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Cold Wars Part Two February 26, 2013

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So it’s been a fun winter. After my recent foray into frozen pipes, self destructing kerosene heaters and propane heaters that require being disassembled before being lit, I thought I was finally home free. Roughly $1000 in the hole and the house was warm, my naked dogs were no longer shivering and I had just about recovered from the trauma of it all.

I had just, a few days before, made a trip over to  my handy dandy oil company and and forked over another $600 plus for 100 gallons of propane and 100 gallons of heating oil. Deliveries were made and I basked in the knowledge that I could go to work and not worry that my pipes or my animals were going to be frozen stiff when I got back in the morning.

Wrong. I walked in at 7am, after a grueling night at work to find that my house was cold. Naw….must be my imagination I thought. I checked the thermometers and found that NO, it was not my imagination. I felt the baseboard heaters…cold. Went and clicked the thermostat, thinking maybe it was stuck. Nope… no signs of life.  Went down the basement, which was now toasty because of the very expensive propane I was burning to keep the great outdoors well heated through the cracks in my stone foundation.

Checked the oil tank, and yes, there was oil. They didn’t stiff me and just SAY they delivered the oil. Next back up the stairs to make sure the emergency oil burner switch hadn’t accidentally been flicked off. No… it was in the on position.

Back down the stairs and I approached the oil burner as it sat there silent and cold. I pushed the little dreaded red button, you know the one, the one that says to only push it once…or else.

Nothing happened. Not a click, or a sigh, nothing.

Back up to face the unhappy realization that I needed to call in a repairman, yet again. But that was not the worst of it. The friendly lady on the other end of the line asked how I would be paying for the service. I told her I’d give them a check, and told her I would probably need to post date it by a couple of days, since my paycheck was due to be automatically deposited, and not knowing how much they were going to fleece me, uh charge me for the service, I didn’t want to have the check bounce.

She told me to  hold on, then came back to tell me that I had an outstanding balance of $259.

“What?” I said. I was just in and paid cash for my deliveries. “I asked for 100 gallons of oil, and 100 gallons of propane.” I went to get my checkbook to verify the amounts.

After checking her records she came back and told me. “Oh yes, they made out the work order for 100 gallons of propane, but they delivered 192 gallons.”

At this point I was really getting angry. She was trying to tell me she wouldn’t send a service man out until the propane was paid for, since they were not extending credit to anyone these days. I pointed out that I had paid in good faith, before the delivery, and while I would indeed pay for the unasked for propane, it sure wasn’t going to happen today. Especially since I had no way of knowing what the oil burner fix would cost.

After much hemming and hawing and negotiating of payment dates that coincided with fresh cash infusions to my checking account, she reluctantly agreed to send the service man out.

Thankfully he arrived quickly and he found the problem in only a few minutes… a very expensive part that took him about 15 minutes to replace. $306 later my heat was working again.

So now even deeper in the heating bill hole, I am ready to move to Florida. After I finish paying off the oil company.

Cold Wars February 1, 2013

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So, for those who might have noticed my absence this past week or so, I didn’t fall off the planet, or lose interest in all the goings on here. I have been fighting my own version of the cold war.

I woke up around noon last wednesday, after three hours sleep and thought, “Why is it so cold?” Short answer – frozen baseboard. The north side of my house takes a beating every winter. This time the old stone foundation had a few new chinks, as the creaky old beast settled and the whipping wind in my cellar brought temps down to 28 degrees.

I cranked up the heat, which normally will get the north side to thaw and spent the next couple of hours stuffing up all the small holes and drafts I could find. Plastic bags and tablecloths were tacked up to cut down the drafts. It seemed better.

It wasn’t. Frozen baseboard was followed by frozen water pipes. In spite of having run the water frequently, I wasn’t bright enough to just keep it running. Silly me. I had barely stopped to relax for a bit when my daughter came to tell me that the kitchen sink didn’t work. Or the bathroom.

I ran down to my local hardware store and bought a lovely kerosene heater. $300 and two hours later, the water pipes were running, but the baseboard was still in sad shape. Still, we had heat in the south side of the house, though even with the electric heaters going, in the warmest room it was only 58-60 degrees. But better times were coming. The kerosene heater would get that basement temperature up and it would all thaw out.

Wrong. The God of Cold had it in for me. The kerosene heater crapped out after a few hours. A sudden silence alerted me to the fact that the jet rocket in my basement wasn’t running any more. Back down I went, flicked the switch. We had liftoff. I stood there and watched the line rise on my thermometer then headed back upstairs to huddle under a blanket with my naked dogs.

Ten minutes later, silence.

The rest of the night was spent running up and down the stairs, flicking the switch, up to the kitchen making sure the trickle of water in the sink was still going, back to the bathroom, sink and tub running, a layer of ice forming in my bathtub, telling me things were NOT good.

The manual for the heater was very helpful. It talked about pressure, and adjusting it by turning a screw. Yes, I did that, though it didn’t help. And elsewhere in the manual it had a troubleshooting guide that listed what would cause the heater to keep shutting down. All the options listed major parts that needed to be replaced.

I tried to go on the internet, hoping there would be guidance to be found there, on what I might do to get the heater running well. But at 46 degrees in my bedroom, the computer was not happy and would not connect to the internet.

Around 4AM dark grey smoke started billowing out the back of the heater. Clearly there was nothing to be done to resuscitate my nearly new $300 heater.

8AM finally came, and back to the hardware store. No problem, we’ll make good they said, but first they smiled and dialed the company rep, who asked me questions about how many turns of the screw I had done.

“What?” I said, “It was 3 o’clock in the morning. You think I was counting turns of a screw? Did your manuel SAY how many turns of the screw were needed, or that I SHOULD be counting turns?” I was, by this point, just a bit short with him.

He backed right off, but I agreed I would go back and double check to make sure I had turned the right screw. The one with the hole, not just the straight notch.

Back home I grabbed my flashlight and screwdriver, ready to inspect screw heads, hoping against hope it would be an easy fix. When I shined the light I saw the screw with the straight notch. Good. I had been turning the right one. But the right one was looking a little funny now, like metal curlicues on the head, instead of the straight notch with the hole in the middle. I touched it with my screwdriver and the whole screw disintegrated – cooked by the heat that had been generated. At this point I was just thankful the damned thing hadn’t burned my whole house down.

Back to the hardware store. Money refunded, graciously. They would send a man over to drain the kerosene from the heater and remove it from my basement. He arrived not long after I got home, armed with a siphon the diameter of a ballpoint pen. Two hours of crouching down in my 28 degree basement,  trying to siphon four gallons of gas through a 7 foot straw, we finally succeeded in draining enough kerosene off to get the heater out without spilling fuel all through my house.

Now it’s 12:30. I decide maybe we can resurrect the old propane heater in the basement. I call my local fuel company. At 4PM they deliver propane. I have amused myself with running taps and continuing to do miniscule loads of laundry to keep laundry room pipes from freezing. Now I go to have more fun with heating units. An hour and a half later, I still have not had luck in getting the propane heater to run.

I call the emergency repair service. By 6:30PM, after disassembling the thing, he gets the propane heater to run. At this point, I haven’t slept since I got up at noon on Wedsneday. Now it’s Friday night and I’m looking at going in to work at 10PM. I try to call out, since three nights with no sleep will not a nifty employee make. But no, they wouldn’t hear of it. It was fine if I was on zombie mode. I was a warm body. I needed to be there.

At this point, the propane heater had thawed everything out, water was running, north side baseboard was heating. Even the layer of ice in my bathtub was melted. So I showered, dressed and headed out to work.

I got home the next morning, happy to see my house was warm. Exhausted, I fell into bed. At 2PM a knock on the front door woke me. They had sent someone from work to let me know I could stay home that night. How nice. They woke me up to tell me that. But still. Life was good. The house was warm.

I stayed up for a bit, then back to bed. I slept for 18 hours and woke up and thought, “Why is it so cold?”

Yes, folks. It all froze again. I had one room with heat. At this point I just sat down and cried. Ten minutes of feeling sorry for myself and then back at it. On the phone to the heating repair service (which I probably should have done at the start of all this). Four servicemen showed up. A short time later, after using this nifty little gadget that gave them temperature readings, they determined I had frozen baseboard. Gee, ya think?

They lugged a huge propane tank into the basement, hooked it to a ginormous blower. Then told me I had to basically move every stick of furniture in the house so they could disassemble my baseboards and take blow torches to them.

A couple of hours later, thankful that they had not ignited my house on fire with the cavalier way they waved those torches around, I finally had heat. My whole house was torn apart, but my baseboard was splendid. Thank you very much.

I asked what I could do to prevent this happening again. “Move to Mexico,” they told me. “I hear it’s about 90 degrees there now.”

They did suggest spray foam insulation in those little cans. So off to the hardware store, again, for a bunch of cans of that stuff and tarps to attach to the outside of my house to cut down the wind.

So now, so far, it’s warm. Of course it got up to 55 degrees yesterday. Naturally.

There’s a couple of lessons in here somewhere. One – don’t buy old farmhouses. Two – especially in the state of Maine. Three – If you’re foolish enough to ignore one and two, rip out the baseboard heating in favor of just about any other choice. And four, just cut to the chase and call the damned repair guys. Even if you DO have to sell your first born on ebay to pay the bill.

February 1, 2013

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cynthiadumarin:

This made me laugh because it is so true. My characters are very real to me. I carry them with me as I do the day to day stuff of living, as they poke and prod and whisper, urging me to get back to the computer, to listen to what they have to say, to capture their stories.

On a good day, they carry me right off into their world, and my own is swept away as they have me in their thrall. Does that make me crazy? Perhaps. Maybe all writers are, in a way. We see the world in a different way I think, more fluid, less solid, malleable, and full of possibilities. It’s what writers and artists have in common with those who were locked away in asylums in days past.

It’s the expression of our madness that saves us. We produce the wild painting or the startling story and the world sees the creative effort as a product of imagination, rather than insanity. And we live in a world that values imagination over madness. There’s some food for thought.

Originally posted on readful things blog:

Love this!

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Fan Tales January 18, 2013

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Fan Tales

It’s mid January and I’ve been working/struggling with the edit on The Payback Agency. My cheering section, pictured above, loves me, regardless of how well or badly the work is going.

Every writer hopes that eventually they’ll produce a book that pleases both the author and the public at large. To that end, we labor over our notebooks or computer screens, trying to set a vision we have down for the consumption of others.

Some days it seems like an impossible task. That’s when it’s good to have fans who love you for stuff other than your writing skills! :)

Slogging in the New Year January 4, 2013

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My one resolution for the new year was to edit my novel The Payback Agency. It’s a mess. The first book I wrote when I started, it’s a good story, but in my newness to the process I wrote it like someone on drugs might.

The entire 450 some pages worth of first draft was done in separate folders on my computer. To make matters worse, the folders were in no particular order or even numbered. Is it any wonder then that I kept putting off editing this gargantuan disaster of a book?

The story is about a woman who gets recruited by a secret government agency that assassinates criminals set free by our justice system. The book is angry and politically incorrect, reflecting a lot of my own anger at having lived many years in New York City playing tag with the criminal element that I rode the subways with. Many times I would have been very happy to have blown away some of the predators I saw molesting other people or even chasing me off a train platform. It’s no way to live and though I managed to survive it, it left its scars. 

So I relate to my main character, though I don’t know that I would actually go so far as to sign on for the job, but I sure can enjoy the thought of it. That’s what makes me really want to finish this book. I think there are probably more than a few people who would get a vicarious thrill from some of the less than pleasant ends met by some of the dirtbags in the story, but I also think there’s enough other stuff in the book to make it worth a read. 

I grew up in a neighborhood that was also home to a well known Mafia figure, who shall remain nameless. But often I would see his goons out on the street in front of the house, dark glasses and dark suits, looking like bouncers waiting for the important man inside to come out.

I have to say we had little crime in the area, largely because they took out anyone they didn’t like, so the other criminal element stayed away, making the Mafia better at keeping the neighborhood safe than the NYPD did. 

Of course none of what I’m saying here will win me any popularity contests. The book won’t either. It’s rude, crude, full of violence and angst. It also has a lot of truth in in. So although it’s going to be a nightmare to finish, I will do it, slogging away one day at a time till it’s done. 

Then I’ll probably duck and take cover.

Happy New Year, Dark of Night, Free Tomorrow December 31, 2012

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To celebrate the New Year I am offering the latest book in my vampire series, Dark of Night free tomorrow, January 1. It’s available as an e-book for Kindle on Amazon.com. Enjoy dear readers and I wish you all good things this coming year!Image

Rise of the Guardians December 29, 2012

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So I just got home from the movies. My daughter wanted to see Rise of the Guardians. It was playing at the small local theatre we have a couple of miles from the house, in our little, as my daughter describes it, podunk town.

I wasn’t real motivated, since I worked last night and it meant three hours sleep, then gulping down a pot of coffee to reanimate myself. But I have to say it was worth the effort and the lost sleep.

This animated children’s film was much more than I expected it to be. First off it had a great cast doing the voice overs. Jude Law was spellbinding as the Boogieman, Hugh Jackman quirky as an Aussie Easter Bunny and Alec Baldwin stole the show, in I think his finest performance to date, as a Russian accented, tattooed Santa Claus.

The premise of the movie was not terribly original. It’s a typical good against evil story, pitting the Boogieman against the Guardians – Santa, the Sandman, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy, whose job it is to protect the children of the world.

The twist to the story was in trying to recruit Jack Frost as a guardian. Jack was invisible in the real world because the children didn’t believe in him. But he joined the others in their battle against evil and found himself in the process. He was so engaging and appealing a character that you could not help but root for him.

The movie was a visual delight, the actors made their characters shine and I have to say, I really loved this movie – enough to buy it when it comes out on DVD. I couldn’t help but think how wonderful it must be for the people connected with the film to work on such a wonderful and creative project.

Though this is a kid’s film, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to adults. There were quite a few in the audience and I think they liked it as much as I did. If you’re looking for a little feel good entertainment, this is definitely it!

Rescue Dogs and Unconditional Love December 28, 2012

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Rescue Dogs and Unconditional Love

This is Rosie, one of my Chinese crested rescues. She’s probably the sweetest dog I’ve ever known, despite having had a rough start in life. I got her about 6 years ago, when she was still a pup. Even then, coming from a situation where I’m convinced she knew abuse, she was all about the love. Most dogs crave our attention, but Rosie could care less about any of the other animals in our house. She wants only to be where the people are.

She’s a singer, with a lovely voice that warbles and trills and yodels, first soft, then louder, building to a doggie crescendo. I think she could play Carnegie Hall with her melodic songs. Someday I’m going to write a children’s book about her. She is so serious in her efforts and so varied in her delivery of her little tunes. Clearly she’s trying to tell me something, since she’s always talking or singing. But sadly, I don’t speak dog, and as earnestly as she listens to everything I say, it’s clear she doesn’t speak human. We’re reduced to communicating in hugs and enthusiastic tail wagging, stymied in our efforts at interspecies communication. But the one thing that comes through loud and clear is the love. No language barrier could keep us from knowing how lucky we both are to have found each other. :)

Little Gifts, Big Heart December 27, 2012

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cynthiadumarin:

I loved this little cat video. Made me smile through the whole thing!

Originally posted on C.B. Wentworth:

This Christmas was the first I’ve ever spent without my Grandma, but in keeping my promise to her, I celebrated with a lot of love and laughter. It was a beautiful Christmas filled with family, friends, and wonderful gifts.

One of my favorite things about my family is how we all put so much thought into the gifts we give one another. I don’t recall ever receiving a gift I felt was haphazardly chosen or thoughtlessly wrapped. No matter how small, they all mean something and are personal, which makes them that much more special.

My husband in particular puts an incredible amount of thought into the gifts he gives. Not only does he always find the perfect thing, but he is also creative in how he presents his gifts. I never know what to expect and this year was no different.

For a few years now, I’ve been an…

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‘Twas the Night After Christmas… December 27, 2012

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Surely I’m not the only one who is relieved when the holidays are over. So much work and anticipation and then the big letdown when it’s all over and somehow it failed to reach that magical feeling we remember from childhood. Maybe I’m just getting cynical in my old age, or maybe the fact that I reread A Christmas Carol every year makes me relate more and more to Scrooge, (at least Scrooge before his big epiphany), but other than enjoying everyone else’s holiday lights and of course the overload of Xmas goodies people bring to work, I think I could be very happy indeed to just bypass the whole thing.

I’m not ungrateful for all the blessings in my life, and I certainly don’t begrudge anyone their dose of holiday cheer, but more and more I see the whole season dominated by a retail frenzy that has people overextended both on the to do lists they have and the financial strain they take on in trying to stretch the ever shrinking dollar to cover the cost of making Christmas merry and bright. I find myself wishing it could all get slower and simpler. Less is starting to look like more, more peace, more calm, more contentment and more time to appreciate the stuff that matters.

Don’t get me wrong, I like shiny presents as much as the next guy, but time spent with loved ones, a full belly, a warm house, security, finding meaning in something we do, faith, that stuff is what means the most in the end. And none of that is on sale on Black Friday or the day after Christmas sales.

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