Wednesday, December 29, 2010
Tuesday, December 28, 2010
Monday, December 27, 2010
If we'd stayed in New York, we would have woken to twice as much snow as we did here. But if we'd stayed in New York, I wouldn't have enjoyed this sight:
Walker's crying. More soon.
Saturday, December 4, 2010
Saturday, November 27, 2010
Thursday, November 25, 2010
Then there is the stuff I don't traditionally ponder on Turkey Day, because I'm not usually on the verge of moving off-the-grid. It paradoxical, but logical, that as my carbon footprint is about to shrink, I am ever more grateful for fossil fuels. Despite myself. It is so much more comfortable to decry the profligate use of oil and coal here in the United States. The oil spill this summer and the decapitation of mountains, to name two obvious examples, are so upsetting to me, I avoid relevant news stories. But, man oh man, life is good with all that extra help.
Today, I am grateful for the coal that is burning so I can have electricity to power the baby monitor that allows me to write without freezing at each stray noise, the sound machine that allows my toddler to frolic without waking his younger brother, and the dishwasher that makes cleaning while under the influence of tryptophan ever so much quicker and easier. And I am grateful for the oil that is burning to keep my parents house comfortably warm, that afforded me a hot shower this morning, and, most especially, that was processed into the gasoline that enabled Aaron to come from Maine to be with us and enabled some dear friends to zip over from the next town for a visit earlier today. It almost feels silly to write about these things, they are so mundane and so easy to take for granted. But what a different Thanksgiving this would be without all this and if we had to make dinner in a wood cook stove, heat with wood, eat without electric lights, and clean up afterward in the semi-dark, heating our water along the way. (And just to be clear, I am not giving up all of these things in our cabin. So, thank you also for propane!)
Does anything stand out for you this particular Thanksgiving?
Saturday, November 20, 2010
Then, to top it all off, it was a knock-out of a day. The buildings of Manhattan, in vista, can evoke magnificent cliffs: solid, immovable, majestic, static. All the action is buried down at the bottom of the canyons along endless miles of streets and avenues. But given the right weather conditions, The City itself comes alive and is so beautiful any crust of jade you may have grown cracks right off. The sky was crowded with iron-blue bottomed clouds, almost overcast. But there was enough cheerful blue showing here and there to reveal the white fluff tops of the clouds and let the sun in. The clouds were moving fast across the sky, and that wind was hitting us down below, also, freeing Fall leaves from their restless branches.
The heart of the drama, however, was the light. Sun and shadow flowing over us all, as if the gods were saying, "You put on all your little plays, film your little films and tv shows, you want to see lighting? We'll show you lighting." A divine spotlight: Look here, now here, and now check this out. The Williamsburg Savings Bank glowing creamy, yellow-white against a matte background of variegated ominous blue clouds, not a speck of sky blue peeking through to mar the effect. Then the Willie B Savings Bank fades into shadow, blending in with all the other cliffs. And a flock of pigeons, flying their spirals, white patches flashing, gray feathers gleaming, is all there is to look at. Already the spotlight has moved on and a tree glows bright against the flat underbellies of the clouds, the golden yellow a perfect compliment to the stormy blue.
I ended up so mushy about it all, I posted an uncharacteristically emotional status up-date on Facebook, which triggered further weeping. "Good bye, New York. I love you." No jade, just a heartfelt farewell. Then we drove to get Forest at school and got on the BQE an exit earlier than usual, which brought us past the Statue of Liberty and an excellent view of the southern tip of Manhattan. I sat squeezed between two car seats veritably steeping in nostalgia until we hit stop-and-go traffic over Williamsburg. Doing the creep-crawl out of The City, yet again, had me cheering in short order. We're finally blowing this popcorn stand. Hot diggity dog!
Saturday, October 23, 2010
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
Aaron gave notice because he got a job in Maine. In the balance, this is excellent, but I'm just not ready to leave Brooklyn on such short notice. On the upside, we'll know what really needs to be done on the cabin to make winter more pleasant going forward. And Aaron put a deposit on a David Bradley walk-behind tractor with a plow attachment. Although it is from the 1940's, it does have a new motor. So we just have to seal up under the house with some straw bales, hook up the flue for the stove, and we're good to go. Oh, and pack up our entire Brooklyn life and say goodbye.
Tuesday, September 7, 2010
Luckily, Aaron and I also share a willingness to re-visit the ideals-vs.-certain-realities equation and adjust as needed. The first problem was that the mower wasn't able to cut one type of tall stalk, and since the ticks were not abating, we worried these stalks were acting as safe harbor. The second problem was that to keep up with all of our lawn, which includes a small network of former ATV trails, mowing became Aaron's primary outdoor activity. By the time the last corners were done, the first corners needed to be mown again. And the tick siege continued. We reassessed. It's so quiet around here, what's a little noise every once in a while? We are homesteaders, not landscapers. Besides, Lyme Disease is no joke and we have small children to think of. And just like that, we turned to the Lawn Chief, a ride-on mower that the former owner left for us to fix or dispose of. It was sitting in our shed, an object of much fascination for Forest. Happily, with nothing more than a new battery and some air in its tires, the Lawn Chief was ready to roar (loudly enough to make Forest sob when he finally got to ride on it). And, voila, mowing shrinks to a once a week chore.
And there you have the siren call of the Industrial Revolution: get more done in less time. (The siren call of the Post-Industrial Age seems to be about spending all that saved time: movies, shopping, tv, video games, Facebook.) Although part of our homesteading dream is about greater self-reliance and smaller carbon footprints, how do we resist the lures of the heavy machinery when our to-do list looms long and guzzling a little gas enables us to check new items off rather than check the same item off over and over?
Sleep-gods willing, I'll post soon on other adjustments we confronted this past summer when our ideals bumped up against reality.
Sunday, August 29, 2010
Meanwhile, my children are waging a double-pronged attack to see how sleep deprived their mother can get. Walker, who once upon a time slept through the night or maybe woke up for one ten minute snack, is now up more at night than he was as a newborn, literally. But in the months since those newborn days, Forest has lost his nap, so this time around I have no chance to catch up on my sleep or write, for that matter. I am amazed, all over again, at just how utterly sleep loss correlates with brain power loss. Sad to say, for the time being, I'm an idjit. By default, the blog is on hold. Yes, the children are winning.
Wednesday, August 11, 2010
On first arrival, I was amazed to see how small our apartment had gotten. Three days back and it already feels back to normal, but with the cabin fresh in the spatial portion of my brain, walking in the door was a shock. “Hey, this place is a cubbyhole.” We are still adjusting to the heat and weaning down from the a/c. Yesterday, we air conditioned the whole apartment; today, half; tomorrow, none. And now I must get back to unpacking. The wall of stuff in Forest's room is almost back to the actual wall, by tomorrow I hope to start bringing stuff up from the basement.
Going forward I thought I'd put up some posts from this summer that I wasn't able to get off of the dana, by alphasmart, and write a few posts I had planned but never had the time to write. Then?
Tuesday, August 3, 2010
One reason it is silly to spend too much time worrying and anticipating future challenges is the high likelihood you will be wasting your cortisol on the wrong topic. All that anxiety we had over the wood stove delivery, and, just like that, in less time than it took me to get Forest to sleep that day, the stove came up the driveway and was in the house. Meanwhile, a throw-away item on our to do list: spray house with weatherizing stain, has muscled a bunch of other Must-Do's! off our list and is eating up impressive (or is that depressive?) amounts of time and money.
We just spent the past week pulling, chipping, scraping, hammering, plier-ing, and otherwise wrestling dried, cracked caulk out from between our exterior logs. Early in the week, we realized there was no way we were going to get the whole cabin done. “Spray the cabin” was down-sized to “spray the bottom three logs of the cabin” which was further revised to treating up as high as five logs (gasp), but only touching the two weather-beaten sides. Whatever we de-caulk, must be washed, stained, and re-caulked before we leave. We are almost done with the acid wash. You can see how high Aaron could reach on this log:
We can only hope Forest doesn't talk about this project too much when we get back to Brooklyn. Child-services might get called in. Some oft heard phrases of late:
“Mommy, are you getting the caulk off?”
“Are we getting new caulk?”
“I want to get the caulk off!” This one gets repeated insistently.
“Mommy and Daddy are getting the caulk off.”
“Where's the caulk?”
And more recently:
“Mommy's putting the caulk on.”
Thursday, July 29, 2010
We just spent the past week pulling, chipping, scraping, hammering, plier-ing, and otherwise wrestling dried, cracked caulk out from between our exterior logs. Early in the week, we realized there was no way we were going to get the whole cabin done. “Spray the cabin” was down-sized to “spray the bottom three logs of the cabin” which was further revised to treating up as high as five logs (gasp), but only touching the two weather-beaten sides. Whatever we de-caulk, must be washed, stained, and re-caulked before we leave. We are almost done with the acid wash. You can see how high Lee could reach on this log:
We can only hope Jasper doesn't talk about this project too much when we get back to Brooklyn. Child-services might get called in. Some oft heard phrases of late:
“Mommy, are you getting the caulk off?”
“Are we getting new caulk?”
“I want to get the caulk off!” This one gets repeated insistently.
“Mommy and Daddy are getting the caulk off.”
“Where's the caulk?”
And more recently:
“Mommy's putting the caulk on.”
Tuesday, July 27, 2010
Last week, I heard a plane going overhead at night. We don't hear jets here, they are too high up, only little propeller planes. I lay in bed and wondered what kind of crazy shenanigans they were up to flying around at 10pm!
We don't even have peeper frogs around our cabin. Apart from occasional yip, yowling from coyotes or the crunch, crunching of the porcupine (who has been back only twice since I posted about it), it is silent unless we hear the leaves sliding against each other on breezy nights.
Night before last, I looked out the screen door at around 2 am on my way back to bed from the bathroom and felt a wrench as a little bit of air was sucked out of me. Actual awe hurts a bit. The stars were bright and myriad, the milky way a thick glow across the sky. And I felt as small as we humans should. (On a semi-regular basis for proper perspective and mental health.)
Tuesday, July 20, 2010
This week, we finally decided to go for it. I called the stove company on Monday, and they said it would arrive this week. We hadn't expected it would be so quick, but no matter. We put in a call to the local drop-off spot and got an answering machine. Tues, no call back, Wed, no call back, but we did get a heads up from the stove company delivery was set for Thursday. Aaron drove over to the drop-off spot yesterday, but found them closed. Despite yet another rather urgent message, still no call back this morning. Uh-oh. A stove arriving from New Hampshire today, and no means to get it off the truck. Yikes.
I called the same neighbor who fixed our hot water pipe to see if he had any suggestions of another business with a fork-lift who might be willing to accept delivery on such short notice. “Well, I have a fork-lift attachment for my tractor.” I was hesitant to take even more of his time, but he insisted it would be no trouble. Not only did he get the stove off the truck, but drove it up our road and helped Aaron get it in the door. (I was upstairs trying to get the boys to nap.) Our neighbor also recommended we don't deal with the MIA business owner. “I thought he was suppose to be in jail by now” for 85 counts of attempted theft by deception. He had a contract to service equipment for a town project and padded the bill with 85 services never actually rendered. Another towns person says he also was selling people's credit card information. Maybe he is in jail by now, that would account for his still not getting back to us.
How do we pay our neighbor back? Aaron is giving him some logs plugged with shiitake mycelium and I have invited the whole family over for pancake brunch, but that doesn't seem quite sufficient.
Here are Aaron and Forest sawing the logs for plugging.
Here are some plugged logs.
The red wax is to keep other mycelium from getting into the log. After being left out in the rain for eight months, when you want some mushrooms, you soak a log or two for 24-hours and they should fruit within a week giving you a shiitake covered log. Lets just hope they actually fruit, unlike the mushroom logs Aaron gave my sister and parents for Christmas one year. Aaron thinks the problem was that they were indoors, not getting wet often enough. We'll see come March.
Wednesday, July 14, 2010
The generations come full circle in a beautiful cycle of life or dysfunctional psychodrama, you decide
Tuesday, July 13, 2010
Last month, Aaron discovered three rhubarb plants lurking in the tall grass. They had both stalks ending in a leaf and tall, seedy stalks. I had to call my dad to ask him how to proceed. How many stalks could I harvest without harming the plant? And what about the seedy stalks? Could we eat those? Should I be watering the plants? How often? How much? And what about that similarly sized plant next to one of the plants with almost identical leaves, but totally different stalks? All my years in New York are showing. I am mortifyingly ignorant when it comes to gardening. Oh, um, and cars and driving and cabin maintenance and transfer stations (the dump) and 4-wheelers (I had to check with Aaron after the happy hour, “Are 4-wheelers ATVs?” Yes, they are. ATV's being All Terrain Vehicles.) and solar systems and bush hogging and chickens and vehicle identification (people recognize each other's cars and trucks. I don't go beyond size and color.) and flooring and insulation and mowing and tree identification and so on and so on and so on. There is so little I do have competency it may account for how consistently I gravitate towards the kitchen, away from that endless list of areas in which I am a plumb, dumb bunny. I have quite a learning curve ahead of me.
See how bad it is.
This is one of the rhubarb plants after I got done with it. I read, and was told, remove the stalks with seeds. That poor plant was all seed stalks. However, when I asked my neighbor who works on a farm to identify the rhubarb-like plant, she said I should have just left the seed stalks. It is time in the Maine season to leave the rhubarb alone, apart from keeping it hydrated. Although she said rhubarb is very hard to kill, and that it should be fine, I'm skeptical. The plant next to it was burdock root, a weed to be removed.
Lets just hope my success with Finnish, or rather lack of success, is not a harbinger of my success at country life. And now, enough writing, the boys are sleeping and I have raspberries to pick. I am inspired after picking these at the conclusion of my morning run.
This time I'm going with a container.
Friday, July 9, 2010
One of our beginning of the road, i.e. on the grid, neighbors brought these by. The scapes came off of the wee garlics—he called them “weed garlic”—and will be going into a stir-fry.
The wee garlics themselves, we will be drying for on-going use. I doubt the large bulb will last a week with the soups and chili I have planned. Bringing this garden bounty to us qualifies as nice, even very nice, but what bumps our neighbor up to “remarkably nice” status is that he offered to plant a bed of garlic for us this Fall. All we have to do is prepare the bed, leave some hay by it, and when garlic planting time rolls around and we are in Brooklyn he'll put pop a bunch of bulbs into the ground. Wow. Otherwise, we wouldn't have our own garlic until July 2012. I am thrilled and grateful.
And we are happy to say, “So long, Walmart. Hello Reny's” Reny's is Maine-based department store. After a visit there this morning we now own a garden hose and a second fan. We're really coming up in the world.
Thursday, July 8, 2010
Wednesday, July 7, 2010
Our remaining chicks are doing well. I'm not sure I can even call them chicks anymore, they are getting so big. But we did lose one to a hawk. The others have been keeping to the tall grass more and hanging out under the house, either they learned from the hawk incident or they are trying to beat the heat. We are not beating the heat very effectively in our cabin. Thanks to the tin roof, the lack of insulation, all the windows, and having only one fan, it hit 90 in here yesterday, even though it was only in the high 80's outside. Regardless, I am very grateful not to be in Brooklyn at the moment and feel terrible for those who are, most especially those without adequate ac.
It would be nice to have another fan, but we didn't even run the one we have all night because neither of us was willing to get up and run the generator. So we were fanless between between 3 and 5, when I turned it back on because the sun was up and charging up our system.
Now it is back to work. Aaron is in the yard building a door for the wall in the upstairs bedroom so we can store stuff in our eaves—when you have no basement and only two closest for a family of four, you need every scrap of available storage space. Once the door is done, we can get back to hanging sheet rock.
My goal for the rest of our stay is to get this place ready for a one-year-old. I'd hate to arrive with all our stuff next year and have to spend all my time, hawk-like, monitoring Walker to make sure he doesn't crawl into the eaves or start chewing on wiring or grabbing exposed hot water pipes or touching the wood stove, to mention a few of the tasks ahead of us in the next four weeks.
Thursday, July 1, 2010
Normally, from what I'm told, hanging drywall is pretty straightforward. Normally, you are dealing with 90 degree angles. Not so in this fun-house of a cabin. One panel we put up measured, 27-3/4” x 86” x 29-1/16” x 86-3/16”. Not a 90 degree angle in sight. The other panel was no better. Once I finally understood we just had to treat some of the angles as square, since we had no angle measuring capabilities, we were able to make progress, slow though it was. One panel already has some scribbles on it, thanks to Forest “writing numbers” on it. Aaron put up a child-safety gate in the doorway and now our utility room is ready for the16-month-old from Finland who is arriving, along with her parents (one of whom is my cousin) and my parents, on Friday. The utility room holds our ac/dc inverter and the bank of batteries charged by our solar panels or generator. The eight batteries each weigh over 150 pounds and are filled with sulfuric acid along with a medley of heavy metals. No place for a tot to toddle.
Above is one panel of drywall,(the door you see leads to our side yard via a ramp, which is for greater ease of wheelbarrowing in lots and lots of wood for the stove) the other panel is behind the door, and you can see the wood/plexiglass encasing for the battery bank on the floor with the inverter on the wall.
And, yes, we made our third family trip to Walmart. Not something I'm proud of, given their shoddy treatment of their employees, but I do have a nice long list of justifications including not knowing where else to go, efficiency, and better intentions for the future. Our most urgent purchase was a Brita water filter. I had a chronic stomachache by the time we left for my parents. It went away in Cambridge, but now it is back and Forest is also complaining about his stomach, as he was when we left for Cambridge. Aaron's stomach is fine, but he can buy food from street carts in Guatemala without any ensuing digestive tract woes. We got our water tested at the beginning of the summer, so we know it isn't coliform or ecol i and that we have lots of iron in our water. Does anyone know if iron rich water can cause chronic stomachache?
Tomorrow, we staple down the edges of the linoleum and take down the fly-mottled fly-paper left hanging from the two skylights by the previous owner. Gotta class up the joint before my parents get here.
Sunday, June 27, 2010
On the flip side, she was more voluble: “Yeah, it was after the seven weeks we couldn't drive the road, and I was hiking in and out with a one-year-old on my back along with gas for the generator, that I told my husband, 'We're moving to town.'” Fair enough.
When I asked her if the cabin was very cold she said they had burned 14 cords of wood one particularly hard winter, “and we were never quite warm.”
I asked, sorely hoping the answer would be “no,” “Did you have under the house sealed off?”
'Doomed,' I thought to myself, 'doomed.'
Aaron has partially convinced me it is different now. Lots of time and money have gone into the road and by all reports it is improved. Additionally, the most recent owner of this cabin sprayed insulating foam wherever she felt a breeze coming in. Okay. Both good. But I can't believe filling in the cracks is enough to make this cabin comfortable in the winter. And according to our across-the-way neighbor, this road did inspire an entire town to move. Yup, our town center, now located more than five miles away, used to be on this road, but after enough washouts the post office and everything else were relocated to a more sensible spot. At this point, the town will no longer even maintain the road and much of the $6,000 worth of gravel that was put down five years ago has already washed away. Our house is off-the-grid, and so is our road. All plowing and washouts are our responsibility, along with the nice young couple across the way and Mr. Bread Truck.
I am so curious how long we'll last.
Saturday, June 26, 2010
Our whole homesteading enterprise feels more feasible knowing we are not going to be doing this entirely alone. How I'm feeling today stands in stark contrast to how I felt after meeting neighbors last week.
Our road has five residences on it, two are at the beginning of the road and are on-the-grid, three are about half-a-mile down and don't have utilities. Our across-the-road neighbors are a friendly, helpful young couple, but we hadn't met the other person. We had, however, been warned that he is fickle and runs cranky. Some days he'll say hi, some days he won't. Last week we saw him driving up the road as we were about to pull onto the road. (If we'd met him on the road, one party would have to back up to one of the few pull-off spots, perhaps all the way to a driveway, because the road is narrow and shoulder-less.) He was bouncing along in a beat up panel truck that says “Country Kitchen” over the cab in faded red letters and didn't pull to a stop until he saw that we were smiling and waving. We got out and went to say hi.
In the movie version, you'd be able to understand him much better despite the missing teeth and the accent. In the real life version, I can only give you the gist of what he was saying. But what he was saying holds for both movie and life, the grizzled old-timer to the eager, fresh scrubbed couple from the Big City: You're doomed. His kept coming back to two phrases: “They didn't last.” and “Good luck to you.” He left the “You're going to need it” unsaid. Listening to him talk reminds me of listening to people talk Finnish, I can pick up enough to understand the topic of conversation, but not enough to know what is being said about that topic. So I don't know what he said about all the other people who didn't last in this cabin, even though he said a lot. But his overall message was clearly communicated: Doom for all who have gone before. Doom for you.
Be he right?
Sure enough, the next afternoon, he came with yet another neighbor and they fixed our pipe. Now we have hot water, which is one of the more lovely modern conveniences. But more important than the hot water is the psychological aspect of getting that help. To have two people—one a virtual stranger, the other a literal stranger—come and help us has bolstered our spirits enormously. 'Oh, right,' we've been reminded, 'we are off-the-grid, but not alone in the wilds somewhere.' And not only are we not alone in the wilds, it turns out we have fantastically nice neighbors. We might even, hope, oh, hope, become part of a strong community.
They invited us to come meet the neighbors at a happy hour hosted at someone's home. They also all get together for supper regularly, potluck at a different house each month. And we're invited there also. Really? And here is where the Brooklyn in me comes to the fore, a mosquito-sized buzz of a voice says, “These people are too nice.” So helpful, so friendly, surely it is only a matter of time before they start trying to get us to drink the Kool-Aid. And, indeed, in the movie version, they would turn out to pod people or members of a cannibalistic cult. But I'm not actually too worried because they aren't exhibiting any of the dead-give-away signs: they don't smile just a little bit too broadly or hold those smiles for just a little bit too long and their eyes aren't just that hair too wide open when they smile. In all seriousness, they really just seem remarkably nice.
Tuesday, June 22, 2010
I guess it isn't really much of an invitation when you take someone home in a box, but our self-serving intentions are friendly enough. “Come, live in our yard and feast on the all-day tick buffet.” They won't get to laying age by the time we have to head back to Brooklyn, so either we will give them away or eat them a la Cornish game hens. We would have preferred chickens, or even pullets, but there were chicks for sale on route to the Hannaford's grocery store in Belfast, so it's 2-week-olds we've got.
It turns out they are pretty endearing. I can hear them peeping away in their current home, a blue plastic storage bin with hay and coconut fiber bedding that we move around our house as temperature dictates. In two weeks, they'll be hearty enough to live outside. For now, we can put them out on warm days. After several feeding dishes that they tipped over or shook the corn out of, Aaron hit upon the perfect solution—a simple construction of upside down duplex blocks (large legos). Their water bottle, taped into a corner for stability, is a 7.7 oz Poland Springs water bottle with a hole cut out of the side.
We have a fever pitch of peeping at the moment, I just threw two ants into their box. Although the biggest of the five always gets there first, the others give chase as soon as they notice what's going on. They also love spiders, mosquitoes, and, yes, ticks. I still hate finding ticks, but having a hungry horde to toss them to certainly eases the creepy crawlies. Lets hear it for the chicks!
*Thank you to my uncle for the word “ticknic.”
Thursday, June 17, 2010
Sunday, June 13, 2010
Now we are all at my parents, Aaron and his brother arrived yesterday. It has been lovely staying here, and I wish I were more excited about returning to Maine. At best, I'm curious to see if it will all feel better going forward. I'll keep you posted.
Thursday, June 10, 2010
Of course I know that when I turn on my computer or blender or whatever in a utility paying home, either coal has been mined and burned or nuclear waste has been produced to power that modern convenience. And I know that there are appalling costs associated with both means of producing electricity. For instance, fishing permits in Maine come with warnings because the fish are so contaminated. Coal is burned, the smokes goes up and rains down far, far away. These aren't even coal plants located in Maine. As a result of all this, I try to limit my energy use, but only up to a point, a point that is pretty convenient for me.
Turns out, it feels like a brand new equation when I have to flip the switch myself, hear the generator growling, smell the gasoline burning, and decide just how charged up I want those batteries, anyway. My choices changed immediately. I wouldn't even open the fridge without thinking first to avoid letting the cold out more frequently than necessary, and I swept rather than vacuumed. The flip side is that when the sun shines I could be profligate with my energy use completely guilt-free.
But even with the cost of energy use concretized so recently, now that I don't have to flip the switch myself and I don't even know where the coal and/or nuclear power plants are that power this home, I've slipped back into opening the fridge door without so much as a first thought.
Wednesday, June 9, 2010
So, starting this Sunday, I'll be online only once or twice a week. Makes for a more "authentic" homesteading experience, I suppose.
Tuesday, June 8, 2010
This won't last in such an extreme form. Just before we left for my parents, I started tucking my socks into my pant legs and marching out the door for planting (herbs), tending the nascent compost pile, and so on. Aaron got a turn watching the kids. Still, I don't think country living will be as fuzzy on the gender roles as big city living, especially not while Walker is still nursing. Look at our current situation. I'm here at my parents' diapering (the kids not the grandparents), playground hopping, and reading "Whoo! Whoo! Goes the Train" several times a day. Meanwhile, Aaron's up in Maine with no hot water, shooting at squirrels, hardware store hopping, and on Friday he hauled 3400 pounds of drywall into the house. And the fact of the matter is, I don't want to learn how to use a chainsaw and am on the fence about learning how to shoot, to mention two examples out of many. On the other hand, I'm happy to chop and saw wood and anticipate lots and lots of digging. (Man, do we have a lot of digging to do.) In short, I find I can't predict how stereotypical our roles will be once we have settled in a bit more.
Saturday, June 5, 2010
Now, instead, I hear the squirrels that live in our roof. I don't know if they are munching in the night, but they are scrabbling. And in the day, they do some serious romping. I haven't bothered to ask them to vacate the premises because I know it will take stronger, um, persuasion to get them out.
Friday, June 4, 2010
It is just what I expected, but, wow!, it is difficult to get anything done with an infant and a toddler in tow.
Thursday, June 3, 2010
Although he has gotten much calmer about the mosquitoes, we are all having a hard time adjusting to the ticks. Apparently, it is an especially bad year for them, but still. The end of our first full day there, I stopped counting after we had picked ten ticks off of Aaron and Forest (only two had attached). It's a bit better since we ran out and got a lawn mower, but despite full tick checks twice a day and quick clothes check anytime anyone comes in from the yard, I still am routinely finding ticks around the house, on the trash can, on the compost pail by the sink, on an egg, in Forest's hair as I'm reading him his bedtime story. One day at breakfast, as Forest was telling me why he hates Maine (mosquitoes, ticks, and dragon flies), I looked down and saw two ticks, one on top of the other, on the leg of the table. Ticks mating? On the plus side, we are very grateful they all have been dog ticks since Lyme's is in the area.
And we have a wasp's nest somewhere in our eves. If it weren't for the kids, I wouldn't mind that so much, but whenever there is a wasp buzzing around in our house, I can't relax for fear one of them might get stung.
So Forest isn't the only one who is down on Maine thanks to the bugs. I thought I'd be fine since I don't really mind mosquitoes or black flies and am fine with all the spider prowling our premises. But here I am like Dorothy and her friends going faster and faster through the dark woods. I spook at the sight of a lint ball, feel things crawling on me that aren't there, and resent all the time spent on tick checks. Basically, I'm more of a city gal than I thought I was.
Tuesday, June 1, 2010
However, as I write this, contrary to the original plan, I'm still at my parents as Aaron speeds off towards Maine with a ladder strapped to the top of the car. We need some walls! Despite the stories we'd heard of people doing all manner of renovations and building with small children, we learned that it wasn't going to work for us, at least not initially. So, for starters, Aaron is going to build a wall to the boy's bedroom with the help of his brother who is coming for a visit starting Sat. That way we don't have to creep around whenever they are asleep, unable even to do dishes because otherwise Forest wakes up. Given all that has to get done, it felt pretty ridiculous and frustrating.
The highlight of my stay up in Maine so far was my (almost) daily walk along our road to fetch the mail. Our cabin is on a dirt road that is not town maintained. It stretches half-a-mile through delicious smelling woods to the main road, also dirt, and our mailbox. Sun-dappled, essentially car-free, with only two houses just before the main road, it feels like a walk in a state park or nature preserve. The smells, always delicious, vary with the temperature and humidity; sometimes the smell of ferns predominate, sometimes it's the pines, other times, I'm not sure who is responsible, but the smell is woodsy and sweet and leaves me breathing deep, walking slower the better to enjoy it. I'm glad it is enjoyable in the summer, because from what we hear, it washes out at least once each spring and we are told we will come to hate it. The ups and downs of being off the beaten trail.
Tuesday, May 18, 2010
Sunday, May 16, 2010
And just what is this off the grid business? It simply means no public utilities or services connect to your property, no electricity, no water, no natural gas, no sewage. How this translates to any given living situation differs drastically. In our case, it does not mean we will be reading by the light of a kerosene lantern, cooking on a wood-burning stove, fetching the milk from a root cellar filled with ice blocks packed in sawdust, and pumping water out of a well. We have solar panels with a back-up gasoline generator, a drilled well, and a propane tank which fuels a cook stove, a hot-water tank, and a rinnai space heater. We also have a wood-burning stove in the living room, which will be our primary heat-source. And for sewage there is the typical non-urban set up: a flush toilet, a septic tank, and a leach field. However, as mentioned, until we fix the leach field we'll be using the outhouse. But as long as the sun shines, or we have gas, we have hot and cold running water.
And, yes, we have a refrigerator and will be getting a washing machine, the two main amenities I get asked about. I have no interest in feeding two kids without proper refrigeration or in spending the majority of my time hand-washing clothes. On the other hand, we do want to minimize generator use, so we are already making plans to build a root cellar, have purchased a few kerosene lanterns, and are hoping to get the old spring well going, that way we could have the option of pumping water. I also am keen on getting a wood-burning cook stove someday, but have yet to convince Aaron that it makes sense. I argue that we have the propane stove for the summer or quick cook jobs, but in the winter we can add heat to the house and make breakfast or bread or whatever off the same logs of wood. If anyone has experience with cooking on a wood-burning stove, I'd love to know if you would vote for or against getting one and why.
Friday, May 14, 2010
Here is the cabin:
It is a 1,000 sq ft log cabin built in the mid-1970's on 14 acres of land. It looks much worse now. The cabin is on piers and we had to pull out the insulative straw bales from around the base (covered in white Tyvek in this picture) to dry out under the house. Several floor joists were already pretty moldy and now need to be replaced. So that is one item on our to do list: jack up the house, switch out the eaten away floor joists, pray no one gets squished.
Tomorrow I'll talk about what it means to be off-the-grid.
Thursday, May 13, 2010
No need to go into the details on this, but it is remarkable (and embarrassing) how much time Aaron and I have spent talking, happily and unhappily, without doing.
Tomorrow, I'll be taking a break from the 7 Habits to talk about what awaits us in Maine.
Wednesday, May 12, 2010
A recent example from my life: Our downstairs neighbors hosted a farewell-for-the-summer/Mother's Day brunch, this past Sunday. The food was extensive and delicious, the company delightful. I wanted to be sure they understood how much I enjoyed the whole affair and appreciated all their efforts, so I decided a thank you email wouldn't be enough, it had to be a hand-written thank you card. But, of course, our cards are packed away somewhere, and the days have been passing without my taking the time to find them or remembering to buy a card. In the meanwhile, I got an email from one of these lovely neighbors with the recipe I requested. But how can I answer it? It would look like I couldn't be bothered to say thank you for the brunch until I had to email for other reasons. So now, that email sits unacknowledged, and I look unresponsive in addition to ungrateful, a whole new color of Highly Ineffective.
Tuesday, May 11, 2010
It felt very good packing up those foot creams I never use and that wee rubber gasket in a small sealed plastic bag, to mention two little drops in our big packing bucket. They've been sitting untouched for untold months, but if I don't keep them, I won't have to spend the time to unpack them when we get back from Maine and puzzle over where they should go. Besides, what if I suddenly change my ways and start moisturizing my feet? Or find the product that may or may not reside in my house and may or may not function better with a wee rubber gasket?
Monday, May 10, 2010
Allow me to illustrate. As it became clear we were falling behind in our preparations for this move, I kept a focus on keeping most of our meals home-cooked, either cooking them myself or encouraging Aaron to cook. Between shopping for ingredients (at the beautifully inefficient Park Slope Food Coop), doing the cooking, and washing up after (it helps not having a dish washer), I used up a lot of time that could have been spent of packing.
I also continued to keep disposable diaper use to a minimum. Two kids in cloth diapers generate not only a load of laundry each day, but also a minimum of fifteen changes. Factor in the toilet rinse for each poopy diaper, all that hand washing, sorting the dry laundry (including folding the cloth wipes), and you've eaten up an admirable chunk of the day on diapering alone.
Alas, my ineffectiveness has dropped as we use up food from the freezer and cupboards. I suppose I should stop making large batches of food and freezing a portion for later meals. It's really rather effective.
Sunday, May 9, 2010
Saturday, May 8, 2010
Habit #1: Be a Pinball
Never do just one task and see it through to completion. Always have multiple worksites going and keep adding them as needed. Bounce from project to project and be sure to maximize clutter everywhere you go.
A little unclear on how this works? Take clearing my two drawers in our dresser today. One of the drawers has pants, shorts, and sleeping togs. Seems straighforward enough. How could this lead to other projects? Well, I quickly realized that before I could put clothes in storage, I would have to know which clothes I was bringing with me. Beautiful! I already have two projects, and all I've done is open a drawer. But wait, before I can pack for Maine, I need all of my clothes available to me. I promptly start filling my laundry bag out of the basket. One load for the washer, and, lo, what is this at the bottom of the basket? Another project: hand wash. Leaving the washer load on the couch since I know Aaron has a load in the machine already, I put the first batch of hand wash to soak, and notice the shelf in the bathroom has items that are supposed to live in my dresser. As I sort these, I figure I may as well clear some of the other clutter that has accumulated up there. Before I'm done sorting the shelf, I notice the pile of clothes on the couch next to the laundry bag and get back to packing. Here, I have to confess, I go on an uninterrupted run, complete the clothes sorting, bag the storage clothes, and box the Maine clothes.
Then, after a quick stop in the bathroom to advance the handwash, I go back to the dresser. The remaining drawer is divided (in my mind, if not in practice) in two. One side is for underwear, while the other side is a catchall get-it-out-of-sight spot. As you can imagine the catchall side was so rich with project potential it isn't empty yet. Tomorrow, tomorrow, I love you, tomorrow, you're only a day away!
(It really isn't fair to say "we" on this habit. My ADD, pinball ways drive Aaron nuts. He goes project by project. Okay, time to find a spot for that last bit of hand wash to dry.)
Thursday, May 6, 2010
I'm getting nostalgic for NY even though I haven't left yet. Normally, I don't think I would have gotten quite such a kick out of the conductor's announcement at the West 4th St station: "There's something obstructing a door in the front cars. Check ya bag, ya elbow, ya head." His accent was pure New Yawk, as was his bored, let's-get-this-show-on-the-road tone.
Then, after I was done with work, walking down 8th Avenue from 57th St to 34th St to run an errand, I didn't need caffeine to get my pace brisk. The City at morning rush hour is plenty adrenalized.
I wrote the above yesterday, but didn't get a chance to finish thanks to a migraine. And, after my subway ride this morning, I'm less inclined towards fond observations of NYC life. Suffice to say a 40 minute commute (with good trains), took over an hour-and-a-half.
Wednesday, May 5, 2010
Tuesday, May 4, 2010
Full disclosure, we have no intention of relying solely on hand-plunging our clothes clean. I came across the bucket option as I was researching energy efficient washing machines, the kind that plug in and cost oh-so-much-more than $17.
Monday, May 3, 2010
Our preferred date night is an evening at home watching a dvd as Aaron sharpens knives and I knit. We both prefer frugality over fashion, function over form. Although I don't see muumuus in my Maine future, who knows what direction the desire for comfort and sun protection will take me. Meanwhile, our kids are diapered in cloth (much of the time) and our older son (having teeth) eats oat groats for breakfast. Things like oat groats give me deep satisfaction on a daily basis. Anything that is economical, healthy, and better for the planet--as oat groats are on all three fronts when compared with boxed cereal--gives me a boost day after day after day. It never gets old for me. Aren't these pleasures more country than city, more bumpkin than Brooklyn?
Saturday, May 1, 2010
Aaron and I are edgy, man, very Brooklyn. He's pierced, I'm tattooed. And he would be tattooed if he wasn't worried that after just one it would only be a matter of time before he was awash in ink from the neck down. Meanwhile, I would be pierced if all my interesting piercings (lip, tongue, nose, and upper ear) didn't repeatedly get infected, leading me to give up on all but traditional earrings. We listen to NPR, have a Maclaren stroller, used to own a Volvo, and used to drink Gorilla Coffee. Um, okay, maybe not so edgy and maybe more specifically Park Slope than Brooklyn.
Whatever the case, I just wanted you to know the "Brooklyn" in Brooklyn Bumpkin is for reals: this has been my happy home for a long time.
Next post: The Bumpkin
Friday, April 30, 2010
Reading their book "The Good Life" I feel so 21st century. Even as I'm amused by some of their dated language and ardent idealism, I yearn for a nobler, less cynical time. I certainly hope we find a nobler, less cynical life up in Maine. But maybe we'll just find we've signed on for too much discomfort, too much work, and too much uncertainty. I'll keep you posted.
Thursday, April 29, 2010
The blueberry plants on our kitchen window sill are proving very helpful. My husband and older son planted them from cuttings sent from Washington state. Unlike several batches of seedlings, the blueberry plants are flourishing. Some are even blooming. But it remains hard to imagine them in soil, let alone bush-sized. In fact, most of this future life is hard for me to imagine. I've lived in New York City since I came here to go to college in 1987. Before that I lived in Cambridge, MA. Apart from two months spent au pairing in Vermont back in 1989, I've never lived in the country. Thank god we are starting with an initial 12-week stint and coming back to Brooklyn before our final move next summer. Otherwise, I think my brain would be melting right now. And when I'm in my ADD pinball-style mode of sorting and packing, four or more projects going at once, I look at the blueberry plants and get excited all over again about our move.