Thursday, July 29, 2010

La Culture du Vélo

I went on a last minute trip to Lyon, France for business.  Since my meetings were on Monday morning, and as I had the previous Friday off from work, I decided to leave Thursday night and spend a few days in Lyon.  Luckily, my wife was able to go with me.  We had a great time.

I want to share our experience with those readers who frequent my site on the blogosphere.  However, most of the experiences we had don't really match the nature and outdoor topics I usually discuss.  However, as I am an avid bicyclist, and as France has a culture of cycling, I decided to write about some cycling-related items (if you do have questions about Lyon, I would enjoy trying to answer them...)

It was great being in France while the Tour de France (TdF) was going on.  I watch 'Le Tour' on American TV everynight, but to be in France and see the racing in realtime on French TV was fun (I thought about taking the TGV train to Paris for the final stage, but that was just too much traveling for a long weekend)!  I am not fluent in French, but I know enough to understand the action.  I can honestly say I was in France and watched Le Tour!

I bought copies of the French sports daily 'L'Equipe' every day from a the local magazine shop.  I plan on framing them and putting them in my gym or at work.

I also bought a set of TdF miniatures from a little model shop down the street from the hotel.  They are a ~1930s rider and motorcycle / photographer. I have them at work.  They are so neat.

Another interesting cycling-related aspect of Lyon (and many of the big cities in France) were the VeloV bicycle rental stands.  You put a credit card into a machine, and then pull out a bicycle.  The first 1/2 hour is free to rent, then you pay a nominal charge.  When you are done, you insert the bike back into the rack, and your card is then debited.

The cyclists ride all through the cities.  Local people rode around with their groceries,  Tourists rode around looking at the sites.  The stands are locate every few blocks, so you could always drop the bike off near your desitination.  What a great idea.  Too bad we can't do more of this in American cities.  It is a great way to get around, reduce CO2 emissions, get some exercise, and avoid parking fees.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

History Lessons

Yesterday I went into town for a haircut.  The barbershop is pretty old-fashioned.  It is sort of a 'male only' bastion.  The guys show up, watch some TV, talk sports and local politics, joke with the young kids who come in, and read outdated magazines (the shop even as a stray Plaboy or Maxim magazine kicking around)!

The barbershop sits on a one-way street which houses a  bunch of store-fronts.  One of them is an office supply store which was getting renovated.  Underneath the old sign was a Rockefeller campaign sign, circa 1960.  Nelson Rockefeller was a NY governor who ran for the republican ticket in the 60s.  The Rockefeller campaign predated me a little, but I remember when he was the vice president under president Ford in the 1970s.

Down the street is an old J. J. Newberry store.  I surmise this one was closed in the late 1980s.  J. J. Newberry was a 5 and dime store which was ultimately acquired by McCrory's.  McCrory's went out of business in 1997, along with the remaining J. J. Newberry stores.  I grew up going to McCrory's.  It had a little of everything (clothing, fabric, dry goods, toys, magazines, and even a lunch counter).  It was considered basic quality stuff. Not a designer store, but perfectly acceptable.  It is kind of ironic that the J. J. Newberry store I saw was now a dollar store.  Now it is even lower quality. I'd prefer to have a 5 and dime back!

Saturday, July 17, 2010


It's been hot and dry the past several weeks.  Just a month ago we were in Alaska gazing upon snow-capped mountains.  Now, its is nearly 90 degF.  We have not had much rain.  Though the weather is good for tomatoes, the grass is slowly drying out and turning brown.  Once we get a good soaking rain it will recover.  It always does.

The dry-spell means the creek is down.  There is but a slow, trickle of warm water over algae-covered rocks.  But it is water, and where there is water, there is life.

Last night, we walked to the creek and watched the little fish schooling around.  How they make it through the dry spells, the winter freezes, and the high, cold spring torrents I'll never know.

Today, I was looking out from our library and saw two deer by the creek.  We don't see many deer on our property in the summer.  When we do, it has been when it is hot.  They were young fawns, still in there spotted coats, exploring the knotweed by the creek.

I called the wife and we ventured out to see them.  I bid her to keep watching them while  grabbed the camera.  We got a few photos, then they darted behind the barn.  I went to one side of the barn, creeping around to take a few photos.  I saw them in the creek.  I was ready to take another photo.  My wife went had went to the other side of the barn. She got closer to the deer, but then startled them.  I missed my chance for more photos.

I ventured down to the creek tonight as the sun was setting.  It was cool, lush and peaceful near the trickle of water.  Where there is water, there is life. . .

Sunday, July 11, 2010


"Vision is the art of seeing the invisible."  
-  Jonathan Swift

It was a typical weekend day in the yard.  I had to water and fertilize the garden, do some weeding, cut back the knotweed, and mow the yard.  This takes about 4 hours.  For some, it might seem like a lot of work, but I like it.  It is when you are deep in yard work that you truly see your yard.

I started with the tomatoes.  I had to stake them up some more.  As I was working in the tomato bed, I startled a garter snake sunning itself on the black weed cloth.  It then slithered away.  We have seen a lot of snakes this year.  It brought me a little joy to see the snake.

I brought out my trusty scythe, and went to knock back the knotweed by the creek.  I had completed a few strokes, when I notices a snail on one of the knotweed leaves.  This was the second time this year I had seen a snail in the yard.  I showed the wife the snail, took its picture,and put it back into the knotweed.

As I was cutting the knotweed, I noticed the sumac had set fruit.  Soon, I would be able to take the fruit clusters and brew some sumac tea (it tastes like a cross between iced tea and pink lemonade).

While trimming around the house, I came across a stray tomato plant growing by the trash cans.  I am not sure where it came from.  I has spread some compost around this part of the yard last year when I had put the stone in for the trash cans.  As  compost my tomatoes, I can only surmise it was a holdover from a previous year,

I had pulled weeds by hand around the barn.  I just threw the long grass and ivy into the yard where it would be chopped up when I came out with the lawn tractor.  While mowing the yard, I saw a robin grab one of the long pieces of grass.  I watched it fly around, and then fly up to a corner of the barn roof where it was making a nest in an overhang.

As  said, it is when you are deep in yard work that you truly see your yard.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Puffin Decoy

After our recent trip to Alaska, I was motivated to do some more decoy carving.  I've been traveling a lot, and the yard has also kept me busy.  However, it did cool off overnight (a little).  I was going to work in the yard tomorrow, so I decided to head back into the workshop and start on a puffin decoy.

Puffins are a type of seabird found in the Northern Atlantic and Pacific oceans.  I got a few decoys last Christmas from an online dealer known as Duck Trap Decoys.  One of them is an antique Atlantic puffin kt.  Duck Trap Decoys has decent started kits at good prices.  They offer both decorative decoys and working decoys.

The puffin kits is pretty simple.  It has a base, a dowel for support, the roughed-out body, and a bill.  The kit came with a scaled drawing to show sectional profiles and basic paint scheme.

I smoothed out the basic body with a drawknife on the shaving bench,and then started to smooth the edges using a sanding  cylinder on the bench press.  I did some sanding of the bill to fit it to the head.

The basic shape is now done.  This took about 45 minutes.

The workshop started to get pretty warm.  The sawdust was sticking to me as I was sweating, so I called it quits for now.  I'll probably work on more fine sanding / carving tomorrow morning before it gets too hot.

Stay tuned for further updates . . .

Friday, July 9, 2010

Adventures at Packrat Pat's

I have been traveling to the Detroit area a lot for work the last several weeks.  I decided to take a day off from work, and extend my trip and visit my daughter in Indiana.  Uncle Tractor got to visit his daughter, son-in-law, and their precious daughter.  I am very pleased with them.  They love their daughter so much, and she is such a good two year old.  They are truly blessed.  I am very proud of them all.

My daughter has been talking about one antique store that she had to take me to see.  After a morning of antiquing wit everyone, we got some special father-daughter time and went there for a visit.

The store is a place called Packrat Pat's.  It is not for the faint of heart.  It is jam-packed with all sorts of treasures - all at decent prices.  The aisles are narrow, and the shelves are very full, but it is a great treasure hunt.

I came across a unique crock.  It was churn-shaped, but is not butter crock.  It had a fitted lid, handles, and interesting fish designs on it. I sent a photo via my cell phone to the wife.  She too liked it, so we sprung for it (only $60).

While perusing the bins, we came across of bin of porcelain odd-and-ends.  Most of the bins held electrical isolators, but there was a multi-piece assembly that had us stumped.  It had a patent number on it, U.S. Patent Number 2,376,410.  It was marked with a '???' description on the tag.

I like a good challenge.  I had to figure it out.  Though we did not buy it, I had the patent number (not much of a challenge really...).

The item could be disassembled.  Each of the rings could be removed.  Did you figure it out yet?

Okay, here's the spoiler:

It is a coffee filter!  This item was patented in 1945.  It would be placed in a drip coffee machine.  The grounds and water would be above.  This assembly would be placed in a cylindrical slot below the brew.  The water / ground mixture would drip down through the rings, but they would hold the grounds back.  The filtered coffee would then collect in the bottom pitcher.  It was an interesting design (as it would be a reusable filter).  It never caught on.

You never know what you will find - particularly when you go into a good antique shop.

Saturday, July 3, 2010


Three years ago I bought a few trillium bulbs and planted them in the shade garden.  Nothing seemed to happen with them, and over the years I forgot about them.  Last night, we were walking around our property, showing my sister the gardens.  While looking at the shade garden, I noticed I had a trillium!  I hope it comes back over the years and spreads.  What a find.

I have seen a shed snake skin and glimpses of garter snakes by the tomato garden and in front of the barn near a rock border.  Today, I was able to get a few photos.  We then discovered a second snake just a few feet from the first one.  There is a small hole in the ground near the foundation of the barn.  I've seen a snake slithering into this hole.

I also discovered a large moth by the garage.  It is about 3 inched long.   Does anyone know what kind it is?

Friday, July 2, 2010

A New Day Unfolds

I have taken the day off from work.  My sister is coming to visit us over the weekend.  We really look forward to her company.  I'm going to get the yard work done so we can psend more time together.  It is expected to be a hot weekend, so getting it done today is also a good idea.  We'll sit back, drink some wine, make a few pizzas, and enjoy the evening.  I might make a fire in the chimenea, and we can watch the day come to a close.  Tomorrow we'll take it easy, and go out to one of our favorite Tapas restaurants.  (Okay, one other reason is that the Tour de France starts tomorrow.  I don't watch many sports on television, but bicycle racing is my favorite sport.  I amazes me to see these superb athletes ride one average 100 miles per days for 3 weeks.  Gotta get the yard work out of the way!)

The list of chores is not too long.  I opened up the barn to let it air out. I have already been out staking the tomatoes.  I need to keep tieing them to their stakes at they get taller.  Our plants have set fruit this week.  In our cooler climate, we won't be picking tomatoes until mid-August (how I sometimes envy our more southern friends for their early tomato crops). I'll mow the grass.  Luckily, we got a replacement battery for our Neuton electric mower.  We use it for trimming around the tight corners and small spaces we can't get the tractor into.  We bought the mower about 7 years ago.  Not practical for a big yard, but they work well for small yards.  No oil or gas to deal with.  They are quiet and lightweight.  I'll do some weeding of the white garden (it always needs it), and fertilize the tomatoes.  I should turn over the compost piles (one of the things I rarely do, but should).  I might knock down some knotweed (they never ending battle).

The grass was covered with dew as I was walking around the yard.  We live in a valley, and most mornings are foggy and cool.  As I was walking out to the creek, I could see the spider webs in the grass.  As the day warms up and the dew evaporates, the webs will become invisible.  I find it fascinating such creations are around us, but we can't see them.  As I mow the grass, the webs will be swept away.  Tomorrow morning, they will be back.  Amazing.