Old Stuff That Works

by Catherine Breese

Sewing womanSince I’ve got fifty-year old eyes and fifty year old fingers and thumbs, I find the talk-to-text feature of my iPhone to be extremely useful. I click the little picture of a microphone and say the words, “Awesome pic exclamation point.” My phone then types these words into my text message punctuating them correctly. And no matter how IRONIC every stand-up comedian thinks it is to talk into a phone for the purposes of sending a written message, as opposed to say, using the phone to make a phone call in which you say the same words directly into the recipient’s ear, I still enjoy the feature and rely on it regularly. In fact, I use Siri and Google Girl pretty darn often. Here are the last five things I spoke into my phone’s two audible search features: 1 “What is the kickoff time for today’s Virginia Tech football game?” 2 “Beer cheese fondue recipe” 3 “Set timer for 20 minutes” 4 “Is Facebook Messenger really evil?” and 5 “Tom Petty’s new record.” Yes, I said record. Nonetheless, the results were immediate and correct.

Yes, the 21st century does not include the jet packs, flying cars, and a manned mission to Mars that I thought it would when I was a kid, but it does have some fairly clever conveniences. And then again, I have noticed lately that many of the tools and machines invented in the 19th and 20th century haven’t changed all that much. Many have added digital chip technology, but some are just as they were, mechanical and electric, and working just fine. The chain saw, the cork screw, the refrigerator (not counting the new enviro-friendly coolant), the vacuum cleaner (don’t even say the word Dyson—still works on the principle of creating a vacuum), the electric hair dryer, the sewing machine, etc.

sewing machineHere is a picture of my sewing machine. It was built by Singer in 1953. I got it out of the suitcase in which it lives, plugged it in, and sewed something yesterday. My mother originally owned this machine. She gave it to my sister many, many years ago, and my sister handed it up to me.

Let the record show that I do not enjoy sewing. I do not sew often…maybe once every seven years or so. I am in no way crafty. In fact, my personal hell involves a trip to Michael’s or Joann Fabric and the word “coupon”. However, necessity inspired a bout of sewing. We are walking in a race during the Highlander festival next month and we need some faux kilts. What else?

Singer adjustment leverI learned to use a sewing machine when I was a twelve. At the time, threading the machine seemed so hard to learn, but I can still do it easily, as though it has burrowed so deeply in my long-term memory that I am sure I will be able to do it even when I can no longer remember how to wipe my face with a napkin. I refuse to lament the fact that today’s kids cannot do this. They can do a lot of things we couldn’t. (Hey, who needs to cook a meal on a stove, change a tire, do simple math in your head, write in cursive, or sew a faux kilt?)

The fact that a machine built 61 years ago not only works but works well, well, heck, that’s just amazing. I work with computers all day in my real-life job. They are all new by comparison. One that is ready to be put out to pasture is about seven years old. My Singer sewing machine has kicked the ass of every machine that I put my hands on all day long.

Singer 1953 coverLook, I’m not bragging. It’s not like I wove the fabric and dyed it myself, but it is pretty surprising when old things work. Aren’t we all surprised when an antique car rolls into the gas station next to us? Maybe we shouldn’t be. That is NOT nostalgia. It is just me saying that sometimes something that is old still works.

Geocaching—Get Out Your Fedora, Whip, and GPS Device

by Catherine Breese

Bryan lookingI don’t remember how we heard about geocaching the first time, but we loved it from the get-go. It involves cognitive exercise, bodily feats, teamwork, and, my favorite part, celebration.

Geocaching is cool, and we want all our friends to try it. Geocaching is like a Starbucks Mocha Frappuccino. Before you’ve had one, you don’t know what the hell it is. Then you have one, and boom! You’re hooked.

What is geocaching? Well, it is an activity—not really a game and not really a competition, although there are competitions and you can make it quite competitive if you choose. It’s something like treasure hunting for techno-nerds. Anybody with a smartphone or a handheld GPS device can geocache.

boysHere’s what you do. You go to a computer and you look up the location of hidden boxes called caches. You write down their GPS coordinates and any other clues offered by the person who hid the cache. Then you get some friends or family members together, get in your car, and drive to the closest parking area. Everybody piles out of car and the search is on. Some caches involve big hikes and some caches are hidden just steps away from your vehicle.

Typically you can get within about 25 feet of a location with your device, sometimes closer. Then it’s all brain and/or brawn. You look under rocks, up in trees, inside old logs, under overhangs and in the rims of discarded tires. Easy finds take only a few minutes; difficult ones can take an hour or more. Eventually, someone finds the cache and everyone one else either groans in disappointment or screams in delight.

CacheAs an aside, there is no actual treasure involved, no gold bullion or ruby necklaces. You have to be excited that you found something hidden. On one occasion we were traipsing around the wilderness when a nearby homeowner warned us that there were bears “up in there”. We persisted in our quest, albeit more loudly than we might otherwise have. When we found it, we celebrated not only finding the cache but also avoiding being eaten.

Inside the box there is a list or book to sign with your name and date. Sometimes there is other stuff too: small toys, coins, or objects that you can keep, as long as you replace it with some other small object. (The cache we found this morning had a $1 bill–we saw it as a test of our character and, of course, we left it.) You return the box to its hidden location for others to find. That’s all there is to it. Occasionally, you can’t find the cache. A consensus is reached that it either isn’t there or the clues were wrong…it could never be the intellect of those searching, at least in my family.

Sometimes people who happen to be in the area wonder what the heck you are doing. Those people are called “muggles.” You are not supposed to talk to them. Other geocachers know what you are up to, but watching a large group of people dig around under a pine tree in a roadside picnic area might be a pretty darn entertaining sight to the uninformed.

handIf you want to try it, we recommend the Garmin etrex 10, a handheld GPS unit that sells for about a hundred bucks. We have been very successful with it. The battery life is superior and it works everywhere, with or without 3G/4G cellular coverage. (Use our link to the left to order it from Amazon.com!)

If you like apps, go with Geocaching by Groundspeak, Inc., available in the iTunes store and on Google Play. There is a free version, but we bought the $9.99 version, which worked beautifully. This app coordinates with Geocaching.com. Remember that using app picGPS on your phone is a battery life sucker. Make sure at least one member of your party doesn’t use it, so someone can still call 911 if one of you breaks an ankle or gets lost in a corn maze.

Geocaching has something for almost everyone, except the most incurable sour puss, to enjoy. So get out there are try it. Yes, we mean you.