Solar Tracking

Solar Tracking
How low can you go? Snow and ice and cancelled school.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Candles in Dark Times

                When I was little, the best part of the Christmas decorations, even better than the tree, were the window candles. My mother placed one in every window (with the cords adjusted to fit to every outlet) and one of my jobs was to wander the house as the darkness came down, turning them on. I loved looking out through the frosty glass at the cold dark yard right before I tightened the yellow-orange bulb and cast a warm glow on the window and throughout the room. I paused after each, thinking about light and dark, before moving on. At night, the golden light was comforting; I believed my mother when she told me that Santa Claus was checking on the neatness of my bedroom and spent hours huddled under the blankets so he could not see me.  The candles helped.

                When I left home, I bought my own window candles. I changed out the bulbs to a more sophisticated white, but still wandered through my small apartments, turning the candles on in December. The lights were especially beautiful in the houses that lacked good heat because of the frost on the window panes.  I loved driving through small New England towns where all of the houses which lined the commons were window lit with candles. Square, proud Federal houses with white lights against the snow is a haunting image. Home, they said. We have been home for hundreds of years. You are safe here.  Years later, I lived with a Jewish roommate. We celebrated Hanukkah and lit his menorah every evening, then placed it in the front window, where it’s light shone into the darkness. Candle light in the window grew in significance in my mind. 

The Pacific Northwest does not use the window candles and our tiny house only has to front windows, one of which will hold the tree when Yule begins.  But, as nights grow darker, I am drawn to lighting a candle in the evening, before I begin dinner. Like washing my hands, it creates a line between times of day. When the candle is lit, it is time to draw inward, chop an onion, turn off the news, and make dinner, creating, every night, home. Sometimes I leave the candle on the table, but I often move it to the bench by the front window, where the light reaches out to our dark and busy street.

                I have read that the window candles signified a Catholic house in Ireland, a signal to the priests forced underground that a family was seeking his blessing, and that the Irish brought the idea to the United States. That would explain the geographic distribution of the decoration.  I have also read that they were a beacon for travelers on Christmas Eve, that there was a meal and warm fire within. And I like that idea. As we move into dark times, small gestures, like a window candle, become more significant. Ours says that our house is a safe place—that if you are in trouble, you can knock on the door.  I like to imagine streets, like the old Commons on New England, where there are candles in every window.

                

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Technology Shabbat

I first wrote this several years ago, but I think it is worth remembering. Many people are struggling with social media and the election process-- and we do have choices here.


A few years ago, I wrote a blog post about technology Shabbat—the idea that we would all be better off if we just turned off our electronic devises for a day every week. At the time, it was a theoretical posting. Our computer resided in the cold basement and took ten minutes to warm up and access the Internet. Turning on technology took a serious effort. It was not hard to avoid for several days, especially if the weather was warm and the book compelling.

            This changed last winter. Two things happened. One, we had two huge snowstorms. Unlike New England, all of the Pacific Northwest shuts down for days on end when there is snow and ice. It’s rare. We don’t have snowplows. It’s cheaper just to close up shop and stay home. Stuck in the house, I turned to technology for entertainment. The other thing that changed was our technology. We acquired a mobile electronic device that allowed us access to the internet in seconds while sitting on the couch and produced a cheerful little chirp when someone contacted you. I was hooked. I spent hours looking at people’s photos of snow—people who lived a mile away, so it was, really, the same snow. We compared depths. We considered whether or not there would be school the next day. We liked each other’s snow. After two days, the cheery little chirp created a pavlovian response. I HAD to check Facebook, or email, to see what was happening. And what was happening was more photos of snow.

            When the snow melted and school was open once again, I had a newfound appreciation for my students' obsession with their phones. I understood, for the first time, why they could not just ignore that vibration during class. Something had changed in their mental wiring; I swear the cheery chirp stimulated the pleasure center of our brains. I also realized that I used my work email as a Prime Stalling Technique, checking for something interesting rather than engaging in grading papers. Even the chirp at work perked me up, although I knew it was often just the daily announcements.  I had to turn off the computer at the end of the day in order to work my way through the stack of papers on my desk. Something was not right here.

            So, last spring, I began the Technology Shabbat in earnest. Every Friday afternoon, when I come home, I check email, Facebook, my blog, and NOAA weather. By sundown, I turn off the device and place it on my desk in the cozy room, out of sight, out of mind.  And it stays off, often until Sunday afternoon.  I quickly came to like the peace of mind turning it off brought to me. And then I realized that—no offence to anyone—was not missing anything huge. Photos of cute puppies and good dinners, organizing emails, library reminders could all wait until the next day for my attention.  A day off is a good thing.


            So, if you want to contact us on Saturday, you’ll need to use old fashioned technology to do so. We still have our landline. Give us a call. If no one answers, come on over. We’re probably reading in the back yard.


Sunday, November 6, 2016

Henny and the election Season

   
            I have been seizing the occasional hours between downpours to tidy the yard this week. I’ve hauled a pile of leaves and mulched, raked the back yard, cut down the asparagus,  moved my beautiful metal hoops onto the bed that will need to be covered if it ever grows cold this winter, and planted two buckets of small mystery bulbs that I sifted out of the front strip planter when I did a bit of revamping  in early October.  Bringing order to the garden helps my mind to settle down, away from the chaos of this last (Thank God!) week before the election.

                Our white leghorn, Henrietta,  is not feeling well. She has had a huge molt this fall, but she has also, suddenly, grown old.  Her comb is drooping. She is moving slowly and napping a great deal. This week, she has not flown up on the perch at night. One afternoon, when I offered her some banana—a preferred food—she did not even see it. I was sure that she was about to go. I let all of the ladies out while I planted bulbs. The Buffs ran about, hunting bugs in the grass. Henny sat, stooped, in the sun. When she did not even come out on Friday, I sat with her for a while, telling her that she had been a good chicken and it was ok to go.  I sent Mark out when he came home for the same reason. The next morning, I did not rush out; when Mark took a while coming back in, I was dreading the news. “She’s still there,” he said. “Looks pretty good. She even ate something.”

                Today, we let all of the hens out again. Henny came out to sit in the sun near the greenhouse for the afternoon.  She was munching on some grass. I like to think that she is waiting, as I am, for the outcome of Tuesday’s election. She has always been a scrappy little hen, bossy and loud. A good layer—we could host Hot Cross Buns for eighteen on just her white eggs alone. She kept the Buffs in line until just last week, when her comb began to droop. Even now, they leave her be. She was always  first into the compost heap when we brought out the yogurt container full of kitchen scraps. Henny never doubted her place. So, maybe she is waiting—more patiently than me, to be honest—for Tuesday evening. And she is hoping, as I am, to see history – or, maybe Herstory—made, when we finally elect a woman for president. It will be a victory for women. I hope Henny is still here to see it.  I hope I am, as well.