On Being an Early Riser

I wouldn’t have it any other way.

For a long time now, I’ve been an early riser. Sometimes, a very early riser.

While I clearly remember my college days when it was nearly impossible for me to wake up in time for an 8 AM class and my early professional career days when I dreaded hearing the alarm go off at 6:30 AM, I can’t remember when I made the switch from late riser to early riser. I suppose it was a gradual change as I aged, embraced my freelance lifestyle, and allowed my life to go off-schedule.

For the past 20 or more years, I haven’t had much of a need to set an alarm or wake up at a certain time. Every day is different. Although I do occasionally have early appointments or even earlier planes to catch — my favorite flight out of Wenatchee when I’m traveling leaves at 5:40 AM; yes, I do set an alarm for that — there usually isn’t any reason to get out of bed by a certain time.

I go to sleep when I’m tired and wake up naturally when my body is done sleeping. Or thinks it’s done sleeping. Yet these days, I’m invariably up before 6 AM, often before 5 AM, and occasionally before 4 AM. (If you read the blog post about my recent cruise, you learned that I was up most mornings by 4 AM.) I am naturally an early riser.

Some folks seem to think this is a problem. They have encouraged me to stay up later in an effort to shift my body’s clock forward a few hours so it’s more in line with everyone else’s. I’ve tried this. No matter what time I go to sleep, I’m awake before 6 AM — even if I stay up until a crazy time like 3 AM. And I don’t know about you, but I operate better on six hours of sleep than three. It’s fortunate that I apparently don’t need eight.

I like being an early riser. I like getting up around dawn in the summer or in the darkness of a winter morning. I like the quiet and the solitude of those early hours before most people are awake. I like hearing the crickets in the dark as I brew my morning coffee and my rooster crowing almost precisely a half hour before dawn. I even like the sound of the sprayers in the orchards below my home during the summer months, and seeing the headlights of the tractors as they make their way between rows of trees in the dark.

Do you want a more detailed description of a summer sunrise at my home? Read “Sunrise from Lookout Point.”

I like watching each new day being born — the gradual brightening of the sky, the fading of the stars and city lights, the glow to the east, the golden hour sunlight light tentatively touching the mountaintops to the west and then slowly blanketing their slopes all the way down into the valley.

Morning View
I never get tired of the morning view out my windows.

I like the fact that I can experience all of this at my own home, at my own convenience. I like taking my morning coffee out onto the deck and looking out over the new day as cool air caresses my skin and hair and the aroma of a recent rain or my fresh cut lawn competes with the smell of what’s in my mug.

I’m a morning person and get most of my work done in the morning. That’s good and bad. It’s good because it leaves the rest of the day wide open. But it can be bad if I have a lot to do and I run out of steam by 2 PM. I try to manage this drawback by scheduling appointments in the afternoon whenever possible, leaving the morning open to accomplish the things I need to do.

My usual routine consists of morning coffee as soon as I get up — whenever that is — and quiet time to reflect and write in my journal. Then I sit down at my computer and do some writing or paperwork or both. “Paperwork” usually consists of bill paying and filing, website maintenance, correspondence, client communication, and marketing material creation for my businesses. That usually takes me to 10 or 11 AM. Then I switch into more active work around my home or in my garden. There’s always something that needs to be done, especially as I finish up construction work that includes the tedious task of trimming doors, etc.

If I have scheduled an appointment or have errands to run in town, I’ll clean up, dress appropriately, and head down into town with Penny. I always have a list of destinations on a Post-It note stuck to my windshield so I don’t forget anything — I live 10 miles from town and I don’t like to make the trip more than once a day if I don’t have to. I keep shopping lists on my smartphone for the same reason. I can get a lot done on one trip into town if I stay focused and organized.

By 6 PM — especially in the winter when it’s already dark — I’m pretty much physically and mentally done for the day. That’s the time I set aside for socializing with friends and relaxing. I even find it difficult to write during this time, although I’ve been trying hard lately to make that my blogging time, leaving the morning open for writing jobs that bring in revenue. If I went to town earlier in the day, I sometimes meet up with friends in the late afternoon or early evening: wine at Pybus Market, cocktails at the Sidecar Lounge, dinner at Tastebuds, or a movie at Liberty or Gateway Cinema. If I’m home, I sometimes try a new recipe — I’ve recently rediscovered my love of cooking — and read the news or waste time on social media while eating it.

I think I watch too much television these days — more than an hour a day when I’m home in the evening — and it bugs me; my wasband was a slave to the television, channel surfing for hours every evening when he could have been working to achieve one of the life goals he claimed to have. I worry I might end up like him: unproductive and stuck in a rut.

I love to read, but if I do it in bed, I’m usually asleep within minutes. So I try not to read in bed before 9 PM.

I’m usually asleep by 10 PM — unless I’m out with friends or entertaining.

I don’t think I can adequately express how happy I am to be single and have full control of my life and time. There’s no one trying to put me on his schedule or make me share his time-consuming responsibilities. I do the things I want or need to do when I want or need to do them. I don’t have to schedule my life around someone else’s.

Best of all, I can wake up any time I like and not have to tiptoe around my home because someone else is sleeping.

I admit that I’m very fortunate to have the flexible lifestyle I have. But it isn’t “luck.” I’m a firm believer in the notion that we make our own luck. I worked hard to get where I am today and having this lifestyle is the reward for all that work. I’m a morning person and I earned the right to enjoy my mornings.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

The Cricket Wars

Because crickets belong outdoors.

It started the other night at 1:50 AM. The sound of a cricket so loud that it woke me out of a sound sleep.

Like most people, I like the sound of crickets. To me, it’s a country sound, a sound of the natural world. It reminds me of childhood and camping and the great outdoors. It reminds me of star gazing and warm summer nights and forests.

A symphony of hundreds of crickets is a wonderful blanket of white noise to lull a person to sleep.

But not when a cricket is making its noise from the inside of your bedroom closet.

It was loud. Very loud. And because my home has very high ceilings, the sound seemed to echo around the place. Indeed, when I finally got out of bed to try to put a stop to it, it took me a while to zero in on the bug’s location. But I found it in the corner of the closet, hidden under some temporary shelves I’d put in there to stow my clothes until my official move.

This was not a small cricket like the ones you might buy in a pet shop to feed your caged reptile. Its body was at least an inch long.

A shoe made short work of it. I picked up its carcass with a tissue and flushed it.

And then I went back to bed.

I never did get back to sleep. Another cricket started up soon afterwards. This one wasn’t in the closet. I had no idea where it was but I knew it was indoors. Somewhere. Possibly in the living room.

I got out of bed to start by day. At 3:15 AM.

That night, on Facebook, I mentioned my cricket situation:

Found and killed the cricket in my bedroom, but the one in the living room is still at large. For now.

One of my friends commented:

Oh no! I’m sad to hear that, I love me my crickets! All they do is make music for you!

My response:

I suspect you haven’t had them in your bedroom with you. At night. When you want to sleep.

My friend Alix, who is in a doctoral program for entomology, said she could use one for her collection. She’s required to collect, identify, and mount several hundred insects for her degree. I’ve been collecting interesting bugs on and off for her for the past two years. I even bought special zipper snack bags to store them in.

So the next morning, when the cricket somewhere near my hallway started up again before 4 AM, I grabbed a snack bag and went hunting. The trick, I realized, is to be very quiet. If they hear you nearby, they shut up. It took about 10 minutes, but I finally zeroed in on my second victim. It was in my future linen closet — currently shelfless — against one wall. I put the baggie down in front of it and coaxed it in. Then I zipped it shut, took a photo, put it in the freezer, and showed it off on the Facebook thread.

Cricket Post

Alix later identified it as a male Gryllidae. (She is seriously into bugs.)

Later that morning, I heard a third one. I found it in my bedroom closet again. The ShopVac I had sitting in the hallway made short work of it.

That night, it was quiet inside. In fact, it was quiet for the next few nights.

Until 3:30 AM on Monday morning.

I found it in my closet, conveniently close to my household vacuum and closet power outlet. I plugged in the vacuum, positioned the hose nozzle, and turned it on. Whoosh!

After a quick tweet, I went back to sleep.

Since then, I haven’t been bothered by indoor crickets at night.

I did find one by my bedroom door to the deck yesterday afternoon when I went outside with a glass of wine to watch a rainstorm and listen to the rain on my roof. I scooted it outside with my toe.

And I’m pretty sure there’s one stuck inside the wall or possibly between the wall and door jamb downstairs in my entrance vestibule. I can’t find it and it doesn’t make noise at night. As I type this, it’s silent and I’m beginning to think it either found its way outside or has died.

Is the Cricket War over? I doubt it. I am more careful about leaving the doors open downstairs, though. I know I have crickets in my garage and I don’t really mind. But since I suspect they might have come in through one of my two vestibule doors to get upstairs, I now keep those doors closed. And the front door.

But I know who the winner of this war will be — and it isn’t the crickets.

First Night in My New Home

Jumping the gun a bit, but I deserve it.

Last night, I slept in my new bedroom in my new home.

It was a non-event. My home isn’t done yet — although it’s almost ready for final inspection. Other than my desk, file cabinet, dining room tables and chairs, and an Ikea easy chair by a window that I nicknamed “the throne,” none of my furniture has been moved up from its corner of my shop yet. I was going to have the furniture moved up, but I still have the trim to do in every room and it would just be in the way. And I think it might get in the inspector’s way, too.

Living in Two Spaces

When the kitchen neared completion late last week and I moved my coffee maker upstairs, I began thinking about how odd it was to roll out of bed in my RV and go upstairs to start my day. Why not just sleep upstairs? I could easily move the RV’s queen sized air mattress, which normally hides inside the sofa, up to my bedroom and inflate it. I had a second set of sheets and another comforter. So I could keep my bed in the RV — which, in all honesty, is very comfortable with its memory foam topper — all made up so I wouldn’t be actually living in my new space yet. I’d be a sort of guest up there.

I thought about it for a few days but didn’t act. My bed in the RV is very comfortable and, for some reason, after two years of calling the RV my “home,” I felt odd about abandoning it.

But yesterday was a big day here. That’s when the plumbers showed up to hook up the kitchen sink, dishwasher, shower head, and front yard hose spigot. They were here for just two hours and when they left, I had a working sink and dishwasher. Other than the floor and trim, my kitchen was done. I celebrated by washing the frying pan I’d used to make my breakfast earlier in the day.

Later, my electrician friend Tom came by to help me with some electrical troubleshooting. I was having trouble with the GFCI-protected outlets in the bathroom and my entire bedroom circuit. And the three-way switches I’d wired exactly the way the electrical book showed me weren’t working exactly the way they should. The bathroom circuit problem was a loose wire, which Tom fixed. The bedroom circuit problem was a cross-wiring issue that I figured out on my own and we fixed together. The three-way switch problem — well, we’ll revisit that next week. Our afternoon beer break had turned into a Pendleton break and although we were enjoying ourselves, further cognitive efforts were unsuccessful. (Note to self: Buy more Pendleton.)

I saw Tom off, gathered together my electrical tools again, and worked on the blog post I’d been writing when he arrived. (It’ll appear tomorrow instead of today.) I had a bite to eat while I was working and found myself feeling sleepy — which is no surprise, given that Pendleton break a few hours before. I didn’t want to relax on the throne or in the RV. I wanted to stretch out upstairs somewhere, possibly with a book.

Sleeping On Air

I thought about that air mattress again and went down to fetch it. 30 minutes later, I was stretched out on top of a fully made air mattress on my bedroom floor, watching The Daily Show on my iPad. Penny was curled up in her bed on my bed.

I’d positioned the bed exactly where my real bed will go when it’s moved up so I’d get a real feel for how sleeping in my bedroom would be. Of course, I was about 8 inches off the floor; my bed would put me about 3 feet off the floor. So although I could see out the windows and door to the deck, I really couldn’t see down into the valley. That was okay. I could wait for that.

Air Mattress Bed
“Guest bed” accommodations in my new bedroom.

Outside, the wind howled. I fell asleep, as I often do when watching the Daily Show these days — what’s up with that? When I woke up, it was after 7 PM and the sun was setting. The room was cooling down — time to get the heat going.

I felt lazy. I have a ton of work to do — including putting up the rails around the edge of my loft and doing a few other tasks that are required before final inspection — but I just felt like taking it easy. It seems that I work in spurts these days, getting a ton done in a very short period of time and then sort of resting with a few odd jobs until the next spurt comes along. Yesterday, after the plumbers left, I’d installed my over-cabinet lighting in the kitchen and urethaned the trim for my pantry. Odd jobs. I need another spurt.

Anyway, by 9 PM I was back in the bedroom, in one of the oversized henley t-shirts I often wear to bed, reading. By 9:10 PM, I was asleep.

I slept well, waking only once for a trip to the bathroom. I learned that the heat makes a quiet whistling sound that’s probably got to do with the filter in the return air duct. (Adjustment needed.) I learned that my motion-sensitive lights in front of the garage doors are very sensitive and don’t stay on very long. (Adjustments needed.) I learned that the glow of the city’s lights keep my bedroom from getting completely dark — but it’s not nearly as bright as the ambient night light in Phoenix, which required blackout blinds in the condo. (No adjustment needed.)

And quiet. So very quiet.

Another First Night

When I woke in the early hours of the morning, I found myself thinking of first nights in other places I’d lived. I realized that I only remembered one of them: the first night in my New Jersey house.

It was January 1986 and my future wasband and I had fallen in love with an odd little house on a tree-lined street in Harrington Park. The house, which had been built in 1926, was made entirely of poured concrete: walls, floors, ceilings. It was on a narrow suburban lot that backed against a train track. We’d been assured that the train came by very seldom and rarely at night.

The two of us were sleeping on our old mattress on the floor in the bedroom — the new bedroom set my grandmother had bought us had not yet arrived — when a train came by in the middle of the night. With the house positioned between two crossings, the horn would always blast abeam us. I nearly jumped out of my skin. What the hell did we buy?

It couldn’t have been that bad, though. We lived there 11 years.

The only thing last night had in common with that night nearly 30 years ago is the mattress on the floor. My new home is comfortable and quiet. Although I can occasionally hear a passing train down in the valley two miles away, it’s never loud enough to wake me out of a sound sleep. And rather than a tiny yard and canopy of bare trees overhead, I have ten acres of land and a view of the valley, river, city, and mountains that stretches for miles.

I’ve come a long way.

Without a train screaming by in the middle of the night, will I remember last night? Well, thanks to this blog post, I will.

It Only Gets Better

As my construction project winds down, things in my new home only get better.

Yesterday, I loaded my new dishwasher with a mixture of dishes from my RV and my old home. (Have I mentioned how weird it is to have my old dishes, pots, pans, and kitchen linens in my new home? Weird but wonderful — I really like the stuff I had in Arizona and am so glad I packed it.) I cook meals on my new stove, oven, and microwave and store food in my new fridge. I soak in my wonderful new bathtub. I sit at my computer at my old desk to write blog posts or do my bills or shop or keep in touch with friends on Twitter and Facebook. Soon, I’ll be lounging on my old red leather sofa, watching my old flat screen TV, and sleeping on my old bed — all in my new space.

It’s been a lot of hard work and so worth the effort. Best of all, I’m almost done.

Death of an Electric Blanket

It may be an old-fashioned idea, but hell — it works.

Last year, I wrote about using my ancient electric blanket in my RV. As summer turned to autumn here in Washington State, where I’m camped out for just another two weeks, I put the blanket back on my bed.

Two days later, it died.

I kind of smelled some weird electric burning smell while I was sleeping. I have a very sensitive nose — which may be one reason why it’s above-average in size. (Once, when we lived in Queens, NY, I was awakened by the smell of a building fire that turned out to be 13 blocks away. Who needs smoke detectors?) The smell wasn’t enough to fully wake me up, but it was enough to flick the blanket’s control to off. The smell went away. The next night, the blanket refused to warm up.

I can’t complain. The damn thing was new in 1977. That makes it 34 years old. I think my parents, who bought it way back when, got their money’s worth out of it. The fact that it still worked this year is a minor miracle in my book. (How long do you think its likely made-in-China replacement will last?)

I mentioned the death of my electric blanket on Twitter and Facebook. I was roundly teased. I likely deserved it. Electric blankets aren’t exactly hip.

But I do want to explain why I will be replacing it — even though it’s something that most people think only “grannies” use.

The beauty of an electric blanket in my RV is simple.

I don’t run the heat at night. Its blower is very loud and it goes on and off all night. I wouldn’t get much sleep.

When I go to bed, the RV is usually at a nice, comfortable temperature — one good for a light blanket under my light comforter. But as the night progresses, it gets colder and colder. Sometimes down to the 40s. RV’s have amazingly crappy insulation, so whatever the temperature is outside at night, it’s pretty much the same temperature inside. As it gets colder and colder, my need for blankety warmth increases.

What am I supposed to do? Get up and put another blanket on the bed?

Of course not. I flick the switch and let the electric blanket do its thing. Its internal thermostat maintains a steady temperature, keeping me toasty warm all night.

This is the beauty of an electric blanket.

On very cold mornings, I’ll often get out of bed, turn on the heat, and then get back under that granny blanket until the rest of the RV is warmed up.

So yes, I will be replacing my ancient electric blanket. I’ll do it today.

The nights are getting cold now. It’s almost time for this snowbird to fly south for the winter.

My Electric Blanket

A “blankie” for a grown woman?

Back in the winter of 1977, when I was 15 years old, my family relocated from northern New Jersey to Long Island, NY. We went from an old house built in 1901 to a much more modern home built in the late 1960s. But best of all, for the first time in my life, I had my own room.

Our arrival in Long Island was about a year before the energy crisis that would strike the country. To save energy (and money) — the house was heated with an oil furnace — my stepdad fitted the house with set-back thermostats that would automatically drop the heat to 62°F at night. To make sure we were all warm and comfy at night, my sister, brother, and I were issued electric blankets.

Clash of the Technologies

Clash of the technologies: the control for my 32-year-old electric blanket seems slightly out of place in this digital world.

If you’re not familiar with electric blankets, here’s how they work — or at least my understanding of them. They’re made with two layers of a synthetic fabric with a series of wires running up and down between the two layers. I assume the wires have some kind of heat emitting properties. At the bottom end is a socket for a plug. A control device plugs into the socket with a long wire — the idea is to put the control on your bedside table, so the wire is at least as long as a bed. Another wire plugs into a wall outlet. When you get into bed, you turn the blanket on and use the control to dial in a setting.

It must have worked, because I don’t recall being uncomfortable on cold winter nights — except, of course, those nights after an ice storm knocked out power for 11 days.

A few years later, when I moved onto my college campus, I brought the blanket with me. And I brought it with me when I got my first apartment. And when I moved into a new apartment with my future husband. And when we moved into our first house. And when we moved into our second house. And when I began spending summers in an RV in Central Washington State.

The blanket, which is now 32 years old, is with me on this trip. And I’m glad to have it.

When I first arrive in Quincy Washington at the end of May, it’s downright cold at night. RVs have three problems when it comes to heat:

  • They are generally poorly insulated so they can’t hold heat well. This RV is much better than my previous one, which had two tent walls.
  • Their heaters are unbelievably loud, consisting of a gas furnace and a loud blower that attempts to shoot hot air throughout the space.
  • Their heaters don’t evenly heat the space. Face it: what heater does?

The first season I was here in my old RV, I slept under a pile of blankets. No exaggeration — my first few weeks were spent on flannel sheets under every single blanket I’d brought with me. It was like sleeping between two mattresses. I still had to wear flannel pajama pants to keep warm.

I got a case of the smarts the next year and brought the old electric blanket with me. That made all the difference in the world.

Now all the instructions that come with these blankets tell you to make the blanket the top layer. But I usually sandwich the blanket between my top sheet and a lightweight comforter. As a result, I can set the blanket to “1” or “2” (on dial that goes to 10) and keep very warm.

The blanket is for a twin size bed and my bed in the RV is a queen. But the blanket covers the top pretty well. It makes for very cozy sleeping.

My big problem now is getting out of that nice warm bed in the morning.

I’m Being Paid to Worry about the Weather

A funny true story.

The backstory: I’m in Washington State on cherry drying contracts. In short, I’m being paid to be on call to use my helicopter to dry cherry trees in case it rains. You can learn the details about this in “The Life of a Cherry Drying Pilot.”

Last night, my grower called around 9 PM. He was almost certain that it would rain at 4 AM this morning. He lives in Wenatchee and his orchard block is near Quincy, a 30-minute drive south. He wanted to give me a heads up. He said that he knew I wouldn’t fly in the dark, but if it rained, he expected me to be drying at dawn. I assured him that would be no problem and encouraged him to call me if he needed me, no matter what time it was. That, after all, is what he’s paying me for.

I was dead asleep this morning when my phone rang. My Blackberry’s ring tone is a digitized version of the classic analog telephone bell. Despite the fact that I’d heard that sound every day for the first 20 years of my life, when it rang this morning, I had no idea what it was. After all, I was asleep. When I realized it was my phone ringing just inches from my head, I grabbed it, pushed the answer button, and said “Hello.”

It was my grower. “I’m leaving Wenatchee now,” he told me. “The sky is clear.”

I wasn’t too sleepy to wonder why he was calling me to tell me the weather was good.

“I’m going to see what it’s like down at the orchard,” he went on.

I got the feeling he wanted a local weather report. After all, I was only 6 miles (as the crow flies) from his cherry trees. Fortunately, the zip-up window beside my head faced out that way. I unzipped it and looked out. I could see stars. It wasn’t raining. I couldn’t see any rain clouds by the light of the waning moon. I reported my findings.

“Well, I’m going down there anyway,” he said. “I’ll call you if it rains.”

“Sounds good to me,” I said. We said goodbye and I found the button that disconnected us. The phone reverted to clock mode. It was 3:50 AM.

I managed to get back to sleep for another hour before the birds woke me up for the day.

It’s nearly 12 hours later and it still hasn’t rained.

When I told this story to my husband, he told me I needed to have a talk with the grower. I told him I’d do no such thing. I explained that I was on standby and that the grower had paid me good money to worry along with him about his crop of cherries. If it made him feel better to wake me up to discuss the weather once in a while, that was fine with me.

As long as he didn’t do it every morning.

Heli Camping

How to make camping more fun.

It was spring 2006 when my friend Ryan suggested I go with him to the Big Sandy Shoot and give helicopter rides. I didn’t know much about it, but I had nothing else do to that weekend. So I loaded my tent, sleeping bag, and air mattress into my helicopter and followed Ryan’s friend’s Sikorsky S-55 helicopter to the tiny town of Wikieup, about 40 minutes north of Wickenburg on highway 93.

I detail the events of the weekend here.

Helicopter and TentAlthough I did fly into this spot and I did sleep in this tent the night before, I didn’t sleep in this tent where it’s shown in the photo. I moved the tent to take the photo. With a dome tent like this, it’s easy. Just empty it out, pick it up, and put it where you want it. The helicopter was in such a pretty spot and the early morning sunlight make it look really beautiful. Why not take advantage of the light?

I cooked up the photo for possible advertising use. Flying M Air (my helicopter charter company) can do overnight excursions. There’s no reason why we can’t offer heli camping.

But, so far, we just haven’t had any calls for it.

Oh, and for the record, I’ll be back at Wickieup for their autumn (forgive me, Miraz) shoot in October. Anyone want to come along for the ride?