Calling for a Second Wind

September 20, 2017

I need a second wind.

I have been feeling overwhelmed and without motivation. I’m tired physically and mentally. I yearn for a break from pushing and lists. I haven’t taken a day off in six months. However there is still so much work to be done on the house, so much unpacking and organizing, painting and building (I must start paneling the mudroom!) and fall farm chores loom. There are still shabby boxes stacked in every room. The truck has to be inspected and bills clamor to be paid. All of this in addition to teaching classes every day and getting paperwork organized for the mortgage closing next week.

Yes, after constant setbacks and alarms, threats of steep fines from the bank, and many lengthy meetings and phone calls, I’ve won! We are going to close on our mortgage! The appraiser came back ten days ago and not only approved the work but asked Nick if he would be available to build a house for him.

I love our new home and I can see how wonderful it is going to be. I just need to put my head down and gut out these next few weeks.

To get past the “no motivation” factor, I find myself writing tiny lists, task by task, for before and after my school day. “I can do this for fifteen minutes,” I tell myself firmly.

And I can. Incremental action will get it done. Onward.


Still Unpacking

September 9, 2017

I have been packing, carrying, unpacking, and breaking down moving boxes for three months now and I am still surrounded by stacks of cardboard cartons. Some of the boxes (see above) have been in storage for a long time.

I make a little progress every day but it’s hard not to be discouraged by the leaning towers of mess that remain and all the work that needs to happen before I can unpack them. I have to panel the mudroom! Reinforce the antique bookcase! Paint the metal shelves! Put up hooks in the closets and bathrooms!

The appraiser returns Monday. I’m in regular contact with the bank. We have to close on the mortgage in the next two weeks.

Meanwhile I need to sell my last seven lambs, muck deep bedding out of two large sheep stalls, spread manure, fix the water hydrants, and get the farm ready for winter. The gardens are overgrown with waist-high weeds. There is work to be done in the rental apartment.

I’ve been in school meetings for a fortnight. I have a medical appointment in Vermont on Monday.  My students return Tuesday. (My teaching files are not unpacked.)

Today is another raw, grey, dripping morning. I know how very lucky I am — not in Houston! not in Florida! not in Montana! not in Mexico! — but as flights of crying Canada geese go over the house in the cold rain, heading south for the winter, I struggle not to feel tired and anxious.

Seeding the Yard

September 3, 2017

Yesterday was a busy day of moving animals. I took down, moved, and re-erected the hard-fenced goose enclosure, then set up a temporary enclosure and moved the sheep from the north pasture to the peninsula, then moved all the shelters and netting fences to the bottom of the south pasture, and finally moved the sheep to the south pasture.

In between these chores I finished setting up the apartment — including scrubbing out the oven — for our new tenant. (For the first time we will have a year-round renter. He is a nice boy and I’m pleased to have found him. The rent should help us with taxes on the farm.)

All of this is to say that I did not start work on safeguarding the new grading from the coming rain until almost time for evening chores.

In a perfect world I would have seeded the dirt with fresh grass seed, raked it in, then covered the whole with a thin layer of hay or straw.

My world is nearly perfect, but not quite.

On September 1st we’d had a killing frost. I was skeptical about grass seed germinating at all in this season. I didn’t want to invest in very expensive seed just to waste it. Instead, I used grass seed on hand from last summer, overlaid with winter rye seed about five years old. I certainly don’t expect great things, but as I filled the seeding bag I whispered to the seeds encouragingly, “Here’s your chance for life!”

I had no time to rake it in. It took me almost an hour just to spread the seed, and DH’s schedule required an early dinner. I raked twenty feet with a nervous eye on my watch and then told myself: the seed is probably too old. It will probably be washed away in the rain anyway. But I felt guilty as I went indoors to fry pork chops.

At 8 PM I was spreading hay in the dark. My hay is second-cut and very soft. It wanted to fall in clumps rather than shaking out in the desired thin cover. I shook it harder in frustration. Clump. Clump. Clump. By 9:15 I had spread eight bales. Due to the clumping there were still bare spots, despite my efforts to shake out every pile in the dark.

The rain started at 3:30 AM.

This morning the front, side, and back yards are dotted with clumps.

Perhaps if things dry out tomorrow I can work on it some more. However the seed is suspect and my list is long.

This may be yet another case of “she hath done what she could.”

Laundry Cabinets

August 20, 2017

Dear Dad:

I thought of you yesterday all afternoon as I put up cabinets above the washer and dryer in my new pantry. It’s funny how you’ve been gone for almost thirty years and yet you’re still such a comforting companion.

Lucy and I bought the cabinets at Home Depot last week when we went to the city to the dentist. You don’t know Lucy. She was born nearly eight years after you died. The dentist came in to my cubicle smiling after examining her and exclaimed, “Your daughter is delightful!” You would think so, too.

The cabinets are cheap white melamine. I just needed something to hold all the clutter, and though they aren’t well-made (no plywood anywhere; shot together with staples), they look like our kitchen cabinets. I returned some extra bathroom floor tile and the credit almost paid for them. My space was five feet wide so I bought two 30″.

The first thing I did yesterday was to find the wall studs and write the measurements down on my yellow pad. I got the yellow pad habit from you, Dad — I go through a case every year.

Next I removed the cabinet doors. As the screws skittered around the top of the washing machine, I heard your voice in my ear: “I find I like to have a little bowl.” Feeling happy, I put the screws in a little bowl.

At this point I think you would have enlisted Mom’s help. However, no one was here and I’ve worked alone for many years. With enough thought, I can usually figure out a strategy.

I lifted the cabinet into place on top of heavy book boxes and 4×4 scraps.

I sank eight 3″ screws to attach it to the wall. Then I did the same for the second cabinet.

This one was a tight squeeze with only 1/4″ play in the space. I had to stand on top of the dryer in the end. It was also a challenge to lift it absolutely level with the first. I did a bit of creative shimming. A weedwhacker blade in my pocket turned out to be just the right thickness.

At last they were up.

Before I quit for the day, I installed an old under-the-cabinet light over the washer. Our electrician is a good man but has tended to simply make decisions for me without consulting. A few I’ve had him undo, but usually I’ve discovered them too late. When I questioned that there was no outlet above the washer and dryer he asked defensively, “Why would you need an outlet?” “For an under-the-cabinet light.” “Why would you want an under-the-cabinet light?” “To check clothing for stains.” He clearly thought I was crazy. Crazy or not, I’ll buy a flat-back extension cord and a cord cover and make this work.

Today I’ll find the extra kitchen cabinet pulls and add them. I’ll also check Craigslist for a five-foot slab of countertop. Since both washer and dryer are front loaders, eventually I want to cover the top and make a smooth surface to keep stray socks from diving behind and between them.

It was a satisfying afternoon, and as I have so many times, I reflected how very lucky I was to have a father who taught me I could figure out most household problems.

Thanks, Dad. I love you.

The Bookcase

August 11, 2017

Last Sunday afternoon I began trying to put the bookcase together. This bookcase, which once belonged to my great-great-great grandparents, presumably in the 1840s, was in about 30 pieces, all unmarked. It was a giant jigsaw puzzle — with no photo on the box!

Moreover, the bookcase was hand-made so all the pieces were slightly different. I gradually began fitting pieces together.

As I built upward I saw that during its years in storage, humidity had caused water damage. Many of the pieces are mottled and stained. Someday I will look into refinishing it.

It was a long process of first trying to imagine the layout and then trying to match holes and shadows.

I did a lot of building, tapping pieces together with a rubber mallet, and then taking them apart when I realized I had it wrong.

The bookshelves rest on hand-cut brackets that slot into hand-cut tracks. Naturally, not all the brackets fit each track. I did a lot of testing brackets into slots.

One bracket was missing. Nick kindly cut me a new one out of a scrap of oak flooring.

I finally figured out that two posts were door dividers. Notice all the dowel pins sticking up along the top of the various pieces, and the sag in the front posts.

I knew the bookcase’s structural stability came from the base and the crown. But how could I put on the crown at 7’6″ with no one else at home? Moreover the crown required eight-inch bolts to be inserted from the top, and there would be only four inches of clearance between the crown and the ceiling. How to do it?

I chewed my lip, hands on my hips, staring at the pieces.

At last I inserted the bolts in each end of the crown and then slit pieces of stiff cardboard. I pulled the bolts up so that they did not hang below the crown, and wedged them in place with the cardboard. They stuck up about three inches. It was going to be very, very close.

Then I lifted one end of the crown to the top of a ladder, walked underneath it, climbed up on the bookcase base, and hoisted with my arms. With some sweat and wiggling, I got all the holes in the crown lined up with the dowel pins in the uprights, pulled out my cardboard scraps, and the crown dropped down to fit together.

I did not tighten the bolts because at that point I belatedly realized that the glass doors, too, were on pins, not hinges. Meanwhile, of course the three doors were all different sizes. I spent twenty minutes staring and measuring, trying to understand how they fit. In the end I managed to pull up the front of the crown and install one door, but knew that to try to install a second would be foolhardy, as the first would fall out and smash.

On Monday when Jerry arrived, Lucy, Jerry, and I installed the other two doors. That was when I discovered that one of the two upright dividers was upside down. The dividers were not uniform, either, and the doors only fit together with the divider a certain way. The other way.

It also dawned on me (no spatial awareness, remember?) that obviously the shelves could not be inserted after the doors or even the dividers were in.

To fix these two oversights, I knew I was going to need a crew. One to lift the crown, someone to hold each one of the three doors, someone to pass in the shelves (they too are hand-cut and only fit in a certain way). It would also be nice to have someone to stand on a ladder to check the top pins, and then squint at shin-level, to check the bottom ones.

It was a busy week and the days slid by.

Yesterday was Nick’s birthday. At the end of the work day, after wiping birthday cake from our lips, Nick, Jerry, Mike, Lucy, I, and Dan the electrician trouped to the bookcase and manned our stations. Jerry is 6’4″ so he lifted the crown. The rest of us carefully did our parts, reversing the post, passing in the shelves, matching pins with holes. Hooray! It all fit together and after the men left I tightened the crown bolts.

This morning I washed the grime from the glass doors. It still needs a dozen screws along the back of the crown and I plan to reinforce the shelves so they do not sag. However, the bookcase has risen again!

I know our mother would be happy. I am, too.


The Stove Arrives

August 10, 2017

On Tuesday we got a call that men were on their way to install the gas heating stove in the living room. Hooray! I had ordered the stove months ago and almost forgotten about it, so this felt like Christmas.

Before they arrived, Nick and I spent a lot of time planning and measuring. I have a hard time picturing spatial relationships, especially in three dimensions, so I suggested that we cut a piece of cardboard the size of the stove and push it around to see where it would work best. We did this, and before the stove was carried in, Nick had the floor marked with tape and shims cut to the exact height of the future hearth. As a builder, Nick is very soothing. He is careful, neat, and thinks of everything.

As a first step in the process he had moved all of the boxes out of the corner, rolled back the carpet, and laid out cardboard to protect the floor from the workmen’s tools and supplies. He did the same upstairs in our bedroom where the stove pipe would run through the eave.

It was restful to know I have someone on my team who could oversee the installation and make sure it was correct to a 32nd of an inch. As the men clattered up and down the stairs hauling pipe and shouting to each other, I went back to paying bills.

An hour later Dan the electrician appeared at my door, his brows knit. “Have you seen the pipe?!” he hissed. Dan knows from experience that two of the few things my eye can see instantly are level and plumb. In this regard, the stove pipe certainly fell short. From different angles it looked like something from The Beverly Hillbillies.

I burst out laughing, but thanked him for his concern. The pipe is going to be hidden inside a corner brick-veneer fireplace that Nick will build later. (I am starting to worry slightly when “later” will be.)

Meanwhile the eave is open in our bedroom and materials and boxes are stacked around our bed.

The pipe goes out the side wall under the rake of the roof. Despite having the stove specs, the house company architect didn’t plan perfectly and so Nick will have to build a box to extend the pipe beyond the roof edge. There is nothing else to be done. I tell myself that when it’s all painted white, no one will notice the odd carbuncle on the house wall.

DH gets home in a little less than a week. My dream is that the interior wall might be insulated, closed in, taped, mudded, trimmed, and painted before his return, so I can remove cardboard, clean, and finish setting up our bedroom, but even I can see that this is unlikely.

Still, I’m excited to have the stove. It is the plainest one I could find and it reminds me happily of our old Vermont Castings.

*  *  *

I am better today. The fire alarms did not go off. I did not get up at 3 AM. Plus the sun is shining for the first time in a week, and instead of raw October it feels properly like August. I will finish cleaning out the freezer and then tackle the next thing on my list. I might even be able to mow!

The Sideboard

August 8, 2017

Yesterday I drove downstate near Albany to buy a sideboard. “A what?” asked my electrician when I told him months ago that he couldn’t put an electric heater on one part of the dining room wall because this piece of future furniture was destined to go there. A sideboard, otherwise known as (I have learned after months of watching Craigslist) a buffet, a server, or even a credenza.

This one was listed as an antique cherry sideboard for $150. I liked its relatively plain lines, and even with a half tank of gas, it would be a bargain. So yesterday I set out to track it down at a rural parsonage in central New York.

Naturally, again my printed Google maps got me lost on tiny back roads, this time among corn fields. I finally pulled over at a gas station to inquire. A woman about my age pulled out her smartphone to look up directions for me.

“I have a smartphone that used to be my daughter’s,” I confessed. “I just don’t know how it works.”

She gave me an incredulous stare. “I just retired from Verizon.” She took the phone from my hand.

“I don’t turn the data on,” I explained. “I save it for my daughter.”

She turned the data on. Her fingernails rapidly tapped icons on the screen. Directions appeared. “See?”

Actually, I did see. It really wasn’t hard at all. I’d thought I had to program it somehow to connect to someone called Siri; it had seemed too complicated.

For the rest of the ride my phone guided me between the fields, around reservoirs, and through the woods until I reached the parsonage. There an elderly, very stooped man with a bandaged foot limped out to greet me. We went inside the vacant house and he showed me the sideboard.

My initial reaction was disappointment. It was not as I’d pictured it. I found a manufacturer’s tag stapled to the back of the piece. It said “antique cherry brown.” Was it not cherry at all, simply stained cherry-color? The tag also said, “1966.” I was seven years old in 1966. Surely this was not now considered an antique? However, I’d driven more than two hours and I knew one could barely buy a fiber-board shelf for $150. This sideboard would provide a lot of storage. I told Herb, the elderly man, that I would be happy to buy it. He was pleased because the proceeds from the sale went to the church.

Now we had the problem of getting it out of the parsonage. It weighed a ton, and I knew Herb was not going to be able to do much lifting. I moved my truck directly to the door, we put the front of the sideboard on a scatter rug, and I pushed and heaved until I could cantilever it into the truck, where I slid it in on shipping blankets. For $20 Herb threw in a giant mirror that originally hung above it. I thought it might work in one of our bathrooms. I wrapped the mirror in blankets, also, and shook hands goodbye with Herb.

It pounded rain all the way home. During a short break in the storm Lucy and I puffed to bring the sideboard into the house.

I am pleased. I think it looks nice with my Craigslist cherry table, my Craigslist ladderback chairs, under the painting of our school’s sugar house.

This morning I looked up the manufacturer, Statton Furniture. Gosh!

Handcrafting the Antiques of Tomorrow

Statton has been a leader in traditional solid cherry furniture for over eighty years. You will find that our hand crafted pieces are rich with detail, finished to perfection and made to last a lifetime.

Every piece we create is unique and stamped with the date and identification number of the cabinet maker who built it. From the exquisite styling and cabinetry to the hand rubbed finishes and solid brass trim, we want you to experience the satisfaction of a well made piece of furniture that can be passed on from generation to generation. Enjoy!

The current version of my sideboard — slightly fancier with locking drawers, but much less storage — sells for $2340!

Craigslist score!