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patterns of ink

How fruitless to be ever thinking yet never embrace a thought... to have the power to believe and believe it's all for naught. I, too, have reckoned time and truth (content to wonder if not think) in metaphors and meaning and endless patterns of ink. Perhaps a few may find their way to the world where others live, sharing not just thoughts I've gathered but those I wish to give. Tom Kapanka

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Broken Voices

[The red links in this post take you to Youtube posts. Enjoy]

We sometimes listen to a radio station out of Grand Rapids called “The River: 100.5” It’s a mix of light pop and older hits that have survived the recent decades. Believe it or not, when our three daughters (ages 11 to 22) are with us, they actually listen right along without complaint.

Friday, the morning after some folks got voted off “American Idol,” we were listening to Joe Cocker singing “You are So Beautiful to me." After the last note--you know the one when Joe’s voice completely fades and the word “me” doesn't even come out? Right after that, my daughter in the back seat asks me...

"Who was that singing and what happened at the end? I mean, why did they record that guy? His voice is all scratchy. He’d get blasted right off ‘American Idol’ if he sang like that on TV.”

“You’re right. He’d never make it past the first audition…and yet all that scratchy brokenness is what makes that simple song work."

"What do you mean?"

"Well, it conveys a man who is tearfully speechless about the woman he loves. If Julio Iglesias were singing it, the song would be about him, his voice, and all the women wishing he were singing it to them. But when a voice like that sings it, the song seems to be about one guy and one lady. It's about enduring love and beauty that is in the eyes of the beholder. The lady in his mind is probably not “Miss America” gorgeous and his voice is for sure not ‘American Idol’ quality…but they are beautiful ‘‘to each other’—and that makes it truly beautiful. Does that make sense?”

“Yeah, I guess, but how does a guy with a scratchy voice that can’t even reach some notes walk into a studio and say, 'I want to make this recording. Trust me. People will like it.'”

“Oh, I see what you’re asking. That’s not how it happened. Joe Cocker was a famous hard-rocker--I'm talkin' really HARD rocker--back in the 70’s. His voice was always raspy but after screaming for a couple decades, it was just shot. On top of that, he "burned himself out" on drugs and alcohol. [Caution: Drug abuse is so obvious in that last link that it's sad to watch.] He barely survived all that, and then with what was left of himself, he created what became his signature song with that tired, warn-out, broken voice." [This most recent "live" performance shows the toll of a hard life, but still the rendition is very moving.]
My daughter's question got me thinking about other "broken voices," the kind that in and of themselves may not survive a talent search like "American Idol." Take Rod Stewart. His version of "Have I Told You Lately That I Love You" has that same broken, sincere sound described above. To be honest, I never listened to Stewart back when he was a "rock star," but he released a softer album two years ago with songs that are given new texture by his unique "broken" voice.

I'm going to really date myself here, but I can't write about broken voices without going back a generation (or two). The fact that these names and voices are remembered by this generation, however, may very well prove my point.

On July 7, 1971, I was doing my friend's Detroit Free Press route early in the morning.
[My own route was The Macomb Daily.] When I cut the wire around the bundle of papers to load the bags on my bike, the headline jumped out at me: "Satchmo Gone." There was a picture of Louis Armstrong playing his trumpet, but I remembered him more as a singer. I read the story about 60 times that morning as I walked up to front porches in the early light. Later I learned that they called him "Satchmo" (short for satchel mouth) because of his full but "broken voice." We've all heard "A Kiss to Build a Dream on," but we probably know him best for "What a Wonderful World."

Another favorite personality and "broken voice" from the same era is Jimmy Durante. He always reminded me of my Grandpa Collinge (the one I got the feather pillow from). They were about the same age. Durante's signature song was probably "Young at Heart," but I couldn't find that one. I also like "Make Someone Happy." He was truly one-of-a-kind. I think you'll see what I mean about his voice with this rendition of "Yesterday." He kind of "talked" his songs in a way that few others could get away with.

Another personality who kept active late in life by talk-singing with a "broken voice" was Walter Brennan. Here's a Youtube clip of him in a western (but not singing). He is the only man to have earned three Oscars for best supporting actor. To hear him "sing," go here and scroll down for some sample audio clips. Here's another one. One of my favorites was Old Rivers" about a boy who made friends with a share cropper and his mule. It was a very touching story song--especially in Brennan's unforgettable "broken voice."

One last example of a "broken voice," though some may disagree, is Brian Adams. He's still relatively young (48) so some may say that's just his normal voice (rather than warn out or damaged). But if you listen to him singing his hit "Everything I Do" with Celine Dion (both Canadians) you'll see that the song is rendered less memorable by the diva's voice hitting every note with hollow perfection. Brian's voice is throaty, harsh, strident--and unique. Celine's gifted voice will probably stay in good form for a lifetime, but I venture to say that if Adams remains active or makes a comeback in his "golden years" after age 60 (around 2020+) his may be one of those rare voices defined by their brokenness.

I think it's safe to say that none of these performers (without the name recognition they eventually earned) would have made it past that first audition on "American Idol." Don't get me wrong... there will always be a market for the Sinatra-Connick-Bublé crooners and Whitney Houston-Josh Groban talent, but there's something to be said for those uniquely broken voices adding meaning to a song.

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Bits and Pieces

Sometimes who we are lies just between
the surface and the unseen...
like crumbs in the breakfast
table crack that must
be picked out with a folded piece
of paper scraped along the crease.
But often we ignore what’s there.
We tidy up and brush off care
for fear what else we’ll find
in bits and pieces left behind.
And there’s the rub, if truth be told,
there’s peppered grime and mold
beneath the luster of the wax.
The fallen parts of us are in the cracks.
© Copyright 2007, Patterns of Ink

Monday, February 26, 2007

Wince Upon a Time

We’re just sitting here getting ready to watch “24,” and I saw that commercial for the Chrysler “Stow-and-Go” Town and Country minivan. You’ve seen the one I mean: It shows a kid gathering all his precious things including a bright green bullfrog and secretly putting them all into the center “stow and go” compartment. Then the mother opens the compartment “lid” and the bullfrog jumps up and clings to the brink of the compartment. Every time I see that part, I wince. Why? Because it seems only natural that the surprised parent, lifting the lid and having a frog jump toward it, would recoil just enough to drop the lid, and then SQUISH—just like “Frogger."

In case you’re thinking I have a morbid imagination…my visceral response is based on something that happened about fifteen years ago.

Have you ever had one of those mid-life “Everybody sleeps at your parent’s house” gatherings? Back when my brothers and I lived all over the country, we used to get together every other Christmas Break. Sometimes we’d all arrived at Mom and Dad’s within an hour of each other in a joyous swarm of hugs and suitcases as we kicked our snowy shoes off at the back door.

Well anyway, one year we were all waiting for my brother Dave, his wife, and the three boys (arriving from Philadelphia packed in their Ford Escort). When they finally came through the door, my seven-year-old nephew—I’ll call him Brady—came in with an empty gerbil cage and a sad face.

“Don’t ask.” Dave said with a half-hug, but as soon as we were away from the others... I asked. Brady had just gotten a pet gerbil for Christmas, and he carried it in the cage on his lap for ten non-stop hours. Well, actually there was one stop just a little while before they arrived.

I’ve not seen Snakes on a Plane, but I hear it was loosely based on a story about a gerbil getting out of its cage in a tightly packed Escort at 70 MPH—they just thought making it snakes on a jet would be a little more exciting. Not really, but that is what happened to my nephew's gerbil. After a few minutes of high-speed mayhem, Dave wisely pulled off to the side of the interstate, and started searching for the little guy who had taken refuge under the passenger seat. There in the dim dome light, Dave was about to catch him when he darted toward the open car door and the dark fields beyond. “Shut the door!” Dave shouted, and the door was quickly slammed. The gerbil did not get away, but where did he go? He was not outside the car. He was visible inside the car....

Now do you see why I wince when I see the frog climbing out of the stow-and-go compartment?

Friday, February 23, 2007

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Our Own Our Town

I know it’s been done, undone, and poorly done more than any other American-written play—"'Tain't very choice"—but I’m a big fan of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town. This timeless play grabbed me the first time I read it in 1976 and never let go. A year later, PBS aired the last production that had the playwright’s input.* That show featured then-famous Robby Benson, but the production was shouldered by veteran Hal Holbrook as Stage Manager.

Ten years later, in 1987, I had the privilege of directing Our Town with a great group of sensitive and talented students in a high school of about 100. Since the play required all of my male leads from previous plays (as well as every first-timer who tried out), I was "Stage Manager." It came together very well. I’ve nothing funny or unusual to tell except that the lines and emotions of Grover's Corner, New Hampshire have been deeply etched in my mind ever since.

Act II is called “Love and Marriage,” and scenes and lines from it have been coming to me the closer we get to my daughter’s wedding in June. (I know that date is a long way off, but plans and details are peaking now.)

We watched a videotape of our high school's rendition from 1987 this afternoon. In the second Act, there’s a conversation between Mr. and Mrs. Gibbs [Jeff H. and Ann C.] as they are trying to decide whether or not to allow their son George [Mark H.] to get married. Mrs. Gibbs is ironing her husband’s shirts (with the gnawed collars) when he confesses:

Mr. Gibbs: Julia, do you know what one of my terrors was in marrying you?
Mrs. Gibbs: Ah, Pshaw! Go on with ya...
Mr. Gibbs: I was afraid that we would have enough material for conversation more than to last us a few weeks. I was afraid we’d run out—eat our meals in silence. That’s a fact. You and I have been conversing now for more than twenty years without any barren spells.
Mrs. Gibbs: Well, good weather. Bad weather. ‘Tain’t very choice, but I always manage to find something to say.

Here’s how that scene played out in our house this morning:
Mr. Tom: (Reading news) Honey, what brand of peanut butter do we use?
Mrs. Julie: (from other room)

I'd have to go check. Why?
Mr. Tom: Because the FDA just recalled tainted Peter Pan peanut butter. Here I’ll read it out loud: “All Peter Pan peanut butter bought since May 2006 should be discarded, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said on Friday in a statement about salmonella-contaminated peanut butter. More than 290 people from 39 states have become ill with food poisoning. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has identified the strain of bacteria as Salmonella Tennessee, one of many strains of salmonella bacteria."
Mrs. Julie: (entering room with a jar of peanut butter) The name of the town is “Salmonella, Tennessee”? Who would name a town Salmonella?
Mr. Tom: Salmonella is not the name of the town—although if it were, Tennessee makes sense. (In my best generic Southern accent with apologies to my friends down south.) “Hey, y’all, I’m from Salmonella, Tennessee, just north of Botulism, Alabama.”—Honey, “Salmonella Tennessee” is the name of the strain. Evidently they name the bacteria after where it was first found.

Mrs. Julie: That doesn't seem right. Having state quarters is one thing...
Mr.Tom: Don't feel bad. I didn't know it either.
Mrs. Julie: Oh, Well. (Holding up jar.) We use Jiff so it doesn’t matter.
Mrs. Gibbs was right: Good peanut butter; bad peanut butter. ‘Tain’t very choice, but we always manage to find something to say.

There is a quiet contentment in shared life that supports and transcends all else in between. TK
*Wilder also had input in the 1940 film version of his Pulitzer Prize winning play.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Cabin Fever

Do you get it sometimes? Cabin fever? I don't mean the claustrophobic feeling hermits and hunters and pioneers get after being "holed up" in a cabin all winter. I’m using the term as its own antithesis—the longing to be “trapped” in an old trapper’s cabin with nothing but the simplest necessities and a cracklin’ fire behind a fieldstone hearth. Not necessarily alone…but temporarily away from all the dailiness of life.
A few weeks back when I was writing about “painting by numbers,” a fellow blogger (whom I know only through kind comments) shared this original painting she entitled “Early Snow.” It reminds me of my “House in Winters Hold.” That’s what I mean by cabin fever…the need for a cabin get-away. Imagine somehow spending a long weekend in a cabin like that far from all that waits beyond the drifting snow.

Unfortunately, I do not own a cabin… nor better yet have a family cabin shared by those who value its meaning. So… about five winters ago I got that “must-do-something-ambitiously-creative” feeling and decided to build a log cabin in my unfinished basement.

[I had done something similar before. In Iowa, I knew of an old round barn that had collapsed of its own weight. The owner's children had graduated from my school, and he let me have the weathered barn doors, shake shingles, and planks to “finish” my basement. It was a perfect low maintenance, rustic, backdrop for my collection of old farm tools, saws, etc. That “basement barn” is still in that house on Berkshire to this day. Iowa is a good place for such décor, but Michigan calls for something a little more “northwoods.”]

I had been mulling over this cabin idea for two years. My biggest challenge was choice of “medium” for the logs. I knew I did not want to invest actual money in real logs or even “half-cut log siding.” That stuff is pricy. I considered 12' carpet tubes, but I was concerned about the fire hazard of cardboard, and they were too “perfect” when stacked. Logs for a cabin have to be stackable, but they can't be perfect.

Then one fall day I was looking out my office window as scores of 8 foot long blue “noodles” were being hauled to the dumpster. Years before, the school had acquired the McDonalds “Playland” from the old Muskegon Mall before it was torn down, but it came with no assembly instructions, and all the kings horses and all the kings men couldn’t put the playland together again, so… the pile of huge plastic parts sat sadly out of sight beyond the school yard. High winds were constantly blowing the foam “pipe padding” toward the new playground where the kids at recess would lovingly use them to clash and swing and chase and otherwise beat each other. This was harmless fun, but it looked a bit more Medieval than suited some parents, so it was decided to pitch them (the tubes not the parents).

As I walked to my car, I saw the blue tubes in and beside the dumpster and wondered—"Could these be my logs?" By this time they were pretty well roughed up with rips and holes and chunks of missing foam—every imperfection was perfect! I loaded the blue tubes into the back of my van (it took three trips). I stored them under the covered trampoline until I had time to stir the still-bubbling idea.

Inside our emptied double garage, I cut the foam tubes lengthwise and one at a time forced them onto a long 4” piece of black drain tile. This opened the tubes up and made them larger “logs.” I then opened the garage door for ventilation and took my hand-held propane torch and melted “wood grain” and other imperfections into the surface of the fire-proof foam. This was a free-flow-anything-goes process that gave the “shrinking-melting” surface of the tubes a harder log-like finish. Anyplace I wanted a knothole, I just left the blue flame of the torch for about two seconds. Each log took about two minutes to “melt,” AND as a double bonus, the heat made the foam tubes stay open as bigger C-shaped hollow logs.
Once I had a pile of blue “logs,” I suspended ¼ inch 4x8 OSB board from the 2x8 plate between the basement’s cement block wall and the floor joists above. On the OSB board I put a lower lip and an upper shelf. In between I affixed sawn 1” bands of the black drain pipe about two feet apart for each log to “snap on” in stacking sequence. It worked like a patented design (which I’ve actually considered). When I was done with the attachment stage, the wall was still a dark sort of Smurf” blue. Unlike some home improvement projects, this one involved lightweight work and I rarely needed to call for help, but whenever my wife and girls came downstairs, they just looked at the increasingly “committed” walls and said, “I hope you know where this is going because it still looks pretty blue to us.”

I then took that “expanding foam-in-a-can” stuff and injected it behind the logs where they snapped-on to the black drain tile clips. That stuff was perfect for this task; it wraps around everything and then solidifies. It sometimes expanded through the cracks in the logs—not a problem. I just ran a thin bead of it along all the cracks as “chinking” then wiped it down. (I also used stucco as chinking.)The two metal support posts in the center of the basement were also sheathed in foam logs to look like tree-posts with bark. (The bark was also made from “canned foam.” I just spread it all over them and as it puffed up, I pressed it down, and it took on a bark-like texture.) After all this, the long log wall still looked blue.
(There are pictures of these stages, but I don't know where they are.)

The tricky part of painting the logs was no concern. I was not relying on my one-shot “paint by number” experience from 1967, but rather on years of “set design” for the countless school plays I had directed in a former life. I had done some similar painting for the seven dwarves house. The painting was actually the fun part. Gradually the blue foam became convincing logs—right down to the last knot hole. Most people who see them for the first time have to touch them to know they're the same foam tubes their kids played on before the mall was torn down. The two support posts have also been sheathed in foam logs to look like tree-posts with bark.

My basement cabin was a two-winter project. I did one half of the basement one winter and the other half the next. The end with the window and snow shoes is actually a sliding door, behind which is the treadmill and other exercise equipment. (We slide the door open and swivel the TV toward it.) There’s also a ping-pong table, fold-away bed, and lots of other stuff stored back there behind a curtain. Beside the foosball table is another larger storage room that serves as an attic. Not pictured here is the enclosed laundry room. The white walls and lower portions of the logs walls are stucco. Because the tubes were free, I have less than $300 in the entire project (not counting the furniture, etc.). You know the Gaston song from Beauty and the Beast? I'd sometimes belt out,"I use antlers in all of my decorating..." as I worked down there.
The ceiling is not finished but covered in black, non-flammable landscaping cloth to make it “disappear.” Accent lights and hidden “rope light” around the perimeter shelf (full of antiques, old toys, and “cabiny things.”) give the room a warm sense of “someplace else.” The basement looks nothing like the rest of the house—it’s a surprise to first-time guests. The kids love to hang out down there. I sometimes "go to the cabin" to take a nap or watch a ball game. My niece, Aimee, who came for the weekend, is sleeping down there in the antique Jenny Lind feather bed right now. My girls are afraid of "real dead things" so they got me the faux bear rug last summer. It looks like it came out of a cartoon, but if it were real...they'd never step downstairs.
© Copyright 2007, TK, Patterns of Ink

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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

A Case for Love

(This story was relocated from the October 05 archive for Valentine's Day 2007.)

It was a classic two-story home built in 1922 with great lines and two strong columns on the porch. The name of the street was Lovejoy, and we loved it and the house the moment we saw the realtor sign in the yard. The inside seemed to whisper at each nook and archway that this was a home where memories had been made and lingered still. Our two Christmases there confirmed this. The front room fireplace crackled and cast a glow on the tree in the corner. Sitting there in my winged-back, I lacked only a pipe to hold smokeless in my mouth. It was that kind of home. I had envisioned seeing my girls grow up in those charming rooms—birthday parties in the family room, prom pictures on the entry stair—and all the changes such pictures bring. But a different kind of change came, and two years after moving in, we were moving away.

We knew this house could sell itself even at 30% above what we had paid for it, so we decided to sell it ourselves and hosted an "Open House." The traffic of lookers was non-stop and very encouraging. Near the end of the ordeal, we put away our signs and brochures as a hint for people to leave, which they all politely did—that is, all but one gray haired lady who remained on our porch as the others left. The hour before, I'd noticed this frail guest touring every inch of all four levels from basement to walk-up attic. Two buyers were coming back that evening. Was she going to beat them to an offer? She was dressed like she could afford our asking price, but what would she do with such a big house? She must have read my puzzled eyes.

"I wanted to wait until the others were gone," she whispered politely. "My name is Charlotte Bascomb, and I lived in this house for twenty-five years. Our two boys grew up here and went off to college from this doorway."

"Oh, come in," we begged, "and do tell us more about it." My wife and I love learning the details of life and up until that moment we had only imagined how the years must have passed in this storied home through the Roaring Twenties, the Great Depression, WWII, the fifties, and so on. As it turned out she had lived there from the late Fifties through the early Seventies, but to our surprise, she said things had ended badly. We were surprised at how stoically she told of her last years in the house, and how her husband, who was a lawyer, had become an abusive alcoholic which led to a divorce and, in the end, to his untimely death. She told the account as if it had happened to a neighbor and not herself. We soon learned why the details seemed so distant.

"After that, I stayed in the house for a few years. The boys had taken jobs out of state. and I didn't like being here alone, so I bought a smaller place. I was alone when the moving van pulled away with everything I owned. I walked through the house one last time from basement to attic—to see if I'd forgotten anything but mostly to remember... things... you know..." (We nodded without a word). "I ended up in the attic and was just about to leave when way back in the corner, I saw a shadow that looked like a little suitcase. You know how bad the lighting is up there." [She was right, but I had added two fixtures.] "By the way, you have the attic so cute. I saw the pictures of your three girls in the hallway, and when I went up in the attic, I thought 'Well, this looks just like Little Women up here.' The way you have that dress-up room and all those antiques and things. I bet the girls love it."

"Oh, they do," we smiled, "and you're right, we often call them our 'little women' when they spend the day up there, but you were saying something about a little suitcase...."

"Oh, yes. That. Except it wasn't a suitcase at all. It almost frightened me the more I stared at it. I was afraid to reach for it in the dark, but soon as I touched the worn leather handle, I remembered what it was, and I brought it out to the window to see it in the light. The case was a dusty mess, but the brass clasps flipped up, and inside it was just as bright as I remembered there in the red velvet.

It was my son's saxophone. He played in the marching band at the high school. I hadn't seen it for years—who would've put it so far back? And then I remembered something that bothered me. This wasn't really my son's saxophone—it was the one he used alright—but I remembered that it actually belonged to an old family friend.

You see, my husband played in a jazz band in college, and he and his buddies kept rehearsing for years afterwards even though they rarely actually performed anywhere. Things were good then…. Well, anyway, years later, my oldest wanted to play in the band and Howard—he was the friend—said we could borrow his sax. So all through school, John—that's my son—used it, but I had no idea we'd left it there in the attic all those years. It's a miracle I even saw it in that dark corner. It was the only thing I carried out of this house the last time I was here."

"Wow. That's quite a story, and you almost left it here." I said half wondering what else to add to this awkward pause as we stood in the arched entry way. I gestured toward the living room and asked if she would like to stay longer.

"No. I really need to be going. I just wanted to meet you and tell you how wonderful it was to see such a happy, beautiful home again." And then she smiled like she had a secret to tell.

"This will only take a minute. I think you should know... After things settled a bit—a year or so—I called Howard. He'd moved out east, but I finally tracked him down. He laughed when I told him I found his saxophone but told me to give it to Goodwill. I told him I couldn't do that—it wouldn't be right—and it wouldn’t, you know, not after all that." (We nodded in wholehearted agreement.) "Howard and I talked for the longest time. His wife had passed away a few years prior. That was too bad. It's hard to live alone. He was semi-retired but was getting ready to fly to Europe on business the next day. So we had to get off the phone, but he did ask for my number. I thought that was nice—but since he didn't want the sax, I wasn't sure I'd ever hear from him. Well, about two weeks later who do you think called?"

Our eyebrows rose with unconvincing suspense, "Howard?"

"Yes. It was Howard. We visited a bit and then he said, 'You know, Char—he never called me Charlotte—I've been thinking about that saxophone, and you're right. I think I need to come and get it. Will you be home this weekend if I fly in?' Well, I was speechless. Of course, I'd be home. Where else would I be? But I didn't know what to say. I offered to send it UPS, but he said, 'No, I think I need to come and get it myself.' And that's just what he did. We had a wonderful time that whole weekend—he was always such a gentleman—but then he went and forgot the sax so he had to come back the next week. Well you probably guessed it...we got married later that year, and I spent the happiest 12 years of my life with Howard. It was wonderful right up until the end... cancer."

The word abruptly punctuated her thoughts but had no effect on her smile, and her eyes still held the joy they found in those unexpected happy years.

"It's been four years—just me again, but at my age I can't complain. I had a second chance at love and it was wonderful—just like our street sign says 'Lovejoy.'" (There was another pause, but this one needed no words.) "Thank you for listening to an old woman's story and for making me feel welcome in my home—your home, I mean. I really do need to be going. I want to call my boys and tell them where I've been."

"The pleasure was all ours," we said, stepping to the porch and helping her down to the front path. Half way to her car she turned and took one last look at the house then cast a glance at the attic window.

"I still have that saxophone in my closet at the apartment— be sure to check the attic corners when you leave." Her hand held back a laugh, but her shoulders shook a little as she smiled and walked away.

© Copyright 2005, TK, Patterns of Ink

(I was moved by this lady's story when she told it to us in June of 2000. Hearing it made it even harder to accept that we were moving. But we were also very happy the next day when the house sold to a Doctor with a young family. He and his wife couldn't wait to move in. Whenever we or our children travel back to that town in Iowa, we drive by "the little blue house" on Berkshire [which has since been painted yellow]. We lived there for 13 years. We also drive by this wonderful home on Lovejoy, where we lived for only two years before moving to Michigan. We love it here, but the house is newer and the seven years have passed too fast it seems for stories. [It has been my experience that the stories closest to home take the longest to crystallize into something you can hold up to the light and say, "Wasn't that beautiful."])

If you're in the mood for another story about a second chance at love,go to my April 06 Archive. Scroll down to April 1 "Visiting Home." It's the first of four sequential, "verse" posts about my Mom's wedding cake (and what happened fifty years later).

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Thursday, February 08, 2007

Ker-PLOP! Defrosting the Freezer

After four days, I realize this is sort of a "water is wet" thread of posts, but hey, what do you expect after an extended weekend of "cabin fever"? The frost roll, as I've come to call the growth hanging over our front easterly eve, continued to grow each day. (Contrary to what I said in the Monday post, it's made not only of snow but also of gathering frost that crystallizes when the relatively warmer air seeping from the eve vents of our long covered porch meets the sub-zero arctic air sifting across the snow-covered roof line.)
I drew this conclusion when the drooping "mor-ang" (meringue) continued to steadily grow over two days of no snowfall and little wind but continued near-zero temps at night. That means this growth is quite different than the more common "snow gutter curl" created by wind during blizzards and gusting winds or the "snow slides" that gradually occur as snow begins to inch down a roof.

This is like the frost in a freezer. Remember your mom's refrigerator freezer before they invented "frost free"? Remember how the space in the compartment got smaller and smaller over time until finally you couldn't even close the freezer door? Remember that round mass of frost on the front edge of each shelf? Remember how you had to chip away with a butter knife just to get out a half-empty, freezer-burnt carton of ice cream?
You don't remember that....? Well, in my boyhood home our freezer got like that every three or four months, and then Mom would spend an afternoon "defrosting" it. We found all kinds of stuff in the frost. It was sort of like an arctic expedition. (She once found a Woolly Mammoth in there with undigested grass in its mouth—oh, wait, that's a different childhood memory.)

At any rate, the frost growth all along the front of my house this week was like a giant frosted freezer growing by several inches each day.
Last night it was about two feet thick from top to bottom and about ten inches thick from front to back. Just as I was wondering how long it could sustain its own weight, I got up this morning and it had fallen in the night. I'm so glad it didn't do that while I was measuring it.

The temperatures have warmed up. Today was "shirt sleeve" weather with a high of 13 degrees. No more measurable frost growth. End of story. (This last picture looks sort of like my mom’s kitchen floor did when she defrosted the freezer.)

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Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Day Two of Snow Bread Baking over the Roof Pan

You may not be able to tell in these photos but the continued near-zero temps and constant powder of lake-effect snow added several inches to the pending avalanche hanging well below our eves. Today it looks less like over-flowing bread and more like stiff meringue drooping over the side of a chocolate pie.

(Incidentally,, I have never spelled "mor-ang" in my life and had no success "looking it up" the old way. Then I remembered Google. Don't you love when you take a stab at something on Google, and it says "Did you mean chocolate meringue pie?" I guess that's what I meant, but my mom always called it "mor-ang." Aren't you glad the spell-check people at Google aren't sarcastic? We can all use more of such polite correction in our lives. Thanks, Google.)

Monday, February 05, 2007

Brrrrrrrr.... Baby, It's Cold Outside!

Unless you are far from the Midwest and Eastern U.S., you know there is an arctic air mass that has blooped down over us like a blob in a blue lava lamp. It looks like it will be a couple days before it rises back up to where it belongs. In the meantime, we're hunkered down. Everything school--including area colleges--closed today.
Normally school
cancellations are a bit of a chore with decisions being made at 5:30 A.M., but in this case, the announcements started running along the bottom of the screen during the Mud Bowl last night. Tomorrow is only going to be 3 or 4 degrees warmer with wind-chills still near -15 to -20, so I'm not sure how that will play out. There is probably about 14" of snow in our neighborhood, but it has come so gradually in these sub-zero conditions that it is creating a pending avalanche on our front eve. The snow is "rolling over" the roof edge like baked bread in a pan. These pictures don't quite show it. I'm going to leave it alone and hope no one is under it when it drops. (It's not dangerous like killer icicles, but it would be a chilling way to start the day.)

Offshore Jones Act
Offshore Jones Act Counter