Gradually Greening

April 30, 2013


Finally! The temperatures have warmed into the low 60s and the rumpled, dead-brown fields are beginning to slowly flush green with the start of spring grass. I would do a little tap dance of pleasure — if I could dance.

After the long winter of silence, the air is full of bird sounds again. I have been working alone on the barn addition and frequently pause on the ladder to listen. The tree swallows returned April 27. I hope to see barn swallows arrive soon.

Gazing out to the back field, I spot many passing visitors. My old nemesis, the big dark coyote. A grazing whitetail doe. A flock of wild turkeys.

For the last few days I’ve had a pair of Canada geese grazing on the cabin knoll and in the south pasture. They leave for an hour or two here and there, but return to pace over my fields, cropping the new grass. This pleases me inordinately. My pastures may be poor, but the geese like them! I push the thought of Maybe it’s the ratio of two geese to seventeen open acres firmly out of my mind.

Yesterday two more geese joined the original pair.

Despite the perpetually gray skies, this past winter was still drier than normal (though not as dry as last year’s terrible drought). The water level in my pond is low for springtime, when it should be brimming with snow-melt and spring rain.

My brain was trained as a toddler by repeated read-alouds of Robert McCloskey’s wonderful Make Way for Ducklings, in which Mr. and Mrs. Mallard search for the perfect home to raise a family. Like ducks, a goose lays eggs over several weeks and then has to sit on them for thirty days.  If we have another dry spring, any goslings would hatch and be helpless to escape predators by taking to water. While I would love to have Canada Geese nesting beside my little pond, I feel as a potential landlord duty-bound to make full disclosure to these young couples.

It’s a gravel pit in disguise! In another six weeks the pond might be a dry crater!

Someday when my ship comes in, I hope to be able to line my pond so it’s a dependable, year-round haven for wildlife. For now, however, it can only be a rest stop.


Oh, Please!

April 26, 2013


Above, at school this morning.

Below, the farm at barn chores.


I know this is what spring is always like in the Adirondacks, but this year I am tired and sick of it.

Cold, UGH

April 21, 2013

Last Wednesday, when Gary and I were building the deck, I kept looking out at my land. It was the first day I’d seen the fields clear of snow since November. They were brown, sodden, and ugly, but to my eye, they were dear, and their reappearance made me happy. (I always remember my late mother saying affectionately, “You have dirt in your blood.”)

Our first robins returned March 29 this year, the red-winged blackbirds a few days later. Despite several snowstorms since then, we’ve been on a slow warming trend.

On Friday afternoon I picked up 50 lilac seedlings, their buds tender green, from the county Soil and Water Conservation Service for a hedgerow. A few hours later, at evening chores, I heard bull frogs calling for the first time in the farm pond. That night we had a hard rain which melted our last ragged scarves of snow in the woods, and DH came in from outside, streaming water, to announce that the school frogs, too, were now awake and calling.

All of which made Saturday’s high winds and blowing snow extremely dispiriting. It was 19° F this morning. Tonight it is supposed to drop to 13° F.

I remind myself that all this is good for the maple sugarers, but I am sick of cold.

Building the Deck: Day 2

April 20, 2013


The task for our second day of deck building was simpler: to lay down the floor decking and put up the railing.

Simplicity was good because our fine weather had gone. The wind whipped our jackets and the sky was rapidly darkening.


The forecast was for rain in the afternoon, and 40 mph gusts. We started work at 7:30 AM and bent to the task as quickly as possible.

My friend D had lent me his chopsaw. As I squared the ends of our treated decking boards and carried each one out, Gary began screwing them down to the joists.


Some of the boards were bowed. I climbed up and pulled them into place with my legs with what I called “a heel-hook and lay-back,” while Gary secured them with screws.


Eventually the heel-hook became impractical. Gary devised a simple jig that he could tap with a hammer to apply pressure to the bows and tweak the joints tight.


As I screwed down decking, I kept glancing over my shoulder at the western horizon. The mountains had disappeared in lowering clouds. Our cardboard box of deck screws kept skidding away in the high wind.

Oh no! At 10:30 AM it began to rain. Gary was calm as we carried all the waiting deck boards back to the garage to stay dry — “We’ll stop for tea until it blows over” — but I had a sense of doom. In the Adirondacks, rain can settle in for weeks.

However, Gary’s optimism was borne out and forty minutes later we were back at work. Here he is trimming a board. We were both impressed with his new Ridgid tool set. All the guys here seem to use Dewalt or Makita, but the battery life of his Ridgid tools was easily ten times that of my 18-volt Dewalt.


Once the floor was laid, Gary measured and carefully cut holes in the decking with a saber saw for all our railing posts. I cut each post to length on the chopsaw.


Gary set the posts to height while underneath the deck I toe-nailed them in place temporarily with the nail gun. Later this week I will drill in some heavy bolts to hold them permanently.


The wind was still blowing hard — the level, boards, and even tools threatened to blow off the deck — but one result was that against all odds, the dark clouds blew over and the sun came out!

We nailed up the simple railing, using clamps to keep the boards from taking to the sky.


Gary checked our two corner posts for plumb and found each one was out about a half-inch.


Luckily, he carries a come-along in his car for emergencies. With a few cranks of the handle, the posts were pulled plumb, the remaining rails were nailed…

… and we were sitting on the new deck on kitchen chairs, enjoying another cup of tea.


I was a tired but very happy camper.


The deck is great. It adds a wonderful dimension to the apartment, seeming to increase the living space exponentially. The views are lovely.

While I began putting away tools, Gary cut away another small section of siding. When I can find a scrap of treated 2×12, I will put it up next to the excess, “silly end” of the ledger and then build and install a fire escape ladder to hang from it. I do need a fire escape and my hope is that this will make the too-long ledger look as though it were planned. (One can always hope.)


And yes, I will put another call into the electric company to remind them again about fixing the service coming into the house.

Except for the railing bolts, a little clean-up, and some stain at the close of summer, the project is finished.

Thank you, Gary! You are a mastermind carpenter, a cheerful problem-solver, and a true friend.


Building the Deck: Day 1

April 19, 2013

Wednesday, our first day of building, dawned clear and chilly. Thank goodness. The night before we’d had pelting rain and wind.

Our first order of business was to set the deck’s support posts. A year and a half ago, I’d paid the carpenters who were putting up siding and pouring concrete piers for the apartment’s covered entry to also pour piers for a future deck. So Gary and I were starting the project with cured, four-foot-deep concrete piers in the ground.

We could see at a glance that the piers were not perfect. They were not quite square with the building — but we could correct for that with our anchors. They were not set at the same height in the sloping surface — but we could correct for that, too, by cutting our posts to different lengths.  And they had not been set with anchor bolts — but we could drill some in.

Here is Gary drilling the anchor bolt and setting the post anchor on the first pier.

Once we had our anchors down and our posts standing and temporarily braced in place, we had to calculate the proper height of each post.


At this point, Gary ran a measuring tape along the flashed ledger board that I’d also asked the siding men to install, and made an unwelcome discovery. The ledger board was 12′ 9″ long. This was a totally random number that made no sense. Why would a carpenter cut a support board to this odd length? The rule of thumb in any building project is to use standard dimensions to limit waste and costs.

A month ago, looking up from the ground in the snow, I’d assumed that it was a 12′ ledger. My foolish mistake.

The ledger was also offset a little over an inch from center under the door. What?


I shared with Gary that I had decided not to re-hire that builder after seeing the poor job his team had done on the simple four-foot covered entry — which was neither level nor square, facts I was doing my best to disguise with paint, and had two roofs applied before they managed to put one up without ruining the metal with creasing and dimpling.

So the strange ledger should not have been a shock. However, I had pre-purchased 12′ materials. There was nothing to do but accept that we would have nine inches of ledger board sticking out one side of our deck.

“Paint it white!” Gary advised. “Just like in the theater, where the rule is, ‘Paint it black and the audience will never see it.’ ”

To calculate the proper height of the posts, Gary nailed up a joist hanger on the ledger, we set a joist, and marked one post. Then we ran a board from the first post to the second, leveled it, and marked the second. We took down the posts, cut them to their different lengths, and reinstalled them.

Here is Gary cutting rabbet joints for our cross-beams.


I learned the joy of clamps as we set the first cross-beam and braced it.


I’ve never used clamps much but I could see how helpful they were to keep materials steady for nailing — the equivalent of another pair of hands, something I am always in need of.  (On my next visit to the hardware store, I bought a clamp.)

Here I am nailing up a clamped brace on the east post.


(Notice the mess of wires going into the house? The electric company had promised they would return to clean that up. “Yeah? How long ago was that?” Gary inquired. “Three years? Good to know they aren’t stressing.”)

However, he and I were stressing briefly after we began installing the floor joists and realized that in addition to everything else, the concrete piers — and thus our posts — were also not centered under the door. Our floor joists were running almost four inches out of square.

There was a brief pause for cursing — “After looking at the rest of their work, how could I have assumed that carpenters you’d paid to put in those piers would have done anything right?” Gary exclaimed — and then we took the joists down and re-hung them.

At the end of the first day we had the floor frame up.


The floor slopes one inch away from the house for water run-off.


It was 7:30 when we quit work, cleaned up our tools, and I headed down the hill to do barn chores. A long but very satisfying day.

Gary to the Rescue!

April 17, 2013


Our friend Gary is here for two days to mastermind building a deck off the garage apartment. I need a deck before I can get a certificate of occupancy and rent the apartment out — currently the upstairs sliding doors open to a ten-foot drop.

I had received a few bids on the job and the lowest was a little over $4K. While I might have scraped this sum together it would have knocked out my savings and meant I could not do other things on my list. Gary said, “Don’t be silly. You and I can build that, easy. I’ll make some drawings and come up on my spring break.”

Gary is a woodshop teacher in western Massachusetts. He has been driving three hours north to help me on these building projects almost from the first — the construction of the cabin in 2007. In the photo above we have just dug our materials out of the snow. A month later, below, he was back and we installed the rafters.

In 2009 Gary donated two days to helping me start building the garage.


Later in the summer, when my carpenter flaked out and failed to show up,  Gary returned for several more days.  After that he would stop by whenever he was in the mountains on climbing trips — it always seemed that Gary appeared just when I needed him. Below, he and Luke are wrestling rafters.


I once wrote that Gary’s middle name should be “Saint.” He’s a wonderful friend.

All the deck materials were delivered last week in the snow and ice storm. The big delivery truck became mired at the top of the driveway and Luke and I had to off-load all the materials into my pickup in multiple trips and carry it to the garage. Still, I think Gary and I are set.

The forecast calls for a 36-hour lull in rotten weather until rain returns Thursday afternoon with 40 mph winds. I pray it holds off until the last nail and screw are driven!


April 16, 2013


DH had been out of town for a week and was flying east in time for a school heads’ conference in southern Vermont. I was to catch a ride with other conference-goers, meet him there for the event dinner, spend the night, and drive home with him the next day.

Now, driving six hours round-trip to eat dinner and sleep in a strange bed was not high on my list of priorities. But I was committed. Moreover the weather was so foul at home, my boots and coveralls wet and heavy with snow and dripping mud, that I told myself a 24-hour break would be worth the effort.

As it happened, DH’s plane was delayed in Detroit and I ate dinner at a table of strangers. However it was fun to be slightly dressed up for a change. I do it so seldom I always feel a bit like I’m wearing a costume, impersonating someone from the well-to-do Connecticut town where I grew up. And since two of the pieces of my outfit were thrift-shop finds, I felt even more secret pleasure.

In the morning while DH attended meetings, I went window-shopping in the town. There were many upscale outlet stores. Though I am not much of a shopper, I decided I would keep my eye out for a handbag. On our trip to Florida I’d helpfully stashed packets of honey in my purse for the girls’ bagels on the train, and somehow one of the packets had exploded. I’d done my best to soak and scrub it, but my purse would never be the same.

Hmmm… where in all these fancy stores to look for a handbag? Well, Coach, of course! My mother-in-law had loved Coach bags. I knew Coach was an expensive brand. They’d probably be something outrageous, $89 or thereabouts, but I would look anyway. Maybe I’d find something on sale.

The shop was tiny and the purses, leather dyed in a rainbow of bright colors, were set out like rows of jewels on display tables. I went straight to the sale section and turned over a price tag. Gulp! $298!

I smiled weakly at the saleswoman and let myself out.

My next stop was Brooks Brothers. Surely they would have something classic, simple, and understated.

I mentioned my experience at Coach to the salesman. Three hundred dollars for a handbag on sale was out of my league, I explained with small laugh.

He murmured agreement. I would find their bags much more reasonable. He led me to the handbag section. My eye fell on a tag. $229!

Oh, dear. Was there by any chance a clearance section? Indeed. The bags in the far back corner were 70% off. I sighed with relief and made my way back.

There were only two bags on the counter. Though the smaller one was rather more elegant than my taste, perhaps I could accustom myself to an upgrade — and 70% off the original price of — I turned over the tag. $498.

At this point my brain froze. There were people in the world who routinely paid $500 for a bag to carry their wallet and comb?

I reeled back to the hotel to pick up DH for the drive home. I told him all about my failed shopping expedition.

“Maybe check out Carhartt,” he advised kindly.

It was nice to get away briefly to another world, but I was happy to get home last night to the mud where I belong.

Spring, Where Art Thou?

April 14, 2013


We got a fresh inch of snow last night. Wednesday and Thursday we had freezing rain, high wind, and sleet. Friday, ice and snow. The local schools closed, and cold slush fell from the sky all day. A delivery man who made it to the farm at 2 PM told Luke and me that he had passed three wrecks on the hill up from the valley. Yesterday we had dark, sullen skies until evening, when it began to snow again.


The farm is a morass of mud, now covered with mushy snow. Ugh.


The animals and I are ready for some sunshine and green grass.

Putting Together a Workshop

April 13, 2013

It’s been a very busy six weeks. I will try to catch up in the coming days.

Luke, the college student who has worked for me since he was fifteen, was due to be home for three days in April on spring break. Two months ago we made plans to build during that short window. Last spring he and I had started an addition to my barn and worked only two days before a family crisis intervened and we’d had to quit. That lumber has been sitting stickered and waiting in the garage for a year.

My dream was that in these three days we might finish the addition’s frame and get the rafters up. This would mark a huge jump forward and would mean that I could continue with next steps on my own.

Because our time would be so tight I decided to skip my usual hand tools, and borrowed a nail gun and compressor from my friend D. Lucy and I stopped on our way home from a dentist trip to Vermont and bought the very expensive galvanized nails to fit the gun. I gathered my plans and drawings and printed out detailed instructions from Len, the designer, in New Hampshire.  I ran D’s heavy-duty lead cord, thick as a snake, out the barn window. Everything was set.

And then it started to snow and sleet. The wind howled, blowing stinging ice at 35 mph. Working outside would be miserable. Arrrgh!

I’ve been so busy on other fronts that, faced with this setback, part of me wanted to abandon the work plan altogether. I could always use time to regroup and reorganize. However Luke is such a wonderful worker that I could not pass up the opportunity to have his help. I told myself firmly that any progress made on anything on my list would be a step forward.

And so it has proved. We put together my new garage workshop, for which I have been slowly assembling materials for the past three years.

*   *   *

Back in the summer of 2010 Lucy and I had picked up a truck-load of kitchen cabinets I’d found on Freecycle. They were from the 1970s and only pressboard, but I thought they would be fine for shop storage. The cabinets have sat in an untidy heap in the garage ever since.

At 5 AM Wednesday, I googled “how to install kitchen cabinets” on the internet over my morning coffee. At 8 AM Luke and I started work.


Boxed-in plumbing on the east wall of the garage dictated the mandatory height of the upper cabinets.


Neither Luke nor I had ever hung cabinets before, and we shared a childish glee as each one went up. Gee, they look just like… real cabinets!


Last fall I’d traded with my friend Larry for an old, heavy-duty Delta table saw. Before Larry, this saw had belonged to my dear friends Sue and JPM. I told Larry I would think of him, Sue, and JPM whenever I used it. (Larry said with a quick grin, “And that makes it priceless!”)

The big saw, too, had sat waiting in the jumble of the garage. It was so big, actually, that it threatened to take over all the available space — possibly crowding out future cars. I decided I wanted it to be able to slide it under the work counter out of the way when not in use.

To achieve this, Luke and I had to raise the base cabinets 3.5 inches from the floor and pull them 5 inches from the wall. We set the frames on blocks of treated 4×4. These scraps of 4×4 were left over from stacking materials for building the garage back in 2009. Luke had been part of that project, too.


Next, the counter-top. This past August the school renovated its computer room, discarding an extremely heavy counter that was 18 feet long and 3 feet wide. I’d asked the maintenance boys to cut it down to 11 feet long. In the midst of other chores, one day last fall Alex and I had manhandled the behemoth down to the farm and slid it, puffing mightily, into the garage, where it too had waited.

Now Luke and I set it with great difficulty on top of the base cabinets.

“This will be tough,” I’d warned Luke. “This thing weighs a hundred million thousand tons.”

Luke, who is a math/science major, looked at me quizzically. He smiled and waggled his hand in a see-saw gesture. “More or less!”

In the end we used a battered metal table stand on wheels that I’d snagged back in 2009 when the school cleaned out its maintenance building. I’d figured one day I’d use it as a support for long material feeding from a table saw. Now it was perfect for trundling the monster counter-top across the garage.

At three feet wide, the counter was so deep that the cabinet drawers were inaccessible. We decided to trim it down to 32 inches. We snapped a chalk line, cut it with my Skil-saw, and then reversed it. It fit perfectly.


Six months ago, when I’d had a little spare change, I’d bought some pegboard and added it to the FUTURE WORKSHOP stockpile. Now I put in a call to Larry, whose beautiful workshop lined with pegboard I’ve admired, and left a message, asking him how best to install it. Larry called me back from Harry Potter World in Florida. He told me to rip thin strips of wood and hang them behind the pegboard every couple of feet for support. Thank you, Larry!

I had some furring strips left over from roofing DH’s woodshed in 2011; I drove out to the cabin, dug them out from under tarps and snow, and we set them to dry overnight. To rip them in half, we needed to use the new table saw. Unfortunately the blade was missing a crucial bolt. My friend D came out after work and fixed it temporarily. Thank you, D!


Luke and I ripped all the strips and while I worked on other jobs, he attached the narrow furring strips to each stud.


He measured around the cabinets and we trimmed the pegboard to fit. Then he measured openings for the electrical sockets and cut them out with a jigsaw.


At last it was all done.


The cabinets are ready for storage. The saw, the rolling table, and the work stool all fit neatly under the counter. My gift from Lucy last Christmas was two big boxes of pegboard hooks — I’ll soon be able to hang up all the tools currently rattling around my truck, my office, my barn, and various corners of my kitchen.


It will be great to put everything away. Thank you, Luke!