Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Tomatoes

I was at the school a few days ago when my dad called me. "Do you want more tomatoes?" he barked. While my own garden has historically produced enough tomatoes for me to put up for the winter, this year an awful blight of some kind made all of the tomato plants essentially worthless.

"Yeah, I'll take them," I told Dad even though about two dozen of the plump, ripe things from his and Mom's garden were still on the kitchen counter where they had been for a week waiting for me to process them. "Come get them now," he ordered. I knew darned well that the "now" wasn't imperative; it was just Dad's way of expecting the world to operate. I suggested a pick-up time that would allow me to return to the house to get the box the first batch had come in and strap it to the scooter. Dad agreed, grudgingly, to the delay and about an hour later I got to my parents' house.

"You'll never get them home on that," Mom said when she saw that I'd come on the bike. "Sure I will!" I assured her with more hope than confidence. I filled the box right on the back of the scooter without taking it off and putting it back on, and began the ride back here hoping not to lose any of the little guys. I got back with my full cargo intact. The neighbor whose driveway I use to get the bike down to the backyard was on her porch when I got back. She eagerly took three medium sized ones when I stopped and told her to grab a few.

The picture doesn't do the tomatoes justice. They were all deep, dark red in spite of being washed out in the picture which was taken in full, direct sunlight. It was nice out and I wanted to ride some more, but with around four dozen tomatoes needing to be processed I couldn't put off doing them any longer.

I lined them all up on the counter beside the stove and got out the big pots I'd be using. Two full of boiling water to scald them just enough to make the skins peel off with another in the sink and full of cold water to make handling them more pleasant than grabbing them fresh from the scald. Yet another, the inner part of a steamer full of holes, to keep the water draining from the pulp after I'd squashed them down. A few colanders and a sharp paring knife later and I was all set.

After peeling the skin off each one and cutting out the point where the stem was attached to each fruit I squeeze out the seeds and as much of liquid as I can. I'd swear that there's more water in a tomato than there is in a watermelon! The squashed tomatoes wait in the colander until all the rest which were in the same scald are done. I return to each one, then, squeezing it some more until all that's left is pure tomato pulp. Off it goes then to the steamer pot to drain even more while I continue with the rest. When all the tomatoes have been undressed of their skins, relieved of their seeds, and drained of much of their water I swish them around in the steamer pot getting even more water out until they feel like they're at the right consistency.

I don't can the tomatoes which would require the use of even more big pots and boiling water not to mention jars and lids and rings (and maybe some strings and sealing wax and other fancy stuff). There's a huge freezer in the kitchen and the processed tomato pulp gets frozen in quart sized bags, each one perfect for tossing into a pot of chicken soup, a crock of chili, or slapping onto a pizza shell.

About an hour and a half later, the nearly 50 tomatoes are done. I got a whopping four quarts for my efforts.

It hardly seems worth the effort to spend that much time essentially playing with the tomatoes instead of just heading to the store and picking up whatever canned tomato product I need when I'm cooking something. It's not really about saving a couple of bucks, and the savings after the water and gas use have been deducted can't be all that much if any. It's about touching my roots and doing something I watched my grandmas do when I was just tall enough to peek over the top of the kitchen sink.

Come some bitter, cold, snowy winter day when I decide that a pot of chicken soup is in order, I'll reach for one of these bags. I'll smile in remembering my dear grandmothers who taught me not only to put up tomatoes, but to make the whole soup itself and homemade noodles too when I'm overly ambitious.

Dad's mom. I could have gotten her to take a ride on the scooter with me, I think. Mom's mom, on the other hand, would have been the first to tell me that I'd kill myself on the thing. They both lie in eternal slumber about 100 yards from each other. Now and then I visit their resting place on the bike to talk to them about tomatoes, and chicken soup, Bingo games, and the state of music long changed from their beloved Lawrence Welk's.

No, the tomatoes aren't about the tomatoes at all. They're about life, and love, and growing up, and things like that.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Penultimate Day

If you're tired of my laments about the end of summer and the return to school, just jump on over to one of those links in my sidebar.

It was the second to the last day of the academic year when I snapped this photo of myself on June 11th.

I'd said farewell to my students for the last time maybe an hour or so before I took this shot.  There was only one day left - a faculty day - and as soon as the dismissal bell rang that next day I was on my way out west to start the vacation that seemed like it would be deliciously long.

I remember sitting in that chair the second when the shutter opened.  The whole summer was before me and it felt really good to be in that moment looking forward to it all.  If you could see under the beard well enough, that would be a look of smug satisfaction played across my face.

I took that same shot as best I could this afternoon about an hour after I left the school following our opening faculty meeting and scheduling session.  Just as the first shot was taken on the second to the last day before summer vacation started, this one was on the second to the last day of the ending of that same vacation. (Saturday and Sunday don't count 'cause they're not work days.) It just seemed fitting to be in that same place to bring it all to an end.

It was a hugely emotional summer for various reasons that I don't discuss here.  There were very high moments, and very low ones as well.  I guess one of the best parts in having the time off is that I can afford to emote openly  and freely without having to pretend that everything's just perfect in my world every day.

The worries, concerns, and responsibilities of adulthood are as far removed from the understanding of school kids as is my understanding of what makes High School Musical so popular with them.  If you work with a bunch of other adults, there's some possible empathy to be gotten if you happen to share with them the things that are going on in your life.  To bring such things into a classroom, though, would be totally inappropriate.

I think my only true regret about going back to work is that - that I have to be convincingly happy all the time.  I owe it to the kids.  They're only going to be kids for so long, and then - they'll have their whole own lives to work on dealing with the harsh realities that adulthood brings with it.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Saying Goodbye to Mii

It was back in June, sometime after the 9th which was the hypnosis session that started me on the weight loss, when I first stepped onto my daughter's Wii to do the body test in "Wii Fit" and had it start tracking the pounds coming off. She'd created a Mii (Pronounced like "me." A distinct Wii character to represent one in the system.) for me in the past when I played some of the games with her, but I didn't develop an emotional attachment to the little guy until my first Wii Fit session.

There I am on the right, above the Start button. My name in the system is one of the best I have - "Daddy!"

Though I didn't get on the Wii every day, I did as often as I was here, remembered, and had the time to devote to doing the body test. I looked forward to the music as the system booted and the unique, simple melodies that Wii Fit played as it started up. Most of all, I looked forward to seeing Daddy Mii appear and felt a childlike sense of glee every time I saw him show up on the screen. He came to represent the progress I've made in dropping 25 pounds in the past two months.

English major types will have noticed by now that I've been using the past tense about my Mii and the Wii. My baby went back to college this morning and she took Mii off with her. I won't see my Daddy character again until maybe Christmas when the term will be finished. Of course I'm sad about my daughter's being gone again, but I'm a bit melancholy about Daddy Mii being gone too because I'm going to miss the ritual morning weighing ins that he and I enjoyed together.

(The super observant might have made note of the fact that my weight took a temporary upward swing in the past week. That was because of the Seafood Feast I attended this past weekend. I believe I sent a picture from it to the "What I'm Doing Now" links in the sidebar.)

There I am looking at the last date that's going to be marked on the calendar for quite a while. My whole morning routine will be different now until June and I'm going to miss most of all that my summer routine isn't a routine at all but a daily decision as to what I'll do and at what pace.

It was with an inordinate degree of sadness that I clicked on "End" this morning.

Here's hoping that the next time I see Daddy Mii he'll have dropped another 25 pounds or so!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Early Start to My Last Vacation

Because of a fire in Scranton yesterday (and a longer story to it than I'd care to type) I was able to start my last little vacation for the summer two days earlier than I'd planned. The four hour drive went by quickly in spite of an hour's worth of travel on a secondary highways to escape a miles long backup and considerable delay because of construction on I-81.

I passed a small posse of bikes on the way out. I can't imagine where they might have been headed mid-day and mid-week but I hope it was to somewhere fun. (Forgive the point and shoot blindly through the windshield technique.)

This rock cut before Lamar would be a perfect setting for Verizon and AT&T to square off in a who has better service commercial. Sometimes I have a momentary lapse in service, and at other times I can sail through clearly. I wonder what makes the difference?

Not until I was too far from the house to turn back did I remember that I'd not changed from my riding boots into my sneakers. Not wanting to wear the boots with shorts all weekend I needed to get a cheap pair of sneakers to get me through. It was suggested that I hit up Georgian Place instead of just going to Wal-Mart as I typically do for cheap footwear. A large, stately inn looms over the shopping village and reminds me of something out of a Steven King novel.

I got a $64 pair of "dress sneakers" for $20 if you believe those little signs by the merchandise. I needed to get a size 13 because my usual 11 was terribly tight in this style. And why am I writing about shoes?

On Saturday we're off to a seafood party hosted by friends. Ninety pounds of snow crab. Forty pounds of shrimp. I forget how many pounds of scallops and how many dozens of mussels. Looks like I picked the wrong summer to watch my weight! Nah. I'm able to eat a little more at special times without killing my new overall habit of eating much less, so I'm doing well.

If I don't post again before then, I'll be back to the house on Monday just in time to help my baby pack her Jeep for her return to college. Till then, happy riding!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Just Around the Corner

Every time I mount the BV these days it's with a heavy sigh that starts in my toes and hisses through my lips like steam being released from some behemoth of a locomotive.  It's mid August and this summer vacation that I'd anticipated gleefully in May is slowing down and easing toward a sure end.  If you can remember what it felt like when you were a kid to be staring down at your last few days of delicious freedom, well - it's just like that on the other side of the big desk too.  I love teaching and just about everything about it, but there's that bumper sticker that I saw on a neighbor's car years ago that makes too much sense.  "A bad day of fishing is better than a good day at work."  I look forward to that time in my life when I can hang a "Gone Fishing" sign and leave it up all the time even as I know that it'll break my heart when some September rolls around and I won't be heading back to a classroom.

I make no apologies that my summers are typically lazy ones.  By the time the final bell rings on an academic year I need to be rejuvenated in a way that a week at the shore wouldn't begin to provide.  I don't look for a summer job.  I don't do any personal coursework.  I enter summer vacation without a plan, without a goal, without a great big where I want to be when it's all over.  Each day is its own and whether I venture far from this chair or not, in its own way each day is an adventure.

The scooter is like an alter ego to me in some ways.  It hasn't the pretense of being more than it is.  It's humble, but sure and steady.  There is no "Vrrrrrrrrroooooooooooom!" but more of a purr.  There's no, "Look at me!" - just a seeming smile as I ride by and you catch my headlight or my eye.  The scooter really enjoys its summers, and I do too.

I'm noticing leaves falling in many places and I don't remember if this is normal for this time of year or if it's some indication that an early fall is on the horizon in spite of the late summer.  Either way, the leaves on the ground are the perfect backdrop for a resigned return to school.  I have about a week and a half left.  I'm taking one more out of town weekend vacation in a few days and then it will be back to business until the forsythia in the backyard gets yellow again and my heart once more gears itself up for another summer.

Monday, August 17, 2009

It's Always Cooler on a Scooter

When I'm on the scooter, going anywhere is much like one of those Family Circus strips in the Sunday comics when one of the kids is told to go somewhere to get something, and said kid takes a long, round about way of getting there and back. What was supposed to be a quick run to the bank to check the balance and make a withdrawal turned into a forty mile or so jaunt that took me out to the boonies.

I meandered along a favorite road on the far side of the mountain across the river, running mostly in full sunlight and slowing a bit when I hit the shady spots. I pretended that it was cooler there, in the shade, but I think it was mostly psychological relief if any that I felt as I rolled through the shadows of the trees. Summer finally arrived here - with a vengeance!

I remembered the summer of '89, exactly 20 years ago. The daughter who's getting married in October was three years old then, and every Thursday we walked the mile or so to the farmers' market downtown. I remembered as I rode today how she used to race ahead of me to the shade under the trees and chuckle with glee as she'd wait for me to catch up to her. It was one of those memories I wish I could bottle to save for when I might come to a time when she'll come to visit me and I won't remember who she is.

Somewhere on today's ride it occurred to me that in spite of moving at around 55 miles per hour the wind chill was negligible. In fact, I couldn't perceive a wind chill effect at all. We all know what the wind chill feels like in the winter, so why wasn't my moving through the air at 55 MPH having the same effect of cooling me?

I got back here, baited my hook, and trolled the Google pond for a wind chill calculator. I found this one quickly enough, glanced at the thermometer reading in the shade outside my window beside the computer and typed it in. 96ºF. Then I added the 55 MPH and hit the Calculate button. The wind "chill" - 105ºF! I couldn't believe my eyes. The ambient temperature actually rose nine degrees. The skeptic in me kicked in and I figured there had to be an error in the formula. Guess again.

I researched some more and found this article. In it one reads, "...windy HOT air is effectively hotter than calm hot air because it more effectively deluges us with hot air which we cannot cool with our bodies (i.e., blowing hot air on cold water heats it faster than calm hot air, hence the convection oven)." I still find it hard to believe, but it makes a sensible and tempting argument toward taking the air conditioned car in the summer rather than the scooter. Then again, logic only goes so far because one is always "cool" on a scooter regardless of the temperature!

Friday, August 14, 2009

It Needs a Name Like...

Admittedly, there are some things that anger me disproportionately. I'm not sure why that is, but seemingly odd things sometimes send my blood pressure into the stratosphere. I've always had a bad taste for the local arena, and things related to it aren't often in my good book.

When it was first proposed that an arena be built here, the local politicos deemed that Luzerne County would build it and run it. There followed a battle of mammoth proportion. There was no promise by the county commissioners that taxes wouldn't go up to construct it. Even worse, there was the threat that a yearly fee collected from the citizenry would keep the place going. (Um, why shouldn't the fees charged to the acts that perform there do that?) It was a heated contest when the question was put to the public as a question on the ballot basically asking if it was okay for the county to build the arena with taxpayers' money. The vote came in - a resounding NO!

State Representative Kevin Blaum was the major public figure behind the push to build the place and when the county basically kicked him in the butt with their NO, he turned to then Governor Bob Casey to fund what had become his pet project. He got the money. The arena now sits on "Casey Plaza."

My dander was up again yesterday about the bloody place when I read in the local paper, The Citizens' Voice, "The county's arena needs a new name..." No, Ms. Allabaugh, (the staff writer who penned the article), it does NOT! It doesn't need a name at all.

For a number of years we've been stuck with the very ugly sounding "Wachovia" name attached to the building. To me Wachovia sounds like some kind of horrendous foot disease. (Oh, Ruthie! Did you hear? Bertha came down with the wachovia! She can barely walk, and oh! The smell!) I'll never understand why the local media insist on calling the stinking place by its full name, "Wachovia Arena at Casey Plaza", as if it were some kind of little rich kid with a pretentious moniker like "Cornelius Percival Hammond the Third." When Philly called Veterans' Stadium "The Vet" it was sufficient. Everybody knew what it was. They could have called this place "The Wack." It would have sounded much more suitable for da valley than Wachovia Arena at Casey Plaza which rolls off the tongue like a thick piece of phlegm and tastes about as good.

It's ludicrous to name a building for a company simply for advertising purposes. It would be like naming a line of scooters after my Aunt Martha whom I'm sure has never been on one. This arena doesn't need a proper noun name. It's the arena in Wilkes-Barre Township. Period.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Da Valley and Beyond

For all the years that I've played with various pieces of map software and used mapping services online, it wasn't until last week that I found a very good graphic showing "da valley" about which I write here when I'm writing about my travels and not just whatever's flowing through my head. It's from Google maps, using the terrain view. Here it is! The Wyoming Valley.

(Click on the image to go to its view on Google Maps.)

That diagonal depression running from southwest to northeast is my turf - where I ride 99.99% of the time when I'm off on the scooter. It's a pleasant place. It's home.

I dream at times about getting a Harley someday and taking off on long trips on the interstates, but I don't know if I'll ever have the nerve. Not to get a big bike, but to ride it where maniacs in tractor trailers and old men with their waistbands drawn up to their ribs ride on your tail at 80 miles per hour. I watch the guys on their big cruisers running fast without helmets when I'm traveling and wonder how they manage to enjoy the ride at all. I think I'd grind my teeth to mere nubs if I had to maintain the requisite hyper vigilance that would be needed to ride the highways over a long distance. But, we'll see someday, God willing.

I'll be off again later today for one of my weekend jaunts to western Pennsylvania, through Steve's sticks, on my way to here...

Maybe I'll update from there. Maybe not. It'll depend on what I find myself doing and whether it'll be post worthy. If you don't hear from me, assume that I'm having a great time and hoping that you are too whether you're riding your bike or just the sofa.

Oh, yeah... Twitter's still experiencing problems since their denial of service attack a few days ago. I can't update "What I'm Doing Now" with my phone yet, but they say they're working on it.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Making Us All Look Good

I was channel surfing before heading to bed last night and when I finally found a channel that wasn't airing a commercial as I worked the remote up through the numbers I found a network that I didn't know existed: truTV. A show aptly named SPEEDERS was on, and just when I was about to let it go to look for something better they ran a teaser that made me stick around while they ran their own commercials.

What made me sit through their pukey ads was this - in the teaser a numbskull with his left arm full of packages was being pulled over by an officer in a squad car. While the commercials droned on I got the camera ready and sat down like a hunter in the woods where he'd been baiting game during the off season and now was waiting for them to appear in his gun sight.

I don't remember what state this happened in but the officer explained on camera that a scooter there doesn't need a tag, doesn't need to be insured, and that even unlicensed drivers can ride them. While he pulled the jerk over, it seemed that there was nothing much he could do except explain to the scooterist that what he was doing was unsafe.

Every time the scooterist opened his mouth something more inane than the statement before it came spewing out. He seemed to be at the rock bottom of the food chain and I shuddered in thinking of what he might be making viewers think of scooterists in general.

There were even more packages on the scooter than could be seen from behind. Apparently the guy had three or four more of them tucked between his legs. In the end the officer loaded the packages into his patrol car and drove them to the post office where the scooterist met him.

In the scooter forums one often finds laments when a state like this one starts to require scooters and their operators to be licensed and insured, but after seeing this episode of SPEEDERS I'm all for it. Face it. Most of us with scooters also drive cars and you know who'd be liable if an idiot like this one ended up on the ground because he got off balance and brushed against one of our bumpers.

Operating a motor vehicle of any sort is a privilege, not a right. At the bare minimum maybe an I.Q. test should need to be passed within the average range before one can take to the roads on anything, even a bicycle. I think that would help to make funding mass transit self sufficient.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

It Ain't No Stinkin' Moped!

I was rolling through a parking lot last evening after loading up my jug with peach flavored green tea when a skater dude commented, "Nice moped!" I smiled and kept on going but what I really wanted to do was correct the misguided fool who would be sufficiently ignorant not to know the difference between a scooter and a moped. His timing was somewhat ironic because earlier when I was cruising along Wyoming Avenue, a long stretch that links various small communities on the other side of the Susquehanna River, and wondering as I was getting the wave from the many bikers who were out enjoying the balmy evening, if the average bear on the street knew the difference between a motorcycle and a scooter. Apparently, he does, except he thinks that a scooter is a bloody, little moped!

Do a Google image search on "moped" and see how many pictures of scooters you get. Worse yet, the description of "moped scooter" listed below some of the images would further confuse the poor slob to whom the distinction isn't critical as it is to us, the scooter riding public.

Even news professionals, most likely akin to the same individuals who misspell "accordion" at every turn, don't always bother to educate themselves as to the proper categorization of two wheeled vehicles as evidenced by this report from the Dallas / Fort Worth Pegasus News. (You can click for a more legible view.)

God bless Clay who took the time to post this comment on the article.

Worse than that? Perhaps dealers who don't even make the distinction when they're hawking their wares.

Check this one out from some dinky dot com. "Motorcycle Moped" even! Sheesh!

We're fighting an uphill battle, fellow scooterists. If I had money to burn I'd start a billboard campaign to teach the teeming masses the important distinction between scooters and mopeds. We could even include motorcycles for good measure. Let's see... Harry Truman on a heavyweight Harley cruiser with "Motorcycle" written below, George W. poised on a big Silverwing with "Scooter" underneath, and Obama on a Schwinn with a lawnmower engine labeled "Moped" should do it!

If you haven't dropped by to wish Jim at Premeditated Scooting well after his recent scooter accident, take a minute to hop over and cheer him up!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

I Wanted that Why?

For many months I'd intended to work up the requisite ambition to build a camera mount for the scooter. Today the bug bit me - and, Eureka! There was the ambition gnawing at me as if I'd ordered it up on Ebay and paid extra for overnight delivery!

Because the BV has only the hand grips and no handlebars my only option would be to adapt one of the mirror mounts. I'd gotten some test tube clamps from a flea market last summer thinking that somehow one or more of them might come into play with making add-ons for the bike, and it was with one of them that I started this morning. Besides the ready made clamp, I added only a few inches of plastic plumbing pipe, a 1/4-20 nut and bolt, and a 10-24 nut and bolt. A quick blast with the heat gun and the plastic bent to the right angle and I was done. All that was left was to fire up the cycle and get shooting!

Shoot I did! One hundred fifty-two pictures to be exact. Every last one of them as nondescript and uninteresting as the one before.

I'm hard pressed to imagine what I'd expected to photograph with a camera mounted on the scooter. In addition to the photos, I shot a video that took me about a mile from the house and ate up about 100 million megs on the card, but what does one do with that? Feature it on YouTube? Trust me. It's as boring as the stills.

I suppose a camera mounted on the bike would come in handy if I were to happen to have it shooting video while I got into an accident or came upon a riot somewhere, but on a regular old day there's no practical use for it. Why didn't I see that?

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

It Has to Go Somewhere!

'Fess up! How many times have you gone down a street marked like this simply because it looked like it had to be connected to somewhere in spite of the sign?

I've been going down NO OUTLET streets all my driving life. Call me a ridiculous skeptic and I won't disagree because every time I end up at the terminus of such a street I'm just as surprised to find that there's no way out as I'd have been if there had been no sign at all.

Of course since I've had a scooter I've discovered that sometimes those signs only apply to cars because now and then there's a way for a scooter to get through to another street though it might involve a short excursion over an unpaved footpath. Finding an opening like that always makes me feel triumphantly victorious over those folks on the municipal traffic committee who deem such a sign necessary. Hey! Life's little scores are important!

I took a ride of moderate length this afternoon and the conditions were perfect for me to feel the hot sun on my arms while at the same time feeling the coolness of the apparent breeze of the air as I rode through it. I like it when I can feel the heat and the cool at the same time, each refreshing in its own way but somehow even more so together.

I had the opportunity this morning to heft a 20 pound weight which is equivalent to a little less than the weight I've lost since I was hypnotized on June 9th and I was very happy to discover that it's a more substantial amount than I'd thought 20 pounds was.

My bad knee doesn't ache like it used to and I'm able to do a few flights of stairs without feeling absurdly winded at the top. Best of all, the shorts that I had to shoe horn my gut into last summer are practically falling off me now.

My loss so far is approximately 1/3 of the weight I gained since I quit smoking five summers ago. In fact, July 26th was my fifth anniversary of the day I quit. I started smoking in high school 'cause I thought it would make me look cool. It wasn't the first time I was totally wrong about something, and I'm sure it won't be the last.

Okay, a quick English quiz! What's wrong with this besides its looking like it might be the name of one of the characters in a Monty Python movie?

If you said that "Alot" isn't a word, good for you! Just about every time I grade a paper in which somebody means "a lot" it's written as "alot" which is as stupid as would be "ascooter" or "ablog." The "a" is simply an indefinite article as it is when used before any other noun.

I shot the sign while on a trip through the Poconos to "Mr. Scary's" house in Bangor. I didn't think we were going to get out of that old guy's partially restored Victorian alive, but that'll be a story for some winter day when I don't have anything more full of sunshine to write about.

The LED flashlight is one of the best developments in technology to come down the pike in ages except for what I think is a conspiracy between their manufacturers and the battery industry. Have you noticed how most LED flashlights ("Torches" for the British, I think.) require those expensive little button cells or 3 AA or AAA cells? Why three? Because you can only charge rechargeables in pairs or in groups of four, hence making the buying of disposable cells a necessity. Methinks it rotten!

Oh yeah... Sturgis is going on now even as I sit here and you sit there.

After seeing the Thunder in the Valley rally in Johnstown, PA a month or so ago, I can only imagine what the king sized one in Sturgis is like. I'd like to be there someday, on a Harley, just to say I did it!