SnowZilla – Flag karma’s a bi*ch!

A propitious time for thumb surgery!

Kensington, MD, January 22 – 23 – 24, 2016 — Snowpocolypse, snowmagedden, snowzilla. In the Washington, D.C. area we name our epic snow storms.

Maybe it’s because political exaggeration carries over to normal life, though you would seldom notice that by living in our very anodyne suburban communities.

In the Washington burbs, you might as well be in a normal place, say Minneapolis for example.  The miniapple – the metaphor is very apropos during a big snow.  We spent four winters there.  We know first hand.

I made a propitious marriage to a girl from New Hampshire.  Her snow throwing skills are legend having developed her technique from childhood. She’s had plenty of practice as I have usually managed to be thousands of miles away on business when the big ones have hit.

Her prowess was handy once again this time around.  The storm struck less than a day after a long scheduled Dupeytren’s release surgery on my left thumb.

There I was, forced into the unmanly role of spectator to an awesome display of sisu.  She shoveled almost around the clock for three days and pinned ole SnowZilla to the mat.  (The moral of this story:  Never mess with a full-blooded Finn, even if you are Mother Nature!)

If you recall from my previous post, my wife told me not to put up that flag.  Seeing the resulting karma in action is believing, so rather than write about it, here’s a down and dirty video I threw together to prove it.  Enjoy!

View Here

**I use cloud sharing services because copyrighted music is involved and cannot be used for public performance.  Thanks to Mannheim Steamroller for some great music.**

Last act.  Refill the bird feeders.

Jonas.  We kicked your butt!

Flag Karma

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Kensington, Maryland, January 4, 2016 — I got myself in big trouble the other day.  The Christmas season was over and it was time to change the banner we habitually fly from our front porch.  More on how much trouble I’m in a minute.

I didn’t give the next flag much thought.  We have so many that I usually just grab one that is seasonal and we haven’t flown in awhile.

We have a storage container full of awesome banners. In total there are more than two dozen. We get them from master flag makers Carole and Mark Bisgrove in Massachusetts.  Some we’ve had for 20 years.  They are indestructible.

By way of full disclosure, Mark and I fished together as kids in the Ashland, Mass. reservoir when I’d pay an occasional summer visit to my cousins who lived across the street.  More on Carole and Mark’s flags here. Continue reading

Nisu 


Kensington, MD, Christmas Eve, 2015 — My favorite family Christmas tradition is baking Bertha Kymalainen’s Finnish bread called nisu.

Bertha was my wife’s mother and our daughter Liisa’s grandmother. We miss her, especially at this time of year.

When we were first married, a nisu would arrive via mail right in time for Christmas.

Bertha would wrap it as air tight as she could because this delightful wonder dries out in a flash. No matter, we loved it. If it was a bit arid, we’d slather it with butter or dunk it in coffee to moisten it up.

Eventually I asked her for the recipe. I have it to this day, penned in her own hand on yellowing pocket notebook paper.


This year I can’t bake nisu because I’m recovering from hand surgery. Time for daughter Liisa to step in to save our tradition.

You see, by her own description, Liisa doesn’t like to cook, but step up she did.

Nisu is a braided egg bread. It must rise three times, the final time in the baking pan. In all, it takes six full hours to prepare, e.g., start at noon. Eat at six.

I used to wake at 0300 in order to have the nisu ready in time to open presents Christmas morning.

A couple of years ago I wised up and switched this family treat to Christmas Eve when we started opening presents after Santa move on to houses with younger kids.

Today Liisa took over with old pop hanging around as bench coach.


  

Isn’t technology wonderful!



 Now to rise one last time.


  
 Brush with coffee. Sprinkle cinnamon and sugar. Bake.

Drench with powdered sugar frosting. Sprinkle with nuts. Decorate with cherries. Eat warm!

Hauskaa Joulua everyone.

Is Facebook Killing Christmas Letters?

What a difference a year makes.  On the left 2015.  On the right 2014.

Kensington, MD, December 1, 2015 — It can’t be December already.  Part of me wants to ‘say it ain’t so’ while another part can’t wait for what promises to be a joyous holiday season.

It’s a time of year when everyone tends to contemplate meaning.  No matter what your faith tradition, or even if you are only driven by the astronomical calendar, this is a time of reflection and renewal as we close one chapter in life, anticipate for longer days and turn to next year.

As I contemplate what to write in our holiday newsletter, my mind is flooded with jumbled thoughts ricocheting inside my skull.  Generally I prepare a newsy and positive recap of the past year’s highlights without looking forward too much. I just have to get it organized.

It occurred to me though, as I noodled on how to craft the story, that Facebook is killing family Christmas letters.

I mean, what could anyone write that their Facebook “friends” don’t already know in much greater detail than they could pen in a 250 word essay?  Worse, readers can now fact check my (usually) glossy facsimile of the year gone by.

Seriously, I could get busted for sugar-coating.  As a former spin doctor, I would be automatically suspect.

Oh oh! Could it be that software has disrupted our lives yet again?

The fact is that not everyone on my holiday card list is a Facebook “friend.” That alone, will ensure the existence of my traditional holiday letters.  After all, even buggy whip manufacturing, black smiting survived profound technological disruption.

As for what to write, my head aches with thoughts of our nation’s political discord, world problems, climate change, poverty, ignorance, violence and just plain stupidity.

On the other hand, There is hope.  The sun rises every day, our family is together and healthy, our lives have purpose and meaning, and we have a lot for which to look forward.  Isn’t that what this season is all about?

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We shared a special multi-cultural Thanksgiving with three of our daughter’s co-workers from India who are working here for six months. It was a wonderful way to jump start the spirit of Christmas.

Now to write that letter.

It’s For the Birds

The days are shorter now.

The days are shorter now.  Storm clouds are on station.  The times, they are a changin’.

November 6, 2015 — Daylight savings time has come and gone, a signal for mother nature to turn down the thermostat and show us who’s boss.  Look around your neighborhood and let the warm cheery window light launch your imagination in the direction of turkey, punkin pie, sugar plumbs and presents under a tree.  After that, winter becomes a black hole the lucky enjoy from a Caribbean vacation or the clamp of ski bindings. The rest pray for spring.

These changes also signal us to help our feathered friends.  Last week the first dark eyed juncos arrived.  These brave members of the sparrow family are among my favorite flying friends.  They breed in the arctic and winter in more temperate climates.  These little guys kept me company on the Appalachian Trail as I marched northward from Georgia all the way to New York.

Dark eyed junko. Courtesy flickr.

Dark eyed junco. Courtesy flickr.

Juncos are ground feeders.  In fact, I’ve never seen one perched on one of our feeders.  As such, they must compete on the ground with squirrels, chipmunks, doves, cardinals and other birds much larger then themselves.  Fortunately for them, birds are messy feeders and there’s plenty of dropped seed to be found under our feeders.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dark-eyed_junco

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This year we decided to add a second feeding station across the yard near the aucuba and holly that screens our yard.  Our feathery customers snatch a seed and dive under cover of the evergreens to munch in safety where the neighborhood hawks can’t get at them.

Having water near the feeders is important to attracting a wide range of species. We've identified 35 different ones over four years.

Having water near the feeders is important to attracting a wide range of species. We’ve identified 35 different species over four years. The most common are sparrows and house finches followed by mourning doves, cardinals, chickadees, and tufted titmice.

I learned a new three-prong feeder pole would be expensive. To my delight I found a DIY project on line that cost about $15 plus some cement for the base.

I learned a new three-prong feeder pole would be expensive. To my delight I found a DIY project on line that cost about $15 plus some cement for the base.

Customers in the house.

Customers in the house.

A little art found on the front walk.

A little art found on the front walk.

Among the Joy$ of Retirement

Time to paint.

Time for momma to paint. (Photo altered with the Pencil Sketch app.)

When we downsized, we bought a “functional” house and remodeled it in a way that our real estate agent says is attractive empty-nesters like us.  It is a custom built three bedroom bungalow in a neighborhood with which we’ve been associated for more than 30 years.  We adore the convenience, setting and the nature associated with the Rock Creek national recreational trail that helps define our leafy ‘burb.

This is our “forever” house.  After a lifetime of moving, we’re dropping anchor.  Like any of the 13 houses we’ve owned, this one has its challenges.  You adapt them to you where you can and you adjust to them as needed.

On the plus side, we love the backyard and low-rise deck.  We moved the laundry from the basement to the smallest bedroom in a way that a conversion back to a bedroom would be little more than a few bucks and a couple of hours work.  We also vaulted the living room ceiling, installed a bow window and skylights and opened up the entry to a glass-enclosed sun room. This house was built in 1953, so kitchen and bath updates, new windows and doors were necessary.  Soy foam wall insulation added R-21 to our walls and drastically chopped heating and air conditioning bills which helped pay for the remodeling.

On the downside, the over/under stairs to the attic and basement made it impossible to open up the kitchen, a feature we miss.  An expensive elevator we couldn’t afford would have solved that problem, so you adapt.  There are other nits, but that’s the biggest one.

We got rid of enough furniture, but not enough junk before moving in.  Our daughter occupied the basement au pair suite for awhile and we still are harboring a ton of her “stuff” that doesn’t fit into her nearby apartment.  Storage space is at a premium.

Everyone’s excess is choking the utility portion of the basement.  We also need new furniture.  Ours has been moved nine times including once overseas.  We decided to wait to buy furniture and paint permanent colors until we had the house figured out.  After four years, we’re ready.

Here’s where the joy$ come in.  Retirement is expensive. Some things you can anticipate, like the need for long-term care insurance if you can afford it. Then there are the unwanted gratuities that arrive as bolts out of a blue sky.

2015-09-29 11.46.11My wife totaled her car two weeks ago.  Fortunately she was uninjured.  Ker-ching!  Okay.  Maybe we don’t want to and it’s going to pinch, but we can absorb the added cost of replacing a late model car after the insurance payout.  No sooner than we had the replacement home, the check engine light winked on in my car.  Oh, oh.

I drive cars until the wheels fall off, so to speak.  My Acura was 12-years-old with just under 100,000 miles.  It should have been good for 75 – 100,000 more. To that end, I plowed a ton of (unanticipated) money in it earlier this summer.

The little red check engine light proved to be lipstick on a painted lady.  Her price for going all the way was eye-popping. In a matter of months I would have “invested” a lot more than the car was worth, so I donated it to public radio.  I’d been coveting a sexy a Subaru Forester for my trail work anyway, so I didn’t need much of a nudge to breakup with an old floozy who overplayed her hand.

Naturally none of this was in the budget, especially buying two cars in two weeks.  Of course, there’s more work to be done on the house and yard.  We’ve begun repainting the interior and will be hunting for new furniture soon.  Hard to undo that.  Then, we always seem to need something like new glasses.  My hiking adventures aren’t cheap either…

Among other things, here’s hoping a pipe doesn’t freeze this winter.

UPDATE:  It was a buggy summer.  Progress on the landscaping has been slow, but there has been some.  The next big push on that front will be a pruning and transplanting just before spring arrives. Over the winter I’ll build a retaining wall at the bottom of the slope pictured below.

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Backyard Chainsaw Massacre

IMG_2920Kensington, MD, July 16, 2015 — It has been the second wettest summer on record in our area.  According to the Washington Post weather section, we are 10 inches above normal.  That’s a lot of sop in a region that gets a respectable amount of rainfall in a normal year.  It’s also the reason not a lot of work has been done in our back yard this summer so far.

My excuses include wet ground, squadrons of mosquitoes, ticks (remember that the herds of deer that frequent out backyard salad bowl are a reservoir species for Lyme disease), and the simple need to come up with a valid plan of attack.

Pictures are worth a thousand words and you can see that we brought in some heavy artillery.

The first job was to clear out a lot of brush that included some deer-shredded azalea and aucuba japonica and a couple of ragged holly shrubs.  We did the second phase over the past couple of days.

IMG_2882Wednesday I felled eight volunteer saplings of various species.  Some may have derived from bird droppings while others are the offspring of more mature trees in our yard.  I bucked them up with my new Stihl MC 261 chainsaw and stashed them between our driveway and our neighbor’s to await the arrival of David Gregg’s Tree Service – folks we’ve been using for more than 20 years.

IMG_2887David Gregg and company are the heavy artillery.  They don’t mess around with saplings.  The take on the big boys that will crush your house if they fall on it.  They do it without harming anything nearby and you hardly can tell they were there.

We had two mature trees that had to go. One was a rotten silver maple and the other a locust that is growing too close to an ancient tulip poplar that our county would never allow us to remove without a good reason.

The pros have unique equipment to get heavy tree chunks out of back yards.  If the tree is large enough, they'll use a crane to lift logs over houses.

The pros have unique equipment to get heavy tree chunks out of back yards. If the tree is large enough, they’ll use a crane to lift logs over houses.

IMG_2904It’s amazing to watch these guys work as they take big trees down from the top.

Timber!  Note the tree is tied to a tree limb above the cut.  After being severed, it swings away and is lowered to the ground.

Timber! Note the tree is tied to a tree limb above the cut. After being severed, it swings away and is lowered to the ground.

Yup it was rotten alright.  Only a matter of time before it came down at an inopportune time, possibly causing damage.

Yup it was rotten alright. Only a matter of time before it came down at an inopportune time, possibly causing damage.

The dead are carted away.

The dead are carted away.

I thought they used muscles to lift the remnants into the truck.  Nope.  They're smarter than that.

I thought they used muscles to lift the remnants into the truck. Nope. They’re smarter than that.

Done.

Done.  Now I can start more pruning and trimming to prepare for planting and transplanting season.