Monthly Archives: February 2009

Recycling you can take to the bank

We recycle and reuse about everything we can.  It’s amazing how much packaging gets put around the stuff we buy.  Many packages are feats in engineering…I mean, has anyone ever been able to get all the stuff back into the original box from where it came?  I thought not.  The shape and structure of many packages are pretty amazing.People think a lot about how to maximize strength with minimal material and how to fit more stuff in a smaller space in the refrigerator…amazing!

Anyhow, lots of the things in my recycle bin can be reused for other stuff.  I am almost certain I stole this idea from somewhere, though I can’t remember where.  More importantly though, I found a way to draw attention to the lowly nipple fruit.  This bank looks a lot like the nipple fruit – a non-edible fruit apparently in the eggplant family.  I’d sort of like to grow some of these, just to say I have done it, but I don’t know what I would do with the fruit…I suppose it would just get me in trouble.

So, I found 4 old pop bottles we had left over from watching the Super Bowl .  I cut the tops off, right at the top of the label.  I had to monkey around a little bit, but 4 of those tops can be crammed together and super-glued in place to make a nipple-fruit-like bank (though watch out, super glue will haze plastic).   Take any lid off and drop coins in (or pull coins out) and you’re in business.  It won’t take all sizes of coins, but it you want, you can use 3 liter bottles for bigger sizes!  Abigail also suggested putting some rice in it so it could be used as a rattle/rhythm maker!

Now here’s the funny part…it is really hard to type with a nipple fruit bank stuck to your hand.  I got it stuck to my hand as I was trying to pry it off of the work bench…er…dining room table where it was stuck before I got it on my hand.  I think there must be a better way of hooking all of this together…

Anyhow, this thing looks pretty cool and is recycling you can really take to the bank!

In other news, I wrote a little program to change the header image of the blog every 15 minutes.  I took each of the pictures you’ll see somewhere in WV.  You may have to refresh your browser to see the update.  Is it cool or distracting?


We had a storm blow through last night around 6pm which took out our power. When I was a kid, I lived in the woods so our power went out all the time (along with our well water) and often for days. I figured it would be a temporary glitch here as it usually is, but after an hour, the kids were pretty freaked out. Our house was still basically warm and we still had water but as of this morning, we still don’t have power. Apparently there are 15,000 or so residents in the county (and many in surrounding counties) without power.

Isaac still had to do his homework! Poor kid. The cool thing about it was that he was writing about Benjamin Franklin. He got a quick education in one aspect of life a couple hundred years ago!

This morning, the radio reported 70 mph winds which would not surprise me at all. One of my beehives was blown apart and into the field behind our house. Lots of limbs were down and there was junk everywhere…sort of like the first hard rain in the spring when all of the stuff people throw over the creek bed washes down to the river. Anyhow, I took some pics of our fun last night…

Us eating

Us Singing

Us dancing

There is only one thing that lights out is good for….

Sleeping! What did you think I was going to say? Anyhow, we held out until 9:30 or so and then went to bed!

Pool mice

I grew up in the water.  In my hometown, there is a large earthen dam which was built in 1940 to help with flood control on the Allegheny River.  The outflow from the dam forms a really cool creek/small river that has been called the beach since forever.  It really is sort of beachy since it has imported sand, a lifeguard chair, and a concession stand.

Anyhow, since the age of 4 or so, my Mom took my brother and me to the beach every single weekday.  A few days ago, I mentioned that we were outside all summer long.  Part of that was facilitated by our daily trips to the beach where we soaked up tons of vitamin d as we played, unprotected, in the sun.

Part of the beach experience was swimming lessons.  We took swimming lessons 2 or 3 days a week all summer, every summer.  My brother and I became proficient swimmers in the murky, sometimes fast moving, freezing cold water of the outflow of Tionesta Creek.  I worked as a lifeguard at a pool all through college but that was about my only experience with a pool.  We were river rats…we lived in the river and drank enough of it to be part fish.

We have no such opportunity for my kids and it just doesn’t seem right that my kids are not yet great swimmers.  The kids’ aunt and uncle paid for swimming lessons at the local rec-center and we’ve enjoyed watching the kids learn to swim.  Isaac has actually gotten pretty good, due especially to his frequent swim trips with his summer camp friends.  He is actually the most proficient swimmer in the class which leads me to the funny part.  The last 2 classes, the instructor has tried to get the kids to jump in the deep end.  Most of the smaller kids have “manned up” and done it but poor Isaac hasn’t yet found his nerve.  I took this video of him preparing to jump in this weekend.  It’s worth the download time to watch!  I love that little boy!

So, my kids are not yet river rats…they are more like pool mice…but they are well on their way and I am proud!

Scavenger hunting for nerds

I was talking with my sister-in-law, L1 about my new handheld gps (which I got at Christmas).  While Emily had a migraine on Saturday, the kids and I decided to try our hands at geocaching.  L1 calls geocaching, “scavenger hunting for nerds”.  Yes, that sounds about right, thank you very much!  Anyhow, I read a few hints about the first cache because I had no idea what we were even looking for.


We headed out and found the first cache which had a domino and a pencil sharpener in it.  With geocaching, the idea is to take something from the cache (which is any sort of weather-proof container) and leave something else in its place.  So, we took the pencil sharpener and left a jingle bell.  My gps, the Garmin Venture HC, has a feature called  “go to the next cache” so off we went.  I had no idea where it was taking us but we set off following the trail (which isn’t a trail as much as a general direction).

We headed into the city and found some more loot (we left the pencil sharpener and took a pencil).  Finally, we headed off on the trail of “the next cache”.  Of course, I was driving while following the gps.  The kids aren’t quite able to really guide us with the gps and the last time I let Isaac drive didn’t end well so I had to do both.

Soutside Bridge - Charleston, WV

We headed across one of the major bridges in town when the gps sounded the “close” alarm.  I debated stopping in the slow lane while we hunted but I decided against that.  Instead, we drove across to the other side and walked back to where the cache was located.  It was about 0.3 miles from the parking spot to the cache.  It was quite a thrill walking across the bridge as it is pretty high and pretty busy (we were on the sidewalk).  We hunted all over the footing of the bridge and found a dead pigeon, a snuff can and a half-full bottle of beer.  Ah, the family adventure.  We hunted all over to no avail so headed home.


The next day, Emily was better and came with us.  This time we parked on the correct side of the bridge.  We still looked all over and had about given up.  Emily was sitting in the van waiting for us to come back when she spotted it.  Wow!  The cache was small and well hidden and proved that we need to step up our vision care program.  Prior to finding the cache, she was not too impressed with geocaching.  Finding her first changed her mind though.

There are over 700 caches hidden around Charleston.  How on earth do we keep from tripping over all of them!  We have plans to find as many as we can and hide some new ones once we see some more.  Anyhow, the kids and I had more fun than we could carry in a bucket.  Each day, Abigail has asked me many times to go geocaching again.  I think we have  new hobby!

By the way, there are some more cool pics of the Southside Bridge…much better than mine.

Edit:  cheesychick asked in a comment who hides the caches…that’s part of what makes this cool…other geocachers hide the loot and report their stash on one of the geocaching websites.  We used and it seems to be the most popular.  They review the coordinates of the cache to make sure it isn’t at a school or a power plant, etc and then publish the cache.  From their site, I can download the cache coordinates directly into my gps receiver.   The last cache we found was hidden by an airline pilot who was on break overnight in Charleston.  He comes back whenever he is in town and checks on it (to make sure it is still there, isn’t wet, etc).  They can be all different sizes and should contain a log book and possibly other loot which people trade in and out as they find it.  We’ll hide some after we get a little more experience with geocaching.

Momma told me to go fly a kite

Flying a kite

Like Mommas everywhere, mine was always happy for a nice day to come along in the middle of winter.  My brother and I undoubtedly drove my parents crazy in our modest home where we grew up.  Whenever the sun was up and it was above 10 degrees (or 5 degrees on days when my brother and I were in rare form), we were outside.  Same thing in the summer – if the sun was up, we were outside.  We didn’t have air conditioning so we might as well be. Anyhow, the point is, we were outdoor children.

Flying a kite
Mom used the few indoor moments for instruction, of course.  Trying to instill in us an interest in engineering, aerodynamics and materials, I remember once when my Mom helped us make kites and told us to go outside and fly them.  She seemed to be in a huge hurry for us to get them built and outside…yeah, I didn’t buy all that stuff about aerodynamics either.  Indoor moments were really just accidents where they didn’t work it right to get us outside!

Flying a kite
So, we had an absolutely beautiful weekend here in WV and we decided to do an experiment with our kids.  We gathered up a few kites that we had collected at various times and headed for a flat field (there are only a few here!) since the wind was blowing on Saturday.  We unwound and untangled the strings and got everything put together and took off with the kites.

Flying a kite
Abigail’s flew pretty well and she ran around the field until she was completely covered in mud.  Isaac had no luck flying his kite though.  It was a Star Wars Episode 5 storm trooper kits which was all kinds of awesome but it flew like an AT-AT walker.  He ran all over with it and got him self covered in mud as was proper.  He really tried, dragging that kite though muck and mire as it crashed along behind him.  Every now and then, the wind would catch it for a moment and toss it up in the air, only to drive it headlong back down to the mud a second later.

Flying a kite
It just would not fly for anything.  The poor kid, Isaac was terribly frustrated and I was no gem by this point either.  He did help us to scientifically confirm our hypothesis – flying kites is still every bit as miserable as it was when I was a kid.  I don’t know if anyone (me as a kid, or my kids) learned a thing about aerodynamics or materials, but I think there is a chance that both kids added to their vocabulary this weekend…

Stuff I used to think was true

As an adult, I often find myself considering stuff that I have been taught or have learned one way or another. Of course, most of what I know really is accurate (sounds arrogant, eh?), but there are things that, I have discovered, are not true. For instance, I distinctly remember telling myself as a kid that if I didn’t lift the seat and “keep focused on the target” when in the bathroom, that the governor of PA would come and personally arrest me. Now, my parents are certifiably crazy as all parents (except me of course) are, but I don’t think there was ever any mention of the governor visiting or my being arrested if I messed up in the bathroom.

With the current debate going on regarding the stimulus/bailout plan, and with the decisions main street and Wall street made to get us all into this mess in the first place, I often wonder if people in general are using the old magic 8 ball to make most of their decisions.

Anyhow, here are three more issues about which I have recently had to change my mind. Number 3 is especially interesting to me…

The Issues:

1.  Driving with a hands-free cell phone is safer than handheld –
Apparently false though I can’t see how this could be…or how it’s any worse than talking to a real passenger.

2.  Paper bags are more green than plastic
Apparently false depending on what you do with the bags.

3.  My muffins are high in fiber and healthy
Still to be determined (pdf document) – in addition to the pdf, I saved an excel spreadsheet if you’d like to check the numbers (yellow bars are calculated and the green column is the total per muffin).  The muffins may still be a help cholesterol/fiber wise, but they are certainly not as powerful as I once thought.  I never did an analysis of what I normally eat before the muffins, fiber-wise, but with these muffins, I am getting 28.34% of my recommended daily analysis in them alone.  I suppose that it is bound to be an improvement over the pop-tarts and pork rinds I was eating for breakfast.  We’ll see how my numbers turn out in a few months.

Magic 8 ball from pumkpin

Magic 8 ball from pumkpin

For your viewing pleasure…when I lived in Nashville, the place I worked took Halloween pretty seriously.  Many folks dressed up and we had a pumpkin carving contest each year.  One year, a friend and I decided we’d make a Magic 8 Pumpkin.  It usually felt like someone used a magic 8 ball to determine when our software projects were due so it was a bit of a dig on the establishment.  It was heavy on the cool though and we had a lot of fun!

I Flipped

As I have mentioned before, I check about every day to see what sorts of things they have that I can’t live without .  The other day, they had a Flip video cam on sale for $79.99.  That’s somewhere around half what one would usually pay.  Awhile back, D.A. wrote a post over at Farm Natters where she recommended the camera.  So, woot + recommendation =  “it’s cheap and you can’t live without it”.

There are a couple of really nice features about the Flip cam:

-It is very small and easily fits in my pocket.
-It uses AA batteries which I like since my previous camera is out
of commission with a bad (and expensive to replace) battery.
-It has a slick little usb connector so I can connect it straight to
my computer to download the videos.
-It takes really nice video and audio, especially for $79.99.

There are a couple of things that aren’t so nice, but are absolutely acceptable to me for the price:

-It has a slick little usb connector so I can connect it straight to
my computer.  That’s a plus but the connector is hard-line
connected to the camera (read: it is not flexible so hangs by
the connector.  It seems like it could break if I let go of it as I
download videos).
-It records only one hour of video at a time.  I am not too torn up about that as there is little worth recording that is that long I think.
-It only has 2x zoom

I just received it yesterday and it is, as D.A. puts it “hella fun” to use.  I took a bunch of silly videos including the ones below.  I’d say it is even worth paying full price for one of these cameras if you need something quick and easy to grab quick videos of the kids doing fun stuff or the goat climbing on the roof of your new car, etc.

Note:  If you have trouble viewing these videos, please let me know.  Emily said she couldn’t view them without an upgrade to her software.

Refried Ambrosia (and other dips)

Layered bean dip

There is a family football tradition each year hosted by Emily’s brother and sister-in-law, L1D1 where we all come to their house, eat their food, and enjoy the Super Bowl on their multiple big screen tvs.  This year, however, L1D1 are expecting L2D2 (you really have to follow the link for an explanation),

Layered bean dip

so we all brought something different to share the burden.  Our task was to bring 7 layer dip, though I don’t think we put in 7 layers.  Anyhow, here are the layers we used:

7 layer dip

1 can refried beans with some taco seasoning to taste
1 pint sour cream
1 pint salsa
1/4 head of lettuce, shredded (just enough to satisfy your inner-rabbit)
1 or 2 tomatoes (to taste) cut into chunks
1 bag Mexican cheese (you know, the cheese blend)

Layer all that stuff in a pie pan in the order listed and refrigerate a bit to let it set up. Serve with chips and enjoy the awesomeness!

Steelers fans Superbowl cake

So, I really dig that and ate way too much (just ask the family).  Anyhow, Emily’s Mom brought the cake shaped like a football stadium which Abigail and L1D1 decorated with icing.  There was lots of other food as well including L1D1’s renowned football-shaped-calzones.

Football calzones

We had a good feed and I enjoyed the dips…all of them…especially the ones walking around!  One of my favorite dips got pretty bored 7 minutes into the game and turned to reading his book.  That’s typical Isaac.  Emily’s grandparents were pretty funny to watch…they were a house divided…one cheered for Steelers and the other for the Cardinals.  I kept bringing the Steelers fan cookies and cake.  I think we need to honor the right decision!  I really wanted to segregate the Cardinals fans in the broom closet but I didn’t think PETA would appreciate that too much.

House divided

Reading at the Superbowl

Anyhow, I genuinely like hanging with out with these dips and had a great time overeating and watching the Steelers eek out a Superbowl win!

Gravity is a nasty bugger

X-ray of my foot

We got a fierce hankering for some steaks cooked on the grill over the weekend.  As usual, when I am most in need of a beef infusion, I found that we were out of propane.  I hopped in my man-van and headed to the store.  Despite the strange look from the lady at the propane exchange (you know, the look – “it’s February, are you seriously grilling…in the snow?” ), I ordered up a propane tank to go.  “If you’ve got the money, I’ve got the time” she said and happily took my $20.66.  I hefted the propane tank into the man-van and headed for home.  To properly prepare myself for the task ahead of me, I buckled up and tuned the xm radio to the Willie Nelson station to stir my inner cowboy.  Willie and I were  “On the Road Again”, and I could already taste the smoke and the hair burned off of my arms, mixing to create that oh-so familiar outdoor grill aroma.

Somewhere along the way home, the propane tank must have fallen on its side and rolled against the sliding side door.  Willie and I were having such “Good times” that I didn’t hear the move.  I jumped out, slung the door open and the tank fell, handle down, directly onto my left foot.  I instantly saw stars and began to cuss a blue streak.  I really needed a swim in a “Whiskey River” to cut the pain.  I was certain the tank had split my shoe and exposed the inside parts of my foot.  Oh my word did it hurt.  Anyhow, I finally was able to stand up and hobble to the door so Emily could see my “Blue Eyes Cryin’ in the rain”.

Now, a mere foot amputation is not enough to keep me from my steak, so I sucked it up and cooked a couple of perfect steaks (which the kids doused in ketchup) and went on with my evening.  The next morning, however, was a different story.  It was severe pain, even compared “To all the girls I loved before”.  Yesterday, I decided I needed to get it x-rayed (yup, the pic at the top is my foot) to make sure it wasn’t broken.  If I didn’t, I knew the pain and doubt would be “Always on my mind”.

It turns out that a machine such as me cannot be damaged by a mere propane tank falling on my foot.  I guess some of the tendons of muscles or something are bruised but I am apparently all in one piece.  I will just have to hobble through a few more days until it all heals.

Oh yeah, all of the things  in quotes are titles to Willie Nelson songs…despite his love of “herbal remedies” for pain, he is still a pretty cool singer…but Gravity…she’s a nasty bugger!

I’m counting on you Phil

Most people have pretty much the same list of favorite holidays – Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, 4th of July, etc.  I know of very few people who put Groundhog Day anywhere on their list.  Well, Groundhog Day is my second favorite holiday after Christmas.  I am absolutely serious about this.  I grew up a mere 60 miles from Punxsutawney, PA, home of Punxsutawney Phil, the one true Seer of Seers, Prognosticator of Prognosticators and Weather Predictor Extroidinaire.  Many towns and burroughs claim to have weather telling critters but they are all frauds.  It’s blasphemy…BLASPHEMY!  Anyhow, some might say that my affinity for Phil is related to my hometown favoritism or my pride as a former Pennsylvanian.  I tell you the truth when I say that it means so much more to me than something as trivial as geography.

To get to the heart of it, let me give you a little background on groundhog day.  First, the modern Groundhog Day tradition is centered around a groundhog named Punxsutawney Phil.  For the past 123 years (his longevity made possible by his yearly consumption of the elixir of life), on February 2, Phil  emerges from his temporary home on Gobbler’s Knob, located in Punxsutawney, PA, to predict the coming of spring.  According to the tradition, if Phil sees his shadow and returns to his hole, the United States will have six more weeks of winter.  If Phil does not see his shadow, spring will arrive early. 

The tradition really precedes Phil, however.  The holiday, which began as a Pennsylvania German custom in southeastern and central Pennsylvania in the 18th and 19th centuries, has its origins in ancient European weather lore, wherein a badger or sacred bear is the prognosticator as opposed to a groundhog.   The holiday also bears some similarities to the medieval Catholic holiday of Candlemas, which takes place on or around the same date.  This is ancient stuff and not to be taken lightly!

So, why is Groundhog Day so important to me?  Around this time of year, I absolutely begin to crave summer.  I get a mild case of the blues each winter as the days get shorter and the nights get colder (along with my wife’s feet!)  I always view Groudhog Day as the turning point.  Regardless of what Phil predicts, my hope for spring renews on Groundhog Day.  Spring is near and I have survived another winter.  I begin to come out of my hibernation and try to figure out how to shed this hibernation weight.  I start to wonder how my bees are faring through the winter and I anticipate their buildup and the budding of the maples.  I run through garden configurations and summer projects and I can almost smell the daffodils as they peek through the fading snow.  Spring hope starts for me on Groundhog Day.  I am counting on you Phil!

Late breaking news:  Phil has predicted 6 more weeks of winter.  Rats!