Monday, April 19, 2010

Weekend at Steamboat

There are some books that once I pick them up and start reading them I can’t stop thinking about the plot and characters. I have been reading this Stephen King novel for the past several weeks and this weekend gave me a chance to get into everything the book has with my full attention. “Duma Key” grabbed me and until I finished it, it wouldn’t let me go.

Linda and I packed up the camper and drove down to Steamboat Rock State Park for a long weekend. The weather in the northwest was forecasted to be beautiful and so we figured if it was going to be good in Coeur d’Alene then it has to be hot at Banks Lake. This is our first venture down to this area in the spring and we were greeted with green grasses and blooming wildflowers.

We set up our camper in the first group camp. Steamboat has two camps and we usually are down in the second one because they close the first group camp after Labor Day. We usually are down here around Halloween and the campground is usually empty.

Set up was very easy and we got a nice spot within about 50 feet of the water. Our loop was empty and there were only two other rigs in this entire three loop system. We had a nice evening watching the water fowl. There must be hundreds of birds out in front of our site and as the evening progressed we witnessed mass migrations back and forth in front of our lounging point. Several times a couple of big birds of prey, I believe to be Golden Eagles, swooped in and caused mass hysteria on the surface of the water for several minutes. The smaller birds would flap wildly and avoid the attacks, their wings sounding like an old motor car rumbling by. Squawks and cries split the air, but the moment the big birds flew off, the lake returned to its quiet self.

We watched the sun set, took Kobi for a final run and then settled in to eat dinner, read, and go to bed. The night sky was clear and the air grew cold. It was cold enough to warrant additional blankets, but we keep them right next to our bed so we pulled them over us and slept warm the entire night.

Linda woke up early and took Kobi for a walk. I rolled out of bed and fixed coffee, returning to my “Duma Key.” When the two walkers returned we sat out in the sun reading and taking in the vitamin D. The sounds of loons, grebes and ducks filled the early morning air.

We took a walk to the west end of Steamboat Rock and explored that area. I took a few pictures as Kobi and Linda marched onward. The entire hike was about three miles I would guess and it gave us a different view of Banks Lake then we had seen before. On the way back I found a tick on my neck so we were now in full tick alert. I imagine Kobi will pick up several by the time we are through with our weekend.

Back at the camper we settled into our lounge lizards consuming more of our books as the afternoon progressed.

At about 4:00 PM two rigs pulled into the tri loop area. With no hesitation they drove directly over and set up right next to us. We were completely dumbfounded. There are approximately fifty spots in this big loop area, four were taken and they were well spread out, and they chose the two spots directly next to us. We tried to figure this out as they set up, but the only thing we could come up with is that they are backed up to the open sage brush area. They have a poor view of the water; there are about ten others that are directly on the water, like ours. We could not understand their choice to be right next to others. As the weekend continued we accepted their presents, they were fairly quiet and kept to themselves. After they were all set up my theory is that they come here often and know exactly where to set their satellite dishes in those two spots.

We went to bed tired and ready for sleep. I woke up at about 2:00AM to the sounds of coyotes yipping in the distance. Linda woke up at 4:00AM to the sound of a mouse munching somewhere in one of our cupboards. She woke me and I immediately went out and brought in the heavy armaments that we had purchased for this purpose in Bend when we were visiting Shawna. I set the traps with peanut butter and we returned to bed. All Linda could think about was a mouse running around over her in bed. All I could think about was how the dammed thing got in here. Once again a mouse hunt began.

We started our day in the usual way. When Linda and Kobi returned from their walk I was at ”Duma Key”. We read for about an hour and while we did we ate breakfast. Once we had our morning coffee, meal and literature we got ready for our walk. This morning hike took us along the base of Steamboat Rock to the west. We followed the trail to the lake giving us the exact opposite view that we had the previous day.

As we hiked Kobi ran in front of us on the trail. Sometimes he would bust off the trail to jump and run on his own. As we neared the lake he made a quick left off the trail and ran right into a cactus patch. I saw him jump and then sit down right in the middle of the trail. We grabbed him as he bit at something on his foot. I was a second too late and there it was, a cactus stuck to his lower lip. He definitely didn’t like it there, but we had his head and kept him from biting it any further. It was sharp and when I tried to pull it out it poked at my every attempt. I took his lead and quickly wrapped it around the cactus giving it a quick pull. The tuft pulled out and flipped into the grass, leaving about three big spines stuck in Kobi’s lip. You could see in his eye that he did not like this one bit, so I quickly bulled the remaining spines out. We searched his paws and around his mouth for more pickers, but found none. For the rest of the hike in this area we kept Kobi on lead and on the trail hoping to avoid further cactus incidents.

We tossed a stick for the dog and he swam out and kind of brought it back. When we tired we walked back up to the gravel road and returned to the camper. After lunch I returned to the “Key” and read on. At about five I was within pages of finishing the book. Linda cooked dinner and we ate. I finished the novel just after dinner and sat and digested the outcome. Kobi and I took a bike ride and when I returned I showered. When I got done with all the evening preps Linda handed me a new book, “Breathless” by Dean Kontz. I sat down and the cycle began again.

The next morning I checked all my traps. Mouse hunting takes persistence and you have to be diligent about keep things in order. Once the traps were baited with fresh peanut butter I made breakfast and we got ready for a bike ride. We road about six miles and half way on the ride I returned to our camp and picked up Kobi. He did a great job of running between Linda and I as we moved along the road. We rewarded his efforts by letting him dock dive as I tossed him sticks. He loves to run and hurl himself into the water. When we were at the Bighorn Outdoor Show in Spokane this spring we thought of entering him into the competition. It costs $25 for his entry fee and that was a bit steep, so we bought him a new toy and called it good.

We returned to camp and played cribbage. Linda is on a winning streak and I just go through the motions of watching her count 12’s and 14’s. If I have to serve time in hell losing in cribbage, then I have had a lot of practice already, not that I think I’m headed that way you know.

We cooked dinner, took Kobi for a final ride and settled in to watch our Sunday night movie. Netflicks delivered us “Where the Wild Things Go” recently and so Linda made crumb cake and we snuggled into bed for the viewing. It was a good little movie, a bit slow and filmed a great deal either in the dark of the cave or at night. This made it hard to see what was happening on our small screen LCD.

After the movie I took Kobi out to relieve himself, the sky was clear and the moon shown bright. Tomorrow we pack up and drive home. Linda and I have talked about why we camp many times. We can’t put our finger on just one reason we love to get out. We are perplexed about why we have not found others who have the same desire to get away and explore like we do. The life style we choose gives us many freedoms that others do not have. Then again we have some good friends who have much more freedom then we do and we would love to be able to go and explore for long periods with their company. This will come with good time, we’ll just have to stay close and get away when we can.


The truck and camper rumbled back into our storage spot and my concentration was directed into the backing mirrors when I heard Linda in a hushed tone squeal “there’s the mouse, right there, on the wiper blades, don’t move!” I put the rig in park and focused on the window before me. There it was, right where Linda said. I moved slowly and opened my door. It moved toward me fast. I could not decide what to do so I swung at it with my hand. Three times I swung and missed and finally it ducked under the truck hood. I pulled the latch and opened the hood, but could see nothing. It was somewhere inside my hot diesel engine, I knew it was gone for good. I walked over to Linda’s side of the truck to open the door for Kobi and as I reached for his door I saw something drop off the truck into the grass. There it was sitting in just off the driveway not two feet from where I stood. I looked at Linda and motioned for her to stay put. She looked at me and I brought my finger to my lips to say “shhhhhhhh”. With lightning speed I leapt up in the air and tromped down on the mouse. GAME OVER BIG GUY! Dean Bennett 2, mice 0.

Linda had already made appointments with the psychiatrist for the trama of seeing my big 12 inch shoe cruch the life out of that cute little mouse.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Epilogue - Sisters Oregon Habitat Trip

We have been back a couple days and have had some time to process our trip and think back to everything we experienced. Gathering a group of college students, providing them with food and transportation, chauffeuring them down to Oregon and then making sure they have a great volunteer experience building a house for Habitat was quite the adventure.

The group of students who accompanied us down to Sisters OR was very diverse. Over the past three months students joined the team and several of them left the team. The Friday before we left we actually had to call and add two final members to the roster. With all this, the group of students we took with us on the trip turned out to be a wonderful team. They all got along, and most of them had the same interests. When they had free time they hung around together playing games, watching movies, and enjoying each other. They were on time for all the events and represented the college very well.

The experience of volunteering to build a Habitat House was very rewarding. We worked very hard and each night I was pooped. Mornings came very early and my old muscles ached. But the work was challenging and the people we worked with were top notch. We grew to respect each of the individuals who give of their time to help build these houses. They built with pride and without complaint and they were so patient with our students. They treated our students like royalty and provided dinners, lunches, break snacks and even bicycles to ride while we were there. It was an experience beyond our greatest expectations.

Would I do it again? Yes, with a little caveat. I would work on a Habitat House as a volunteer in a heartbeat. In fact when we retire Linda and I will probably start volunteering on Habitat houses. I would prefer to not have the responsibility of gathering the group, transporting them and making sure they had everything they need. If I could separate the two jobs, that would work best. Take a group and not work on the house, or work on the house and not take a big group, which would be my preference. It was just too much to do both; it has taken two days to get back to almost normal.

We worried about how the students would view the experience. We regret that we didn’t have time for the students to process the experience as a group. It seemed that whenever we were going to talk about the journals or the days experience then we had something that interfered. Our only feedback has been a few comments from the group, a couple posts on facebook and their home made thank you note. From all that we think they all had a great experience. This made us feel real good and was a great conclusion to our adventure.

Final Friday Fun

Early morning wake up sent us working on getting the camper packed up and the students on task to wake up, eat breakfast, clean the church and pack the van. Today we had a half day of work and then a 7 plus hour drive back to Coeur d’Alene. I was a bit nervous about getting the place back in order and getting to work on time, but the students were great and we made it to the site with plenty of time to spare. The students even programmed the creation of thank you cards into their morning, and when we left the church, we left it cleaner then we found it and they left a wonderful thank you card to boot.

The weather this morning was a combination of snow, wind and slush. Our first job was to clear the place of snow and then we could get to work for the day. On the site we continued to hang the exterior plywood and at exactly noon, Alex called it a day. We all headed down to the Habitat office where we were greeted with pizza, certificates, and a shirt or hat from the Sisters Habitat group. They presented each one of us with our gifts as Alex made a brief statement about how we worked. Our students reciprocated by giving them a thank you letter and one of our team t-shirts. I think they were very surprised.

We got everyone in the van and left Sisters at exactly 1 pm. The roads were good, the wind at our back and we once again made good time on our return trip. We arrived back in Coeur d’Alene at 8 pm and by 8:30 Linda and I were home and getting ready for bed.

Hurricane Plates and Plywood

We woke up to our best day for work of the week. It was cold but the sky was a bright blue and it turned out to be perfect work weather. We arrived at the site to see that all the trusses were nailed in place and our leaders were ready to start hanging the exterior plywood. They divided up our group into two projects. Some of us were assigned to nail hurricane plates on the tops of the walls around the trusses. Linda and I joined a group that started hanging the exterior plywood and nailing it down. This process takes a lot of nailing and Anna became the nail gun queen that first day, she was all over it. I was recruited to lift and nail each big board into place with the help of Sheyne and the guidance of Bob from above.

The men who volunteer for Habitat are super nice and very patent. Bob and Larry were my favorites. Bob was a quiet guy that smoked and old stogie all the time. He had the look of the perfect retired carpenter. Larry was so nice and explained everything, some times over and over. I enjoyed working with him because he had a good sense of humor, despite on Friday, having to call for the nail gun over and over.

We finished up about half the exterior that day before we left the job site. I was impressed with the amount of work we got done.

Our morning break was provided by a wonderful little lady. She was the wife of the fellow who started the Sisters Habitat program. They had donated all the land where we were building and the housing group was named after them. Our students were very excited to visit with her and they gathered around talking and laughing. She was very cute and you could tell she cared deeply about Habitat.

When we returned to the church we encountered our first snag. The church was holding a soup kitchen that evening followed by the Monday Thursday church service. We did not know about this and had planned to eat hamburgers for our evening meal. The people from the church said they had enough soup for all of us, but when I presented that to the group they said they would prefer hambugers. They also had no interest in attending the church service, so we all packed into the boys room and I proceeded to barbeque the burgers over our little Stow and Go barbeque.

After we ate and cleaned up a bit the students took the van and went over to the athletic club to shower and clean up. Linda’s sister and her family had driven up from Eugene and they arrived just in time to pick us up and take us out to the house that they rented. I took a quick shower while Linda, Diana, Al Dee and the Kids, Kenyon and Alayna talked and played games. I was beat, the work and then the stress of getting everyone fed from that little space we were forced to use, had really taken it out of me.

We all talked and I played telephone with Alayna, but when the clock struck 9 Linda and I asked Al Dee to drive us back to our camper for some well deserved rest. Al Dee dropped us off and we went in the church to find all the students sitting in a row in the dark watching a movie they had rented. It was quite the site, and really typified this group and how they spent their time together. I did not have to worry about them a bit, which was very nice.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Smith(s) Rock(s)

We woke up to a cold sun shiny morning, partly cloudy but the sun was there. This was our day off, as planned by the Habitat folks. We would have preferred to work, but I think the locals needed time to get things done without all our questions.

Questions, boy can this group ask questions! They will ask a question no matter how obvious the answer might seem to you. If Neal Armstrong had just set foot on the moon, they would ask him if he knew where the bathroom was. I think this may be a trait of this generation again. When we are in the church kitchen, a place that we have never been before, they all ask us questions about where items are located constantly. I have even taken time twice to explain that Linda and I, just like them, have never been here before. The kitchen in fact is labeled so well that no one should have to ask for anything, just look around and read the labels.

We all fixed breakfast and got ready for the day and at about noon we left Sisters and drove to Smith Rocks State Park where we spent the afternoon hiking the trails of that beautiful area. We got out of the van and within a minute, Anna walked up to me and said “I know you don’t like these type of questions, but do you know where the bathrooms are?” Now it has been about 17 years since I climbed there at Smith Rocks, so I pointed to the obvious direction, left, and said “I think they are over there.” She said thanks and I got lucky and the restrooms were located “over there.”

We hiked the area and about a half hour before we were set to meet back up, Linda and I used the restrooms by the climbing walls. They were very nice, self composting systems, but Linda got herself locked in the one she chose. When I had finished and was ready to leave I could hear a bit of panic in her voice as she called for me to help her to open the door. I rattled the door and pushed on it and finally he bolt on her side came loose and she appeared. She had visions of me having to hike back to the van and then find a ranger to get the lock unstuck. I have visions of a great story, one that I could tell over and over.

Trusses, interesting very interesting!

In the morning Linda took some of the group running and I got my breakfast and tossed the ball for Kobi. Kobi is living the life; he is the center of attention and has the run of the place. One of the top dog church women owns a Golden and she gave him permission to be in the church. He has his nose in everything and the students love him.

At 8:45 am we were all loaded in the van except two. I had just jumped out to kick butt when they ran out of the church and climbed in. We drove to the work site where we joined about twelve other volunteers, a much bigger group then were present in the rain yesterday.

The weather was still not great. It changed every five minutes from wind to snow and wind, to rain, and even sometimes SUN! We gathered and they gave a devotional. Today’s message talked about stopping to help others in need, it was good and very appropriate.

Habitat, being volunteer based, and depending a great deal on donations from local businesses, is sometimes at the mercy of many factors. Today we were stalled by the truss delivery and boom truck being delayed. We were told it would arrive somewhere between 9 am and 11 am. The truck arrived at 11:45 am. During this lag time we stood around and waited while the project manager, Larry, and the construction manager, Alex, heatedly discussed the delay and the way the trusses would be set. It got a bit loud, but they had moved away from the crowd so most of our group was not aware of what was happening. Both Linda and I felt bad for both Alex and Larry, they are both such nice guys and we could see that they didn’t want their disagreement to affect everyone who was here to volunteer.

After several minutes things got worked out and folks started getting the area ready for the trusses to be lifted to the top of the walls. When the truss lift arrived, coincidentally so did the food. A fellow named Pete arrived with our lunch. We were building the house for him and his family so he had brought the group of volunteer’s hamburgers and hotdogs. Everyone fell in line and grabbed lunch while Alex and the elk shirt man, ran around and helped place the trusses up on the walls. Pete was very excited and was very appreciative of our group helping to build his future home. We were glad that we got a chance to meet and chat with a future owner.

This took about 45 minutes and once the trusses were lifted and the food was gone, we swarmed the place and started setting the trusses. Most of the technical guidance came from the Elk shirt guy, with head nods from Alex. Elk shirt guy was a climbing phenom. He also could sure use a hammer. Each nail he smacked took three hits and a tap, where as all of us hit the nail about 20 times, while also hitting the 2X6 at least ten times too.

By the end of the day we had completed setting the trusses on one half of the duplex. The goal was to get that half finished so that we could work on the exterior siding on Thursday. I think everyone did a good job, I know they wanted to have a bit more direction, but we talked about that later and they understood all the things that interfered and slowed progress down.

Linda and I fixed a pasta dinner with the help of a few so the students. The meal was well received and most of it got eaten. I went to the club and showered and when I returned the students were back to playing games and laughing. Linda and I said good night and crashed in our bed. Something about answering questions, building houses and keeping track of 10 students tends to tire you out.

Sisters Oregon

We were up early and made sure everyone knew about the 9:00 am job site gathering. It was the usual chaos and of course we were almost late. I think we exited the van right at 9:00 am, yes 9:00 am, the time it started pouring down rain in Sisters Oregon. We had what Habitat calls a devotional, I think it surprised some of the kids, but most of them are religious so I don’t think they gave it a second thought.

After that we loaded into the van a drove to the main office of Habitat and watched three videos. With two days in Sisters under our belts, we have noticed one big difference between the videos we watched and what we have actually been through. In all the videos, in every scene, in every location, all around the United States and the world, there was never one shot depicting volunteers working in pouring down rain and snow. In fact most of the warnings told of heat stroke, not one mentioned frost bite or hyperthermia.

Back at the work site we drove nails and got the area ready for the big job of setting trusses when they arrived on Tuesday. At about noon the project manager, Ron, looked at our soaking wet group and called it a day. We all wanted to work, but it was so wet he felt we should set our sights on the next day.

We drove to the Laundromat, which was a block away from our church where we tossed all our wet cloths in the dryer. It took about two dollars to get them dry, but it was a great investment. By this time Linda and I were getting to know some of the student better. It is very interesting. This generation of students is a bit challenging to work with. Linda’s first example was when we got to the Laundromat and not one of the kids offered to help take their wet cloths into the place to get then dry. We had to say “hey, anyone going to help here?” Then they finally jumped and lent a hand.

I am a bit calloused by working at the college I guess, I see it every day, there is no excuse, but after a while you just learn to let it go or you spend all your time suggesting that they lend a hand in life.

While the clothes dried the students went over to the Habitat site and got their picture taken for the news paper, no problem getting them going to do that! Then they went over to the main office where they had fixed us a hot lunch.

We settled into our home at the church and everyone played games and rested from the half day of work in the rain. During this time some of the group ventured over to the Athletic Club and took showers. Two thumbs up report came back. Shayne was impressed that they had shampoo and towels for everyone.

We fixed chicken fajitas for dinner and it was a great hit. Linda assigned duties and I did most of the preparations. No one went hungry and most everyone participated.

After dinner we all played a game that Gabby set up and taught us. I have to admit it was very funny and everyone was laughing by the end of the evening. Linda and I went to bed at about 11:30 pm and we were both exhausted. My last words of the night thanked them for all their work but reiterated how important it will be to leave the church by 8:45 am on the dot.

Spring Break - Habitat House

As always 4:30 am comes very fast when you want to get rest for a long day ahead. We have been preparing for this trip for the last week and I am actually a little stressed and a bit nervous. Linda and I will lead a team of 10 NIC students to Sisters Oregon to help build a Habitat for Humanity’s house. I believe we will be the drivers and the meal organizers for the trip. It hasn’t been easy getting this together.

The trip calls for 10 students who will give up their spring break and help volunteer to build a house. I have had three meetings with the group, but the group has not been real stable. I have a student who went last year, Shayne, who can’t make the meeting times due to a class. I am hoping he remembers all he learned last year. The rest of the group has been pretty solid except that on Friday I got an email from one on the guys that he had to drop out due to work commitments. The day prior he had stopped in and paid, shaking my hand saying he was excited and ready to go.

We also lost one of the girls who was paid and committed. She had to go home to Boise where her family was dealing with family problems. She was very sad to have to go but she also had to support her family. We all understood.

Linda and I spent all day Friday shopping for food and I spent the rest of the time calling to fill the two open spots. We were successful on all points. I had a list of students who wanted to attend and since there were two spots I called Larrissa and Brenna. They had come in and talked to me earlier and said they wanted to go but wanted to go together. They only had to think for a minute and then committed, I was very happy.

On Sunday morning at 5:30 am they all met at the college and loaded into a van, Linda driving, me leading the way in our truck and camper, we set out for Sisters. The trip was mapped out as about an 8 hour drive. We left on time, a first for most college groups, and traveled through the Tri Cities down the Columbia River to Biggs Junction where we turned and sliced down Oregon to our destination. We stopped twice for bathroom stops and once for lunch. The trip took us about 7.5 hours and was very uneventful.

We entered Sisters and parked at the Chamber of Commerce. The students walked around the downtown area stretching their lags and getting the lay of the land. I called our Habitat contact Marie Clasen and she drove over to meet us and lead the group to our housing at the Lutheran Church. This trip took us a total of three blocks. We are very centrally located just three blocks off the main street of Sisters and about right in the middle of town.

We settled in and got cleaned up to go to a pot luck reception that was being held for us at a church across town. At 5:00 pm we arrived and were welcomed by about 20 Habitat supporters. They were very nice and the students were the center of attention. It’s funny how people mix up our college name. We were called Northern Idaho College, North Idaho University, and Northern Idaho University. The students enjoyed getting the university student status.

The program called for our students to get up in front of the crowd and tell everyone their name, where they were from and what they were majoring in at NIC. Our group is very diverse and they all have great direction in that respect. Every time they said they were going to be nurses, engineers, move makers, or physical education majors, the crowd would clap and murmur their approval. The makeup of the spectators and hosts were mostly retirees and they were very interested in how directed our students were.

The potluck was very good and we were able to meet all the Habitat people and our project manager, Alex. He let us know what the week presented. On Monday we will go to the site and then travel to a location and view a safety video. Then we go back to the work site and work until about 3:00 pm. Tuesday we are going to be very busy. We will be setting trusses.