greatbear: (aerial me)
Today at the Laurel Amish market, I notice I out-bearded all the Amish men in the place. I also laughed as I was entering the place and saw one of those guys, perhaps my age or so, sitting outside on a bench, smoking, and starting intently at his smartphone, swiping and tapping like an old pro. One thing I have noticed with a lot of the Amish in the area where Jeff grew up, while the horses and buggies are de rigueur, the buggies have LED lighting in a lot of cases, and a good many have cell phones, some are even smartphones. The whole idea of cell phones works with their belief systems in a way that regular landlines couldn't, since they have control of them and can turn them on and off. They help them in their work, and let them keep in touch in emergencies. But seeing this one fella today zipping through screens made me almost lose it. Is there a Scruff or Growlr for Amish?

The place also employs a fair amount of non-Amish, usually high school and college types who are off for the summer. So it was just as strange when a young lady working at the produce counter asked us if we saw Rush at Jiffy Lube Live (we had out merch on from the show). A bit surprised, we said yes, and she informed us she had also been there. We had a nice little discussion as we gathered our produce and paid for it.

That is one high-tech, rockin' Amish market.
greatbear: (old graybeard)
A couple weekends ago, during our monthly (give or take) visit north to visit to visit Jeff's parents, I took my quadrotor "drone" with me to try again to get some aerial photos of their house. I wanted to create a framed aerial photo similar to one I wrote about a while back. My first attempt was thwarted by unexpected problems with the GoPro camera that's attached to the drone. It locked up when I started the 2-second-per-photo shutter sequence (and I didn't know this until I had flown the rig for about fifteen minutes), and I had to remove the the camera from the mount in order to remove the battery and reset the camera. The glitch wiped out my settings and I had problems getting the camera to work right during the second flight, so I flew the thing around for the benefit of Jeff's youngest nephew instead due to time constraints, and figured I would try again in about a month. So after some tinkering with the camera I buzzed the yard, the neighboring farm and buffalo, and did some high-altitude shots of the general area. This time was successful. I have plenty of usable shots for the aerial photo, plus some other cool pics from up high.

While bringing the rig down, I noticed an Amish family trotting by. The kids in back noticed the drone at first and the family stopped in the street in front of the house to watch. I lowered the rig for them to see it better, but doing so, I momentarily lost it in the sun. When I moved to see it again, I was temporarily blinded and could not tell which end was which, so my attempt at getting a closer-in shot of the buggy and company ended up being several photos of the side yard and an old barn instead. All the better, anyway, since most Amish are not fond of having their pictures taken. After a few moments of looking (they seemed more to know what the floating thing was more than being totally puzzled), they trotted off up the road. I admire the Amish, they all are friendly and outgoing in this area, and despite being very traditional, they are not totally averse to some of the latest technology, as long as they can use it in their own way and it makes their work more efficient. Cell phones, cordless power tools, generators and the like help them get more work done, yet can be completely turned off and out of their lives at home. They've also treated Jeff's mom and dad very well over the years, you'll recall when their house burned down they were ready to begin cleaning up that very day and help dad begin rebuilding. I feel a bit of kindred spirit with the Amish, aside from the lack of technology and cools stuff as well as the entire religion thing, We are both very self sufficient, independent, helpful to others, and like the results of hard work and craftsmanship. If I were to get the required hat and lose the mustache from my beard, I could fit right in. But the mustache stays.

Here is my favorite shot of my buggy encounter:

Well, damn

Apr. 2nd, 2013 11:56 pm
greatbear: (static)
This was supposed to be a post detailing how Jeff and I, along with his dad and nephew plus his nephew's friend I had all picked up from Pennsylvania Wednesday afternoon, spent the last several days in a truly kick-ass cleanup and beautification project here in Mayhem Acres. Trees were cut, brush removed, dumptruck loads of mulch spread, debris chipped and shredded, you name it. Not only was a lot of work to be done, but time off to get good food, play video games, watch movies and go shopping and sightseeing in the downtime hours. It was something we had planned months ago to coincide with the arrival of spring as well as spring break from school. We were finally to attend to yard damage and general neglect going way back before the blizzard of 2010 that brought down big trees, spoiled landscaping and an accumulation of tasks that had been put on hold because of health issues and injuries and all manner of problems we'd been beset with. Lemme tell ya, we definitely got to a great start. We tromped outside after a hearty breakfast on Thursday morning and fell into a cooperation of work duties with an almost military-like efficiency. By that afternoon, the northeastern quadrant of Mayhem Acres was entirely different. We began Friday in much the same way, albeit a bit sore from the previous day's exertions. Cleanup began to turn to tune-up, as debris was hauled away and chipped, areas brush-cut and hit with the flamethrower to sterilize the grounds against weeds and a nice thick layer of mulch put down. We ended the day a bit early seeing we were way ahead of our informal schedule, and another load of mulch was ordered and brought in for Saturday morning's festivities. We were all collectively surprised what two well-fed teenagers, two old guys with health issues and one old man with a sense of effort even he was surprised with having could accomplish. We headed into the house that evening thinking we could get the work done early enough on Saturday that the rest of that day would likely be spent going out on the town for fun, frolic, shopping, eating and sightseeing. Everyone slept like logs. Then on Saturday morning, around 8am, the phone rang.

Jeff's parents' house was on fire.

We were out of the house and on the road in only a few minutes, and I drove at (quite) extra-legal speeds in the big truck to get back to PA as fast as we could. A trip that normally takes over two and a half hours on a good day of traffic (and nearly 4 hours Wednesday due to accidents and such) was done in slightly under two. While on the way back, Jeff and his dad were on the phones, and we were coordinating with the fire departments, calling insurance agents, notifying people and all manner of of tasks while traveling 95+mph at times. Speed was limited by traffic and the built-in speed limiter in the truck. Despite all the talking to the people on scene, we still couldn't be prepared for seeing smoke in the air 20 miles or more away and the smoldering shell of the burned out house. We had been spared from seeing the actual blaze, but I obtained the full set of photos from the fire department photographer (always carry a thumb drive!). This is what they saw when they rolled up:

The house is a total loss, and practically all the contents were incinerated. Because Jeff's parents live practically in the middle of nowhere, with the closest fire department being at least 10 miles away, the need for water to fight a fire having to be trucked in by tankers and the general time delays from witness to calling to dispatch to arrival and setup, the majority of the house was consumed before the first water hit the fire. The focus also moved to preventing fire and heat damage to Dad's truck as well as our travel trailer which was being stored in the driveway for the winter. Despite being about fifty feet from the house, both the truck and trailer sustained damage just from the radiated heat, which melted plastic parts on both vehicles as well as buckling the aluminum siding on the trailer. By the time we arrived at the scene the fires were mostly out and the firefighters were removing charred furniture and other objects from the house as they doused hotspots.

Once the danger of fire subsided, we were able to look at the damage up close. The living room and one bedroom had collapsed into the basement, and nothing the firefighters brought out from any area of the house wasn't burnt, charred, melted or coated black by acrid smoke. Surprisingly, the firemen allowed me and others into the more stable parts of the structure to search for belongings ("Watch out for that hole in the floor"). Two of the local newspapers were on site, gathering information to spin into stories fit for their readership. We began to find bits and pieces of jewelry, trinkets, objects of daily life, etc. Firefighters managed to extract the cabinet containing Dad's cabinet containing antique rifles and shotguns while fighting the blaze. The heavy wooden desk, chest and dresser, despite being badly charred, protected some treasures from incineration. A tightly closed jewelry box held a few bits of his mom's necklaces and such but the smoke managed to get inside even there. As the day wore on and the firefighters left, I kept digging for more. I did manage to find a box containing wills, deeds and other important documents that were in practically perfect condition despite the nasty smell. Jeff, Dad, Jeff's brother-in-law and sister also managed to pluck more items from the wreckage, easing the feeling of total loss and giving a bit of hope to Dad, still shocked at all that happened that day.

The firefighters and subsequent investigating personnel were unable to pin down a cause of the fire. Even myself, having had a bit of fire prevention, fighting and investigation training through work in the past couldn't make sense of the wreckage. The house was a double-wide mobile home on a block foundation basement and such structures always burn quickly with intense heat. The roof was two layers of metal which acted as a "lid" keeping the fire from burning through the roof and ventilating the rest of the rooms, instead bottling the flames up and making them spread from end-to end in no time. There wasn't anything left of the entire structure to determine where it had started. "Unknown origin."

I am always amazed at how people manage to operate during times of stress despite not having prior experience in it. We managed to call in all the utilities to have them turned off. Insurance companies were called in, More family and friends were notified. We cooperated in gathering retrieved belongings together and made lists of contents of each room as we remembered. Fire personnel, police, and many other people on scene in a professional capacity were helpful and courteous. But I was not prepared for the outpouring of help, kind words and assistance that was coming throughout the day from friends, neighbors and acquaintances. The Amish of the area, with whom Dad has a tight relationship due to his "job" acting as transportation, and whom always had a lot of respect from myself, were ready to step in and begin the cleanup and rebuilding that very same day. While a process of assessment has to be done by the insurance companies, this should be done in the next day or two and by Saturday, the wreckage should be packed into big roll-off dumpsters. The agents and specialists from Erie Insurance were on site Sunday morning, and in a couple hours time not only assuaged Dad's fears and concerns, but had him pointed in a direction of reestablishing a home and life with a check for immediate accommodation, clothing and food. Enough money should be on hand soon to pay the outstanding loan (this is done automatically and foremost) put up a new building and furnish with all the basic items needed. I'm sure that between all the amazing offers of help and assistance coming from individuals, groups and churches, Dad should be able to resume a somewhat normal life in several months' time.

It should be noted that Jeff's mom is currently in a nursing home. While this is sadly due to the ongoing care for Alzheimer's, and she is no longer in the frame of mind to comprehend what had happened, she was away and safe from the ordeal. The biggest silver lining in this is the fact that we had Dad safe with us at the time. The obviously fast and unpredictable fire could have caused a lot more damage to more than a replaceable house.

More to come as I can manage...
greatbear: (seasons greetings)
Okay, I'm gonna try to play catch-up on some postings I shoulda been doing all along. No thanks to LJ having a case of the butt when I did try. Anyway, enough of that, let us see if there is to be some success.

Jeff and I filled out paperwork today declaring us as domestic partners to be able to share in medical insurance. Our wonderful credit union witnesses and notarizes things like affidavits for free (membership has its privileges!), and the folks there not only don't bat an eye when presented with stuff in that realm, but are genuinely encouraging. The morning's pleasantries done, Jeff had a new task with his new position in his new job that had him doing a cooking demonstration at a D.C. hospital. When I asked him about it, I tried to have him liken it to various Food Network shows. "Well, was it Kitchen Nightmares? Diners, Drive-ins and Dives? Restaurant Impossible (woof @ Robert Irvine)? Iron Chef (Today's secret ingredient is... BEDPANS!)?" Jeff answered with what was to be my next choice, "More like Rachel Ray." Hee, figures. He said he had a good time, people said he put on an amazing show, and he came home smelling of garlic and onions. Someone assisting Jeff got him a chef hat and said, "Here, I got you a 'torque'." This was a demonstration all about cooking and eating healthy. On his way home after 8pm, despite all that cooking, Jeff hadn't eaten anything to speak of. Before getting back to La Casa Mayhem, he stopped to pick us up a little dinner. Of course, after all the healthy cooking and eating schtick, it was McDonald's.

Here at Mayhem Acres, things are a study in contradiction and contrasts. The water heater needed a shot of refrigerant. The no-frost freezer needs to be defrosted. The refrigerator stopped making ice cubes and is instead making puddles. My work is never done.

Verizon just installed a fiber optic connection solely for the landline phone here because the 50+ year-old copper lines in the area are in too bad of shape (I've had ongoing problems with line noise for over 20 years). To this technological triumph I have connected my 1957-vintage, black 500-series Western Electric rotary dial telephone, which is fully functional and has never sounded better. Sadly, there have been a number of growing pains with my newfangled service. Aside from noise, the old copper lines had 99.99% availability.

We had a delightful visitor just before Xmas. [ profile] erstexman was in the midst of his whirlwind, several-state tour and paid us a visit. It's been a while since I've had a known-you-on-Livejournal-for-ages-and-we-finally-meet meetup. Evan is a delight, and though his time where was limited, we are talking about doing something sometime in summer. Here's my best attempt at a social-media ready, arm's-length self-photo of us:

Unfortunately for Evan, he had an unexpected bumper car ride in one of the roundabouts about a mile from the house. Mind you, I love me some roundabouts, when there's no one nearby and I have the Mini Cooper all warmed up. Unfortunately, there are too many people around to make this joyride happen every time, and they are no fun when I haul around 50 feet worth of loaded truck and travel trailer though them. I normally have to pass through 3 or four of them in succession, and there are nine(!) such circles within a less-than-2 square mile area here, with a couple more to come. That HAS to be some sort of record. None of these nine circles of hell existed here 15 years ago. At least they aren't traffic lighted intersections.

Next time, [ profile] erstexman says he's not driving here. I don't blame him. ;-)

Speaking of Mini Coopers, we were mulling what to get Jeff's grand-niece Kylie for xmas. She turns 3 soon, and we wanted to make her holiday special. We found a KidTrax electric Mini at Costco. We knew she'd love it and be the only kid in that old coal town with one (turns out she has a Jeep already, but, up there, everyone has one of those). I personalized it with custom stickers that said "Kylie's Cooper" in a playful font (no, not Comic Sans!). She kept getting inside while I was trying to put it together, when that task was finally done, we headed out in the blustery Pennslovakia cold so she could test drive it in the yard. For not even three yet, she's a pretty good driver. We might be looking at the next Danica Patrick.

Jeff's father had been making noises about getting a big flat screen television ever since he spent a few days with us and fell in love with ours. We got him a wall mount and a set of high-def cables, wrapped them up and gave those to him the same time Kylie got her ride. We didn't say that we got the set too. Though he didn't say it, we could tell he was just as giddy as our little girl once everything was set up. Being that the Newtown tragedy happened only a couple days prior to all this, it was nice to see a bunch of kids smiling and happy and safe. Dad included.

I wish I could say that the holidays were full of goodness and light, but sadly it was not to be. Jeff's mom has been falling deeper into the clutches of Alzheimer's, as such, the inability of the home care nurses to keep up with her needs, her increased incidences of falling and such finally forced Dad to put her in a nursing home. They treat her well there, and we know she's in good hands. The future in all this is uncertain, as it is for anyone similarly involved.

This weekend we are headed up to the homestead once again. Dad is lonely, being in the house by himself, and looks forward to our visits more now than ever. The silver lining in the recent clouds there is Dad is afforded much more time to himself, and can get out and around more. As such, we will hit the huge farm show in Harrisburg. This will get him (and us) out of the house, we can peruse tractors and livestock, see sheep being turned into shawls (well, their wool, to be precise), partake in greasy yet delicious fairgrounds food and be farmers for a day. We will also pay Mom a visit too, and bring her lots of love. We plan on sneaking Dad down here again soon so he can have a change of pace. He manages to fit in well in his own unique way. We take him out of Amish country but we bring him to our local Amish market. Wouldn't you know, he manages to find people down here who know the people up there. Dad is given a tray of whoopee pies along with a note written in Pennsylvania Dutch by his new-found friend to take to his relatives up north. Dad shuttles the Amish around as a sort of taxi service for extra money, so he knows a lot of them. The Amish are interesting folk, and, ironically, I can somewhat relate to them, beards notwithstanding. I go to a local Amish hardware store. A delightful place, there is no electricity, the place is only a few years old yet is lit by natural light from large windows, or gas mantles among the aisles. They have great deals on power tools, cordless stuff, high-tech lighting, solar power equipment and other items you can't find at the local big-box. Go upstairs and there is furniture, games, dinner ware, and clothing. The clothing is mostly what you'll find the Amish wearing, including those familiar hats. Dad keeps telling me he's gonna get me one of those hats, since my beard is starting to rival some up there. I guess he's right about that, the last time I was at that local Amish market down here, someone started asking me questions about the baked goods. An honest mistake, I guess. It made my day. It made Jeff and Dad howl with laughter.

This post is brought to you by hyphens.
greatbear: (fuzzy)
I made it relatively unscathed through another major holiday. The last couple days were spent with Jeff's family in PA. It was a very low-key affair, which for me, was good.

Monday morning had a trip to an new Amish hardware and general store. This was a first for me. Upon walking into the place, it looked at first like any local small-town hardware store. It then becomes apparent that the store is somewhat dim inside, as all the light is coming from windows and skylights. Yep, there is absolutely no artificial light. Nor is there any electrical fixtures of any kind in place. Along the aisles were gas lamps consisting of open mantles and valves. These I assume were used in the evenings or when it would be rather cloudy. Below one of the gas lamps was a display of the latest power tools from DeWalk, Makita, Milwaukee and other professional brands. Lots of decent pneumatic tools as well. Plenty in the way of automotive and electrical wares, all goos stuff, and at prices comparable to big-box stores. Upstairs was an area filled with housewares, toys, furniture and other goodies. There was a large selection of those black Amish hats on display. I was told I really looked the part when I tried one on. I bought some electrical connectors for use on the truck and the camper that were actually packaged for use on Amish buggies. As odd as it seems, the lighting systems on current Amish buggies are more high-tech than a lot of current automobiles, with LED safety lighting and efficient charging systems that keep the batteries charged as the buggy is pulled by the horse. The checkout area did have a pair of modern electronic cash registers. They were being run on batteries. The more I associate with the Amish, the more respect I have for them. Hard working, helpful, devoted to their beliefs yet will never press them upon anyone.

Later, I occupied myself with cutting down a tree in their yard which had become an obstacle for new utility lines. I dispatched it in about 45 minutes time and we loaded the logs into the truck for firewood next year. Various auxiliary family units came and went, and socializing was abundant. I kinda kept quiet for the most part, my mind was often elsewhere. We opened our gifts on Xmas eve. I did not ask for anything, nor did I want anything from anyone. Jeff had been itching for weeks to give me his present, but I kept the surprise till the appropriate time. Seems he did some pretty remarkable mouse clickery on eBay. Turns out, he managed to snag a Wii, and for less than the 249 bux normally asked for in stores. Major eBay god points there. I connected it all up when we got home, after dinner. Another new distraction!

Today we all had an early dinner of ham, chicken, and lots of other goodies. Later tonight after coming home we had a quiet supper of shrimp scampi with wine.

The gifts Jeff got for his nephews ended up being the highlight of the day for them. His sister calls grumbling about the fact that the kids are playing mostly with those things, and Jeff looks at me with a smug grin and a quiet fist pump.

Still, I still feel out of sorts today. I feel very alone, despite the warm welcomes I always have up there. I miss Mom, of course, and I tend to gather more uncertainties than I reconcile at times. But for the first time in years, the house is decorated and there is a feeling of warmth and hope.

Here is our tree, now devoid of the gift payload. Much happiness has ensued.

A while ago, I picked up a little keychain-style photo viewer. My plan was to use it as an ornament. I filled it with pictures of Mom, Patches, and of her with me and Jeff as well.

I hope everyone had a great day today. I think I did.


greatbear: (Default)

December 2016



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