A few hours after I wrote this post, B, T, and I were watching television when there was a horrible crash behind us. Our newly decorated tree had tipped over! Apparently, the bolts that hold it in the stand weren’t tightened quite enough.
We all sprang into action! B pulled the tree off the floor, T ran to get towels for the water, I pulled back the carpet so it would’t get soaked, T and I got towels down on the wood floor, and T and I held the tree in position so B could secure the bolts.
We got water back in the stand and re-positioned the ornaments and lights which had dislodged. We were fortunate that we only lost three small glass ornaments, none of them heirlooms. There was quite a lot of sweeping up to do, with needles and broken glass strewn about the floor.
Now, the tree looks almost like this again! (Besides the three that broke, a few others are in different places now.)
The United States is having a rough couple of weeks on the hurricane front. First, Fiona caused major damage in Puerto Rico, and now, Ian has cut a huge swath of destruction across Florida and is making a second landfall in South Carolina.
There have been massive flooding, wind damage, and major infrastructure impacts, including roads, bridges, and electrical, water, and communication systems. Sadly, there have also been injuries and deaths attributed to the storms and their aftermath.
Aid is being rendered by governments at all levels, by utilities, by charitable organizations, and by volunteers.
After the immediate emergency needs are met, attention will turn to rebuilding.
The first question to ask is “Should we?” There are places where the answer may be “No.” I’m thinking about places like barrier islands and directly on shorelines that are geologically unsuitable, being vulnerable to both storms and sea level rise. Further, the sand that characterizes these areas is meant to move and their natural structure serves to help protect inland areas from the worst of the storm surge and winds. Building there is asking for trouble and re-building there is setting up for losses in the future. With stronger and more frequent storms forecast due to global warming, it may be wisest at this point for government and insurers to buy out property owners in these vulnerable places so that homes and businesses can move to safer locations inland.
In other places, rebuilding may be possible but with much stricter requirements. For example, buildings can be elevated so that flood water can rise beneath them without damaging living space. Structures can be designed to be wind-resistant so roofs don’t blow off during storms. Mobile homes, unless they really are mobile, i.e. on wheels so they can be easily relocated away from danger, should not be allowed at all in storm zones.
It’s vital to rebuild infrastructure with resilience in mind. Five years ago, hurricane Maria destroyed the power grid in Puerto Rico. It was still fragile when Fiona hit but locations that had switched to solar power with battery backup were able to keep their power on. Tropical coastlines are great places for solar power and also for offshore wind, which could have the added benefit of reducing wind speeds from storms.
These changes won’t be easy but they are necessary. The alternative is to continue the cycle of destruction and expensive rebuilding over and over again.
Some of you may be thinking that I don’t understand the difficulty and trauma of leaving a beloved location instead of trying to rebuild there, but I have seen it up close in my town. After the last two record floods of the Susquehanna in 2006 and 2011, many people here faced the decision to rebuild in the same place, perhaps with elevation, or move elsewhere. If people took buyouts, the sites of their former homes were converted to greenspace. There are two neighborhoods near me that are dotted with these lots that used to be homes and yards.
My family lives with the realization that our home, on which we carry flood insurance even though we are not technically in a flood zone, could be impacted in the next record flood. (We are just a few blocks from places that flooded last time.) Depending on the damage incurred, we could be faced with the same decision to take a buyout or repair and elevate our home. It’s painful to think about and I don’t know which we’d choose.
We’ve been here for over 35 years. It would be hard to leave the neighborhood. I do know, though, that we wouldn’t ignore reality/risks and try to rebuild as we are now.
As the United States Senate passed a major budget reconciliation bill dealing with climate change, energy sources, health care, and corporate taxes this weekend, there has been a lot of public whining from Republicans and industry, saying that the bill will increase, not lower inflation.
Judging from my family’s experience, the bill will lower inflation by decreasing energy costs.
As regular readers may recall, my household has spent years in efforts to reduce our carbon footprint. We have electrified everything in our home, including a geothermal heating/cooling system. We reduced our demand by increasing our insulation and installing LED lighting. We drive our fully electric Chevy Bolt for local driving. (For trips over 200 miles, we drive our plug-in hybrid Chrysler Pacifica, which gets better mileage in gasoline mode than the non-hybrid version.) We own panels in a solar farm because our home was not a good candidate for rooftop panels.
So, this summer, our monthly electricity bill is $17.35, which is the delivery charge from our electric utility. This covers all our household lighting, cooling, laundry, electronics, water heating, etc. plus all our local and short-trip driving.
Meanwhile, many households are burdened with paying $100 to fill their gas tank for the week, plus the cost of their household electricity and methane, propane, or other fuels that they use for heating water, cooking, drying clothes, etc.
A large share of recent inflation is due to increased fossil fuel prices. For our family, that has been felt mostly in the higher cost of food, which is largely driven by the expense of fuel.
I realize that not every household will be able to follow our exact path to be nearly free of fossil fuels but the Inflation Reduction Act just passed by the Senate, which is expected to be passed by the House and sent to President Biden to sign into law later this week, will go a long way to reducing expensive fossil fuel use for residents. As more renewable power comes on line, electricity costs will come down because it is cheaper to produce than fossil fuel electricity. There are rebates targeted at lower-to-middle income folks to help move to electric vehicles, which are much cheaper to run than internal combustion engines. As battery costs have fallen, electric cars are already around the same price as some conventional cars/trucks, so the rebates may make them cheaper to buy.
It’s true that inflation will not suddenly disappear, but this bill has provisions that will bring it down and will help to decrease future inflation spikes by removing inherently volatile fossil fuel prices from the center of our economy. The bill is projected to save average households about $500/year in energy costs. Some households, such as ours, will be able to save much more than that.
So, let’s get this done and enacted! The sooner we do, the sooner it will help people and the planet.
With the burgeoning war in Ukraine, which is totally unacceptable and reprehensible on Russia’s part, people around the world expect fossil fuel prices to rise. While this is unfortunate, especially for those in lower socioeconomic circumstances, it will have much less impact on my family than most.
We will be paying higher prices for goods due to increased transportation costs but won’t see much impact on our personal transportation and household costs, due to our years-long efforts to reduce our carbon footprint.
Around town, we usually drive our all-electric Chevy Bolt or our plug-in hybrid Chrysler Pacifica, which only switches to its gasoline engine on the rare occasions that we take longer trips and even then gets much better mileage than a regular minivan. Our home heating system is a geothermal heat pump and our hot water is a hybrid electric/air source heat pump which is nearly always in heat pump only mode. Our appliances are electric. We use a rechargeable electric lawn mower. Only our 50+ year old snowblower which is used a few times a year and our outdoor propane grill run on fossil fuels.
The electricity that powers our homes and cars is from renewable sources. The majority is from solar panels that we own in a community solar installation with the balance bought from a 100% renewable energy supplier. I get a great deal of satisfaction from producing and using clean energy, continuing the legacy of my father and several other members of our family who worked in the hydroelectric sector for many years.
While the driving force for me to move to renewable energy was moral, I do also appreciate the economic impact on our family. Our energy costs as B heads toward eventual retirement will stay relatively low and stable. At the time we installed our geothermal heat pump, the cost of methane was near historic lows, making the number of years that it would take cost savings to make up for the installation cost quite high, partially offset by significant savings in our cooling costs. With the price of methane doubled even before the impact of sanctions against Russia, our investment in our heat pump looks to be an even better economic move, in addition to being best for the climate.
From a moral/ethical standpoint, I also appreciate that my energy dollars are not being used to prop up a fossil fuel system that enables injustice. Certainly, Russian proceeds from fossil fuels go largely to a few oligarchs and government officials, not for the benefit of the public. Saudi Arabia uses its fossil fuel wealth in oppressive ways and is not held to account for fear of cutting off supply. In the US, profits land with oil and gas companies while rural folks and disadvantaged communities bear the brunt of the health and safety problems caused by extraction, processing, and transport. While the entire ecosystem is impacted by fossil fuel use, the heaviest burden falls on vulnerable communities who often did little to contribute to the problem.
I know that the example of my family’s transition away from fossil fuels is a miniscule piece of the solution to help heal the planet, but I hope that we early adopters will show people that it’s possible – and even more economical – to make the switch to renewable energy. Political leaders can develop programs to help lower income households join in and benefit, as well as train workers for weatherization and other energy efficiency projects, for renewable energy jobs, and for the environmental restoration and resiliency work before us.
Real energy independence cannot be pumped out of the ground but can come from the sun, wind, and water that are our common gifts. Let’s use them to create a more stable, just world where fossil fuel supplies aren’t used as a weapon.
Here in the US, this past weekend was a major event for lots of folks. Sunday was the Super Bowl, which football fans watch for the game and lots of others watch for the innovative commercials and the halftime show. It’s a long period of time so there tends to be be lots of snacking with chips and dip and wings and pizza and beer and such. Some people are binging on winter Olympic viewing, instead of or in addition to the Super Bowl. Many people also moved their celebration of Valentine’s Day to the weekend, encouraged by restaurants who are still trying to re-build their business as the pandemic (maybe) winds down or, at least, this most recent wave.
Things were pretty quiet at our house, though.
We aren’t big football fans. We have only been watching limited amounts of the Olympics, mostly figure skating, and often via DVR so we can watch the events without all the ads and commentary. I admit that I usually watch more Olympic coverage but the complications of Chinese politics and the bizarre participation of Russia with the doping problem still hanging over them make me less enthused about these particular games. The threat of Russia to Ukraine is also casting a pall, especially since Russia has previously used the time of the Olympics to take military action, hoping the world was too preoccupied to notice.
We did observe Valentine’s Day, but quietly at home and on Monday instead of over the weekend. As I am at a point in my grief process where planning celebrations is still difficult, spouse B did the lion’s share of the work, with daughter T contributing thoughtful cards and candles for the table. I did bring home a pot of mini-daffodils and some dairy-free chocolate for B and T, a token nod to the tradition of flowers and chocolate for Valentine’s Day.
B planned and executed a lovely dinner for the three of us. He made individual Beef Wellington with mushrooms rather pâté, served with fresh sautéed green beans. For dessert, he made white chocolate mousse, which was rich and delicious. He chose that because I can no longer eat cocoa but still enjoy the luxurious melt-in-your-mouth-ness of cocoa butter.
A sweet and quiet Valentine’s Day suits me.
Thanks to B, it was what we were able to celebrate.
Because it has been a complicated trip, we had to have one final chapter. When we went to get our car cleaned off in the long-term parking lot, we found out that, despite just having replaced the battery, the car would not start. Getting someone there to jump it took several hours, but the silver lining was that the freezing rain which had fallen along our route in the morning had melted and dried by the time we got there in the afternoon.
While my blogging has been haphazard for months due to my father’s declining health, I wanted to share a post about the recent visit of our daughter E, her spouse L, and their daughters, four-year-old ABC and one-year-old JG. As people who check in here at TJCM periodically may recall, they live in London UK and the pandemic left us unable to visit each other. This meant that when they arrived in the US, it was our first chance to meet JG in person.
All the adults are fully vaccinated, but the children are too young to qualify. While our area of upstate New York is not a COVID hot zone, the transmission rate is still high enough due to the delta variant that we were very cautious about taking the girls to indoor public spaces. While I had scaled back my expectations for the visit a lot, I hadn’t scaled them back quite as much as I should have. For example, I had hoped to see a few more friends than we were able to. Unfortunately, Paco, my 96-year-old father, had more health challenges appear and his unit at the nursing home had to go into lockdown due to a couple of COVID cases among vaccinated staff.
In a way, though, it was nice to have them in our home, doing normal, everyday things like we had when E and ABC lived with us for over two years while waiting for E’s spousal visa to be accomplished.
B, with an assist from ABC, got to bake yummy treats for breakfast.
Everyone enjoyed watching the birds at the birdfeeders. ABC especially liked the tufted titmouse and goldfinches, while others were partial to the cardinals.
We enjoyed watching other wildlife, too. ABC even spotted some deer near the back fence. We also spent a lot of time watching the bunnies eating various leaves and flowers in the lawn.
One thing that they don’t have at home in London is rocking chairs. JG especially loved the one that was her size!
JG was an early walker so we missed her being a babe-in-arms, but Auntie T did get a taste of what that phase was like when JG got so tired she actually fell asleep in her arms.
L took the girls on walks. Here is ABC at the 1 mile – or is it 1 smile? – mark on the Rail Trail. Our area, like many others in the US, has re-purposed places where there used to be railroad tracks into recreational trails.
We also got to visit the parks and carousels. Broome County has six vintage carousels and it was very nostalgic to revisit them with ABC and introduce them to JG. ABC made friends everywhere she went.
We got to enjoy a lot of playtime with the girls. ABC, at four, has a great imagination and enjoys making elaborate scenarios. She is also quite operatic! Besides singing songs that she knows, often from Frozen I and II, she likes to make up songs while she is playing. With both her parents being accomplished singers and instrumentalists, she appears to come by music naturally. She is learning to play the piano, so we got to experience her lessons with her daddy.
ABC is also a beginning reader, so sometimes she would read to us and other times we would read to her. It was an honor to be chosen as the final bedtime story reader. Of course, she also requested a bedtime song before going to sleep.
The most important event of the trip, though, was the one visit we were able to make with Paco in the outdoor courtyard of the nursing home. ABC was being her charming self, singing and dancing and clapping for Paco.
The most precious photo is this one of the four generations.
Paco’s health has declined so much in the weeks since we had this visit that he has now been admitted to hospice care. I will be forever grateful that Paco had the opportunity to meet his second great-granddaughter who won’t remember that day and to see his first granddaughter E and first great-granddaughter ABC who certainly will.
It’s spring in my hemisphere so signs of new growth are everywhere.
The lawn is growing. There are new flowers blooming in turn. We are excited to see the new landscaping we had put in last fall growing. Because most of the plants are new to us, it’s fun to see how they put out new shoots and when. Some have already flowered, along with our old standbys like bleeding hearts. We are especially pleased that the ferns that were re-located in the project are coming back strong, unfurling from their fiddlehead phase.
The most important growth we are observing this spring, though, is coming over our computer screens. As some of you may recall, we have yet to meet our granddaughter JG in person. She was born during the pandemic in the UK, so we aren’t able to travel there yet.
She is now nine months old and growing up quickly. She has three teeth in with more ready to break through. She is anxious to walk and can already manage to toddle along holding with just one hand. Soon, she will be off on her own. (She doesn’t care for the whole crawling thing.)
What is most endearing is that we can now see more of her personality coming through over our computer. She has grown enough to be curious about these figures on the screen who talk directly to her. We can engage in conversations where we react to her baby-babbles. She can lock eyes with us. We can even play peek-a-boo with her.
Her mom calls us Nana and Grandpa and Auntie T. As we look forward to that blessed but currently unknown day, we wonder if our screen visits will translate into JG “knowing” us when we see her in person for the first time.
We hope she will grow to love us, even from afar, as we love her.