Sunday, February 27, 2011

Blown Away

Sunday wind

We are home, back in the Land of Enchantment, back to the land of blowing dust.  Spring winds usually mean summer rains, though, so we’re not complaining too much.

The last leg of the trip, after David’s illness, went as well as could be expected.  By the time we rolled into Raton (right on time, too), he was able to drink a little and was doing a bit better.  Mom showed up with clean clothes and some Gatorade and after running a few errands, we were headed home.  David spent most of Saturday recovering, with no more upchucks and only a little diarrhea.  By Saturday night, he was doing pretty well.

I have some observations. 

First, the train.  Both David and I really enjoyed the train.  If you want to get from Point A to Point B quickly, forget it.  If you incorporate the train ride as part of your journey, it’s great.  I liked just sitting there watching the country go by w/out worrying about driving or oncoming traffic or any of that.  I think that THIS MOM'S observations echo mine (except that I didn't do a wine tasting..).   It’s true that David got sick, but imagine him getting sick on an airplane.  Or in the car.  On the train, we were able- thankfully- to get an isolated, self-contained room to ride it out.  Outside of the sickness, we could get up and walk around, sit in large comfortable seats w/out seat belts, change positions, change views, and so forth.  I guarantee you that I’m going to try to make at least 1 train trip a year for the rest of my life.

Next- clothing and gear.  I bought a few things especially for this trip.  First up is the ASUS Eee “Seashell” netbook that I purchased.  I have a Dell laptop but I’ve been using it more and more for ranch business (.ie Quickbooks), and my book writing.  As such, it’s gotten more valuable and I’m getting to where I don’t want to travel with it.  All I need when traveling is a way to check e-mail, surf the ‘net, and do some relatively light typing.   The ASUS fits those needs extremely well.  It’s literally ½ the size of my Dell, and ½ the weight (3 lbs vs nearly 7).  Battery life ran well over 8 hours.  I have Kindle for PC loaded on it, making it a secondary reader for when David wanted to use the Kindle.  It has a card reader that I used to upload pictures from my digital video camera.   I was very happy with the ASUS on this trip.  At home, it’s really handy to use around the house for ‘net looking up. 
ASUS sitting on top of Dell laptop

I needed some shoes for the trip that would be comfortable, provide good traction, protect against rain/snow, and still look decent.  I normally wear cowboy boots, but they can take up a lot of room and I don’t like to walk long distances in them.  I researched and ended up getting a pair of Irish Setter Soft Paw Chukkas.  They were fabulous.  Very comfortable, light weight yet supportive, easy to get in and out of, and waterproof.  I can hardly say enough good things about them.

Along with the shoes, I wore Thorlo socks.  I was trying a new style to me- the “Uniform Support” (WGXS).  These kept my feet warm and dry with exceptionally good lower leg support.  They were easy to wash and dried very quickly.  If you’ve never used Thorlo socks, I highly recommend them.  On top, I wore Cabela’s MTP Performance crew shirts.  Like the socks, theses are wicking shirts that kept me dry and warm.  I’d typically drop a lightweight sweatshirt top over them (also from Cabelas) and this combination was very flexible and comfortable.  I’m wearing the shirt in the photo a few blogs back where David and I are at the table.  Along these same lines, I bought 3 pair of ExOfficio “Give ‘n Go” underwear.  Yes, I realize this is getting kind of personal, but if you’ve ever traveled, you know how important running gear is.  Like the socks and shirts, the Ex Officio stuff was comfortable, wicking, easy to wash, and quick drying.  This combination made for an easy wash load on our last day out and I could’ve even washed everything in the sink and dried them in the room if I’d had to.  Shoes, socks, shirts, underwear- it all added up to a comfortable, non-clammy, easy to clean set of adaptable clothing.  Perfect for traveling and traveling light.

That’s the wrap on the trip.  Time now to focus again on the ranch and home duties.  For instance, I’m on KLMX radio tomorrow.  I’m part of the Ministerial Alliance of this area and as part of that, I get a 15 minute chunk of time on the radio every day for a week.  It takes about 10 hours to write, record, and prepare 1.5 hours of talking.   I meant to do my writing while on the trip, but I totally forgot about it.  So, I guess I’ll just recycle an old program and go with that.  I’ve done this for 4 years and have quite a few things to draw from (see “Sermons-Text” here: .  But, I’d better get busy so for now, “adios!”

Coffee.  'nuff said.

Friday, February 25, 2011

I'm Sick of This!

It's 6 am and here I am typing in the dark again. I've been up since 3 am. That's when I felt David kicking me - “I need to go to the bathroom”. No problem. We get up, I guard the door since he can't unlock it by himself. Awhile later, he emerges and I sent him back to the room while I visited the facilities. I walk back to the room and there's David on the top bunk, throwing up all over the top bunk, all over the bottom bunk, and all over everything in between. Sigh. The attendant is summoned and together we bag and tag the room. I got David changed into fresh clothes and fortunately I was wearing sleeping clothes so my own jeans and shirt are still clean. We seal the puke room off and get moved to a larger room, this one with a bathroom in the room itself. It's a shower/bathroom combination which will make clean-up easier and David does need to worship the white throne a few more times, although by now it's pretty much just dry heaves. By 5 am, he seem to have- hopefully- settled down. Time will tell. Me, I guess I'm up. I tried sleeping (the bottom bunk is big enough for both of us) but every time David twitched, I was upright and concerned. The only bright spot in the the whole deal is that I was able to text Mom and wake her up at 12 am her time (I assume she was asleep... she may have been scrubbing carpets at that hour. I dunno).
Storm's a Brewing- the last supper

We're just left Dodge City, KS. Youngest son and I were here back in November for a falconry meet. We used our Coleman pop-up camper and camped for $10/night instead of paying $85/night for motel. It was fun and it's the first time I've really used the Coleman in freezing conditions. Every trip seems to have its emergency moments and the moment then was when I turned on the propane bottle and smelled gas. We ended up getting bubbles from the regulator but were able to find a new regulator at the local- excellent, too- hardware store. So, all ended well there, although I got the new regulator on just as it was getting too dark to see.

Here on the train, it's still dark and all I can see are headlights meeting us every few minutes. I can see reflections of snow on the ground, but that's about it. Guess I'll wrap this up until later on in the adventure.
A Sick Little Boy
Later: We are HOME!!!! It was a long, long night. David threw up a few more times including one incident where he was thirsty. I handed him an 8 oz bottle of water and said “Rinse your mouth out and spit first.” He went to the bathroom to do that. A few seconds later I peered around and said “Just sip a little now.” David turned to look at me with an empty bottle in his hand. An instant later, all that water was in the toilet, freshly thrown up. Somewhere along the way, the poor kid also got diarrhea and had a “blow out”. Between La Junta and Trinidad, I convinced him to take a shower in our private shower and get cleaned up. He did. Just outside Trinidad... another blow-out. We now had no more clean clothes and almost an hour to go to Raton. We did eventually make it, where Mom picked us up and we eventually made it home. David's asleep now. I've been up since 3 am, more or less, but I've gone thru the wall and may actually never sleep again now. A very rough ending to an otherwise great trip.
Between Trinidad and Raton, from the train
It's good to be home.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Dark is the Night

It's 6 am and I don't know where we are. We're on an Amtrak train but it's still dark outside and I can't see anything but lights going by. The problem is that we're not supposed be anywhere at this time yet we clearly just left a station. Therefore, we're either ½ hour ahead of time or ½ behind. Well, we could be more than that behind, which would be fine with me since we have a 6 hour layover in Chicago and I'd rather spend it on the train than off the train in a noisy terminal. But anyway, we're kicking along in the dark and I'm awake so here I am typing by feel.

The journey home has been a little bit different. First, we have different crew. Every crew so far has their own ways of doing things. My sleeping car guy is young and maybe a little inexperienced and he insists on doing everything. Me, I'm old and experienced- some would say “set in my ways”, but I prefer “experienced”- and there are ways that I like to do things. For instance, I've been making my own beds when the time comes. I can do it, for one. But for another, I travel with my own little fleece “sleeping bag” and I sleep in that. I don't sleep in hotel or train sheets. I don't know how clean they are for one (if I were outlining this story, this would be a sub-point), but (sub point 2) by sleeping in a consistent cover (.ie my fleece bag), I can regulate my temp better. I know about how warm or cool I'm going to be and can kick or cover appropriately. In strange sheets? Who knows?! Every night's an adventure and that makes for tough sleep. My fleece bag is like an elf blanket and seems to magically regulate my temp so that I'm just perfect every night.

Here's another reason I like to do it myself. I let the porter do his job and when we came back, he had my head facing the rear of the train. That in itself wouldn't matter, but there's a little niche built into the headrest that's perfect for storing eye glasses at night. The night light switch is on that console, and the steps leading up to the upper bunk are also on the console. Therefore, it makes more sense to me to have my head over there. I can drop my glasses in the cubbyhole, reach up and flip the light switch on/off, and help David down the steps should he need to come down in the middle of the night. All this stuff was at my feet. So, after the porter had done his job, I just closed the curtains and re-did it the way I wanted it. I hope I don't sound like a grumpy old man.

Speaking of David, though... there's a safety net in the upper bunk designed to keep people from rolling out in the middle of the night. David, however, is not a normal person. He tosses and turns and rolls and flips and flops and kicks and contorts all thru the night. When I'm ever forced to share a bed with him, the first thing I do is build a wall of pillows down the middle to keep him on his side of the bed. I've learned this the hard way. But anyway, 'round midnight, I awoke and took a look-see and what I saw were David's legs dangling over the edge of the top bunk. I pushed him back into place and built a wall of pillows on the edge, but from there on, all I could see in my mind's eye was David tossing and turning and throwing himself off the edge of the bunk, striking his head on the steps, breaking his nose...blood everywhere...screaming....blah, blah, blah. Maybe I'm over-protective, but the image of him tumbling down the church steps was still hot on my brain and the scrapes and bruises on his face are very real. So, I ended up waking up every 5 minutes to check on him. The wall of pillows held him in place pretty good, and all was well for the rest of the night. Except that here I am, wide-awake at 6 am typing by feel in the dark. We are now away from whatever town that was and it's REALLY dark so I think I'll shut this down and just drink my railroad coffee in sensory deprivation. Dark night, dark coffee, dark thoughts.. they all go together.

Later: Here we are in Chicago, sitting in the Amtrak lounge. After writing the above, I got another hour or so of sleep and I feel perky enough right now. David and I ate a good breakfast on the train and now we're ready to go explore Union Station Chicago.

Mo' later: we're back from exploring. This is a big station. Not as big as Union Station DC but still pretty good sized. I'm sure everyone's tired of hearing about this, but that sleeping car ticket is the way to go. We're sitting here in this nice lounge with TV, comfortable chairs, tables, free soft drinks and coffee, and lounge bathrooms. About 30-45 minutes before departure, someone comes around, gathers us up, and leads us like sheep to our train. It's just about fool proof and WAY better than airline waiting lounges. Granted, the sleeper car cost me $328 per leg of the trip (Raton → DC, DC → Raton) which effectively doubled the price of my tickets, but even so the total bill was $1250 for me and David to DC and back via sleeping cars the whole way. All meals on the train were paid for and we've eaten at least 2 on each train. It would be hard to match that via airplane.

As I noted earlier, I'm reading several books. I finished Don Miller's “Blue Like Jazz” and really liked it. I mean, it's not going to replace my Bible or anything, but Miller wrote a very honest, introspective, and thoughtful book and really nailed, IMHO, some critical points about the Christian walk. I'll probably write some more about his book later on when I don't have Internet access and put 'em on here at a later time. By contrast, Brent Crowe's “Chasing Elephants- wrestling with the gray areas of life” is a little disappointing so far. Maybe because he reflects some of the attitude that Miller writes about, maybe because this is material I've already wrestled with myself and I think he's missing some points. I dunno. It's just not resonating with me, but that's fine. I'm sure it'll resonate with someone. I'm simultaneously reading Timothy Keller's “The Reason for God” and “The Prodigal God”. The former is good, but again, I've tackled so many of these points already. “The Prodigal God”, on the other hand, immediately brought up some interesting angles that I hadn't considered and he also is singing a solo over the tune that Miller introduced, so for now, I'm focusing over there. And while we're here, let me put in a plug for William P. Young's “The Shack”. I was asked to read this by a church member and found it to be a really good book. It challenges some dogmatic thought, but I was easily able to back up his thought with Scripture. Young Miller, and to an extent Keller are all challenging their readers to think about what “freedom in Christ” really means. We could quibble on small theological points, but I greatly appreciate that they're trying to get people to think instead of just act dogmatically robotic.

Nothing like getting a good early start...
The view from our room.  The Air/Space Museum is center

Our sleeping car on the return leg

Indiana countryside from the train
Coffee.  'nuff said.
David in his seat

 Well, that's probably enough chit-chat for this session. We'll talk to you tomorrow, hopefully from the sunny skies of Hi-Lo High Plains New Mexico.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A Full Day at the Air and Space Museum

Today we went back to the ASM, arriving at 10:05 am. Not being a weekend, not being a Federal Holiday, it was much quieter and nicer. We spent the entire day at the museum, picking up all the exhibits we didn't see the previous two days. I don't think David noticed much but I'll tell ya what- Amelia Earhart was really cute.  She had this mischievous look that made me think she might've been a handful to her parents.  I don't know, of course, I'm just speculating.  She may have been the kind of daughter who always did the dishes, kept her room clean without being asked, and was asleep promptly at 9 pm.  I doubt it, though. I was surprised to see that she accomplished everything she did in just 13 years. That's pilot's license to disappearing. The exhibit said that she flew the gyroplane with only 15 minutes of instruction. Impressive. We watched another 3D movie, this one on the Hubble Telescope. I really didn't know much about the scope beforehand so it was an informative movie for me.
David in front of Apollo 13 capsule.

At lunch, a guy whom I've talked to online for years met us for (and bought us!) lunch- Charlie Bryant from Flatpick-L. We had a fun visit and it was great to finally meet in person after all these years online. The thing about online relationships, though, is that you have already talked about so many things that you can just continue right on with those discussions. It's also interesting in that, many times, we are biased toward a person because of the way they look or dress or wear their hair. But online, it's just pure discussion- what have you got to say? I don't know how many times I've talked guitars with “Chris” or “Claire” to find out that “Chris” was female and “Claire” was a guy. All I knew them as were people with things to say.

While waiting on Charlie, I wandered over to the "donation" box and was struck by how much foreign currency was in there.  I dunno, maybe the Smithsonian "salts" the box, but I saw currency from India, Korea, Arabian, and more, as well as a few dollars, too.

After exhausting the ASM, we headed back to the room. I got my daily Starbucks, we ate supper, did laundry, and now we're watching “Dirty Jobs” on the tube. It's been a relaxing day.

Tomorrow- Union Station DC and heading home!

Monday, February 21, 2011

We've been here for millions upon millions of years

We were going to try to get an early-ish start today and walk around to the Washington Monument before heading to the Natural History Museum. However, we are either mice or men and our best laid plans were to no avail as we laid in bed until pretty close to 9 am. We skipped breakfast and ate a Powerbar each, then headed out.

We went to another 3D IMAX at the Nat History museum, this one on the Grand Canyon and the water issues associated with it. It was a pretty good movie, but didn't use the 3D technology quite as well as the Flight movie did the other day. Still, it was fun. Afterward, we ate in the cafe. David had an all-beef hot dog and I had pulled pork with green bean casserole and cole slaw. It was very good and pretty pricey at $28 for the two of us!

After lunch we walked around the museum, but both David and I got tired of it pretty fast. For one thing, nearly every exhibit is a million years this, 25 million years here, 450 zillion years over there. They don't even say “an estimated” number of years, but just flop it out there like it's a fact. I mean talk about “shoving it down your throat”. In the Grand Canyon video, they showed rainfall degrading from the “average” since 1900. So, how exactly did they come up with that “average”? They've got data on rainfall since the 1800's? An average is derived from the data- it's not really used to play against the data. This is such a typical misuse of statistics in order to prove a “point” that may or may not be valid. Anyway, we got tired of this and moved next door to the American History Museum where we were pretty sure we weren't going to find anything over 300 years old.

David at the American History museum:

Washington Monument in the background:

Inside American History museum:

Sure 'nuff, there was a lot of fun stuff there. We saw the actual Star Spangled Banner (it's BIG!!!), an excellent display on “transportation”, a couple of Strad fiddles, a history of slavery, and so much more. Around about 3:30, though, we were both getting tired. It's very hard walking around these museums- stop and go, twist and turn, stand and shift. I mean walking is great. What we do here is tough. Little David is very slow, too. I've discovered that if I put heel to toe, very slowly, that's about his pace. But, he's doing his best. I had to carry him a couple of blocks on the way back to the hotel, though. He was just all out of energy. In the motel, we're just chilling by watching Discovery Channel. Since we don't get TV at home, this is kind of a treat in itself.

Back from supper, I'm fighting a headache, so I think I'll just get this posted and call it good. Tomorrow, the plan is to head back to Air/Space where we'll meet Flatpick-L friend Charlie Bryant sometime during the day. Stay tuned!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Church, The Fall of David, and American Indian Museum

Day 3 of the Amtrak Washington DC adventure.

Today, David wanted to go to church, so me and him visited Capitol Hills Baptist Church, home of Mark Dever. Dever is a well-known pastor and writer who I've heard speak at The Shepherd's Conference. We took a taxi up to the church, intending to walk back (1.4 miles).

Bible study was fun with just 8-10 of us sitting around discussing things. Afterward we went up to the balcony for the service. Lots of music, lots of prayer, and a pretty long sermon which I had some trouble hearing. Everything sounds “brittle” here and I've lost some bass. I've noticed this phenomenon when going to TN for Kaufman Kamp, too. But, I got thru it.

Unfortunately, on the way down from the balcony, David tripped on the stairs. He slid face-first and then somersaulted all the way down. He just has no strength or agility to stop himself. He got a pretty good sized scrape on the side of his head, a smaller scrape on the front, and a good bruise under his eye. His glasses, fortunately, were okay. I hauled him off to a corner to cry and of course there was a radiator there, so we both were roasting. That incident really took the wind out of his sails and instead of sticking around for refreshments and visiting, we had to go. I got him cleaned up a little in the bathroom and then we set off down Capitol Hill, very, very slowly. 

David is not very happy right now

David was not interested in much of anything, but we made it down off the Hill to the American Indian museum and there we found some food, including The Universal Kid's Meal of chicken strips and french fries. What the world did before chicken strips, I don't know. We chatted with two older ladies from Virginia and NYC who were very interested in the Amtrak experience. This gave David all the time he needed to work on The Universal Kid's Meal, and he does need a lot of time, eating molecules at a time like he does. But, after eating and drinking most of a flavored tea, he felt better. Oh, and on the way down the Hill, I made him eat ½ of a Clif bar. 

He's a little happier now

We toured the Indian Museum and by the end, he was doing okay again. It's an interesting and new museum and we enjoyed it. Afterward, we hit the Air/Space museum again and picked up a few small gifts. Back at the hotel for the evening, we're just relaxing and planning on Air/Space again tomorrow and then Natural History on Tues. Wednesday we head home!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Train, train...goin down, down the line...

Day 2 of our Amtrak adventure started out with us boarding from Union Station Chicago. As part of a sleeper car ticket, you get to board from the 1st Class Lounge. This is really a good deal as the lounge offers a baggage check, soft drinks, and a restroom inside the lounge. Coming back from DC we'll have a 5 hour layover, so instead of schlepping our luggage around like I did this time, we'll park it in the lounge, tour the station a bit, and then come back in. There's wireless access inside the station (but not on the train sitting in the yard) and I used the time to update this blog yesterday. On the whole, the sleeper car tickets are great- you get not only the sleeper, but all meals (good ones, too!), unlimited bottled water, coffee, lounge access, showers in the sleeper car, and a place to get some privacy during the day. The sleeper car is definitely a good way to go, IMHO.

David in the Chicago Amtrak lounge

Traveling on the train is a blast. We've been going for 24 hours at this point. If I'd been flying, I'd be so cramped I couldn't move and it would be rush, rush, rush around the airport. Driving, I'd be white-knuckled, stressed, and would've seen at least a few accidents by now. On the train, I sit here, watch the country go by, read my Kindle, walk around, and talk with with people. It's great. David and I are already talking about getting an 8-stop pass and going from Denver to Seattle.

Speaking of reading on the Kindle, I have several books lined up. I have “The Reason For God” by Timothy Keller, “Radical: Taking Back Your Faith” by David Platt, “Chasing Elephants: Wrestling With Gray Areas of Christianity” by Brent Crowe, and “Blue Like Jazz” by Donald Miller. I'm reading the latter two right now. “Blue Like Jazz” is surprisingly good. It was recommended by a friend, but the reviews I've read on it have been mixed. Well, so far, it's very good with some keen and dead-on observations about the condition of the human soul, as seen from the eyes of skeptics turned believers. In other words, it's not a “yes-yes, drink the Kool-Aid” book, but one that examines the changes of faith of several people, primarily the author. It's what I term a “real-life Christian” book written by a person who's struggled. Chasing Elephants is in the same vein, but hasn't grabbed me as much yet. No doubt it will later. I'll definitely be giving it a chance. I'd be getting more reading done if David didn't talk so much, but that's fine.

Alight... train's moving and we're moving out of Union Station! Time to shut this down and watch the scenery go by!

Saturday morning:

Woke up just after going thru Pittsburg. I kind of wanted to see Pittsburg, but slept thru it. It might have actually been the stop and restart that woke me up. No matter- I'll catch it on the way back. Right now we're weaving our way thru PA. It's really pretty country with lots of deciduous hardwood forests, shale cliffs, rivers (creeks to them, probably), and hilly mountains. There are a lot of tunnels in PA and it's fun when the train goes thru them.

David's doing okay. He thinks he's up and then falls asleep at breakfast, of which he only ate 3-4 bites. He's such a picky eater and won't try anything new that it's hard to feed him on the road. He'll just have to learn to adapt, I guess. Me, I'm finding the train food to be pretty good. I had a NY Strip steak last night that was very decent, along with a good salad and some vegetables. I'm not complaining.

David in the sleeper

We are well on schedule and should be in DC shortly after 1 pm.

Later: We arrived right on time. After a short taxi ride to our motel, we were at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum by 2 pm. It was packed! Saturday afternoon, what does one expect? We still had plenty of time for a quick overview and even worked in a 3D IMAX movie on “Legends of Flight” which was pretty neat. The 3D part was something else. Grabbed a quick and known bite to eat at McDonalds and headed back to the motel. I snagged a Starbucks Venti Dark and here we are- updating the blog. 

At the Air/Space Museum!

BTW- I've been taking these stills with my video camera.  They're all a little dark and blurry- gonna have to play with settings on the camera to see if it won't do better...

Friday, February 18, 2011

Adventure via Amtrak

We are on an adventure. My oldest son (9) and I are on our way to Washington DC via Amtrak train. He's been wanting to visit the Smithsonian but because he has extremely bad anemia, he can't fly. My mother suggested that we take Amtrak, I looked into it, and here we are! We boarded in Raton NM on a train that was over 2 hours late (due to an electrical problem, we later found out). We have a sleeper car and so after eating a late supper on the train (part of the sleeping car deal), we fixed up our beds and went to sleep.

At the Raton station

Sleeping on the train wasn't too bad. The car sways and bumps, but it's no worse than sleeping in an automobile. It's quite a bit better really because you can stretch out and the train is smoother than a car for the most part. I took my hearing aids out and wasn't bothered by any noise. I did have a small scare late in the night though. Before leaving I'd cleaned my ears to get some wax out (so I could hear better). I didn't get it all because I feel the water getting trapped, but I thought I was okay. In the middle of the night, though, I woke up with a little pain in that ear. I'm thinking, ear infection! After rubbing it and clearing my Eustachian tubes a bit, I felt better and when I woke up, I felt fine.

We are currently sitting in the “view” car, which is a neat car with big windows, tables, and chairs where you can sit and watch the world go by. It's an interesting experience in other ways, too. The car is currently full of Amish from IL and while I'm sitting here a Muslim man and his woman in full black veil walked by. What an interesting contrast. The Amish with their full beards and consistent clothing, and the Muslim man with his full beard and his woman trailing behind.

The view of the view car

David is having a good time. He's talking constantly, although he soon got invited to the next table to visit with a lady we had supper with last night (the train deliberately puts full tables together). At this moment, he's talking to her and the Amish men at the cross table. It's too bad the kid is so shy.

In the view car

That's the news for now. I'll get some of this posted when we hit Chicago Union Station where, hopefully, I'll have internet access.

We are in Union Station in the 1st Class Amtrak lounge- another benefit of sleeper cars!- waiting to board in 30 minutes or so.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Removing wood from valuable guitars

Today was "Guitar Day".  This is where I remove wood from perfectly good guitars in an effort to make them better.

This is a Martin D-18 GE and I did quite a few things to it.  Last night I pulled the bridge off, scraped off the finish underneath, and reglued it.  This morning, I shaved a couple of braces, removed another one, made a new pickguard (shown), made a new nut, and did some misc things.  The effect of all this is a guitar that's a bit more responsive, louder, crisper and just, IMHO, sounds better.  It also helps pay the bills and that's very, very important!

Here's the new nut I made.

This work took pretty much all day, but the guitar's done and ready to ship home.  With this done, I need to get ready for Bible study tonight.  We're going to start something new.   What, I don't know.  Maybe we'll study the parables of Jesus, maybe we'll work thru an entire book, maybe... well, I don't know.  I'll just have to see what The People want to do.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

We are drip free!

Shhh......hear that? You don't? GOOD!!! That's the sound of faucets not dripping. I spent today traveling to town getting shark-bite connectors, good quality valves, and stainless steel hoses. Put this all together with some PEX tubing and got those drips stopped. One sink went perfectly, the other still leaked up at the top so I took it apart, cleaned it, installed a new O-ring and- miracles!!!- stopped the leak. I feel useful! Special thanks to Chance for showing me the shark-bite ropes.

If you've never used shark-bite connectors, they are a Godsend. They connect to anything- PEX, polybutyl gray pipe, copper pipe- and just snap in place and you're done. They remove easily with a ridiculously simple tool. I couldn't believe how easy they were. And PEX is good stuff, too. It's an expandable clear hose that installs with a special spreader. It's flexible, clear (so you can see your water), tough, easy to work with.... just great stuff.

After doing this, I worked on a couple of guitars, trying to make some progress by Thursday. I put a bridgeplate and moved the bridge on a 70's D-35 and then removed, cleaned, and reglued the bridge on a D-18 GE. Tomorrow the GE gets the back braces shaved, popsicle brace removed, a new nut, and new pickguard.

I need to get all this done because something interesting is happening Thursday. Stay tuned.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Welcome (to my water problems)

Welcome to my blog. I've been thinking about doing one of these for awhile. Then I put it off. Then I think about it. Then I put it off. Then I think about.... well, after some prompting from my daughter, I have made the step to Blogdom. In this blog, I'm going to talk about ranch life, spiritual issues, guitars, falconry, and anything else that pops up.

Life on a ranch is a lot like being a fireman. There are long lull periods followed by emergencies. Every emergency is different and you just have to deal with what comes up. Such was the past week. The weather took a turn for the worse two weeks ago with sub-zero temperatures and way-sub-zero wind chills. We recorded -65 F wind chill on our Weather Wizard. For the first time since I've been here on the ranch (15 years), we've had animals to take care of over the winter. On our ranch we summer yearling cattle. That is, people send us calves weighing about 350-450 lb and they spend the summer gaining weight on natural grasses. In October, they're gathered and shipped off to market. Last year's batch of heifers evidently had more than a passing acquaintance with a bull at some point in their young lives and we ended up with 14 baby calves. As a learning experiment, we decided to buy those calves, over winter them, and sell them next fall. If any of them look good, we'll keep them and use them to start our own small breeding herd.

Sounds good on paper, but none of these calves were weaned so it was going to be up to us to get them that way. Weaning is an interesting process as the young calf has to actually develop a ruminant digestive system. It's not just a matter of "oh, let's quit drinking milk and start eating grain." We lost one of the calves fairly quickly and another developed digestive problems that were starting to look like coccidiosis. And then along came The Big Storm. It's hard for anything to survive in -60 F wind chill and in spite of us getting the calves into shelter, we lost the smallest calf. The others did okay, but us humans were having our own set of problems what with water freezing (gotta get water to the calves, right?) In addition to the calves, we also have 4 adult and 2 weanling horses to take care of. The adult horses are pretty tough and they found shelter in the pasture. The weanlings huddled in with the calves and they all rode it out together.

On Day 1 of the storm, I went down to feed/water. Within an hour of returning- and, let me tell you, -60 F wind chill takes your breath away!- I was shaking with a mild fever. Then the sore throat developed and the cough started. I was miserable. The doc said "bronchitis" and gave me an antibiotic and cough syrup. The latter nearly made me delusional so I quit taking it. My wife herbed me up with slippery elm, elderberry, fennugreek/thyme, and so forth. But, really, there was nothing to do except ride it out. So, I plopped down on the couch, laid out all 6 Star Wars and set about recovering.

A week later, my wife and daughter we off to Santa Fe for a week for "Teen Pact", leaving me and the 2 boys at home alone. I was starting to get a little better and the weather was slated to take a turn for the better about Weds, so we figured we'd be okay. Tues night, I took a late night bath to run some water. Weds I woke up and went to get a drink. No water. Great. Our well is about 1/4 mile from the house and feeds both our house and a couple of stock tanks in the pasture. It turned out that a valve at one of those tanks had worked loose (cold made the plastic pipeline contract and pull loose) and our water had probably been running non-stop for who knows how long. It was a flooded marsh out there and I couldn't even get to the valve thru all the water, so I had no choice but to turn the water off in the well house. So, coughing and wheezing and spitting phelgm, that's what I did. At least the temp was close to freezing instead of 40 deg below.

Next day, I had some help and much to my pleasure I found the ground drier. What water was left was still frozen and we were able to toss the ice out of the way. After several trips back to the house for more tools and parts, we had the pipeline capped off. I turned the well on and we drove back to the house. There, I was greeted by my two young boys yelling "there's water spraying all over the bathroom!!!" Muddy boots and all, I ran to the bathroom to find water exploding from the valves under the sink. Of course, that's where we keep our spare towels and so they were soaked (but they also kept the water contained). I opened the faucets to relieve the pressue, and then my boys called me to the utility room where water was also flooding out. Same deal- blowing out of the valves under the sink. I knew what the problem was- the pressure switch at the pump was stuck.

If you don't know anything about pumps, there's a switch at the pump that turns on when pressure falls below a certain level and turns the pump off when it hits a certain level. If that switch goes bad- as it's likely to do when the pump runs too long (such as when a valve fails in the pasture...)- the pump will not turn off and pressure will continue to build until something blows. Having been here, done this, once before, I recognized the problem. So, after opening all the faucets in the house to relieve pressure I ripped back to the well house and shut the water off once again. At least we got the toilets flushed (and boy did they flush with all that pressure!!!).

Back at the house, I called our well man and lo and behold, will miracles never cease, but he was able to come right out ("right out" being a 45 mi drive). Three hours later, we had a new pressure switch, pressure gauge, and running water at the house. Of course, some of the shut-off valves were damaged and dripping and my task for this week is to replace those. This is going to be another new experience as the plumbing in our mobile home is PB plastic and the valves are crimped on. I'm going to replace everything from the valve on up with "Shark bite" connectors and real valves. I'll keep you posted.