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    Christmas Cow Tipping

    2010 - 12.29

    Christmas is behind us and now it’s just WINTER. Here in the frozen northeast, winter lasts until roughly the first of May, or until enough of us who live here have snapped and begun talking to inanimate objects and cursing at the sky. It seems that ol’ Mother Nature just has to extract her pound of flesh each and every year. In those years when we have a “mild” winter, the mindset is that we will somehow pay dearly for escaping mind-numbing cold, fierce snowstorms and heating bills that look like phone numbers.

    Don’t get me wrong, there is much to recommend this climate. For example, we don’t get hurricanes, tornadoes, mudslides, California-style wildfires, or months on end of searing heat and humidity. Oh sure, we get our share (sometimes) of hot weather. But our summers can’t hold a candle to the drenching humidity of Florida, or the broiling inferno of Arizona, also known as Nature’s Frying Pan, that assaults the residents of those states for roughly half of the year. We do get ice storms which are meteorological oddities in which it’s just warm enough to drizzle and just cold enough for that precipitation to coat everything – trees, cars, houses, power lines, roads, slow moving farm animals – with a thick layer of ice. The result can be days without electricity, downed trees blocking roads, school closings, really irritable farm animals and a form of cabin fever much like what the Donner Party must have experienced just before they decided to start eating each other back in the winter of 1846. The Donner Party was also known as the Donner-Reed Party given the fact that the original group of westward-bound adventurers had been organized by James Frasier Reed and was later joined by the George Donner group. If one pronounces the name of the cannibalistic Donner-Reed group fast enough it sounds like Donna Reed, the beautiful actress who played America’s mom on the Donna Reed Show from 1958-1966. As far as I know, Donna Reed was not a cannibal.

    Getting back to the original point, winter in the northeast, we now face about 4 months of gray skies, freezing weather, snow, ice and perhaps fantasies about cannibalism. Perhaps we should all just relax and watch reruns of the Donna Reed Show until the first of May (and not put Aunt Martha on the dinner menu).

    Heating With Jet Fuel

    2010 - 11.23

    Here we go, rushing and tumbling into another holiday season (and by holiday, I mean Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years). Not content with the usual pressures of the season, we have decided to stop funding our local power company’s fleet of jets and convert a fireplace to a more efficient heat source by having an airtight woodburning insert installed before the federal tax credit opportunity expires on December 31st.

    My wife did a rough tally the other day and calculated that our all electric house has cost us somewhere in the neighborhood of $80,000 to heat and air condition over the nearly 30 years we’ve lived here. Clearly, it’s time to make some changes and using wood as a heat source makes a lot of sense…up to a point.

    First, there is the matter of choosing the right woodburning insert for the fireplace and scheduling installation before the tax credit expires at year’s end. We are told that it will cost in the $450 to $5000 range, with 30% of that coming back in the form of a tax credit. Either that, or the tax credit is 15% of my income averaged over a 25 year period minus the lesser of either my weight or the sum of the digits in my phone number, except in February which has 28 (not counting Leap Year). I can just imagine what a $450 dollar woodburner might be like. Remember the Yugo?

    Then, the real fun begins. I will get to fell my own trees, cut the logs to 18-20 inch stove lengths, haul the logs out of the woods in a wheelbarrow, rent a splitter, split and stack the logs, carry loads of wood into the house and maintain a round-the-clock vigil by the fire to keep it burning and risk potentially devastating chimney fires that could incinerate me and my family.
    I mentioned renting a wood splitter because a lot of the wood around us is hickory which is rather hard to split with an axe or maul. It’s roughly the density of reinforced concrete.

    The recovery period for the investment in terms of savings on my utility bills is estimated to be about 7 years or so… assuming I don’t drop dead of a coronary while chopping wood before the 7 years is up.

    One alternative I have thought of is to downsize by using my house as firewood, but that might cause a few raised eyebrows among the neighbors. On the other hand, the whole heat with wood idea is already beginning to lose it’s appeal.

    So in the meantime, keep those voiceover jobs coming in so I can continue to help my utility company maintain their jet fleet.

    Bicycle I Will Never Ride

    2010 - 09.03

    Just last night I went into one of those mega stores operated by the world’s largest retailer. You know who I mean. I was shopping for a bicycle and really didn’t want to spend a lot because it’s extremely likely that I will never ride it and it’ll wind up in a garage sale 5 years from now. I just like knowing that there’s a bike in my garage in case I decide to really get in shape some day and start preparing for the Tour de France.

    After wandering around the multi-acre store for about 15 minutes, I finally located the bicycle display which contained an unimpressive assortment of bikes ranging from those little pink and yellow things with white tires and training wheels (presumably for young girls, but one never knows)¬†all the way up to ultra-masculine MOUNTAIN BIKES weighing about fifty pounds apiece with knobby tires that look like something you’d expect to see on a monster truck at a county fair as it flies over fifty school buses and bursts in flames to the cheers of tens of thousands of fans who hope and pray that just this once the truck will explode on impact and provide some REAL entertainment (sorry, I got carried away there).

    Anyway, the only bikes I might have been interested in were caged inside a sort of two storey rack consisting of spars and levers and springs and struts that was just high enough off the floor to make it impossible to reach. Naturally, I started looking around for a salesperson, or “sales associate” as they are called these days. I wonder if sales associates get paid more than salespersons…? Never mind. Several minutes passed during which time I didn’t see anyone in a blue vest with a name tag bearing a smiley face (standard sales associate attire) so I started wandering around the store hoping to find someone to help me.

    Another quarter hour went by…still no blue vested associates were sighted. By this time, I was lost and had forgotten why I’d gone into Mega Mart to begin with so I started looking for an exit. As I headed toward freedom, a chirpy, blue vested greeter wished me a a good day and said she hoped I had found everything I had been looking for. Since I was empty-handed at the time, I wondered if she thought I had my purchases concealed somewhere beneath my clothes.

    Obviously, I did not buy a bike at Mega Mart, but did purchase a nice one at a sporting goods store nearby. I’m confident that the new bike will look spiffy in my garage right up to the day, five or six years from now, when it goes (unused) into a garage sale.