Friday, April 22, 2011

Old & Moldy Tootie Fruities

This morning I grabbed a bowl of cereal before heading to work. As I downed the spoon-sized Frosted Shredded Wheat, I noticed a very interesting fact on the bottom of Tyler's must-have cereal, Tootie Fruities. We wouldn't buy them if not for the fact that Tyler insists he would die of malnutrition if he didn't get his Tootie Fruities each morning for breakfast. I've seen him miss three days of school just because we were out of stock.

Since I hadn't gotten the newspaper yet on this particular morning, I decided to see if there was anything interesting on the bottom of Tyler's cereal bag. I was shocked as I read the date code on the bottom. It said "Best if used by Jan 1612."

I am not lying.

In an attempt to capture the name Tootie Fruitie on the side of the bag and the expiration date on the bottom, I must admit I have failed at both. However, I certify this package was marked exactly as described.

I had no idea that Tootie Fruities were around in colonial times. Never had a clue that food was produced that far back in history with government-mandated date codes stamped on the package. I always thought plastic bags were developed in the post Civil War era. And since we just bought those Tootie Fruities last week at Costco, I found it hard to believe that a modern box store like Costco would still warehouse cereal that was manufactured just a year or two after Columbus discovered the Columbia River.

The things I don't know! The older I get, the more I realize I really am an idiot.

Anyway, the point of this post is to encourage you all to look at the expiration date on your food before you begin snarfing. Which reminds me of a portion of a Christmas card I posted a few years ago. Admittedly, my Christmas cards are a little off the wall but mildly if not wildly popular. Here it is:

True story —Due to all the hype about Taylor Swift lately, I thought we’d share an intimate experience we had with her at an In and Out Burger joint in Studio City while we were on our son Will’s Jeopardy! experience a couple of years ago. We arrived there to eat and there she was! We were too chicken to ask for an autograph but I’ve reconstructed what could have been…(while the rest of the family were ordering) Notice she hogged all the ketchup.
Whoops, wrong food story from the wrong Christmas letter. Here is the right one...

Anyway, my food tip for the day: Check out what you're going to be chewing on before you blindly insert nutrition in your pie hole. Expiration dates, mouse doo-doo, whatever your snack may pay in the long run to be a little picky and a bit more discriminating than Tyler and I sometimes are.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Windy City Bike Ride

No, I ain't talking about Chi Town.

I swear Basin City has been unusually windy this year. Nearly every day the air mass in the Tri-Cities moves the thirty miles from there to here in an hour which means...let me put my math cap on...I'd say it's moving exactly 60 miles an hour. I have found 60 mph winds are formidable, especially when you are trying to ride a bike against the wind with a body like mine which is shaped like those old satellite antennae dishes which were a good 6 or 8 feet in diameter. Which brings me to my account of today's ride.

This morning I arose at 8:00 because I was up from 2:30-6:00, unable to sleep because of my latest invention that is taking shape in the same place where I keep my math cap attached. I stumbled out to the paper box in my jammies and by the time I got back to the house, I had plucked the sleepy out of my eyes and noticed it was a beautiful spring day with bright sunshine and unusually still air.

I announced to my good wife that I was going to take a bike ride even though I'd logged 36 miles already over the last 2 days. She was busy making plans for the cantata that is coming up in a couple of weeks down at the church. She is so into this project. She's written a wonderful dialogue on the Easter story, done a lot of music planning and arrangements and made mucho preparations over the last 3 months. The girl is into this production so deep that she has even made multiple seating charts for the choirs and their positioning during the program. Each person has individual name tags made of different colored paper showing their exact location as the event unfolds. If you don't believe me, take a look...

I guess this is all necessary. If you look real close, you can see my name on several of the slips of colored paper. I'm pretty proud to be such a prominent part of the group even though I don't have any speaking parts and the choir director asked me to just lip sinc.

So my wife surprised me and announced she was going to drop her massive project for the moment and take a little ride with me. I was surprised but didn't say anything because I didn't want to deter her. She didn't know the ride I had planned involved a fairly monstrous hill. Since it was Saturday, I wasn't in a hurry to get to work and I patiently waited while she did all the things women do to get ready to go on a bike ride. I won't detail them but let's just say 20 minutes later, she was ready to go. I was ready 20 minutes earlier but played the long-suffering hubby on this unusual day.

We took off and she immediately began complaining about the traffic on the road. "Shouldn't we be on the other side?" she kept asking. I had to slow my pedaling so she could catch up and then explain that even though technically we were breaking the law, I considered it much safer to ride against traffic so I could see what was going to hit me instead of letting trucks and other rigs sneak up behind me and blindside me.

If I was going to get hit, I wanted to have a head-on so I wouldn't have to lay around in a paraplegic state like a lot of bike riders do after they get hit from behind.

She started to argue but that's when we started pedaling up the big hill which caused her to save her breath and arguments so she could keep pedaling.

I've finally found a good reason to bicycle up hills.

We traveled about three miles and I turned into my friend Lester's place and shot the bull with him. This was where I had planned to bike to and then turn around and go home. Michele pedaled in a few minutes later and after resting, we decided to head back to the house.

As we got out to the road, Michele said "Hey, why don't we go see Lee?" Lee is our son Will's friend and had just returned from a 2-year mission to Argentina or Siberia or someplace like that. I was quite surprised as Michele is not one to be spontaneous. I've always assumed that was my job. When I'm spontaneous, she usually argues. But I was not going to spoil this rare moment even though Lee lived another 7 or 8 miles up the road. This was going to give us a good ride of probably 20 miles or more by the time we were done. It was a nice day so why not?

We pedaled and pedaled and by the time we approached Lee's house, Michele was starting to complain about how far of a ride it had been. I was overly satisfied that I had not made the travel plans.

We had a nice visit with Lee and his family. We asked him all about his mission. It turned out to be in Argentina after all. The high point of our visit was when his little brother Neil piped up and said "I really like your blog. It's so funny." I wanted to talk to him some more but Michele butted in and went back to asking Lee about his mission.

Lee's mom got home about a half-hour after our arrival and when she opened the door, I noticed the wind howling outside. I then remembered that the weatherman  from the prior evening had announced strong winds for Saturday. I decided it would be best not to share my prior knowledge of the weather forecast with my old bride.

We got ready to leave and were offered a ride home by Lee and his mom but not wanting to look weak, we informed the Crowthers that we considered ourselves semi-professional bikers and declined their offer.

We headed east for a few miles and then south for another 6 or 8 miles into a southeastern gale that permanently curled the hair on the top of my head. It was brutal. It wasn't a killer for me since I've had quite a few rides against the wind lately and consider myself to be in Olympic caliber shape. However, Michele was not acclimated to the contrary and high-velocity resistance. She had a rough ride. Even when we went down the big hill, we had to pedal hard just to keep our bikes moving. On a still day, we would have been cruising down the steep slope at a good 80 miles an hour.

I was actually pretty gentlemanly about the whole thing. I bit my lip whenever I felt like saying the extended trip had been her idea. I offered to ride slower to match her speed and let her ride behind and to the side of me which provided a good wind break for her. This maneuver positioned her out in the road which some husbands would say also was a good thing.

She mentioned several times that she felt like throwing up. Several other times she said she wanted to cry. I tried to give her some good moral support by telling her that I was really enjoying the good workout the wind was giving us.

I offered to get some twine I saw in a nearby yard and tie it between the two bikes so I could drag her home but I think her pride got in the way. About this time, my friend Lester drove by and honked his horn which did a tremendous job of spooking Michele. When she jumped from the loud horn, she steered into my bike which just about wrecked both of us. Again, I bit my tongue and kept my upper and lower lips closed.

Several times, she stopped riding and walked. I felt I should probably stick with her so I practiced staying up on my bike while remaining in the same place and even once or twice rolled backward because of the wind. She would eventually start pedaling again and we, against all odds, finally pulled into Basin City. I saw a ditch rider parked on the side of the road that I wanted to talk to so I pealed off and Michele continued for home.

After about 15 minutes, I made the last lap and pulled into our driveway. Now this is the funny part. Whenever Michele rides her bike, she carefully walks it back behind our house and parks it under the deck. She then places a cover over it to protect it. Many women on our rides have admired her bike because it's yellow and feminine and for whatever reason, attracts their attention. She has gone to great lengths to protect her bike.
However, on this day, as I pulled into the driveway and the front door, guess what I saw? I'll say nothing more except that I laughed on and off for the next hour.

This must be Michele's new parking spot.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Nigerian Scam

 I've got a cousin Betty, who along with her husband Orrin are absolutely wonderful people. I mean, they don't make them any better than these two. Anyway, a few years ago they were serving a church mission in Tonga and sent me an email warning me about a bad computer virus that was making the rounds. 
I don't remember the name of the virus but for convenience, I'll call it "Park Avenue." The email from Orrin and Betty said: "Do not open any attachments named "Park Avenue" or it will ruin your computer. They gave me info on news releases also warning against the virus.
I thought I'd have a little fun so I made up a document and titled it "Park Avenue." I sent it as an attachment back to them with a note recommending to them that they should open this cool attachment immediately. There was nothing in the doc but I'm pretty sure I scared them to death. I didn't hear from them for awhile afterward.

So the other day I got an email from these same relatives. Here it is...

How are you? i do hope that you receive this email in good health. I am presently in Madrid, Spain, to be with my ill Cousin. She's suffering from a critical uterine fibroid and must undergo a hysterectomy surgery to save her life . I am deeply sorry for not writing or calling you before leaving, the news of her illness arrived to me as an emergency and that she needs family support to keep her going, I hope you understand my plight and pardon me.

So I want to transfer her back home to have the surgery implemented there because hysterectomy surgery is very expensive here, Am wondering if you can be of any assistance to me, I need about $2000 to make the necessary arrangement; I traveled with little money due to the short time I had to prepare for this trip and never expected things to be the way it is right now. I'll surely pay you back once I get back home, I need to get her home ASAP because she is going through a lot of pain at the moment and the doctor have advised that it is necessary that the tumor is operated soon to avoid anything from going wrong. I'll reimburse you once am back home.  Love, Betty
I knew immediately that they'd been hacked. It didn't sound at all like Betty. I deleted the message and marveled that the sender hadn't included an address as to where I should send the money. So today I got a letter that sounded more like my dear cousin...

Hi Everyone,  I was hacked this morning by someone in Nigeria.  Please know that we are here in Cheney and have NOT been to Spain and did not send that email asking for money. Don't ever send money without talking to the people before send it.  Hope all is well with you.  Ofa atu, Betty & Orrin 

So I decided play another little prank and sent her the following...

Dear Betty,

Oh my word! I sent you or I guess them a cashier’s check for $10,000. What do I do now? Can you send me a refund?

Love, Ben

I doubt that I'll hear from her for a while. 

P.S. I checked my mailbox for a few days and was a little discouraged that they didn't love me enough to send a check. They're just like all my blog readers! Finally, I called her but she didn't believe it was me. She accused me of being from Nigeria. I hung up on her.

I've got enough cousins I can lose one or two without it being any great loss.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Bird Killer

A couple of years ago Michele started reading a book about square foot gardening. She wanted me to buy a bunch of lumber and build boxes per the author's recommendations. Being argumentative, inventive, unconventional and not much of a carpenter, I told her I would build some but they would be out of metal. She gave me the ole daily look that said I do not believe you and an additional look that said But the square foot gardening author didn't say to do it that way! I gave her the daily look that said I'm going to do it anyway. I did and here are some pics of our first years production.

We laid a little brick and gravel around the edges and as you can see on the left, we planted a few weeds just to give it a more natural look

Getting started takes a little money because you have to buy several different compost, magic ingredients and nutrients according to the book.

I have to admit it was more fun to work in the square foot area than out in our regular garden. It turned out, once we worked out the details, to be a boon to our togetherness. Weeds aren't such a problem and all the plants are separated into individual squares.

We fabricated the boxes and powder coated them. I think I penciled it out and figured I could sell them for about the same price as it would cost to make them out of wood and they could be assembled a lot faster and easier. With the powder coating they've lasted well for the last three years. I toyed with the idea of building them and selling them in an easy-to-assemble kit but then I decided not to after realizing I would probably get the same response from the boxes as my blog has produced. So, like the blog, I guess they'll suffice for my own enjoyment.

So that was one of Michele's projects that worked. Let me tell you about one that didn't.

A couple of weeks ago she told me she wanted me to make her a big long squeegee so she could wash our front windows that are 10 or 12 feet up in the air. I saw an opportunity and told her that wasn't necessary. I have an old rickety ladder that I've had to glue back together several times.  I told her she could use that. She asked if I could do the job but I told her I was busy that day. She asked what day? I said the day you're going to clean the windows.

It ended up that she didn't buy my ladder idea. So I fixed her a squeegee that goes tall enough to do the windows.

So she cleaned the 3 big windows. All of a sudden she is a serial bird killer. We've lived here about 30 years and have never had a problem with birds flying into the windows. Now, they are crashing head first into the glass in record numbers. Today alone I've heard 6 bird strikes.

This is not good. They litter our lawn and make a big feathery mess when we mow the grass. The glass is so clean the birds must think Michele removed the glass and they now have a free fly zone into our home. They don't realize their mistake until their flight gets permanently canceled at the window sill.

I'm thinking of throwing a few gobs of mud at the windows and sawing up the extendable squeegee. Then I could put the ladder out so she could clean the mud off the glass. If a high-placed rung happened to break, well, you might say I killed one bird with one ladder, I mean two birds with one stone.

Every time a bird hits, I tell Michele she cleaned the window a little too clean. She counters that the window still isn't all that clean. When I agree, I get a look that's about as dirty as the window's going to be after I mud it.

I'm getting the ladder out where it will be ready for use by the bird killer.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

A Bike Like No Other

One of our preliminary patent drawings

I was always very active. I always ate like a horse. I always tipped the scales at around 165. Until I hit 35.

Then I became pleasingly plump.

Now I tip the scales over unless I'm very careful and lean on the bathroom sink as I mount up.

And now I periodically exercise, at least once a month whether I need it or not.

For the last 20 years I've weighed 50 or 60 lbs more than the doctor recommends. I fight high blood pressure. I've got all the problems of middle age that I used to read about in the Reader's Digest.
These problems afflicted old codgers who were knocking on heaven's door. Never thought I'd end up like them. Now they are me. Just a couple of Big Macs away from a heart attack.

So several years ago I started sporadically riding the AirDynne, a stationary exercise bike . It's handlebars are connected to the foot pedals, thereby working all four limbs. The only problem is you don't go anywhere on it. I worked my hinny off but the bike never moved an inch. It is boring.

The wind refuses to blow past the top of my head where my hair used to congregate and I've never once had a close brush with an 18-wheeler. With a bike, I was always going somewhere, feeling the wind, smelling the flowers, running semi-trucks off the road...I was never bored.

So I bought a bike and started riding it 18 miles to work and back home. But then I missed the arm action of the AirDynne. My upper body and arms were itching to pitch in and help increase the horsepower but they remained powerless.

So I decided to invent a bike that utilized the arm and leg synchronized motions. Me and my buddy Don worked on several models for a long time before finally arriving at our destination of a workable prototype. Don and I ate numerous mouthfuls of dirt and destroyed large swaths of asphalt with our knees before we finally arrived at a workable protobike.

But we eventually got it. Now I need to find the right partner to hook up with to put this thing into production. I filed a patent on it and from all the info I've found, this is the first functional 2-wheeled bike that is powered by both arms and legs working in coordinated and natural back and forth motions for power while allowing the rider to still steer and maintain control.

I have seen bikes that use more wheels, one that uses a herky-jerky motion with both arms going the same way and other variations. But nothing that sticks to the original bicycle design and yet incorporates natural  motions of arm assistance. I've not been able to find anything like this bike. Here's a rough video we took a couple of years ago while we were still making improvements...

The first experiment

First workable prototype

Second working model

Email me at if you want to test the market with a bike nobody else has.

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Friday, April 1, 2011

Mike and Fenway Park

Yesterday I biked to work and back, even after I said I was going to quit. Bad idea. It usually takes me about 35 minutes to bike the 9 miles to the shop. Yesterday came with a headwind of 20 mph and 25 mph gusts. Instead of moving along at 10-12 mph, I was pedaling like a banshee into a tornado force gale and covering all of 3 miles per hour most of the time. It took 2 full hours to get there. 36 hours later and I'm still exhausted.

When I got ready to bike home, I had a smile on my face because I knew it would be easy sailing with the massive tailwind I would have. Then I walked outside. It was dead still. The wind had died. My enthusiasm went the way of the wind.

I had to pedal with no help. About 3/4 of the way home, I heard a rig coming up behind me. It was my brother-in-law Bret. I flagged him down. For the first time in my biking career, I was a quitter.

I threw the 2-wheeler in the back of his truck with every ounce of the remaining energy I had left and climbed in. He took me home. I said thanks and walked toward the house. "Don't you want your bike?" he called.

"You can have it." I said as I struggled to find the energy to turn the front doorknob and walk into the house. I was done with biking for a while. 

So yesterday was a good day for us. Our baby boy Mike has spent the last couple of months in a crash course learning Portuguese for a Brazilian LDS mission. His visa was delayed so they sent him to Boston. A week later, he got his visa. After several more postponements this week, his missionary buddies in Boston ran him down to the airport to head south. He wanted to see Fenway Park where the Red Sox play so they stopped by the field for a minute.

Somebody snapped his pic and told him to check out the paper the next day. He was flying out but relayed the message to us. I called my bro Brent in New Hampshire last night and he ran down and bought a Boston Herald. Here's what he found on page 2 in the sports section...

I think the photographer had him put on a baseball shirt over his white shirt, tie and name tag for the picture. This is the last pic of Mike in the USA for the next 2 years.

So permit me to share a story or two about Mike. I wrote this piece a few years ago...

                 In 2005, I had thirteen-year-old Michael down at the shop doing various jobs. He didn't like working but I insisted. He thought if he worked 2 days out of the summer for me, I was abusing him. When I was a kid working for my dad, if we were able to weasel 2 days vacation out of our summer, my dad thought we were abusing him.

                The first day I came driving up to the shop and I saw Mike out in the parking lot running around, swinging his arms wildly. I was a little irritated that he was messing around and not working. 

                As I got out of my truck, he ran up to me very upset. Then I realized that several yellow jacket wasps had been playing tag with him. Mike likes games but on this day he was not in a gaming mood. He had been stung several times and wanted to go home. He acted like I made those wasps attack him.  I told him go back to work.

              The next day I had a bunch of steel tubing I needed cut into shorter pieces. I gave him a short primer on how to cut with the cold saw and then left him with the monotonous job.

A guy came by and started visiting with me. We went outside the shop for a half hour or so and looked at some equipment. Finally he left and I walked back inside the shop. Michael had had an accident. He didn’t have his shirt on and was crying. Immediately concerned, I asked him what was wrong and he led me over to the saw.

My cold saw is a very powerful saw with jagged metallic teeth that cuts through thick bars of steel without a hint of needing to slow down. It shows no mercy. It has a strong motor that is geared down for even more power. The on-off switch is located in a spot that is difficult to locate if you ever have a problem and need to shut it down.

Michael was cutting away when a tube ended up crooked in the cutting channel. He reached across the saw bed with his right arm to straighten it. The piranha-like teeth of the blade caught his shirt on the short sleeve of his right arm. It immediately started reeling in his shirt and pulling him into its deadly path. He got so close to the teeth that there were a few scratches on his arm.

He fought it. He twisted and pulled as hard as he could. The saw sucked the shirt relentlessly as he struggled to get away. His shirt began ripping and he was able to get the shirt to pull and rip away from his trunk and head. The shirt was torn in two. His ears were hurting from the pressure that it created around his head as he struggled out of it.

It was too close of a call. I have cut metal with that saw for years without a problem. One critical mistake in my judgment: I neglected to remember that Mike was not operating with the same experience level that I was.
I felt terrible. I was in shock. My dear little baby boy, by all rights, should have been sawn in half. The manner in which he got snagged and pulled in would have cut him in two from his right shoulder clear across his body had he not been able to pull himself free.

I honestly believe I could not have withstood the experience had he been killed. Walking into that shop and finding my boy in two pieces would have taken me over the edge.

 I have used that saw hundreds of times since. I never fail to think of Mike. I generally get tears in my eyes as I think of the terrible near-miss and the miracle of escape that Mike and I had that day. It’s been years and I’m still very rattled and emotional about the experience. Tonight, I went down to Mike’s room and hugged him.

It is one of the closest and most traumatic experiences I’ve been through.

               He wasn't the easiest kid to raise. But after I think back on my youth, I can honestly say he wasn't the hardest kid to raise either. When he was a junior and senior in high school, he and his friends locked on to the idea that they were going to be state football champs. He worked his tail off. Many others did too.

They did it. This picture was on the first page of the sport section of the Boston.., I mean Tri-City Herald in the winter of 2009.

He's #51. After a sack during THE game.

This next picture shows him trying to pick off any stray germs that everyone else might have left on the trophy.

It was an exciting day for everybody from this area. Here's a clip I shot after the game...
Mike's final game

Mike opening up his call to find out that he's spending the next 2 years in Belo Horizonte, Brazil