Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Hit the Deck

It occurred to me in thinking of all that transpired with cleaning my deck this weekend that there are a lot of terms from sailing ships that are used figuratively in our everyday speech.  Most people have probably had no more experience with a big sailing ship than a tour of the Susan Constant at Jamestown or the Constitution in Boston or the Mayflower in Plymouth, and yet we make frequent use of terms used by crews of sailing ships.  I know that language is conservative by its very nature, but that conservative?  You could have fooled me.

"Hit the deck" means of course, get out of the way, whether what we're hitting is a deck or a laminate floor.  The expression "at the end of one's rope" also comes from sailing ships. "Chew the fat" came from the tough rations aboard ships. "Fly by night" referred to a small temporary sail.

Anyhow, last Friday I was trying to clean my neglected deck.  With each application of deck cleaner I gained about two square feet of relatively clean wood. After about ten applications of cleaner I had what I am sure looked like a giant leopard skin print when viewed from space. (Hey!  Homeland Security!  See my leopard skin?) Clearly this wouldn't do.

I thought about using my portable planer to take about 1/64 of an inch off the boards.  This was the same power tool I used to plane about 1/64 of an inch off my left index finger last summer. The finger is fine, but I don't recommend trying to shorten your reach that way. As it turned out, the planer was too narrow to take down a board in one pass, so I thought it the better part of wisdom was not to try that.

Then I thought of sanding the grime off.  I had some 60 grit sandpaper.  As far as I know 40 grit is about as coarse as sandpaper gets, although there might be some coarser (with big chunks of abrasive embedded in the paper). So I took my power sander and hit the deck with some 60 grit.  Not much happened other than a big cloud of dust.

I had heard of pressure washers and concluded that it was time t use a new power tool.  I checked into renting one, but it cost $50 for six hours, so I bought a small electric model for $100, thinking I could use it every year to clean the deck.(You heard it here first.  I expect you to hold me to it.)

The washer was rated at 1400 psi, which was supposed to be adequate for wooden decks so I put the machine together and fired it up. The high-pressure stream of water cleaned the crud off the deck; initially I was holding the tip too close to the wood and ended up with an engraved deck, mostly on the handrails.  After a while I was enjoying using the tool, which throws up a big cloud of spray.  It's kind of gratifying to use and see years of dirt (and layers of wood) wash away.

And so I was left with a clean deck although it did have something like wood fuzz on it.  I swept and sanded it and got a fairly smooth and clean surface, not too shabby for 45-year-old wood.  A couple of coats of sealer and we're good to go until next year. I learned a lot doing this, like don't neglect maintenance chores around the house, but beyond that, I can't think of anything else I learned this time around.  Maybe something will come to me.  I'll let you know.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day 2011

I would think that anyone with any awareness at all realizes that Memorial Day is just not a holiday marking the beginning of summer, or an occasion for sales.  I think we are all aware that it is a day for honoring the sacrifice of those who died in our country's wars (about a million people all told) to insure that our freedoms and way of life continue. As we have watched the videos of troops departing for combat and returning home, and some coming home in flag-draped coffins, we know the cost of protecting our country. In my lifetime, we have had the Korean War, the Viet Nam War, the Gulf Wars, and the War on Terror, including Afghanistan. Currently we are in a war that has lasted a decade, with an abundance of sacrifice from millions of people.

A friend sent an article about the losses of aircraft and crews during World War II. On average, 6600 American servicemen died per month, or about 220 a day. A single B-17 bomber going down meant the loss of ten men. It was not uncommon to lose 10, 50, 100 bombers on a single mission.  It adds up.


George Orwell said, "People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf." I would change rough men to "courageous and dedicated men and women" because I think that reflects the reality of the situation. I hope we can be aware of those who made the supreme sacrifice and of those right now who are giving their all so that we may sleep peaceably in our beds.

Friday, May 27, 2011

A Kind of Parable

I think all of us in this country have some Puritan influences in our characters. I don't mean that we enjoy three hour sermons or want to hang our neighbors as witches (or maybe some of us do). These influences show up in subtle ways, like my reaction to commercials on British TV. Let's just say there's a lot more nudity in ads in the mother country. And at the funeral of French President Fran├žois Mitterrand in 1996, his wife and long-time mistress stood side by side at the service.  Think that would happen here? Just think of the reaction to John Edwards' and Arnold Schwartznegger's indiscretions and you have the general idea.  The difference is the Puritan basis of our culture.

I was thinking also about the Puritan tendency to make parables out of daily events. If your barn was struck by lightning and burned down, you were being punished by God for some secret sin. If your cow went dry, it possibly meant your neighbor was a witch.  They devoted a lot of time and effort to trying to make sense of what they called "the Book of the World."

Now, I'm a Baptist, not a Puritan, but I sometimes see parables in events.  One is happening right now as I'm trying to clean my deck. Let me say first that we are not Outdoor People. We don't camp or spend much time outdoors but rather scurry from our house to our cars and then to our destination, which is usually indoors.  I appreciate the National Parks as much as anyone, but I can enjoy them on PBS. Anyhow, we have a little ten by ten deck on the back of the house where we keep the trash can and recycling bin and a propane-fired grill (which we rarely use). I have probably not cleaned the deck for five years? six years? I forget. It got to looking so bad I decided I had to clean it.


I read up about cleaning wooden decks online and saw something called "House Clean" which is a hose end cleaner that you attach to the end of a hose (go figure), apply the special solution to the deck and then rinse it off.  Right. I think this method cleaned about two square feet down to the brown wood.  The rest of the deck stayed the same nasty black or green.  The green is mold or fungus or something.  The black is particulate matter from jets landing at Dulles Airport. When we had our roof redone a few years back, I asked the guy about white shingles, thinking they would reflect some of the heat from the sun.  He didn't recommend them because the black stuff from the jets caused the shingles to look streaky.  So we went with gray shingles which have worked out well. No black streaks.

So, I applied another round of House Clean and came up with about four square feet of brown deck. I then switched to detergent and scrubbing on my knees with a brush. About six square feet. Then I tried a bleach solution, which gave me eight square feet. I'm creeping up on it, but I know I used something last time that worked well.  So, I'm off to the hardware store to see what they recommend. I'll let you know how it turns out.

And the parable in all this?  It's to not let things go, no matter what they are. It's better to keep up with whatever you need to keep up with whether it's a deck or a relationship.  If you don't, there's always a price to pay.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Sing to the Lord

Last night, the children's choirs at our church (Manassas Baptist) did their end-of-the-year program with a rendering of Ken Medema's "Story Tellin' Man" involving four choirs with a total of 96 children and 18 leaders. (Full disclosure: my wife Becky directs the oldest children's choir and coordinates the program and daughters Amy and Alyssa work with the grade 1-3 choir.) I have probably been to about 35 of these programs and the kids are always charming and amazing.  They do their music from memory and while they make mistakes here and there, they sing well and with enthusiasm.

About 130 parents and friends heard the program and responded enthusiastically to the songs. The parents bring the kids week after week and help them learn their parts. Watching their reaction is almost as good as watching the children.

The program made note that the leaders have a total of 263 years experience with children's choirs. These dedicated people have amazing gifts for working with children which they use freely.  We are truly blessed that they do this important work of imparting the faith and giving children an important experience.

The coming of summer doesn't mean the end of musical experiences.  There's a state music camp at the Baptist assembly at Eagle Eyrie outside Lynchburg in late July and then our very own Music Camp the first week in August at the church. Both camps involve music but also include classes, crafts, and recreation. If you have children or grandchildren who might enjoy a camp experience, call my wife at 703-361-2146 x 291 for information. There is a charge for each camp, but it's minimal, and scholarships are available.

The closing song last night was "Sing to the Lord." It starts "Sing to the Lord, praise his name and shout out loud1  Sing to the Lord, for he is good!" To that and to the children in their choirs, their leaders and their parents, friends and relatives, I say, "Amen!"

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

One of These Things Is Not Like the Others

Have you ever noticed that something that should be like something else is not?  I know, that's about as obscure a statement as you could find, but let me explain.

We used to go to a restaurant and really enjoyed their food.  I won't reveal the name except to say it included a day of the week that wasn't Friday and it has since closed and been converted into another restaurant. The first inkling of trouble came when they changed their decor to something, well, outlandish.  We couldn't figure why they did since the demographic of the diners seemed to be our age, which is to say not given to outlandish decor.

Soon thereafter they cranked up the volume of the music so that normal conversation was not possible.  We asked the manager every time we went if they could turn the music down.  Their response was to move us so we weren't sitting under a speaker (didn't) help and to say that the music was to create an attractive ambiance.  Attractive to whom?  Not to the over 50's in the place. I wrote the headquarters and got the same answer.  We decided that if they wanted to have their ambiance they could have it without us.

The thing is, we have since been to other restaurants in this chain and the volume of the music was not enough to cause bleeding from the ears. You'd think there would be a consistent policy from place to place in the same chain but apparently not.  Someone suggested that it depends on the manager and maybe it does.  I know I drive three extra miles to go to a grocery store (name means a very large person) that is better stocked and cleaner and better staffed that the one nearer where I live.

Why these differences?  I wish I knew.  Everything does not have to be consistent--I love idiosyncratic places like Rice's Hardware and the Klein's Freeze on 28, but where it counts, I could use a little consistency, please.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

All About Biscuits

Hi and welcome to my first personal blog.  I've done blogs for newspapers before, but this one is all blog all the time. I plan to write  a few hundred words each weekday about topics of interest, and hope that you will find them amusing or interesting as well.

I'm coming from three years of writing a weekly newspaper column. I parted ways with them after they sacked my editor for no good reason.  It was uncalled for.  Anyhow, my daughters have suggested I do a blog for years now, and they are intelligent and attractive young women, so why not?  Here goes!

You probably noticed the name of the blog, Biscuit City.  I chose this name for a couple of reasons.  One, I like biscuits, even if they're not particularly good for you.  They make a fine comfort food, fresh from the oven, hot, with butter or whatever you like on them.  Frozen biscuits developed in the past several years made wonderful biscuit products.  I tried making biscuits from scratch a few years ago and succeeded in cooking up about a dozen charred lumps.  And now?  Take 'em out of the freezer, slap 'em on a cookie sheet and bake for 20 minutes at 400 degrees or so. Yum!

I know our friends the Brits call what we would term cookies, biscuits.  In terms of the name which means "twice baked," that's right. The term biscuit came in this country to be applied to unleavened bread which could be quickly cooked and served with gravy, just the thing for basic cooking implements.  Still, they take some skill to make, as I said earlier.

The rest of the blog's name came from a little-known Gordon Lightfoot song, "Biscuit City," which goes in part, "I'd rather be in Biscuit City with my banjo in my hands/ Than take a big vacation to some far-off land..." The song goes on to describe Biscuit City as a utopian place where everything is just as it should be, and, although the song doesn't say so, there are a lot of hot biscuits.  With gravy.

There's a Biscuit Festival in Knoxville, Tennessee this weekend.  Maybe some of you are going to it. I hope you can, and please bring me back a biscuit.