Category Archives: Stories

Mathematics #1: A Wall of Lights and Estimation Skills

Today’s post comes from NorthShorer.

Four weeks ago the night after I had the useless shots in my back I could not sleep and decided at 3:00 a.m. to take out the garbage. When I opened the door to the garbage room, I walked into a wall of lights.

The owners of our building finagled two grants to install LED lights throughout the building at only slight cost. I have been hearing about this for a couple months and imagined, I suppose, a few small boxes of bulbs, not that pile, which is only half the bulbs for the hallways, security lights, garage lights, and parking lot lights. Another pile even larger was in the other garbage room at the other end of the building. Reminded me of a few stories of people who failed to estimate the weight and volume of pennies they either ordered or amassed. To be fair these new lights are not just bulbs; they need new fixtures. For instance all the standard recessed tube lights in the three stories will be replaced by a same size fixture holding several LED bulbs.

What also is surprising is how much brighter are the LED lights in the garage and hallways. Our yard is almost daylight from the new security light above us. I have avoided LED lights because they gave such dim light.

On Wednesday they will install LED lights in the attached lights in all apartments, which is nice for me because I cannot reach the ceiling lights. They will also cart away for free all of the fluorescent bulbs we have. Our apartment is about the average. It will get 27 new bulbs. The building has 65 apartments, plus eight other rooms to get bulbs. 27 times 65 equals 1,755 bulbs. Add in another four dozen to get, say, 1,800 or so. How big a pile will that be? I bet each will come in a protective carton. I happened to be in the Batteries Plus store recently. The owner noticed my address and said he was supplying just the bulbs. He, too, had underestimated the volume. The supplier told him the bulbs would have to be shipped to the apartment building because they would not fit in his strip mall store.

All the medical facilities in this town will soon get LED bulbs under a grant from the same sources. There are six large clinics and the massive hospital, plus a couple smaller ones. What will those piles look like? I am pleased for this change because the tube lights give me a bad headache while I wait around.

Estimation is a vital skill. Schools are doing more to teach it, for one thing to try to get kids not to just accept what their fancy graphing calculators say. I am usually rather good at estimation, except in extraordinary events like these lights. I am very good at estimating distances and travel times. For weights I am usually far off. I know what time it is quite well without using a clock, a skill I developed working outside as a child. I don’t have to be outside seeing the sun to do this. Not sure if this is estimation, but I almost always know which way is north. When I do get turned around, I get agitated. I used to astound my partner with this ability plus the ability to remember routes we took on a previous visit, sometimes months before. In the post and common roads of the Northeast that is a challenging skill.

The students used to be astounded by how the chemistry teacher and I could quickly estimate calculations and come close. He was a very intelligent man and knew rapid calculation skills. His estimations were often exact..

I am intrigued byhow computers find complex answers through a series of estimations instead of seeking an exact answer when it is not needed. This shortens the time for calculation, often by days.

How are you at estimation of volume, distance, weight, time needed for a task? Do you know what time it is without looking at a clock? Do you know which way is north on unfamiliar ground? Can you guess the number of beans in the jar? Do you always measure carefully for recipes?

Sew Buttons on Your Underwear

Forty years ago I gave myself a quest: to photograph MY North Shore, the stretch from Flood Bay to Silver Cliff, or as locals called it then, Silver Creek Cliff. Because I had use of a darkroom, it was at first all done in black and white, or perhaps with some sepia toning, or duotone effect, or Sabattier effect. Flood Bay back then was not the mass of concrete and curbs and cables it is now. It was then as it is now one of the very few official state wayside rests. Despite that, back then it was just a gravel patch with some posts to keep people from driving into the lake, which every so often people still managed to do. Locals routinely hauled away lake stone and gravel for their use, which left no dent on the amount on the shore. Also, then there was no monstrous resort along the shore. And Silver Cliff was a road, not a tunnel. The pictures I framed in simple shadow boxes without glass. I hung them on our knotty pine living room wall. (More about that later.)

The winnowing process of history to our benefit has eliminated most of the pictures. A few exist in my computer, taken from the negatives. My goal was to push pictures to expressionism. Often with high or low contrast.


One picture that I took in the remnants of a lumber mill a quarter mile from Betty’s Pies was our Christmas card picture.

Sometimes good fortune favored me, when it disfavored elsewhere with a massive storm.

A few I have drawn in graphite or pastel, often doing some adjustment of reality.

One sad picture remains, even though I did not frame it. How did history not winnow this poor picture out? It must be a sign, must it not. (Nudge, nudge, wink, wink.)

When this picture first appeared in the developing fluid, my first thought was it not worth making anything of it. My second thought was that here indeed was a sign. It must be from God giving me my life’s quest. (Nudge, nudge, wink, wink.) It could not be just random change. I was, in fact, until recently quite good with needle and thread, which my mother taught me at an early age, despite long sideways glances from my father.

I am sad to report that I never did discover how to fulfill the quest. Sigh. And now my chance is lost. Sigh. But I did fulfill one smaller quest and quite by accident. An undisciplined boy a year older than my son lived down the road from us. He was often in our house as small boy but not later. His teens were much troubled, as were his twenties. Now he is a brilliant photographer. I mean that. Does amazing work in the camera and in his computer. Travels the worlds. Makes a good living. Has a happy life. Most of his work is of the North Shore. He is friends with both of my children on facebook, where he told them that his inspiration came from looking at those photographs on our wall. To think such beauty came from such a shriveled seed!

Did you find a life’s quest? How has it gone?

Feed My Starving Children

One of the great things I like about my job is that the management believes in giving back. There are lots of ways during the year to contribute to various programs but one of my favorites is Feed My Starving Children.

FMSC packs food and sends it around the world to places where children are at risk due to malnutrition. But the best part is that this isn’t just an organization to give money to; volunteers actually do the packing of the food.  Vitamin mix, veggies, soy and rice make up the “manna pack” that gets reconstituted in places like Haiti, Mali, Pakistan, Cambodia, Guatamala and many more.

Normally we go as a group every other month to one of the Twin Cities’ FMSC locations but today, they came to us. They had all the packing stations set up, surrounded by palates of bales of rice and soy.  After all the instructions, we split up among the stations to get going.  Today I did the “get the bag onto the funnel” job.  After I do that, then other team members put in the ingredients.  Then I weigh each filled bag and pass it along to the folks who seal the bag and the packer, who gets the packs into boxes.  6 meals per bag, 36 bags per box, 32 boxes for my station in 90 minutes.  If I’m doing the math correctly, that’s 6,912 meals from just my group’s station.

Tonight I’m sore from bending over and my feet are a little achy from standing in the same spot for the whole session, but having done the work is like a salve – I feel like I’ve done a little bit of good in a world that seriously needs it right now.

What’s your favorite rice dish?

As Easy as Pie…

For many years my company was closed on Good Friday. Five years ago they made the decision to be open on Good Friday but they didn’t want us to feel like we were being gypped out of a holiday so they gave us each a “floating holiday”.  I use my floating holiday every year on Pi Day, March 14 (3.14….).  I refer to it as my geek holiday.

This year’s menu:

Dutch Apple Pie
Key Lime Pie
Amish Sawdust Pie
Chocolate Whoopie Pies
Crack Pie
Tangerine Raspberry Pie
Blueberry Pie
Carrot Cake Whoopie Pie
3 Musketeers Pie
Buttermilk Pie
Banofee Pie
Peaches & Cream Pie

It was a stretch to have all these pies on the menu but I couldn’t decide what to cut so I decided to go for it. I always start with the hardest, putzy-est recipes and this year it had me a little panicked at 10:30 when I had a HUGE mess and not much to show for it yet.

But I did get it together… phew!

When have you bitten off more than you could chew?

Settle Down, Now, Lady

Sandy spent a couple years saving up money for new living room furniture. Our foldout couch crowded the living room and was breaking down, and a chair was looking a bit old. They were still good enough for a local charity to haul away to sell. In January she chose a love seat and a chair in similar designs. Theoretically I had a say in the choice. However, design is her joy, which I leave to her.

When Sandy told her dear friend, whom I will call Lady, she had replaced some furniture, Lady said, “I hope you got rid of that old wooden bench.” She pronounced the word old as if it meant ugly. Lady is like that and you ignore it. She is actually an outstanding person, a long-time successful speaker for those on the margins, for instance getting shelter for the street people of Mankato. Because the Salvation Army does not provide beds or food for women on the streets, five downtown churches take turns offering food and beds, each church serving a week in turn. But that expanded into providing space for men. The SA now requires people who sleep a night there to be sober, to attend church, and to attend Bible study. Sort of conversion by the bed. My cousin who ran the mission in downtown Seattle for years would be horrified, as they would be in Duluth, unless they too have changed. While the churches struggle to provide food and space, the SA has only a small fraction of its 25 beds in use. In a recent modest storm, they closed! Three of the churches opened in a rush. Lady not only offers financial support, at the age of 78 she also often washes the linen and cooks for the meals.

I should tell Lady that the old wooden bench, which is called a settle or settle bench and is a standard fixture of British pubs, has the official British seal of approval. My English aunt came into our home 35 years ago and spotted the bench and exclaimed, “Oh, a settle!” She ran her hands over the top and said, “It is almost perfect, but it needs to be older.” The last part was her joke. She spent the visit sitting on the settle and drinking the Twinings tea we had on hand. A couple years later an English exchange student was at our house and had a similar reaction.

A few years ago Lady told Sandy that she should put this away, meaning after Christmas, but her tone was that it should be put away permanently.

Lady has good taste in clothes, which are often in marked contrast to the tens of carats of diamonds she always wears. When she dresses to the nines, the carat load rises. I imagine that many people think it must be costume jewelry because of the volume. I admit I have a bias against diamonds in droves.

Yes, our furniture and accessories are a mishmash. As you age you shed style in exchange for memories. Lady’s large living room is its own mishmash of stuffy small town museum and waiting room for businesses of dubious merit.

Because they often stay with us, especially the kids, we discussed this change of furniture with our daughter and family. They said the foldout bed was getting too uncomfortable and they could bring blow up mattresses. Last week ninth grade grand daughter out of the blue announced that we were not to think that she and seventh grader Mr. Tuxedo were not coming to stay with us a few times this summer as they always have. She and her brother had many plans for their stays. That was a warm moment, to think they have not grown out of staying with us.

Do you have a name for your interior design style?

March of Two Moons

Today’s post is by Linda.

There are two full moons on the March calendar this year – the 1st and the 31st are our two lunar displays.  A full moon is March is thought to encourage worms to begin to move around underground, so it’s knows as the Worm Moon.

Here’s a musical suggestion for making the most of the moonlight.


What do you do when the moon is full?

Mission Baboon – Accomplished!

Time to celebrate.

We’ve officially made it over a year on our own and now we’ve covered the cost of the Trail for the next year.  261 posts.  We average 1,085 comments a month with an all-time total of 131,623 comments.  Every week we average between 850 and 1,000 views and a whopping 806,982 total views over the years with 6,276 followers.  Our most active time of day is 9 a.m.  I think the baboons are thriving!

We’re celebrating. What would you like to see at the party?