Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Lights on the Zip Line

I went kayaking this past weekend.

I agree, that's kindof a crazy idea for late November around here. And I'm certain I wouldn't have even considered the possibility had I not been recruited earlier in the week. My friend Patrick Brough got this crazy idea to string holiday lights across the Nashawannuck Pond, on the wire that holds the American flag all summer long. Turning this 'idea' into reality would require a fair amount of creativity, finances, and friends with water craft.

After assessing the power situation, despite the proximity to the wire's proprietor,Whitely Electric, solar powered lights would be the only practical solution. Perhaps power might be an option another year, but for the first try, solar powered icicle lights offered the only non-cost-prohibitive solution. After an on-line search and visits to all the local spots (Manchester, Aubuchon, etc.), solar icicle lights were found and purchased at Target. Pat took the lights home, rolled them out, and attached them to long thin strips of wood that would attach to the wire.

After getting permission from Mayor Mike to use the now flag-less wire, PBTV Pat made a few calls and emails to friends with rowboats and kayaks. Paul Novak, of the pond dredging, fish rescuing fame, was first to be recruited, since he has a motorized rowboat, much more stable for standing in while floating on very cold water ponds. Next, a few of his kayak-owning buddies would get the call. After seeing a number of my kayak-based photos of Mt. Tom and the pond, he knew I fell into that category. One more friend, Buddy Lapointe, on the shore, working the cable, and the solar icicle team was complete.

So this past Saturday morning we all gathered under the wire over the pond to turn Pat's dream into reality. Turned out, the wire didn't need to be lowered as much as Pat thought, so he really didn't need Derek Allard, Jeff, and me, his kayak spotters.

We were only needed for moral support, but that was ok. The sun shone brightly, and I was dressed for winter skiing conditions, so it was actually invigorating to be out on the pond on this late November day.

With Paul's help in the boat, Pat attached all the lights, turned the solar panels to the sun, and with a yell to Buddy on the shore, the wire was raised back to its tightrope walk position.

I'm guessing it was a long day for Pat as he waited for the sun to go down and the lights to come on. If you drove down Williston Ave around four that night, I'm sure you would have seen him, camera at the ready, fidgeting like a kid on Christmas Eve.

Well, as things turned out, the lights aren't as bright as he'd imagined and hoped. A strand or two are already acting up. But it was a noble idea, and I applaud Patrick's determination to see his idea through to its conclusion.

What makes this a story worth telling?

I guess I just wanted to tip my hat to everyone's friend Pat for the effort, time, and expense. It was a small selfless gesture, and like his good news page on Facebook, motivated by a simple desire to help make Easthampton an even better place to live. Just think, if we all made one tiny little effort, like Paul Novak's nighttime (once during a blizzard I'm told) anonymous hikes to the top of Mt. Tom to replace the bulbs on the star, what a town, and a world, we would have.

On that note, I would be remiss to not mention the gang at the Brass Cat, who too were out on the cold pond this past weekend, positioning the Christmas tree. Thanks to Michael and his band for bringing the tree back to the pond this year! It will be officially lit during the Holiday Stroll this coming Friday, December 3rd starting at 7 p.m. at Maple School.

(images by Patrick Brough.)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

An Ode to Raking.

What did I do with my day off this week? Power washed the green off the shady side of my house, made lunch, then mowed and raked my lawn.

Pretty exciting, eh?

Sounds like a Facebook status update.

Call me crazy, but I actually enjoyed it. There's something about facing something that needs fixing, cleaning, or straightening, investing some physical effort, and when it's all done, having something to show for it. For me, it was a shiny white back side of my house and a clean yard.

If you're a homeowner, I wouldn't be at all surprised if you too spent a chunk of this past weekend raking leaves into piles and wheel-barreling them to the woods or the compost pile. Hopefully, when you were done, you took a few minutes to jump in the biggest pile.

There are many ways to purge your yard of leaves. Of course, the classic is with a good old-fashioned rake and a fistful of leaf bags from the local hardware store. Another fine approach is with your lawn mower and its handy bag attachment. A third method is with the relatively new contraption called a leaf blower, noisy sister to the jet ski. The leaf blower never seemed quite accurate enough for my leaf-gathering efforts. Looks to me like you're just herding leaves into a general area of your yard, where I would imagine you ultimately still have to reach for the trusty rake and bag the leaves anyway.

I suppose I should include another option - hiring someone to do the job for you, thereby delegating the decision of which method to use. For the time-crunched, probably not a bad option, although I have a feeling that cold one afterward just isn't quite as satisfying. And of course, that's going to cost you a few dollars, the same ones might better spent on a sundae at your favorite scoop shop or flowers for the little lady.

So, I'd venture a theory that, in most cases, it's the good, old-fashioned rake and a couple hours in the crisp Autumn air. I'm sure most people would rather prefer to catch an afternoon nap in the backyard hammock or watch a football game than rake leaves, and I certainly had more than a few thoughts of other things I could be doing when I was out there, but I'd still argue it's not the worst chore in the homeowner's handbook. It's not that strenuous. You're outside in the fresh air. There's little thinking involved, so your mind is free to wander where it chooses. The constant shooshing sound of the rake against the leaves and the ground lulling you into a calm delta state, not unlike the sound of crashing waves or rain against the roof.

Ok, so maybe this doesn't happen to everyone, but for me it was a nice change from the constant grind of eight freezer compressors in the shop.

If it's a big yard with lots of trees, raking it can seem daunting. Like your driveway after an all-night nor'easter. But I'd argue those are the yards/driveways that are the greatest source of home care satisfaction. Just think, you probably pay a monthly fee to a place with 'fitness' in the name just to burn same amount of calories. You should be grateful for such prolific trees and the widest driveway on your street.

Perhaps grateful isn't a word that's come to mind the morning after a big snowstorm.

You probably think I'm nuts for admitting I enjoy raking, and we can certainly still be friends if you don't share my enthusiasm for yard work. Maybe I just had a little too much free thinking time while I raked, or that I just yearned to do something beside make ice cream, I'm not sure. But as I sat in my little plastic deck chair, celebratory beverage in hand, as I admired my newly groomed yard, I felt pretty satisfied. Good old-fashioned hard work, an afternoon outside, some quality thinking time, and a couple chores off my to-do list. Not too bad.

Life really is simple. We just choose to make it complicated.

Thanks for listening.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Engineering as cool as ice cream!

This according to a story I just came across from the Salt Lake Tribune.

More than 500 students at Salt Lake City’s Bryant Middle School learned Monday that chemistry can be both delicious and fun. Aided by a team of engineers, the middle schoolers mixed up their own batches of vanilla ice cream and Silly Putty.

“I never knew you had to use so many ingredients to make ice cream,” said 12-year-old Alexis Mahana. “Being an engineer looks hard but it sounds cool.”

Nearly 20 chemical engineers from New York to Puerto Rico visited Bryant on Monday as part of the annual convention of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE), which is in Salt Lake City this week. They hope to inspire the next generation of engineers.

“In our lifetime, the issues of renewable energy, clean water and clean air [will require] new and novel solutions,” said Rodney Dotson, a professor at City College of New York and chairman of AIChe’s minority affairs committee. “That is what the world will look to [new engineers] to do.”

Engineers, he said, help to solve a variety of human problems and their innovations spur economic growth.

Inspiring the next generation of engineering by teaching them how to make ice cream. For a guy who left a career in engineering to make ice cream, I can't help but find this story ironic. Very cool, but ironic.

At Bryant, seventh-grader Lauren Watkins could not decide which part of making ice cream was the “funnest.” She and a partner placed milk, sugar and vanilla inside a small, sealed plastic bag and then placed that bag inside a larger one with ice and rock salt. She loved shaking the bag to remove the heat from the milk and cause it to freeze. It also was exciting when the bag exploded. But perhaps the best part, she said, was eating the end product.

“I learned about the chemical reaction between ice and salt,” she said. “It was really fun.”

I'm not sure how many chemical engineers get to eat their end product, so that may not be the 'funnest' part for them, but I admire their creativity in finding ways to engage kids in the scientific process. The article doesn't talk much about making Silly Putty, which I'm sure was 'really fun' (wicked fun to you and me) too, but it just didn't stand a chance against the highly favored ice cream.

Well, maybe if they'd had an old Sunday comic section lying around..

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Sharpening the Saw, er Scoop. Part I

Just returned from my annual working getaway to this year's New England Ice Cream Retailer's Association (NEICRA) ice cream conference. One nice feature of the conference is it's in a different new England venue every year. This year it was Meredith, New Hampshire, a quaint little town on the banks of the lake of Winnipesaukee.

The conference is three days, but all the good stuff is during the middle day. So as usual I took the opportunity to use that first day as a little R&R time for myself. Since I wasn't quite ready to mix and mingle with the ice cream folks, I booked a room at the Lazy E Motor Inn in tacky, but in a good way, Weirs Beach. Like any conscientious blogger, I'd include a link to their website, because it was quite an interesting spot, full of character (although I happened to be the only character that night), but most times I've clicked over there, it's instantaneously blown up my browser. So instead, let me give you a taste here...

Not quite as posh as the site of the conference, but it's hard to complain about drinking your morning coffee lakeside as you watch the fog lift to expose the still firey colors of the New England's finest Fall foliage...

Not bad for 62 bucks a night, including tax...

Of course, I've never been one to pass up the artsy shot...

And you may have to 'click to enlarge' to see which spot is actually the moon in the refection here...

Now for the real charm of the Lazy E...

There seems to be a fine line between charm and tackiness.

And functionality.

There was actually a big screen TV in there. Now you know what to do with that old boat in your backyard...

No pig roast today, darn. Good to know they had the hardware to get that done though..

Speaking of your sweet outdoor bar made out of old boat parts!..

And not to leave out the kiddos on their boat reuse initiatives...

And when all the partyin's done, how about a relaxing Adirondack chair and a cozy fire...

Are you still looking for the boat in that last picture? It's gotta be in there somewhere.

I think this might explain the party readiness of this quaint little (motor) inn..

In case you've been looking for 'the place' to stay during Laconia bike week next summer, you can call off the search.

Well, I was going to write about my ice cream conference experience this year, but it seems I got a little carried away with the place I stayed the night before. Guess I'll just have to save that for next time. The photos aren't nearly as interesting anyway...

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

No Politics Here.

How about a little virtual Fall stroll through Easthampton. Since a picture is worth a whole bunch of words, I'll just leave you to the images (click to enlarge)...

Enjoy your day. Feeling like Fall now, but then again, it is November after all..

See you soon.