Sunday, December 26, 2010

Merry Holidays.

We've got a theme going on here. My newly adopted home state is having weather issues.

I came out to the eastern part of the state for Christmas. We had a lovely time - smaller kids definitely lend an air of magic to the holidays. The whole starry eyes full of wonder and whatnot. I was feeling pretty blue without my family here (especially since my mom just left to go back to Canada... *sniff*), and all of that totally went out the window when I spent the day surrounded by kids opening their wrapped piles of loot.

Zora helped with the Christmas explosion process by making sure the wrapping paper was properly shredded

And then I woke up this morning to 6 inches of snow and giant dog flakes coming down. By lunchtime there was a foot. As I wasn't planning on going anywhere anyway, I actually got to enjoy playing in the snow. Snowball fights, snow angels, traipsing down the road that's become silent with its lack of fields, and muffled with the snow....made my weekend.

This is what a cotton field looks like from across the street

No. Rural eastern North Carolina is not equipped with snowplows. Which is kind of awesome on a Sunday after Christmas

This was Zora's first foray into a land of snow. She LOVED it.

Traipsing off down the road.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Great Gobs of Winter Wonderland

Holy Buckets.

It seems like everytime I turn around someone is assuring me that "this isn't normal" in regards to the current weather conditions (whatever they may be) in my newly adopted home state of North Carolina. When we arrive in September there was a good 2-3 week span of temps in the mid-90's. We've had temps in the teens every morning for the past almost 2 weeks now.... it has snowed 3 times, and my drive into town this morning started with driving down my frozen driveway and then negotiating roads with a layer of slush and water and ice all slopped together. Not to diss my new neighbors and fellow NC citizens, but hello none of you can drive on this shit! (I'm not the best, but dude. Slow down.)

On the other hand, it sure is pretty and it sure is exciting. Everything on the farm is coated in a thin layer of ice, and if it would stop raining long enough, I'm sure it would be a sparkly pretty landscape. I suppose a white christmas is not totally out of the realm of possibility this year? I just hope the roads stay clear enough for the 3 hour drive to where I was planning on spending it.....

And I will leave you, lone reader, with this thought: cross your fingers this coming tuesday. Rumor has it the tin can might be getting running water!

Where does the glass end and the ice begin?

Poor cold....

Oddly christmasy.

The glorified puddle is SO trying to be a skating rink...

So shiny.

Our safety inspector. She isn't sure how she feels about all this white stuff invading her territory.

Here's hoping a thick icing is good for 50yr old blueberry bushes....

The plants are confused.

More plant-related confusion - since the cold snap, my cilantro has been thriving. I don't get it.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

All Powered Up

OK. While it seems that not a lot has happened in the past several weeks, I realize that it is so not the case. Electricity, more clearing, job searching, car title transferring, bulb planting - stuff has been happening.

My mother was recently traveling around the northeast - visiting my grandparents, my godmother, etc. She came back with a bunch of tools and bulbs gifted to us by friends and family. We decided that around the 'pond' (seriously - why do we call it a pond? It's a glorified giant puddle. But it does occupy prime real estate next to what will be the garden and chicken coop, so I suppose it deserves a promotion....) was the best place to plant said bulbs.... and so we spent a very tiring day getting them all in. I kept reminding myself of how gorgeous it will all look in the spring....assuming we didn't kill them all off with carting them around in the car and haphazardly putting them in holes dug in clay and not exactly properly prepared.....

Tools from my mom and my grandfather, bulbs from my godmother - it's a family affair

Zora is 'helping'. My hair is ridiculous. Welcome to the farm.

In a few months I will not find this little guy quite so cute.

The weather has been getting colder and the scenery outside continues to be dramatic and beautiful. I continue to be amazed and thankful that everything came together to allow me to live in such a place. Words can not always describe how much this place can keep me energized and motivated to continue to try to live my dream.

My mom has a real knack for capturing the beauty of the lake.

No words.

When this was found, it was whole. I like how it kind of looks like a nature puzzle...

I call him 'nesbitt'. As that's what kind of grape he is... why is he a he? Couldn't tell you.

I find myself spending a lot of time staring into the fire pretending to be warm these days.

Our drinking water. I have taken to brushing my teeth in the morning with whatever water I managed to leave in the kettle from the night before. Either that or I have to wait for the ice to melt...

Joint Post: Mom's POV with Pictures

My mother does it again. She just has a knack for illustrating the joys, trials, and travails of homesteading in a humourous, sometimes bittersweet, and altogether refreshing way. Thanks mom! (aka Lone Reader). I have added pictures and captions where I felt like it - the words are all my mom's.

Dear friends and family,

My long silence on the homesteading project was caused by a long time away from the land; in early November, my mother-in-law broke her hip while at a wedding in New Jersey, and I drove up to help her make the move from hospital to rehabilitation center there. (She has never lost her love of dancing, and I think a younger gentleman, entranced by the dance moves of an 81-year-old woman, got a little too energetic when swinging her around…). From there I had a long weekend with the best of old friends, Roxanne, in Philadelphia, and from there, a healthy chunk of time through (American) Thanksgiving with my family in upstate New York. Back down via Philly, a couple of days to breathe, and then several days with a new-found friend and colleague in Blacksburg, Virginia. Back to Stoneyhaw yesterday, where a couple of long walks plugged me back into the realization of being on my own land, grounded in what has already, in such a short time, begun to feel like another home.

While I was gone, Caitlin carried on valiantly through the biggest project—getting the electricity in. I missed the big tractor chewing its way through the roots and stumps and rocks and dirt to bury the cable; the long scrape from the road to the shed is already muted by the late fall of the oak leaves. The happy flip of a switch to light the trailer—or the shed—at any time of the day or night (not just when we’ve filled and revved up the generator) came at the end of a complicated series of events…

Though when last I wrote, the shed had been wired, neither the building nor the wiring had been inspected. First problem: the shed had to be anchored. The rather unpersonable inspector outlined what had to be done: long screw-like pikes with heads configured to accept bolts that would ratchet down metal strapping, secured under each corner, and the strapping brought from each pike up through the floor of the shed, out the side, around the lengthwise beam and back down to the bolts at the top of the pike. Call him when it was done. Groan… Soon a second pair of inspectors showed up—one, the head of the office who was also the electrical inspector and the other (along for the ride? we were never sure) another building inspector. We were somewhat reassured by their friendly smiles, and amused to hear the first words out of their mouths, an eager inquiry, “Does anyone hunt this land?” We said that our neighbor hunted it for deer, and they asked about turkey season in the spring—we said we’d find out. We were somewhat reassured by their insistence that if our neighbor already hunted here, they would not think of stepping on his toes; that seemed like part of a sort of hunters’ honor code that meant that we were not likely to be inundated by random hunters wandering onto the land (oh—the “posted” signs that say that the land is private and that no one should hunt on it, that have been here for years, in addition to some that I recently sprinkled around? I guess I just assume that they get ignored once no sign of life has been seen on a property for a year, or two, or 20, or 30…) Anyway, once that pleasantry was concluded, the electrician quickly passed the wiring (yay!), and we asked the building inspector about the anchoring. He reluctantly agreed that it had to be done, despite the fact, as he ruefully noted, that “90% of the sheds in this county don’t have anything at all,” and helpfully showed us a much easier way to go about doing it.

But even that meant getting a 3-foot pike with a 3-inch diameter screw-face down into the ground underneath the already-situated shed, through “dirt” that is called, absolutely appropriately, “sand rock” by the locals. Caitlin was off at her boyfriend’s house three hours away when I tackled the hole digging. At the advice of our neighbor, I went to Home Depot and rented a one-man gas augur, basically a gas motor on top of a really big drill, with handlebars out to each side to grip the thing. I was secretly a little pleased that with all my recent experience with motor-operated stuff (chain saw, generator, weed-wacker), the choke/throttle/pull cord thing was familiar enough that I could nod knowingly at the very helpful man showing me how to use it in the store. I brought it back to the land, tried it out on a bit of driveway, angled it under a corner of the shed and got to work. Those of you who heard me talk about this venture before I started it, may remember me saying that I wanted to do this before I was too old to chop the wood and dig the ditches. In this case, I was just a bit too late. But only a bit. An hour of wrestling at an awkward angle with the heavy augur, the force of the motor, and the rock-hardness of the ground, saw one hole fairly well done, and a second begun. A half-hour’s rest stopped the shaking in my hands and arms, but I could only finish the second hole during the half-hour after that. More rest, and I began the holes under the back of the shed, where I had to balance over a small ditch. In the end, I had lost control of the thing several times, twisting my left hand, pinning my right hand against the shed wall and bruising the back of all four knuckles, and on one occasion letting go entirely as it spun wildly on one of the back holes when I lost my precarious stance. At that point, I had to admit that I didn’t quite have the strength to complete the job safely, and, especially since I was alone on the property, I (graciously, if anyone had been there to notice) conceded to the job, packed up the augur with weary arms, and took it back to Home Depot.

But at least the job had been started. While I was away, my (sort of) nephew (actually, first cousin-in-law once removed), who is Caitlin’s age (around 30) came and helped finish the job (renting the augur once again). When her boyfriend visited, he helped get the pikes actually into the holes, and the straps affixed (actually NOT straightforward—though Lowe’s and Home Depot carried the bits and pieces of stuff required to do this job, no one actually could tell them how it was all supposed to go together; luckily, Mike and Caitlin both are extremely good at these things). By this time, though, we had soaked the holes so much in order to soften the dirt enough to dig through, that they needed to dry out so that the straps wouldn’t simply pull up the pikes when tightened! But finally it was in good enough shape for the building inspector to come out again. Apparently, Caitlin’s heart sank when she saw it was the first, rather unpleasant, inspector, but he promptly signed the permit while at the same time glancing at the anchors, muttering, “I was told to pass this.” I’m sure the possibility of turkey hunting had nothing to do with it…

It looks so small and innocent - and yet represents hours of labor and numerous bruises, cuss words, and tools.

The metal strapping is actually rather inflexible galvanized metal and a royal pain in the ass to get wound around those bolts. Or so I ascertained by watching Mike....

Yes. We did this under all 4 corners of the shed. In theory this is supposed to keep the shed from flying away should there be a freak Wizard of Oz-type windstorm.

Actually, by this time, the electric lines had been buried and been installed, and poor Caitlin had been tortured by having everything in place but not turned on because the inspection hadn’t been done. Once the inspection was over, well, she waited for the power company to turn the power on, and waited, until a call revealed that the inspection results hadn’t been sent in. And then that there was something wrong with the original application that had to be dealt with by another phone call. We were never sure whether that phone call was ever made, but we were in no mood to question it when Caitlin randomly flipped a switch in the shed the next day and discovered that she, indeed, had electricity! She plugged the trailer into its electric receptacle and, voila! Oops…nothing. This is the point in the story that illustrates why this whole homesteading project could even be conceived, and why it stands a wonderful chance of success. Caitlin simply checked the connections and traced the cord, discovering a spot where it looked like it might have split and been repaired before. She cut the problematic section out, re-spliced the cord, plugged it in and NOW voila! Electricity! As the notes in our little journal say, “dancing ensued.” (And I am very proud of Caitlin’s never-say-die attitude, initiative, skill and ingenuity.)

The culprit.

"what have I gotten myself into?" moment

'fixed'. No this does not make me nervous at all.

Throughout all of this, we continue to cut wood from the trees we've felled to dry for firewood next year (or whenever we have a fireplace or wood-burning stove), clear paths to our favorite places to walk, and explore seed catalogues and resources about growing things in this area. (In the end, our current, “winter” gardening has been confined to some experimental container growing of various vegetables while we clear more area for the actual garden to be planted in the spring.) In getting a new area ready for stacking wood, we cut down a long cedar to use as poles for underneath, and discovered, when we cut it to the right length, that the remaining top made an elegant, if slightly spare, Christmas tree. A trip to the store for lights and ornaments and we are quite festive! Nothing like the shimmer of holiday lights on a cold dark night. Caitlin has also spent a lot of time looking for a job now that the electricity is in place, and tracking down estimates and getting information for the next big step: a well pump and water system.

I had to buy a wool sweater while I was at my folks’ house; when I first packed to come here, I didn’t really think I’d be here through December. But now my vision of being here reaches to the end of this stint: Eric arrives on the 12th and will spend a few days here (working on the pump issue, we hope!), and then he and I will drive back to Vancouver for Christmas. I can feel that I am already distracted from the whole-hearted concentration on log piles and shed anchors that I once enjoyed, and have started the transition to finalizing a syllabus for next term’s course and planning Christmas shopping. I don’t know if my joy in being here derives from the place and the activities or from this ability to focus so single-heartedly, but I suspect from both. It has been—and continues to be; I haven’t left yet!—a privilege to be able to do this, and something I am very grateful for.

Happy Holidays!

I imagine you’ll hear a little more before I go, or soon after I return, but in the mean time, I hope your winter (or summer, Nenagh and Harold!) is kind to you and that your holidays are bright and happy.


Lone Reader

And in the time between me writing this and getting into town to send it--we're having our first snowfall! It's so beautiful!