Ideas from Jacksonville

New Jax Witty

Articles, reviews, advice, and legitimate research to go along with some back-handed comments. Think of us as Jacksonville's mother-in-law.
  • Coronavirus Family Activity: Camping Out
    I'll begin this with my usual diatribe about why I hate camping. The human race has spent ions perfecting our dominion over nature, so why would I want to be sweaty/dirty/freezing/smelly/buggy/sleepless? I wouldn't, but I camped out for several years because my son wanted to be in Cub Scouts. Covid-19 and staying at home has provided our family with the perfect opportunity to use our camping equipment, even if not all of us actually spend the night in the tent. 

    We started off with setting up the tent, which I'd only done zero times alone. I had the help of a scout leader in Kansas and then two other parents another time. When someone borrowed the tent, he accused me of having lost the instructions, which are attached to the carrying case (not that I knew that). Anyhow, it was nice to be able to take my time in the middle of the day to set up the tent, as anyone who has ever stumbled into a campground at sunset with a complicated tent will attest to. Also, it seems a similar Coleman tent might be better than the Wenzel I have, but mine was a Menard's special for about have the price elsewhere. If you are a pro at camping, you probably aren't doing it in the backyard. 

    We used the very nice Intex Mattress that we finally bought after years of trying to make thin airbeds work. Even for houseguests (unless you want them to leave), this mattress is worth owning. In about half an hour, the tent was ready for the kids and dog, as they moved in all the stuff they would need. 

    This being Jacksonville, I got a baseball bat ready, and my wife said something about having owned pepper spray at some point, but I used my imagination and decided the kids should not have access to pepper spray. However, next time I'll remember to give the kids each a personal alarm, especially since the worst they could do to each other is toss one in the tent and run out, hopefully without permanent hearing loss. I eventually forgot the bat, mace, personal alarm, and we even (seemingly for their own good) confiscated their phones. But they had a dog with a big bark, so whatevs. And I slept in the living room with the door open to the screen. OK, I know it sounds excessive, but even a big city like Milwaukee simply doesn't have the number of roving teenagers looking for open car or house windows, so you probably need to be prepared for the wildlife in town if you're going to camp out. 

    I made a fire in the backyard fire pit. Ours is similar to the one linked, only rustier. In Jax, it's always a good idea to know if there's a risk of fire. You wouldn't want you yard camping experience to burn down the neighborhood. We made Smores, which my son couldn't even do his last year of Cub Scouts because some kids were chucking hot marshmallows at each other, which does not even sound like fun to me. 

    If you really want to go nuts with the bug spray and sunscreen, go ahead and plan an outdoor meal with those plastic plates you never use, sitting on that patio picnic table you never use. We ate inside and then went out after dark, but it was still easier than setting up in the twilight. 

    Luckily, the dog was OK with sleeping in the tent, and the kids quieted down after about an hour. Because there was no chance of rain, I left the weather guard covering off the tent, so it was probably an amazing view while falling asleep. And 70 degrees overnight, so better than the 30 degrees I was forced to camp in with my son for Cub Scouts. 

    I hope this article reminds you of the camping equipment you have in the garage and that it could be a back yard adventure for your family this Coronavirus season. Oh, and if you have a dead tree in the yard, avoid sticking the tent close to it if you don't want to worry about wind all night. And make sure your fire is extinguished. And no throwing hot marshmallows. 

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  • Coronavirus Family Activity: Walk a New Neighborhood
    Even if you are being forced to shelter in place, you have to get outside. Eventually, you might not venture any further than your own yard, but if there aren't strict rules, you can at least take a walk through your neighborhood. The only problem with having a dog who loves long walks is that you might get bored not having parks or beaches available. Our family decided to venture out to a new neighborhood for a walk before (and in case) the shelter in place order comes to Jax. 

    For our first neighborhood walk, I found a small area with sidewalks in the Miramar part of Jacksonville. It was sort of wedge-shaped area along the river, just off of San Jose Blvd before that street becomes a major thoroughfare. Point La Vista Rd N, in case you're looking for it. We went about 4,000 ft or 3/4 of a mile in 90 degree weather, so plenty far. 

    The nice part about this neighborhood, besides the sidewalks, included interesting homes. Many sprawling ranches with unique characteristics. Of course, the $1 million+ homes along the river also were part of the community. One of these homes had a huge window to the road with another one through to the river, while another had at least four very large round windows. A few homes looked ultra-modern, while other hearkened back to classical styles. Some had more of a Mediterranean style, complete with tile roofs. Two houses looked to be out of Ferris Bueller's Chicago suburb. There was even a ranch that looked a bit like a church with a high, atrium-like roof. The neighborhood also had a lot of construction happening, which is usually a good sign, meaning people are fixing up homes they love rather than moving away. 

    As for whether or not I'd live here, I have to say it appears to be a great, if expensive, place to reside. Zillow values most homes at or above $500,000. Two of the houses along the river were Zestimated at over $2 million on the high end. The houses are roughly the same size of the ones where we live, which means Miramar gets nearly double the price. I am also not sure about the local public school situation in this neighborhood, and that would likely be a factor. If I was going to sell my house and go way into debt for a house, even in a cool little neighborhood, I'd have to be certain I could avoid sending the kids to Bolles. The other, and more important, problem is that it's a half hour away from my wife's job, which would be at least 45 minutes to an hour at rush hour. I'd rather be in urban sprawl and five minutes away than spending 1.5 hours a day in traffic. 300 days of work would mean 450 hours of driving, or 19 DAYS behind the wheel. However, if you work in San Marco, Southbank, or downtown, it's probably a nice little jaunt.

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  • Bulk Commercial Toilet Paper Solution
    Maybe we weren't totally out of toilet paper, and maybe the stores were going to catch up with all the hoarding. But we were running somewhat low, and I sure didn't want to have to use alternative solutions that might clog up the plumbing, so I got to searching online. Plus, if we could get TP delivered, then we would not have to worry about hanging out at the store with hundreds of people in order to find one item.


    Amazon, Walmart, Target, and Office Depot were sold out of all the kinds of toilet paper. Even the fast-dissolving RV paper. And the Extra-large gas station paper. And the single-ply business sandpaper. Finally, I found a website that had some large rolls of TP in bulk quantities still available. About a quarter mile of the two-ply stuff, delivered in two days as everyone else waited for four-packs of the name brand stuff.

    Ordering unconventionally does not always work, but when everyone else is showing up in large groups to empty grocery stores, I'll go underground to get my goods. The main problem in this particular case was the fact that these giant rolls (about 4 times the size of a megaroll) would need a commercial dispenser. Even though I run my own business, I do not have a commercial dispenser like you might find at a wayside. I have never even had a client ask to use the restroom. But now I had 1200' of toilet paper to mount somewhere in the bathroom.

    Running out to the store to get a TP holder would have defeated the purpose of buying online, and it also would have cost actual money. It's not like this virus and the shortages will last forever. I racked my brain for some time on this one, since I would need a TP holder that would not mess up the wall paint or fall over because of the giant rolls of toilet paper being dispensed.

    Mainly, I knew I had a few dowels that might work, but I was not sure how to mount them with any stability, with enough room for the paper, and without having to repaint after I was done. I initially thought of a chair or table turned upside-down. Then I looked in the closet and saw some TV trays. These small, foldable tables were perfect for my TP stand, when turned upside-down. The tabletop created a stable base, and the criss-cross legs made a perfect X for the dowel.

    I could have made two of these TP holders by using a second table and cutting the dowel in half, but the result was a bit large for the kids' bathroom. The facts that we never use the tub in the downstairs bathroom and that we're not having any guests over right now make that most-used toilet the one that gets the commercial TP refurb.

    This type of TP is not as wide across as residential TP. I never realized that while trying to hurry through my business at a stadium or truck stop. This toilet paper also does not come in individual sheets: it's one continuous sheet, which means parents of young children or really old people might end up with a clogged toilet or weirdly-ripped TP all over the WC. However, I think I've done enough to get this huge commercial TP roll installed, and I don't plan on creating some kind of sheet-ripper.

    I hope you are able to find toilet paper. If you find the industrial-sized rolls, maybe my experience will help you. Another tip is to call the stores in order to find out when the truck comes in, which is an awesome idea if all of your neighbors aren't doing the same thing.

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    Brian Jaeger - Resume (I'm always interested)

    Contact Me