Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Scary Halloween Video Blogging

I try to keep it light here for the most part. I'll tell you when things are crappy, but I try to keep some perspective. I'm an optimist at heart.

But sometimes I see things that I can't find perspective on. And sometimes I feel the need to share them. So here's some scary stuff for your Halloween viewing pleasure...

This is a short one. I'm no climate change expert, but this can't be good:

This is a two-year timelapse from NASA of the Arctic ice shrinking. It reminds me of putting an ice cube in a bowl of hot soup.

Next up is a very funny mock interview from the BBC about the subprime mortgage debacle. If you keep hearing about this and thinking "WTF?", watch this clip:

And finally, if you have a couple hours to spare (and you wouldn't mind finding yourself gibbering in the corner a couple of hours from now), check this out:

I don't know if you'll believe everything you see there, but I think it's good to challenge what you do believe every now and then. This will most definitely do that.


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Thursday, October 25, 2007

How dumb is your right foot?

Sit in a chair. Pick up your right foot. Now start rotating your foot at the ankle, in a clockwise direction.

Ok, while doing that, draw a number 6 in the air with your right hand.

Your foot involuntarily changed direction, didn't it?

Weird. Happens every time.

Maybe we shouldn't rely on that appendage to control a ton or two of metal hurtling down the road, eh?



Wednesday, October 24, 2007

A Learning Experience

So tomorrow we're cashing the check for the last of our goats. With a baby on the way, dramatically rising feed costs, falling animal value, and frankly, just being in a bit over our heads, we decided to take a break from four-legged livestock.

And let me tell you, it wasn't a day too soon. What a story I have to tell you. This all actually happened this past weekend, but I haven't quite been ready to tell it until now.

We've been selling our herd little by little. The last to go was Congo. He was a high-bred, purebred, bull-headed Boer buck. He was always the most aggressive and the most obnoxious. (He also stunk to high heaven, and even the briefest dealings with him would leave you with a musky film all over you that just doesn't wash off easily.) He'd go out of his way to challenge you, and he knew just how to jab you with his horns. We knew being alone in the pasture wasn't going to be good for him, since goats are a herd animal and they don't do well solo. But we were working hard to sell him so he'd be back in a normal goaty environment.

What we didn't know was that he'd figure out how to get out of his pasture. One morning I glanced out the window, and there was Congo, punishing the neighbor's three rail fence. Odd.

Both gates were well secured. I couldn't see any visible damage or gaps anywhere in the pasture fence. Since he's not only aggressive, but strong, I grabbed the cattle prod and headed out to get him back in. I'd answer the question of how he got out later.

I decided to move him into a different pasture. Maybe a change of scenery would keep him occupied for a while. It did. For about three hours. In the meantime, I ran out to take care of an errand. I mistakenly assumed that his escape had to do with some undiscovered issue in the old pasture fence line.

No. He learned how to climb the fence. A chest-high woven-wire fence. He was using the crossbrace for the end posts as a stepladder and hurling himself over. I knew I should have finished electrifying that damn topwire. (You can see the crossbrace I'm talking about in the photo to the left.)

With me gone, this left my poor wife to deal with the big brute. My pregnant wife. Not good. He could get out within 60 seconds of being locked in. I got back to the house and he was out again. Lori's crying. He'd escaped twice, torn some of the siding off our house, and pinned her against the gate where she could not overpower him. Meanwhile, my son thinks it's all a big game, coming out of the house to see what we're doing, or shouting at us from the window. It was just a nightmare.

Eventually after getting him into the pasture and sending everybody else inside, I find myself standing there at the crossbrace, keeping him away with the cattle prod, trying to figure out what in the hell to do.

Okay, I'm going to build a temporary pen out of cattle panels. One with no crossbraces. We've got part of a pen already, so I just need to close it off. I head into the pasture and call Lori on my cellphone. She brings me the wire and the wire cutters. I cut loose a panel from a divider fence and start securing the temporary pen. I get Congo to chase me in there and then sneak around the shelter and close off the last escape route. After a good bit of wiring, we don't even have an entry point. The only way in is with wire cutters. He won't be there for more than a day or two. He's got a shelter, he's got water, and he's got hay. Whew.

Ten minutes. That's how long it took him to figure out how to climb the cattle panels and hop over the perimeter fence again. This is a thick, muscled animal who probably weighs close to 200 pounds, and who is now stronger than any of us. So I say "hop" facetiously. He's out again, and this time he's pissed.


I thought he was secured, so I had headed over to the neighbor's house to get a stray rooster out of their llama pasture. He'd been in there all day, and it was getting toward dusk. Unlike the hens, he's apparently not smart enough to find his way back out the way he got in. From there I can see Congo trotting through our front yard. But because of the fences, there's no quick way back if you're bigger than a chicken. And their fence is topped with barbed wire to boot, so I'm not even up for trying to climb it. I take the shortest route I can, all the while trying to figure out how to stop this unstoppable beast.

I have no ideas left. All I know is that I want Lori to stop trying to help me and get into the house. She keeps resisting and I keep insisting. I'm not all chivalrous or stuck on gender roles, but there's this matter of an unborn child that happens to be right at Congo's head height. Congo takes turns charging at us and rearing up on his hind legs. Finally I convince Lori to go inside while my mind frantically tries to think of a solution. Any solution.

Out of desperation, I decide to try to get him into the "goat gofer". It's a cage that fits into the back of a pickup truck, used for transporting goats or other small livestock. It once fell off the back of our truck at 60 miles per hour, and didn't have a dent or scratch on it. If I can somehow get him in there somehow, and get it secured, we can take him to the auction in two days. Leaving him in there for two days sounds like a terrible idea, but I have no others.

I drag the cage over to the truck. Lori sees me struggling with it and comes out to help me steer it onto the bed of the pickup. Congo decides to give her a hard time and I'm having none of it. I grab the prod and come after him. He manages to charge me, pushes me back into my knee high garden fence and almost takes me down. I give him a good jolt and he backs off. Mostly.

We get the cage secured to the truck while he's milling around looking for trouble. I discover that wherever I go, he comes at me. I set up the ramps on the back of the truck, and I climb into the bed and get behind the cage. He walks right up the ramp, eyes me behind the cage, and sticks his head in. Can something actually go right? Is he dumb enough to go into the cage?

No, not quite. But he's thinking about it. Meanwhile, Lori's brought some grain. I ask her to get in behind the cage too. Yes, I'm using my pregnant wife as bait to trap a dangerous animal. I suck.

The grain goes in the cage, Lori gets behind it with me, and we try to coax and/or taunt him into going in. After a couple of almosts, a lot of swearing, and some kind of luck, I slam the cage door shut and pop the pin to secure it. We cover the whole thing with a tarp. This should keep the rain and wind off him, keep him from seeing us and getting angry, and maybe even contain his stench a little. We get a water bucket in place, stuff some hay in, throw some cinder blocks onto the corners of the tarp, and hope for the best. The next step is to have the sherrif come out and shoot the damned thing. Why didn't we have a gun on hand?

Two long but uneventful days later, Congo made it to the auction. He sold for far less than we paid for him. But he's not our problem any more.

I can live with that.


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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Pumpkin Show! (with pictures)

In case you're not familiar with this phenomenon (though I imagine most people are), in certain parts of the country, every town has some seasonal festival related to some local agricultural product. So you have the Tomato Festival or the Pork Festival or the Dandelion Festival or whatever. I have a feeling that after a while they became pretty arbitrary:

Small town Mayor, circa 1890: We need a festival!
Advisor: Really? What for?
Mayor: Look, Shadyfield makes a mint every year with that blasted Rutabaga Festival. We need something.
Advisor: But we don't grow anything here.
Mayor: Sure we do. Don't we? There must be something out there!
Advisor: Even if there is, all the good stuff's already taken. I mean, we don't even have rutabagas to choose from any more!
Mayor: I pay you to think, don't I?! Listen, get me a festival by October or you're done for!
[time passes]
Mayor: Ladies and Gentleman, boys and girls! Clap your hands and stomp your feet, for it is my great honor and privilege to crown Dirkersville's first ever Miss Head Louse!

But I digress...

Here, we've got the Pumpkin Festival. Lori and Amelia couldn't attend, but e5 and I wandered over for a bit of fun. We arrived early and managed to park for free on the edge of town (just a couple blocks from the action). Not paying for parking doubled our meager budget, which we spent entirely on ride tickets. Since it was early in the day, and most of the early crowd have all-day passes, most of the ride operators weren't even taking tickets, so we got quite a few rides in without depleting our ticket supply.

Then in a bit of karmic justice, I lost half of our tickets - probably while fishing the camera out of my pocket. With only two remaining, I told e5 he could ride one last ride, but it'd have to be by himself because I'd lost the rest of the tickets. He was mad that we had to leave soon, so he started arguing and stalling about which ride and whether he wanted to ride alone or not. We were in line for the Ferris Wheel when I discovered the ticket problem, and the kind people in front of us, on hearing our discussion, insisted on giving us an extra pair of tickets so we could ride together.

After we got off, I realized that once again, the operator had never asked for our tickets. The nice people ahead of us were long gone. So we sold the remaining tickets to somebody else and bought french fries and ice cream. A short walk back to the car, a quick dart across traffic, and we were all smiles driving past the 1.5 mile backup of incoming hordes. Good fun.

But before I get on with the pictures already, here is a list of the pumpkin-related products available at the festival:
- Pumpkin waffles
- Pumpkin pizza
- Pumpkin cream puffs
- Pumpkin bread
- Pumpkin-chip cookies
- Pumpkin blossoms
- Pumpkin burgers
- Pumpkin ice cream
- Pumpkin pie (of course)
- Pumpkin chili
- Pumpkin butter
- Pumpkin seeds
- Pumpkin pancakes
- Pumpkin cake
- Pumpkin elephant ears
- Pumpkin cheesecake
- Pumpkin brownies
- Pumpkin buckeyes
- Pumpkin butter creams
- Pumpkin taffy
- Pumpkin fudge
- Pumpkin brittle

Okay, okay, some photos...

Who could resist a pumpkin burger?

...or a pumpkin waffle, for that matter?

The main drag, from the top of the Ferris Wheel.
(It extended a couple of blocks in either direction)

E5, flying through town

E5, contemplating the world from above.

If you ever need a 1542.5 lb pumpkin,
this is the place to be:
(Note the giant tower o' pumpkins in the background.)


Friday, October 19, 2007

Two posts in one day?

I know, don't strain myself, right?

But this is funny...

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Name that baby

Here are e5's baby name suggestions (so far):
- Fuzzy
- Eyeball
- Hugh
- Buzz
- Czpo (This one was invented while arranging foam letters in the bathtub.)
- Bonker Tray (He was offended when Lori refused to put it on the baby name list)

Here are e4's baby name suggestions:
- Tebucky
- D'Brickshaw

(I wonder if males should just be excluded from baby naming...)


Monday, October 08, 2007

Three Itty Bits

Okay, first of all, this is just wrong:

It's October 8th, for crying out loud!
(That's 37 for my Celsius-inclined friends.)

Second, I was sent this in response to hearing of my grandma's passing away. An entertaining read...

Third, was this article about a group of men from the South Pacific island of Vanuatu, who travel to the United Kingdom to study the indigenous culture there. It sounds kind of contrived, but I'd still like to watch the resulting documentary.

That's all I've got for now. Not much of a post, but you get what you pay for.



Friday, October 05, 2007

A Happy Ending

Last week I travelled to Connecticut to attend my grandmother's funeral. I'm not sharing this to lament her passing. She had in fact, looked forward to it, so she could be reunited with her true love. My grandfather died about 15 years ago, and she's been missing him ever since. Her death was five days before what would have been their 69th wedding anniversary, and six days before her 94th (and my 37th) birthday.

There were a few tears, but many more smiles at the thought of her and Ossie celebrating together once more. The funeral service was the warmest and most heartfelt I could imagine. We were all amazed when the printed pamphlets for the funeral ran out, and the people kept coming. They always try to print extra, but for her they underestimated by half.

The minister hit all the Biblical touchstones for funerals, but he read them in such a way that I felt like I was hearing those well-worn words for the first time. He captured her life so well you'd have thought he was related - even poking fun at the fact that she'd leave brand new clothes boxed up because she still had her old clothes to wear out. She had long ago picked out the hymns she wanted sung at her funeral, and my aunt read a poem called "A Garden Lives", which captures Grandma's world about as well as anything could. Tulip bulbs were handed out to any who wanted them.

She lived in the same home for almost 70 years. Two of her three daughters lived just across her back yard, on land my grandfather bought for them long before they were born. It was wonderfully nostalgic to visit their home one last time. I have a higher concentration of fond memories in that place than perhaps any other. Her big vegetable garden. The blueberry bushes. The flower beds. The see-saw my grandfather made. Sailing with my aunt and uncle. Playing "Marco Polo" with my cousins in my other aunt and uncle's swimming pool. Building elaborate "haunted houses" in my grandma's attic. Playing with the train table in their basement. Eating, and even sleeping, on the enclosed porch my grandfather added on to the back of the house. Drawing with chalk on the blacktop driveway. Looking through my aunts' and my mom's old toys, pictures, puzzles, games, 45's. My grandfather's workshop. Finding three four-leaf clovers in one day on their front lawn. (They are probably still pressed in tissue paper in my mom's big dictionary - under "clover".) Paintings of familiar places, done by a family friend. The beach. Getting lost at the beach during the 4th of July fireworks when I was about five, and having my name mispronounced over the loudspeaker, because I was crying too hard to communicate. Their early remote control TV, which you could trick into to changing channels just by clapping. A dozen or more TV stations instead of just four. Endless reruns of Gilligan's Island and the Brady Bunch. Blueberry buckle. Seven cousins ready to play at any time, right across the back yard. Family photos everywhere - hundreds of them, on every spare surface. An intricately detailed sailing ship built entirely from scratch by a good friend of my grandpa. Hiding in closets. Sitting on the sloped cellar doors. The tablecloth that my mom had everybody sign and write messages on, which she then stitched over to make permanent. The ever-present bird field guide, and birds everywhere. The ancient German cuckoo clock my grandfather repaired that use to entertain me to no end. The precise but impossible-to-describe scent of the house....

Walking through one last time, taking it all in, I was seeing it with slightly different eyes. I saw details in a different way. My grandfather's workshop was so cleverly organized. The lids of mayonaise jars were nailed to the floor joists of the floor above. The jars were then filled with various nails, screws, and other bits of hardware, and screwed onto the lids. You could easily see what you needed. He did a similar trick with a block of wood. He put several baby food jar lids along the four long sides of the block. He attached the ends to a bracket hanging from the ceiling, so the block could spin, and you could rotate it to see all the different jars. Even the stacked boxes of nails each had one representative nail taped to the front.

The walls of the basement pantry were lined with shelves. Each shelf was just deep enough and tall enough to fit a single row of canning jars, so nothing was ever hidden. The root cellar was actually two small closets, one for fruits and one for vegetables. Each section had a blacked-out window with a small vent that could be adjusted by rotating to let the desired amount of air in from outside. I always loved the fact that the clothes could be hung on the line from inside the screened porch. A window slides open, and the line is right there with a pulley going to a pole in the yard. And of course on top of the pole was this cool wind gauge that had a propeller that turned showing wind speed and direction, but the turning of the blade made a little woodsman saw back and forth forever on a little log.

To think all these memories accumulated in one or two weeks per summer.

I was struck by the fact that the sum total of their appliances amounted to a 40-year old gas stove, a fridge, a chest freezer, a washer and dryer, and a television. No answering machine, no blender, no food processor or disposal or microwave. No computer or stereo or DVD player. No VCR, DVR, computer. No answering machine.

My grandmother wasn't all cream and sugar, especially toward the end. But she never stopped living. She volunteered at a local thrift store for four decades, right up until she died. She bought most things second hand, and she used them until they were worn out. Then she'd find a new use for them and wear them out a second time. She put my poor aunts and uncles to work keeping her gardens neat and trim, and they could barely keep up with what she used to do by herself. She loved her garden, she loved her family, she loved her husband forever.

It was clear during my visit that things change. The trees are so much bigger, and I'm not a kid anymore, so the whole place seemed much smaller. And over the years, cousins have grown and have families of their own. Things you remember aren't there any more. It'll be so odd to have strangers living in my aunts' back yard after all these decades. But even so, the memories are everywhere.

An assortment of relatives walked through her house, looking for particularly interesting or special items to remember her by. I wanted something that would remind me of her every time I looked at it, but that I wouldn't have to worry about the kids breaking. I also wanted something that would get used and not just looked at. I took an old wooden chair/stepladder that had been a fixture in her tiny kitchen for at least half a century. I know my mom sat on it as a kid watching her mother cook, and I know my kids will sit on it and watch my wife cook. It may still be around for my great-grandkids.

We rummaged around in dark corners and opened long-sealed boxes. We laughed at my mom's old wallet full of pictures of her high school friends. We were amazed at a letter from my great-great grandparents, congratulating my grandma on the birth of their new daughter, and being thankful that The War was finally over. We marvelled at the hand-made items and the beautiful antiques - many still in regular use. We remembered things we hadn't thought about in half a lifetime.

We were all smiling when I left her house for the last time. And I'll always smile thinking back on it. I hope I can someday leave everybody smiling too.


Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Yes, our chickens have a collective sense of humor

Two eggs found on the same day
(with a quarter for reference)