Saturday, November 29, 2014

Using Apps for Better Sleep and Waking

Two free Android apps for healthy sleep are "Twilight" and "Light Alarm Clock" and I'm loving both so far. "Twilight" reduces the brighter-than-daylight display from your screen (any screen) in the evenings, in harmony with actual nightfall, so you're more likely to fall asleep naturally when you should. I was staying up with business, games, and Facebook on my phone until 1:00 and 1:30 a.m. "Twilight" allows me to go to sleep at least an hour earlier.

Waking in winter--at any hour--is a chore. The sun rises late, and window insulation further darkens my house, disrupting circadian rhythm so I was a zombie in the mornings and and ready to work starting at about 6:00 p.m. -- unsustainable, even with coffee. "Light Alarm Clock" gradually emits mock daylight for up to 30 minutes before waking me with my selection of gentle music and the sound of twittering birds. I set it for 6:45 a.m., actually got up at that time instead of my usual day-wasting 8:30, and witnessed a red dawn: very pretty, but an old sign for rough weather ahead. Here's that dawn, and late morning, the same view the same day.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

New Loop Trail at Glassberg Conservation Area

As I geared up in the Glassberg Conservation Area parking lot for my traditional Thanksgiving hike, a hiker returning to his car cleaned mud from his hiking poles. I said, "Is the trail muddy?" He said, "There's a new trail," more than once because I didn't understand. But I found out.

Glassberg's former Trail "A," a quarter-mile which ended disappointingly in an open field, and Trail "C," terminating at the Meramec River overlook, are now joined in a loop measuring about 2.25 miles, marked simply "Trail." It rates moderate ups and downs, and at its highest elevations, at the forest's edge, yesterday's snow had left the trail slick and muddy. Having no idea of the trail's length or where it ended up (I hadn't asked whether it was a loop) I pressed onward, hoping to be the first to report this new trail to you and map it. The pamphlets and map at the site don't as yet show this loop. The trail itself was well marked. I enjoyed the hike but because pie was waiting at home, my favorite trail marker today was "Parking Lot" with an arrow pointing the way.

Trail marker and downed trees
You'll find the Department of Conservation has done extensive cutting, mostly of cedars, in a bid to restore native Missouri oak and hickory forest to this former private property of 429 acres.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 24, 2014

My Kind of Turkey

It's no secret that my Seasonal Affective Disorder prods me to "Sleep." "Be apathetic." "Don't do anything." All activities are too far, too expensive, too crowded, too tiring. The world is colorless. Furthermore, it rained all day yesterday. I went out into the woods this morning only to get some daylight for Vitamin D.

Wood ears
I saw a deer, who made that squeeze-toy wheeze, and a wild turkey, who flapped away ("Run, turkeys, run!" I said), and, although it's too late in the year for them, mushrooms, including a cache of edible oyster mushrooms and wood ears such as you get in Chinese food (pictured above). Most abundant, however, were the fungi called Turkey Tail and False Turkey Tail. They look alike, but the real Turkey Tail has pores on the underside, and the other is smooth. What you see here gilding a fallen log is False Turkey Tail. Its sunny colors on greenish lichen served their purpose until the sun itself came out. Only 30 days until the Solstice when the daylight begins to lengthen.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Meet My Fireplace

Picturesque, its native stone dominating the living room, I've never shown you my fireplace because it doesn't cross my mind. Last lighted in 1991 as testified by the tenants before me, it blasted hot soot throughout the cabin,
requiring an actual disaster team for clean-up, and the charring underneath the mantel from that hot mess is still visible today.

Estimate for re-lining and repair: $8000, and the landlord wouldn't pay, or for the cost of running and installing a new propane pipe for a gas fire. Because critters came down the chimney and died behind the glassed-in hearth--here covered by a blue wintertime sheet of custom-cut insulation--I had the chimney sealed. The huge crack up the front was there when I moved in, and I shuddered in its draft for 13 winters, until this very day when I caulked it with caulk that's white when first applied but turns transparent. I also filled holes in the native rock, unworried about resale value. This cabin was not built for year-round occupancy and some say the chimney was faulty from the first.

Fireplaces are wonderful, so romantic--and they suck the heat out of the room, require careful maintenance and tending and the bringing in of wood, and I wish mine were the fireplace it aspired to be, but it isn't.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Frost Flowers for the First Time

Driving into St. Francois State Park for a hike with the gang I saw shredded white plastic bags scattered in the road shoulders and wondered who'd done that, and at the Mooner's Hollow trailhead I was told, "That's not litter. Go look at those. They're ice flowers."

How the stems split
Photog with flower
They were amazing little pearlized natural sculptures made of ice, each unique, some as big as a head--and new to me. When the earth is still warm but the air is freezing, sap rises from the plant into the stem, which then splits and emits moisture, bit by bit, like an oyster growing layers of pearl, and the result is delicate "frost flowers," also called "ice flowers", or "rabbit ice" (an old mountain term, said the oldest hiker, Butch; the appearance of frost flowers indicates "it's the time of year to hunt rabbits").

Ice flowers are unique to autumn and early winter. We were so absorbed in their wild beauty--like fabric netting, like ribbon candy--that a 2.5 mile hike took us two hours to complete.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Two Men This Morning

GPS found for me the nearest building-supply store, boarded up and closed now after a windstorm, and then GPS took me to a Lowe's it didn't know was now a Gander Mountain store, and after that took me on a circuitous and time-consuming trip to the next-nearest Lowe's, far out of my way, and I sighed because I'd had other plans for the morning. But I wanted a single sheet of foam-board insulation to cut up for covering one more window plus the glass front of the non-working fireplace. At last I got the board--9 feet by 5 feet. It wouldn't fit  in my car and I'd known that so I had my box cutter and tape measure and the  measurements, and asked the Lowe's checker if there was a place in the store I could lay it down and cut the pieces. (Outside were high winds and occasional snowflakes.)

To my amazement the checker--his nametag said "Rein"--measured and cut the boards himself, perfectly, in five minutes, and I was so grateful I snapped his photo to show you.

Then I had to get the boards -- 6 feet by 3.5, and a smaller one--into the Corolla. Smaller piece, fine. Larger one wouldn't fit in the  trunk or back seat, nohow; always six inches too long. For 15 minutes I kept pulling it out of the car trying different angles, wrestling it as it acted like a sail in the gusty winds. I was about to razor 12 inches off the long side and try to repair it later when a man came up to me and said, "I see you're struggling with that. I will put it in my truck and follow you home with it." I wanted to accept his offer, but GPS had brought me so far from home that my area was far out of his way.

So we both worked on fitting the board into the car, bending it as much as 3/4" foam board can bend, at one point accidentally breaking off a corner of it, until I said, "It's no use. I will just have to make a a cut." But then he adjusted the board and suddenly it fit and didn't obscure the entire rear window either. I didn't take his picture, but you know he was kind. Maybe an angel.

GPS in its wisdom had known all along it was taking me to the only place where two different people would help me.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Warm Clothing, Part 3: UnderArmour and Its One Problem

UnderArmour clothing is tough stuff, all polyester and compression, and its Cold Gear and Heat Gear are worn by athletes, hunters, cops, soldiers, bikers, and all those whose activities turn normal fabrics into dripping or freezing rags. You'll see it on a good percentage of Walmart shoppers because we all think we are athletes, hunters, cops, soldiers, or bikers. Its only fault, discussed at length online in forums frequented by athletes, hunters and cops: This miracle fabric that stretches, breathes, wicks, and warms so wonderfully reacts with underarms and begins to smell within the hour, no matter how clean you are--and it won't wash out. UnderArmour denies that this happens. What to do?

1. Buy a lot of tops and change them daily. Retail prices are hugely inflated ($40 for a tee?) so I bought my collection on eBay, many "worn only once." They were cheap, probably, because of the problem UnderArmour denies.
2. Wash them with GearAid's "Mirazyme Odor Eliminator," or a similar product meant to remove the stink from tents, backpacks, waders, and anything skunked. Set the washer to soak, squeeze in a few drops of enzyme, soak the clothes for 5 minutes, spin 'em, hang them to dry and you'll be eucalyptus-fresh. The more you do this the less the shirts will smell, until they're totally tamed.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Cold and Bright, or Dark and Warm? Pick One

From the inside

From the outside
Last winter, the coldest since' 98-'99, I froze in the Divine Cabin despite weatherstripping, caulking and heavy, doubled plastic sheeting  taped over the windows, a special problem because most windows here are single-pane. They're original, I wouldn't want them changed, but gollywogs, all the propane and space heaters couldn't make up for it and I ended up living in a hooded sleeping bag for two weeks.

This year I began winterizing in August, hoping to use bubble wrap as window insulation--the Internet said it was great. I'd done major spray-styrofoam and caulking when a smart and personable, loyal, humorous, and occasionally prosaic engineer friend visited and said bubble wrap wouldn't work and that in winter he put foam-board insulation over his north-facing windows.

So he did it for most of my windows. The bedroom has pink insulation and some daylight does get through it as you can see. I insulated two doors and left one door and window clear so I could watch the road and the bird feeders.

From outside the house looks either abandoned or under construction, but I don't live outside, I live inside. Or want to. I'm hoping, hoping, because tomorrow comes the test: The season's first polar blast.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Warm Clothing, Part 2: My Second Poncho

Saw this on eBay, pre-owned, a thicker and more wintry alpaca knit than Poncho #1 (below) which I loved on sight and wear all the time, and thought, "That one is too loud and bright for you; you'll look tribal and tribal you are not; find one in a neutral color, beige or black, and longer, to cover down to the knees or so. People will look at that poncho, not at you; isn't there some kind of rule for women's clothing: People should look at the woman, not the clothes?"

Bosh. I'm not dead yet. Stunningly beautiful, soft and windproof, does not snag, $51, and so durable you will be able to cremate me in it. Wore it on a sharply chilly night and learned it is not a substitute for a down-filled or technical parka, but it awes everyone and it's a piece of clothing that inspires me to live up to it.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Warm Clothing, Part 1: My First Poncho

In spring and fall I like sweatshirts because a woman in her 50s needs climate control RIGHT NOW so I wear only those with zippers and hoods, and prefer them to have pockets. Trouble is, billowing and droopy sweatshirts with those baby-clothes cuff bands and unflattering bottom bands look like hell anywhere but at home.

Jackets for spring and fall bind my arms, or are either too heavy or too light, too short or too long, or they're okay for fishing but you need a different one for town; some are too nice or stiff to tramp through messy woods with, or not water-resistant. I haven't had a good spring or fall jacket for years because I can't find one that fulfills my every need.

Seeking alternatives I bought my first poncho, 100 percent alpaca knit, in the wine color I favor. For $16 on eBay how could I go wrong?

It's perfect in every way, like being embraced by a blanket--a warm, nice, secure one--and it goes everywhere, indoors or outdoors, casual or town. It's flattering. It's as warm as you want it to be; flip it up around your neck to catch your torso some cooling breezes. Alpaca, like cashmere, is close to indestructible, nonflammable, soft, natural, and nice. A poncho is not like a shawl or ruana; I don't have to be an artist to wear it or keep it on. People compliment it and ask if they can touch it. People want to buy a poncho for themselves. How great is that? I can foresee myself bundling it up and using it as a pillow on a plane. I've had it just over a week and I might actually look forward to winters now, with a poncho to comfort me. I'm totally at peace when I wear it.