Thursday, July 29, 2010

Caulkamamie schemes

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 Jasper 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 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

T-minus two weeks

It is difficult to believe we will be back in Brooklyn in two weeks. Park Slope feels somewhat abstract from here. No more popping out in my underwear to grab the pair of pants I want off the clothesline. Sure, there is a guy I see on my walk to the Park Slope Food Coop who hangs out on his stoop in a fuzzy, electric blue bathrobe, weather permitting, but I'm pretty sure he qualifies for certain social services. If it were my thing, I could get in a lot of underwear time in our yard. Living on a dead-end, dirt road affords us lots of privacy. Besides, mores are different around here. There is a guy we see every so often on our drive into town, along a well-traveled road, who gardens in boxers and unlaced leather boots. In this case, I'm pretty sure he doesn't have mental health issues, but just doesn't care what the neighbors think. Not that I would be that guy. I wouldn't want people idly glancing out their car windows every time they drive by to see if Captain Underpants is out and about. But even though I don't garden in my skivvies, I do love the quiet and the privacy.

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

Country living: small time crook vs. the neighbor

All summer, Aaron and I have been hemming and hawing about buying a very expensive wood burning stove. It would make more sense to wait until next year, when we know our economic situation, but the $600 tax credit for buying a fuel efficient stove probably won't be available then. And $600 off is some serious savings. We bought the stove on sale in the Spring and the order has been on hold. For $100 the company trucks the stove from New Hampshire to any New England location that has a fork-lift available for getting it off the truck. The crate weighs over 500 pounds. Soon after we arrived in May, Aaron found a business nearby that not only agreed to accept the delivery, but also rents trailers so we could get the behemoth home. Hurray! How convenient.

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

Yesterday, I picked raspberries for about an hour, forcing my way through their thorny canes over heaped deadwood, hoping I wouldn't twist my ankle, sweat tickling down my belly, and thoroughly enjoying myself. On Thursday, me and the boys are going, by invitation, to pick blueberries in a neighbors untended blueberry field and, on Sunday, we have been invited mushrooming. Berry picking and mushrooming are quintessential summer activities in Finland, where my mother grew up. And Maine is closer in appearance to Finland than any other New England state. Meanwhile, Aaron grew up in a wood-heated log cabin on a dirt road in the woods. I'm baking dense whole-grain bread like my father used to do and recently instituted Sunday as pancake day, a years-long, on-going tradition for him. Aaron is keen to build a stone hearth for our stove, as his father did. My dad, his siblings, and cousins—all gardeners. Aaron and I both eagerly look forward to the day we have the time and resources to build a sauna and both have Karelian ancestry. (Karelia used to be part of Finland before it was taken over by the Russians in WWII.)
And we didn't set out to live in Maine or in a log cabin for that matter. We simply wanted to get out of the city to somewhere we could have enough land to produce food in some capacity or another. We looked in upstate New York, around Albany and around Ithaca. We looked in Vermont and contemplated many, many other possibilities. But here we are, in the first property we looked at in Maine, breathing the piney scent of our cabin, as white birches shimmy their leaves just outside our windows, wondering was it fate or random chance?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Nincompoop dreams of burdock root

When I was studying Finnish in college, very early on I started having dreams in fluent Finnish. I don't know what language those dreams really took place in since, when awake, I could barely stumble through a conversation about the weather in Finnish. Last night I had my first gardening dream. I was going to water and weed a small garden plot (that has yet to exist in waking life) and found two rather large, leafy burdock roots growing next to my seedlings. That's all I remember of the dream. And that's practically all I know of gardening: water the plants, pull out the weeds. That I can even dream of burdock root is new.

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

Yet another remarkably nice neighbor

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

Update, correction, and apologies to the chicks

Just a quick follow-up on a few things I've mentioned. We have happy tummies all around thanks to the Brita filter. Within a day of our Walmart expedition, both Forest and my stomachaches were gone. What a refreshingly easy fix.
The happy hour at which we met neighbors was remarkable. I really don't think everyone could have been more welcoming or more friendly. We are looking forward to another happy hour tomorrow evening. Forest can't wait since he got to eat handful after handful of goldfish crackers at the last one.
Speaking of Forest, I know I've mentioned that he is a lot happier here now, but can't resist a further update. The other night he said, “I love this cabin. Thank you, Mommy, Daddy, for making Maine better.” Really? If I heard a kid say that in a movie I'd think, “Oh please, kids don't talk like that.” But I'm quoting him directly, and how sweet it was to hear.

Here is the door Aaron built.

Even though the plan was that we would build it together, the kids couldn't get it together to look after themselves, and I defaulted to childcare duty while Aaron defaulted to building the door. I am impressed with the results, made entirely from wood found in our “shed”. And you can see next to our lovely door, part of why hanging drywall is so tricky around here. Note the angle across the top, note the round pine beams, and take my word for it that not a 90 degree angle exists in that framing. (The blue stuff is insulation made out of old blue jeans.)

The correction relates to yesterday's post. We were relieved to learn it wasn't in the high 80s on Tues, it hit 93. Which explains why our cabin got as hot as it did. And explains why we were as wilty as we were. And which (just now) reminds me of what I noted to myself at 1:40 this morning to include in a post. We timed it. To have a fan going for much of the night (until 3) we had to run the generator for close to an hour before bed and then for fifteen minutes at around 1:30 this morning. I'm looking forward to the day Walker doesn't need night feedings anymore, but, apparently, our “third child” will continue to need night feedings ad nauseum. Certainly all winter long, thanks to grey weather and short days. I'm considering a new tattoo as I learn more and more of what it means to live in an under-insulated off-the-grid cabin on an off-the-grid road: “This is what we could afford.” I must remember that so I don't feel like quite such an ignorant nincompoop.

And finally, an update and apology. The chicks have been doing an excellent job. We can frolic and work in our yard without collecting any ticks along the way. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! Little chickies. And I'm so sorry for not giving credit where credit is due sooner. Aaron still brings home a tick here and there when he has been far afield, but nothing like before.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

And then there were four

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.


That's what the Maine license plates say and we just got a lovely sampling the beauty and fun in our neck of the woods. (If a neck long enough to accommodate a 40 minute drive counts as “ours.”) My parents, my Finnish cousin and her family came for a lovely four-day visit. Activities included the beach and a ferry ride to Vinalhaven for a quick picnic. The last evening of the visit we ate seafood on the bay in Belfast. Pretty blissful.

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

A day's work: Two panels of drywall hung and a family outing to Walmart

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.