The Ponce Chronicles 2024 — Part 4

Not wanting to spend too much time in one place, I got on a plane yesterday and boomeranged back to Puerto Rico. A lot of families with kid on this flight; I guess it’s a vacation week. Climbing out of Boston, I was treated to these views of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket.

Allysen and a friend were there to greet me in San Juan.

Life of Leisure at Home

Yeah, right. The two weeks (feels like two months) since coming back to Boston have been a carnival of people working on the new porches, installing the new boiler, installing and fixing electrical stuff, and starting today at 7:30 a.m. putting new insulation into the attic. Oh, and did I mention hunching for hours over Quicken, pulling together a year’s worth of numbers for the tax man? God willing, by this time tomorrow, all that will be done, or mostly done. And then I’m going to leave it all behind to return to Puerto Rico! (This time for some actual leisure, and writing I hope.)

Here are some pix of the porch! Those round columns, by the way, are made of a resin-stone composite with a permanent finish. No painting required! And the railings are powder-coated aluminum. If there was one theme to this design, it was “low maintenance.”

The Ponce Chronicles 2024 — Part 3

It’s quiet here on my last full day in Puerto Rico (for this round). All our guests have left. Crystal back to L.A., which we hope hasn’t washed away in the rains there, and A’s cousin Vanessa and her husband Cesar back to South Carolina, via San Juan. The air here has turned intensely humid and muggy. Earlier, we had a brief wind-and-rain storm that made me wonder if I’d missed the memo about an approaching hurricane. Wish I’d taken a picture.

Tomorrow, I return to Boston, while Allysen stays to greet Jayce and her boyfriend who are flying down from Boston at the same time I’m flying north from San Juan. We’ll pass each other over the Atlantic. While I start dealing with house issues at home, Allysen will be working with a contractor she’s found to do some of the larger repairs needed here. (Cesar and I fixed a bunch of small things, including—long-time readers will recognize this—yet another patch on the fabled Ho Chi Dog Trail.)

I’m going to close out this chapter with various pictures from the visit. First, Crystal and Allysen at El Yunque…

An egret at the beach at Caña Gorda…

An interesting tree in the dry forest right next to the beach…

And an evening at a new discovery, a delightfully idiosyncratic Ponce restaurant, El Rastro. This is Vanessa and Cesar.

I’ll be back down at the end of February. Lots to do between now and then.

Good News Is, Our House Didn’t Burn Down and No One Was Hurt

But the boiler is dead, Jim. Dead, dead, dead. Both daughters and their significant others were plenty scared, when—with Allysen and me away in Puerto Rico—the smoke alarms at home went crazy and they found one of the steam-heat boilers in the basement smoking and starting to glow. I believe terrifying was the word Jayce used. I got a not-quite-panicked call, “How do you turn off the boiler?!” with a lot of beeping and commotion in the background. I said, “Unplug it and get out of the house and call the fire department!” The firemen got there fast, turned off the gas to the unit, and confirmed that the boiler was toast but it was safe to stay in the house. I don’t know how long it took the family to stop shaking. (Connor remarked later that the boiler was glowing orange at the bottom and looked like a rocket about to take off.)

What happened was, it boiled dry, and the automatic low-water cutoff failed. The result: our own mini Three Mile Island meltdown. But as I say, no one was hurt, and the house didn’t burn down, and the smoke alarms worked, so I choose to regard it as a win-win. Plumber Mike came the next day and started making plans to replace the unit.

It was mostly my fault for not properly briefing everyone on checking the water level from time to time. Anyway, why is it that every time I leave for Puerto Rico, there’s a major plumbing problem while I’m gone? It never fails.

Because we had ductless minisplits installed a few years ago for cooling and bumper-months heating, there is still heat available in our apartment; no one had to freeze. So that’s a win, too. There is actually a statewide effort to get people to use electric heat pumps instead of gas heat, so one could argue that we should just switch over. But our experience has not sold us on that method of heating in winter. And forget running a heat pump in a power outage with a small backup generator, which I can do with a boiler. We are all in on offsetting climate change, but I guess our solar-electric panels and our solar hot water will have to be our contribution for now.

Here’s the boiler with the phaser blast marks.


Good Shows to Watch When You’ve Got Covid

One consolation of having Covid (and yeah, I’ve had a rebound and it feels like a head cold, but I am now positive again!!) is that you have a good excuse to sit and binge watch shows you’ve been meaning to get to. In my case it was For All Mankind (Season 4) and Monarch: Legacy of Monsters (Season 1). Both were really good, both on Apple TV+!

For All Mankind was co-created by Ron Moore of Battlestar Galactica fame, and it displays all the strengths and (maybe) excesses of that show. The writing and acting and production are top-notch, and the story arc utterly compelling (alternate history of the space program). It maybe goes overboard on the gritty realism, for my taste—in the sense that virtually every character is conflicted by bad choices and tormented by the ensuing consequences, just like in BSG. The characters are all quite believable, and I wouldn’t call any particular one into question, but the overall angst-o-meter reading is way over into the red, and I might have liked a little break from that. Also, I’m skeptical about the asteroid-diverting orbital dynamics that enabled the Mars-firsters to steal a big asteroid from the Earth-loyalists. But never mind that. It was a terrific watching experience, and it took my breath away at the end.

Monarch was good, too, which was surprising to me, as I watch creature features for the love of the monsters and don’t expect much good writing and characterization. In fact, this was much more a human-character story than it was a monster flick. Godzilla and others appear, but infrequently. (Godzilla still doesn’t have the proper Gronnnnnnnnnk! roar of the original.) And some of the character angles (the antagonism of two step-sibs toward their wayward father, primarily) got beaten into a dead horse at times. But overall, it was entertaining and surprisingly well done.

What to follow that up with? Well, I tried Reacher (Season 2 on Prime), and it was time-filling, but not much more than that. Banal dialogue, endless stupid violence, and if my memory is accurate (not at all a sure thing), it didn’t follow the book it was based on very well. I confess I have listened to many Reacher books via audiobook, and they are definitely a guilty pleasure. Reacher’s an interesting character, and the books are fun action adventure, but basically overloaded with mindless violence. Each time I finish one, I say, “That’s it, no more.” And then another comes out, and I go, “Oh well, maybe one more.” I’m not proud of myself, but there you have it.

Oh, we’ve also been watching Astrid on PBS and Midsomer Murders on Pluto, both excellent. I am trying to memorize the theremin theme to Midsomer so I can learn to play it on my theremin.

Meanwhile, we are getting ready for a trip to Puerto Rico, and the porch reconstruction inches along.

Happy New Year?

Covid. That’s how we started 2024. Allysen has it; most of the family has it. Jayce and I are the only two left standing, still testing negative—and feeling okay, if you don’t count the queasies from overeating over the holidays. No one is enjoying their virus, but also no one got deathly ill, and all are getting better. Jayce and I are grateful for the updated vaccine that may have helped protect us. Allysen is really annoyed to have lost her status as never having gotten Covid.

That’s not the best intro to a new year, so let’s start over.

Happy Three Kings Day, everyone!

Also, work has begun on building the new porch.

It Has Begun

Our front porch is braced for rapid scheduled disassembly, as soon as the building permit goes through. Here’s a last look at the way things were.

The tree out front, our spiky companion of thirty-some years (and decorated with blue lights at Christmas for many years), had to come down. Here’s Allysen after the first set of cuttings. And then…


Farewell, tree!

Bikes in the Electric Era

I have a new e-bike! This is quite a change from my beloved Bacchetta recumbent, which has been my pedaler of choice for a number of years now. I acquired the recumbent as a solution to the backache that upright bikes seemed to inflict on me, and it’s been great. Here’s the recumbent…

But that was a different era, before I came down with this pesky pulmonary fibrosis, which makes me get short of breath before I can go a city block, and necessitates an O2 tank or portable concentrator on my back. But perhaps, I thought, I’ll do better with a bike with an electric motor, but which will still let me pedal as I am able or inclined to. And perhaps they’ve developed better saddles (seats) for bikes since the last time I bought an upright bike, forty or fifty years ago. Here’s the one I got…

It’s a Biria Electric Easy Boarding bike, very easy to step into. It has a powerful motor on the front wheel hub, and a good-sized removable battery under the luggage rack. It’s a Class 2, which I now know means that it gives you a boost automatically when it senses torque in the pedals, and it also has a throttle, which gives you an extra boost when you want it. You can just drive it on electric, if you’re tired. But in the auto-boost mode, it helps you while encouraging you to do some pedaling. It’s not quite a fly-cycle, but it does go zooom when you ask it to, up to 20 mph. I like it!

As I feared, though, the saddle that came with it was a butt-killer. And others available in the bike shop were little better. But spend enough time on Amazon, and you’ll find options. I tried two, both described as good for folks of an, er, older generation, or folks whose backs hurt on regular seats. (It seems there are a lot of people who fit this description.) This is the throne I settled on, called the Giddy-Up. Contoured memory-foam seat, much better than the stock seat. Red light on the back, powered by a rechargeable battery. They give you a 12-inch USB cable to recharge it. (Um…?) Well, the light doesn’t matter to me, because it’s blocked by the bike’s battery case anyway. And the bike has its own head and tail lights.

Here’s proof (sort of) that I rode it the seven miles to Lexington today. I cannot claim that it was butt-pain-free. I probably need to build up some tolerance, and maybe make further adjustments. I’ll let you know.

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