Monday, February 22, 2010

Motivational Destiny

It was getting dark and the street signs were becoming more difficult to see. We no longer had any idea if we were closer or driving further away from our destination. Randoll Mill Rd. was supposed to be right there. But it wasn't. Where did it go?

We were not where we were supposed to be.

The workshop started 30 minutes ago, but Cindy McKinney and I finally arrived at our motivational destination. Missing street sign. Go figure.  "Finding the Creative Writing Genius Inside You" was turning out to be more than a motivational workshop! I have to confess, I was still a little giddy. It's been a while since I was a student, much less a writing student. Cindy and I were pumped on adrenaline and caffeine. Find that creative writer and unleash her. Let's go!

We arrived just in time for the good stuff. Yay!

It was good to be reminded of all those writing lessons long ago. Word clusters, web writing and word associations. Get the creative juices going and just put pen to paper. Don't worry about editing. Just let it flow.

I realized. Somewhere along the road to being a grown up, I had forgotten how to play along the way. I opted, instead, for safety. Safer to walk on the sidewalk than to risk driving into a ditch. Safety.

The instructor pops child development author Joseph Chilton Pearce's quote onto the wall: "To live the creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong."

The fear of being wrong? That hurt.

I know that fear all too well. That fear has kept me safe, but uneffective. Safe, but unused. Safe, yet withering.

That's it. It's time to be a little reckless. It's time to use the good dishes. Time to make the difficult meals for my family, rather than just for company. Time to step up. It's time to risk denting the convertible and go somewhere. Take it out of the driveway.  Drive it to the store. Drive it on a curvy road with the top down just to enjoy the thrill of the wind on my face and the smell of freshly cut hay.

But aren't you supposed to be writing? Oh yeah.

We were late to the workshop because we had taken a wrong turn. Not the driver's fault. One missing sign meant we couldn't find the right road. We would have never arrived there if we hadn't stopped to get directions. We were wrong a lot that night!

In spite of wrong turns, it was still fun having someone to talk to while we were lost. Cindy and I chatted like junior high school girls at a slumber party.

That's it. I discovered the secret to being wrong. Be sure to have a friend. It makes the ride more enjoyable, even when you are lost and late.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Earth Angel Heart Still Flying High

18 Valentine’s Days ago, I woke up to rain, but I was looking forward to the day of hearts and roses. It was my first Valentine’s Day with my boyfriend, Jon. I wondered what kind of flowers he would send, or where he’d take me for dinner.

The morning passed rather uneventfully. No call. No flowers. No date for lunch.

Harumph. All the other girls' desks are loaded with flowers, candy, cards, stuffed bears, tons of tokens of love from their sweeties.

Late in the afternoon, Jon shows up in my secure access area of work, but without flowers. I’m more than a little peeved -- (I still don't see any love tokens declaring his love for me!), but now I’m fretting about losing my job because he has somehow bypassed the acess card reader. Now he’s joking with my boss about letting me take the rest of the day off! Lo and behold, my stern, by the book, boss, says, “Sure.” But first, I’ll have to wear a blindfold.

Jon leads me out of the office building, and seats me in the car. The rain had stopped earlier in the day and the sun was out, I could feel the warmth on my face. After driving around for what seemed like forever, he finally came to a stop. We were at an ultralight air strip. We had discussed learning to fly these things, but now here I was for the moment of truth.

Well, okay. I can forgive him for not getting me flowers, but have you ever really seen an ultralight? It’s like a lawn chair tied to a kite with a box fan in the back. Seriously. You want me to go up in that, first?

The pilot, who looks a lot like Stephen King and adds an additional reason not to go up, takes me through learning the gauges. Jon did his homework. He knew this was going to be a little more difficult, so he convinced my co-worker Dana to drop hints and tell me how much fun ultralight aircrafts were!

Only room for two, so Jon sends me up first. Don’t forget these head phones, he adds. It’s noisy up there, he says, so here are the instructions in case you can’t hear the pilot. Okay, I think. This is getting exciting.

Stephen King takes me through the gauges and I halfway learn what they are used for. But the sun is getting low in the sky and we need to hustle. Within minutes we are soaring in the sky and it is absolutely gorgeous. It’s like flying. Wind is whipping your face, and oh, I can’t hear the pilot. I can’t hear the instructions in the earphones either. Oh, well. I’ll just enjoy the ride.

The sun starts setting in the west and a beautiful orange hue splays over the fields below. I see something on the ground and my first thought is how did that guy get so much shaving cream in the field. Oh, it spells something. Wait, it’s Jon. The message reads, “Marry Me!” and Jon is holding a large red heart as the bottom of the exclamation point. I love Valentine’s Day! All the pink and red hearts all day long now are quickly becoming a thing of the past. I no longer cared about flowers or candy or anything else. This was perfect.

Stephen King holds out two bandanas. A red one and green one. It’s Valentine’s Day and the red one is fitting for such a wonderful day! I make my selection and wave it proudly to Jon below as we make a low flying pass. In a moment Stephen yells at me and asks me if I’m really gonna say no. I’m confused. Why does he think I’m gonna say no?

He yanks the red bandana out of my hand and stuffs the green one in. “Oh,” I said. I guess it does make more sense that red means no and green means go! I drop the green one and it spirals down to the ground.
After we land, Jon is on bended knee with his grandmother’s wedding rings in hand and asks me to marry him. My heart melts and I gladly say yes.

Then the pilot says, “I’m glad you didn’t drop that red bandana.”

“Why,” I asked, wondering why he was so concerned.

“I didn’t tie a rock in it. I didn’t expect that you’d say no. If you had dropped it, it would have drifted into the propeller and we probably would have crashed.”

Hmmmmmmmmm. God was watching over me in more ways than one!

I didn’t get to hear the actual proposal in the air due to the loud propeller noise, but I did get to hear it when we landed on the ground. The headphones were plugged into a tape recorder with “Earth Angel” playing and followed by the sweetest proposal from Jon.

I’ve since forgotten what the gauges were and am grateful he didn’t really make me learn to fly an ultralight afterall! He still doesn’t do flowers or traditional expectations, and I’ve learned that it is perfectly all right!
Valentine’s Days ever since that one in 1992 always make my heart beat a little faster. And even though Jon is in Afghanistan this year, our hearts are still flying high. I had no idea that 18 years later, we’d still be having this much fun. We love doing the same things and we enjoy discovering new things together. So much to look forward to.


Monday, February 8, 2010

It's a Tankless Job . . .

It’s been a couple of weeks since I purchased my Rheem tankless water heater and I anxiously await the arrival of my friend to install it.

Last Saturday brought the threat of Texas ice and cold, so the install was postponed a week. Nonetheless, I had the burgers and a couple of bottles of Guinness Extra Stout ready just in case. And a case of Dr Pepper.

Dan Stilson served in Haiti for Operation Uphold Democracy in the mid 1990s with my husband Jon. They both lived and breathed the 245th Airborne Psychological Operations missions and methods for the US Army. We have shared burgers, buzz cuts and boy stories about his twins and our own son over the years. In addition to being a soldier, Dan is also trained as a heating and cooling tech, so I was thrilled when Dan offered to intall the water heater for me while Jon is now supporting Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.

It is awesome to have friends when your husband is afar, but it is even more awesome to have talented friends willing to help! Dan is not the only one who’s stepped up, but right now he’s the one who’s in the spotlight!

Dan is helping a couple of guys get started in home repair. Due to a back injury, he wasn’t excited about crawling around on the roof of my house to vent the tank, so he enlisted Eloy to come with him. He was also figuring out the tankless water heater install because he had not installed one before. Would have taken them a scant couple of hours to install the storage tank type he’s used to, but the tankless ones, well, this is new territory for all of us.

Dan was concerned that I needed to vent this thing, but I wanted to install the outdoor model in the garage, which doesn’t require venting. After a little research, Dan finally discovered that the efficiency on these tankless heaters is 92 percent. They burn so efficient that they can be installed in a basement without a vent. So a garage should be okay too.

I was ecstatic and returned to Home Depot and exchanged it for the outdoor model. Oh, did I mention I was installing it on the other side of the water heater closet, putting the unit in the garage? The unit is the size of an electric panel and that means, I get an entirely huge closet! This is perhaps the biggest motivator for me to get the tankless! Okay, I admit that I have some shallow moments, and sometimes they are daily and sometimes they are very close to the surface, but gaining a closet without having to move a wall is monumental!

A couple of other motivators for going tankless are the 30% tax refund for 2010, 30% energy cost savings here on out, some level of savings from our local electric and gas utilities (I have heard rumors, but will need to call and find out what the actual savings are), and of course, endless hot water!

Because there is no tank, the unit provides hot water only when it is demanded. At 6.6 gallons a minute, that is awesome. It is also rated to handle 2 to 3 appliances/baths at a time! Small additional fact is that it also pulls only 2 amps, so I was thinking if Dan hadn’t offered to put this thing in, I could have done it myself (I am pretty handy around tools and stuff too!). It looked kinda easy on the box and I could carry the thing without any help!

The crew was going to arrive around lunchtime so I made burgers and homemade french fries. We drank some of the Dr Peppers and saved the beer for celebrating afterward (except for Ron who's brew of choice remains Dr Pepper).

Well, I’m very glad Dan and Eloy installed it for me. I really don’t think I could have done it, especially the gas line. Dan read every instruction and made sure the correct parts were available. Eloy did an amazing job of re-routing the gas and water plumbing. He was very conscientious about making it aesthetically pleasing and covered any gaping holes in the drywall (like the one left by the old vent stack into the top of the closet and the existing huge gapping ones around the water pipes. Eloy’s business is called “Honey Do’s” out of Ft. Worth, or call 817-615-0729. I definitely recommend him.

In fact, the unit looks so nice on the garage wall, I think I need to paint the garage now to make it look right!

In addition to the help from Dan and Eloy, I enlisted the help of Greenville native, Ron Shultz, a 6’6” friend and wannabe taunter! He was curious why I kept referring to it as a water heater. “You know, most people call it a . . . “ he said. “I know. They call it a hot water heater,” I replied. My high school buddy, Mark Palmer already outted me on Facebook and asked me if I planned to heat hot water! Thanks, Mark. :)  It did save me some argument time with Ron! He’ll have to wait to get me on something else, though. They both verbally keeps me on my toes.

But Ron was invaluable for the remodel. He got the task of hauling the humongous old heater out. With a bear hug and a couple of steps, he wrestled it out the back door and down the 4-inch step into the garage. A borrowed two-wheel hand truck made the haul to the curb much easier. It also made it easier to read the manufacturer’s date. The old heater revealed it was made in February 1980. If the unit was purchased within a year of that date, that means it worked in this house for 29 years, nearly double the expected life span of most heaters.

Dumping the remainder of the water of the calcified innards of the behemoth took several more gallons. No wonder it was gasping for air. I am totally surprised this thing did not already overflow or explode.
Dan and Eloy had already hit the road back to Ft. Worth, when I realized we had not taken time to celebrate. I'm holding the Guinness Extra Stout hostage and Dan will just have to come back and visit when Jon returns so we can all catch up without any kind of work involved.

I guess I really hadn’t realized how tepid our water had become. My first shower was heavenly. The shower was as hot at the end of the shower as it was at the beginning and I didn’t have to turn the cold water down at all in order to keep getting hot water!!! I think whatever we save in gas energy, may go to extended water usage due to long showers!!!!

I love my new tankless water heater so far. Does anyone else have one they love or hate?