Monthly Archives: November 2015

Musings on Alligators and Polar Bears

Source: Musings on Alligators and Polar Bears

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Video of the Honouring of Jack Rudloe during the Joel Sartore opening.

A memory of a very fine day! Jack got a well deserved honour! We had the pleasure of being there to see it.

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We previously blogged about our visit to the National Geographic museum and how we were guests where our friend Jack was honoured.

Here is a wonderful video of Jack Rudloe and his being honoured at the Joel Sartore PhotoArk exhibition opening. Dick and I were privileged to appear and we made what I like to think of as a couple of cameo appearances. What a great day!

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Love/hate my GPS

Last year, after ending up on the wrong side of the Mississippi, twice, we bought a GPS. Mostly I have been very happy with it. However it does have a few quirks. The first time I used it, I set it get me there by the shortest route. Bad mistake when pulling a trailer. It literally took me down some back alley’s and narrow places I should never have been with my trailer in tow in downtown Omaha. Not unlike this goat path situation, the GPS does not take certain things into account, like the height of the bridge or how wide or steep the road is.

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Our second misadventure was getting from Alonsa to Glenella Manitoba. For some silly reason the GPS took us to the nearby field instead. Maybe they get their information from Google which seems to have issues with Glenella as well. You can see in the picture below that the town is mysteriously shifted two sections over into a field even though the town itself, and the businesses therein, are clearly visible off to one side.

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Our really major balagan (balagan – a word for chaos or fiasco borrowed from modern Hebrew (where it is a loan word from Russian); “it was utter and complete balagan!”) occurred on our trip to the 9-11/Flight 93 memorial in Pennsylvania. We left Goat Island at Niagara Falls and I simply and naively punch in our destination and we left. (Anyway familiar with GPS use is no doubt laughing about now.) I had put in “mostly highways” because there are a lot of steep hills in Pennsylvania. I occasionally wondered why we had been heading west for so long, but Dick was sleeping and we were making good time so I just went with it. Turns out the “mostly freeway” setting means just that and so it was taking us 300km too far west before turning south because there were no freeways on the more direct route.

Lesson 1: Always double check the GPS map against a real map before departing.

When we realized it was taking us right through downtown Pittsburg we decided to try to reprogram the route to go directly  by the shortest route to the memorial instead. The result was we ended up taking a more tortuous route along the finest examples of many side streets, back tracks, and little narrow goat paths that Pennsylvania has to offer over some substantial hills and up and down some really steep grades…..in heavy fog.

Lesson 2: Short cuts lead to long delays.

By about 8:00pm we were hopelessly lost and then the GPS sent us quite literally in a big circle around a small town and we realized the GPS was as lost as we were. We shut the demon thing off, and pulled over into a truck repair depot somewhere north east of Pittsburgh to ask for directions. They felt so sorry for us we were allowed to boondock overnight there. We were facing some roads entirely unsafe for trailers even in daylight. They helped us plot a new route for morning that avoided the worst messes. The next morning when we restarted the GPS and lo and behold, it was no longer lost!

Lesson 3: If the GPS starts acting strange shut it off and restart it.

We then left for our destination which was a nice state campground near the memorial and set off. We then missed a turn due to a construction detour but the GPS cheerfully rerouted us so we went ahead anyway. I did wonder about those “unsuitable for trucks, buses and RVs” signs but that was the way GPS said so we went merrily along. And we ended up on a 13.5% grade goat path over a big ridge. I actually didn’t think we’d make it, but with the truck set in low four wheel drive and first gear moving at only 5 mph, we did it. Good thing that really steep stretch was only about 400 meters or we would have never made it. The guy in the big green tractor behind us shook his fist at us when he was finally able to pass.

Lesson 4: Don’t trust those reroutes without checking a map, especially in place with mountain ridges.

Back on track our GPS sent us along quite nicely but we had lost faith in it. So the GPS was telling us to go one way but we decided it must be wrong again so we went another way and…. we ended up on a toll freeway where the next exit was 56 miles out of our way.

Lesson 5: Sometimes the GPS is right.

Anyway, we did finally get there. When I programmed it for our trip into Washington DC I carefully set it up before we left. I checked against the map and added in intermediate stops to steer it along the route we actually wanted to go according to the map. Every time we stopped the truck for a break, I restarted the GPS and let it reset itself. And going into DC the GPS worked like magic, cheerfully directing me to the correct lane in advance of multi lane freeway splits and divides and taking us directly to our hosts. Partway through it even recommend a change in course to go around construction zone. We zipped by on a side road past a totally stalled parking lot on the freeway.

Lesson 6: In a big city freeway spaghetti tangle, your GPS is the best friend you can have.

One final lesson we had on our last trip in North Carolina. I grabbed my KOA campground book because we were returning to a KOA near some friends. I put in the address and off we went. Three hours of driving later we arrived at the KOA. Strange I didn’t recall the trip being so short before. We pulled into the KOA and it was totally new to me. Wrong KOA. Fortunately it was only 300 km from our expected stop and not far out of the way. I reset the GPS to take us to the right KOA via “least time” setting and we breezed past Durham, Raleigh and Winston-Salem without a hitch. We had lots of time and we got to our expected location just before supper.

Lesson 7: A GPS is only as good as the operator. If you put the wrong location in, you can’t blame the GPS for taking you to the wrong place.

I did an internet search of stupid GPS mistakes and I discovered our misadventures were minor ones. This makes me feel better.

Stuff that works! Zinsser Cover Up for the RV Ceiling Stains

I admit it. I like to complain. So to counteract that I like to talk about stuff I find that works as advertised.

Problem, rusty, yucky stains on the ceiling of the RV. For some stupid reason my camera refused to focus on the ugly spot but the picture is good enough for you to see how yucky it was. For reasons I don’t understand, whoever chose to build my RV used staples in the ceiling tile that rust. The result has been these horrid yellowish rust spots appearing in the nice white ceiling, in neat regular rows, especially in the bathroom. And I mean YUCK!

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After trying every kind of stain remover I could find, I decided to give up on removing the stain and see about covering up. I already really liked the Zinsser 1,2,3 primer. I decided to give this stuff a try.

Zinger’s Cover up is advertised as being for covering stains on ceilings. It has a very handy upward squirting nozzle that sprays a fine bunch of goop at the spot. It comes out looking like a horrid much worse wet greasy stain. It dries to a flat white with no greasy look. Just so happens the flat white works beautifully over the rusty stains in my RV.Zinsser

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This is my after picture (which focused!). You can still see the barest hint of a rust stain but it is almost invisible. And that with only one coat! I will do a second coat.

Warning: Really stinky smelling and makes a fine vapour which you do not want to breathe, especially if you an asthmatic like me. Have all your windows open, drape underneath, and use goggles and a mask or you’ll be sorry. Also the stuff looks hideous until it dries. So wait for a nice day with a breeze, open all the windows, spray, go for a walk, and don’t look again until the next day if you can help yourself. Also read and follow the directions about keeping the nozzle clear.

I like stuff that works!

No one paid me anything for this review.

And voila, clean white ceiling. It’s been up there for nearly four weeks now and holding.

Flight 93 National Memorial

September 11, 2001 was one of those days that everyone old enough to recall will remember. America was attacked. I have read a lot of accounts of that day. I have my own memories. They say in Israel you are always two steps from any terrorist attack and this truism was proven to me five times over on Sept 11th. One of the victims, Christine Egan was a professor in the same Faculty I was a PhD student in. One of the young men who just missed being killed was son of one of my friends. He worked in the tower and was late arriving because he decided to get a cup of coffee. His mother didn’t know he was safe until late that night. The father of one of my husband’s students was the only person in his company located in the North tower who didn’t die that day because he was out of town. The son of one my other friends was driving towards the tower when the planes hit. He was late because he was a religious Jew and it was the month of Elul, a time for prayers and reflection and repentance, and he had extra prayers to finish before leaving. And so he was able to turn his car around and avoid dying. My husband’s cousin, a New York lawyer, had his daughter in a daycare where a lot of parents didn’t make it home that day and some never did come home and their children never saw them again. And of course, closest of all, my step son, who has become very precious to me, was a pilot at that time. It could have been him.

During September 11, 2001 I was in Canada. I watched American planes diverted from US airspace into our nation. They had to go fly over my location on the way to safety in my country. I am proud of the small role we played that day. Still, I have never cried about 911. I felt I had no right to given how peripheral my role was compared to the grief of so many who died and who lost a husband or wife or child.

I have always wanted to go to one of the memorials and pay my respect to dead. I can’t see myself going to down town New York. I really do hate cities. I felt the same way about getting to the Pentagon in Washington DC. And so, since it was near our travels, we made our way to the memorial in Pennsylvania. I know there was a huge controversy when the first designs were released. I think the current design does a fine job. The flight path is highlighted. The site were the plane went down is marked by a simple boulder. There is a walkway where we are kept a respectful distance back. There are places to put tributes if you wish. There is an information centre as you arrive with images of that day, stories of the victims, a chance to see mementos and personal things from the aircraft. The humanity of the victims, and how they died fighting, is the centre point of the display. Fittingly, the subhuman monsters who perpetrated this horrific crime are not named, memorialized and there are no pictures. They are just “the terrorists”.

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I felt no ghostly presence there. The dead have moved on to wherever they go. I only felt one “brush” emotionally. I ran my fingers over the name of Todd Beamer and I recalled he was a devote Christian. “I am not here, scattered here dead in the earth. I am with our Father”. It was a very comforting thought. He would say such a thing and it would be true of him.

You start at the centre and then walk a half a mile to the open area where the names of the victims are etched in black on white marble. One of them has the tiny words etched but not blackened, beside the blackened words naming a woman “and unborn child”.  And I finally cried. The horror of that day came back in full measure and I walked around with the tissue wiping my eyes and crying. It’s been 14 years but it took 14 years and such a place for me to finally be able to cry.

On the walk back to our trailer I still felt great sorrow but also I felt very much at peace. This hill top in Pennsylvania has a wonderful view. The memorial is supposed to be a place of reflection and healing and for me it was.

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A fossil found at the site during excavation and in one of the display cases.

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The flight path from the information centre.

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The rows of display cases of mementoes.

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A grove of trees was set on fire by the crash. The artist who designed the memorial took the burned trees and pressed them into the cement walls. One gate is made from timbers from the grove.

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The memorial, while open to the public, is not finished and some places still have construction. Here, they are reinforcing the cement walls because the winter winds have threatened to bring the wall down.

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The curve of the walls follows the flight path seconds before they hit the ground.

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Groves of red amour maples are planted all over. There are a total of 40 groves each with 40 trees in memory of the 40 passengers and crew who died that day.

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A large boulder sits on the place where the plane hit the ground and left a huge burning crater and fire. Not one part of the plane survived that was bigger than six feet. Most pieces were much smaller. The tail and rear fuselage left an imprint in the ground but was itself disintegrated on impact. Someone had left fresh flowers at the wall by the names of several of the women.

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Plane wreckage and body parts were scattered over the entire area and it was simply impossible to gather all the fragments and so the entire area is left as a grave behind the wall. The wall contains slots for memorial items people might wish to leave.

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The farmhouse in the picture is still there.

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We had a short drive to the nearby Shawnee State Park. The park is entirely reservation and in summer very busy. Make a reservation. At this time of year, we were one of only five campers. It is a lovely, typical, state park. If you go to the memorial, the trip is harrowing, up and down steep hills with sharp turns and steep grades. The worst is the section of #30 west of the memorial. We made the trip with the trailer but it was hard. The grades up and down were 10% but they were short and had many stretches with level driving to break them up. The stretch from #30 to the east is easier but there is one five mile section where the hill has an 8% grade and a switchback. There are two places to pull over and stop and cool the breaks and transmission on the way down but no stopping places on the way up. Highway 30 is a hellish, awful drive with a trailer. I suggest you park your trailer at the Shawnee State Park or in Somerset and then unhitch and drive without a towed vehicle to the memorial. You will need about two hours to do the memorial justice, longer if you want to hike the three miles the long way through the memorial groves. You can also drive the memorial drive. Since that was not trailer friendly we skipped that.

Goat Island Niagara Falls

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I had never been to Goat Island, the spit of land between the US and American Falls at Niagara before. We were in a hurry, The Canadian falls are plenty spectacular. We didn’t want to deal with customs. This time, since we were heading into the US anyway, I decided we should stop in. It was the end of daylight savings and we were up very early and out on the road. It was a good thing we did because Goat Island was a really special surprise and we ended up taking more than just a quick look.

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There are a number of reasons why the view from Goat Island is much nicer than the view from the Canadian side. On the Canadian side you can’t really see the cataracts above the falls. They are really visible and astonishing in their own right from Goat Island.

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The Canadian side is all mowed and groomed and carefully planned flower beds. Goat Island is much more parklike with a lovely walk through woods. There are delightful and natural little side creeks where water goes over shallow falls on it’s way to the big falls. You can get really close to both the American and the Canadian Falls. There is ample very low cost parking with plenty of room for RVs on Goat Island. On the Canadian side it costs $15.00 to park and you still have a pretty fair walk. The roads are narrow winding alleyways difficult to impossible with a trailer in tow. On the US side you pay $3 and you are right there. The RV parking is a long way back on the side farthest from the falls but it was free and there was a trolley to ride for $3. We chose to walk with the dogs. So the dogs had fun too. The Canadian side is really no place to walk a dog. On the Canadian side there is no where to sit and have a picnic with your family. On Goat Island it is parklike and lovely with lots of picnic tables.

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There were a lot of Japanese tourists and for some reason they were fascinated by our Trusty, who is an English Bull Terrier. Everywhere we went, when we hit a group of Japanese tourists they would squeal with delight and insist on taking pictures of and with her. Since she is a big ham anyway, she was delighted to cooperate, Poor Fred apparently does not fascinate in the same way so he had to just put up with being told to sit and then being ignored.

My conclusion is if you get to one place and only one place during a trip to Niagara Falls go to Goat Island even if it means facing customs. The Americans do it right.

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Old Fort Erie

Our second day at Niagara Falls we were going to do  so much. Instead we did one thing, go to Old Fort Erie. This is a reconstruction of the old Fort Erie of the war of 1812 which was the scene of some really ferocious and bloody battles. Ice jams wiped out the original wood fort closer tot he water so in 1936 this replace was made. In the process of digging to build the replica, the builders came across mass graves. The largest mass grave is now marked by cenotaph. The majority of the bodies of American soldiers were carefully dug up a

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SAM_6461nd repatriated and reburied back in the USA with much pomp and ceremony. I learned the grey uniforms of West Point date back to this era when the Birtish cut off he supply of blue die for American Blue uniforms and so the American who fought bravely and well and behaved professional wore grey. They were so professional and did so well it became the grey to mark a professional army.

The war was 200 years and England and the USA are now at peace. What was once a loyalist British colony and a bunch of rebels are now two countries with the longest peaceful border in the world. It’s had to believe we were at war and I hope we never are again. I was taught in school that this war was largely a stupid joke. I only learned on this visit how the American troops, regarding the loyalists as treasonous scum, burned down their houses and farms all along the Niagara river and that the British retaliated for the attacks on civilians by doing the same on the American side. The War of 1812 was no joke and the men in it died fighting in a cause they held dear as any. And the innocent civilians were forced from their homes, and had to flee many dying from cold and starvation and abuse at the hands of the occupying forces.

I also learned about Laura Secord who was able to warn the British about the American attack. I knew she was a great Canadian hero. I never knew the details.

The recreation is well done. Staff are in uniforms. You can see everything in a couple of hours. The displays are authentic looking and you walk out with a feel for it. We visited on halloween so all the halloween stories of ghost haunting the place were being shared by the staff. We visited the supposedly haunted rooms but did not see any ghosts.

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We did get three light balls in our pictures which supposedly indicate ghost activity. You can see our three ghost balls in the picture.

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After Fort Erie we drive back taking the road that fallows the river on the Canadian side back to the falls. The view was lovely and the drive was very nice. We were both tired and I was running a fever so we skipped swimming and more sight seeing. Fortunately a good nights sleep and I was fine. halloween was very quiet in the campground. Not a single trick or treater or spook.