Saturday, July 22, 2017

I hate yellow jackets!

Have I ever told you how much I hate yellow jackets? Probably. I tell every one of my brush with death in the form of winged stingers.

See, when I was a little tyke, about four or five, and we still lived on Kenwood Avenue in Hawthorn, New Jersey, I stepped on a honey bee. I remember we had a lot of white clover in the lawn and the honey bees just love that stuff. It must have been the second time I got stung by a bee because I had an allergic reaction. I’m told that the first time usually doesn’t elicit such a reaction. Your body just says, “Damn! That hurt! Don’t do it again or I’ll kill you!” Well, my body tried to kill me this time. I started having trouble breathing and Mom called the doctor. (This was before 911. The doc dropped whatever he was doing and rushed to our house where he got the full story from Mom, said something like, “Uh-huh,” and gave me a shot to counter my reaction. I’m told that if he had been 10-15 minutes late, I might have died from anaphylactic shock.

Time passed. We moved to Oakland, New Jersey and I continued to be something of what would be called today a “free range” kid. One day, when I was 10 or 11, while I and a couple of friends were walking home from somewhere—maybe the ball fields—we stopped to throw some rocks against an old wooden fence at a place that once was an academy. That fence made a glorious “THUD!” that echoed off the hillside every time a rock hit it and we were having a grand old time. Little did we realize there was a bees nest hon the other side of that fence. And they were not happy with our activity. They came swarming out and attacked. I was the only one stung. Home was just a short distance up the hill on Yawpo Avenue and I made my way there post haste.

This time, Mom, hauled me off to the doctor’s office pronto and, as the allergic reaction began to set in, the doctor administered the necessary shot. He then discussed the relatively new procedure available to desensitize people like me to the venom bees and wasps deliver with each sting. That procedure required a series of ever strengthening injections of bee venom over the course of three years. And so I became a bee venom pin cushion. The shots produced a reaction something like a mosquito bite: a little itching and a little bump. Even as the shots potency increased, my reaction remained about the same. Which was good. After three years the doc said I was no longer allergic to bees and I could ditch the medic alert bracelet I had been wearing.

Time passed some more. I got married and Terry and I were living in Dover, New Jersey. Jessica was born and I was working on my Master’s thesis. This required some field work during which I was in the woods along the median and verge of I-78 just east of the junction with I-287. One warm summer’s day I was out trapping mice in this area when I stepped on a yellow jacket nest. I dropped my gear and hurried out of the woods toward my car. This was the first time I had been stung since those allergy shots and I was a little worried that they might not actually work.

As I stepped out of the woods, I saw a state trooper’s car parked behind my vehicle. I approached the officer, told him what had just happened and asked if he would mind sitting with me for a bit to see if I would have a reaction—and if I did, to get me to the hospital just a couple miles away ASAP. He agreed and we sat in his car chatting a bit while he did paperwork. When nothing seemed to have happened after 15-20 minutes I thanked him and said I seemed to be okay. He went on his way and I got in my car to head north on I-287.

Just to be safe, I got off in Morristown and stopped at a co-worker and friend’s house--a home Terry and I would later purchase—located just off the exit ramp to I-287 and only a quarter mile or so from Morristown Memorial Hospital. Ellen Rosenbaum was home, listened to my tale and made some ice tea. We sat and talked for half an hour or more and when I didn’t show signs of dying, Ellie sent me packing.

I’ve since been stung by wasps and hornets and, while they hurt like the blazes, I’ve had no allergic reaction.  I was so impressed with the results of these desensitization shots, I went to an allergist to find out if he could do anything for my hay fever and reactions to other insect bites. After using my arms and back as a place to do scratch tests to determine what my allergies were (I’ve a booklet somewhere that lists dozens of things I’m supposed to be allergic to—including coffee and chocolate. Really?), we agreed on six targets for desensitization. Same deal as before: start with injections of the allergy causing crud and work our way through ever stronger solutions over three years. I got three shots in each arm on every visit. Never had a reaction to the shots beyond a slight bump and mild itch. After three years, my eyes didn’t water and itch every spring and a mosquito didn’t create a mountain on my bare skin when it bit. Neither do deer flies or black flies. I’m a happy camper!

I became desensitized to poison ivy all on my own. I credit total immersion for that one. That day I fell into a patch while fishing the Ramapo River at the NY –NJ border, with no shirt on caused me to break out from head to belly button. Caused quite the rush on calamine lotion, too.

I’ve since waged war against yellow jackets when and where I find them. I’ve wiped out a ground nest in the Adirondacks and another here at the Aerie. (The Adirondacks one was more fun as the only materials at hand was some 50:1 mixed gas-oil I used in the chainsaw. Whoosh!) And there was one in the Aerie’s eave that I got with a foaming spray.

Now, I told you all this so I could bring up what happened today as I was mowing the lawn after a three week hiatus. Three weeks because of the heat and the sporadic heavy rains. This morning was cool and overcast. The latter meant there was no dew on the ground so I figured I’d get out there and mow. Some of the plantain flower heads were a foot high and you could see the occasional honey bee or bumble bee causing them to bend and sway as they gathered pollen and nectar. I fired up the mower and set to work. As I was cutting around the septic tank cover (a small roofed structure I built a few years ago) I reached down to pull a Queen Anne’s lace from the ground. That’s when they hit me. Swarming out from the roof of the tank cover came the yellow jackets. The RAF didn’t respond to the Luftwaffe with as much energy or determination. As soon as I realized what was happening, I backed off, left the lawn mower and walked swiftly away. Not fast enough. One got me on the left wrist just above my watch band and another got under the bandana I was wearing and stung the top of my right ear. Damn they hurt! I was happy those were the only two that succeeded in getting to me. Even now some five hours later, my wrist is still swollen and I’ve a cauliflower ear. I took one of the Spectracide cans that sprays up to 25 feet and hosed the area from which they emerged. Some were still flying about so I didn’t want to get too close. I’ll go back tonight when they’re inside and spray again. Hopefully I can get to wherever the nest actually is. I do NOT want to have to lift that cover to get to them. No siree!

I did manage to get the lawn finished but you can be sure I kept a wary eye on that corner of the yard while I was working nearby.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Finally. New Water Heater Is Working

So the folks installing our replacement water heater finally got all the right parts. Took them about 30 minutes to put the exhaust pipe in (now that they had the adapter) and test the system for any leaks: water, propane, exhaust fumes.

An interesting month-long process. Shows what happens when someone in the supply chain doesn't think things through. I mean, if your ordering a replacement heater and it will need a new exhaust pipe with a new adapter to connect the two, wouldn't you think to mention that to the purchaser? And maybe send all three together? 

Oh, and I learned today that the exhaust pipe is a "telescoping" pipe not a fixed length unlike the last one. This allows for any minor differences in the location of the heater and the exhaust hole through the wall. And when the installers got it from the supplier, the box only contained one of the two parts. Sheesh!

Friday, July 14, 2017

The Saga of:
The Rinnai Hot Water Heater Replacement

When we returned from our trip to Oregon on May 20th, we discovered one of the two Rinnai water heaters wasn't working properly and called our local energy company (WOC) to come and take a look. They, or their Towanda office, had installed the originals when we built the house so they were the ones to look it over, diagnose the problem and perform repairs as needed.

Guy shows up the next morning and says they (the Mansfield office) and he personally don't do Rinnai heaters but some other brand, but he'll look it over. Came to me and said the automatic diagnostic program says the ignition fan was not functioning and needs to be replaced. Okay. So they ordered the parts and came back a few days later.

Turns out it wasn't the fan that needed replacing but the entire unit as there was a leak/crack in the heat exchanger which caused water to get into the fan and, thus, caused it to malfunction. No charge for the replacement parts I didn't need. We'll just send them back. Okay, order me a replacement.

Next day I get a call: they don't make that model any more but the new model has the same footprint according to the Rinnai people and it should be easy-peasy to pop in. Oh, and the unit we are replacing? That's been out of warranty for almost a year. Sorry.  Good and bad news, right? Fine get a new unit out here and get it installed.

A week later, they bring the new unit out. Take the old unit off the wall and hang the new one. All the incoming pipes (gas and water) and the outgoing water pipe simply plug into the new unit just fine. The exhaust, however, is a whole 'nother ball of wax.

The exhaust has an exterior diameter that's fine, but the interior pipe (the one carrying the hot gases) is a different diameter. They need to get a new exhaust pipe.

They come back today with the "right" exhaust pipe. It's got the proper diameters and everything. But the coupling from heating unit to pipe is wrong. Whereas the old pipe was male-female the new one is female-make and it needs a different gasket--which Rinnai did not send. Aarrgghh!

We're now on to week four of this dog and pony show. And I can't blame the guys from WOC. They've been told only partial truths by the Rinnai supplier. And the Rinnai supplier has not thought far enough into the project to realize what is needed. It's like some idiot robot only answering the specific question being asked with no thought as to what comes next. How could they not understand that replacing the old unit would require a complete new exhaust?

It's a good thing we had TWO heaters on the wall when this started and that we were able to by-pass one so we still get hot water.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Playing Hide-and-Seek

For several years I've seen what I originally thought was a pure black cat wandering through the yard. I never got close enough to determine the sex of that cat until this spring when SHE gave birth to a litter of kittens under the deck. That's when I noticed she wasn't truely black but more like dark, rich coffee with tints of brown swirling through her coat. She looked thin as a rail after giving birth so I started giving her a can of food every now and then. She was much appreciative and slowly became our outdoor cat. She would brush against our legs and bump into our hands as we spooned the can of food out onto a plate. We could stroke her and get a purr instead of a growl.

Eventually the kittens became large enough that she felt the need to move them to an undisclosed location I've yet to discover on the other side of the travel trailer.

The kittens grew and they began to appear on the lawn where they would stalk one another, attack grass stalks and bugs and generally do kittenish things. There were three of them. One gray tiger who seems afraid of the slightest noise and bolts for the other side of the trailer. I named it Tigger. One short-haired gay and white who is wary but not super wary of my opening the basement door to put food out. I haven't settled on a name for this one yet but it's got a white fur collar so maybe Prissy. (Now up to two cans of food a day plus a can of dry food and a bowl of water as all four are eating.) And the third kitten is nearly a twin of Miss Kitteh: long gray and white fur and ear tufts that stick out a mile. I call that one Fuzzball and it's the friendliest of the bunch.

Fuzzball will come to the food as I'm putting it out but I've yet to actually touch it.

This morning, while putting the food out, Fuzzball darted past me and into the basement through the slightly open door. It made a bee line to the dry food we have there for the indoor cats. After I finished putting out the food, I tried to get Fuzzball back outside but it darted around the boxes in the center of the basement and we went round and round. I couldn't leave the door open for fear we would have Coffee and Prissy joining us indoors.

I eventually lost sight of Fuzzball and things went silent. I searched under furniture and behind boxes to no avail. I think Fuzzy is still downstairs but I can't be sure. None of the other cats are helping to located the kitten. Might be a Code of Silence thing going on. Coffee and her other two are still under the deck and Coffee is looking longingly at the door. Could be she thinks I abducted her favorite--and she's being quite vocal about it.

Believe me, I'd put Fuzzy back outside ASAP--if I could find the little bugger.