Baby Boomer Tools

The featured image for this post is a group of three snow shovels, one of which is my new ergonomic snow shovel, which is the one with the silver handle with the black grip. It’s right next to the old one, roughly the same model only with a crack in the blade from the time last winter when I tried to use it as an ice chopper. That’s why there is also a box labeled “Ice Chopper”—which is also new.

Snow shovels are important at our place because we don’t have a snow blower. We got a little snow yesterday (which promptly melted almost completely) and the forecast is for a few inches tomorrow. I probably won’t need the shovel.

The snow shovel is about the only tool I feel reasonably confident in using these days.  I used to be more comfortable with a variety of tools years ago, even including some automotive tools, like the one pictured below. If you don’t know what it is, it might be because you’re not a baby boomer, like me.

Vintage Auto Tool

There’s a similar tool that a seller on eBay calls “vintage” and which you can buy for about five bucks. I can’t recall what I paid for the auto tool when it was new. I’m sort of a vintage boomer. There have been a couple of surveys done in the last few years which tend to indicate that baby boomers know a lot more than most younger people about what do with cars for preventive maintenance and repair. It surprised me a little that young folks may know more about how to set up the GPS than change a tire. I have changed a tire once or twice in my entire life. One of those times was in the pouring rain. Everyone should have those experiences; they build character.

At least, that’s the kind of things many of the old-timers (I assume most of them are older) say on some of those DIY web sites. There were 70 comments in reply to an on-line story written by someone who was courageous enough to mention that he didn’t think it was worthwhile for most people to change their own oil these days. Most of the commenters were polite but a few mentioned that if you didn’t change your own oil, you should lose your “man card.” One of them was named Natalie.

That doesn’t necessarily apply to all boomers. I changed my oil regularly back in my younger days. I used that tool and knew what I was doing—sort of. On the other hand, I did have a slight problem getting a transmission adjustment done, which resulted in a large bulge in our garage wall, when I mistakenly hit the gas instead of the brake. Sena thought I would not mention that. It was another time, maybe in another dimension.

Sena asked me to check the fluids in the SUV yesterday, which tends to puzzle me anymore. I’m not sure what to do about the oil, transmission fluid, and whatnot these days and, because we lease a car, I’m not motivated to do much, including oil changes. I used to change the oil in our cars but that was many years ago. I had a pair of red ramps I drove the car up onto so I could slide on my back under the car; I had an oil wrench; I had a pan to catch the old oil; I had a big oil stain in our driveway. Sena was a bit more tolerant of certain things like that back in those days.

I also knew what to do with that strange looking tool pictured above.

Anyway, I checked the oil. It was fine. I was not sure where the transmission fluid dipstick was—and eventually found out by checking on the web that there is no dipstick for it. The driver can’t check that; it has to be done by a dealership mechanic.

I topped off the windshield wiper fluid. The radiator fluid level was fine. There was also the matter of a maintenance alert on our dashboard screen that I tried to reset but could only get partly accomplished. We didn’t need to change the oil yet but the darn thing was constantly alerting us to do so, each and every time we started the vehicle.

The owner’s manual was not helpful for learning how to reset the maintenance alert or much of anything else. Sena stopped at the dealership while she was out doing other things and told him the manual was not informative. He was surprised to learn that we even looked at it—most people don’t.

I see snow flurries out there already; maybe I will need the new shovel after all tomorrow. I’m prepared.

My shovel and me

By the way, that tool in the picture is my vintage Kastar Precision spark plug gauge tool (which the guy on eBay called a “rare type”). You see the spark plug is a key component in the combustion engine, which works mainly because of a series of controlled small explosions caused by the spark from several plugs igniting a critical mixture of gasoline and air which leads to a series of relay switches and connectors to the GPS unit on the dash which tells you to drive your car through the back of your garage.

At least I still have my boomer card.

Am I a Mover and a Shaker—or Just Shaky?

I sometimes wonder about whether I’m a mover and a shaker or just shaky. I think it’s the latter. I’ve known plenty of movers and shakers and they tend to be great planners. On the other hand, I tend to take the path of least resistance. Often, I don’t consider enough options and just settle for what’s expedient. That has not always turned out for the best. My wife, Sena, is more likely to shop around for things which cost the least and reward the most—although that process can seem very long to me.

Take the time I decided I wanted to try private practice. There were actually two times and neither worked out in the way I intended. I learned valuable lessons, one of which was that I was a better teacher than I gave myself credit for.

I guess if I had thought things through more back when I thought the grass was greener on the other side of the fence, I might have qualified for the early retirement benefit from the place I left—twice.

On the other hand, I’ve made what seemed like hasty decisions other times in my life and made out all right. One of them was marrying Sena.

I can’t recall what the other one was.

House Hunting Disorder

House Hunting Disorder might be my suggestion to add to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) of Mental Disorders, whenever the American Psychiatric Association gets around to updating.

Shopping is not one of my favorite things to do. Shopping for houses (especially a retirement home) is something I would suggest running away from if you have any choice—which you won’t, trust me. We’re not yet ready for the Vintage Cooperative, a condo-like setting for seniors. I’m almost ready to settle for an apartment.

I’m remembering our first “apartment” when we moved to Hawkeye Drive in Iowa City over 30 years ago. It was University of Iowa housing and my wife wept openly when she saw it. The moving van sat in the office parking lot for at least a couple of hours while the truth sunk in. The only other choice was Hawkeye Court, but that was not the one to which we were sentenced—I mean, which we, like a lot of other students, signed up for, sight unseen, when we moved here so I could start medical school. They were painted cinder block buildings described as resembling “minimum security prisons,” and had been around since the 1960s. They were all torn down to make way for new student housing around 5 or 6 years ago.

We were on the 3rd floor so we had to lug our furniture up to the top. I had problems with my knees then, which, miraculously, I don’t have now that I’m decades older. Over time, the place developed a constant buzzing noise from a vibration which I think began in the shared 1st floor laundry room where all the poltergeists lived. It drove me nuts—from which I obviously never fully recovered. I couldn’t convince the maintenance man that the noise even existed. He looked at me sort of wide-eyed and edged away from me as I placed his hand on the sofa to demonstrate how you could actually feel the vibration all over the apartment.

The neighborhood was a little scary occasionally. On one Halloween night, we got a visit from some very tall kids who were not wearing costumes, smelled of beer, and held out what looked like giant lawn and leaf bags. They said “Trick or Treat” in pretty deep voices for children. I probably shouldn’t have asked, “Aren’t you a little old for this?” as I dropped a few candies into the bags, which I could have stepped into and been completely concealed. When I closed the door, we could hear the candies shatter against it.

The next apartment we rented had a small blister in the ceiling which grew quickly over a day or so into a beach ball-sized bulge. It happened over a weekend and the manager claimed he couldn’t get anybody to fix it until Monday. We spent some tense moments just watching and waiting for the bleb to explode all over the living room.

OK, so maybe apartments are out. We’ve lived in a several houses here since then, which are really markers for my career in medicine as well as domiciles. Things have changed in the real estate market. Homeowners Associations (HOAs) are just one of the changes.

HOAs are something I would rather avoid but may not be able to escape. I could weep openly about them, but it won’t help. The explanation for them, which comes from developers most of the time, is that the Post Office doesn’t want to deliver mail to each and every house nowadays. This has led to the proliferation of mailbox clusters, which have to be maintained at HOA expense. Sometimes it amounts to scooping snow off the concrete pad on which the mailbox cluster sits.

HOA fees are a nuisance. They can run from a few dollars to a few hundred dollars a year, which I admit is better than association fees for condos, which can run into the thousands. What the fees cover is sometimes difficult to discern. A lot of developers and builders nowadays erect subdivisions in locations which I suspect would have been avoided in decades past. Some of these areas tend to be called “wetlands,” which are ponds surrounded by tall grasses and which foster the evolution of various life forms that sometimes crawl up on land to feed on small mammals.

Seen any small mammals?

You can sometimes escape the HOA madness by buying older homes in what are called “established neighborhoods” where the residents raise chickens, hunt for mastodons, and park RVs in their driveways that are bigger than their houses. There are unwritten rules which include but are not limited to animal sacrifice. But at least they don’t have covenants that require you to have an 8-foot-tall lamp post which must remain on 24/7; a stamped and gaily-painted driveway (multi-cultural themes only), stone columns quarried in Portugal, and a bat-infested entry and those bats better be neutered or spayed, vegan, rabies-free, defanged and declawed, and be multi-lingual.

HOAs require at least 4 officers (President, Treasurer, Secretary, Executioner), elected as soon as the last nail goes into the last house on the last empty lot in the subdivision. The President should carry personal liability insurance against the possibility the neighbors will file a lawsuit about the conservation areas being infested with non-native vegetation, such as lichen or cobwebs.

HOAs can’t protect you against builders, which are another hazard which you can’t avoid unless you are capable of building your own house, which you are not because, as you well know, there are only two kinds of people in the world—builders and victims of builders. You know who you are.

Nope

Speaking of building, what’s up with mud rooms being placed in the layout not where they make the most sense, which is immediately in from the garage door entry, but in what I think is called the Jack and Jill arrangement? This puts the mud room next to the laundry room next to the walk-in master closet which is off the master bathroom, which leads from the master bedroom, all in a straight line and all separated by the mandatory pocket doors which must be filthy and get stuck halfway out according to the building codes. Needless to say, the mud room need not be in close proximity to the garage entry and is often close enough to the front door that you have to track mud from there to the mud room—or across the front room to the kitchen, which makes about as much sense. The obvious conclusion here is that Jack and Jill were sadistic fiends called up using the Ouija board. At least that’s who the builders will tell you to blame.

I could go on but I’ve got other stuff to do today, like shop for houses. I know it’s a sickness and I should get some help—but there’s no treatment.

Over the Double Rainbow

We saw a double rainbow while out for a walk during a gentle rain. I know they’re not rare, they form because light bounces off raindrops, and all that. I’m not after the science angle here. I’m just hoping this was a sign of good luck to come. I’m pretty sure I’ve probably seen a double rainbow before. I just can’t remember when. And I doubt it was as striking as this beauty was.

Double rainbow!

These days I’m wondering what’s over the rainbow or the double rainbow. Going for a walk the other day helped me put things in perspective—at least for a while.

Out for a walk in the fall

My life is slower when I’m not on service in my role as a general hospital psychiatric consultant. And I’ll be fully retired in June. I just came off service earlier this week, when I was going at my usual fireman’s pace. Things seem to move so much faster nowadays.

I’m on service at 50% time now. That feels a lot different than the previous two years, when I was at 65% time. When I’m on, I’m going at a dead run. When I’m off, I just mosey along. It’s a little jarring to go from 0 to 90 and back again every so often—even though it’s less and less often.

I don’t mind telling you, I get a little bored sometimes. It helps to do something different every once in a while. I hadn’t made a pizza from scratch in over a year and a half. I guess it’s not completely from scratch. I’m still better at just sticking a frozen one in the oven.

Make that pizza!
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