In September, I went on my very first overseas trip. I had left the US many times before this year, but always on trips to Canada. In this case, I headed off for a 2-week vacation to Iceland and England.
The motivation for this trip was an event announced back in March. Kate Bush, one of my favorite musical artists, who had not performed in concert since years before I’d become a fan, put out word that she would be giving 15 concerts in London in September (that number was later expanded to 22 concerts). As I was already signed up for her site’s e-mail list, I received a code for a special pre-sale of tickets 2 days before the general public could buy them. I got up early in the morning on the pre-sale day, and managed to snag one of the tickets (all the pre-sale ones sold out in 30 minutes that day, and then all the rest of the show tickets sold out in 15 minutes a couple of days later). Once the ticket was in hand, I started to plan the rest of the trip around that concert.
In looking at flights to London, I found that Iceland Air offers “stopover” itineraries, where one can fly between Europe and North America, and spend a few days in Iceland on the way, for the same price as if one just had a quick layover in the country. I decided to take advantage of that, and arranged to spend 5 days in Iceland and 7 in England.
The trip itself began at Logan airport in Boston (well, it more began with my getting dropped off at the bus station in Springfield, and then taking a bus to Logan). Iceland Air appears to start their flights late in the day from there, as I arrived at the airport just about 3 hours before my flight, and their check-in counter was not yet open.
While waiting for them to open, I noted the display of many countries’ flags in the international terminal:
Once I got my bags checked, I headed into the security area, where they had this odd projection:
It was a video of a person talking, projected from behind onto a person-shaped screen. I guess it’s kind of like a hologram, but I suppose it gets the attention of passengers, who might then be more likely to listen to the audio part of the recording (which was just the usual airport security guidelines).
The flight itself was like many domestic flights I’ve been on, except that I had a screen available to me on the back of the seat in front of me, on which I could watch stuff. I ended up watching an Icelandic film called Metalhead, which was pretty good, if a bit depressing (but not as depressing as many Scandinavian films I’ve seen in the past).
Coming Next: my arrival in Keflavik.
This post officially announces that I’m signed up to ride in the 2013 Will Bike 4 Food event. As mentioned in my last post, I couldn’t do last year’s ride because of pain in my knee. However, I have taken steps to prevent that from happening again. There is now less than a week to go before the big ride, and my knee is holding up fine (it’s been through many miles of pedaling this summer).
As part of the ride, I am asking for donations again to support the work of The Food Bank. They’re a great organization that does a tremendous job combating food insecurity in Western Massachusetts. Donations in any amount are helpful and appreciated. You can donate here at my fundraising page, or contact me to send an offline payment. My goal is $1000, and if I get that much in contributions from others, I will add in $500 of my own money, just as I did last year.
A couple of years ago, it was a challenge for me to ride 100 miles at all. I’m going the same distance this year, but I’ll attempt to do it in significantly less time than in the past. I’m challenging myself to finish the ride within 9 hours of starting (when I first did this in 2011, it took me 10.5 hours).
If you have questions or anything, please feel free to post them in the comments. Also, watch this space for details on some long rides I’ve done this year, getting in shape for this ride.
Last year I participated in the inaugural Will Bike 4 Food ride, put on by the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts. The Food Bank obviously considered that event a success, as they’re doing it again this year (it did raise more than $35,000 for their efforts in 2011). I’m going to be riding in the event again this year.
I’ll be doing 100 miles again, and while I now know that’s an attainable goal, because I have more experience with long rides I’m challenging myself to finish the ride in significantly less time. It took me over 10-and-a-half hours last September. I’m now shooting for riding the 100 miles in 9 hours or less. With more experience and a lighter bike, I think I can do it. The route will be different, perhaps with fewer hills, and perhaps with more – that remains to be seen (it does go up into Vermont, which is neat).
I also want to offer an extra incentive to get donations – a partial matching grant, if you will. I’ve set a goal of $1000 in donations to collect (last year donations to my ride totaled around $800). If we can reach that $1000 goal, I will kick in an additional $500 of my own money – so the Food Bank will get a total of $1500 from my ride.
You can visit my fundraising page to give online, and find out more about the event. If you prefer to give offline, contact me to make arrangements. I’m also happy to answer any questions about the ride – you can e-mail me or post here in the comments.
The ride is in 3 weeks, and should be a blast.
So I cleaned the oven last night.
You might wonder why this warrants a blog post. It’s true that I done plenty of oven cleaning before in my life, but this time I used the oven’s self-cleaning feature.
And yes, if you’re wondering, I have never used the self-clean feature before. Not on this or any other oven. There were plenty of times in the past the oven we had was not self-cleaning, and I’ve never liked the idea of using the caustic spray-on cleaners, so I’ve always cleaned the oven by getting in there and scrubbing, often with a soapy steel wool pad. It does the trick, but takes a bunch of work.
We decided recently that we really ought to try this self-clean thing (heck, the technology has only been around for 3 decades or so). Not having done it before, I wanted to make sure I knew what to expect. I read the manual for the range, which warned that the area around the stove should be well ventilated, and that fumes could pose a danger to pet birds if they were too close to the kitchen. I also did some Googling of the process, and found a lot of people who love self-cleaning ovens and swear by it. I also found a few people who said that they or their children had gotten really sick from the fumes. So, I was a little trepid about it.
I plunged forward and did it last night, though. It was a good time to do so, as a bunch of stuff dripped from apple pies on Thanksgiving, and the stuff burnt on the bottom of the oven. The manual said it would take about 4 hours, and it ended up taking a bit more than that before the indicator said it was done. The vent fan was running on high speed most of the time, and while there were some unpleasant smelling fumes for the first hour or two, it wasn’t too strong (we didn’t need to open a window or anything). It was pretty late when it finished, so we turned it off and went to bed, letting it cool overnight.
This morning I opened up the oven and, as promised, there was just a bit of ash in the bottom:
I wiped it up, then cleaned the racks and put them back in. It may be a bit odd that it took me so long to give this technology a try, given how my work and home life have often involved using lots of high-tech items, but there you go. I’m certainly a convert to this method, and will use it again.
[Just to note, this is my 200th blog post.]
So, last Saturday, in the midst of the snowstorm (which I wrote about in my last post), I headed out to an event at a church in another town. The event was a piano concert given by a friend of mine, preceded by a supper. I arrived at the church to find its power out, but the food had been prepared (in gas ovens) and dining was taking place by candlelight. The concert was being postponed.
After supper, I gave said friend a ride home, and then went home myself, and while a lot of snow had fallen since I’d headed out, the power was still on at our place… for 30 more minutes.
The power blinked out around 8:30pm or so, and once it became apparent that it wasn’t coming back on right away, we got out the candles. While we aren’t the type who burn candles normally, we have collected a lot of tea lights and tapers (many of them Halloween ones bought on sale after the holiday in the past – so they were seasonally appropriate), and have a number of holders that we could put them in. The dining table became the land o’ candles for the next few days.
For many people in the area, losing power meant losing heat. Fortunately, our house has a wood-burning stove that we use as the main heat source, and it requires no electricity. The house also has baseboard water registers heated by an oil burner, and the oil also heats our hot water supply. Since the burner needs electricity to run, we did have some outlying areas of the house that didn’t get so warm, and we didn’t have reliable hot water for showers. Our electric stove wouldn’t work either, but we discovered (through some experimentation) that we could cook scrambled eggs on the wood stove, so that served as our breakfast on Sunday and Monday. We also were able to use the wood stove to reheat some soup that I’d made on a previous day.
What we felt the keenest lack of (besides light at night) was Internet connection. Our phones could get some connectivity through the cell network, but tower signal seemed to get more spotty as the outage wore on. We ended up going elsewhere Sunday afternoon for some network and power to charge phones and laptops.
While out on Sunday, we also decided to look for open restaurants. The only place we found was Antonio’s Pizza in downtown Amherst. They had no power, but since they have gas ovens, and there was enough daylight to see one’s way around in the place, they were furiously making pizzas and selling slices (for cash only), to a crowd that was lined up out the door. We duly waited our turn and moved through surprisingly quickly, and it was nice to have hot pizza.
The power was still out all through Monday, though I wasn’t home for much of it as I went to work, where there was power. Having charged the cell phone on Sunday, I used its alarm to wake up in the morning. Getting to work took longer than usual, as the first two routes I tried driving were blocked by downed power lines. On Monday evening, I spent most of my time doing the same thing I had done Saturday and Sunday evenings – reading by candlelight. It can be fun, although some of what I read was graphic novels with dark panels, so it wasn’t as easy as if I’d had more light.
I set the phone alarm again when I went to bed that night, but around 3:30 in the morning, the power came back on (the hallway light came on and woke us up). I got up and set some clocks, and the normal alarm, and then turned off lights.
Again, we’ve been more fortunate than a lot of people. Our power has been back on for almost 48 hours, but there are still thousands of households without power, and some co-workers have told me they don’t expect to have theirs back on before this coming weekend. This is definitely the largest power outage I’ve ever experienced, both in terms of how widespread it is and how long it is lasting, but I’ve also never seen so many trees and limbs knocked down by a storm as I’ve seen the last few days. The only real saving grace is that we’re still in the Autumn, and while the nights are cold, temperatures are not too bad during the day, and the weather since Saturday has been sunny, helping to warm things. This whole episode would have had much worse consequences for residents if it had happened in January. Hopefully we won’t get a similar storm during the winter.
This year, I’m making another attempt at fulfilling the NaBloPoMo challenge. That is, November is National Blog Posting Month, so I’ll be trying to post something here each day in the month of November. 30 posts in 30 days, and here goes with the first.
If you live in the same area as me, you’re probably dealing with this as well, and if you live elsewhere, you’ve likely heard news reports, but New England was hit by a snowstorm this past Saturday that dumped record amounts of snow for October.
The total amount of snow in our area wasn’t so bad, in and of itself – we got about 10 inches or so, and we’ve certainly had bigger storms than that. What made this bad was how wet and sticky the snow was. It clung very heavily to all trees, causing massive damage to them, and downing lots and lots (and lots) of branches.
The snow started Saturday afternoon, and here was the situation after an hour or two:
The next morning, much more had fallen:
During the night, we could hear branches breaking, and we saw more of the extent of the damage in the morning:
This is a dogwood tree, crushed to less than half its normal height:
Our poor lilac bush:
A severely deformed ornamental pear tree:
One of our two chestnut trees – both of them suffered major damage:
This photo kind of sums up the earliness of the storm:
We also lost power in the storm, which I’ll write more about in my next post. Behind the pumpkins there, you can see soup that I had made on Saturday sitting on the porch – that was a more certain way to keep it cool than putting it the fridge or freezer (which we tried not to open once the power went out).
Next: about the outage.
As I’ve done on two previous occasions, I’m doing a fundraising bike ride for charity. There are a couple of differences this time, though. Instead of the MS Society, I’m riding in an event being held for the first time by the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts. It’s a local organization that collects and distributes food to other area organizations that serve people in need of food.
The other difference is that, instead of going 50 miles, which is pretty easy for me now, I’m going to try and ride 100 miles – something I have not yet come even close to.
As with other rides, I’m looking for donations in any amount to benefit the Food Bank. My goal is to try and raise a total of $1000. If you want to give, you can visit my fundraising page at https://www.pledgereg.com/21078 and donate online, or contact me to send me payment in another form.
The ride takes place on September 17. I’m in the process of training now, and my next few posts will be about training rides I’ve already done.
Wish me luck!
Last fall, we acquired a night-blooming cereus plant (more correctly known as epiphyllum oxypetalum) from someone on Freecycle. I was told that it had never bloomed in its former home. We thought, “well, maybe we’ll get lucky”. So it sat on the porch until the weather got cold, and then it sat by a window in the house over the winter, getting watered once a week or so.
This past spring, we put it outside again, giving it water more often. Lo, and behold, we discovered a little bloom right around the beginning of July.
Here is the plant with the flower on the right, after 4 or 5 days’ growth:
And a close-up view of the flower:
One of the fascinating things about this plant’s flowers, as you can see from the pictures, is the the flower grows directly off the side of a leaf. It makes sense, though, when you know that the plant is related to cacti.
The flower opened that night. Here it is beginning to do so:
Opening much more after dark:
And fully open, shortly before we went to bed:
The next morning, it had mostly closed up again, and it stayed closed until it withered (as these are wont to do).
Will we get another bloom next summer, or even earlier? We shall see!
During the latter half of January and the beginning of February we continued to get a good deal of snow. Here’s how things looked a week or so ago (just after we’d been out shoveling:
Here’s a closer view of the house:
The snow piled up on the lower part of the roof makes it hard to see out some of our windows:
Here I am, illustrating how high the shoveled snow is piled near the porch:
Note that it is about as tall as me (I’m 6′ 3″).
The bushes in the front yard are well buried:
And (for the second time this winter) our mailbox got knocked off its post by a plow:
Here is the snow on the back deck, now a bit higher than the table:
And the view of the table from inside:
A blizzard hit us last night, and so we had a large amount of snow waiting to be shoveled in the morning. 3-5 inches were predicted to fall overnight, but it looked like 8 inches when I got up (before 6am). It was still coming down quickly, too.
Here’s the view of the back deck and the table we have there, as soon as it got light out (maybe 7am):
Note the height of the snow on the glass:
and the deck surface is a few inches below the floor inside the house.
I called in to work to check on whether they were open, and found that the place was closed. This was very fortunate, as it was going to take a long time to dig out.
Here’s what I found when I opened the side door:
We went out after breakfast to start shoveling. After a while (about 11:30), we got out a yardstick to measure the depth in the driveway:
Yes, 17 inches had collected, and it was still snowing.
After a bit over 2 hours of work we had cleared only 1/4 of the driveway. We started to consider whether we could hire someone to plow, though we didn’t know who to call or whether anyone would be available at that point. After lunch, though, we noticed a truck plowing 2 nearby driveways (one next door, and the other across the road). We flagged down the driver, and found that he lived in the place he’d plowed across the road, and was willing to plow our driveway for free!
This was very appreciated, and we insisted on paying him a little bit for his trouble (and gas).
Here’s the pile he pushed up, just past the garage:
With the driveway pretty much done, we could turn to the stairs and deck and such. We usually put birdseed out on the table there, and some of the usual birds (a pair of juncos) came looking for seed while the snow was still there:
We measured the snow back there, which had drifted against the house somewhat:
It was a bit shallower on the table:
There was still a bit of snow falling in the late afternoon when we worked on finishing things up. We probably got a total of 20 inches altogether. Here is the stuff we piled up by the front porch, from the section of driveway we cleared ourselves:
And the yardstick going through part of the pile:
Here’s what the backyard looked like after most of the snowfall:
And here is the house:
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