Archive for the ‘Life in the USA’ Category

Collecting Snow for Sochi

Thursday, February 13th, 2014

Morning view out home office

As we woke up this morning, the last of more than 13 inches of wet snow was still coming down. This is the first significant snowfall in the Cap region since 2010.

     Deeper in the frontFeb2014-1650

Impressively deep on the patio, it seemed even deeper out front.  It seems we’ve had at least 15 inches so far, and perhaps as much as 20.

15 Inches/40cm of snow

I saw lots of neighbors shoveling, but virtually none of them actually tried to drive anywhere today. Most of the cars looked like they had no business going anywhere.  Even the Jeeps decided to stay put.

Across the street

Hovering around freezing all day, the snow subsided a couple inches. The landscape company was out with shovels, blowers, plows, and even a Bobcat, and the neighborhood is pretty clear. I walked the several blocks to our town center, almost totally deserted, but still softly playing jazz music.  Everything was closed but the Harris-Teeter.

Even Jeeps stayed put today

While I stopped in the backyard to chat up Krypto, asking for his help to locate some missing snowballs,  I noticed a family shoveling their Honda out, hopping in and slowly driving across the slippery pavement.  I didn’t think they’d get very far, but it turns out that they were only driving 500 yards to the town center where they own a Vietnamese restaurant. So there are now two places open.

Buster in his cape

A light snow started falling at dusk, the beginning of a second wave of frozen precipitation apparently caused by an ‘energetic upper level disturbance.’  Quite. Another 1-3 inches is expected, although this particular pattern has a history of heaviness, with continued red-bordered warnings from the National Weather Service.

Looking down on the patio

Given the dearth of the white stuff in the sub-tropical location Russian city chosen to host this year’s winter Olympics, more than one wag has suggested that we collect and ship the stuff to the Black Sea. If this storm does deserve a name, it might as well be Snochi. Maybe Krypto can do something about taking this snow to where it is really needed.

Riding with the Amish on the Walmart Trail

Saturday, November 16th, 2013

The Holmes Trail

Sixteen feet seems like a very wide bike trail, until you encounter a speeding Amish buggy. Six years after its completion, I finally had a chance to spend some time biking on the Holmes County Trail.  This rail to trail project is uniquely wide because one half is smoothly paved with asphalt for bikes and runners, and the other half has a more durable “chip and seal” pavement intended for equestrian traffic.

On the BikeE

All the necessary pieces came together in July, with Dad giving me the keys to his BikeE(don’t worry, Scott, I eventually figured out how to pump up the air shock), us building a place where you could store the bike, and Elizabeth getting a Texas-sized pickup with an eight foot bed so I could haul this oversized recumbent bike to the trailhead.

Killbuck Bottoms

The slow bike movement rejects the inconvenient and sweaty accoutrements of biking, and my slow paced rides on this quiet and level trail were undertaken without high tech bike clothing, without special shoes, and with no head protection other than a ballcap from Tractor Supply.  The segment between Killbuck and Millersburg curves through the Killbuck Bottoms, with several rest spots where you can sit on a bench and watch turtles, geese, and herons. I also saw pileated, red headed and red bellied woodpeckers, orioles, bluebirds, and blackbirds.

Viewing the Holmes Trail from a bridge

The traffic picks up in Millersburg, with the Amish using it to get to the Walmart and the thrift shop.  They zip right along in their buggies. I did encounter people on horseback when biking in the English countryside, but I never experienced horse drawn vehicles. The trail is luxuriously wide, until you get to one of the bridges, which are narrower. It makes good use of the old railroad bridges, adapting them to bikes and buggies by covering the riveted metal sides with wooden sheathing.  I’ve had to wait out some buggies, and once had to come to a stop when an oncoming group of bike-riding Amish girls filled up both lanes of the bridge and were too busy texting to notice that they were riding straight for me.

Holmes County Bicentennial Barn and County Home

North of Millersburg, the trail goes through areas of hardwood forest, and farmland.  The familiar sites of the Holmes County Home and its Ohio Bicentennial barn are visible across a wide corn field. Continuing through Holmesville, I made it all the way to Fredericksburg on one trip, grabbing a burger and shake and hanging out with the other bikers mid-way through a 30 mile slow bike ride.


Lem's Pizza

Eventually, the trail in Holmes County will be just one segment of the Ohio to Erie Trail, which is planned to run from Cincinnati to Cleveland. At this point, no off road trail exists to the north between Fredericksburg and the Ohio & Erie Canalway in Massillon. The southern section of the Holmes Country trail, from Killbuck to Glenmont, is missing some bridges and isn’t expected to be completed for several more years.

Bridge of Dreams

I haven’t taken a bike on it, yet, but the old rail tunnel under Route 62 was reopened by ODOT a couple months ago.  An unpaved trail is now open from Glenmont through the Bridge of Dreams at Brinkhaven and into Danville. A paved trail is open from Danville to Mount Vernon, and eventually, the old rail right of way should be reclaimed all the way to Columbus.

Fall Foliage

Tornado Week

Monday, June 17th, 2013


Have you ever had one of those weeks where it seemed like everywhere you looked, there was weather? That’s what it was like last week, with three near misses.

In National Harbor for a business event on Monday, I had just returned to my room when I learned about a tornado warning just a few miles to the south. I could see some very wet people outside, but no obvious violent weather, and it blew over. 2 days later,  Elizabeth arrived for pizza with my co-workers, and we were surprised when our iPhones rang simultaneously. It turned out to be a tornado warning in Ohio. We anxiously watched the storm traversing the county on our phones. The tornadic storm passed a couple miles below our property without any impact, other than what must have been a loud hailstorm on a metal roof.

Tornadic storm approaches from southwest

Pooped after long 2 weeks of business travel, I returned home Thursday afternoon, popped a beer, and took it out to the sidewalk to watch the long-expected not-quite-a-derecho-after-all roll in.  The air had that hot sultry Midwestern feeling of impending meteorological violence. The southwestern sky became darker and darker, taking on an unfortunate greenish color. Halfway through my Heineken, the first few rain drops hit, so I walked inside and turned on the telly.

15 minutes to Armeggedon

In half a beer, my world had gone from a severe thunderstorm warning to you have 15 minutes to find a basement. With a certain urgency, the weatherman showed a dark read warning right across our neighborhood, explaining that although there was no apparent tornado on the ground, everyone between Leesburg and Ashburn Junction (a half mile to the southeast) would be best off to assume cyclonic activity.

Heart of the storm from upstairs window

Not having a basement, and apparently having 15 minutes to think about that, I went upstairs to get my camera. As I watched to the southeast, the visibility dropped from a couple hundred yards, to a hundred feet.  Small hail peppered the outside wall, and the window shook violently a couple of times.  Water poured out of the downspouts, missing the lowest tier of gutter, spewing all over the patio. I walked back downstairs to where the basement door would be if we had one.

Heart of the storm

The lights flickered. The windows rattled. The weatherman explained that the purple spots on the radar were really bad, and he held his left hand over our neighborhood to emphasize the benefit of the basements that nobody underneath his hand actually had. By this point, I’d already weathered the first purple spot, with one more smaller one due to pass over any second.  Milking the moment of doom for another 4 minutes, Storm Team 4 then announced that the tornado warning was lifted for Loudoun county, and was headed north of DC through Montgomery County.  Within 30 minutes, the storm had split into two parallel tornado warning paths, thousands of PEPCO customers were without power (so what else is new?) and small funnel cloud damaged a house in Rockville.

Waves of rain hit as the heart of the storm leaves Loudoun

Packing Pistons in the Past

Saturday, June 1st, 2013

Southern Airways Martin 404

Propellers powered by a pair of Pratt & Whitney radial piston engines, a 1976 trip to my grandparents included aircraft that had more in common with WWII bombers than with the Bombardier I’ll be boarding on Tuesday. One of a series of small prop planes that constituted the last stage of our Easter or Christmas visits to the Gulf coast, including one especially exciting but only dimly remembered trip in a DC-3, the Southern Airways Martin 4-0-4 pictured above delivered us to what was then a very small Ft Myers airport.

This high school era image (see That 70’s Show) is impossible to date, but I found it in a lackluster set of Florida shots in the same envelope with some Plus-X that could be positively dated to Spring 1976. This was shot on Panatomic X, a surprising and counterproductive choice for a night image, given that it was a low speed film (ASA 32). 

If it was 1976, my SLR would have been a Hanimex Practica with a built in meter, but fully manual settings.  If it was 1977, then it would have been a much sweeter Canon AE-1 with aperture priority automatic shutter.  Both had 50mm f/1.8 lenses.  As is still my wont, I am drawn to airplanes and night shots, so I’m sure that confronted with this classic scene, I did the best I could to hand hold with whatever was loaded in my camera.  35mm film didn’t come with adjustable ISO.

Today’s modern jetport feels less romantic, less exciting, and certainly less innocent than a small regional airport did 35 years ago.  Having long lost most  I no longer feel comfortable standing on an airport tarmac taking pictures of planes (on the assumption that the airport authorities aren’t especially comfortable about me and my camera).

Digitized with my Nikon 35mm film scanner, this underexposed image cleaned up nicely—after some Photoshop surgery to remove the worst of the mildew damage.  It evokes feelings of a different time; a time that was ending as my time as an air traveller began.

Amish Minivan

Sunday, April 7th, 2013

Amish Minivan

The Amish find lots of imaginative ways to stretch the boundaries of the Ordnung. On weekends, we sometimes encounter ‘Amish minivans’, a tractor pulling a wagon with lawn chairs, a cooler, and loaded up with the entire family.

Our builder, Sam, has a nice new Kubota tractor that dwarfs our little 3-cylinder diesel, but his bishop won’t let him put air in the tires.  Like many Central Ohio Amish, he has phenolic inserts that awkwardly attach the original rubber tires to the wheels.  He’d be better off with the old fashioned pre-war metal tractor tires, but because they chew up the asphalt, they have long been forbidden on public roads.  As the bishop intended, Sam doesn’t go very far afield with his tractor. He either takes his horse and buggy, which is primarily for church and family visits, or if it’s a trip to a job site, his non-Amish nephew drives the pickup truck..

Amish in different Ordnungs, like the Yodeling Yoders we’ve used for tree fellers, are fully pneumatic, and are happy to drive a tractor all the way across the county for business purposes.  The Massey Ferguson above, captured at the Holmes County Home charity auction last Fall, would make for a relatively comfortable afternoon drive, which is why some of the bishops have tried to crack down on the use of tractors for transportation by reducing the practicality of the rear wheels.

The greatest loo, sir?

Friday, February 15th, 2013


Can there be a more annoying chronic DIY subject than the humble flush toilet. A seemingly simple device, it suffers from an amazing variety of degradative failures: flakey flaps, varicose valves, and the dreaded waxseal wipeout. Hardly the ideal environment for an extended repair session, I actually dread the sheer fiddliness of the thing more than I do the aesthetics.  It remains a rocky throne.

Across the course of my adult, and especially spousely life, I have pulled the ring tabs off of countless toilets, in several continents. While I hesitate to speculate on the source of wear (and I once inherited a suburban commode that could only be explained by a decade of corn cobs), it’s the equally mystifying question of alignment that finally brought matters to a head this week.

Most of the seemingly countless toilets that have fallen victim to my wrench have been blessed by a standard size and hole configuration. Once the inevitable happens, and a seat has reached its final bottom, the only factors leading into a choice of replacement are quality and color. The local home repair superstore has a choice of white seats priced for 10,000, 25,000, or 50,000 wipes. Inside of a few minutes, the deed is done, and you’re ready for a long-deserved sit down. Until our second rental house in England, which had seat alignment weaknesses in multiple dimensions, it never dawned on me that a nation could even survive without standardizing Returning to the USA, I looked forward to a more commodified approach.

Disappointingly, it turns out that ‘American Standard’ does not refer to the hole centers for the saddle mounts. Our latest high-tech loos add a ring wrinkle: a pair of adjustable pins attach to the top of the rim with stainless steel hex screws. The seat slides down over the retaining pins and locks into place. Removal of the seat, for those who are especially fastidious with the Lysol, or for those who anticipate frequent replacement, is a simple matter of pressing a single button, neatly releasing two internal clamps from the grooved pins.

The frustration with this model is two fold.  First, no matter how seemingly snug the results of a 5/32” hex key may be (and over torqueage would almost certainly lead to denial of service, if not an expensive replacement), physics always triumphs.  The forces of leverage ensures that the pin positions creep over time, with the front edge of the seat gradually, unsightily, and even uncomfortably, increasingly cantilevered over an unwilling tile floor. Second, its a pain in the ass to adjust the pins.  They not only have to be the exactly correct distance apart to fit into the base of the seat, they also need to be in the correct fore and aft position.  As is the case whenever taking aim, windage needs to be spot on, although at least elevation is fixed.

Such a high maintenance item, let alone 4 of them, could drive a person potty, and I find it no comfort station.