Thursday, April 9, 2015

Cabin Fever Contemplations

Make it stop.  Please.
The snow just slid off the roof of the house, its own mini avalanche, rattling these old windows and freaking out the cats and causing a vibration under my feet. 

It’s April 9.  This is uncalled for.  I’d call Mother Nature a b____, but she seems peeved about something already and I don’t want to antagonize her further.

A couple of days ago I was lamenting the bog that I call a driveway.  It happens every spring, and to most of the Adirondacks, and although at the time it seems unrelenting, it does go away.  As I look at everything covered in a couple inches of snow and sleet today, the mud would be a welcome sight.  That’s what I get for grousing.

Since leaving my day job at the end of the year, I’ve spend a lot of quality time with our woodstove.  I’ve concluded that when it’s a secondary source of heat, it’s fun to futz with wood and nice to smell the smoke.  But when you’re counting on it for your survival in sub-zero temperatures, it loses its luster.  By April, I can’t stand dealing with it anymore and curse profoundly at every piece of wood that doesn’t quite fit.  I’m resentful of the 24/7 commitment it demands and tired of smelling like a piece of charred wood. 

Because we got off to a late start on the firewood this fall (due to the house painting project), Larry cut nothing but ash.  I love it because it splits so nicely.  And you can burn it green, which was the plan.  It’s burned very well for us, considering it only had minutes to age.

Our new house in Mississippi has two fireplaces, and I’m trying not to be elitist towards them.  One has glass doors and was obviously used more regularly than the other one.  Neither are intended to be a real source of heat, but should be useful in getting the chill out on those damp days.  I haven’t used a fireplace since our camp in Lake George, so in yet another aspect, I’m coming full circle.  The smell and sound of a freshly stuck wooden match still reminds me of my grandfather.

I debated whether or not to bring the woodsplitter south.  For a brief insane moment I 
considered selling it, and ran the idea past Larry, who looked at me like I’d lost my mind.  What was I thinking?  We’ll always be playing with firewood.  Larry loves to drop trees and work with his chainsaws and I find splitting to be very zen.

Meanwhile I’m grateful for having a warm, toasty house, the fact that we had more than enough firewood to get us through the winter, and I’ll welcome the mud when it resurfaces.  I don’t want to irritate Mother Nature any further.

Monday, December 22, 2014

The Christmas Card Standoff

I don’t know when I started paying attention to such things, but I’m beginning to scrutinize my Christmas card list.

Once upon a time, when my address book overflowith with relatives near and far and an
overabundance of friends, it would take several boxes to get out my yearly sentiments.  Nowadays I’m more discriminating as to whom I send out cards, basically because I’m cheap and a little lazy.

But it’s also that as I’ve gotten older, I pay more attention to who really matters in my life.

Older aunts and uncles always stay on the list.  I love them, they’ve been fixtures in my life since childhood, and it’s respectful.

Cousins for the most part stay on the list.  Over the years, a few have dropped off, as our lives went into different orbits and we finally realized we no longer had anything in common.  Card sending was a formality that we realized was no longer necessary.

But friends are the real wildcards.  Some stay in your life forever, others just pass through, others are friends but don’t rise to Christmas card level (and only you can determine what that threshold is).  This is the group of recipients that most often play the Christmas Card Standoff game.

For example:  A certain friend has been on my list for years.  I worked with them umpteen
years ago at a job that I barely remember.  At the time, we were good buds – doing lunch together a lot, commiserating together about the boss, sharing little kid stories.  But I couldn’t tell you the last time I actually saw this person.

If the last time I actually saw this person, shoulder pads were in fashion, it’s time to cut them loose.

I made the conscious decision to not send them a card.  I debated, but I made the call.  Now I’m waiting to see if I get one from them.  If I don’t, I know they felt the same way, and thank goodness.  I don't take it personally if I've rotated off their list of recipients.

Sometimes you get lucky and the card you sent to them comes back as undeliverable, unable to forward, whatever.  Hey, you tried.  If you run into that person in Price Chopper months later (after unsuccessfully trying to avoid them by ducking into the cereal aisle), you can say oh, I tried to send you a Christmas card, I figured you (moved, went into the witness protection program, died, fill in the blank).

Every day at the mailbox now is like spinning the roulette wheel.  Checking return addresses for people deliberately left off your list just adds to your holiday stress.  And if you see an address of someone you didn’t send a card to, damn!!  Now you have to get one off to them ASAP if not sooner, so you don’t look like a schmuck. 

It’s three days before Christmas as I write this.  I know who I didn’t send cards to.  I’m hoping they didn’t send cards to me so I can be relieved of this particular holiday guilt.  It’s the Mexican Standoff of the season.  Aye carumba!  Merry Christmas to all!!

Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Beauty in Necessary Evils

There is never enough time to get things done on the homestead.  You wonder where the time went.  We spent all summer painting the outside of the house.  This meant power washing the exterior and watching pieces of paint and wood go flying all over the yard.  It looked like a ticker tape parade had gone through.

Next was spot scraping and repairing siding and molding from whence said pieces of wood went flying.  Then hitting bare wood with primer, and finally painting.  What we optimistically thought would take a couple of weekends (oh will we ever learn) took the entire summer.  That’s what happens when you're trying to get a major project done on weekends, and half the time you get rained out or some other commitment crops up.  You can only get so much done after work on the weekdays.

But we toughed it out.  It seemed like the never ending project, especially in the face of other things we wanted to do to get the house marketable.  We focused on getting the front done, so we could take pictures to put online.  Larry also put new metal on the porch roof, to match the rest of the house, which was done last year. 

It was a long, slow and sometimes painful haul, but we finally got it done.  We stood at the end of the driveway and thought, wow, the house looks fantastic!  Why did we wait so long to do this? 

Larry also built some sweet steps off the back door.  We’ve been using a variety of slippery, shifting cinder blocks for take-your-life-in-your-hands steps since he bought the house.  Getting the stairs built was a revelation.  It was a thrill to be able to open the back door and step out onto a platform.  It was awesome.  Again, we asked ourselves, why did we wait so long?

It wasn’t a matter of waiting.  It was a matter of prioritizing, of working on what we felt was the most pressing thing each season.  We’d spent almost ten years working on clearing pasture, dropping trees, fighting weeds and trying to get a good grass stand established, and working on gardens.  This year, with no horses and just five low-maintenance chickens, we let the pastures go, which was probably the best thing we could have done for them.  They grew in thick and lush, with not nearly as much weed action as we feared.

Larry also planted almost exclusively pumpkins in the gardens.  He wanted to do something low-maintenance, and they were just the ticket.  He also planted a few cabbage plants (which
the deer enjoyed immensely, thank you very much) and some basil, but the pumpkins became The Thing That Took Over Charley Hill.  They were a huge return on investment in volume.

It’s a sad truth that you get the home improvements and repairs done when you are getting ready to put the house on the market.  The whole thing is bittersweet.  But with no serious buyers at the moment, we get to enjoy our work for a little while.  It's a pleasure to pull into the driveway and see the fresh paint, the new lattice, the beautiful metal roof.  The house smiles.

And we'll take away the lesson - as we said to each other while enjoying cocktails on our newly painted porch – of not waiting so long next time.