Wednesday, December 31, 2008

With the Turning of the Year

With the turning of the year one always falls into reverie. Forty-four years ago today I went home from my job as a Customer Service Rep for Emery Airfreight at Chicago's O'Hare Field ready for an evening of celebration.

It had been a day like most others since I'd hired on with Emery at the end of November. The weather was cold and wet, and I was used to the dry heat of Phoenix. But youth and the excitement of being in my very own apartment blunted any worries about the weather.

It was raining, and the temperature was dropping rapidly. I worked the "afternoon" shift, in others to work at 6:30 am and home at 2:30 in the afternoon. It was a great shift, which left lots of time for shopping (though I had little money).

My roommate Mary worked evenings, 2:30 - 10:30, and by now I've forgotten what our plans were. But somehow I ended up being driven to a party given by a bunch of girls at work by a girl named Geri, who had already been at the booze in a big way and played chicken with 18 wheelers all the way down the freeway. The road was one sheet of ice. I have always driven like an old woman and I was absolutely terrified.

When we arrived at the party the music was loud, the booze was flowing freely and people were yelling what passed for conversation, dancing, making out, or trying to puke quietly in one of the two bathrooms. I'd been a rather reserved and sheltered teenager and didn't drink, make out or puke unless I had the flu. Someone handed me something brown in a glass - it smelled like my uncle who drank. I sipped it and tried not to gag. Who wants to look uncool at 19?

The party got louder and wilder as the night went on. Couples began disappearing into the six bedrooms, and I had to fend off several amorous young men who'd had a snootful and were obnoxious and distinctly sweaty.

Geri was even drunker than she'd been on the way to the party, and was talking about how she was going to "drive right up underneath" one of those big semi-trailers in her little car.

I could see that Judy, one of the girls I'd stayed with when I first arrived in Chicago, and her friend Jinny, were getting ready to leave. I knew Judy was not a drinker, so I threw myself on her mercy.

"Take me with you, even if you just drop me off at home," I pleaded. "I'm scared to death to ride home with Geri."

Judy hesitated. "We're going to another party," she said. "But it's at Puffer's house, so I don't expect he'll mind one more. But Jinny and I both have blind dates waiting, and you'll be dateless." (Puffer was our nickname for one of the older guys who worked on the dock. He was married and had kids, and was considerably more settled then the crowd around us.)

"I don't care," I assured her. "I don't need a date. I just want to get home alive!"

So that's how I got to Puffer's New Year's party, Dec 31 1964.

We walked in the door and Judy and Jinny saw their dates waiting. But Judy also saw that her friend Art, a pilot from work was there, and had no girl on his arm, so she said to me, "You take my date, I'm going to spend the evening with Art."

The two young men waiting couldn't have been more different. The one waiting fro Judy was tall and dark, with black hair and an olive complexion. Mmmmmmm, my favorite! The other one, Jinny's date, was short, plump, blond and wore thick glasses and a rumpled sweater.

Jinny took one look at the two guys and said, "I'm too tall for the short guy," and shoved me toward him. I was dismayed. "But I met him already at work, I whined to her, and he's rude!" but she had already grabbed Mr. Delicious and was off to the dance floor. I was left standing in front of Mr. Second Choice, who stuck out his hand and said, "I'm Tony from Canada."

He says he knew the minute we touched that we'd be together forever. It took me longer to realize that, and even then I can't say I was wildly in love, the way my teenage crushes had taken me. But over time I learned that this gentle, quiet man was the most honest, moral, kind and just plain good man I'd ever met. And in time I fell so deeply in love that I've never fallen out.

Forty-four years ago tonight I met the love of my life, and my only sorrow is that now we have less time together in the future than we've had in the past.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Cat Who Was a Creamsicle

I love Welsh poet Dylan Thomas' A Child's Christmas in Wales. I love his work generally, but this is a particular favorite. And today, his description of the Christmas snow in Wales when he was a child fits us like a glove.

"Our snow was not only shaken from white wash buckets down the sky, it came shawling out of the ground and swam and drifted out of the arms and hands and bodies of the trees; snow grew overnight on the roofs of the houses like a pure and grandfather moss, minutely -ivied the walls and settled on the postman, opening the gate, like a dumb, numb thunder-storm of white, torn Christmas cards."

About 1:00 this morning a few flakes began to drift around, like stars looking for a constellation. By 8:00 am there was a full six inches lightly layered on the hood of the truck, like white icing on a licorice cake. By 10:00 am another two inches had been added. It is still snowing. We are experiencing a monsoon of snow.

Sal began at 5:00 am to pat my face and beg to go outside. He usually has two walks a day but he hasn't been out in a week or more, as he is a large orange cream puff. He doesn't mind the cold, and he's even learned to tolerate rain, but he cannot stand snow. But he wanted out so badly this morning! He would not be dissuaded by looking out the window, or even a peep through an open door. He held up a paw and promised that, if I'd only harness him up, he would go out in the cold white snow this time. Promise, Mama!

So I bundled up and put his harness and leash on him. He was so excited he could barely stand still. I tried to get to the door and stepped on his tail, as he was swirling around like a red tornado.

I opened the door and he looked at the inches of snow on the steps and hesitated. I swept the steps and urged him forward. He put on the brakes. I went outside and hauled on the harness. He came down to stand on the steps, turned and headed back inside. But he's been aggravating me for days and I was tired of it. It was time he got his feet a little wet, and learned that he doesn't really want to go out.

I hauled him out, and down the two steps, fighting like a hooked fish. Off the step into shoulder deep snow, since this eight inches is on top of two previous snowfalls. He reacted as if he'd jumped on a hot stove. In a whirling flurry of orange and white (does a creamsicle come to mind?) he turned around, dashed back through the open door and into the trailer.

I took the broom and swept the snow off the truck, fed the birds, had a chat with neighbours who were digging their pathways out, walked a bit, took a few pictures. It's -10 but that's almost warm compared to yesterday's -26. And it continues to snow. I'm not sure how we are going to get out of here if we need to before this melts. It won't be by cat sled!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Inner Peace and Frozen Pipes

If inner peace is found by facing life squarely then I should be very peaceful at this point. Life doesn't get much "squarer" than frozen pipes and toilet valves.

We have had a cold spell which would do Alberta proud. It was -24 C this morning. We are wearing so many layers it is hard to bend our knees, and we are not the only ones who have needed extra "clothing" the past ten days.

A few days ago we found that our water pipe had frozen during the night. This necessitated a trip to town for a third heat tape, and a very cold hour of wrapping the "vulnerable" spot with heat tape, wrapping it with insulation and taping and tying it all together so the wind couldn't make off with our work.

This morning we found that our black water tank valve was frozen shut, hence no dumping. I probably need not remind you that one does need the little "necessity room", or to be more precise, the toilet. When the tank be full and cannot be emptied this poses a problem.

Thankfully we have a second "trouble" light, which we dragged out of storage and rigged up directly under the frozen valve. Two hours later and some struggling with the valve and Hoo-ray! it thawed enough to open and the dumping of the tank could proceed. A hot water chaser down the tank ensured that the thawing was complete and the valve could be completely closed again. Add some tank antifreeze and we're good for three days.

Weather is one of those things which must be faced, wherever you live. I have lived in less challenging climates, and I didn't fully appreciate them at the time. The weather service is predicting -8 C for tomorrow's high. After a week of highs of -16 to -20 the -8 would seem like springtime in the Azores. I'm just hoping it happens. I would really appreciate a slightly rounder day. I have achieved all the inner peace this cold spell has to offer.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Catmus Issa Coming!

As one can see from the accompanying photograph, (which has the added feature of an extra flash, giving it a bit of a surreal quality) Salvador, Feline Overlord of this particular household, is beginning to look at the calendar and wonder, "How many days 'til Catmus?", that one day of the year when the hairless monkey tribe celebrates the supreme position of our Feline Overlords.

He can only look out the window at the snow and cold. It was a brisk -23 C this afternoon with the wind chill, a temperature which made him twitch his ears in anger and frustration when he was allowed his open-door weather-check. Today he did not even want to stand on the step and survey his kingdom. Today he sat on the kitchen table and wrinkled his nose.

His tree, decorated with antique toys and ornaments made by childish hands many years past, does little more than irritate him on such days. He wants one thing for Catmus, no two things, 1) one of the birds on the feeder and 2) Summer, not necessarily in that order.

Summer will come by and by but the birds will remain out of his reach. He will have to ask Sandy Claws again next year for the bird.

Good thing he isn't interested in looking out the window above the sink, as it is covered in a thick film of ice. It is unprotected (no storm-film) and was covered all night with Reflectix, which kept the cold on the outside (even the water was temporarily frozen this morning).

Brrrr.... like the FO I am wishing for some Summer.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Stacking Zen

One of my favorite books of all time is Margaret Craven's I Heard the Owl Call My Name.

Early in the story the young Vicar arrives at his remote posting in a North Coast Indian village to find that the vicarage has no running water, no indoor plumbing, a wood stove for heat, and significant holes in the floors, walls and roof. He goes to open a door and the knob comes off in his hand. He surveys the situation and thinks to himself, Just keeping myself fed and clean is going to consume most of my day!

And while we have running water, both hot and cold, indoor plumbing and no holes in the walls, floor and roof that weren't put there deliberately, it still seems to take an inordinate amount of time to just stay clean and fed.

We are comfortable, but no one could ever pretend that living in an RV provides a life of ease. Cleaning is a series of shuffling objects from one surface to another so you can clean under them.

Taking a shower is a half hour process as the tub is used to dry wet coats and store items which will not fit anywhere else. Would you want to shower with a broom and a wet mop? No, I didn't think so. The window coverings are rolled up in the morning and... put in the bathtub. No place else for them. So, a five minute shower ends up taking 30 minutes, once you have unloaded the tub, stowed the stuff elsewhere temporarily, undressed, showered, dried, dressed and then reloaded the tub. Nonetheless it beats a sponge bath or a long walk in the cold to the bath-house.

I was just reading a blog entry about how to achieve a tranquil "minimalist" look in your house. Floors, counters and other surfaces are supposed to be free of objects, objects de arte included. Apparently my "stacking" system, with larger flatter items at the bottom of the stack (some would call it a "pile") and smaller, irregular items on top, in ascending order, doesn't qualify as either "minimalist" or "Zen". Okay, I admit it, winter decor in an RV is less like Zen and more like baboons with furniture.

RV life is easier in summer. For one thing summer clothes here consist of shorts, a T and a pair of Crocs. No socks, boots, no long underwear, gloves, toques, scarves or down coats, all of which get wet and have to hung in the tub to drip dry. No covering the windows at night. No putting up with an insane cat who is convinced that if he can get you to open the door just one more time it will be summer outside. He was so dead set on going out this morning (in a temperature of -15 C and six inches of snow on the ground) that I finally let him sit on the steps for a few minutes. He sat and sniffed the air, gave the yard a look-see from the steps and then came in and went for a nap. Thoroughly disgusted.

Looking back at entries for our previous two Fall/winter seasons in the Okanagan, I see that cold weather and snow held off longer this year than it did the previous two years. For that I am profoundly grateful.

I look out the window at the 30 or so small birds industriously digging at the peanut butter and millet combo I smeared into the tree trunks and onto seed bells. Ever so often a gust of wind sends them all reeling away like little pinwheels. No matter, a few seconds later they are back, chirruping and pecking like mad. They certainly look like they are having fun.

And in the moments when I feel somewhat grumbly about moving this to get at that I stop and think, I'm here by choice, both in my wee tin can of a home, and here, on this whirling ball of volcanoes and iceburgs, on the edge of an ever-expanding universe. And while the surfaces may be messy, inside it's pretty Zen.

Monday, December 08, 2008

The Anti-Grinch

The Season is upon us.

After several years of "Grinchdom", when I said, "The heck with Christmas!" I suddenly find myself looking forward to the holidays again. There's Christmas music on the stereo, the tree is up and decorated, lights are strung outside, shopping is almost done and I am not the least bit stressed about the whole thing.

Maybe it's just because I am feeling so much better than I have in ages, and have energy to celebrate with, but whatever it is I am enjoying myself. The little doll in the picture was made by my late friend Judi, using a chicken "wishbone" as an armature. She is a treasure I place on our tiny tree each year, along with several dozen handmade or antique toys.

Christmas has come to mean expensive gifts and frantic partying for many people. For many the expectation that they must provide (or experience) the "perfect" Christmas sucks the joy right out of the season. I have heard any number of people say they are stumped because they don't know what to do for Christmas that doesn't involve money and lots of it! What do you do when you have a small budget but still want to enjoy your Christmas? Here are some suggestions.

10 Ideas for a Simpler, More Meaningful Christmas

1. Avoid going into debt. Refuse to be pressured by society's expectations to overspend. Gifts don't need to be expensive. It's more important that they reflect the recipient's interests.

My in-laws were very well off, but one Christmas my father-in-law's present to my mother-in-law was five or six tiny porcelain animal figurines. Her friends were disdainful, since these cost only a few dollars. They told her a mink stole or new diamond would have been more appropriate to their economic and social status. But Mom was delighted with the little figurines and displayed them prominently the rest of her life. She loved animals but she said she loved more that George took the time to seek out something which he knew she would love.

2. Plan ahead. Instead of going crazy and trying to cram in activities and parties every night get the family together and talk about how you actually want to celebrate. Taking time to make cookies together, or tour the neighborhood light displays, gives time for meaningful conversation and family bonding.

3. Start celebrating early and include friends. A weekly "event", an evening of board games with another family, eating Christmas-themed snacks, attending a Christmas concert at a local church together, an evening with a rented Christmas movie and popcorn. Two or more families might get together to make tree ornaments to represent this year's memories. Each family makes an ornament not only for their own tree, but for their friend's as well. Then you might get together to help decorate each other's trees.

4. Talk about, and think about, the meaning of gifting at this time of the year. In the Christian tradition it echoes the gifts given by the Magi to the Christ Child, each of which had a deep spiritual significance. In Many European countries the "gifting" has much less importance, and is done on St. Nicholas' Day, early in December, leaving Christmas as a time for religious reflection.

December 25th is the day when the the cold, dark days of winter begin to lengthen in the northern hemisphere. Man has marked the winter solstice for thousands of years with festivals, gatherings, ritual and other celebrations. Not all these involve the exchange of gifts, but all encourage closer familial and community ties.

5. Draw names rather than everyone buying gifts for everyone in the family or group. Select a price range so that gifts are affordable for everyone.

6. Give children one spectacular gift they really want, rather than a dozen so-so ones. If need be parents, grandparents and/or aunts and uncles can go together to buy one expensive gift none of them might be able to buy alone. This is especially a good idea for teens, whose "wish list" may include expensive technology.

7. Give 25% of what you spend on gifts and activities for each other to local or global organizations which help those who have overwhelming need. An extended family might pool enough money at Christmas for an annual sponsorship of a needy child with Christian Children's Fund or The Plan. Shop at stores like 10,000 Villages where artists and craftspeople are paid a fair price for their work.

8. Give of yourself, not just “store-bought stuff” - Include the person with no family to share your holiday activities, babysit for a harried mother, invite a shut-in out for lunch, offer transportation to a disabled person or frail senior, gather food for the local food bank, or volunteer to help wrap gifts for the local toy drive.

8. Have a Christmas potluck and ask each person to come prepared with a "performance" piece. This might be a poem to recite, singing a song, a magic trick, playing an instrument, telling or reading a short story.

9. Wait to put gifts under the tree until Christmas Eve. Take turns opening gifts one at a time, so each can be appreciated and enjoyed by everyone, and the giver can be thanked.

10. After Christmas is over, recognize that many feel let-down and sad. Have a potluck, or a dessert night, and ask attendants to relate their favorite memory from this year and a past Christmas.

Friday, December 05, 2008

What's Eating Your Money?

One of the park managers and I got to talking about energy usage and the small steps which each of us might take to reduce our energy consumption. I told her I'd been thinking about putting together a "newsletter" about how to save energy, money and the environment when you live in an RV. I was planning to take the newsletters around and leave them with each of the park's 20-25 permanent residents. She thought it was a great idea, and offered to give one to each tenant on our next rent day. So I've been working on my first "Energy Newsletter".

Taking into account appliances, heating/cooling and travel, the average British Columbian is responsible for 11.5 tonnes of Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions each year. That's a lot. The BC Government is encouraging everyone in the province to reduce energy usage and GHG. But before you can reduce you have to have some idea of how much you are responsible for. You can calculate your estimated GHG production here.

I used the BC GHG calculator and our calculated average household GHG emissions is 1.139 Tonnes of GHG Per Year. That's just 10% of the average! So from an energy miser here are some of the tips from my newsletter. You don't have to live in an RV to use these!

Did you know that a single 100 watt incandescent bulb costs $96.00 a year to light? Turning off the light(s) when you leave a room puts money in your pocket! Replacing regular light bulbs with Compact Fluorescent Light bulbs can save substantial amounts of money. CFLs use 70% less energy than regular light bulbs, last about 10 times as long and produce light similar to regular bulbs. If you can, replace some lights with LED “light bulbs” (LEDs grouped together into a fixture) which typically draw from one to two watts. They are still a bit expensive but they burn up to 50,000 hours without replacing, so pay for themselves many times over.

Cost for 12 hrs use day
----------------Month------ Year--- Savings Month-- Savings Year

Six 75 watt
Incandescent bulbs --$13.00----$156.00---- ~ -------- ~

Six Compact fluorescent bulbs
= 75 watts each ------$4.00---- $38.00 ---- $9.00 ----- $118.00

Six LED lights
= 75 watts each ------$0.50 ---- $6.00 --- $12.50 ------$150.00

Power Down!

TVs, DVD players, stereos, computers, modems, cable boxes and chargers draw power, even when they are not turned on! A cable modem uses seven watts, a router 4.5 watts, and computers from 10-100 watts, even when idle. You can save money by pthese power hungry doo-dads into a power bar. Before going to bed, or going out for the day, turn the power bar off. Turn your computer off at the end of the day, or put it in “sleep” mode. Rather than leave the coffee pot on all day, just to keep the coffee hot, use a carafe and save power!

The myth that "turning it off and on uses more energy than keeping it on all the time" exists for just about every device, and it's wrong in every single case. You will never, ever, ever, save power by keeping something on all the time vs. turning it off. Period. You always save electricity by turning your device off when you're not using it.

Of course, light isn't everything. It's cold comfort if your light bulbs are costing you next to nothing while you freeze! To increase comfort and/or decrease fuel bills, try these tactics;

If you don't have storm windows use transparent plastic “shrink” film to cover windows. It's available at the hardware store or builder's supply in boxes or by the roll. Is there a draft around your windows and doors? Caulk around all window and door frames. A surprising amount of cold air leaks through electrical switch plates which are located on exterior walls. You can buy foam cell insulating "kits" at the hardware store. You slip the insulation behind the switch plate to stop the draft.

Turn down your thermostat to 21° during the day and 18° at night. could cut your heating bills by up to 12%. If you feel cold, pop on an extra layer of clothing, like a T shirt, under a shirt or sweater. Keep a throw handy to pull over your knees while reading or watching TV.

Want more tips? Visit these websites:
Saving Electricity
52 Ways to Reduce Your Emissions