The Up North Experience

People who live in the great state of Michigan actually argue over what it means to be up north. Most particularly, where up north actually begins. To some, it begins after travelers cross the beautiful Mackinac Bridge and begin to explore St. Ignace, Escanaba, and all points in the Upper Peninsula.

To many, up north means the beautiful region of Houghton and Higgins Lake. The fishing at Houghton Lake is unsurpassed. The beautiful blue water of Higgins Lake is known around the world. But still, there are many who say this very popular area is not truly up north.

Oddly enough, there are many who live in the southern areas of Michigan who consider the middle “thumb” region of the state to be up north. There are small lake areas south of where we live in the lower thumb that are favorite destinations of those seeking to go up north.

Up north is a state of mind. It involves a million different experiences all inspiring their own memories, each with a special feeling folks try to recreate by returning up north, wherever that may be. And that is the beautiful thing about going up north. You can have it wherever you are. Up north is yours to enjoy, whether it is in Kalamazoo, Muskegon, Otter Lake, Bay City, Mio, East Tawas, Clare, Gaylord, Ossineke, East Jordan, Brutus, Onaway, Rudyard, Brimley, Eckerman, or Au Train.

My wife has captured a little bit of up north with her Up North Flannels. A few years ago, while we enjoyed a trip to visit family in Tennessee, she purchased a flannel shirt that had been re-purposed and re-tagged. An idea was born. Why not do the same thing in our area and call the shirts Up North Flannels? She began by designing her own label, then started searching for used plaid flannel shirts.

Over the last three years her hobby has continued. Although two shops where she had a display of shirts have closed, she has two other stores specializing in home decor that also sell Up North Flannels.

We visit community thrift and other stores that sell used items. My wife has become very good at hunting and knows just where to find the shirts. Sometimes she finds just one or two, sometimes a bag full. We bring the shirts home where she washes and irons them. She then uses the iron to place her special Up North label. I get to help by sewing the label to the shirt. We have quite a production line going and we make a good team.

We recently have had great fun participating in a local Farmer’s Market. Our tent is surrounded by those who actually farm the items they sell but they have graciously allowed us to join them. Last week we decided to include home made cinnamon rolls which my wife named “Dale’s Delicious Delectable 3D” cinnamon rolls.

An Up North state of mind is a lot like A Coffee State of Mind. I don’t have to be enjoying a cup of coffee to have that state of mind. I can think about a delicious cup of steaming hot coffee and have the mind to enjoy the thought. I can think about the wonderful experience of being up north without actually being there and enjoy the state of mind all the same.

We all need to find that kind of thinking. Whether it’s enjoying traveling, spending time with family and friends, taking a walk, or listening to birds singing, our thoughts can take us there. If we stop for a moment and purposely think about the things we enjoy, we return to that state of mind.

It’s definitely time for more coffee. Literal coffee, not thought coffee.

Plaster of Paris Progress on My Model Railroad

Using Plaster of Paris in model railroading is a messy process, but the outcome can be amazing. In my last post I wrote about using cardboard for the underlayment around my risers. So far it has worked very well and I am pleased with the progress.

I use small squares of paper towel covered in wet plaster, then lay them on the cardboard right up to the edge of the cork roadbed.

I made the mistake of not covering the roadbed with tape so I have a little bit of clean-up to do, but that won’t be a problem. It’s all going to be covered in ballast material anyway.

I am using Woodland Scenics rock molds for the first time in my model railroading life. I am really happy with the results! The detail is fantastic. The difficult part will be placing them in such a way that there isn’t a predictable pattern. A few of them broke when I removed the mold, so there is definitely a learning curve in making rocks.

I first purchased dry Plaster of Paris in a one pound container which I quickly used up. I then purchased two more of the same size which didn’t last much longer than the first. A two pound bucket would certainly keep me going for quite a while. Wrong. Pouring rock molds takes a lot of plaster.

Plaster of Paris is mixed at a ratio of 2:1, two parts powder, one part water. It doesn’t matter what kind of scoop is used but it is important that the measurements of powder to water be exactly two to one.

I find that one cup of powder to a half-cup of water is the perfect amount to use before it begins to set and gets away from me. I work as quickly as I can, dipping the squares of paper towel in the plaster and laying them in place. I leave the pieces bunched rather than smoothing them.

I was really concerned about how my scratch-built risers stretching across the middle of the layout would look. With the “ground” reaching from the roadbed on a slant to the layout surface, I think I’m on the right track. (No pun intended, but it’s a good one!). I’m getting anxious to complete the plastering and start painting.

My rock production line requires a lot of patience. I have four molds and I pour them all at one time. I first rinse the molds and lay them out with support under the edges so they lie flat. I mix the plaster and pour. The most difficult part is waiting for the plaster to cure. I wait twenty-four hours before I do anything. I then carefully peal the molds away from the new rocks. Voila! Beautiful! It takes a couple more days for the green rocks to turn white.

Model railroading is a wonderful hobby. I’m not a master modeler at all. It’s not my plan to try to be one of the best. The point is, if I’m happy with what I create on my model railroad, then it is the best.

Choosing not to compare my model railroad, my writing, my piano playing, myself with anyone else has been a tough lesson to learn. I’m still working on it. If I do begin to compare myself with others, I tend to come up short. If I decide what I’ve done is better than anyone else, I’m wrong again. It’s enough to be satisfied with what I’ve done and choose to be happy with the results.

When I work on my model railroad, I always have music playing, either Earl Klugh radio on Pandora, or country music on FM. With a cup of coffee close by, I’m happy.

Good luck with your model railroading

A Messy Model Railroad is a Happy Model Railroad

Before you get upset and say something you might regret later, let me explain. I’m making progress on my model railroad and I’m excited about it. It’s been a long time since I spent more than an hour with my layout. In the last few days I’ve probably spent fifteen hours with The Maple Valley Short Line.

I don’t claim to be an artist so mixing paint colors has never been a familiar task. To me it’s a matter of meeting a need and mixing until it looks presentable. There is also the challenge of the paint’s response to plaster and how it will look when it’s dry. So far so good.

Model railroading is a lot of fun and there are many rewards on the path to a finished layout. Part of the excitement is that a layout is never really finished, at least not for me.

This piece is the result of my first use of a latex mold. I think it turned out pretty great. I’ll paint it with a grayish wash and touch it up with some highlights of darker and lighter shades. What I’m not sure about is how many of these I can get away with using. I have smaller molds as well so I’ll mix them around the layout

This model railroad represents several firsts for me. I have never modeled a river before and I have already made some mistakes. I made the river area too wide for my bridges so I had to adjust the width in a few areas. I also had no idea how expensive the water-pour mixtures are. Ugh! Oh well, I’ll work around it. I’m going to use a deep-pour clear mixture. I left chunks of plaster on the river bed which should be visible through the hardened water material.

I’m also in the process of building another bridge. Because I didn’t leave enough space between the beginning of my incline and the end of the decline, it’s necessary for me to place two #6 turnouts end-to-end so I can move trains from the outside to the inside mainline, and vice versa. They will come together over the river! (Another mistake.)

These are my tools for building bridges and just about everything else. I use a lap board with a measuring-cutting pad. To begin construction I use a piece of 1 1/2 inch foam about the same size as my lap board. I pin and glue the basswood and balsa piece by piece. We have enjoyed several Netflix series while building great scenery items!

Back to my messy model railroad. I like busy-ness. I like stuff. I’m not good with tools because I have a terrible habit of not putting them away. I leave them where they were needed, so I have about a dozen screwdrivers. I like the look of a mess as long as there are good things happening.

Some day the paint, plaster, brushes, containers, tape, and all the other clutter will be gone. What remains will be a fantastic model railroad. Just after I drive the golden spike I’ll start thinking about how I can change the layout to make it better. That’s the way model railroading works.

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Where’s my coffee?!

Model Railroading Scenery Techniques

I’ve been struggling with a couple of things on my model railroad. I love my scratch-built basswood and balsa bridges. I used dark brown spray paint and I had to decide how to apply weathering finishes.

I used a mixture of Ceramcoat acrylic paint, light gray, dark brown, a little yellow, a little red, and green. At first, I used too much green and I had to make some adjustments. After I stirred in a pint of plain water I ended up with a grayish wash that after a couple of coats looks great.

The second thing I’ve been trying to figure out is how to blend the styrofoam risers into the surrounding areas. I had an epiphany! I didn’t want to cut strips of cardboard as there would have been a ton of them. I thought of a way to use cardboard, cut it on a 2% incline, then fold it down to meet the layout base.

My first step is to hold a piece of cardboard against the riser and use a marker to draw a line its entire length. I transferred the mark to the opposite side of the cardboard so my finished piece is not backwards when I apply it.

After I transferred the line to the opposite side of the cardboard, I used a straight edge and a blade to cut 1/4 inch above the line. The extra space above the line is the distance between the outer edge of the riser and the fold.

Next, I used the blade to score just the outside layer of the cardboard. I then folded the cardboard on the cut. I used a piece of wood to mash the cardboard to crush all the cells inside, making the cardboard much easier to work with. Then I laid out a piece of 1-1/2 inch tape, sticky side up, the length of the cardboard. I carefully placed the small folded area against the tape, leaving 1/4 inch.

I carefully picked up the cardboard and tape, then set the edge of the cut section against the outside corner of the riser. I pressed the tape extending from the edge of the cardboard onto the riser surface. I then folded the remaining cardboard down from the cut to meet the layout surface. I pressed the remaining tape down onto the cardboard.

I now have a grade from the side of the riser I can live with. I’ll lay plaster-covered paper towel squares on the cardboard from the edge of the cork roadbed to the base surface. I’ll doctor it up with tools and paint washes so the finished grades don’t look like paper towel covered with plaster.

Another little trick is to score the cardboard on the opposite side of the radius so it is easier to tape around a curve. I cut the tape as well so it’s easier to secure to the riser edge.

Recently, I’ve been spending more time working on the layout and I’m happy with my progress on The Maple Valley Short Line.

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Model Railroading Beats Covid Stress

Model railroading is a terrific way to lose yourself in details that have absolutely nothing to do with the media, bad news, worse news, health scares, or Covid.

It’s been almost four months since I worked on my model railroading project, The Maple Valley Short Line.

Part of model railroading, at least for me, has been anticipating but not being upset by the feeling of hitting a wall. My motivation to build disappeared. Today I reactivated and found it.

Even as I stood in front of my layout, it wasn’t until I actually started measuring, cutting, and gluing that I began to feel motivated.

I discovered installing scratch-built bridges is difficult. Making sure the bridge deck is the same level as the cork roadbed which means boring holes in plaster and foam takes time. When it’s done, it will be fantastic.

Plaster is a necessity in model railroading if you’re seeking for realism in your scenery. It takes time and is messy, but well worth the effort.

I have been challenged by the need to cover my styrofoam risers and blend them into the scenery in a way that looks realistic. I’ve thought about covering crumpled paper with plaster, but wondered about mold forming on the paper from the moisture.

I thought about using cardboard strips with plaster, but with one to four inches across thirty-two feet of riser, that is a lot of cardboard to cut and cover. I’m still working on it. I think I’ll use a combination of paper towel and pieces of foam dipped in plaster.

Gluing cork roadbed is time consuming but so rewarding! Covid stress floats away like a crumpled leaf in the wind. Cork roadbed is a model railroading task that you start and finish even though the layout still has a very long way to go.

The river I decided to dig across the middle of my layout added a tremendous amount of work, but I’m excited about how it’s going to look. This will be my first time using the epoxy mix that becomes “water”. I’ll paint the plaster first then pour the magic liquid.

Model railroading is a lot of fun. It provides a great opportunity to see what can be done. Everything is changeable, there really is no such thing as a mistake.

I can’t wait to see my steam locomotive rumble across this bridge. The extra work setting and leveling this scratch-built model is more than worth the time.

I can start placing my nickel-silver flex-track any time. That’s when the layout really starts looking like a railroad. I’ve been working on my model railroad for a long time already. Every step has its own rewards.

I’m looking forward to the day when I can start setting all the houses and buildings I spent last winter creating. Trees, grass, weeds, junk, sticks, fences, rocks, stones, lights, signals, backdrops, ballast, and more junk. Love it.

All this makes me want more coffee. Model railroading and coffee. Inseparable partners.

Creating a Fantastic Charcuterie Board

I have never used that term in a sentence before. I had to look up charcuterie to know how it’s spelled. I’ve had lots of items from a charcuterie board before. I’ve watched them being made. I’ve never made one myself. This is my first post about creating a charcuterie board.

The first thing you need is a suitable board. It doesn’t have to be a certified charcuterie board to do the job. After all, it’s not the board but what the board contains that makes it special.

You’ll have to decide what kind of charcuterie board you’re going to make. I did some searching on Pinterest, and there are dozens and dozens of variations of charcuterie boards. There are breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack, salty, sweet, barbecue, candy, dessert, veggie, fruit, and many other charcuterie boards. The most fun is to be creative and come up with something brand new.

This is a great example of a beautiful charcuterie board.

We shared this treat tonight and every one enjoyed it. In the center of the board is fresh grapes to add a sweet, crunchy taste. You can use your favorite fruit on the board you create.

Cheese is a very important part of this charcuterie board. Ours contained Brie, Boursin, goat cheese with chives, and Smoky Gouda. Salami and Prosciutto were placed on the ends. Crackers were spread across the board to fill in the empty spaces.

Everyone gathered around our charcuterie board and dug in. It was a perfect combination of fruit, nuts, crackers, and cheese.

This is what a charcuterie board looks like in the aftermath. I hope you and your family enjoy yours as much as we did.

Here is a freebie joke: Do you know why melons don’t get married? Because they cant-e-lope!! Can’t elope!! Get it?! I made that up! Seriously!

Fun With A Colonoscopy

I have now had three intrusions into my most private personhood. The third was just yesterday. There are several thoughts that come to mind at a time like this.

My first experience with being completely exposed to the medical world happened in 1995. My daughter was having her wisdom teeth removed which gave me a perfect opportunity to go visit a local hamburger place. Very well known, by the way, which will remain nameless, a place to which I have not returned in twenty-five years.

I purchased a hamburger deluxe, fries, and a shake. (No, not McDonald’s). Everything was fine until later that night. Just before bed I began feeling minor cramps, didn’t think much of it, and went to bed. An hour later I woke up with the worst pain I have ever experienced in my life. I will spare you the details of the next three hours, but I assure you I had never experienced anything like that before nor have I since. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.

We called our physician the next day and described what was happening. I met with him a few days later and discovered he intended for me to go to the hospital, a detail I somehow missed. He ordered something I had never heard of, and if I never hear of it again, I will be thankful. He said I was going to have an air-colon-contrast. Okay, no big deal. Yeah, right.

My impending excursion into ultimate transparency meant that I had to drink three quarts of what can only be described as gag-me-now.

I tried to maintain a positive attitude, which required that I find a happy place to ingest the disgusting concoction. I went to the train depot so I could watch trains while I choked it down. It’s amazing I still like watching trains.

It’s difficult to describe what came next after I actually swallowed all of the sludge that tasted like a mixture of three-month-old yogurt chunks, goat meat, and sweaty sock fuzz. The expulsion of everything I had eaten since the previous Christmas and things I had only thought of eating was indescribable. That experience could only be outdone by the procedure itself.

At the hospital I was invited to lie down on a table. “You’re going to do what?” I thought, as the doctor approached me with what looked like a bicycle tire pump.

After my inner parts were rudely awakened by the air hose, I was asked to roll around on the table so the air would distribute evenly. Rolling around on a narrow table would be difficult enough even without a contraption connected to my posterior.

The test revealed nothing. What a relief! I had endured incredible pain at home, cleansed myself of everything that wasn’t attached, been probed, filled, viewed, scanned, and cleared of anything troubling. Fantastic!

Now it was time to rid myself of enough air to fill the tires on an eighteen-wheeler. I slowly walked, back parts in the breeze, to the bathroom. Nurses outside the door were discussing their anticipated evening plans.

As hard as I tried, nothing happened. Nothing. Not even a squeak. I moved, pushed, squeezed, lifted, turned, and finally gave up. I opened the door and told the nurses of my dilemma. I was invited back to the table. With great difficulty I lay back down. The doctor prepared an injection to help with the needed release. He asked me to roll over from my side which was the only position in which I could continue to breathe. When I did, my hand was impaled on the needle and it immediately went numb. (I’m not making this up!!). The doctor yelled at ME even though I was the one with the needle stuck in my hand!

He injected me with whatever it was and I went back to the bathroom. What happened in that bathroom was not unlike a whole team of horses lifting their tails to express the joy of having eaten an entire wagon-load of corn. It was explosive.

What inspires a person going into the medical field to want to specialize in those parts? Obviously, we need them and we’re thankful for them, but how does one come to a decision like that?

Age does many mean things to us. Strength fades, memories aren’t as sharp, and all of sudden we need our doctors to do things they didn’t do before. Reaching the golden age of fifty which happened to me many years ago, ushers in the era of recurring colonoscopies.

Yesterday I experienced my second. The most remarkable improvement has happened in the last ten years. Instead of the preparatory cocktail being a combination of sun-dried tapioca mixed with oatmeal and sour milk, it tastes like Kool-Aid. Seriously! Of course the Kool-Aid is mixed with a powder that guarantees nothing will cling to your inner parts ever again.

I was almost disappointed it was over so fast. Anything that requires that kind of preparation should last more than a second. I was wheeled in, the room began to spin, and I woke up not a second later in recovery.

Everything’s good. The doctor said, “Whatever you’re doing, keep doing it. See you in ten years.”

No explanation needed.

Houghton Lake Reminders of Life Moving Forward

I have a nostalgic vein that I guess is pretty common. I thought it was just me, but I hear country song lyrics like, “I can’t wait to show you where I grew up…”, “I want to introduce you to my kin-folks, where I grew up”, “I Go Back” by Kenny Chesney, “The House that Built Me” by Miranda Lambert, and others. Wanting to go back home isn’t unusual. What often happens when we do, however, is we discover how much everything has changed. Life has gone on without us.

I get teased about driving friends and family by the house where I lived when I was in high school. The house looks the same but nothing else does. I’ve driven through the neighborhood where I grew up in Saginaw, Michigan many times. The shape of our house on Wellesley Drive is the same. Nothing else is. The houses look smaller and crowded together. The trees that were not much more than sticks when I was little now hang over the houses like huge green hands.

I recently followed the pull of the past and took a drive to Houghton Lake and Cadillac, Michigan. When I was very young, our family vacationed at a small resort in Cadillac called “Wally’s Cabins”. It was in the early 1960s and three or four-cabin resorts were common along Lake Mitchell and Houghton Lake. The photo on the left is what used to be Wally’s Cabins.

My parents had friends with a cottage just down the road from Wally’s. Their main cottage was right on the lake but they were building an A-frame house near the main road. The photo in the middle leads to the cottage by the lake, the A-frame is on the right. In those days there was just a two-lane car path and a swamp on the left where we hunted frogs and snakes.

In 1983 we were introduced to DeClerk’s Resort at Houghton Lake. It was like reliving Wally’s Cabins from my childhood and I loved it! Just like at Wally’s, each cabin included a rowboat and motor. It couldn’t have been better!

In 1983 we were considering having another baby. Our daughter was six and we were reaching the point of “now or never”. Cabin #2 at DeClerk’s Resort proved to be the perfect place for our family to grow. In February of 1984, we had triplet boys. When we returned to DeClerk’s the next summer, Kitty told everyone our triplets had been conceived in cabin #2. I don’t know if there was a rush to rent that cabin or not, but it made a good story.

I talked my precious wife into going back to Houghton Lake when the boys were just five months old. They were still on apnea monitors. They all slept together on a foam mattress in cabin #2, connected to their monitors. It was terribly difficult.

Our daughter loved fishing. I don’t remember her volunteering for cleaning but she was always excited to catch them.

The last time we were at DeClerk’s Resort was 1997. The boys were 13. Our daughter was married the following summer and now has three boys of her own. I wish I could have them little, all together one more time.

On my recent road-trip to the past, I was saddened to see how drastically the area had changed. Life has moved on.

The first time we went to Houghton Lake, I was thirty years old. That was thirty-seven years ago. Seeing what has happened to Funland was the most challenging part of the day. In my mind, I could still see our children and grandchildren on the rides.

Life goes on. Sometimes painfully. Looking back can be painful too, yet we all do it. It’s one thing to think about it, it’s another to actually visit and see just how much has changed.

An Uninvited Guest Beast

I suppose there are people who think bats of all kinds are cute, harmless, helpful, even beautiful creatures. I’m not one of them. However, I do have to admit the fruit bats we often see on “Survivor” look sort of like a dachshund with wings. Maybe a little bit cute. When we were in Australia we got to actually see fruit bats in person. They’re huge!!

It has been sixteen years since we were last visited by a little rascal. In one house where we lived bats considered themselves part of our family. They often joined our sons to watch television in the basement. One wanted to have lunch with me but I assured him he wasn’t welcome. Another interrupted sound sleep and met the same fate as Captain Ahab.

After so much time, maybe you can imagine the sheer exhilaration, the pure crush of adrenaline and terror when our beautiful home became the scene of wild flailing with a soft pillow-weapon, yelling, dodging and weaving, and that was just me. My wife was hiding under a blanket and I don’t blame her. I wanted to be under the blanket too!

The little guy made himself right at home. He flew effortlessly through our living room, kitchen, hall, two bedrooms and back again. Twice he headed downstairs to the basement but came right back up, probably because it was dark down there.

With great skill and aim, I knocked him down three times with such force he took right off again, laughing at me in his little bat voice. I kept telling him to go outside, the front door was wide open but he didn’t listen. I know he was calling for his friends to join the fun. They declined.

I was finally able to get hold of our guest beast with the soft pillow-weapon and I let him go outside. I tried to have a calm man-to-bat talk with him and tell him he would probably be more comfortable somewhere else.

I should have known better than to wait three years before going into the attic, which is actually an overhead crawl space. It had to be 110 degrees up there. I discovered it’s a miracle we haven’t been having guest beast visits regularly. Our bathroom ceiling fan which is an old style fan with a large open grate vents directly into the attic without any protection. It’s wide open from the attic into the bathroom. There was also a direct entrance to the basement from the attic along the furnace flue. With both guest beast entrances blocked, the welcome mat has been removed.

Hopefully, that will be the end of our guest beast visits. I’m a big fan of dachshund-looking fruit bats as long as they’re on TV and not in our living room.

Breakfast Sandwich for Dinner

My lovely wife has discovered how to make amazing breakfast sandwiches that we enjoy any time. Actually, our son first made them for us and she watched very carefully. They are delicious!

A sausage patty, English muffin, fried egg and a slice of your favorite cheese make the magic happen.

There are sausage patties that taste great but stay around all day. I like them but not all day. The ones my wife uses are frozen, a dozen in a package. We keep them in the freezer and just use two at a time.

The patties only take about three minutes per side, so while my wife is frying them, I toast the English muffins. They don’t require butter, but if you want to use butter, go for it!

When the English muffins pop from the toaster, we put a slice of cheese on them. When the egg is fried to perfection, we add the sausage patty and the egg.

Combine the sandwich with some fruit and a big mug of your favorite coffee and you have a breakfast sandwich that is delicious at any time. Maybe even late at night while you’re binge-watching your favorite series.