Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Seasonal Adjustment

I noticed electricity production seemed lower than it should be. Recently I added a few small items that require electricity but the total consumption didn't explain the drop.

Solar Panels.
Solar array adjusted for December.

I decided to adjust the tilt on the solar array which I do every couple months. I found the problem. It appears it had been too long since the last adjustment. I see the array every day but it never registered that the angle was wrong for December.

The panels were putting 23 amps into the batteries. After changing the angle the output was 29 amps. An increase of 25%!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

17 Days

I had planned for seventeen uninterrupted days to finish the utility room at a leisurely pace. Last Wednesday I turned in the form for a few days vacation and learned I needed to work one day. Yesterday I went with nine co-workers to Arizona State University in Phoenix for a three hour meeting. I left home at 6:15 AM, drove over 350 miles and returned about 6:15 PM. Neither a pleasant nor productive day. But, duty and obligation are duty and obligation.

So, three normal days off, one day of work and today began 13 days off.

Last weekend I installed a drain for the washer and the gas line for the dryer. Today I completed some final work, insulated a small area, nailed the last piece of drywall in place and completed the first phase of finishing the drywall. Over the next twelve days I'll lay the tile, install the ceiling, install overhead lights, hang the interior door, texture the walls, paint, build two steps, install trim and construct a platform to elevate the washer and dryer. Depending on progress, I may begin designing and constructing a cabinet for the water pump that I installed in one corner. The last item to be finished will be a counter on the south wall to provide a work surface and to hide water barrels that will store heat for cold nights.

I have another goal. I'm going to fill every cistern before going back to work on January 4. I'll need twenty-two loads of water. I've hauled six thus far and plan on getting two loads each day. This will insure I have sufficient water for the spring garden.

Julie and I have reservations in Ridgway, Colorado for two nights next week. We made the reservations last January and are anticipating another relaxing getaway.

It's going to be an enjoyable and relaxing two weeks.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

A Plan

Julie and I had lunch in a sushi restaurant yesterday. I had been there once but it was Julie's first time. We generally order different items so we can share. She had Dragon Roll and I had a special with soup, salad, rice and chicken. The restaurant provides chopsticks with each meal and forks on request.

As we ate we talked and the time passed. The food was OK, the atmosphere was acceptable and the conversation was mundane forgettable small talk. In my opinion, it was one of the most enjoyable meals we've had in a while. As I pondered why I was enjoying myself more than usual I considered the chopsticks. I'm no expert so we were eating slowly and there was more time for conversation. I noticed each piece of food and the small size of each bite. I began to wonder if the chopsticks were contributing to the enjoyment of the meal.

Salad and chop sticks.
Today's lunch: salad and chop sticks.

Without much thought I made a proposal to Julie. "Let's buy chopsticks and eat exclusively with them for a while." She was agreeable so we stopped on the way home and bought a box.

My plan is to use chopsticks indefinitely. I'd like to become proficient. It's good for eye-hand coordination and brain stimulation. Most importantly, I think it may contribute to eating more thoughtfully, more slowly, with more mindfulness.

I like this plan.

Friday, December 18, 2009


Today I began my 64th circuit of the sun. It was a good day like any other day and was in no way special. But, as it comes to a close, perhaps it does merit some reflection for some unconscious reason.

I've never had a plan for my life, no major goals, no desire to be wealthy, famous, powerful, successful. My most valued goal has been to be independent, able to care for myself, to enjoy life, grow old and die without harming others or having a negative impact on the universe. A jackrabbit is a good model. I watch them come and go but see little sign of their passing. Perhaps that is as it should be.

Photo at 21.
I was 21 when this photo was taken and thought my life was over. I would be an old man of 25 before a four year enlistment ended and I regained my freedom.

In my mid-forties I think I made great strides toward becoming more fully human. I know I enjoy life much more in the last third of my life than I did in the previous third.

Occasionally I wonder what I've learned in almost two-thirds of a century that I can consider true. Is there a supreme being? Not certain. What of religion, any religion? All appear to have good and bad aspects. What of people? A confusing mixture of selfishness and altruism. Most of the things I once thought to be true I've rejected. But, this may be one of life's best blessings. What joy could life hold without mystery and a journey?

Photo at 62.
This photo was taken six months ago. I'm older, no wiser but far more content than in the above photo.

If pressured, I think I would identify three temporal truths that I've learned.

Third, the most important skills one needs are relationship skills. To relate to people, to inspire and be inspired, to befriend, to connect, to engage and to mark boundaries are the most critical competencies one can develop.

Second, the most important decision in life involves the choice of a mate. Selecting a major in college, a job or career path, an investment strategy, a house and a family doctor are trivial by comparison.

First and foremost is accepting, liking and making peace with oneself, being committed to learning, growing and maintaining a positive attitude.

My life is not perfect but I'm content and happy. My sixty-fourth circuit promises to be an enjoyable ride into the unknown.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


I heard a brief curious statement from a co-worker last week. I told Julie. She asked some friends. They told her what they had read. She told me.

It appears there was an article in the local newspaper about the state's financial problems. The state is attempting to raise money by selling some property. If unsuccessful, beginning in February, the state will issue IOUs for three months rather than pay checks.

Arizona has what I consider a curious system. State income tax is a percentage of federal tax. If the federal tax rate is reduced then state revenue is reduced.

Another interesting item. Today I made changes to the online state income tax withholding form for University employees. The change will go into effect after the first of the year. The change was a reduction in rates.

So, if we receive IOUs in February then we'll have less state tax withheld from our IOUs.

Personally, I discount all of this. Never trust gossip or newspapers.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Making Life Good

I went through basic training in February and March of 1968 at Ft. Dix, New Jersey. Much of my experience was as the recipient of sadistic treatment. I still remember the bitter cold weather, the wet clothes that came off at the end of the day to be put on the next morning, the lack of sleep, the pain in my heels from new leather boots and the hunger. What I remember more vividly is receiving and watching others receive abusive treatment by alcoholics.

A 17 year old kid had joined the National Guard to avoid being drafted for the war. While milling around he made the mistake of removing his helmet. A drill instructor took a dead tree branch about two inches in diameter and broke it over the kid's head to teach him not to remove his helment. I vividly remember the blood streaming from his head, his pain and his tears.

A young man slept in a bunk across from mine. After a couple weeks I came in one evening to find him crying. He couldn't take the cursing, screaming and psychological abuse. He wet the bed every night. Finally, he slit his wrists. I listened as another drill instructor stood over his bunk and said "I hope you die!"

There are more stories but the essence is that life became something to endure. Make it through one day and there was one less until it was over. We never knew what to expect other than we would probably be fed at some point, we would be given a few hours sleep, we would find ways to hide a few things, we would listen to a few minutes of music each morning as we prepared for another day.

After a few weeks I learned to enjoy small things, moments of quiet, a warm day, dry clothes, a little extra food, the radio that played popular music each morning (until it was stolen). I've never forgotten the enjoyment of escaping for a few minutes, the warmth of coming in from the cold, the experience of falling asleep when staying awake was impossible, the simple necessary routines of daily life.

This experience still affects my life. Yesterday morning I got wet, chilled and the cold wind made my ears ache deep inside. I thought about taking a break until the rain and wind stopped but I wanted to finish what I had started, to endure. I knew that dry clothes, a warm house, hot coffee and something to eat awaited.

I've grown to enjoy the simple daily tasks of building a fire, hauling water for the cistern, monitoring the electric system, making sure the generator is full of gas and ready when needed. I look forward to adjusting the angle of the solar panels every couple month, cutting firewood, taking recycling to town and compost material to the garden. In June when we have no air conditioning and the temperatures hit 100 degrees the evenings become sweet as the temperatures drop and the air takes on a chill.

A life of ease, convenience and luxury holds no attraction for me. I enjoy my life for it's simple extremes, its good and its bad, its daily routines. It's the small discomforts that make the rest even better, that make life good.

Concrete Planters for an Herb Garden

We have seven new concrete planters.

Julie was in the University Surplus Sales warehouse taking care of some task for her job. She noticed seven benches with concrete bases. She phoned me proposing we buy the benches, remove the cushions and use the concrete bases as planters for an herb garden that she plans to create. When I saw the benches I knew she had a winning idea.

We bought the benches for $5 each, a small pallet of retaining wall block and scheduled pick up for last Friday. We need the block to extend a small wall that we built last year with block purchased from a couple advertising on Craig's list.

Benches to be converted to planters.
Six of seven benches to be converted to planters. The cushions have been removed from two of the concrete bases to show the open interior. (Larger version)

When we picked up the benches and block I was asked if I wanted some other pallets of pavers, brick, and larger block. I replied that I had purchased only the small block. Because there weren't many of each item the supervisor gave them to us.

This morning I unloaded the trailer as it began to rain lightly. I assumed it was a small shower that would end soon but I was mistaken. It continued to rain steadily and the drops grew larger. By the time I finished the rain had soaked through my coveralls and the back of my shirt. It was 41 degrees, a cold rain and a light wind. It felt wonderful. It rains so rarely that being out in any rain feels wonderful. When I got back to the house Julie had a breakfast burrito waiting for me.

Next summer as I watch Julie care for her herb garden I'll have good memories of this morning.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Scuba Diving

Success at last! Julie registered us for a scuba diving class in February.

A few years ago we tried to register for a class at the University but the class filled up with degree seeking students. We tried again. And again. No room.

The community college's class schedule for next spring came in the mail and listed multiple offerings of scuba diving. A phone call, a credit card and we are in.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Snow Day and a Half

We we got to work there was an inch or two of snow on the ground. I had a long meeting (2 hours) on north campus at 9 AM and by the time I walked north the snow had passed two inches in depth.

The meeting ended at 11 AM and I started walking south, a distance of over one-half mile. The show was getting deeper and was beautiful. Kids were building snowmen and carrying sleds as they walked toward a small hill. As I walked under a tree I heard something, turned and saw no one behind me.

When I got back to my building I brushed the snow off my coat, stepped inside and sat my coffee cup on a table to dry my glasses. I noticed a cup full of snow. The lid was missing.

About thirteen years ago I flew to Little Rock, Arkansas, (or was it San Antonio, Texas?) to meet a friend. We were walking near some store when she said "wait here!". Later in the weekend she gave me the coffee cup. Over the years the logo wore off the cup and a nick or two appeared on one side. The lid has a rubber O-ring that swells up when filled with hot coffee and seals the cup. Apparently the cold weather caused the ring to shrink and the lid popped off the empty cup as I swung my arms while walking.

I quickly retraced my steps. Small snow plows were cleaning the walks and I hoped a plow hadn't buried the lid. I found the lid below the tree where I heard the strange sound while walking back to my office. I found the lid and I got to walk almost two miles in beautiful snow.

Back in my office I found a message that the campus was closing at noon. Julie and probably a few thousand students got their wish. A snow day.

Technology and snow don't coesist well. Last night we had no TV or Internet. Snow and clouds were blocking the satellites. We read and listened to a DVD of "Playing for Change". After it stopped snowing I took a broom and cleaned off the satellite dishes and services were restored.

Last night we received a message at 6 PM that the campus would be closed today. We have about one inch of snow but town has about two feet from what we're heard.

The sun is out, there are seven new blossoms on the Hibiscus, we've had breakfast, Julie is stretching and we're planning on walking before starting tasks. Julie is going to make bread and I'm going to make the final connections for the hot and cold water lines in the new utility room.

It's a beautiful snow day in my neighbourhood.

Friday, December 04, 2009


Two weeks of silence. Here are some of the events of the last two weeks.

My plan for Thanksgiving week was to walk several miles each day, read an excellent book and write several posts for my blog. It began as a reasonable plan. Julie and I had scheduled seven days with her family in Amarillo and Borger, Texas. But, work took priority and vacation was not an option.

One of the benefits of my job is the ability to work remotely. Given a laptop, cell phone, fast Internet connection, email and instant messaging I can work anywhere in the world almost as well as I can in my office. The only thing I have to adapt is working with one horizontal monitor rather than dual vertical monitors.

We drove to Amarillo on Saturday and I worked half a day Sunday, my regular schedule the next three days and a few additional hours on Thanksgiving and Friday. Part of the time I was working on a problem that took me into thousands of lines of Cobol, a language that I haven't written in almost 20 years. It turned out to be an enjoyable problem.

On the trip to Texas we were stopped for gas in Gallup, New Mexico, when the sporting goods store in Amarillo phoned to let us know they had received the weight vest that Julie had requested for me. On Sunday afternoon I bought a 40 pounds vest and Julie bought a 20.

During the week I walked three to seven miles each day. Texas is lower in elevation and flat so the walking was easy. I did notice the pounding my feet took on concrete and blacktop. Most of my walking is normally on loose ground that absorbs some of the shock of each step.

Our trip was a little unusual in that I drove the entire way to and from Texas, a total of about 20 hours round trip. Normally Julie and I share driving but I've become addicted to reading together. I drive and she reads aloud. On the return trip we talked non-stop the first two hours then finished Malcom Gladwell's "What the Dog Saw". We began Timothy Egan's "The Worst Hard Time - The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl." I was surprised and entertained by the history of Germans who emigrated to Russia during the time of Catherine the Great, the plight of their descendants and their subsequent flight to the panhandle of Oklahoma. I never expected to learn a little Russian history in a book about the American dust bowl. Late in the trip Julie began getting hoarse from reading and talking so we turned on music.

During our trip we received a call from a neighbor inviting us to supper on Sunday. We quickly accepted the invitation and met a small group for an enjoyable evening of left overs and good conversation.

Last week at work was fast paced and I looked forward to a trip to Phoenix on Friday with hopes of going swimming at a resort and meeting some friends we haven't seen in months. The weather didn't cooperate so there was no swimming. Several months ago Julie volunteered for a research project related to Alzhiemers that is being conducted in Phoenix. She was selected for consideration and had to complete some forms and give a blood sample for DNA testing to see if she has one of three markers of interest. She may be invited to participate in the research which has been ongoing for the last 14 years. If she is selected she'll never know if she has the DNA related to Alzheimer's or is in the control group. Regardless, it's a good thing and I admire her for volunteering.

Yesterday morning at breakfast I created a list of 26 items on a to-do list. Some were quick and easy (check the propane tank, cistern, garden), some took only a few minutes (load recycling item in the car, take compost materials to the garden, fill the generator with gas) and others required more time (joint and glue oak steps leading to the utility room). Late today, with Julie's help, I finished the eighteenth item (pot some new plants). That leaves eight items for later in the week or next weekend.

At the moment the wind is blowing and the forecast is for several inches of snow. Probability is 100% for tomorrow night. Julie is hoping for a snow day. I'm not as optimistic since this is finals week at the University. If the forecast is correct, I may be able to write some of the posts that I had planned for last week.