I have been in one of those periods of time where I feel like there are so many little things that need to be taken care of and I don’t feel like I am getting anywhere.  It’s not a feeling I enjoy.  The funny thing is feeling that way despite getting a decent amount of things done over the weekend.

It started out early Saturday with me getting outside to work on weeding a little after 7:30.  That rolled almost immediately into doing the oil and filter change that was due on the Prius.  Cindy and I headed out to do a Rural King run, something I hadn’t done in a couple weeks, a long time for me.  We brought Elsa along for the ride and she once again oscillated between being ok one moment and terrified the next.

We stopped at Home Depot on the way home.  We picked up some more vegetables for the garden including tomatoes, something we historically have a horrible time getting anywhere with.  If first you don’t succeed, try, try again.  I also picked up a new LED floodlight for the other side of the house, similar to the awesome stadium style bright unit I installed on the other side a couple months ago.

When we got home we made plans to go with Katie to go look at rvs/trailers/park homes.  She is looking to move ahead with having a place to call her own and wanted to get a first hand look at some options.  The first place we went surprised the hell out of me, they sold Airstreams.  For some reason I had it in my head that Airstream was no longer in business.  I am not sure where that notion came from.

Not only did they not go out of business, they make some of the highest quality trailers on the market we came to discover.  Katie loved the stainless steel shells that wrapped around highly functional living spaces.  We looked at models that ranged from 16 feet to 30.  Regardless of the size, every single model we checked out was really, really nice.  Of course top of the line comes with a price tag, they are far from cheap.

I talked a bit with the sales manager at the location.  He used to work at the Airstream factory store in Ohio for a long time.  He really stressed how well made they were and how they steered clear of shitty Chinese components as much as possible.  He also told me that depending on the price of he unit, they can be financed for as long as 20 years, making one affordable even for someone just getting started like Katie.  The last interesting fact was they are just over 8 feet wide, meaning in theory one could be driven into our wide open backyard through the 10 foot gate with little fuss.

In addition to the Airstreams we looked at more traditional trailers as well as “park homes”, another thing I wasn’t aware of.  These were apartment/condo sized homes on wheels.  When you were inside it looked like conventional construction.  When you were outside you saw the big trailer it was built on and would be a permanent part of it’s structure.  I guess the name comes from the idea that typically you park these once and leave them there, unlike an Airstream-like trailer which could be relocated pretty easily.

Out of everything we saw Katie definitely liked the Airstream option the best.  The ability to pick up and move while having all the basic necessities to live day to day was very appealing to her.  The design of them was really interesting to Katie and she spent a good portion of the drive home researching the hell out of them on her phone.

When we got back we didn’t waste much time before we headed over to the school to ride our wheels.  I also brought my Mavic with as I wanted to see how it did tracking Katie and I as we rode around.  Well the drone did pretty damn well.  Even with sunset approaching rapidly the Mavic did a good job of following us around autonomously , keeping us in it’s field of view.

Cindy was doing more of her fence EUC training and did well again.  I think all she needs to do is get more frequent training sessions under her belt so she can keep building where she left off instead of having to refamiliarize herself when 10 or 14 days have passed.

 

 

Saturday night Cindy called in a food order that I picked up.  We had a Netflix rental in an envelope, a movie called Memento that Cindy picked out, some murder mystery flick.  Well we gave it a solid 15-20 minutes to spark our interest before all three of us gave it the gong.  I pulled out the dvd and instead rented Deepwater Horizon on X1.  The movie reenforced why fossil fuels and the companies that provide them need to be put out to pasture.  The recreation of the disaster on film was incredibly realistic and impressive.  I’d give it a B+.

I felt guilty when I didn’t start my Sunday morning off with a run.  The reality is my knee/hip/IT band on my right side is still messed up and running would just amplify it.  That didn’t make me feel any less guilty however.  I did however get busy once again outside, tending to the chickens, planting the vegetables I bought Saturday and starting the work to replace the floodlight.

Installing that floodlight was one of the very early home projects I took on after we built the place in 2001.  As I ripped down the old beat up light I realized that back then I did some pretty shoddy work.  I had the old light sloppily and loosely attached to the aluminum flashing, it wasn’t very solid at all.  I got the old light ripped out but realized if I wanted to install the new one correctly I was going to need a proper electrical fixture mounting box, which I didn’t have.

The three of us went to Dunkin Donuts and followed up with another ride into the Esplanade development.  It was SUPER windy during the ride.  At times if the wind hit us dead on it felt like it almost brought us to a standstill.  It was nuts.

 

After the ride we made a couple stops, including the hardware store so I could get the mounting box I needed.  When I got home I got to work.  Instead of mounting the light to the aluminum I attached the box to the concrete wall with tapcons, a much sturdier solution.  Once that was in place the rest of the light install went pretty easily.  It looks a lot better and lights up that area of the yard in a much more efficient manner.

I had a few other projects/chores keeping me busy during the afternoon.  Late in the day Cindy mentioned that Katie was interested in going over to the nearby Bird Rookery Swamp to walk with Elsa.  We came up with a plan where I would leave ahead of them on my Msuper and they would drive there with Elsa in the Prius.  With the ability to cruise comfortably at 18-20 mph, I got there pretty fast, fast enough that I had time to ride the length of the boardwalk and back before they got there.

Katie had never been to the swamp so it was cool for her to see.  We ran into a decent sized gator shortly after getting onto the grass path.  Cindy was scared, Katie was concerned, I just sort of shrugged.  I have seen so many gators at this location it just doesn’t affect me much.  Elsa seemed to like the hike as well although she got scared by random people along the way.  We stayed later than I ever had before, getting back to the parking lot a few minutes after the sun had set.

I told Cindy I wanted to ride the wheel back to the house as well instead of hitching a ride with her.  She was not thrilled with the idea but knew I was going to do it regardless.  The ride back was fine, possibly even faster than the ride there.  The headlight on the Msuper was definitely necessary as it was almost pitch black by the time I pulled back into the driveway.

I have a work week that is going to be very meeting heavy so don’t be surprised by short and sweet entries as standard practice.

Last night after work I got the Mavic back up in the air.  We had another beautiful sunset going on and I wanted to see how it would look via altitude from the lens of the Mavic’s 4K camera.  I used tripod mode which slows down the movement of the drone to do a couple slow pans of the horizon.   It is simply amazing just how stable the footage is.  It literally looked like I had the camera on a tripod on a platform a 100 feet in the sky.  The music I paired the footage to seemed really appropriate and peaceful.  I like the end result. I took off the clear dome cover from the camera which is the way it is designed to be flown.

So today is the big day, a historic day, the day Donald Trump, the least qualified person ever to win the presidency of the United States, takes office.  The day will be memorable in many ways for sure, including the massive organized protests both today and over the weekend, something that has never welcomed an incoming president in my lifetime.  Donald, through his cabinet appointments and actions in the couple months leading up to the inauguration has given the world a good sour taste of what could be on tap for the next four years.

I could rant and rave about how ridiculous it is that somehow this has come to be.  Personally I am past the point of being outraged.  The ink is now dry, the damage has been done, and the country now just has to grit it’s teeth and deal with the lunacy that is sure to come.  I will say that I feel the odds of him making it through the full four years as commander and chief are the poorest of any incoming president and that may just be the master plan.

As I have said multiple times, I think Trump is going to be an unmitigated disaster as president.  However unlike so many of my fellow Americans, I am not afraid to reevaluate that position based on new information or circumstances.  If the country somehow prospers under his leadership I will be happy to give credit where credit is due.

Yesterday was an odd one at work, I made an emergency trip to Best Buy to buy a computer for the office.  Normally we have a procurement process to get new pc’s that can take a few days to a couple weeks.  However when the bosses computer dies the protocol changes.  We had him back up and running in a few hours.

My new bigger pedals for the Gotway MCM4 arrived yesterday.  I got them from the same guy in the UK that I bought my Msuper from.  Despite his company being an ocean away I got the pedals in a few days which is cool.  Since I already did a test swap last week, replacing the pedals didn’t take very long at all.  After finishing up I took it out for a quick test ride as the sun was setting to test out the feel of the pedals.  Just like last week the bigger pedals felt much better on my feet.

My cold is still raging, only loosely controlled by Nyquil and Dayquil.  Last night I was drowning in snot, it sucks.  I have my gym clothes with today.  I hope to get to the gym although I have a feeling my energy level and strength will be so underwhelming that it will just piss me off.

My sick day yesterday as well as Monday had a ton of WoW as part of it.  I bet I played more in the last two days than I have in years.  It was a fun distraction to the cold I have been dealing with since Saturday.  I spent most of that time relearning how to play my priest.

I also got an unexpected surprise when my DJI Mavic Pro showed up at my door.  I knew it was en route but I did not expect it until maybe next week as the tracking I looked at from Fed Ex Tuesday night showed it had just left Hong Kong.  Well for some reason my box got super express service.  It arrived in Memphis at 3AM and was immediately flown to Fort Myers where it was put on a truck for delivery, crazy.

Even though I knew just how compact the Mavic was from videos and pictures, it wasn’t until I held it in my hand that I truly appreciated it.  Despite it’s diminutive size it packs big time tech and features.  It has full obstacle avoidance cameras and sensors and uses the same incredible app the Phantom does.

The way your smart phone integrates with the controller is very slick.  Your phone becomes your first person view window along with a TON of additional options.  The controller itself almost reminds me of a video game controller and is very comfortable to hold and use.

I was able to get the Mavic into the air very easily but I still felt like a complete novice, even though I have had a drone for several years.  The technology has advanced a ton since the Phantom 2.  There are so many features, simple flying just scratches the surface of what this thing can do.  The video the 4K camera captures is crisp and clean.  Being able to fly via FPV is a new experience for me and I can see why it is so popular.

I briefly tested one of the many flying modes, Auto Track.  You basically identify something you want the drone to keep in frame by drawing a box around it.  It can be a person, a vehicle, or pretty much anything else as long as it has half decent size.  Once this is enabled the drone will automatically move and adjust the camera angle to keep that object in it’s field of view.  It’s pretty amazing.  I ran around the backyard a little and it stayed locked on me easily.  Of course I have various ideas of how to incorporate this with EUC rides as well.

I need to do a lot of reading and viewing of tutorials to get familiar with all the drone can do.  I am looking forward to the challenge and avoiding fines from the national park service along the way.

 

I made a very large omission while recanting the wedding reception over the weekend.   Cindy’s brother asked her if she could do the toast.  Cindy was extremely nervous about it and spent a lot of time coming up with something heartfelt yet funny at the same time.  Like the other formalities, the toast came very early, catching her off guard somewhat.

Her honest nervousness when she grabbed the mic was apparent but she soon had the entire reception laughing and later crying right along with her.  After she finished her brother ran up to Cindy and gave her a huge hug as tears streamed down his face.  When she got back to our table I hugged her as I wiped my tears from my face as well.  Mine were tears of pride because she did so well despite being so scared of the scenario.   Through out the night various guests told her how great her speech was which made Cindy feel very happy. It may have been the best toast I ever heard at a wedding I have attended.

I spent all day yesterday feeling miserable and sick.  The feeling has continued into today so I am burning a sick day in the hopes of both feeling better as well as not spreading the illness around our office.

Before I get started I neglected to mention that when I got back from my PA trip Cindy had a very big present waiting for me, she repainted the master bathroom a very peaceful gray color.  We had talked about repainting the bathroom for awhile.  I thought it was very nice of her to take the initiative to take it on while I was in PA.  It really looks good.

Ok so on Friday I had a heavy EUC day.  In the morning I took the wheel to North Collier Regional Park.  While I was in PA I had the idea pop in my head that I wanted to make an EUC tips video where I put a number of tips that helped me during my learning process in one video.  I thought it really turned out well and so far others seem to agree.

I also did an EUC experiment I had been curious about, a pedal swap between my Msuper and MCM4.  One of the primary things I like about my Msuper and dislike about the MCM4 are the foot pedals.  The MCM4 pedals are too small and cause me a lot of foot pain while the MSuper has some of the biggest pedals around and feel much better.  The mounting brackets for the pedals on both wheels looked identical so I was curious if the pedals themselves were swappable.  Well I was happy to find out the answer was YES.  The big pedals do fit on the MCM4 so I ordered an extra set from the same guy in the UK I got my Msuper from.  In addition I did a pedal calibration on the MCM4 which seemed to help the overall riding characteristics of the wheel.

On Friday I also got around to finally installing a replacement security camera out in the coop so we now have a full set of 8 cameras once again monitoring the chicken stomping grounds.  I should sleep better at night now.

We were leaving for Miami in the early afternoon to attend Cindy’s brother’s wedding.  Ali and her boyfriend were nice enough to agree to watch Elsa for the night.  We figured having Sadie there would help ease whatever nervousness Elsa would have from being away from us.  We spent the morning getting everything ready for our brief getaway.

When we dropped Elsa off at Ali’s it was funny.  You could tell she was excited and scared at the same time.  We brought her crate along so she would have a safe haven to retreat to if necessary.  Cindy of course was nervous about being away from Elsa for the first night ever but Ali assured her they would take good care of Elsa which I had no doubt about.

Katie was hitching a ride with us to Miami.  When we got back from dropping off Elsa we did a quick car load  and were pretty much ready to roll.  The trunk of the car also had two electric unicycles in it and one Minipro.  We hoped to get out to ride on Sunday morning somewhere.

During the roughly two hour drive to the hotel I noticed I wasn’t feeling quite right.   I had some weird soreness in my throat setting in and I just felt off.  I hoped it was just me feeling the effect of drinking two large coffees in the span of three hours.  Unfortunately the feeling kept ramping up throughout the day.

Cindy reserved a room at the Aloft in Dadeland, the same chain we stayed at for the Tampa Comic Con so I already knew to expect a hipster experience.  Katie was staying in the room with us.  I was not excited when I found out the two beds were doubles instead of queen size.  Over the years I have had some very bad sleeping experiences trying to fit my dimensions in a double with another person.  Other than that the room was very nice.

All three of us did our prep for the wedding which was around 5PM.  We arrived at the church with about 15 minutes to spare, saying hi to the familiar faces of Cindy’s family and friends.  We got premium family seating the the third row for the ceremony.  The “I do’s” probably took maybe 20-25 minutes to complete.  There was a cute and touching part where Cindy’s brothers two kids read a passage.  Owen, the little shy boy was especially cute as he read his verse out of sight behind the lectern.

This church was a one stop shop which was very cool.  After the ceremony they had drinks and snacks out on a patio and then at the other end of the complex was a large hall that was being used for the reception.  Cindy and I were summoned to be in the official wedding photos of family that were taken in a scenic area outside.

The reception hall was very nicely decorated.  Each table had a beautiful floral centerpiece.  I had started a pretty steady stream of beer during the cocktail hour and continued it into the reception.  I somehow hoped the alcohol would make the incoming illness feel less shitty.  Instead I just sort of felt shitty and drunk.

JP and Amber front loaded the reception with all the formalities to get them out of the way.  In the first 20 minutes the garter was removed, the bouquet was tossed and the cake was cut.  This was the first time I ever saw it done this way but I understood the logic.  They wanted to make the reception just about everyone having a good time.  I would say they were successful in that goal.

As the night went on the sillyness amplified.  I eventually had enough alcohol that I made a brief appearance on the dance floor.  Towards the end of the party things got really silly when we decided we would go get out the wheels that were stored in the trunk and ride them around in our formal wear.  It looked pretty damn silly I am sure but we had a lot of fun doing it.  I totally forget about feeling shitty during those few minutes.

So the reception ended around 10.  Cindy drove us back to the hotel.  I took another shower hoping it would somehow wash the illness from me.  At that point I had soreness and blockage in my right sinus that did not want to clear even with high effort nose blowing.  After cleaning up I crawled into bed hoping for at least a half decent nights sleep.  Instead I had one of my most indecent nights of sleep ever.

I honestly think I did not actually fall asleep at all the entire night, instead laying there with my eyes closed.  There was a combination of factors contributing to my insomnia.  The clogged nostril and restricted breathing was the first sleep obstacle.  I got up to blow my nose a couple times and it didn’t help at all.  The double bed with two people made it just impossible for me to find a position of long term comfort.  I was constantly adjusting myself while trying to not impose on Cindy so she could at least sleep.  Finally there was a lack of consistent white noise which is something I normally require to sleep.  Total silence strangely is an awful sleeping condition for me.  The AC was cycling on and off creating temporary white noise.  I normally set it to keep the fan on but forgot to do so before going to bed this time.  At one point I even briefly tried to sleep in a chair in the room, I was that desperate.

So anyway as you can imagine, I awoke feeling absolutely terrible.  The lack of sleep, illness, and slight hangover left me feeling like a pile of dirt.  We packed up the room and checked out.  Right across the street was a place called Don Pan, a cuban bakery/breakfast place that Cindy loved from her days of living in Miami.  My “cuban breakfast” was good even though I had very minimal appetite at that point.

Even though I felt terrible I wanted to still get our ride in.  We drove back near the area the church was located as it seemed scenic and a good place for one wheeling.  We had a nice maybe hour long ride taking in scenery we normally don’t get the opportunity to see.  Katie was scanning values of the houses as we rode by them.  They were very, very expensive.  Katie also showed off some her new wheel riding skills.  She can now ride one legged quite well, at one point holding the position for a good 30 seconds.  She is officially better than me now.  That didn’t take long.

After the ride we headed to Amber’s house.  We were picking up Cindy’s niece to give her a ride back to Naples.  They were also having a day after wedding party at the house.  Since we had the chickens to care for and Elsa to pick up we only stayed for a short period of time before heading out.  I was not feeling up to eating or drinking at that point.  I spent most of the time helping Cindy’s nephew work on his activity book that had stuff like word searches, connect the dots and other fun kid stuff in it.

Cindy drove home, not wanting a sleep deprived person behind the wheel.  Taylor and Katie were in the back seat acting silly most of the drive home making me smile and laugh a few times despite feeling progressively worse.  When we got home we unloaded the car and I stayed there while Cindy took Taylor home and picked up Elsa.  While she was gone I went out and cleaned the coop.  It is always more labor intensive cleaning the coop later in the day as the piles of excrement has had more time to harden and dry, requiring more scrubbing instead of just being able to hose it off, fun times.

Outside of the coop cleaning and unpacking luggage I went into vegetable mode mostly for the rest of the day.  I spent nearly three hours watching Batman vs Superman for a second time.  No it didn’t get any better the second time around but it didn’t get any worse either.  I still love that Batman does Crossfit to toughen up to fight Superman.

I caught the end of the Cowboys/Packers game and was very happy with the outcome.  Must suck to lose as the number one seed in your first playoff game.  Poor, poor Cowboys….

I took Nyquil to knock myself out last night and am happy to say it worked.  I still feel lousy today but at least I got some sleep to help balance things out.  Today is my last day off officially although if I still am in the meaty part of this illness tomorrow I don’t have any pressing things I have to rush back to work for.  It certainly has been a full twelve days of vacation.  I wouldn’t mind another twelve.

So as I signed off before departing on my flight home from PA I remarked sarcastically how I hoped for a smooth travel experience, knowing the exact opposite would be the case.  Well for once I was glad I got it wrong, both flights to Atlanta and Fort Myers were uneventful, I actually got to Fort Myers 15 minutes ahead of schedule.  To make things better, the empty seat next to me that I paid for was not resold by Delta on either flight meaning I had space to relax where 98% of the rest of the cabin did not.

Cindy and Elsa picked me up and life was back to normal.  I quickly stripped off the long sleeve thermal shirt I was wearing as it was clearly no longer necessary.  One of the first things I did when I got home was to verify that the glued together and carefully packed ceramic skull I bought for Katie survived the trip intact.  It thankfully did.  I left my luggage in the laundry room so everything could be washed, even though I did some laundry at my dad’s.  There was just too much cross contamination going on. Wednesday night we just chilled out and caught up on some back logged dvr content.  It felt very comforting to be back inside my own four walls and even more so to sleep in my own bed.

So Thursday was a fresh day and I decided I needed to get shit done, despite a right leg that continues to give me a limp worthy of a medicare patient.  The first task was taking down all of the exterior Christmas decorations.  This is a job that is much better suited to two people but Cindy was teaching a class and I didn’t feel like waiting.  I slowly made progress unwrapping the lights around the six palm trees and then wrapped each set around it’s own spool for storage.

As I was removing the icicle lights from the front entrance area I noticed the gutter on that side of the house was packed with oak tree leaves.  This spun off into a side project of my cleaning the gutters on that side of the house.  I grabbed my battery powered DeWalt blower and went to town.  It worked very well.  I also noticed just how much asphalt continues to build up in the gutters, another reminder that doing something about my roofing material is going to have to be done in the next few years.

So I finally got the gutters cleaned and the lights packed away, a good days work.  It should be now time to relax, right? Wrong.  I got another bug up my ass to clean out and reorganize the small shed, something I have been meaning to get done for a few months.  I began the arduous process of pulling out shit and throwing it around the yard in piles that designated if it was to go back in the shed, taken to the curb, or thrown out. Cindy got back after I ate lunch and was starting on the reassembly process which she assisted on.  I am much happier with the end result as it makes it easier to get to what I need.  The purging also had the side benefit of clearing some shelf space which is always a good feeling.

Finally I got to rest for part of the afternoon.  The labor had left me feeling all kinds of sore, not only in my right leg but back as well.  Katie stopped by Thursday evening to eat dinner and pick out clothes for the wedding we are attending this weekend.  We also did some riding on our wheels over at the school.

This was a big moment because it was the first time Cindy had her new Inmotion wheel out in the wild.  She was being very protective of her wheel, she didn’t even want me to carry it to the car and she placed a pillow between her wheel and mine.  I reminded her that hoping to keep an electric unicycle blemish free is an impossibility.  She said she realized that but she wanted to be the one to create those blemishes, fair enough.

While Katie and I rode around Cindy headed for the magical rectangular fence that she used last time as a training aid.  It took a little time for her to get reaccustomed to  the physics but by the time we left ahe had done a number of corner to corner free wheeling rides which are at least 50 feet in distance.  She really has the hardest part behind her, now it is just putting in the time so she trusts her body to just react.

This morning there was a steady light rain going on but it didn’t stop me from getting outside to knock out the weeding and do a few other things.  It still is hard for me to believe just a few days ago I was marching around in 5 degree air and surviving.

I finished up the blog entry in the rental car just as Patrick walked home from work which worked out well. Sixer the cat was happy to see I returned and wasted little time reestablishing my lap as a hang out spot.  I filled Patrick in on my last couple days of adventures in Marienville since he and his girlfriend left.  We were waiting for Nicole to show up so we could all go out to dinner to celebrate my last evening in Pennsylvania.

The place we were going was in easy walking distance, a perk of living in an urban area like Patrick does.  The restaurant was called Scratch.  They had a very modern menu with more vegetarian entrees on it than the meat variety which worked out well for me.  I decided to complement my vegetarian tacos with a couple Iron City beers which seemed appropriate considering my location.

We had a very enjoyable dinner.  Nicole has had a very interesting background which complements Patrick’s world traveling adventures quite well.  She seems to be a really cool person and dinner just reenforced my already positive opinion of her from our first meeting.

I thought it was funny that one of the guys that worked there was familiar with Naples.  Evidently he was down there for one snowbird season.  It felt odd sitting there being able to say Immokalee Road and have a guy in Pittsburgh know exactly where/what it was. We listened in to the first part of trivia night which evidently is an every Tuesday night thing at Scratch.  As usual my knowledge of random trivia was less than impressive.

I wanted to pay for the diner bill but was thwarted when Chase shut down my card, assuming it was being used in PA for nefarious purposes.  I appreciate the caution but it was a bit annoying that I had to call when I got back to get it unlocked.  I have seen ads where other CC companies simply send a text if an additional confirmation is needed.  I need to see if I am able to turn that on for my card.

Since I was rolling out relatively early in the morning we didn’t stay that late.  When we got back to Pat’s we caught the very tail end of Obama’s farewell address which I heard from Cindy was very emotional.  Before heading up to bed Pat introduced me to a ridiculous but very funny animated series on HBO called Animals.  I need to check it out more in depth when I get home, you should too.

This time I made sure to pull my bedroom door closed until it clicked to prevent a noisy, middle of the night luggage licking session by Sixer.  I wanted to make sure I got a half decent night of sleep under my belt.  I still struggled somewhat sleeping, just because of the ambient noise associated with living in a city neighborhood but it was better overall.

When I got up I headed straight to the shower and then packed up my stuff to head downstairs.  As soon as I sat on the sofa Sixer immediately jumped on my lap and parked himself there.  I guess he missed me last night.  Pat came down from his shower and was ready to start his daily walk to work so I loaded up the car to leave.  I thanked him again for his hospitality and encouraged him and Nico to come down and visit Florida with us, the door is always open.

I had plenty of slack in my travel time to the airport.  I stopped at a Dunkin Donuts to grab some breakfast and a coffee and then stopped one more time to fill up the Journey. Oh, the rental car was a Dodge Journey SXT by the way.  Yea I never heard of it either.

Getting to the airport required dealing with rush hour traffic but with my GPS having my back it was no big deal getting back to the airport in an expedient manner.  Dropping off the rental car was a 30 second process and I was back inside the terminal 5 minutes later.  I used the self service Delta kiosk to check myself in.  The machine spit out the credit card receipt for my annoying $25 checked bag charge but for some reason did not print out the boarding passes I need to board the plane.  I wound up having the desk clerk repeat the process for me.

When I went through the security check point the woman running the x-ray pulled out my cheap Dollar General Store gym bag that is housing my glued together skull.  As she rocked the bag back and forth she said to me, “Is that a skull???”.  I told her yes, but it ws a ceramic, decorative skull.  She said she was concerned it was a real skull which evidently is not allowed in carry on baggage, imagine that.

So I have now found my way to the departure gate in plenty of time to allow me to punch this out.  My flight probably won’t even begin boarding for another hour.  The trip has come and gone quickly.  It was very nice to get another taste of the world I used to know and to see friends and family that I usually only interact with via the internet or the phone.  I of course look forward to getting home to Cindy, Elsa, the chickens, and even Tuki.  Not having to plan to avoid hypothermia will be a great thing too.

Today was my last full day in Pennsylvania and it also happened to be my dad’s actual birthday, even though we celebrated it in a grand fashion on Saturday night.  I once again woke up relatively early.  It’s deceiving in PA because it gets light and gets dark signficiantly later and earlier than in Naples.  I was happy to see it was actually “warm” today with the outside thermometer reading 23 degrees.  It was snowing pretty steadily.  I still bundled up before heading out to the shop to restart the fire to warm things up for the animals.

I also intended to do the sheep’s food and water since I watched Teresa do it all the day before but she came out just as I finished getting the fire started so I only assisted in the chore, scooping hay out of their water while refilling it with the hose they have inside.  It’s so funny watching the sheep line up to chow down on their pellets followed by hay.  The funniest thing of all to witness was when the llama laid down amongst the sheep while eating.  His long neck still put his head well above the rest of the flock and he used it to lean over and grab hay from his casual position.

After dad got back from his coffee and paper run he was almost immediately back out the door to go get an oil change done on the Subaru.  He said it shouldn’t take long at all.  Well not long at all turned out to be almost the entire morning.  He was so late getting back that Teresa and I were getting a bit concerned.

Well a little after 11 we hear the door open.  Dad had returned and we immediately asked what was up.  Dad started on a somewhat awkward explanation about why he was delayed.  Evidently during his trip to the vet Monday evening with Clara he clipped a deer with the car.  He was late because he was getting an estimate to repair the damage.

The damage however was secondary.  Dad share’s my love of animals and he was really upset about the incident.  The way he described it was one deer darted in front of the car which he missed.  As he was hitting the brakes hard a second deer followed and got clipped by the driver side corner bumper.  He said the deer was dazed in the road but on the return trip the deer was no longer there.  I have heard sometimes of deers getting dazed but then recovering.  Both my dad and I hoped that was the case.  The damage to the bumper wasn’t huge with a few cracks but it will need to be replaced.  The total estimate for the repair was less than 1k. Dad and Teresa said they try to avoid driving the roads near them at night for this exact reason.  Deers dart out all the time and depending on their timing the end result can be disasterous.

So anyway I wished dad happy birthday officially this time.  I felt bad he had to have his day darkened by the deer strike but I could totally relate, I would have felt terrible about it as well.  Since it was approaching lunch time dad suggested we go out for one last meal together at the Bucktail Hotel in Marienville.  I have never eaten there before.  Teresa didn’t seem that thrilled with the idea because of past experience but I said I was fine with it, even if it was less than stellar.  Marienville is sort of all about experiences that are less than stellar.

The hotel restaurant reminded me of a common theme in town, it was once much more active and populated than it is now.  The hotel had a huge amount of space in their two dining rooms yet only two tables were occupied, if you include our own.  The laminated menu looked like it was created in Wordpad but had enough variety to fulfill most pallets.  I ordered something with my fish sandwich I may not have had for a decade or more, potato soup.

The food was not spectacular but I didn’t expect it to be.  I still enjoyed just sitting in the old building adorned with old decorations and old furnishings.  A trip to Marienville is much cheaper than renting a time machine.  The waitress who my dad and step mom knew by first name suggested we go into the main dining room to check out the Xmas decorations that were still up.  Evidently our waitress was part of decoration team.  The empty room did look beautiful indeed, too bad it doesn’t seem like many people get to see the fruits of their labor.

So as we headed back to the house we noticed school busses dropping kids off which was odd since it was only mid-day.  A lady at the restaurant said they closed school early because of the potential for freezing rain and ice.  We saw that potential realized on the drive home.  The rain was dropping from the sky with an air temp that read 28 degrees, not a great thing since I planned to make the 80 mile drive to Pittsburgh in an hour or two.

Things at the house were looking pretty shady.  It did not take long for the vehicles and the ground to have a crunchy coating of ice on them.  I did not panic as I knew the forecast was for the temps to keep rising and I knew closer to Pittsburgh it was much warmer.  I took a shower at dads and then turned on the rental car to let it warm up for quite awhile, the windshield was encased in ice at that point.

The last minutes before a visit with my dad, stepmom, and the dogs is always somewhat sad, whether they are down with us or vice versa.  I know they enjoy having family visit and the circumstances this time around with it being dads 70th birthday made it more special than normal.  We sat by the fire and just chatted for awhile, most of the time I was reaching down and petting Clara who was laying in the dog bed next to me.

After taking a group picture with my phone timer I loaded up the luggage and said my farewells.  It was a whirlwind trip in some ways but in others it was relaxing.  I got to read tons of my Warcraft novel, blog, and just enjoy and appreciate the stark differences between where I was and where I normally am.  Sure the cold was awful but even that didn’t cause as much of an issue as I thought it could.  After handing out hugs and belly rubs I was out the door.  I tapped the horn as I pulled out the crunchy driveway, unsure of the next time I will be back in the Marienville magic.

The first part of the drive was indeed hairy.  I consistently stayed 10 mph under the speed limit even though I did not sense any slipping of the tires.  The temperature reading 28 degrees kept me on my toes at all times.  As time passed my white knuckle grip on the wheel relaxed.  Soon it became clear the roads were just wet.  I made one pit stop along the way at a Dunkin Donuts to help keep me alert. By the time I pulled up to Patricks place it was a balmy 46 degrees.

Pat is not home quite yet so I decided to put the time to good use punching out this entry, in the dark, parked in front of his house.  Leaving for my 11 AM flight tomorrow will be logisitically much simpler from this closer vantage point as opposed to if I tried to make it all happenfrom Marienville in the wee hours of the morning.  I look forward to a hassle free trip home tomorrow, like that was even a possibility….

I had my best night of sleep on the trip so far which was welcomed.  The loft I have been sleeping in was extremly toasty thanks to the wood stove that had been burning all day.  When I crawled into bed I was just in my shorts and a t-shirt.  However once the fire burned out overnight I found myself reaching for extra covers to compensate.  The temperature when I awoke this morning was a balmy 7 degrees.

Everybody seemed to still be in bed when I got up. I decided I would bundle up and go out to the shop which is connected to the barn where the sheep stay to restart the fire in the stove out there that helps keep the out buildings somewhat warm for the animals.  As I was setting up the fire I could hear a few of the sheep “talking” to me, wondering what was going on.  I walked over there briefly to say hello, unsure what the morning sheep related chores were.  They stared at me confused but at least didn’t run away like they did yesterday.

I got the fire cranking and then headed back inside.  In the time I was out in the shop dad had woken up and taken the dogs with him in the truck to go grab his daily paper and cup of coffee.  While he was gone I went back outside with Teresa to see what she does with the animals.

She feeds them which consists of giving them grain which looks identical to chicken feed and then layering hay on top of it.  The sound of 20 sheep eating grain simultaneously was unique.  I told Teresa it sounded like rain on a tin roof.  She then would clean and refill their huge water barrel and do a brief cleaning of the stall which supplements the weekly full cleaning they have to do.

The one ram named Frasier was one of the babies that was born when Cindy and I visited two years ago.  He is unique in that he has no fear of people since my step mom basically raised him, he was rejected by his mother.   He let me stroke his face without fear and when Teresa started petting him he wagged his tail in approval.  It was so cute.

So Frank and Dee stayed over last night.  After we ate something for breakfast they pulled out to return to eastern PA, leaving me as the lone guest in the house.  It felt weird since a scarce 24 hours earlier there were close to 20 people inside the walls.

Dad suggested a plan where we take the dogs for a walk followed by visiting a relatively nearby landmark, the Kinzua Bridge.  I told him it was fine with me as long as we could stop at the Dollar General Store and the post office for me to try to secure stuff ot help me protect the glued skull for the trip back to Florida.  We hit the store first and I was surprised at the selection.  I scored a roll of bubble wrap and a cheap gym bag that was just the right size to hold the box I hoped to find at the post office.

At the post office I thought I had struck out, not seeing at first the square box I envisioned for the skull in the collection of flat rate boxes they had on display.  However my dad noticed a square holiday themed box on the wall that they evidently sell.  It looked to be the perfect size to hold the skull with some room for padding yet still fit in my cheap gym bag.  I felt fortunate to find everything I needed within a few mile radius.

We did the walk part of the trip first, taking the dogs on around a two mile trek on a snow covered trail.  By that time it had “warmed” up to 12 or 13 degrees.  I felt like I have adjusted somewhat to the frigid air.  The only thing super painful was my exposed face.  Everything else felt tolerable.

The drive up to the bridge took some time.  Dad described the bridge to me but I didn’t get a real appreciation of it until we got there.  This bridge was constructed in the late 1800’s and was meant to cross a huge valley in order to expedite rail traffic to Buffalo.  It’s supports were originally made from iron but were replaced around 1900 with steel to greater support the tremendous weight of fully loaded trains passing over it.  The maximum speed a train crossed the bridge at was 5 mph.

The bridge was used for decades as an important part of the supply route until it was eventually repurposed as a part of the route recreational trains would use on rail tours.  In 2003 there was a F1 tornado that ripped some of the pilings free, collapsing a large section of the bridge which would never be reopened to serve the purpose it had held for over a century.  Instead in 2011, the standing, repaired portion of the bridge was opened up as a tourist attraction.

Just last year an amazing visitor center was opened which is filled with all sorts of interesting interactive displays that tell you about the very long history of the bridge and how it came to be what it was today.  After checking out the visitor center dad and I walked out onto the bridge itself which at it’s highest is some 250 feet off the ground below.  The span you can walk is roughly 600 feet long, at the end of which is a square covered in clear panels that you can walk on, allowing you a rather disconcerting but very cool look straight down.  As you look out over the collapse area you still see all of the bent and mangled trusses scattered in the valley as well as the other standing portion of the structure several hundred yards away.  It was really a wierd visual to take in.

The walk back from the end was pretty brutal as a serious wind smacked us head on, knifing into our exposed skin like little icy daggers.  That 600 feet felt twice as long on the way back.  Even so I really appreciated dad making the suggestion to go there, it was a unique experience I just never would have sought out on my own.

We stopped at a quaint little establishment on the way back in Mount Jewett.  Evidently my dad and step mom like to go there a lot in warmer weather to have breakfast since the dogs can join them at the outdoor tables.  The place had a for sale sign on it that dad said has been there for more than a year.  The woman that runs it was quite friendly and pleasant.  Dad grabbed a side order of bacon and eggs that Maggie and Clara split when we got back out to the truck.

Since arriving back at the house I have been trying to get through a few more chapters in my book as well as punch out this entry.  I also carefully packed the purple skull in it’s new protective barriers.  It all fit together pretty much perfectly.  I was very skeptical before today that I would be able to get the skull back home intact.  I now think I have a good fighting chance.

Tonight will be a chill night enjoying more of my stepmoms delicious cooking while watching some Netflix rental they have on the counter.  Tomorrow I am thinking I will pull out mid-afternoon to head back to Pittsburgh so I can avoid driving the twisting, snowy roads at night.  It’s been a good few days thus far and I have no reason to think the conclusion of the trip won’t follow the same template.