Sunday, November 30, 2008

Feeling More Prepared, Sort Of

One step at a time, as the saying goes. We finally got our snow tires, and it was actually an interesting chain of events that are very emblematic of life in a small town like this.

Before I get too crazy, I'd just like to say that DC, or should I say J, finally sent me the quote for the septic system. I think I'm leaning towards using him because he's been the most professional and his quote was not much different than the other. And, he's good friends with PD, which is a big consideration. And now we move one step closer to finishing our barn, though we've been going at a snail's pace.

I've been using the firewood that we got last Spring, some time around May, and it really doesn't seem to burn as well. Complete drag, because I thought that seven or eight months would be enough to dry the stuff. It is split in bigger chunks, but so far it has been hissing up a storm when I burn it. Not like the awesome dry stuff from last year. I'll really need to be better prepared come next season, but live and learn. I am curious to see how much wood we actually go through this Winter.

Another interesting development is that I've been seeing the price of wood dropping down to more normal levels. I wonder if the demand made the price skyrocket and people filled in the void and the supply consequently came back down to earth. It seems to me that between Vermont and New Hampshire, there are more than enough trees. I spoke with Homestead Gary's dad about firewood and he said he used to get his cords free but now pays about $40/cord. Can you believe that?

I finally told GL that we needed to clear his stuff out of the barn because we really want to move forward with this barn, and it pained me to have to tell him this because I don't know if he has a contingency plan. Then again, he's always got a contingency plan, and said he'd get back to me. I'm more than happy to help him, and I'd even take care of everything if he told me where to take them. I saw RJ the other day and he said he'd help, and I know I could rally people to come to my aid, so I'm not to worried about that. Also, I've got Balloon GL's truck, so we can transport the beasts. Finally, if we had to, we could just put those things on pallets and cover them with tarps until Spring. I'm fine with that, but of course, they're not my balloons.

Besides GL's balloons, I've got to remove all that other stuff, as well. PD mentioned we could simply place them on the second floor since the work to be done is on the first floor, so that's an option and probably something I need to take care of sooner rather than later. I should also let DC know that it's a go, and we've got to deal with that water test.


I did finally get our snow tires, and I went with Interstate Tires. They do a brisk business. I got there a little after 8:00 and there was a two hour wait! They told me come back at 10:00. I saw SA there, I hadn't spoken to her in months, and here she was, arriving right before me. I gave her a ride back to work, and then picked her up for her car appointment. We went for a walk while they put the tires on, and it was really enjoyable just hanging out with her. I like her company, and talking to her is really nice.

The funny thing is, when we got back, AH's father was at Interstate, as well. Nice to see him. When we picked up our cars, I stopped by at Stern's and who was there? SA, once again. She joked that I was following her. I also saw NH, our neighbor, there with her daughter. What a small world it is.

Life in a small town, you can't beat it. At least if it's in Vermont. Until the next time, thanks for reading.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

State Water Permit Issues continued

I take back all I've said about the waste water management. My bad. I spoke with Terence Shearer and he was not only helpful, but a great guy. I think they would benefit from clarifying things a little to the public, however. As it turns out, I ordered the wrong test. For whatever reason, the public and private tests are different, and that was the root of the problem. I told the water testing lab I was a private dwelling with a private well, so naturally they sold me the tests that applied to me. Well, as it turns out, in our situation, even though we're private, for whatever reason we need to use the public test. That should be clarified, and again, I don't know why their different. The difference is only two things, which should just be included in everything to simplify things.

Anyway, Terence was very helpful, and explained to me what was going on, though again, I was struck by the lack of communication between two state agencies? Surprising? Hardly. He couldn't figure out why my test didn't have everything, when in fact it was because I had the wrong test. He said just make a note to the lab and they should cover everything, but I wasn't convinced. The problem being, if we had run the tests and they had fallen short, then we were the ones who would get screwed. It's not the states fault (well, sort of). The responsibility falls on the homeowner, and I wasn't about take any more chances at this point.

So I called the lab, and that's when I realized I had the wrong test. What a pain. I had to order a new one ($100!) and now I've got to return the others. On a bright note, it does end up being cheaper, so that's not a bad thing. The only thing is, we've got to get them back to the people, and I'm not sure how we'll pull that off, in 24 hours.

At least we're figuring things out. Another bummer issue is that Paul informed me that we've got to clear out the barn. How the hell am I going to move all those darn balloons? It pains me to think of telling Gary he's got to move them, and if I can, I'll do it myself. Total bummer.

Oh well, you do what you gotta do. I'm wondering if the divorce rate in the Upper Valley is higher than other places. It sure seems that way.

Until the next time, thanks for reading.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

What A Complete Drags (more than one)

This pains me to no end, but it turns out we're going to have to clean out the barn so that construction can begin. What a drag. We have to get all of Gary's stuff out of there, and I'm not sure what to do. I guess the first thing is to tell him, but moving that will be a horrendous task. I feel bad mainly if he has to come down to deal with it, but if we can simply move it ourselves, that would make life simpler. The question is, where do you put four hot air balloons? If he's amenable to simply putting them on pallets and covering them with tarps, that would be bonus, but we'll see. Total drag.

It rained pretty heavily yesterday and once again it leaked through the deck. I tried sealing it last summer and it worked up to a point, but the damn design sucks; the deck slopes back down into the house, so when water get onto it, it pools up and leaks into the basement. Now I have to once again address the situation. Home ownership, it ain't always what it's cut out to be.

We still have to do the water testing, and after I called the state agency, the guy left a message that was no help. It made me wonder if he even knows what he's talking about, but I'll give him a chance and try again. The information is there for me, just do what you have to do, and no more.

At least it stopped raining. Until the next time, thanks for reading.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

First Snow and Hunting Season

Though we've had some snow flurries this season, today we got our first real accumulation, and as much as I love the snow, I'm bummed to see it because I haven't gotten our @&%$@* snow tires yet! I don't know why I put it off. Actually, I do know why, it's a lot of money, and money is the one thing I don't want to waste right now. To make matter worse, I have to go to work this morning, and I'm hoping the drive won't be too hairy. It kind of scares me when the conditions get tricky like this, even when we do have snow tires. I'll have to get the tires put on this week. We might get a break in the next couple of days with warmer weather and less snow.

I've noticed that the big topic of discussion wherever I go seems to be hunting, and it's interesting to hear people talk about it. What's really interesting is how the kids really get into it, and from an early age. It really is a way of life out here. When I was younger I probably would have had much more of an interest in it, the guns and all, but now that I'm a family man, I find the idea of guys walking around with guns near our house to be a bit unsettling, if only for the health and welfare of my kids. All it takes is one accident... I can't even think about it.

I will say this; I have a great deal of respect for a lot, if not most of the guys I know who hunt. They take safety seriously and have a great deal of respect for the land, and I wouldn't rule out giving it a try one day, but it's really our kids that I worry about. You just have to practice a lot of common sense, and hang out with the right people.

Fortunately, hunting season doesn't last forever, so you don't have to worry all year long. And since it gets so cold outside and there's no snow (sort of), we spend a lot of time outside.

We're looking forward to the holidays and more snow, always a magical time in Vermont, though we have a lot to prepare for. This week is Thanksgiving, if you can believe that one. I can't.

Supposed to see Gary today, but we might take a rain check since the weather is so poor.

Until the next time, thanks for reading.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Reflecting on the Garden and the Holiday

I was talking to our garden guru, Wendy (as a Flatlander, you need a guru in every field), and we got into discussing the merits of fertilizer and I learned that it doesn't take much. I had this notion of spreading 2-3 yards on our garden, and now I learn that you really don't need much. It kind of makes sense, and makes me feel better about where we stand. I put about a yard and a half on our garden, about 1/3 of which was home grown compost, which is a pretty cool thing when you get down to it, because composting can be a messy business. When I first started throwing things in the bin, I pretty much wrote it off as an exercise in futility. Sure, it reduced our garbage significantly, but the idea that this horrible smelling mess was actually going to come to any good was the furthest thing from my mind.

And lo and behold! Rich, dark, beauiful compost. It was pretty exciting, and the amount that I had in the bin, about a half yard, was just what I need to make up the difference. It was a pretty huge moment, though I was only able to turn about half of it.

Now we can focusing on the upcoming holidays. It has been really cold, and though I'm no expert, it seems unusually cold. We might be in for an interesting Winter, and I hope we get lots of snow. We only have one car right now, Gary took back his Explorer and Caddie, though he did leave his balloon truck in our barn and said we could use it. I don't want to take advantage of the guy, but the truck is sitting there, and he did say...

Good to have a real man guru like Gary, he not only loves to solve problems, but he's always looking out for us.

We have to set our sights on getting a tree, and since we live in Vermont, there are no shortages of them. It becomes a question of where to go, and deep in the back of our minds, we sort of want to stop using Christmas trees since it seems so wasteful, but man do Audrey and Nicholas love them, and I have to confess, it really makes the holidays special. So we'll probably get one, and do the whole holiday thing, which we have a love/hate relationship with.

Until the next time, thanks for reading.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Snow Tires - Interstate vs. Wilson

I have to get snow tires for our car, which is bear for many reasons. They cost a lot. We have only one car, and it's not really designed for snow, though it is front wheel drive. Either way, we try to get the best snow tires we can get, and that ends up costing us in the area of $400-500 to outfit the car. Ouch!

We'd been going regularly to Interstate Tires because they have a great selection, but the downside is that they are not warm and fuzzy (the woman who answers the phone always seems to bust my balls for something), and they don't take appointments, so you have to wait. Not an easy thing to do when you have only one car with two young children.

I tried out Wilson Tires, the Upper Valley's favorite place, and there were some benefits. They take appointments, seem friendlier on the phone, and they are open early on Saturday so I can squeak in while everyone's asleep, freeing up the car.

There are couple of things I don't like about Wilson, and they kind of gnaw at me, enough to make me go back to Interstate. First off, I always feel like I'm being played these guys. They always quote me a price on tires and apply a subtle pressure to buy them now by stressing to me that the price they are giving me today might very well go up next week because of market fluctuations. What's up with that. I hate hearing their little sales pitch, "The price of the Nokias today is this, but I can't guarantee that price in the coming days." It all seems like a game that I don't want to play, and in my limited experience I've found the price never changes.

The second thing that bugs me about Wilson Tires is that they quote me one price for a service (not tires), and it either changes the next time I ask, or it literally changes by the time I pay them. I've had this happen twice, where I asked for a quote on an alignment job, and the price kept changing. Not by much, but $10 is still 10% if a $100, and it's the principle of the matter.

I know, it's my fault, get everything in writing before you commit, but sometimes you want to trust people. You can't be suspicious and cynical all the time, that's why people live in New York, not the Upper Valley.

I still haven't decided which one I'm going with, but I'm leaning towards Interstate. They aren't as congenial, but there's a lot less bullshit. I like to know who I'm dealing with, and spare me the theatrics when you've got something I need.

Call Me the Invisible Man

Sometimes I feel like Ralph Ellison. What is it about contractors, they must have the upper hand because they blow me off like I was a nobody. Then again, I am a nobody, but do they want my money, or what? In all fairness, I did speak with the two excavators about the septic design, and after about three weeks, I finally did get a quote on paper for the septic system, but we're getting into Winter and I'm wondering if at some point it will be too cold to build the damn thing. Then again, I've been told that with modern equipment, they can pretty much dig through concrete. We shall see.

And in all fairness, there seems to have been a big mis-communication. One guy blamed his wife for not sending it, another said he was awaiting word from me. Whatever. I just need the damn paperwork to show to Bob.

We did a water test as well, just a preliminary one to see if we had elevated coliform levels, before we did the big state test, and once again, Brian blew me off. I asked him to call me and I'd come by and pick up the results, and nothing. What's a guy to do?

I'm not going to whine about it, because that's the not the Vermont real-man way, but suffice it to say that it's a bit frustrating when things are at a standstill. Then again, do we really want this thing to be done? Careful what you wish for, and all.

The weather has been getting frigid cold, and man is it tough to wake up in the morning. Thank goodness for our woodstove, I love that thing. I love getting it started and feeling the heat when the room is ice cold. It's really a satisfying thing, and one of the many things I love about Vermont. With the season comes hunting, as well, and though I have no issues with hunting, per se, I am acutely aware of people with guns walking around the woods and shooting anything that moves.

We makes sure we wear bright colors near the treeline, but I'd just as soon avoid the woods altogether. My karate sensei is a big time hunter, and when we're in class, that's all everybody talks about, and my Flatlander status really begins to shine through. I don't know what to add to the discussion, so I just keep my mouth shut. Even the women seem to be big fans. They look at me and shake their heads and think, go back to the concrete jungle, city boy... just kidding.

Thanksgiving is around the corner, as well, and then Christmas. I can't believe it. The season is a bit of a somber one, though, with the current state of the world what it is, but somehow, as long as your with family and friends, everything is gonna be all right.

Until the next time, thanks for reading.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Conquering the Leaky Toilet

Just wanted to mention that, thanks to Kurt, I was able to fix the leaking valve to our toilet. It was a small victory amongst a trail of things to deal with since we've been back.

Dealing With the State

It seems as if this barn we're trying to build is never going to get done. Not only are all the contractors bailing out on us, they are such flakes, but the state seems set on preventing us from going forward. It's hard, and part of me wants to throw in the towel and tell everyone to shove it up their you-know-whats, but that's hardly a way to get things done. It's a little like homeschooling, there are rules and regulations that you simply don't agree with and may even seem stupid, but they are there for a reason, and regardless of whether or not it makes sense, when you're dealing with someone else, you gotta play by their rules.

I haven't heard squat from Paul Derksen's excavator, he said he'd get us a quote in the mail and two weeks later, nothing. I did hear from Dave Sanderson, there was a mis-communication on his end and apparently his wife forgot to send us the quote. He said he'd get it to us ASAP, and now he's in our good graces and Dan Clay is in the doghouse. Such is life. I'd be interested to see where Dave's numbers fall relative to Dan Clays.

As far as the state, I'm not sure what to make of it all. They stopped the permit because they needed water quality tests, and after we sent them, they said it was not a state approved lab and all the necessary contaminants were not examined. So now, one month later, we have to find a new lab, get the tests done, and send them in. We have 60 days, so no time to lose.

Otherwise, we are full swing into Winter. We got our first snowfall yesterday, just a sprinkling, but I think it pretty much signals the end Fall and the end of me doing anything in the garden. I'm beginning to wonder if gardening is even worth it, but I won't go there for now. We are still on the steep part of our learning curve.

Furthermore, I'm not sure what to make of Paul. He sent us a bill for his time in the design, and I'm wondering why now. This project has completely stalled, nothing is happening, and yet he wants to get paid for his design, which was amateurish at best. No offense to Paul, he's a friend, but the design aspect of building is new to him, he's still learning and playing with his program, and I'm guessing he probably spent more time working on it than he actually billed us, but give me a break. It's a bit of nickle and diming, if you ask me.

Meanwhile, we're caught in the middle of the Bob and Paul saga. Bob wants us to deal with this, but he has ultimate decision making power in any and everything, so it makes much more sense for him to deal with Paul directly. Yet, he wants us to be the middle-men, even though we can't make any final decisions. What to do?

Personally, I want this whole thing to just end. I'm fine with the thing just being a glorified garage, but again, that's just giving up and taking the easy way out. Man is it appealing right now, though.

Until the next time, thanks for reading.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Back Home In Vermont

We had a great trip, chronicled in our travel blog, but it was not without its fair share of challenges. We'd weathered one storm after another, but it is never bad enough to discourage us from traveling. It really means that much to us.

But now we're back, and man oh man does it feel good to be home again in Vermont. I love this place. The weather was surprisingly warm when we arrived, high 60's in fact, and though I love the cold weather, maybe it was for the best that it was mild when we arrived. It made it that much easier to get back home because it was not as uncomfortable for Audrey and Nicholas, whom after 24 hours of travel were sound asleep.

Now that we're back, there are still things to be done around the home. The ground is not yet frozen solid, so I may still have time til the soil and get the leaves and compost into the ground. I finished about half of hit yesterday, but man was it a chore, and I found myself wavering on my pledge to do things the hard way as the temptation to borrow Paul's tiller kept running through my head. But I persevered, and feel better for it. There's still a lot to do, however.

The cold is beginning to creep back and though it's hovering around a balmy 35 degrees, it's slated to drop below 20 in the coming days, not to mention a bit of snow. We still have to get our snow tires, though we do have good all season radials, which should buy us a little time, though not much.

On the home improvement front, we came home to a problem that requires my attention-the darn toilet intake is leaking, and needs to be replaced. It was inevitable that we'd reach this juncture because the valve had developed a slow leak over time, and now it's just coming out much faster. Bummer. The thing is, I'm not sure what to do, so I'm going to have to a little research in the meantime, with the inevitable consultation with Kurt, my source for all home building information.

Unfortunately, it puts the toilet a bit out of commission. It still works fine, it just doesn't refill properly and consequently, discourages everyone from wanting to use it. Such is life, I'll get on it as soon as possible.

Did I mention how nice it is to be back home? Until the next time, thanks for reading.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Green In Europe

We're away on vacation but I'm chronicling our adventures in a travel blog.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Just Do It

File this in the "just do it" files, but yesterday we were running around getting ready for the trip and at some point Ruth had to tie up a few loose ends at work and I was at home with the kids. I wanted to finish up with the garden and let it ride until Spring, how cool would that be, but it's hard getting compost when all you've got is a small Japanese sedan. Kurt, the man, said I could use his truck and trailer, but it was late in the day and in typical phredlee phashion I decided to blow it off and put it off until next Spring. Just another day.

BUT, at the last minute, I switched gears and decided to just go for it. It was about three-thirty and we were losing light fast. I told the kids to get in the car, we drove to Kurts and took off with his truck, which he had thoughtfully hitched up and left for us. What a guy. Now all the while, in typical phredlee phashion, I was worried about how the hell I was going to maneuver this thing. I'm not good with trailers, they give me anxiety, but I just went for it, anyway.

We went to John Madden's and he was helping another customer. His farm was muddy and wet, almost swampy, and he mentioned the need for 4-wheel drive, which we now gratefully had. I met a friend of the Bolands there, he was getting compost and his kids played hockey with Patrick and Clara. Cool guy, but of course I forgot his name.

Well, as it turned out, the trailer was too small for what I wanted, three yards, and I was only able to get one, but at least we just did it. I pile the shit onto the front lawn and we'll see if I can get to it before we go. John Madden was cool as always, I love dealing with that guy, and also to helping him out by giving him business is a good thing.

I returned Kurt's truck and tried my best to back the thing into his drive. Dealing with a trailer ain't easy, but if you take the time to really think about it, it helps. Having lots of space helps, too. I'm also thinking that our own compost will help to make up the missing amount, though it might not be enough. Still, I like the idea of using it, and if I empty one bin, it'll be ready for the next load.

Gotta run and prepare for our Big Trip. There won't be too much in coming days in terms of my entries on this blog, since we won't be in the Green Mountain State, but I'll be maintaining a travel blog and continuing to blog on Parenting the Hard Way.

Until the next time, which may be in two weeks, thanks for reading.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

A Few Scores

In my quest to be a real man, I am presented with a number of obstacles that test me on so many levels. Life would be so much simpler if I just paid my taxes and let the government dictate the direction of my life. Then again, do I really want to be like most of the people on the planet?


In my quest to deal with my life before our trip, I've actually managed to get some things done. I know, it sounds unbelievable, but it's much more doable with Ruth at home to help out. At least make sure the kids are safe and sound, because I usually end up having to take a break and make lunch, anyway.

Today is Sunday, and I'm really going to push my luck and try to get the compost onto the garden this afternoon. Kurt said I could borrow his trailer, and there's a funny story attached to this. A couple of them, actually.

He said I was welcome to use the trailer, but nobody was home to help me hitch it up and I was welcome to come over and try for myself. So I went, and after spending no small amount of time looking it over, it dawned on me that I don't have a proper trailer hitch. I need the big ball on the end, and I had no idea where to get one. I thought about trying to get the one off of Kurt's truck, then it dawned on me. Just use the whole damn truck. Kurt was cool about it, he always is.

He said he was going to put the plow on and test it, and I asked him if he was going drive the truck through his garden and plow up the dirt. He started laughing and had to remind me that it was a "snow" plow, but what he was really thinking was, "Are you a complete loser flatlander, or what?" It was a little embarrassing, but en par for the course. Sometimes you have to learn the lessons the hard way.

I did manage to stop indulging in self-pity and get off my butt and actually do something in the yard. The biggest problem I have is raking leaves. I don't mind mowing the lawn or hauling firewood or even hand tilling the garden, but man, raking leaves really gets me down. There are so many. I did come up with a middle-ground solution.

I simply mow the lawn. This works because my goal is to get the leaves onto the garden as fertilizer, and they say to mulch them up for better decomposition. Unfortunately, my plan, kind of like all my plans, worked much better in theory than in practice. Because leaves are so airy, I could only make a couple of passes before the bag was full. Literally five minutes, max, and then I had to empty the bag. Completely unacceptable.

I was about to rake the whole damn yard when I had yet another idea. Starting in the middle, I made an outward concentric circle, mulching the leaves and distributing them to the periphery of the yard. By the end, I was able to clear the grass and get the leaves to nourish the trees. It isn't a perfect solution, but it worked, and it sure as hell beat raking. I understand why people use blowers, it makes perfect sense.

I can do a bit of raking under the oak tree w/swing and collect enough leaves to make a substantial leaf pile for the kids and then use it to feed the garden, so it works out beautifully. I hate to admit it, but I was sort of proud of myself for not only finding a solution, but for just the simple of fact of dealing with it.

We'll see how today goes with the manure. Until then, thanks for reading.