Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Satisfaction of a Job (mostly) Well Done

With the onset of what could be considered summer, home improvement time has also arrived. Usually at our house we choose one project and spend the whole summer picking away at it. Last summer was taken up with demolishing a huge old garage and the construction of a new one. While I miss the room and space of the old building, the process of building the new one was rewarding (and with 3 daughters, I really needed a place to hide out). This summer is one of gardening and landscaping. Sounds like a simple enough matter when you first consider it. Rake out some top soil and spread some grass seed. Plant a few flowers and a tree or two maybe. Seems simple until you actually start to consider what else needs to be done in order for it all to look 'just right'.

Here we are now towards the end of July. So far we have raked top soil, planted new plants, moved old plants to new locations, put a new fire pit in place, built a new picnic table, began to lay down a new Belgian stone walkway and patio and built a free standing deck. Phew! Now it might just be me, but that seems like more than the simple spread some grass seed and plant a few plants plan that we came up with in March. I know it's not building a house or anything like that but holy smokes!

Well the deck is 99% complete (just some benches and a planter left to build). The plants have taken hold in their new locations and are beginning to loose that droopy wilted look they get when you move them around. The new grass is starting to grow and things are starting to look more or less like I imagined them. Finally, the other night I was able to light a fire in the fire pit and sit on the new deck with a beverage (that I brewed myself) and watch the river pass by in front of the house. As I looked around me at the things I built with my own two hands I couldn't help but feel some pride in my work (and in the fact that it required only one trip to the Emergency room).

Next item on the list – painting the house. On second thought, perhaps I'll hire someone to do that and take pride in their work for a change.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Names Have Been Changed to Protect… Someone

We've all read those articles in magazines where there is a disclaimer saying that names have been changed to protect the innocent or the presumed innocent or whatever. There are times when I can see that this might be necessary. Perhaps someone witnessed a major crime and had to be protected against reprisals. My question is, are these names really changed or are they just telling us that? Maybe the names aren't changed at all. "When Jill (not her real name) was 12 years old she witnessed a butterfly stab a horse." Maybe Jill really is her name and they are just saying that the names have been changed to throw us off.

What got me thinking about this was a story in the news about a guy who is testifying against his former friends in a biker gang in a murder trial. The reporter referred to the witness using initials (JG or something like that) to protect his identity. Now feel free to correct me but why are we protecting this guy's identity from the public at large? Does the public at large have anything against this guy? Probably not. They bad guys he is testifying against are right there in the court room. They already know who he is. I'm sure that the other members of this biker gang who are still on the street already know who he is too. Seems to me that if they were trying to protect him they would come up with some other better way of doing it than just not saying his name. Perhaps some kind of memory erasing ray gun or an invisibility cloak or even just a bag to go over his head-- something.

I agree for the most part that some protection has to be provided for those who are willing to take a stand against the bad guys so that justice can be done. Maybe it makes the witness feel safer to know that his or her name is not being plastered across newspapers and websites from coast to coast. Maybe it helps to get the whole story out in court. Does it really help or not? I don't know.

The one thing that does occur to me about his biker gang story is that the only people who actually know who this witness is are the police and court officials – and of course the bad guys who might want to get him later on.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Odd Things Campers Do

After arriving home from our most recent camping trip, I got to thinking about all of the stuff we have that is for no other use but camping. This of course led me to begin thinking about some of the strange and odd things to do with camping. Here are just a few of them.

Strange Thing #1 – Camping Dishes

We have a whole set of dishes that we use for no other purpose than to eat off of when we are camping. We have unbreakable plates and bowls, steel coffee cups and heavy duty pots and such that only see the light of day when we go camping. Our regular pots for the kitchen are pretty good so, I can understand our aversion to not wanting to use them over open flame and have them all soot stained and blackened, but our dishes are another story. Why the unbreakable cups and plates? Why just for camping? Why not use them everyday, or better yet, why not just take our regular plates and dishes with us camping? A regular plate is just as likely to break (if not more so) if I drop it on the hard floor of the kitchen as it is to break if I drop it on the ground at the campsite. Why not use the unbreakable ones all the time?

Strange Thing #2 – Camping Clothes    

Most of my day to day clothing is of the regular everyday variety that everyone uses. Cotton shirts and shorts, denim jeans and a few 'nicer' clothes that I use for 'dressing up' to go out. My camping clothes are more practical. They are made of synthetics and dry quickly, they are light weight and last for long periods of time because I only wear them a few times a year. So if my camping clothes are more practical, why am I not using them all the time? They keep me cool when it is hot and if it gets cold I dress in layers and I stay warm. They look pretty good (I think) and so why not use them all the time? Why the special clothing just for camping?

Strange Thing #3 – Locks (or lack thereof)

This has to be one of the most bizarre things that I have noticed about camping. When you get ready to go anywhere what do you do? You collect the things you think you need. You put them in the car and you close the door of your house and then you lock your door right? When camping the steps are the same only there are no locks. When camping we try to keep the site tidy and so we place our belongings in the tent and make sure that our stove is closed but we often just leave it on the table. We leave our chairs in place around the campfire pit. If we happen to have our canoe with us and are not using it, we stow our PFDs and paddles under it and we go off to do what we are going to do. Not exactly Fort Knox is it? Why do we allow ourselves to believe that our things are any more secure on our campsite than they are at home? Do we trust our temporary camping neighbours more than our regular neighbours at home? Even at night we crawl into our sleeping bags and zip up the tent, secure in the knowledge that the thin layer of nylon that the tent is made out of is going to keep us safe from wild animals and knife wielding maniacs. Perhaps all of those people at Sleep Away Camp and in the Friday the 13th movies would have survived if they had been in tents. Delusional isn't it?

So there are just three of the odd things I have noticed about camping. I'm sure that everyone has similar oddities to do with their camping experiences. So if you have never been camping give it a try. You just might like it. If you already love camping and are going out this summer have fun, be safe and for god's sake don't touch the side of the tent if it rains!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Guide to Campers

My kids love to go camping. They are enthusiastic about every aspect of the whole experience-- from sleeping in a tent, to hiking in the forest, to eating roasted marshmallows over the campfire. From top to bottom, and left to right they LOVE camping. My bride and I also love camping and this past weekend proved to be another successful outing for the entire family. As I walked through the campground I got to thinking about some of the differences between various campers and the strange things we all do when camping. So this will be the first of a couple of blogs devoted to this activity.

As near as I can tell, there seems to be four distinct types of camper. The first type of camper is what I will call the minimalist. This camper arrives at the campground with the bare necessities of the camping experience. Basically they have a tent and sleeping bags, maybe a sleeping mat, some food and a book and not much else. They rely on their campfire or a small cook stove to cook their food and live a Spartan existence while camping.

The second category is what I will call the advanced minimalist. This is the category that my family falls into. We have the tent, stove, coolers for food, lanterns and flashlights, books, some games for rainy days as well as air mattresses for sleeping on and a power inverter for powering our electric pump for blowing up the air mattresses. With a little effort we can fit all of our stuff into our car and can entertain ourselves quite easily for 3 to 5 days. While as a whole my family falls into this category, when it is just my bride and I camping, we can easily revert to our minimalist roots.

The third category is the advanced camper. They can bring anything from a tent to a smallish travel trailer and also have a screened in shelter for eating and socializing in. The camp sites these people occupy look like small compounds or some sort of closed community. There are bikes and boats, lots of outdoor furniture and all kinds of toys littering the site. Just like home.

The fourth camper is the mega advanced camper. These are the people with the huge 40 foot long campers (often called 'land yachts') that have the video cameras on the back instead of a rear view mirror. They sport microwaves, electricity, generators, full bathrooms, dishwashers, air conditioners, satellite dishes and are nicer than most people's homes. More often than not they also pull a small car or truck behind as well. As near as I can tell, these people seem to want the 'atmosphere' of the campground without giving up their daily dose of Oprah in the afternoons or their toys. I have even seen this type of camper bring along their own inflatable pool and set it up beside their palace on wheels! I also saw one last summer pulling a Hummer behind.

So these are the basic types of campers that I have come into contact with. People in the first two categories are out there to enjoy nature, and to 'rough it' a bit. People in the third category like the outdoors and nature but want to have some comforts while they camp. As for the people in the last category… I'm not really sure what they're after.

Next time… The odd things campers do.