Friday, June 23, 2017

New (Used) Bicycle

...or "Back in the Saddle Again"

Back in the olden days, I used to do a lot of bicycling. I was a road biker, and thought nothing  of getting up at dawn and riding for a few hours, maybe riding 30, 40, 50 miles. The most fun was riding at the river - the flat rural roads with wide paved shoulders are *ideal* cycling conditions, and I think I knew every back road in Kent and Queen Anne's County.

I gave up cycling in '95 or '96 for two good reasons. I became a father in '95, and disappearing for a few daylight hours suddenly wasn't as easy as it used to be. And in '96, I took up aikido, and made the conscious decision that it was my activity. No regrets about any of that.

The highlight of my cycling year used to be the MS150 "city to shore" charity ride in September. A ride of 75 miles from Cherry Hill (suburban Phila) to Ocean City, NJ on Saturday, then ride back on Sunday. It was a very well-run event, and I always enjoyed it. I know I was riding in '95 because Robyn and Marcia brought baby Sarah to meet me at the finish line. A photo exists (or used to exist) somewhere....

I started thinking about cycling again when the Chester Valley Trail was extended from Valley Forge out to Exton, with plans to extend it further. There's now a paved trail that runs very close to my house that goes to Valley Forge, and from there the Perkiomen Trail goes all the way up to Green Lane, and the Schuylkill Trail goes all the way to Fairmount Park and the Phila Art Museum.

I decided to see if I could get a used decent-quality bike fairly cheaply. Craigslist was invaluable yet again. I used to have a road bike (with the curled-under handlebars), but given the twenty-year passage, I thought a cross-style bike might be more appropriate (straight mountain-bike style handlebars). I'd be riding on pavement (paved trail or road), so I'd want thin smoother tires and not the fat knobby tires that are made for riding off-road.

I found exactly what I was looking for pretty quickly, and $135 later, I had myself a bike. After a stop at a bike store, I had a helmet and pair of padded gel gloves.

The only thing left was to get on and ride. And did I mention that I had this week off from work?

Thursday, June 22, 2017

My Drexel Graduate

Forgive me a proud papa moment, and maybe a little bragging. My Sarah is now a Drexel University graduate, and I really couldn't be prouder. She's done things the right way. She's a smart girl, a hard worker, and a good person. I was happy for the chance to celebrate her milestone last week.

Monday night was the senior design show for the graphics design seniors. Everyone had to set up an exhibit of their portfolio. Parents and friends were invited, and graphics design alumni and industry people were too (i.e., people who could be hiring.) We walked through the hall and were blown away. All the portfolios looked professional caliber to me.

Then Tuesday morning was graduation day. Sarah's school had a smaller ceremony at 9am, and the big all-university ceremony was at Citizen's Bank Park in the evening. I told her to go to what she wanted, and we'd be there. She opted for just the morning with her school.

The day was sunny and very hot (90+), but thankfully low humidity. The ceremony was lovely, and I just about burst with pride when her name was called and she walked across the stage and shook hands with the dean. Afterwards, we took many many pictures, then when all obligations were done, we took the subway downtown to the Convention Center area for a celebratory lunch at Maggiano's. We all pronounced the food first-rate, and a Manhattan hit the spot for me.

Here's the bragging part of the post. She graduated magna cum laude. She earned an A.J. Drexel merit scholarship and kept it all four years (via GPA requirements.) From her sophomore year on, she worked at least one job, and sometimes two. And she learned about life, keeping an apartment, commuting in Philadelphia, and taking advantage of cultural activities and things to do in the city. She's expressed some nervousness about being an adult, which I understand. But she knows how to be an adult, and I don't worry about her. She's ready.

It was a surprisingly emotional day for me. The accomplishment is all Sarah's - but the milestone is mine as well, and the whole family's. It was a very special day, both for the graduate and for a proud papa.

Sunday, June 4, 2017


I now have an Instagram account (here and in the links at right.) On hearing this news, Darling Wife's response was, "Why?"

I didn't really have an answer. I like to take pictures to document what's going on. I realize I try to get one pic of every event we go to or participate in. I don't need 100 pics or extensive video. But I do like to have one pic of an event, whether it be a concert or a gig or a hike or a family event/birthday celebration. When I look back later, that one pic is enough to bring back memories.

Most of my FB posts are pictures of just these kinds of things. So, having a FB account, do I also need an Instagram account? Two weeks in, I have an answer to "Why?" FB is the place to share things with friends. Instagram is the place to share things with everyone, and see everyone's shared things.

For example, I recently wrote about enjoying the Little Feat concert. Well, I posted one pic and tagged it "#littlefeat". Then I tapped on the tag and saw other people's Feat pics and videos. Geotagging another pic as "French Creek State Park" let me tap on the location and see other people's pics from the park.

I won't post overly personal things there - just things that might be of general interest. I'm enjoying it.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Marsh Creek SP Hike, 5/27/17

In keeping with the intention I stated a couple of posts ago about doing more hiking, I started off the long weekend with a morning hike at Marsh Creek State Park. Marsh Creek and Ridley Creek are the two closest places where I can do "real" hiking (defining "real" as a lengthy non-paved trail.)

Marsh Creek is a good destination for many things. You can rent a kayak or a boat (sail or motor), the fishing is supposed to be good (though the one day maybe ten years ago that I rented a small boat and took Sarah and Greta out fishing, we didn't have a single bite all afternoon), and there are trails all around the lake.

The weather forecast last weekend was not good, with rain predicted for Saturday and Monday. So when Saturday dawned bright and sunny, I decided I'd better get out while I could.

I wasn't the only one with that idea. The parking lot was more than half full at 7:15am. I wound my way down to the back of the dam, took the path to the top, then followed the lake for a couple of miles. Conditions were perfect for hiking - the sun was shining, temps were still cool, a little breeze was blowing, birds were singing, and the smell of honeysuckle was in the air.

When I started to feel like I'd like to have a real breakfast, I turned around and came back - with a couple of dipsy-doodles to make the track a little more interesting. On the map below, I parked at the lot on Dorlan Mill Rd. (at bottom) and hiked directly to the dam (the nearest part of the lake.)

Total miles: 5.68
Elapsed time: 1:58

Monday, May 29, 2017

Little Feat, Keswick Theater, 5/22/17

Brother Eric and I both recently noted that Little Feat was coming to the Keswick. Now for me, Little Feat is right at the top of bands to see live. I saw them for the first time at the 2012 Phila Folk Fest, and they completely blew me away. I saw them again some time later and had my initial opinion confirmed - just a killer live band.

There are plenty of people who will tell you that Little Feat died with Lowell George in 1979, and I'm not going to argue the point. Their heyday was the middle 70's, and "Waiting for Columbus", for my money, is the best live album there is. But if you can get over the hurdle of who isn't there any more, the current Feat (with four of six original members) is the tightest, funkiest band you'll see.

Extended jamming usually strikes me as self-indulgent, and I quickly grow weary of it. When these guys do it, I sit there mesmerized and never want it to end. I don't have words for how they do it differently...but it is different. They don't do anything fancy, but they lay down a groove that you just can't sit still for.

Eric and I expressed interest, but didn't follow up with concrete plans. I pinged him when I saw that the show was a few days away, but end-of-school-year activities had disqualified him. I thought I'd see what tickets were available and then I'd decide - thinking that going solo, I might be able to get a good close seat. Going onto the Keswick Theater website and entering "one", there was a ticket sixth row center. Sold.

The band came on shortly after 7:30, and played for more than two hours. As an added treat, they were backed by the Midnight Ramble Horns (two saxophones and a trumpet), which really added something.

Here's the full set list. The jamming on Dixie Chicken and Spanish Moon is always a highlight, and they did a few songs from "Waiting for Columbus" that I'd never heard live - "Old Folks Boogie", "Time Loves a Hero." They made "Willin'" into a medley with "Don't Bogart That Joint" and covers of "Long Black Veil" and "The Weight". I was sad they didn't do "Fat Man in the Bathtub", but I can't complain.

Looking at the setlists from the shows before and after this one, I'm pleasantly surprised to see that they do a completely different show every night. They don't open with the same song or close with the same song, and they mix in different songs every night. I'll never understand bands that play the same show every night. That seems like it would quickly become mind-numbing.

I put up a video of the some of the intro jam to Dixie Chicken (here) and then saw that the full concert is on YouTube.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

French Creek SP Hike, 5/21/17

I've resolved to get out and do more hiking, especially short local hikes. I don't know why I got away from that, but I did. I like getting out in the woods, especially early in the morning. A day hike a little further afield is great, and I may have more chances for that this summer, as it's the "summer of no River." But a local hike is equally good, and it has the added advantage of not getting in the way of other plans that have been made for the day.

Last Sunday morning, I went to one of my favorite local haunts, French Creek State Park. I've hiked the remote eastern section of the park many times. I've also blogged about my hikes there many times, so I'll spare some of the details.

I'm my hike track below, I parked at the lower left and made a counterclockwise loop from the Lenape, Buzzard, Mill Creek, and Raccoon trails. It was a gorgeous sunny cool morning - perfect hiking weather. I pretty much had the park to myself, running into just two mountain bikers in almost two and a half hours on the trail. There was a nice little breeze, and plenty of bird chatter. Climbing the Raccoon Trail, I heard the bustle of a large-ish bird taking off, then the whoosh-whoosh of it flapping its wings. It was a big red-headed woodpecker (confirmed post-hike by Google to be a pileated woodpecker.) Very pretty and distinctive.

Very fun hike, and I hope there are plenty more to come.

Total miles: 7.23
Elapsed time: 2:24

Monday, May 22, 2017

More Water in the Basement

...or "Kill Me Now"

Six weeks after our basement water incident, it's happened again - completely unrelated, and thankfully on a much smaller scale.

The culprit this time was a clogged drain line from the air conditioner. It dumped some water in the utility closet that houses the furnace and hot water heater. We were fortunate that Darling Wife discovered it quickly, and our HVAC guys came out in a few hours and made the quick fix.

But then we realized that the water on the floor probably leaked through to the other side of the wall, where the (carpeted) basement bedroom is. Yep, it had. Not *soaked* like the carpet was six weeks ago, but undeniably damp. Goddammit.

I'm now a veritable expert in what to do, so I got right to work. I peeled back the carpet and padding got the fans started. I ran out to Home Depot to rent an industrial-strength carpet dryer, and I have everything blasting on the wet concrete. Once that's dry, I'll dry the padding, then the carpet - then get a handyman to tack it back down.

Just like last time, I'm well aware that this is an inconvenience, not a catastrophe. But holy smokes.... I'm about ready to pull up all the carpet and go back to bare concrete floors. (No, not really.)

One thing this does is validate our decision a month ago to not proceed with the homeowner's claim. If we had, I'd now be pulling up brand new carpet and padding after a multi-thousand dollar job.

This is getting old.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Pitt Pick-up

Amazingly, Younger Daughter's second year at Pitt is now complete. She finished her exams last week, and we agreed that I'd pick her up on Saturday. That would let me do it without taking any time off work. I'd leave at 5pm Friday, drive to the Pittsburgh area, get a room for the night, and be ready to go Saturday morning.

That was a good plan. Unfortunately, the reality was a bit more stressful. I had just crossed the Susquehanna River on the PA Turnpike when I noticed a noise. Thump-thump-thump. Okay...probably driving over uneven road. Though the road didn't look uneven. The thumping got louder. I saw the sign for the upcoming Harrisburg West exit and thought maybe I should get off and have a look. But I didn't get that far. The thumping got even louder, and I saw smoke coming from the front right of the car.

Oh, and it was a part of the turnpike with no shoulder - concrete blockers right up to the edge of the road. Fortunately I saw a sign for an emergency pull-off. I made it there and breathed a big sigh of relief. I wasn't sure if it was a flat tire or something else. I was a little unnerved being so close to traffic whizzing by at 70+ mph, but I finally got out of the car. It was a flat tire.

I can change a tire, but I wanted help in this case. The flat was on the driver's side, which was still distressingly close to traffic. Fortunately Turnpike Assistance got there before too long and put the donut on. It was two miles to the next exit, and I got there without incident. By this time it was around 7pm, and all tire places were closed. I tried to cancel the room I'd reserved in the Pitt area, but it was too late to cancel, so I looked for a cheap local option.

You can't tell how flat that tire is from this angle....
I looked at Google Maps and chose the 3 star option over the 2.5 star (Motel 6) option. Big mistake. It was gross. Darling Wife would have outright refused to even step inside, let alone spend the night. And wouldn't you know it, the Motel 6 was right across the street and looked clean and new. But I figured I could make do, and I did. I had a book and a mandolin with me, so I was good.

Saturday morning, instead of making the short drive to campus, I was at the local Firestone when they opened at 7am. I got a new tire put on, then made the remaining three-hour drive to Pitt. We loaded the contents of a dorm room into the CR-V with no problem., then made the five-hour drive home, much of it through a torrential downpour. I was *fried* when we got home.

We got the job done...just with a little extra adventure, and a little extra cost. But I got my girl home for the summer.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Demolition at the River

I wrote in November about making one last visit to the river house before demolition. At the time, in my naivete, I thought that was imminent. Instead, months went by as the county requested more studies, plans, permits, etc., etc.

I'm not complaining. Things *should* be rigorous for environmentally-sensitive waterfront property. But a certain feeling of "this will never actually happen" had settled in. Even when we got the news that final hurdles had been cleared, part of me still didn't truly believe that anything was going to happen.

So it was with some shock that I received a picture via text msg from our builder of demolition in progress. They're actually doing it. Holy smokes....

I kept staring at it, feeling multiple strong emotions at the same time. The first was "thank goodness, it's about time." We've been waiting for this for so many months...filling out forms, reviewing plans, signing papers. Yes, it would be emotional, but when you've decided to do something, *do it*. So seeing that things were actually starting was deeply gratifying.

At the same time, I'm deeply attached to that house, and seeing it torn down is very sad. It got even sadder the day after getting the demolition pic from the builder, when we received this pic from a neighbor.

Ouch. One day later, it's gone. Completely gone, but for the rubble of the foundation.

I haven't and won't show these pics to my mom. They would just upset her. Once constructions starts, I'll show her pics of how that's progressing.

Brother Eric's thoughts are here, and my own thoughts are pretty much identical. That house is where I grew up, and have so many good memories. It's indeed the end of an era.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Basement Cleanup

A few weeks ago I wrote about my misadventure with water in the basement. I spent that weekend trying my best to dry out the carpet and the padding. We phoned for a "disaster cleanup" company to come out and give an estimate, and I also filed a homeowner's insurance claim (on a realtor friend's advice, in case it turned out to be worse that expected.)

The first visit was the cleanup people. They came in with a moisture detector, poked around, and told me that I'd done the job as well as it could be done. Everything was dry, and their estimate for tacking the carpet back down and steam-cleaning was $225. Good news!

Back in business
The State Farm claims adjuster came out the next day, and it was just like the Chris Paul commercials (which I enjoy.) They were ready to write me a check to replace all of the carpet and padding in the basement, re-paint baseboards, etc. Wow.

Darling Wife and I talked it over. I was certain she'd be firmly in the "replace everything" camp - but she wasn't. Yes, there are a few very minor stains, but the carpet is in good shape. It's actually the newest carpet in the house. Given that it's the basement, and we could have more water there tomorrow, it doesn't seem to make sense to make the insurance claim.

We told the cleanup people to go ahead, and two days later the basement was back to normal.

That wasn't any fun. But it could have been so much worse. I'm happy to have my space back.