Sunday, November 29, 2015

Sunday Cabinetmaker

We love our tools.
We're  building a workbench with a flip-up table extension for the garage. Above, Hai powers 2.5 inch pocket screws into their precision-cut sockets (see tool at right), assembling the legs and framework supporting the project, which will include adjustable shelving. The counter height bench will be topped with a generous eight foot by 24 inch sheet of 3/4 inch MDF. This smooth working area will double in size when auxiliary legs are flipped out and a second leaf swings up  to encroach the area normally occupied by a vehicle.
Big plans. Results soon.
Meanwhile, Stan is watching the Vikings whip Atlanta.

One of two kiosks that will anchor the ends of the bench. Plenty of
shelf space inside for tools. Might have to get some more.


This potted stump with a single brave leaf will grow up to be a magnificent bougainvillea someday, Hai says confidently. Really? Guess you gotta believe. Looks more like a failed bonsai project.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Getting to the head of the line

It took two hours just to get to the sign that said "Enter Here." This was only the formal beginning of the line which was roped off to discourage  jumpers. This photo was transmitted to Kathleen back in Minnesota for vicarious enjoyment.
Lunch line integrity was paramount in high school. English teacher Ray Reuter earned meal money using his photographic memory and his index finger to instantly banish the rare jumper to the very end of the line, no exceptions, no excuses.

We derided “Sugar Ray” behind his back, but appreciated his important work when it was directed to others.

Mess hall chow lines are equally disciplined, self-policed mostly. In the field, military tradition dictates that officers eat last.

Those are the old rules. This is now.

The decline of Western Civilization has been hastened by the corruption of the queue. Waiting your turn has no value, patience no virtue. All things, apparently, no longer come to he who waits.

Amusement parks have contributed to this demise with special higher-priced line-jumping passes callously extending wait times for everyone else. You can get to the airport two hours early, but it makes no difference. Airlines, in their race to raise revenues, will sell you the right to make others wait while you board, this purchase allows you to spend extra time in that cramped seat but be first to stuff the overhead. . . and still arrive at your destination at the same time as everyone else.

It happened again last night, this time at the popular Pala Casino Spa and Resort where the line to enter the Thanksgiving Buffet looked like the scene from Exodus. Patrons were waiting untold hours to put down $46 for an orgy of culinary excess.

Our party of six remained undaunted.

Stan volunteered to anchor our place in line, which had been held for the past hour by Andy and his girlfriend. This practice seems woefully prone to abuse, but customs vary and you go with the flow. No Sugar Ray here.

Members of our party could circulate about the casino at will, checking back from time to time. Meanwhile, the anchor enjoyed an epic phone conversation with his wife back in Minnesota, who was watching the Bears beat the Pack. But after another hour or so, little headway had been made to the Pala Tribe’s Paradise.

“This line has to be corrupt,” Stan announced dismally to his host and dear friend, Hai Dang. “We’ll be here for at least another two hours.” The men were ready to bail, but not the ladies. So they meekly held their position, though now convinced that the line had huge leaks, that other patrons somehow were slipping in unseen in front of them.

Hai disappeared again into the jangling bowels of the casino. He’s a charming fellow, for some reason people instantly like him. Stan has received plenty of speeding tickets. A state trooper once stopped him on the way to International Falls, dead to rights. When the trooper saw Hai in the car, he politely issued Stan a warning ticket, Stan's first ever.

Hai had been gone about a half an hour when suddenly the wait was over. “This way, now,” our hostess gestured urgently. “Come!” Reluctant to leave the hard-won position in the forever line, Stan went anyway. Were we just giving up? Had someone slipped the line boss a twenty? After all the waiting, it couldn't be over.

But it was.

Somehow, in his travels about the casino, Hai had struck up a conversation with a slot machine junkie. After they got through the part about her son the doctor, an anesthesiologist, a Johns Hopkins graduate now practicing in Manhattan who doesn’t pay enough attention to his mother anymore, it was Hai's turn to tell her why he was here and how long the wait was, and she had the immediate solution.

From left, Hai's mom, our Angel, our hostess,
 momentarily on the padded Elite bench
while a 
table is prepared.
The woman must remain nameless, because, she chuckled, her husband didn’t know she was there. So we’ll just call her Angel, because she was. “I have lost so much money here I have earned an Elite Membership,” she laughed. Among her privileges, she has the right to go to the head of the buffet line, and bring her guests with her.

She quickly adopted us, and sure enough, her credentials opened a special side door marked with words like “Gold” “Platinum” and “Elite.” Inside, we received a big discount and were soon whisked to a private table set with huge silver buckets for discarded shells centered on a still-spotless white tablecloth.
Those ordinary folk outside would just have to wait. The elite were here to eat.

We thanked our Angel profusely, and she returned to her evening of inserting money into the noisy machines, faithfully paying for her special privileges.

As we joyously began the evening’s engorgement, we couldn’t help but ponder another life lesson: It seems that now the biggest losers go straight to the head of the line.

Very Unusual

Two rare phenomena in Southern California: A rainstorm -- and room to navigate it on the freeway.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

All you can eat shellfish, if you can eat shellfish

Kathleen is still in Minnesota today, so it’s a good time to hit the legendary seafood buffet at the Pala Casino Spa and Resort near San Diego. Shrimp, Lobster Tails, Crab Legs and other steamy hot shellfish in buttery abundance. But first, dear friends, a cautionary tale:
In the fall of 1983, our friends Hannah and Mark were to be married in Washington, D.C. We took time off of work for an adventure in our nation’s capital to see the wedding and take in the sights. Ted Mondale, a mutual friend, had made arrangements for us to stay with his father in the D.C. home the family had purchased when he was a Minnesota Senator.
The former vice president was in the early stages of his unsuccessful bid for the presidency, so Kathleen and Stan were warned to keep a low-profile because it was important for the candidate to be able to maintain his tight schedule. He needs his sleep, Ted cautioned, and we would be staying in the bedroom next to him. And don’t disturb the dog in the front room, he added. \
We promised to be perfect guests and we really meant to be, honored and fortunate to enjoy such distinguished hospitality.
Our jovial host greeted us in the modest kitchen. We shared a fun-sized box of Poppycock and a light-hearted conversation with the candidate, most gracious at the end of what must have been a demanding day. We managed a keepsake photo (below) before departing for an evening out.
The Secret Service had not yet been assigned to the residence, which was probably a good thing, considering what was ahead.
In the kitchen... before The Incident.
Nearby Baltimore is known for its Orioles and for its seafood. The next day we found a famous shack where they dump steaming mounds of boiled crab on newsprint-covered tables. We cracked away at them, slaking the tender morsels in melted butter and washing them down with cold beverages, discarded shells crunched under foot. Sated, we hurried to meet friends for treats at a popular D.C. restaurant near the capitol.
The first obvious hint of trouble accompanied the dessert tray piled with chocolates, cakes and other sweet temptations. Kathleen wasn’t interested. In fact, she had disappeared.
We found her outside with some sketchy street people, “getting some fresh air.” She was miserable, sick and confused, with no idea what was going on, but she didn’t want to spoil the party, ruin the fun. Kathleen rarely drinks alcohol and she hadn’t been drinking that day. So it couldn’t be that, we knew. We didn’t know anything about any allergy to shellfish. Was it the flu? Upset stomach? Why all of a sudden?
Windows were wide open, allowing in the cool breeze this pleasant evening as our taxi dropped us back at the house on the quiet D.C. street. The inside lights were off, our kind host had retired, but had thoughtfully left the porch light on. Beneath his open upstairs window were two large bushes framing the entry.

Food allergies are a wretched business.

As we emerged from the cab, Kathleen headed straight for the bush directly beneath the window where the candidate for the Presidency of the United States of America lay in repose. She was not quiet. She was not quiet at all.
We do not know about our good host, but for sure we awakened the dog, who began barking furiously at this rude night intrusion.
We had to just wait there and suffer until the final essence of boiled and buttered crab had been totally rejected. Meanwhile, we wanted to shout “Really, she hasn’t been drinking at all tonight! We don’t understand what is happening! We can’t help it! We’re so sorry! We’re so ashamed!” but that would have only added to the unfortunate cacophony we had already generated and had so solemnly promised to avoid.
Years have passed and nary a shrimp nor a crab leg nor a lobster tail has crossed Kathleen’s lips. This situation has provided a small benefit. Now at a courtesy buffet, or wedding reception or other polite event, Kathleen has standing instructions to take a full allotment of seafood to dish off later, allowing Stan to avoid looking like the pig he can be when opportunity presents itself.
“The incident” itself was not soon forgotten, becoming part of our forever Washington Wedding trip lore. At occasions for years to come, Ted would remark with a wink, “You know, that bush on one side of the house is growing a lot faster than the other.”

Yowsa! Now that's a monster grasshopper

Never seen such a whopper. Looked to be four inches long. Examining the new Mandella vine. Hope he leaves soon so we don't have to give him a name.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Up, Up and Away

Bottom of the shelf is six feet one inch off the ground, making it the perfect height.
A couple more turns of the winch on the right and
this kayak will be up and in position.
Hai's ocean-going kayak is a beast. Unlike an ordinary kayak, it is broader, heavier and accommodates two with lots of fishing gear. It's 14 feet long so if you want to use the garage for anything else, it poses a problem. The solution is to raise it over the hoods of the cars, but that's not easy when there's only one man to lift it.
Today we put final touches on a lifting system that uses a standard trailer winch to help hoist the Hobie into the wooden dock lagged into the I-beam joists overhead. It is going to take some practice and finesse, but it's now easily tucked neatly out of the way making it possible to use the garage for other things: like a wood shop.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Christmas Compost, come and get it!

Some folks make fudge or bake cookies. Or knit a scarf. Lots of traditional things you can do for the neighbors at Christmas time. None of that for Sister Sosie. She orders a big batch of compost and invites her California neighbors to come and help themselves.
Feliz Navidad, everybody.
Hmmm. Wonder how the mailman would feel about this?

Friday, November 20, 2015

Keeping up with the neighbors

Meanwhile, in Florida, Tom and Sandy Story installed a fan in their winter condo. Tom and Sandy are our neighbors in Shakopee, so when Sandy saw the previous post of Stan installing a fan in California, she updated us. Hope Tom's Florida installation was easier than ours. Tom doesn't ordinarily like ladder work, glad to see he's overcome his avoidance of heights.

It's the little things. . .

Cursing was heard throughout the house yesterday as Stan assembled and installed this ceiling fan in the guest suite. Three teeny, tiny screws are required to fasten each fan blade into place, and must be inserted through small holes in three contiguous moving parts, all the while with arms extended over head. Stan's fumbling hands and fingers were hardly up to the task, particularly while simultaneously balancing a screwdriver, fan blade and "enhance plate." A torrent of expressions was released each time a screw fell to the floor and had to be retrieved. One screw was lost forever. Fortunately, the Harbor Breeze folks know about their box of frustrations and thoughtfully included an extra teeny, tiny screw.
Also fortunately, the house was empty except for one bemused H.V. Dang, who later remarked "You mean all that was about a little screw?"

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Top photo dated February 14, 2015

Eight months later. . . 
Someone's been busy. And the remarkable thing is, the roses climbing the back wall spring from bare root stock,
five bucks apiece. All specimens are nurtured by an automatic drip watering system and the gentle hand of a skilled gardener.  A work still very much in progress, more to come.

Monday, November 16, 2015

White coats

Lots of nooks and crannies. Patience. . . and a huge drop cloth.
We started this last spring.
Today was a perfect day for painting, if there ever is such a thing. The temperature never got over 60 degrees, it was dry and bright, so we got the first coat completed on the backyard trellis at the California winter place. Final coat and touch ups tomorrow. Originally we were going to try to train a bougainvillea on the trellis, but that's not going to work for a variety of reasons, so we now have a huge pot and a Giant Crimson Mandevilla hybrid waiting in the wings. Never heard of it either, but it is supposed to work in this setting. If you're curious, go to

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Update from France

An update from our American friend Mary Scarvalone:

Candles tonight on the Place des Martyrs in Antibes. There will be a memorial service tomorrow at 11:45 a.m.

I should add this: I was walking through town tonight on my way to Mass at the Cathedral. A few people were gathered on the Place des Martyrs de la RĂ©sistance, one of the squares in the old town of Antibes. A couple of women saw me approach and asked me if I'd like to light a candle -- they'd brought a bag of tea lights. I took one an lit it and put it at the base of the memorial stature that honors the resistance fighters of the second World War.

When I go to the memorial service tomorrow, I will remember the day, a little more than 14 years ago, when I stood on the same square, by the same monument, overwhelmed by the tremendous show of support of the French people around me, there to share in the sorrow of 9/11. On that day, as I stood there in tears, a woman came up to me and said, "This is not just an American tragedy; it is our tragedy too."


This just in from a friend in Paris: "I spent the day with friends, one of whom who lost someone in the massacre at Bataclan, another who lost someone in the shooting at Charonne, and still another who has three friends who were badly shot up at le Petit Cambodge restaurant but who are clinging to life. It’s just all so shocking, and quite close to home."

I can't stop crying.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Dog kept her out of Paris

Checked with old friend Mary Scarvalone in France last night. Originally from New York, schooled at Sotheby's in London, she moved to Antibes to work as an independent art consultant at the Art Arena. She's fine. Here's her response and observation:

Hi Stan…I'm still in Antibes, on the Riviera. But I go to Paris often, for work, and was supposed to be there this week…but my dog was sick so I didn't go.
Receiving news from friends in Paris. One friend lives just around the corner from Bataclan and said that he could hear the shooting and grenades from his home. Another friend spent the night in an office building because she wasn't able to get home. The irony is that I expected to be in Paris this week, but then my plans changed.

I'm so thankful that my friends are safe, but heartsick to think of the many lives lost -- mostly young lives, too.


We lost touch with Maynard; he was in Sosie's grade at the one-room schoolhouse south of Alexandria. He was among the first ones chosen for a schoolyard team game of pom pom pull away or the like, but not the first. Now we see that he's built a house on a lake not that many miles away, Red Rock. According to his Facebook page, he enjoys fishing and the quiet outdoors, which fits with our memories of Edward's little brother. We never thought of Maynard as a warrior, though he ably flew this chopper on numerous missions in Vietnam and has a chest of medals from that era.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Hen and chicks

Back yard brood.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Army Buddy checks in with surprise photo

Bob Morecook sent best wishes on Veteran's Day to his old Army office mate and thoughtfully included this photograph, probably taken in 1971 by a photo specialist in an adjacent Signal Corps office with nothing better to do and some extra frames on a roll needing to be developed. (remember that?) Bob eventually got ordered to Vietnam and served as an anchor on the Armed Forces Radio and TV Network. He is credited with broadcasting the official announcement of the end of the hostilities for the U.S. Meanwhile, Sgt. Rolfsrud was safe at home.
Bob writes from Houston, Texas: Thanks SGT Stanley Rolfsrud, 13th Support Brigade Public Information NCO, Fort Hood Texas 1971 -- for your service. Best wishes

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Looking for Jesus? We've got his cell number

Turns out, he's a stucco guy.
We're working on a bar top with some slots for basket storage drawers here at the Winter Place and needed a couple of short blocks of wood for spacers. There's a pile of scrap lumber of uncertain origin out in the garage. Dozens of workmen have combined to construct this busy neighborhood and you always check for a scrap when you need the odd piece of wood. This leftover stuff is called "Mungo."
Today we struck gold in the mungo pile. We pulled out a piece of solid lumber, knot free, probably from some fine finish carpentry upgrade somewhere. Looks like poplar. They get six dollars a foot for a solid clear chunk like this at Home Depot. As we examined our find, before cutting, routing and sanding it, we noticed an added feature to this otherwise pristine piece.
Some anonymous workman had carefully jotted down a name and phone number.
"Jesus - Stucco Guy - 951-255-5097.
Call us sentimental, call us provident. But we won't be sanding this information off the raw poplar block before we seal it, shape it, and screw it down.  Erase Jesus' number? You gotta be kidding.

Wonder if he knows of a carpenter.

We stop to smell the roses.

Last night's light rain freshened these fragrant specimens, enjoyed over morning coffee.

Sunday, November 08, 2015

Tip of the Week for Senior Citizen Painters

It may be useful to position a lounge chair in the center of the area to be painted as a convenient retreat when your hands, arms, legs, etc., tire. Be sure that everything within range of shaking paint brushes is covered with drop cloths, Drippy, including your lounge chair.
"Weary limbs make mistakes, seniors need to take their breaks."
We're mixing "Nano White" trim with "Seashore Fog" grey walls and "Valley Mist" minty blue accessories to try to achieve an airy, beachy feel in the bedroom. White ceiling, dark wood floor.
We've carefully studied the walls during extensive study periods on the lounge chair and believe this may actually work.

Friday, November 06, 2015

Assembly completed

It arrived in seven flat cardboard boxes, trucked across the country from eastern Canada and dumped on a pallet in the garage.
The Costco Wallbed has been assembled and the counter-balance system works perfectly, making it easy to raise and lower the queen bed. It took a couple of days and we have a small bag of parts left over... but we think the Canadians just threw in some extra screws and washers before shipping it to California for assembly. A couple of the drawers aren't as level as they should be, adjustment instructions are on Page 17.
On the way back from Lowe's, we ordered a queen mattress and were delighted to learn we wouldn't be forced to buy an unneeded box spring as well. A flexible foundation is built in to the wall system and is pretty cool. We haggled with Akira and got a Beauty Rest for a good price at an outfit called "Sleep Train." We checked out the offerings at Living Spaces as well, but returned and closed the deal and will sleep on the new mattress tonight.

The ladies at Sleep Train with another client.
We'll deflate the air bed.

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

A lesson in the importance of foot care

As far as I know, the coach had just two pairs of street shoes. One was a pair of worn light brown oxfords, with some kind of rippled composition sole that looked very soft and comfy; the other was a pointy-toed pair of shiny cowboy boots: genuine shit-kickers, you know, the real thing.

The throngs attending Alexandria high school basketball games in the late 50s and 60s knew exactly the purpose of those sturdy boots. On occasions deemed appropriate, perhaps when a referee blew a call, Mr. Connor would turn about and lay into the nearest bleacher plank, and with a single stroke deliver a sonic wave of shock and awe throughout the building . . . stunning our visiting guests as well, who were understandably unaccustomed to such expressions of displeasure.
Coaches Connor and Gustafson
On game nights they wore sport coats and street shoes.

Listeners reported hearing these seismic events broadcast over the play-by-play coverage on KXRA.

Older hands would nod and wink at this occasional dramatic gesture, but we simpler folk thought it to be quite sincere and heartfelt, and it scared us.

We always called him Mister Connor. He was a qualified member of what became known as the Greatest Generation. A proud ex-Marine who’d seen action in the Pacific, he watched the TV series “Combat,” because it was pretty realistic, he said, with everybody getting down in the mud and all. “That’s what it was really like,” he remarked once on a team bus ride to somewhere. A short, muscular man with a buzz cut, he had excelled playing basketball for Hamline, at a time when the two-handed push shot from far away was popular.

Years later, now wearing his coach’s whistle and Converse All-Stars, he could still hit that shot consistently from mid-court.

I think he liked being thought of as one tough son-of-a-bitch. I respected his stern authority, speaking only after being recognized, but I knew much of his gentle, kind side as well. Every night before practice and on game nights too, Coach Connor carefully taped my wobbly sprain-prone ankles. He had a caring, sensitive touch, and better taping skills than his assistant, who might tape a bit too tight, cutting circulation. Mr. Connor took good care of my feet.

It was mid-season one cold Friday night in 1964 and the mighty Alexandria Cardinals had just finished off yet another worthy opponent. But this night there were vague and hushed rumors in the showers, something about an incident that night on the bench, an injury to Mr. Connor or something, somebody said, but nothing for certain.

The next day, Saturday, the team had boarded for a road trip to Detroit Lakes. No one spoke as Mr. Connor hobbled toward the bus on a cane, his right foot trussed into an over-sized slipper. He did not smile as he limped aboard and took his usual place beside his assistant in the front seat. No one said nothin'.

But I sat within earshot and eventually, as we progressed down the road, was able to piece it all together from my perch behind him.

“I heard that hall clock go off at one and at two and three this morning,” he remarked to his assistant, Mr. Gustafson, as he described the excruciating pain that had kept him awake all night.

In a moment of pique the previous evening, Mr. Connor had laid into the bench. Hard. Unfortunately, this time, Mr. Connor was improperly shod. “I forgot,” he sheepishly confided to his seat mate, “that I was wearing my other shoes.”

The foot now swollen and bound, the trusted cowboy boots remained in the closet for the rest of the season, and a chastened Mr. Connor had to just holler at the refs like everybody else.

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Some assembly required

Half of the box spring at left.
The Wall Bed and Storage Units from Costco were waiting in the garage when Stan got to the project house in California Sunday. He went right to work.
He's followed assembly instructions from the Swedes okay, assembling countless bookshelves, dressers and tables, but this wall bed (Murphy Bed) is a new thing. . . and it is made by the Canadians with only the metal parts coming from China.
There's a bit more English in the instructions, millimeters and inches and plenty of pictures, and the product is a lot sturdier than the typical IKEA offering. But sturdier is heavier and the weight of this thing is onerous.
We finished the drawers and the framework, now comes the actual metal bed that is spring loaded. We'll take a break and go shopping.
First up, a queen sized mattress that can't be thicker than 12 inches or weigh less than 70 pounds. The box spring is built in. Will he be forced to buy a box spring anyway?

Sunday, November 01, 2015

LA seatmate is a gamer

By day he's an over-the-road truck driver out of his hometown of Windom, Minnesota. In his spare time, he's a video gamer of some renown. He's a self-taught techie and has mastered specialized voice-over-protocols for international networks of video-gamers playing StarCraft and other similar contests. This morning he's headed to Anaheim for a convention of 30,000 like-minded millennials, where he'll give seminars on sophisticated communications systems linking gamers. Josh says he does this just for fun, but apparently he's good enough at it to have a car waiting for him at LAX.
Stan tried to hold up his end of the conversation, but was soon in over his head and was reduced to discussing favorite interstate routes across the Great West heading to places like Tucson and Phoenix. The young truck driver from Windom knows the country and had plenty of stories to tell. Ask him about sharing the road while driving on ice.

The travel mates congratulated themselves on their choice of seating: Front row on Spirit Airlines. The very best seats on the nation's worst-rated and most-quirky airline. We had a great flight, and at $118 one way, money left over to spend in LA. (When we arrived, the flight attendant warned over the public address to be careful when removing bags from the overhead, because sometimes during the flight "shift happens.")
We arrived in plenty of time for today's thrilling finish to the Vikings-Bears game. What more do you want from an airline?