In which we strive to stay one step ahead of misfortune
It’s been a heck of a year. And it’s not slowing down.
When we left off last time, the outbuildings all had shiny new roofs, and I was looking dubiously at the driveway bridge, or at least the bank under it. I was calling around to find a contractor who could stabilize it for the winter, and muttering about electricians to upgrade the panel. The next three months will hopefully slow down a bit, I said. (Yes, that is hysterical laughter you can hear in the background.)
Reading that update now, it is difficult to believe it was three months ago. It feels like most of a year. I will try to round up all of the things that have happened since then, as best I can.
First, we had a warm, dry fall, which was good in the sense that the weather was good for working outside. However, it was so dry that the creeks dropped to low levels, and to my dismay the mineral content rose so high that the water was undrinkable. The soil here is very high in potassium, and not only was I having to salt my food a great deal to balance that, after a certain point its diuretic effect meant that the more I drank, the thirstier I got. I ended up buying bottled water for nearly a month, as I don’t have the equipment here for a still, and I hadn’t had time to save rainwater.
As if to apologize, after a gentle drizzle or two, the Thanksgiving storm arrived three weeks early and flooded everything. I had been navigating a maze of civil engineering firms and government offices, trying to settle the question of whether this watershed is protected and what, if any, permits would be required to even step foot in the creek—and suddenly it was impossible for anyone to even put bracing under the driveway bridge. I ran out of time, and since then I have had the bridge roped off and only allowed certain vehicles over it, with appropriate warnings. I’ll take my old Ranger over it, as it’s sturdy, easily repaired, and (unlike the Accord) has no airbags that could go off with a sudden shock. The Accord is living at the top of the driveway, occasionally tarped against the worst of the snow and ice. I need to write up a work proposal to run by the Department of State Lands, but I have until late spring for that.
When the rains came, something bloomed in the office, and I’ve been unable to spend time in there without a respirator since. Visitors agree the room smells musty, and a bit like fresh mushrooms. A friend helped box up a bunch of suspect books, but the problem is still there; I won’t be able to use it until I can pull absolutely every object out of there, or warm dry weather arrives again, whichever happens first.
We got a half inch of snow in the first week of December, which was also several weeks early. And the temperatures got down into the 20s several times, leaving me with ice an inch deep in various buckets for days. I gave away the last two chickens before that cold snap, knowing that only two birds couldn’t heat the coop adequately, and I didn’t trust a heat lamp or heater out there unattended. I hear they settled in at their new home so well that they were ruling all the other hens in short order. And it spared me from having to venture out into the deep cold when the house was about as warm as a walk-in refrigerator.
If you read my off-schedule appeal for funds, you know that I was caught flat-footed with a heat exchange that barely worked, an electric heater that cost at least $5/day to run, and a nearly empty woodshed. I spent a bunch of very cold days, discovering exactly how much living in the cold affects not only one’s energy level and motivation, but basic reasoning and judgment. I ran a fundraiser to at least get myself more firewood, which was a thundering success (thank you to everyone who donated; over $1700 when I asked for $950 was far more support than I had ever expected). I needed all of those funds to make it through the subsequent Firewood Saga. It’s finally over—I pulled the last load of wood down from the upper driveway this afternoon—so let’s summarize in the style of a good friend’s classic Holiday Death March.
Trial By Firewood
Firewood suppliers called: 7
Suppliers bought from: 2
Self-described “Cord Lords” made very sad by a scathing online review: 1
Money spent on wood: $1675
Cords currently on the property: 6-7
Times I filled the woodshed: 3
Times I emptied the woodshed because that wood was too damp: 2
Areas cleared to make room to store yet another load of supposedly dry wood: 4
Pickup truck loads to move 2 full cords of loose wood: 8
Years I expect to pass before ever having to worry about wood again: at least 3
As you may guess, my effort to get a cord or two of dry wood to burn while waiting for the heat exchange to get fixed, and reduce my electric bill after that, turned into a three-week nightmare. I spent far more than anticipated, and I’m surrounded by stacks of damp wood (an effort to get a refund nearly cost me a working relationship I can’t afford to lose). However… damp wood does dry out, leaving me with either enough fuel for 3-4 years (even without the fallen trees that still need to be cleared), or the potential to get a great deal of that money back. One can always sell firewood here.
A couple of days ago, a technician showed up to address the heat exchange. It was healthy, but so clogged with dust and debris it couldn’t function. A quick tune-up, and it’s acting more vigorous than I remembered (I barely knew it back when it was installed). It keeps the house at a livable 65 degrees overnight, giving the stove a leg up during the day, so that everything is slowly warming to 65-70 degrees in the warm rooms, and 50-55 in the cool rooms. That provides a buffer against the inevitable cold floors and sneaky drafts… and Cricket says she can finally hibernate properly. Though I’m to wake her up if it snows again.
Normally I do a recap of the to-do list. I’m tossing the list out. Instead, have a list of what I accomplished, other than hanging on by teeth and toenails and trying not to freeze:
Drained, filled, and turned on the water heater. Washing dishes is so much more pleasant now. So is bathing.
Speaking of bathing: I scrubbed the downstairs bathroom to within an inch of its life, a two-day effort. It is now actually pleasant to be in. Patching a rat hole to stop the cold draft behind the toilet didn’t hurt either.
Re-tiled half of the kitchen floor (it looks great), repainted a third of the wall area (it also looks great), cleaned a lamp and several accessories, and finally moved the new stove into place. The Hoosier cabinet I bought in California and a cabinet which is destined to become my floating island quickly followed, creating some real food prep space. The refrigerator and microwave remain outside, and several small appliances get plugged into whichever outlet I can find at the time, but the stove is magnificent and I have places to store my cooking tools. I can bake bread again!
Pulled the old couch out of the living room (it’s waiting to head to the dump) and re-mounted the loose living room window, with assistance from Kathyrn Jane and EC.
Cleared 80% of the living room and swept the result. I also assessed and cleaned out the little old organ in the corner; I’m afraid it is very badly damaged, but may yet find a second lease on life. I laid down builder’s paper across the ruined floor under the organ, and the room is no longer toxic—I can enjoy sitting in front of the woodstove now.
With a friend, removed and beat the 10’x7’, very fragile, braided living room rug until it stopped producing puffs of dust when stepped on (thanks Niki!) It is now back in place.
Cleared half of the dining room, enough to move a table back in; it’s serving as my craft space until I can reclaim the office.
Made multiple dump runs.
Burned two large brush piles and a mound of moldy cardboard boxes.
Installed grip tape on the Annex steps, removing one more death trap.
Covered all of the windows (except my bedroom window) with quilted moving blankets, cut to size. It has made an enormous difference in retaining heat. Eventually I’ll make storm windows so that I’m not living quite so much in a cave…
Made good friends with the barn cat, whose name is now Arthur. After all, he was dropped unceremoniously in a strange place, with no idea how he got there, no idea what was happening or who could help, and all he did was cope as best he could and say plaintive things when the opportunity arose. Of course he’s Arthur Dent.
Dug a huge harvest of parsnips, and a handful of beets and rutabaga. The collards are doing well under a shelter to protect them from being crushed by snow, and the cabbages and broccoli are in a little frost-cloth tent until spring. The garlic is biding its time.
In the past two weeks I have found a four-inch crack in the Accord’s radiator, tried and failed to get the ABS fixed on the truck, made two dump runs, walked 7k steps in a single day just moving firewood around, serviced the water box, had a pipe burst in the Shippen, and installed a cutoff valve under the house (in 40 degree weather, with the porch dripping rain on me) that was supposed to have been installed two years ago. The tech for the heater gave me a solvent exposure by accident. And I haven’t gotten any of my Christmas decorations up, including the poor tree which is languishing at the entrance to the garage.
I’m not going to jinx myself this time by hoping things slow down a little in 2023.
Since it’s that season, I will mention that I still have a wish list if you feel inclined to send a gift… if you’re concerned it wouldn’t get here in time, remember that I’m so far behind right now it’s likely I’ll be celebrating Christmas halfway through January. I certainly don’t expect anything, but if you want to help make next year a little easier and more comfortable here, you may find something that calls to you there.
I will upload pictures to the album as usual, but I’ll be starting a new album with the new year; if you have notifications turned on for the original album, you may want to turn them on for the 2023 one as well.
I hope you all have a lovely holiday season and a peaceful end to 2022. We’ll cross our fingers for a good new year, and I’ll be back with the spring update at the end of March. Be well.