Thursday 10 June 2021

My previous blog was 19 February and you might have thought that I died or decided never to write another blog.

To be honest I can’t recall much as far back as February which will spare you hours of reading. I do recall the events of 3 March. This was the day of The Gathering, fund-raising event for the school. My involvement was with a few singers from the school and Teresa Tompkins, solo singer doing my arrangement of The Gathering. I played salon music for 30 mins as folk gathered and then we did the theme song of the same name. That work done Teresa, the percussionist and I sat down for dinner. The event was part in person and part virtual and in many ways was a first in St Lawrence.

On 4 March I had my dryer repaired with a new thermostat. I would not normally have noted this except for the fact that only yesterday I had to get the same repair done again. I suspect that the vent line has not been cleaned and that the lint in it had built up and shut down the system. Now I learn that the length of my vent was so long that it probably is not up to code.

Around this time I was becoming disheartened at St Lawrence so on 19 March I visited a parish in St Petersburg which was advertising a post. They were very welcoming and even gave me a couple of insights as to why I should leave St Lawrence. They also mentioned that I was a serious contender for the post and would invite me to the second interview. Little did I know what would transpire the following day.

On Saturday 20 March I was in work as usual and looked at the jobs vacancy list. There was a part-time job going at Sacred Heart, one of the oldest churches in Florida with a magnificent pipe organ. I sent my CV with a cover message which basically asked when they might imagine making the post full time which it had been or several decades. 40 minutes later there was a phone call from a Fr Ron who had read my resume and declared it ‘quite impressive’. To a Brit this would have translated as ‘OK’ but to an American it meant ‘very impressive’. They wanted to invite me to interview the following Monday. I was told to prepare 2 organ pieces and to sing one piece at the piano. I booked an hour to rehearse and I suspect that Fr Ron was listening because as I left he invited me to play 4 organ pieces. On Monday I arrived for the interview and after formal questions we moved to the church where I ended up playing 5 organ pieces and singing two of my recently composed psalms. By the afternoon I had a new job!

The previous few months I had been getting stressed and my blood pressure had become worryingly raised. This new job changed all that. But the following week was Palm Sunday and the beginning of Holy Week and I had to keep things quiet until I’d signed the contract at the new place. I had already declared my acceptance of the job to my boss at St Lawrence but would not deliver resignation until the contract was completed. On Easter Sunday I was allowed to speak at all the Masses, the following Sunday would be my last.

My last day at STL was 14 April and as I left I was able to make amends with a member of staff with whom I had developed poor relations. In fact this behavior was more the result of my health, stress etc. The following day I got up super early and drove 2 hours down to Englewood where I would holiday for a week. I had visited this town in January and had enjoyed my time there. Unfortunately the weather turned during the last two days so I returned early to Tampa. I still did not have to start work at Sacred Heart until 1 May. I can’t recall when exactly but on one of these vacation days I returned to St Lawrence for a staff lunch. My boss was so pathetic that all he could say with regards to my departure was ‘thanks for your service’.

The weather in the last week of April was wonderful so I did so much kayaking and pool time that when I arrived at Sacred Heart for the first day I looked very well! The first weekend I started to sort my office and bring some of my resources. I had agreed to shadow the outgoing Sean Fitzsimmons-Brown but got called to cover a wedding at Jesuit so in the end I only shadowed all the Masses on Sunday. I met the Cantors for the regular rehearsal on the following Tuesday. They are a delightful bunch. From the start I had decided to keep to the ordinary Mass settings but change the psalm settings, and alleluia. They really responded well to the choices.

I had decided to have Wednesday and Thursday as my days off. It is so great to have consecutive days off! I continued to bring more stuff into the office and by the second week they gave me another office in what they call the North Campus 6 minutes drive from the church. In fact it is a 9 acre site with several grand buildings representing what was until ten years ago Sacred Heart Academy. There I have a large rehearsal room and another large room with double doors onto a massive balcony. I can imagine that this might have been from where the headteacher (nun) would have addressed the assembled pupils for morning assembly! Over the last month I have moved a few things in and now have this office as my recording studio (so that I can send the cantors any unfamiliar music) but I also have brought in a sofa and an armchair as I intend to hold face-to-face meetings there with to-be-weds. The office in the church is too small to fit all my equipment so this works well. When they set up wifi there it will be even better.

With the re-opening of Florida from Covid restrictions my Airbnb business has also grown. One of my guests was a pole dancer by night so this allowed for a significant filling in of a gap in my education. She stayed for two days at first but has returned several times since by private arrangement.. Between one of her visits I had a group of four persons. They spent a weekend and were no trouble. It was only when I went to change the sheets for the return of the dancer that I discovered they had broken the bed! The dancer was quite happy with the other spare room but I needed to sort the broken bed. I got a good deal on a much better bed and sold the ‘old’ mattress to a friend at the bar. From the beginning of June and hopefully for 3 months my guest has been a mature lady who is a travelling respiratory specialist. She is great fun when we meet but since she works nights at the hospital we might pass like ships in the night.

Feeling that I would be in greater financial security I decided to explore solar panels further. Its a tedious task to have several salesmen come to your house and go through their pitch but in the end I went with Sunpro. whose salesman visited on April 26. I was fortunate that I got the installation brought forward due to a cancellation and installation was on May 19. The electricians came across an issue which meant the=at they would have to apply to TECO the energy company to switch off the power. TECO tend to drag their feet so the continuation of the installation will not be until Thursday June 17. Following that there will be an inspection from the county and then a further request to TECO to visit and install a reversible meter. When I am generating power myself the meter reverses.

One of the things that impressed me about Sunpro was that they took a wider view than others. So in addition to the panels the project has widened to include the removal of the large laurel oak in my front yard ($3600), the installation of a hybrid water heater ($1600 +$600 plumbing) , the refurbishment of my electric panel with new breakers ($500).

The tree removal was a major operation. This particular oak tree has a limited life of about 50 years and branches had already started falling so there was little problem getting a permit. I had to call back the tree company as they had left several roots protruding above the earth. The boss doubted that the roots could have been there as ‘his stump grinder would not have left it like that’. An unbelievable conversation followed in which he accused me of covering these roots somehow so that they were unseen. In the end a further $300 saw to it that the roots would be removed and a good job was done.

The other thing which prompted me to opt for Sunpro was the energy assessment. A professional came to the house and sealed the air conditioning ducts where this was necessary. He also professionally draught -proofed the external doors and replaced all my light bulbs with LEDs.

So what do I pay for this solar project? The cost of the loan is $170 per month which is less than my average electric bill and covers the cost of panel installation and all the other peripheral expenses from water heater to tree removal. The real expectation is that the only amount I will pay to TECO is the admin charge of $15 per month. With all these changes to my energy efficiency I am hoping that I will in effect have no real electric cost at all and that I will achieve a rebate each year. I may yet invest in a variable speed pool pump. These are more energy efficient and besides the Governor in Florida has passed a bill requiring variable speed pumps in the near future. I expect that there will be some financial inducement to do this quickly so i am holding off on this one right now.

TECO electric bills are expected to rise 18% very soon … ironically to pay for their own solar promotions. The cost of electricity will not be a consideration for me going forward and should I need to sell the house at some time in the future the new owner will take up the loan payments and the cheap electricity! It really does look like a win win! Besides it is good for the planet!

I had also experienced problems with my dryer in recent months and discovered that the same unit had burned out as before. The second engineer asked when was the last time I had the vent duct cleaned. Clearly lint can build up and raise the temperature so significantly that the thermostat burns out. So I got my friendly plumber/electrician round to re-site the dryer to an outside wall and provide a new electrical connection for it. You should have seen the circuitous route it was travelling before!

I was delighted to be able to witness via zoom the blessing in Iona Abbey of the newly updated residential buildings. It was great to see the place again and to see so much good work completed.

Weather-wise it is glorious. No sooner had June started than I heard the first rumbles of thunder. Towards the end of the day around 7pm the deluge starts and ensures that whatever the temperature during the day you never have to refill your pool. Later in the season I expect the rains to come at around 4pm but this could be the new normal. Who knows?

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