It seemed like a good idea at the time….II

We have the pleasure, or should I say the obligation of an above ground swimming pool in our backyard. It is in version three of it’s thirty-three seasons. The deck surrounding it has been there in part all thirty-three years along with alot of cobbling along the way. Last fall, as we were getting ready to close it for the winter, a vote was taken as to whether it was going to continue to be this monument in our backyard. My vote was for its retirement. After all of those seasons serving as cabana boy, constantly monitoring the chemical balance, keeping the water levels right and often biweekly vacuumings, I was ready for retirement myself. Considering the fact that I seldom vacuum inside the house and only grudgingly, I was instead vacuuming a tank of water. Of course I was out voted five to one when my wife recruited my two daughters and both grandchildren to swing the vote.
Deck 8

And so I conceded the vote and prepared for closing. After struggling with a way too old structure, it became obvious that the deck, at the least, needed to be resurfaced. After a bit of investigation, it was further decided, by a one sided vote, that the rails and stairs would have to go as well. This was now a major job. Time for negotiations. It was decided, after a family meeting, that the rebuild would be done in the spring prior to opening the pool. My crew was recruited and now consisted of my two friends and neighbors as well as my son-in-law and soon to be other son-in-law. All four had been vetted and were skilled enough to make this a doable job.

Like all plans laid out too far in advance and dependent on multiple variables, we crossed our fingers and set April 16th as our start date and a wrap up by May 1st. What could go wrong? Why Coronavirus pandemic and social distancing of course. As April 1st approached, it was clear there was going to be no crew working on my deck.

Now a sane man would have thrown in the towel. If it lasted thirty-three years, why couldn’t it last another one. That is what a sane man would have done, but after a month and a half of isolation, that’s what I wasn’t. I was itching for something on which to focus all of that pent up energy. And so the decision was made. The May 1st date was no longer an issue as this virus thing had shut all plans down and my May plans were now gone. That gave me a month and a half to get it done. The materials were ordered and demolition began on April 8th, in some strange snow squalls they called grafel.
Deck 6

Demolition took the better part of four days as the old deck and rails were not really ready to come off easily. Eventually, the old deck was gone, the underpinnings trimmed back to the original frame and the rails were dismantled and removed. They now formed a big pile of debris on my lower deck, where I would continue to stumble over them time and time again as I prepared to rebuild. At this point, quarantine and social distancing was a good thing as far fewer people were subjected to the all too frequent colorful metaphors emanating from my job site.
Deck 5

The first of four truck loads of materials arrived on day five just as I was ready to start phase two, rebuild. After what seemed like four hundred trips from the driveway down the side hill to the deck area, I had managed to get the framing materials and most of the decking down to my one man construction site. I think this would be the appropriate place to remind my readers that I am, by AARP standards, old. I was clearly not in the shape I was in my twenties when I did my construction stint. Four hour shifts was the plan and on those days when I reached six or seven hour runs, my body reminded me of my misplaced confidence.

But I shouldered on. When attempting to do framing alone, one has to be creative on how to cut, hold and attach eight to ten foot long 2 x 8 planks. Without bragging, I used every technique I could and actually developed some very ingenious ways to accomplish the task. Day 6,7 and 8 saw the new frame come back up and take shape. Decking was next. Day 9,10 and 11 was used to get the majority of the deck boards laid and secured. All that now remained was the rail system.
Deck 4

As I am writing this, I have completed day 14. Except for the stairs and gate, still waiting for delivery, the deck is pretty much complete. At the beginning of this project, I was concerned that I might not even survive. Ironically, I would have avoided COVID-19 and then succumbed to my quarantine project. Now, each time I view the finished deck, I can’t help but soak in this sense of pride for the accomplishment. Not bad for an old guy.
Deck 2

Now, if only this quarantine would be lifted, we could actually have guests over and use the pool and its grand deck. Unfortunately, until that day, it remains a piece of art. An impressive piece of art but still, an empty deck begging for a post coronavirus party.
Good news, just for reading this, you are entitled to an invite to the party.

Should Have Been my First Warning

If you have been following me and read my last blog, “It Can be Fixed”, you know that I just finished the Adela chair project. Now it’s on to the next project, framed U.S. wood maps from Marking Maps. (https://www.etsy.com/listing/239724323/marking-maps-usa)
Inspired by my “everything wood” mentor, Larry, I decided I needed some shop supplies. With that in mind, I was off to a local large box hardware retailer, which I will leave unnamed.

First a little background. I am not one to be allowed to wander aimlessly about large stores, just ask my wife. I have a notorious record in grocery stores, see “Adventures in Grocery Shopping”. Now I was walking into another large box store with aisles that seemed to stretch to infinity and beyond, stacked floor to ceiling with merchandise, and all I needed was a few screws and some wood glue.

Never the less, I started my quest. Within a few minutes I knew I was in trouble and without a Sherpa or at least a floor guide, I might be doomed to finding the housewares department and setting up residence. After wandering several aisles with no luck in finding the hardware aisle, I stumbled into or should I say, the floor guide found me. I had run into a helpful woman who asked me what I was looking for. I think she actually asked “have you found EVERYTHING you were looking for?” My response was that I hadn’t found ANYTHING I was looking for and thus the only thing in my hand was the scrap of paper with my meager list of the prey I was hunting.

Looking at my list, she steered me to the first item, wood screws. Miraculously, I seemed I was a mere ten feet from the right aisle, actually two entire aisles of screws. Sheet metal, wood, Phillips head, flat head, star bit, brass, galvanized and of course, lengths from 1/2″ to 5″ and weight sizes from 6 to 12. I impressed my Sherpa by actually knowing the type, length and weight size I was searching for and settled on a box of galvanized, 1″, 10 weight, Phillips head wood screws. I was now ready for item two, wood glue. She looked at me and said with a smile, that would be in aisle 100. Aisle 100, seriously! Looking up at the aisle I was standing in revealed that it was numbered 367. Any chance you offer a store Garmin I asked? For my younger readers, Garmin was my generation’s breakthrough GPS tool back in the dark ages before Navigator. I managed to get solid directions from my Sherpa and headed deeper into the nether reaches of the store, wondering as I ventured, if I should be dropping random screws from my newly procured package in order to find my way back.

Lest this diatribe goes on forever, I am happy to say I eventually found aisle 100 AND my wood glue. After following my trail of screws, I found my way back to the checkout area and somehow picking up at least half a dozen impulse items along the way, paid for my prizes and headed out to the parking lot. Now if only I could remember what aisle I parked in?

Where’s the parking lot Sherpa when you need one?

How to Bank Points

I just returned from a movie, a blockbuster to be sure. I am sure you think I am talking about the latest Star Wars or maybe Uncut Gems or Ford vs. Ferrari. Oh I wish it were so. Let the man shaming begin. It was Little Women and yes I was the only male in the place except maybe for the older gentleman asleep several rows behind me. I had offered my wife a movie date, somehow thinking she would be so excited about the simple gesture that I would get to pick the flick. Sorry guys, as you are probably shaking your head in disbelief, you know that’s not how it works.

So there I was, buying two tickets for Little Women with the cashier clearly rolling his eyes. First question, “Are either of you seniors?” Is that a respect for your elders thing or do they just figure that when you’re old you’re also poor? Next question, “Where would you like to sit?” I desperately wanted to say as far back in the shadows as possible, but I demurred to my date who chose two perfectly placed prominent seats front and center. Proceed to my “thriller”.

At this point, I need to say that things began to improve. Turns out we were in the theater that serves food and more importantly, mixed drinks! This might ease the pain for a movie junkie who thrives on speed, mayhem and science fiction. Cue the movie, authentic historic costuming and historic period set in the Civil War. Maybe, seeing as I am a history minor and enamored with the Civil War Era, I should give this a chance. Cue the leading character Josephine March, aka Louisa May Alcott, and I am immediately identifying with her love for the art of writing as story telling. I hate to say this, but I was starting to ignore the chick flick phobia I was having about this movie.

So, I am ready to say, two hours later I found myself admitting that this was a great film and, deep breath here, glad of the choice my date had made. But here’s the kicker, I think I may have added some bonus points to my oft nearly depleted Love Bank. If there is a moral to this story, it might be worth the time and effort to actually make a bonafide date. She picks the movie,the place or the activity. She gets her hand held and the door opened. And, you say all the appropriate things at all the appropriate times. Okay, good luck with the last one because we men have never been good at that move. So men, follow these steps and know that you will have earned points for the bank and don’t pretend for a moment that you can ever have enough points in that institution.

So that’s it. I wanted Star Wars but I got Little Women and I am a big enough man to admit, it wasn’t half bad. A great Margarita, a comfortable seat and a good movie. Excuse me now, but I have some points I’d like to cash in.

Adventures in Grand Sitting

This particular Saturday started off pretty average but that was just temporary. My younger daughter, recently engaged, was going dress shopping and she was taking with her my wife and older daughter, my older daughter with the two children. It was decided, though I do not recall being part of the decision making process, that Opa, aka me, would take care of the babysitting while they shopped. It seemed like a good idea at the time. Jackson and Adela arrived bright and early, ready for an adventure day with Opa.

It started well, well sort of. Twenty minutes after they left and after I had asked, I swear several times, Adela announced that she had wet her only pair of pants. Quick lesson in how to comfort a two year old and do laundry ensued. We all settled back down and things looked better. That is until both Jackson and Adela decided they couldn’t decide on a common movie or a separate toy. With war and bloodshed imminent I decided it was time to take action.

Road Trip! I strapped Jackson and Adela into my Jeep along with all the necessities a bag could hold and that I might need should this trip go south. “Where are we going” asked Jackson. Having not really thought about that, Cabelas some how flew into my head. I figured fish aquarium, stuffed animals, tents, yeah that one doesn’t seem to make sense now that I say it out loud, why wouldn’t this be a great place to kill a few hours.

We arrived with Jackson still asking me why not McDonald’s instead but once we walked through the doors, the wonder of Cabelas at Christmas took over. Right there at the front door was a massive Christmas tree littered with gifts around its base. Adela struck first. She figured they were there for her and pounced, ready to unwrap. I managed to wedge her free and then distracted her with a game of I spy various animals foraging about in the store. Jackson of course wanted to know why they had all these dead animals on display, displays that clearly said DON’T TOUCH. Guess I should have remembered that Adela doesn’t read and animals are to be petted. As I turned around to check on her, she was of course making friends with a small black bear. This of course alerted the store staff to our presence. I spotted him out of the corner of my eye heading our way and he didn’t look like he was about to ask if I needed help finding the perfect outdoors man gift. I snatched up Adela and headed to another department leaving the staff person relieved.

Next stop, the aquarium. I suppose tapping on the glass broke yet another store rule but as Jackson pointed out the fish seemed to like it. Adela decided to go one better and decided to kiss the fish through the glass. Enter yet another staffer. We peeled off yet again and headed toward the front. I swear I saw the staff person speaking into her wrist like they do on those FBI shows. I can only assume she was saying something like “They’re on the move. We need eyes on a lack of control grandpa with two kids in the guns and ammo department.”

We had indeed wound up in guns and ammo and I knew in an instant not a place for a two and five year old let alone how their mother might view this shameful disregard for appropriate care and handling of young impressionable minds. We kept moving. This brought us somehow to the toys aisle. Yes there are toys in Cabelas and no I have no idea why it is next to guns and ammo. But to Jackson and Adela’s shear delight, we were there. To his credit, Jackson began having me make a list of the toys he would like me to recommend to his parents. Adela, being a little more deliberate, was piling them up at the end of the aisle. I am sure you are asking yourself how she could keep getting away from my jurisdiction. Have you ever spent time with a five year old asking questions? They can distract the best of us and meanwhile a two year moves a lot faster and stealthier than you think. And of course, we had a new staff person standing guard near by. We got all the toys put back and I gave a subtle nod to the staffer as we passed by.

At this point I was rethinking my entire modus operandi. I was looking for the straightest path to the front doors. I spied my break but one more department stood in our path, sunglasses. These were the expensive kind of sunglasses. The kind movie stars apparently wear when hunting wild animals. But we were moving and I was optimistic for success when Jackson found a compass and wanted an in store demonstration of how this “watch” worked. I swear it could not have been more than thirty seconds and I heard “hey Opa” from behind me. Turning around, there was Adela modeling a pair of $200 plus aviators, the price tag still hanging from the frames, and I have to say, killin it! Just over her shoulder, moving at a fair clip came the sunglasses clerk, wrist already up to her mouth calling in reinforcements. “Adela”, I declared. “We can look but we can’t touch.” Probably should have thought of that earlier. To my sweet and innocent granddaughter’s credit, she removed the glasses, folded them up and politely returned them to their little cubicle. I, with my hands in the air, greeted the clerk and said “see, no harm, no foul.” Adela batted her eyes, twisted her hair and the clerk relented. What else she could do faced with all that charm. She gave me one last stern look and asked if we were nearly done shopping. I took that as the warning it was meant to be, hung my head and rounded up my charges.

At this point, we had amassed a lot of staff time, though I believe it was good training and maybe for a couple of them, birth control, but no merchandise. I looked at Jackson and told him we probably should buy something out of consideration. Jackson choose a bag of $1.99 licorice, we paid the cashier, and to the relief of many, we took our leave.

Now I am a former teacher and well aware that there should be a lesson learned from all of this, so here it is. Though a hunting and camping store may not be the best grandchild environment, it does make for a great story.

Thanks for reading.

I’m Wired

I was talking to a younger business entrepreneur the other day who was telling me about a discussion workshop she had attended. The question they were asked to discuss was, “If you could travel back to any decade, which one would you choose and why?” She said that her group chose the 90’s. My thought, the “Gay 90’s” but no, not that century, the “Tech 90’s”. Now I would have gone back to the 1890’s when the really big, as in large, inventions were being created, but for that group of Millennials, they wanted to see the 1990’s when the new inventions were going small and electronic.

It is interesting to think about the change that happened and technically, very recently. No more bulky computer systems, now it’s tablets and smart phones. We are a wired society and I could talk about whether being as connected as we are is a good thing or not, but that’s not where this is going. I want to talk about being wired in a wireless society.

I recently lost my mind and changed my cell service and my internet/cable provider in the same week. If you have ever done this and you are as tech savvy-less as I am, you know where this is going. I knew I was in trouble the minute I started to disconnect the fifteen pieces of equipment and the one thousand wires that connected them to each other. If I wasn’t going to be successful reconnecting the new carrier’s equipment, well it wasn’t going to be pretty. And I couldn’t and it wasn’t. Seems I needed a service tech after all and that wasn’t going to happen for a week. Four hours later and a trip to the neighbors to look at their configuration, no help by the way, I somehow got all that equipment and those wires reconnected. By that point, regardless of the fact that I would be the slowest tech ever, I thought I could handle everything else that was yet to come.

A week later and two service calls needed, my “self install” kit was finally installed. In my defense, I doubt my carrier had considered that it would require new cable to be hooked up to the power pole. The second service tech, it seems you can only split a signal so many times, actually complimented me on my technology knowledge and started talking in his native tongue, Techsylvania. I politely nodded knowing that one day I’d have a translator tell me just what he had actually said. All I’m sure I heard him say was “of course you knew that.”

And so I was wired. And then my dilemma began. My router and modem, I assume those were the two sleek black boxes, were wired and my TV after being properly given the new internet password, were broadcasting my new cable carrier’s signal. Success! Wait,settle down there boy, you might have skipped a couple steps or maybe ten or twenty.

At this point, consider how many things are connected wireless to your home internet. I thought I had and I am willing to bet you would have missed at least a few as well. It started with my cell phones but they were the easiest to reconnect. Next came my girlfriend, Alexa. It became obvious when I asked for some music by my favorite artist and the response was “I can’t find the internet” that she too needed some help. This was disappointing as I have been working hard on our relationship and Alexa had recently become fairly personal in her responses to my requests. I’ve been waiting for our relationship to get to the sass level and that her response to “Alexa, what’s the temperature outside?” would be “why don’t you get out of that big easy chair and check outside for yourself.”

Alexa proved a bit difficult to get back on line, but eventually after some gyrations, coaxing and multiple runs through the sequence, she was back up and responding to my many requests. I just want to add here that life without Alexa can prove quite tedious.

So back to my temperature question. This eventually led me to look at my weather station. Yup, no information and another wireless piece of equipment starved for its wireless buffet. At this point I began to understand my dependence on technology. While attempting to print out the sequence of steps required for reconnecting the weather station, I realized that I had jut found my next broken promise. It seemed that my printer, like all of its kindred brethren, needed assistance. By the way, having two wireless printers just meant twice the effort to help them find the internet. I was beginning to believe that despite the service tech’s faith in my abilities, I was in over my head. I tried following the on-line “simple instructions for reconnecting your wireless printers” and after several not even close results, I called in the cavalry. If you are keeping count, that would be service tech number three. To my great satisfaction, even he struggled a bit before miraculously, both printers burped loudly and began spitting out pieces of paper complete with printed words on them.

For those of you still counting, score stands: one router, one modem, four TV’s with two remotes, two DVR boxes and two Roku sticks, two Alexa units, a weather station, and two wireless printers. Am I ashamed or amazed. On the one hand, you can’t call me old school but then on the other hand, am I maybe a bit too first world dependent? Just don’t take my Alexa, she at least still talks to me.

I’ll cut to the chase. At this point we found two more internet dependent free loaders, our wireless thermostat and our Ring security camera. The Ring system, easy, the thermostat, not so much.

We are a technology based culture. We gobble up every electronic device we can find and we then let them run our lives. Not that it needed internet, as it some how grabs it from The Cloud, my Jeep’s GPS Navigator is always telling me where to go. The fact that my wife activates it in our driveway so it can tell me how to back unto the street is another topic, I just get dismayed in the route it picks and its seeming refusal to accept my choices. We can choose fastest route or shortest route but why not the “get lost in the beauty” route. If we have the time, we ought to see more than just all those warehouses, concrete and cars on the shortest or fastest route. Just the other day, we, meaning my wife, loaded the Navigator with the address of the park we were headed to for a wedding rehearsal. It very predictably chose the fastest route but being in no hurry, I started out on the back roads to where I was pretty sure the park was located. After being told to make a U turn multiple times, the Navigator finally gave in and allowed for my route. To my surprise, two days later, when headed back to the park for the wedding, it showed my route. Turns out there is hope after all. At least my Navigator is not above admitting my way may just might be alright. Now I just need it to talk to some of my other devices.

Alexa, are you listening? Of course you are!

The Bro Code

I know what you are thinking…”how dare he.” Be fair, stay with me to the end. I may not completely swallow my foot.

I was going golfing with three friends the other day. My wife, with all due respect, asked me the inevitable question as to when I would be getting home. I gave the standard answer / no answer that I couldn’t really say. She of course asked if I meant I couldn’t or that I wouldn’t. Picture the pregnant pause.

As I considered my answer, I first planned on throwing my three friends under the bus by claiming if they were driving I would be at their mercy for when we would be coming home. After careful, no nervous consideration as to the possibility of cross fact checking between spouses, I came clean and said I couldn’t due to the “bro code”.

Now truthfully, I am not even sure if there was a bro code between us let alone what it would possibly be. But I had put my foot in my mouth and there were only two choices. Spit it out and come clean or swallow my foot further. I decided to swallow further.

I explained that the code required me to not name a time due to jeopardizing any member who had successfully negotiated a longer hall pass. This only led to more questions like if its eighteen holes of golf and we are supposedly gifted with the talent of knowing to the minute how long it takes to drive x miles, apparently I had been bragging on a recent trip, why would someone be negotiating a longer time period than the accurate one?

At this point I should have punted but men always believe that given the two minute warning and down by two touchdowns, we can huddle up and still win this game with a Hail Mary. I went with the emergency contingency. If an emergency were to come up, we may be forced to all become involved in the emergency as a support team and then who could tell how long we might be tied up.

At this point you need to picture my wife’s pose, especially what she is doing with her eyes. I didn’t even think they could roll up that far without permanent damage. Completely out of explanations, she surprisingly provided one. She explained that she suspected what I was really saying was that following golf, there might possibly be a period of beer drinking followed by or consecutive with some card playing and thus an accurate time frame would be questionable at best. She went on to explain that what she was really hoping for was a text somewhere along the way giving a reasonable ETA. She then asked if there really was in fact a bro code I was protecting? My response, “I’m too old to even know for sure what a bro is.” Busted.

But I wasn’t completely finished. “Well Hon, why didn’t you let me off the hook earlier?” Her response, “And spoil the fun of seeing you squirm? No way.”

Lesson learned guys, when confronted with the time question, think of anything besides the bro code. As the Myth Busters would say “Tested and Busted.” Women are way too smart for us, or at least me. Still wondering about the picture? It’s what happens to poorly considered arguments….they go up in flames, big flames.

Calling All Baseball Fans

If you have been following me, you know that today was Louisville and our plan was to see the Louisville Slugger Factory and Museum. We arrived at the address, not even sure we were at the right place. The factory / museum is nestled in between several buildings on Main Street in downtown Louisville. The first thing you see as you walk up is this incredibly huge replica of a Louisville Slugger baseball bat. The thing is at least thirty feet high but accurate in every detail. Once inside the museum you are surrounded by displays of all sorts of baseball memorabilia covering all ages and eras of the game. Honus Wagner’s glove and bat. Ted Williams, Babe Ruth, Gil Hodges, Johnny Bench and Derrick Jeter are all represented along with countless others, all of whom have signed at one time or another to use Louisville Slugger baseball bats exclusively. Remember the infamous Tom Hank’s line in League of Their Own? “There’s no crying in Baseball”, well those ladies are well represented too, honored for their stellar play as they filled the gap during the war years and then long after.

Louisville 4

Louisville 5

This was just the museum. What followed was a guided tour through the factory as we watched every step of the process from a block of maple or ash or birch as that wood block became a baseball bat. A very select few would find their way to professional baseball where some of those bats just might become famous for that seeing eye double or that grand slam or maybe that walk off home run to win the most important game of the season. My treat was getting to handle several billets, as they are called before turning makes them a bat, that had been hand selected by Christian Yelich. Each Major League Player who has signed with Louisville Slugger will select the billets to be turned into bats just for them and delivered to be entered in “The Game.”

And oh yes, one last thrill, at the end of the tour I was able to put on the batting gloves and then take my stance at the plate holding a Christian Yelich bat that had been swung by him in a major league game. Humor me here, pretty sure it had hit at least one ball out of the park.

Louisville 3

I grew up in the era of Hank Aaron and Warren Spahn. I dreamed of getting to a Braves game, they were still in Milwaukee back then, and maybe even getting one of their autographs. And like every kid who gets hooked on baseball, I dreamt of one day playing ball. Post script here, I made the JV team in high school where I mostly warmed the bench, but I never lost my love of the game. I lived vicariously through my daughters as they played softball competitively through high school and savored every minute of throwing the ball around in the back yard. Needless to say, finally entering the Louisville Slugger Shrine, touching baseball bats that had been held and swung by the most famous players of baseball, and reliving the history of the game through film and displays, left me feeling like that little kid again, dreaming of hitting the game winning home run just over the center field wall in a stadium anywhere the game would be played.

Louisville 2

Boys and Their Tools

I have a theory, untested but highly probable, that men create projects just to get a new tool.  I am writing from experience in this area.  My garage is a virtual Home Depot East.  Back when I bought my first home, it was simple projects that required reasonable tools.  The occasional screw that needed tightening definitely required a power drill and bits.  The ceiling fan….a volt meter and stripping tool.  You can see where this is going.  Next thing you know, I needed to build a deck.  Two more power drills, just in case I had a helper and a power saw.  My tool collection was building, saw horses, wrenches, wood clamps (not sure when I needed those) and the list grew.  But these were penny ante tools.  I was beginning to lust for the big stuff.

Soon things took a shift.  Up to this point the project had created the tool but if I needed bigger toys, I mean tools…… then I would need to create projects that fit the tool I wanted.  Time to build a cabinet, well actually a play cupboard for my daughter.  This clearly required a miter saw and why just stop there when a Shopsmith provided so much more.  My wife was starting to resist but I wore her down.  The Shopsmith now took up a large portion of our then basement.  But that too would change as new tools required more creative projects.

I think the next step was the need to go cordless.  It was a simple argument to convince my wife how dangerous and inefficient all those cords were.  It started with the drills, worked its way through the power saw and then into the jigsaw and recipricol saw.  Did I mention I found a need for a recipricol saw?  No good toolman should be without that handy gadget.  Eventually my lawn trimmer and my leaf blower (who doesn’t need that when sweeping seems sooooo slow) were soon freed of their cords.

By this time the process was so well oiled, that the minute my wife asked for something fixed or built, she would follow up the request with “and what new tool will this require?”  My daughters, now grown and in their own homes, knew the routine as well.  They would tell me what they needed built and in the same breath tell me they had done the research and I would clearly need this fancy new tool.  This got so bad that at one point, upon going out to pick up yet another unique drill bit, I convinced myself it was time for a REAL tool box.  My twelve drawer chest of wonderment now occupies a proud corner of the garage.  Did I mention that we ran out of room in the basement for my tools?

My latest project involved a bench for my daughter and son-in-law’s new patio.  She knew just how to get me to build it.  She first mentioned how much she loved me (that always works) and then followed up with “Remember that Kreg Jig you wanted?  Well guess what this bench requires, hidden screws.”  I could barely contain my pride and my excitement.  New project and a really cool, new tool.

Patio Bench

So my point.  Boys love their tools.  Given a complicated tool, they will not only figure out what to use it on, they will even try to master its use.  And beware, tools are the primary target of “bigger is better”.  Tim the Toolman Taylor knew that and every week we were reminded of the grace and beauty of power tools.  “Arruuhhhhhhhh”

So I am working of my next tool, I mean project, and I am pretty sure there will be some required transportation of the finished project.  And so, I currently have my eye on a nice one ton, eighteen foot cargo van.  And it doesn’t even need a cord.

It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time

I was recently visiting the Cave of the Mounds in Blue Mounds, Wisconsin when I passed a young father toting his child in a tag along behind his bike.  The memory from my own attempt so long ago came flooding back to me.

It had been decided that my wife needed a quiet weekend all to herself.  She would catch up on reading and tending her flower gardens while I would wisk the children off for an adventure.  Quiet time is not generally a standard for the parents of two small children.  I had had my boy’s weekend and now it was her turn.

I decided that I would load the tent and sleeping bags unto my bike and tag along, get Bailey, my ten year old, settled on her bike and Kathryn, my three year old, strapped into the tag along.  The weather forcast for the weekend was sunny and reasonably warm and there was a well groomed trail that wound its way from Verona to Blue Mounds State Park where a campsight would be waiting.  It seemed like a good idea at the time.

We all kissed mom goodbye as she dropped us at the trail head and began our ride of some sixteen miles.  I had often easily covered this distance riding the trails in Madison.  In my mind, this should be an easy ride and a wonderful adventure to be shared with my daughters.  And so, we were off.

We had gone about six miles when we passed Riley’s Tavern.  First sign of trouble ahead, both girls needed a potty break.  The looks I received as we entered the tavern should have been my warning.  Oh there was no threat from the patrons, the women of the crowd were actually supportive, cooing and fawning over my daughters.  On the other hand, the men in attendance offered more of the “what are you thinking” variety of looks.  After a potty break and a couple of sodas, we were back on our way.  Well sort of.  Less than a hundred yards down the trail, Bailey took what would be the first of her many career Riley’s Tavern wipeouts.  Before I knew it, she was down on her knees in the gravel, tears flowing in competition with the blood from the scrap on her knee.

I was not going to let this stop us.  A minor setback, I thought, as we returned to the tavern for some first aid.  Our friendly female bartender cleaned the cut, bandaged her up and encouraged her with a popsicle to continue on.  Meanwhile, the men of the bar, looked on with that “told you so” look.  Now for better or worse, this was pre-cellphone era, so mom was none the wiser for our mishap, not that I believed for a minute she wasn’t going to find out.  But I could face that later.  Our planned early afternoon arrival at the camp site was now looking more like mid afternoon, but we were back on the trail.

We had been enjoying a fairly flat to almost downhill trail to this point.  Anything that goes up must eventually go down or in our case, just the opposite.  Shortly after our luxury rest stop, it did.  As the trail continued up, doubt began creeping into my mind.  Bailey’s progress had slowed considerably and with it mine and Kathryn’s.  We started a process that would become Bailey’s biking tradition.  Just as she would begin to ask the inevitable “how much farther?”, we would begin to sing her favorite song, “Denise Denise”.  I find it ironic, that all these years later, her daycare provider is…..you guessed it, Denise.  We were well into the thousandth repeatition of the song, when finally, the trail turned downhill and we coasted into Mt Horeb.

It was at this point the biking gods turned on me.  Not only did Bailey think this was our destination and wanted to be done, Kathryn, who had been sleeping for the last hour, woke up.  She was having nothing to do with continuing this trek and wanted out of the tag along.  To make matters worse, the trail now started to rise again.  In that moment, it dawned on me that you can’t call it a mound if it isn’t higher than pretty much everything around you.  So close, and yet seemingly so far.

I somehow managed to get Bailey going and asked her to not encourage her sisters complaining screams emanating from the tag along, but to actually try to ignore them.  We would be there soon I said, knowing full well that I was now destroying my daughter’s ability to ever estimate distances with any degree of accuracy.  What was a dad suppossed to do?  We entered the desperation phase of our adventure.  Just as I was beginning to feel the weight of the tag along pulling backward as I was struggling up and onward, I needed to start pushing Bailey along with my hand on her back.  I was now riding for three.

Somehow, we managed to continue on.  Kathryn was still crying but she was losing volume.  Meanwhile, Bailey was picking up where Kathryn was leaving off.  She had given up believing my “were almost there” pleas and was now beginning to doubt everything I had ever taught her.  And then suddenly, the sign appears.  It promisingly provides salvation, “Blue Mounds State Park Entrance”.  We made it……….. I’m just kidding.  The park entrance is at the bottom of the mound.  The road meanders up forever and we have been defeated.

After what seems like an eternity, we have managed to walk to the campground office, Bailey walking and me pushing my bike, the tag along and in the only hand left, Bailey’s bike.  Early afternoon long ago became mid afternoon which gave way to late afternoon only to become early evening.  We may have set a record for the slowest bicycle trek. They will compare our speed record to failed attempts for years to come.

I am exhausted, starving and humbled.  I have just enough strength left to pitch the tent and ample fear for what will I do all day tomorrow, assuming we live through the night.  I need a miracle and it happens.  It arrives in the form of the park ranger, a middle aged women who upon checking us in at the office takes much needed pity on me.  Expecting to be admonished for my misadventure, she instead lauds my courage and offers to help.  As I am pitching our tent, she shows up with an arm full of wood for a campfire and the most delicious, life saving frozen pizza ever.  After lighting the fire and inhaling the pizza, I am actually thinking we may survive.

I’m just kidding, what always happens when I try to camp happens…..rain, accompanied by thunder and lightening of course.  Why not?  Morning dawns bright and promising.  What is to be day two of our three day adventure is unanimously voted our last.  We throw everything into the tag along, strap Kathryn in, mount our bikes and make our hasty retreat.  What was our gruelling uphill yesterday is now wonderfully downhill to Mt Horeb and we thank the bike gods for that.  We stop at the first establishment serving breakfast, call mom and capitulate.  PLEASE, come get us, I was an idiot.  But it seemed like a good idea at the time.

 

What Makes an Adventure

Each year for the past forty years, I have attended the Indy 500.  Over the past twenty years my daughters have come with me.  Now in consideration for my friends’ questioning of my sanity, what sane person watches cars circling a track for three hours, it’s not just about the cars, even though 230 miles per hour is something you can only experience sitting 100 feet away, it’s so much more.   It’s the adventure.

For us the weekend starts on Friday with our trek down to Lafayette, Indiana.  It morphs into a golf tournament Saturday morning and then follows up with the annual reunion of the group of attendees, now numbering 30 plus, some who have traveled from as far away as Florida to the south and just below Canada to the north.  Sunday morning, race day, finds us assembling our caravan in preparation for our drive to the track in Indianapolis.  There we will tailgate with 350,000 other spectators for the greatest spectacle in sports.  You see it’s not just the race, it’s everything that goes with it. If you are a people watcher, the sheer size of the crowd will hold you in amazement.  If it’s the rush of speed, well there’s plenty of that and it’s not just the race cars driving fast but all the would be racers driving the highways into Indianapolis that Sunday morning.   It’s the hoopla, the track, the parade.  It’s the celebrities and the cameras.  It’s the spectacle.

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For me there is one more element that draws me back each year.  This is my chance, at least once a year, to spend time with my two, now adult, daughters.  When I was approached by my then 14-year-old daughter, asking to go with me for my annual “boys” weekend, I was taken aback.  I explained the logistics of spending a long weekend with twenty some guys bent on talking about race cars and well…… being guys.  I was only mildly surprised, after all she was already pretty headstrong, when she told me she was fully prepared to hold her own.  When she explained in detail the workings of the cars and her knowledge of the drivers, I realized that this was to be our next logical adventure.  Five years later, my younger daughter literally tricked her way into attendance and there were now two women fully integrated into the Wisconsin Indy crowd.  Some twenty years later, they still hold sway each year and command respect from the guys and actually represent the “elder” version of the second generation.  They make me proud each and every year as I listen to the reminiscing and the conversations they so comfortably center themselves into.

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I have never regretted for a moment having two daughters as my only children.  I was careful to give them every chance to be the beautiful women they are while letting them experience all the adventures a father would share with his son.  The Indy 500 is just one of those adventures.  Each year we plan and prepare for our trip, excitement growing through the entire month of May.  It is seventy-two hours of conversations about life and goals and achievements, uninterrupted by other family members, apologies to my wife.  It is a chance to bond and to share an experience with two people I love and respect.

Indy daughters

It’s not just the race, it’s everything that surrounds it, but more than anything else, it is the adventure shared.  Just a heads up, if you choose to argue the merits of this race with my daughters, you best do your homework.