Cookstove and Cast Iron

September 30, 2018

We got the cookstove into the house and I hung up a bunch of my cast iron pots and pans (I haven’t found and unpacked them all) and my father’s bread bowl. This is the west side of the mudroom.

I was very pleased to use a steel pot rack I had bought in 1986 but put into storage in 1991 when we moved. After twenty-seven years the rack was red-brown with rust. I worked on it with a wire brush and spray-painted it black. Since the ceiling joists were not spaced helpfully, I hung it from the one available and then drilled holes in the steel and bolted the back two sides to the walls to hold it level.

There is still a bunch of work to do in this room. I have to panel the bump-out under the pot rack which hides the exhaust pipe from the kitchen stove. I have to refinish the blades of my grandmother’s ceiling fan. The cookstove has to be hooked up. Tom and I are going to build a base for the cast iron sink I found in the back of a neighbor’s barn, and then I have to figure out the plumbing. We have to finish building the lockers (Tom was sick this weekend), I have to varnish the lockers, and hang the rest of the locker hooks. I have to trim the edges of the brick behind the stove with moulding, I have to nail quarter-round along the baseboards, and I have to put a coat of sealer on the walls. All three doors need painting or staining.

So — the room is far from finished. Nevertheless it makes me very, very happy to have it coming into focus after dreaming of it so long. Yay!

A Few Licks on the Lockers

September 24, 2018

My friend Tom has a six-day-a-week summer job so it’s been months since we’ve worked together. However yesterday afternoon he came by and we put in some more hours on the locker project, building the top shelf and hat and glove shelves. We would have finished but we were short one ten-foot 1×4 board. I’ll buy it next Saturday and we’ll put it up on Sunday.

Tom is a kind, quiet man with bottomless patience. These photos show the trials of our workplace. Once upon a time, both bays of the garage were neatly stacked with boxes and furniture, nearly to the ceiling. As I’ve pulled things out or dug through the stacks in search of a missing item, the remainder has grown ever more disheveled and disorganized, bags and loose miscellany tossed higgledy-piggledy. Meanwhile builders have left behind boxes of glue tubes and electrical materials, rolls of roofing, pails of joint compound, extra floor tiles, cans of paint. Scraps of lumber are everywhere. The chaos is deeply embarrassing.

I apologize to Tom. He replies calmly, “They say no one gets his shop organized until he retires.”

I can’t wait six years until I retire. The garage, the little tool room, the southwest quarter of the basement, the garden shed, and my never-unpacked clothing closet are the last bastions of mess and disorganization in the house.

I try to deal with a few boxes and bags every week.

New Apartment Deck Rails

September 23, 2018

I started this post five weeks ago.

All summer I’ve been meaning to replace the railings on the apartment deck. Gary and I built the deck in 2013, long before I’d had a plan for the house, and our only concern for the railings had been safety.

Now that the house is up, I have wanted the railings on the apartment deck to match the main house porch.

Using a credit I had at Lowe’s, on the way home from a trip to Vermont I stopped and purchased a few dozen balusters.

I figured the job would take about three hours. Since all the old rails were treated lumber, I could reuse them. I would just pull them off, cut them down, rehang them, and screw in the balusters. Easy-peasy!

[The top of the house looks so ratty because the builder scraped it last July for painting, and then never painted.]

It was very, very hot but my tenant was away and I had to get the job done. I assembled all my wrecking tools.

Just getting the old rails off, and removing all the dozens of nails, took most of the hours. Sweat poured down my face and soaked my shirt. The remaining posts wobbled in place like loose teeth.

I wasted another hour trying to cut down the old rails and reuse them. They were cupped and twisted. The 1×6 capping boards had dried into long tortilla chips that cracked across at the knots.

OK, time for Plan B! I drove into town late that day and bought fresh 2x4s for rails and 2x6s for caps.

The next day went faster. After taking down the previous day’s sad efforts, I got up the new rails on the east side, countersinking the screws.

The five-year-old posts were themselves dried and twisted, but I did not have time or energy to pull them out. I did the best I could. Allen’s voice said in my ear, We ain’t buildin’ a church.

My backyard shop for cutting the long boards had to be a bit creative.

I worked my way around the deck, drilling the countersink holes and then bracing each post plumb before drilling in the rails.

I laid out the first capping board, hiding the screws by drilling them in from below.

Next, balusters. Math is always baffling to me, but I managed to figure out equal spacing down the length of the rails, marked it top and bottom, cut the balusters to fit, and, standing on my ladder, drilled them in.

Oh dear. Something’s wrong. I squinted at the balusters with a sinking heart. I went inside to my computer to check. Yes, code baluster spacing is 4″ maximum, and mine were spaced at 4.25″.

I climbed back up the ladder, took down all the rails, rejiggered the math, re-marked the rails, and put the balusters back up at 3.75″ apart.

The next day marked Day Three of my “three-hour project.” Of course with all the other farm chores, each “day” was only a few hours, but it was still a bit discouraging.

The temperature was in the 90s. It was too hot to wear a baseball cap to shade my eyes. My t-shirt and jeans were clammy and sticking to me. Sweat ran from my hair to puddle in my glasses whenever I looked down. I took my glasses off. Better to be fuzzy-sighted than underwater.

I had already put up the capping board on the west side of the deck.

The job now was to cut and put up the capping board on the long south side. This board had a 45° angle on both ends. I could not use the old board as a template because it had shrunk almost a full two inches.

Time was running out. I was due to leave for Ami’s surgery and had a thousand chores to accomplish before then. But I had left this board to cut when I was fresh because I knew that with my difficulties with math and spatial relationships, the odds were very high that I’d reverse the angles or cut the board too short. I went over it and over it in my mind before I cut. Then, with difficulty, I levered the heavy 12′ treated board up onto the deck, climbed up, and lifted it into place.

It fit!

And that’s where I had to leave the project before I drove to Connecticut. The steam in the picture is from the sweat in my pocket.

Though my tenant assured me he would not fling himself through the openings to fall off the deck, the unfinished railing has been a reproach to me ever since. Unfortunately, between work and other priorities, I’ve had no time.

However yesterday he was away hiking, and I cut and put up all the remaining balusters.

It’s not perfect, but it’s done. Yay!


September 22, 2018

The past few weeks have rushed by. I didn’t plan well, scheduling events for every weekend in September, not only the first month of school but the fall crunch time on the farm. It’s all been fun but I have been anxious as I’ve made lists, worked steadily, and still heard balls dropping. I haven’t slept well. Last week I woke up with another episode of atrial fibrillation. It passed before I had to teach but it was a warning shot across my bow. I’ve cut back on my coffee and am trying to climb into bed earlier and make the lists shorter.

After work yesterday I was eager to drive to Connecticut to see Jon, Amanda, and Ami. I also have a stack of things to bring them. However I was tired (I did barn chores early in a downpour before joining the 7th grade camping trip to fry breakfast eggs and sausage for the children over a fire), DH and I had only had one evening together in a week, and he is due to leave again on Tuesday. I rescheduled the trip and stayed home to try to organize and re-center.

After a week of silence, my builder has returned to start painting the second story of the house. Every few days he appears for a few hours, and gradually the house is losing its piebald look. His hostility and lack of communication poisoned my summer, but it turns out I am utterly unable to hold a grudge. He seems completely oblivious and sunny and talks to me just as he always did, and inevitably I am listening in the old friendly fashion. He is clearly never going to do all the work originally promised, and I will have to hire others to do that work. He has cost me dollars I do not have. However — “In person I can’t stay angry,” I said to DH.

“I noticed.”

The builder gave me an estimate of $480 to paint the posts and railings of the front porch. I can’t hire someone to do work I can do myself, so although I loathe, loathe, loathe painting, I’ve added it to my list. Because he only added the railings for the mudroom porch and end of the front porch in the last two weeks, those will need to season until spring before I can paint them. So we will have another year of the unfinished two-tone look.

I remind myself to focus on what is important in life. It is not paint.


September 16, 2018

Another teacher and I took a group of ten students to a Revolutionary War “civilian reenactment” at the Saratoga battlefield yesterday. The advertising had made it seem as if it would be a huge and exciting event. Instead, it was about fifty reenactors from all over New England gathering to show off their homemade period clothing. As the Revolution is my passion I was perfectly happy, but it must be said that the children, though polite, were considerably less enthralled by hand-sewn seams.

This woman, Ann Cooney, playing a rebel camp-follower, was particularly receptive to our questions. She had sewn all her clothes herself.

Here she’s showing us her shoes, wool stockings, white linen shift, and petticoat under her gown. She explained that she had to put her stockings and shoes on while wearing only her shift, because after she put on her stays (which are like the later corset) she couldn’t bend well enough to reach her feet.

Wasn’t she hot in all those layers, the children asked (the temperature would climb into the upper 80s). Not really, she explained, showing how she could tuck up the back of her gown in her apron tie for ventilation.

I asked about the straight pins holding her bodice together (buttons were not used in most of women’s clothing at the time) and about her stays. To the children’s amazement, Ann immediately began pulling pins out of the stomacher covering her chest…

and showed us all her stays. She had sewn them herself out of linen with rushes for stiffening.

She had hand-bound all the lacing eyelets.

I told Ann that stays were the one item of period clothing I wish I owned, because though over the course of my lifetime I have had the experience of wearing dresses, aprons, neck scarves, shoes, and stockings, I couldn’t quite imagine the feeling of stays.

This remark must have spread, as before we left the encampment, this woman flagged me down, pulled aside her fichu, and showed me her own hand-sewn stays.

I was smiling inside but also very grateful. Today a pair of handmade stays costs between $200-$800, so it’s not likely I’ll ever have the experience of wearing them.

*   *  *

Five members of Lucy’s ski team arrived just after I got home from work. They stopped here for dinner and a bed overnight before a competition this morning. After coffee and breakfast at 6 AM, they left for the race. DH followed to watch the event and leaves for Chicago this afternoon.

Starting School

September 14, 2018

The students arrived at the beginning of the week and every day has been jammed with special events, orientation, initial issue of school supplies, and finding their way through the schedule and around the buildings. Yesterday was our first day of classes.

I always begin the year in both U.S. History I and II with a discussion of perspective, (what is objective, what is subjective) and the concept of Rashomon (the idea that every event can be described from multiple points of view that do not always agree). Throughout the year “Who is telling this story?” will be a regular question as my classes read narratives from the past.

However as that opening discussion repeats every year, today feels like the real first day. I look down the long year and I think, Really? Can I do it again? Can I carry these children to the finish line in June? Stuff them with tales of heroes and villains, injustice and greed, fortitude and courage? Can I help them learn to think abstractly and make connections?

I feel tired and a little daunted but then I look at my student surveys, when I queried the children about their background in history and their learning style. The last question was, “Another thing you should know about me is…”  Children scrawled a variety of answers. “I hate school,” “I am shy,” “I love sports.”

One boy wrote carefully, “I’ve been waiting for this class since 4th grade.”

All right, then! Onward!


September 10, 2018

Last week after work some boys who are forestry students came to cut a half-dozen dead trees. The next day after work Damon and Larry helped me dig out and replace the 8′ frost-free water hydrant in the barn paddock. The following day Rick arrived with a hay delivery. On Friday the boys returned to help me carry the cookstove into the mudroom, and the builder showed up without warning to work on the mudroom porch. On Saturday Mike returned my repaired mower, and that afternoon DH and I went to Vermont for a wonderful 75th/80th birthday party for friends, getting home in time for me to do barn chores just before midnight. (Yes, I didn’t plan well.) Lucy and a friend came home Saturday night and left Sunday morning so we had a quick visit. I worked in my classroom all yesterday afternoon. Our international students arrived last night, our boarding and day students arrive today. Orientation is tomorrow and classes start Wednesday.

Everything is fine, but I’ve had no time to write. I’ve committed myself to numerous activities in September, probably too many. Every weekend is booked until the end of the month, and many evenings during the week. I wonder idly how I will get my farm projects done. I tell myself I’ll figure it out as I go.

Meanwhile the temperatures have swung abruptly from the 80s to the 30s. Yesterday there was ice on the windshield. Leaves are starting to turn, and I’ve dug out my barn jacket and wool hat. My neighbor has put up his driveway snow stakes. Still, it is due to be nearly 80° again later in the week.

It’s transition time and feels very busy… as opposed to the usual sense of siesta around these parts.


Bad Knee

September 4, 2018

Yesterday was hot and humid and my knee was killing me. After struggling through barn chores I had planned to spend the day mowing, to spare it, but the brush hog would not start and began leaking gas. Mike came out to diagnose the issue. “This mower hates me,” he sighed, and took it away for another attempt at repair. So I was working on my feet all day and by dinner time could barely walk.

I’m not sure what I did to cause all this knee pain. Did I twist it? The new pain is on the opposite side of the knee from the old pain (now masked by a cortisone shot).

I don’t tend to pay much attention to aches and pains; I am the furthest thing from a hypochondriac. I usually notice when I hurt myself, and I grimace or even cry, but then quickly accommodate to the problem and keep moving. This is not due to any particular virtue, simply a drive to get things done and a limited attention span. When doctors ask me, when did this problem first present? I rarely have any idea.

During my recent physical, I told the nurse practitioner about my bad elbow and she ordered an x-ray. The radiologist pointed out an old healed fracture. Hmmm. At some point in time I cracked my elbow. I’m sure it hurt a lot. No memory.

I have to schedule an interview with the folks at physical therapy for my knee anyway and I will ask them what might be causing the new knee pain. The expensive brace pushing my knee out of alignment? Simple old age wear and tear?

In the meantime, the pain is cramping my activities. I try not to limp (limping doesn’t really help and puts strain on other body parts) but it’s hard to get around. At Amanda’s suggestion I iced my knee for an hour last night but even with a hefty dose of ibuprofen I could not sleep. I finally dozed off with my leg elevated on sofa pillows.

Today I have work for DH before barn chores, then meetings all day at school, then after work I move the sheep, and before dinner Damon and Larry are coming to help me put in a new frost-free water hydrant in the barn paddock.

As Carly Simon used to sing, “I haven’t got time for the pain.”

 *   *   * 

In the midst of all my discomfort and sweat yesterday, I had two happy encounters. I was working outside, leaning over a project, sweat dripping off my nose, when a hummingbird buzzed my head. Clearly she thought from my red baseball cap that I might be an exotic six-foot red flower. Then just before bedtime, when I took the dogs out in the smothery heat of the night, a barred owl was calling in the woods.

What a lucky life I have here on the farm.

Labor Day

September 3, 2018

Labor Day! Today is my last day before the crunch of the school year starts in earnest.

Yesterday was pleasant. I mucked the barn, brought the cows in, spread manure, moved the sheep, and then came inside to do a few loads of laundry and scrub bathrooms during a brief rain. Afterward, I went back out to weed the apartment garden, weed and rake the apartment path [DH drove in from a work event at this time and took the photo above], and then mow. I mowed for hours and the place looks much more respectable.

It is a bit discouraging to realize that it is September 3 and Nick the builder has completed very little of the unfinished work that I paid for in June 2017 and I believed would happen by June 2018. While I was in Connecticut a few weeks ago he returned to repair the holes he cut in the dining room walls to find the water leak, and put up the railings on the mudroom porch. Last week his father and uncle came one day and installed the porch ceiling. But everything else languishes and I’ve heard nothing about a timetable. My financial advisor told me that I was a lot of the problem: “You didn’t stay on him.”

I hate harassing people. It’s frustrating to think that it’s up to me to chivvy someone into living up to his word. This summer Nick informed me by email that he would not repaint the faulty dining room ceiling (he promised to do it many times), the contracted “plumbing the house” did not include exterior spigots, “exterior painting” meant only one coat, and “interior painting” did not include doors and windows. I have been quite upset by all of this but have had no outward reaction. The same financial advisor had told me that getting angry or threatening legal action to get the work done would be counter-productive since one doesn’t want an enemy working in one’s home. What I notice is that whichever way you slice it, it all appears to be my fault.

Thus it was soothing to rest my sore knee and sore heart, and mow. I have a lot of chores for today but if the rain holds off, I’m going to work a couple of hours of mowing into the mix.

Starting to Mow the Back Field

September 2, 2018

[Something is wrong with a system update on my computer and its interaction with WordPress; I’ve tried a work-around but if the formatting is off, please bear with me. No more time to try to outwit it.]

Somehow on Friday, while working, I managed to twist my bad knee. By evening I could barely walk on it.

Yesterday morning after painfully mucking the barn I got a phone call from my neighbor. I actually rarely answer my phone. I normally have no idea where my phone is. Luckily, yesterday I heard it and answered. It was my young neighbor. “Do you know you have cows out?” I had thought the cattle were in the back field. Instead, they had pushed through the electric fence, its charge shorted by weeds, and now were near the highway.

My heart slammed. Oh, no!

I limped as quickly as possible to the barn for a bucket of sweet feed and then crashed through the trees in search.

Yes, right after telling DH my knee was killing me and I didn’t want to walk on it, I (with my kind neighbor) was chasing after cows through the woods and then over Olympic nordic ski trails. But given the 55 mph highway it could have been a thousand times worse and I thanked God and my thoughtful neighbor.

I locked up the cows, climbed the hill to the house, drank a glass of water, and was trying fruitlessly to fix a lamp in the basement when DH called downstairs, “Did you know a hay delivery is here?” Oh, dear. I swallowed ibuprofen and limped back down to the barn to unload and stack bales.

By afternoon I was tired and discouraged, my knee throbbing. Thankfully, at this point Mike drove in with my 1970 tow-behind brush hog, which has been inoperable all summer and he had finally managed to repair. I spent the next hour and a half mowing the high weeds in the back field (except for when I ran out of gas and had to hike painfully in from the field and lug the heavy five-gallon gas can back out).

Mowing — when the machines run — is a reliable cure for depression. It doesn’t hurt (always a plus in my world), it’s mindless, and it improves the look of everything so is great for my mood.

It’s supposed to rain today and I’m hoping there is enough dry time before or after for me to mow with the regular lawn mower around the house. Given its half-painted, half-scraped appearance plus all the knee-high weeds, the house is looking very Poverty Hollow-ish right now. Mowing won’t fix the paint but will make it look like someone is trying. If there is any extra dry time, I will give myself a little reward of mowing in the back field. That will be a long project, but a cheering one.

The back field is wide open and my only job is steer to around rocks. I listen to hymns on my iPod and sing along with the choir. Since the mower is roaring, the brush hog is clattering, and I’m wearing ear protectors, I am actually bellowing:

All creatures of our God and King
Lift up your voice and with us sing
Oh, praise Him!

When it rains, I will stack lumber in the garage or put up sheetrock.