Thursday, December 30

Last feeding of the decade? You decide.

The battle rages on—when does a decade start and end? Many people see 2010 as the end of the decade that started with 2000. Problem is, though, that the last year of the 2000 decade was actually 2009. If the decade started with a zero, doesn’t the next one start with a zero?

Anyway, I’ll leave it to you to fight it out. I am a bit too pacifistical to engage in such bloody warfare.

Meanwhile, Susan in Australia had a nice idea—she said she just stopped by to feed the hamster and the fish. Isn’t that nice? I invite all my readers to do the same. It takes only a few seconds and with the hamster feeding, you can do some fancy tossing of the feed to make it bounce off the walls and floor and if you’re of a sadistic bent, you can click, then quickly drag your cursor to the edge of the frame and beyond, making the food pellet stick to the edge out of reach of the hamster. He/she will stare at it, probably salivating, even palpitating, for hours (assuming you have the patience to continue your tempting torture). But as a practical matter, feed costs are supposed to rise and I would really appreciate it if my readers use the food now stockpiled and starting to age beyond its use by date. Soon my expenses may rise to the extent that I have to sell the gopher—excuse me—hamster (or turn it into cat food), and eat some of the fish to save some dough.

But enough of my fiscal concerns. To all, have a wonderful New Year!

Friday, December 24


Our Visit to Raymond!
We finally made time to really “experience” the nearby town, historic Raymond! The first destination, something we were anticipating the most, was the Frontier Inn to see if they really have the coldest beer in town. We never got to test their claim though, since the town’s only other bar was closed down by the County Health Department earlier in the week.

Our visit to the Post Office revealed that in a single year, thousands of pieces of mail are handled, some of it First Class.

The town’s main employer, the granite quarry, was closed. We were terribly disappointed, but relieved to find out that they don’t allow visitors anyway. In the past, a few people on the tour were caught pocketing samples of crushed rock the company sells for road surfacing. The manager finally said “Enough!” and put an end to all tours. What a shame that just a few people can ruin it for everyone else!

We were so pleased to see all the school buses parked in a neat row by the elementary school. They appeared to be very clean, too, even from a distance.

Sadly our “day on the town” was cut short after only a few hours because Tom had “gone wild” and taken so many pictures he ran his camera battery completely flat just as the power had gone out all over town; there was no way to recharge it. We left reluctantly, thanking the many residents who were so kind and gracious and willing to share their little corner of the world with us, even if only for a short time.

Petting the neighbors’ horses!
Bruce and Candy, who live down the road a ways, invited us to come pet their two horses. We felt honored because as far as we know, they have never invited anyone else around here to pet them. As we were leaving, Bruce invited Karla to sit in the driver’s seat of his big yellow bulldozer!

Vista Point!
It took nearly all day to drive to and from Vista Point on State Route 168, but boy, was it worth it! There was ample parking, much to our relief, since we had heard it was such a popular spot. We were pleased to find a CalTrans receptacle for the trash we had accumulated during our trip: From Raley’s Mountain Café in Oakhurst there was Tom’s 12-ounce Peet’s coffee cup, and Karla’s tomato soup bowl and cellophane wrappers from the two complimentary packets of soda crackers that came with her soup. We also discarded the plastic spoon and a couple of paper napkins. It was gratifying to experience our tax dollars at work.

On the return trip, Karla discovered an empty potato chip bag under her seat, but we decided we were too far away to go back so we tossed it in the trash receptacle when we “topped off” at the Von’s gas station in Oakhurst.

Not getting stuck on the road!
For the twenty-ninth year in a row, we were among the very few people in our valley to not get stuck on the hairpin turn on the unpaved portion of the county road. Our Toyota Highlander has full-time four-wheel-drive, which certainly helps! Other people with front-wheel-drive, or worse, rear-wheel-drive are at the mercy of the slippery mud that happens on that part of the road after it rains.

It also probably helps that we stay at home when it rains!

Pressure washer fixed!
The pressure washer works again! After many frustrating tries to start our pressure washer, we finally took it to one of the local equipment rental shops. They repair broken things and assured us that they could get it working again. Sure enough, they fixed it, and even put in some fresh gasoline in the bargain. They told us that the gasoline in the tank was very old and had water in it. No wonder! Engines sure don’t run on water! Also, the carburetor was dirty inside and the spark plug needed cleaning. They also replaced the air filter.

Portable Generator fixed!
The portable generator works again! After many frustrating tries to start our portable generator, we finally took it to one of the local equipment rental shops. They repair broken things and assured us that they could get it working again. Sure enough, they fixed it, and even put in some fresh gasoline in the bargain. They told us that the gasoline in the tank was very old and had water in it. No wonder! Engines sure don’t run on water! Also, the carburetor was dirty inside and the spark plug needed cleaning. They also replaced the air filter.

Best wishes!
Here’s hoping your year was as fulfilling as ours. Even though there are many challenges in our way of life, we manage to make it through by turning adversity into adventure! We’re sure we will have more wild and wacky experiences to tell you about next year. HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Tom and Karla!

Another amazing Google freebie

I am still wowed by Google Earth, and very much appreciate its usefulness and beauty. Google recently launched another fascinating and enlightening application, Google Body. In order for it to run on your computer, you have to have a Web browser that utilizes a new technology called WebGL. Google’s own browser, Google Chrome Beta has it of course, and so does Firefox 4 Beta. This technology will become standard on all browsers because of its ability to run applications in the browser with no support from plug-ins or other applications. It’s speedy and powerful.

Already physicians are using Google Body (aka BodyBrowser) to educate their patients. The user is able to choose among muscles, skeleton, circulatory system, organs and nervous system. You can display them one at a time or in any combination and adjust their transparency to see what’s behind the elements. Click on an organ and see what its name is. Or turn on the label view and see the names of all the parts. Enlarge, reduce, rotate, tilt—view the body from the top of the head or the soles of the feet.

Here’s a feature that’s really amazing—look at the address bar where the URL is located at the top of your browser window.

As you change your view of the body, a series of numbers in the URL changes. When you get the parts, angle of view, and size you want, you can copy that URL and email it to someone who can paste it into their browser and get the exact same view as you have on your screen. Now that is amazing!

One thing that’s required to successfully search is that you can’t use common terms; you have to use proper medical terminology. I got no result from entering noggin, belly button, funny bone, or butt. Bummer.

Thursday, December 23

Mother Nature is messing with us again

She fooled the imports, now she’s messin’ with the natives. Shown above are white oak, miners lettuce, and stinging nettles. Normally they wait for springtime before they appear with new foliage. Right now we are exactly one day into winter!

The flowering quince and lemon tree aren’t native, so they can be fooled into thinking that when there’s abundant rain and sunlight and warm weather it’s time to put out new leaves and maybe even flowers.

Before the recent week-long rain siege came to California, we were finishing up a wood-splitting marathon down the road a ways. I noticed new leaves sprouting on a huge old white oak tree; it was a major abundance of leaves, too.

Are we going to get the usual frosty mornings this winter? We’ve had just one morning that iced up a bowl of water. Apple trees require a period of very cold weather in order to produce fruit. Luckily we don’t have apple trees, so take that Mother Nature!

Wednesday, December 22

Big interesting ants

Ants are very interesting creatures, especially big ones. The little ants seem to be mostly concerned about defending territory. Red ants are especially nasty, biting and stinging if humans invade their space.

Carpenter ants, rampant around here, are big ants. Body length of a half inch is average. They seem contemplative, not especially interested in only getting food as other, smaller ants do. Carpenters are interested in exploration. Tonight one of them was exploring my keyboard. She checked out several of the keys, focussing her interest on the ones near the center of the keyboard. It was almost as if she wanted me to find her and notice her interest. Of course, I did. I slid a piece of paper under her from the center (around the thgyu keys) to deposit her on the 56&*( keys. She responded by dashing back to the huji area of the keyboard.

What am I to do? Let her roam the areas where I could, in normal typing, crush her? If she roamed off to the numeric keypad of 456+ and other keys, she’d be safe. But hanging around in the asdf or qwerty areas she’d be putting her life in danger.

I was writing another blog about perspective. The word, perspective, brought to mind the wholeness of life on earth. Carpenter ants may be eating my house into ruin; the logs are full of them. But they are, after all, very interesting creatures. And here is one of them prancing around on the keyboard I use to write my blog. She seems to be saying that she has the right to exist here too. She is very calm and cool. I sense a presence of diplomacy. I darned near feel that we could have a conversation.

I am going to sleep on it. If I get bitten the deal is off.

Tuesday, December 21


Way back in 1977 earthlings received a picture from NASA’s Voyager 1 satellite that showed both the earth and its moon. It was the first time the two celestial bodies appeared together in one picture. Due to the distance from which the image was made, 7.25 million miles, the moon-earth distance was foreshortened, making the moon look uncomfortably close to our planet. If the picture had been taken at an even greater distance, the two bodies could seem to be almost attached to each other.

That’s the odd thing about perspective. Years ago I bought a 500 mm lens for my 35 mm Nikon film camera. I was fascinated at how the lens seemed to distort perspective. One of the first photographs I took with it was a face-on picture from several hundred feet away of my 1963 Volkswagen Beetle. The car was squished almost flat; on the print I made, the back tires were the same size as the front tires. That picture brought a very important point about perspective home to me—the farther away from the subject you are, the more accurate the relationship of the subject’s component sizes becomes. In reality, the VW’s tires were the same size, which was very apparent in the long-lens photograph. In a picture taken closer to the car the tires near the camera would look bigger than the tires farther away.

As lens makers came up with shorter focal-length lenses, like 10 mm, photographers had fun with the extreme relative distortion they could create. For a while in advertisments we saw pictures taken from above where a person’s head was huge compared to the body below. It seems advertising people exploit weirdness before anyone else.

That got me to thinking: What if someone showed you the relative sizes and distances of the most basic forms of matter, like atoms. What if you were small enough to visualize the components of the lightest atomic element, hydrogen. Here we have a tiny nucleus, one proton. Whizzing around that nucleus is a single electron, a particle that is 1,800 times less massive. If you enlarged the particles to where you could actually see them, how far apart would they be? How big would they be in relation to each other?

If the single-proton nucleus of a hydrogen atom were the size of a soccer ball, the electron spinning around it would be the size of a pea (I am making this up, so don’t use this as a reference in your Ph.D thesis). The tiny pea could be 100 miles away from the soccer ball and circling way beyond the speed of light. Since this defies the laws of physics, let’s bring things down in size. Let’s make the size of the nucleus like a chocolate coated hazelnut. The electron is like a nascent knee wart 18 miles away moving at 5,693 miles an hour. Or how about this: Make the nucleus the size of a fully-cooked rice grain and the electron like the period at the end of this sentence as displayed on an iPhone 4 at a distance of the altitude of a traffic helicopter over the average Los Angeles freeway morning commute, going the speed of a ’63 Volkswagen with equal-size tires.

Don’t you just love science?

That’s my perspective on perspective. Right now I have a very interesting carpenter ant cruising around on my keyboard, so I am going to blog about her after I get a few good pictures with my non-perspective-distorting lens on a digital camera at an undetermined distance.

Sunday, December 19

Halfway there?

The gauge holds up to 11" (280 mm) of rain at a time.

Right now we have received a hefty 3.45" (88 mm) of rain from the series of storms coming in off the Pacific ocean. The early predictions were for double or even four times that much, which just might happen by the time this storm passes.

The current satellite image shows that it stretches out westward clear past Hawaii. So far the rain has been steady, with a few bursts of energy along with plenty of strong wind. I get the feeling that we’re gonna get a whole bunch of new firewood candidates. These wind/rain events usually topple a few trees. Time to sharpen the chain saws.

Saturday, December 18

You’ve never seen it this way

Here all three engines are going full blast. See any smoke?

Our friend in Sweden, David, blogged about a friend who was with the Space Shuttle program for over 25 years. He included a link to a YouTube video that commemorates the program by showing the close-up technical details of a launch, taken with dozens of high-speed film cameras at the launch site. Imagine what it must feel like, perched atop a multi-million-pound-thrust rocket when it ignites and slams the whole assembly several feet off-kilter before it is freed from its eight explosive anchor bolts holding it to the launch pad. Every second the entire array is blowing off 23,000 pounds of mass until it reaches orbit eight minutes later at a speed of five miles per second.

The shuttle engines are fueled by hydrogen and oxygen so their exhaust is nice clean water vapor. The booster rockets are the real stinkers, spewing out the equivalent of the biggest tire fire in the biggest landfill imaginable. Oh well, at least they’re simple and reliable. And re-usable after they’re fished out of the ocean.

The video is over 45 minutes long. I sacrificed about a third of my daily Internet allotment via satellite, but it was well worth it! To see what I mean about the rocket assembly being tossed forward when the shuttle engines ignite, go to a place where you can see the entire assembly. When the shuttle engines start and before the boosters fire up, click on the progress button along the timeline and scrub it back and forth. That speeds up the action so you can see the amount of movement of the whole assembly. That must explain why the bottoms of the solid boosters are made of so many segments—they’re the only anchor to the earth right before takeoff and have to absorb that tremendous torque without breaking. Fascinating!

Right now I’m going to watch the whole thing again for the third time.

Some remarkable pictures

The purple thing is a praying mantis!

National Geographic Magazine has an annual contest, asking people to submit photographs. Neighbor Bill sent a forward to the Web site featuring some of the entries. Very worthwhile to take a look.

Friday, December 17

Magical iPhone app

This looks like magic, but I guess that’s what we’ve grown to expect from the folks at Apple.

Unfortunately, YouTube videos don’t play nice with Blogger. (Both companies are owned by Google, by the way. It seems the right and left hands of geeks don’t communicate there.)

To see the video in its whole-screen-ness, go here to the YouTube site.

Thursday, December 16

Hunker down time

I doubt that many of my readers live a life that even comes close to what Karla and I experience. In the first seven years after we got married we followed the 9-to-5 urban routine, five days a week. When we lived in Hollywood we got up in the morning and drove for ten minutes to our office, at first in downtown Los Angeles, then later to the mid-Wilshire district. At roughly 5 PM we returned home. After building our business and reputation, we had all of our clients trained well enough that we could close down and head for the hills for a week at a time. We eventually ended up taking six weeks off every year. Sounds positively European!

Currently we have a 12-to-14-week busy season during which we have to work seven days a week. In the off-season we can relax a bit but we still have to keep up horse care and email and telephone correspondence, plus spend an ungodly amount of time satisfying government requirements for the Forest Service, the Park Service, the Internal Revenue Service, the Board of Equalization, the Franchise Tax Board, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District and more—all the agencies that want their piece of the action (and our MONEY). To keep everything on the up-and-up we have to hire legal and accounting services. They take their portion of our money also. It seems that so much of our time and resources are dedicated to supporting a very large contingent of non-producers. Imagine how many lawyers and accountants would be out of work if worthless givernment (as my brother-in-law calls them) agencies and jobs didn’t exist.

If private companies ran some of the agencies now run by government, we could save so much money! One very recent example is the launching of an earth-orbiting rocket by SpaceX. Their Falcon 9 rocket propelled the Dragon capsule which made two orbits before returning to earth. When it was discovered a few days before launch that there was a flaw in the rocket engine, SpaceX fixed it on site. NASA would have, following policy, removed and replaced the entire engine at great expense and missed the launch schedule. (A NASA engineer told the SpaceX people he envied them—policy directives won’t let NASA guys do stuff like that.)

Years ago I remember reading about a NASA engineer who was given the job of designing a laser reflector to be placed on the moon by the first astronauts to land there. It was to be deployed so earthbound astronomers could measure much more accurately the distance between earth and moon. The engineer bought some mail-order parts from Edmund Scientific, a company in Barrington, New Jersey that specialized in selling to hobbyists. He hired a local machinist to make a lightweight frame to hold the retro-reflectors. It ended up costing $2,500 for two of the finished reflector arrays. He delivered them to NASA, ready for launch. They informed him that he had not followed procedure, and that they would take the project from there. The result? A duplication of his work with a price tag of $500,000. They probably had to spread the job to sub-agencies in all 50 states.

It’s going to be a very rainy several days here; five to ten inches of rain is the prediction. We have lots of food and firewood. We don’t need to go anywhere. If power lines fall, we have our own electricity. If roads flood and there are rockslides, we don’t need to drive. We are very lucky. We simply hunker down and spend more time fulfilling state and federal government requirements.

Monday, December 13

Not much happened today…

…then the sun went down.

Sunday, December 12

Speaking of pennies…

On October the twenty-second in the year nineteen eighty-two, the United States Mint made the last bronze one-cent coins. Bronze was getting too expensive to waste on making pennies, just as silver was too expensive to use for dimes, quarters, and half-dollars after 1964. So we got pennies made of copper-plated zinc from then on.

Nowadays it’s too expensive to make pennies even from cheap copper-plated zinc. What next? The mint tried aluminum pennies, but stopped when it turned out that if a kid swallows an aluminum penny it can’t be detected by X-ray. But still, a zinc penny, which can be detected, can be lethal. Dogs and kids have already died from ingesting zinc pennies which become poisonous when exposed to stomach acid.

Nobody ever died from swallowing a bronze penny. Shouldn’t we go back to “real” money just for safety’s sake regardless of cost? Or better yet, bite the bullet (please—not one made of toxic lead!) — eliminate the penny. Australia did it over a decade ago. So did New Zealand and Canada. Let’s admit it—inflation has eliminated the need for micro-parts of the limp dollar.

I was in Brazil in 1964 and could have bought a large shopping bag filled with their aluminum coins for five dollars. (And that was probably because I was an American sailor; regular folks could have gotten the bag for a dollar.) All of the then-circulating money in Brazil was paper.

Let’s eliminate all metal money. Let’s print our “paper” money on durable plastic like the Australians do. It lasts longer and offers some intriguing design opportunities, like transparency. Imagine—esthetic money. And while we’re dreaming, let’s retire the old founders and presidents and replace their images with current movie and television stars in skimpy garb. Collector dollars! Imagine the revenue stream to the treasury when people grab onto the latest bills and hoard them in private collections! Who in his right mind would spend a 3-D holographic J-Lo especially if she was a limited edition? Even a vintage Mickey Mouse would appeal to a certain demographic, a limited demographic for sure, but still. My mind reeks.

I mean reels.

Three pennies

I bought a few items at a hardware store in Fresno. The total came to $20.03. All I had was twenties, no change, no bills smaller than a 20. I didn’t want to use a debit card. The nice clerk said, “No problem,” accepted one of the twenties and called it even. I am forever indebted to her for her generosity. The three-cent shortage might come out of her salary in order for the store to report its sales and employee compensation accurately. Or she may have simply reached into her purse for the money before she turned in her receipts at the end of her shift. She didn’t look like she was part owner of the store and could make these snap decisions regardless of fiscal policy. I love her.

Here I am, a total stranger, buying supposedly ordinary items that could be used for any number of nefarious things. The innocent little can of acetone could be used to make a bomb. The nitrogen-rich plant food could be used to make a bomb. The bag of nails could become the shrapnel in a home-made bomb. The butane-filled barbecue fire-starter thingie could be used to detonate a bomb. Yet even with those possibilities, she let me walk out three cents richer. Bless her heart.

I wonder if she’s a closet anarchist.

Saturday, December 11

For my readers in Sweden

You guys in the way north get to see some of the most amazing phenomena in the sky. Here is a picture from the Web site today, taken in Stockholm. Auroras, midnight suns—nifty stuff. We mere mortals here in California only get to see things like, if we’re lucky, a sun dog. Yay. But we do see things like wild pigs, turkeys, ground squirrels. Red clay. Moles. Mold. Plastic bags. Gridlock. Smog.

Oh yeah, and Sharon Stone. Angelina Jolie. Things are looking up. Hey you Swedes, enjoy the nippy weather.

Wednesday, December 8

A rare and precious bookstore

Today Karla and I spent almost two hours in a charming bookstore in Fresno. Tucked in behind the main street businesses in a shopping center, this store is one of those places that are precious and getting so rare that they deserve preservation because they are so valuable, not to commerce, but to soul.

Several years ago, Hilary self-published a book, Never a Dull Moment. It was based on her daily writings that we required of her as a part of home schooling. Hilary had a rich resource of material for her book, what with the experiences she had at both our foothill ranch and the high Sierra ranch. Horses, dogs, precious agates in the river, memorable adventures every day—who could ask for more? We took the book to stores around Central California. One of the most enthusiastic recipients was Petunia’s Place, a children’s book store in Fresno. They invited Hilary to a book signing at the store. They promoted the signing and as a result she autographed and sold about seventy-five books that day, which was an incredibly validating experience for her.

Later a story about Hilary’s unusual life and her book was published in the Fresno Bee, two whole pages with photographs in full color in the Sunday edition. Mentions in an airline magazine and other publicity pretty much resulted in almost the entire first edition of 2,500 copies being sold out.

We had some more copies left. The printer of the book in Fresno was owned by a man I had worked with at another print shop. Our initial order was for 2,500 copies. He sneaked in a few hundred more. Today I took a bundle of ten books with us before we left for Fresno. At Petunia’s Place we followed Debbie, the wonderfully enthusiastic co-owner in her wheel chair as she recited the contents of almost every book in the entire store, picking out the exact ones we needed for our grandson, Benjamin. Her ebullient nature is worth the trip to the store. As she and Karla sang the songs in the books and as I returned the ones we weren’t buying to the proper places on the shelves she decided that Karla and she would go “on the road” and I would report to work at the store to keep things in order. We left with a very heavy box of gift-wrapped books for Ben.

Karla and I returned a few minutes later with my package of ten of Hilary’s books as a gift to Petunia’s Place. When I handed the books to Debbie, I told her that over a decade ago Petunia’s had given the most precious gift of recognition to our daughter. It took Debbie less than a minute to remember the book and the author-signing occasion. She was overwhelmed with emotion. She was so thankful that we were rewarding her support for young authors and especially local authors and even more especially youngsters whose parents were supportive of their efforts. Never a Dull Moment is once again for sale at Petunia’s Place, and we couldn’t be happier.

Monday, December 6

Gambling with others’ money

A few years back, we decided to invest some of Hilary’s money she gets for letting us use her ranch in the High Sierra to run the resort. (Her grandmother left the ranch to her in a generation-skipping trust, so legally we had to rent it back from her.) Instead of paying her directly, we bought her some stock in Apple since we liked and used their products and I had a belief that newly-returned co-founder and CEO Steve Jobs could do no wrong, or at least very little wrong.

At the time, Apple Computer was struggling. Pundits predicted its imminent demise, and Michael Dell, the CEO of Dell Computer, a high-flyer at the time, suggested that Apple be broken up and the cash reserves divvied up among its shareholders. Today Apple, Inc. is the world’s second-largest company by market valuation, trailing only ExxonMobil. Bigger than Microsoft, bigger than Walmart, and way bigger than Dell.

We paid $14.50 per share. Soon the stock split two for one, doubling her shares and making the investment cost $7.25 per share. Today it closed at $320.15 per share.

Karla and I also bought stock for ourselves. Dang! If only we had known how it would perform, we would have bought ourselves two shares!

Saturday, December 4

A memorable tour!

On Friday Karla and I visited the busiest fire station in Fresno. Luke’s cousin, Brian, had lent us some tools that we were returning to him. Brian is a fire captain and suggested that we meet at one of his workplaces, the Chinatown station in Fresno. He gave us an hour-long gold-plated tour!

Karla and I got to sit in the cab of a 100-foot ladder truck and imagine how difficult it was to drive such a ponderous machine. It takes everyone in the cab to watch out for traffic and obstacles due to the vision-blocking overhang of the platform out front, making it impossible to see an overhead traffic signal. It has a nozzle on it that can shoot a thousand gallons of water per minute. It was the first time we ever sat in an $800,000+ vehicle.

We toured the sleeping quarters, the kitchen, the exercise room, the maintenance shop, the big bathroom and showers with 1930s fixtures that are still in use. Gorgeous mosaic tile floor—makes you drool.

Brian challenged us, several times, to take a slide down any of the four shiny brass poles from the upper floor to the lower floor where the engines were parked. We demurred, citing, in my case, geezerness.

The station was built in 1877. Originally made of wood, it was replaced in 1933 with a concrete structure. Brian told us that the concrete was so hard they recently wore out two carbide drills and spent a whole morning trying to simply drill a hole to stick something onto one of the walls. The structure’s bottom-floor ceiling was too low so it was necessary to lower the floor in order to accommodate modern equipment. Even now, he says, he hates to back some of the engines in, worrying about scraping the ceiling. I suggested they let air out of the tires, then pump them up once they leave the building. But that would delay getting to the fire, something that’s not favored by firefighters who strive to go from deep sleep to being on the truck in a minute or less.

He confessed that many firefighters are pyromaniacs at heart, but choose to stay legal by joining the profession. One of the bosses at the station is big on setting up drills. He often starts a fire in the four-story concrete practice structure in back of the station, getting the crew out of bed at the randomest times to put it out. I noticed that the big Dumpsters out back were pretty rusted out, indicating that their contents had burned repeatedly. I guess that saves on garbage pick-up charges.

Behind the station was half a city block full of pristine shiny fire engines. Brian explained that they were out-of-service trucks ready to ship off to smaller engine companies, mostly in Mexico. They were in immaculate condition, but he explained that they were near the end of their service life in an environment where perfect reliability was demanded.

We toured the shed where several brand-new engines were being fitted out with the specific equipment for Fresno’s needs. It was a brick structure way over a hundred years old, and held machine tools that probably could be used to rebuild a whole truck if needed. Milling machines, drill presses, lathes, metal-benders of every sort and some old metal-clad wooden workbenches made my heart yearn for the possibilities that such equipment could enable. Brian said the shop has been in continuous use from way back in the days when hand-pumped fire wagons were pulled by horses. That explains the subtle, lingering scent of ancient horse manure.

Even though I had always imagined what to expect when visiting a fire station, the reality was way more than I thought. The place was immaculate; the floors gleamed, the walls were spotless, everything made of brass shone. The fire trucks didn’t have even a fingerprint marring their glassy-shiny bodies. There was nothing out of place, no messes. It felt like someone was continually on duty making it a showplace for a very prominent visitor. Makes me feel like a total slob. Thanks, Brian. I needed that.

Today I spent all morning spiffying-up the kitchen. More to come on that, for sure, till the memory of my fire station visit fades. Then I can relax.

Wednesday, December 1

“Let’s see, what do I want to be?”

Even at the tender age of just over one-half year, Ben is mulling over his career choices.

Learning to crawl brings with it responsibilities as well as opportunities. As soon as he perfects this “crawling” thing, it’s time to explore some more.

Meanwhile, there are lots of little domestic chores to hone his skills. (By the way, Hilary doesn’t wear contacts; I’m just not a very imaginative caption writer.)