Back in the Saddle Again

May 14, 2018

On Saturday, “get out the mowers” was on my list. Not because I need to mow (though the grass is turning green, it hasn’t really started to grow yet) but because I needed a lawn tractor to move the sheep shelters. Of the three lawn tractors, not a single one would start. Unfortunately, my jumper cables wouldn’t stretch far enough into the storage unit to reach them. Worse still, the heavy 16 hp Cub Cadet with the brush hog blocked rolling any of the mowers out, and it, too, was dead.

I left a message on Mike’s phone. “Paging Dr. Mike!”

Mike came out yesterday before lunch with a jumper box and one after another, got all the mowers roaring.

The old bladeless Craftsman (the “I-Haul”) was resting on its rim, the tire so weather-rotted that it had a four-inch gash. I use the I-Haul with a cart for picking up stones. With all the earth-moving done last year, I’m going to be rock-picking all summer. Mike took the tire away to replace it.

I was so cheered. The sun was shining, tree swallows were swooping, a bluebird was investigating a nest box… I stood at the top of the property and looked down. [Doubleclick on photo.] There is the garage apartment, the (unfinished) house, the stone retaining walls, the garden shed, the barn, even way off in the distance the sauna, outhouse, and cabin.

There is a huge amount of work ahead to be done. There are waiting chores in every direction. Nevertheless, looking down at my little kingdom I felt a surge of pure happiness.



January 16, 2018

My elderly friend Allen used to call me most days. “What’cha doin’ today, honey?”

I’d tell him about whatever preposterous project I was working on. Then I’d ask what he was up to.  Once he answered, “Oh, I’m just washin’ the kitchen baseboards.”

This struck me as so endearing I’ve never forgotten it.

Recently I’ve had a lot on my mind. It’s felt tiring, even without the insomnia that’s gone with it. I find I don’t have energy for the big tasks that require outsize commitment. I can barely goad myself through the usual slog of chores.

Yesterday in my free hour after work, I vacuumed upstairs and down, wiped the counters, scrubbed the toilets and sinks, emptied the wastebaskets. Then I went around the house and dusted all the baseboards.

It turns out that cleaning baseboards is surprisingly therapeutic.

Thank you, sweetie.

Cold and a Cold

December 28, 2017

It is 23° below zero this morning and the weather station says the wind chill is -46° F. It’s frigid. The timbers of the house thud as they contract in protest. Last night when I walked the dogs by moonlight before bedtime, my boots squeaked on the snow and the hairs inside my nose froze with my breathing. The nose-hair-freezing sensation is the signal that winter is really here. At such temperatures the dogs are extremely efficient so we can all scamper back to the warmth of the house.

I came down with a cold on Christmas evening and so we did not go to Connecticut on the 26th to see Amanda, Jon, and our new grandchild, Ami. We now are planning to go January 1st, picking up Lucy in Albany on the way.

Lucy left Tuesday evening to fly out to the biathlon team trials in Minnesota. Though she’d only had two fever-free days, her ticket had been purchased and was non-refundable. It seems unlikely she can do well after her siege with flu but her friends were going and the experience in the biathlon world will be valuable.

Biathlon (ski racing combined with target shooting) is a small but meticulous and demanding sport. We happen to live in one of the few towns in the country where people train for it. Lucy attended a free invitational talent camp last summer and the other young women were so friendly and the coaches so encouraging that she is considering adding make the U.S. women’s biathlon team to her list of goals.

Lucy last summer

Her birthday present last fall was a lockable rifle case for traveling. The hard-shell case is lined with foam which had to be cut precisely to fit her disassembled rifle. Online I found multiple sites that explained how difficult this was and how to accomplish it — with an electric knife or with a hot-wire foam cutter, neither of which tool I had.

Lucy’s ride to the airport was due to arrive at any moment. I was starting to feel anxious when DH’s phone rang.

It was our friend, Gary. He lives in the Berkshires but was ice climbing down the highway, and he and his climbing partner had lost their car keys and were freezing. DH went down and brought Gary and John back to the house.

It was a mad scene: the dogs barking and jumping, Lucy packing frantically in the mudroom, John on the phone with AAA, DH making tea to warm the climbers, me trying to straighten beds so Gary and John could spend the night in a pinch . . . but all the while I was thinking with relief: Hooray! Gary’s here! He’ll help me figure out this foam!

And of course, he did. Here he is, about to attack it with me. We used a tomato knife.

Eventually Lucy and her rifle were safely packed and picked up. Gary and John borrowed our car to go to Gary’s cabin in a nearby town. DH and I had a quiet supper of Christmas leftovers.

Meanwhile, since a fortnight of temperatures below zero is predicted, naturally a heater in the farm apartment has failed. Our tenant is away. I could not reach the electrician so I purchased a space heater. The attic and the mudroom, being unfinished, also do not yet have functioning heaters. All of these spaces have water pipes. Each evening I walk around the house, opening doors to heat, checking thermostats and nudging them upward.

So far, so good.

Tiny Pleasures

December 4, 2017

Yesterday was a busy day without much time to concentrate on projects.

However I did add a few boards to the mudroom paneling, including this one which made me happy. To fit this piece I had to cut a hole in the middle of the board (not from an edge) and trim off the back of the groove (there was no way to slide the groove over the tongue of the lower board in the tight space). All of this would be obvious and easy for anyone with a better brain than I have, but I felt extremely clever to figure it out.

Soon, of course, the board will nearly disappear under door trim and brick trim from each edge, but beneath will remain this tiny board that whispers to me: You’re not entirely incompetent!


Slowly Paneling

December 3, 2017

Work on paneling the mudroom proceeds slowly. Not only has my time been limited but the mudroom itself is a challenge.

The poured concrete floor is not level. The ceiling is not level. The walls are not plumb, leaning slightly either in or out, and in several spots are bowed. While the concrete floor is not my fault, the rest is a testament to my limited building skills back in 2009. It all would have disappeared under the smooth blankness of sheetrock, but for some reason last spring I had the bright notion to panel the room with the straight lines of tongue and groove pine. What was I thinking?

At the bottom of the first corner, I worked very hard to line up the boards, like matching a pattern at a dress seam. However the floor slopes, the west wall leans west, and the north wall bows in. Despite all my efforts, when I made the bottom board level, the joint was 1/16″ off.

I knew this discrepancy would multiply as the wall grew higher, and sure enough it did — to half an inch.

I couldn’t think what to do, puzzling over it for an embarrassingly long time. My brain doesn’t work spatially, remember?

First I tried cutting down the groove on one small board. Oops, that does nothing. Then I tried cutting down the tongue. Nope. I finally realized that to get back on track I’d have to remove the boards and rip a lower board down the middle to remove a quarter inch.

However, my table saw is submerged in the flotsam of the garage … the boards on each side of the window had to meet and be level above it … and I was dealing with a bow in the wall that meant the capping board wanted to stand out a half-inch from the surface (the finishing nails were not strong enough to pull it in). At this point I gave up and decided to go with my friend Gary’s advice: “The simplest thing is to add a piece of trim over the joint and worry about something else that is really important.”

The decision was made. Still, I hated to have the obvious fault, so I pulled DH out to the mudroom to show him.

“I’m going to add a piece of corner trim,” I said, “and there will be the wood cookstove and the chopping block in front of it and the hanging rack above, so I think it will be OK.”

DH was reassuring. “Of course! No one will ever notice.”

Certainly he will not. A few minutes later he asked if we had a hatchet. He wanted to split some kindling for the woodstove in the homemade sauna I built for him in 2010.

“Yes, we do. It’s on the shelf in the garden shed.”

He looked baffled. “Where is the garden shed?”

I built the garden shed two years ago. It’s an 8′ x 12′ building. He has walked past it hundreds of times.

He has never noticed it.

I think for all its imperfections the mudroom will be fine.


Working on My Office

November 28, 2017

Between other projects I’m slowly trying to set up my office. I spend my work life with books and paper and if I don’t have a system I soon become buried in disheveled stacks. Last June I swept all my scattered files into boxes; half a dozen are still waiting to be unpacked.

I designed this office to suit me. It’s 8′ x 12′. I have four short filing cabinets and one tall one, five floor-to-ceiling bookcases (they were our living room bookcases for many years), and a big birch door desk and swivel chair. I have a window that looks out on the front porch and north field (— and thankfully, no longer a 6×6 porch post). I know I will love this cozy space, and when I get it finished I will share some photos.

Meanwhile in my spare time I am trying to start a major writing project.  Plotting is difficult for me.  As with higher math, my brain can do the work but resists the discipline. To help me find the arc of the story, I want to move around index cards on a wall. Thus I was searching for a big bulletin board. When I looked in the obvious places I discovered that cork bulletin boards are both expensive and almost always poorly reviewed.

I picked up a $25 piece of homasote and cut it to fit my space.

Homasote is an excellent product but it grey and rough and not very attractive. I have an inexpensive roll of burlap. I wrapped the homasote in burlap and stapled it tightly.

Balancing the 4′ x 5′ board on stacks of books, I maneuvered it into position and drilled it into the studs.

Voilà. It’s not perfect but it’s clean and neat and functional, all I require. Soon I will probably cut and wrap the remaining piece to continue the bulletin board around the corner. And someday I will find another scrap of door to continue the desk over the last cabinets to the wall. (Right now I’m using a piece of last summer’s temporary kitchen counter top.)

Little by little.

Starting to Panel

November 26, 2017

Yesterday after a last sad trip to the dump with ruined items from our storage, I was finally able to start paneling the mudroom with tongue and groove pine.

Though it’s true that I’ve been fiendishly busy with other projects, it’s also true that I’ve had a bit of avoidance going on. I am always nervous using new skills. Power tools are like math to me. I can memorize and know math for a test. Then it vanishes completely from my mind. The same is true for power tools.

I own a giant 65-gallon air compressor; Damon traded it to me years ago in lieu of some money he owed me. The compressor comes up to my breastbone. It’s much bigger than I need, very heavy and unwieldy. Looking at its dusty dials I had zero memory of how it worked and a cold feeling in the pit of my stomach. Meanwhile, at the beginning of the summer when I thought I was going to be paneling the mudroom at any moment, I’d bought an inexpensive, no-name-brand finish nailer. I didn’t know how that worked either.

In the latter case, I could draw on memories of my father. Whenever we worked on projects, unlike all the male stereotypes, Dad always patiently unfolded and read directions. With Dad mentally at my side, I sat down, read the directions, and loaded the nail gun.

There were no directions for the compressor. I called Damon. He was on the road and the connection was bad. He has used compressors since he was a child. He couldn’t remember exactly how this particular one worked but if I had any trouble he could stop by on his way home.

I turned on the compressor. It roared to noisy life and I watched in alarm as the pressure rose to 125 psi. (The small gun required +/- 100 psi.) I turned off the compressor hurriedly and called Damon again. He told me to check the regulator.

“Which of the two dials is the regulator?” I asked.

“The regulator is the regulator! It regulates the pressure!”

“Okay,” I said, staring hopelessly at the compressor, understanding the words but, as usual, nothing about the machinery. “I’ll try again.”

I went to turn back on the compressor. Nothing happened. Click. Click.

I called Damon again. “Now it won’t even turn on.”

He could not hear me through the crackling on the connection. I hung up, defeated. No paneling today.

Then I had a brainwave. I hate this giant compressor, I thought. I’ll buy a little one! And it will come with directions!

All my builders have had small Porter-Cable compressors (called ‘pancake’ compressors because they are squat to the ground). They must be good. And they were on sale at the farm store, Tractor Supply. $99 but it will last the rest of my life and be worth it to never have to deal with this monster again!

I drove to Tractor Supply and located a clerk. “Can you tell me where to find your pancake compressors?”

His brows knit. “We don’t sell anything to do with pancakes!”

When the confusion cleared, it turned out the store didn’t have a single small compressor in stock.

Oh, well. I am sadly accustomed to changed plans due to malfunctioning equipment. Back at home, I was onto my next chore when the door opened and Damon limped in. “What’cha done now?” He worked on the compressor for five minutes, explaining the controls and dials in his usual impatient growl. Of course the compressor worked perfectly. “I knew you’d fucked it up!” he said, laughing, as he went out the door. Damon has rough language but he is a true friend.

I started paneling in the northwest corner of the room, between the woodstove and the wall. I figured this area would not only use up a lot of short pieces but be an excellent place to practice with the nail gun, as there will be a chopping block in front of it to hide any mistakes.

Sure enough, I made a few, but after I got the hang of the gun the work went quickly.

I cut holes for the outlet boxes with my jigsaw…

… and didn’t worry that some of the boards were slightly short because I knew they would be overlapped by panel boards from the north wall.

Of course, speaking of those north wall boards — given my lack of spatial awareness, it didn’t occur to me until I was nearly finished with the section that the nailer on that wall was not plumb, and thus I should have paneled the north wall first. Now, though it might be said that at the bottom of the course I had just enough nailer left over to catch the ends of the north wall boards…

… at the top, because the nailer is not straight, my west wall boards were nearly flush.

I stopped to make dinner. Today I will rip a 2×4 to add another nailer. Next time I’ll know to scout the nailing surfaces and plan ahead.

Of course, if I have to panel anything a few years from now, I’ll have forgotten again.