Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Back in the day...

At one time in my life I lived in a 100-year-old tin-roofed adobe out in the Sonoran desert.

At some point in the house’s history someone had added a lean-to off the back of the house and furnished it with a sink, shower over tub, and a toilet. They even installed a septic tank out behind the house, next to the clothes lines, heaping the excavated dirt and clay over the top of the buried tank into a hillock of soil soft enough to entice a legion of rattlesnakes to make their burrows there.

Someone also thought to add electricity at some point. Very little electricity, I might add…perhaps one outlet per room plus an overhead light fixture. At night the kitchen fixture drew squadrons of desert insects, particularly a flying beetle we called a “June bug” that was rumoured to have a caustic coating on its carapace, so you didn’t want the little buggers to hit you in their mad flight to the light. The ancient screen door was missing its bottom panel, so the dizzy things would fly into the screen and drop to the door stoop, crawl through the opening into the kitchen and again take wing. It was a dangerous proposition to try to eat anything after the sun went down, as it would soon be littered with beetles that had flown too close to the light and subsequently plummeted to your plate.

Living in the house, which was supposed to be furnished, was a study in survival mode living. There was no refrigeration, so once a week we drove 70 miles to the nearest town and bought a huge block of ice to put in the old, dead upright freezer in the kitchen. The motor didn’t work but the insulation and door seals did, so it kept milk and meat cold and sealed other foods…like cereal and pasta…pest free.

There was no kitchen stove, just a two burner hot plate that barely got hot enough to boil water. It was a challenge cooking on that thing but because there was no alternative…and no oven (and this was before microwave ovens were invented)…I had no choice but to adapt and to cope.

The house did have running water…out back a ways there was a huge cistern up on stilts and a pump that sucked hard, mineral-laced water from beneath the desert floor and deposited it in the cistern. From the cistern to the house, perhaps 200 yards, a black neoprene hose was buried beneath the clay soil. The house had no hot water heater, but by late afternoon the water in that black hose had become warm from the sun and provided enough tepid water for a quick shower. It was our only luxury.

The insect life there was varied. A crack in the thick adobe walls admitted red fire ants and we had to spray a moat of insecticide around the bed every night to keep them away. A centipede nearly a foot long was captured in the bathroom one night, and boots were routinely shaken vigorously before donning, lest a scorpion be snoozing inside. Worst, however, were the cockroaches, huge ugly things that infested the kitchen cupboards such that I stored all crockery and pots upside down and kept only canned or jarred goods in them. Everything else was safely behind the seals of the defunct freezer.

Half a mile down the road from our little adobe there was a gas station and tiny general store. Once a day, just before the worst of the heat arrived, I would jump into my lace-up boots and grab my cowboy hat and hike down to the store, buy myself an ice-cold Coke, and walk back to the adobe. Once it got hot, I would lay down on the cool cement floor in the centre room (it was surrounded by other rooms, so no sun penetrated) and try to nap. On my way back to the house one day I spotted a horned toad trying to camouflage himself in the roadside gravel and snatched him up. Within a couple of weeks he and two pals of his were running loose in my house, making serious dents in the cockroach population. I couldn’t tell them apart, so I just called them all “Henry.” They must have liked it there because they could easily have escaped out the bottom of that decrepit kitchen screen, but they stuck around.

Without a hot water heater, not only did we not have hot water for bathing, we didn’t have it for washing dishes, cleaning, or laundry. The feeble little hotplate did its best and was able to muster up something close to hot water for washing dishes, but laundry was a whole other problem.

There was, of course, no washing machine. Which meant I returned to the lessons of my grandmother for washing laundry by hand. I had a small washboard and because the water was so hard, I used dishwashing detergent. You haven’t lived until you’ve washed sheets and blue jeans by hand in a kitchen sink, then stood in a rattlesnake infested dirt yard to hang them out to dry. It’s a very good thing the desert was so hot because often times the clothes would still be dripping rinse water when they went up on the line…you can only wring so much water out with a single pair of hands.

The reason this little slice of paradise comes to mind today is that this evening I found myself heating water in the electric kettle in order to do the dishes…an act very reminiscent of my adventures in an old adobe sans hot water all those years ago. We have decided to tough it out and not replace the burst hot water heater (geyser) until after the first of the year because it would be a waste of money since we are installing solar in January. I just can’t see spending R8000+ (more than $1000 USD) for a hot water heater that will be retired in just a month.

But things are different in South Africa, so the lack of hot water in the main house will not be the kind of train smash it might be in America. Dishwashers and washing machines here draw only cold water and have heating elements inside to warm the water to the proper temperature. Electric kettles are ubiquitous…literally everybody has one…so heating water in the kitchen is quick and easy. Bathing? Well, we have a little flatlet attached to the house that has its own geyser, and it has a small but fully functional bathroom. We can shower and Hubby can shave there until the solar system is installed next month.

But for a moment this evening I was transported back to the olden days, the days of heating water on the stove and using the local lizard life for insect control…did I tell you I have skinks in the garden and geckos in my house?

Monday, December 20, 2010


No pics yet, but this weekend we added a new member to our family, a Yorkie puppy we have named Pavlova Caramel (in keeping with the "sweet things" theme of our girls' names...Candy, Puddin', and now Pavlova) but we are calling her "Lovey" for short. When she wakes up from her nap I'll do a few pics and put them up.

Puddin' is not amused, at least not yet. She seems baffled and hurt at the same time, but has made no moves to hurt the baby. But she is softening already. The other night while I fixed dinner, Lovey was crying in the x-pen and Puddin' barked loudly until I came to see what was wrong. I think Princess Puddin' will be an awesome big sister once Lovey is big enough to play with her!

Pics later!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Another terrific wedding!

Hakunamatata Estate in Muldersdrift was the venue and believe me, they could not have chosen a more beautiful site! The rain stopped a few hours before the event, so everything was beautifully green and washed clean.

After a moving (and occasionally amusing) ceremony, we danced and partied into the African night. Good food, great company, and a couple who were just made for each other. I'm paying for it today...stiff joints and sore muscles...but it was worth every twinge!

Congratulations, Cathy and Rachelle! Long may you love!!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Change is not always for the better...

How would you feel if you walked into your kitchen and somebody had rearranged your cabinets for you? You hadn’t been consulted, your opinion had not been solicited, you had not even been warned…you just opened the drawer to take out a towel and found cutlery instead, you opened the cupboard to take out a plate and found boxes of cereal, you reached under the sink for the trash bin and found a basket of potatoes in is place.

Would this annoy you? Would you find it aggravating, even if the changes were good ones that were actually more efficient than the way you had arranged things?

My guess is that this kind of thing annoys people, and it annoys them because it takes them out of their comfort zone, prevents them from operating on autopilot and forces them to turn their conscious minds to something other than what they prefer at a given moment. It is disruptive to the rhythm and habit of everyday life to have to deal with changes that you neither wanted nor found necessary.

If this kind of change is frequent, the annoyance factor increases. If it is frequent but random, the annoyance factor increases even more. If you never knew, on entering the kitchen, where the pots were going to be or where to throw empty wrappers, before long you would find yourself increasingly annoyed not only with the person (even if the person is unknown) responsible for the changes but, somewhat irrationally, with the kitchen itself. Given enough of this chaos, you could easily come to hate the kitchen, even though the room itself is not to blame. And, if you have no alternative but to use this ever-changing environment, you would continue to do so, but not so happily, right up to the time a more stable alternative presents itself.

Perhaps one of the worst scenarios would be to just get used to the changes in the kitchen only to walk in and find it changed again. Perhaps not the whole kitchen, just the things you use the most have suddenly been moved or change. Maybe you liked the pot rack above the kitchen sink and aren’t happy that it is gone…maybe you liked the 3 bowl prep sink with sprayer and aren’t thrilled with the two bowl sink without a sprayer. Maybe you liked the cooking utensils in a crock beside the stove and find the rack of utensils affixed to the wall in back of the stove difficult to use. Maybe someone should have asked you before they rearranged/reorganized/remodelled your kitchen for you?

Different is not necessarily better and change for its own sake is pointless, fruitless, and akin to running in place. The old country saying “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” addresses this. Change that accomplishes a desired end is one thing, change that comes about simply because it can be done is a whole other. In a system in which people must adjust to the changes, unless those changes are visible improvements over the previous situation, the changes are just going to annoy the people who must now learn the new way when they had no beef with the old one.

And so we come to FaceBook. Recently it announced a change in how the user profile looks. It is a pointless cosmetic change that offers no improvement and, in fact, has taken away at least one much-used feature: the status line. But, unannounced, there has been another annoying change sprung upon us: the status bar is missing from the “news” page and must now be summoned by clicking an icon at the top of the page. These changes follow hard on the heels of a particularly annoying change in how the Groups work: you cannot type more than one paragraph in any Group message because as soon as you hit the “enter” key, the message sends. On the “news” page, however, the “enter” key gives you a new paragraph.

All these changes have come up in the last month or two and absolutely none of them needed to be made. Instead of quickly typing up a thought or a message, I now have to now hunt for that icon, click it, wait for the status bar to appear and then wonder where the hell my thought disappeared to while I was distracted with all that mundane and unnecessary makework!

FaceBook perhaps should follow the saga of MySpace, which I abandoned when something better came along. Too many changes, too much orientation towards a particular demographic, too little response to user needs. Enter FaceBook and a mass exodus ensued.

Makes you wonder what’s going to happen when something more user-friendly and more truly privacy-oriented comes along, dunnit?

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Ineptitude, thy name is Cell C!

OK, it's official...the Cell C "whoosh" wireless connection thingie sucks. Big time. Constant drop outs, reconnects that don't actually reconnect to the network. Long dead times while you connect, reconnect, and reconnect again. Save your money and stay away from this turkey! This review is based on the following, an experience capping seven days of drop outs, emails lost in the ether, and endlessly repeated reconnections (which are not automatic…every time it drops out, you have to go into a window and reconnect manually).

Wednesday, 8 December, 2010

One (1) Cell C Speed Stick and one (1) Dell laptop computer.

Speed Stick loses connection to the Internet at 12:26 pm: it can connect to the Cell C network but is unable to download any data from the web (meaning it cannot even refresh an open page, like the email).

For testing purposes, a second Speed Stick is plugged into a ThinkPad laptop: it connects to the network but it also cannot download any data from the web.

Forty (40) minutes and nine (9) telephone calls to Cell C result in seven (7) transfers to technical assistance that went into endless selection loops or that were cut off, and one (1) person who gave us a telephone number for Tech support, which we had to dial ourselves because transfers go into an endless selection loop.

Fifty (50) minutes after the things stopped working, connection to a technician who, for some bizarre reason, seemed to think that fiddling with the Internet Options settings on one of the computers will resolve a problem affecting two (2) computers and two (2) sticks.

At 1:36…one hour and ten minutes (1/10) after the data stopped flowing, the tech support person refers the problem to the Network Services department and tells us someone will call us back.

Seventy (70) minutes chewed up to find out that not only does Cell C not know why my Speed Sticks are not working, but to learn that Cell C itself does not even know its network has a problem!

At 1:56 the signal is intermittently back. But it comes and goes, causing the light on the stick to cycle randomly through green/blue/indigo/dead without warning.

This wasn’t my idea and, believe it or not, Telkom and an ISP that is growing too fast for its own good (and efficiency) is a better option. Save your money until Cell C can tell, without you wasting an hour on the phone (at Telkom rates), that there is something is wrong, wrong, wrong with their network!

Hubby, hear my plea! Take this turkey back to the farm for a refund and give me my ADSL back!!