What I’m writing . . .

The Cost of Messin’ with Texas

My left eye’s twitching because I’m looking at the bright screen of my cell phone too much. Massaging that eyelid with my thumb helps a little, but then the fluttering returns. I just can’t stop checking my iphone. Its election week and I’ve been tracking the news like a baby tracks its mommy. Some mother—the news cycle. President Trump calls it a “mother f—!” Election news has hooked me like Diet Coke, and all I have to show for my interest, besides emotional instability, is dry, jittery eyes.

This morning I woke to the sad news that Beto O’Rourke lost his senate race to Ted Cruz in Texas. I rapidly scrolled down my iphone screen.  Too bad. He’s such a nice-looking, Robert Kennedy kind of guy. And so much youth and charisma. Like most Americans though, I don’t know much about his politics. When the bumper sticker said: “Don’t Mess With Texas,” I happily obliged. I’ve got my hands full messin’ with Idaho.

The good news on Mr. O’Rourke is that now he’s free to consider a presidential bid. I saw that on my Politico news feed. I had to pause in my reading when my nervous eye became so agitated I thought of stabbing it with a pencil. Instead, I stood up, stretched, and walked over to the window to watch a murder of crows circling in the air. Google said to give eyes a rest by looking away from digital screens every twenty minutes or so. Google also suggested blinking your eyes ten times—all of which I did. This attention to my errant eye helped enough that I felt completely justified in sitting back down in my chair and checking my Washington Post news feed on my phone.

OMG. In a matter of just a few minutes my world was collapsing again. The royal RGB, Ruth Bader Ginsburg was hospitalized. The supreme Supreme. Were her wounds mortal, I wondered? I needed more info so I swept my index finger across the screen of my phone to get the scoop from NBC news. A source claimed RGB had broken ribs from a fall. I’m so sorry, and at 85-years-old she’s certainly allowed to take a spill—but Ruth Bader! Please heal! Rest and wrap yourself. Start praying like I am for your ribs to mend (closing my eyes feels so refreshing).

Sometime during my prayer it occurred to me that Ruth Bader’s health was not the only one being jeopardized. I really needed to take a break from digital news feeds. There were dishes to wash and leaves to sweep, all manner of physical activity to be done. The world would not stop if I quit monitoring it. And, I needed to charge my iphone anyways.

With a lot of determination, I walked over to the charger sitting on my desk and plugged my phone in. Looking up out the window, I saw the crows had quit circling and finally settled in some trees. My eyes were already feeling more relaxed. Then I wandered over to the couch, hit the remote, and settled in for some televised news. Maybe RGB had miraculously recovered.

What I’m writing . . .

images frozenHow Will We Stay Warm this Winter?

How will we stay warm this winter? Two hundred years ago that was a real concern, even a hundred years ago. Most of us are not like Elsa, the Disney character in the movie Frozen, who famously sang, “The cold never bothered me anyway.”

Before central heating, families had large oil stoves in the center of their home. Or, there might be wood stoves in the living room and coal furnaces in the basement. Beds were warmed like Grandma Doris did, with a thick, heated Sears and Roebuck catalog tucked at the foot between the sheets. All of our methods for staying warm in the past emitted lots of carbon and almost all, regrettably, still do. But in this age of climate change and climate peril, there are alternatives and I’ve been thinking a lot about finding a way to go toward the greener side of a white winter.

Maybe we could use the naturally occurring, geothermal groundwater in our desert valley to heat our home this winter? Several artesian wells dot the valley, and at least one family in the past had geothermal water piped into their house to help heat it. When my brother and sister-in-law moved here and rented an old house on the other end of the valley, they piped in geothermal water. I remember they used to bath in a claw-foot tub sitting out in the open on the back porch. Loey explained the way they took a bath was to first fill the tub up with artesian well water to heat the tub itself, and then drain it and refill it again to bath in. That was their recipe for a low-carbon, low-cost, hot bath.

No doubt water is a good insulator and has a higher capacity than air, to absorb heat. Remember radiators? You can still sometimes find them in old buildings. Last month I stayed in a tiny room in an historic hotel in Quebec that had a radiator under the window. But, I first discovered how well water absorbs and transfers heat when I was a student living with a family in eastern France during a particularly brutal winter.

My French family didn’t heat their bedrooms, so I often found myself studying and reading my textbooks, huddled under the bed clothes, wearing my coat, ear muffs, and mittens. Then I had this brilliant idea. I could warm up by taking a bath. In order to do this, every evening I had to walk across the hallway to the bathroom, in plain view of my French family. They were always sitting in the living room watching TV. I remember them tracking me with their eyes as I made my nightly trek across the hall to the bath.

One night I heard Freddie the father say, “Que fait-elle?” (What is she doing?)

Simone, the mother, replied, “Je ne sais pas? Les Americains sont fanatique pour prendre au bains.” (I don’t know. Americans are fanatical about taking baths.)

Another watery idea I’ve had to heat our home this winter is installing solar panels to charge a water-heat pump. However, Google tells me air-heat pumps are more efficient. My husband and I’ve also talked about generally increasing our home’s heat efficiency by sealing off the second floor of our house with a door. There’s a lot we can do to stay warm without using our carbon-spewing, diesel furnace. But all these changes take an investment of time—and money. Everything costs, one way or another. We either pay upfront—or we all pay in the future, when fossil fuels have our climate in a choke-hold. Then my biggest worry won’t be staying warm in the winter, but cool in a blazing, hot summer.