Friday, October 29, 2010

Our Halloween Holi-daze

Just this morning, as covered in our local paper, I reviewed the A-Z list of things trick 'n treaters should do to have a safe Halloween.

Based on what I read, I'm lucky I survived the Halloweens of my childhood and wonder what my mother was thinking when she sent us out there to possible doom!

Evidently, she didn't love us as much as she professed. I present some of today's reading as evidence:

lways carry a flashlight:" We didn't own one, but if we did my mother wouldn't let us take it as we'd leave it on way too long and run down the batteries and then she wouldn't have it to use.

"Buy costumes that are made of flame retardant material:" My mother made our costumes. Out of paper. Then she'd paint on them with highly flammable spray paint and then add things to them, like the year I went as a matchbook and she glued (again highly flammable) actual matchsticks in neat rows, about thirty of them, up and down the front and back of the costume. What I remember her saying to me as I went out the door, worrying no doubt, was "Make sure you keep an eye on your brother and watch that he doesn't spill any of that kerosene on his shoes!" (Can't remember if he was a train conductor or a night watchman, but every time he swung that lantern around I got a dose of the stuff!)

"Costumes shouldn't drag on the ground:" Yeah, right! Did you read the part where my mother made our costumes? Well, she was always rushing at the last minute, and we got pinned into them. She was a great seamstress, until it came to Halloween. At that time of the year, it was grab what was available, make it look like something, and it was always too big and too long. Her fine instructions were, "Oh just tuck it in, stop whining, and be careful. If you fall and rip it I can't fix it and you won't have anything for next year and Santa won't bring you any presents." Oh, and after she got us all pinned in and ready to go out the door? Had to go to the bathroom! Did I mention "fine seamstress?" No zippers!

"Dont' cut across yards or driveways:" How are you supposed to get to all of the candy before everyone else does? And half of the fun was running into bushes and trees and tripping over other trick 'n treaters who were laying the driveway, run over not by cars but other trick 'n treaters!

"Jackets should be worn over costumes:" What? Hide the costume? Are you crazy? I didn't get made up to look like this to hide it. We'd rather risk pneumonia. I did take a jacket one year and only because it was snowing and I needed something to cover my candy bag so my collection wouldn't get ruined.

"Know how and where to contact your parents:" If you've read past posts, you know that my grandfather was always "in town" and on Halloween night they served free beer with paid shots...he was easy to find...and if my mother went out, the apartment was always unlocked so we, and anyone else who came along, could get in easily.

"Light your pumpkin with a battery powered light:" I just mentioned that my mother wouldn't let us use a flashlight if we had one and it glowed so much better with an actual candle. The only words from Mom, don't stand too close to that thing when you light it...I don't want you to ruin your costume!

"Only eat candy after your parents have checked it:" Upon return from a night of candy collecting we would hear the following: "Be careful taking that costume off. I worked on it for hours. Here, let me take the pins out. Stop twitching. I am not pricking you with the pins. Hold still. (We, "ouch, ouch, ouch"). Okay, go to bed." Off we'd go, pour out the contents on the bed, sort out the "good from the bad," also known as sugar drenched and chocolate as opposed to fruit. Eat about half of the bag, go to sleep, wake up in the morning and finish off the balance before school. Okay, when is the next Halloween?

"Quarters are a good thing to carry in case you need to call home:" Several points here. When I was a kid a call was a dime, but most likely there wasn't anyone there to answer. These days, with the plethora of cell phones, try to find a payphone! And I guarantee you the only person who's going to let you into their house to use their phone, whether you offer the quarter or not, are covered by two other A-Z tips: "Never enter a strangers home and Visit only houses that are lit." (I could always visit my grandfather...he was lit regularly!)

"Stay on sidewalks:" We didn't have sidewalks! So, we'd have to run between yards and driveways...otherwise, no trick 'n treating! Our instructions from Mom, "Try not to get yourself killed." Note who was to blame if we tried to call her from a dark or stranger laden house!

"Wear a glow in the dark watch:" As a kid, I didn't have a watch. My mother had one, but she wouldn't let us take it as we would lose it or break it and it most likely didn't glow in the dark anyway. We got, "Don't stay out too late. If I'm not here when you get home just wait until I get back to get those costumes off of you. I don't care if you have to go to the bathroom, wait! And, don't eat all of that candy in one sitting!" And words to me in particular, "Keep an eye on your brother and if you have some candy that he wants give it to him!" (That's another story).

So, as we set out to celebrate Halloween, have as much fun as you can within the A-Z parameters. We've done a little decorating, carved some pumpkins (I didn't use a knife, I swear), put out some decorations and candy (it's all organic and natural, I'm sure), and pleased my wife by taking some of those sassafras leaves off the back trees, that she's said remind her of ghosts, and made some "Ghost Leaf" paintings for her this year (see two of them posted here).

Happy Halloween, BOO!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

New England and Sinus Report: From 0 to 6200 and Back

I had hopes that my sinuses would clear up sometime this year. Although I'm not sure what I'm allergic to in the Fall (in the Spring it's the Oak trees, in the Summer it's grass pollen, in the Winter it's the oil bill), I have tried everything to break up nasal congestion and reduce sinus pressure.

I've taken allergy medications, used acupressure, put my head over steaming bowls of water infused with Vicks, and have put enough peppermint oil on "those pressure points on your head" to qualify for Peppermint Pattie status. I smell nice; I just don't feel like being nice.

We went off in early October to New England and I knew we'd be traveling up and down mountains and thought the varying pressures would awaken my sinuses to new adventures...does anyone feel like running?

We started our journey by joining my brother and sister-in-law in New Hampshire, at an RV park where they had taken up weekend residence. We had decided to go gem digging at Ruggles Mine and loaded up with picks, hammers and chisels so that we could ferret out precious and semi-precious stones. We came up with this idea one weekend that the four of us were together, drinking margaritas I believe, and we were excited to head off to the mine early that Saturday morning.

Ruggles Mine, touted as one of the largest mica producers on the East Coast, if not the largest, is a place that glistens and shines from one end to the other. There's mica everywhere. You think you've struck pyrite? It's mica. Ooo, what's this? A garnet? Nope, mica! I think I just hit a vein of what looks to be feldspar...nope, mica!

No digging on the walls allowed, we got to pick through all of the rocks laying about the floor of the mine that, doubtless, hundreds of other "miners" had gone through. Four hours later, we left the mine loaded down with fifty pounds of "gems." For those of you who are wondering what gems we came home with, well, I think we have a lot of mica! What I also discovered, as I watched families and other individuals come and go, is that we paid for the privilege to remove rocks from the floor of the mines, and take them home for a price, so that next Spring the mine owners can come in and blast, scoop up the gems, and leave another carpet of stones for us amateurs to come and take away.

Several things I learned. It is a great day for families with kids. A number of the children were truly excited about their finds, a couple even running their "gems" over to us to show them off, proudly. Secondly, you must take a gemologist with you when you go so you know what you're looking at. I did enjoy slamming that pick and chisel into the stone, thinking of some individuals as I did it (tension release), and would probably do it again, but I'll study before I go or at least get an expert to go along...who knows how many diamonds and rubies I passed over? Lastly, it's all stone. Allergy free...rock for as far as you can see. Can't say I felt the drain (other than in the wallet for the stoning), but it didn't get any worse.

Okay, weekend over, we headed further north to Mt. Washington. The White Mountains are a sight to see. As you look up at them, you are awestruck by their beauty. We had planned a trip up Mt. Washington, but never really looked at the process. We've ridden the ski gondola up the side of Whiteface Mountain, a respectable several thousand feet ride, and many years ago rode in a car up Whiteface. We've traveled up and down the Berkshires, the Catskills and other ranges. No prob. What I wasn't prepared for was the fact that about two thirds of the way up Mt. Washington I realized that we were up there really high. The trees and all other vegetation disappears at about 4000 feet and you suddenly realize you're on a 10 foot wide road on the side of a cliff, with no guardrails or even large stones to hold you back. As you swing around one precipice to the next, at 20 miles an hour, in low gear grinding your way up the mountain, the sensation (and the tension from the shuddering car) suddenly sets in that one little slide or slip and you're headed down...and at that point it's almost a mile drop!!!

I stopped the car, put it in park, set the handbrake, got out and traded spots with my brother, the jet pilot, to complete the drive. At that point, I don't think I asked, I just pushed him over to the driver's seat.

It's a very dramatic view, the picture here is from up top, but next time we're taking the train. Or dropping in via helicopter. The good things? The vistas, little vegetation for the last one third and a wind on top to take care of anything that does try to grow there (ergo no allergies!), and a customer service desk in the main building at the top where they will call down to the base to have a driver brought up to drive you and your car back down, once you've realized you shouldn't have tried it in the first place. Fortunately, for us, we did have the pilot with us and he made the trip back down (I sat in the back seat for the reverse trip) safely. The driver who came up for one other, suddenly savvy couple, said he makes about 60 trips a year up to drive cars back down for those who are still in shock from their uphill adventure. I guess I have plenty of company.

As for my sinuses, I think the pressure from driving up the mountain just locked everything in tighter...coming down the mountain I did have a sense of relief, but it turned out it was just my fingers coming out of the car seat that I had dug into about three inches.

We parted company on Tuesday, the brother and his wife headed back home, the wife and I off to the seashore. We headed to Gloucester, Massachusetts to the Cape Ann Motor Inn, a place that we had wanted to visit. There we were at sea level. And, I've always done well, sinus-wise, near the ocean. I thought the sea air or being a sea level would loosen things up.

It did seem to have a 'releasing' effect in the room next to us. Our neighbors released a torrent of yelling and screaming and foot stomping. They carried on for hours. Then, to add insult to injury, had their alarm go off at 5:30 in the morning, and letting it ring and ring and ring. I finally called the room to get them to wake up. As they hit the phone and hung up, the alarm went off, only to come on again in 15 minutes. I repeated the call. The next day the alarm went off at 5:30...only they weren't there. As there's no one in the office until 7:30, I stuffed pillows into my ears and rode out the alarm. The good thing was that the next day I wasn't sure if I had a sinus headache or if it was just sleep deprivation. I chalked it up to the latter and we went on to enjoy our day, traveling to Newburyport for some shopping and eating at some of the local seafood restaurants.

It did rain all day, but no matter. We were free to explore, took in Plum Island along the way, watched egrets frolic in the wind and precipitation, and nearly got blown off our feet when we got out on the ocean beach to check out the views. The fact that we were the only people there should have told us something about the weather.

We made our way home, noting that we had had many adventures during those six days...traveling through New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts and got to see a number of places that we had wanted to visit. We came back wet and windblown, sand tucked into every crevice of car, clothing and luggage, 50 pounds heavier with our new treasures, and better for the adventures.

Oh, those sinuses...rock solid! Not a thing changed...they withstood all of those events, air pressures from sea level to over a mile high, and back, and even some curry and pepper encrusted seafood. I wondered what would happen if we went below sea level, asking the wife if she was interested in underground mining. She told me, "Go soak your head." Isn't it nice that she's concerned about my sinus health?