in advance? Wrapped, and assembled neatly by the attic stairs? One can come to only two conclusions: either Santa visited early, and dropped off the presents, but didn't distribute them (rather unlikely from an efficiency standpoint) OR... Santa has outsourced delivery. Consider that systems are already in place for the timely delivery of packages to individual homes; Santa could simply send gifts by the truckload to major shipping hubs.

The gedankenexperiment ("thought experiment") prompts further questioning: What if Santa wasn't stuffing all the stockings in person, either? The so-called "Santa's Helper" theory would have us believe that local agents carry out the "last mile" of distribution, and we must reluctantly admit that it has merit.

So, then, does Santa distribute presents at all? Actually, this distributed distribution system makes the traditional delivery possible: Santa, in his old age, can still make several hundred, perhaps thousand, deliveries in person. One might theorize as to the how these recipients are chosen; perhaps only those on the "nice" list receive a visit from the old gent himself; perhaps visits are chosen for their high profile, or likeliness to be seen "in the act" by people that will perpetuate the Santa Claus mythos. This reduces the necessary speed of such an arrangement to a much more believable level, and gets around the problem of the reindeer burning up upon re-entry.

Whatever the case, these revelations neither confirm nor deny the existence of Santa Claus, but we believe make the theory much, much more plausible.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

A Little Something I've Been Working On

I've been working on this for a while now, and now that everyone can see it, I'll mention it here. As of this morning, there's a brand-new design for the Town of Winona Lake website — finally! I've been working on this for months, and we're finally down to the place where it could go public.

I had previously declared myself done with freelancing, but when the opportunity came up to update the town website, I made an exception. I'd groused about the old design for so many years that I figured I should put my talent where my mouth was, and do something about it — for now, it's just a new design and improved navigation; in the coming weeks and months, I'm aiming to help improve the content, as well.

I love my little town, and I'm happy it now has a website I can direct people to with a grin!

Comments, critiques, and bug reports are all welcome.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Just something that made me smile

Edited to add: A number of people have mentioned that they either can't see the video (in which case, go here) and an amazing number didn't realize that this is done with shadow puppets — you know, making shapes with your hands in front of a light. Those bunny ears are fingers.

Beautiful Things

I came in to work yesterday morning to find a surprisingly heavy envelope on my desk. Turns out it's from my friend and co-worker Amy, who has been joyously hammering her way back into being an artist again.

Aren't those just the coolest bookmarks ever? I love 'em!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Story of the Night: The Magic Bunny

I tell my kids stories every night before bed, nearly always based on a two topics that they request. (When I get three kids making requests — that's going to get really tricky.) I forget what they requested for the night I told this story, but this is the story they got. Deborah says it's the same plot as a Pixar short. Pooh. I wasn't thinking of that when I told the story, and Deborah likes my version better, anyway. So there.

The Magic Bunny

Once upon a time, there was a magician, and he lived in the circus and he loved to go out and do tricks in front of the audience, and make them laugh, and make them cry in astonishment.

But the magician wasn't magic.

His hat wasn't magic. His wand wasn't magic. The thing that was magic was his bunny!

Truth is, it was the bunny doing all the tricks. The magician would reach in his hat and pull out a bunny and the audience would applaud. He could make it appear out of thin air or show up in a balloon. Or pull it out of his coat sleeves. But the magician got tired of not really doing the tricks and he got lazy. The last straw came when he forgot to buy carrots for the bunny.

The magician went out on stage and he flashed his biggest smile and waved his shiny wand and his shiny hat around. He wiggled his fingers dramatically and plunged it into his hat. SNAP! A rat trap snapped aorund his fingers. Ow, ow, ow, ow, ow, ow! The magician hopped around holding his hand in pain and grinned sheepishly at the audience as if to say, "Now that shouldn't have happened." The audience howled with laughter. The magician, with some apprehension, wiggled his fingers again and stuck them in his hat again. Eeeeeewww! He just stuck his hand into a pile of dirty underpants! As he pulled them out, the audience said "Eww!" too and they laughed and laughed and laughed. The magician was very downhearted but he tried to put his best face on it. He grinned painfully at the audience and very carefully stuck just one finger into the hat. The rabbit bit him on the finger. The magician was so discrouraged and sad that he ran off the stage.

"What are you doing?" roared the magician. And the rabbit said, "I'm the one doing all the tricks! Why don't you take care of me and spend time with me any more? You even forgot to feed me today!" The magician realized he was right, and he was very sad and sorry.

The magician walked out on stage carrying his hat, carrying his wand and carrying his rabbit. He put the rabbit down on the little table and he said, "My lovely audience! I would like to show you the real secret of my magic. It's not my hat! It's not my wand! It's not my special sleeves!" — the audience gasped — "It's my bunny!" And with that he gave the wand to the rabbit, and put his top hat on the rabbit, and the bunny wiggled his nose, and the magician disappeared! The audience leaped to their feet. They applauded and they whooped and hollered. They threw money and roses. And the curtain came down on what had been the best show ever.

The End.

Then Aiden asked, "Where did the magician go?"
The storyteller said, "The rabbit sent him to the store to buy carrots."

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Training Up Your Children in the Way that They Should Go

I'm blogging just like like Daddy!

Shift-option-command... rats, now I can't reach the other key I need!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Digging It

Over the last week or so, they've been dredging out the canal. Apparently, the silt was getting so deep that the island was threatening to turn back into a peninsula!

This, of course, has been deeply fascinating to both Fiona and Aiden — not just one digger, but two! And dump trucks! Almost every time I've gone to drop off or pick up Fiona at school, we'll just stop for a while either on the bridge, or somewhere close to where they're working, and just watch. I would have thought mainly Aiden would be interested, but Fiona has been every bit as entranced. How often do you get to see these things, right on your very own block?

Monday, December 14, 2009

Friends in Need, in Deed, and in General

This morning, one of my oldest, dearest friends is taking her daughter in for another round of surgery. Little Lia just turned one. Her diaphragm is half paralyzed, she has a compromised immune system, and yet, miracle, by miracle, day after day, she's one now. I'm staring out my back window into the gray afternoon, thinking about her.

* * *

It's on days like this that I realize how much I suck at being a friend. Yes, I'm entertaining. I can tell stories and jokes, and be interesting. Sympathy? Fail. Knowing what to say? Fail. Knowing when to shut up? Well, you get the picture.

I'm not even entirely sure how to be friends with someone. All my efforts seem to have the reverse effect — and the people I am friends with, seem to be so in spite of me. I remember Deborah asking me how one becomes friends a while back, and I really didn't have a good answer. She also told me a tale of her, back in junior high or high school, having decided to be friends with someone... by following them around until they gave in and were friends back! Sure, it's not the greatest method, but then... what is?

* * *

A number of years ago, I used to get comments on my annual reviews at work that I was "prickly." I've never completely figured this out. I'm aware of one co-worker who is utterly terrified of me. Nonsense. I'm a big teddy bear. (Who, granted, wears black, rides a motorcycle, and shaves once a week whether he needs it or not. Perhaps her mother warned her about such guys.) But it's not the first time I've gotten comments like that. One friend in high school used to tell me that all I had to do was walk into the room to weird people out. How can I be friends with you if I'm somehow broadcasting from across the room that I won't? It'd be nice to know what the heck I'm doing, so that I can stop doing it.

I count myself amazed and fortunate for the friends I do have. They're amazing people. all of them. It still leaves me wondering, though.

How do you become friends with someone?

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Risanna! (by Deborah)

We didn't send out lots of pictures of Risanna like we did with the other kids. So here is a post just for you — Risanna pictures!

What a smiley playful girl! She loves to play with Mommy.

Another picture from June- sleeping despite the heat, or maybe because of it.

Teaching the girls to bang nails at the fourth of July. (Aiden got to bang nails too, but he and Andy were much faster at making their project then the girls.)

And here she is again, our happy girl. She loves to play with toys!

Another cute picture.

Risanna made it to the top of the mountain along with me. This was fairly near the top- I recognize the wrap style I was using.

A historic moment in the life of Risanna. Not that she'll remember it.

Risanna and our saintly cat. Having a Daddy nearby helps. Look how excited she is!

No, don't worry, it's only plastic corn. She's practicing for when she's old enough to actually try it.

Risanna tries to find out why her sister is so enthralled with duckies.

Risanna helps fold the laundry.

Risanna is one! She doesn't really know what to do with her presents. We eventually show her how to open them.

And don't forget the birthday cake. It was her first time to eat cake. She caught on right away.

Playing with her brother.

She LOVES "touchy-feely" books. She tries to feel the pages of every book to see if it feels any different.

Hopefully that covers the Risanna picture deficit!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Long Way Home (AKA Vacation, Part 7)

Editor's note: Yeah, we realize this is almost four months after the fact. It's still a story that deserves telling.

It was our third day driving home. The first day had been spent driving like mad through some of the country's best roads and scenery in order to get to Howe Caverns before the last tour of the day. We din't make it; near the end, we decided to spend the night there, and go on the first tour in the morning. (Too bad we hadn't decided to do that to begin with — it would have taken a lot of stress out of the driving.) The second day, after a tour of the caverns and a boat ride on an underground lake, we made it to our hotel in the middle of Pennsylvania.

Not the sort of weather you look forward to for a long, long ride.

The third day started out wet and gray. After wearing out the kids a bit in the hotel pool, we loaded up and headed out. I wore my rainsuit right out of the hotel — I knew it was wet, and was just going to get wetter.

It rained. Hard. For hours. Aside from the direct rain, there was the great clouds of water kicked up by every other vehicle on the road. I avoided the trucks as much as I could, but that's not easy on an interstate.

Somewhere around the third hour, I stopped to call Deborah and arrange to meet for lunch. For the fun of it, I even updated my Facebook status. My gloves made little squishy noises while I was texting.

Is making the long soggy slog home. 100 miles in the rain and counting.
3:19 PM Jul 29th from txt

The bike stuttered and stumbled the whole time I was stopped. The engine thumped slower and slower, and finally died before I was done. (I'm not a speedy texter.) I fired it back up and kept going, but the exhaust smelled rich with unburned gas. Something wasn't right — the usual snap and acceleration was gone. I could get up to highway speeds, but just barely. As long as I kept moving, I was OK, but by the time I got to the town where we'd arranged to meet, I had to restart the bike every time I came to a stop.

I stood there in the pouring rain, puzzling this over while I waited for the others to catch up. Nothing was visibly wrong...

Lunch was warm and filling, but desultory. I was shivering and soaked despite my rain gear, and everyone else was fairly subdued. I spent a good while in the bathroom abusing their hot-air hand dryer, and that helped me feel a bit better.

The bike wasn't feeling any better for the hour's rest, though. If anything, it was worse. I could barely keep it going. I took the next exit.

Is attempting a roadside repair. I theorize the engine is choking from all the water in the air.
4:59 PM Jul 29th from txt

I found a beautiful spot: an abandoned gas station, one with a roof to keep the rain off, and no one around so that I could spread out my tools and gear. I got off the bike, and started running through my diagnostics in my head — what does an engine need to run? It needs...

  • fuel (obviously, from the smell, there was fuel);
  • air (questionable; the exhaust smelled rich; which is usually a sign of too much fuel or too little air, and it seemed reasonable that the air filter could have gotten waterlogged);
  • spark (the electrics seemed fine)
  • momentum (the starter turned the engine over fast enough to start, so that wasn't the problem); and
  • compression (I had no way to test it, but I didn't have any reason to doubt that it was fine, either) it must be the air, I figured. Everything else was running fine. Or the spark, said a voice in the back of my head. I discounted that; I had lights, and the engine would turn over — there was plenty of electrical power for spark.

Motorcycles are different from cars. The open architecture makes some things are far easier — I can change my oil filter just by reaching down and twisting it off — but the need to package things compactly makes other bits much more difficult. Accessing the air filter is a good example: Remove the rear seat (to get access to the tools), remove the battery vent panels (to get access to the front seat bolts), remove the front seat (to allow the tank to swing up), raise the tank (to get access to the airbox), and then you can have a look at the air filter, which is bolted firmly to the airbox.

The bonus find of the day was an abandoned gas station, right off the interstate — a nice, big covered place where I could spread out my tools and work out of the rain!

Oddly enough, the filter was dry. I removed it anyway and stuffed it into the saddlebag, figuring the engine could breathe more freely without it, perhaps balancing out the rich mixture. I fired it up. The bike snarled like an angry tiger without the quieting filter, and I revved it a few times just to hear the sporting, wild roar. The exhaust popped and crackled like an overly lean mixture, but it still smelled like gas, like it would with an overly rich mixture — how was that combination even possible? I even peered into the airbox to see if something had gotten lodged in there, but I could see straight into both carburetors as it ran. I could even see a spark arcing through the carb for the front cylinder. Odd.

I shrugged and put the bike back together, sans filter. It was worth a try, and I set out again. The ragged sports-car like rasp was fun for a few miles, but it quickly became apparent that I really hadn't fixed anything. I could barely do the speed limit, and starting the bike required slipping the clutch like I was starting in third or fourth. I pulled in at the next rest stop and conceded defeat. Perhaps a local shop would still be open, and could help me figure this out.

Except that there weren't any local shops. I tried texting Google to find a nearby motorcycle shop; my query returned no results. I asked around if there were towns or shops nearby. Nope, 30 miles from nowhere. The rest area maps confirmed that. What now? Figuring I had friends all over, I texted Twitter and Facebook:

I'm stuck at a rest stop on I80 in PA 29 miles from the Ohio border. Text 260 249 0834 if you can help.
6:12 PM Jul 29th from txt

I sat around, waiting for a response. I put the air filter back in, just for something to do. I called Paul and Deborah and appraised them of my status. I walked among the trucks, trying to think of what I could be missing.

No solutions came. I was stuck. I was going to have to call a tow truck, or something.

My mind railed against that. All my life, I've been served well by the attitude that it will all work out somehow. Call it faith, misplaced optimism, dangerous ingenuity — whatever it is, I've almost always been able to get out of enormous scrapes without hiring expensive outside assistance.

I prowled among the canyons of idling diesels, looking for trailer space. One friendly fellow was hauling a refrigeration unit, and had plenty of space, and said he was heading for Indiana — great! — but it turns out he meant Indiana, PA. I sat there, defeated in the waning light, reflecting on the fact that I knew for a fact that there was a trailer — my own trailer! — heading exactly where I wanted to go, scarcely 50 miles away — but that there was no way I could get the bike on it.

And I prayed.

And I felt like God was telling me to give it another try. That was scary, because I knew I was a long way from anywhere right then. I got back on the bike, started it, and tried to get it to go. Stall. Try. Stall. Try. Stall. I chuckled morosely to myself that it was acting like it had all the power and torque of Strawberry, my old 250cc Honda. And it hit me: I knew how to ride a 250. A 650cc twin with only one cylinder would be a 325; pshaw, that was power to spare! Grimacing at my daring, I revved the engine high, slipped the clutch ever so slowly, and rolled back onto the highway.

Is running on faith. Gulp.
7:11 PM Jul 29th from txt

I can't say exactly why that made all the difference; perhaps it was that I'd made this very trip on a 250 all those years ago, and knew it could be done. Perhaps it was that I knew I could accept revving the engine twice as high as I normally would to get the power I needed. Perhaps it was because I knew not to expect more than the speed limit. Perhaps, like Ezekiel, the little wheel ran by faith, and the big wheel ran by the grace of God. I don't know. I plowed on.

Then the light started blinking.

Back in January of 2008, we'd had a bit of flooding around our house, which resulted in the bike tipping over into some water. The bike was mostly fine, but the tachometer got soaked and the fuel level sensor went out. I eventually got the tachometer dried out enough that I could get it to work with some gentle tapping at startup, but I didn't bother getting the fuel gauge fixed for more than a year. All the fuel level gauge really did was work a light. About 150 miles into a tank, a light would start blinking. That would mean I had a gallon left. A single gallon normally gets me 40-60 miles. If I let that go for too long and let it get down to about a third of a gallon, then the light would turn solid — the "get gas now, dummy" setting. If you reset the tripmeter every time you got gas, you could pretty safely get by without the warning light. I'd finally gotten it fixed just before the trip.

And there it was, blinking. Huh. The tripmeter scarcely had a hundred miles on it. I'd expected the efficiency to be poorer, but not that much. I got gas early, and slipped through the cloverleaves off 80 towards Akron. A text from Deborah said that the rain had finally let up.

In the middle of Akron, the light started blinking again. 80 miles on the tripmeter. I peeled an eye for the next gas station sign. Mere minutes later, the light stopped blinking and went solid. I thought about what would happen if I ran out of gas in the middle of this awful traffic, and took the next exit. It was a city — surely there would be gas stations just off the major exits...

I was wrong. I found myself in what most would consider the Bad Part of Town, without an on-ramp or a gas station anywhere in sight. I squirted up and down side roads, panic starting to set in. Finally, I got directions from a fellow who was taking out the trash, and found a small, run-down gas station a long ways down a residential street. I'm certain I saw at least one drug deal while I was filling up.

Good for gas again, I set out to get back onto the highway. I rode back to where I'd gotten off, but the only on-ramp I found went East, and I wanted West. I followed a sign for the West route, and found another on-ramp for the highway going East. Frustrated, I wound up back at the gas station, where the both owner and the security guard said I had the right idea about my overall route to Indiana, but neither of them could remember how to go West on that highway, even though they remembered that the entrance was in a rather different place than the eastbound on-ramp. Even a local cop directed me towards the wrong entrance. Nearly blind with frustration in the darkening twilight, I roared onto the highway going East. I found another highway, merged onto it, and took the first exit. An underpass later, I was back on the highway, headed back to where I'd come. I grinned with frustrated satisfaction as I came across what I was looking for: an exit to go WEST. Exactly what I'd wanted an hour ago!

Finally away from Akron, and back out onto the open road, I felt free to have my nervous breakdown. Deborah sympathized with me and encouraged me over the phone. I was finally nearing the last major route change — the next one would put me on 30, all the way to home. It was supper time, and I felt I could sure use the break. I found a Denny's just outside of Mansfield and collapsed into a booth to dry out, decompress, and recharge. I even started to see the humor in it all.

Is limping across Ohio on a single cylinder. 80 Miles max between gas stops. It's an adventure, right?
10:46 PM Jul 29th from txt

Still life with coffee. Can you see the condensation built up on the inside of my cell phone?

The only other motorcyclist and I recognized each other instantly upon entering. He was driving his new rig back home; apparently they manufacture these somewhere in Indiana. Maybe when my hair is gray and my balance isn't as good...

The check came, and I gathered my stuff to go pay. The hostess ran my card several times, each time with a darkening look on her face. She disappeared. A moment later, the manager came out. He tried running the card, too, without success. I offered my MK List Visa, which I knew had money on it, but that one was refused, as well. The manager left with my card. I started wondering if the next person I'd see about the matter would be a police officer. A long while later, the manager came back out, and said that everything was fine, but that he'd called, and my bank was having some trouble with their computers. I apologized for my bank, and tipped generously. I saddled up, and went across the street to fill up at the Jetson-esque gas station. My card worked just fine there. Odd.

By this point, my text messages had made it to Facebook, and I was having to stop every mile or so to answer incoming messages of help, support, and suggestions. My parents had friends in Mansfield, and I knew I wasn't too far away from my friend Nathan in Galion, even if none of them knew I was coming. It was getting late, and I bounced the idea of "calling it a night" off of Deborah. She was just about home by that point, and was not happy about the idea of waiting even longer to see me. She wanted me there. I was still at the other end of Ohio. I sighed and promised to try.

Thank God gas stations try to compete with each other. I'm not sure what compels owners to build across the street from each other, but it worked to my advantage. When one gas station would decline my card, there was usually one across the street that would take it. I was stopping as often as I could, every 50 miles or so, not knowing when the next station might be. The towns get to be few and far between once you get west of the middle of Ohio.

My luck ran out in Upper Sandusky, OH. There were two gas stations across from each other, but neither of them would accept either of my cards. I thought ruefully of the one real credit card I had, the one I'd had gotten "for emergencies," safely tucked away in my safe at home. I headed inside to see if there was something that could be done.

Not much, it turned out. One account was frozen, and the other wasn't accepting transactions. No, she couldn't force the transaction. No, she wouldn't take a check. I rifled through my wallet and pants for cash. Not even enough for a single gallon. I turned away in defeat, figuring I had to call the bank, when I heard the cashier call to me. "Where are you going?" I told her. She looked at me a bit sourly, her tired eyes appraising me. "I'm putting ten bucks on pump number four. That should get you far enough that you can call someone to come get you." I thanked her profusely. "Pay it forward, OK?"

I was rolling again.

Western Ohio is a very empty place. Western Ohio at three in the morning is an extremely empty place. I droned on, flattening myself out on the gas tank, trying to get ever last yard out of every drop of gas that I could. Streetlights came and went. I saw signs for towns, but not the towns themselves.

Blink, blink, blink. 20 miles to the next town. I might make it.

20 miles later, I came not to a town, but to a crossroads that led to a town. Blink, blink, blink. How far was the next town? Should I try and find this one, or try to find the next one? Maybe it would just be a crossroads, too. Blink, blink, blink. I turned and fired off into the dark, hoping the town wasn't far.

It was a lot farther than I'd hoped. Blink, blink, blink. I rolled up to a gas station. Closed. Blink, blink, blink. I rolled up to another gas station. Closed. I thought they invented "Pay at the Pump" for situations like this. It should be something you can leave on at night, for weary, desperate travelers. Blink, blink, solid. The fuel light burned into my consciousness like a slow flame spreading across a scrap of parchment.

I'm not sure how I wound up at the police station garage, but the officer there was clearly not used to people walking in on him. His eyes burned into me as he held his paperwork in his surgical-gloved hands. His demeanor made it clear that I was not his problem, but he at least pointed me to an all-night gas station not more than a mile away, but only once I told him that I'd already tried the town's other two stations. I'm not sure who was more creeped-out by whom.

I almost cried with relief to see that it was a Marathon station. I knew I could get gas there. My card had worked at every one I'd tried. Marathon earned my loyalty that morning.

I never thought I'd be so glad to see this sign!

I scarcely recognized Fort Wayne without all the traffic. I was less than hour from home, but my consciousness was fading fast. I waggled my head, sang songs to myself in my helmet (very loud, repetitive ones, I'm afraid), did deep knee bends... but it was no good. I found another Marathon station and invested in one of those awful energy drinks, and, for reasons I cannot now explain, an old army ammo can. Something about it being waterproof.

The Red Bull was already fading when I finally pulled into the carport at home. I grabbed my bags off the bike and stumbled into the house shedding helmet, boots, and clothes. With my last shred of consciousness, I pulled out my cell phone, and texted five characters:

5:45 AM Jul 30th from txt

* * *

Several days later, I'd woken up and recovered enough to start thinking about the motorcycle again.

After a few hours of dorking around, checking for cracks in wiring insulation and the like, I walked over to a computer, and typed in "rain SV650." Behold. Entire on-line forums, discussing my exact make and model of motorcycle, who had also lost a cylinder in heavy rain, and what to do about it.

Pyramid Plastics out of the UK makes this nifty "Fenda Extenda." This will be one of my winter projects.

It turns out that the SV has a relatively short front fender. In a normal rainy ride, this isn't a problem; in a several-hour downpour, the shortened front fender allows enough water to spray up, force its way through the radiator, past two sets of seals, and fill up the spark plug well on the front cylinder, shorting out the spark. They realize that even this is possible, so they include a small drain hole to make sure it doesn't do this. It was crusted over with road grime. I took a small straw and poked at the drain hole, which emptied a surprising amount of fluid onto the carpet in my shed.

I fired it up. It ran.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

The Helpful Blogging Community

I get a chuckle out of the little coincidences that show up in my blog sidebar from time to time...

Monday, December 07, 2009

A Little Christmas Cheer

Just for you, a live-on-location recording of "Jingle Bells" with Miss Fiona Kerr, accompanied by Deborah. It puts a smile on my face; it might put one on yours, too. :-)

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

I thought you'd never ask!

Once in a while, someone asks you to do the very thing that you want to do, to use that otherwise utterly useless skill in some amazing way... and you didn't even have to offer.

It was just such an evening. Fiona came over to me and held up an old pan that had been relegated to "toy" use. "Daddy, would you make me a wooden spoon? It needs to be about this long, and about this wide, and you can make it so it can scoop things."

Well.... yeah!

A piece of an old 2x4, the rasp of a bandsaw, the whir and flutter of the lathe, and the whine of a Dremel, and I had it:

OK, so it turned out more like an ice cream scoop than a spoon, but I like it. That was fun.

Now Deborah wants me to make her some spoons, too...

Saturday, November 28, 2009


One of the things Mom did on her most recent trip to Spain was to task her local bookshop owner with what turned out to be a 2½ month project: Complete the 10-book collections of Mafalda for both of my sisters and me. Even though they're now out of print, she came through.

Now, if you've never heard of Mafalda, you probably speak English. The comic strip is best known in Europe and Latin America, and features a precocious, political 6-year-old named Mafalda, and her friends. Think Calvin and Hobbes without the tiger, set in Vietnam-era Argentina, with a bit of "Peanuts" mixed in. Mafalda was everywhere when I lived in Costa Rica, a ubiquity similar to Garfield in the U.S. in the 80s. The last book was published before I was even born, but it's a comforting link to the past, and a thorough workout for my Spanish, especially that rare, rusty vos conjugation.

It's a good thing we got several books at once, though... otherwise I might still be waiting to read them!

Look! It's the return of the two-headed gigglequilt!

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Thanksgiving Double Triple Reunion

Thanksgiving here was an occasion for a very rare occurrence: not just one three-sibling reunion, but two! On Wednesday, my sisters drove down from Canada and rode up from Texas on the train, joining all of us at my parent's house in Valparaiso.

Becky, Sharon, Andy.

While all that was happening, a similar three-sibling reunion was happening in Winona Lake, where May flew in from Pennsylvania to spend a few days with us, as well.

Deborah, Paul, May. (Remaining sister Sara not shown.)

On Thursday, we all got together in Valpraiso for the feast.

Yum. Fabulous food, on Mom's these-do-NOT-go-in-the dishwasher good china. Deborah had the idea of making place names; pilgrim hats and bonnets for the Indiana family, and Indian feather headdresses for the out-of-staters. (I argued that it should be the other way around, but the practicalities of making only four pilgrim hats won out.) I supplied the calligraphy at the last minute; I am waaaay out of practice.

Once we were too stuffed to walk, we took time out for other things.

Photos of all the cousins together...
In no particular order: Joshua, Jonathan, Josiah, Javier, Joél, Fiona, Aiden, and Risanna. Yes, we bucked the trend my sisters set of naming all the kids beginning with J.

It was fun to see cousins from all three families doing things together.

Games galore...

Silly stories with Grandpa.

We had much to be thankful for!

Logo Analysis

I've seen these trucks trundling about Winona Lake on many occasions, but I haven't always had by camera with me. It's a mowing company, and there's a lot to say for this logo:

Let's analyze this logo for a minute:

  1. It has immediate impact. It's a commanding presence. Bold, daring.
  2. It's describable. It's not some vague, swooshy thing. You can tell that this is a guy jauntily pushing a lawnmower.
  3. It's simple. It's not trying to tell you the guy's whole outlook on the world — there's one idea.
  4. It's memorable. I can't think of any other companies with this shape or design. It stands out.
  5. It's timeless. This logo will still effectively communicate in 50 years, unless we're somehow mowing the lawn with space-based lasers or something.
  6. It's versatile. This logo will be effective even if you...
    • Use only one color
    • Blow it up to the size of a billboard (which they did; it looked just like the truck here)
    • Shrink it to the size of a postage stamp
    • Print it in reverse (ie. light logo on dark background or vice-versa)
  7. It describes what the business does. This isn't strictly necessary (IBM's logo doesn't show computers, nor does McDonald's logo show a hamburger, for instance) but in this case, it's a plus.

So, kudos to this company for great logo design.

There's just one problem.

Who are they?

And, how do you contact them?

Thursday, November 12, 2009


Here Comes

Here comes summer,
Here comes summer,
Chirping robin, budding rose.
Here comes summer,
Here comes summer,
Gentle showers, summer clothes
Here comes summer,
Here comes summer —
Whoosh — shiver — there it goes.

— Shel Silverstein




Picking strawberries...

...and enjoying them.



Enjoying old treats...

...and trying new ones.

(It's a deep-fried Twinkie. I'd never had one before. I didn't find it as impressive as some do, but it was still a worthwhile experience.)

Bed racing...

Dragon riding...

Discovering the strange...

(We had a hard time identifying this one. Turns out it's not one creature, but about 50: one Tomato Hornworm caterpillar — bane of gardeners everywhere, and 50 or so parasitic wasp larvae — bane of tomato hornworms everywhere.)

...and beautiful.

Seeing nature up close...

...and far away.

(That's Jupiter and four of its moons. You may have to just take my word on it. My astrophotography skills obviously aren't the best!)

Getting the ball into the basket...

...and trying to get the basket under the ball.



(Happy little sigh) See you next year, Summer. It's been good.