3

Electrification in the 21st Century

 

 

I may have shared this reference with you before. (I’m not sure how much of a reference it is since I can’t remember who wrote it). If you do remember it, you’ll agree with me that this is a much better place to use it. So please forget its previous location.

In the early 1920’s, Soviet Russia realized that in order to truly modernize the country, it would need electricity in more than the major cities. So they decided it was time to electrify the villages. Note to non-Russian Studies/History majors: Soviet Russia is what they called it before the leaders decided that “Soviet Union” was a much better name for them and the countries the Imperialists had overrun and they decided to keep.

Anyway, the officials were very proud of this program and would send representatives out to remind the people how much better off they were now than they had been under the Tsars. In one village, they approached an elderly lady and asked her how she liked the new lights. She was not happy. Before she had lights, she thought her home was clean. Now she could see into the corners and realized what a mess she had been living in and how much work she had to do the keep it clean.

So at best, electricity is a mixed blessing. I am writing this on Saturday morning as I sit here without any power. They left a message on the answering machine that it would be out from 10a – noon. I guess they chose a time that would be maximally inconvenient for all of us because GM has a facility on the power grid and they have more money than we do and are pretty much closed down on weekends.

You may recall that I’m not very technologically advanced. I’m sure it’s not an answering machine anymore. It’s on the land line. It’s certainly not advanced enough to be voice mail. It is a huge advancement over the ones we used to have with tape that ate half of the messages. Advanced in the sense of the 1990’s.

Luckily I got downstairs to hear the message at 9:57 because they did turn off the power at 10a sharp. And once the electricity was gone, so was the machine.

Of course, I can type this because my laptop has battery back-up. More productively, I could be spending my time reading or cleaning. Or getting the flower beds ready for winter. Or watching the clouds.

On the other hand, I can’t make the chocolate chips cookies that were on the agenda. Our router is electric, so I can’t access the Internet. I can’t email people. And I can’t call them because the names are on an email I can’t get to right now.

We’re on a well with an electric pump. That means no water in the house. Including the toilet. Probably the only time that I look back at the outhouse at my grandparents’ cottage with fondness is when we have no power.

The cell phones work. Until they need to be recharged. Same with the laptop, tablets, e-readers, and all the other toys. Obviously, the TV is not an option. We have an electric garage door opener. I have had no luck getting in the side door of the garage since we moved in years ago. Even if I could get in, I couldn’t get the car out.

We rarely lose our power here. It’s a good thing too. With the population density of our neighborhood, the power company usually slots our restoration somewhere between parking structures and cemeteries.

We lost our power last Saturday too. That one was unplanned. A major storm swept through the area on Thursday, and thousands of people were still waiting for their power. We were fine after the storm. Ours had no apparent cause. Except my husband had finally bought a new HDTV for football season.

It was in the evening, so it was getting dark. We used a bunch of candles. It was actually very nice and peaceful. As soon as the power came back the TV was on, my husband switching between multiple games. None of which were going the way he wanted.

It made me wonder – can the power be routed so the well works but the TV doesn’t?

4

Catitude

A guide to the tao of the cat as described by resident experts, Super Snooper and Kommando Kitty. (They are available for private consultation if you desire. Fees are determined on a sliding scale based on how much they like you.

Cats are by nature sweet, loving creatures. If we are treated otherwise by humans, we will respond accordingly. Particularly if our every wish is not fulfilled by our personal human.

Humans have two non-negotiable duties. They must feed us and make sure that our litter-boxes are clean.

If your human does not feed you in a timely manner, you are permitted to remind them of their responsibility. If they feed you at 4a on workdays, they should understand that they must feed you at 4a on non-work days.

Permissible ways to remind your human of feeding time include, but are not limited to pouncing, talking to them, and lying on their faces.

It is not permissible to use the potted plants for a litter box unless your human has been derelict in cleaning the proper one. The litter box is your private space. You are responsible for determining when it is too dirty to use.

Humans are also useful as warm-blooded furniture. If you need a comfortable place to sleep, laps may be used. Do not let your human tell you that you are in the way of the newspaper, book, sewing or anything else.

If you feel your human is ignoring you, you are entitled to attract their attention. More specifically, you may sit on a book, newspaper or keyboard.

Cat beds should always be positioned in the place with the most likely to have a sunbeam most of the day. It is not appropriate to have one in the human’s bedroom. The large one the human sleeps on is yours as well.

If your human feeds you food including “greens” (for some reason they think they are healthy) you may take it as permission to eat greens on your own. Ferns and spider-plants are especially tasty. Some cats like the taste of flowers.

If your human feeds you food with eggs and/or cheese, you may assume that you are also welcome to those foods when your human indulges.

Cats are carnivores. Your human may need to be taught that we recognize meat even if it is being consumed by the human. Most of us are particularly fond of deli meats such as ham and turkey.

If your human is not feeding you a sufficient amount of meat, you are allowed to share theirs. However, ask for a separate plate. They have germs.

If your human pays sufficient attention to you, you should get enough exercise in the house. However, if your human feels he/she must take you for a walk, be certain they know the correct way to do it:

Cats who go outside are permitted to check the weather at both doors before determining that it is too cold/wet/snowy/windy to go out.

Cats have a sixth sense about humans who are not fond of them. However, it is rude to use this power unless the human invades your territory, (i.e., your house).

Humans do not seem to understand that they are teaching us hunting skills when they dangle those feathers on a string in front of us. They rarely appreciate the fruits of our improved hunting. You will probably never see them eat a gift you have provided. Do not be disappointed; it is just poor manners on their part.

Most humans are fully trainable and will become loved and treasured members of the family.

4

Next Year I’m Hibernating

I just got in from helping my husband and son push my car into the garage. At least the starter had the decency to die on the driveway. I wouldn’t have needed to help except our driveway is still icy, and the guys couldn’t get enough traction to get the car over the bump at the front of the garage.

(My husband would never have expected me to be much help before I started working as a stocker. Add to list of negatives from job: people expect you to use the muscles you have toned.)

The three of us were able to move the car, but not over the bump. I slipped on the ice and fell on my knees. We decided to try a running start. Ever tried to run on ice? It’s pretty humorous to watch; not so much to do.

I was ready to quit. Today was supposed to be the day that I recovered from a very physical week at work. (I’m going to try to get certified to drive the hi-lo so I don’t have to use a hand-jack to get the pallets off the truck. The ramp has a major bump. You may remember me talking about how uncoordinated I am; wish me – and the guy training me – luck.)

Unfortunately, my multi-talented husband, who is going to the work, has an aversion to working outside in the winter. Something about the possibility of the weatherman being right and needing to do it in either rainy or cold weather tomorrow. Those of you who live in the north know the next step:

Shovel! But we’re not talking about regular push the shovel into the snow, lift, and throw to the side. No – this mess has been accumulating for a couple of months. Our snow-blower broke. In the city, this would have required either an immediate repair or resorting to the shovel. However, our mail is delivered to a box on the road and there are no sidewalks. Since the only ones we might hurt is ourselves, the township doesn’t care.

And imagine how much motivation any of us had to go out and clear the driveway. It was dark all the time, cold, snowy, and windy. They cleared a path from the driveway to the house. (Nice three-car garage, not attached to the house. I like it like that. I have a certain paranoia that if it was attached, the critters that call it home might find their way into the house.)

The kids are agile enough to get to the front of the house where the bus picks them up. I’ve only gotten stuck a couple of times. And my husband has a four-wheel drive truck. So laziness ruled.

Much to our dismay today. The sad thing is that it has finally started to warm up. The ice is starting to melt, so there’s a layer of water and slush over it. The only thing that makes ice more slippery? Water on top of it.

We got out our earth-digging shovels, our regular shovel, and a pick-ax sort of thing. We chipped somewhere in the neighborhood of a yard back,  and more or less the width of the car. Depth ranged from slush to about three inches down.

Time to try again. I got the middle of the car since I figured the wheels were what needed moving and they are both stronger than me. And there was no ice anywhere near the middle.

Success!

While my husband opened the hood, I took the snow shovel to the end of the driveway. I figured I could break up a little slush and loose ice while I was down there picking up the mail. At least that was my intention.

About halfway down, I lost my footing on the wet ice. Fell flat on my back. Felt like a turtle staring at the sky – it was too slippery to get up. I felt ridiculous, but I had to call for help. Finally my son heard me and gave me a hand. I’d had enough – wet knees, wet bottom. It was time to go in.

I’d hit my head and my back. A couple of days ago, I aggravated my frostbite trying to get my car turned around in a snowbank. I figure that if winter last much longer, I’ll have an excuse to go to the South Pacific and recover.

2

The Return of the Evil Tree Spirits

My love affair with the trees begins anew every spring. The buds arrive just in time to keep me from going crazy from the ice and snow (most years). All summer long, leaves sit on the ends of the tree branches, looking beautiful and giving shade. At the end of the summer, they are stunning in their different colors. Then the evil tree spirits arrive and turn them into nasty, spiteful dead leaves.

With some leaves, it starts while they are still on the trees. Those are the leaves that never turn a bright shade of yellow; they’re sickly yellow with brown spots. When the rain and high winds come, they attack the roads and cars. The roads get slippery. They hang onto the cars and need to be pulled off, one by one.

The others make it to the ground, still looking festive. If you rake them quickly, they even make attractive piles. They crunch under foot and remind us of cider and football. These leaves may be more evil than the others because they lull us into thinking that even on the ground, they are beautiful.

Then you try to rake them. You pull all of them into a pile, look around, and realize that you have missed a few. You rake those few and notice that another part of the lawn has leaves on it. You put those leaves out back for mulch or winter dens for the critters or whatever. You go in the house feeling satisfied at a job well done. Then look out the window and see more leaves. Some meticulous homeowners rake every day, generally during their first year of home ownership.

One year, you decide to wait until all the leaves are down before raking. This option does not work. They are never all down. Or by the time the rain takes down the last of them, you have lost all interest in going out into the cold to rake leaves. You are getting the snowblower ready. Besides, how much damage could they do if you leave them until spring? Hint: if you leave a lot of foliage on your grass over the winter, you may not need the mower in the spring. You may need sod.

We don’t have many neighbors here, but back when we lived in the city there was the problem of the mysterious appearance of leaves on the lawn after raking. A lot of leaves. More leaves than any of our trees could have possibly shed. We were left with unpleasant thoughts about our neighbors: they were dumping their leaves on us. In their defense, it was usually a case of raking on different days and the wind moving the leaves.

But I have heard stories of blower wars, with no one willing to actually rake up or mulch the leaves. More evil tree spirit mischief. I’m sure the spirits were laying the groundwork for the snow spirits that make snow appear on the walk after it has been shoveled.

The final indignity is the few leaves that remain on the tree, blowing in the wind all winter. They are reminders of the love affair gone sour. And I know they are laughing at me.

0

Mice: They’re Not Just for Snacking

This morning my husband comes downstairs, says good morning followed by “Kommando has another mouse.”

When we moved to exurbia awhile back, I understood that in return for the extra space there would be some adjustments. At the time, the house had LP heating (at better than $400/month to heat the house), a well, and a septic tank. We still have the well and septic tank, but fortunately a natural gas line was put through. The neighbor on one side is close enough that we could hear when he played really awful music really loud. But the other three sides are pretty much open. But what we don’t have in humans, we make up for in critters.

Most of the critters are pretty cute. Although it is almost impossible to have a garden, I like looking out and seeing the deer and rabbits. The raccoons and woodchucks are cute, if somewhat destructive. Every once in awhile, there’s a possum, skunk, or coyote. We have some small, harmless snakes. And then we have the rodents. I realize that the more scientific of you will disagree, but I count the mice and bats as rodents. Why bats? Both my grandmother and husband have tried to get me to like them by telling me that they are just mice with wings. I don’t like having mice in my house and I don’t like having bats there either.

Looking back, I do feel a little bad about making my husband get the bat off our son’s ceiling the same day he had shoulder surgery. But a few years later, while he was on a fishing trip another bat got in, and I had to call a neighbor to remove it. Both of those were pretty embarrassing, but the worst came a couple of years later. I had the house to myself, with everyone else out of town.

One night, I heard scratching at the baseboard in my bedroom, but couldn’t see anything. I turned out the light and went to sleep. My head itched, and when I scratched there was something in it. I screamed and tossed it on the bed. Turned on the light and couldn’t find anything. In the morning, there was the bat. So don’t let anyone tell you that bats won’t come near you. That one was trying to cuddle with me. Needless to say, he quickly joined his friends outside.

From the day we moved in, there was scratching in the walls. My husband said it was natural, we had moved into an old farmhouse. Lovely. I figured as long as they stayed in the walls, we could coexist. The day before Thanksgiving the first year, I was alone cleaning when I saw the first one. He was sitting in the living room looking at me. I do not like mice, and I particularly don’t like mice who look at me rather than running. Our two “city” cats were nowhere to be found.

Eventually Rascal discovered that mice were great fun to play with and made excellent gifts when dead. She became a skilled hunter, extremely patient and quick to pounce. The other cat, Critter, became more skilled as well. The highlight was the night she brought one of her “toys” to bed and started to play with it. Needless to say, that was a one-time event. Critter was also the one who pounced on the bat in the hallway. Apparently she thought they were just mice with wings too.

Unfortunately, like the rest of us, the cats aged. Eventually they both lost their hearing. Until the end, Rascal would sit in the pantry, watching for mice. For awhile, the mice held the upper hand.

Last summer, we got another set of cats. SuperSnoops (she put her nose into everything when we brought her into the house) aka Snoops came from the shelter. Kommando Kitty was left as a kitten. A repairman found her in the window well. He got her out, and she proceeded to try to leap across the window well again to get in the window. Sweet cat; a little impulsive. Unfortunately neither cat showed any mousing skill. I could hear snickering behind the walls.

As you may know, fall and spring are moving seasons for mice. They go to and from their winter homes. Ours had gotten a little too complacent. Snoops discovered that they like to come out at the basesboards. Every evening she goes on “mouse patrol”. This week she was finally rewarded. Three one day, two the next, and so on. Kommando has no patience, but is learning from a master.

I’ve never been a fan of those “circle of life” wildlife programs. It’s a little disconcerting to see it in your own house. Particularly since our cats have the instinct to catch the prey, play with it, and kill it, but absolutely no inclination whatsoever to eat it (they seem to find the idea somewhat revolting). Sometimes, we don’t even get to the kill part. Kommando in particular, subscribes to the catch and release school of mousing.

Before you start to think of our house as akin to a Roman arena, I would like to clarify that the mice brought this on themselves. Once we had put all of our pantry foods in plastic tubs and other containers, I thought we had sent them a clear message. However, they also like dry cat food – a lot.

So the cats are simply protecting their food. And my food. And my furniture. And my sanity (such as it is).