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.

Some Positive Economic News, At Least for Me

I used to listen to National Public Radio a whole lot more.  When we moved to this house we did not put a radio in the kitchen, and that is a place I like to listen.  When I am whipping up some tasty meal, I can hear what they have to say.  This morning I was whipping up four-berry muffins and I wanted to listen.  But no radio.

Actually, that is not true.  We have a radio in the kitchen.  It is a wind-up generator radio.  Wind the crank and it charges the battery.  It works great, but the battery does not last long.  I need to keep winding it.  And winding it.  I want to use this radio.  I like the idea of listening to an electronic device without using electricity from the grid.  But, I admit, I rarely do.  I don’t want to keep winding.

There is another option, however.  This radio has the option to charge the battery with electricity from the grid.  Plug it in and charge and off we go.  I could keep it plugged in and listen as long as we have power.  This morning I decided that I was ready to choose that option.  The problem, however, was that I haven’t ever used the power cord.  And I had no idea where it might be found.

This took me to the basement.  Our basement is still full of boxes and baskets and bins from when we moved to this house two and a half years ago.  We slowly empty them and slowly bring new ones down.  The result is clutter stasis.  So when I go to look for a power cord, and I know I just saw the box full of them down in the basement recently, I get stymied.  I can’t find doodly-squat down there unless I get lucky.

I searched and searched to no avail.  I did bring up a mason jar to use for the bulk popcorn I just purchased at Healthy Living, so the voyage to the underworld was at least worthwhile for that, but I never did plug in the radio.  And, to bring this around to the point, I saw an envelope on the floor.  The envelope contained two $50 savings bonds.  Why it was on the floor was a mystery, but I figured that was not the ideal storage location for paper that had any value, due to the occurrence of mildew on such floors.  And so, in my wisdom and readiness to take action, I picked it up.

Now I was fully distracted from finding the power cord.  I had a jar to wash and some savings bonds to check out.  With the savings bonds in the envelope was a letter from the Hartford Courant.  It noted how my service as a newspaper carrier was superb, blah blah blah, and here was a token of appreciation.  I only received one savings bond with that letter, as I recall.  The other came later.  I decided I should find out how much they might be worth these days.

I turned, as is the norm in our house, to the internet for answers.  Ten years ago I might have just wondered about it and found a better spot for the envelope, but now I’ve got Google.  Google led me to the government web site with information on savings bonds, including a calculator to tell me the value of my investments.  As I have mentioned, two of my traits are wisdom and readiness to act, so I used the calculator.  I found out the bonds’ values and also learned a few things.

One of the bonds, issued in 1981 (have I actually held onto the thing for that long?) is worth $131.  The other, issued in 1986 (same question) is worth about $85.  That seemed a big difference for issue dates only five years apart, so I read more.  It turns out savngs bonds earn interest based on when they were issued, and the interest rates can vary quite a bit.  I couldn’t find interest rates for the earlier one but I did learn that the one issued later has a minimum rate of return of 7.5%.

That made me look twice.  Did it really say 7.5%?  Who gets a guaranteed rate of return of 7.5% these days?  You’d be lucky if you could earn 4% on a CD these days.  The rate chart only went back to 1982 but the rate on the bond from 1981 must be higher.  Get this–the highest rate I saw on the chart was from 1982 at 13.05%.  And this is supposed to be a safe investment.  Safe indeed.

So the good economic news is that I have $216 worth of savings bonds, and I have two years before the first one stops earning interest.  Considering these were purchased for half face value, that is a fine rate of return, especially since I didn’t purchase them myself.  Now, we’re not talking a huge amount here, but by 2016 I can cash them both and do something with those earnings.  Of course I will probably just reinvest them.

So it is good to know that I’ve got something, a little buffer, sitting in that envelope.  I keep reading bad economic news.  Here, at least, is some good news, if only for me.  Now I need to go get that fireproof safe I have been considering for years.  Then I can really stop worrying.  At least about a few things.  Then maybe I get on top of all the crap in the basement and, finally, I’ll be able to listen to radio while I make muffins.

“Night” Skiing

We went up as a family to Bolton Valley this evening for one last bout of night skiing.  The last time I did this was with my daughter, just the two of us, before the daylight savings shenanigans; we skied under the lights and had a blast.  The children were disappointed that there was still plenty of daylight tonight.  We left just after 7:00, the sun setting as we walked back to the car.

Since we lived up at Bolton Valley, we have known that this time of year one can find some of the best skiing to be had.  There is plenty of snow by now and the days are warm enough to soften up even the gnarliest ice.  And now we have sunlight so late that it is more enjoyable than working with the shadows of the bright lights.  In December scores of people are on the mountain.  Often it is icy and thin and crowded and that, I can tell you, is not what I’m talking about.

People get sick of skiing once the warm weather hits.  School skiing programs end.  I think a lot of people kind of forget about it.  They start biking and skateboarding and whatnot.  Spring activities get underway.  Who wants more snow?  At least it seems that is the question that gets asked.  But it really is the time to hit the slopes.  Spring skiing means warm air, fewer people and lots of snow.  What’s not to like?

We were not up there long tonight.  We did a few runs, ate the light dinner we brought, shared a waffle from the waffle cabin and headed home in the fading light.  We will head up again tomorrow to ski with friends.  We are now debating whether or not to purchase season’s passes for next year.  My daughter is now old enough that we need to purchase a pass for her.  With the current prices (“low” for now, soon to rise) it would cost us over a thousand bucks.  Is it worth it?

If we go as many times as this year, and take advantage of discounts and deals when we find them, we might come out even or even ahead when it comes to the bottom line.  The problem is that without passes we will likely go less.  Every time we consider going it will become a financial decision–Do we want to spend a hundred bucks for a couple of runs? Some of those times we will decide not to go because our answer will be no.  Do we want to decide whether we go today or wait until tomorrow?  Or do we want to decide whether we go skiing this weekend at all?

It is a tough call.  I get that we are fortunate enough to be in the position of parsing the details of this question.  I want our kids to learn to ski or ride and choose for themselves if it is a sport they want to pursue.  That means getting them out when they are young.  Just going a handful of times would be fun, but to really learn it they need to do it a lot.  Whether we get passes or not we are talking some bucks.

We had a good time tonight.  Since we spent the money on passes months ago, we had the incentive to go so we get our money’s worth, and we also could feel fine with just a few runs.  Next year could be a different story.

Sausages and Tofu

We don’t eat meat in our house.  I guess that isn’t totally true but almost 100% true.  My daughter is pretty good at counting but she can count way higher than she needs to in order to count the number of times she has eaten meat.  I have cooked meat in our house exactly twice, and when I did so it had been many years since I had cooked meat at all.  Tonight for dinner we had cheese quesadillas and salad.  It was light fare but was just what we needed.

My daughter likes breakfast sausages.  She has eaten them only a few times.  The last time was at a community breakfast at her school.  There were many families there.  It was a fund raiser for the local pre-school.  We had tons of fun and my daughter wanted some sausage, like many of the other children there.  I hate to be the parent who says no all the time, especially when I don’t have the best of explanations.  I didn’t want to eat it, and this particular sausage wasn’t exactly of the highest quality, but why the heck not let her have it?  She’ll try to some time anyway.  And it won’t kill her.

I hear people talk about how they could never be a vegetarian.  As if they would have to jump right into eating tofu and beans and kale at every meal if they decided to stop eating meat.  I think most people eat plenty of meals that don’t contain meat without even thinking about it.  Peanut butter and jelly?  Macaroni and cheese?  Breakfast cereal?  Who eats meat at every meal?

Anyway, I am currently of the mind that we won’t have meat much in our house at all.  My wife and I are on the same page with that one.  But if the kids want it once in a while when it is offered, I will let them try it, as long as it isn’t too nasty.  I made them fried chicken a couple of times here at home, at my daughter’s request to have chicken.  She thought it was OK and my son just said no thanks.  I have cooked up chicken many a time and this was, and I’m not just saying this, really good fried chicken.  I ate it right up.  The second try provided the same results.  Salad is a bigger hit.

We do eat tofu occasionally.  It is good stuff if you prepare it right.  Kind of like cauliflower.  That stuff isn’t exactly great plain, if you ask me, but in a gratin, oh baby oh.  I can whip up some tofu into a tasty meal.  We even eat meat substitutes.  For me, it isn’t that I don’t like meat as a food.   It just seems irresponsible to eat it.  Eat it if you want but, knowing what I know about where it comes from, I don’t want to support such a destructive and unhealthy system.

We have talked about trying to eat meat that is locally and responsibly grown.  That is where the chicken I fried came from, a local farm.  At this point that is hard to do, more because we are in the habit of not eating meat than anything else, but meat still has a larger ecological footprint, even if it is raised in the best way possible, and that factors in as well.

For now we don’t buy it, don’t prepare it and don’t really eat it.  I won’t be a hindrance to my children experimenting with it if they want to do that. Maybe if they experiment with that they will be more careful experiementing with things like smoking banana peels.  And we will likely cook up something fleshy again at some point.  But for now I will toss that fake sausage on the pizza and bake the tofu pot pie.  That will do me more than just fine.