GPS in the Dark

For Christmas my parents gave me a GPS unit. It is almost the same one that they have, maybe one version newer. My dad has been pretty into it since he got it and I guess he thought it might come in handy for me as well. I used it this afternoon and evening to drive down to the New Hampshire coast. It served me well.

Typically, if I drive somewhere I have never been, I get directions. I like to figure out where I am headed, to the last turn, before I start the car. But this time I did not do that. I had meant to, but just never got around to it. I was planning to rent a car to head down to save some cash for my organization (cheaper to pay the rental company than to reimburse me for mileage on my own car) so I used the new toy to get me there as I wasn’t sure where it was. That worked great.

Once I had the rental car I sat in the parking lot waiting for satellite connection. It took me a bit to find the location I was headed on the little black box, but once I did I was off down the interstate. Then it told me to just go on that road for 144 miles. Not much action there.

The thing has a lovely woman’s voice. She tells me where to turn right when I need to know. She is just so friendly, that GPS lass. Of course, her confidence can be deceptive. Once, when the family was headed out on an adventure together, the unit seemed to think we were a little off from where we actually were. According to that thing we were driving through rivers and buildings, but she just kept telling us to turn left or right.

It got dark as I headed down, on my own except for the lass, and I dutifully followed her directions. I turned where she told me to turn and ended up at a darkened building. It turns out that was the country club, not the hotel, so I rejiggered and turned about and after half a mile found the right spot.

I am not a huge fan of driving in the dark, especially in unknown locales, but I did manage to find my way, even without getting directions first. I was a little hesitant, and I don’t know that I’d go without a backup plan every time, but it worked. As I walked from my car to the main entrance to the hotel, I ran into a friend who is also attending the conference for which I drove all those hours. She said this: “I don’t know how I got here; I just kept on going and managed to find the place.”

Sounds about right to me.

Things I Don’t Buy

There are a few things that I pretty much don’t ever buy.  They seem wasteful or unnecessary or I just don’t need them.  I am not perfect about these, so I suppose I am somewhat of a hypocrite but I do try.  Here is a short list:

1. Bottled water.  There was a time when I did not think all that much about bottled water.  When I did think about it, it seemed a little silly.  Why pay for water?  The stuff is free.  But when I started to learn about how wasteful it is when one considers the larger consequences, it became a full on boycott.  I won’t even drink bottled water if it is given to me, unless I am desperate.  Think about it simply:  instead of energy to extract and treat the water, you’ve got those same concerns plus energy and resources to make bottles, fill the bottles, transport the full bottles and then deal with disposal.

2. Drinking straws.  We have them around but I will not purchase them myself.  They are fun, sure, but they are way too wasteful.  Sip slowly and maybe they get used for one hour.  And then they last forever in a landfill.  That seems a little unbalanced.  Our glass straws work pretty well so far.

3. Paper towels or napkins.  These seem a little excessive.  Paper towels?  Real cloth towels and napkins work way better, last longer and are cheaper over their lifetime.  A no brainer in my book.

4. Incandescent light bulbs.  Considering how much more energy they use, I won’t ever buy one again.  Feeling the heat from one is tangibly soaking in wasted electricity.  One of the these days we will switch to all LED light bulbs and we will wonder how we ever wasted so much energy on compact fluorescents.

5. DVD’s.  With Netflix, video stores, the library and random freebies, I can’t justify buying them.  I rarely watch a movie more than once so purchasing one seems too much.

6. Television.  Now that things have gone digital, we really don’t get television at all.  We get information and entertainment from other sources–the internet, magazines, radio.  I have considered satellite television, but I just can’t fork over cash every month for something I either won’t watch or will regret wasting time on.  One of these days we will get around to getting a converter box so we can at least watch the bad news if we want to.

7. Bar soap.  It isn’t that I don’t use bar soap, but I haven’t purchased it in years.  I have gotten free samples and random bars in gift bags and soap from who knows where.  I still have plenty waiting in the wings when the currently in-use bars are exhausted.  I have purchased shampoo and dish soap and some liquid hand soap but bar soap?  No need to buy.

8. Pencils. With the stock we have collected over the years, as well as the ones that manage to filter into our household from all kinds of sources (school events, conferences, holidays, what have you), we have enough to last pretty much forever.  I even try to keep them sharp at all times when I use them.  Plus, I do lots of crossword and similar puzzles.  Nonetheless, buying a pencil would be like buying air.  I can always find them when I need them.

There are others, of course.  But these come to mind at the moment.  I would love to say that I don’t ever purchase electricity, but that day seems far off.  Someday, I hope.  Someday.

Too Much Sugar

Crowd at the Shelburne Farms Sugar House

Crowd at the Shelburne Farms Sugar House

The first dose of sugar at least came from natural sources. We visited Shelburne Farms for their pancake breakfast, complete with real maple syrup. The cakes were complemented by juice and then hot chocolate. It was a great breakfast, a fundraiser for 4H. But sweet for the children.

We visited the sugar house, watched them boiling down the sap into syrup. Of course, they handed out free samples, small for an adult but large for the tykes. In the sugarush they had hidden small wooden disks, sliced from small maples. Those could be handed in for hard maple candies, one for one. So the children each had one of those.

My parents, visiting for the weekend, wanted to puchase some maple syrup, so we stopped at Palmer’s Sugarhouse, a little closer to home. We watched them boiling as well and got, again, free samples. These samples were much more generous. And my wife also bought some cotton candy and–how could she not?–shared that with her progeny.

Back at home we had lunch. That was a little healthier. Even the afternoon snacks were decent. The problem came later. My children, with their cute wiles, convinced my parents to take us all to Friendly’s for dinner. Friendly’s is fun but doesn’t exactly serve health food, if you know what I mean. After a dinner a little too concentrated in the fried genre, we had ice cream sundaes. The sundaes were part of the point of dining at this particular establishment so they were not to be denied, but whew, it was good that have that over.

Too much sugar today. Normally I would not allow all that crap to enter the system of my small and precious youngsters, at least not all in one day, but it seemed a tricky one to navigate, what with the pre-planned pancake breakfast and the grandparents and Friendly’s. It is only one day, however. Tomorrow we get back to cracking down. Apples and yogurt will rule over treats.

It was a fun day. The children settled down and fell asleep without too much trouble. We had a fine hike while we were at Shelburne Farms and they ran around a lot today. It was pretty much perfect–sunny and in the 60’s. So hopefully they managed to work the sweet out of their little systems. Maybe it evened out. I ran eight miles this afternoon, so I’m not worried about myself too much. Except that I need a haircut something fierce, but that is off the topic.

All in all we enjoyed our maple sugaring open house day, even if it meant too many sweets. What’s one day? It is a good thing sugaring season only lasts a short time. And that the kids get sick of pancakes. Plus, I won’t have the clean the griddle tomorrow morning. That will give me more time to run off the ice cream I ate with dinner.

Sugaring Weather

It has been pretty ideal sugaring weather lately.  Warm days and cold nights.  The sap is flowing.  This weekend is open house weekend at sugarhouses across the state.  Tomorrow we will head out to one or two of them, do some tasting and watch the sap boil.

We will start off with a pancake breakfast at Shelburne Farms.  My parents are up for the weekend and we will make a morning of it.  Pancakes and syrup and some fun together.  Sunday it looks to rain all day.  It will be a wet one.

The sap should be flowing again tomorrow.  The children can hardly wait to sip those little cups of syrup.  Neither can I.

Rain Falling in the Dark

After dinner I checked the NOAA website, as I often do, to see what might be in store in the next few days. It told me to expect rain tonight. I said this to my son. His response: “I want to hear it start raining.”

After I put him to bed tonight, it started raining. He missed it by maybe ten minutes. He may even have been awake still when the rain started to fall. Now it drips onto the deck, slowly drumming away the paint. I will go to bed listening to that.

Maybe it will still be raining in the morning. My little guy can listen to it then as he wakes. If the rain has stopped, my guess is he will have forgotten his comment from the previous night. Another day it will start raining, he will listen to it and, even though he does not know I am watching, he will plaster on a big old grin.

Mud and Plastic

My daughter had the idea over dinner that we take a family walk down the road.  When your kid asks to do something outside as a family, it is awfully hard to say no, even if you have your pajamas on unaccountably early and the hour has crept beyond the usual one for dinner.  So I donned the jeans once more, slipped on mud boots with my children, and off we went.

A month ago, the ditch lining the road was deep with ice.  We would walk across with nary a step down.  Now it is muddy, running with melted snow.  The children tossed rocks, some of which made the hoped for splash, some of which stuck impressively into the mud.  They stomped and squished.  The shouted and laughed.  We had a hard time getting them to turn around so we could get home for bed.

We picked up a crazy amount of trash a few weeks ago, but there is more now.  Some of it has peeked out from the ice or snow, but some of it is new.  I can’t get over the amount of new litter to be found in those few weeks.  I want to believe it is just an accident, that each new piece bounced from a truck bed my mistake, but there is too much of it.  People are tossing that crap out the window.  It can bring one down, seeing how someone cares little enough that they will leave it to others to pick up their empties.

We generate enough trash as it is.  Americans generate about 4.6 pounds of solid waste per day, per person, and only about a quarter of it gets recycled, even though we could recycle about 3/4 of it.  A large percentage of that 4.6 pounds seems to wind up along the road.  I picked up two aluminum cans this evening–one whole and filled with mud, the other squashed flat–and one flattened plastic bottle.  I will recycle them.  At least, I will take them to the transfer station to be recycled by someone else, but that is more than my untidy neighbor, whoever he or she might be.

The kids are happy to help me clean things up.  I guess they do understand the importance of cleaning up, even though they left a huge mess on the floor this evening before they went to bed (it got too late to push that one).  They were dirty enough that I told them to leave the rest of the plastic bottles, half buried in the winter’s layer of sand, where they were.  I can go get those later at some point.

I had to do some boot rinsing when we got home.  We were a tad muddy.  I tossed what I was carrying into a blue recycling bin, cleaned some footwear, washed my hands, and headed to the kitchen to clean up that mess.  Sometimes it feels like I spend my whole day cleaning up messes.  But what fun would life be without messes, right?  As soon as I am done here, I think I will pick up all the toys on the floor.  I should probably make the kids clean up their own mess, but I need to be a nice guy once in a while.  Maybe tonight will be that once.

Waiting for Spring

Today I ran and it was cold.  Yesterday I had a wintry run as well–it was blowing like stink and snowing like stink and I could hardly see where I was going.  Today was colder and windier but without the snow.  The ground was frozen.  It was basically winter.  Mark Breen, the meteorologist on Vermont Public Radio, offered today that Vermont had, with the exception of extreme northeast Alaska, the coldest weather in the United States.  Something to be proud of?

The problem with running in weather like today’s is one of temperature regulation.  Out in the open, the north wind was bearing down hard, and my wind layers separated me from frostbitten extremities.  Once I got into the shelter of a hill, with the sun shining, I started sweating down the back of my neck–too hot.  I ran an out-and-back and when I turned around at the halfway point, I headed directly into the north wind that had so helpfully been pushing me onward.  It bit.

So I sweated and froze, alternately.  On average I was just about right.  Yesterday the snow stung my cheeks and slicked up the frozen just-the-day-before-muddy road.  It was treacherous, or at least it felt so.  It was less dangerous than it may have appeared, considering I was never really more than a few miles from home.  It sure didn’t feel like spring.

I won’t run tomorrow but will lace on the shoes again Wednesday or Thursday, my schedule permitting.  Wednesday promises temperatures in the fifties–T-shirt weather for this time of year.  Of course, in September, 50 degrees will feel like the ice age has returned, but in spring, bust out the flip flops.  So I wait for spring.  Running is just so much easier when the weather is warm.  I have to wear fewer layers, I can leave the gloves at home, and I just feel looser.

If I want to make any kind of mileage goals I need to run when it is cold.  I live in Vermont.  I briefly considered applying for a job in California recently, but only briefly.  Apparently one can run in shorts year-round in the climes I was considering.  That might be nice, but I have to admit, running when the snow blows so hard I can’t see is kind of invigorating.  It is easier to run when it is warm, but it feels awfully nice to run in warm weather after running in cold weather.  I would miss getting pelted in the face by tiny beads of ice.  I am not sure, but I might even be proud of that.