Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Guest Post: Mom's POV - Last Report For Now (pt 2)

 And the second half of my mother's final account. For now.

I kept a running log of miscellaneous things that occurred to me in those last few weeks…

…I acquired a visceral understanding of a saying that my family had when I was a teenager, living without electricity and only a hand pump to pull up creek water into the cabin, on land in Pennsylvania that my own family built on and cherished:  “while you’re resting, chop wood.”  I found myself taking a break from some strenuous project one day, and as I stood outside the trailer, I figured I could saw up some of the small logs piled there waiting to be cut to size for the outdoor fireplace.  I was pleased that I could be getting something done, even while I was “resting,” and then the old family saying hit me—oh! That is what my parents meant!

… Of course I listened to the language/dialect around me with an interested ear, and apparently we brought Caitlin up to do the same because she was always bringing back great expressions from her boyfriend Mike, who lives about three hours east of Burlington, even deeper into the hinterlands of NC (yes, that is possible). He would say things that fascinated me, like:  “Used to I went to Burlington for shopping”; “My dad always said that if you can throw a beer bottle and hit your neighbor, they’re too close; if I threw a beer bottle I might to hit them.”   Mike once took Caitlin to a birthday party for the one-year-old son of friends of his.  In fact, he said, he was actually related to both the mother and the father of the birthday boy, though they weren’t related to each other (by blood).  As I puzzled out how that could be, I asked Mike whether there were new or different words for all the intricate relationships people have to one another in his part of the world (aunt-in-law and grandmother in one, for example), and he said, “we just use the word ‘kin.’”  Gave me a whole new appreciation for that little word!

…As we worked to cut down trees for the electricity, for paths, and for the well-pump trench, I eventually got a feel for the different kinds of trees we had on the land through what it felt like to clip them with the pruning shears, how they behaved when we hauled the branches, or the kind of resistance they offered when I sawed their trunks.  A very different way of knowing.  Linguist that I am, it still bothers me that I don’t really even know all the names for the trees, but I do have a start in knowing the trees themselves.

…And what a luxury it was to be able to work with my body—not just in the sense of using it to do something, but in the sense of listening to it and doing the work that it could do when it could do it, rather than keeping to an externally-imposed schedule.  I learned to trust that, if I didn’t get it done today, I would tomorrow, and in the mean time, something else that I was able to do could get done today.  I didn’t have to move forward, whether my body, or soul, for that matter, wanted to or not, because I was on a time clock.  An incredible luxury that I am grateful for, and a glimpse into a very different sort of life, and sort of world.

…When I’m living with modern conveniences, like toasters, I have particular preferences—in Vancouver, I have been known to toss a piece of toast out to the birds if it got too toasted for my liking.  Before we had electricity at Stoneyhaw, toast was somewhat problematic—when the weather was nice and we were cooking over the fire outside, we grilled it, but once the weather got colder and wetter, and fires fewer, it took more ingenuity to make toast (yes, we could have bought a stove top toaster, but then I’m not sure this experience would have led to the same realization…).  Eventually I settled on making toast on a hot, dry, cast iron frying pan on the stove, and I noticed that, doing it that way, I ate it merely warm, toasted brown, crunchy dark, or seared black—it didn’t seem to matter.  As soon as I took the responsibility myself to create toast, without relinquishing it to a machine, I also took responsibility for eating it, and I enjoyed it however it came out!

…Life at Stoneyhaw evoked so many old memories, and made me realize how I always manage to find my way back to this kind of life:  the slick, cool feel of the log we sat on to “answer nature’s call” evoked that same feeling from living on our family land in Pennsylvania when I was a kid; the necessity of keeping the generator full of gas so that we could have electricity reminded me of having to fill the kerosene heater every other day or so in the winter time in Japan; luckily, the effort of getting water, and the preciousness of every drop, reawakened my superb water-thrifty dishwashing skills, learned in numerous camping trips as a kid, but honed during graduate school in Indiana when Eric and I lived without electricity or running water; the wondrous waking up with woods all around me from that same grad school life, and from my family’s land, and from so many camping trips—always my favorite way to begin the day.

And there you have it.  Yes, I miss being there dreadfully; I miss Caitlin and Zora and the lake and the chainsaw and my bed/couch and all the rest.  But something tells me I’ll get back there.  Wild horses and all that…  In the mean time, Caitlin soldiers on.

Thanks for listening!  You can keep up with developments since I left on Caitlin’s blog:  Oh, and if you really want to get a feel for what Caitlin is up to and why (and what I’d love to be up to myself better, and more than I can be just now), you can read Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.  It captures the essence—and more—beautifully.

Take care,


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Guest Post: Mom's POV - Last Report For Now (pt 1)

My mother writes such beautiful accounts of her experience out here. I love the fact that she gave me permission to post these once a long time ago in a moment of weakness..... also. In my defense - I do have Christmas movies on my hard drive. It's not my fault that National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation and White Christmas didn't satisfy my mother's sappy Christmas movie quota. (I'll have more sappy movies for you next year, mom!)

I did take a few pictures of the mangled chainsaw at the time, and have included one below.


I’m wrapping up this series of updates on my “adventure in Stoneyhaw” from my kitchen in Vancouver, looking out over a rare sunny day and realizing, with the fresh perspective that a somewhat prolonged absence confers, that the glorious mountain vistas I had reveled in as we drove back across country are laid out before me for home viewing here.  Eric and I left Stoneyhaw on December 19th, with me getting sick as a dog the moment I left the land (coincidence?  I think not), and shopped our way across North Carolina, Virginia, Indiana, and Illinois, laying in supplies against cold and snow in case we had car trouble (heated dipstick, a set of tools to replace the set we bought for the way out and left with Caitlin, the location of every Starbucks between NC and Vancouver…).  The landscape that had offered such multi-colored richness in September now rested in a subtle beauty of stark tree limbs, snow-dusted fields, and wide horizons opened up by long-shed leaves.  Nightly internet checks on the weather radar convinced us that the northern route was indeed the clearest way to go, and we threaded our dry way between snowstorms along much the same route we had followed on our way out, our breathtaking views of the snowy Rockies only briefly distracted by concern for icy patches on the roads.  We nipped through the Cascades ahead of a sleeting rain, and traded the bright whiteness of the entire route from North Carolina to Washington for the familiar, soggy winter lushness of the northwest.

We did have one adventure.  I love to watch Christmas movies on the run up to the season, but my choices from Caitlin’s hard disk were limited, and I did not have a chance to watch “Miracle on 34th Street” this year.  No problem—we lived at least a part of it instead.  Heading out of Illinois, the car began to miss, performing more and more poorly as we got into Missouri, finally limping along at 45 mph/70 kph.  We shuddered our way into a 24 hour diesel truck repair shop where Eric talked with the mechanics and decided the problem was the fuel filter, and figured out the part number for what we needed.  Back in our hotel room, we located an O’Reilly Auto parts store a few miles away and next morning called to ask if they had the part.  They did carry that brand, but didn’t have that particular one in stock.  Somewhat discouraged, Eric hung up and we kept looking for places to call.  Five minutes later, James from O’Reilly phoned back saying he had called around for us and located exactly what we need at a NAPA store in the same town.  I could hear the voice of the woman customer from “Miracle on 34th Street” thanking the store manager for their marketing “stunt” after the Macy’s Santa Claus sent her to their competitor’s because Macy’s was out of what she wanted:  “Imagine, a big outfit like Macy’s [read “O’Reilly’s”] puttin’ the spirit of Christmas ahead of the commercial… well, I’ll tell you, I never done much shoppin’ here but I’ll tell you one thing, from now on I’m gonna be a regular Macy’s [read “O’Reillys”!] customer!”  After we bought the part at NAPA and went to do the fixing in the O’Reilly’s parking lot, they continued to befriend us with the loan of tools (ones from their own shop as well as ones they just took off the shelves, let us use, and put back again!), their bathroom, and words of advice and encouragement.  We were back on the road by midday, and ultimately, in Vancouver on Christmas Eve evening.

The last week or so before Eric arrived and the week-long “flurry” of leaving began had the measured tread of encroaching winter: gardening was out of the question, between the wet and the cold, log cutting was severely hampered by how incredibly long it took Sears to get our chainsaw fixed and back to us.  But the greater visibility afforded by the fallen leaves was a good chance to spot and scoop up the bottles and cans that had been strewn along the lake edge by uninvited visitors over the years (I left Caitlin with a pile of stuff to recycle that she is still working through), and with a clearer view of our topography, and the knowledge that we wouldn’t have a chance to do this much longer, Caitlin and I did a fair amount of dreaming—her house site there, the grapevines over here, the chicken coop made like this.

But Eric did arrive, and we delighted in showing off our accomplishments, and getting his help with setting the well pump work in motion, finally chainsawing at least a few of the large logs we had downed earlier in the fall (did I tell you that I was the reason that the saw had been broken?  I manage to rip it up pretty badly, and even bucked the chain, without injury, thankfully.  But in the last week, I did get back on the horse, so to speak, and did some more sawing myself—just to keep my hand in!), and doing the round of good-byes to neighbors and relatives who had all been so great and who we had gotten quite close to over those months.  And then, Eric and I were off, and to all the people who asked me if Caitlin was going to “be home” for Christmas, I answered “yes,” picturing her in our trailer home at Stoneyhaw, with its funny tree with lights outside the door and the warmth of her cooking, and her dreams, inside.

That whole metal plate should be flat....
That curlicue guy should NOT be there....

Part 2 to be posted tomorrow....

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Whoa I forgot: Pim's Lamp

So..... in going through all my photos in an attempt to be organized, I came across a bunch of photos that I took MEANING to write up making stuff. A tutorial, if you will. So.

Da Da DUMMM!!! From the archives! The Pim's Lamp.

And some pictures didn't come out right. So sorry. (Somehow I don't think the Lone Reader cares. Hi Mom!!)

You will need:
  • old light bulb
  • pliers
  • area that tiny shards of glass can get all over
  • sand (or something abrasive)
  • plastic cap (mine came from a kombucha bottle, actually)
  • hot glue gun, funtak, or something uber sticky
  • metal bit (washers work)
  • super strong magnet (you know - the itty bitty ones)
  • lamp wick
  • lamp oil
  • metal cap that will fit over the end of the light bulb (liquor bottle caps often work well) 
  • ice pick, awl, power drill - something pokey 
So first things first. You need to get to the inside of the light bulb. If you look at the base of the bulb, it's got a little round metal piece in the middle surrounded by brown glass. If you hold on the light bulb firmly and essentially try to grab the little metal thingy with a pair of needle nose pliers, the glass holding it in will shatter (and go EVERYWHERE), and you'll be able to pull out said metal thingy and the filaments from inside the bulb. Make sure to get as much of the glass off the rim of the bulb. Then fill the bulb partially with sand (or in my case tapioca pearls as I didn't have any sand...), shake around and rinse out - all the white coating on the inside will come out nicely. Seriously. Take my word for it. 

This one got a bit bent, but since it'll be covered, it matters very little.
Light bulb, cleaned and out of focus.
Next - take your plastic cap to something that the bulb will sit nicely on, and flood it with hot glue, funtak, whathaveyou. Put your metal bit in the sticky substance. Your light bulb is going to sit on this (but not be adhered to it) so make sure that the metal bit doesn't come up over the top of the plastic cap.

Trivia of the day: Canadian quarters stick to magnets, American magnets do not.
Find your metal cap that at this point has most likely rolled of your table and onto the floor, under your chair, and is covered in dust bunnies. Not that I'm say your house is dirty, mind you.... You're gonna poke a whole in the top of this lid to pull the wick through. I used a power drill, hence the edge is slightly rough (I went back with a broken pen and curved that down and in). It's not entirely important for this to be perfectly smooth, but it looks nicer that way.

Punctured Pim's. (no Pim's was harmed in the making of this lamp)
Pull the wick through the hole. My wick was too wide - I cut it in half, lengthwise.

You starting to see it yet?
Put your magnet in your empty and clean light bulb. Fill halfway or so with lamp oil. Then and ONLY then put on the base. If you put your magnet in the empty bulb that's already sitting on the base you MIGHT shatter the bulb. Especially if your super strong magnet is super strong.

Almost there!
Put the metal cap on the assembled bulb. Sit back. Admire. Let the lamp oil soak up the wick. Light it. Cuss profusely. Blow it out. Trim the wick back to 1/2 inch (to reduce smokiness). Relight. Pat yourself on the back.

This takes forever to explain, no time at all to make.

It also can be done with bigger containers.


Saturday, January 22, 2011

Water. The Saga. Part 1: Cold. Running. (I don't ask for much!)

OK. You get home, you walk in the door, you wash your hands.

You wake up in the middle of the night. You go pee. You flush the toilet.

You eat dinner and remember (this time) to presoak the lasagna pan in hot water before it gets really stuck on there and never comes off again.

Sound familiar?

You lucky bastard.

As you may or may not know/remember - when we moved on to this property we had lakefront, a pond (or two, depending on your criteria), and an old well. Now I have electricity and running water. Kinda.

The well guys were awesome - they were the same guys that we had come out to measure the depth of the well when we failed to do so(or at least we thought we failed. We didn't think that my father would be off by 90ft). They came out, dug a trench, broke their trencher on tree roots, fixed it, installed the pump, tank, well cover & outdoor hydrant, hooked up the camper and got the whole system running in a day. Just the two of them. They even managed to get their trucks and trailer out of the driveway successfully.  (a feat, to be sure).

The Beast heading down the hill through the trees to clear the way to the well for the trencher.
Trench. Whoa.

The hookup.
I waited until they left to dance a jig and turn all the water on and off for no apparent reason.

This bliss lasted until the first hard freeze (a few days later).

Gratuitous 'everything's frozen' picture.
To be fair to Melvin (my dear tin can) - he's getting old and quirky and the winter this year has been worse than usual. I am also new to the trials and tribulations (and joys!) of camper living, and my learning curve in terms of winterizing while living in the thing full time has been slow and bloody.

It started with my noticing that the bath tub would have water coming up out of the drain in the morning. That was slightly baffling, but could always be remedied by the emptying of the tanks - even if they barely had anything in them. When I woke up in the morning and water didn't come out of the faucets, I knew I had to do something to remedy the situation.

Thankfully the water freezing and my figuring out that the back flowing tub was because the waste line was freezing happened within a day of each other, so I could fix both issues at the same time by installing a pipe warmer. (and do everything they say NOT to, just to keep the record straight).

The shortest length I could find was 6', and the one rule I wasn't going to break was the whole 'don't attempt to shorten the cord' one, so I just snaked it up the water intake, hopped it over the bumper, and ran it along the waste line. Insulate the whole thing, and you're done. As are your freezing problems.

This is NOT good.

There had been a pipe warmer of sorts put in here eons ago. Yes, I forgot about it. (It was corroded anyway...)

New pipe warmer snaking up the naked intake pipe. And, as specified in the installation instructions, NOT touching the ground.
Broke the rules and laid the pipe warmer along the waste pipe. Justification: we're not running blackwater (no gasses really to speak of) and the pipe is thicker than the specs say the warmer can handle anyway, so *hopefully* no fear of anything bad. (So far so good. Fingers crossed). The big orange thing is the thermostat which will kick it on and off automatically when needed. Unless the tape doesn't hold. Crap. I have to remember to check.
I even got the cord to go out the same hole as the electric cord used to plug the camper in. The Virgo in me is ecstatic.
Fiberglass insulation layer.
Plastic over the fiberglass insulating material, per installation instructions (for once).
Original foam and plastic insulation put on by the well guys put back on by me, blatantly ignoring the installation instructions' insistence that the fiberglass insulation NOT get compressed. Justification: if it freezes again, I'll freak - more is better! Besides, I wrapped the fiberglass loosely...
My beautiful insulation job on the waste line. Hehe.
Lest you think all of my problems are solved - I still have a water heater that's on the fritz, a mysterious puddle on the bathroom floor, and the (as of yet future) appearance of a hero to fix it all. (I have the hero. He just hasn't gotten out here yet) Hurray!!!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Firsts: Guests at Stoneyhaw!


Sorry. Had to get that out. It's been a rough week or so out here at Lake Cammack, and I was thrilled to get a visit from two dear friends from my beloved Point Arena. While I don't actively miss California often, I do, and always will, have a severe soft spot for Point Arena, CA.

First Guests!! Two people and a doggie. We had a picnic. It was cold, but fun :)

 These two have their own little plot of paradise they've been building a garden and a cabin/house on, and they know what I've managed to pull off here - to the untrained eye it's not much! They were also full of ooh's and ahh's delivered at exactly the right moment, and I'm so tickled they got to see the place now, before it really gets tamed. (ha!)

Even better was the unexpected bonus that their visit brought - the sense of pride and validation in the farm and my mucking about in the mud out there. It gets really rough when you just kind of keep plodding on alone without anyone to show off your accomplishments to, or to have someone to commiserate with you when things just aren't going right.
Did I remember to get them to sign the guest book? No. Oops.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Snail Mail Time

My grandmother and grandfather have walked out to the end of the driveway to check their mail at the same time every afternoon for as long as I can remember.

As a young child this was a great activity that either involved bracing oneself for the summer heat and mugginess, or bundling up to go out in the snow. Their driveway is a normal length one - but to my small and chunky child legs it seemed like a hike and always a glorious adventure. My grandmother would point out birds in the trees along the way (and seriously. We're talking 50ft here. Tops.) and it was always miraculous to me that she could pick them out by song. Or the flowers by name when they weren't blooming.... she would regale me with stories of the birds and the flowers....and she brought to life all the flower fairy books that I so adored as a small child.

As a young adult is was a reassuring daily occurrence - I always knew when to call their house and be able to catch them. Their schedule was a comfort in the turmoil and chaos that was the beginning of college and the extremely unsettling processes of both leaving home (again) and getting through the culture shock involved in returning to the US from Japan. The few times that I got to visit them while in college I reveled in their schedule and looked forward to checking on the birds, the flowers, the trees...all of the friends in nature that my grandparents had made over the years.

As an adult with a driveway and mailbox of my own, I find myself walking out to the end of the way every afternoon to check the mail. While I have not settled into a routine that one could set their watch by, I do find myself pulling my boots on and bundling up for the cold outside at around the same time everyday. I walk down the 'driveway' and check on the status of the mud. "Am I going to be able to get OUT of the driveway?" "Should I try to get out now or wait until all this mud freezes?" "hmmm....the lower meadow is looking like it's recovering well from where the Duke Energy tractor went through..." "the upper meadow needs the edges trimmed" "damn the ornamental pear we found amongst the brambles is really taking a beating" "shit. Almost fell down again" and then I'm at the end.

I check the mail, and turn around with my arms full of the mail (OK. Mostly crap). I see the driveway stretching out before me and curving off into the trees through the gate that now stands open 24/7 after being closed for decades. As I start trudging back through the mud towards my tin can, I can see the lake glinting through the trees off in the distance. I continue down it taking stock of all that needs to be done and visiting with the bird songs and animal tracks. I think of my grandmother and wish she were with me to tell me whose birdsong I keep hearing, and to hear her tell me stories and quirks about each one.

While at one time I thought of the walk to check the mail as just part of her schedule, as an adult I can see that it's much more than that. For me, it's part of my day that lets me think about the farm and what I need to do to get it to be a "farm" in anyone else's eyes but my own, and to dream about the future. To think about how big that ornamental pear might get now that we've unearthed it and rescued it from the brambles it was being swallowed by... To oscillate again between putting the herb garden in the winter garden plot and the lower meadow..... To try to decide once again whether to use the old shed wood for the chicken coop or for raised beds.... To try to decide where to put the deer blind outhouse.... To see the land that's still in the process of being cleared in its full green and growing potential.... To remember why I came to NC, and to be reminded that no matter how daunting the whole thing seems at times, I am right where I am supposed to be.

**Umm. No. As I reread this I see that it's kind of an ode to my grandmother. She's alive and kicking. Just FYI. And still walking down to the end of the driveway every afternoon.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Winter Continues

...and winter continues. It's amazing that it's hitting me so hard, but wow. I have lived in places with 'seasons' and some of those places had REAL winter (CT, MN, you know who you are....), but coastal California just managed to sap the notion of seasons right out of me. And then I got to North Carolina and good grief this winter we're getting slammed.

But productivity also continues....slow as it may be, and slower though it may seem....

Granddaddy's shed is coming down....almost finished now...

Most of the shed wood was too rotten to keep, and it got 'repurposed' as heat.

I got iced in.

What do I do when I'm iced in? Make pasta, evidently.

Zora also remains productive in her capacity as guard dog. She lets me know someone's here by exuberantly showing them in.