Monday, March 14, 2016

Changing the clocks

Never been a big deal for me - except when I forgot. After a couple days of  "Wow, it's still light." or "Is it dark already?" I adjust to either.

I don't doubt there are people for whom the one hour switch can be more traumatic but there's a part of me that also thinks that any small inconvenience is too much to bear for some folks. What's the problem? You move the clocks ahead, you set them back. If you were to drive to California from here you'd have to set your clock back three times. You ever hear anyone bitch about that?

It always amused me, though, that there was an official time to change the clocks, something like 2:11 am. Who gets to decide that? I suppose it's important for computers and lots of other things that are time regulated that the switch happen at an agreed upon time, but why not midnight or on some other hour?

When my kids were small I tried to sell them on the idea of a tradition of time change ceremony. I told them the time would change at 2:17 in the night and that I'd get them up so we could do the time change ceremony, saying good bye to winter and welcoming the spring and the summer with candles and song and a ceremonial procession around the yard. In the fall it would be to thank the season for the harvest and hope for a mild winter.

Even when they were small I could never pull it off.

"Why don't you just change the clocks before we go to bed?"

And that's what I do.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Self Driving Cars

There's a lot of interest lately in the development of cars that drive themselves, you know, safely taking you from one place to another while you scan pictures of cats on your cell phone. Seems like a really shaky idea to me.

Now I don't mind being driven. I've done my share of driving over the years and the idea of letting someone else do the driving is quite attractive. I learned to use the bus while we lived in England and it was really convenient. But I don't like the idea of being taken, especially by an automatic car. Well, I might relent if all the cars were automatic and on some sort of level playing field, but basically we'd be riding around inside mobile computers. That's what they are, after all, computers with GPS and a lot of sensors to keep them on the road and avoid running into things. In theory, it would make everything safe.

But computers get hacked. Suppose someone got into a few of these computers and gave the automatic cars a bit of attitude. We'd never know which ones have been hacked. Could even be our own. How would you like being driven around by Basil Fawlty? Or if your car was programmed by Microsoft and had to be rebooted half way to work and Basil was right behind you?

One could make a pretty good argument that our cars already do too much of our thinking for us. It all happened around the time the repair guys went from being mechanics to technicians.

What is it about us that seems so willing to give away control and responsibility?

Sunday, March 6, 2016


I came across Don Wilder in the grocery store years ago.

"I bake beans, you know."

That explained a lot. Don Wilder was a nice guy. Solid, honest (as far as I know), and frugal. He once bought a house in Brattleboro for around $6,000 and when he paid for it at the closing he put three bags of coins on the table. It took the Realtor and the lawyers three hours to count it at least twice. It was all there, though, to the penny.

Don Wilder baked beans.

I, on the other hand, like to bake bread. Not enough to make it a business, but a loaf or two at a time is rather enjoyable. It's not a big deal, it can be simple or complex, but it's always good. And once you get used to a substantial slice of bread a lot of the commercial bread just doesn't cut it anymore.

This is not about gluten. I actually add gluten to my bread. That's what makes it rise, after all, and with the seeds and dried fruit I sometimes add, it needs the extra gluten to push it up and hold it until it bakes.

Another thing, and I'm not a purist, but if you read the list of ingredients on almost any baked good you'll see stuff that will never be in your own kitchen. You'd be amazed at what goes into a tortilla, for instance, a simple peasant food. Pull a package off the shelf sometime and see what goes into those things. Then check out the sell by date. Those babies have a shelf life.

So I've been quite smug about making our bread. All basic ingredients and I know what's in it. But then came the story that wheat farmers spray the wheat with Roundup before harvesting to help it dry out. This story has been going around for a while. So I wrote to King Arthur Flour and asked them what the hell.

In their response they acknowledged that in very rare cases "glyphosate" might be applied as a last ditch measure to save a crop in an unusually wet year since it acts as a drying agent. If that were to happen, it would be a week or so before the actual harvest and any residue would only be on the outside of the grain which would be cleaned off during harvesting. But the cost is so prohibitive it would be extremely rare for this to happen. King Arthur stays in close contact with their growers and know of no instance where this has been used in any of the wheat they buy.

It annoyed me a bit that they refused to use the word Roundup and called it glyphosate instead. Even if they keep their wheat pure, what about other places? The word glyphosate in a list of ingredients looks a lot less hazardous than Roundup.

Anyway. I now spend the extra for King Arthur Flour, just in case.

Used to be food that came from a factory was suspect. 

Now we can't even be sure of the raw ingredients.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Part Time Jobs

Susan and I are both in our 70s, both drawing Social Security, which is not an entitlement, by the way. I bitched for years when I had to contribute but it turns out to have been a good thing. We're doing okay but with no room for extras we began looking for part time jobs.

I found a part time job at a local winery. Yes, there are wineries in New Hampshire and this one, Walpole Mountain View Winery does it all on site. You can find out more about them here:

I worked in the tasting room for a few hours on weekends. I also helped with pruning the vines in the springtime.

I also occasionally got calls from a local car dealership to help them move cars from one place to another. Very occasional, usually at the last minute. One time they called up and asked if I could to go Rochester, New York. I didn't have anything going the next day so I agreed. Thirteen hours later I'd gone out with a Buick and come back with a GMC pickup. This stuff goes on all the time and I bet most people don't know about it.

Meanwhile, Susan had found a part time job with a local agency that serves people with developmental disabilities. Her particular area was with young adults who qualified for a program to teach them employment skills so they might find work and become at least partially self-sufficient. One day she came home and said they were looking for a driver. Would I be interested? As a matter of fact....

So my job now is to bring people into Keene to various day programs in the morning, have a big break, and then take them home again in the afternoon. I have a company mini-van which I get to take it home at night and during my long break. And since I'm in town every morning around 8:30 I can stop by the grocery store or run other errands. It's almost as good as having a second car.

Here's the thing, though. I'd never had much to do with this population. I think most of us don't. So I was a bit apprehensive about how I'd manage. Turns out it's been okay. These folks are much better at adjusting to change than I am. After all, they've had new people in their lives as long as they can remember. One more isn't going to make a difference. Being in the car with them for half an hour or so, though, you begin to make connections. And seeing them over time I notice changes.

One man, the most functional, is clearly beginning to slide into some unknown place. Harder and harder for him to stay focused on anything. Of course, they're all medicated so who knows?

Another is in a wheelchair and non-verbal. A few years ago he had seizures so violent they broke bones in his legs and everyone said he'd never walk again. When I started a year and a half ago, he could transfer in and out of the van with help. Now he's walking around most of the day and when he gets out of the van at night he walks into his house - unaided.

And the third is a sweet, innocent young woman. Very limited, very sweet. I'm not sure if she lives outside the moment or not. She and I have have a nice bond. After about a month she started calling me Dad or Daddy. One time we were waiting for one of the others and there was dancing going on. She went right out and joined in. "Hey, Dad!" she said. "Watch this!"

And there's a forth rider, a young woman. Highly functional but requires constant oversight. Her conversations are something like "There was a fire in Alstead and the family lost all their stuff. Very sad. I really like peanuts, you know..."

So the part time jobs help supplement the Social Security. And a bonus is that unlike the winery or the car moving jobs, these are jobs that also let us give to people who need the help, a whole new perspective on work.

Oh. These programs now exist because New Hampshire finally shut down the place where these people used to be sent and warehoused. If you enjoy horror shows, you can see a film about the place here:

Amazing what people do to each other.

It's really nice to be on the other side of that.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016


Yeah, I finally succumbed.

I'll spare the details.

Enough said.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Over twenty years...

Susan and have been married 20 years as of October 2015. There are times when we wonder where those 20 years have gone. And sometimes I don't remember a time in my life when she wasn't in it, even though she wasn't for the first 50 years or so. It's become that kind of relationship. Now I can't picture my life without her.

She warned me all those years ago. She'd been single for 25 years or so and had her checklist. For instance, she was determined she'd never have a relationship with someone who had never "been anywhere". She, of course, so worldly from her twenty years or so in California while I'd been growing moldy in Brattleboro all my life. No, my time in the Coast Guard didn't count.

She invited me over and cooked a nice supper when we were first spending time together and afterwards, we sat in the living room where she told me stories, stories of her life growing up in Keene, her first marriage and how it ended, her move to San Francisco where she shared a house with a lot of other people, her move out of the city to Sonoma County, the year and a half she and her kids lived in an army tent with no electricity, some of the people who had been in her life over those years, along with some decidedly unpleasant episodes. It was as if she was trying to find the story that would scare me off before we got too close.

Driving home that night I thought, well, there were a lot of choices in those stories that I wouldn't have made but none of it had anything to do with me. I also knew that if I let any of it get in the way I'd probably be missing an awfully good time.

So we had supper again the next weekend. This time we talked about what we might look for in a relationship. Susan ticked off several things, including her insistence in absolute monogamy.

"No problem," I said. I'd managed that for over 30 years in my first marriage and for the heat I took I should have been having a hell of a lot more fun.

"So here's what I want," I said. "I've got a lot of friends who are women. I want to be open with those friendships, I want to be affectionate with them, and I don't want to hear about it."

"Fine," she said. "Some of my closest  women friends have come through men I've known. Bring them on."

She warned me she was high maintenance. I'm not sure what she had in mind with that statement but I've come to know that if I tried to control her she certainly would be. But why would I do that? Why would I try to change the very things that attracted me to her in the first place? That makes no sense at all.

Oh. And I wanted to be equal. We used to get these books full of personality tests and take them just to see how close we thought they came. One of them had an IQ test. We took it. When we totaled the scores we were just exactly even, not in all areas, but overall we were equal. An it was then we both realized how lucky that was because if one of us had a couple points on the other we'd have probably never heard the end of it.

And it's worked. We've had occasional challenges and we've faced them together. We've traveled, we've moved to California and then to England and then back to the US. We've created new communities and circles of friends wherever we've gone. We're both free to pursue our own interests, either singly or bringing the other along. And we make each other laugh every day.

I get to go to bed with her, too.

Twenty years ago we both hoped for this.

And here it is.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Working the polls

Not all that big a deal, but Susan and I were volunteer greeters at Ward 5 in Keene, New Hampshire, during the primary election. It was simple enough. Stand a the door, greet people when they come in (not at all like "Welcome to WalMart), and then ask if they were registered in Ward 5 and to check that they had a photo ID with them, all with the goal to keep the lines moving.

Most of the old timers had been voting there for years and they were in and out in about a minute and a half. Others, though, who had forgotten their ID or had moved since the last election and hadn't changed their place to vote, or those who needed to register that day, got shunted off to one of six people who were processing registrations.

And for the most part it went smoothly. We were on duty from around 10:45 until 2 pm. Around 11 there was a burst of young people, most of whom needed to register. Then another bunch came. They were coming in vans, probably college students who didn't have cars. And they kept coming. At one point there were over 20 people in line, waiting to register, some of them for the first time.

It was an easy job, helping people through the process. Most seemed in good humor. There were a few grumps, as there always are, but it's a massive effort to see that everyone who wants to vote gets to do so. It's a very civil process, at least in any elections I've either voted in or helped staff.

So this is not about the result but the process. The process and our participation is important.

Besides, win or lose, my vote is my license to bitch.