Saturday, February 28, 2009

Rain and Tornado Warnings

Once again we were short being able to take a boat out Thursday morning. It was warm so the “It’s too cold to row” excuse can’t apply. Oh, well… I’ll just erg a bit harder at the Y on the Concept II rower later. I’ve been getting into a routine of getting to the Y now pretty much five mornings a week. That used to be a staple in the AOL profiles… “workout five days a week”. I always liked the true profiles, “I drive by the gym five days a week!”

Thursday afternoon I made an excursion to the Habitat for Humanity store. It has been quite a while since I’ve been here. What a disappointment. They had NOTHING. It must be the downturn in building and remodeling where nobody is donating anything.

Debbi had told me K-Mart had Epsom Salts on sale. That store is just down the road from Habitat, so I stopped by. It is sort of depressing to go into the local K-Marts. The stores are pretty empty. The stock they have is spread so thin over the shelves to make them look full. I found the salts on an end display. There were 11 bags left; six pounds for $1.99. I took them all! The display was right by the pharmacy, so I tested my blood pressure at the free machine. It was 106/68 and my pulse rate 74. As I was driving away I realized I forgot to get milk. Publix is just across the street, I detoured there.

Publix sells strawberries from Florida which have such a flavor compared to the ones at Sam’s Club which normally originate from California or some foreign country. I had to get a box; they looked and smelled so good. On the way to get milk I passed the meat counters. There were four lamb shanks on display. Better yet they were on sale! Lamb shanks are my favourite dinner to cook up. I checked with the butcher and he had two more shanks in the back. Talk about a score, six lamb shanks at one store was a jackpot!

Driving back home I went straight down University BLVD instead of turning down my street. The University Publix is located just a few blocks from that intersection. They had four lamb shanks out. I asked if they had any more. The butcher brought out six more. I took them all!! My ice box looked like a butcher shop with all those lamb shanks stacked up!

The temperatures warmed up into the 70’s. What a glorious day to rake and do up long neglected yard work. The doors and windows were opened in the house allowing the fresh air to circulate through.

Thursday night was a “patio party” with Daggy and Stump. I relish these evenings where I’ll relax in the deck chair with a glass of box wine. The back yard lights were on, the yellow bulbs illuminating the recesses of the rear patio that houses the bulk of my brick collection. Daggy was perched on my legs, posed like the Sphinx, while Stumpy was annoying the bug population. He is so comical to watch racing and jumping across the grass after real and imagined bugs.

For this short period of time all is right with the world in my little “safety zone”. I’m no doctor but I swear it is being able to relax in this manor that keeps my blood pressure down!

Debbie and I walked the riverfront and campus early Friday morning. It was so nice to not have to be all bundled up. At the riverfront I looked downstream and saw two boats leaving the docks at the boathouse. How I wished I were rowing!

With all the lamb shanks I decided to have a dinner party Saturday night. The weather forecast was horrible for Friday; I think it was pretty safe to assume we would not be rowing in the afternoon. I took the truck to the “Y” so I could drive to the bank and then to Wal-Mart for groceries.

I just started on the rowing machine when the sky opened up. It just poured. The TV’s hanging from the ceiling showed special reports of the horrible weather over Birmingham way. It was still raining when I finished up my workout. The last thing I want to do is to drive across town in the pouring rain to “Hell-Mart”. I ended up going back to the University Publix. I lucked out in that everything I needed to get was on sale!

The rain had pretty much abated by the time I got home. Once I got the groceries put away, it was time to start work on the lamb. There is a membrane that has to be peeled away from the shanks. It is a real pain, but it must be done. The shanks were then browned in a cast iron pan in which generous amounts of bacon grease and garlic had been added. Fresh ground pepper and salt seasoned the shanks as they cooked.

The bar-b-que sauce was made up: Ketchup, water, brown sugar, vinegar, dry mustard, and lots of onion slices. This was all dumped over the shanks which were arranged in my ancient turkey roaster. The mess cooked in a slow oven till 5:30.

While the shanks were cooking, I shredded up a head of cabbage and some carrots for cole slaw. Once that was done, I cut up the strawberries. This entire time I’m working in the kitchen the storms raged on. It was perfect afternoon to piddle in the kitchen.

All the while I was working the storm alerts interrupted my NPR radio shows. The tornado sirens sounded a couple times. This intense weather is something you get used to living here. The icing on the cake was hearing the police sirens in front of my house. Walking onto the front porch I heard the taped announcement of an immanent tornado blasted from the car before it proceeded down the street. It is hard to take this seriously with the absence of the tornado sirens sounding.

Back to the kitchen: the shanks are taken out of the oven, put onto the platter and covered in foil. “Resting” the meat overnight allows the flavour to intensify. The sauce is dumped into a bowl and placed in the ice box. By doing this, all the fat will rise to the top and solidify. Cooking up lamb shanks is something I can do in my sleep!

Saturday morning:

Talking to Scott this morning I kept hearing a motor running and then stopping. At first I thought it was the fan in my computer tower, or at worst the tankless water heater fan mis-cycling. I’m dreading it is the later. Tracing the sound to the basement I realized with relief it was the sump pump. There was some five inches of rain in less than 24 hours. Enough water seeped into the basement to trigger the pump. That sump hole had been dry since I turned off the air conditioning. The drain from the air system drains into that sump hole.

Getting my day underway, I tried to venture to the workshop. I can’t get the new screen door to open. All the moisture from the past two days swelled the wood. Using a grapefruit knife I was able to jimmy the latch open. The strike plate had to be removed and reset after planning down some of the door frame. The door functions fine now. It is always something.

On a happier note: Once again things worked out well for me. Wednesday afternoon I placed my order for a brass clock cable. That cable was in my mailbox at 10:00 this morning! Thank you E-bay.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Busy With Clocks

Debbie and I walked the neighborhoods Wednesday morning. It was a lot warmer than Monday. Hopefully spring will be in full bloom soon. I got to the Y right around 10:00. There seems to be a peak time when it can get crowded: 10:00 seems to be that time! Then it just empties out. Tim was there so I rowed next to him on the Concept II. It is nice to be able to chat while “erging” on the machines.

I was starving by the time I got home. It was leftovers from the dinner Friday: Pot roast, cole slaw, smashed potatoes, and the last of the onions & carrots. I was so full I needed a quick rest with Daggy before doing anything!

Earlier in the week I replaced the braided brass weight cables in my grandfather clock. I did the first restoration to that clock in the spring of 1972, which is when the cables I replaced were installed. I overhauled the clock movement with the help of friends when I was attending WatchmakingSchool in Lancaster, PA. Restoring that was pretty much a “class project”. My good friend Richard capped and turned down some of the worn pivots. I made him sign and date the inside of the door. I just checked and the date is; June 1972. Poor Richard, he ended up having a lot of mental problems and faded out of my life. I often wonder what became of him…. I’m almost afraid to know.

That type of Grandfather clock is generically known as a “painted dial English bell strike” among clock collectors. Container loads of those clocks were shipped and distributed through importers back in the early 1970’s. A friend at school was an Antique dealer. I was able to get that clock through his importer connections. After an absence of almost two months, it is so good to hear the steady ticking and the bell striking the hours again.

It is not a particularly rare or valuable clock, but it was built with integrity. The fact it is still keeping accurate time nearly 200 years after it was first assembled says a lot.

The grandfather clock ticking off the seconds here in Alabama.

My Seth Thomas eight day weight clock in the dining room snapped it’s time cable the day after I placed the order for the grandfather clock cables! I’m wondering if I’m cursed now! I found a source for the cable on E-bay so that got ordered yesterday afternoon. I missed having a clock in my dining room.

I pulled out the Daniel Pratt wooden works clock I’ve had in storage since I moved here. The Newspaper packing inside the clock was from June of 1996! This clock is a 30 hour clock which means it needs to be wound every day. UGH! This particular clock is quite late for a wooden works, with the label dating it at 1843. I had to clean and oil the few metal parts. A quick dusting and it took right off! These old wooden works clocks are sometimes called “groaners” as the wooden gears will make all kinds of noises not heard on conventional brass clocks. As the industrial revolution took hold in the early 1800’s and brass clocks became more common, the clock dial was designed so there was a large opening where the hands were. This allowed the brass plates of the movement to show: A subtle form of conspicuous consumption! I’ve missed this clock… I’m going to find a home for it so it can add to the cacophony of my life!

Here is a picture of the wooden works:

I was really annoyed this morning. It was nearly 50° when we assembled at the boat house at 5:30 a.m. We were short two people for taking out a boat. I’m up anyway, but was all set to get some rowing in.

Oh well. The extra time allowed me to get this entry out, and I’ll get to the Y early.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Still Chilly and Damp in Alabama

It is a grey damp morning today. The temperatures are supposed to get into the 60° range later in the day. Still I had to turn up the furnace when I shuffled out of bed at 4:00 as the house was a dank 53°. I HATE hearing that thing cycle!!

It stayed cool yesterday (Tuesday). I had hoped to work out in the yard after the Y. Instead finally I tore into the grandfather clock to replace the brass braided weight cables. The cable on the “time” side snapped before Christmas. I was just starting to wind it when the cable broke right at the winding barrel. Fortunately the weight was almost at the bottom of the case. It is not unusual to find the bottoms of these old clocks busted out from plummeting weights!

Those old cords have been in the clock since my first restoration was done on it in 1972. Hopefully these new cables will last out my lifetime.

It never fails. I had just sent out the order to Arizona for the new cables from one of the few remaining clock supply houses when the brass cable broke on my eight day Seth Thomas Weight clock! The weights for that clock are very heavy compared to what they would be for a 30 hour clock. I know those cables are at least 18 years old, as that is how long I’ve owned that clock. I should be able to use a parachute cord to replace that cable. That is the problem with antique mechanical stuff; you are always fiddling with it.

The Rowers Referee Workshop was Saturday morning a the University Recreation Center starting at 7:00 a.m. The room it was held at was FREEZING. Normally I dress with thermals etc, but this morning I just put on a tee shirt and a heavy flannel shirt. Usually those University buildings are overheated if anything. I never took off my Swiss Army Cammo jacket. Everyone present pretty much shivered through the five hour presentation.

There is so much to learn to be a certified referee. I was thinking I’d just learn what I could to be able to help out at the upcoming regatta in March. The man who did the main talking, Dick, was a referee at the Atlanta Olympics. His co host Donna was a good balance. I soaked up so much information and was so intimidated I was numb as I walked to my truck at noon. The air was still chilly, but the cab of my truck was toasty warm!!! That heat felt so good!

Before I left the house I put my white table linens from the previous nights dinner down to soak. The grease and wine stains were spot treated with full strength Awesome Cleaner. (from the dollar Tree) Then a plastic bucket was filled with cold water in which I added some dissolved automatic dishwashing detergent, and a cup of bleach. They soaked all morning. I then just dumped entire mess into the washing machine adding some of my normal detergent and cycled the load through a normal washing cycle.

Those double damask table cloths and napkins I use were acquired at an auction some 30+ years ago. If I remember right, that box contained over 50 napkins, and three table cloths that were the double damask, along with lots of cotton table cloths. The price was about $18.00 or so. I’ve been using that stuff ever since. I figure I’ve gotten my moneys worth from that sale many times over!

While that was agitating I took a nap with the cats under the down comforter to get my blood flowing and warmed up. The sun was shining brightly when I hung everything on the line an hour later. The humidity was low so everything dried very quickly. I needed sunglasses when I took those old napkins off the line they were so brilliantly white!
I was ironing up those napkins when I decided to attend the “Grand BAL MASQUE XVI” the annual fundraiser for the “West Alabama Aids Organization”. It seemed everyone I always attended with in the past with was out of town. I sometimes feel funny going to functions alone, but I know a lot of the people who would be attending.
Debbie had been hedging all day if she would show up or not. As I expected, she cancelled out. I’ve done this routine so many times it is like clockwork to get my outfit together. First I had to find a pink perfection Camellia for my Tuxedo lapel. The recent cold snap put rust brown on most of my blooms. Hunting real hard I found a perfect blossom buried in the inside of the bush.
Since I don’t have any black pants to match my Tux Jacket, I always wear my black leather jeans and polished work boots. I’ve done that for many years now. I can still squeeze into my tux shirt I bought back in the early 1980’s. My cummerbund still fits me at the 33 waist size. I was so proud of myself; I was able to get the bow tie done in only two tries. It is the real thing, no snap on for this boy!
It is a short walk to the theater where this is being held. There was a great crowd milling about. I noticed a bunch of guys wearing leather pants with their Tuxedos. I think I’ve started something!
This “show” is held in the Mardis Gras tradition the weekend before Fat Tuesday. Elaborate tableaus are presented, “Royalty” is crowned amid great ceremony, and beads are thrown with abandon into the audience. The costumes and drag are so inventive. One of the “filler skits” had a VERY pregnant lady walking across the stage. Then she reappeared pushing a pram behind a sign that read: Octet Mom. She was very distraught holding one baby after another, and then she threw each of these eight “babies’ into the audience! What a hoot!
I saw a lot of people I knew and had a great time. There was an after hours party, but by the time things finished up at 11:30 it was WAY past this boys bedtime!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Friday Night Dinner

Let me backtrack to Friday night and the dinner here at my home. Soon as we finished rowing and the equipment got put away in the late afternoon, I hightailed it back to my house to get the last minute preparations underway. First I put on the tiny red potatoes to boil up with lots of garlic. Then the roast was slapped back into the turkey roaster. The juices from the previous days cooking were added after taking off the hardened fat from the top of the bowl. That roast was then smothered in cut onions and carrots and placed into a slow oven at about 300°.

The ice for drinks was put out and the gas lights and fireplace lit. The cats knew something is going on. I left the doors open to the basement and upstairs so Daggy could have her choice of where to hide when the guests arrived. Stump preferred to be outside!

I used a whole stick of butter to smash into the potatoes along with a bit of milk, salt and pepper. I had heard on a cooking show that when boiling up potatoes you should not cut them into sections: A lot of flavour can be lost. That was the reason I got the small ones: So they would cook more evenly. The oven temperature was turned back even more and the finished potatoes were put into a covered serving dish and placed on top of the oven to keep warm.

It was at that moment Ted, Dianne and the guests of honor Dick and Donna rang the doorbell. Jason and Alison our coaches arrived a bit later, and then Ann showed up just as we sat to dinner. It was a perfect eight guests around the table!

The entire meal/night was wonderful. The potatoes turned out to be out of this world! I was so pleased to see Jason dig in for seconds!! There is nothing I like better than to have simple home cooked dinner and see my guests enjoy.

We sat around the dining room table discussing rowing till 10:00! Everyone agreed it was so much nicer than being in a restaurant.

As usual things were so busy and spontaneous I never thought to take pictures. Our gathering could have gone on all night, but the workshop was scheduled to begin at 7:00 a.m. and run till noon Saturday at the University.

There were the usual offers to help clean up, but I shooed my guests out the door. “I’ll just put the food away and then to the clean up in the morning while my coffee is brewing,” I tell them.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Pot Roast Friday

Back in the day when I had my house in Lockport, one way to make the winters more social was the many spontaneous dinner parties my core group of friends used to throw. These were not fancy affairs, just good friends and real home cooking.

We are hosting representatives from the American Rowing Commission this weekend to teach classes in how to referee regattas. I’ll be at the classes, no experience is required. It always seems that whenever I take the plunge to explore something I’d never done before, good things usually happen.

The reps are supposed to be arriving in the late afternoon; meeting up with us at the boathouse after our Friday row. Volunteers were asked for to show these guys around the city and then to dinner. It can be impossible to get a table on a Friday night here. I was thinking how a home cooked meal would be better than a restaurant one considering all the aggravation that goes along with it. The condensed version is: I’m hosting a dinner here Friday night! It will be just like old times! I have no idea how many will eventually show up, that is the fun of it!

After my workout at the Y I did a shopping expedition: First to Wal-Mart, and then Sams. There is no way I could get enough lamb shanks (my favourite dinner to fix) on such short notice, so I settled on Pot Roast. I remembered seeing some beautiful cuts of meat my last trip to Sams. I was not disappointed; I found six pounds of chuck roast with beautiful fat marbled all in. That is where all the flavour is. The menu will be: Pot roast and gravy, smashed red garlic potatoes, onions and carrots, (cooked with the roast) cole slaw, corn bread sticks, and for desert, Fresh Florida strawberries served on a section of “Edicraft” waffle smothered in vanilla pudding sauce.

The pot roast got the initial cooking this afternoon. It was seasoned with fresh ground salt and pepper and browned in butter and garlic in the old cast iron skillet. It braised in a 300° oven for a few hours in the old turkey roaster along with some beef broth and onions. Nothing smells better than garlic and onions cooking! The meat is now “resting” in the ice box while the fat is separating from the juices. I made up the cole slaw and cut up the strawberries. I have some frozen waffles, but I’ll make up a fresh batch tomorrow morning, along with the corn sticks. That is beauty of this kind of meal: you cook everything ahead of time, that way you can enjoy the party too! The only real cooking I’ll have to do before supper is to get the water on the boil for the smashed potatoes. I picked up a bag of small red potatoes at Wal-Mart. They always seem to have the most flavour. I’ll never forget that first Thanksgiving I made smashed potatoes. Mom was so scandalized that I did not peel the potatoes before mashing them up, she at first refused to eat them. Once she got a taste, there was no turning back!

The house is not in too bad shape dirt wise. I don’t think it will be warm enough to have cocktails on the patios. It was in the low 50’s today, but there was a wind blowing that sure made it seem colder.

Hopefully I’ll have pictures and a favourable report Saturday afternoon on the party!!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Storm Missed Us

It was so damp and chilly yesterday I had the gas logs going in the fireplace. I know I sound like a wimp, but I moved south to get out of the cold. I know how Mimi in La Bohème must have felt with her poor hands being so cold at the bitter end! I warmed my chilled fingers over the gas flames till they got toasty warm.

Talk about fluctuating temperatures; it was in the 70’s today! A real bad storm was brewing all day, but fortunately it bypassed us here in Tuscaloosa. We had some thunder, lightning and rain, but that was about it. The hail and high winds never materialized here.

The internet never ceases to amaze me. Friday morning I ordered a latch set from California to install on the new screen door. I checked first with Blowe’s and then the web pages of Homo Despot. No luck. I did not want to waste time and gas searching out the small hardware stores on what would most likely turn out to be a wild goose chase. This type of lockset is just odd-ball enough to where nobody really knows what you are talking about when you try to explain what it is. I found exactly what I needed at

I placed the order early Friday morning figuring it would most likely take a week for it to be delivered. Late Friday afternoon I received notification my order had been shipped UPS along with a tracking number. I love tracking packages as they travel to me! I never had a chance, it totally slipped my mind to log onto the UPS site.

Monday was Presidents Day so there was no mail delivery. Returning home from the Y at 12:30 p.m. I checked my E-mail before making a peanut butter sandwich for my lunch. There it was: my UPS delivery notification. The package was dropped off at 12:05!!! Sure enough, there it was right at the side door where the UPS guy always leaves my packages when I’m not home to sign for them. Talk about fast service!

Tuesday afternoon was spent doing the installation of the latch set into the door. Naturally I did not have the required 5/8’s drill bit to bore the holes. There is an old time hardware store not to far from my house. It will be worth paying a bit more to not have to face the traffic and aggravation of getting to one of the box stores. I was surprised in the bit was only $3.00.

This afternoon I installed the striker plate onto the door frame. This was a bit more involved as the door frame is not too square. I had to add a shim piece and do some fancy mitering and wood filling. It all turned out well. It is heaven to have a back screen door I can actually lock and yet let the cats have access to their back yard through their own special door.

Once the weather stabilizes a bit I’ll do the last of the painting to the hinges. Those old strap hinges were originally on the heavy wooden doors of my garage back in Lockport. I salvaged them when I redid the front of that old structure back in the early 1990’s. I knew I’d get some use out of them eventually! The brass hinge in the center of the door is a small old brass spring hinge Billy gave me on my last trip to Florida. It is not strong enough to propel the door shut on its own, but with just a slight push it will accomplish the job. To the left is my outside shower and you can see the window Stump claws at to let me know when he wants in!

Expecting high winds and rain I took some pictures of the Camellias before they would be destroyed. Fortunately they are still in pretty good shape, and I have the pictures to share here. For the past year I have been working Epsom Salts into the ground every 3 months or so. I really think that helped to produce the bumper crop of blooms this year.

Daggy just scooted up from her hiding place in the cellar and it will soon be time to dish up the “cat treats” and settle into bed. Hopefully if we row in the morning the temperatures will be mild.

These Camellias are located on the north side of my house.

While these are at the front of my home.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

27° this morning

The business news this morning is all about GM and Chrysler and how bankruptcy or reorganization will affect the retirees and current workers health care coverage. I always tried to be a realist during my employment at GM. There was a mindset in my hometown how GM would take care of you from the “cradle to the grave”. For my tenure in the school system if you were not in college entrance or business classes there was little done to inspire or move students forward. It was a given that in that a city a high school diploma would gain you admittance to GM where generations had found work before. There was a great article done by the Long Island newspaper, Newsday on this phenomenon back in the mid 1970’s. My aunt Fran sent it to me; the local papers pretty much ignored it. (I’ve tried to see if this has been archived on-line someplace with no luck.)

Many of my friends and co-workers who bought into that local myth are devastated. For all the 30 years I worked for GM the axe of my division folding was always over my neck. I learned when attending classes put together by GM, Cornell University, and the UAW in 1989 that GM itself would be under the wire in the not too distant future. That future is now here. That axe is still hanging over my neck. I thought I had prepared for the worst in case GM folded. I never expected the entire US economy to melt down at the same time.

Enough of this: I need to count my assets and regardless of what happens, I should be all right. Just like the disco song…..I will survive!!!!

It was a bitter 27° this morning at 5:30. We were short enough people to take out a boat. I’m up at 4:00 anyway, but it really sucks to get all bundled up and then not be able to go out on the water. I don’t know what is going on with these people. Sunday afternoon was perfect for a session on the river. We were short two people for taking out our 8. Fortunately there were two collegiate rowers who were on hand to even out our boat. They rowed as bow pair (1 & 2 seat) I was in 3 seat. It was a fairly warm afternoon, but we “master rowers” were decked out in sweats. These boys had on their spandex shorts and stripped off their shirts before we cast off! Oh, to be young again!! LOL!! They had a good time rowing with us along with getting some teasing in to Jason, (their coach) who was coxing. It was a wonderful afternoon on the water. Just perfect to take my mind off the current economic mess!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The First Robin

The weather for the past few days has been grey, damp, and dreary. Even Stumpy only made a few forays into the backyard this morning. He and Daggy have been sleeping at the foot of the bed pretty much all day.

It is times like this I turn to cleaning. UGH! Looking out my back study door en route to shake out the dust mop early this afternoon, I spotted the first Robin of the year. The pictures I took were of a bird that would not face me, making it hard to make out the red breast. A few hours later a Robin with a brilliant red breast was in the birdbath facing me. Fortunately I left the camera within reach and was able to snap this picture. Before I could click another, a squirrel jumped out of the holly hedge scaring off this most welcome sign of spring. There is so much life going on in that yard. Between the cats, squirrels, birds, and bugs there is a constant cycle of living going on.

I remember back to when I was waiting for my transfer south living with my best friend Joe. It was a dreary Sunday afternoon in January of 1998, the BBC radio program “My Word” was playing on my car radio. I had made a trip to Canandaigua to check out the antique shops and was on my way home. Ann Scott James, one of my favourite panelists on the show, recited this bit of Shelly: “Oh, blow west wind, (pronounced “wind” as in wind a clock) If winter comes, Can Spring be far behind?”

That quote has always stuck with me as the hope of spring peeping through a long cold winter. This winter has been the coldest and gloomiest I have experienced since moving south. These first robins are my inspiration of the spring that is just around the corner. I’ll have to put out seed for them and be sure the bird bath is kept full. It is very shallow: it does not take much for the birds to splash a good deal of the water out.

Here is my robin enjoying a bath in the "Flintstones" birdbath. That birdbath was my moving south present to me in 1998. It was crarved from three pieces of limestone by a retired stone cutter in Wiarton, Ontario, Canada. True to form it weighs a ton! Just perfect for my yard. The flagstone it is resting on was pulled from a polluted creek behind the ruin of an old paper mill. To the left of the birdbath is Daggys dirtpile!

Friday, February 13, 2009

A Fine Day

The alarm sounded promptly at 4:00 a.m. as is usual. Stump had been acting up, so I was ready to let him go outside. The house rules are: “No cats are allowed outside till the alarm goes off”. “Rules are rules: I don’t make them, I just enforce them.” This favourite line was spoken by “Big Edna” the sadistic lesbian guard from the “B” movie “Reform School Girls”. I always quote that line to Stumpy when he pesters me to go out early!

I switched the buzzing alarm over to the radio. At this hour the BBC World Report is broadcast. The first story I heard was “plane crash: all 48 onboard are killed”. Then I heard “Buffalo, NY”. I listened with a sense of dread. Getting to my computer I did some research on the story. The crash site was Clarence Center, NY. How many trips had I made to that little hamlet in the past? When I was restoring my old house in the late 1970’s & early 1980’s I was able to drive there blindfolded. One of the last of the old time lumber yards was on Railroad St (not far from the crash site) where I had my custom millwork made up. My heart and prayers go out to all involved.

Thursday morning it was a chilly row in the early morning. I was the cox, barking out orders to the crew from the coach. It was kind of nerve wracking as there was a lot of debris floating in the river. Logs and tree branches seemed to be everywhere. The fiberglass shells on the boats are fragile; I don’t want to be the cox to damage our boat. I had a bit of panic attack as a barge approached us as we were getting organized across from the dock. It seemed to be barreling upon us. Poor Matthew who is an experienced rower reminded me to “Stop yelling into the cox box and just relax!” We all survived, had a good workout and docked safely.

Back home again it was “shopping time” on the internet. I needed a lockset for the new back door that is not a stock item anywhere around here. This item was quickly located on-line. It was ordered and will hopefully be delivered early next week.

I began to work a bit in the back yard before going to the Y. The day was warming up right on schedule. Daggy joined me instead of going to her usual haunt in the upstairs. Her first stop was the dirt pile left over from the fall transplant of the Azalea bush. I enjoyed watching her contort her bulk rolling and grinding into the warm earth. Then she settled into the grass, while Stumpy kept watch under the Sweet Olive. There were blossoms on this bush emitting that intoxicating fragrance. Everything was too perfect in my little back yard. All thoughts of going for a workout were put on the back burner!

Trimming on the huge holies was started. This job has to be done in stages. First I do the “yard side” then I do the “street side”. I’m trying to take down a few feet from the top. Yes that was feet! That pole trimmer of mine got a good work out. I have to time the street side trimming to Sunday morning when traffic is pretty much non-existent. The 10’ ladder is set up in the bed of my truck and driven along the hedge. It is quite a sight to see me on top of the ladder in the truck bed cutting down the hedges. As long as OSHA does not see it I should be safe!

I alternated trimming the hollies with installing the new back door. The hinges I used for the door were from my old garage back in Lockport. There are so many memories of that old house here in Alabama. Stump is not thrilled at having to use the “cat door” again. It has to be a certain way to make him happy; the flap must be on the inside. He let out a low growl as he had to maneuver it to his liking this morning!

The afternoon warmed up beautifully. Relaxing in the deck chair at 5:00, Stump jumped onto my lap and instantly curled into a compact ball of fur. I could feel his purring as it gradually slowed down and stopped. He was in a deep sleep as he twitched and jerked in his slumber. I wondered if he was dreaming about chasing a mouse or squirrel. It killed me to disturb his bliss, but after 45 minutes my legs were getting numb and my butt was getting sore from the hard chair!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Warming Up

It has been a week since my last journal writing. It has warmed up and I have been going crazy with the jobs that need to be done. One of the first projects to get started was the new screen door. The old door had rotted out in only a few years. When I was in Florida I acquired enough Cyprus wood to make up this replacement. It is currently painted and waiting for the hinges to go through a stripper bath to remove the old paint. Hopefully I’ll have it finished up this weekend.

There is a short window of opportunity to do the serious trimming back on the shrubs and bushes before the new growth starts. It was a major undertaking working on the huge overgrown sasanqua bush. The Camellias are still blooming; I have another month or so before I have to worry about cutting them back. This weekend I’ll be tackling the holly hedges which are totally out of control. The hollies along the front sidewalk are going to get a major cut back. They are all bare on the bottom with bushy growth on top. Hopefully a good trimming will shock new growth all over.

My Stumpy was supposed to be helping with these chores. But, he got wrapped up in soaking up the warm sunshine in one of his favourite corners of the yard.

The old dead growth had to be cut off the mums, lantana and other perennials. The ground has been pretty soft so the weeds and vines are coming out fairly easily. The dirt in some of the beds was turned over with “zoo poo” worked in. After the spell of cold, it is heaven to be able to work outside in comfort.

To take my mind off the rotten economy I’ve been getting to the “Y” five days a week in the morning. This is such a good escape from the house for me. They have Concept Two Rowers which I have been “erging’ on. Once I stretch out my goal is to get 15-20 minutes in. I try to vary the pressure to simulate the drills we do on the water. Going from 17-19 strokes to the high twenties really gets your heart rate going! Then I do some cardio on the Cybex machines, some free weights, and return to the Concept Two for another round of erging.

All is not work. I’ve been able to get out on the river quite a bit with the rowing club. Last Friday was the first time this year we rowed without having to be bundled up against the cold. We had enough people on hand at 3:30 p.m. to take out an 8. It was a great workout with “seasoned” rowers. (Well as seasoned as we can call ourselves!) It was the most rowing I’d ever done on the river at a stretch. We always head east on the river to start. The full moon was visible in the late afternoon sky. Then we turned the boat to head back to the dock. The sunset was nothing short of glorious; a brilliant riot of orange as the sun descended in the west.

This picture was taken some time ago when it was still cold. We were in the process of turning the boat around to return to the dock. Being so close to the water puts such a perspective on things.

Once home I fixed a quick supper and luxuriated in a hot shower. Needless to say I enjoyed a deep sleep that night.

Yesterday afternoon I got a call from my old working partner Mel! I had not seen him in over 15 years. He took a company buy-out back in the early 1990s when he only had 15 years seniority and moved to Florida. He has worked many different jobs since that time and is currently driving a huge van around doing delivery. He happened to be on I-59 headed to Texas. I’m not far off the interstate so he stopped in for a quick visit. It was funny as I just did up an entry concerning our working together a short while back.

We had a good visit before he had to head back to the interstate. Talking about the old times at the plant reinforces to me how much my life has changed since moving south. There is no way I would enjoy my current quality of life had I remained in my hometown.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Cold again in Alabama

It was a chilly 20° on my Google page when I fired up the computer this morning. The thermostat was set at around 53° so this boy was chilled getting out of a nice warm bed at 2:30. Stumpy has gotten to clawing at the side door of the bedroom when he wants out. That bad boy was clawing loud enough to wake me up. The rules are: no outside privileges till 4:00 a.m. when the alarm goes off! I blocked off his access to the door and hurried back to the warm bed. Daggy snuggled in against my chest under the covers: we dozed until the alarm announced the four o’clock hour. The tab was switched over to the BBC World News broadcast on the local NPR station and my day began. First business of the day was to get Stumpy outside. He flew out the back study door into his backyard. I shuffled into the kitchen to put the water on to boil for my coffee.

The motion detector security light was on, and my computer needed to be restarted. There must have been a power outage during the night. It is always something around here.

I joined Facebook the other day. The Rowing Club opened a site, so I joined when I got an invite from Robin, the president of the club. It was a very frustrating experience getting it all set up. In order to condense hours of frustration let me just say I ended up having to delete and reinstall the Java program on my rickety old computer. It is scary how that site picks out people for me to add as friends that I know.

There are so many quirks to get used to; I’m still pretty much a “Luddite” when it comes to this type of social networking. My nieces and nephews are all listed and are now on my friends list, so it really does serve a function of keeping in touch. I’ve even started a new blog so I can post my journal entries I want to share with them on E-blogger.

On a sad note, I was reading through my favourites on my journal site this morning: I have not been keeping up as much as I should. The trips last month really threw me behind. “LBH” said how she missed her cat McQueen. With a sense of dread I went to her homepage and read back to Jan 11th. Her beautiful Tabby had been hit and killed. As I was reading this sad news the side of the house was shaking. Stumpy was clawing at the screen on the bathroom window to let me know he wanted in. That window is a small hinged window that swings out. It is high off the ground, but easily accessible for Stump perching on the frame of the outside shower. It takes forever for him to come in the house this way. There is a whole elaborate process to go though. This routine ends with me hoisting Stump over my shoulders and draping him behind my neck. As I walked to the bed, (where he launches off my back for a soft landing) he got some extra hugs.

Losing a beloved pet is the same as losing a family member. Sometimes it can be worse. This takes me back to the fall of 1997. It was shortly after Thanksgiving I had to have Chloe, Ron’s old tabby cat put down. Her quality time was gone: she was in pain. Things had not been going well in my life, that act precipitated a free fall into depression. The following six months were pretty much the bleakest I had ever lived. Enough said. It pains me too much to even think about that period of my life. When Daggy and Stump took over my home the following June, the fog began to lift. Ever so slowly life returned to whatever my “normal’ is.

“LBH” you have my deepest sympathies with all you are going through. I’m not a religious person, but I like to think there is perhaps an afterlife where we are reunited with all those who have had an influence in our life. If that is such, I know McQueen will be there for you and Chloe will be in the welcoming committee for me.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Chilly Morning and a "Moral Dilemma"

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

It was a chilly 27° at 5:30 this morning when we showed up to row. Unfortunately there were not enough people to take out an 8. Borrowing one of the collegiate rowers we could have had a 7 but it is hard to do drills and have control the boat being short of people. Hopefully it will warm up a bit Thursday and we will be able to head out.

I heated up Grape Nuts Flakes in the microwave with fresh strawberries for a pre-row breakfast. After I got home and did my E-bay and internet stuff, then it was time for a “real” breakfast: Homefries with onions, pepper bacon, egg and more coffee. Nothing beats a good greasy breakfast. I’m trying to eat heavy in the mornings and then taper off to where I just have a light supper. I’m not going hungry and when I weighed in at the Y yesterday I was down to 165 from 174 at my peak. If I could only get my six pack stomach back again! I used to tell people that my family was so poor growing up, my mother had to wash clothes on my “washboard” stomach!! (I can’t lie I never had one!!)

Got down t the Y and erged for half an hour total on the rowing machines and worked my calves and shoulders. Hopefully it will warm up enough in the afternoon to do yard work. Tim showed up a bit late, just as I was leaving. I had printed out my entry on Tom Day for him to read along with the information I sent in to the NPR program “Marketplace” about the GM “job-banks” and how it affected my work life. My God, what I sent in to that program was two pages single spaced!!

I heard a mention of the GM “job-banks” on a radio news show where some union official from Lansing, MI (I think, I’m not certain) was on a tear. He was livid saying how the people in the job banks did community service work and they did not just sit around and watch movies on TV. Maybe that was how things worked in his local, but here in my old factory in Tuscaloosa, AL we were not allowed to leave the plant. Workers begged to be allowed to do some kind of alternative work/service for the community. The brick wall was supposedly “insurance coverage”. The end result was a cross-section of the work force that wasted years of their lives doing nothing, getting paid for 40 hours a week.

Walking home from the Y gave me more drama than I needed. This city is famous for drivers running red lights. I was two blocks away from the intersection of 10th Street and 21st Ave. I heard a crash and saw two SUV’s crunched up. The light was red for 10th street so it looked pretty cut and dry that somebody had run a red light. A young woman was driving one of vehicles with a baby seat on the font. Thank God nobody was hurt. I told her what I saw if that would help her any. Then one of the occupants of the other vehicle started screaming they were going to sue for every penny she had and they were going to get rich. I did not witness the accident; I just heard the crunch and saw the light was red. That man started harping on me. Then one lady on the side said to me, “You don’t have to say nothing.” I took that as my cue to leave. Now as I write this I’m having second thoughts if I should contact the police dept or not.

Being plagued by a “moral dilemma” is the last thing I expected to happen today.

My Link to Pro Football

My Link to Pro Football
Monday, February 02, 2009

The Superbowl is history. I did not watch or even think about it till hearing the outcome on the news this morning. Sports of that nature don’t really mean anything to me. But, the hype about the game got me to thinking of a link I had to professional football. Strange as it may seem Brick had a link to a professional football player years ago.

Tom Day played for the Buffalo Bills back in the 1960’s. This is his football card from 1965.

Tom ended up as a supervisor at my old plant. After a nasty run-in with a supervisor early in my “auto-career” I made a rule of not having anything to do personally with my supervisors. There were a FEW notable exceptions, but I pretty much just did my work and let it be.

Tom was an all around great guy with an outgoing personality. He broke down those barriers I erected and became my friend. I’ve documented in the past how we had quite a bit of “horseplay” that went on in my old department. One morning Mel, “Mangler” and I were in Tom’s office annoying him. They were all taking about football. I added, “Now, is that the game with the round ball, or the one that looks like an egg???” Next thing I knew Tom had me in the air and thrown over his desk, much to the delight of Mel and Tom. That was when Tom became one of “the Boys”.

Tom had a real affection for me and my working partner Mel. I think it was because we did not fit the “factory worker mold” but we always did our work. We learned early on that as long as you stayed an arms length away, Tom usually could not catch you because of his bad knees.

One of my funniest memories involving Tom was when Mel and I were returning back to the department from the cafeteria. Tom was talking with some other supervisors. He called me over. Once I got to him, I was thrown into a headlock and he stared to pound on my chest. Tom was a BIG man. Once he got hold of you there was no escape. These other supervisors’ faces went white. Supervisors were not permitted to touch an employee, let alone pound the s—t out of them! There were cases where assault charges were filed against salaried personnel who had physical contact with employees.

“Tom, Tom, let him go. You can’t do that!” they said. “Oh yes I can!” Tom answered. “It’s Brick, he enjoys it!!” He released me and I told him, “Thanks Tom, I needed that!” Mel and I left a grinning Tom, and two bewildered supervisors looking at us as we returned to our clincher. I know it galled those other supervisors that Tom had the kind of relationship with his workers they could never have. If it had been either of those other salaried guys who laid a hand on me, I’d have a grievance filed fast as anything. (They were buttheads!!)

My mother loved hearing these stories. She used to bake brownies for me to take in for Tom. Needless to say Tom loved getting this form of bribery. I told him mom made that stuff for him to not pick on me anymore! Tom would always reply that the only reason I was alive was because of my momma!!

There was a soft, human side to Tom that a lot of people did not see. When my mom was dying he took me aside. No horseplay now, he simply said, “Brick, I know how close you are to your momma. You are going through a real bad time. If you ever need to talk to anybody here is my number, call me anytime.” He handed me his phone number. That is a true friend: one who will be there to help you “bury the body”.

Sadly, Tom died in 2000. As I understand the circumstances: he was having surgery and his heart stopped.

If there is an afterlife, I’m looking forward to being back with Tom and the “boys” who are gone from this earth. I have all kinds of new things to say to Tom to get him annoyed and give him an excuse to pound on me!! Sometimes being the comic relief can be painful!!


About Me

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Tuscaloosa, Alabama, United States
Retired auto worker who can now spend too much time restoring his 1922 Bungalow Home. I'm involved in a number of varied activities from collecting bricks to rowing with a masters rowing group. This blog is to share different aspects of my life on my Facebook page. I've kept an on-line journal for eight years.