First Steps in the Mudroom

November 6, 2017

my antique cookstove before it disappeared under garage piles

I have to panel the mudroom walls before Nick can tile the floor. The first step is to put up the concrete wall board that will be behind the wood cookstove. (Actually the real first step on the mudroom was the one I find most loathsome: to paint the ceiling. I did that over two days in August.)

I have had the tools and materials to panel the mudroom all summer. I’m not sure why I haven’t tackled it before now. Partly no time, but partly, I think, shyness over working with tools in front of experts. It hadn’t bothered me to cut and hang sheetrock in the basement because the door was kept closed. But now the men are all gone and there are only the dogs to smile at my struggles.

Nick had marked the OSB panel where the stove pipe would go. I climbed over the towering piles in the garage to measure the cookstove. To be centered on the wall and not overlap electrical outlets, my wall board had to be trimmed from 5 feet wide to 4’6″. The wall itself needed a stud added as a nailer.

The wall studs are 2x8s, yet the wall is now full of wiring. I puzzled over how to work around the wiring for an embarrassingly long time before I realized that, of course, the nailer did not need to be that dimension, only flush on the front. I screwed in a 2×4, braced top and bottom.

The next issue was spacers. Nick’s father Mike and my friend Tom both insisted that for fire safety, the concrete board had to be set off from the wood studs with 1″ spacers. Nick didn’t seem convinced but I had read this myself and knew it was a good idea.

I merely balked at the price. Over $3 apiece and I would need around 40! I was discussing it with my friend Larry this fall and an hour later he returned with a rusty bread pan full of steel spacers he’d cut for me in his shop. The spacers were not absolutely even but I figured with the soft concrete board they would work.

Next I had to change out the blade in my Skilsaw for a concrete blade. I mention this step this lest you labor under the misapprehension that I am competent. I couldn’t find the blade lock on my saw and the owner’s manual was somewhere in the disaster of the garage. Naturally, I turned to Google. After a wasted hour of research, I was still mystified. Finally it dawned on me that my Skilsaw, though perfectly adequate, is so low-end that there is no blade lock. I jammed the saw with a stick of wood to hold the blade, unbolted it, and slid the concrete blade in.

I carried each sheet (heavy but at the same time extremely fragile and crumbling) to the mud room porch for cutting. After the first cut, when I was blinded by a cloud of white concrete dust, I wore a mask.

I had to work hard to keep the first board level, especially as the expensive 2009 concrete floor  — and thus the bottom plate — and the ceiling are not perfectly level. I could have used a few extra hands. Screws and spacers frequently bounced off the floor, and once I was juggling so many pieces I dropped the drill.


It was even more challenging to drive each 3″ screw through the board and then cap it with a spacer before continuing into the studs and the horizontal cross braces I had added across the widest bay. I was drilling and reaching behind the board to feel for the point of the screws, then fumbling blind with the spacers. Here is the view standing on the ladder and looking down.

Nick looked at my progress over the weekend. “I am amazed you got that up with no help!”

“I’m part orangutan — long arms!” I joked, but I was pleased.

He left a diagram for the cutting the last board to leave a hole for the stove pipe.

First I cut the board to size, taking into account the ceiling slope. Then I trimmed the opening in the fragile, crumbling piece three times before I got it right, carefully taking it down, putting it up, taking it down, carrying it to the porch to cut again.  Finally I struggled for an hour to put in the spacers in the very tight squeeze near the ceiling.

At 10 PM, at last it was done. Stash was patiently waiting for me to finish, so the dogs and I could head down to sleep in the basement.


Hurry!

November 1, 2017

After two days of whipping wind (60 mph gusts) and rain, yesterday we had snow flurries. My heart dropped. I’m not ready! I have a two page, two column, typed, single-spaced FALL list of everything I need to do before winter!

Even as I felt a spurt of panic, though, I had a small wave of yearning. A part of me longs to jump ahead to deep cold, when life on the farm contracts to the small, snug barn… and expectations lower to keeping the animals warm, dry, fed, and watered.

The bold coyote has complicated my life this year, and I cannot relax my vigilance. A few Saturdays ago I was walking the dogs down to the barn and we spooked the coyote from the weedy edge of the driveway. It was 11 AM. Stash was torn between growling and fright. Eighteen-pound Toby (coyote snack food) barked and strained at his leash. The coyote looked at us scornfully and withdrew.

Most early mornings and late evenings when I take the dogs out to pee in the dark, we hear a coyote howling under the stars.

Thus every morning I have a lot of extra work, moving the sheep fence, moving the hard fence for the geese…

… and dumping and refilling their swimming troughs.

After keeping the chickens in the barn for a month (they thought it was winter and stopped laying) I rigged up a makeshift temporary enclosure with a scrap of old rusty welded wire I picked up for free. It works, but I have to take it down and set it up every day.

I will be happy to be done with this extra hour or two when the farm is buried in snow. (There will still be hours of work; just different. Inevitably I will be thawing my frozen “frost-free” water hydrants.) But in order to be ready for the snow I have to get through my list.

Hurry!


A New Plan of Attack

July 31, 2017

After a grueling four-day stretch of board meetings and parent visiting days, DH left today at 3:15 AM for two weeks of vacation. He had hoped to climb in Peru but a few weeks ago his best friend and climbing partner injured his hand. Instead they will hike the 165-mile Tahoe Rim Trail. With frequent flyer air tickets, this vacation will cost us about $59. Best of all, they will be out of connectivity in the mountains and DH will not be instantly reachable by email from work. I have urged him to look at his phone only once a day.

Meanwhile I am looking at my lists and trying to determine what I can realistically accomplish in his sixteen-day absence.

The Summer To-Do List I wrote in late spring seems laughable now.  At that time I believed we would be moving into a finished house in the last week of June, have a family party in our new home with Jon and Amanda over the 4th of July, and have the rest of the summer to work on projects. Now I am realizing that we are likely to be living with workmen in our spaces until Labor Day, when my teaching year resumes, and my unpacking and organizing will take just as long, if not longer.

This is discouraging — as I look around at dozens of stacked boxes that can’t yet be put away, due to lack of cabinets or closets or finished floor or trim — but I can’t let it spoil the joy. And there is so much joy.

This past weekend was a stretch of blue and gold days, our first real days of summer weather, and I spent happy hours mowing and weedwhacking. (Only 534 hours to go before I catch up.) Yesterday morning after chores, before it got too hot, I took the dogs for a hike on the Olympic ski trails next door. As we walked through the sun-dappled leafy forest I knew I was one of the luckiest women alive.

So I am making a new list, hoping I can work hard every day, keep my balance, and remember how amazingly blessed I am to be living this life.

 


Still Not Out

July 3, 2017

I’m mostly out of the lake house. One more room to go, plus the attic, the basement, the woodshed, and the garage. I made my last trip at 9:30 last night and didn’t have energy left to unload the truck.

I am tired and trying not to be overwhelmed.

Nothing in the new house is set up to receive our things. No closets, no shelves. Therefore we have piles of boxes, food, clean laundry, framed paintings, and dress clothes everywhere. Not to mention boxes and boxes of books and stuff, in amongst leaning piles of construction debris, tools, and materials. Even the porch is jammed with saws, the staircases waiting to be installed, and builders’ trash waiting to go to the dump. I had anticipated the problem and asked last week if at least the closets could be finished and if the debris and no-longer needed construction items could be moved out. However, I’m not sure the reality of we are moving in had really dawned on anyone — and it didn’t happen.

Nick did come out yesterday after church, in response to my text, to install exterior door knobs so I didn’t have to pile things in front of the doors to keep the dogs inside.

Meanwhile I packed our personal dishes and linens two years ago when I moved us out of the school in nine days while teaching and driving Lucy to visit colleges. I have no memory of where anything is, except that it must be in the stacks and stacks in the basement or garage. So currently we have no dishes, sheets, or blankets.

All of these mysteries would be delightful to solve if I only had time. I’m itching to build pantry and closet shelves, open boxes, and gradually get us organized. However, I have more days of moving out of the lake house to finish. The boy Nick whom I’d hired to help today — I can’t carry filing cabinets down flights of stairs or wrangle a chest freezer out of the basement on my own — again texted that he could not come. DH and Lucy will be off to work, and the builders arrive here at 7:30 this morning. I have to control my panicky sense of having zero control.

Oh, well. I know everything will work out in the end. I also know how lucky I am. I just have to keep marching. I can hear Allen’s voice in my ear. “Done whinin’?”

Onward.

This morning I will try to find my tools and set up our bed to get our mattress off the floor. If that can happen, I can put all the clean laundry on top of it. I will take a broomstick and create a temporary hanging rod suspended from the basement ceiling joists. I will stack everything currently piled on the kitchen counters in the future pantry, just to have it out of the way. I will take Lucy’s bags out of the mudroom and shove them in the attic, ditto. I will roll back all the rugs so the men do not walk on them with muddy work boots. I will drive the dogs to the vet for the day so they will not end up on the highway.

Then I will mow lanes and move the sheep, try to make poor Moxie (painfully engorged but — thank you, God! — happily not comatose with milk fever) comfortable, and push on with emptying and cleaning the lake house.

Tomorrow I will post something upbeat, with photos. Today I have to buckle in and motor on.

 

 


Choices, Choices

April 30, 2017

I am suffering from Decision Fatigue. There are so many choices in building and outfitting a house, and thus so many decisions. I am starting to feel overwhelmed.

I have always made all our family’s domestic decisions. DH is an easygoing person with very little interest. Over the years I have chosen the cars, the clothes, the furniture, the cups and saucers, the food on the table. He is agreeable about it all. But now I am looking at decisions with big price tickets and potentially big ramifications. I find myself gripped with the anxiety that I am going to make a bad mistake.

I was horrified to discover the cost of kitchen cabinets. I looked at gorgeous hardwood doors from one company’s line after another, sunk in gloom. After weeks of dithering and worry, it belatedly occurred to me that I do not care about kitchen cabinet doors and that my goal should be function above all. (I hold onto something my brother-in-law told me long ago in this process: “You just need a house.”) Were the boxes and shelves well-made and sturdy? If so, fine. In the end I chose cabinets built entirely of 3/4″ plywood, with white MDF (Medium Density Fiberboard) doors. My hope is that these doors will work for our family. If someone with deeper pockets buys this house in the future, they can replace the doors with fancy ones.

Similarly, I’m going to have either IKEA butcher block or Formica countertops, both inexpensive options. You can replace them, I silently tell my future home buyers. I just need a house.

But this is just the tip of the iceberg in the number of decisions I am facing. Dishwasher, refrigerator, stove, washer, dryer. I have to research them all. Meanwhile, Nick wants to know what paint colors I am using for the interior, and will I have accent walls?

Colors? I am paralyzed by this sort of thing. I only know one interior color: white. I have never had or known an accent wall. Lucy and Amanda have been holding my hand and leading me through the process with the Benjamin Moore line. Lucy would like a pale yellow kitchen (shade still to be decided) and a cottage bedroom in Spring Mint. Amanda found a warm cream called Navajo White for the rest of the house. All the trim and doors will be bright white, easily washed.

Now, onto the light fixtures and bathrooms!

Shopping for used furniture on Craigslist seems so much easier. The only questions are: How far away? Can we afford it? And: will it fit in the car or truck?

*    *   *

This has been a week of tight schedules and many meetings. Next week will be worse with two late nights and a weekend school trip. I have weekly lists, daily lists, weekend lists, and seasonal lists. I have lists of furniture still needed. I have lists of house decisions still to be made. I have my teaching notes and overdue student reports to write. My brain is whirring all the time. On Friday, rushing to a financial meeting after work, I was distressed to realize that I’d totally forgotten a scheduled walk-through before work with representatives from the house company (to confirm door swings). The appointment just fell out of my brain. Similarly in recent days both Nick and the financial people have asked me simple questions in response to which I have found myself staring blankly. The information was there but the circuits were overloaded. Push, push, push!

Though it is hard to take the time, it is also a relief to walk the dogs for their daily exercise. Yesterday was our first hike after snow season on the Olympic ski trails behind the farm. Ruffed grouse + happy dogs = mental peace.


The Waiting Land

April 21, 2017

The past week has felt pressured and rushed, each day jammed with too many tasks. (Volunteering last summer to do a friend’s taxes was perhaps not my wisest move, especially as all his circumstances had changed and he had lost much of the attendant paperwork. Thankfully, however, I was able to help straighten out the various accounts and I submitted his taxes just under the wire.) With Lucy at college and Jon and Amanda in Connecticut, DH and I had a quiet Easter, just the two of us saying grace over a much smaller feast.

We’ve had grey days of cold rain and bright days of spring sunshine. I’ve tried to drive the dogs to the farm for a walk every afternoon after work. They have enjoyed the mud and puddles.

This is always a tantalizing time of year for me at the farm. The snow and ice retreat more every day, revealing the waiting land. It is brown and bare. Every chore ahead is evident. Pull that rock. Straighten that post. Fix that fence. Cut those briars. Weed that garden bed.

What is different this year is that I can now imagine that a day may come when I do not have a mountain of other chores which prevent me from starting this work. Someday, I will able to address spring tasks in the springtime because I won’t be planning, packing, moving, dreaming, scheming, and worrying. This uphill fourteen-year push will be over. We will be in our own home! As always, I find it hard to express how exciting I find this thought.

For now, I am hiking the fields with the dogs and making notes of all the things to add to the To-Do list.

 


Dogs Before and After

February 16, 2017

The dogs got haircuts yesterday. Here they are on a walk Tuesday.

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And here they are yesterday afternoon, after I crept through a snowstorm at 30 mph to bring them home after work.

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DH is always distressed at these times. “I don’t really like the pointy look,” he says, wincing. Lucy, however, thinks that when they are shaved down, they look like endurance athletes.

I am purely practical. I am congratulating myself for remembering to pack Toby’s winter coat and Stash’s calf jacket.

* * *

I am enjoying being free of one of the extra jobs I took on this year. So sad: no link to the school server here at the farm! Oh dear, I can’t do the work for six days! Having this extra hour every morning feels almost like vacation. It certainly makes my days less frantic.


Opposites Attract

November 26, 2016

On the surface, DH and I have very little in common. He is an athlete and mountaineer; I play no sports and am afraid of heights. He is invariably calm and steady; I am quick to anger or tears. He is reserved, even aloof; I pull the world into my lap for a hug. What we have in common is that we are both decent people who read a lot and have the same sense of humor. Over thirty-odd years, like most married couples, we have come to depend on each other for the skills we lack. Usually, these skills are abstract: DH supports my patience and control; I lend him warmth. However, sometimes the skills are concrete.

On Friday DH asked for my help changing some bindings on a pair of old skis. Now, DH grew up in apartments as the son of a man with zero hands-on skills, and has close to zero himself. Though he is by nature an imperturbable person, on this one subject DH can be a little touchy. He knows that competence with tools is considered a feature of masculinity. (A couple of years ago, he learned the concept of a “Honey Do” list, and was charmed by the phrase. In our family, any such lists are for me.)

dewrdc970k-2rDH was working in the basement, and planned to use my DeWalt screw gun. I wasn’t exactly sure what help he needed, but I followed him downstairs.

He was standing at the table holding the DeWalt, looking worried. “How do you work it?” he asked. When I started to smile, he said defensively, “I’ve never used one of these.”

I showed him how to snap the forward and reverse gears, and handed the gun back to him. DH took it gingerly. He removed his glasses so he could see better for the operation. Picking up a screw, he attempted to balance it on the upturned point of the Phillips head bit. Seeing him bent over as if in prayer, his nose two inches from the wobbling screw, I unfortunately began to giggle.

DH straightened up immediately and handed me the screw gun. We put his new bindings on together.

*   *   *   *

Yesterday morning, Stash was so wired before barn chores, he took off at a gallop. I was terrified he would run onto the highway. Clearly he was not getting enough exercise. I asked DH to set me up with an old pair of cross-country skis. I would take Stash for a few circuits of the back pasture to tire him out.

DH is an expert skier. I have not skied for many years. I skied with both our children as toddlers, but by seven years old, they had each surpassed me. I have no particular aptitude for or interest in skiing. I always say, “I learned to walk at a very young age,” and stick to walking. However, trudging through deep snow is no fun and very, very slow. Stash needed something speedier. Thus the request for skis.

DH throws nothing sports-related away, so we have cross-country skis dating back to the 1970s. He found an old pair with three-pin bindings, and a pair of inexpensive poles that came up to my ears. “These are a little tall for you,” he acknowledged, “but at your level of skiing, they will really be walking sticks.”

I laughed. It’s good to be known. I piled the skis, poles, and Stash into my truck and drove to the farm.

Out by the cabin, I tried to put on the skis. Oh dear. The bindings would not close over the tip of the boot. I knew DH would surely be disgusted if I drove home and said I could not put on a simple pair of skis. I sweated and puffed, leaning all my weight on the ski pole pressing the binding, until I thought the pole might snap. After twenty minutes of struggle, I finally succeeded in attaching both feet to the skis.

Stash was in heaven, bouncing through the snow as I glided (laboriously, thrashing) behind him.

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By the second circuit of the field, Stash was sufficiently winded that he took the easy way and ran along the trail I’d broken. I realized that one reason I have never skied with dogs is that before my pasture was cleared, there was no place to do so. Dogs are not allowed on ski trails. Real skiers are made cross by paw prints ruining the tracks. However, I am not a real skier and I was not cross.

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After three trips, I was damp with sweat and ready to quit. (Stash could have continued for another hour.) I skied back to the truck, and Stash hopped up on the seat. Then I addressed the Problem of the Skis.

I was able to pop the latches easily. However, the boots would not come out of either binding. Stash jumped down to see what I was doing. My skis slid in all directions as I attempted to lure him back into the truck. Finally I got him back in and leaned against the door, the slipping skis barely under control and my brain going 100 mph. This entire skiing experience had been quite pleasant, except for the problem of taking on and off the skis. Obviously, I should just untie my boots and step out of them. I could leave the boots permanently attached to the skis! Of course, this might be a little unusual, but then I am a well-known eccentric. Sure, that would work!

I drove home. Later, DH asked me about my ski. I told him how much fun I’d had with Stash, the slight problem with the boots and bindings, and my elegant solution.

DH has a poker face but I could see an expression of something like concern creep into his eyes. He asked to see the skis and the boots. I brought them into the kitchen. He laid a ski on the table and tried to insert the boot. It was very difficult. He tried to close the binding; DH has a climber’s very strong hands and he had to use all his weight to snap it.

My boots do not fit these bindings.

I felt vindicated. I wasn’t an idiot! In my relief I poured out the story of spending twenty minutes trying to get the skis on, including my contortions with the bending pole, and then trying to get them off, my feet sliding out from under me, the dog leaping between my legs, my decision to leave the boots on the skis — DH’s brow furrowed and furrowed as he listened until suddenly he burst into guffaws. I was startled and then I started to laugh also. We both laughed until we cried.

A little later I heard DH dictating a text to our daughter, Lucy, who is also an expert skier. “So you know Mom hasn’t skied in 15 years, and today she had a little trouble with her bindings. So she decided she would leave her boots permanently mounted on her skis!” 

  *    *   *   *

Luckily, DH has another set of bindings that will fit these boots … and I have a DeWalt and know how to use it.

 


A Quiet Day

November 25, 2016

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Yesterday was a darkly beautiful day. It snowed off and on. Although I felt wistful not to have my family around me, I knew that this year, a day of no pressure was what this part-time farmer needed. I slept until 5:30, the latest I’ve stayed in bed in months. With no deadlines, it was a relaxed day of puttering through my list. I baked a pie. I peeled sweet potatoes. I washed and seasoned the turkey.

DH celebrated his rare day off with a Thanksgiving sauna. (The sauna was once my toolshed. I insulated and paneled it and Allen helped me install a little woodstove.) Here is DH scrubbing off in the snow.

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While the turkey roasted, I walked the dogs in the back field. The snow has collapsed and compressed but is still over the tops of my boots. I may hunt up an old pair of cross-country skis today, to give Stash a better workout. He bounds through the deep snow with joy, and a tired poodle is a happy poodle.

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Little Toby is game …
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but challenged by the deeper drifts. Whenever he looked too miserable, I picked him up to carry him.

The snowstorm has closed the door on many fall chores I had hoped to accomplish during this week of vacation. I won’t be cutting and installing the rafters for the run-in shed in the south pasture. The horse trailer will not be put away in my neighbor’s barn. The treated 4×4 fence posts and wire panels I bought (with dollars from the sale of beef) for a sheep paddock, a project repeatedly put on hold due to Damon’s tricky health, will now wait for spring.

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It is easy to be frustrated when I look around at everything I did not accomplish this summer. I did not transplant any balsams. I didn’t paint the barn addition. I didn’t sell my heifer or four of my goslings. I didn’t build the missing doors on the sheep stall or the garden shed. I spent many sweaty hours on my future flower garden, but then turned my back to get Lucy off to college and start my own school year, and it got away from me again.

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In my mind’s ear, I hear the prayer of contrition from my earliest childhood:

We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; And we have done those things which we ought not to have done; And there is no health in us.

Luckily I know I did do a few positive things. I drew up plans for our house. I taught Lucy to drive. I fenced the back field. I kept the sheep home to improve our own land. I sold my entire crop of lambs to buyers eager for my flock’s good genetics. All seventeen open acres were grazed and mowed.

Moreover, I am basically healthy and, God willing, there’s always next year.


Ironman and Farmer Tan

July 25, 2016

Yesterday was Ironman Sunday here in Lake Placid, when all the roads are closed from 6:30 AM to 5:30 PM for the triathlon.

Though many locals resent the Ironman, a part of me always looks forward to this day. The road shutdown puts me in a bubble where no other needs can intrude. I cannot drive anyone or shop for groceries or arrange family appointments. It’s like a travel day in that sense, except that I can’t travel and thus can work, uninterrupted, on whatever my heart desires for hours on end.

This year was different in that I have Stash. Stash is a bit like a child, very dear but also young and needing exercise and entertainment. I could not leave him from morning until night. So we drove down to the farm early. He “helped” me move the sheep (having been shocked by the fence, he stays away and runs around the field while I do this) and then watched as I mucked the barn and brought the cows in.

Stash is always on a leash at the farm. It feels important not to awaken his prey drive, which is considerable. When we hike, he will race off at 30 mph and leap into the air after ruffed grouse that explode out of the brush.

On a leash, unable to run and chase, he watches chickens calmly as the water trough is scrubbed and refilled.

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My barn cat, Flossie, twines around him.

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The desire to pounce and play is kept under control. Just barely.

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But yesterday we were done by 9:30 and then I had to think of what I could work on with a toddler at my side. I could not mow. I could not weedwhack.

I decided to weed the future garden.

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Stash was bored but happy to be with me. It was hot but a merciful breeze kept off the biting flies. I pulled weeds for hours. We took occasional breaks for walks to stretch his legs. When my right elbow gave out, I switched to my left.

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I got about a third of the garden length cleared and clean, but it is the wide third — the garden expands from 2 feet deep at the top to 10 feet at the bottom — so in my mind, I’m half done.

Having Stash with me made me much more careful to go inside the apartment regularly to drink water and cool down. At lunch time, I peeled off my sweaty double-front Carhartt jeans and hung them on the deck to dry. As I munched on a peanut butter sandwich, I glanced down at my hand on my knee and laughed out loud.

It’s clear why my family teases me about my farmer tan!

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