Sunday, July 24, 2016

Cool it

Bear with me as I write this blog post. I might be a little crazy with the heat.

All day Friday I was looking forward to coming home from work. That's because the five-story building in which I'm employed was having its air-conditioning chillers, located on the roof, under maintenance.

And that meant our portion of the building — the "new" building — was more than just a little uncomfortable as nearly the entire country swelters under an unmoving high pressure heat dome during the third week of July.

Uncomfortable? Workers on several floors had their overhead lights turned off in an effort to reduce ambient heat. It was like a ghost town where even the ghosts were trying to cool off. Fans popped up in every cubicle or aisle.

One of my colleagues was wearing shorts and a golf shirt. Can you imagine, ever, a banker wearing shorts to work? Even PGA golfers don't wear shorts when they work. But a professional banker? "Come into my office," he explained. "It's 93 degrees in there."

Several departments were thankfully dismissed to go home around mid afternoon.

I happen to work in the windowless basement of the building. Most of my lights were off. I had two fans blowing on me all afternoon. It was survivable. But I still looked forward to going home.

But when I walked through the front door of my house, I could tell something wasn't right.

It was warm. Toasty, even.

"Oh, no," I thought to myself, and went to check the thermostat. It was 81 degrees in the house. The central air fan was running, but it wasn't cooling.

Great.

There could be several things going on here. Our system is probably about 20 years old and not necessarily energy efficient for our quaint two-story house, which is approaching 100 years old. I think our system is probably too small to properly heat or cool the 1,700-square foot building.

Or it could be that we simply need a new (flux?) capacitor. Or belt.

Or maybe there's something expensively wrong.

I'll call the repair specialists tomorrow, which means we'll be somewhere around No. 100 on their list of service calls and they might get to us by Thursday. That's fine. Kim and I have a 16-inch oscillating fan we used back in the early years of our un-air conditioned marriage, so sweating profusely in our own home will be kind of nostalgic for us (See? I am crazy with the heat). Several of our rooms also have ceiling fans, which do a good job of simulating a breeze and moving the hot air around from here to there.

So we'll make do, just like people in the South did 100 years ago before Willis Carrier changed the world: Accordion fans from the funeral parlor. Mint juleps. A damp handkerchief to wipe our brows.

Ahh, that's the life...




Sunday, July 17, 2016

Weight, weight, don't tell me

The day after I turned 65 years old I joined the YMCA, having learned that I just became eligible for the Silver Sneakers exercise program.

I needed it. I'm only 5-foot-6, but I checked in at well over 200 pounds.

Not good.

So I started my own unsupervised exercise regimen, mostly working out on two different types of low impact bicycle machines each morning.

The machines are computerized (for the lack of a better term), and before you begin each session, you enter your weight and age on the touch pad. I assume this somehow calibrates the machine to determine how many calories or how much mileage you personally burn during each workout.

On some machines, the hand grips are sensitively designed to capture your heart rate, if you need that information.

I don't know how the machines know this stuff. And maybe they really don't, but I'm believing the readouts are somewhat accurate because it's good for my psyche while I'm pedaling my butt off and the sweat drips into my eyes.

When I first started on the machines, I was tickled to burn 300 total calories in a session, which usually lasts about 90 minutes. But over time, as I got used to the exercise, I significantly increased my pedal resistance and thus my calorie burn.

On Saturday, I reached a new personal goal. I burned off 1,000 calories in about two hours. Between the two machines, I pedaled 22 miles, which might be the equivalent of riding a real bicycle to Thomasville and back again.

I cool down after each workout with 10 minutes in the whirlpool and 10 minutes in the sauna, of which the sauna, for some reason, makes me feel like I'm in Norway. Norwegian wood, I guess. Hey, I have an active imagination.

Anyway, I'm starting to get results where you can't deny the numbers. I now weigh in the 180s (which means I'm about halfway to where I want to be), and I've dropped at least one pants size.

I've coupled this daily exercise with a reasonable diet, thanks to my wife. Kim has been following her own diet plan through Slim Solutions, and while I don't do the supplements, my meals are the healthy meals that Kim prepares.

It all seems to be working.

There was a time when I once weighed 155 pounds (I was also 5-7 back then, before gravity and spinal compression got me) and wore 32s. I may never see those numbers again, but at least I feel like I'm headed in the right direction.



Sunday, July 10, 2016

1966 Mustang redux

The email startled me because it was so unexpected.

After my wife, Kim, and I finally sold our beloved 1966 Mustang convertible a little more than a year ago, we thought that was that. I mean, the car had been a good friend. We'd had it 19 years and we slowly brought it back to near factory specifications — we rebuilt the eight cylinder 289 engine, rebuilt the transmission, put on a new ragtop, rechromed the bumpers, and basically gave it a complete frame-up restoration and high quality paint job.

It was a beautiful car. So beautiful, in fact, that we were reluctant to put it on the road for fear of getting it damaged.

Consequently, it was doing no good sitting undriven in storage. So, as we entered our silver years, we made the difficult decision to downsize and sell it. We shipped it to Streetside Classic in Charlotte, an auto consignment operation who finally sold it to a buyer in ... Maidstone, Kent, England. (Please see here).


Our old 1966 Mustang, in Newcastle, with its UK license plate. Sigh.
Wow! That was cool. I never really considered it going overseas. But, clearly, it was going to have a good home. It could still speak English.

And we really thought that was the end of the story.

Until Friday morning, when I woke up and checked my emails. There was a message from a fellow named Phil, who said he'd just purchased my old Mustang from a guy in Kent and was about to drive it 340 miles north, about the length of England, to Newcastle Upon Tyne.

Whaaaa....?

Usually, I'm a little bit leery about unexpected emails. Most of the ones I get are unsolicited and they tell me they are from some financially strapped royalty languishing in some third-world nation and I can have a percentage of their embargoed treasure if I give them my checking account number.

But as Phil explained to me in his email, he purchased the car when it was put up for sale because the guy in Maidstone had hip problems and couldn't drive it.

Oh, my.

And Phil, as it turns out, owns a business called Northumbria Classic Car Hire (see here, click on "Our Cars" and then click on "1966 Ford Mustang Convertible"). He bought the Mustang (I still have to fight the urge to call it "our" Mustang) to add to his collection of 10 or so European classics that he hires out for special occasions, like weddings, parades, etc).

The Mustang now shares garage time with Jaguar E-Types, an Austin Healy, MGB's and who knows what else.

Uh-oh.
 Just to make sure of all this, I looked up Northumbria Classic Car Hire on Facebook and, presto, there were several pictures of our ... I mean, the old Mustang, already on display at a streetside car show in Newcastle. It is surrounded by happy faces who appreciate American metal.

Somebody over there has already written a blog about the car, complete with pictures (Please select "July 9" here).

Holy smokes.

I even checked out Phil on Facebook, found him, wrote him a message and put in a friend request, which he accepted. Phil is now my first overseas friend. He's already trying to lure me to England by allowing me a free day of driving in my old Mustang (Well, I did drive it for 19 years. If we go, I might ask to motor a right-handed drive Jaguar XKE instead).

My only concern in all of this is that Newcastle Upon Tyne (which is close to the border with Scotland and boasts of nearby Hadrian's Wall) is a seacoast town heavy with salt air. Mustangs were notorious for rusting (Rustangs), but I suspect Phil knows this and the car no doubt rests in climate controlled comfort.

All in all, I feel really good about all of this. The car has found an incredible new life in its iconic status, still drawing admiring glances when it hits the road, and I know it will be treated with care. It makes me smile and a little bit proud.

Kim and I celebrated its latest resurrection with a six-pack of Newcastle Brown Ale, which I'd never had before. To me, it's kind of like a little brother to Guinness. I liked it.

So cheers. Here's to the unexpected.






Sunday, July 3, 2016

Well, that was pretty good

Sometimes I surprise even myself by how late I can come to the party.

On Saturday my wife, myself and a friend decided to open the July Fourth holiday weekend with a visit to the Junius Lindsay Vineyard in Welcome to take in a little music by Allison Crowell and her husband, Lee.

I'd heard of her before, of course. I just had never heard her in concert.

I hate admitting things like that.

Lee and Allison Crowell perform a tune.
Anyway, as we parked the car and headed over to the open air tasting room, we could hear Allison performing "Landslide," which is a favorite tune of ours. I immediately sensed we were in for a treat. So we settled in for the next two hours or so being serenaded through one familiar tune after another.

Allison, as most of you know, won the Childress Idol competition in 2009. She can coax and prod and soothe and caress her way through a song with a wide-ranging voice that surreptitiously entices you to come along for the aural ride. You don't even know you're in motion until you're already down that road.

As talented as she clearly is, I also enjoyed watching/listening to her husband play. He doesn't sing (at least, he didn't on Saturday). But he's a finger magician with a rhythm guitar, giving Allison some unassuming background and depth to her own acoustic guitar. Somehow he was providing her with a subtle bass line, or some gentle wah-wah, or some fuzz, or whatever was required.

Consequently, we walked hand-in-hand with Fleetwood Mac, or Patsy Cline, or Aretha Franklin, or Otis Redding, or even the Beatles (emboldened by my viognier, I requested 'Here Comes the Sun' during a set break, and they responded with 'Hey Jude' when they returned) through the afternoon.

It was a pretty good show. OK, OK. So I was a little late for the party.

Better late than never.




Sunday, June 26, 2016

Cat tale

One thing I swore that I would never do was cut my cat's fur — especially into a poodle cut.

But Halo turned out to be something different.

Halo, you see, is a Ragdoll, and Ragdolls are, by nature, docile, blue-eyed, long-haired cats.

The devil cat, with fire in her eyes, pre-grooming...
We had a Ragdoll once before, Do-Little, who was as sweet as they come. When you picked her up, she'd go limp in your arms (like a ragdoll, hence the name of the breed). She'd brush against your legs as you walked by, and purr contentedly when you stroked her fur.

After Do-Little passed away, we thought we'd get another Ragdoll. And in anticipation of similar Do-Little attributes, we named her Halo.

Uh-oh.

Turns out, Halo has yet to read the Ragdoll manual. Now a year old, she still nips at your ankles, swipes bare-clawed at your hands and wriggles out of your arms if you try to hold her  for more than 15 seconds.

We've considered renaming her Pitchfork.

One of the things Halo/Pitchfork won't let you do is groom her. If you approach her with a comb, she takes a defensive karate stance and dares you to even think about combing her.

So we don't.

Consequently, her incredibly fine silk-like fur gets easily matted, especially on her belly and haunches. We tried to comb them out — even cut them off with scissors — only to have Halo disagree.

So we decided to have her professionally groomed to have the mats removed.

We took her to the vet where I dropped her off, but within the hour we got a phone call telling us to get our cat because she was hissing and scratching and generally making a nuisance of herself. The only solution was to try again, but they'd have to sedate her first.

So a week later, we tried again. I'm not a fan of sedating pets, but something had to be done. We suggested a lion cut for Halo and wondered how that would work out.

Halo shows off her new lion cut, which we think she likes. We think.
 A few hours later, the vet called and said Halo had done fine. My wife picked her up after work, and when I got home from my job, I was eager to see the results.

And, you know, it wasn't half bad.

Halo was still a little groggy from the sedation. She had been given a buzz cut all along her torso, from tail to neck, but the mats were gone. Fur still remained on her legs below the knees (making her look like she was wearing boots) and her fluffy tail was untouched. I think her new lion cut somehow appeals to her feline DNA.

She looked, well, kinda cute.

And there seemed to be another benefit from all of this. I'm not going to say that she'd gone through a personality change — you still can't hold her for more than 15 seconds — but she does seem to be a little more personable. She gets underfoot and loyally follows us everywhere through the house. She purrs when you stroke her. As the heat of summer descends upon us, I think she somehow appreciates her new look.

We figure it'll take about three months for her fur to grow back — just in time for winter. In the meantime, we plan to comb her buzz cut daily, just to get her used to the idea. So far, she hasn't resisted.

We'll see.


Sunday, June 19, 2016

Dad's decision

A member of my extended family recently asked, via Facebook, if anyone in the Wehrle clan could explain why my father, Charles, gave up a career as a secondary education English teacher to enter the ministry, eventually to become a Moravian minister.

Good question.

I'll try my best to answer it. All I can do is replay snippets of conversations that I heard, or remembered from more than 50 years ago, as I spin this tale. I invite my brothers to join in and add anything further that they might know.

By the late 1950s, Dad had already shown a predilection for professional antsyness. He'd resigned his position as a teacher at Fountain High High School (near Bethlehem, PA) to join the American Red Cross.

Dad in his church office, probably working on a sermon...
 He'd been a teacher for nearly 10 years, so I can't really explain why he chose to go in such a different direction. A clue might be that his mother, Charlotte, served as a volunteer in the American Red Cross' Gray Lady Service in a local hospital in Allentown, PA, so maybe that was a factor.

That was an exciting time for me. It meant a weekend visit to Washington, DC, as Dad took care of some clerical business while at the same time giving me a real dose of American history. I was about 8 or 9 years old and saw all the sights — the White House, the Capitol, the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial. It was great stuff.

Dad shortly thereafter got stationed to Pease Air Force Base in Portsmouth, NH. More history. John Paul Jones lived in that town for a while. New England foliage. The ocean. B-52s and F-100s. Woo hoo.

But all that lasted less than a year. Dad was afraid he'd eventually end up being stationed in some remote outpost, like Guam, where he wouldn't be able to bring his family (as the story goes). So he quit and went back to teaching high school — this time, in East Hartford, CT.

We stayed two years. Somewhere in this span, Dad was wrestling with another decision he was about to make — whether or not to enter the ministry.

I have it in the back of my mind somewhere that Dad had often considered the ministry during his life up to this point. Plus, I think Charlotte might have been a factor in that, too. Dad was her only child, and the ministry would be so ... so ... well, so virtuous (as if teaching was not).

I do remember him telling me that he "heard a calling" to become a minister, which made me wonder if he actually heard voices. I never investigated that with him and I'm really not sure he actually heard anything. But I think it's more likely that he felt something.

I don't know if there was anything that pushed him into his ultimate decision — I wasn't privy to his conversations with Charlotte, or with Mom, or with God, that might have led to his decision (Kim remembers hearing from somewhere that Nana actually wanted him to be a doctor) — but it was back to Bethlehem for three years of seminary at Moravian College.

After receiving his Divinity degree  — he loved to impress us with his limited knowledge of Hebrew — he was assigned his first church. This one was in Coopersburg, PA, just south of Allentown. It was a neat little church whose congregation was sharply divided about the direction the church should take.

Ah, yes. Church politics. I'm not sure that was a course offered in seminary, but I think the experience had Dad thoroughly disillusioned. So after a year or so, it was back to teaching high school English at Palisades in Bucks County, PA.

So we moved again, this time to a place called Perkasie, about an hour out of Philadelphia. That is, until Dad heard the calling yet again. I wasn't kidding about his professional antsyness.

By this time, I'm in college and not at home very much. I remember moving yet again, this time to Center Valley, PA, although I don't know why. It was the last time I lived with my folks before I moved to North Carolina. That was 40 years ago.

In the meantime, Dad reentered the ministry (hotly pursued by his church demons, I guess), first taking a Moravian church in Dover, OH, for several years, and then following that with a church in Sister Bay, WI, not far from Green Bay. This somewhat explains why I am a closet Packers fan.

Dad seemed happiest in Wisconsin. As far as I know, he loved his church, he loved his congregation, and he loved his location. He played golf whenever seasonal, and then used snow skis to get from here to there in the heavy winters.

I'd love to say that Dad could have lived out his life in Wisconsin, but not the way I had in mind. One day he called us to say he had prostate cancer that somehow got into his bones. It was lethal. He died when he was only 58 years old. He is buried in the church cemetery there.

So the rest of MY life with him is through memories. Based on what I knew of him, he was a great teacher, full of life and personality. He was a great counselor through his work with the Red Cross, dealing with military personnel incarcerated in the Portsmouth Naval Prison or perhaps struggling with PTSD. He was a great pastor, not just delivering meaningful sermons, but dropping everything to visit someone in need of his services.

He was a pretty good friend, too, still offering guidance and counseling to his three sons, of whom he was quite proud. He told me that one time.

And so, today, I simply say thanks, Dad. Thanks for the life you lived.










Monday, June 13, 2016

Blowing Rock rocks

We were off to see the Wizard, but I ended up buying underwear instead.

OK, I see that I've gotten your attention.

Here was the plan:

A few weeks ago, Kim heard about an event at Beech Mountain's The Land of Oz, a popular amusement park where she had once visited as a young girl before it closed for good in 1980 after just 10 years. Each Friday this June, the park — still in need of serious renovation but now serving as something of a Nostalgia Land for generations of Ozzies — is going to open for its "Journey with Dorothy" program, where you get a one-hour guided tour through the surviving park, on the Yellow Brick Road, by Dorothy her own self. (see here).

Hmmm. Kim and I had gone several years ago in October when the park opened for one weekend in the fall in something of a mass free for all (it wasn't free — there was an admission) that was still kind of cool. So we thought we'd go to the Journey event. All we had to do was reserve our tickets online on the Monday before the Friday we were planning to attend.

Uh-oh.

At 9 a.m. sharp, when tickets went on sale, I jumped on my laptop, typed in the URL, and got ... a 404 server file message. That usually means the server is down, or busy, or something. Kim also tried it at work, and got nowhere as well.

Here is the new location for Art in the Park. Kim and I go early...
 After two hours of trying, we finally got to the page we wanted — only to find that tickets were already sold out.

Wha...?

We found out a day later, through some news story, that apparently 200,000 people tried to get their share of the 360 tickets that were available.

Good grief.

The good news was that we had reserved a motel room in nearby Blowing Rock for that weekend, because Art in the Park was also going on. We like Art in the Park. We've gone for one weekend there every year for probably 20 years or more. The town is quaint, the food is good, and in summer the temperatures are usually 10 degrees cooler there than in Lexington.

The line for ice cream was lengthy...
 Like this past weekend.

As we arrived in Blowing Rock on Friday, we stopped at the Shops on the Parkway, a usual detour for us.

That's where I upgraded my personal undergarment wardrobe. Not quite Oz, but still purposeful. And on sale.

Saturday's Art in the Park moved its location this year. In the past, it was actually behind the park, on the top floor of a parking deck. This year, the vendors were located on both sides of the road leading to the parking deck, which makes sense. Cars can actually park on the deck now, freeing up parking space on what's usually a very congested Main Street.

The low-humidity weather was spectacular — so spectacular, in fact, that we forgot about Oz — and consequently Blowing Rock was slammed by day trippers (well, there was also a horse show going on nearby). A good indicator of weekend attendance is Kilwin's, an ice cream and chocolate shop that becomes the town's focal point. A line of ice cream enthusiasts stretched out the door and down the sidewalk. Business was good. Most take their cones and cups to the park across the street, sit on the benches under the shade trees, and watch people try to parallel park their cars on Main Street. Some drivers, it turns out, are better than others.

It was one of our better weekends on the mountain — even without Dorothy.