Archive for the ‘Biography’ Category

Diary #538

One drawback to living on the edge of a rain forest is, as you can probably guess, that it rains an awful lot.  From October to May it’s always at least wet here if not actually raining; June and September are somewhat rainy, and only July and August are actually dry.  That’s why we started doing the outdoor work on our bathhouse around the end of May; we wanted to take advantage of the dry weather while it lasted.  But now it’s done, and we’re back to the rain; I wanted to get the roof at least started by the end of September, but the difficulty of getting the roof materials delayed that past the beginning of autumn.  It looks like we’ve finally lined up a supplier for those parts, so we’ll be getting started on the trusses soon; they’re welded indoors in the shop, anyhow.  And once they’re ready, it’ll only take a few dry days to get everything in place, after which it won’t matter.

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It’s been raining a lot lately, and we still haven’t found a place to get the roof purlins we need for phase 4 of the bathhouse project!  We’ve found a number of places that claim to have them, but they don’t have price lists online and appear disinclined to either answer their phones or reply to emails.  So even though there’s over a ton of steel tubing sitting in my garage and a fresh bottle of argon waiting for the welder, we still haven’t gotten started on the roof project yet.  So there will be a short break from bathhouse columns; they’ll be more sporadic for the next few months (there are a number of holidays and such on Fridays in November and December anyway), and then once we start making regular progress again I’ll go back to the weeklies for the duration of the project.  Stay tuned!

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Diary #537

I think I’m just about done processing apples for the year. There’s a gallon carboy of cider fermenting out in the garage, and three jars each of apple jelly and apple butter in the larder. That does not count the open jars in the refrigerator; when I make jam or jelly I put all of what’s in the pot into jars, even if the last one isn’t full enough to form a proper vacuum once they cool.  I then open the underfull jar the next day so we can sample the contents.  This way, I not only avoid waste, but also test the product to make sure it’s up to snuff.  Next year, I’d like to make about twice as much; considering that we should be finished the bathhouse project well before next harvest season, I think that’s doable.  See, the limiting factor isn’t really the amount of fruit, but rather the time and effort it takes to pick it, sort it, prepare it (pitting plums, coring apples, juicing, etc), and prepare the preserves.  Next year, I should even have enough fruit and time to do mincemeat.  And even though the pectin I extracted performed perfectly, I think next year I’ll just buy it; it was a lot of effort for just enough pectin to make 31/2 jars of apple jelly, and the animals seemed less enthusistic about eating the pomace which had been boiled than that which had merely been juiced.

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This family…didn’t choose…to [allow] Jefferson Parish to look into their home and judge what happens there.  –  Chelsea Cusimano

The big news this week was the death of Eddie Van Halen; I wasn’t really a fan, but this song was recent enough when I was teaching that some of my students used to “innocently” sing it within earshot.  The links above it were provided by Nun YaStephen Lemons, Tim Cushing, Popehat, Scott Greenfield, Cop Crisis, and Thaddeus Russell, in that order.

From the Archives

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Bathhouse 21

For the last couple of weeks, developments on the bathhouse have been incremental; Chekhov stained the second cottage as you can see, and he also figured out how to fix the doors so they’d close properly. According to the company that builds the kits, we’re the first ones who have reported problems with getting the doors to line up, and since we had the same problem with both cottages it’s obviously something we did wrong rather than a defect in the kits.  My suspicion is that it was because, out of an abundance of caution, we only installed the door frames at the four-log level rather than the doors and frames as the instructions directed; we were concerned that in the process of building the walls, the glass doors might get broken.  If we had installed the doors early on, we could have adjusted the frames then and used the trim to cover the gaps.  Ah, well, live and learn.  Anyhow, things should be picking up again soon; I was in Seattle for much of this week, and on Wednesday I visited two used building material companies in search of cee purlins, because for some reason new ones are more than four times as expensive here as they are in Oklahoma (everything is more expensive here, but not usually by more than double at the outside).  I also got the pipe Grace needs for the main roof truss supports; with any luck and weather permitting, we should have those in place by next week, and then we can get started on actually building the trusses.

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Diary #536

Last Wednesday I collected what I thought a good number of apples from my trees to test my new cider press; after coring them and running them through a food processor for pulping, I used the press (on the deck, because I wasn’t sure how messy it would be) and obtained about 6 liters of fresh cider.  I’m going to ferment a gallon of it and use the rest to make apple butter and apple jelly; toward the latter end, I boiled the pomace (the stuff left over after juicing) in water, strained out the solids, and then boiled down the pulp to extract the pectin.  I was kind of amazed how little pectin the process produced; in the future I may decide it’s a better use of my time to just buy it from a grocery store.  But it’s no waste of time to learn how to do something, even if you don’t do it regularly afterward.  Anyhow, the animals really enjoyed the pomace once I was done, or at least Orville and Shiloh did; Jonathan is a bit of a snob, and though he ate it he didn’t seem as enthusiastic as the others.  I’m off to Seattle today, but I’ll be back at the farm on Thursday to do the last of the season’s canning, get on with the bathhouse roof, and spend more lovely October nights watching horror movies while stoned.

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Seattle is the only large city I’ve ever lived in.  Oh, I spent an appreciable fraction of my adult life in New Orleans, but that hasn’t been a large city (by North American standards) since the Second World War.  New Orleans is also slow, quiet, friendly, and highly idiosyncratic – all of which Seattle is not.  But when I made the decision in December of ’14 to move there, I assumed I would adapt.  After all, I easily adapted to New Orleans after a childhood spent in a town of 6000 people; I just figured it would be a similar scale-up.  And I didn’t even realize that I was mistaken until a few weeks ago.  Oh, I have always known that I prefer rural living to urban, which is one of the reasons I bought Sunset rather than a house somewhere in Greater Seattle; I figured I’d retire there one of these days, and spend relaxing weekends there in the meantime.  But when everything shut down for the pandemic, I started spending most of my time there, only returning to Seattle for appointments or other practical reasons.  And as the summer waxed, I noticed something peculiar: I wasn’t nearly as agitated by the long, bright days as usual, despite spending a great deal of time outdoors and not keeping the interior of the house as dark as I keep my Seattle apartment.

I noticed in my first summer up here that the anxiety was much worse than it was in Oklahoma or Louisiana, but I put that down to the considerable stress I was under and the fact that at these latitudes, the contrast between the lengths of summer and winter days is much greater.  But though my stress levels decreased throughout ’18 and ’19, my summer anxiety did not.  And though the days were brighter at the farm, the anxiety did not climb to the levels I had come to expect over the past five years…except for the days when I was in the city.  Every time I was in town during July, August, and September, my anxiety increased, sometime to the point of needing a little chemical assistance to manage it; every time I headed back to Sunset it decreased again.  Finally I realized that the problem isn’t Seattle’s geographical location, but rather its size.  Those who have visited my incall have certainly noticed that it’s a kind of psychic oasis; its darkness and masses of sound-dampening fabric tend to shut out much of the noise and bother trying to force their way in from the street.  When I lived here full-time, I always felt better upon returning from work or shopping and deliberately closing and locking the door.  But that was only relative, and my brain was still tense and racing; out at Sunset the blaring sirens and glacial traffic flow are two hours away, and it makes all the difference in the world.  So it’s a good thing I’m semi-retiring before next summer; I can handle the stress and commotion a few days at a time, a few times a month.  But it’s better for my brain not to marinade in that for weeks or months on end.

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Bathhouse 20

On the day my last bathhouse update posted, we were busily engaged in switching our power system over from the old  cables Grace had jury-rigged back in 2017 just to get the power on quickly.  We originally planned to do it on Saturday, but on Friday morning the weather forecast had changed so that Friday was the better day.  Grace was ready, so we launched into the project a little after 2 pm and were finished a little before 6.  Our new system uses heavy, high-quality copper cable in place of the cheap aluminum ones, and the laundry room, shop, and bathhouse (including the well) now have their own designated feeder cables and breaker boxes; everything is designed to be safer, neater and easier to maintain.  On Saturday, I finished wiring the outlets in both cottages, and Chekhov took down the overhead cables (and those on the outside wall of the shop) which were visible in some of the previous pictures, and the old main cable which ran from the meter to the main breaker box in the back.  Getting rid of that damned overhead conduit was especially gratifying to me, but I think Chekhov and Jae are most pleased about having working outlets in their cottages (instead of having to run things from power strips attached to the long extension cords visible in many previous pictures).  And Grace is just happy to be done with a project that arthritis made very difficult for her.

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Diary #535

Leveling the floor of my house has been a long, slow process, but we’re finally beginning to make some discernible progress.  Every Sunday we use a laser level to take readings across the entire length of the house; when we started the drop between the highest and lowest points on the floor was almost four inches, and now it’s less than 2.75 inches.  But as we’ve worked on remodeling, we’ve come to realize that at least some of that drop has more to do with the fact that the property slopes down toward the east, and the low point is on the east end; in other words, the original owners (who built the house themselves in 1927) don’t seem to have concerned themselves with whether it was level or not!  The house is sturdy enough, but there are many places where walls are not exactly square or plumb, so it stands to reason the floor probably wasn’t properly level to start with; everything seems to have been “eyeballed”.  Given this information, we’ve decided to worry less about whether the floor is truly level and more about whether it’s straight and strong.  Accordingly, we’ve reversed the direction of measurement; whereas before three weeks ago we set the laser up on the living room floor and shot toward the back door, we’re now setting up on the lower level of the deck immediately outside the back door (which we know to be level since we built it ourselves) and shooting to a laser target set up in the living room.  That way, we eliminate the possibility that the floor under the laser tripod might also be moving, and thus introucing error into the measurements.  On Sunday, I asked our hired man to go under the house and crawl toward the living room (the oldest part of the house) to be sure there were no other bad places that we couldn’t detect from above; he returned with this rotten timber.  Fortunately, it was the only bad one he saw, and he said it was obvious it had been poorly placed to start with; all the others appeared sound, and the beam the timber was supporting does not appear to be sagging yet.  So the next time he comes out, we’re going to have him replace it with a steel support just in case, and after we get the bad spot where we want it (we’re improving by about 1/8” per week now), we’ll fill in the area beneath it with a concrete pedestal so that nothing short of a major earthquake can mess it up again.

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Bathhouse 19

Last week was mostly a lot of prep work and what one might call “invisible improvements”. On Wednesday I bought the steel we’re going to build the roof structure from, then over the next few days we were occupied with getting ready to switch over to the new, improved and expanded, main power system.  Under Grace’s direction I ran the main cables to the shop and Jae’s cottage, put in the junction boxes under Jae’s floor, and wired up the outlets for both cottages; I also helped Chekhov move into his cottage, braced a few sections of the deck that were flexing more than I liked, and finished up several other small tasks, none of which would really show up in a picture.  But when our hired man finished the task of applying roof sealant on the shop and garage buildings, I let Jae borrow him to start rebuilding her yurt in its new location north of the house.  For comparison with other pictures, that’s Chekhov’s cottage in the foreground and the outside wall of the original house at left; the area where all the wood is lying is going to be the new bathroom, and there will be an exit door with a ramp just a little to the right of where you can see that extension cord.  We’ve had a lot of rain this week, so we mostly did more indoor prep work.  But if the weather forecast is correct, tomorrow is going to be dry enough to do the big switchover, and we’ll at last be able to get those annoying overhead conduits (they’re visible in several of the pictures) out of our way before we move on to building the roof.

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