Friday, August 4, 2017

They're only young once, so scare them now!

We have ten grandchildren, six of whom live overseas, lately Tajikistan, and four others located on the coast of North Carolina.  The stars rarely align to have all of them around at the same time; being together could also be referred to as a perfect storm, depending on your point of view.
This happy event occurred this week, as the distant ones are in the States for three-plus weeks for home leave, and the in-state gang came up for a couple of days.
Paula and I took the older three from each family to the mountains of North Carolina for a couple of days, leaving their mothers back in Raleigh in the delicious state of fewer kids, no husbands and available babysitters.
We spent a night at a quiet, traditional motel; at least it was quiet until we got there.
and after eating at a drive-in restaurant that had been a drive-in since before such things were 'nostalgic' or 'retro,'
we watched them swim and scream and yell until an hour of which their parents would certainly not approve.
In the morning, after a hearty breakfast of Marshmallow Matys and doughnuts at the motel, (c'mon, what are grandparents for?) we drove to the Nantahala Outdoor Center on the dam-controlled river of the same name.  They terrorized the outfitter store until the rafting shop opened, then donned wet suits
and stood for a photo as the now-official Rat Squad.
We lucked out, and our guide was a patient and fun older gentleman who does this part-time, and who perceived each kid's character and engaged them in the management of our trusty inflatable craft.
The final rapids is knows as "Nantahala Falls," and it was a thrilling ride!
And yeah, on the way home we stopped at Wendy's and ordered seven "Dave's Combo's" (Paula had a righteous salad) and made weird combinations of sodas from the cool drink dispensers.
And yeah, we dusted off the almost-never-used video player in the car and watched The Incredibles and The Princess Bride on the ride home.  "My name is Inigo Montoya.  You killed my father; prepare to die!"
Like I said, what are grandparents for, anyway?
We hope that you get to spend quality time with yours, too.
Dave & Paula

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The two words I don't want to ever hear again

We have lived in the same house for 32 years, and have made some improvements along the way. A particular door in the kitchen has bugged Paula for a long time, and for the last, I dunno, ten years she has suggested replacing it with a sliding pocket door to get it out of the way.
Not suspecting a thing, in March my brother-in-law and I took the wall apart during his visit, and quickly realized that a load-bearing post had been jury-rigged into it during some work 27 years ago.
OK, so we'd have to put in a 'header' above to take the load. After considering a steel beam, or putting the wall back together and bailing on the project, we settled on a double-thick 11-inch laminated beam to take the load. The guy at the lumber yard that helped me put it on top of the Odyssey kind of sneered when he said, "Kinda heavy for that kinda car, huh?" I muttered under my breath as I got back in the pilot's seat, "Real men drive minivans, buddy."
I jacked up the ceiling, a friend helped me cut and place the beam, and we got to wield sledge hammers and other real-guy tools.
However, with the load of the upstairs hallway now distributed differently, the minimal sag in the floor on either side looked a little more pronounced, so...
After two days in the 30" crawl space with a hand trowel, about 50 buckets of dirt dragged out and 40 buckets of wet cement and rebar dragged in,
 I had made four good footings,
on to which were then placed four beefy house jacks.
I then got the local steel supply space to cut me two seven-foot lengths of five-inch steel I-beam, which my beautiful assistant and I dragged under the house ("One, two, three, lift!").
and finally hoisted up on the jacks.
After a month to cure the concrete to maximum strength, I jacked the floor level,
and could finally hang the pocket door hardware, and then the door itself, a big ol' 36-inch solid core thing, which weirdly had been made in Chile.
A man's got to know his limitations, so Edgar The Sheet Rock Guy came over and did the honors.
After that, it was a couple days of trim and paint and thresholds, and then insetting the pulls.
So, after only four months, untold blood, sweat and tears, and I-don't-really-want-to-know-how-much-money, the project was finally done.
I now have authority to advise any and all that if your wife utters the words, "pocket door," it's time to feign sudden deafness, break your own arm, or call a good divorce lawyer.
I hope that your home-improvement projects are less complicated and of shorter torture duration.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

A stroll in the woods. Not!

For several hundred years, according to some, the 14-18 year-old young men of our church congregation with their leaders and dads have backpacked for six days on the Appalachian Trail just after the end of the school year.  This year was no exception.
The hearty, foolish (foolhardy?) group set off from just north of Front Royal, Virginia with smiles and high hopes.  The pale, uneasy-looking older gentleman in blue is me.
"Well, that wasn't so bad!" remarked several in the group as they completed a mere five miles the first day, arriving at the shelter and campsite.  "And look!  A horseshoe pit!"
Indeed, and so the first annual Jim and Molly Denton Shelter World Cup of Horseshoes began.  No one could remember the real rules, so Denton Shelter rules were enforced after they were made up.  In the end, youth and talent were no match for age and cunning, and the Old Guys ruled.
"What a pleasant start," said several of the youth naively as they shouldered their packs the next morning.  One could almost hear the chuckle of the hills ahead...
We lost one adult leader the second day, due to bad glucose control.
The next adult leader succumbed the next day to 95-degree temps and some extreme trail. He was lucky to leave before...
THE ROLLER COASTER!!  AAAGGHHH!!  It turned out to be the worst day's hike I've ever done, and I've been on some bad hikes.  I'll attribute it to the heat and absurd inclinations of the trail, but there were numerous times when my fried brain could not remember "roller coaster;" I found myself trying to recall; "cotton candy? uh, no. Ferris wheel? nope." etc. Everyone was wasted.
Luckily, a couple of OK days followed with lower temperatures and less steep trails.
We ended just short of Harper's Ferry, and reunited with the now-refreshed adult leaders.
To finish off the trip, we visited the Gettysburg National Battlefield, an interesting but somber place.
I don't know if Wendy's Corporation is aware of it, but all Scout/Young Men expeditions by tradition end at one of their establishments.  The record is $20 of food bought and consumed by a single youth.  It probably cost Wendy's more than that to de-stinkify the restaurant.
All in all, one of those great activities that are a lot better in retrospect.
We hope that your hikes are pleasant, and your roller coasters more fun.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Don't ever do this, OK?

So there I was, getting things in order a week ago prior to leaving on a six-day backpacking trip (see later post).  I had been painting some trim upstairs, and put the near-full gallon of premium, nice, thick white semi-gloss paint on the high shelf above the work bench in the garage.  The setup couldn't have been more dangerous; our nice, new silver Honda minivan was parked within 24 inches, and Paula was walking in front of it dressed neatly, looking in to her now-open best purse.
The next few milliseconds are etched in my brain, along with Monty Python and the Search for the Holy Grail, my locker combination from 7th grade, the Scout Motto and my route home from the hospital, which I can do, and did many times, in my sleep.
First off, you may congratulate me that I said nothing stronger than, "NO!!' as the can hit the workbench and burst open, splashing a near-gallon of premium, nice, thick white semi-gloss pain on everything.  We concentrated quickly on the car, getting it out of the garage to hose down, and of course smearing white paint on the inside.  (OK, that's a picture of someone's Maserati, but you get the idea. And I wasn't stopping to take any photos.)
Meanwhile, Paula was covered on one side, including her hair, and everything at that end of the garage was splashed.  She hit the showers and I started frantically trying to clean things up before it all dried.  Six hours later, I finished getting the last bits of paint off the concrete floor with a drill and wire brush.  
Several points to remember:
1.  A fine-toothed comb gets paint out of your wife's hair...eventually.  Sort of.
2.  Premium nice thick semi-gloss paint, and we're talking latex here, ruins clothes.
3.  Tragedy plus time equals humor.  However, not enough time yet.
4.  I have a kind, forgiving wife, and appreciate her even more for her even-tempered approach to this whole episode.  And thanks to Amazon, the essential clothes were quickly replaced for about forty bucks.  The t-shirt went in the 'work clothes' pile.
5.  Be careful with paint.  Duh.

We hope that your home improvement projects end more smoothly.
Dave & Paula

Friday, May 26, 2017

Back to normal (boring) life

As the previous entry mentioned, we were in Tajikistan with my daughter Ashley and her family, and we have just returned after two and a half weeks. It was nothing short of a rich experience.
Ashley and Brandon live in a nice house in Dushanbe with enough room for the gang, a swing set, 
and some snapdragons run wild.
Ashley likes to drive to the end of whatever road and start hiking.  And when the trail ends, keep hiking.
Baby William and Eleanor (aka Smell-a-nor) got to come along on this adventure.
The kids noted that the water wasn't so cold once their feet got numb.
One Saturday, we drove with two other families north to Iskanderkul ('Alexander's Lake'), marveling at Soviet-era bridge construction,
but marveling far more at the spectacular scenery.
I would have taken a picture inside the 5+-kilometer Anzob Tunnel,
but I was too busy holding on to parts of the car, and trying to quickly repent of whatever sins I could think of on short notice. Quoting Wikipedia, "The tunnel was open in 2006 despite being only partially finished and it quickly gained the reputation as being one of the world's most dangerous tunnels." For some time, and I am not making this up, you could only pass through after signing a waiver. To be fair, lights (sort of) are now up, and the major water intrusions have (sort of) stopped.
Arriving at Iskanderkul, we further risked life and auto by heading downstream and viewing the 130-foot waterfall, above which somebody with a sense of humor and a welding torch built a viewing platform, held in place by what one hopes is a heavy-enough boulder.
The lake itself is nothing short of breathtaking. It is said that Alexander the Great and his army stopped here, though the fragments of recently-discovered ancient hot dogs and primitive Cheetos have proven insufficient for carbon-14 dating evidence.
We had a nice lunch on the shore. We fear that the lake's cited depth of 263 feet is a few less now for the rocks thrown in by the kids.
Despite the glacially chilly water, the youngest daughter got buried in the sand and muck, per protocol.
I don't want to sound repetitive, but the views were nothing short of spectacular as we traveled through the Fann Mountains.
Back in Dushanbe, we visited the recently-finished National Tea House, built in part to impress foreign dignitaries. It even includes a bowling alley, which Ashley says is a pretty good one. You know, fly in, negotiate a new trade treaty and roll a few frames.
The interior is nothing short of just plain amazing, with carved wood, ornate painting, inlaid floors and stone work of every description. However, we didn't get to see the bowling alley. 
The third-largest reclining Buddha in the world is in the museum of antiquities, along with the world's cutest granddaughter in blue shoe covers.
The world's whitest squishy baby also came along.
A memorable and sweet evening was spent at Ashley's housekeeper's house, where she and her daughter served us dinner Tajik style, which means lots of delicious food.
We spent some great afternoons with Ashley and the kids at the embassy pool. At one point the Ambassador herself made a friendly visit, probably to reassure herself that the noise and splashing didn't represent some kind of infiltrative attack. 
We were honored to be included in Sophia's birthday celebration,
and in assembling her brand-new bike!
One of her birthday wishes was a visit to the amusement park.
Some things are apparently universal, like the scary thrill of riding a big Ferris Wheel,
or the fun of riding a train,
or losing your stomach on a ride that suddenly drops you.
If your time machine functions, set it for about 32 years in the past, and you'll see Ashley and her mother in the same picture.
The time finally came to head home, with one last look at a beautiful and strange corner of the world, the memory of which will linger. 
We hope that your tunnels aren't as scary, but that your visits with family are as sweet.
Dave & Paula