Cleaning

I am on a cleaning spree. My husband says I always do this when I’m about to start a new writing project. Goodness knows, after a three year stint of writing this last book and editing and revising it and revising, etc. etc. etc. about the only thing I want is clear space. Both in my head and in my writing room. Ergo, I’m cleaning and tossing.

However, I also had to clean out my laptop. That was not my plan, but it seemed, instead, to be a joke from the Universe in the guise of a new backup program which had bought out my old backup program which I’ve had for, oh, goodness only knows, but I’ll say fifteen years, give or take.

It was a process, as they say.

But new back up is installed and all files are restored (well, I’m not completely done because there’s also files in backup that need to be cleaned out to say nothing of Dropbox which also has files, but I digress. As is often the case these days.)

But what led me on this rant is finding and reloading Trello. Which I’ve had not as long as the previous backup program but long enough to have a lot in it. Trello is really built for groups to work together on projects and add thoughts and changes etc etc and has as many boards as one chooses to have. I have several. The file backup program does not save programs oddly enough so I had to once again download Trello and magically, all my files were still on it.

My reason for Trello is to save the random and overwhelming bits and pieces of paper and Post-Its on which I place random thoughts, seemingly, it seems, that I think important.

Here’s one for you: “Mothers laughing with their children on their backs. And he had come to believe that all men were meant to be wanderers, like them, like Saint Francis, and that by joining the Way of the Universe you could find the Great Spirit everywhere–in the smell of bracken after rain, the buzz of a bee in foxglove, or in the eyes of a mule, looking with love on the blundering movements of his master.” The Way of the Universe. On the Black Hill, Bruce Chatwin.

If you’ve never read Bruce Chatwin, I recommend him highly. He was a wanderer. And I, being a wanderer, appreciate his voice. He died young, at age 48, in 1989, but his voice remains. The first book I read by him was In Patagonia. I have several others in my bookcases.

Here’s another piece in the Memoir board – board is what the separate spaces are called in Trello but I don’t know why except they probably relate to work each group is doing. I’m not a group.

“The Sunderland men, uncles, brothers, grandfather, would circle, telling stories. Dad told stories. Women’s stories are often relegated to mystery. But my mother, against that grain, told stories. I expect the women around the quilting frame with Grandma Sunderland told each other stories, but to each other. Not to us kids. The men’s stories were loud enough for all of us.”

A memory to put into whatever memoir piece I write one day. Maybe, for example, right here, now.

And now I must return to my previous task of gathering the loose bits of post-its and scraps of paper on which interesting thoughts are written or printed. I also, like my mother, have a habit of cutting out bits of newspaper stories – and just found, in this cleaning spree, the story printed in a newspaper of my mother being in the Kansas City Union Station when the Mob shootout of about 1920 happened. I knew that story but now I have the newspaper article, too, although a bit chewed at the edges from long storage.

Mercy.

Maybe I’ll write it up so you have it, too. But not tonight.

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Shuffling into Spring

While it is, technically, spring, the scene out my window is somewhat dreary. Yes, the oak is leafed out and the Texas bluebonnets are blooming in the front yard along with tulips. In the backyard, the redbud tree is blooming and on previous sunny days I’ve seen errant honeybees in it. That gives me hope. They say, they being the nature people who count these things, that bees are declining. It’s true there aren’t many, but any at all gives me hope for our chemical free yard.

But today is overcast and dreary. Yes, I’m grateful for rain…farmers are always grateful for rain. Well. I’ve just realized I need to amend that statement some as the farmers north of here whose fields are muddy and ugly from the late winter floods and who may not be able to plant in those fields for another two to three years, might just as soon not see rain. And this particular overcast sky is supposed to bring more rain up north than down here.

Over the Easter weekend, I corresponded with a blogging friend, Rambling Rose, in Sri Lanka. And after an Easter day when she wrote about the church bombings, she’s gone dark. I’ve read the authorities have closed access to all social media outlets.

It is an unsettled world.

I remain grateful for our lives and our home even though it’s still suffering from winter storms and needs a new roof…like NOW. But that’s not going to happen “now” I expect. We have spread out big plastic garbage bags in the attic and stationed various old pots and buckets under the worst leaks. When a winter storm dumped over a foot of snow on the willow branches, weighting them down, they leaned over the electrical wires and pulled out the window ledge where said wires were attached. And broke off the new weather-head on the new electrical wires that go to the outside new electrical box which go to the new electrical panel in the basement. Thankfully, that’s repaired and the rain won’t go dripping down and short us out again. We did, however, need to severely trim my beautiful and much loved willow. It is, I’ve seen, recovering and putting out new shoots. I’ve given it food stakes to help it along.

This is getting to be a rather grim post, I’m realizing. Probably it’s the gray and cranky scene out my window. So here’s a bright point. When the window ledge which said wires weighted down with snow pulled out, it also took a chunk of stucco with it. So, to protect the wall from further damage with snow/rain/etc leaking down the wall behind the stucco, I filled another handy garbage bag with an old, flat pillow to keep garbage bag from flopping around, hung it outside over the broken spot, and secured it with the window sash. Good thinking, I thought.

Obviously, a sparrow thought so, too. She decided behind the plastic bag and in the space left from the pulled out window ledge was the perfect and warm place to build a nest. So each morning, as I sit in my rocking chair at that backyard window and journal fragile morning thoughts (this window in front of my computer is in the front of the house), baby chicks peep and cheep and call for mother who flutters back with something or another, the peeping gets louder, she flies away again for another round of whatever she’s feeding them, and that goes on for a good while until babies finally sleep. Or whatever baby birds do once they are fed.

Well. Over the years, while creating the backyard gardens, I wanted a bird and butterfly refuge. I guess it worked.

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Enter Winter

A blogging friend, Rambling Rose, asked me to write a post on our debilitating winter storm. She wrote, “We in the tropics only hear about such weather on news channels.” Ah, to be so fortunate. Although I have lived in the tropics from time to time, I do not now. Now I live in the middle of the Continental United States which is prone to storms of magnitude and ferocity. This is what two days of a winter storm of magnitude and ferocity looks like.

It began on a Friday night. And actually, was quite beautiful. The forecast had said it would begin with light rain turning to ice. It did. The shiny streaks are the ice crystals, picking up light as they fall.

We brought in stacks of firewood and lighted a fire. Watched television, especially the weather channel, looked outside from time to time. The ice crystals finally turned to snowflakes but there was no wind so we went to bed.

We slept soundly under our feather comfort, sort of like Mr. and Mrs. Claus at the North Pole after the Christmas Eve run. We did hear a thump in the night and got up to see what it was. Between snow and dark, we couldn’t tell but the thump seemed to come from upstairs. Not a good sound. The last time we heard a thump in the house signaled a complete attic to basement rewire. The next morning was still and silent. It had snowed all night. No wind. Just snow and snow and snow.

In early light, at my upstairs window where I sit each morning, I discovered the thump. If you look at the bottom left corner, you will see a lump of snow sort of lying on something. That something turned out to be our window sill, pulled loose by the weight of the snow.

It kept lightly snowing. Two guys came by and offered to shovel our sidewalk for ten dollars. We said okay. Only the front bushes were so heavy with snow, they bowed over the sidewalk making any walking passage or shoveling impossible. So the guys shoveled a bit along the driveway and the front piece of sidewalk. As if that would make any difference.

Cliff took a photo of the back patio before he waded out  to measure: 12″ of snow. That’s a lot of snow.

The sky stayed cloudy and the snow stopped. So did the cable television and the electricity. We built another fire and turned on the gas stove to warm up the place. But first we had to remember how to light said stove since it has electric sparks that catch the gas. Ah, yes. Use a striker. It worked. We did not, however turn on the oven as we couldn’t figure out a way to do that without exploding the place.

But being a farmer’s daughter, I put pots of water on the stove top burners and kept them steaming. It helped a little. We managed to feed ourselves although I can’t remember what we ate. No doubt something simple. Cliff kept putting logs on the fire. I stayed wrapped in a blanket and slept in my clothes that night because I couldn’t face getting undressed.

This was the thump in the night. Snow had pulled wires loose and along with the wire, the window sill and the window covering around it. You can see in a previous photo how the willow was bending over wires from the weight of snow. Why anyone would attach a cable to a vinyl window covering is beyond me, but they had. And the weight of 12″ of snow on our graceful and beautiful willow had weighted them down. With the wires.

At some point Sunday mid-morning. electricity came back on and the furnace and the hot water. We, husband, son, and mom, took showers and went to a neighborhood diner for breakfast.

Monday, I began the task of calling insurance company and contractors. We’d also developed a leak in the upstairs ceiling, so son and I climbed into attic, spread out some big garbage bags and stationed pots and buckets under the leak.

The following days/weeks passed in a blur. An insurance adjuster called, said he’d be in the next day and would call to set up an appointment, but as he was in Wisconsin and a big storm passed through there after here, I don’t know if he came…or was perhaps sent out somewhere else. Many people had a lot more damage than we did. I called the cable folk and asked someone to come out and reattach the cable; called the electric folk and they put a “temporary” (whatever that means) re-connection to the electrical wires. Called the electric installers and they came out and gave an estimate for repairs.

You may remember the rambling post I made about having our entire house rewired. Well. One of the things pulled loose and damaged was the new tubing and weather cap around the new KCPL wire running into the new KCPL box. And if the weather cap leaked, the water could not only short out the KCPL box, but also the new panel in the basement. My son who knows these things, once being an electrician, went out and saran-wrapped the weather head back on the pipe, thus sealing the house against another catastrophe with wiring.  The company who installed the electricity gave me a $1500 estimate for full repairs and re-connection.

I also now have a contractor who will come out, replace the window ledge and repair the stucco, and the window company who will come out and re-wrap the window once the stucco is done. Downside: the stucco can’t be done until the weather warms up. And I’ve engaged a roofer who will come out and re-roof, but again, not until it’s warmer.

I have yet to see an adjuster. The insurance company calls from time to time, but there’s been so much damage to so many houses, not just in Kansas City, but across most of the Midwest, and especially after this latest storm which largely left us untouched, that I expect we may boggle along this way until spring.

The cable person re-attached the downed cable to a spot above the window, hopefully he found a stud, there must be sturdy studs in 1924 built houses, and maybe especially in 1924 built houses, and my son leaned out the top window with his trusty wire cutters and released the mesh wires (mesh wire holds the stucco in place) attached to said window ledge, so it dropped to the ground and is no longer banging against the house. And we, meaning my son using the chain saw and Cliff and me trundling cut up branches to the front curb, severely trimmed the damaged willow much to my sadness. I planted that willow as a baby 9 feet tall, and it now reaches some 35 or so feet. The bees love it in the spring when it buds. I will give it generous food stakes once the weather turns warm. One of my monarch butterfly bushes is damaged and another, in a trellis, is leaning on its side.

It’s Imbolc, the festival of light, midway between winter solstice and spring equinox. The sun returns (yes, Rose, I know you don’t see that rising and falling sun much where you live) and the groundhog, oddly enough, didn’t see its shadow this year. We pray for an early spring.

Light a few candles. It’s not been an easy winter for many. Rejoice in the light.

J.

You don’t even want to know…..

And yes, there’s been another death. You must be tired of reading this same topic. I’m tired of writing it. This death, like the old television, and the water line, and and and, (if you really want to know, simply scroll back through the last few blog posts because this whole year has been about fixing) came with a rebirth. Most deaths do, I suppose, in one way or another. This one was much more costly abet likely life-saving.

A month ago, yes, it’s been a lengthy rebirth, on a late Friday afternoon, September 7th to be exact, we heard a loud boom from the stairway wall that sounded as if a very large book had fallen on the floor. The sound was more a k-whomp, actually, than a boom.

Immediately, the house died. Well, not entirely, we had electricity in the kitchen, which was rehabbed before we bought the house, half the dining room, one socket beside the back door, and half the basement. Nothing on the second floor.

We are the proud owners of a 1924 built house, two main floors, a full basement, full attic. It has its charms. It also, as it turned out, had mostly 1924 wire, bare in some places where the old insulation had worn off, especially in the attic, most likely from years of mice chewing on them. And in fact, the electricians discovered the new kitchen sockets showed new wire at the outlet, but new wire wired below the socket to the 1924 wire.

The night after the first k-whomp, we attached a heavy duty extension cord to the one working socket by the back door and snaked it up the stairs to give electrical power to Cliff’s C-Pap at night and the PC’s surge protector during the day. Each night, we maneuvered up the stairs and into the bathroom with flashlights and an electrical lantern. Cliff had to shave in early morning dimness with the same lantern. Monday morning, we called our favorite fix-it company, the same company which had installed the new furnace in January, and while waiting, I cleaned the basement and did laundry.

I won’t detail the following days of electrical testing and paperwork and figuring things out and whether to go with a partial rewiring or a complete, but it was harrowing. Given that most of the wiring in the house is really old and doing a partial re-wiring left us open to more problems, and the company lowered the price by over $3,000, we went with a full house rewire.

Their top electrician and his partner arrived to rewire the house. It was a noisy process with much banging and sawing of one sort or another. They went in all sorts of directions at first; I remained confused.

After a few days, or maybe a week, I don’t know (although part of that time I baked cookies for the crew since they hadn’t started on the kitchen) the two electrical wizards managed to get everything working in my writing room and I hid out there. Not that I could do any writing. But it was moderately protected from banging and sawing.

At the same time, a huge hurricane was crashing into the Carolinas and gas explosions north of Boston were making the news. I think there was also an explosion in western Pennsylvania, but as you might guess, I lost track. However, those catastrophes gave us food for positive thinking: i.e. we weren’t in a hurricane and by acting, we’d likely prevented a looming fire that would have destroyed the house — a house that contains not just all of our individual lives, but the lives of our parents and grandparents: photos, dishes, paintings, furniture, etc.  There’s a lot to be said about downsizing, but we haven’t. My sister-in-law, also at this time, fell on front steps of their house, broke one foot, badly sprained an ankle, and bruised her knees. We were all functioning in this house. And upright.

I won’t go into the fear and despair at another costly job on this house, but that only lasted a couple of days. Mostly we were grateful.

Today, the house passed its final inspection. We have yet to admit KC Power and Light into the back yard to string a new electric wire from the back corner transformer or whatever it’s called, to the new box on the outside of the house, but that’s in the works.

The good news, other than the fact we’re not going to burn up in a house fire, is the cleaning we did behind pulled out chests of drawers and bureau and china closet and bookcases, etc etc etc, that had managed to evade cleaning for too long. You probably don’t need to know the size of the dust bunnies.

Now. Perhaps. I can get back to work, or what passes for work in my life. This is the first writing I’ve done since this whole project began so perhaps there’s hope there, too.

 

 

Stopping

And then I’ve always had a day dream of being a light-house keeper, absolutely alone, with no one to interrupt my reading or just sitting… Elizabeth Bishop

You may have read a recent post where I reprinted a recently published essay, The Solitary Watcher. If you did, you no doubt understand why the above quote from Elizabeth Bishop rings true to me. Regardless of the solitary moments reflected in the essay, there’s not been a lot of quiet solitary this year.

You may also have read the past couple of essays of the death of my old television and the death of an old writer friend. After my twelve-year-old PC died a week ago, I considered writing another death post, but I was so consumed with setting up the new PC, writing about the task seemed just one more thing to do, lost as I was between a 1T hard drive (1T? insane) where I’d downloaded all files from our backup service and the new cloud drive which wanted me to buy more space. Thankfully, our 30-year-old associate pastor and his husband came for dinner Monday evening and Josh sorted it out in no time by deleting the cloud drive. Oh. Thank you. Didn’t know one could do that. So anyway. PC is up and running again.

I’m sitting still, looking out at a rainy day and looking back at a rather chaotic year.

It began on a frigid cold weekend in January when our furnace died. With one thing and another it took two days to get new furnace installed and working. Thankfully, we have a gas stove and I’m a farmer, so I turned on the oven and set big pots of water on the top burners to simmer some warm humidity into the house.  We also had a couple of space heaters. And we received a new NEST magic thermometer which somehow knows when we aren’t home.

In late winter/early spring more or less, a water main burst in the street in front of our house and the city came, twice, to dig up defective spot and replace it. Along the way, they also dug up parts of our front sidewalk, which was in pretty bad shape, and by the time it was all done, we had a completely new sidewalk. There’s a post about that, too, if you care to search for it.

In the midst of spring downpours, we discovered there was a leak in our screened-in back porch and water was dripping through the ceiling light. Not a good omen for safety. So on a dry day, my son and I re-tarred the flat roof and it still dripped. We discovered the foam gutter pieces, which we’d installed to block leaves from filling up our second story gutters, were blocking the flow of water down the intended gutters, and, instead, overflowing down the wall and running into the porch ceiling. A relatively easy fix. We took them out. My son and I also replaced torn screens and repainted the porch.

In early June, we flew to Las Vegas for grandson’s graduation from nursing school and in early July we drove to Colorado Springs for a huge family reunion. When we returned, we found the toilet in the big bathroom had a leak and we, meaning my son and I, replaced the innards of the toilet. Thankfully, regardless of what it seems from this paragraph, it only started leaking after we were home. And then an electrical outlet in the kitchen went bad, and once again, son, who at one time was an electrician, replaced it.

In case you were wondering where my husband was in all of this, he’s a city boy and does the cooking and the laundry and most of the house cleaning. Steve and I do the fixing. Cliff did help me on the farm, where we went to stop for a week, but there’s no just stopping on the farm, regardless, and we pulled and chopped the weeds that had grown up around the little house.

And then the PC, which neither Steve or I could figure out, ergo, bribing young friends with dinner in exchange for setting it up.

Other than saying I spent some time today cleaning the floor in my writing room, I can’t even begin to describe the chaos and piles of papers and books. I stopped querying agents for the first memoir sometime in June because…well, I’ve already detailed the “because,” more or less, and both the book of essays and the book about Mexico are waiting with copious amounts of research to do. Steve also, today, rehung a painting that had fallen from the wall, and which had waited a couple of weeks for re-hanging.

And why did I have to write all this today? I’ve no idea, except fresh ideas are not exactly bursting into my consciousness at the moment and I needed to feel my fingers on a keyboard.

I also needed to sit quietly at my second story window looking out on the world. Thankfully, the laptop did not succumb to the year’s craziness and has continued to do what it does. Rain has splashed onto the window and it’s possible to pretend I’m looking out the top lighthouse windows, spray from the ocean dusting the glass.

Cliff and Stephen are back in school and the NEST thermostat thinks no one is home. That’s fine. I’m also aware that much of the world is in chaos, and so, grateful for the fact that we’re all still alive and well and back at what we like doing, I’ll sign off hoping you are doing reasonably well, too.

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