Always ethereal, always eclectic, I write as the mood strikes, when there intrigue reveals itself. Usually that means something controversial or adventure of some sort.

I've tried really hard to be unprovocative, but have as yet been unsuccessful.

Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Our Pond

For the last few days, there has been a persistent drip out of the RV. Actually, not a drip. More like a drizzle, continuously, pouring forth, about the size of small button. You only hear it when you open the door, and it was mostly masked by the dripping of the snow and ice in this latest thaw. It would appear that this drizzle also began with the thaw; that something was frozen up and broke forth. But the result has been our own pond, beginning beneath the RV, spreading to the side, and then on to the back. Then with colder temperatures again, God provided us with some ice skating surface, as the pond began to freeze over- but the drizzle continued. It became obvious that we had to get this fixed, or over time the pond would become a very large lake, and inconvenient to the neighbors.

We called a plumber to come out, and it just so happened that they were already doing a job in the area, at about that time. He came out, crawled in the mud under the RV, and saw immediately what the problem was. When he came inside I showed him where the leak was in relation to the interior, and he pulled out some drawers. Some brilliant engineers had decided that the best place to put an overflow valve was behind the kitchen drawers, so that when you push the drawers in and out, you run the risk of pulling the overflow valve, and cascading water out of the RV. It seemed at some point the valve was opened, and when it thawed, the water was released. The problem was fixed in five minutes.

Or so we thought.

About an hour later, my dad noticed a puddle forming, but this time, inside the RV, under the carpet. Pulling the drawers out showed a puddle underneath the sink too. Evidently, closing the valve put too much pressure on the pipes, and something had burst. We began to think we would have to contact the plumber yet again. But after a bit more research, removing more paneling, I found the leak. I turned off all the water, untightened the pipe and then retightened it, and wallah, no leak. Just a squishy floor to deal with.

The bonus was today, when I called the plumber. Ordinarily the standard is $96 for a visit, and the absolute minimum is half that. But considering the plumber was only out for five minutes, and financial difficulties, the plumber was generous, asking me to pay only what I thought reasonable. So it came out to be only $20. EZ Plumbing- not only do they know their stuff, but they are kind-hearted as well.

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Kicking it Finnish Style

Thanks to an old friend and my brother, I recently acquired a pair of cross-country skis. I got the boots just today, so I eagerly tried them out on the short run from the corner store to home. Walking, it's only about 25 minutes, but this felt like far longer.

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In between the cold and the deep snow, it was a long journey home indeed. It took awhile to get the boots into the skis in the dark, and even when it was done, I wasn't completely weather-prepared. I had my ski mask, for cold weather or robbing banks- I'd lost my old one from working in the Bering, so had bought a new one in green-leaf camoflauge, suitable for Wisconsin in deer season. But my hat was my Seattle-style fedora, and it did not keep out the cold.

The skis I have are best for prepared tracks, and of course, the bike path I used was not a prepared track. Much of the path was obscured by the snow and wind, so I found myself repeatedly floundering through deep drifts, often using the skis as snowshoes, as my forehead began to experience frostbite. At one point the winds blew the hat off and into the nearby gulley, so I had to ski down to get it, and then back up. (Just like my forebears, the Finns resisting the Russian invaders by skiing down, shooting, and then skiing back uphill faster than the Russians could follow.)

It wasn't the most pleasant skiing experience. The best snow for cross-country is something light and hard. Most of the snow was deep and soft. I kept checking behind to see how far I'd come, and how far I had to go. When I finally arrived at the intersection near my house, I had to climb up snow drifts, as nothing had been prepared for someone actually using the bike path in the dead of winter, and then ski through the snow covered streets. I arrived home, cold, hot, and sweaty, finally getting a work-out.

I'll have to try for the more peaceful experience of the day time, in the next couple days, before the rain and warm temperatures of 1° C arrive.

Monday, 22 December 2008

Winter in Wisconsin. In an RV.

It's cold. Frightfully cold. The witch has come, and Narnia has entered its 100 Year Winter.

Getting to work has taken on new meaning, as I have to buy some deicer to be able to roll the window up and down. I poured boiling water on the door to be able to open it. But even before I get into the car, I take a shower with three minutes of hot water, as I step on frozen ice shards on the shower floor. And since the community washer wasn't working, the dryer wasn't able to get the soaking clothes dry, so I woke this morning to find pieces of ice had formed on my jeans that were stored in the closet.

We've now had three dumpings of snow, at 7", 11", and 7" respectively- the last two within two days of each other. And behold, everything is made new.
I looked out and saw all along the ground, fairy dust, sprinkled liberally. Sadly, try as I might, I couldn't capture it in this photo to the left.

That morning, we beheld our new world, snowed in.

For some reason, the neighbors have a tradition of plowing our private road early in the morning, even on the weekend. We were woken to a pounding, demanding our cars be moved immediately, so the entire road could be plowed. Not sure why they couldn't plow around us...

We took a drive to see the world around us, to see Wisconsin in the Winter. One of the first hurdles for a drive was finding the road.

These woods are lovely, dark, and deep- and a twenty minute walk from where we live.

Then, the power went out. This time, it wasn't just one breaker- tripping all the breakers produced no result. There was no power. And it got cold. I spent the first part of the night huddled with a small airhole, and began to find even breathing the -18° C air intolerable. My dad spent it with a dog. After a couple hours, despite the danger, we turned on all the burners of the stove, and that made it livable. The next morning we discovered what a frozen dawn truly looks like.
This was the dog's water dish.
And this, what showed on the door. That would be the inside of the door.

The weather outside is indeed frightful. Inside, it's so...well, still rather frightful. But happily MG&E came by at noon the next day, to fix the problem in two seconds- their breaker had tripped on their outside pole. And the extreme weather ads a certain ambiance to the joy of the holidays.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Better Angels

Recently, a friend from college contacted me, out of the blue. She'd been thinking of me, and got ahold of my email address. We hadn't talked for fifteen years, so there was a lot of catching up to do. She learned that I was having great financial difficulties of late, as work has been few and far between, and expressed that she felt lead to send her tithe to me, which I certainly appreciated. An extra $100 would certainly go a long way.

I received the check in the mail today. It was for a bit over $2,000. God is truly good.

Saturday, 6 December 2008

Living in Laura Ingalls Wilder's House

It seems that the troubles of an RV in the Wisconsin winter never end. After getting the water fixed, finally getting heat tape, we had to wait a few days to actually get heat tape, because the first heat tape was broken. Once we had the heat tape, we were told we didn't need to run the water, for heat tape and lots of straw would be enough to keep the pipes warm. And that's true. But in our post-modern world, just not a truth we can relate to.

See, our metanarrative also involves the RV not having enough power within itself, and continuously tripping the breakers. And I was unaware that there is a separate breaker on the heat tape itself. So when the water went out three nights ago, I had to wait till I got home that day to find out there was a breaker, and go out and check the light- and indeed, the breaker needed to be tripped. But by that point, it was far too cold out (around -16° Celsius) for the heat tape to work, so we were without water for the foreseeable future.

I'm finding more and more that living here is great preparation for living overseas in the Middle East. (The irony is my dad didn't want to come with me to Yemen, for it would be roughing it too much.) If only RVs had been around in Laura's day, I'm sure there would have been a Little House on the Big Wheels. We've had to do a number of workarounds on the water. The first day was skipping a shower. That evening I took a walk across the entire park, in the icy wind and snow drifts, without boots, to the public toilet and shower. The benefit is that the shower has an endless supply of hot water, unlike that of the RV. The drawback is the primitiveness of the shower, though, were I in Yemen, I wouldn't think anything of it. (Except to be exceedingly stoked that I was in Yemen.)

I take my hairbrush and toothbrush into work, so I can use the water there, and not totally make my coworkers uncomfortable. Water for drinking and the toilet is another issue. With a failed starter, it isn't so easy to go out and buy water. But we have an abundance of snow. I've been getting a little snow nearby for the dog, and finding untouched snow further away to boil for the humans. Thankfully there's a continual supply of gas.

And now I must check the breaker every little while, to make sure it's still on. And wait, hoping and hoping that the water unfreezes.

Two nights ago was incredibly cold for not just water. I had on three blankets, and the electric space heater on full, and the front of the RV closed, and it was still incredibly cold. It might help in the future to remember to shut the shower vent on top of the RV.

Today was a hopeful day. It rose up to -3° Celsius, which is the best it's going to get for the next week, except for Monday at -1°. On a whim, I tried the bathroom sink, and lo, there was water! A thin stream, with no hot water. No water at all in the kitchen sink, or the toilet, or the shower. Turning all the faucets on, under a shining sun the shower began spitting out water about fifteen minutes later. A few minutes later, we got water from the kitchen sink. Then the hot water came on in the shower, but nowhere else. Unfortunately, it became clear that the shower wasn't draining at all, and began to fill up the small minitub.

Then hot water came on in the bathroom sink, and the kitchen sink. Still nothing in the toilet. I took advantage of the shower water to bathe, so the minitub could be filled with hot water to unplug the ice dam in the pipes. Finally, about half an hour after it all began, water appeared in the toilet. And a couple hours after it all began, a great glug came from the minitub, as the last of the foot of standing water burst the dam and flowed down.

Rest assured, we will now be letting all the faucets run, day and night, regardless of heat tape and straw. But I must wonder- what's my next preparation for living overseas?


Postscript, 12/7: We woke up to running water, but hot water only in the kitchen sink. Turns out that the pipes are freezing inside the RV, and the hot water pipes to the bathroom sink and shower are frozen. We'll have to wait until tomorrow, when it gets up to -1
° Celsius, to see if we can thaw out those pipes, and from now on, run the cold and hot water, with the gas hot water heater turned off until we need it. Not such a big deal though, as you get only about 5 minutes of hot water at a time anyway, provided it's not too cold outside. (If it's colder, you get less than 5 minutes.)

We also found the breaker repeatedly tripping- the breaker that runs most of the RV. We took nearly everything off it, and it still kept on tripping, giving power for only a maximum of thirty seconds. I removed the face plate to see if, in all my inadequate electrical training, I could see a short. No change. Then I went out and disconnected the external plug for the heat tape, and lo, there was power, with no breaker tripping. After a while I reconnected the plug, and then reinstalled the breaker face plate, and everything seems to be working again. Insha'allah.

Friday, 5 December 2008

Life Circumscribed by a Failed Starter

I've been having many troubles with my car of late- the Saturn with only 45,000 miles on it. Suddenly, everything is falling apart. And it makes no sense, since the warranty ran out on it years ago.

The latest is, a week ago, my starter began to fail. Sometimes it would work, and sometimes it wouldn't. And so I now find my life circumscribed by a failed starter.

Initially I could push it with my dad in the car, and get it started. Then the snow came, and, worse yet, the ice. You can't get any traction on icy roads, neither human nor car traction. I actually had some work secretaring at a schol on Tuesday, and made sure to park at the top of a hill, so I could coast to a start.

Thankgsiving arrived, and we went off to my cousin Dave's place in Lodi. It's great to see family, especially family I've never known before. I have an aunt living in Verona, and a cousin in Lodi, and a first-cousin-once-removed who I met two years ago on Facebook, who happens to be the son of my cousin. (Weird how that works.) So it was off to their place for Thankgiving, a night of good discussion, great food, and weird games. I was happy to get to meet so many new family members, trying to trace how they were related. Happier still, to see my dad have the opportunity to connect more with family, and how much he enjoyed talking with people. (He's an extreme extrovert- 100% E on the Myers-Briggs Scale.)

And very exciting- my first deep-fried turkey, something I've been wanting to try for years. My first-cousin-once-removed Aaron made it, as he's a top chef at a high-end restaurant near our house. I particularly enjoyed his genetically-deformed turkey. They're grown without head, legs, or wings, with the dark meat on the inside, and look like giant maggots when crawling around the farm- but they are so juicy when on the plate.

Then it was time to leave- but the car wouldn't start. So a few guys came out to push the car backwards up the hill, and then down the road.

The next day began a long tradition of being pushed by other cars, as most days are far too icy. This means being pushed down one stretch by a truck, and not catching enough speed to pop the clutch, and having to be pushed down the next. With enough speed, we were able to head over to the Five Os, Oconomowoc, where my dad grew up, and the Spransys now live. I got to see Linnea of Kansas City again, have another great meal, and have the pleasure of my dad enjoying long, leisurly talks with Matt, something he hasn't had the chance to do in decades. And then it was off to be pushed. Perhaps best of all was something I've been looking forward to for months- introducing my dad's dog Sammy to the Spransys' bitch, Maya. (You may recognize her from her acting gig as the Polar Bear on Lost.) She's half again as big as Sammy, but I think he likes big women, and I think I saw a spark between them. I'm really pulling for those two!

Oconomowoc gets a lot more snow than the Madison area, so it was a number of guys pushing me around the corner and down a slope to get started.

We had a break on Saturday, and then it was off to Black River Falls, to meet my uncle and brother coming in from Minneapolis. Black River Falls is about half-way between us, and surprisingly, the car started right up without any pushing. We drove the two hours into ever-increasing snow, for a comfortable meal with my uncle and brother. (I had a stack of blueberry pancakes.) It was the first time I'd gotten to see my uncle since my journey out West, back in August of '01. While my dad and uncle talked for a bit, me and Kent went out and played in the snow. They have a very large orange moose there.

Again, the car started on his own, as if by miracle. We took US-12 all the way back, mistakingly thinking that it would be quicker than 94, through many small towns that grew progressively less interesting as darkness arrived. There was, however, a sojourn through The Dells, which bears further investigation in the future. (The Dells is Wisconsin's Disneyland, with a heavy focus on water, about an hour from where we live.)

My plan for the next week was to get the starter fixed. Shockingly, I got more work- two temp jobs. Sadly, this meant that I didn't have the time to work on the car. So every day, an incredibly kind and generous neighbor (who thankfully is already up) has taken his car and pushed me down the road. Each day, it seems he has to push me further. Friday, it was pushing me down the first stretch, then the second, then the third, then up the main driveway, and then out on the main road, before I could pop the clutch. I've been trying to pop it into second, to avoid the traction issues of wheels spinning in the opposite direction in first, but I think now I need to try for first, as second gear requires too much speed. And I found a Yellow Book near my current assignment, who were kind enough to allow me to park in their parking lot, which is at the top of two hills, allowing for an easy clutch popping to arrive home.

This, however, doesn't assist me when I stupidly stall at a red light, on the way to work. Friday morning I was stuck in traffic, in the middle lane, and had to get out and push my car over to the side. Another guy came up behind me and got out to help, and then a policecar arrived with flashing lights. The officers helped push me over into a gas station, but I didn't have a chance to tell them I wanted to pop the clutch as we went down the hill into the station. Happily, one of the attendants was kind enough to get in his truck and get me going after two pushes.

But I can't keep on relying on my neighbor Tim to get me going in the morning. I understand a friend, Mike Drahfel, has gone hunting for a starter, and, provided that's the problem (and not a solenoid), we will be one step closer to getting the car repaired, and moving forward.

Monday, 1 December 2008

Blogyear Three

Yes, it's now been three years of blogging. Three years since I began my first real post. Three years of sharing my soul within unknown numbers of random people all over the planet.

As has become tradition, I now review the significant events of the past year. And it has certainly been a more eventful year than that of the previous blogyear. Naturally, what I pick as significant reveals far more about me, than it does about the events themselves.

There were themes this year. Politics played a large role in my life, as I followed my favorite sporting event in the world, the U.S. Presidential elections. I went to Obama's largest rally at the time. (Ah, the halcyon days when we thought a 20,000 person Obama rally was large!) I attended my first caucus, and got to celebrate the the first time the guy I voted for actually won; the first time someone from my culture (TCK) is President; the first time I can relate to the President. (I basically just voted for the guy I wanted to have a drink with. This is just the first time there's been anyone running I wanted to have a drink with.)

Health issues figured prominently this year as well. At the very beginning of 08, I had the opportunity to help someone with a seizure. I had my first operation, and my dad became gravely ill, having to go to the ER and stay at the hospital for a couple weeks. Sadly, he suffered great loss this year too, as a few months before he got sick he lost lost his wife of ten years.

For this reason, I moved down to LA, and then to Wisconsin, leading to travel being another theme. I felt lead to Wisconsin in the HMS reunion this summer, and it seemed a good place for my dad to recuperate. (Actually, we'd heard about this "snow birds" thing, and thought it meant that you travel up to where there's snow...) That trip was rather hellacious, with repeated car problems that continue to the present. But I did get to see the oldest town in America along the way, and we arrived safely in our new country estate. Now I spend most of my time preparing for a Winter that is even now upon us in full fury, and wondering day to day if we'll have running water.

Oh, and my most significant travel- I finally got to see what I'd wanted to get to for the past two years: the remains of the greatest flood on Earth for which we have evidence. Geology expressed itself again later in a minor 5.4 earthquake. (I've lived through Northridge and Whittier, so this was just a little bit of fun. Northridge and Whittier were a lot of fun.)

Economics has played a major role in the world this year, and has also in my life. I had a part-time permament job in LA, getting finally to teach again, and moved to Wisconsin hoping full-time jobs would be easier to come by. Alas. But God expressed his presence earlier in getting an issue of potentially having to return unemployment funds worked out, as well as, finally, after two years of working on it, the IRS admitting that, as an overseas worker, in truth I did not owe them $1454 in back-taxes on money I made outside the U.S. when I was receiving no services from the U.S. government.

And some minor housekeeping posts- I realized my long-lived Geocities HMS page had become a bit old school, with blogs supplanting the old Geocities, so I moved by HMS page to my blog. And then I realized that there was just far too much bling on my blog that no one knew of, so I gave a helpful navigation post to blog bling.

Truly, I have the Chinese blessing: I live in interesting times.