Sunday, June 29, 2014

A Suburban Survivalist's Handbook

I don’t know about you. Climate change is freaking me out. Take these crazy weather patterns. Please. (Ha Ha! See what I did there? A bit of humor can help in times of crisis.)

Anyway, Mother Nature has gone completely bonkers. She threw us a real doozy of a thunderstorm this past week. One minute we were watching the six o’clock news as they’re flashing severe storm warnings. And the next we were watching 60 mile per hour wind gusts ripping limbs off our maple and javelining them into the ground. The thunder was loud enough to dislodge the fillings in your molars and the downpour of rain would have made Noah nervous. I had been fixing dinner but had only washed one potato when the storm knocked out our power. It was all just a bit unnerving.

As soon as it is safe after a storm, I like to cruise the neighborhood to see if other houses still have power. I take this as a sign that the world has not ended.   

There were lights on at our neighborhood grocery, so I popped in to buy ice in case I needed to keep perishables from spoiling. I lined up at the checkout with my ice and a package of emergency cookies. Other customers were calmly buying their quinoa pilaf, marinated chicken breasts and spring mix from the salad bar. Here I was a refugee from our storm-torn, wind-ravaged, mini-Armageddon, gathering basic survival supplies and they’re buying their week’s worth of Fruit Loops? I couldn’t understand why these people weren’t totally panicked! Didn’t they know they were headed home to no air conditioning? Oh, the humanity!

That’s when I decided that I would perform a selfless public service and offer my tips on how to survive inconvenient weather events. If I can save just one person from needlessly suffering through a power outage, it will have all been worthwhile.

Tip #1: For gosh sakes, don’t use up what little remaining charge you have on your mobile device by playing Candy Crush Saga. Yes, it’s boring with no TV. Sure, you’re, missing America’s Got Talent. But if you only have 40% left on your iPhone, my advice is to save it for emergencies, as my husband pointed out to me. I waved off his warning and got preoccupied with a video of three groundhogs chewing on carrots (very cute, by the way.) I was soon down less than 20% and was sorry, because the next day I could not find my keys anywhere and had to phone Ken at work to come home with a key to the Subaru. He was in a meeting and I had to conserve my phone’s charge until he called back. I was LOST without Liking stuff on Facebook. So heed my advice. No Twitter until you can plug into the car outlet.

Tip #2:  Keep your propane tank full. How you can tell if it is full, I have no idea. I mean, they can put a man on the moon, but nobody has come up with a way to put some kind of indicator on a propane tank to tell you that you will run out of gas midway through grilling dinner. Which is what happened to us! Things are tough enough and we run out of propane? Almost too much to bear. Ken had to go on an emergency run to Speedway to get a tank. It was 7:30 by the time we got our salmon, grilled potatoes and asparagus. No one should have to go through that.

Tip #3: Everyone says how romantic power failures can be. Just the two of you and a quiet candlelit dinner. Sure, if you can find some matches or the butane-filled BIC thingamawhoozy that you got in case you couldn’t locate your matches. Just try to get your hands on these items once evening’s shadows start to creep, because it gets dark. Ironic, isn’t it? Where is that flashlight? See? Keep the stuff in a spot that makes sense and where you won’t trip over the dog trying to get there.  

I could go on, but I was just reading online about tornados and floods out west and thinking, my heavens, that is a whole level of scary that I have never experienced! Those poor people.

Tomorrow I ramp up the emergency kit.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Checking In?

Dear Readers,

Today’s essay has about double the word count as it normally does. Hope you don’t mind reading some extra. I like to think of it as making up for the absence of any writing for the last two weeks while we were on vacation. Kind of like a BOGO.  


Home from vacation. Back to reality. Not that our reality is anything to complain about; far from it. We have a very nice life. But after a holiday, we usually need a brief adjustment period. That’s because we travel with alter-egos. And by this I mean we really, really like luxury hotels and swanky country inns. It’s our version of Fantasy Camp.

Now, I know some of you will consider this appalling. This could mean that you are in the “Budget Conscious” category of travelers for whom sights and attractions are of greater importance than where you lay your head at night. For you the words, “What does it matter where we stay? We’re only sleeping there,” ring true as you check into the Econolodge or Motel 6 or some other place with one-ply TP. That’s ok, because you no doubt spend every available hour out there maximizing your itinerary. Sure, we go for scenic, interesting places as well. But by 3:00 or 4:00, when the dogs are barking and we’ve thoroughly saturated our interest in the world’s largest decorated Easter egg (which, incidentally, is located in Vegreville, Alberta) then there is nothing so sweet as putting on the fluffy robe and slippers provided in a gorgeously-decorated room, sinking into a well-upholstered arm chair, propping the barking tootsies up onto a plush ottoman, sipping tea from a china cup and nibbling a scone with blackberry preserves brought smartly to our door by a uniformed server carrying a silver tray. A nap between crisp, cool, 4,000 thread count Egyptian cotton sheets surely follows. “Oh, and run my bath, will you, my sweet? I’ll have my champagne in the tub and see if you can rustle up some foie gras from room service. There’s a dear.”

Or perhaps you are an “Intrepid Adventurer.” If so, you are someone who pursues a "life list" of places to visit around the world. For you, no discomfort is too high a price to pay for visiting exotic wonders, sleeping in yurts and eating grilled scorpion kebobs. This is as far from a description of me as saying I’m a tall, blonde super model. I long ago reconciled that I will never possess the moxie it takes to trek into uncharted territory or a KOA campground. I experience gastric upsets drinking water on Sunday drives one county away, let alone in a country that hasn't updated its sanitation system since the Bubonic Plague. No, I much prefer a marble bathroom the size of the Waldorf’s banquet ballroom and a mini fridge containing a jar of Planters peanuts that requires a bank loan. “And let’s put that room service card out on the door before 3 am and get some eggs benny for breakfast, shall we?”

I guess you’d have to say that I fall into the, “Spoiled Rotten by a Chocolate Mint on the Pillow,” category of traveler. Give me turn-down service and a towel warmer and I am a happy camper. In fact this is as close to camping as I am ever going to get, having never slept under the stars due to the universal existence of insects.

We haven’t always sought luxury. We did our share of econo-travel in our early married life. I remember stopping in South Bend, Indiana once upon a time when we simply couldn’t drive one more mile between Toronto and Winnipeg on US I-80. We checked into a motel with only one vacancy left. When we got to our room we discovered that the entry door was missing a door handle. Too tired to complain or look for another motel, we shoved a dresser up against the door like they do in horror movies and hoped for the best.

The tipping point came a year or two later on an excursion with some RVing enthusiasts whose camper slept only two. We said, “That’s ok! We’ll get a motel room!” (See note about camping above.) We thoroughly enjoyed exploring the natural wonders of Jasper National Park in the Canadian Rockies, one of the most beautiful wilderness areas on earth. In our youth, we deemed where we stayed as being of lesser consequence to the scenery. And so when our companions, driving the RV, pulled into a “resort” that included a campground where they could park their rig, and a motel, we thought the situation ideal. From the outside, it looked to be an ordinary motel, except for the soldier-course of upside down trees – I hesitate to say – “planted” along the building’s length.  Seriously, upside down. Uprooted roots pointing skyward like gnarly, arthritic antlers. Inside, the worst motel room on earth. The floor wore a grey film of stringy, dried tracks left behind by a filthy mop. That same grey apparition ghosted the walls where the mop had slapped up to meet the concrete blocks. The sheets and blanket, who even knows when they had been laundered last, had holes in them. A hole also punctuated the plastic shade on the goose neck desk lamp, but someone had plugged it with a wad of mangled chewing gum. Rusty streaks (one hopes it was rust) stained the sink, tub and toilet. It smelled bad. I couldn’t bring myself to brush my teeth in that germ encrusted sink. We did not remove our shoes, even in bed. I instructed that we shouldn’t let the bed sheet touch our faces. We might have checked out as soon as we checked in, but we were stuck as the RVers were our only way out. We slept, I guess, but awoke at 4 am when all the other motel guests arose to load up fishing gear and hitch up boats for their day’s adventures. At daylight I gave up, got dressed and went to sit in a folding lawn chair in the campground next to the RV. The chance I’d get eaten by a bear seemed a better fate than that motel room’s bacterial smorgasbord.

If I swore that day to a lifetime of seeking more pleasant accommodations, who would have blamed me? In reality, our conversion was a gradual process of staying in one ritzy place, one night per vacation. Over the years, we found that trips took on more relaxed and romantic tones when we looked forward to enchanting surroundings. So now, when we pull up to valet parking, we glibly greet the doorman, “Why, thank you, my good man. Yes, certainly you may take our bags. We’re on vacation!”