Monthly Archives: September 2018

Have bags, will travel … but it’s always – always – good to be home

The first couple weeks in September were spent on the road or thinking about being on the road or prepping to be on the road.

But here we are, home again, home again lickety split. To be sure, I enjoyed both mini-vacations (New Hampshire and Nebraska) but with a hurricane that barged inland and a deck in the offing, there’s plenty of work to be done in these parts. 

September 17, 2018

Ellen/Reid: It was good to arrive home unscathed last night; I’d been anxious to see how Brevard and the home held up. Seems both came through fine enough order. One of the first points of business after dumping my bag inside was to head to the rain gauge which showed a relatively paltry 3.7 inches. That’s a drop in the bucket compared to what the poor souls in eastern North Carolina have suffered, and are still suffering, through. Already, some hurricane snobs are lamenting the evacuations since the storm winds were not as high as expected but damn, it’s all about the water and not so much the wind. It was kind of sunny this morning and the clouds and rain have largely taken a right turn toward the north. 

At any rate, it’s good to be home. Gayle and Ralph were fine hosts, and I might not have attended the reunion without their prodding. But it was a fun and really well organized event. People change a lot over the course of 50 years yet it’s amazing how the connections don’t take long to re-establish themselves. That’s what was remarkable. Saw friends that went all the way back to elementary school. Things were relatively low key but I suppose that’s how those of us in our 60s – make that late 60s – tend to do most things.

In spite of Florence there was some progress made on the deck in my absence; the footings were poured which is a big step. Next up should be the treated lumber underpinnings of the faux-wood beast. Hopefully things will dry out enough today for that to commence. My checkbook will be at the ready. There goes part of your inheritance. But you can always sell the house to recoup your shares. Ha. The contractor seems a stand up guy. Hopefully it’s finished by month’s end.


My boy Brian is a stand up guy and one helluva worker. He gets deck things done (in spite of my meddling).

The garden is sopping wet and whatever plants are left survived the drenching in good shape for the most part. I’ll poke around out there once this letter is done. It’ll mostly be propping up the drooping dahlias and re-staking the raspberries. One thing for sure, there won’t be much need for water in the next few days. The forecast mostly calls for at least some sun although the temps won’t climb into the 80s from what I can tell.

Some new blinds for small windows arrived while I was hobnobbing in Nebraska. Those will go up later today. There was a bit too much late afternoon glare in the living room. Not that anyone can peek in but it was all about the bright sun flowing through.

I’ve been in the house long enough now that it’s time to clean windows and such on the exterior. I keep the interior clean and picked up, sort of, but there are cobwebs and spiders and dirt and debris along the outside windows and the window frames, etc., will need a good scrubbing before the screens are installed. Why those weren’t put in before is sheer oversight on my part. With the fall temps about to be ushered in around these parts, it’ll be great to have light breezes waft through the joint.

Reid, send some interior shots of your new home and roomie. The outside looks fine enough. What’s the neighborhood like? Is it safe and are there some things to do around there? People have asked what you think about Oakland and all I can tell them is that you seem to like it out there. Haven’t seen much about the fires as of late. Those are assumably under control? 

Might head into Charlotte for the weekend to play some golf and hear a good band at The Comet. I played up in Omaha and just stunk. Maybe there’s a message there that it’s time to take two weeks off – and then quit. It’s that frustrating. And you know what? That wouldn’t bother me in the slightest. Be good, and I’ll see you in a couple of months. Remember Reid, you’re a sous chef.

Love, Dad


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Florence knocks on the door … and there was no turning her back – nor the years, either …

Wouldn’t you know it.

A major hurricane barrels toward the Carolinas and, by sheer stroke of luck, the whim of a previously booked airline ticket pre-evacuates from the path of Florence. 

By the time she slammed into Wilmington I was safely hundreds of miles away in the Midwest for a 50th high school reunion. Alas, I could turn away from a raging storm but can’t turn back the clock on the years.

September 10, 2018

Ellen/Reid: Looks like Florence will introduce herself to the Carolinas with a bang in a couple of days. Given that Brevard is a number of hours inland we might be spared the winds but likely won’t dodge a fair amount of rain. It might test how far I’m really above the French Broad River floodplain. Reid, what your parched No. Cal. environs wouldn’t have given for some good drenching rains not too many weeks ago.

But I should be gone by the time she gusts ashore. American Airlines sent out a travel advisory an hour ago and I was able to change my departure to six hours earlier, which ought to be enough time to get out of Dodge and therefore dodge the raindrops. That was good of them to make the change without any fees. The agent I talked to sounded weary and I asked if they’d been hammered but all she said was they’ve just been busy all day. 


3.5 inches was a relatively paltry rain total from a major hurricane. Brevard was very lucky.

We were in the market for rain here anyway so I hustled earlier to get the lawn (and weeds) mowed and the rest of the garden squared away before anything moves in this afternoon. The last of the cherry tomatoes were forlornly pulled out as were some more weeds, of which there is no shortage. The good news in the back yard is construction of the deck is finally underway, albeit the contractor only laid out fabric over the bare dirt and marked the footprint of the deck with string. He drills the footing holes tomorrow and then moves ahead with the concrete. The Trex is slated to be delivered around noon on Wednesday and then the barn doors ought to really open wide on the building process. The drop-dead date is October 2 when the Hemmingers and Dahlquists from Des Moines roll into town.

It’s imperative the deck be done since a quartet of strings will put on a concert on the upper part of the deck while my guests, including about a dozen folks from Brevard, sip cocktails and eat hors’dourves. Hopefully the weather will cooperate. I was the low – and only – bidder on the group at a silent auction a few months back.


Ellen and Reid’s mother reprised in oil one of my photos from the Camino de Santiago in 2017. It deserves a place of honor on my walls.

I marvel at the painting your mom just sent. It is truly a work of fine art. How she takes a photo from the Camino and turns it into something worthy of prominent display is incredible. And to think her artistic self was hidden for all those years. At least she’s got it going right now. I hope her little business keeps zooming. She’s really got some serious talent and now the real challenge is trying to find a place on the walls that is the absolute best placement to exhibit her skill.

We had a great time up in New Hampshire. Chiana and her new hubby really got a break on the weather. It was so, so nice after being in the mid-90s when we arrived in Boston. Sondra and Jody did a fabulous job behind the scenes to take care a lot of the details. We were the only people from the Carolinas to be at the ceremony so that was a great honor. Robbie and I drove over to Kennebunkport on Friday so she could see the ocean since she’d never been to New England before. The touristy seaport was just a zoo of cars and people so we kept on moving and found a beach to walk on. That was fun. Plus, I even had steamed lobster ($15) for lunch.

Ellen, let Tim know I’ll reserve you guys an SUV in Charlotte for Thanksgiving. That should make the trek a little bit more palatable for you. My Camry wouldn’t cut the mustard for you guys. Two and a half hours with five folks crammed into a sedan wouldn’t be a lot of fun.

And Reid, your new digs look really nice based on that photo your mom sent. I’ll send a package with a few things in short order. Jeez, it would be great to come out for a visit if you’ll have me.

Love, Dad

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Dolt I, II and III says: two for the price of one … and a few lessons earned the hard – very hard – way

For a variety of scheduling reasons, today you’ll get two letters for the price of one. Free, of course. But not free of angst, anger and embarrassment.

The first covers a particularly galling episode. At no time have I claimed to be – and as no doubt semi-frequent visitors to this blog would attest – the sharpest knife in the drawer. 

The litmus test has been the toe-to-toe matches with the raised beds in the garden. The inanimate wooden boxes seem to have outsmarted and one-upped me with maddening regularity.

Letter #2 deals with frustrations of the neophyte gardener that are a recurring irritant in the weekly letters. Exhibits A and B are the two letters that follow. Owing to self-inflicted errors and mistakes, self effacement ought to be in any gardeners toolshed. Its earned a place in mine.

August 28, 2018

Ellen/Reid: Circus magnate P.T. Barnum reportedly said “there’s a sucker born every minute” and if he did say as much he was undoubtedly referring to your dense-as-a-wood-post old man. Yesterday was full testament to my idiocy. It makes me the second stupidest person in the U.S. (behind you-know-who).

Robbie informed me there were healthy blueberry plants at a nursery about 10 miles west of here and that was enough for me to spring into action to expand the 4’x4’ blueberry plot. Last spring I knew almost right away the wood enclosure wasn’t big enough but there were other raised bed fish to fry. So upon news of the potted plants the plan was to expand the box by another six feet. It crossed my feeble mind to take the walk out back to do a measurement and count necessary nuts and bolts but I thought ‘nah, I’ve done this enough” so I shoved off for the five minute drive to Lowes. It’s at this point that it is worth recalling what a college journalism teacher, Larry Walkin, would caution/lecture those of us – over and over – in his news classes: “never assume anything.” Of course, his truthful admonition didn’t come to mind, and was completely wasted on me, until it was too late. This isn’t the first time I’ve recalled his sage advice.


The extension of the blueberry bed looks benign in this shot but trust me, it was a real SOB. Self inflicted, of course.

Somehow I inexplicably became addled when it came to selecting treated lumber. For the life of me there was no recollection of what I’d repeatedly purchased to fashion five beds (plus yours, Ellen). Rather than drive home to do the equivalent of ‘measure twice, cut once’ I thought “I’ve got this” and plowed ahead. 

Fast forward: I bought the wrong size wood – 12”x12” instead of the normal 12”x10”. And thinking I’d be ever so smart and save myself some work, Lowes cut the 12”x12” into six foot halves. Not until I got home did it dawn on me the wood was too big so I had to rip saw off 2” with a dull blade (or would I be the dull blade?). There’s another 30 mins tacked on to the job. Dolt.

But that was just the start of a job gone wrong. As per usual after drilling 60-plus holes through 2”x10”s and 4”x4” corner posts for lag bolts in prior beds, I typically slid a big washer over the bolt so when it’s pounded in with a hand sledge, the head won’t dig into the wood. That was then, yesterday was now. Only after I’d drilled the 8th hole – and pounded the bolts through the full 6 inches of wood, did it dawn on me I’d neglected to slide on the washers. Now the bolts would have to be screwed out in reverse with a Vise Grip. It was so tedious in the 86F heat, bright mid-day sun and high humidity.  Thank God the kids next door weren’t outside because I erupted like Mt. Vesuvius. Jeez, I was pissed. There’s another 70 minutes tacked on to the job. Dolt II.

The rest went according to sweaty plan but I still fumed/raged every stinkin’ minute. A minor irritant was walking 100+ shovels full of dirt 7-8 yards from a pile of good soil to the newly expanded box. That didn’t help my sour, and overheated, attitude. After more than 90 ‘penalty’ minutes were tacked on, the nearly four hour job was a wrap.

I was completely spent. All I could do was droop on the back porch, sweat profusely on an Adirondack chair and slurp ice water, only to sometime later retrieve a beer from the fridge to continue my sulk. It’s just maddening to do the same thing in relatively smooth fashion time and again only to just go brain dead at the wrong time.

Today, however, he new blueberries are in, fertilized and mulched. The $15 plants better survive because if they don’t, it’ll be Mt. Vesuvius redux – and Dolt III.

Love, Dad

September 5, 2018

Ellen/Reid: The otherwise gigantic and healthy looking tomato plants just got replanted (aka tossed in a fit of anger) into the compost bin because they were filled with holes from some sort of voracious worm that cored its way to the center of the fruit. The whole season there weren’t a dozen completely-bug free tomatoes. Which made me livid because I tended to those beauties every day with heavy mulch and water, et al. I didn’t want to sprinkle a poison such as Sevin since that toxin would have made its way through the system to me or folks who might be on the receiving end of the red, purple or yellow fruits. I didn’t look online for pesticide-free remedies since it was so late in the growing season. That will come next year. The plants were on their last legs anyway and the garden does look a bit neater but it does frost me that there weren’t as many BLTs as there rightfully ought to be.

The garden taught me a boatload of lessons this year (notably I didn’t know what the hell I was doing most of the time other that watering). It apparently is not enough to plunk a plant in the ground and hope that it might make it to maturity. Hey, bugs gotta eat too but why my plants? Eat your fill but leave something for me. I’m really not sure how your grandpa and grandma managed such lovely fruit for all those years. But they did and I didn’t.

So here’s what I’ve learned the oh-so-hard-way: 

  • Don’t plant tomatoes within 18 inches of each other. They were too crowded and became so intertwined I didn’t know which plant was producing what and the diabolical bugs had a ready path from one plant to the next.
  • Stick okra in the ground earlier in the hot part of the growing season. The three plants were again planted too close to each other. I can get away with that but it’s no way to garden.
  • Plant more blueberries and raspberries. The 4’x4’ boxes, while well intended, were too small for a real crop. Plus, blueberries need the presence of other varietals to really cross pollinate and perform. Hence the boxes were expanded to 4’x10’ with a great amount of sweat – serious sweat – equity. Same with the dahlias: too close and too small a box. Would’ve been waaaaay more efficient to make 4’x10’ boxes right out of the gate.
  • Put down reemergence on the entire supposed-to-be-lawn area. The one real bumper crop to be found is a stand of crabgrass. It’s state fair quality. There’s no sicker feeling than mowing weeds since that’s all there is back there. Drives me nuts.

You can sense my angst and residual anger/frustration since a little reading AHEAD OF TIME would’ve yielded a far better yield. Robbie kind of shook her head when she saw in the spring how I’d proudly planted things. She knew better but kept her ‘I’ll tell you so later’ remarks to herself. She made some of those remarks in the past few days.

So this winter I’ll bone up on the extension service literature and, perhaps, do a better job come next planting season. There will be some collard greens (really?) planted at the end of the month and perhaps some other cold weather plants. See prior comment on extension service literature.


Scraping away perfectly good grass to make way for a deck was arguably the hardest physical labor I’ve ever done. 

In other news, a roughly 15’x15’ area of grass has been scraped off to make way for the footprint of the deck. Honestly, it is perhaps the hardest physical labor I’ve ever done. It was excruciatingly difficult and tedious and just plain awful. I used a square shaped shovel but didn’t really make progress until Robbie – who else? – loaned me some kind of pick. Still hard work but it saved me hours of labor. She has good ideas on most things. If only I, and most men, would listen to the sage advice of women.

Love, Dad

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