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Today is Monday December 28, 2020

A little snow fell this morning. Nothing too significant other than covering the roads, trees, the car, sidewalks. It is cold and wet outside.

Happy Monday! It is that final week of 2020. The period between Christmas and New Years. As has been this period over the past 50-plus years (work, graduate school, college, etc), I have the week off. The lab is closed and I am home adjusting to a week without work, or not working from home this week. Unfortunately, travel is limited due to the pandemic. In general it is a weird week on the calendar, which has been discussed and commented on before. In searching the internet, I think this image best sums it up in my humble opinion…

Let’s face facts, the year 2020 just sucked. Here is hoping that 2021 is better. Plenty of memes out there talking about how bad this year was. Of course, many are spun off into signs, pictures, even t-shirts that you can purchase. Guess capitalism is alive and well. As long as you can make it, market it and such, someone may want to buy it.

In the spirit of the election…

Since my last post, I had identified many topics to write about. Not sure if we will cover all of them, but we do have several days until 2021. We can lament about the year later. We can critique my ramblings for the year much later.

Let’s start with McDonald’s, who brought back the McRib sandwich to help us through the end of this year. Why is the McRib so craveable? Start with seasoned boneless pork dipped in a tangy BBQ sauce, topped with slivered onions and dill pickles, all served on a toasted homestyle bun. When everything combines you have BBQ pork sandwich perfection. It’s only here for a limited time so don’t miss out. The previous words are straight from the McDonald’s website. I like how the adjectives just jump off the page. I can truly taste how delicious it is as I write about it here.

From the McDonald’s website announcing the return of the McRib for a limited time only.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the McRib sandwich. When it is out, I usually defer my Big Mac order, or my Quarter Pounder Deluxe order so I can have the McRib. Not my kids though, they have the usual, a Triple Cheeseburger with only ketchup. Do I see a trip for lunch in order?

Ah yes, which brings me to the kids and Christmas. Put the tree up a few weeks ago, stockings hung above the fireplace. A wreath on the door. I had great plans since I was to have them Christmas Eve, stay the night and here Christmas day. And in typical fashion, the best laid plans get ruined by the ex. The kids and I managed a couple hours on Christmas Eve. Had to rush the dinner and such. Take them back and then a few hours on Christmas Day. Still, it was good to have them, even if it was not what I had planned, or even less than what is required. They say that divorce is hard on the kids, yet I think it is harder on me. This too shall pass. I jump to my happy place and all is well.

Anyway, the kids came, we opened gifts, then we enjoyed our time together, playing with or working on the gifts received. Calling or texting with relatives and such. Truth be told I was never that much excited about Christmas since the late 70’s and my excitement wanes every year. Every year I think that I am becoming more like Mr Scrooge, or the Grinch. My preference is the Grinch because he at least has his dog Max to keep him company. It’s this time of year that I break out my Grinch coffee mug at work, giving the Dilbert mug a break. Clearly I am a curmudgeon as time passes on. Bah Humbug! That said, I have much to be thankful for this year. I probably have much to be thankful for every year. And I am thankful for my health and my children. That said, the kids and I did spend some time talking about those less fortunate and in need of help this time of year.

The week before Christmas was an anniversary of sorts for me. I have worked at Los Alamos for now 30 years. No fanfare, no parades, nothing of congrats from my bosses. I did get a few e-mails from former employees whom I had the opportunity to manage over the years. That was personally rewarding and brought a smile. I do not know why I expected more. I did, and was disappointed when there was nothing. Certainly gives me something to write about when I respond to my performance appraisal, as well as my performance goals for the next year.

I guess the big questions for me is whether I will have “a next year”. After all, after 30 years, I am 59 and a half (slightly more), and wonder about retirement. I wonder about it just about every day. This blog was my attempt to explore what the next 50 years has in store for me. I honestly do not know about tomorrow, next week, next month, next year, the next several decades. Some coworkers say I cannot retire because I have kids who have several years of high school before they venture off to college. I expect the economy to crater soon and thus that will cause problems with savings for retirement. Too many bills to pay, too much to do. Have you even decided what you will do in retirement?

In the last post I commented that I took the car in for repairs. Well the car is fixed and now, it will not start. Thought it was a dead battery so I replaced the batter. Now it still will not star. Probably the starter motor so I have some more car repairs in the future. The car is about 18 years old and has over 189,000 miles. Yet when it runs, I still get the same gas mileage. Over the 18 years, I have put about $10,000 in repairs into it. The kids and I have many fond memories in that car so I cannot see replacing it anytime soon.

Looking outside, I can still see some snow flakes falling onto the ground. Nothing too dramatic except the forecast was for snow tomorrow. High today is in the upper 40’s, but wind will put the wind chill into the upper 30’s. But as I write this post, and words jump off this page and cause me to search the internet, I come across a meme that can sum up today’s post:

Have a good week.

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Sunday Morning: horses, birds, poetry and history

Instead of sleeping in this Sunday, I found myself awake at 3 and out of bed before 5. Had this been a normal work day, I’d be up and showered, having my morning coffee, dog fed and planning our morning walk. But it is Sunday. Son is up and having breakfast. Daughter, who was still awake when I went to bed, is still sleeping. Debating about whether to wake her to go feed the horse.

Ruby greeting me…hoping that I have treats for her.

I went to feed the horse by myself and let daughter sleep in. She always comes to the fence to greet me, expecting me to reach into my coat pocket for some cookies. I do and she is happy.

Hay for the morning, and some beet pulp, grain and supplements. Twice a day.

The snow from earlier this week has been melting, and what it leaves behind is a muddy paddock and by the end of the day, an equally muddy horse. She loves to roll on the ground.

The mountains above Los Alamos are covered in snow, as is most of the Jemez and Sangre De Cristo Mountains this time of year.

The mountains vary from 11,000 to over 14,000 feet, depending on which mountain range tour are interested in. The peaks over 14,000 are part of the fourteeners that lie along the Sangre De Cristo mountains in southern Colorado. According to wikipedia, Colorado has over 50 mountains over fourteen thousand feet. Wheeler Peak, northeast of Taos and north of Los Alamos, is the tallest peak in New Mexico and lies along the Sangre De Cristo Mountains at 13,167 feet. Depending on where you are at the stables, you can see it on a clear day.

As it was a nice but lazy day with the kids, and snow on most of the trails, a hike was out of the question. None of us ski, so that was out as well. This day turned out to be just like any other day. Son played video games; daughter spent the day doing drawing and other things in her room. As for me, a restful afternoon of eating, reading and a movie or two.

While at the stables feeding Ruby, I heard many birds. The loudest were the black birds that can be seen and heard throughout most of the area. I spied these two in a tree along the canyon top behind the stables.

A pair of black birds sitting in a tree.

I call them blackbirds, ravens, or crows without really knowing much about the different species of birds. Fortunately I was able to search the internet. The Parajito Environmental Educational Center at the Los Alamos Nature Center (reproduced from https://peecnature.org/bird-of-the-week-the-american-crow/) was able to tell me that the American Crow is easily found all year in Los Alamos County. Because they are closely related to their larger cousin the Common Raven, it can be hard to distinguish Crows from Ravens with only a casual look at one. Crows fly with a steadier wingbeat, while Ravens spend more flying time gliding. If you get a good look at the bird’s beak, you’ll see the Crow’s beak is smaller in relation to its head. If the bird is flying, look at the shape of its tail feathers – Crows’ tails are squarer and Ravens’ are more wedge-shaped. As the pair in the tree did not fly while I was watching them, I could not distinguish the wing shape.

Of course, thinking that they are ravens’ I immediately began to think of the poem by Edgar Allan Poe, of which I can only remember the first line…(reproduced from https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/48860/the-raven)

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—
    While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
“’Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door—
            Only this and nothing more.”

    Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December;
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
    Eagerly I wished the morrow;—vainly I had sought to borrow
    From my books surcease of sorrow—sorrow for the lost Lenore—
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore—
            Nameless here for evermore.

    And the silken, sad, uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me—filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
    So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating
    “’Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door—
Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door;—
            This it is and nothing more.”

    Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
“Sir,” said I, “or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
    But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
    And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you”—here I opened wide the door;—
            Darkness there and nothing more.

    Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before;
    But the silence was unbroken, and the stillness gave no token,
    And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, “Lenore?”
This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, “Lenore!”—
            Merely this and nothing more.

    Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.
    “Surely,” said I, “surely that is something at my window lattice;
      Let me see, then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore—
Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore;—
            ’Tis the wind and nothing more!”

    Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore;
    Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;
    But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door—
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door—
            Perched, and sat, and nothing more.

Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,
“Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,” I said, “art sure no craven,
Ghastly grim and ancient Raven wandering from the Nightly shore—
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore!”
            Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

    Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,
Though its answer little meaning—little relevancy bore;
    For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being
    Ever yet was blessed with seeing bird above his chamber door—
Bird or beast upon the sculptured bust above his chamber door,
            With such name as “Nevermore.”

    But the Raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
    Nothing farther then he uttered—not a feather then he fluttered—
    Till I scarcely more than muttered “Other friends have flown before—
On the morrow he will leave me, as my Hopes have flown before.”
            Then the bird said “Nevermore.”

    Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
“Doubtless,” said I, “what it utters is its only stock and store
    Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful Disaster
    Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore—
Till the dirges of his Hope that melancholy burden bore
            Of ‘Never—nevermore’.”

    But the Raven still beguiling all my fancy into smiling,
Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird, and bust and door;
    Then, upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking
    Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore—
What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominous bird of yore
            Meant in croaking “Nevermore.”

    This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom’s core;
    This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining
    On the cushion’s velvet lining that the lamp-light gloated o’er,
But whose velvet-violet lining with the lamp-light gloating o’er,
She shall press, ah, nevermore!

    Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
Swung by Seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor.
    “Wretch,” I cried, “thy God hath lent thee—by these angels he hath sent thee
    Respite—respite and nepenthe from thy memories of Lenore;
Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe and forget this lost Lenore!”
            Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

    “Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil!—prophet still, if bird or devil!—
Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
    Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted—
    On this home by Horror haunted—tell me truly, I implore—
Is there—is there balm in Gilead?—tell me—tell me, I implore!”
            Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

    “Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil!—prophet still, if bird or devil!
By that Heaven that bends above us—by that God we both adore—
    Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,
    It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore—
Clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore.”
            Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

    “Be that word our sign of parting, bird or fiend!” I shrieked, upstarting—
“Get thee back into the tempest and the Night’s Plutonian shore!
    Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!
    Leave my loneliness unbroken!—quit the bust above my door!
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!”
            Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

    And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
    And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,
    And the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
            Shall be lifted—nevermore!

As a kid, the family would go camping at Poe Valley and Poe Paddy State Parks beck in central Pennsylvania. The parks are named for Big Poe Creek, which runs through the area. There one would also hear the sounds of blackbirds, crows or ravens. Growing up, we were told that Edgar Allen Poe wrote the poem “The Raven” while visiting the area. This is not true by most literary accounts, but nonetheless, makes for an interesting tie between my early life in Pennsylvania to my present life in New Mexico. All of this, based on a bird, Indian tribes, history, and nature…

This folklore is associated with an old inn called the Eutaw House, located in Potters Mills at the intersection of Route 322 and Route 144. The Eutaw House has been in existence for over two centuries. General James Potter, who was notably an aide to George Washington during the American Revolution, originally owned the ground where the building sits today. After Gen. Potter’s death, his children built a log cabin on his property. Later the log cabin would become the Eutaw House and go through a few more renovations. During its early years, the house served as a major inn for early pioneers and travelers. The house was named after the local Eutaw Indian tribe.

As anyone could imagine with the Eutaw House being around for a few centuries, it has gathered some ghost stories through the years. Ghostly shapes have been seen in mirrors throughout the building. In the kitchen and restaurant, trays and plates have been known to flip over or fall off tables. Patrons and employees have seen apparitions and shadows move in the hallways and rooms. One story tells of a prisoner being shot or hung in the attic during the 1800s and a different story says that it was a tree at the corner of the property. During one of the early Indian raids on the Eutaw house, one Indian is said to have been hung on the large old tree. Hearing a rope “thud” or creaking noise has been reported near the tree to this day.

Even with all the ghostly happenings at the Eutaw House, its most interesting story is the speculation that Edgar Allen Poe had once stayed the night at the Inn. Some early folklorists have written that Edgar Allen Poe had once visited the Centre County area and was even inspired to write a few stories such as the Raven during his travels through Central Pennsylvania. The only evidence that leads some credibility is the initial “EAP” that are carved into one of the oldest tables in the Eutaw House. Historians today doubt the legend of Poe’s journey to Centre County, but it makes for a good story nonetheless. ( reproduced from http://discoverypa.blogspot.com/2015/10/edgar-allen-poes-visit-to-central.html)

Well that is enough for today. Hope you enjoy the stories and how a simple thought can span decades, through nature, and have ties into history.

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Without heat in the modern age

For the past few weeks, I have been troubleshooting a problem with my gas furnace. It was kicking on and off frequently. It was having difficulty reaching the thermostats set temperature. My three level house was cold on the inside. It was colder on the outside.

My daughter’s horse Ruby had gotten clipped about two weeks ago. The shaving of the thick coat of hair requires that she be blanketed when the weather becomes bad and when the temperature falls below 40F. As it often does in northern New Mexico for this time of year, we have rain, freezing rain, snow. The temperatures can fall into the teens at night. The wind chill can make it very, very cold.

This morning, as I write this post, it is cold and raining. Snow is in the forecast. It is a dreary day outside with no heat to speak of. It’s 33 as I grab my boots to get daughter up in order to go feed the horse. Inside is equally cold. It is only 62 and son is out of control playing with the dog.

Ruby has no problem with the cold weather. She gets plenty of hay, a warm and waterproof blanket, and a stall to keep her covered if the weather is bad. But she is a horse, so often we find her outside when the rain or snow is falling.

Now to the furnace. It was inspected when I bought the place a few years back. Worked fine. Of late, it hasn’t been very efficient in keeping the house warm. I figure it is about as old as the house, but not that elements have been upgraded based on the dates of various pieces of equipment. The furnace is a gas-fired water boiler that is the center of a hydronic heating system. The system heats water and circulates it through the various radiators on the three levels of the house.

The furnace appears to work fine in that it kicks on and heats gas. The problems appear to be (1) the zone valves are not working in all zones, and (2) the water lines that circulate during the heating cycle do not have water. This may be why the zone valves have stopped working. This explains why the heat wasn’t getting to the set thermostat setting. No water to circulate, no water to heat. Time to call in the repairman because I am not very good at things mechanical.

Easier said then done. I called on five different outfits. Left messages with three. No return call. Talked to a nice lady on Thursday who could not fit me in until Friday. On the fifth attempt, I was able to get a technician out late in the day. He spent an hour looking at the system. Didn’t fix anything. Couldn’t understand where the circulating water went or why it wasn’t filling. Clogged valve? He took many pictures and said he would call on Friday. Friday came. He called and said that I needed some new parts that would take time to order and receive. So there I was. This weekend and into next week without any heat. Was suppose to have a follow up call to authorize the parts. Nothing. Called Friday. Email and called Saturday. Nothing. Finally, a woman called me to acknowledge the email but had no information. No knowledge about parts, or when then could work on the system. Would call me first thing Monday.

In the mean time, I found the replacement parts on the internet. Some can be purchased at Home Depot and Lowe’s. Wanted to gauge the price of the parts because I am sure they will be marked up significantly. I get skeptical when they say that they need to bring it up to code! Cha-Ching! Wanted to see about ordering the parts if the repair company decides not to call me back. Caution…Based on experience.

So what are The kids and I doing for heat? The house has a fireplace so we have wood. Will probably do that today as it is cold and raining outside. We also have a space heater that has been working nonstop since Friday. Sleep has been great with a couple of blankets and a warm dog to curl up with me.

The question is will they call back? When. When will they order the parts and how long before they arrive? Will they even call me back? I leave for business travel next week. My house will have no heat for a couple of days but it looks like the weather will cooperate. The aquarium has a water heater so the fish will be ok. Jonny the hamster has lots of bedding so he should be fine.

Will it be fixed for Christmas? May be that is what I’ll ask Santa as my present?

More importantly, when will I learn that things don’t last forever. They do require maintenance. Things, and animals, and people, do require proper care if they are to last for a long time.