Sam’s Train Layout

Sorry it has been so long since the last time!  I have some cool additions to share.

The first residential building is here!  (a humble cottage)  It was given to me as a kit with another house, identical, except that it is a different color. I will never have two houses that are the same on a single layout!


One of its coolest features is a vine made from a tiny twig and foam putty.  Foam putty is very useful paste made from corse ground foam mixed with diluted white glue and stuck on. You can use it to make all kinds of foliage, like bushes and vines.


There are two people going to play checkers, a man and a girl.  There is even a checkers board on the table!  The board  is incredibly tiny!  This is one of my favorite details.

Checkers players
Checkers players

Kitbashed a carport on the house. To kitbash mean to combine parts from two or more kit to make a unique model!  I am going to build a motorcycle from a kit to put in it.


By the carport I built a sandbox from toothpicks.  Notice grass inside sandbox and sand outside the sandbox.  (sand does not stay inside boundaries)


Another kit we assembled is a signal/watch tower by the tunnel.  It’s there to control and keep an eye on the rail switch there.  No head-on collisions wanted.


It is very detailed! (notice lamp above the upstairs door) There is also writing on the door that says Employees Only. Included in the kit was also a handheld lantern. We did not include this because it’s too tiny to paint.


I drew the sign by hand.  The one on the yard office is drawn better.  The same company owns the signal tower, searchlight tower, and yard office.  (that’s the Pine Creek Railroad Co.)


The signal watch tower is not quite done, I still need to put in trees, a trash can, path, etc.  However these details are low on my list.

All of my train table, with me
Not much of my train table, with me

In the works for next time: a desert and (more importantly) a “Megaproject”… to be reveled next time.

More Sam’s train table

Yet another Train Table post!  Mostly man-made things this time, though there are some trees.

The long awaited (to me) finish of the road is here!  Just some simple lines and signs.

Country crossing
Country crossing

I used a special scale ruler to make straight lines a scale 5 feet long with a yellow marker for the middle.  The white lines were made with a grease pencil and a steel ruler.  The crossing’s lines were made the same way.  I made the small signs with toothpicks and paper. As with this area, the last step brings it usually brings it out the most.

I have been doing some reforestation in the park and surrounding areas! There had been some trees in the park but I did not glue them down well enough and they fell over.

View of the the new trees
View of the the new trees
Park with trees
Park with trees

This time I glued them down (I hope) better, and added a few more.  The two kinds on the layout now are some kind of deciduous tree and some apple-y trees. I love trees, HO scale and real!

I also constructed a yard office for the to-be-built rail yard.  The building and guard shack are a plastic kit.  Dad and I glued it together, and I weathered it and placed it on the layout.

Yard office
Yard office

The parking lot is made of ballast, the name for model train gravel.  I handmade the “Pine Creek Railroad Co.” sign on the building.  It is tiny!

More yard office views
More yard office views

I also put some people that look like rail yard workers.  It is the second area to be fully developed, and I think it looks awesome!

I really enjoy watching the train table come along! One whole corner is almost done.

Can you remember when it was like this??
Can you remember when it was like this??

Sam’s train table- Part II

The train table has REALLY come along the past few weeks!  I am really excited about all the changes.  I hope you will like all of the additions.

One of the changes I made was putting grass on my mountain range.  This is done by painting the surface tan and then sprinkling on something called “ground foam.”  This is ground latex foam rubber dyed to look like different colors and textures of grass, I bought mine at Hobbyland.  It gets sprinkled on while the paint is still wet, and then, when the paint is dry, I drizzle on diluted white glue to finish bonding it in place.  Most of the grass is a fine texture and mixed colors with a little dark green coarse added in places.  All the grassing (as Dad refers to it) really brings out the texture of the sculptmold.

New mountains and tunnel (without portal mock-up)

My park has also really come along (you might be wondering how it could get any better?  Well, it has, look at the photos to see for yourself!).  I have added trees, extra detail items- people, benches, etc.- and I also finished the stream that runs through the park (more on this later on in the post).  The only remaining item near the park to be finished is the road.

New park details

I have also added a highway that runs diagonally across the layout.  It starts at one end, crossed some tracks, goes over the mountains, by the canyon, bridges over the stream next to the park, crosses two more tracks and heads off the edge of the layout.  On the end near the mountains, I have painted the shoulders of the road, but not on the rest or top.  To raise the road above the surrounding terrain (since real country roads are), I used a layer of thick cardboard and then thin chipboard (which is like mat board) for the finished surface.  The shoulders are formed with sculptamold, the fiber and plaster product I really like and having been using in a lot of different ways and places.  To do the crossings and joints between the chipboard surface, I used drywall spackle to smooth it out.  I think the road will look fantastic when it is fully painted!

Road over the mountains (half painted)
Crossing on mountain side with truck

Dad is making portals for the tunnel through the mountains.  What you see in the pictures are cardboard mock-ups.  I will probably replace those with thin balsa, though I’m not sure that will be tough enough to withstand a train smashing into the portal (although hopefully my trains won’t smash anywhere).

Tunnel portal, on one end
Tunnel portal, the other end

Now for the highlight of this update- the streams and lake!  The stream by the park consists of a groove routed into the MDF tabletop.  I sued sculptamold to round the edges of the groove and add texture to the stream.  Then, I painted both streams tan, sprinkled on fine sand and glued on small (good sized in HO scale) rocks to the bottom and sides.  To make everything in the streams look wet, I poured in a layer of clear gloss varnish- which dries to a clear, shiny finish.  (Real water does not work very well at all.)  In the second stream, which feeds into the lake and comes out of the mountains, I added two waterfalls.  On these waterfalls, to make it looks as if the water is foaming, I’m going to dry brush them white and glue on pieces of cotton.

Stream (sorry it’s sideways!)
Other stream, where it empties into the lake
Stream in the mountains
A rock in which there is a spring

Now the lake.  To paint it, around the banks and the edges I used a tan color.  Then I added a ring of light brown, and in the middle, a small black circle.  This looked almost exactly like a target.  Real lakes do not look like targets.  To blend it all together, I took a brush soaked in water and just rubbed it all over the lake, especially the areas where the different colors met while the paints were still wet.  As you can see in the photos, this means the lake gradually gets darker (ie deeper) the farther out towards the middle you look.  I also sprinkled on the same fine sand around the edges and in one place on shore, to look like a beach.  To add the wetness, I used the same technique as in the streams.  I poured in the varnish, which leveled itself out and looked like water.  It shrunk when it dried and will need a couple more coats.  I hope to add a small rowboat as well.  That needs to be done about halfway through, so it appears to float in the water.


All of these improvements have really brought the layout to life, especially the addition of “water”.  (As you may know from previous blog posts, water features are one of my favorite real life things to play in)  I hope to add a fountain someplace as well.  I look forward to seeing more improvements and additions in the future.  Feel free to come and see it for yourself!

Me putting varnish in one of the streams with a straw (oops, sideways again!)

Happy Halloween

Like most privileged Americans, I have fond memories of Halloween from my childhood.  The traditional highlights of costume parades at school to show off costumes and trick or treating around the neighborhood top my personal list.  I have since stolen my dad’s classic schtick, “Well, I’m getting tired from all this trick or treating, I guess it’s time to go home- what? you’re not ready?  Well, I suppose if I had a Snickers bar I might be able to keep going…”  (Here’s where I’d love to have a classic photo or two of me from back in the day, but I don’t, sorry)

I could do without the memories of the sheer terror I felt every year in gradeschool- the PE teacher would wear one of those cover the whole head gorilla/monster masks and go room-to-room.  He would storm in, waving his arms around, even scooping up a kid or two.  I suppose it was all in good fun, but I hated it- I could hear the screams start down the hall and move closer and closer, my heart would race, and when the teacher finally gave up control I would cower in fear under my desk or in the coat closet.  Bizarre, eh?

Anyway, zoom forward into the present.  My boys, of course, love Halloween too- it’s their second favorite holiday, coming after Christmas (though Sam adds its a distant second) and before the 4th of July (which until very recently they mistakenly called “Kids’ July,” giving you an idea of the misplaced priority the bike parade held in our family’s celebration).  They couldn’t believe it when I reminded them this year that work and school are not in fact canceled for the day, finding my “it’s not a major holiday” explanation sorely lacking.

It’s our first “major” holiday since the move, too.  And it is weird, after a decade of building memories and traditions in the same place.  We had evolved into having a party of sorts with friends each Halloween- I’d fix a couple big pots of soup, we’d take lots of cute pictures of big groups of kids before releasing the wild hordes in a trick or treat stampede.  I loved it.  So I’m missing that this year, I confess.

And yet there’s opportunity in the newness as well.  It’s the blank slate thing- what traditions do we want to keep?  What new ones do we want to start?  Joe has fearlessly embraced the spooky this year (well, at least within the limits of his six year old world.  I did have to adjust his nighttime noise machine at bedtime the other night, because it sounded too much like the “woooo” of ghosts, apparently).  He decided that since we wouldn’t have the littles (as we called the younger half of his old playgroup, the toddler brothers and sisters of his friends) we could really make the house scary.  He and David became presidents of the “Warfel Spook Decor” team, with Sam assisting off and on as his free time allowed.  David even pulled his students in on the act this year, somehow incorporating spooking up the house as a class project and having them over that afternoon to set up lights.  (That turned out to be another reason I was glad we didn’t have the big gathering- there were cables all over the place.)

Students hard at work- I found the lighting tree a lovely addition to my beautiful fall and Halloween decor
The boys were in the thick of the action, here lighting the gravestones they made weeks ago

And, of course, the old favorites and highlights remained.  We can in fact (surprise, surprise) do jack o lanterns here, just like in the old house.  We incorporated them into one of our weekend pizza party nights, which worked well.  I got the job of sorting and baking the seeds, David, as he invariably seems to, got to scoop the guts after the kids made a half-hearted attempt to and then decided it was too gross, and both boys completely carved their own pumpkins this year.  (Don’t worry, grandmas, Joe used some sort of safety knife sold just for that purpose)

It’s funny, how different their personalities are, and how that came through.  Sam is a bit of a perfectionist, pays attention to details, and works steadily until it’s done.  He added eyebrows this year, to challenge himself beyond what he’d done before.  Joe, on the other hand, focuses on the big picture- he’s neither perfectionist or willing to work too hard.  After sawing through about 3/4 of the mouth he had drawn, his arm was getting tired, so he just cut it off, figuring it was big enough.  To be fair, he’s a lot younger, but I think it’s more than just age.  He’s a happy go lucky kind of guy.

Joe, grossed out, shortly before handing the scraper over to David
The carving brought a smile, however
How times have changed in the last couple of years- we could even wander into the kitchen for awhile to work on the pizza, leaving them happily carving away
The proud finish
And another

We also still had a fun visit from Papa Jerry and Grandma Lisa, who brought an early Halloween with them.  (They have done this in the past, but our move put us father away from them, and there was some fear from the boys that they wouldn’t be able to make the longer journey- whew!)  The boys got to show off a preview of their costumes and get a jump on some candy.  Also huge fun were the Halloween novelties that Lisa is so good at finding- this year, there were both splat balls and eyeball bouncy balls.  The boys are still playing with both of those, the latter in this somewhat insane bowling-in-the-living-room game they developed that night.

Sam, enjoying his bucket ‘o goodies
Joe, squishing both his splat ball and his lips

And, as a grand finale, the big night itself.  Costumes are a big deal around here.  I take none of the credit for this- if it were up to my non-crafty self, there would be a lot of “old-sheet-with-eyes-cut-out = ghost” type creations.  Luckily for the boys, however, David is incredibly creative and crafty, so costumes are squarely in his department.

This year, Joe had declared an early interest in being Charles Ingalls from the Little House books (I know, it’s almost a refrain in the blog posts, his interest in them).  They had built a wooden rifle and faux leather bullet pouch, Meemaw had contributed her skills to come up with suspenders…he was almost there.  But then David went to Las Vegas to a lighting conference, and we picked him up at the airport.  Joe (of course, if you’re familiar  with the other Joe blog refrain) immediately became about all things air-related, and he decided to be a pilot for Halloween instead.  This last-minute change flew (ha! no pun intended!) largely because he had a policeman coat and hat that was fairly easily re-purposed, as well as a dress shirt and pants in the closet to complete the look.  It was, at least to this mom, adorable.

Sam is starting to lose interest in trick or treating, but he shares David’s love of all things creative and crafty, so that’s keeping him hanging in there for now.  He’s been very interested in motors lately, so he wanted to incorporate one somehow.  Browsing through our copy of “Build It With Boxes,” he landed on (ha! another pun!) an airplane.  He became the airplane itself, complete with blinking taillight and spinning propeller.  It was well-engineered- the wings folded up to allow him through doorways, and there was a built-in candy storage spot- folks just dropped it in the small hole in the front of the windshield.  He did almost all of this himself, with a bit of hot glue gun help from David.

I’m sure he’d want me to point out that his plane was chosen before Joe’s switch to pilot.  One of the frustrating realities of older brotherhood is the lack of intellectual property rights.

While we didn’t have a big party, David’s parents and sister, along with my mom, made the trip over for Halloween night.  So we still got to have potato soup and a smaller party, and it greatly helped ease the transition.  It was nice to see them- some went trick or treating with us, others manned the door and candy bowl while we were gone, and a good time was had by all.

Sam and Aunt Kate enjoyed a visit
David and his Dad

The lighting work on the house turned out really well- and it was fun to hear all the comments from visiting trick or treaters.  Of course, we did have a team of seven professionals at work all afternoon- I guess it’s no wonder it was impressive!

The nighttime view
A close up of the windows with the silhouetted cardboard face.  Not pictured is the screen door that had projections of flying bats, dancing skeletons, and more.  (This photo credited to Sam Warfel)

Trick or treating in our new neighborhood was…interesting.  We’re only about two blocks south of a fairly major street, so most of the trick or treating action seemed to be along it.  Perhaps as a result, the side streets were to be hit or miss, with some houses lit up and ready but quite a few that were quiet and dark.  And, actually, that might be another reason there weren’t a lot of trick or treaters along them- the streetlights are few and far between, so the streets are really dark.  There were kids out, though, and I think the lights on the house definitely drew folks in.  There seemed to be a lot of cars stopping- I think they perhaps drove over for the main street, and then drove through the side areas, stopping at welcoming houses.

As the lights went off and an end to the candy eating was declared, I asked the boys how their Halloween was.  Joe said it definitely lived up to his expectations- which I thought was saying quite a bit, considering the weeks of fevered anticipation and preparation that had gone before.  Sam then declared it was his favorite Halloween ever.  Wow.

I’m not sure what next year will bring (though I think I heard rumors of expansion from the Warfel Spook Decor team).  But I think the lesson learned is that, while it’s ok to feel bad about treasure lost, it’s important to leave ourselves open to new gems…because they’re definitely out there.  Happy Halloween!

Sam’s Train Table

I’m building a train layout with Dad.  It is set in the rural Sierra Nevada Mountains.  Dad and I work on it together on Thursdays, our project time, and I work on it myself in my free time.

All of my train table, with me

I have two engines, a steam and a diesel.  I also have a flat car, two gondolas, a hopper, a derrick, track repair car and a caboose.  The caboose used to be yellow, but it just got a new coat of paint- red with a black roof.  (Even if there are yellow cabooses, I do not like the looks of them.)

My diesel engine
My steam engine
Gondola, hopper, gondola
Same gondola, track repair car
Derrick, flat car with pipes

The table is made of MDF with a 1×5 apron (MDF- medium density fiberboard).  MDF is made of basically sawdust glued together, so it doesn’t have irregularities such as knots and holes.  The table is in our basement playroom.  It’s very convenient there, and it really adds to the feeling that our house is three stories tall (by making the basement more like a real story).

I will have a town at one end of the table, and country at the other end.  A highway runs diagonally through the town and country, and goes over the mountain range.  The highway will be slightly raised from the surrounding terrain, like a real one.  I would like to hear suggestions for a name for my town!  I think “something creek” would be nice.  In the country, there is a mountain range with a train tunnel and a cave.  There is a stream that starts at the top of the mountain range and flows down the side into a pond, and another that flows through the town and into a large canyon.  The mountains are constructed out of rigid foam insulation and then draped with rigid wrap (a plaster impregnated gauze).  I tried to get a little bit of everything into the small space of the table.

Railroad bridge
The highway bridge (in process)
Tunnel in the mountains

I nailed down the track.  The holes in the track were a little bit too small, so I drilled them bigger.  I nailed down the track so it wouldn’t slide around and bump into things.  My track is a combination track-roadbed product, which means the track is raised up on a plastic pile of gravel like the real ones.

I have finished the wiring for the switches and the searchlight.  The searchlight actually lights up!  I think it looks really cool lit up.  For me, the wiring is the most tedious part, but it is also fun.  Next up to do is a train bridge across the canyon, and finishing a park.

The searchlight
Wiring and power pack

A stream runs through the park.  There is a also park pavilion, gravel walkways, grass and a little footbridge across the stream.  I scratch built (that means building the model from scratch, not from a kit) the park pavilion.  It has a tar paper roof with patches, to make it look worn.  My park is the first mostly finished area, so it looks kind of funny now, there by itself- but is very satisfying to see.

Stream and footbridge
The park pavilion
The park

I am in the middle of weathering my freight cars and engines.  That means making them look old, rusty and dirty (in other words, weathered!).  I use several techniques for this.  One of them is a thin black wash of watered-down paint to simulate grime.  Another way I do it is to dry brush some brown paint in patches and on the trucks (the part that holds the wheels under the car) to make it look rusty.  It makes them look much more realistic, and might be my favorite part of the process so far (that or seeing how the mountains look with the rigid wrap).

One of my weathered gondola cars, with rust patches
The other weathered gondola car

It is very exciting and absorbing to work on my train table!  Please stop by and see it, if the pictures don’t satisfy you!

Ewing Park

Ah, another adventure Thursday.  Yep, the boys and I head out to explore our town every Thursday morning- I just haven’t been keeping up with blogging about all the outings.  There are a lot of fun experiences and cute photos backed up, but for now I’ll just write about this one.

Sadly, no bikes this time.  The park is in our distance range, but it’s on the far end of it (at least, the safer biking route makes it so) and the day was WINDY!  I guess that’s typical for fall, but this one was weird.  It’s definitely fall- the leaves are beautiful and falling rapidly, but it was really warm and humid too.  (A storm was blowing in that night, bringing more typical weather with it.)  In any case, we braved the wind and enjoyed the sunshine, but were glad during several huge gusts that we weren’t on our bikes.

This is just as we got to the park

The park is great, if a bit confusing to figure out.  It’s over 40 acres, tucked right in the middle of town.  So it’s a funny shape, wrapping around some neighborhoods, and accessed at only a couple of points.

The park is actually listed as three different ones, practically if not creatively called “Ewing I,” “Ewing II” and “Ewing III.”  It was a bit tricky from the park district website figuring out where to park, etc.- but we wandered around, asked someone out raking their leaves, and managed to do just fine.

At one point in our wanderings around the park, we asked a man for some further explanation.  He was very helpful, praising the park and asking if we were new in town, etc.  Then he added that it seems a lot of folks that live here have never been to the park and don’t really seem to know about it.  I suppose that’s true- not everyone has kids to entertain, not everyone likes to seek out creeks and trails- but it seemed sad to us, when it’s such a treasure.

Above, the boys are on the hill that seems to be the main feature of “Ewing III”- apparently it’s a big sledding hill in the winter.  Joe had some fun rolling down it- and it was windy on the top!

Joe, mid-roll
More rolling action

The bottom of the hill led off into the main action for the day, however (and I’m still not sure if it was in park II or park III, but that seems to be largely an academic question, so I’ll leave it be)- the Sugar Creek.

If you know the boys, especially Sam, you know the magnetic attraction that water has.   I think I’ve blogged about it before as well…his eyes lit up like Christmas when he saw it, and Joe was also more than agreeable to exploring it.

The creek winds around and through the park.  For most of the path, it’s pretty slow moving- but at one point we found a small rapids and waterfall area.  Wow, what a find!

Don’t worry, he kept ahold of the Speed!

Both boys had a good time playing around, discovering the various depths right there, the current strength, etc.

And luckily, we were sheltered from the wind down creekside, so that combined with the warm temps meant the fact they were quickly soaking wet was ok with me.  Well, that and there was a dry patch for me to perch on, I get cold much faster than either of them.

However, it didn’t take long for them to find a small tributary off the main creek, just off the rapids area.  That was exciting, because Sam could then move to his favorite water activity, building a dam.  And Joe waded carefully in the deep pools along that way, looking for clams.

They were annoyed, because once they moved out that way I couldn’t see them.  But I was unwilling to wade across, or to leave them unattended in the water while I made my way up above.  They had to pause and accompany me, as we walked the long way around up in the park.  The walk was made more uncomfortable for them, I think, by the fact that their pants were soaking, but, hey, what else could I do?

We passed by some playground equipment, and I jokingly asked if they wouldn’t rather stop and play there- garnering the expected disgusted look from Sam, who didn’t even bother to reply…he’s so easy to tease, sometimes.

Sam, on his way to the tributary
Sam, with his dam
Joe, clamming in the background

We all trudged back to the van, for me to pick up lunch and the boys to put on dry clothes.  It was a nice picnic on the hill, and I had thought (seeing partly as how they were all changed and dry) that we would hike after lunch.  There’s a trail (or more?) that connect two of the park pieces together, through a beautiful wooded area.  Neither boy wanted to, however- they were both desperate to get back in the water.  After some discussion, we figured there would be other days suitable for hiking this fall, but probably not too many warm enough for water play.  So back in the wet clothes, and back to the creek, they went.  I enjoyed the sun, the views, and their happy play.

Joe spotted this in the water
Pretty, isn’t it?

After another half hour or so, the predicted weather moved in- the sun disappeared, and the winds seemed to pick up even more.  It was time to get out of the water, trudge up the hill to the van one last time, change yet again, and gratefully head home for some rest.  But the park is a real gem, and we’ll be back- soon, and many more times, I hope.

Sam’s camping post

I went on a camping trip with my Meemaw a few weeks ago to Mississippi Palisades State Park.  It had several beautiful overlooks, high on the top of the cliff face, looking over the Mississippi river and its forests that were turning brilliant colors.  The birding there was excellent; I saw three new species for my life list.  (A life list is a list of all the different bird species I’ve seen in the wild in my life).  If you’re curious, the new three are:  Great Egret, Wild Turkey, and Northern Flicker.   This blog post, however, is centered mainly around water.

Me, on one of the overlooks
View of the MS River and its islands
Beautiful fall trees

Down at the base of the Palisades (cliffs), there was an artesian well.  It had three pipes.  One was coming out of the center of a rock in a sunken patio.  The water coming out ran down a hole inside the rock and bubbled out the side.  There was another one which was just iron- it went up and over, then down into a grate.

The two small pipes

The last pipe came out of the side of the cliff- it was much larger than the other two, and the water ran down a trench, behind one of the walls of the patio, where another another spring that had no pipe bubbled out of the cliff to join it.  There was also, down near the ground, a crack in the opposite patio wall with water coming out.  When you capped off the pipe coming out of the rock with your hand, the other small one would increase in pressure- and vice-versa.  The water was drinkable, however, I did not have some.

All three pipes

On the way home, we stopped in the Quad Cities to go to a visitor’s center in the middle of an army base that was located next to Lock and Dam No. 15.  There were rapids in the Mississippi River and the dam was built to submerge the rapids.  However, the drop in water level created required a lock.  A lock is a waterproof chamber straddling the dam with gates at either end and valves.  To operate it, the gates facing the lower water level are opened and the boat sails into the lock. Then, the lower gates shut and valves open and water from the higher level upstream flows in and raises the level of the lock to that higher water lever.  After this, the higher gates open and the boat sails out.

The dam
The tugboat Anna Louise

The two types of barges we saw going through were coal and natural gas.  Sometimes the barges are too long to fit in the lock.  A barge tow is made up of multiple barges (though it should be push instead of tow, the tugboat is at the back.)  Then, the lower gates are opened as usual and the barge sails as far as it can into the lock.  The barges that can fit in he lock are untied from the rest and the tugboat backs out, pulling them with it.  The lower gates then close, and the water level rises.  However, barges have no engines and the tugboat is not in the lock.  Therefore, the higher gates open and winches pull the cluster of barges out and tie them up along a wall to wait for the tug.  The higher gates then close, the water level sinks, and the lower gates open.  Then the tugboat, pushing the rest of the barges, sails in and the procedure is repeated.  The first barges through are tied back to the rest, and it sails away.

Coal barge going out
Weird photo of the natural gas barge, seen through the observation window
The upper gates, with normal circulation going through them

The tugboats I saw were too tall to fit underneath the bridge that runs over the lock and across the river.  When the tugboat was about to crash into the bridge, we heard a whistle and the section of bridge over the lock swung out of the way.

The swing bridge opening

When the people operating the lock need to get someplace faster than they can walk (the lock is huge) they ride on little yellow go-carts which I thought were highly amusing.  I called them little zipcarts, or zippers, since I don’t know what their real name was.  To cross from one side of the lock to the other, they drive on a pathway that goes along the top of the gates (needless to say, they cannot cross over a pair of gates when the gates are open.)  They have another older, smaller lock that they use mainly for pleasure boats now.  Locks are so simple, but ingenious, creations!

I found the whole trip very exciting and entertaining.  The large amounts of water features were very enjoyable to me.   I would love to have an artesian well and lock and dam in my yard, although they would have to be for miniature boats.

** All photos are credited to my Meemaw **

Homecoming fun

This weekend was Homecoming in town.  Now, it’s true that our old university town had a Homecoming weekend- and we’re even alums of that university- yet we never did anything for it.

Except for one time, when we were in college and our friend  (the man who taught us high school history, stayed in contact with us, and brought us to the church we attended for 17 yrs) invited us to go to the parade and meet his wife and kids.  It was memorable because his youngest son had a friend, Emma, along.  I asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up (umm, yep, a bad question for a 4 yr old, but at least I was trying).  She cheerfully replied she wanted to be a pony, and stuck to it despite my doubts.  I wonder what she’s up to these days?

However, much like the baseball game, it’s the modified us that actually occasionally spend some effort to get out of the house and even our comfort zones, so we went to the parade.  It was a pretty sunny day- but cold!  As in 34 degrees when we left the house cold- and, since the parade was in Uptown and going around the now-famous circle, we wanted to bike to it.

David biked all year last year, appreciating the relatively mild winter.  The boys and I didn’t start until last spring, however, so this is new territory for us.  We’d had a couple of chilly rides, but not 34 degrees.

So the Rubbermaids were hauled out- winter coats, scarves, ear covers and mittens found, and off we went.

34 is not actually that cold for biking- you generate plenty of heat once you get going, so we didn’t need the winter coats unitl we got there.  Well, except for Joe, who rides more than he pedals, with the trail-a-bike.  Anyway, once the gear was sorted out and put on (an ordeal that never fails to remind of that scene in “A Christmas Story” of the little brother in his snowsuit, getting the scarf wound so he can’t breathe, and then crying, “I can’t put my arms down!”- to which that awesome mom tries to push them down, fails, sighs, and says, “Well, just put them down at school!” as she pushes him out the door) there was little complaining.

It was the usual nice ride up the trail- I don’t think I’ve ever actually posted pics of the ride, so here’s one from a few weeks ago.  (If you mentally add some winter gear, it would be accurate).

Pretty, isn’t it?

The parade started shortly after we got there and secured a spot, so there was no time to get cold.  It was a nice size crowd- enough to feel celebratory, not enough to feel jammed in- and David found a good spot that was in the sun and out of the wind.

Sam actually never needed to switch to his winter coat that we brought with us.

All of us really enjoyed the marching bands- and there were an awful lot of them.  The college one, of course, but it seemed like every high school for miles around showed up as well.  Joe, who loves musical instruments and uniforms both, was especially taken with them.  He re-created the event later at home (I think I’ve written before about how Joe does that with any new experience.  It’s a way to both enjoy it again and explore it further, it seems, a learning strategy that I imagine is quite effective.)

The collegiate version….
And Joe’s version- pausing the marching for a photo op. He later added a bird feather to the hat to get the plume effect.

The college mascot, a “Redbird,” rode by, so we dutifully cheered him (her?) on as well.  It’s an odd thing, this supposed new allegiance.  I’ve confessed that we’re not sports people, so we weren’t necessarily rah-rah about our last one.  But we did go to college with it, and spend almost twenty years in a town dominated by it…and David and I had season tickets to basketball during the undergrad years.  So it’s a bit bizarre, making the adjustment.  David has led the way with a new T-shirt- it is his new employment, after all.  And Sam likes that the new one is a bird, since he’s a birder.  It’s not much of a big deal either way, I suppose, just another slightly surreal element of the last few months.

There were other fun elements as well.  The Shriners were there, since they never seem to miss a parade.  I remember them fondly from a couple of childhood 4th of July parades that were largely made up of tedious politician after tedious politician (my apologies to my sister in law, who’s running herself out in Washington State this year.)  Those little cars zipping around are awfully entertaining in comparison, and Sam and Joe loved them too.

I confess, though, I have no idea who the Shriners actually are or what they do/believe- maybe someone can fill me in?  But not if it’s creepy, like some secret societies seem to be, I can’t bear to have the childhood magic dispelled.

I hadn’t seen this “Tin Lizzie” version before-

A solar car captured David’s attention and fascinated Sam, who loves all things either environmental or engineering- and this was both!  It seemed of doubtful utility to me, but I guess that’s beside the point.

Can you see the driver down in the bubble? There were two cars, and one driver had a bike helmet on. Seemed a bit overcautious given the slow speed.

More along my line of interest was a group of kilt-wearing bagpipe players.

 Joe liked them for the musical element.  I confess (lots of confessions this post!) my interest is much less admirable, stemming from the “Outlander” book series set in Scotland long ago.  And, yes, if you haven’t read them and have several hours to spend, you should try them- though beware, they’re a bit racy in parts, and I still have a crush on the fictional main character, much to David’s annoyance.

If only I had audio to add!

As if all that wasn’t enough fun, many of the floats and cars threw candy!  One man, perhaps running for State’s Attorney, gave away mini Snickers instead of the ubiquitous Tootsie Rolls that dominated the candy throwing scene.  I mean, I have no idea of his skills, but you have to admire that.

It’s funny, the whole phenomenon.  David and I talk often about how there’s too much candy in the house- both boys have gallon Ziplocs that collect candy from Halloween, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Easter, etc.  Yet we only allow a couple of pieces on occasion, so it just sits there getting old.  (And, unlike wine, it doesn’t improve with age.)   But as you perhaps remember if you read the post on downtown, we’re recovering candy addicts.  So maybe this is the reason that we can’t quite bring ourselves to throw it out, except in small batches on rare occasion.  So, perhaps not surprisingly, we were all over grabbing up the candy off the street.  I even found myself urging the kids on to be a bit more aggressive- “Sam!  There’s some you missed!”  Sigh.  The last thing we needed was more candy.  Maybe I should invest in some therapy to sort this issue out.  Anyway, to our credit, while we did eat a bunch yesterday, we managed to bag the rest this morning for David to take to school and give away, having come to our senses somewhat.

The Snickers and Tootsie Rolls gave us just the energy boost we needed to get back on the bikes and head home.  The sun had warmed things a bit by then, so the ride was even more pleasant.  (Though this is relative- I think it was up to 40 degrees, perhaps.)   Another good morning in paradise…well, ok, definitely another good morning.

Apologies, and the farmer’s market

Ah, so I’ve dropped off the blog lately.  Sorry about that (on the other hand, I’m not deluded enough to think it’s caused major distress)- I’ll skip the long list of reasons (ok, excuses) and just jump back in with a nice, photo-heavy post.

Farmer’s Markets.  Do you go to one?

I have another confession to get out of the way, I’m afraid.  Everything about what I believe would suggest that I love farmer’s markets and  go to one faithfully every week.  I have nothing but admiration for those that do, as well as the hard working farmers and vendors that rise at the crack of dawn to sell their wares there.  I understand there’s community to be found that way, and I would probably enjoy that aspect as well.  Our last town (well, its sister town) has a vibrant farmer’s market that always draws a great crowd.

And yet…I don’t go.  There just always seem to be other draws on my Saturday mornings…either practical, like catching up with the baking, or lazy, like a date with some coffee and a good book.  I enjoy the farmer’s market like I do the local pumpkin patch- lots of fun on a beautiful day, but once or twice a season is enough for me.

In defense of myself, I satisfy my desire for the produce available there with our CSA (community supported agriculture.)  I know not everyone likes these, it seems mostly because you don’t select the produce you receive.  But I’m more than happy to trade that control for the convenience of a quick mid-week pickup, and it’s been good to get us to expand our repertoire as well.

Whew, that’s out of the way.  Moving on….

The boys and I found ourselves with extra time on our hands a Saturday or two ago, so we decided to check out the market here in our new community.

When, I wonder, is it no longer a “new” community?  I’ve found myself hesitating lately to say we “just moved to town”- I guess two months seems to be stretching it.  We’re settled in the new house, I no longer have to mapquest for most trips around town, we know where most essentials are…and yet, I think it’s definitely still a new community.   Any thoughts from those who have moved before, or often?  Or maybe it’s a personal distinction anyway?

We were all excited to go (yep, we’re not regulars, remember, so it’s like a trip to the pumpkin patch! and Joe realized he might be able to spend the few quarters that had managed to accumulate and were burning a hole in his piggy bank!)- it was a gorgeous fall day, if a but nippy when we started out.  Downtown has become familiar, and it’s a relatively short and easy bike ride there.

The market is charming, if you’re as willing as I am to call a bunch of tents and vendors charming.  The downtown is set around an old courthouse on the square, which I’ve always wanted.  (I mean, not like I want Jesus, good health or world peace, but it’s always been attractive to me.  It seems to usually be a feature of towns much smaller than I want to live in, though, so it’s a unexpected and delightful perk of our new town.)

David is the one with the architecture background, so I can’t tell you anything about the photos that follow.  But I find the detail on the buildings around the square in the downtown interesting.  If you don’t, feel free to start scrolling down for a bit.

Now, back to the farmer’s market around the square…

The “around the square” layout is particularly exciting for us because it’s the same setup as the one in Madison, WI…relevant because one of our favorite annual traditions is to visit my aunt and uncle there, and enjoying their farmer’s market is a highlight of our weekend visit.  In fact, I think we were going to it long before we had any interest in our own or the issues surrounding them.

Here’s the square!
And the boys, with the market behind them

There were all the usual produce vendors- and I love fall produce.  Squashes, kale and other greens…yumm.  Seriously.  But there were many more treats as well, and the boys have an incredible knack for finding those.  On the edible end of things, we resisted the many cookies and breads for sale (mom can make those, they figured) but stopped for a few others.

We were delighted to find cheese curds- these are always a highlight of the aforementioned Madison market, and it’s my aunt and uncle there who taught us that warmed cheese curds make a fun squeak between your teeth.  I know, we’re not the dairy state- but these were good, and they did squeak!

There’s a sizeable dairy on the edge of town that I think would be fun to visit.   You can do things like pet the cows and watch the cheese making through a big observation window, so it’s on our list of field trip spots.

From there, we went on to the “honey lady’s tent.”  I was interested in some  honey, and the boys were happy to buy honey sticks (a bargain at only five for a dollar- Sam had a dollar and enjoyed his at breakfast all week, and Joe got one to enjoy right away, which was enough for him since he’s not much for delayed  gratification yet anyway.)

Serious discussions over the various choices

I think the highlight of the market for Joe was discovering another edible treat- maple sugar candy!  These were those little packaged maple-leaf-shaped candies- I don’t think the vendor made them, but the boys said it was delicious.

We’ve been both reading and listening to audiobooks of the Little House series off and on for the last few months, and he’s really enjoying the stories.  (If you’ve read past posts, you know Joe is my history buff.)   Perhaps you remember the books from your childhood- when they live in the Big Woods of WI, making the maple syrup and the maple syrup candy was a big occasion and treat for Laura and Mary.

We took a break for the maple sugar candy!

The market wasn’t all about food, however.  Joe had fun getting a balloon animal made for him…can you guess which kind…yep, a horse.  The mane with especially cute (although I’m not sure it shows well in the picture below).  The balloon artist was passing out business cards- I doubt we’ll ever be hiring, but Joe did put one of his quarters in her tip jar, so all was fair.

Never fear, Sam didn’t walk away empty-handed either.  He likes to help me with our seasonal decorating, and he’s been keeping his eye out for a bargain on mini pumpkins and gourds.

This fits with the whole farmer’s market vibe, right?  I think it would be hard to live somewhere like So Cal without the seasons.  I love the rhythm of changing seasons, always giving a new chance to re-focus.  Each one brings it’s own activities, foods, and even decor.  Well, then again, perhaps being doomed to day after day of sunny and mid-70s would be tolerable, ask me again when we’re stuck in endless winter here in later Feb….

We discovered a farmer with baskets of them (at 2/$1), so Sam carefully selected a few of the best ones.

The West Bloomington “Book Bike” was also there, and Joe selected a book called “Let’s Be Early Settlers,” complete with craft project suggestions.  He was thrilled!

It’s part of a larger group/movement to revitalize West Bloomington, an area that faces some urban-type challenges.  The bike is a box bike- the kind with a long platform out in front of the handlebars/rider.  They built a wooden box on the platform, and it opens to reveal a mini-library.  The group brings it to neighborhood events, bringing books at no charge to underprivileged kids.  While I’m not sure Joe counts as underprivileged, at least in the book category, he did donate another of his quarters, so perhaps it was ok.

So we made the whole loop around and were quite satisfied.  We took advantage of being downtown for a couple of other quick stops and then biked back home for lunch.  The sun had warmed it up a bit more by then, which was nice (we still need to buy some fall/winter biking gear like ear/face coverings) and the morning was declared a success.  (And, yes, if you’re not too tired of the predictable conclusion, another diamond discovered.)