Texas Heat


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I went outside to work today
having things to do in my own way
I had big plans for all to share
that needed all my tender care
I walked around and took a look
checking things off in my minds book
looking to work on important stuff
leaving till last anything tough
for I was not really in the mood
on this first day of Summer that I construed
would be another really hot day
and working hard is not how I play.

I started with filters on the ponds
changing them out as each corresponds
to the degree of clean water surrounding the fish
who like to stir up the dirt as is their wish
as they eat the algae on the sides of the pond
and grow big and fat and hopefully strong
enough to lay eggs when it comes the time
and hatch baby Koi to continue the line
the water must be clear to keep up their health
and for my pleasure as I watch their stealth
in avoiding the big fish who would them eat
and consider it to be a tasty treat.

From the ponds my attention turned
to cutting the plants for I was concerned
as over the walkways and paths they had grown
making it hard that even alone
it was difficult to walk without pushing through
lots of foliage and branches who hadn’t a clue
on how I expected them to grow
as Nature as usual was with her own flow
I trimmed them back so I could walk
between them in comfort without their stalks
whacking me in the face each time I passed
as I cut them back making it their last.

By now sweat was pouring off my face
and down my back and in every place
that the human body can find
to make it uncomfortable in body and mind
so I finished the work as far as I could
I decided to quit while I still felt good
pleased that I had done what I thought was enough
though the work I had done was a little tough
I made plans to work on the other chores
with an early start for working outdoors.

Written 6/21/2018

Sitting and Waiting-Part 2


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The first box

This is the follow up to the re-wiring job I was working on around the ponds. If you recall, I had installed the first run from the feed to the first pond by burying the conduit below ground but decided that I didn’t need to do that with the rest of the conduit as it could follow around the stone walls that surround the ponds. This made the project much simpler and hopefully quicker to finish.

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The middle box

I should mention that I happened to have a couple of boxes with two ground fault breakers in each. It was a bit of an overkill as using just one GFCI outlet would protect all the other outlets on that line but as I already had them, it didn’t make sense not to use them. I needed a third and sticking with the same design ordered and received an identical unit from Home Depot. I used this as an excuse for not getting outside to work in the heat on this project while I was waiting for the unit to come although in truth, there was plenty I could have done while I was waiting..

With the additional third box in hand, I managed to conjure up enough enthusiasm and energy to brave the 95 degree heat and get back out to the project. Luckily, most of it was in the shade and with an adequate amount of sunscreen and a good hat, I was ready to go.

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The final box

I laid out the conduit and before gluing it together, pulled the cable through as it was so much easier to work on 10 foot lengths. I finally glued up all of the joints and then made the connections to the GFCI boxes and mounted them on steel posts that I had driven into the ground. I raised the boxes to about 2 feet high off the ground to make it easier to make the connections but even so, sitting on a low stool working on this part of the work really played hell with my old and worn out knees and I was really glad when I was through.

I finally had all of the connections made to the boxes and turned my attention to the final connection to power up the whole thing. I had an outlet that I had installed many years ago attached to the house that worked out perfectly to connect to. It came off the main breaker box so I did not have to worry about electrical load on the circuit other than what I had just installed. I made the connections being sure to throw the main breaker that was the other side of the fence to that line before starting the work.

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The connection to the main breaker via a previously installed outlet.

All went very smoothly and then came the moment of truth. I closed the breaker and went to the first box to test the outlets and nothing…The second and third boxes were the same, absolutely no power. I panicked for about a half a minute and then my brain took over and I started to think of what I might have done wrong. I went back to the first GFCI breaker and noticed a reset button on the outlet which I pushed and saw a little blue light come on. “Could it be as simple as this” I wondered and tested the outlet again and success, it was working. I quickly reset all of the outlets and began plugging in pumps and filters and all of the things that each pond required to keep it healthy.

I should mention that it took me three days working a few hours a day to complete this part of the project. I hate getting up early due probably to my late night habit of watching movies or soccer games and consequently, don’t get outside until the temperature is already in the low 90’s. There are exceptions of course but one of the luxuries of being both old and single is the ability to set one’s own timetable on life. At least on the controllable part.

Now, I feel a lot better as I don’t have any long lengths of cable laying around stretching from pond to pond with the exception of the leads that come from the pumps and such. Safer for me and the dogs and I even got a couple of long lead chords back to use when I need them. I have one more similar project on the big pond that I need to seriously consider only this one will require more digging, darn it. Something for the future.

Another successful project.

Written 6/13/2018

Cleaning the Ponds at Mayfield Park, May 2018


 

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Julie Smith and hers Husband Phillip, along with Cory Ferrier, snuck out as I was getting ready to take the picture of all of them together. Their prerogative of course.

The Austin Pond Society has an ongoing project at Mayfield Park located in the center of Austin. The Park has six large ponds that were in woeful need of a little TLC and the Society decided that it was going to be our project at least for this year to provide a little love and care. Incidentally, note that the center circular pond is surrounded by 4 oval shaped ponds (the petals) along with one hourglass pond that contains a small waterfall (the stem).

Consequently, in cooperation with the City of Austin and with help and advice provided by Shane of Water Garden Gems, members of the Austin Pond Society have met several times to clean the ponds and the City has gone forward and provided additional electricity to operate the new filtering system and additional air systems that are now in all of the ponds.

This past Thursday, May 24 was deemed a pond clean up day or rather evening as several members of the Society showed up to get themselves wet and dirty. Altogether, there were fourteen people providing assistance and doing the grunt work from cleaning the ponds of leaves and debris, to repotting lilies and in the case of Steven, Jeff and Ruben, installing a new floating filtering system in the big pond and getting the pumps to work. To Steven, who is a Master Electrician during the day, this was just up his alley. The rest had different duties spread around the other five ponds. Glen was stuck in the last pond (the stem) for most of the evening, this one having the most leaves and debris in it. He seemed quite happy to be working the pond until he came across a water snake that was nestled in the Iris plants. From that point on, he was shall we say, a little cautious. Says he doesn’t like snakes but there again, not many people do.

As is usual at Mayfield Park, the work was accompanied by both the company and the very loud and raucous cries from the twenty odd Peafowls that reside there. One of them grew very attached to Jeannie’s Lexus and was very busy pecking the bugs off the front of the vehicle. It stayed there for the entire time we were at the Park and no amount of shooing would get it to move.

The APS would like to thank the following members for showing up and giving of their time and efforts. Jeff and Ellen Bennett, Mary Ward, Barbara Lenhardt, Nancy Reinert, Charlie McLear, Cat Bilberry, Anne Clarke, Cory Ferrier, Julie and Phillip Smith and finally Jeannie Ferrier and Steven Monfrini and Ruben Angeles. Me, I was there strictly to record the efforts and almost broke into a sweat a few times as I hustled to record what was going on. Ruben is a City of Austin Employee who is at Mayfield Park full time. Really nice guy to work with.

Jets_BizCard_Austin The evening ended with a veritable feast of Pizza from one of our sponsors. That make for me, six large slices of Pizza in three days which is more than I have eaten in the last ten years although I have to say, it was very enjoyable.

There is still some work to be done both by the City and our volunteers but it will not be until next month. Again, thanks to our members without whom, we could not perform these sort of tasks.

I recorded a movie of the different members all performing their tasks and also put together a slideshow of the still pictures that I took.

Cleaning the Ponds at Mayfield Park May 2018 from Francis Allcorn on Vimeo.

Mayfield Park Pond Cleanup May 2018 from Francis Allcorn on Vimeo.

Written 5/29/2018

Sitting and Waiting


Today it is raining but the forecast is that it will clear up this afternoon. That is good as I really need to get outside to continue work on my latest project which is to install permanent electricity to three of the ponds.

The first pond that I built more than 30 years ago was around 2500 gallons and actually looked very nice with a patio that surrounded the entire pond. It developed a leak and even by letting the entire pond drain down to nothing, I was still unable to locate it to make a repair. By then I was hooked on Ponding and I decided to rebuild the pond and at the same time, enlarge the entire thing. The end result is a 5000 gallon pond. I did this one right and it has a permanent electrical supply to it.

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5000 Gallon Pond

I spent the next 30 years messing around building other ponds and streams sometimes even rebuilding because of a change of heart or of different ideas. Because of my restlessness and having a very hard to please attitude, I never installed permanent electricity to any of the 3 other ponds for good reason. For example, the middle pond was actually 2 ponds in the shape of an “L” with water from the top pond filtering down to the bottom pond and then recirculating back to the top pond.
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The original “L” shaped pond

The smaller of the two ponds in this system developed a leak so I decided to separate them into two ponds which meant installing a Sanyo skimmer and another pump on the upper pond. I completely rebuilt the lower pond and installed a new liner and increased the depth to almost 4 feet. It too has its own skimmer box and pump. The electricity to drive the pumps was supplied by lead chords and temporary outlets and worked very well and I kept telling myself that as soon as I was satisfied with the ponds themselves, I would change the setup to something more permanent. Besides, I lived alone with no desire for any sort of company other than my dogs and reasoned that I would be careful as I worked the yard.

I had other water feature that I had built, one in the shape of a “Y” with two streams running into a small pond. This one actually worked pretty well but again, only had temporary electricity to drive the pumps. In a fit of madness, I decided to enlarge the pond at the end of the streams which eventually led to me taking out one stream completely along with the small pond. The end result was a 6000 gallon large pond, quite a bit larger than the 1000 gallon pond it replaced. I kept the one small stream and it still runs very nicely. Throughout all of this building and rebuilding, the electricity to drive the pumps was all supplied through the same system as outlined above, lead chords and temporary outlets.
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The New 6000 Gallon Pond

Human Nature being what it is and with everything running smoothly, I moved onto other things and although the thought would cross my mind very occasionally, I never seriously considered doing much about the electric supply to the ponds. Things were working fine so why mess with it. Besides, I had plenty of other things to do that seemed to be more important and anyway, I was not in the mood to dig trenches and bury conduit.

Then, a couple of mornings ago, I came out to check on the ponds and everything was very quiet except for the 5000 gallon pond, the one with permanent electricity, that was running just fine. I wandered over to the other ponds and both the “L” shape and the 6000 gallon pond were very still. None of the pumps were working. Luckily, the system can be down for a few hours before any problems are likely to develop in the form of oxygen deprivation and less dangerous but just as frustrating, muddy water. As it is still early Spring, temperatures would not be high enough to really cause oxygen deprivation problems.

I traced the lead chords as they snaked from pond to pond and quickly discovered that the very first chord was scorched where it connected to the next chord. Even as I watched, the next junction suddenly burst into flames. At least I knew where the problems were located and went to work in temporarily replacing the burnt out lead chords with different ones so as to keep the pumps running while I planned out the new permanent power supply.

As luck would have it, years ago, I had installed an outlet by the back porch directly from the Main Junction Box which also happened to be the one that the temporary supply is plugged into. I figured that I could come from that one and then run the wire through conduit to the first of the GFCI outlet boxes that I planned to install. I have two metal boxes that contain two GFCI outlets in each box that I acquired over the years. Bit of an overkill as a single GFCI would protect all of the outlets downline from it but as I happened to have the boxes, why not use them.

So, with a plan in mind, I went to Home Depot and purchased the necessary supplies and to start work on the project. This is actually a three phase project the first of which is to install the conduit from the supply to the location of the first outlet box about 45 feet away. The second phase will be to run the conduit to the second of the outlet boxes another 50 feet further along. The last phase will be to complete the run another 25 feet to the last of the boxes.

I started work on Phase 1 which entailed digging a trench to bury the conduit. This is the hard part of the project mainly because I hate digging and it takes more of a mind set to actually start the work than to do the work. I managed to convince myself that as hot as it was, I needed to get after it. The digging was pretty easy but it did entail swinging a pickaxe to break up the ground, something I haven’t done in years.

The next part of Phase 1 of the project was to lay out the conduit and then pull the cable through each piece before gluing the conduit together. The whole thing was placed into the trench and covered over, with sufficient conduit and cable exposed at each end to make the connections. And that is where we are today and it has just come on to rain again. It doesn’t look like I will be working outside today, darn it…

Look for part two of this thrilling instalment of DIY.

Written 5/20/2018

The Snakes are on the Move…


I recently wrote a blog outlining the steps that I have taken to keep the dogs out from under the shed. I continued with that by sealing off the underside of the main deck to keep the dogs out of there as well.

One reason was because of the loud barking of the, “We found an animal/snake kind” which I determined to be coming from a corner under the deck by the house where I happened to have installed a trapdoor to get to the septic system drains. I pulled it up and below me was the usual scene. The snake backed into a corner rearing and striking at anything that came within range and two little dogs screaming their fool heads off in a vain attempt to get at the snake. Theirs was a lot of barking but not really trying too hard to actually make contact.

This corner just happened to have a water faucet and hose pipe within very easy reach which I turned on the dogs first to get them to quit and then on the snake in an attempt to drive it off in the opposite direction which appeared to succeed on both counts as the snake disappeared from view and the dogs were busy trying to shake themselves dry. This episode did it for me and a quick trip to Lowes to buy the material I needed and then back to work sealing off the far side of the deck. The work was not very difficult and I had it finished in a couple of hours.

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The snake under the deck was a Texas Rat Snake that can grow to be six feet long, The are relatively harmless and very useful for keeping the rat and mice population down. They would bite if attacked or harassed but are non poisonous. This particular one was about four feet long and beautifully marked and colored.

Thinking that I could relax a bit as far as the snakes go, I turned my attention to cleaning up the mess that I created the other day when I cleaned the ponds of leaves and debris and thinned out some of the many plants growing in them. I moved an existing tub that was on the walkway which contained a large growth of Lizards Tail, to the other side to make more room on the path and then decided to pull the weeds by hand that had accumulated in that area.

I was working away and not paying much attention to what I was doing and I nearly grabbed a handful of a very large snake that was already coiled and had its mouth open in a very threatening posture. This quickly brought me back into focus as I slowly stood up with no sudden movements. The snake was within easy striking distance of originally my face and then as I stood, my bare legs. I looked at it trying to determine just what type it was and although it looked for all the world like a rattlesnake with the right size, markings and color, apart from the aggressive posture, it made no attempt to strike me which it could easily have done as I was well within its range. I could not see a rattle on the tail neither did I hear anything vaguely familiar. Not wanting to take any chances as two of the dogs were on the deck and had not realized what was going on, I called them to come indoors, grabbed my camera and stepped back out. I was too late as the snake had already disappeared and although I searched around, came to the conclusion that it was probably under the deck which at the time was only a couple of feet away. The more I think about it, I think it too was a Rat snake even though it was not as brightly marked at the other one. This one was probably longer then the other and looked like it had recently consumed a Dove as there were a lot of new dove feathers littered about. It was also much bigger around the girth than the first one which may have been due to its recent meal.

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I considered this to be getting a bit much with two different and very large snakes in two days but the story is not over yet as far as snakes go. It is a bit anticlimactic as the next snake that I saw as I went out to check on the dogs who again were doing there barking routine, was a two feet long either Western Coachwhip or a Texas Brown Snake. I was very brave confronting this one as I shooed it away where it disappeared into the underbrush.

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Texas Brown Snake
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Western Coachwhip

I decided that this was all too much of a coincidence and the next day, I took Mikey into the vets to get a anti rattlesnake shot and then Gizmo in to have his follow up shot. Turns out that Ginnie had a rattlesnake shot and booster last year and is not due for another until August. After losing Richie, I can’t afford to take chances.

In retrospect, maybe I am the one that needs the shot as I couldn’t have gotten much closer to the one yesterday and if it had been so inclined and was a Rattler, could have easily bit me. One thing for sure, no more hand pulling the weeds. I’ll use a hoe in the future. If I had recognized it as a Rattlesnake, would I have killed it if I had something available? I honestly don’t believe that I would have unless it was in self defence prefering to try to drive them away back out of the yard. After all, they can’t help what they are and as frightening as they may be, it’s man’s inherent fear of snakes that makes the situation worse than what it really is.

Written 5/14/2018

Rattlesnake Deterrent

Life’s Up and Downs


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Today I got up on the roof
to blow away the leaves and such
something I have done for many a year
although much easier in my youth
every year I face this task
and every time I say its the last
that I will find a younger man
there must be somebody I can ask
this time turns out to be the worst
because the amount of leaves has grown
and mixed in with all the mess
are the catkins that are a curse
these little brown things have had a good year
the most that I have ever seen
these are the males whose jobs are well known
and that is to make acorns appear
this is not accounting for much
what really matters is how it is done
as the males release a pollen count
miserable to many with allergies and such
I have never really been aware
or had problems quite this bad
as when I blew the stuff from the roof
and released the pollens into the air
It had never affected me before
and I have done this task over many years
this time I thought I was at deaths door
as my body reacted for doing this chore
I rushed to the local Pharmacy
coughing and sneezing along the way
scanning the shelves for an instant cure
a quick relief I’m hoping to see
It took me a couple of days
to even get close to feeling right
but I am happy to say
I am almost back to my normal ways
next year when it comes the time
to clean the roof of leaves and stuff
I swear I’m going to find that guy
and to him this task I will assign.

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Written 4/29/2018

When I was a kid…


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Jeeps Everywhere

I got to thinking about the difference in the generations between mine as a kid and the modern day kids. I tried to put myself in their shoes but found it impossible to wrap my mind around the huge differences between us.

When I was a kid, admittedly time and circumstances were different as it was wartime for some of my youth, but even so, everything was at a much slower pace. I lived on a road that was named Huggletts Lane and although the name conjures up thoughts of a dirt road leading to nowhere, in fact it was a tarmacked (blacktopped) road but still leading to nowhere. The road did eventually turn into a dirt road and then into a footpath leading to the next community a couple of miles down the road which is how it was with many of the small villages that dotted the countryside.

There were several kids on my street all about the same age and we spent most of our free time roaming the woods and fields and playing outdoors communing with Nature although we didn’t think of it like that. To us, the great outdoors was our playground and all that we learnt and shared was a normal part of growing up as a kid back in the 1940’s. The fact that there was a war going on and that we occasionally had to take cover from an enemy aircraft as it flew over in the early part of the war was a part of life as we knew it. We were right on the enemy flight path as they flew towards their targets and then back home.

Life was not normal because of the war but it was to us. Things like food rationing and dogfights and flying bombs that we called Doodlebugs and masses of troops of all Nationalities, tanks and armored vehicles and jeeps by the hundred tore up and down the roads and country lanes and signs of war were everywhere. We accepted this as normal because we were kids growing up in troubled times.

The closest school to us was three miles away and we generally walked as a group every day picking up others kids along the way. We were of all ages as our school ages started at five or thereabouts and went on through fifteen which was the normal graduating age at that time. We were split up into different age classes but all housed under one roof in several different classrooms. There were no organized sports other than the playground where we made our own entertainment. Coming home was a bit different as we tended to split into individual groups and we all had different agendas. Because of our closeness as kids generally speaking, things like Mumps, Measles, Chicken Pox and what are considered normal childhood diseases, tended to affect all of us one after the other. If one caught it, we all caught it. We had a Country Nurse that rode a bike from house to house checking up on the sick kids  and we would write notes to each other that she would gladly take and deliver for us. Doctors, in real emergencies made house calls and were glad to spend time with the patients and most babies were born at home with a Doctor and Midwife in attendance.  I remember that I had to have my tonsils removed which required spending a week in hospital in Uckfield. Any surgery  was treated as a big deal back then and was a risky business.

Home life was also much different. Families tended to do things together such as always eating together, taking long walks and listening to the radio. Food was pretty plain and simple and as we all had large gardens that required the entire family to help with the garden chores like weeding and planting or gathering the vegetables for the evening meal. The women and girls in the family helped with the cooking and cleaning and the boys fed and cleaned out any animals and chickens that every house had and also did the heavy garden work like digging and planting. Sometimes, on really special occasions like Christmas, we would kill one of the chickens as a special treat. Very rarely did we get to eat Turkey and never at my house. My only taste of turkey was at one of my wealthier friends house where I had been invited over for Christmas Dinner.

The radio played a big part of our lives as this was how we got most of our news about the war. Then there were radio programs like Happydrome and The Archers and all kinds of mysteries and thrillers that entertained the entire family in the evenings. We sat and listened to it just like people do today watching their TV sets as the radio actors with their magical voices kept us entertained. We had a phonograph to play 75 rpm records of which we had a small collection.

We never had a phone, ever. The nearest public phone was a couple of miles away and most people either were afraid or did not know how to use one. My Dad went everywhere on his bike and as we grew older, we also had bikes and that became our new form of entertainment as bikes opened up new horizons. We could now get to places that were not available before such as the local Market on Wednesdays or the Movie House in Heathfield about 7 miles away or even to one of the local football (soccer) games to watch the hometown team.

As kids, we learned to entertain ourselves without getting into trouble except maybe for stealing apples from Mr Jones Orchard or getting chased by a very upset horse for us getting into his field and stuff like that. We learned to entertain ourselves making the most of what was available to us mostly from our immediate surroundings. Nature played a huge part in our lives and we are all the better for what we learned.

Compared to today, our lives back then were dull and uninteresting. Not to us of course as it was our life and the only one we knew.  We never had TV to entertain us and we had to use our own imagination and brains to keep us busy.  Cell phones had not yet been invented and we were no worse off because of it. Hardly anybody owned a car as we all relied on public transport, bikes or shank’s pony otherwise known as walking, to get us anywhere. Food was plain and simple and some of it pretty heavy stuff like Roast Beef with vegetables and Yorkshire pudding on Sundays, Liver and Onions through the week and Fish and Chips on Fridays. There was always Mashed Potatoes and lots of vegetables from the garden. For deserts, there was Rice Puddings, Treacle Pudding and Apple Pies. A lot of it was homegrown and there was no such thing as fast food. Milk was delivered every day in one pint bottles with a thick layer of cream on the top and the Baker made deliveries once a week.

Bath night was always a very interesting time in most houses. We didn’t have a bathroom and we made do with the kitchen. Yes we did take baths but it was not as simple as turning on a tap (faucet) and hot water came out.  We didn’t even have hot water to our sink and all hot water had to be boiled in a kettle. although we were modern enough to have an electric kettle to do this. In the corner of our kitchen was what was called, a “Copper” that was comprised of a very large copper tub with a wooden lid built in to the wall with a fireplace underneath that probably held thirty to forty gallons of water. This normally was used to boil the clothes on wash day before hanging them on the line to dry but on bath nights, was used to heat the water.

The bath was a galvanized steel tub about five feet long which was dragged in from where it was hanging, once a week so that everyone could have a bath. The hot water from the “Copper” was dipped out and poured into the bath and suitable cold water added to bring it to a bearable temperature. The men were all ordered out of the kitchen and banished to the furthermost parts of the house while the ladies, starting with the Mom and then followed by any girls in the family, would take their baths one after the other all using the same water which was kept at a suitable temperature with the addition of hot water from the “Copper”.

Then, when the ladies were through and decent, the Father and the boys would take their turn  adding more hot water as required until finally, all were sufficiently clean to last another week. The Bath was then dragged to the door and unceremoniously upended and the restored to its normal hanging place on the wall. You can imagine that the lowest boy on the totem pole by age (me) may have had misgivings about this particular ritual especially if there was a large family. Invariably, the boys would be reminded to “wash behind their ears” as though this was also apart of the bathing ritual. Not sure why so much emphasis was placed on this particular action but it always came up. Of course, we always answered in the affirmative whether we had or not. Even our toilet, which adjoined the kitchen, was reached by going outdoors although it did have a chain pull to flush it.

These are some of the things I remember as I was growing up, so different from modern day America and although I have never been back, probably modern day England. Was I better or worse off for my younger life as compared to the kids of today? I can’t really answer that as all I know of a modern day family is what I read and surmise. I am concerned that most modern day kids do not spend time outdoors. I am not sure if they even know how to entertain themselves without getting into trouble or without TV, Xbox and their phones or having organized entertainment. There is no doubt in my mind that modern day kids are probably much smarter and in some ways, much further ahead in their academic work than we ever were but they are missing out on the basics of life.

If I had to make a choice and had the opportunity to do it all over again, I would have to say that I would choose my life back then as opposed to being a kid in this modern world.  I was very happy even in the difficult times and because I didn’t know any better was content with my lot. I do not like what we have become, our reliance on gadgets or the need to be entertained and although I use some of the technology, I do not like what the end result is in the younger generation or come to that, their parents.

I can’t change any of it and will live out the rest of my days living in the past with my many memories as I transcribe them to my modern computer hoping against hope that this modern day world in which we live does not not implode with the Global Warming that all of this modern day technology has caused…

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Written 4/13/2018