Saturday, February 28, 2015

Obligatory Caturday post

Cleo doing what she does best -- nap -- while using my tossut as a pillow. 

Still a learning experience


View from our campsite yesterday. The first come, first served spots along
the river are filling quickly despite the cold. weather. And, yes, there are
some guys who are hardy (or drunk) enough to indulge in tent camping. 
Every time we do something with the Guppy, we discover something else it would have been nice to have but we don't. Sometimes it's been fairly minor stuff -- a bottle opener, for example, or a decent-sized mixing bowl -- and sometimes it's definitely more important. Like a carbon monoxide detector. The Guppy has a smoke alarm but no carbon monoxide detector.

This was a serious oversight on our part. It doesn't make much difference when you're camping in warm weather and really don't care about heat, but when the temperature outside is in single digits? It would be kind of nice then to be able to run the furnace at night without worrying about waking up dead. We run the furnace during the day, get things reasonably toasty in here, and then it's time to retire for the night. The last thing we do before turning off the bedroom light is shut off the furnace -- and turning it on is the first thing we do when we crawl out of bed in the morning. I may have mentioned before that the Guppy tends to leak heat rather rapidly. Got up this morning and the bedroom thermometer read a balmy 35.9 degrees.

When I was in the fee booth yesterday and we were all chatting about the cold weather, I got asked how we were doing here in the Guppy. So I mentioned our carbon monoxide paranoia. The park superintendent suggested we invest in an electric blanket. Not a bad idea, I agreed, but the way things go, as soon as we spend the money on one the weather will turn warm. Exactly, was the response. Go buy one and make Spring happen.

It may get chilly in the Guppy, but it's got to be downright freezing in this
pop-up. The giant woodpile won't help much. They must be planning one
heck of a campfire to celebrate Opening Day.
I have actually thought about getting an electric blanket -- it would be nice when we're camping at places that do have electric service -- but neither the S.O. nor I are too keen on electric blankets since the time he almost burnt his house down. Back in his bachelor days, he had an electric blanket. He left for work one day not realizing he'd forgotten to turn the blanket off when he got up. It was wadded up on the bed, and by the time he got home it was starting to smolder. There were definite scorch marks. That was the last time there was an electric blanket in use any place he lived.

In any case, carbon monoxide detector is now on the shopping list. We'll be heading into Springfield on one of our days off next week and will pick one up then. Of course, by then the temperatures are supposed to have climbed back out of the Arctic and we won't need the furnace much anymore. The weather forecast for today actually has highs predicted in the 30s (above freezing), and by Tuesday it could be pushing 60. Still, a carbon monoxide detector is something we should have thought about right after we bought the Guppy, not almost 18 months later.

The view from the other end of Loop 2. If you enlarge the photo, the Guppy
is in the extreme background in line with a picnic table to the right of
the 5th wheel in the leftof the photo. 
In other news, the park is filling up despite the cold and the snow. Some of the regulars have been coming here for opening day since they were kids. One fellow told me yesterday he'd been here for every opening day since he was 16 -- and he qualifies for the senior discount now. I wonder if he saves his tags? Apparently there are some bragging rights involved in being able to have an extremely low number on the daily tag for opening day. The primo tag, of course, is number 1. We plan to do some fishing ourselves this month, but won't be part of the mob fighting for river bank space on Sunday. Things will thin out considerably during the week so we'll do our fishing when the pressure on the fish slacks off a little.  

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Do cats go senile?

I'm up at an unpleasantly early hour today. It wasn't my idea. Once again Cleo's howling woke me up. During the past year or so the cat has developed an annoying odd habit of, as they say, singing the song of her people at odd times and for no apparent reason. There are times when if the cat wasn't almost 15 years old and spayed you'd swear she was in heat. I've discussed the howling with her veterinarian several times and there is no detectable physical reason for it. Other than being fat and diabetic, she's a healthy cat.

So is she slipping into the feline version of senile dementia? Do cats get Alzheimer's? Dr. Google, D.V.M., reports that yes, cats can indeed exhibit the same brain abnormalities associated with Alzheimer's in other mammals. They can also exhibit symptoms of something called "feline cognitive dysfunction," which appears to be another way of saying senility. Senility as a label seems to have slipped out of fashion -- no doubt it's evolved into a term that is now seen as "ageist" in the same way mentally retarded slid from being a common descriptor into an insult -- but senility would seem to cover some of Cleo's more annoying recent behavior.

One of the signs of feline cognitive dysfunction, incidentally, is the cat "sleeps more." How could it be possible for any cat to "sleep more"?! As far as I can tell after many years of living with cats, a typical cat's day consists of waking up just long enough to switch napping locations, although they do toss in an occasional brief break to eat or use the litter box. How is it possible for any beast to sleep more than the 23+ hours a day a typical cat already spends dozing?

Of course, the cat always has been neurotic and prone to anti-social behavior. I wound up with her when she was still a pretty young kitten. The older daughter had been given the kitten but realized she couldn't keep her after Cleo decided a Packer hat belonging to a friend would make a great litter box. The Packer hat was actually the last straw; prior to that, Cleo had left her mark on several other items belonging to the friend. So I agreed to keep Cleo for a week or two while Zu looked for another home for her. That was back in 2000. It appears I'm stuck with the cat.

One of the other symptoms of cognitive dysfunction associated with aging in cats is that problems with separation anxiety increase. Despite their reputation for aloofness, cats apparently are actually rather fond of the hand that feeds them and don't handle being separated from familiar people or places very well. Maybe we've just been traveling a little too much -- it's taking Cleo longer to relax and adapt to changes than it used to. If that's the case, I'm thinking the S.O. and I may need to learn to sleep with ear plugs because we're not going to be staying in one place for more than a few months at a time in the foreseeable future.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Listening to C-SPAN

I used to have a serious C-SPAN addiction. I'd listen to "Washington Journal" at work, and I'd listen on the weekends, at least until the stupid started running too deep or they trotted out a guest "expert" who was enough of a professional liar that I couldn't stomach listening any longer. I haven't listened for several years, though. I kind of lost interest after we moved back to the tundra and I retired. Streaming it helped keep me awake at work; that motivation vanished once I stopped copy editing articles about tapeworms in sushi.

Now we're in Missouri spending a few days at the Younger Daughter's place before heading over to Montauk State Park for our month of campground hosting. And, to invoke the usual cliche, the more things change, the more they stay the same. The topic du jour is the debate over funding the Department of Homeland Security. As usual, the Republicans are having hissy fits over nonsense. The more right-wing, rabid Obama haters in the Congress are busy trying to stir up their base (and, going by the phone calls coming in from the tinfoil hat types, succeeding) by ranting about Obama and "amnesty." WTF? Obama's supposed tyrannical executive order isn't amnesty. Doesn't anyone know how to read anymore? An amnesty would be a general pardon, you're off the hook for whatever you might have done now and forever. It's what the Reagan administration did back in the 1980s, a sweeping Get Out of Jail Free card for every undocumented immigrant who met certain criteria.

What Obama tried to do is create a breathing space, a brief moratorium, a 3-year stay of execution. He instructed federal prosecutors to exercise discretion and to focus on certain classes of undocumented aliens more than others. He didn't say ignore those people forever; he said to go after the worst elements among illegal immigrants first. You know, prioritize deporting drug dealers before jerking law-abiding high school students out of classes. This is what Immigration and Customs Enforcement should have been doing all along -- trying to track down and deport the persons who present the most risk to our society -- but, hey, it's a whole lot easier to find people whose only crimes are status offenses. One of the reasons the Obama administration has set a record for number of deportations is that ICE has been aggressive in going after what might be termed the low hanging fruit, the people who are relatively easy to find, e.g., students. Someone who's dealing drugs or on the run for shooting someone is going to be a whole lot harder to find than some kid who's going to school everyday while worrying about whether or not he or she can get into college.

In any case, despite all the wailing and gnashing of teeth by the Obama-haters, prosecutorial discretion is not amnesty. At best (and worst) it's simply an invitation to young people who are currently caught in a legal limbo to step out of the shadows, do some of ICE's work for the agency, and identify themselves. To date, none of them have because the program has yet to be implemented.

Which is another thing that kills me when it comes to being amused by stupidity in action. Going by the language various callers are using, you'd think a gazillion undocumented aliens have already been tapped with a magic wand labeled Amnesty. Pshaw. The program was supposed to start this month. It's currently on hold. Not one person has actually been affected by it yet. And, considering the potential downsides of signing up for the program, I tend to believe the number of applicants for it (if and when the program is ever implemented) will be remarkably low. After all, back in the 1980s when actual amnesty was on the line, there were still large numbers of undocumented aliens who chose to remain undocumented. The gains from applying for legal status back then were a lot higher -- permanent resident alien status -- then they are now, i.e., a lifetime versus "temporarily."

I've mentioned before that if I were one of those "illegals," I'd stay in the shadows. Right now ICE knows potentially millions of these people exist but it doesn't know specifically who or where they are. Step forward, apply for the program, and you've just saved ICE a whole lot of work in tracking you down when the temporary moratorium on deporting that particular class of undocumented immigrant ends.

But can any of the more extreme right-wingers figure that out? Nope. If it was President Obama's idea, then it automatically must be bad, a grab for power, another example of the evil socialist dictator's imperial ambitions. The stupid, it burns.

Friday, February 20, 2015

No more photo ops

I'm going to miss seeing this machine in our driveway.
We had enough snow build up that the grader operator decided it was worth coming in here the other day. It was perfect timing on his part -- we hadn't dug the Guppy out of the snowbank yet so it was out of the way, and now the weather forecast is such that there probably won't be a reason for him to come in here again until sometime next week. And by then we'll be gone in search of Spring. 
The grader turning around by the barn. 
In the photo above, the Guppy is kind of hiding behind the grader, still securely tucked into the snow. In the photo below, the Guppy has (obviously) moved.
I thought taking that tarp off would be a real pain, but it turned out to be surprisingly easy. The S.O. had used old Chevy hubcaps to cover the plumbing vents on the roof; because they were rounded, there was nothing for the tarp to get hung up on once we started pulling it off. The worst part was getting hit with solidified chunks of snow that tended to slide right down the tarp and up my jacket sleeves.
Pictured above is the space the Guppy emerged from. The tow dolly had been parked right behind it, truly buried in the snow close to the storage shed. The S.O. wound up doing a fair amount of shoveling to get to the point where he'd be able to drag the dolly out with his POS Dodge plow truck once the Guppy was out of the way. 
With the Guppy out of the way, the Dodge is now parked in that space for the foreseeable future. Unless something dramatic changes in the next 24 hours, the S.O. will not be plowing any snow again until, oh, maybe October. November if we're lucky. 
The Guppy is now positioned for loading, the tow dolly is directly behind it although not yet attached. 
The above is my last grader photo for this year and probably forever, at least on our driveway. As of November 1, 2015, we'll be solely responsible for snow removal on our property. If I want to take grader photos next winter, I'll have to chase Billy around Herman hoping to get some decent photos as he's clearing county roads. I don't think I'm that ambitious. Or obsessed. 
Later today we'll finish loading the Guppy, getting the beast ready to head South toward slightly warmer weather tomorrow. I did get the new curtains done, both the ones to block the cab from the rest of the interior and the "kitchen" curtains for the living/dining area. I'm not sure what era that fabric is from, probably the 1960s, but once again I'm thinking my aunt Thelma had odd taste. I must confess, though, that those curtains are growing on me. I started off thinking it was some of the ugliest stuff I'd ever seen, but it's amazing how attractive fabric can become when it's Free. And it is a cheerful pattern. 

We still have a bit of a curtain problem in the bedroom. The ones that came with the Guppy were in sad shape, adequate but just barely, so I replaced them with some curtains that had been in the guest cabin when we bought it. Turned out they work fine on two of the windows but are about half an inch short on the third. Not a big deal, but still something I'm going to want to deal with eventually. Now that the ugly, filthy valances are gone, we need to move the drapery rods up a couple inches anyway. I'll just plan on doing new curtains that are custom-fitted to each window so I can be sure each set is exactly the right length. It'll be a good project for this summer. Although who knows? Maybe I'll get lucky and find something ready-made and easily adaptable at a Home Goods or other store in our travels. I didn't have any luck when I looked around here, but when the retail options are Family Dollar and Shopko Hometown I wasn't expecting to. 

Thursday, February 19, 2015

A classic scam, 2015 version

Back when we still lived in Omaha, we discovered Craigslist. We had a couple small items for sale -- a cheap computer desk, an old aquarium -- and it seemed like a good way to get rid of them. Neither was worth bringing to a consignment shop and for sure we didn't have enough stuff to justify having a yard sale. So I listed them on Craigslist.

The first response we got was for the desk. This was a small computer desk that I'd gotten on clearance at Office Depot for maybe $20. It was one of those assemble-it-yourself mini-work stations that involved some metal tubing and laminated beaver puke. It was exactly what it sounds like: a useful piece of furniture but not exactly Chippendale.

Anyway, we get an email reply from someone purporting to want the desk. Says it's clear from the picture that it's exactly what that person was looking for and yep, they definitely will buy the desk. I respond saying, great, when would you like to pick it up? Get a response back with some nonsense about sending a money order, the money order will be for more than the value of the desk, and some other stuff that made absolutely no sense when you're talking about a desk being sold for what was essentially a pittance. My response was, of course, are you fucking nuts?

Right about the same time Craigslist started doing the scam alert message, and, bingo, suddenly it all made sense. There were scammers buying stuff using counterfeit money orders or bad checks. The naive seller would accept a check for more than the value of the goods and then hand some of that money back to the buyer's agent to pay for the shipping or moving or whatever fees. At the time, it seemed to me that someone was going through a lot of hassle for not much of a pay-off. Now I realize that when it was a low value item like that desk, the scammer wasn't going to bother with it at all. The responses to my replies to the first message were all just computer-generated robo-replies. If I had given the supposed buyer our address, there would have been no money order in the mail and no one would have ever shown up in person to pick up the desk.

Well, that scam is still making the rounds, albeit with a few embellishments. The museum recently decided to list two items on Craigslist that I'd found in the attic but that didn't fit in with the overall mission: a really nifty African tribal mask and an Azande spear. The mask is ebony and a design that's been common for several decades as a tchotchke to peddle to tourists visiting west Africa; the Azande are a people who reside in the Congo region. My assumption is that someone picked them up years ago when on a church mission or perhaps volunteering with the Peace Corps. How they wound up in the museum's attic is a mystery.

Anyway, the historical society voted some time ago that we would start selling things we do not need because we have so many duplicates (multiple buck saws, for example) or that don't fit the museum's mission, which is actually rather narrow -- we focus on Baraga County. If we knew that someone significant in county history was associated with the African items, we'd keep them, but when they're provenance unknown? Nope. They'll get sold. So I did a Craigslist ad a week or two ago.

You can guess what happened. The museum received an email reply to our ad. It was kind of a strange, wordy message from someone who wanted to know if they could come look at the item "after church." So I did a response saying that wasn't possible; please give an alternate time. That's when the bullshit started. This person was really, really interested, thought it looked great in the photos, but wasn't going to be able to get there in person. How about an address where a check could be sent and she'd make arrangements for her son to pick it up? Sounded okay to me, which is when the next message came: couldn't send a check for some odd reason, but would do a money order instead and it would be for more than the amount we were asking for and could we please . . . the usual scamming spiel.

Calling the way I felt "annoyed" is one of those understatements. I was really pissed -- both at the waste of my time and at myself for being gullible enough to not catch the scam with the first message. Then again, other than that one time with the computer desk, we'd sold a fair number of items without having any scammers slither out of the electronic woodwork.

What was the clue that should have tipped me off with the very first message? There were several. One was that other than the reference in the subject line, the name of the actual item was never mentioned. In addition, a real buyer would have asked some questions like "How much does it does weigh?" Most telling, our ad very clearly stated the mask was being sold by the Baraga County Historical Museum. If it hadn't been a robo-script, the buyer would have asked questions like "When is the museum open?" or "Where are you located in Baraga?"

And you want to hear the best part? I'd barely gotten done deleting the emails about the mask from the museum's gmail when guess what lands in the In Box? A response to our Craigslist ad about some curtain stretchers. This time there were no references to being a god-fearing person or wanting to stop by after church, but other than that it was word-for-word identical with the message about the mask. Christ on a crutch, what a waste of band width. . .

I now realize, of course, that the scamming messages have minimal human thought behind them. Someone turns the robo-script loose and it just trolls Craigslist ads regardless of item type or the price it's being sold for. If it happens to hit pay dirt on a big ticket item, the scammer will step in and do the final reeling in of the sucker. And how do I know for sure it's all done by spambots? Would any real live human actually want a set of curtain stretchers? I don't think so. . .

Actually, what I said about the best part isn't the best part. The best part is what I found when I did a Google image search for an appropriate graphic and found this:
You got it. It's the exact same message the museum received. Should I take comfort in the fact that obviously we're just one of the gazillion people this crook has tried to deceive? Or should I feel like a total chump for not recognizing the very first message as garbage? Maybe I'll just claim the recent subzero cold spell has frozen my brain cells.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Pulitzer Project: A Fable

This cover illustration is deceptive. The
soldier's helmet is WWII; the book is set
during World War I. It does definitely
signal the author's intent, though. 
William Faulkner wrote A Fable in the 1940s during World War II. The book did not get published until almost ten years later, and it's easy to see why. It is, to say the least, anti-war. The book is one long rant about war being a racket contrived by the munitions industries and the generals. The arms manufacturers need war in order to keep their businesses profitable; the generals need war because it's the only reason for their existence. When there's a possibility peace will break out without it being officially negotiated, the generals on both sides kill their own troops in order to keep the war going.

This was probably the most difficult to read book by Faulkner that I've encountered so far, and I've read a lot of Faulkner. In fact, I was happy to see it come up on the list. I like Faulkner. I find some of the Southern Gothic soap opera that Faulkner indulges in a bit odd -- I am, after all several generations younger than Faulkner so have trouble getting my head around some of the bizarre prejudices common 100 years ago -- but usually the language flows so smoothly that Faulkner's books come close to qualifying as easy reading. A Fable was definitely an exception.

I'm not sure if it was the setting -- France during the final months of World War I -- the plot, or the sentence structure. The underlying narrative in A Fable parallels the narrative in the New Testament. A child is born in a stable in the Middle East with an unknown father who turns out to be a powerful person; he grows up in obscurity, ends up with 12 followers (one of whom betrays him), apparently preaches a message of peace, and ends up being executed while being lashed to a post between two criminals. Miraculous (or semi-miraculous) events occur around him, and it appears he's close to convincing the ordinary enlisted men on both sides in the war to just lay down their guns and walk away from the conflict. I don't know if there was much controversy about the book when it was published. It does strike me, though, as having the capability to get some people riled up much in the same way some people freaked out over The Last Temptation of Christ or The Satanic Verses. 

Then again, given that the book was written by Faulkner, an author noted for a convoluted style, and is written in a way that lets the reader draw his or her own conclusions rather than coming right out and saying explicitly that if Christ were to appear on a battlefield we'd kill Him, maybe most readers never picked up on the parallels at all. It's quite possible this is one of those books that a lot of people bought because it was a Book of the Month Club selection (does Book of the Month still exist?) and that they then gave up on after the first few pages. Faulkner's usual tendency to indulge in run-on sentences is in full flower here. I swear one sentence ran on for at least 3 pages. Three pages! One sentence. Unreal. Do you know what type of nightmare that is for a former copy editor to wade through? I'm moderately amazed I actually read the entire book.

A Fable actually has several narrative threads running through it. There's the story of a former horse groom, now a British soldier, who loved and lost a horse and is now running a scam that may or may not be a scam. There's the story of a disillusioned man who had enlisted, been promoted to an officership, realized he hated being an officer, and deliberately engaged in conduct that got him kicked back down to enlisted status. Various paths cross and recross, there are flashbacks, unexplained coincidences, characters knowing things they shouldn't have any way of knowing. There's a distinct hallucinatory quality to much of the book. Faulkner's books usually get pigeon-holed as "Southern Gothic;" this novel has more akin with authors whose work is labeled "magical realism."

This book won the Pulitzer in 1955. I think it happened to fall at just right the time -- it came out in 1954, just as Americans were recovering mentally from fighting a war in Korea that they had been unable to win. World War II left people with a good feeling. Sure, a lot of people died but we took care of Hitler, and, following the war, things were looking pretty good. Then the conflict in Korea came along. A book saying war is a racket had to resonate with the Pulitzer judges. If it had come out earlier, it would have flopped because World War II had everyone too hyped about how the U.S. had rescued the world. A few years later and it's probable the reaction would have been, "Holy shit, doesn't Faulkner have a decent editor?" or "Wow. Time to send Bill to detox again."  As it was, the book won prizes.

Then again, maybe there just weren't very many semi-literate books in the running. There were several years in the 1950s where no prize was awarded. Maybe the judges decided that even strange Faulkner was better than the other stuff publishers were pushing. I don't know. . . given a choice between No Time For Sergeants (also published in 1954) and A Fable, I guess A Fable at least looks like serious literature.  

Would I recommend it to other readers? I'm not sure. I have a hunch the book would have come across better if I read slower or if I'd been reading it out loud. As it was, those long, long run-on sentences, the solid blocks of text that went on for multiple pages, were a distinct problem. One of the things I learned when an old pro taught me layout and pagination was a reader's eyes need to take an occasional break. You have to have some white space -- paragraph breaks -- on the page or readers' attention drifts. There isn't much white space in A Fable. If you like Faulkner and enjoy a challenge, go for it.

Next up on the list? Andersonville, which I've already read so I'll skip ahead to A Death in the Family by James Agee. Odds are I won't get to it until September, though, as (what a surprise, she said sarcastically) the L'Anse Public Library does not have it in its collection. We're about to hit the road in the Guppy, and by the time we get back the Interlibrary Loan program will have shut down for the summer. They quit taking requests around May 1 and don't start up again until after Labor Day. It'll wait. Going by the title, I'm going to guess it's not exactly a comedic novel.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Ethnic cleansing, eggs, and baskets

I don't normally waste much time thinking about foreign affairs -- I figure it's pointless when there isn't much I can do about them -- but I happened to catch a discussion on NPR yesterday morning that gave me pause. Following recent attacks on Jews or Jewish businesses, e.g., that Jewish supermarket in Paris, Israeli's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is once again urging European Jews to move to Israel. He's doing the usual Zionist sales pitch about all Jews living together in one place, their ancestral homeland of Israel. Part of the sales pitch is that it's so much safer there for Jews than it is elsewhere in the world. But is it?

I could be wrong, but I think if I were a member of a group that has historically been persecuted repeatedly for thousands of years, the last thing I'd want to do is concentrate my people in one central location, especially when that central location is surrounded by people who make no secret of hating my people. Not only that, the people who hate my people still manage to periodically launch rocket attacks or send in suicide bombers to create havoc. Is a country where apartments come with steel shutters for the windows and built-in bomb shelters really such an attractive option? All it took was a couple episodes of House Hunters International featuring people looking for a place to live in Tel Aviv and I'd figured out there are times when a diaspora is a good thing. If you're a Jew living in Sweden or the United Kingdom or almost any place else on the planet, maybe the local synagogue or a kosher market will get targeted by fanatics, but unless you're ultra Orthodox you can go about your day just blending in with everyone else. Even if you wear a kippah, most people don't notice it. On the other hand, if you fall for the sales pitch to move to Israel and be safe, it doesn't matter where you go, it's a potential target: every shopping center, bus stop, restaurant, etc., in the country is on the hit list of Palestinian extremists.

I don't know. Maybe I'm totally off base in thinking this way, but there are days when I get the impression Netanyahu's goal in life is to create super-sized Masada. This is not a good thing.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Coldest morning so far this year

Got up this morning and noticed it's 24 below zero outside. I think that's the coldest temperature we've seen so far this winter. It's not bad, especially when I'm observing it from the comfort of a warm living room with a hot cup of coffee in my hand. I have written before about the joys of living up here on the tundra, reminisced about residing in the Shoebox (aka a 12 x 60 mobile home) while relying on a homemade woodburning box stove. That's the stove that currently heats the Woman Cave when I decide to do some sewing. It does a pretty decent job of keeping the Cave warm, but back when the Cave was the back porch to that mobile home? Not so much.

In any case, if this is the coldest it gets this winter, things have been pretty mild. The week the Younger Daughter was born we were in a cold snap that had featured subzero temperatures for weeks on end. I think it was 30 below in the middle of the day when she finally decided to emerge. I went a full three weeks past my original due date. We started joking that the kid had heard the weather forecasts and decided to wait for Spring. The doctor ordered x-rays (this was back in the days before routine sonograms) and decided he'd guessed wrong on the projected arrival. When the kid emerged, however, she was 21 inches long, weighed almost 9 pounds, had a full head of hair and some really long talons fingernails, which were all pretty clear signs that, yeah, she'd spent more than the usual amount of time in the womb. The upper end of the "average" range for length of newborns in developed nations is 20 inches.

I'm not sure just how long that particular cold snap lasted, but I do recall going through amazing amounts of propane. We hadn't been able to get a bulk tank (neither dealer had one available when we set up the Shoebox that fall) and it seemed like the delivery guy was there every other day with a fresh 100-lb cylinder. It was before we built the back porch so the gas furnace was our only heat source. After we disassembled the Shoebox in 2006, it became clear why it was impossible to heat: the insulation in the walls was barely an inch thick and was not stapled in place. It was just loose batts with no backing paper stuffed between the studs. With nothing to hold it up, it probably started settling as soon as the aluminum siding went up over it at the factory in Indiana. There were gaps several feet high at the top of the walls when we pulled the paneling off. I guess the most amazing thing is that we managed to keep the interior as warm as we did back in the '70s.

The S.O. was reminiscing about the Shoebox the other day. He remembered that the first year we were in it. It got delivered and set up late enough in the fall that he didn't have time to get skirting on it. Instead, we bought a bunch of straw bales and stacked them around the exterior, Looking back and remembering what other winters were like, that may have been the warmest winter we ever spent in the trailer, probably because we didn't lose much heat through the floor.

And then, of course, there was the winter of 1993-94. I was working at Michigan Tech. We had day after day of subzero weather. We had a block heater for the car, not that it helped the battery at all. There was many a morning when I'd have to start the car (a '73 Scamp) using a battery charger. I'd be scraping frost off the inside of the windshield most of the 40+ miles to campus. The car had a decent heater, but when it's 40 below it takes awhile to get things warm. At noon, the parking lot would be full of people going out on their lunch breaks to start their cars to run them for awhile in the hopes the car would start again at quitting time. It was an adventure. In retrospect, I was insane.

So why am I reminiscing about cold, cold winters this morning? I don't know. After all, this is pretty typical February weather. It's often the month when we get the coldest temperatures, just like March is the month for really heavy snows. Maybe I've seen one too many climate change denial posts -- "the planet can't be getting warmer; we still have winter!" -- or maybe I'm just feeling relieved I don't have to go out into that frigid air if I don't want to.