Archive for September, 2015

Jeopardy question: What is 73?

Answer:  The number of minutes it takes to enter the details of one’s son’s basketball games for the 2015-16 season into one’s phone and onto one’s wall calendar.

In a somewhat unrelated matter, be it noted that this formerly homeschooling mom finds the superfluity of grammatical and typographical errors consistently appearing in printed matter disseminated from her son’s school to be entirely unacceptable.  Granted, correspondence from his English teacher has been written correctly, but that coming from faculty and staff with other responsibilities has left – although not in content – quite a bit  to be desired.  I am now reminding myself that character and subject-specific facility trumps good writing. . . doesn’t it?  And I know I had better proofread this post very carefully!!!

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Jeopardy question: What is 95.68?

Answer:  Andrew’s current overall course average in Bible, Biology, English, Geometry, Personal Finance, and World History.  Congratulations, Son!  You are doing GREAT at TCA!!!

Andrew also has Spanish 1 and “Band” (a music class with all the high schoolers combined; they are working toward performing some contemporary Christian music songs; Andrew plays keyboard for that group and sings), but I have not received email grade reports on either of those courses.

NC 8610

We’ve been away the past two weekends.  Labor Day weekend we camped at Buffalo Point with the Whittakers and the Joneses, then this weekend, Andrew stayed at the Whittakers (and did two cleanings) while Scott and I went to Creek’s End.  I looked back through their guest book and calculated that this was our seventh time to be there!  Wow!  And we always love it.  Amazingly, the day before we arrived, it had rained enough to fill the spring pool(!!!), and on our way in, we turned off on that road to the right – I can’t remember the number, but it’s the one that crosses the Little Buffalo and then winds its way up to Castle Bluff – and took our crocs and bag chairs and sat in the water in the sun and talked.  That is one of my favorite places.

The area around Creek’s End is just perfect for walking and talking, and we usually do quite a bit of both when we’re there.  That evening, we went for a walk on the main (dirt) road back toward the community building.  Just past it, a road cut off uphill to the right.  Actually, off that main road that comes in from Parthenon, nearly all the roads go uphill, since the main road follows the Little Buffalo through the valley whenever possible.  So, yes, I suppose it’s redundant to say the road went up.  Anyway, it did, and I said, “Hey! Why don’t we walk up there?  We’ve never been on that road and we could see where it goes.”  Scott said it went up (duh) and that it would be a climb and did we really want to do that.  I replied that it might level off, and he gave me that look that means, “What you just said is completely illogical, but I love you anyway.”

So we started up it, but had only gone about 100 feet when it became obvious that he was right.  It was going to just keep climbing and climbing, and neither of us wanted to work that hard.  Scott said if we wanted to explore that road, NC 8610 (“NC” for Newton County, the most scenic county in Arkansas and probably in the entire Midwest), it would be better to drive than to walk.

Our time at Creek’s End proved to be both intensely challenging and intensely good.

As we pulled away on Sunday afternoon, we passed 8610 and I looked longingly up it.  A well-traveled dirt road going to somewhere that I cannot see is an almost irresistible draw.  Scott noted my angst and asked if I wanted to drive up it.

“Oh, yes!  Please!”

So, contrary to everything in his nature, he backed up(!!!), and we turned up 8610.

It was your typical Ozarkian dirt road; rocky, heavily wooded and with occasional gorgeous views.  Had it not been so steep, and therefore huff/puff inducing, I would have loved to walk it with my camera.  Oh, the pictures I could have taken.  But it was so steep.  Very, very steep.  It’s a lot like the road to Castle Bluff.  I was actually thankful we were going up, as up is, both as a driver and as a pedestrian, less slide-y than down, and I was very thankful we were in the Durango.  Well, without a four-wheel drive, high clearance vehicle, it simply wouldn’t have been possible at all.

Probably a half mile up, we saw a light tan brick house set back in the woods on the left.   A brick house!  Who builds brick houses in Newton County?  The only brick building of any kind that I remember ever seeing in Our Favorite County is the electric company building just off the square in Jasper.  And although we did see two or three power boxes (those light green, three-foot high metal pillar things) in a few places along the road, that was the last dwelling we saw for a very long time.  The population density along 8610 is not especially high.

We kept climbing and I was very glad that Scott was driving.  I think I probably could have done it, but I would have been rather fearful, not knowing where we were headed or if 8610 ever came out anywhere or not.  In fact, when we had gone probably two or three miles – though lumbering along at 5-15 mph it seemed much farther – he asked me to get out a map.  Now this was an interesting request.  I am the only member of the family who is still old school enough to use a paper map.  In fact, I am pretty sure paper maps went out with the dinosaurs.  However, in much of Newton County there is no cell reception, hence no phone internet and no e-map.  In fact, when we were on our way to Creek’s End and I was driving and Scott was working – and his work has been particularly intense lately – and he was on a series of VIP (Very Important Phone) calls, we got to Jasper, and I was driving around the square, prior to turn off 7 onto 74 and 327.  I do that on principle, you know, my theory being that if a town square presents itself, it does so only for the express purpose of being driven around, and sometimes twice.  So, Jasper being the county seat and having a very nice old courthouse in the midst of its square, I was driving S-L-O-W-L-Y around, noting (but, of course, not commentating on because Scott was on a call) the various little shops and eateries on the right, when Scott exclaimed, “No Service!”

AARRGGHH!  No cell signal and a potentially dropped call, but this made no sense.  After all, weren’t out in the boonies yet (we knew we’d lose coverage when got on 327); we were on Highway 7, a major thoroughfare if ever there was one, smack dab in the middle of downtown Jasper!  I made the next turn of the square at the bakery on the corner (I’d really like to go into that bakery sometime), and Scott said, “Got it!”  Well.  Cell coverage was clearly spotty around the square, and while it would be important for me to stop that very second exactly where I was , I knew I couldn’t parallel park the Durango in the available space to my immediate right – at least not without taking out a Subaru or two (we have decided that the local Buddhists drive Subaru wagons), so I pulled forward into an angled space in front of the office of the Newton County Times and sat on a park bench for a while.  After some 15 minutes, I got a bit bored and ventured into the courthouse to scope out the local history and legal activities and look for a bathroom.

The bathroom was on the second floor next to the courtroom, and I liked these paper signs taped to the wall in the at the landing on the broad staircase:

Court SignIt’s very easy for me to imagine someone showing up for court in Jasper in halter top, shorts, and flip-flops.  Most of those folks live back in the woods, prefer to be left alone (and have firearms to enforce that preference), vote Republican, may or may not be in violation of one or more laws, and probably don’t care.  Anyway, my point is that on 8610 there was absolutely no cell service, and I replied to Scott, “I don’t know if we have an Arkansas map in here.”

“No Arkansas map?!?”

“Well, lemme check.  We may have a Missouri map, but. . . nope.  No go on Arkansas.  All I have is Missouri.”

[with a sigh and a frown]  “Oh.  What we really need is a Newton County map.”

Now, this was a joke of major proportions.  See, I really like maps.  Paper maps.  Whenever I am in a new (or even an old) place, I want to see where I am and where I am in relation to whatever’s around me.  Location, location, location.  And on one of our earlier trips to Newton County – and in twenty-eight years, believe me, we have made a LOT of trips to Newton County – I saw a Newton County map hanging somewhere.  It may have been the one on the back porch at Creek’s End, but I think the first one I saw was even before our Creek’s End years.  In any case, I told Scott I’d like to have one of those nifty detailed maps – ooh! ooh! ooh! – and he gave me one for a birthday gift one year.  But the goofy thing is that it’s rolled up with the other maps in the playroom, and kind of like my walking stick, I never think to bring the map when we go there.  = {

This trip I am proud to announce that I did bring (and heavily used) my walking stick, but I didn’t bring the Newton County map.

No surprises there.

But Scott’s request for a map meant one of three things:

1.  Either we were lost,

2.  Or he wasn’t sure which way to go – although there had been only one turn off and we had gone left,

3.  Or he might (GASP!) turn around and go back down.

Well, #3 was admittedly highly unlikely.  It was only 2:00 PM, so we had plenty of daylight, we had more than a quarter tank of gas, and Scott does have both a typical male’s excellent sense of direction AND a really good working knowledge of Newton County topography.

#2 he would never admit.

#1 would never happen.

I certainly didn’t want to be wandering the Ozarkian hills after dark.  I did that once as a teenager with my brother and his friend down near Hot Springs.  We did indeed get lost, the authorities were called out to search for us, we stumbled out of the very dark woods onto (unknown) pavement some four hours after we had been expected to return, and we were picked up by law enforcement as we walked on the shoulder toward we had no idea where.  We later learned that from the point on that unmarked dirt road at which the female in our group finally persuaded the others to turn around and attempt to retrace our steps, if we had we kept on walking, we would not have seen anything other than a lot of trees for another 20 MILES, at which point we would have intersected. . . another unmarked dirt road.  It was a very scary experience.

I also didn’t want to run out of gas, but I REALLY didn’t want to stop until we at least figured out where the heck 8610 went.  Or, that it went nowhere and we’d have to go back down.  I don’t like to back down.  = )

We pressed on.  Ye Olde Durango lumbered valiantly over rocks and gravel and holes and branches.  We crossed deeply buried culverts and circled around stream beds.  At one point we even went up a series of zig-zagging switchbacks, and although we did see a few overgrown, grassy tires paths through the trees that, with a stretch,  might conceivably be called driveways, we didn’t see another house.  At one point, a downward traveling truck met us, but it happened to be at one of the very few places where we could ease off the decidedly one-lane road without falling off the mountain, and we let him pass.  He gave us the standard two-fingered wave which Scott returned, and we kept climbing.

There is a unique thing about the hills in Newton County, and we had already experienced it in full force when we hiked Creek’s End’s white trail on Saturday.  You climb up and up and up until you finally see blue sky and there aren’t any more trees higher than the ones beside you and the ground  levels off and you’re “on top!”  And yes, in any other part of the country, this would mean you had indeed reached the top, but that is not true in Newton County.  It’s all a deception, because at this point, you are really only halfway up.  You pause a while to breathe and then you resume climbing.  You keep climbing until you again reach “the top,” at which point you are maybe two-thirds of the way up.  Etc.

So we kept climbing and climbing and curving and climbing and climbing, but the interesting thing was that as steep and isolated as this road was, it was obviously a heavily used road.  There was NO grass – or anything else – growing in its middle!  I couldn’t figure that out.  No one lived along the road, but an awful lot of people clearly drove it for some reason on a very regular basis.

We climbed a little more (for a change, you know), and then an amazing thing happened.  8610 ran into another dirt road!  We were at a T, and directly in front of us was. . . a cemetery!!!!

Now, I do like cemeteries almost as much as maps.  And here we had found one, TOTALLY out in the boonies.  How very fun!  There was a nice pavilion with church pews lined up under it, and behind that, an outhouse labeled “WOMEN.”  I thought that was funny, because there was only the one outhouse.  I guessed that men attending funerals umm. . . went somewhere else.  We parked at the gate, which was fastened with a rubber strap, opened it and went in.  This cemetery was located on “the top” (literally) of the Ozarkian world.  It was a breezy, grassy location that had recently been mowed, and there were lots of fake flowers (in good shape, not faded) adorning the graves.  The deceased had been buried systematically starting at the far fence row and moving forward.  The most recent head stones were from the 1990s and 2000s with one just this past May, but back along the fence row we found a few from the mid-to-late 1800s!

Turns out this is the Snow cemetery, and it’s technically located in suburban Deer, AR (of Deer, Nail, Swain fame, for those of you familiar with Highway 16 in that area).   Having now googled it, I know it’s really only 3.7 miles – all uphill, in fact, quite possibly uphill both ways – from the mailboxes in downtown Murray.  This photo of downtown Murray was taken on a previous Creek’s End trip.

Downtown Murray, ARWe thoroughly scoped the Snow cemetery, and I did locate the men’s room, which I had not seen on initial inspection because it was located over a slight rise maximally distant from the gate.  After my thoroughly inspecting the ladies’ facility, we left the cemetery, wove our way around on a few more dirt roads, eventually hit pavement, and successfully avoided hitting a small herd of cattle walking down the middle of the road.  Scott said they reminded him of Niger.  At Alum Cove, just off Highway 28, we had a delightful picnic lunch, during which I learned that it’s easier to cut peppers and tomatoes with first aid scissors than with a house key.

Suffice it to say that we will both retain fond memories of our exploration of NC 8610.

Generation

When Jessica was home for a while earlier this year, she got us – well, Andrew and me – started on recycling.  Up until that point, in my 54+ years, I had never recycled anything.  We have a trash service, Andrew puts our trash out in their massive can and wheels it to the street on Monday, and every Tuesday, for a small monthly fee, Raintree Disposal hauls it all away.  But Jessica wanted to recycle some stuff, so we humored her.  We had some paper bags in the pantry that we’d toss stuff into, and then every so often, she and Andrew would take it to the recycle center.  I had never even been to the recycle center.

Jessica went back to Asia in March, and Andrew and I maintained the habit.  We graduated to a Sam’s club box for cardboard, but still used our Harter House paper bags for plastic and cans.  Every Wednesday, before loading the Durango’s trunk with groceries at Wal-Mart, we’d take our box and two bags to the recycle center and dump them in the self-service bins.  But one Wednesday morning, the recycle guy told me that we weren’t supposed to use the self-service bins except when we came after hours, hours being 7:00 AM to 2:00 PM, because they just had to dump those bins and that made more work for them.  He asked me to please bring my stuff over to the building and hand it to them.  Which I did the next week, and the next, each time asking for my box and bags back.

After a few weeks of that, one of the recycle folks asked if I’d like containers.  Now that was a concept!  They gave me three white, plastic, lidless, knock-together, basket-ish boxes that fit perfectly under the stairs in the pantry.  We did that for a time, but Scott didn’t like them in the pantry, so they have been moved to the playroom.  Now, all I have to do is have Andrew load the containers into the Durango, hand them to the recycle folks, and ask for them back.  Works like a charm.

But here’s the thing that totally blows my mind.  We are a family  household of THREE, and yet we generate an truly impressive amount of trash!  Not much glass, and metal varies widely depending on how aggressively I’m cooking (white chili, regular chili, salsa, and spaghetti sauce yield many, many cans; wish I had a Zans), but our plastic and cardboard accumulations are quite astounding.  Slashed and smashed as fully as possible by modern, automatic equipment (my hands + a box cutter), we generally yield about 1.5 cubic feet each of plastic and cardboard per week!

Some fifteen years ago, when online ordering was becoming more popular, I told Scott (and I think he thought I was joking), “You know, we really ought to invest in cardboard.  I think companies that make cardboard are going to be making a killing.”  We did not, and I’m now quite sure they are.  I cut up at least one box a day, but while we’re not gaining any money from our waste, at least we can, as they say in Go, Dog. Go! make it “go around again!”

A baby step

We had a dinner meeting with our Roberts Vacation Rentals employees at Chick-fil-A this evening.  We were two men and four women, and we women realized through our discussion that we all struggle with having messy homes which are at least partially the result of having too much stuff.  We shared some funny stories, and I was highly motivated to come home and clean out (and throw out) at least something before I go to bed.

I decided to tackle the school shelf in the dining room, the shelf that was supposed to be a place for Andrew to keep his school books and supplies, the shelf where his homeschool stuff – some from more than a year ago – has been piled, the shelf I had intended to get cleared off before school started on August 19.

I am now happy to report that in 20 minutes I cleared that shelf and the one below it.  Now Andrew has a place to put his current school stuff, and the extra Bibles, game books, and score pad are also all easily accessible.

If I took a baby step like this every day, it would take me a mere 16 light years to declutter the whole the house!

Confession of a first ever event

On our camping trip this weekend, I am pretty sure I did something I have never, ever done before.  I slept in a camper with air conditioning running, full blast, max cold.  We have had this camper for a couple years.  In that time, evidently on some male-only trips, people have used the A/C, but in the four or five times I have camped in it, I had not.  Until Labor Day 2015.

It was hot at home and similarly hot at Buffalo Point.  In addition, it was humid.  Possibly approaching Hong Kong humid.

Now our “new” camper is definitely a luxury model.  Well, I thought so until I saw the Whittakers’.  SWEET GEORGIA PEACHES!!!  And they got theirs for either a little less than (my memory) or a little more than (Scott’s memory) ours.  It’s massive and it takes three steps to climb up into.  It has a full kitchen, including sink with hot and cold running water, fridge, pantry, microwave, cook top, and oven.  It does not have a dishwasher, however.  It has a living room couch that pops out into a bed, a kitchen table that makes into another bed, a bedROOM with a door enclosing a king-size bed, and three bunk beds with a closet.  It has carpet in the “living room,” which slides out on a motor.  It has a bathroom, heat, A/C, and an outside shower.  And LOADS of storage within and without.  It is quite lovely in every way, but for me personally, it’s not camping.  I’m sure it has more square footage than Katie’s apartment, and a person, a couple, or even a small family could easily live in it full time.

In fact, for me personally, our own camper isn’t really camping, but we call it camping and we like it.  Actually, our camper really is luxurious compared to our pop-up and certainly to a tent.  But just like I categorically refuse to do the pee-in-the-camper’s-bathroom thing, until four nights ago, I also didn’t do the run-the-camper’s-A/C thing.  I mean, sweating and running a fan is just part of the experience, right?

It was SO hot and SO humid that I relented, and I’m glad I did.  The only minor problem was that with our configuration, Scott sleeps on the part of our queen bed that is maximally distant from the A/C, so it’s really hard to get it cool enough for him to be comfortable.  The air just doesn’t blow back there.

On Sunday night, our friends took Andrew with them to the drive-in movie in Marshall, and Scott and I had a nice evening alone, and we decided to crank the A/C down really low to get it as cool as possible before turning in.  Sitting at our “kitchen” table, which is located directly under the A/C unit, and playing pinochle (and be it noted that Yours Truly scored 1220 to My Hero’s 1210 – HA!), we got so cold in our shorts and T-shirts that we both put on sweatshirts!  And then Scott had to put a sleeping bag over his legs!  It had to be 90 outside, but it was probably 64 inside and we were freezing.  We even put two blankets on our bed.

But it all worked well, and we were very thankful for the air conditioning. . . even though I’m somewhat ashamed to admit it.

Knowing and no-nos

Having spent a fun weekend at Buffalo Point, I thought it appropriate to record a few significant thoughts, events, and memories.

We were in Loop C, of course, site 46. It’s the long skinny one with the major rock walls, on the non-river side, with the little gravel trail up to the bathroom that’s up some steep steps across the street. It’s not our first choice site, but when we went to reserve it over a month ago, it was one of only two sites left. The Whittakers camped in the one next to us, in their new, MASSIVE, gorgeous camper that is more like a mobile home. Nevaeh Ritter was with them, and Mark and Chantsee Jones with their kids, Lykin, Kamber, and Tallia (3 months) were in the nearest tent site, just a good hard stone’s throw across the road from our traditional “corner” site.

In our nearly 28 years of marriage, I don’t think we have ever before gone camping on a holiday weekend, but we did this time, compliments of our now being (or at least becoming marginally) “normal,” due to Andrew’s being in school. I assumed that on Labor Day weekend the campground would be packed with noisy, wild-partying folks, but it was very pleasant. Although all the reserved sites were reserved, a few of them were actually empty and the folks around us were nice.

Between us and the Whittakers, we brought ten kayaks and several inner tubes, but it turned out that the river was reportedly too low to float. Of course, that is to be expected in the first week of September, but being ever hopeful, a few of our folks, including Mark and his older girls, did do a short little float/swim/tube from the bluff to the campground on Saturday.

Now, there are places in the world where just about anything can be done, and conversely, as we have learned by experience over the past year or so, there are several things that absolutely cannot be done at Buffalo Point, or, evidently, anywhere in the vicinity of the Buffalo National River, which things I will now present in no particular order.

  1. Loyal readers will remember that Scott and I were nearly ticketed to the tune of $155 when pulling our kayaks out of the Buffalo at Kyle’s Landing. Our grave illegality that day was NOT being drunk, stoned, or obnoxiously loud, as had been approximately 58% of the four thousand other floaters that day. Oh, no. We simply were floating sans life jackets, and doing so is an enormously large no-no.
  1. Mark and Chantsee did not have a boring weekend. They arrived at 11:00 PM Friday to a site Scott had picked out and reserved for them. They had borrowed a three-room tent, Mark had never been camping before, and Scott helped them get set up in the dark—there, in the dark—till about midnight.  They ran an extension cord from the nearby pavilion in order to have a light that night and to make coffee in the morning, but the next day they were accosted by a park ranger who informed them that that was strictly against the rules and that if they continued to use the pavilion’s power, they would be fined $50. Therefore, that was the end of electricity for them. Using power from a pavilion you have not reserved is also a no-no.
  1. Last year at Buffalo Point, Shane was moving a group of kids and teens from Point A to Point B some fifty yards away. For this extensive journey, the young folks all piled into the back of his truck with—horror of horrors—the tailgate down. Alas, a park ranger beheld this situation, stopped the truck, made the kids get out, and threatened Shane with a ticket. Now admittedly, that threat may have had something to do with Shane’s “but this IS Arkansas!” comment, but in any case, transporting any humans in the back of any pickup is a big no-no.
  1. On Saturday afternoon, Shane and Georgie took their own two kayaks up to the Highway 14 bridge to put in for a little float. An officer of some branch or the other of the law was standing there, not far from a pile of hundreds of items of concessionaire’s gear – canoes, life jackets, kayaks. This officer watched Shane and Georgie unload their boats and get things set up. He watched Shane go park their truck and walk back. He watched them put in and shove off, and only when they had paddled some twenty feet—and knowing full well the answer to his own question—did he ask, “Do you have life jackets?” They did not, and so he told them they were not allowed to float. “It’s against the law to float without a life jacket. People drown here every day.” Shane thought (but did not say out loud), “This must be a very dangerous place!” The officer told them they could rent life jackets at Wild Bill’s for $10 each. They were steamed and disappointed, but thankful he didn’t give them a ticket. so, lest any of us had harbored any doubts, this situation confirmed the fact that not only is it illegal to pull your kayak OUT of the Buffalo without having a life jacket on board, it’s an equally massive no-no to put it INto the Buffalo in the first place without said personal flotation device.

Later that same afternoon, Scott and I drove up to the bluff to swim, Scott taking with him the old, beat-up mesh lounger he found a couple months ago on Bull Creek. After doing the long hot hike pst the pavement and over the huge gravel hill, we finally and with deep gratitude (both the temperature and the humidity were in the upper 90s) submerged our bodies in the water on the upstream end of the gravel mound, nearly up to the cliff from which Scott has jumped off quite a few times (“Aye-yee!”), and while he was floating and I was swimming/wading, many other hot, sweaty folks came floating by, either in canoes (dragging a lot), kayaks (dragging a little), or inner tubes (not dragging much at all).

But here’s the amazing thing: not only did every canoe and kayak have a life jacket affixed and visible, every inner tube had, too! So, wait a minute. . . are inner tubes now considered watercraft, too?!?  I thought inner tubes were themselves designed to keep people afloat(!), so where would one draw the line? If inner tubes are “vessels,” then what about those $0.99 blow-up rafts that ladies lie on to tan? Would those require life jackets, too? And was Scott in fact also breaking the law by lying in our mesh float without a personal flotation device?!? And what about me swimming beside him? Is the day fast approaching when I will be required to wear a life jacket to swim?!? Or to wade?!? And what if I choose to simply stand on the shore and gaze pointedly at the water? Must I wear a life jacket then? Honestly, when I think of the ramifications of this slippery slope, when I take it to its logical conclusion, why, it strangles even the Olympics! Could Mark Spitz really have won his seven golds while wearing a life jacket?!?

I clearly needed factual answers, and in researching Arkansas laws, I found the following gem on the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s website under “Laws for Canoes, Kayaks and Inner Tubes on Arkansas Waterways.”

Life Jackets

Every vessel must have one type I, II, III, or V personal flotation device for each person on board. All life vests must be:

                United States Coast Guard-approved,

                in good and serviceable condition, and

                of proper size

Children 12 and under must wear a life jacket, which must be securely fastened while on board any vessel.

I also found one website that said PFDs must be “readily accessible.” While I am still not sure how to determine whether a floating item designed to hold one or more persons is or is not a “vessel,” at least I now know more than I did.

 


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