Interesting Links, December 16, 2013

Here are links I found interesting on December 16, 2013:

  • How Our Ancestors Used to Sleep Twice a Night – I'm looking forward to the day when I can work my middle-of-the-night wakefulness into a productive time, perhaps for writing or reading. Maybe I should start working on that now?
  • Methow Valley Ski School and Rentals – Good resource for cross-country skiing rentals and lessons in the Methow Valley in WA.
  • MVSTA – Methow Valley Sport Trails Association. Great resource for winter and summer trails.
  • Inside the Hive: Views from a First Year Beekeeper – Blog posts by a first year beekeeping sharing images of what's going on inside his beehives. There are 23 separate posts (so far) presented in reverse chronological order.
  • GardenFork.TV Cooking & DIY Videos – Looks like a great source of how-to videos for a do-it-yourself, natural lifestyle. They cover beekeeping, gardening, and cooking, among other things.

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?