Bent Tie-Rod Challenge ’14

Tie-rod, oh tie-rod!

Tie-rod, oh tie-rod!

Yes, daily commuters, it’s pothole dodging time once again!

As Winter haltingly relinquishes its grip to warming temps and the inevitable thaw, a challenge is presented to drivers across the America’s Snow Belt.  With Spring sitting teasingly just beyond the calendar’s horizon, snow and ice give way to blacktop that hasn’t been seen for months, trapped this Winter under layers of an  impenetrable permafrost.

The big melt reveals roadways that in spots are in a state of severe deterioration.  Craters the size of Baltic countries, fissures capable of swallowing a Prius whole, and teeth rattling jolts from “puddles” hiding deep water glacier lakes!

Maybe owning this would help

Maybe owning one of these would help
(From the movie “Armageddon”)

Terror, Thy name is Thaw!

This year I dub this the Bent Tie-Rod Challenge in memory of the one destroyed just a week ago when I set out to forage for family sustinence at local pizza establishment.  The jaw-jarring impact was exceeded only by the jaw-dropping cost of repair.

The mechanics of pothole creation are fascinating.

OK … Maybe that’s a stretch.  But it might be useful to keep in mind that it ain’t the snow that’s the enemy in this game of suspension system roulette.  It’s water and the freezing, thawing, freezing, thawing cycle.  Exciting, I know …

Anyways … The purpose of this post is to give you a few coping mechanisms in the form of games you can play as your car does The Dance of a Thousand Pep Boys.  Your fingers clenched white-tight on the steering wheel; one eye searching the roadway frantically for tell-tale signs, the other watching the vehicle ahead for warning swerves and teeth-rattling bounces.

Although these ideas cannot be guaranteed to reduce your stress level, they will give you something really stupid to think about as you sit panting from exertion at the next red light.

Enjoy!

Olympic Pothole Freestyle - This is an timely salute to the daring do of the downhill skier and snowboard half-tubers.  Visualize a treacherous downhill ski slope, full of hazards, danger, and emergency room visits.  Your car is the downhill skier/boarder swooping gracefully between the gates and around the deadly edges of certain disaster.  But instead of being happy to simply arrive at work with all your fillings intact, get graded on Skillfulness, Graceful Lines, and Number of Four-Letter Utterances (excluding those uttered in the Idiot Driver category).  Just remember the Swiss judge can be brutal!

Picture potholes instead of asteroids

Picture potholes instead of asteroids

Pothole Asteroids - Take this favorite arcade game from the 1980s and make it a part of your morning commute.  Establish a point system that recognizes the potential cumulative damage to your undercarraige and commuter sanity relative to the size of the divot, pothole, or moon crater you impact.  Lowering scores are the objective.  Half all points for commutes taken before sunrise and after sunset.  For an added touch of Asteroid realism affix a weapons-grade laser to the front of your vehicle.  It won’t improve the pothole situation, but you can use it on the idiot in front of you. (unless you prefer to let him continue to clear the minefield ahead of you.)

Name that Crevasse!  This is a season-long challenge to name those memorable road bunkers you see every single day for weeks and weeks and weeks.  It requires a slower approach to your commute which also allow you to appreciate the grandeur and majesty of Mother Nature’s work in asphalt.  Look for those holes with iconic features and familiar looking profiles.

Last year's winner "Barringer"

A hole called “Barringer Crater”

Suggested themes: Countries and Islands,  National Parks and Monuments, Famous Profiles in Politics and Entertainment (Streisand, LBJ, Washington, Durocher, Durante, Hitchcock), States of the Union.  Note the location of each road canyon you affectionately name, then swap and collect locales with your friends.  For added fun try Bosses I Have Worked For, just make sure you have enough in the bank account to correct damages from the irresistible temptation to hit those road cavities on purpose!

Are you meat or a space commander?

Are you meat or space commander?

Lunar Lander -  This challenge would be the toughest of all!  Another variation on a beloved arcade game where you landed a Lunar Landing Module on the surface of a planet crowded with towering mountains and tiny plateaus with a very, very limited supply of fuel.  Unfortunately in this challenge, consistent with a space vehicle that was paper-thin in many areas to keep weight to a minimum, any contact with a pothole means “death” and loss of the challenge (Houston, we have a problem!).  Complete said challenge at night, and achieve Lunar Mission Commander status! (Tranquility Base here, the Eagles has landed!).

Now get out there and make that chariot of yours dance!

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Let’s get back to Weather sanity!

Coal-Fired-Power-PlantThat’s it!  I have reached my wits end.  It is time to take action.

Obviously, Global Warming has blown a tire these last two Winters, so I have decided it’s time to reverse this silly climate change process.

But don’t worry, my little snow bunnies, I’m onto the solution!

To wit, I am requesting bids to build a coal-fired electrical plant in my back yard.  Said plant must be designed to raise the temps in my little swath of Snow-ylvania by at least an average of 10 degrees.

607271-cowIn addition, the facility must accommodate a herd of cattle (allegedly REAL co-culprits in Global Warming/cooling/changing due to their … uh … cow pies) as an extra measure of potential temp increase.

Finally, the coal-cow facility must also accommodate a fertilizer plant capable of producing massive amounts of nitrous oxide which can be released untreated into the atmosphere.

In ten years my Pennsylvania neighbors will be happily donning swimsuits and flip flops on New Years Eve!

No need to thank …

A Walking Expiration Date

(A “poetic” look at two days in blackout conditions following The Great Ice Storm of 2014 … Southeastern Pennsylvania)

BRAMPTON ICE STORM CLEANUPA Walking Expiration Date

Their humming, it fills the frozen black night,
These machines that bestow us the Heat and the Light.

Our fear of Ah-nold’s scary Terminator coup
Just doesn’t seem as bad as having to go through
This cold and dark that so easily suppresses
Our heat, TV, and electronic excesses.

We furtively glance with growing exasperation
At iPhones, the Mac and muted game stations.
This equation is stark in granting a peek;
When civilization collapses, I won’t last a week!

Be it nuclear winter, a banking collapse,
Zombies, global warming, mega-virus attack;
The end will come quickly, I hope that it does.
Who really wants to be here when Is becomes Was?

When the fit hits the shan …

Whoa!  Sweet PECO!
Our ‘lectricity popped on!
No more running for gas
With my PJs still on!

Raced for the Mac, my iPhone clipped on
Before I forget this silly blog on
Nothing so much as a slight inconvenience
On a daily routine too full of dependence.

Then I turn on the Tube to catch up with the world.
The lessons and fears already starting to blur.
For few of us care to indulge or to linger
On our powerlessness at the end of God’s finger.

The End

(In-person reading events are now being scheduled!  Get yours scheduled now!)

My Philly wage taxes “at work”

imagesWhenever a big snow storm hits, I receive a rude awakening in what my Philadelphia City Wage Tax dollars accomplish for me as I travel to my Philly-hosted, U.S. Navy employment site.

The Navy installation I work at (Naval Support Activity Philadelphia) is located on Oxford Avenue maybe a mile inside the City from Cheltenham Township, my usual route into work.

This means I use maybe a mile of City streets each day (two miles roundtrip) to reach my work desk, which itself is situated on Federal property.  And for the pleasure of this jaunt along the pristine streets of Philadelphia I pay roughly $3900/year!

So unless I throw an embolism arguing with my boss over some inane minutia, requiring a police response or a stat med-evac, my lone benefit from that $3900 investment are those grand vistas along that mile stretch of Martin’s Mill Road.

Life don’t get any better than that!

So whenever it snows significantly and the region works hard to shake the white stuff from its broad shoulders, I notice – as I travel from my Horsham residence - the snow-cleared and salted streets of Horsham, Hatboro, Upper Moreland, Lower Moreland, Abington, and Cheltenham townships.  And I anticipate the glorious mess the Philadelphia streets still will be two full days after an annoying though thoroughly manageable snow fall.

The clean, salt-laced salted roads of the suburban Townships, those that get to enjoy nothing but my hometown income tax offset for suffering the Philadelphia Wage Tax, transition to the slushy, icy, still full-of-snow streets of a City that struggles to provide its tax-paying citizens bare, essential services.

And they wonder why the schools of Philadelphia are such a monumental mess!

If you cannot manage the simplest of services, how can you possibly do any better with such complex activities as education … regardless of how much money the State might pump in?!?  And how does that make YOU feel about what you might be paying in Philly wage taxes and the prospect of future demands for more of it?

Me?  I feel all slushy and iced over.

A Cranky GrandPop’s most Excellent Adventure …

Me and Harper Jeanine

Me and Harper Jeanine

Last week was a week to end all weeks!

OK … Maybe that’s a bit of a stretch.  But for Carol and I, it was definitely a week of incredible joy sandwiched by high-levels of anxiety and a touch of aggravation with an extremely cold coating of Winter.

The almost Head Injury

The Aggravation portion of the week started last Friday when I noticed a 7 degree difference between the house heater’s thermostat setting and inside temperature.  After ten minutes of playing with the thermostat while listening for the reassuring sound of the heater kicking on (a well-known method of heater evaluation), my wife offered some of her folksy wisdom.

“The heater’s not going to come on just because you’re staring at it.”

I couldn’t argue with her.

Fortunately the heater eventually came on by itself, but it was a portent of things to come.  And on Sunday morning I woke to a cold house and no heat from a unit just a year-and-a-half old (Lennox).

Sunday was a miserable day with rain freezing on the ground.  Not that I appreciated that as I frantically called my very responsive HVAC guy.

Dan described the potential pitfalls of ice damming up outlet vents and warned of the nasty, icy weather outside.  The first thing he wanted me to do was check the opening on the outlet vent for over-icing.

Of course I was half listening (Carol would be shocked …) as I wiggled into boots to contend with the snow piled up around the side of the house where the vent was located.

So I stepped out of the house, crossed the porch; stepped casually onto the first step … And promptly landed right on my gluteus maximus after a failed Flying Salchow with a Twist.  Nothing hurt but my pride and my wet, cold butt.  The scary part was feeling the back of my head lightly thumping the cement porch, inches from a serious head injury.

The solution to getting heat into our home this day ended up being the skillful hammering – That’s right, hammering – on a half dollar-sized piece of indubitably foreign-manufactured plastic that forms a pressure switch.

As I triumphantly declared “Heat on!”, Dan the heater guy, promptly offered me all his weekend emergency service calls!

Harper Jeanine (Needless to say, the highlight of the week/month/year!)

Princess Harper

Princess Harper

Sunday night the alarms went off.  A simple call from the northern edge of the Shortall family, a small town near Williamsport, set in motion a whirlwind of grand parenting speculation and frantic decision-making.

Mom’s water had broken and the Launch Clock was running!

We opted to wait until first thing Monday morning to leave for the Home of the Little League World Series hospital because the weather up north consisted mainly of freezing rain. And of course, shortly before we were to leave on our three-hour race to the north, we got the call that we were Grandparents!

Harper Jeanine … 7 pounds, 12 ounces of incredible unbaby-ugly cuteness was born at 0719 hours at Williamsport Hospital!!

And with hitting official Grand Pop status, I aged a decade – mentally – in an instant.

But without a trace of subjective Proud GrandPop blathering, I can assure you that she is in fact the Most Beautiful Baby of 2014!

She has all her fingers and toes. (I checked several times.)  She smells of new-baby-scented perfection. (I checked several times.)  And Harper Jeanine looks a lot like me. (That I checked a few more than several times.)

There is no doubt she is the product of a perfectly developed and extremely attractive gene pool, of which of course I consider myself Lead Specimen.  And no, I am not saddled with an overactive self-perception!

Heat?  Who needs heat?!?

004c0803llold-man-winter-blowing-bad-weather-into-a-city-postersAfter a joyous day of baby coddling and embarrassing goo-goo talk, Father Winter decided to ratchet up my desire to retire to Arizona with two days of the coldest weather many will remember ever experiencing.  The Wind-chill in Williamsport on Tuesday began at -6 and wormed to a toasty +10 by mid-afternoon.

Since I was tasked with welfare checks on our new tenant, my father-in-law, who declined to make the trip with us, I made several “What’s up?” calls home.  When I asked my FIL how everything was on Tuesday morning, he told me the house was cold.

uh oh …

“How cold?”, I asked, “What’s the thermostat reading?”

He laughed, and told me without a hint of concern, “53″.

uh oh …

Now fortunately, I have a very good neighbor, an ex-Marine who loves a good crisis.  He’s a dependable, no-nonsense, get-it-done type.  We help each other out whenever we can.  Everything good neighbors are supposed to do.

No one wants a frozen Pop-Pop

What I felt like going out to my car Tuesday morning

And he’s good friends with my former Marine HVAC guy!  So, with a minimum of frantic scrambling, more pressure switch pounding, and frequent house checks by the Marines, we were able to avoid Frozen Pop-Pop Syndrome.

Getting the cheap foreign-made replacement part was another problem altogether, complicated by the horrendous weather, or so the parts supply source kept telling us.

So for two days I spent a bit of time making phone calls and requesting neighborly Wellness Checks.  And I harassed my helpless HVAC guy who eventually had to beg the required part from his Lennox tech rep.

This Winter is stacking up to be a real (select your favorite Adjective of Disbelief here).  But Harper Jeanine is here, and everything will end up just fine!

OK, since you insist …

What could be better?!?

What could be better?!?

Too soon for Monsoon?

rain2One thing to be said for living in the Mid-Atlantic states, if you hate the weather just wait a bit.  It will change.

This year Nature has bestowed upon us a Fifth Season!  The season of the Monsoon!

Now, I like a little variety in life, so the new season – though a bit overbearing with the flash floods, the swamped cars, the fast water rescues – is a nice novelty.

Horsham Road, 6:30 PM this evening

What your after-work commute might have looked like Friday evening

I would enjoy Monsoon Season much, much more had they not completely skipped over the mai-tais-on-the-beach-and-native-girls-in-grass-skirts part of tropical seasonings.

Where's my mai tai?!?

Where’s my mai tai?!?

Of course it could be a lot worse.  It could be January!!

1978-Blizzard-Makes-a-Comeback-This-Time-It-s-Called-Nemo

Cranky Man’s Lawn Epistles ’12: tick tock … tick tock … tick tock …

It’s almost Winter … yippee …

Soon the frost will be on the pumpkin; the snow will be on the roof; the chestnuts will be roasting; and I’ll be moaning and groaning.  I like this time of year; I hate this time of year.

Yes, I’m certain that makes sense.

In any case, here be your last Lawn Epistle for 2012!

If you have been a loyal reader and pay attention to my long-winded rants on lawn care, you are more than familiar with my oft cranky, frantic pleadings of  … Fertilize! Fertilize! For the love of God … Fertilize!

I do get a bit exuberant about it.

Another season is coming to a close.  But as with many aspects of Life on this Big Blue Marble upon which we live, the end of one cycle signals the beginning of another.  And as any true Lawn Junkie will tell you, the Seeds of Success for the coming Spring – no matter how miserable I might be while waiting out Winter - are sown in the barren chill of transitional Fall.

My point??  Fertilize … Fertilize … Ferti …

Sorry.

The point is you – Dear Lawn Buddy – have ONE MORE treatment left before you can look forward to the next three months of Leisure, like a 1st grade school teacher at the end of May!  Let’s review …

It’s too late when it looks like this …

Winterfeed  (from an earlier Epistle) 

The last step for the Fall, is a Winter feeding that should be applied no later than mid-November.  The Winter feed goes right to the grass’ roots and is stored there over the Winter.  Once Spring arrives, the root-stored nutrients will give your lawn a growth boost to start the season off right,

Yes, that says “mid-November!  And no, I haven’t done mine yet.  But it’s at the top of the chore list for this weekend!

The important thing to remember is that the Winter feeding has to be accomplished before the grass goes dormant for the Winter.  If you have treated your lawn nicely, you are also still mowing … just less frequently … as your grass should continue to grow until the first REAL frost sets in.

Now, time is a wastin’!  We are at the very latest point for putting down the last feeding of the year.  So get to it … and enjoy your Winter downtime!

… if this Spring you want it to look like this!

Knocked cold by Sinister Sandy’s Shoulder

Photo by Colleen Wilson

It’s complacency really.  That’s my defense.  Complacency – along with a side order of impatience topped with boredom – is how I came to post such a silly thing as From the Shoulder of Hurricane Sandy early on Monday evening.  Ho hum … another “Monster Storm” bearing down on the East Coast.

I was so thoroughly unimpressed.

Three days later without electricity, heat, hot water … Creeping towards the edge of Unplugged Insanity … You tend to learn a few things about yourself.

  • You take way too many things for granted.  Could not count the number of times I mindlessly pawed a wall switch expecting the lights to come on as I entered a room.  After the first 100 failures, you would think your brain would make the adjustment.
  • When the Power goes out, you lose all perspective of what’s going on around you.  All you care about is how YOUR problem(s) will be resolved.
  • You resent The Lighted People, that cluster of homes just 100 yards from your backdoor that somehow had their power restored two days before you.
  • You can handle the stress of family challenges, work issues, health scares, and an important election.  But let a creature comfort – or two or three – disappear, and suddenly you’re fighting a long slide down into hysteria.
  • When the Power comes back on, and you see what other people are dealing with here and elsewhere as the result of Sinister Sandy, you feel like a schmuck for complaining about your situation.
  • And you come to realize if The Big One hits, you probably won’t make it – physically or mentally – to the end of the Week 1!

Sad that last one, but probably true.  You realize how fragile your relatively sane existence is, based as it is on mass technology, connected to a network that can be thrown into chaos by a few strategically placed trees and a good huff from Mother Nature.

Yes, that’s an over-simplification of what happened this week.  But you get my drift, don’t you?

Photo by Tara M. Smith

If the definition of Insanity is repeating the same action over and over again – like pawing at a powerless wall switch – and expecting a different result, I was technically insane by Tuesday evening.  The same holds true for reacting as though every truck you hear coming down the street is a caravan of utility trucks (The techs wearing white hats and halos, no doubt.) coming to the rescue … or that every rumor you hear (“The guy who lives down the street from my sister’s hair dresser says we’ll have power by 8:00 PM tonight!”) is based on any whiff of fact.

You resolve to change a few things, you know you won’t.  Buy a generator; pay serious attention to the weather forecasters; take a survivor skills course (for The Big One, ya know!); watch Doomsday Preppers without laughing; learn to camp, fish, hunt; pledge to reduce your Carbon Footprint …

eh … Who am I kidding?!?  When the NEXT 50-year storm hits, I’ll be long gone.  Won’t I?!?

(Tip of Cranky’s Lawn Mower to the guys from Illinois, whose company name I cannot recall that were responsible for getting a nice chunk of us Horshamites back on the grid!)

Cranky Man’s Lawn Epistles ’12: Losing the battle, winning the war

Once again the result of another Battlefield Summer Lawn was both predictable and unavoidable, if you are one of the common folk who struggle to maintain a healthy, vibrant lawn without the benefit of an in-ground irrigation system.

Honey, did you let the dog out?!?

In the last week you lost.  You lost BIG!  Your lawn looks like a short-cropped version of Africa’s Serengeti Plain during the dry season, missing the lions and lionesses lounging about your tinder-dry prairie, waiting for Fido to venture off the front porch.

But if you have been paying attention, you realize you may have lost Battle Summer, yet you could still win The Lawn War!

Question is, did you follow the Cranky Man Rules for Summer Lawn Survival?

  • Follow a regular fertilizing schedule to set your lawn up for success?
  • Cut the grass at higher mower setting once it gets hot?
  • Water your lawn whenever practical in cooler temps and every other day – as a minimum – once it got HOT?  (Yes, even when the grass turns brown.)
  • Refrain from fertilizing and lawn treatments when it’s hot and dry?  (e.g. Did you really need that anti-grub treatment?)

    Hippocrates preaching lawn care, circa 400 B.C.

In the words of Hippocrates … “Do no harm!  And make sure you water regularly!”  (Few appreciate Hippocrates’ legendary reputation for lawn care!)

Yes, watering your lawn even when it’s hot, brown, dry, and as hard as your driveway can make a difference!

The long-term health of your lawn lies in its root system.  Even when the grass looks dead, it’s really just dormant.  Dormant on top, but the roots still function and they NEED water to stay healthy and strong!

This is best demonstrated after a few days of cool, wet weather.  If your lawn is healthy, you should see immediate improvement in greenness and growth.  It will not come back completely green very quickly; but you should definitely notice a difference!

So even if your lawn looks like straw and smells like straw when you water it, you are helping your lawn survive another long, hot summer and setting the stage for a quick, easy lawn recovery once the dog days of summer are over.

Replica of Hippocrates Garden and Lawn Center on the island of Kos, Greece.

Cranky Man’s Lawn Epistles ’12 – Help your lawn beat the heat

When it comes to my little 1/4 acre of turf, I have a few lawn care prejudices.  They are in descending order of irritation:

  • crabgrass
  • large dogs with inconsiderate owners
  • all other weeds
  • lawn mowing contractors
  • small dogs with inconsiderate owners

As you can see, I consider lawn mowing contractors roughly equivalent to “medium-sized dogs with inconsiderate owners”.  It’s not that I “hate” them per se; and I do not begrudge their need to earn a living or the demand for their services by home owners who simply don’t want to be bothered.  The truth is lawn mowing services rarely care about your lawn.  They cut your grass way too short – no matter how hot it is – in order to make it easier on themselves should rainy weather prevent them from making a weekly cutting. 

But I digress …

The point of this post is to provide some uneducated, experience-related tips on how to help your lawn survive the long, hot, dry summer and then thrive once cooler temps return. 

My front lawn absolutely BAKES during the summer.  An east-by-southeast exposure, and the absence of shade or an irrigation system, guarantees that by late August it looks more like a lawn in Afghanistan than it does one in southeast Pennsylvania.  My back yard is exactly the opposite … plenty of shade provided by the house and large neighboring trees.  It still gets dry; but it doesn’t sun-bake nearly as much as the front. 

Differing conditions should influence how much time and care you dedicate to your lawn’s summer survival.  I will water the front yard every other day during hot, dry weather; but I NEVER bother watering the back yard.

Common sense is the recurring theme in my suggestions for helping your lawn beat the heat and survive the summer:

  1. Make sure you fertilize regularly, especially in the spring and fall.
    • Search the Tag cloud or Categories on the menu bar for Lawn Care to read these posts.
  2. Don’t be afraid to let your lawn grow LONGER once it starts getting HOT. (This is where the aforementioned lawn-mowing contractors are so often no friend to your lawn!) 
    • A well-maintained lawn will look fuller and more lush when allowed to grow longer.
    • Longer grass will collect and retain more moisture, even just from morning dew.
    • Long grass also helps shade underlying soil, helps it retain moisture, and protects the plants’ roots.
  3. When it starts getting hot, water regularly those sections of your lawn that tend to dry out first and turn brown.
    • It’s never to late to water; but do not wait until the lawn is already starting to brown to start watering.
    • Pay attention to weather forecasts for anticipated rains and plan accordingly.
    • Water in the evening when moisture has longer to soak the soil and reach plant roots.
  4. Use common sense when it comes to fertilizing during heat waves and dry conditions.  Don’t fertilize a severely dry or burnt lawn.  You’re likely to do more harm than good.
    • This is generally an issue only with anti-grub applications, normally applied around the 4th of July.  In my opinion, you could do more harm than any lawn pest by applying a grub treatment when your lawn is water-starved.
  5. If worse comes to worse and the lawn turns to straw, watering can still help to keep the roots from drying out completely. 

The most important take-away here was best addressed by my Great Grandpappy* who used to say …

If you cut your lawn like a golf course fairway in May, it will look as lush an airport runway in July! *

(* OK, I never really knew my great-grandfather and barely remember one grandfather, but folksy wisdom always sounds more believable when attributed to someone older, wiser and near death.)

None of these suggestions will guarantee your lawn won’t turn brown.  If Mother Nature doesn’t cooperate with an occasional rain, only an irrigation system will keep your lawn green for any extended period of time during hot, dry weather.  So far this year, Mom Nature has been kind.  But like all women, that could change in the time it takes to narfle the garthok

My lawn does not have an irrigation system.  So I TRY to water every other day (which is a practical compromise between wanting to water every day and the cost of doing so).  But even when I am conscientious about watering, without help from Above, my front lawn will stay green only for so long.  There is NEVER a summer where patches – usually the same spots each year – don’t thin out, turn brown, and resemble more closely straw than grass.  These areas get early special attention in an attempt to mitigate the damage.

The MOST IMPORTANT result is that my lawn usually bounces back pretty quickly because – I like to think – I’m sensible about keeping it in as good a shape as I can BEFORE the long, hot, dry summer starts taking its toll!  The secret is to pay attention to your lawn’s condition BEFORE Mother Nature turns on the oven, and to anticipate what needs to be done to protect it!  

Good luck out there!