Saturday, July 26, 2014

Narrow Escape?

So, I've been reading with interest how 2 years ago the earth narrowly escaped a direct hit from a solar super storm.

Had the storm hit us, most likely it would have taken down power grids world-wide for months, if not years, and dealt a serious blow to this high-tech civilization of ours.


That's sort of a sobering thought, isn't it? I mean think about it, if power grids were to fail worldwide, civilization as we know it would pretty much grind to a halt. Pretty much EVERY aspect of modern life utilizes electricity in some form or another.

It's not just that we wouldn't have electricity in our homes to power things like computers, refrigerators, furnaces, air conditioners and the like, much of our infrastructure depends on electricity.

Most urban areas would not be able to supply water to residents, and who knows about natural gas. Gasoline pumps require electricity, let alone refining crude oil into gasoline. Most modern trains run in diesel, but the switches and systems that regulate the tracks are all electrically powered.

And if transformers world wide were to be blown, it wouldn't be a simple matter of replacing them. Let's face it, the plants that manufacture them require, you guessed it, electricity!

Then there's the damage to communication systems. Most likely all satellite based communications would come to a halt. And who knows what would happen with local telephone service. Back in the old days that stuff was all hard wired, but these days, I'm pretty sure that even when you're talking on a land line to your next door neighbor, the signal bounces to space and back at least once.

Even though the 2012 storm missed us, scientists say there's still a 12% chance that we could get hit by one over the next decade. Twelve percent?!? Seriously? For something that would be so utterly disruptive to life as we know it, those odds are actually a bit frightening.

Anyhow, it all got me to thinking about the idea of emergency preparedness.

I have very mixed feelings about this entire topic. As a person with a mild obsession with bad disaster movies, I've spent my share of time thinking through many of the horrible fates that could befall humanity.

And power outages are not uncommon here in the winter time, though usually they are localized events and within a few days or a week at most everything is back to normal.

But I'm trying to wrap my brain around the idea of the entire planet being pretty much without power for months on end. How could anybody really prepare for an event like that?

I mean... let's look at the bare necessities that we'd need to survive.

First of all there's water.

I don't know the details of Denver's water system, but I think we might be in a fairly lucky position where that one is concerned. Most of our reservoirs are at significantly higher altitude than the city so there's a good chance that our system could function on gravity. But that's just the delivery system... what about the water treatment plants?

Well assuming there was no municipal water supply, what would I do? I do keep about 5 gallons of water in jugs in the basement, but that wouldn't last long. They do make water filters for camping that remove most of the common pathogens. Perhaps it's worth investing in one of those?

Then there's heat.

My house has neither a fireplace nor a wood stove, and there's no way either my heat pump or furnace would work without electricity. I do have a gas powered hot water heater so if there was natural gas I could cobble together some sort of system to keep the house above freezing, but not much more than that.

Over the years I've had fantasies of building some solar window box heaters - they're basically boxes with a glass top that are painted black inside. Air is passed through the heated box and then returned to the home.

I kept the glass when I had my sliding glass door replaced, but building one would be a bit of a project... especially if one was to attempt it without the benefit of power tools! But I suppose that would be a possibility.

Then, of course, there's the biggie: food.

One has to imagine that without power for transportation and communications, food supplies at the grocery stores would dwindle quite rapidly. And forget anything that requires refrigeration. One could hope that people would quickly put local food distribution networks into place, but I'm not sure I'd hold my breath for that one. So what would a person do?

There's the garden, of course, but that only produces food in the summertime, and without irrigation, gardening in this climate would be iffy at best.

One can always stockpile canned and dry goods, but I've been down that road before, and it can easily lead to a lot of food waste if you're not really committed to the whole process.

And even if you can get food, how do you cook it? I do have a solar oven, but it only works, when it's, um... sunny outside!

I could go on and on about this topic, but when it comes right down to it, I'm just torn about what the best approach is on emergency preparedness in general. I mean, there's no way you could possibly be prepared for any and every contingency. But it does seem prudent to take at least a few steps to protect oneself in the event of the unthinkable.

At the moment I'm unsure. I did pick up a few extra cans of beans at the grocery store today, and I got motivated to freshen my stock of drinking water in the basement, but beyond that I'm just not sure. I don't think I'm ready to start buying doubloons in the backyard any time soon.

So tell me, what is your take on disaster preparedness? Are you in the "Que Sera Sera" camp, figuring that whatever will be will be? Do you have a year's worth of supplies stocked away in your basement? Are you somewhere in the middle? I'd love to hear what y'all think about this.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Spoiled, Spoileder, Spoildest

In case y'all haven't figured this out by now, my cats are kinda spoiled.

OK... maybe it's not quite as bad as the house pictured above, but it's pretty darned close.

They eat only premium brands of cat food, which range in price from $1.70-$2.50 per can. They get various supplements and treats including omega 3 fish oils, probiotics and dehydrated chicken treats.

They have several scratching posts and houses as well as three kitty trees in different sections of the house, and numerous shelves and lookouts so they can see out of windows on all sides of the house. And for 3 cats we have a total of about 9 kitty beds because, you know, they need options.

They even have their own health insurance plans which cost about $15-$20 per cat per month. And of course they're all indoor-only cats because there's no way I'm taking any chances with my precious babies getting hit by a car, attacked by a fox or coyote, or contracting any of the numerous deadly diseases that afflict outdoor cats in our area.

All in all, I probably spend well over $300 per month on my three little feline friends. Yup... I'm a sucker.

Even so, there are vast differences between the three of them.

First of all we have Jasper.

Jasper is by far the easiest cat I've ever had. He's happy with whatever food you give him. He loves his kitty beds, but is just as happy sleeping on the couch or the floor. He loves to play, but is just as happy playing by himself as with human interaction.

Jasper also loves to snuggle, but isn't demanding about it, and generally speaking he's just an easy goin' soul.

Then we have Jasper's brother Smoky. Smoky, BTW was named after Smoky Quartz, not Smokey the Bear - hence the spelling of his name. Both boys were named after quartz minerals since CatMan is a bit of an amateur mineralogist.

I often refer to Smoky as the adorable, yet challenging Smoky Bear. Let's just say that Smoky is a bit of a handful. He's always on the lookout for something interesting happening outside.

Did you know that cats have different gaits when they run? I never realized this until I met Smoky. Smoky spends hours running from window to window when something interesting is going on outside. Generally I can tell how the level of excitement by his gait. If he's vaguely curious he'll trot around the house, but if he's really excited it turns into a canter or even an all out gallop in certain situations.

The Smokster is a total character who LOVES to climb and play, which is cute and adorable when he chooses appropriate things to climb on.

But somewhat more... um... interesting if he chooses the curtains, television or window screens.

Smoky is a very, very sweet cat, but when things don't go his way, like if his brother decides he's had enough playing and doesn't want to be chewed on anymore, he'll wander around the house howling at the top of his lungs.

And finally, we have Princess.

Princess is perhaps the most accurately named creature ever. Yup... basically, she gets whatever she wants.

The thing is... she had such a rough life before she found me. When we met she was covered with horrible mats and living under the big pine tree in my front yard.

The above photo was taken from inside through a window screen because it took many, MANY months to convince little Princess that I wasn't gonna hurt her.

When she did come inside, she had to be shaved pretty much from head to toe to get the mats off.

Suffice it to say, it's pretty hard for me to deny her anything. She even has several heating pads which I originally bought to keep her warm when she was naked, but which she still loves to sleep on - even when it's 100 degrees outside!

These days, my view of the Princess generally looks something like this, since she's glued to my lap most of the time.

So recently we decided to try a new food called Rad Cat. Rad Cat is, well, it's a tad bit radical because it's a raw cat food. You buy it in frozen little tubs and feed it, as the raw part implies, without cooking it.

I have mixed feelings about the raw food movement for cats. On the one hand it makes me kinda queasy, but the idea is that this is really their natural diet and that the raw food provides a whole host of enzymes that are essential for them... especially for keeping their teeth healthy. And that was really my motivation for trying it.

Sooo... we bought a few of the small tubs just to try it out. The boys... well, they sorta acted like they thought I might be trying to poison them. Jasper sniffed it, but Smoky literally ran in the opposite direction.

Princess on the other hand.... well... I think I may have created a monster!

Seriously, she's kinda acting like this is the first time in years she's had real food to eat, and she literally doesn't want to eat anything else.

I suppose this sorta makes sense because she did spend lord knows how many years fending for herself which, I am quite sure involved killing and eating a fair amount of neighborhood fowl.

Anyhow, the stuff is NOT cheap! Like we're talking it costs around $6/day to feed one small cat - Princess only weighs around 7 pounds.

But... as I said before, I can't deny her anything. And if it helps her teeth stay healthy it will be worth it in spades.

I just hope she doesn't turn man-eater on me!

So tell me... do you spoil your pets? And has anybody out there ever tried feeding their cats a raw food diet?

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Culture of Constant Distraction

Full disclosure here... I started this post yesterday afternoon. I wrote the title, then got distracted and didn't get back to it until now. So, that ought to tell you something about my ability to rise above the issue about which I am preparing to wax opinionated! May the snickering commence...

So I was reading about a study in which people were asked to sit quietly and do nothing for 15 minutes. The only distraction available to the participants was to give themselves a painful electric shock. Incredibly enough, 67% of the men and 25% of the women chose to inflict pain upon themselves rather than be alone with their thoughts for 15 minutes. Seriously?!?

While these findings make me sad, and do make me wonder if I'm living in some sort of a never ending production of theater of the absurd, somehow I can't say that I'm terribly surprised. If there is one thing that's clear to me about our culture, it's that people will do just about ANYTHING to avoid having to face themselves.

I know I've grumbled about these issues before. I whine about the "busier than thou" mantra of our society, I complain about our addiction to technology, and in general I chafe against the idea that I should be "connected" all the time (yes, I am a FaceBook and Twitter conscientious objector.)

It's not that I'm immune from the desire to be constantly entertained and enjoy the escape from my own insecurities, uncomfortable emotions and personal demons, but experience tells me that this is not a good strategy for long term happiness.

Here's the thing. I think that most of us yearn for a sense of peace. We constantly complain that we are too busy and don't have enough time to ourselves. Yet, when we are actually given time to just sit and do absolutely nothing, peace tends to elude us.

Remove the distractions, and suddenly we come face to face with a whole pile of feelings and emotions that don't quite "fit" in this modern society of ours. At least that's the case for me.

And it's just SOOOO much easier to get wrapped up in doing just about anything (including, apparently, self-administration of electric shocks) than it is to feel all of that stuff that we're busy avoiding.

And while voluntary simplicity/minimalism/slow living (or whatever you want to call this lifestyle I lead) is a great start, it too is rife with opportunities for distraction. We "simple livers" are always busy cooking, gardening, de-cluttering, DIY-ing and the like... sometimes I wonder if we haven't missed the point.

So... I think I'm gonna try just sitting for 15 minutes every day. Well, to be honest, I probably won't do it every day, but I'm gonna try to do it regularly and see what happens.

I must admit that I approach this little challenge with a bit of trepidation. Who knows what sorts of emotional ugliness might bubble to the surface.

I don't know if this happens to other people, but regularly when doing yoga I'll find myself bursting into uncontrollable tears for no apparent reason... so who knows what dark corners of my psyche might come to light through this exercise.

But whatever's there, I think it's better to feel it than to waste any more of my life running away.

Anybody wanna take the challenge with me?