Winding Driveway Project


windingdriveway3Our neighbor, two doors down the road got busy clearing his driveway. Overgrown weeds and meandering vines had practically taken over certain patches and sections of the gravel surface. The deepening ruts, courtesy of his Ford F-350 monster truck, now brimming with rain water from the unprecedented downpour over the last couple of days practically converted the driveway into a military obstacle course.

Rumor has it that his wife filed a grievance and since her tiny Mini Cooper cannot negotiate the current driveway terrain my neighbor had to do something about it or else. You know how those grievances turned into orders from above go. There’s no known recourse, or a chance for appeal.

I saw him early Monday morning driving stakes to the ground, walking behind a measuring tape on rollers, taking notes on his pocket spiral notebook. I was on my way to the tractor supply place.

“Howdy Mr T – looks like a big project’s about to be launched…” I stopped my truck momentarily to engage my neighbor in conversation.

“Yup,” he said without looking up. He appeared to be preoccupied with numbers. “Heading somewhere?” he continued still not looking up.

“I’m going to the tractor supply place. Anything I can get you while I’m there?” I offered.

windingdriveway4“Nah… I think I’m set.” He finally looked up.

“Looks like you are going to do it. Finally.” I said to him, extending my hand for a handshake. For a while and off and on he and I have talked about him fixing his driveway.

“Well, we’ve had too much dang rain,” he began. “And the Missus, you know, she drives that there foreign-made golf cart they call a car.” He shook his head. He wanted to say more but he stopped – as if afraid to continue, for fear word might get back to his wife and he would then be in more trouble.

“Them things sit way low on the ground,” I commiserated with him. I drive a Toyota Tundra myself so I know about Mini Cooper vehicles. The ones we have locally swish, swerve and weave all over the country roads just because they are small and can squeeze themselves in-between bigger cars. “I think Mini Coopers are a nuisance, don’t you?” I asked him rhetorically.

“So I have to finally cement the driveway – completely,” he said resignedly.

“Who’s doing the job?” I inquired.

windingdriveway2“Oh I looked at Craigslist and contacted this starving students group. They charge the cheapest rates,” he said with a certain air of pride in his negotiating skills.

I shuddered at the thought.

“I see you’ve got this site all planned out,” I continued, craning my neck to look at a spot where the driveway jogs around a water oak tree. “And what are you going to do with that site there?” I pointed at the curb by the water oak.

“Oh that… well, I’ll have reinforced concrete poured there.” He was off to his project.

I drove off feeling a little sad for my neighbor. Crafts people who list on Craigslist often have been known to exaggerate their credentials, their licenses, and sometimes aren’t too reliable to finish the job before they bail.

Maybe my neighbor will be lucky.

My Office… in disarray, failing environmentally


ductfloridahomeGenerally speaking, our house feels comfortable throughout. I contend that here in Florida, we only have three seasons – Winterspring, Summer and Fall. Yes it may get cold in Winter and we may have freezes every now and then but snow doesn’t normally fall in Florida.

Florida Summers, spoiled only by humid dog days in the Southland, are grand and sunshiny bright. Fall arrives as a welcome respite from the out of control heat wave. By and large, we’ve enjoyed living here for the past 13 years.

We installed fans, air conditioning systems, a heated pool and even an emergency generator. Of all the rooms in the house, the master bedroom presents the most balanced climate control. Never humid, never dry, never just plain cold – the ambient temperature remains at a very comfortable range.

ductofficeThe upstairs rooms vary in degrees of feel. Though not overly air-conditioned, like a theater, the room temperatures remain at a constant level of control. The only room that acts up intermittently is my office. Loaded with three, clunky desktop computers, two networked laser printers, a fax machine, old overhead projectors, slide projectors, reel-to-reel tapes from yesteryear, my office resembles a repository movie set in the Harry Potter series. But wasn’t it Albert Einstein who said, and I am paraphrasing, “A clean office is indicative of an idle mind” or some such thing. So it comforts me to think that my office in utter disarray presents an image of a fertile, creative and productive mind.

duct-cleaningB4AfterI am proud of my Harry Potter repository office. But there is a problem. It gets warm and humid in my office. I suspect the ducts need cleaning. Either that or I need a bigger portable, stand alone air conditioner. Which I will never get, by the way, because I’ve been told there is no budget for such luxury items. The ducts haven’t been inspected in three or so years. Maybe I’ll talk to duct cleaning folks, like professional duct cleaners from aerosealsolutions.ca/. I wonder how much it costs to have a good total duct system clean-up. With Summer in full blast, perhaps now would be a good time to investigate such a clean-up project.

ductcleanofficeWe’re having a family budget meeting tonight. I will ask the family CFO if this “comfort” project has funding possibilities. I feel good just thinking about it. Maybe we can finally get it done. It’s been a long time coming.

I believe my office can look and should look clean and organized… like this photo at right. I have my task in front of me. First I need to prove my project to sort of “grease the skids for,” or insinuate a budget.

So as not to provoke arguments, “human comfort” could be a good and compelling reason for a clean up. If not, I can always plead “for health reasons”. Couldn’t I?

(All photos courtesy of BING)

This New Technology


KarenMakilCristinaJavier01Almost 90% of our staff volunteers work and reside overseas. Some in Canada, many in the US. We have a member who works in Singapore, another one in Israel and two more based in Italy. Our main high school campus is in the Philippines. The students in our program attend school there. Our Field Team is based there locally in the town of Tagudin, province of Ilocos Sur. As you can well imagine, we use electronic mail as our primary mode of communication.

We also have a virtual classroom set up to give our students online learning experiences. A flurry of online discussions happens weekly and our Internet service provider back in the Philippines is left scrambling most of the time. “More bandwidth,” our Field Team would scream. “Where is the IT department?”

BimmangaGradSmallSASAiMy goodness, an IT department? These guys are very young and are used to smart phones, twitter, social networks. Us older folks are content with pen and paper. My, my, where has time gone. Not a day passes when we get call cut offs, down time because of power fluctuations back in the Philippines. During scheduled corporate meetings, our conference calls sometimes turn into nightmarish sounding conversations. “Unclean, unclean!” is the mantra – not too far removed from the greeting of the lepers of old when coming upon a group of healthy people.

We are still in the primitive stages of Internet technology. Wouldn’t it be grand if we had access to the services of an organization like  http://calitso.com/ so we can begin to clean up our act? This would mean less frustrated volunteers, less disheartened students and a more fluid and smoother communication stream all the way.

Flat Feet


flatfeet1The Navy recruiter set us up to take the battery tests, the first part of the selection and admission process for all Navy applicants. Next came the physical exams. I didn’t know what to expect. I’ve never had a physical exam before. Stripped to our boxer shorts we formed a line and moved forward between two examiners. One had a stethoscope and a sphygmomanometer, and the other an ear inspection flashlight looking gadget with a beak. Progress was slow.

Then we came to the scales, got weighed and proceeded to lie belly flat on a metal table where the technician gleefully took our temperatures using a good old rectal thermometer. At this point I felt abused. Next we went through the cardiac stress tests. An applicant ahead of me was on the treadmill. The doctor instructed the corpsman to increase the slope elevation to 4 with the speed set at 3.5 mph. The applicant began to gasp for air. His breathing became labored.

flatfeet2“Stop the treadmill,” barked the doctor.

“Aye Sir,” replied the corpsman. The treadmill came to a virtual stop.

The doctor checked the applicant with his stethoscope, listening from every spot on the man’s chest, back, sides, and even on his neck. “Breathe!” he said as he moved his listening piece from side to side on the man’s back.

“Heart murmur,” the doctor commented looking at the note-taker assisting him. “Irregular heartbeat on the left ventricle,” the doctor added.

We never saw that applicant again after the diagnosis. The physical exams continued throughout the day, with the line of applicants becoming shorter. I hadn’t noticed but some of the applicants headed toward the locker room to get ready to leave. We surmised they didn’t make it through the physical exams at that point.

flatfeetThe Petty Officer in charge herded us to the foot doctor’s office. “Hello. I’m Doctor Wright Foote. Don’t laugh. I’m going to look at your sole, I can be a heel if you don’t coöperate…” he greeted us with a smile. Some of us looked puzzled.

“Is this the chaplain’s office?” asked one Smart Aleck applicant.

“No we are at the foot doctor’s, I think,” insisted one, not catching the joke. Oh well. It takes all kinds.

We sat down in the waiting room and given permission to read some of the literature and magazines. I remember one medical journal cover that had a feature story emblazoned on the cover:  Medical Foot Solutions. The article presented the results of a study on flat feet and how the condition can have an impact on the safety of seamen serving aboard seagoing vessels. The article talked about the vessel’s pitch and yaw, the rocking and rolling from port to starboard and from fore to aft and how flat feet could be a liability.

flatfeet3Long time ago when I attended grade school, our gym teacher told me

I had flat feet. But that the arch can become better and more pronounced over time as I grow older and my bones develop. The foot doctor, besides tickling my sole and remarking I had good nerve sensitivity, gave me a clean bill of health. I served in the Navy for 20 years and retired from military service.

Natural Remedies for Migraines


HomeBusAs a youngster growing up in the province, folks didn’t have easy access to pharmacies or dispensaries to fill medical prescriptions – least of all, over the counter drugs like aspirin, allergy pills or even vitamin supplements. To my knowledge, the closest pharmacy was in San Fernando city, about 78 kilometers away.

There were public buses for such distances. Of course the well-to-do had their jeeps and cars – some families with their own chauffeurs even, but the peasants either hoofed it, or took the bus. We were members of the peasantry.

HomeBananaAt my grandfather’s house where we stayed, I’d hear my spinster aunts talk about their migraine headaches they suffered from mostly during their monthly cycles. “Here comes this damned headache again. My head’s splitting. Is there any aspirin left in the house?” my aunt Bertha would ask.

“Nope. I think Carlina took the last tablet last month,” replied my aunt Lourdes.

“Then why in God’s name didn’t she say something?” my aunt Bertha bellowed with palpable agitation. “We could have picked some up while we were in Vigan. She always does this!” She hissed.

Homegreen-banana-slices“Hey… why don’t you ask her?” my aunt Lourdes was feigning coolness. Fact is, she was the fiercest among my three spinster aunts. If she had the headache the whole house would be a war zone.

Aunt Laure (pronounced Lah-Ore), who helped with my aunts’ blanket weaving home business walked in. “What’s all the noise?” she queried.

“Ah… Bertha’s having a migraine, and she’s looking for some aspirin. Carlina used the last of it last month… without telling anyone so we could have refilled it. So Bertha sounds frustrated,” my aunt Lourdes explained.

Aunt Laure said, “Not a problem. Haven’t you ever heard of the natural way of curing migraines?”

My aunt Lourdes gave aunt Laure a skeptical look. It was the stink eye – really. I’ve seen my aunt Lourdes give this same kind of look when dealing with the fishermen who manned the family’s fishing boat and nets during negotiations about the volume of the catch.

“Well? Speak, O Wise One of the Ages. I’m all ears.” Her tone sounded sarcastic.

HomeweavingMy grandfather’s backyard was literally a banana plantation. There were at least 20, mature, healthy and fruit-bearing banana trees thriving. I know this because I used to trap young, unemployed spiders that lived in the banana trees for the school campus spider-fights. We always had bananas in the house in all stages of greenness and ripeness.

Aunt Laure took a green banana fruit from a bunch lying by the sink. With a paring knife she cut crosswise a couple of slices (about 3/16th’s of an inch thick). She called out to aunt Bertha. Aunt Laure pasted the green banana slices one unto each temple.

With the green banana slices stuck to her temples, Aunt Bertha went back to her weaving loom and worked the entire rest of the afternoon. We didn’t hear any complaints about her migraine headache.

(Photos courtesy of BING images)

Curb Appeal


bluegrassstarterhomeWe had a small house in San Diego that we were getting ready to put on the market. Henry Pena, our realtor, told us, “For a really smooth, no-hassle and quick sale, mind the curb appeal.” We were young and inexperienced. We were just handed our military transfer orders and we were hustling. What a deal.

We didn’t know anything about curb appeal, much less selling a house. My wife called her friends and they gave her some ideas. I talked with some of my friends in church. They told me not to bother.

“The market is good,” they said. “They will buy your house even if it is an outhouse.” How comforting. Thanks a lot. I left them with their stale beer.

bluegrasslandscapingWe were learning that Real Estate agents insist on curb appeal. It makes their job easier, less of a drag. It is one reason that could help facilitate a sale of a property, or without it, a subtle rejection. What exactly is curb appeal? Well, in our own interpretation, curb appeal refers to how the property appears to a passerby who’s looking at the house from the curb. It’s just how the house looks at first glance from a distance.

The analogy is this. Curb appeal is to a house listed for sale, as a résumé is to a job seeker applying to be hired. For example, if you were looking to market your skills, or trying to be hired, your résumé should stand out and speak for you in the most positive and glowing terms. For a house, curb appeal entices or beckons to a prospective buyer to go past the gate, enter the property for a look-see. For a job seeker, a résumé compels the hiring manager to grant an interview. It gets your foot in the door.

bluegrasslandscaping2We heard it from the pros that a well sodded, manicured and landscaped yard is usually a sign that the property is well-tended, maintained and treated with TLC. We contacted a local landscape company and negotiated a price. Halfway into the job, we observed and decided they weren’t too experienced, but we were already underway and into the job. Suffice it to say that in the future, if we were to sell our home again and need sod and landscaping work, we would look for a company like bluegrasssodinstalled.ca. These folks are professionals in their field. Their biggest draw is their affordability. A decent job for a reasonable price.

Try them and let us know what you think.

Household Chores – I hate them!


Dirty oven begging for a cleaning

Dirty oven begging for a cleaning

We have a double oven and it works great. Broil in one and bake in the other. Entrée and dessert being prepared at the same time. How cool is that?

But there are times when the digital controls become unresponsive. Such failures to run are becoming more regular. I’d push and push on the dial face but nothing comes up on the display panel. I get so frustrated.

The other day I popped a rump roast in the upper chamber. It was noticeably dark in there even with the appliance light on. Talk about an oven begging for a clean up. The inside walls looked like train boxcars replete with graffiti. But only in our oven, the grease artwork splattered all over and rolled down to the oven deck in strange mound configurations. Even on the top ceiling wall in back of the broiler heating elements, grunge and sludge collected. On the oven floor were mounds of charred drippings of all kinds – cheese, crumbs, even syrup and honey. Who knows what else? We have a very active family and everybody is either a budding gourmet chef or a culinary expert – but never the cleaning lady.

So it was up to me to face and deal with this unresponsive digital dial labeled “Clean Oven” on the control panel. I didn’t want to call for help from the appliance center. From previous experience they charge an exorbitant fee just to come and diagnose

Like magic. The folks came, waved their wand and voila! Oven, like new.

Like magic. The folks came, waved their wand and voila! Oven, like new.

the problem. Who needs that? I can tell just by manipulating the faceplate that it’s not working. I don’t need to pay somebody to tell me that. Okay, let’s try the old trick of soap and water. I did. My efforts didn’t even scratch the burnt waste matter.

I called my friend Thelma who worked at a big department store downtown. After I told her my tale of woe, she said, “Get online and go to http://www.ovenclean.ca/. Can’t chat now… Later.”

And so I did.

To deal with cleaning an oven with stubborn deposits of burnt matter (the hardest type to clean), there’s nothing more effective than to let the real experts skillfully deal with the problem. I’m just glad I did.