Pile of Games

It has been a while since we have all been home together. And it has been even longer since we have all been home together for this long. We all get along well, two adults and two teenagers, so mostly things are copacetic. We help each other when needed and stay out of each other’s way at other times. We watch movies together and eat dinner together and play games together.

LIFE has been a favorite for a while. As you can see from the photo above we have several versions of it. We have a more classic version–the 50th anniversary edition which has updated graphics from the one from the 1960s. We have the electronic banking version–everyone has a “credit card” that uses a card reader to keep track of the dollars.

Then we have the Despicable Me version–branded to match the movies with minions instead of cars for pawns. That one is designed for younger children so it is a quick game. And then we have a more modern version with pets. In this last one everyone has car or a dog in their car and there are cards with specific pet themes (“You’ve won a pet beauty contest! Collect $50,000!) Seems a lot for that but I’ll take it.

The Escape Room games are fun. They are challenging and rewarding, but I can’t deny I find them a bit stressful. The clock literally ticks, with dramatic music that gets faster as the clock runs down. It is pretty great to solve those, of course. Better than winning a pet beauty contest for sure.

Recently we got the retro version of Pay Day. We have not actually played that yet but we seem to have plenty of time to get to it. And we have a whole bunch of other games as well, just not pulled out of the closet yet. So we have plenty to keep us busy. I keep hearing about people doing jigsaw puzzles. We tend to do those when we are away from home, on vacation somewhere, so it seems wrong to do them now, when we are home quarantined.

We are making the best of our situation. We connect with friends as we can. My wife and I encountered several neighbors yesterday when we were out for a late day walk. We chatted with them from opposite sides of the road. For friends who are farther away we use Face Time and Zoom and Facebook video calls and Google Hangouts. We also play video games. And we play board games. We do our best to keep things interesting. And we stay home safe.

Holed Up

Here we are at home. Like everyone else. Holed up. We stocked up before most people–on food and basic household supplies. I am working from home. My kids are doing school online. We have a great house. We live in a beautiful place. We all get along. Still, this is a bit of a drag.

We are trying to be safe. Every day, the news gets worse–more cases of COVID-19, more deaths, more misinformation from the White House. Vermont is locked down as much as is feasible. Yesterday at 5:00 pm a stay-at-home directive began for the state. People can still go out, for necessities and necessary work, but in general we are all staying put.

Just now the governor announced that schools, which closed last week, will stay closed for the rest of the school year. My son is in his first year of high school. The principal called with a supportive message, really impressive, telling students it is OK to feel all kinds of emotions, offering some of his own emotion for seniors especially. For teenagers, this is devastating. Three months before school ends they know there will be no prom, no spring track or baseball or ultimate, no graduation, no AP tests or SAT, no wood shop. And no time with friends face to face. My daughter attends a different high school; they have not closed yet. I am afraid that is just a matter of time.

The dogs still wake up too early. We go out and walk them. The sun rises. Two days ago we got ten inches of snow. Most of that has melted now. The woodcocks, after the snow came and went, starting calling again in the field tonight. Robins are singing their lilting songs. Goldfinches are turning yellow. This afternoon I heard the first wood frog of the spring.

We can’t eat out or get a drink from Starbucks or even go to most stores. Even the hardware store is bringing things outside to customers. Life is not what it was. But the total number of cases in Vermont doubled today to over 120. New York City had more 911 calls then they did on September 11, 2001. This thing is deadly. We are inconvenienced, but we are here.

The sun is higher now. The light shines through the bare woods. The world is bigger this time of year–more light, more sound, more beauty every day. That beauty is a counter to the challenges we face now, and the tragedy that is sure to come. As this virus affects all of us more and more, the world spins into spring. We need to pay attention to both.

Blizzard Situation


I just came in from outside. It is dark out there. And snowing. And a tad windy. Looking into the wind is a bad idea. The snowflakes are like needles on my face. Snow is drifted so the ground is close to bare in some spots and up to my waist in others. We have ourselves a blizzard.

The phone call came at 5:30 a.m. No school today. No school for my children and no school for me. A phone call at 5:30 a.m. means a bit of adrenaline in the system. There was no going back to sleep. I got up and got cracking.

My daughter and I rallied early. We popped into town. We picked up milk and seltzer and candy. All the essentials. I had made a stop in town just yesterday so mostly we were good to go. But I hadn’t gotten enough candy for the crew. We topped off the car with gas and parked it in the garage. No more driving today.

By mid-morning it was snowing. By late afternoon it was snowing like stink. The wind picked up. It became hard to see much in the distance. Cold, wind and snow, and lots of all three, means a blizzard. We have not had a storm like this in years.

About 6:30 p.m. the call came. Same guy, calling to let us know school is cancelled for tomorrow as well. The snow and wind will continue until late morning. Then more snow. We aren’t going anywhere. We tromped around a bit today and will do more tomorrow. Fun stuff. Exciting. It makes me appreciate my warm home. This place is awesome.

Three Things

1. We just got back from Connecticut this afternoon.  We headed down Friday for a family visit.  We celebrated Mother’s Day with my mother.  My mom is pretty awesome.  Not everyone can say that so I am lucky.  I didn’t give my spouse much of a Mother’s Day.  She misses her own mother in this day.  As do I.

2. We finally mowed the lawn this afternoon, when we got back.  It was too long and too wet but it had to be done.  Mowing the lawn.  What a drag.  It is nice to have a lawn but I keep having dreams of beautiful walking gardens with flowers and herbs.  One of these days I will get on that.  Shady bowers and scintillating scents and reading spots and peaceful corners.  That is what I’m talking about.

3. It was almost hot a couple of days ago.  When we stepped out of the car down the road to get gas (we were afraid we might not make it the two more miles to home, that is how low we were) we shrieked with chilliness.  It was in the 40’s.  Tonight it will get close to freezing.  Two of the three peppers I planted finally sprouted.  They won’t go in the ground for a couple of weeks.  If we are lucky we will get no more frost.

Dropping Electricity Use

For a while we were pretty consistent with our electric bill.  We had a bump here or there, a jump in usage that we usually could not definitively explain, but we averaged 400 kilowatt hours per month.   Before we moved to this house two and a half years ago, I paid attention to how much our bill lowered  my checking account balance, but I paid little attention to how much electricity we used.  Not that we wasted electricity–we did what we could to minimize usage.  I just didn’t pay attention to the actual number.

Now I do pay attention.  Our last electric bill posted only 296 kilowatt hours of electricity.  I was pretty happy with that, especially since it was for most of March.  We use more electricity in the winter and March, in these parts, is definitely winter.  In the winter we keep lights on longer.  The heating system, although it is propane, kicks in and uses electricity.  We don’t use the clothesline but rely on the electric dryer.  We bake with our electric oven more.  We make coffee or tea more often.  We just use a lot more energy in the darker days of the year.

So I was proud that we managed to use less than 300 kilowatt hours for the month.  We haven’t changed our life dramatically, but we have made some changes.  The light bulb thing, although it has been drilled into us all so much we are becoming numb to it, makes a huge difference.  Incandescent bulbs waste a lot of energy–you can feel it in the form of heat.  Any incandescent bulb we fave feels to me like it is just spitting electricity into the air.  I feel the heat and I feel energy being wasted.  So we have changed most of our bulbs.  Why not all of them?  We have a bunch of those candle flame shaped fixtures and those bulbs are hard to find in a compact fluorescent version.  But we are slowly getting there.

Every time we change out a couple of light bulbs it seems to make a difference.  The other big difference has been turning down the dryer.  We used to always dry everything on the highest setting.  Once we turned it down to the medium heat setting we could see a difference on our electric bill right away.  We do wash lots of clothes.  We have a couple of small children in the house.  Once we can start using the clothesline again (soon!) we will use even less electricity.

We don’t have cable box on our television that sucks energy 24/7, and now that Vermont has switched to digital–and we still don’t have a converter box–we can’t watch any television at all.  We watch DVD’s but not as often as we might now that the weather is warmer and we are spending more time outside.  We will start grilling soon and use the stove less.  I am hoping that on one of these bills we be able to get it down under 200 kilowatt hours.  That may be tight but it is possible, I am sure.

I am glad we don’t have a 5,000 square foot home.  That would make our challenge even harder.  I still see people who leave light on all the time, even when they are not home.  That just seems like kind of a Duh!  I try to avoid the Duhs.  Next month–going for 280.

Solar Class Take Two

I went to the second of three classes last night to learn about photovoltaic power, presented by Gary Beckwith of the Solar Bus.  I learned a few things.  I feel that I have a good basic understanding of solar power but there have been lots of holes in my understanding.  Those holes are getting filled in.

Here is one thing I learned.  I had the idea that a grid tied system meant you would generate your own energy and what you did not use would be sent back to the grid, and you would get paid for that power.  If the power goes out, you still have power.  Not so.  With a grid-tied system, if the grid goes down, so does your system, so no power, even if the sun is shining.  This makes sense from a safety perspective.  If the power goes out and someone is working on the power lines, they might get shocked if your system is sending power out.

You can set up a battery back-up system, but this needs to part of the plan from the start.  Modifications are not simple.  An off-grid system relies on batteries.  Any electricity goes into the batteries and you always draw from the batteries.  With a “hybrid” system, electricity comes from the panels themselves and the system only draws from the batteries if the grid is down.  Phew.  Who knew things were so complicated?

I also learned that Vermont’s incentives for installing solar power only apply to grid-tied systems.  A self-contained system won’t qualify for any tax credits.  And not only does the system have to have the ability to feed power back to the grid, but it needs to be installed by only qualified installers.   No DIY of you want to get a tax credit.  Maybe that will change.  It seems silly not to offer tax credits to any system that reduces fossil fuel use.

If we made some efficiency changes a system for our house might cost $20,000 before any tax credits.  We talked last night about how long it might take to make that back.  Who knows, really?  It would depend on lots of variables, but we are talking twenty years before the energy would be pretty much “free.”  Of course, we wouldn’t do it just for financial reasons, but it would be nice if the cost were a little lower.

Gary thinks that even if we made no changes in technology, the cost of solar systems could be cut in half just with increased production and economies of scale.  But not enough people are creating demand because the systems cost too much.  A Catch-22.  I would love to see increased tax (or other) incentives for installation of alternative energy systems.  Then perhaps we really could make the investment.

I would love to install a system that integrates a wind generator and solar panels so we could generate energy most of the time.  I’ll see what our last class has to offer.  Already, I have enough information to think about solar energy in a more informed way.  One of these days, we will take the plunge and make it happen for us.  When “one of these days” might be, well, that remains undetermined.  Until then, I will continue to try to just use less energy.  That won’t cost anything.

Fourteen Below and Thinking About Gardening

Garden Beds Waiting for Spring

Garden Beds Waiting for Spring

That was the temperature this morning–fourteen degrees below zero. You might say it was chilly. I wimped out on going for a run. I had planned to do so today but I stayed inside, stoked the fire, got some work done and even read a book. So much for training.

I have been thinking about the garden lately. January is the month to plan it out, to figure out what to plant, how much of it to plant, and where to fit everything. The corn can’t go where it went last year, but it can be planted with the squash. I look forward to sitting down with the legal pad and sketching out the garden plan.

Of course, it is way too cold to do anything with the garden at the moment. It sits under the snow, waiting for spring. I am glad we have snow cover. The blueberries and strawberries will fare batter with the insulation. And the snow adds an element of beauty.

The circle I carved out of the lawn for our garden feels like a work of both labor and art. I want to grow food that is fresh and tasty and that I can’t get elsewhere (Striped Zebra tomato anyone?), but I also hope it adds some pastoral artistry. I want it to be beautiful. That takes work and luck and a willingness to let things grow as they need to grow. Seeing what the plants will do with what they have gives me joy.

So I wait it out and dream of warmer weather. I love this cold snap we are having, even though I chickened out of running today. Winter just isn’t satisfying if we don’t have some days below zero. I have seen the mercury rise to six degrees today and now it is back down to four. Once the sun goes down, I am sure it will break through the zero mark again.

Maybe some of those cucumber beetles will take a hit from the cold. I won’t count on it, but since I am imaging a perfect garden, I might as well dream that too.

About the Weather

We are planning to take a trip down to Connecticut to visit my parents and other sundry relatives this week.  You know, celebrate the national holiday about the mythic sharing of the harvest between the native people who managed to survive the plague brought by Europeans and a group of those Europeans seeking freedom of religion.  I hope we get good driving weather.

I think about the weather a lot, and I especially think about it during the transition seasons such as November.  This morning as I drove home after dropping off my son at his, as my wife referred to it last night in our daughter’s parent teacher conference, “foo foo la la” preschool, I heard on Vermont Public Radio that the weather forecast might be “complex” today but it was pretty nasty 58 years ago.

Apparently, they had a big storm back in 1950.  The Great Appalachian Storm brought snow and high winds to a huge area of the northeast.  Burlington had sustained 72 mile per hour winds with gusts up to 100 miles per hour.  Hello hurricane, although it was technically an extratropical cyclone.  It had more of an effect on other states, including New York, but damage was extensive in Vermont.  It was one of the biggest storms of the century.

It was pretty mild today.  I ate my rapidly cooling lunch as I walked out to meet my daughter off the bus for her half day of school today.  It was a little windy and the spitting rain was misting my glasses.  I even grumbled about it for a moment, until I realized that I did not want to be an ass.  What is a cool lunch when it means being on time to meet my kid?  I had no blizzard to contend with.

We should have fine weather for driving this week.  Rain continues to drip out of the clouds at the moment.  We might get more of that.  My car’s wipers, although brand new, seem to be–how to put this eruditely?–sucky?  They will get us through.  I’m not going out to buy new ones at this point.  Too lazy.

I will keep an eye on the weather for now and when we get there for the ride home.  It won’t be long before we are thinking about snow days.  We talked about the possibility that school might be closed today if the weather turned just right.  Soon soon

The Pilgrims and their native hosts had a mild first Thanksgiving although, to be fair, it was in October back then.  It looks like this one will be pretty mild as well.  We will have no century marking storm, which is good.  If we are going to have a big storm, let’s hope it happens during the middle of a week of school.  That way we go out and play when school gets canceled.


Garden Beds Prepped for Spring

Garden Beds Prepped for Spring

I spent a lot of time this weekend prepping the garden for the spring. I wasn’t as good as I might have been at weeding come late summer, and a couple of beds only got used for a short time, so there were some (read lots of) weeds. I dug, I sorted, I raked, I hauled. By the tail end of the last bed I was ready to be done, but I kept going. I’m glad I did.

I am still hoping to mulch the beds. We have cartloads of leaves to dump on top, which will clear the lawn of leaves and feed the dirt while it protects the dirt from the winter. I put that off, however. I was too tired and frankly, sick of it, by late afternoon.

I went inside and made a maple latte and helped my daughter run through a photo slideshow. That revived me. Then I made dinner. That topped off a day that included a hike up Mount Philo. It was a good day.

I am glad I cranked on the garden beds. When spring gets here I will celebrate my productivity. If I can get the beds mulched (and the strawberries for that matter) my future self will give my current self some big fat kudos. But, then again, I’m not in it for the praise, especially from that guy.