## How To Be A Morning Person

If there were any place on the planet that would make a “Morning Person” out of me, it would be here. (Note the telltale subjunctives in that last sentence for future reference). There are chirping birds of all stripes and colors, there are brooks babbling, and the backyard is a verdant forest painted in shades of green that even a color blind person such as myself can see. — Which is a good thing, because this is the only time during the working day when I can get any writing done. Later on the Day Job takes over, and given my obsessive compulsive nature, that activity won’t stop until I am exhausted. And so, for two hours in the morning I sit here at my desk, write in my journal, stare out at the starlings or piping plovers (or whatever those little birds are out there at the moment) get inspired, try to write my 1500 words a day, and then move on to earn the rent money for this house. Morning is therefore the perfect and only time in which I can get anything creative done.

In spite of all this, I am not a morning person. There, I’ve said it.

Not that I have anything against Morning People. In fact, I admire them, aspire to be one of them, and hell, I even married one of them. It did not take me long to realize that Gigi, like many Morning People, has a spring-loaded waking system, in which one minute they are sound asleep, and the next moment they have sprung out of bed as if it was a toaster, now humming and flitting about the house like a song bird, and then on occasion passing by the bed to poke at my inanimate form to see if I am still breathing. I too have a spring-loaded sleep mechanism, but it appears that it only manifests itself on the entry portal to sleep, and not the exit. I can fall asleep moments after my head has hit the pillow, and this after drinking coffee or espresso, even late at night.

But I am slow to wake, and I have found that any attempt to accelerate the process to be painful at best. If for Morning People, waking up is like popping out of a toaster, then for me, the best metaphor I have found is that of swimming through an ocean of cold molasses, far out to sea, the distant shore of the Bright Eyed And Bushy Tailed just past any reachable horizon. Even when with great effort I reach dry land, some vestigial molasses still remains in my ears and brain, gumming up the entire works.

Morning People do not appear to have much sympathy for, or even understanding of the nature of the Slow Riser, to the point of considering their behavior a sign of character flaw. This is much in the same way that extraverts try to claim the high ground over the shy intraverts, and the way in which Men and Women fail to see the other’s perspective at all. This morning, when in a state of particular befuddlement — the Cobwebs in the Brain level — I ran a search on How To Become A Morning Person, and found many articles on the subject. Almost every single one of them written by a notorious morning person type, making the presumptuous assumption that of course everybody wants to be one of them, an affliction not limited solely to Americans and The Beautiful People tribes. The articles all had similar suggestions, such as “stop staying up so late”, and “try to get up the same time each day”, and “find something you like to do in the morning to motivate you to get up.” I have problems with almost all of these suggestions, which would have been obvious to anyone who was not already one of The Chosen.

Let’s take the last suggestion as an illustrative example. Only a morning person finds it self-evident that there could be something, anything, pleasant to do in the morning. Very high on my list of things I Like To Do is to eat Hot Fudge Cake with ice cream on the side. However, if it is early in the morning (which by my definition is any time before noon), my taste buds do not work, my brain feels like it is filled with cotton candy, and I find myself looking out through bleary eyes at the muddled blur of an outside world of which I am only half aware. In that physical and mental state, eating Hot Fudge Cake with ice cream on the side is a complete waste of time and energy, and even a little bit depressing, because I know full well that this is perfectly good Hot Fudge Cake and that it would taste great at about, say, ten pm in the evening with a nice cup of espresso, so why the hell am I eating now when it serves no purpose at all? For a non Morning Person such as me, there is only one pleasant thing to be doing at this hour of the morning, and that is to be back in bed, eyes closed, allowing the dreams of the night gradually fade, and hover in that pleasant semi-conscious state for a few more hours, cocooned in blankets, until the dawning awareness of the outside world begins to creep into view, and (two cups of coffee later), a feeling of being almost awake has appeared, which only becomes fully formed by around lunch time.

I think what most Morning People have not grasped is the possibility that the reason there is a genetic basis for the Slow Riser is that the species has found an evolutionary advantage to keeping on hand a certain percentage of the species with this predilection for slow rising. The morning people must have been the ones to go out and catch the fish, kill the sabre tooth tigers and march on Troy. Those are the CEO’s and the Presidents, the ones that often Do Great Things, and often cause the most trouble. The slow risers tend to be a reflective lot, and indeed many if not most scientist and philosphers get their best ideas in the hypnogogic state, the dreamlike state when ideas can most easily float free. These are your Socrates and Einsteins, the Thinkers who sometimes keep the Do-ers from getting in too much trouble. I believe that they have their uses. It is just that (like the intraverts) they usually don’t win the popularity contests.

I also have an almost scientific hypothesis about the Slow Riser / Morning Person dichotomy, and its genetic basis. In my statistically dubious sampling, I have found that the people I know who are Slow Risers, are also people who thrive in warm weather, and even stay bundled up until the thermometer goes above eighty degrees Fahrenheit. The other crowd, who can sometimes be seen wearing shorts during the winter, seem to process and retain body temperature in a different way from the others. These people I have often found are early risers. So the whole thing may boil down to energy, and how we retain or radiate away heat. If this hypothesis is true, it is easily testable with a set of experiments and interviews.

Hell, if I got up early enough I could write a research proposal for an NSF grant and do the study myself. But for the moment, it’s just started to rain and all I really want to do is to just crawl back in bed and listen to the staccato tapping of raindrops on the window.

## Country Mouse

Noticed a mouse puttering about the kitchen the other evening. It was a little guy, definitely not a rat. At least it didn’t look ratty. If you can believe wikipedia, the word mouse comes from an old Sanskrit word meaning to steal, and that the word muscle derives from mouse in that muscle cells look a bit like mice. This mouse seemed to be unaware of any of these facts. It just puttered around the kitchen for a bit, did not steal anything and then was gone. There is a cat-door that leads down to the basement, but no cat — the only thing that I have had to feed in the house is a Jade plant (a gallon of water once a month). I assume that the cat, like its owners, is on sabbatical, leading one to recall the old couplet that goes:

when the cat’s away, on sabbatical,
the mouse will play, indefatigable.

## Unbear-able

I am relatively happy to report that while the ten o’clock rabbit still makes its occasional appearance, there is no eleven o’clock bear. This report is for the benefit of those who may have read the news in the local papers about bear sightings in and around Connecticut. I too have read the reports and so decided to conduct a little investigation of my own.

The Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection maintains a webpage on Black Bear Sightings in the state, including a table of statistics, broken down by town. As a newcomer to the state I had of course no idea where Wafflebury or East Noodleham was, and so was hoping that they also had a map. No dice. The table was also unhelpful in being sorted by name rather than number of bears spotted, so I fired up my spreadsheet program, google maps, and an image editor and produced the much more visually informative map seen here. I sorted out the table by decreasing numbers of bears, and then plotted them out on the map, with bigger circles for the larger number of bear sightings.

There are a number of take-aways from this map. The first is, that life in and around Simsbury must be very exciting (235 bear sightings last year). The second thing to notice is, none of the sightings substantial enough to plot on the map occur east of the Connecticut River. Now bears can of course swim, but they seem to have a preference for rivers shallow enough for them to be able to stand around and swat out salmon with their paws, and are otherwise land dwelling creatures. This means that all those bears who are currently raiding the bird feeders in Simsbury have only two or three options if they decide that they’d like to check out the honey farms here in South Glastonbury.

1. One option is to get on Interstate 91 south through Hartford then cut across to the 84 East that crosses the river at the Bulkeley Bridge
2. The other option is amble their way down to Rocky Hill and take the little ferry boat.

Now black bears, though blessed with excellent navigation skills, are notoriously bad drivers, and very few have the three dollar fare to pay for the ferry ride at Rocky Hill. So, what I get from all this is that until the economy improves, we are relatively safe here in South Glastonbury from the North American Black bear.

If the rabbit decides to go carnivore on us, however, we are in deep trouble.

## Raptors Revisited

Heard from Gigi (out doing research in Texas) that my entry on Erik the Falconer got Rob and Jackson’s attention. They had read the “My Side of the Mountain” books about the boy who went off to live in the woods on his own, and who had a peregrine falcon named Frightful. I never read the book(s), but I did see the movie when I was eleven and it left a lasting impression on me. In the movie version at least, the boy was a big fan of Thoreau’s, had a racoon named Gus, and brought a microscope in his backpack so he could do experiments while living for a year in a forest, in the hollow of an old tree. Gigi tells me that the author of those books had worried about publishing them, in fear that boys would get the idea in their head to run away and try to live in the woods like the boy in the book. The thought certainly occurred to me, back then.

I never had a falcon, but back when we were living in the Warm Springs district of Fremont our family had a hawk. It wasn’t so much that we adopted a hawk, but that the hawk adopted us. We had just moved out to California and were renting a house near the General Motors plant where my step dad Jim had gotten a job. In those days the whole area around the GM plant was agricultural, and the house itself was a bit isolated, surrounded by fields of tall grass. The hawk, which we later named Henry, landed on our backyard fence one day, and seemed to trust us well enough to let us get near and feed it a piece of raw meat. At some point Henry moved on, but you never really forget your first raptor. They mean business.

## Journal

On the day that we arrived on Blueberry Lane, I started a journal. A real, hardbound leather clad journal, in which I make entries for each day, including weather for the day, a few notes on the events of the previous day, wildlife, etc. My working plan is to try to write for two hours each morning. On some days I have better success with this plan than other days, when the mood or weather or my day job introduce other distractions. In any case, three items in the morning ritual that are inviolate are:

• Drink coffee
• Refill fountain pen
• Write in journal

For the most part, these blog entries are excerpts from the Journal, augmented with sound and pictures. In case you are wondering, almost every entry the last two weeks has begun the same way, which is to say: “August NN, 2008. Sunny in the morning, turning to thunderstorms later”.

The entry today begins in precisely that same way.

## Hailstorm

On August 7, a hailstorm hit our neighborhood.

Here is a recording I made of the hailstorm. It needs a bit of narrative. The hissing sound you hear at the beginning is neither static nor rain, but the sound of wind, powering its way through the trees around our house. There are a few rounds of thunder, followed soon by the unmistakable pinging of the first hailstones on the ground. This was recorded from the cover of our front porch, and so you will hear the sound of hailstones hitting the concrete sidewalk, as well as the windows and metal rain gutter on the side of the house. A few more thunderclaps and the storm eventually fades out, leaving only the wind.

A few weeks into our stay, it has become clear that when the weather report indicates a “chance of thunderstorm,” the actual probability of a thunderstorm in this area hovers around 100%, and the storm usually includes a few close strikes — at any rate, they sound close. I would have thought that, out here, there would be little chance of an earthquake. This is true, but it ignores the possibility of the ground shaking from a nearby lightning strike and the bowling ball thunder that follows.

I mentioned the hailstorm while at the local wine shop and was told that (unlike the thunderstorms) hail is not very common around here. Worried about the local farms. After all the trouble they went through, hiring falconers to chase off the starlings from their blueberries, the blueberries are all out in the open, where one bad hailstorm could destroy in ten minutes what ten weeks of hungry birds could not.

## Fallen Nest

Found a nest in the backyard the other day, after one of the larger rainstorms had come and gone. The rain must have loosened the mud holding the thing together and finally gravity won out. Gravity is strong at this time of year: abandoned nests falling from branches, whole branches crashing down from trees, and the branches that remain lose their leaves.

I was looking out the window to our backyard last Wednesday, watching some leaves fall during a brief moment of sunshine. Each leaf fell with no fluttering or side-to-side motion, but straight down and slow, like in a dream. They reminded me of the snowflakes that fell in the first snowfall I ever saw in Boston, the winter of 1980. It was early evening, and I could see the snow starting to fall from my apartment window, so ran outside to investigate. The streetlights were on, and illuminated the large, fluffy flakes as they glided down on a windless night. There is something about an early winter snowfall that makes everything suddenly quiet, and peaceful. Many of the people who passed me by that evening had doubtless seen too many winters of snow and took no notice, but to me the moment was magical, otherworldly, and of ineffable beauty.

For the snowflake and the leaf, the fall is inevitable. But even then, a fall can at times be graceful.

## A Murmering of Starlings

I met a fellow yesterday during my morning walk through the Rose family farmlands, who works for the farm as a falconer. He said his name was Erik and was on a “starling control” mission at the moment. Erik had a whistle around his neck, that he used to signal trained falcons to chase after the starlings that peck at the blueberries. The starlings were now so conditioned to associating the whistle with a dive-bombing falcon that the whistle alone was enough to scatter them (for a while at least).

The starlings swarmed around in a wave so thick that it looked like a cloud of locusts. My friend Rob tells me that the collective noun for such a cloud of those birds is called a “murmering” of starlings.

Synchronity: just this morning I read in our local paper (The Courant) an article on Erik and his falcons. The story has some nice photos of the whole area around the back of our house.

## Oak Tree Branch

The branch of an oak tree was lying in our driveway on a recent morning. It was about fifteen feet long, and took some effort to lug out of the way. In Los Angeles the main reason for keeping your car in the garage is to avoid dust and thieves. Here, you also need to worry about having the roof of the car caved in and the windshield broken.

…at this point you are most likely thinking: how the hell did this urban denizen identify the tree as an oak ? It was really just a simple process of elimination: every Southern Californian knows that there are only five kinds of trees on the planet, which are

• Palm (ubiquitous in LA)
• Maple (identified by the leaves, which are said to look like the Canadian flag)
• Pine (which smell like air fresheners sold at car washes)
• Christmas (identified by their ability to support ornaments), and
• Oak (aka, none of the above)

I have heard rumors that there are other trees, and now have evidence to support it. Have made plans to identify the trees around the property, as some of them do not appear to be on the list. Expect to see updates on this front as they arise.

## Hello Connecticut

Life is beginning to settle down here in South Glastonbury. I spend much of my day in this one corner of the living room, where I have set up my office. There are two windows facing out towards the back yard, which is decorated in various shades of green and brown. Thunderstorms have punctuated just about every day this week, and we have learned to recognize the locals in the parking lots of stores, because they are the ones who make no effort (any more) to use an umbrella in between the car and store during a sudden outburst. The wisdom of this is becoming apparent, as the storms are so short that by the time you leave the store, the rain has past, and all that the umbrella does is to drip all over the store’s floor making things hazardous for everybody else.

Living things are everywhere. The only purpose of wire-mesh screens, it appears, is to filter out only the very largest of the insects of every stripe and leg-count which amble their way through our house. The ants, in particular, can be very large (right). Their saving grace is that they all appear to be “scouts” who travel alone. Quite honestly, these ants do not seem to be trying very hard. We found completely open boxes of sugar in the cupboard when we arrived here — which in Los Angeles would have been swarmed by a line of ants within hours — but not a single ant was near. It could be that there are simply so many things to eat outside (e.g. an entire farm’s worth of blueberries) that these ants are all spoiled, and have lost the teamwork spirit that drives their southwest cousins to march in lock step. Mostly poet-ants, then, who have all gone off to the woods to find themselves. They could also be rebellious protest-ants, but they don’t look very religious…

The ten-o-clock rabbit was a bit late this morning, passing under the picnic table around 10:15am by my watch (EDT). He does the rounds, chews on a few flowers, and then moves on. There are strawberries and blueberries right next door, so my guess is that it just comes through here for the roughage.

In the afternoon we went shopping for food, making a point to stop at the local farmstands which dot the countryside. Got some corn, tomatoes (as sweet as plums), and some squash, under the watchful eye of the proprietor’s black kitten, to whom everything seemed surprising.

## Good Bye Los Angeles

Writing from Utah, enroute to Connecticut. We actually did it. We put most of our stuff in a Pod, and what didn’t go in the Pod went into the car, and everything else was given away or tossed.

## Simplifying

Our home life is now about boxes and packing, and getting rid of junk. If it won’t fit into our car on our roadtrip to Connecticut, it is going into long-term storage. If it is not worth storing, we are either giving it away or tossing it out.

It is just now sinking in to our friends in Southern California that we are really going to be moving out. For good, most likely. Time is short; in less than a month we will be on the road and heading into the unknown. Economic news is grim. Global warming with its storms and droughts loom metaphorically on the horizon, if not literally on the road ahead. It is a good time to be travelling light, agile and quick on our feet. The fewer posessions to bog you down, these days, the better.

“To lead an empty life, fill it up with things” — H. D. Thoreau.

## Next Stop Connecticut

Looks like we are heading out to Utah… by way of Connecticut. It is looking more and more like we will want to wait one more year before submitting new bids. So, my thinking is, given that Gigi can write her thesis anywhere and I can telecommute, why not take advantage of this time between California and Utah and go somewhere else in the world? We looked around at a lot of places, but given that we wanted a place

• Near a university
• close to water
• quiet
• affordable
• historically interesting
• rural-ish
• near an area related to Niles’ novel

the Connecticut area seemed about right. We looked at a couple different places in the sabbatical homes website, and finally decided on renting a place in Glastonbury, near a blueberry farm. We expect to be there for nine months, after which we plan on heading back west to Utah.

And someday… Springdale.

## Happy Holidays 2007

As Gigi’s buddies on the housing bubble blog predicted, the whole subprime mess has gone to Helena Handbasket, and the median price of a home in the US has dropped for the first time on record. Nervous congress-folk are making noises and passing bills that will make it seem like they are doing something to rescue fools from the consequences of their own actions but the bottom line is that a whole lot of people were fooled (by others or themselves) into thinking they could buy a Maserati house on a Yugo income by playing one great big Ponzi scheme in the real estate/refinance/property flipping/equity loan/ universe. Short of divine intervention, a lot of very unhappy foolish people will be out of a home, out of work, out of credit, out of luck. Recession is all but certain, depression a possibility.

It doesn’t get much better than this.

The housing bubble has burst and new and used home sales have tanked. Interest rates remain at historically low levels, and will probably be held at that point by the Fed for some time, even in the event of new stagflation.

The only thing left on our wish list is for the cost of construction material (lumber, concrete, steel, stone, copper) to come down. Lumber has already gone into decline with the collapse of the residential construction, but the other materials have remained under high demand in the commercial construction business.

The 800 pound gorilla in the room is China, which has been eating up all the concrete and steel on the planet the last several years. A lot of this is simply a consequence of a former third-world communist country discovering capitalism and the industrial revolution. At their current rate they are somewhere in the nineteenth century, and robber-barons (with Communist membership cards) are buying limousines and there is a lack of regulatory discipline that would make George Bush jealous. But within a year or two, China will likely also pass through their own 1929, and eventually the anti-materialism backlash of the 60’s and the ecology movement of the 70’s will bring some maturity to their accelerated adolescence.

In the immediate future, however, what has been driving a substantial portion of the Chinese construction demand over the last four years has been the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. In addition to the main stadium and the huge new airport, a good portion of the city has been torn down and rebuilt from scratch, all of which requires a lot of construction material. If they stay on schedule, most of this construction must be completed this month so that they will have six months or so to get the “bugs” out of the huge construction projects, and to bring the air-pollution levels down to the point that the participants do not keel over from smoke asphyxiation.

Our plans remain to head out to Utah this summer and find a house to rent in Cedar City, 45 minutes from Springdale and just minutes from our architect. For the moment, we are content to wait and see how the construction market goes. In the ideal case, the economy will go south enough that we can afford to build our house for close to the original $125/sq foot estimate we got in 2004, but at any rate, with luck the economy will not be so bad that everybody is out of work and the dollar completely worthless. If it is, then we will both be out of a job along with half the country, and we’ll have a lot bigger problems to worry about than how to build a house. Like, say, how to locate the nearest soup-kitchen. This is of course a totally selfish and unsympathetic attitude to take, regarding events that will cause much suffering. But it was pure and simple greed that was the cause of this whole housing bubble debacle in the first place, causing distortions in the market that rendered our own relatively sane and financially responsible approach to building a house of our own, economically unworkable. We knew we couldn’t afford to build a$700,000 house, and so, instead of getting a subprime adjustable like all the other idiots, we said NO. We are not shedding tears over the rise in foreclosures. The sound of high-fives echo down the hallway of our rental here in Long Beach. All we want to do is to build a nice modest little house in a place that we love, live our lives to the full in that house, and then die happy just before the polar caps turn our Utah property into beach-front. If this requires walking over the bloodied corpses of fools to do it, then so be it. No mercy, no quarter.

Happy Holidays Everyone!

## House Appliances

To solidify some of the plans, we need to specify the appliances. After some field work and a trip to the Great Indoors, here’s what we’ve come up with (click on each named appliance for a link to that product’s description and specs):

### Kitchen

We have not settled on the refrigerator. We want to move it from the side wall to the “wall of books”, directly behind the counter. The goal here is to minimize the “work triangle” between the sink, the range/stove and the refrigerator. To avoid going too deep through the wall we have been looking at the “cabinet” depth refrigerators.

### Bath

1. Shower control / valve: Hansgrohe Solaris ThermoBalance (Item 06635000)
2. Shower bar (for handheld): Hansgrohe “Unica’A set” (Item: HG 27825000)
3. Hand-shower: Hansgrohe Clubmaster
or else Hansgrohe Aktiva A8

Haven’t decided whether to go with chrome or brass finish. Everything comes in chrome, of course, but with the craftsman motif we will have some copper touches and the brass would go with that a bit better.

### Great Room

1. Fireplace: Heat-n-glo Gas 3-sided Fireplace

We’re hoping to get the plans into shape for submitting for bids in September or October. We’ll see how it goes…

## Ramping Up Again

It’s February, and we’ve already had a few heat waves. The housing bubble is
bursting nicely, and so it looks like it’s time to start working out the kinks in
our current design with Ray before resubmitting our plans for bids.

Here’s a starter list of topics we want to revisit with our plans:

• Bedroom
• Wider Door into BR
• Closet
• Bathroom
• Great Room
• Fireplace Relocation
• Wood-burning FP if low-particulate okay?
• Piano Location
• Kitchen Design
• TV Location
• Moving bookcases/ladder to SE corner
• General
• Wheelchair Ramp
• Extra-wide Front Door
• Larger Pool / jacuzzi
• Walled Herb Garden
• Steel Frame / Wood Frame
• Ensure x-mas light outlets along outside
• Satellite Dish Mount

## Happy Holidays 2006

Looks like 2006 has almost come and gone without a single posting, so I thought I bring things up to date. As we suspected, the housing boom became a bubble, and is now in the process of bursting.

From what we now know, it looks like our very first venture into the construction bidding process coincided with the largest spike in construction material and labor costs on record. We are in no rush, and are now just biding our time. Our current plans are to work with Ray on fine tuning our plans, and jump back into the bidding game around November or December of 2007, by which time we expect to be living in a substantially different environment.

For more entertaining news, check out one of Gigi’s favorite blogs, called The Housing Bubble Blog.

Stay tuned… Happy Holidays!

## New Look to Our Website

The website has been updated with a new version of
the WordPress software, which explains the change in
the look of the pages. Mostly security fixes.

## Construction Bids

Not much to report. We have three contractors working up bids
on our project. The initial bids were surprisingly high, twice what
any of us were expecting. The construction market is very hot
in Southwest Utah right now, which is part of the reason. In any
case, we will have to see if we can get the bids down further,
at least within our budget. If not, then our Plan B is to just wait
for the housing market to cool down a bit, and see how things go.

Stay tuned…

## Ritter Block Retrieved

Gigi and I flew out to Illinois and were able to meet up with my folks out
there and return with the Ritter Block to be used as the cornerstone of the
house.

We stayed at Aunt Pat and Uncle Jerry’s house. My dad, Uncle Bob and
his wife Lillian also came up from Arkansas. We were given a tour of
Pinckneyville and surroundings, where my great grandather George lived,
along with his sons Charles (my granfather), Leo and Bill Ritter, my father Don,
and a lot of other Ritters. We also dropped by Aunt Eunice’s house (Leo’s wife),
who showed us through her museum and gave us a history lesson of the Ritters
here in southern Illinois.

Dad, Aunt Eunice, Niles and Aunt Pat in Pinckneyville