Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Happy New Year!

Actually, as I get older, the new year seems a bit anti-climatic.  It marks a turning of the calendar, but for my heart the year turned a couple of weeks ago at the winter solstice.

I learned some things about myself in the camper van.  Among the things I learned was that it isn't the cold that troubles me this time of year as much as it is the darkness.  I was trying to run away from it all that winter, but it all followed me.  (It all has a way of doing that, I've noticed.)

I tried - went as far south as I could go and still remain in the U.S.  It was warm enough, but when the sun went down at five and I had several dark hours before bedtime, some of the evenings were cold despite the temperature.

Since then, I've tried to be more aware of the light.  It's light in the morning when I drive into work and I stop for a moment before getting out of the car to appreciate it.  Some mornings it's easier than others - we had a long stretch of cold gray days to start this winter; cloud cover heavy enough that the sun was barely visible as a brighter spot in the sky.

I've always loved the cool-washed tones of a winter sunset.  But it's already dark most days by the time I leave work.

So I take heart in the turning of the days.  The year is turned; the light will not continue to disappear.  It will not leave us alone in the cold dark.  Tomorrow the light will last a bit longer.  It returns.

I'm trying to hold this thought close to my heart as I contemplate the trials the next few months will bring as I do what I can to help my daughter through this bout with cancer.  (She's waiting on some test results to decide on a treatment plan; we should know more in a week or so.  The good news in the bad news is still that she found it early and it's treatable.)  I need to remember the cycle of life; that this, too, shall pass.  Trials come and trials go, but God always Is, and the beauty is always there if I but remember to look for it.  

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Cancer and God Moments

This year, my daughter decided to get a live Christmas tree.  It wasn't until she got to the front of the line at the store that she realized she'd kill the tree if she kept it inside for the three weeks until Christmas.  But, it was a long line, and she liked her little tree, so she brought it home anyhow.  She and Alexandra decorated it, and then put it out on the small front porch of their apartment.  We talked about the risks - someone might come by and take it, but decided if that happened, it was OK - only someone who REALLY needs one would steal a Christmas tree.

 A couple of weeks ago, Kate had found a suspicious lump in her breast.  She made an appointment and went in to see her OB/Gyn.  She agreed it didn't look good, and sent Kate to get a sonogram / mammogram.  Still didn't look good, so they scheduled a biopsy.

Kate called me as she was walking home that day.  Her biopsy had been a little more involved than mine, and it hurt.  She was scared.  As we talked about the experience, she arrived home.  As she went up to the door, she looked at her little tree; her sign of hope.  No, it wasn't gone.

Someone had added an organic, fair-trade, sea salt and almond dark chocolate to the decorations.

Yesterday, she got the results of the biopsy.  It is cancer.  But if it must be cancer, at least it's a caught-early, very treatable kind.  (DCIS - ductal carcinoma in situ)  It's not time to despair.  There is much hope.  Still.  It sucks.

So, now she starts on the road I took three years ago; the road I would take again, for her, if I could; to keep her from having to travel it. Tests, surgeons, oncologists, more tests.  Lots of waiting and fear.

This morning, she got up, and looked at her little tree.  The angel (presumably the same one) had struck again, adding more treats.

Hope.  Kindness.  Stronger than darkness.  Stronger than fear.

Love Is.
God Is.

Thursday, December 11, 2014


It's been a little over two weeks, and my knees are just now beginning to speak kindly to me again. They didn't like the before-Thanksgiving push to get the tile floors down in the bathroom and the kitchen.

I had motivation.  I was having a three year-old guest in, and didn't want her to have to trek down two floors to our beautiful rustic subterranean stonewalled bathing facility should she have to go pee in the middle of the night.  (It's a daunting enough trip at my age!)

Someone (not to mention point any fingers) just had to have one of those modern twists on the traditional 20's bathroom floor - the old-style tile, but with a border around the edge.  It looked really great in the tile shop showroom. So what if I had to dry-fit the entire floor before I could begin?   (I'll admit - it's a good thing I didn't have to pay the tile guy by the hour.  It would've blown what little remains of the budget out of the water.)  It's one of those projects that even as I was cussing me out while doing all the tile cuts I knew I'd love it once it was finished.  And I do.

My brother kindly came by to set the toilet and sink the day before she got here.  I'm not sure she appreciated the extra effort, but I do - that I no longer need to trek to the basement in the middle of the night myself is one of those beautiful side-benefits that we occasionally get in life.

And, because I thought I could fit it in, I also got the kitchen floor laid, not without a bit of drama.  You see, the black tile came in boxes of 21; the white in boxes of 15.  The Tile Shop computers thought both colors came in boxes of 21, so when we got about 80% done with the floor the Saturday before Thanksgiving we ran out of white tiles.  (I'd had the tile delivered; that'll teach me to actually unwrap a skid to check its contents on delivery.) So, we spent four hours on Sunday running around to the different locations in town picking up what they had in stock so I could finish the floor that afternoon, so the grouting could happen on Monday and be partially cured for company on Thursday.

With all that running around, I was pretty tired by the time I got around to grouting the tile after work on Monday.  So, when one of the tiles in the middle of the floor popped up, instead of doing the sensible thing and mixing up a bit of mastic to re-lay it, I just got out my trusty caulk gun and used it to glue the baby down.  Subsequent research on the web tells me that may not have been the smartest thing I've ever done - caulk doesn't hold up under traffic load.  But, what's done is done and the tile is firmly attached for now.  I've decided to think of it as a science experiment - how long will a tile stay attached to the floor if you use caulk to glue it down?  We shall see!

Monday, December 1, 2014


Joe and I went for a slow amble around the park this last Saturday, just before the weather turned cold again.  I was recovering from a bout with a stomach virus, and since it was a beautiful day, decided a walk just might help my joints recover a bit.  (It did.)

As we were walking, Joe bent over to pick up a small piece of red paper lying near the sidewalk.  He unfolded it, and we read:

I just want to get along with my brother.  I don't want to stop loving him.  I truly love him but sometimes when we fight I am feeling I am loving him less.  God / Jesus I just want to have a normal childhood life with him.                                Sincerely, Alyson

I am sharing the note with you all so you can add your prayers to mine.

From the handwriting, I'm guessing Alyson is just entering her teens.  Lots of growing; lots of change, inside and out.  I'm sending a prayer her way - that she and her brother find a way to common ground so she can get back to her normal childhood life.

There are times I have had trouble loving my family.  I'm sure there have been times my family has found it hard to love me.  And I know I shared her yearning for a normal childhood life. (whatever that may look like...)

Alyson, May the newborn God's Peace find its way to your home this Christmas season.

Here's to family, with all its warmth and warts and wrinkles....

Sunday, November 9, 2014

It's November???

Loose Park, Kansas City
It's November already?

OK.  Who took October, and where did they put it?

Calm down, Janice.  You know perfectly well where October went.  You spent it working at work and working on the house and the days whizzed by while you were thinking you really ought to stop and enjoy the good weather while it was still here.  And then the good weather was gone.  Almost.

Today was gorgeous.  I stopped myself from working long enough to take a walk around the park.  Most of the trees are bare, but there were a few, like the one pictured, still showing glorious color.

I spent most of the weekend putting down the tile subfloor in the addition.  Many years ago, when we did the kitchen floor, we just plunked down the rockboard on top of the plywood and called it good. This time, when I looked the process up on the internet, most people recommended using thinset mortar under the rockboard.

I really didn't want to spend the time and deal with the mess, so I looked at several more websites. The consensus was still to glue the stuff down.  Really?  So I called the tile store.  Sure enough the National Association of Tile Manufacturers HIGHLY recommends gluing the stuff down.

So, I grudgingly glued it down.  And then put in the gazillion screws they want in addition to the glue.  Those stupid boards better not shift and crack my tile - that's all I have to say.  I was most grateful for the good cordless drill I had to help me with the screws.  I can't imagine putting them all in by hand.  My knees are sore enough as it is.  (I don't think I'm meant to kneel on the floor for over an hour any more.  Not that I ever thought I was.)

The goal is to have an operational toilet and sink upstairs by Thanksgiving, when we are having visitors.  Not that I'm getting sick of my rustic stone-walled subterranean bathing facility or anything.

One step at a time...

Sunday, November 2, 2014

The Universe Within

Galactic nebula, credit:  NASA
For years I've been intrigued by the images from a website put together by researchers in Florida.  The purported purpose of the website is to illustrate the power of powers of 10.  It shows a series of images scaling in from a picture of the universe, to the earth, to a tree in Florida and into the cellular structure of the tree.

Very factual descriptions of the pictures.  Dry even.

As at teen, I read Madeleine L'Engle's, A Wind in the Door.  It was my first introduction to the world of mitochondria.  She wrote of a struggle between good and evil; the battle scene set within the body of a young boy.

I go back to the site every now and then, intrigued by the scale of the universe.  The stars outside are mirrored by the stars within.  And though I can't quite make the connection, I wonder if L'Engle was on to something.

I look at the pictures, but I can't grasp the scale of the stars without.
I look at the pictures, but I can't grasp the scale of the stars within.

And I wonder.

Could it be that it's all linked on some cosmic scale?  When I take care of myself, do I bring good not only to the part of me I'm aware of, but to some distant star within?  Is that that star within linked to the stars without?  When we do violence to one another here on earth, do the stars cry in reflected pain?  When we reach out to help another, do the stars rejoice?

Does the strength within that I draw on when my own strength fails come from the stars?
It's an intriguing thought.

If you'd like to see the images, they can be found at:

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Kids These Days

On Monday afternoons, from 4 to 4:30, my job assignment is to stand in the back lot of the school and watch the children as they wait for their rides.  It's easy duty, especially on nice fall afternoons.

This past week, as I was standing there, I noticed one of the girls crying off to the side.  Her friends were with her, so I didn't try to intervene, but stood nearby in case they needed help.

She didn't want to tell them what was wrong.  I could see them asking, but she just shook her head, no, as the tears continued to fall.

After a few minutes one of the boys quit talking and reached over and gently removed her earbuds and set them aside.  He took her electronics, her books, and added them to a careful pile.

He leaned in, took her hands, and as he pulled her to her feet, began to sing, "Do you want to build a snowman? Come on, let's go and play!"  (from the movie Frozen)

He pulled her into a giant hug.  "I never see you any more, come on out the door, it's like you've gone away!"

She began to smile through her tears.  "We used to be best buddies, and now we're not.  I wish you would tell me why."

Her tears dried up.  "Do you want to build a snowman?  It doesn't have to be a snowman..."

She smiled a real smile.

Her friends left, the tears didn't return.  She was even still smiling a little.

Good friends.
They made my week.

Sunday, October 19, 2014


Kanopolis, KS
I love the way the word Kanopolis rolls off the tongue.

It was my last night on the road this summer.  I'd picked the park because it was a state park, more or less on my way home, halfway through Kansas.

The park is geared to horseback riding.  There are not only trails throughout the park, but corrals for the horses in the campground area.  (all for only $29 / night)

I pulled in around four, and Scrap, a big, beautiful bear of a dog from the campsite next door, came over to say hullo.  (His owners call him Scrap because someone dropped him off like he was worthless scrap - they think otherwise.)  Ted, his owner, came over to call him off, and we got to talking.  His wife, Amy, came out to join us, and we talked some more.  They offered me a drink, then dinner.  It was cold, the temps on their way down to near freezing, but the fire and the company kept me warm.

The only time I went back to my camper during the evening to plug it in and make us a salad for my contribution to dinner.  (a rare occurrence)

I fell in love with them.  She was warm and friendly.  He would have fit in perfectly back around the turn of the century, last century.  The self-reliant type, able to fix anything, short on words, long on heart.  They are the kind of people that, once on your side, you know have your back.  More at home on the back of a horse than in a truck.  I could picture them at home, her working as a Postmaster in town, him running the farm.  Not always an easy life, but together they get through the troubles.

It's good to know there are still people like that in this world.  The next morning as I began to drive away, they came out of their camper.  I waved and started to take off, then stopped and jumped out of the truck for a hug goodbye.

Some friends we have for just a moment...

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Sheetrock Came!

yes, that's Monster, back in his Box with Water!
I called them three weeks ago, right after I'd finished the last of the prep work.  I didn't dare call before I was actually ready because if they just happened to be free and they showed up before I had my ducks lined up, I'm thinking that Melvern Figge would not have been happy.  And it's unwise to get on the bad side of your contractor before the job even starts.

So, I've been waiting.  Almost patiently even.  It's helped that I have plenty to do outside to finish the painting before winter sets in.  And work's been super busy since I came back.

Figge (it's pronounced figgy.  like the pudding.  I haven't even thought about asking him what dish he brings to holiday gatherings.  I'm sure he's heard it before.  But it makes me smile to think about it...)

where was I?

Oh, yes.  Figge called on Monday, letting me know they'd be dropping off the sheetrock late this week.  He called Thursday to let me know it would be delivered Friday afternoon.  He called Friday afternoon to let me know they'd be there on Saturday to hang the rock unless I had some objections.

Objections to progress?  Not I!

They showed up bright and early on Saturday morning, a crew of six hangers and Figge to supervise.  They worked until about four - and got it all installed.  Kitchen, laundry room, bathroom and garage.  I was impressed.

Even though I know it's done, it's startling me a bit each time I turn on the kitchen light, and it has walls.  and, it's catching me by surprise each time I climb the stairs - did you know someone put a room at the top of the stair?


Sunday, October 5, 2014

The Rabbit

Lathrop State Park, CO
I try to add a bit of beauty to the world when I can, and often pick up trash as I walk as an easy way to feel I've helped nature out just a bit.  As I was walking along the banks of the river near the place I was staying near Glacier Park in Montana, I picked up a cigarette lighter and some bug spray.  I picked up a stray piece of paper or two, and an old abandoned stuffed rabbit.

When I got back to the house, I added the bug spray to their collection on the porch (they have some killer mosquitoes up that-a-way), and went to throw out the rest.  I easily threw out the lighter, but stopped when I got to the rabbit.

I couldn't just throw it in the trash, it had been loved.  It had just one ear, and someone had picked off much of the fur on the lower half of its body.  It hadn't been outside long; there was no rain or animal damage to the poor bedraggled thing.  Unable to convince me to callously pitch it, I somewhat sheepishly tucked into one of the cabinets in the camper.  I didn't know what I was going to do with it - I certainly didn't want to add a battered stuffed animal to my life - so I carried it with me for much of the trip.  I opened its cabinet a lot; several times I went to throw it away, and just couldn't.  Finally, I decided I would burn it at the next quiet campsite I stayed at.  I've always loved the story of the Velveteen Rabbit - I thought I could send the spirit of this little guy to join his.

When I got to Lathrop State Park in Walsenburg, CO, I found the perfect site.  Quiet; no one to think I was nuts as I cremated some poor defenseless stuffed animal.  Plenty of small sticks to create a funeral pyre.  Still feeling a little foolish, I lit the fire, put the rabbit on top, and watched it burn to ashes.

Feeling sad, I decided to talk a walk about the park.  As I came around the corner of the restroom building, I saw a rabbit.  The only one I saw on the the entire trip.  He stopped, looked back at me, stretched just a bit, then leisurely made his way into the bushes.

Maybe, just maybe, the little fellow I found became Real.  I like to think so.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Mesa Verde National Park

Mesa Verde, CO
They built their homes of stone and mortar into the sides of the cliffs.  The building was an exercise in patience - they had no metal tools, and used stronger stones to shape the weaker ones.  They did their work some 800 years ago - then left the area because it was time to go, so say the modern Pueblo people.

When they left, they left their spirits behind.  Even in the midst of the crowd of tourists, I swear I could feel their presence.  Some of the protected areas of the dwellings still show the marks of soot on the ceiling.  I can envision someone coming home to the welcome warmth of the fire after hunting in the cold, someone baking the daily corn tortillas to feed their family.

wall painting, Mesa Verde, CO

In one tower, you can see a picture left behind on a plaster wall.  It's simple, red on white.  To see it now, you must lean in and look up.  Then, there was a floor right there - it's just at the right height for wall art if one is sitting on the floor.  (The picture here rotated itself 90 degrees; it's feeling contrary this morning...)

Mesa Verde, CO
They were an agile people.  The dwellings are well-sheltered, but built halfway up (or down) the side of the cliff.  We tourists used sturdy ladders to get down to the site and then back up to the parking lot.  Next to the ladders, we could see the hand and foot holds they cut into the rock to get to the top to tend their crops (they farmed the mesa tops), and down to the base.  I'm sure they had a way to get the injured and less-able up and down, but the journey would not have been for the faint of heart.

Though the weight of time between the days the buildings were new and now was palpable, I wanted to meet them, the long-departed engineers and artists.  I admire their tenacity, their spirit, their love of beauty.

They stayed here just three generations.  It is said they left because there was a long period when the crops failed, and they moved on in search of a place where the corn would always grow.  (Obviously, they never got to Iowa!)  They abandoned their buildings and moved south and west to join the other Pueblo peoples.

I wonder who was the last to leave the village.  Did they linger and cast a longing look behind, or did they resolutely move forward, looking only to their new home?  I can only imagine.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Arches National Park

Arches National Park, Utah
Once I left Portland, I made my way south to Arches National Park near Moab, Utah.

It's a place of wondrous beauty - people come to see it from all over the world.  I heard some Asian languages (I don't know enough about them to tell which is which), French, German, Spanish.  And it's not like this is an easy place to get to.  It's several hours from anywhere; I'm sure for many of those I saw, it was the trip of a lifetime.

There's a single road winding through the park - I must admit I'm glad I wasn't there during peak tourist season.  As it was, many of the parking areas were close to full, and they don't allow you to park outside those lots.  (for good reason; the desert environment is fragile.  Several million feet going everywhere would quickly destroy the beauty.)  Which means, as the road turns into a twenty mile long parking lot during the busy times, you can't stop and admire and take pictures at every pullout.  I'm not much into crowds in remote places.  It's probably a good thing I went as late in the fall as I did.

I read all the literature about how science tells us the arches came to be.  They said the sandstone washed down as gravel over an ancient sea bed and compressed into rock over millenia.  The wind and rains came, the salt eroded away and left the sandstone behind in the form of arches.

I have an explanation I like better.  I think God is into beauty (sure made a lot of it in this world), was experimenting one day, and things worked together just right.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014


Rose Garden, Portland, OR
How do I spell love?

I've felt it in so many ways on this trip.

Before I left, a friend gave me a care package for the road.  Chocolates and a t-shirt and a book to meditate with and a journal and a bubble wand.  (I haven't had a bubble wand in YEARS!).  I was touched beyond words.

I felt it from my family in Minnesota, who changed their plans around to accommodate my schedule.  As they always do when I show up, they opened their homes and their hearts.

I felt it from the couple who loaned me their ladder and glass cleaner and helped me clean the remains of the North Dakota bugs off my van.  (This was no small matter - I've never seen bugs spatter like those bugs did; they not only got the windshield, they managed to dirty the front foot of the side windows.)

One night, at a KOA in eastern Washington, I pulled in just for a place to stay.  I exchanged a few words with the gentleman across the way; turned down the offered drink; I was tired.  The next morning, as I was getting ready to leave, there was a knock on the door.  Would I like a piece of fresh banana bread for the road?

I felt it from Tim, quietly mapping out options for my first night after I was to leave them in Portland; he noted down a couple of options he was sure I'd like.  (and I did...)  I felt it from Jane, emptying her fridge to make sure mine was stocked as I left them.

From the couple in central Kansas.  Again, it was the end of a long day's drive; they were in the campsite next to mine.  They gave me a drink and invited me, a stranger, to dinner.

And from my son, when I got home, cheerfully making trip after trip to help me unload the world's largest travelling suitcase.  And from the friend, sure I wouldn't want to head back out to the store after I'd finally made it home, who brought over some milk and produce to tide me over for a few days.  And from the friend who always takes a minute to send a kind word about almost every blog post.

Love Is.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Ocean

Cannon Beach, OR
It seemed a shame to go all the way across the country to Portland and not go the last two hours to the coast.  The weather inland was unseasonably warm, so I had very little trouble convincing my friends to play hooky from their Saturday chores and drive me to the shore instead.

I had a wonderful time.  Since I wasn't driving, I was able to look around at the beautiful scenery to my heart's content.  The sky was a perfectly clear blue until we got within a mile of the shore.  Marine layer, they told me.  I'd heard of the phenomenon, but had never experienced it.  The temperature within the embrace of the fog was at least fifteen degrees colder than it had been a mile inland.  amazing.  Fortunately for me, they had warned me of the possibility and I had brought along my jacket.

The cool damp fog dampened my enjoyment of the beach not one whit.  We spent some time walking along the shore, stopped to eat the lunch they'd so thoughtfully packed us, then headed up the coast a ways to see if the layer would lift.

Astoria, OR
We stopped twice more.  Once at St. Steven's park to see the remains of a shipwreck (notable in that all made it to shore alive), and again in Astoria, at the mouth of the Columbia river.  Jane and I talked pretty much non-stop the entire way - it had been several years since I had last seen her, and we had a lot to catch up on.

We made it back to Portland in time for dinner; they treated me to dinner at one of Tim's favorite sushi restaurants.

Let's see.  They gave up a Saturday, drove, packed lunch, knew the best places to stop, and also provided dinner.  I provided my charming company.  hmmm...  Feeling mighty loved, I am.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Books and Roses

Travelling to remote places is wonderful fun, but I must acknowledge it doesn't necessarily make for good internet access.  I've had the best time the last two weeks, and I've been writing blog entries in my head as I drove; now it's time to put some of my thoughts on paper before they just flit away.

My Portland friends invited me to stay around for a few days, and I was thrilled to take them up on the offer.  While they were working, I made some grand plans to visit the rose garden there, and also bury myself for a while at Powell's bookstore.

Turns out to do both in one day was a tad bit ambitious on my part.

Portland Int'l Rose Garden
Despite the mid-day traffic clogs (why aren't those people at work where they belong?), I had no trouble getting to the Portland International Rose Test Garden.  It's a beautiful oasis of flowers in the midst of the city.  I got out of the van intending to stay for 30 minutes; just time to take a few pictures.  Almost two hours and I'm not admitting how many photos later, it was too late to get to the bookstore without getting caught in rush hour traffic and missing dinner.  I didn't really mind - the flowers were beautiful.  I took pictures, I sat, I people-watched - I had a lovely time losing track of time.

Portland, OR
So, the bookstore fell to the next day.  I slept in, had a leisurely breakfast, and headed for downtown Portland and the best bookstore I've ever wandered into.  Powell's New and Used books has one of each.  They have the new books shelved with the used.  On the end caps, they have lots of staff recommendations; and if you want to sit down to read a bit - or all - of a book, they have a handy-dandy coffee shop.  (they do ask you to limit your selection within the coffee shop to five books, and if you spill a bit as you're reading, that you purchase the item.  fair enough.)

After spending an hour or two wandering the bookstore, I headed down the street to Kenny & Zuke's, home of a to-die-for Reuben sandwich.  Once I'd finished stuffing my face, I went back to my friend's house for a quiet afternoon with a good book by a new (to me) author.

Finally getting the hang of this stop, breathe, relax thing!

Thursday, September 4, 2014


Mt. Hood, Oregon
Another day, another drive.

Today, I was tired.  Instead of staying where I was, which was driving along the Columbia River Gorge along the scenic Route 14 through Washington, my mind kept falling back to all I left behind - the projects at home and school.  My GPS didn't like the drive either; it had problems with my route.  It didn't think I could get to Portland along that road; it kept flashing 'replanning' for the better part of two hours. It's a little eerie when your electronics are thinking along the same lines you are...

It was a beautiful drive.  Eastern Washington state is like the other high prairies I've seen.  Golden brown in the sunlight; few trees, great views.  The river ran along my left side; I could often see the traffic on the freeway across the water, going faster than I was, avoiding the climbs and dips of the road I traveled.  Fast wasn't the object of my drive, however, so I stayed where I was.

The switch from prairie to forest along the gorge is sudden.  No trees, no trees, no trees.  A few trees (where did they come from?), more trees, all trees.  And the trees here are beautiful.  Obviously not subjected to the killing ice storms of Kansas City, they grow gracefully tall and stately, providing shelter, protection from the winds, and shade.

The bonus at the end of the day was an evening spent reminiscing with my college roommate and her family.  She and I have one of those friendships that picks up as though distance never got in the middle whenever we get together.  We skip freely from recollections of events thirty years ago to those of last week and random points between.  A few years ago, she and her husband and youngest son stopped by in Kansas City.  Tim and Aaron went off sight-seeing, leaving us alone to catch up on each other's lives.  Aaron was a bit amazed - "whatever will they talk about for three whole hours?"  He needn't have worried.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Driving Through Beauty

Glacier National Park
I drove today through beautiful mountain passes.

The clouds and sun played with light and shadow, highlighting hillsides and shading the passes ahead.

I felt a wrench in my chest as I left the road behind.  As always, I wanted to capture the moment; stay in the beauty.  I didn't want to leave.  But life has taught me there is no way to stay in any moment.  Good or bad.

So, I reluctantly kept driving, knowing I may never pass this way again.  I will try to hold the pictures in my mind, but know I won't be able to.  **sigh**

As I drove, I was listening to retreat tapes made by Fr. Richard Rohr in the mid-80's, loaned to me for the drive by one of the Sisters, who works at Cristo Rey.  The message wasn't dated - spirituality hasn't changed much in just thirty years.  He spoke of faith and caring for God's creation and loving ourselves before we can love others; the messages resonated with the scenery.  The combination made for a contemplative drive.

I could use more such days in my life.

Stop.  (I didn't do enough of that.  again!)  Breathe.  Relax.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Go! (Again!)

This stoppin', breathin' and relaxin' stuff takes some practice.

I've not been very good at it since I left home, but I'm willing to work at it so I can get better.

I left home a week ago Friday, and headed up to Minnesota to see family.  From there, I headed off to see more beautiful places I haven't seen yet.

Buffalo River State Park, MN
The first night out of Minneapolis, I drove to Buffalo River State Park, near the North Dakota border.  The park bore out my prejudices towards state parks - they put them where they do because there's something pretty there.  In this case, it is a bit of untouched prairie.  Beautiful.

Painted Canyon, ND
From there, I drove across North Dakota to Teddy Roosevelt National Park - the North Dakota part of the badlands.  I loved my hike down into one of the canyons.  The short loop and the visitor's center at the top of the hill were busy, but as I walked away and down the hill, the sounds of trucks and people faded away, replaced by the chirps of birds and grasshoppers.  The view of asphalt and cars was replaced by the wonders revealed along a rugged trail winding down into the path ancient waters cut into the layered rock.  The smell of car exhaust was replaced by sun-heated grass.  For the first time in ages, I stopped to just breathe.

I left North Dakota, and spent four hours along Route 200S across Montana looking at some of the most beautiful nothing I've ever seen.  Every turn along the road brought a new version of beauty.  This turn showed badlands-like hills and vales.  Around here, a desert landscape.  The next revealed a lush and green valley, cows contentedly munching.  And so it went.  I found myself eagerly driving to the next hill, to see what I would see.

Virginia Falls, MT
And now, I'm happily ensconced in a friend's dining room after the morning's hike in Glacier Park.  Four of us went up into the park for a four mile hike near St. Mary's lake to see the water coming down the mountain.  It was cool up near the road, but once we got down onto the trail, the weather was perfect - comfortable walking in a long-sleeved t-shirt.  We had almost completed our hike when the overcast skies decided to dump part of their load.  I must admit I was very grateful for my '10 hiking essentials checklist' at that point, and was almost smug as I pulled my waterproof jacket out of my daypack and hiked up the hill back to the car in relative comfort.

I know I can get good at this stop, breathe and relax thing if I only try.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Cat: 1

The (mis-named) Monster (because he's really a gentle and good kitty), is not the world's most intelligent cat.  He's a biggish creature, and not overly graceful.  He's been known to fall off chairs and run into walls.  He has a wimpy meow and a wonderful purr.  (He purrs me to sleep some nights.  I really like that part.)

Monster is a cat of simple pleasures.  He takes special pleasure in boxes.  Shortly after you set a box on the floor, he will find it and climb in.  Then he just sits and looks at us with a very satisfied look on his face.  Box!

Well, Monster has decided the sink is a Box.  Even better, it's a Box with Water!  (He loved our drippy bathtub before we tore it out.)  If he is in the sink, he is NOT on the counter, he is in a Box.  and he is allowed to sit in Boxes.  And, he doesn't even really barely even have to pause on the counter to get to this newfound mini-heaven.  Surely, it's OK to sit in this wonderful Box with Water!

I've tried chasing him out, even turning on the water so he gets wet.  (whereupon he just jumps to the other sink).  If I physically lift him from the sink, he will stay down, but gives me a reproachful look.  (It's a Box.  It is.  It IS!  He is SO certain he is right.)

I'm afraid I'm losing this battle.  What does it really hurt if the cat sits in the empty sink?  (I mean, Box?) 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Ready, Set...

It's been a busy and hectic summer.

While the rest of the school was on break, I was in charge of making sure our servers got moved to a new home, our file shares were converted to SharePoint, that computers got cleaned and software updates loaded, and that iPads were ready to go for the incoming freshmen.

The server move, which I thought would take a week or so, turned into one of my two-hour projects.  In other words, it took WAY more time than I thought it would, both on my part and on the part of the new server company.

The good news part is that when school started this week, it was all ready to go.  mostly.  kinda-sorta.  Close enough, at any rate.

There isn't really a bad news part, except that I got very little time off over the summer, and so am starting the school year exhausted.

This is where I get grateful for that clause I insisted on when negotiating my contract where I get a month off each year.  I'm ready.

And, I'm leaving at the end of next week.  Back to the camper van, I go!  The school president is currently questioning her judgement in letting me finagle the contract clause.  She's worried about how the tech questions are going to get handled for the next month.

So am I, but not enough to not take my break.  I need it.  I really need it, if I'm not to start snapping at people for asking me stupid questions.  (Yes, all questions are stupid if I'm tired and cranky enough.)  It still seems so far away.  I have a friend who has started planning part of the trip for me, since I haven't done any planning for myself.  (I may or may not follow the portion of the path she laid out, but it's nice to have a plan to deviate from...)

Ready, Set....  soon..........

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Neighbor's Garage

Last weekend found me out in the heat painting part of the neighbor's garage.

"Why the neighbor's garage and not your own?", you ask.  "Don't you have enough to do around your own house?", you ask.

Well....  I do have plenty to do here, but.

When I look out into my back yard, the neighbor's garage serves as a backdrop for the yard.  Not that the yard is anything to look at right now, but I do hope it will be pleasing to the eye sometime in the next year.

As I looked out and planned, my eye would always get caught by the peeling paint on the neighbor's garage.  I didn't like it.  Now, they keep their house in good shape, but the garage is pretty rough.  I think that because they don't have to look at it, they didn't think to keep it up.
The back of their garage isn't that big, so I found myself tempted to just paint it myself, so I wouldn't have to see the peeling paint any longer.  I didn't think it would take that long - 4-5 hours tops.

So, one day I popped on over there and asked them if they'd mind if I painted it.  They were a little taken aback, but readily agreed to let me do the work.  (they quickly offered to buy the paint.)

I was talking to their neighbor to the south, whose backyard is also next to mine, and mentioned she might see me out there.  "Oh, my", she said.  "Do you suppose you might be able to paint my side of their garage, too?  It looks even worse than the back."  Well, Anita's been nothing but nice to me since we moved in.  She's getting a little older, and can't paint the garage herself, and she was right - her side of their garage looked awful.  So, I agreed.

Which changed the job from a 4-ish hour job to a 12-15 hour chore.

It took several days to get the work done.  It took a LOT of scraping, then I had to prime and reglaze the window before I could paint.

As I scraped, I must admit I was asking myself what the heck I was doing out there.  It's one thing to indulge my own self-interest by painting the side I have to look at, it's another to paint a side I can barely see.  It was hot.  I was sweaty.  I mulled it over.  And I decided it was high time I'd reached out and done something nice for someone just because I could.  I've been mostly just taking care of me for some time.  I think I said yes because I was overdue for some good church.

Now, I'm not much on formal religion these days - when asked, I claim to be a member of the Church of Random Kindness and Senseless Beauty.  My church isn't much on doctrine, but it does ask, when the opportunity presents itself, that you reach out in kindness to others.  The garage painting gig was a perfect opportunity to reach out.

As I reached this conclusion, Anita saw me out there working.  She came out with her ladder and a pitcher of ice water and a glass of ice.  (and refilled it after the ice melted.)  She was so grateful - she's worked hard to make her small back yard inviting, and the eyesore next door was hard to camouflage.

It's not often I get instant feedback that I've done the right thing, but there it was.  Suddenly, I didn't mind the heat and the sweat.  As Anthony De Mello wrote - I gave myself the pleasure of pleasing others.  and it felt good.

I was happy.  Anita is happy.  and, as a bonus, the garage's owners are happy.

Not bad payback for a few hours work.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Squirrels: gone!

I win.

It turns out that the best way to get rid of the squirrels is to take down the squirrel highway.

I wondered about the highway when I took out the dead tree - I had watched them jump from tree to tree across the yards, and was curious as to how they'd get around with the tree gone.  I needn't have worried; they quickly figured out alternate routes using the fence and the power line.

The line originally crossed the back yard at about 8'; it was easy to reach up and grab it - and the squirrels had no trouble jumping from the fence to the line and from there to the roof.  I wasn't so keen on the 8' above the ground part (I didn't know yet about the squirrel condo in the eaves; if I had, I wouldn't have been keen about the squirrel roadway part either), so when I had the foundation dug, we also buried conduit between the house and the garage.  When the outside of the garage addition was complete, I had my electrician come back and install a new meter box. (The line had to move SOMEWHERE, anyhow - the location of the original meter is now in the middle of my kitchen.)  The power company was most cooperative about coming out to move the line from the house to the new box.  I don't think they were keen about that 8' clearance, either.  From the new meter box, the line runs below ground to the new crawl-space; the main panel has now become a sub-panel off the feed.

While we were at it, we also had old cable and phone lines taken out, and the new fiber line also moved to the garage.  Which means there are now no suspended wires connecting my house to the pole.

Turns out the squirrels didn't like having their main highway taken down.  They CAN make the leap to my roof from the neighbor's house, which is only about 10' away, but it's an awkward jump.  It's uphill, and not a great angle.

So, within a week after the line got moved, they packed up their bags and moved on out.  Not sure exactly where they went - I think they just moved to the tree across the street; I see them climbing on it all the time now.

I'm happy.  The squirrels, presumably, are happy.  The cats, not so much.  One of their favorite pastimes was watching the squirrels through the screen, plotting how they could get out there to catch the little buggers.  With no rodents to watch, they've had to find other interests.  Oh, well.  Can't please everyone...

Monday, July 14, 2014


No, not my house.

But last weekend I stepped outside to see the tree in front of the house a couple of doors down festooned in toilet paper.

It brought me back, way back...

Like many high school students, my friends and I thought it fun to teepee houses.  We'd round up our weapons by scrounging from our parent's houses and assorted public restrooms.  (a belated apology to those gas station and restaurant owners...)  We'd pile in my van (a discreet vehicle it was - a red and white full size Chevy van) and go to the targeted friend's house.  We'd park around the corner and gather up the missles.  We'd creep not-so-silently in the night and set to work.  I still remember how good it felt to launch a roll just right, to see it soar high into the night over the targeted tree branch; a ribbon of white arcing in the darkness, decorating the tree in ghostly strips.

One night, we decided to target David Looby's house.  There were five or six of us in the group.  We marshaled our resources and managed to come up with over twenty rolls of TP.  The Looby's had three or four mature trees in their yard; we covered them in white.  A masterful artwork if I do say so myself.

We congratulated ourselves on a job well done, and went home to sleep with satisfied hearts.  The next day, I oh-so-casually called Dave to see how things were.

"Do anything fun last night?", I asked innocently.

"Yeah", he said.  "We got teepeed and boy is my mom mad!  She's grounded me for the next two weeks.  She says she thought my friends were better than to pull such a sad stunt!  I'd better get back outside to finish cleaning up before she gets any madder..."

I felt awful.  We were out to have fun, not to get anyone into trouble.  So, I called the others in the crew, and gathered them up.  Properly shame-faced, we headed back to the Looby's to help with cleanup and to apologize for the trouble we'd caused.

Much to our surprise, when I pulled up to the house, there wasn't a shred of toilet paper to be seen.  Hoping to salvage some of our relationship with his mother (she made the BEST tubs of popcorn...), we rang the doorbell.  When she answered, we poured out our apologies.  We were so sorry, hadn't meant to cause anyone any harm, we had come back to clean it up, would she please forgive us?

She cocked her head and looked at us, puzzled.  She said she hadn't been mad at all.  In fact, she thought we'd done a capital job.

As we stood there in stunned silence with our mouths hanging open, Dave came around the corner laughing.  After a moment or two his mom figured out what had happened and joined in.  A long moment later we finally figured out the joke was on us, and our laughter melded with theirs.

But I don't recall teepeeing any more houses after that.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Saving Things for Good

Erma Bombeck once listed some of her regrets.  Among them was the line:

I would have burned the pink candle sculpted like a rose before it melted in storage.

The line has stuck with me, and it comes back to me when I find something ruined because I was saving it for good.

The latest was a cute little bottle of Burt's Bees lotion my daughter got for me a couple of years ago.  Why didn't I use it right away?  I don't know.  I thought I had to use up my regular lotion first.  I thought I needed to save it for something special.

Turns out all I saved it for was a trash can.  By the time I got to the bottle to open it, the mixture had congealed and I didn't get to use it at all.

I hate it when I do this.  When, exactly, do I think I will enjoy the special things that surround me if I don't enjoy them now?  Is there some just-around-the-corner tomorrow where the stars will align and I will feel I have worked hard enough to use the special instead of contenting myself with the everyday?

It's OK to eat the last of the raspberries - I don't have to save them for tomorrow; they'll be bad by then anyhow.  Likewise the chocolate.  (OK.  It'll last longer than the raspberries, but still.  How many times have I gone to the cupboard to find a delicious piece of chocolate gone gray and stale because I was saving it...)

It's OK to dip into my savings because my project is over budget.  Hoarded wealth benefits no one (that was a quote earlier this week - I looked for it, but couldn't find it again...)

It's OK to use the little bottle of lotion.  If it's gone, it's gone.  At least I would have enjoyed it.  And if I really like it, it's OK to buy more.

It's OK to treat me as if I'm special.  As if I deserve to be treated now and again.  Or even every day.

I'm going to try harder to enjoy the beauty around me.  All of the days, not just the predetermined special ones.  I know that more days could be special if I'd let them.

I will try.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Not Exactly the Ritz!

I'm deep in the slog part of my project.

It seems like I've been living in the midst of dust and debris for about a decade (I only exaggerate a little), but it's still not worth cleaning the house because we'll just make another mess within a day or two.

We've hauled load after load to the dump, but there's still more to be hauled.  (OK - I actually went with Joe to the dump with exactly one load; he's taken the rest himself.  But I have helped load them all onto the truck, if that counts for anything!)

The tear out is almost complete; the last part to go will be the bathroom walls, which will be gone sometime this week.

There's a lot left to do, and nothing, but nothing is complete.  Nor is it ready to be completed.

Living here right now is a bit of an adventure.

I still have a sink in the kitchen, and the microwave and fridge in the dining room work just dandy.

I may not have a bathroom upstairs, but we've cobbled together the necessary facilities in the basement.  Admittedly, there's not a ton of privacy down there, but we're careful to check what the basement occupant is up to before heading down the stairs.

I can't turn the air conditioner on - there are too many holes in the walls and it would be unable to keep up with the airflow.  Fortunately for me, the weather's been unseasonably rainy and cool.

This weekend's priority will be to insulate the walls; according to the forecast, I'm about to the end of my cool-weather grace period.  I've scheduled the furnace company to come out next Thursday to run the new ducts and move the air conditioner to its permanent home.

As hard as it is to see right now, we are making progress.  The framing carpenter is done, and the house is weatherproof.  I finally quit dithering and ordered all the tile, which got delivered today.  My brother will be back next week to work on the plumbing.

I'm still hoping I'll have a semblance of order here by the end of the summer.  It'll take a bit longer than I'd planned, since I'll need to finish building my kitchen cabinets without Ron's help, but I'll get there.

One step at a time.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Remodeling Break

Last weekend, I interrupted my regularly scheduled work on the house with a trip to Hastings, Nebraska.

My older brother, who has always loved Porsches, has decided to indulge his midlife crisis by racing a perfectly good, quite expensive car around in circles with other people afflicted by the same excess of money and a need for speed.

He invited us to come watch him race in Hastings this past weekend.  When you start racing, they put an X on the back of your car; sort of a 'Student Driver' sign for race drivers.  You get to take the X off after you've successfully completed four races without incident.  He'd completed two races last year, this set was to be the one where he graduated.

Curious to get a taste of a Porsche club driver's life, the kids (Kate and the baby are here) and I piled into the car and made the six hour drive after work last Friday night.

We got to the track in time on Saturday morning to watch his first practice run.  I was catching up on the latest family news with his wife and kinda-sorta watching him drive when the cars on the track all came to a halt.  You could see smoke off at the far end of the track - right about where Michael had been driving.

We watched anxiously for his car to pull off with the others, but didn't see it.  We COULD see the white roof of the car that was burning; the same color as his car.  Since the waiting ambulance didn't take off, we weren't panicked, but at the same time...

Sure enough, when his car came off the track, it was on the back of a tow truck.  Once off the track, they pulled it over to the side and doused it with water good to make sure the fire was out.  It turns out he'd taken a turn wrong, run onto the grass, got a load of alfalfa stuck under the car and the heat of the engine set fire to the hay.

I was quite sad.  We'd driven a long ways to see him reach for a dream, only to see it go up in smoke.  Little did I know.  They brought the car back to his spot, and within a few minutes he had all four tires off.  He and Joe climbed under the car to pull out all the packed grass; his wife wiped the extinguisher residue off the exterior.  By the time his first race started 90 minutes later, the car was ready to go.  I was impressed.

A couple of hours later, he had his two races tucked safely under his belt.  Relaxing in the condo after the event, he was tired, but obviously high on his well-earned achievement.  Yea, Michael!

(I'm SO glad we took the time to make the trip...)

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Squirrels: 2

So, Joe and I sat down last night and constructed a squirrel exclusion door.  An exclusion door is a steel wire gizmo with a spring-loaded door, designed to allow the squirrels to exit from their penthouse suites, but not to re-enter.  Kind of a low-tech bouncer.  

I measured, Joe cut.  I climbed the ladder and did the fine-tuning on the bending.  I screwed our creation into place, and went to bed secure that I was one up on the little buggers.

This afternoon, I climbed out of my car and startled a squirrel who was hanging out on a portion of the roof where I don't normally see the nefarious pests.  He jumped, ran up the roof, and disappeared.  I stepped back a bit to see where he'd gone, and sure enough, they've made a matching hole on the north end of the house.  He was peering over the edge at me, as if to try to figure out if I'd seen where he'd gone to hide.

Back to the hardware store I go...

However, I'm not spending all of my time chasing squirrels.  Last weekend, I had a great time tearing down the walls in the kitchen.  

I found some more bad karma cooties lurking in the ceiling.  I'd suspected the bath faucets almost had to be leaking, but hadn't been worrying a whole lot about it since there wasn't any water coming through in the kitchen below.  When I got into the ceiling, I found the water hadn't been leaking because they'd green-rocked the area under the leak.  (Green-rock is a mold and water resistant type of sheetrock.)  In two layers.  The leak wasn't bad enough to come through both layers, but there was enough water to foster a healthy layer of black mold up there.  The kitchen smells much better with the cooties banished to the trash pile in the back yard.

I also got the main electrical line moved this week, from the back of the house to a new mast on the garage.  (It's buried between the garage and the house.)  The framing is moving along, and while there's still a ways to go, it's getting to where you can see the bones of the shape of the new space.  The amount of work to be done between where we are and the finished rooms is a bit overwhelming to think about, so I'm trying to focus on one step at a time.  It will get there eventually if I keep chipping away at it.

Kind of like the squirrels, chipping away at my eaves.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Squirrels: 1

squirrel taunting cats
The other day, I woke to the unwelcome sound of squirrels in the eaves.  again.

I cussed a bit, then went outside to see what I could see.  Sure enough, the little varmints had managed to get back into the eave I'd blocked off earlier this year.  This time, there are four of them.  Young ones, which is probably why they were initially able to worm into the hole.

I wasn't sure why the coyote urine had stopped working, but figured it out later in the day when I saw some green plastic when I was cleaning the gutter.  They'd managed to get the packet out of the pocket, and tossed it over the side, where it landed in the gutter.

I can hear it now.

"Look guys, what a great fixer-upper!"
"Yeah, but what's that smell?  It's awful!"
"It's coming from this pile over here.  Let me just get rid of it, and we'll have ourselves a great place to live."
heave.  ho.
"See?  The stench is clearing out already.  It'll be just perfect for us in no time!"

Back to Google.  No, you can't poison them - they REALLY smell bad if they die in the walls.  I can't shoot them, we're within city limits, and besides, I'd probably just take out a window or two.  Searching further, I found some designs for one-way squirrel doors.  I picked up the materials this last weekend, and plan to build me one this week, and try it this weekend.

Wish me luck...

Sunday, May 4, 2014

No Good Words

my new kitchen island
When he heard I was working on my kitchen, my friend Ron offered to build my kitchen cabinets for me.  We've been friends for some 20-odd years.  He's helped me on projects before, and is the one who taught me how to sweat copper plumbing.

I was more than happy to accept his offer; I've seen his work before.  He got started on the cabinets last fall, before he and his wife went to Arizona for the winter.  He called me in late March, letting me know they were headed for Missouri.

I sent him a message a week or so later, letting him know my construction project is finally progressing, and to see how he was.  I didn't get a reply, which was unusual for him  I waited a week or so, then sent another message.  This time I got a reply that started:  Janice, this is Marilyn...

I knew it couldn't be good news and it wasn't.

Ron is dying of cancer.  I went down to his place to see him.  In just over a month, he's gone from healthy to a constant morphine drip.  He won't be alive much longer.

I am so glad I went.  He's not able to say much, and the drugs muddle his thinking, but we were able to talk some.  I told him this really sucks.  I let him know again that he will always be my hero.  I let him know I was grateful for his help and friendship over the years.  We gave each other a big hug, and cried on each other's shoulders.

But my words felt so inadequate.  What words should I have used to say goodbye when I knew it was likely to be the last time I will see him?  I still don't know.  I can only hope he understood the language of my tears.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Another Goodbye

I didn't know I still cared.  It's not like I left the church where she was choir director mad at her, it was another issue entirely.  Yet, when I left, there was some unfinished business.  It never sat quite right with me, but I also never tried to set things right.  Neither did she.

So when I heard last week that she was in the hospital with an infection, then that she had died on Good Friday, the depth of my tears surprised me.

She was a good teacher; she taught me how to cantor.  I remember when I first met her, at a workshop she led some twenty years ago.  Along with the technical aspects of singing and welcoming the congregation to sing with you, she asked, "Why do we gather as church?"  After gathering our answers, she offered her own view:  We come to share our stories.  The stories of Jesus and Moses, woven into the stories of our own lives.

I've come to believe she was right.

And so I gathered with a whole bunch of people yesterday at church.  My tears flowed freely as her nineteen year-old daughter spoke of what her mother meant to her.  I was sitting at an angle to her family - every time I looked across the church at young Christina, trying so hard to be brave and strong and to (unsuccessfully) stop her tears, I cried again.  For her and for myself in much the same place so many years ago.  Her story mingled with the readings, meshed with my own story, and I cried for her in the years to come, when her mother won't be there to guide her through the rough spots.

But her mother was a good woman.  She laid a strong foundation for Christina and her brother to build the rest of their lives upon, and they still have their dad.  He will be there for them and together, they will heal.

Beatrice Santner, rest in Peace.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Two Hour Project

see my floating wall???
I am wildly unrealistic when it comes to guesstimating how long it'll take to complete the projects I do around the house.

My brother, I'm sure, remembers well the time I asked him to swap out the back door for me.  "How hard can it be?", I think.  "Door out, door in.", I think.  "Two, three hours tops!", I think.

I was so wrong.  He pulled out the old, rotting door - and a good portion of the back wall around it was rotted out, too.  It took him the better part of a week to put the corner of the house back together.  (He did a good job - it was sound when he finished...)

So, I should have known, when I started to replace the siding on the back of the garage today, that the project would take more than the afternoon I had allotted for it.  Sure enough, we were pulling off the rotten siding, and when Joe pulled off one panel, the entire section of wall moved with it.  There's nothing securing the bottom of the wall.  nothing.

I suspected something was wrong.  The inside of the garage was freshly sheetrocked when I bought the house.  I saw the sag on the ceiling line on the back of the garage.  Old, repaired damage, I thought.  I was half right.  It was old damage.

We THINK that at some point, many years ago, someone hit the back wall of the building with enough force to knock the wall off the sill plate.  (It's been known to happen...)  If you line up on the wall, you can see where it leans out at the bottom.  In the intervening years, everyone just ignored or covered up the damage.  Even old oak rots out when it's been in contact with the dirt long enough.

We caught the problem in time, i.e. before the roof caved in.  My two-hour project now involves tearing out the finished walls on the inside of the garage, jacking up the roofline, installing a new sill plate, sistering the existing joints to get around the rotted bottoms, and tying the whole thing back together.

THEN, I can go back outside and put the new siding up.

"Two hour project.", thought I.   **sigh**

Monday, March 31, 2014

ObamaCare: 1

I must admit, having heard any number of health insurance cancellation horror stories, I've been a tentative supporter of Obamacare (AKA the Affordable Care Act) since first hearing about it.  The idea that people would no longer be left out in the cold, unable to purchase any form of affordable insurance, intrigued me.  (Me, I'm OK.  I am one of the few with retirement health insurance.  at least for now.)

Now it does more than intrigue me.  It has a near and dear face attached to the abstract arguments.

I have a longtime good friend who's never had health insurance in the 20+ years I've known her.  She is self-employed, in general good health, but with a pre-existing condition or two, and has never been able to afford the premiums for an individual policy.

This past fall, once Obamacare became a reality, she was able to purchase her first worthwhile policy ever.  Once it took effect, her brother prodded her into going in for a screening colonoscopy.

What she thought would be a routine screening turned into a clip-and-snip operation that took well over an hour.  She needs to get repeat scans every three months for the next year.

Thanks to her health insurance, the scans won't bankrupt her.
Thanks to her health insurance, she has a fighting chance.  They told her that if she'd have waited another year to do the screening, it would have been too late to do anything about the growths.

Obamacare has saved her life.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Dirt Piles

The weather warmed up, and the foundation contractor showed up as promised.

Fortunately, I was off work last week on vacation, and was able to be around to watch them dig and to answer questions.

It's been quite the process.  They started last Tuesday, and would have finished up today except that the weather turned cold and snowy and the concrete companies wouldn't deliver any mud.  It's exciting, after the long, cold winter, to see progress.  (The last piece that needs to go in is the foundation around the crawl space under the kitchen addition.  The slab for the garage, the rebuilt front steps and the side of the house next to the drive are all finished.)

First, they dug out the trench footing for the garage addition.  It's 18" wide and 3' deep.  If you could get a semi into my back yard, it could safely park on it, I'm sure.  Yes, it's overkill, but it's what was required for me to get my permits, so overkill it is.  At least I'm sure it'll all stay put.

After that, they dug the big hole next to the house for the addition and laid the forms for the footing.  That was fun to watch - though I must admit I jumped back from my vantage point at the back door a time or two when it looked like he was about to drive through the wall.

After all the hoopla I've heard about nightmare inspectors coming by, I have to say I've been pleasantly surprised by that part of the process.  You call, they come by within the next two hours.  As long as you've more-or-less followed the plan (and we have), they sign off on the work, and you're good to go.

It's been a little dusty, a lot muddy.  The contractor showed up at noon, hung-over, the second day of the project, and was obnoxious to work with to boot.  (If I hadn't had such trouble getting someone in here, I'd probably have fired him - how unprofessional!)  Fortunately for him, the guys actually doing the labor were here on time and good to work with.  Also fortunately for him, it was just the one day, and he was fine to work with the rest of the time, or I might have fired him anyhow.

I've had some second thoughts and had to take some deep breaths and go back through my (still good) reasons for buying this house and taking on this mess before my stomach would quiet down.

The framing will start next week.  I like and trust the contractor who'll be doing that part of the project.  He's a rare gem, and I know my stomach will be happier with this next piece.

It's spring!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Getting Started

Spring is here and the contractor has returned with the robins.

And just in time.  Friday night, as we were toasting garlic bread in the oven, the handle on the door pulled off.  It made it quite a challenge to finish the bread since the door tried to pull itself in half when we opened it (and there was no way to reattach the handle until the oven was cooled down).  But we persevered and managed to finish cooking without the door completely falling off.  It was close...

I met with the contractor on Wednesday morning.  The job is going to be a challenge for him and his crew.  The drive is narrow, too narrow for any kind of a tandem-axle truck.  The current slope of the backyard goes towards the foundation, which means the grade needs to be changed.  The top of the current foundation is just an inch or two above the dirt, and current code requires at least a six-inch gap between the top of the foundation and the surrounding soil.  But I'm confident he's up to the job.  He's supposed to be here next week to do the digging and pour the concrete.

It's exciting to see progress after the long months of waiting!

Yesterday was 70 and sunny, and Joe and I spent much of the afternoon doing some final prep work.  He took the concrete front steps apart, I removed the rotting trim boards on the garage.  (he muttered something about an imbalance of labor, but I pretended not to hear him.)

I am SO ready for this project to start...

Thursday, March 6, 2014


OK, it's not quite spring yet.

But the robins are back!

When I was a little girl growing up in Minnesota, my mother watched eagerly for their return each spring.  She'd peer out the window searching for signs of them coming north from their winter break in warmer climes, and was always thrilled when she first spotted them.

I picked up her custom somewhere in there.  Come late February (they arrive here in Missouri sooner than they ever got up to Minnesota.  Makes sense if you think about it at all...) I start watching for their arrival.  When I catch my first glimpse of an orange breast, my heart lifts.  I remember my mother's smile and know mine matches hers from so long ago; winter's days are just about over.

Joe and I have been taking regular walks through the park this winter.  Once the weather turned last fall, all the people went home and we've pretty much had the park to ourselves.  I think I'll probably miss the quiet on our walks once the weather turns in another week or two (though the people-watching will greatly improve, so perhaps it won't be so bad).
Last night, it was well after sunset when we were out walking.  As we turned the last corner for home, the branches of the tree we were approaching were silhouetted in the streetlight, and I thought I saw buds on them.  I stopped and pulled one close for a better look, and sure enough the buds are swelling.  Give them just a few warm days and they will be bursting out in their spring song of green.

See, winter only SEEMS like it lasts forever.  Spring comes.

Sunday, February 23, 2014


The last few weeks, as I've gotten up in the morning, I've been aware of the sound of the squirrels scampering on the roof.  Then, one day last week, I happened to go outside when they were scampering, and there wasn't a squirrel to be seen.  But, I could still hear the sounds of little fat-tailed rodents.

Inside the eaves.

So, I took a look around.  Sure enough, up at the corner of the roof, there was an opening where the flashing had come loose.  And a matching opening at the opposite corner of the house.  Just enough room for an cold squirrel to squeeze on in.  And, once they were in, I'm sure it was no trouble at all to find their way down the plaster walls to the first floor eaves where they have set up two cozy condos, one front, one back.

They make rather considerate neighbors.  They get up around the same time as the sun.   You can hear them moving about as they get ready for work.  Then, they come home about the same time I do, and settle down for the night.  But, considerate neighbors or no, they had to go.

So, I did my internet research, and found that loud noises will often scare them off.  So this Saturday, while I was out and about for a while, I turned the stereo up real loud.  When I came home, I climbed up on the ladder and plugged up the holes.

It worked for the back condo, I haven't heard another peep.  But this morning, at approximately 6:42, I was startled awake by the tenants in the front condo.  Seems they are rock and roll lovers, and hadn't left because of the noise after all.  They were quite frantic, running up the wall to the (now plugged) exit, then back down, the scurrying in circles.  I couldn't leave them trapped in there to die, so, with a heavy sigh, I got myself up out of my warm bed, rousted Joe out of his, and we got the ladder back out to unplug the exit.  That ended the frantic noises in the walls.

I was telling my story at a gathering yesterday, and a lady with experience with critters told me that if the music didn't chase them out, the best way to get rid of them would be to put coyote urine in their space.  Fortunately for me, since I don't have any coyotes handy, and have no idea how I would get them to pee in a cup if I did, the third hardware store we went to today had some for sale in a well-sealed box.

We shoved a couple of the packets into the eaves through a handy outlet box, and now we'll see.  I hope it'll get them out - it would work for me, I can tell you that much.  I caught a whiff through the package seal - whew!