Wednesday, January 13, 2010

ET...Find Home

When you mention a GPS these days most people picture a small LCD screen in their car with a voice that tells them where to turn on the way to their desired destination. Most of these have been given a name by their owners, mine is Gypsy Rosalie, with a play on GPS and a Twilight influence. We opted for the personality with a British female accent.

Our GPS does not have as much personality as my sister’s does. Over in Ireland they use their navigational aid extensively, but one time kept making detours contrary to the directions to see the sights. Finally their GPS said, “I’m afraid you are going to have to work with me a bit, dearie.”

It’s amazing how much we use the GPS just around town when we know exactly where we’re going. I think it’s a Star Trek thing in that we like our computers to talk to us as if they are really as smart as we wish. My laptop has a feminine voice as well to this end. It’s very comforting as I shut it down when it talks to me.

Many people have forgotten the original, yet more portable GPS receivers used by people out of doors, usually hunters or hikers. A small handheld GPS receiver can guide you to your favorite camping, hiking or fishing spot to within about 5 feet. There’s a new low end features unit that will help you find your way back to your car in a parking lot. For its price, though, you can rather buy the real deal. I own a Garmin Legend. The Etrex is a little cheaper for those on a more limited budget.

In addition to find places, there are a number of other things you can do with a good GPS. My brother-in-law likes a game called “Fox and Hound” played with multiple GPS units, multiple vehicles and radios. The idea is for the fox to leave first then call period coordinates as he travels. The hound then tries to catch up or anticipate where the fox will go and catch the fox. The fox must take regular stops to allow the capture.

Another entertaining thing to do is geocaching. Someone hides a container, usually. This may also be a virtual cache where you find a spot, but no physical cache. Normally, though, someone hides a container. The container can be literally any size. The smallest I’ve seen was the size of my fingernail. Larger containers are usually something like Tupperware or an ammo box. Inside the box are a log book and goodies. These goodies are usually just trinkets with no real monetary value.

This cache is hidden somewhere...anywhere. The coordinates and description are posted online. My favorite website is You look for a cache near you, enter the coordinates into your GPS, then take off. The GPS will tell you what direction to travel and how far away it is. When you get within 5-30 feet depending on the accuracy of your GPS and the one who hid the cache, you start looking for hiding places under rocks, in pipes, in hollows of trees or magnetic containers stuck to signs or structures.

Once you locate the container you log your visit and trade a trinket from your pocket for one in the cache. Some trinkets are called travel bugs and you log where you pick it up and where you later drop it off so that people can track its progress. When you return home from your trek you go online again to and log that you found the hidden container and what items you traded.

It’s amazing to think that you can find an object hidden anywhere in the world as small as your fingernail with the aid of a GPS and a great deal of satisfaction comes from doing it. Some caches incorporate riddles or puzzles to solve the location. There is a much larger group doing this than you might think. Some people I have known like to do it at night to make it more challenging. Others locate the hidden cache using topographical maps and compasses. That requires more skill and patience than I have, plus I love gadgets.

Imagination in the hiding leads to pleasure in the finding, kind of like most everything enjoyable in life.

Happy trails,


Sunday, January 3, 2010

It's for You

I spent twenty-five years talking on the phone for work. I’d call customers or they’d call me. For seven years my calling in Church dealt with calling members to either set up an appointment, get answers to questions, or relay information. Now that I’m retired, I still seem to be on the phone all the time.

Phones don’t bother me much, but I try to avoid them when possible. I’m not alone. It seems that everyone in my family is afflicted with the same syndrome. When the phone rings a barrage of “Not me’s” goes through the house. If no one is expecting a call, no one wants to answer the phone. My wife is very much averse to speaking on the phone. If we need to call one of our children the conversation goes something like this:

Wife: Call (add name of child) and ask them (fill in the topic.)
Me: Why don’t you call them?
Wife: I don’t feel like talking on the phone.
Me: Whatever.

I call (add name of child.)

Me: What are you doing?
Child: Nothing.
Me: Ok, bye.
Wife: Wait! Ask (add name of child) if they want to come over for dinner.
Me: Do you want to come over for dinner?
Child: Sure.
Me: Ok, bye.
Wife: Wait! When can they come?
Me: When can you come?
Child: Soon.
Me: Ok, bye.
Wife: So, when are they coming?
Me: Soon.
Wife: What does that mean? What time are they coming?
Me: Soon.
Wife: Did you ask them what they were going to bring?
Me: No, you didn’t say to ask them to bring anything.
Wife: Are they bringing the movie they borrowed?
Me: I don’t know. Are they supposed to do it?
Wife: I can’t believe you don’t ask all the questions.
Me: I don’t know why you don’t call them yourself.
Wife: I don’t like to talk on the phone.
Me: Right....

Ring, ring....

Not it,


Friday, January 1, 2010

On the Open Road

My wife and I have families on opposite sides of the country with us in the middle. Periodically we travel to visit one or the other spending 16 to 22 hours in the car on average depending on which direction we drive. Road conditions affect our timing, but we usually have great weather. One year we sat nearly 6 hours in traffic jams waiting for emergency crews to clear the interstate.

After nearly 30 years of marriage, we have our trips down to a routine. We get audio books to pass the time while the kids watch movies or read books. We know the gas stations we need for the best location and price. We know where most of the Taco Bells are located, though our GPS Rosalie knows where the rest are.

If there are sights we want to visit along the way, we leave early, if not, we drive all night and usually straight through. Part of my routine in packing the van is to declare over and over that everything will not fit in the van, even though it usually does. My family always tells me to tie things to the luggage rack on top of the van. I have to explain that it’s not a luggage rack. It’s a canoe/kayak rack that serves its purpose well.

There is an aspect to our trip planning and packing that always goes awry. We start planning snacks to eat along the way. It always starts small. Usually the few packs of gum, mints and sodas fit in a single grocery bag. Then we buy the rest. We get popcorn and snack mix. We buy cookies. We get some beef jerky. You can’t leave without some water for each person. We add some fruit in case we are in a healthy eating mood. The orange candy circus peanuts are yummy and the kids like eating nerds or MMs. Definitely remember the chocolate.

By the time we are ready to go we have a large picnic cooler full of snacks and a few more within an arm’s reach stashed strategically around the vehicle. We never eat it all while we travel. We often don’t need to stock up before returning home. It’s not wasted, though, because that red cooler turns into my private snack vault when I go visit family. I always have what I need to satisfy my sweet tooth while away from home. If I’m really lucky I also have enough for a personal stash when I get home.

Come to think of it, I need to go check behind the oatmeal in the cupboard for the stash of mint chocolate chip Oreos.