At first, I thought we would plant some apple seedlings, sink a well, camp in a tent while we visited the Would Be Farm. Maybe build a cabin in a few years.
Belay that. Turns out we already have close to 100 apple trees on the land (overgrown, I grant you, and untended for decades, but full-on rows of trees -- producing fruit already!). And it turns out that even when it's not raining, the mud factor makes tenting, hmm, let's say "untenable."
But it did have a propane stove and refrigerator. And running water.
And it didn't implode as we hauled it down the road, over the hill, past those cows, down the driveway, and over to that nice bluff.
Given a week and access to the hardware store it's quite possible to convert a 150-square-foot unseemly little metal dwelling into something pleasant for quite a bit less money than most people in my neighborhood spend on rent each month. Jeff is a good rough carpenter, after all, and caulk is cheap.
We yanked out one of the bench seats and the over-the-table bunk. We removed the scary upholstery and the seedy-looking window treatments and extracted several sarcophagus-like cabinet doors. The previous owners, for a mercy, were clean folk, so it wasn't one of those really disgusting projects.
Jeff shored up the rotted beams and re-floored the soft spots, applied a nice thick layer of roof-seal on top, and caulked the snot out of the seams. He got the windows working and made sure the water system was watertight. He replace the dented valve on the propane tank and cleared the propane system (now that was an exciting afternoon!).
There's a wonderful product called cabinet paint -- applied with a foam roller, it's a water-based paint that sticks to and covers any manner of Formica folderol. I picked a warmish cream color and start painting everything inside the little cottage-on-wheels. I mean ev-er-re-thing: walls, cabinets, metal cabinet hardware, tabletops, etc.
Now we have Base Camp. When it rains, we can sit at the table and watch the rain stay outside while we sip our hot (or cold) beverages.
Even when she's willing to go walking early, the sun shines fiercely, pavement radiates heat up through her ratty little toe-pads, and the air is thick with humidity. Her route in the winter stretches to as much as a half a mile on a good day, but in August, she tires after about 50 feet.
She may have energy to start with, but it flags. She begins to pokey-pete. Instead of trotting along at the farthest forward reach of her leash, she dawdles. As the pace slows, she makes frequent but nominal pee-breaks.
We resort to bribery and promises, setting small goals and cheering her on ("Just to the light pole, come on, Bubba-loup, you can do it!"). Eventually, on the hottest of days, we give it up for a bad job. I'm the weak link. I'll pick her up and portage her back to the air conditioning.
Where she tanks up on water before staggering to her bed.
If history holds true, she'll spend the next six hours snoring mightily, recovering from her exertions. Unless she hears the faint jingle of car-keys, the merest whiff of anything yummy, or if someone uses the word "cheese" in conversation. Then she'll bounce up, all ears and expectation.
Seems like it was Mrs. Larney's Latin class that had us chanting, "Single: I-you-he/she/it, Plural: we-you-they" to memorize the various grammatical persons. So much of what Mrs. Larney taught really stuck with me -- and for so many years, too.
When I started reading The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown, I was reminded of that chant. Many novels are told from the perspective of first person -- presenting the events from that person's singular and peculiar point of view.
For example (and these first lines are identified at the end of this blog entry): "I have just come home from a visit to my landlord -- the only neighbor I shall be troubled with," or "Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again," or "You don't know about me without you have read a book called The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, but that ain't no matter," or "The first place that I can well remember was a large pleasant meadow with a pond of clear water in it."
The Weird Sisters (the title a reference to Shakespeare's King Lear) takes first person to an unusual level: the plural. Instead of "I," it's "we" talking to the reader.
The book is good -- I wouldn't be bubbling about it otherwise -- and not just because of the novelty of first-person plural. The writing is supple and interesting, rich with matter-of-fact observations and clever references, and vivid characters (the girls' father is a scholar of Shakespeare who nearly always speaks with a quotation from the Bard, for instance). The sisters' coming-home adventure is engaging, and author Eleanor Brown performs a kind of magic trick in presenting that peculiar collective identity often shared by sisters at home.
Rather than focusing on the suicides from the perspective of a single boy witness, author Eugenides expands the scope, magnifying the bewilderment and mystery. The events of that year take on the significance of myth, and the boys come to sound like a Greek chorus: "Sometimes, drained by this investigation, we long for some shred of evidence, some Rosetta stone that would explain the girls at last." It's funny and horrible and very affecting.
It's an old truth that bears repeating: the perspective from one tribe never quite reaches the far side of other people's lives. Maybe this is the work of all good novels, to give the tribe of readers a peep into someone else's experiences.
* Wuthering Heights by Charlotte Bronte
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
Black Beauty by Anna Sewell
Things for which I am profoundly grateful:
*Neither are oranges.
The biscuits I made were used as pucks in a hallway floor-hockey pickup session. And they made it undented all the way back to study-hall. A proud moment for me then as I was determined NOT to buy into the traditional gender-role responsibilities of home and hearth.
But later –– a decade or more later –– a friend patiently showed me how to sew a straight line without attaching my hand to the fabric. Later, my sweet mother-in-law took me under her domestic wing, providing a sewing machine and some gentle tutelage. The language came to me slowly, with nothing meaning what I first thought: basting, batting, bearding, blocking, backing, taking a tack (plus bar-tacking!).
I am not particularly interested in the frilly toothpick part of making a quilt. Instead, I like the part known as piecework (not the same as a union-organizer's "piecework," oddly enough) where a person gets to pick colors and figure out designs.
Despite this u-turn toward the domestic arts, I didn't budget much time for the hobby: the first quilts I made took ten years start to finish.
Such is the mystery of human nature: when faced with a big writing project a couple of years ago, I took up a couple of ambitious sewing projects. Why not an outdoorsy hobby instead? In a word: summer in Florida. In a word: heat-stroke. In a word: avoidance.
Anyway, the quilt –– among other projects, o novel of mine! –– has been lurking around unbound. So I sat myself down this summer and started stitching. I achieved closure in roughly the same couch-time as four World Cup matches.
If only a bit of red thread and attention could stitch shut all the open doors in my life...
Fact #1: the cost of solar power has come down a lot in the past ten years.
Fact #2: plenty of not-too-expensive kits look pretty cinchy to set up.
And what else do we know about solar? Fact #3: not much.
Is that the sort of thing that will stop us? Heck no.
I browsed the library, but the resources seemed either incomprehensible or too vague. So as is my habit, I signed up for a class. This one is an on-line course through EdX. Free for auditors. Classmates on every continent...
An eight-week course might be overkill, to be bitterly frank.
But talk about new neural pathways --! 1 over the cosine of theta. Terawatts. Polycrystalline silicon cells. Diamond lattice crystalline structures...And "band gaps," which, in the Dutch accent of Professor Smets sounds just like "band camps." Making his discussion of how molecular bonds affect the BAND CAMP pretty darned entertaining.
Aside from having those stray three or four brain cells that remembered anything about Calculus go super-nova during the first homework assignment, I think it's going to be fine.
But still. I warn everyone who comes into the house: don't tease her because she will bite. And -- it goes without saying -- I don't trust her unsupervised with little children.
Of course, it's super-fun to rile her up. I can't deny. I slap my own arm and cry out, "Ouch" on a too-regular basis. Reliably, she bounces around frowning and telling me to "F#$%ing CUT that SH!# out, right NOW!"
Occasionally, she recognizes my ruse, gives me an aggrieved look, and retreats to her bed with a near approximation of dignity. More often, I relent after a few rounds of "Ouching!" and end up kneeling on the floor while she lolls around getting her belly soothed.
She's right: peace is better.
And thank the stars above this song does not include anything Lionel Richie (sorry Lionel, you've always felt like someone else's parents' favorite artist to me).
Toronto-based The Pursuit of Happiness (TPOH to those who know) offered a kickin' New Age Sound with lyrics that are directly to the point and clever. Who among us cannot relate? Or, for some, who among us used to could relate to this message? I quote this particular song often. Enjoy.
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