Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you. -- Carl Sandburg
There's only one rule that I know of, babies -- goddammit, you've got to be kind. -- Kurt Vonnegut

March 13, 2014

LiFePO4 Batteries


I decided to go ahead with replacing my very dead Group 31 AGM batteries with LiFePO4 batteries of the same size. I contacted Smartbattery.com and they were very responsive to all my questions. They weren’t the very cheapest I found on the Internet but they seemed to be one of the few who have a clear business and support their product. After a couple of days, I got handed off to their distributor in North Carolina who was also very responsive to all my questions and who went the extra mile in finding the correct answer for me and my specific set up. When I ordered them, I called the guy and gave him my credit card number on a Friday afternoon. I told him I didn’t need instant service and could wait until Monday. He had a different person call me for the details and I got the call back by 4pm which was too late for them to go out that day. But they went out on Monday and I got them via UPS on the following Wednesday. Very fast delivery.

In the discussion, I learned that my Parallax 3 stage charger would never deliver sufficient volts to fully charge the new Li batteries as it is capped at 13.9V or 13.6V, depending on what part you read of the documentation. The Li batteries need 14.6V to get fully charged. My alternator delivers that but not the charger as verified by my Trimetric battery monitor I installed 3 years ago. So I decided I had better upgrade the charger too. I was concerned about whether the old charger should be disconnected and if I would lose the AC-DC converter aspect of it. He didn’t know and tried to get an answer from Dodge since my Sprinter was Dodge branded (pointless as Dodge never supported the Sprinters and all this is the RV portion and not Sprinter. He gets points for trying, tho.) I did a bit of research and finally found a clear explanation. A converter is nothing more than a charger. It is a nomenclature that confuses. All chargers convert AC to DC to charge the battery. So all chargers are also converters and vice versa.

SmartBattery sells what looks like good chargers so I ordered that from them too (DeltaVolt Dual Pro can provide 15 amps to each battery). At the time of ordering, they told me that the charger would drop ship from the manufacturer and they would load it with their specific algorithm for the LiFePO4 batteries. Nice touch. He said it might take to the end of the week for delivery, which was fine for me. It came the next day. So A++ for customer service and delivery. If I was in a hurry, I’m pretty sure they would have gotten the order in that day in time for it to go out the same day.

First Charge

It was very cold (again!) so I unpacked the batteries and charger in my house. The charger has 2 connections and can charge two battery banks separately at the same time so I set them down near an outlet inside my house and connected the charger to both batteries. The batteries arrive about half charged due to hazardous materials shipment requirements. The first charge cycle took several hours and the battery charger registered them both at the 30% level. One battery charged up to full and measured at 14.4V after it was unplugged. The second one said it was fully charged but only registered at 13.56V. I unplugged the charger and plugged it back in and the second time it charged the second battery to 15.2V during it's final phase and it dropped back to 14.4V after it was all done. The first battery registered at 14.5V. I did it a third time and it again got up to 15.2V during the final phase of charging and the batteries registered at 14.5V and 14.4V in resting.

I emailed my contact again and asked if this was acting properly and he said they were behaving perfectly. The charger in its final stage should bring the battery up to 15.2 or 15.3. After charge it will float back down to around 14.4V. The capacity of the battery is between 13.5 -12.9 once that battery reaches 13v it is around 80% empty. The .1V after float does not mean much in terms of actual usage and will not have an effect on the life of the battery. After a few days of sitting, they drifted to 13.56V.

Installation

I finally got a few days of mild weather instead of the single digit lows and started installing the new batteries and charger. I first pulled the Parallax Converter/Charger and discovered the charger portion of the unit is powered by a 3 prong AC plug that is wired to the breaker in the AC box. That makes it easy.

The biggest problem was fitting the Inverter on its side so there would be room for the new charger in that cavity that already has a vent on the door for the needed ventilation. The length of the big wires required that it be positioned on the left side of the cavity. I had thought to rig an L bracket to mount the charger on the back and the inverter on the side but getting that contraption into the cavity was impossible and there was no way to screw it together inside the cavity. I ended up using galvanized L brackets to support and fasten both boards to the floor and hold them upright.

I used some 3/4” plywood I had laying around for the boards. I cut a big circle in the middle of the inverter support board because it has ventilation on the bottom and more air is better. I cut the charger support board tall enuf to fit behind the back of the shelf that is above the cavity to help support it. The charger is fairly heavy and wants to fall forward. Its weight will help to hold the board upright and not have to depend soley on the L brackets. I then painted all surfaces of both boards to protect them from moisture. Not a necessarily needed step but wood with paint on it tends to last better.
Mounting board for Inverter
Mounting board for charger

I then measured and drilled and screwed the mounting screws supplied with the charger and the L Brackets to the board. For the inverter board, I mounted the L brackets on the back side of the board and mounted the inverter to the board and used a couple of cable ties around it for extra security. I had to re-orient the wire lugs on the back to fit the space as well.

The inverter fit pretty well and I could drill and screw the forward L bracket to the floor. The rear bracket is hard to get to but it seemed very secure so I just did the one screw. The charger board felt very strong once I had drilled and screwed all 4 screws into its L brackets. The Charger slipped pretty easily onto the mounting screws in the board and I secured them tightly.
Inverter, back side mounted

Inverter mounted vertically on board. Yellow plug powers an outlet

Wiring the charger consisted of plugging the power cord into the Parallax plug (not plugged into shore power so it didn’t matter what order). I coiled the second battery cable and cable tied it to the top of the charger as it is not needed with my configuration. The first battery cable has a Y with the negative and positive ends. There is a screw in the electrical cavity for grounding and I connected the negative wire to that. It has a buss for the positive wire connections and I connected the positive wire to that. Easy peasy.
Charger Mounting board secured to the floor and the top behind the shelf
with the charger mounting screws in place.
To the right is the black water tank. Behind it is the waste vent pipe
and some electrical wiring that goes up to the ceiling.
Inverter on the left
Charger securely mounted on the board. There's still room to tuck in a few small boxes too.

New LiFePO4 batteries. One for each side of the van rear
(the tarp was to line the back for a dump run - such a versatile vehicle!)

Battery 1

Battery 2 wired in parallel to get 200AH


The old batteries were not easy to get out as they are very heavy. I managed but did have one fall and hit me on the shin. The side had a label with 11-09 on it so I think that is the date for them. That means they are less than 4 years old. About 3 years before they conked out. The new batteries have a screw connection and no post. One of the connectors used the post mount whereas the rest had ring connectors for the screw post. I got a screw on ring terminal for 4 gauge wire to replace it. One of the screws they supplied was not long enuf for the 3 wires connected to it but I had one long enuf to handle them to replace it. One of the battery holder bars won’t fit the new battery while the other one fit fine. I have to figure our a way to secure it. The one that works has a dogleg to fit into the slot in the batter box, the other one is a straight bar. Nobody has one with a dogleg so I'll have to jury-rig something.

The batteries immediately measured the same after I connected all the wires so they are one bank in parallel.  My Trimetric monitor said they are at 13.3V while my hand meter says they are at 13.4.  That's with the bits that bleed a little juice while the van is sitting.

All wired up and the van came back to life. The lights work again. Unfortunately, my errant refrigerator still does not come on. I am sending it back to the manufacturer for them to fix or replace it. No matter what I do, the compressor won't come on. Since it is under warranty, they are paying for UPS to pack it up and ship to them, so at least it won't cost me anything but the trouble to get it to the UPS store.  

And I'm getting beeping and blinking lights from both the CO and propane monitors. Oh look, one of them says to replace after 5 years. Oops. Guess I have to get new ones of those now.  Shazam! They are expensive.

I also noticed a burn mark on the neutral wire nut in the AC box. The wires were fused together - a clear sign of way too much heat.  I finally cut it off and then found some gooey stuff on the wire strands.  I think I need to replace the shore power wire. Fortunately, I found a 30amp 10 gauge wire at Lowes so it won't be hard.

And next on my list is find a recycler for the dead batteries and get the engine battery tested to be sure it is up to snuff.  Don't want to have it die on me on the road.  Plus I need a new serpentine belt for the engine.  I hear it is really ugly if it breaks while driving.

February 10, 2014

House Batteries - Going to Lithium

It is time. My two 3+ year old 100AH AGM house batteries are toast (I found a date on the sides after I pulled them out). Using the shore power and the converter/charger, they haven't got up above 11.1 volts. On the off chance that there is something wrong with the charger, I attached a regular charger and got same thing. They won't charge so they are dead. Time to replace them.  This may well be the cause of my refrigerator failure last summer. I can't test that out until I replace them.

Ever since Technomadia put in their LiFePO4 battery bank 2.5 years ago, I've lusted after those batteries. They have a terrific explanation of the batteries and comparison to the regular lead acid so I refer any questions to their pages found at the link.  My lust is based on the following things:

1. The 100 usable amp hours in my current house batteries has been marginal for me.  I don't do things like run the radio or watch a DVD because of the marginal juice available. Having 12V refrigerators adds to that problem, altho for the bits that the old 3 way refrigerator ran, it used quite a bit of battery.

2. I really prefer boondocking whenever feasible and camping in primitive campgrounds where there is room between campers. I'd like to be able to comfortably boondock for a few days at a time.

3. The LiFePO4 batteries allow use of 80-90% of their amp hours. It is almost like getting 2 batteries out of one.

4.  The LiFePO4 gives a very even voltage when in use. This stays steady until they are done. You get full power out of them then they shut off. This makes all the 12V things perform better.

5.  They have a life span of 10 years. At least we hope so and indications are good for this to be true.  They rate them for 3000 discharge cycles at full power. After that, you still have a battery that has 80% of its original capacity.

6. The LiFePO4 chemistry is not flammable, unlike the LiPoly batteries that Boeing is using in their airliners (for reasons I just cannot understand - bad engineering?) That makes these batteries less hazardous than lead acid batteries.

The problems I face in this decision are:

1. Space. I have two subfloor battery boxes that hold my Group 31 batteries. If I don't get batteries of the same size, then I would have do some major surgery to find a good place for them.

2. Many of the LiFePO4 batteries' form factor just would not fit into the boxes.

3. Many of the LiFePO4 batteries require cell balancing, a good battery management system to guard against under and over charging, and special chargers.  This can get a little tricky as the info on the Technomadia site describes. They say it is not yet ready for mass use but people like them are willing to experiment with them. I read it and think I understand but I am afraid that I don't quite understand it all.

4.  Space again for the needed electronics (item 3).  A class B doesn't have nice big bays to stash stuff.

5.  Cost.  Altho these are quite expensive, the long run costs could be comparable or possibly less than AGM replacements.  I have always been good at living below my means so if I want to, I can afford to invest in these. The DYI systems do cost significantly less than the "drop-in" replacements but there are quite a few things that have to be done right. Also, the cells for them don't fit my space very well.

6. Do these batteries require a different charging technology than the lead acid? Lead acid batteries like a 3 stage charging and like to be topped off with a low amp float charge.  LiFePO4 batteries don't. You charge the lithium batteries and then you stop. No floating needed. You don't keep it plugged in to top it off.

7. They don't like being charged in freezing temperatures but are fine being used in freezing temps. For winter storage, it is best to draw them down to about 50% charge and leave them. Apparently, they store best like that.

Now for what I am leaning towards doing:

There are a few manufacturers that have made LiFePO4 batteries in the same form factor as standard lead acid batteries. They also include battery management systems in the same box and say that they are drop-in replacements for the old lead acids. You have to pay more for this but it would really solve the space issue (Items 1 - 4).

Technomadia says that whatever LiFePO4 battery you buy in the USA, has to be tested to meet certain standards whether they are the individual cells or the fully integrated drop in replacement. You can save money by doing all the configuring yourself but then you assume the responsibility that you did it right. An engineered product takes a lot of that responsibility away from me. Technomadia also says they don't think their set up is for Joe and Susie Average RV'er yet.  While I don't pretend to have the expertise they have, I do think my technical skills are a few notches above the average RV owner. (Can you tell I'm a big fan of Technomadia?)


These are starting be used in the boating community. I found this huge thread where some have put them into boats with good results: http://www.cruisersforum.com/forums/...65069-230.html There are several discussions where they use the lead acid chargers on the LiFePO4 battery with very good results.

From what I can gather, they are a really good solution and the drop-in variety don't need special charging. They will work with the regular lead acid chargers because they each have their own battery management systems that keep from dropping too low and keep from getting over charged - the two killers of these batteries. Special chargers are only needed if you want really fast charging with high amps as the lithium batteries can take in whatever you give them - no trickle float needed. (Item 6)


From what I can find, Group 27 form drop-in batteries with 100AH cost:
$900 - http://www.starkpower.com with 1 year warranty
$952.49 - Bioenno Power with 2 year warranty (backordered currently)
$1300 - http://www.lithiumion-batteries.com with 5 year warranty

It seems to me that the quality of the battery management system is really important. The cells are all made in China anyway.  All these companies talk the good talk about how long lasting they are and how great the BMS is, but only Lithiumion actually gives a solid warranty backing up their talk. They also have a better web site with more solid info. The other two don't supply good consistent spec sheets on their batteries, they don't give pictures of each individual battery, and I am left feeling very uncertain of whether they produce a quality product. And with such short warranties, they don't seem very certain either.

It is a big price difference but with being on the cutting edge, I'm nervous about track records which are hard to find.  So I keep thinking maybe spending a few hundred more and getting a 5 year warranty means I get a better quality battery.  Several commentators on the threads cite the same concerns and seem to feel better about Lithiumion for that reason.  Lithiumion also says that their batteries work just fine with existing chargers and alternators made for lead acid batteries. In asking questions, they are very responsive. They say that their battery management system allows you to do the same things you do with the AGMs including keeping it plugged in and using the same charging system, and even charging below freezing.  It almost sounds too good to be true.

It appears that my charger will only charge the LiFePO4 batteries to about 80% because it maxes out at 13.9V. So I would either have to supplement the charge with a plug in charger or get a better charger.

Lithionics batteries is used by some and gets very good reports but they don't seem to have a Group 27 form factor unless you go to only 60AH.  Since I really want to add a lot more amp hours to my power setup, they are not attractive to me.

Getting nearly double the amp hours is the number one driver on spending all this money.
I know many people do not think it worth spending the high cost over the cost of the AGMs (which would easily be in the neighborhood of $800 for good ones), but I really want more power available in the van.




LTE Runaway

Last month, I got an AT&T hotspot and was quite happy with it. I have the 5GB/$50/month thing. My house is among the many places where there is very limited Internet options. The AT&T signal is good there and most of them time I get good speed with it. In all of January, I used about 2.5GB of data. Quite good since it even included streaming a single TV program.

A few days ago, I suddenly started getting emails from AT&T that I had used 3.5GB, shortly after that, 5GB and they added a gig for +$10. I shut off my hotspot (airplane mode) at the 5.99GB mark.  I had a few web pages open but no streaming and I have ad blockers to cut that kind of data usage. My firewalls and virus scanners were up and I ran them afterwards to check my system and it was clean. It had run thru 5.5GB of data inside of 2 hours and I was not doing anything that should have eaten that kind of data. Yikes!

I called AT&T Tech support and all I got was that they registered a sudden increase in data download and too bad for me. They insisted it could not be their meters going haywire (I believe Technomadia had an episode of this with their Millicom hotspot). The only suggestion is that I turn the hotspot off when I'm not using data - something I already do.  It is clear that AT&T will do nothing about it in true Telco fashion  - their motto is it is always the consumer's fault. And they really don't care. They have zero incentive to fix such problems. To them, they just charged me an extra $10 and didn't have to provide anything for it.

What I suspect happened is that the big ice storm did something to their network and in the repairs, someone did something that triggered a false data download and I am screwed. There is just no way I could have legitimately downloaded 5.5GB of data inside of 2 hours. Even streaming wouldn't chew up that much data so fast and I don't stream.

I worked for years in computer systems and I know how easy it is to make an error and screw up networks. Especially when the shit is hitting the fan and you are scrambling to get things working again - exactly the situation after the ice storm.  Most of the weekend was dropped down to the HSPA+ network on my phone so it is clear they were having problems.

So the bottom line is, LTE is great but watch out. Caveat emptor, indeed.

January 14, 2014

Purging on

My dump run was 660 pounds of old door and trim, the vinyl and underlayment pieces for my hall and powder room and a lot of accumulated household trash. Nice to have it gone but there's a lot more.

I've been in this house for 20 years. 20 years of accumulated stuff. We really do expand our stuff to the space we have. And then some. I've been clearing out the family room, my main room that I've lived in for all that time. I cleared out the bookcase, cleaned it and moved it to a corner of the new living room. I put back about half the books but they probably should be gotten rid of.  I have a lot of gardening, field guides, and construction books but nowadays, when I want to find out about something, I google it. I learned a ton from those books. How we have changed how our minds learn. It used to be that one had to have a library or go to a library to learn about something. Not anymore.  It is mostly all on the web or can be gotten in a digital format that weighs little and takes little space.

I decided that my old stereo should go. I had a nice pair of speakers, a receiver, tape, and gasp, LP player because I still have a library of old vinyl LPs. I found the manuals for them too along with the manuals of several old and long discarded pieces. This stuff is over 20 years old! The tape player hasn't worked right in years so it can go to the recycling center - more loading up the van. The speakers are big and the receiver still works so they went to Goodwill. I haven't used the stereo in years because I now use a smaller much more modern unit.

I still have a VCR and old CRT TV. I thought I had a few Jane Austen shows on VHS tapes that I would like to copy to DVD but in the purge, I found that I had already bought them on DVD so those went to my neighbor who wanted them. In my cabinet, I had a ton of old movies that I had taped off analog TV. I have not had the VCR running in years and years now, so they all can be dumped. The picture quality won't be worth trying to copy them. I couldn't get the VCR to show on the TV anyway so they both went to the van to be taken to the recycling center.

That leaves some old cassette tapes and the LPs. Before I retired, I bought one of those all in one LP, tape record to CD machines that also has a radio in it meaning to digitize the old media to CDs. I hadn't ever started that project. But now, I will. I moved that unit into the new living room along with the cabinet and started it. It works pretty well altho using a program like Audacity to clean up the recording and convert it to MP3s is time-consuming. I got a pack of CD labels and used the on-line Avery program to make some labels for the CDs. That works well but I do have to pay attention to which tracks actually recorded on the CD. Sometimes, the machine adds extra tracks with nothing but static.

Pulling out the furniture that had been there for so many years is rather disgusting. The Asian brown marmolated stink bug invasion that started a few years ago left quite a collection of their carcases under it. I have a big computer Armour that has quite an accumulation of computer stuff. Most of that will be trashed because it is old now. I even found floppy disks and zip disks.  I don't think I have anything that can read the old floppies anymore.  I found a zip drive so I will have to see if there is anything on those disks that I've been wondering where they got to.  If my Win 7 computer can run that thing.  Funny how we went to technology after technology trying to squeeze more and more data onto portable media.  Now even CDs are old school and terabytes of data storage are cheap to get.

I have had a big old computer armour that I no longer want or use. After I cleared it out, my neighbor said she wanted it so she sent her son and husband to haul it out. Yay!! In my mind, having someone take it out was worth giving it away, even if I could have gotten a few dollars for it.

When I stripped the ugly wallpaper, I got a surprise that almost all of it came off easily. All the wall paper in the rest of house is like it was put on with super glue and is a horrible job. I  stripped the trim, and scrubbed the walls about 5 times to get the old paste off. The old carpet is pulled and the van is loaded up again for the dump. Then it is patching it all and then painting.  It is amazing how much bigger a room looks with white walls and no ugly wall paper.  Then it is onto the kitchen rehab before I lay the flooring in the back part of the house.

I kept getting stink bugs coming out of the mantel as I was stripping it. These are the invasion of the Asian ones that hit the east coat.  I finally pried it off the wall and found hundreds of them behind the mantel! Yuck.  When I put the mantel back on, it is going to get plenty of caulk to keep that from happening again!


Purging is an exercise in self control. As I go thru this stuff accumulated thru my life, I have to resist the urge to keep it because once I wanted it and used it. I keep reminding myself how long it has been sitting around unused. It is time to clean it out and pass it onto someone who will use it or just trash it.

Got a beautiful full double rainbow - horizon to horizon today! Couldn't get the whole thing in one pic. The sky was a perfect prism.


December 26, 2013

Whoa!!




This month, I got a new cell phone: the new Nexus 5 unlocked, and tried out StraightTalk  $45 for a month of unlimited talk, text, data.  It is on the AT&T network and can do the LTE data speeds. The down side is that once you use up 2.5GB of data, they throttle you to 2g speeds and you can't tether the phone or roam.  But I can get 5-6mbs upload and 2-3 mps download speeds on it at home on the HSPA network and 8-12+ when it gets the LTE signal.  Compared to the 1.3 mbs at best I could get on the Sprint network and it looks pretty good.  The talk and text works just fine too and it is a lot less expensive. I also got a Google Voice number that I connected to my land line and the new cell phone.  That way, I can change out plans and numbers and people can call the Google number and still get me.

My first cell phone was an AT&T but a few years ago, I could no longer get a signal from them at my home so I switched to Sprint.  Sprint was fine for a while but with the advent of LTE networks, they have really fallen far behind.  Add to that the missing coverage on my trips and it is goodbye to Sprint. In the meantime, AT&T has expanded and sped up their network pretty well.  Verizon wasn't a real option because I get poor coverage at my house from them.

I've had at home a wireless network that bounces the signal from spot to spot for rural places that I've been paying $55/month for 1mbs up and .5 down.  It was a more reliable signal than tethering my old Sprint phone and better than dial up.  I just discovered that they have been offering 2mbs up 1 mbs down for the last year for the same price and never let me know. So I asked and they want $189 for new equipment to up the speed. I know that the equipment I have can do 12mbs unthrottled and it is a very easy software setting to change the speed as that is what it did before the installer throttled it.  Doesn't seem like a very good deal to me.  A cable modem is not an option so I'm limited for internet even at home.

Today, I got the AT&T Unite Pro hotspot with the $50/5GB/month plan and yes, I went ahead and got the contract because I am going to keep it for that long anyway so I might as well save the $150 extra to buy it off contract. It isn't like they discount the monthly fee off contract.  It gets the LTE signal really well in my house and look at the speed! 18+ mbs! Plus it is fully mobile.  All I will have to do in the van is just put it in there and we are good to go.  The hotspot has plugs for an antenna as well so that is an option.

I think 5 gigs of data will be fine for me as I don't do gaming or stream a whole lot of stuff.  If I go over the 5 gigs, they will add a gig and charge me an extra $10.  I can go to using 7-8 gigs in a month and match what I had been paying for the phone and internet so I think this is a better deal by far. Now to cancel the old stuff.

On other computer stuff since I'm on the topic.  Last year, I bought an Android tablet but it was a failure after just a few months. It started rapidly flashing apps on and off and nothing I could find would fix it. It had a short warranty so I was stuck. I decided that I really prefer a laptop and got a Sony ultralight last summer.  I still like it really well and it still works.  Windows 8 takes some getting used to but it runs real programs like the Libre Office suite as well as a bunch of apps programs.  It is incredibly light and fast with a touch screen.  The Android wannabes on the tablet just didn't cut it for real work.

November 29, 2013

Musing on Thanksgiving as a Single Retiree

Another Thanksgiving has come and gone, this time with the stores deciding their employees had so little pull that they could force them to have no holiday and come to work for the mad acquisition fanatics to indulge their whims on a national holiday.  I'm one who gets irritated at the onslaught of the Christmas buying spree starting before Halloween. I like the Fall.  The right wing likes to claim there's some sort of war on Christmas because many people like to be pleasantly inclusive to others who happen to not be Christian (it's why we say happy holidays - so everyone will be included in a banal but friendly greeting.) But there is zero evidence that Christmas in is any sort of decline. Just look around you. You can't escape it. It is yet another aggressive attempt to force a particular segment of Christianity onto people who don't care for it while sending the clear message that we don't want your kind around here if you don't subscribe to it.  We used to say that kind of meanness was unchristian, but now it defines christian. But then that was when being christian was also defined as kind and charitable.

Funny thing is that the heavy Christmas traditions only date back to the 19th century when newspapers could shape a particularly monetary feeling about the holiday and set up a mythology that never existed before.  The whole holiday was originated as a reworking of ancient pagan winter solstice celebrations to relieve the tedium of long, cold winter nights and the beginning of longer days again. Because of the lag of solar heating of the earth, the hardest winter is ahead but the sun gradually lasts longer and longer. The Roman Saturnalia and other pagan celebrations were impossible to squash so the early Catholic church got the brilliant idea to take it over and layer the celebrations with the Christian myths.

Enough griping about the coming holiday. Being a happily single middle aged woman puts me in a little quandary about holidays. People often think I'm lonely and in need of being taken care of at these times. So frequently, being a fairly pleasant person despite being a strong introvert, I am often asked to join a friend's family. Don't get me wrong, they mean to be really nice to me and that is their only motivation, so I do appreciate the sentiment.

But when you spend a distinctly family oriented holiday at someone else's family, no matter how nice and welcoming they are, I am a third wheel and don't really belong. I have always enjoyed the holiday dinners with my own family which is quite extensive but who all live far far away, but I am and always have been a part of it. I belong and always will whether I like it or not. Fortunately, I mostly like it. But I really hate traveling during the holidays. Especially by air. The unpleasant air travel is made much worse by the huge crowds so I try to avoid it.

In addition, during my work life, the demands of the job mostly made it impossible to go to a relative's house for holidays.  I got used to not celebrating when in my early career I had to work 24/7/365 shifts.  I would volunteer to work the holidays (more pay!) so that the people with families could have them with their families.  At first, being at work helped distract from the all alone feeling but then it just didn't really matter any more the older I got.  I find that the holiday traditions really matter a lot more when you have children. My dogs and cats just don't care. And I haven't really felt lonely since I got rid of my sociopath ex-husband years ago.

This year, my neighbor, who I see frequently (our dogs are best buds and she has chickens!), invited me to Thanksgiving dinner with her husband's family about 2 hours driving time away.  I find it difficult to refuse such invitations because it is meant to be so nice. Then she started warning me about his various brothers and their less than ok behavior. I was raised with the "be pleasant and civil and no politics or religion topics at dinner" etiquette rules. So I started to have some trepidation about the event - with no possible escape hatch. I would be on their time table because of the distance.

The day came and went.  They were very nice to me and mostly pleasant enough.  I just said nothing about the politics discussion.  It is not the time to try to counter the Fox "news" people with actual facts (studies keep showing that those who watch Fox are less informed of reality than those who get no news at all).  But, really, it was a long day that got pretty boring when the inevitable football on TV started (which I find deadly dull - same thing over and over. Essentially playing dog-pile interspersed with endless committee meetings).  They were very nice to me and very welcoming but they are not very educated so I really didn't have much in common with anyone (since I am and always have been an intellectual).  I get along with my neighbor and enjoy her company despite the lack of comparable education because she is practical smart, logical, and thinks for herself, plus we have some common interests.  I have always found hours and hours of banal small talk with (even nice) strangers exhausting. 

In reality, I would have had a better day with no feast and by myself with my pets.  I guess because I'm not a needy social person and really like my own company.  It is amazing how few people can comprehend a single middle aged woman who is happy with her own life under her own control and needs no taking under a wing.  That is when I feel like I have to start making up prior engagements because I really don't want to be taken under someone's wing and incorporated into their family.  I like to choose individual people for friends and company who I like for themselves without being incorporated into their whole lives.  But I am really loathe to hurt their feelings with outright rejection of what is intended to be very, very nice to me.

It is a quandary.

November 10, 2013

To the Dump, To the Dump, Dump, Dump

Today, I lined the van with tarps and filled it to the gills with trash. I think it's been almost a year since the last time I went so there are quite a few bags of household trash. The big stuff is the old front door and trim along with the vinyl floor and underlayment from my hall and powder room. I don't pay for trash pickup. I figured out years ago that I just don't produce enough trash to make the weekly pickup fee worthwhile since I recycle as much as I can. The county picks up recyclables at the curb every 2 weeks for free. Normally, I go to the dump at least twice a year but somehow, I didn't this year.

The van is such a versatile vehicle.  I also used my compressor to blow all the water out of the van to have it ready for winter.

Last week, I completed the front rooms in my house with the stairs and railing, including all the trim and touch up. It feels really good to have it all done and looking like I had always imagined it could. Next up is a big purge. I'm starting to pack up some pictures and pots that I want to keep to get the family room cleared out so I can strip the ugly wallpaper and scrape the paint on the trim. After that, I'll go thru my stuff and give away a bunch of stuff I really don't need to have. It is a big job doing that but I will feel lighter when it is gone. And need room to work on the room. My rule is if I don't really love it or don't use it all the time, it goes.