Thursday, November 29, 2007

Next Project

"Seventy-five dollars."


A few weeks ago I was at a business in town that sells a few new items but most items are used, recycled or salvaged. By chance in the back yard, in an area piled high with lumber, electrical boxes and pipe, I happened to look up about 15 feet to the top of a steel rack and I saw an item that caught my attention. I climbed some steps to a location where I could look down on it and confirmed my suspicion -- a hot tub!

I've had intentions of installing a tub some day so I asked about the price and took it immediately. I am now the happy owner of a $75 hot tub. I got the tub and a few hoses. It came without pump, heater, insulation or frame which I couldn't use anyway. The tub has no scratches or damage and the finish is bright and looks like new. Perfect!

Next summer I plan on building steps down from our current deck to a new lower deck and recess the the tub into the ground. I'll install a solar heater, pump, ozone generator and filtration system.

Based on my reading, research and recent experience with the solar closet, I think I can heat it year round.

Julie and I have some good memories of dark nights in open air hot tubs. A few years ago we were in a mountainous area near the Anza-Borrego Desert in southern California. It was December and the temperature was well below freezing, snow was falling and reflecting low intensity lights. Steam was rising from the hot water and we were laughing and teasing one another about who should be the first to climb out and run for the towels and the door that led to pool in an adjacent building.

Another year we were in a tub south of Tucson. We had left a Valentine's dance early to get the tub to ourselves. It was cold and raining gently. A widower in his early 80's joined us and we talked for quite a while. At first I was disappointed we weren't alone but he turned out to be pleasant, friendly and unforgettable.

Good memories!

Next winter on cold clear moonless nights we'll slip neck-deep in our tub and gaze at the milky way. On full moon nights we'll enjoy the moonlight reflecting off the hills, trees and grasses.

If you ever visit, bring a bathing suit and towel.

Hot Tub. (Larger version)

Fluffy Filler

(Recently I've been busier than I've been in years. Not having time to do some half-way serious writing, I decided to post some mindless fluff.)

Kicking Butt -- Hopefully Not Mine

"When this class is over, I'll be able to kick butt!'

Julie took two physical fitness classes this term and made the above statement back in August. She ran, did lunges, squats and other strenuous exercises with kids less than half her age. Some students, including young men, stopped in the middle of exercises but she kept going, endured the pain and the sore muscles. Today is the last session of the second class.

Last night we were lying in bed and I felt the firmness and size of her thigh muscles, felt my leg where muscle should have been and then felt her thigh again. One the second time she did something unkind. She tightened her muscles and they grew in size and hardness.

It's just not right. In some rule book somewhere it's written that women are supposed to let men think they are the strongest.

(While driving back from Amarillo last weekend some memories popped into my head. My sister and daughter -- who's interested in genealogy and family history/stories -- read this blog. These memories are for them.)

Fruit of the Vine

About a year ago, for medicinal purposes, I began drinking one small glass of wine with supper. I've always avoided alcohol because of the number of alcoholics in the family and my memories of some really bad experiences.

Actually, I first drank wine or some kind of alcohol when I was preschool age. One of the benefits of being among the youngest of about 20 cousins is that I was introduced to alcohol, cigarettes, profanity, jokes about sex and some other shocking/disgusting behavior at an early age. After almost sixty years I still remember the jokes and the experience of older cousins watching for my reaction when they gave me that first drink. By the age of four I knew when among a group of guys to hide my true reactions and lie if necessary -- "It's good!"

Wet Socks

When I was preschool age, my paternal grandmother lived in a small three-room house without plumbing. Water was carried in for cooking, washing and cleaning and the waste water was carried out. The outhouse was some distance from the house at the end of a dark path so it was unusable at night. A chamber pot which we called a "slop jar" was kept in the bedroom and was emptied each morning.

Whenever I spent the night I slept on the couch in the living room across from a pot-bellied coal stove. One morning I awoke and retrieved my shoes from beside the stove. When I pulled my socks out of the shoes they were wet. I immediately shouted "the roof leaks". An uncle started laughing. "The roof doesn't leak. You peed in your shoes!".

I recalled a vague memory of awaking in the night and looking for the pot. How dumb does one have to be to mistake shoes for a pot?

Monday, November 26, 2007

Violence as Entertainment

I have at least as much testosterone as most men and probably more but It doesn’t cause me to enjoy some things. Maybe it’s due to age but I like to think it’s due to choice and conscious values.

We saw “No Country for Old Men” last week. I went into the movie with some skepticism and tried to watch with openness but … I just don’t like gratuitous violence.

The movie had a significant subject but, in my opinion, failed to deal with it directly. It toyed with a serious message but devoted most of the time to fear and violence as entertainment.

On Saturday at a bookstore I picked up a religious magazine that was new to me (and whose title I cannot remember). I read three articles two of which were written by Buddhists. Two were opposing view points on political humor. One saw humor in the President’s questionable education, intelligence and ability to speak coherently without a script. The opposing article addressed the danger in attacking a person rather than challenging issues.

The third article dealt with evil and compared the President’s assertions regarding evil with those of his perceived opponent who is trying to defend his world view by attacking the West. Using quotes the author pointed out that both men are saying the same thing. Asserting another person is evil does not lead to peace.

I have plenty of testosterone that could easily foster violence. I see the injustices in the world and have a natural tendency toward anger and fight rather than fear and flight. I struggle constantly to control anger. I don’t need violence as entertainment.

I find it more helpful for the situation – and more conducive to my personal health and happiness – to avoid violence as entertainment and to read thoughtful, balanced, serious articles and books that advocate understanding and peace while rejecting fear and violence.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

New Tool

I rarely check the weather. Many years ago I came to the conclusion that weather reports provide easy excuses to cancel plans. "It's too hot, too cold, too windy. It may rain or snow. Let's stay home." I prefer to ignore the weather and have alternate plans. Some of my most memorable experiences have been in "bad" weather or shortly after.

I rarely check the weather but I just bought a weather station with wind, rain, temperature, UV and hygrometer sensors. I've wanted one for about two years and finally decided to install a system. Previously I wanted to monitor wind and rain to gather data needed to make decisions and to manage electricity generation and rainwater harvesting. With the construction of the solar room (aka greenhouse) addition, I want to be able to record four temperatures -- outside air, inside the house, greenhouse and solar closet.

I received the system on Monday and temporarily installed the wind sensor and four temperature sensors on Tuesday. Yesterday (Wednesday) I downloaded the first 13 hours of data and graphed the temperatures for part of the time. The following graph (see the larger version) shows fairly steady and relatively close temperatures in the early morning for the house (orange line), greenhouse (yellow) and outlet on the solar closet (green). The bottom line (pink) portrays the outside air temperature. At 8 AM the sun began warming the greenhouse and solar closet. The outlet port on the closet began to rise quickly. By 11:23 AM the temperature was 123 degrees and was still rising.

Graph of temperature increase. (Larger version)

I've written previously that I hope to get 90% of our heat from the sun. I was being conservative in my statements. Truthfully, I'm shooting for 100%. I know I can do it. The weather station is simply a tool to help me accomplish that goal.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Animal Encounters

A week never goes by that we don't have some animal experience. We see some new behavior or sight a bird or mammal that we rarely see. Two weeks ago we walked to the mail boxes to get the morning paper and on the return trip 22 antelope crossed our path. Not all of our experiences are as rewarding.


The misplaced sound was of wings beating the air in a frantic effort to break and change direction. I turned in time to see the bird execute a U-turn and begin picking up speed. She had flown in the open door to the greenhouse and was surprised by my presence. In her panic, rather than exit through the door, she chose the small window that is to the right of the door and about six to eight feet above the ground – the inoperable window that doesn’t open.

She hit the window hard, bounced back a few inches and plummeted to the ground. I rushed to pick her up before she could attempt another escape and injure herself further. There was no need to rush. She was so dazed that she only semi-conscious.

As she slowly regained consciousness, I carried her to into the kitchen to show Julie and to examine her. There were no obvious signs of injury. We placed her on the deck so the house and the roof would provide some protection from predators and backed away. She sat there so long that I began to wonder if she would recover. Julie’s maternal instinct caused her to check on the little lady repeatedly and on the last check the bird flew away with strength and a normal flight.

Recently I was talking with an ornithologist at the University who studies Pinyon Jays. He mentioned the number of birds killed on campus by windows and suggested that I order silhouettes of hawks and affix them to the windows on the greenhouse. I know of one other bird that flew into the outside of one of the south-facing windows. I have yet to order the silhouettes. I never thought about ordering one for the small window on the west side. Had one been in place, the bird would never have flown near the door much less enter.

Bird with a headache. (Larger version)


Rats have the special ability to point out my forgetfulness, my penchant for being lazy (which I define as an optimism that bad things won’t happen) – and the ability to try my patience. Some days when the weather’s fine and the day’s work has been tiring I don’t close the door to my shed. A few weeks ago I left it open the entire weekend. A day or two later I saw signs that a rat was locked in the building. The problem was I discovered this just before we were leaving to spend a week in Amarillo with Julie’s family. With few options I took our backpacks which hang from rafters and other valuables and moved them into the house leaving metal tools and items that couldn’t be damaged. I wondered if he could survive.

A week later I saw signs the rat was indeed in the building. I left the door open for several hours hoping he was still alive and able to get out. A few days later, on a cool morning when scents hang in the air, my nose told me he wasn’t.

A second rat breached the defenses and got under the house. Yes, my procrastination made it possible. I baited a trap just before dark and checked it first thing next morning. Success! I released him in the national forest far enough from the house that he’ll never make it back.

There has been an outbreak of plague in a community about 10 miles from us. Sadly, at the Grand Canyon a wildlife biologist in his mid-thirties contracted the disease recently and died. He was working with a dead mountain lion and appears to have been infected while examining the body.

I’m conscious of plague and hantavirus. I learned a lesson with snakes and got very lucky by falling into the 30% of bites without venom. I don’t plan on learning about plague and hantavirus the same way.

Evicted rat. (Larger version)

Friday, November 16, 2007

End of Summer

A few summer photos in anticipation of cold weather that will come our way -- eventually, hoefully.

A beautiful late-afternoon storm coming from the east. (Larger version)

The lightning was frequent enough that I was able to get a photo of a distant strike. (Larger version)

A feeding frenzy. (Larger version)

I found this snake skin in the yard. This summer I saw only one snake that wasn't a Hopi Rattlesnake. (Larger version)

I love the broad vistas, big sky and summer clouds. (Larger version)

I was working on the opposite side of the house and came around to get a glass of tea when I discovered Julie watching the hummingbirds. (Larger version)

A mixture of poor soil was above a hard caliche layer that capped loose cinders. Easy digging once a section of caliche was removed. (Larger version)

In the early night, this little guy moved from feeder to feeder, unrolled his proboscis and drank hungrilly. (Larger version)

In the late summer we had to be gone for one night. About 9AM we filled five feeders knowing they would be drained before we returned shortly after noon the next day. We "lost" about 30 birds. They moved on to find other feeders. Appears loyalty and allegiance last only as long as the food. But, on the positive side, after that weekend we saved on sugar and time preparing and filling feeders. (Larger version)

Thursday, November 15, 2007

A Very Good Weekend

“The battery is dead.”

The division of labor gives me the responsibility of removing the tire covers while Julie unlocks the door and starts the engine. She discovered the battery problem.

I checked the voltage and it was 11 point something but the house batteries held a good charge. I depressed the battery button on the dash that engages the house batteries and the engine started immediately.

We discovered two more issues. We had left the chocolate at home and we had a bottle of wine without a corkscrew. Two sites from us a family was sitting outside cuddling a new grand baby. We asked and they loaned us a corkscrew. We had plans to investigate a new health food store in Phoenix so we added chocolate to the shopping list.

All problems solved!

The weekend was wonderful! For the last seven or eight weeks we had worked constantly without a full day’s break. During this time I took vacation every Friday except one and two Thursdays to work on the greenhouse addition. I enjoyed the work but it was time for a break.

We met several new couples in the hot tub. Bonnie and Dennis from Minnesota are spending the winter so we hope to see them again. A man from northern California gave us several tips based on his trips to Mexico. A Montana couple was visiting for a week. They own a resort near Billings that we hope to visit some day. A gentleman from Jackson Hole, Wyoming works in the movie industry. He mentioned working on “No Country for Old Men” which opened recently and entertained us with stories about Tommy Lee Jones and Robert Redford. One of the most interesting persons was a retired banker from Saskatchewan. He carried himself with confidence, humility and a pleasant demeanor.

I did something on Sunday that I rarely do. About one o’clock I lay on the bed with a book and woke up two hours later. I don’t enjoy sleeping during the day and it wasn’t planned but it was welcomed.

Occasionally, Julie and I discuss selling the motorhome because we don’t use it as much as we’d like. But, then we have weekends like this – weekends that are relaxing, refreshing and rejuvenating – and we decide to keep it.

What about the dead battery? I’m experienced at procrastination so I ignored it until another time. This was a weekend to float in the pool, eat chocolate, watch a DVD (an episode of "Foyle's War"), read, try new foods and meet old and new friends in the hot tub.

It was a good weekend -- a very good weekend.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Note in a Bottle

I took my change and put it in my pocket. A few days later I was in line for a cup of coffee when I noticed a dollar bill. Someone has stamp it with red ink: I put the bill in my right front pocket so I wouldn't spend it.

"Where's George" is a game that enables players to mark a bill with the website, spend the bill and watch it's movement around the world. It's rare that I receive a marked bill but when I do I try to log it's location. I carried the bill for a week or two waiting for a slow day at work which finally came today.

The bill is a one dollar, 2003 series, which started in Campbell, California on July 12, 2007. It was started by a guy named Ed who's greeting is "Hello from the Bankrupt state of KaliFornia". Ed has marked 1,674 bills and 95 of them have been logged by people like me.

I don't play "Where's George" but Julie and I do have a travel bug that has traveled 5738 miles. At present it's in New York on Long Island. I'll have to write about that game sometime.

In the past -- and perhaps today also -- people have played similar games by putting notes in bottles or tying them to helium-filled balloons. Travel bugs and marked bills are modern versions of the same game.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Premature Update

A few high clouds and thin smoke from a controlled burn to the southwest created a haze below the setting sun. I unlocked the front door to the house, checked the meter in the kitchen that monitors the batteries (100% - full) and checked the temperature in the house -- 77 degrees. I opened the door to the greenhouse or solar room and felt a rush of heat. The temperature was 94 degrees and had peaked at 103 sometime during the day before the smoke and clouds had weakened the sunlight.

At 5:30 AM this morning the temperature outside was about 33. There was a thin layer of ice on the bird water. The temperature in the greenhouse had dropped to 63 degrees. The temperature of the water in the bottom of the barrels was higher.

The greenhouse isn't finished but is partially functioning. I have some flashing, caulk and trim to install outside. Most of the insulation has been installed in the east and west walls and the ceiling. A week and a half ago before insulation and before some major air leaks had been closed I shut the exterior door to let it heat up. It peaked at 110 degrees.

This is going to work! The real test will come in January but it's looking positive. I know I can get well over 50% of our heat and am interested in how close I can get to the ultimate goal of surpassing 90%.

I have yet to enclose the east end for the solar closet. I'm not ready to install the water-filled barrels but I partially filled a few barrels. I have far less than 25% of the eventual total that will be used for heat storage. The floor is dirt at this point. Today Julie and I are going to a local business to pick out the stone that will be used for the flooring.

This project has consumed our weekends for the last several months. Julie and I are taking a break this coming weekend. We're going south to swim, hike and just be lazy.

This is a premature update but I'm excited and optimistic!

Saturday, November 03, 2007

The Third

The first was while playing on an afternoon of my youth of invincibility. It was the product of a good effort that was poorly executed. A good excuse.

The second was in the recent past when the realization of mortality created long stepping effort to deter an inevitable decline. Another worthy excuse.

The third was today and was initiated by impatience which conceived foolishness -- a poor and unworthy excuse. Of the details I will say nothing. Of the foolishness I will say only "wisdom tempers impatience and chooses a ladder rather than an empty and unstable barrel".

This third rib, too, will heal like its companions.

Near the end of the day I was sitting on the ground -- a safe place -- using a razor blade to scrape labels from newly installed windows when Julie came over. I interpreted her words as an affirmation of love: "I need to go in and vacuum. While I'm gone, you won't do anything stupid, will you?"

Friday, November 02, 2007

Time (Mis)management

I knew it would be high but didn't expect it to be 153. I just opened Google Reader and found 153 blog entries of people that I follow. I read Athiests, Wiccans and Christians; old hippies and young farmers; poets, philosophers and scientists; photographers and essayists.

Rolling around in my heard are 20 to 25 ideas that I'd like to post on this blog. Recently I had an article published in the local Flagstaff newspaper which was also published on the county's master gardener blog. I have other articles in draft form and several ideas waiting.

Multiple projects at home need finishing, wilderness areas await exploration, books go unread and two alert lights on the dash of the car burn brightly.

There's not enough time.

I find it easy to earn and manage money. Time isn't so easy. I can't earn more and must accept the allotment that I and all receive.

I've had a realization that keeps growing and positioning itself in my consciousness: "work gets in the way of living". It's getting close to the time when I'm going to work part time or quit or retire or just not show up.

My theology has distilled itself to "life is a gift to be enjoyed". For me, enjoyment means a balance of work and play, activity and rest, selfishness and selflessness, family/friends and solitude, time to "do" and time simply to "be".

The greater fear for me is not that I'll run out of money before I retire but that I'll not take enough time to explore, learn, make memories, try, fail, dream and love.