We Made It!

November 20, 2017

I hadn’t slept after midnight and by yesterday afternoon was so tired I went to bed right after supper. However, we made it through. DH and I are on vacation.

I seem to be coming down with something but I am resolutely trying to ignore it. After so much anticipation, I cannot be sick this week.

It is 15° F, lightly snowing, and windy today with a windchill of 3°. DH and I had our coffee and tea sitting by a fire in the living room stove. After years of heating with wood stoves, I had been troubled by the “fakery” of propane. However, to be able to push a button and immediately settle down with a mug next to dancing flames with no fuss or mess seems miraculous.

“I know it’s fake,” I said, sipping my coffee. “But I think we’ll really enjoy it when we’re old.”

“I am old,” said DH comfortably. “I already enjoy it.”

  *   *  *

Postscript. It turns out DH is not on vacation. However, his hours will be shorter, he will have time for exercise each day, and we can have dinner together every night. That almost feels like vacation.


Prepping for Paneling

November 16, 2017

Yesterday after work I spent ninety minutes carrying and stacking mudroom paneling on the front porch. (The porch won’t have its end railings until next summer, but for now it’s convenient.) It took so long to get the job done because the paneling had been tucked in a corner of the garage and removing each piece required threading a needle through storage boxes. I had planned ahead for days because yesterday was due to be the warmest dry day of the week and I knew I’d have to have the doors to the heated garage standing open for a long time.

I saved $700 on this batch of tongue and groove pine. I’m parsimonious by nature but I’m not sure this was a good decision. There are many, many short pieces, including a few that are only 12″ long. We shall see.

I also climbed over piles in the garage and pulled out my miter saw. Once I drag out my compressor and clear the mudroom, I’ll be ready to start the job on my first day of vacation. I’ll pick the brain of my friend Tom, a master carpenter, to be sure I’m not making mistakes.

In the meantime, I now have a small open space in the garage and I plan to move boxes out of the storage unit into that space …

  • … which will make room in the storage unit…
  • … which will mean I can put my last two mowers away…
  • … if I can start them.

Today I work until 9 PM. Four more days.

Countdown to Vacation

November 15, 2017

Got through yesterday.

At daybreak, dug the sheep fence out of the snow, shook off the ice, and carried it to the barnyard. When I’d sat up in the night with my “brilliant” idea of putting temporary netting behind the fence lines, I’d asked myself, Gee, why didn’t I think of this before? Now, wide awake, I remembered. The ground is frozen. Still, after an hour of stumbling and slipping and forcing the posts through frost, I had the netting up around half the paddock — the half where the sheep escaped before. If they tried to get out of the other half, I’d be sunk, as I had no more time. I turned the girls out of the barn. Crying crossly at the fenceline, they stayed in.

Taught my 7th graders, at the end of class providing hardtack and grog for the students who had been absent the day before. Cleaned up the project materials and tore down the classroom for the double period of 8th graders on the floor. Taught those classes — including the always popular lesson on how to scalp someone, demonstrating on a willing student — and re-set the room. After covering a lunch table and attending a meeting, I raced home to meet the technician who was coming to set up our gas heating stove.

This stove is meant to be set partly within a false fireplace. Last winter I’d found a photo of a fireplace I wanted to copy and Nick agreed to build a version of it into the corner. It’s really just a wall of sheetrock and trim above a box of concrete board faced with brick veneer.

The fireplace won’t be able to happen until next summer, but there is no reason we can’t use the stove now. This appointment was a third try, after a series of miscommunications, to get it hooked up. After an hour, the stove was lit. I’m pleased with the simple look.

Unfortunately no one had thought to mention that the stove would need to be “burned in” for a total of sixteen hours, which filled the house with noxious fumes as the paint, stove cement, etc. seasoned. To keep the fire alarms from going off and myself from passing out, I opened all the windows to the 20° cold.

Through the smoke I saw Rick drive in with my hay delivery.

After stacking bales, mucking the barn, carrying water buckets, and bringing the animals in, I went to book group. Despite my tiredness, it was lovely to see everyone and once again be part of such a kind, brainy, and light-hearted group of women.

Another day crossed off. Five more until vacation.


The Basement Stairs

November 8, 2017

Five years ago I saw a bolt of carpet — a stair runner — on Craigslist for $25. Though it was 100% polyester, it had a familiar pattern with familiar colors. I thought to myself, Someday I will have a house and that house will have basement stairs. So I bought it.

Today I have the house, and I have the stairs. I thought it would be fun to carpet the the stairs during my week camping in the basement. I could work on it at night and it would be a surprise for DH on his return home.

The first thing I had to do was to cut a nubbin of steel from a lally post alongside the stairway. I’d asked Nick to cut off the edge of the post plate that stuck out dangerously. He had brought in a grinder and removed 3/4. The grinder could not reach behind the stair edge, so he’d left a piece. I thought this might be dangerous to future grandchildren.

I put a metal blade in my Sawzall. Whenever I use tools I tend to think of the person who taught me to use them; the Sawzall came from Damon years ago.

It cut through the steel easily. (Thanks, Damon!)

Eventually I will fit a piece of board to the beam end to make that area flush and remove all possibility that a small hand or foot can catch on the jagged edge. But for now I was satisfied.

I had read articles online that told me how to carpet stairs. The first step was to measure the stairs, mark the center, and nail up tack strips. Tack strips are pieces of Douglas fir studded with tiny nails.

The article said I could cut the tack strips to length with metal snips. It seemed incredible that I might cut Douglas fir with scissors, but it did work, in a clumsy fashion.

Handling the tack strips to cut and nail them was tedious, like handling small cacti. They are cheap but for some reason the rug store calculated my need so carefully that the last few steps had to be nailed up out of fragmentary left-overs. At last it was done.

Next came carpet padding. I hate cutting carpet padding. Over the years I’ve created angry purple indents in my thumb from forcing scissors through the heavy felt. A woman in the hardware store sympathized and told me that the trick was a new blade in a box cutter, and something soft underneath that you don’t mind slicing into. I own three box cutters, but two are tumbling somewhere in the garage tsunami. The only one left in the drawer did indeed need a new blade.

Since my carpet pads had to be cut to 11.5″, I found a scrap of 12″ shiplap barn siding. With a sharp new blade and the soft pine to press into, cutting the pads to cover each stair and nosing was easy. I started out using my staple hammer (thanks, Dean!) but though it was faster, it wasn’t as accurate. I soon went back to the boring old staple gun.

Now I used a combination square (thanks, Gary!) to draw lines on each edge of the tread to guide me in placing the carpet.

Then, starting at the bottom of the stairs and using my staple gun, I began stapling on the runner. Various sites had said that a staple gun loaded with 9/16″ staples would work. It did not work for me. I had rented a carpet kicker for $5 (it was quite a bit more battered than this one pictured). Every time I “kicked” the carpet tight, all the staples popped out. By 11 PM I was exhausted and had a rumpled stair runner bristling with tiny silver fangs. I gave up, removed all the staples with pliers, and went to bed.

Early yesterday morning before my first class I returned to the carpet store. Did they rent an electric stapler? No. However, looking at my tired, discouraged face, the owner softened. “Maybe I have one in the back you can use.” He did.

While I was paying the $20 rental, I asked they also rented stair tools. “Oh, no!” he exclaimed. “The men all have their personal stair tools that always ride in their trucks.” You’d think I had requested to rent their underwear. These tools, that look like heavy fat chisels, are not expensive but they are a specialty item not carried in most hardware stores. I did not want to drive an hour to the city.

I spoke to my friends Tom and Larry at lunch. Tom was sure he had a chisel that could do the trick. Larry listened and found me in my classroom fifteen minutes later. He had quickly welded for me a homemade stair tool out of steel scraps.

After work, using the electric nail gun and the homemade stair tool (I couldn’t manage the kicker, the stair tool, and the gun all at once, so the kicker was gradually left behind) I laid the carpet.

It’s not perfect. I’ll definitely hire professionals for the real stairs. My runner wanders 1/4″ from side to side and the risers have a few wrinkles over the tack strips. However, it’s DONE. Another chore crossed off!

The basement is still a half-unpacked hodgepodge (the floor rug in the background  isn’t actually going to go there) but with the new carpet runner on the stairs, I feel we’re moving towards civilization.

Cold Moving In

November 8, 2017

Colder weather is finally here. It is 16° F this morning and on Friday it will drop to single digits. This is great news for the skiers in my family, but on the farm I am far from ready. None of my fall clean-up has been done, none of my prep for winter, and despite all my good intentions I have not hung a single fencing panel for the welded wire paddock. Gee, what the heck have I been doing?

I had made a “WHILE DH IS AWAY” list and posted it on the refrigerator for the week while he was gone. These were chores cherry-picked from the giant master FALL 2017 to-do list plus my running THIS WEEKEND list. Working steadily before and after my teaching day, I was able to cross off 23 chores from this new list. Unfortunately the list had 76.

Thanksgiving vacation (a new concept for my school) is coming up in another fortnight. While I’m looking forward to the break, the new schedule is squeezing my curriculum. I am short three teaching days. Therefore I have printed out a big block calendar for the next two weeks, plotting exactly what I’m teaching each period — and what I’m leaving out. I’ve noted the weather. Finally, I’m writing in the chores that I can reasonably expect to accomplish on the farm in the two hours before darkness at 5 PM, and then inside the house during the hour that dinner is cooking. The days are jam-packed.

I’m already committed to a project today, but tomorrow after work I’ll focus on the farm. Despite my considerable experience to the contrary, writing down my plan always buoys me with the happy confidence that I can get it all done.

A Week Later…

November 7, 2017

… our stairs are nearly done! I’m excited. I think they look pretty. Almost as important, tonight I can go upstairs in stockinged feet to sleep in our bed! I can also take a shower and pick out some new clothes. Yay!

They will be doing second coats on the paint and touch-up staining on the undersides of the hand rails for another week, but my basement dweller status is coming to an end. I’m ready.

Eventually I will want a carpet runner on the stairs for safety, but I will need time to consider what style will be best, and also to save up the necessary dollars.

DH returns at midnight from his business trip so the timing has been perfect. Every bit of progress is so heartening. There won’t be any more real gains until next summer, but for now it’s enough.

Calmer Now

November 5, 2017

Here is the house, taken with my elderly cell phone when I was moving the sheep fence in the bottom of the south pasture yesterday morning. As you can see, we do have a beautiful home, it’s just not yet finished. It will be finished next summer.

My brain just had to make an adjustment.

I realized that one factor that felt overwhelming about Nick’s imminent departure was the mess of stacked, waiting materials lining the driveway. Looking at the giant piles of lumber and roofing I’d felt hopeless. All of it would need to be moved before winter, to be safe from the weather and from the reach of the plow. When added to my already overwhelming list of projects, the heavy labor involved — not to mention all the decision-making — felt like a last straw.

Nick stopped by yesterday while Amy was finishing the last coat of polyurethane on the stairs. In six hours, the two of them cheerfully moved it all. The bunkhouse is loaded to the ceiling and more materials are stacked in the backyard to wait for spring, when work can start again.

I am greatly heartened. I have been battling chaos and mess for so long. Yesterday I rolled open one of the garage doors.

“Oh… my… God,” Amy exclaimed.

Both bays are stacked five feet high. By the crazed end of our move in June, items were simply thrown in on top. Winter boots, lead ropes, tools, bags of linens, cleaning supplies, scrap lumber.

It is definitely a disaster. However, after the flood every single dry space on the farm looked like this. Now it’s only the garage, the storage unit, the garden shed, the Kairos tool room, my office, and 1/4 of the basement. Once the mudroom walls are paneled (I’m working on it) and the floor tiled (Nick will tile when the walls are finished), a number of big items will be able to be put away. The rest of the mess I will sort through slowly over the long winter.

I can do it. The trick is not to get discouraged. (Don’t look up!) Nick’s decision to move on was a blow, but I’ve recovered.