Sunday, March 29, 2009

Mud Season Hell and a Bad Sugar Season

Now I'm no expert on life in Vermont, being a Flatlander and real man in training, but the road leading to our house is exceptionally bad. So bad that I would go so far as to say it's borderline impassable. Granted, it's a small dirt road, but it gets a fair amount of traffic, and I don't think people realize what they're getting into. We've had to forsake one direction for fear of getting completely stuck, it's that bad.

Our neighbor and local icon EB said it's one of the worst, if not the worst, conditions for the road he's ever seen, and he grew up here. We went for a walk up the hill and found even walking on it a bit of a challenge. The mud was so thick and deep that it pulled the boots right off our feet. A woman walking along the road also commented that this was the worst she'd seen, so things are pretty crazy.

The reason I've been told this is happening is that it's become too warm, too quickly. The snow is melting so fast that the roads are taking a beating, and I've heard other dirt roads are just as bad. They just laid a layer of dirt over our road, maybe two or three days ago, and it's back to being a disaster. I don't think even the mailman is going to make it through, and we think we may have to pick it up at the post office. Crazy.

What kills me is that there's still tons of snow on the ground. I just want it to melt and for mud season to be over, but that's wishful thinking, for sure. It's only March, and we're due for probably at least one more snowstorm, if you can believe that, though now it's raining, and that might make a dent.

On a brighter note, we went for a really nice walk up our road, mud and all, and what a great time it was. We were originally going to just check the mail, but we ended up seeing our neighbors, and we walked farther up the hill than we anticipated. It's really nice up there, and for whatever reason, the road is constructed of hard pack, so it's hard, packed and solid. Why can't they do that with our road?

There is a sheep farm about a mile up the hill, and what a beautiful location it is. So well maintained, so picturesque, right out of a postcard. We'll probably take some pics for our burgeoning website, whenever that may be. In fact, I can envision it, even though I still want the pond, but we'll see.

On the walk home we saw our sugaring neighbors, and EB talked about how bad a season it's been. I feel bad, though they simply roll with it and move on. No sense in dwelling on what you can't control. The weather has just not been cooperating, compromising the quality of the sap, and I think they've closed the door on the sugaring season. Done and over, kind of sad.

Either way, EB gave us a ride home on his tractor, which is a thrill for the kids, and we got to hang with his grandkids, M and B, so it was a lot of fun. It's a good thing he's got a tractor, because he drove down our road, and I really couldn't believe how bad the mud was. Amazing, and any other car would not have made it.

In fact, last night while we were watching a movie, we could see cars trying to drive up it, and then backing back down when they realized it wasn't going to happen. It's a tough time, but that's what makes New Englanders so tough and capable.

Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to stella bogdanic for the pic

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Arrival of Our Wood

Wow, if you can believe it, we actually got our firewood. I couldn't believe it finally happened. I've never bought such large quantities of wood in such an unfinished state, and tackling it will be yet another step in my quest to be a real man. Now all I need to do is grow a beard and eat pancakes for breakfast. Whole wheat ones, of course.

I got a call early in the AM yesterday from Andy, who was coming through with the wood. Being the neurotic nutcase that I am, I was beginning to wonder if we'd ever get the stuff because the roads to our house are in pretty bad shape and I wasn't sure if a huge truck could get here, much less make it down our driveway. I have to confess to being in awe of those truck drivers, they are fearless and take those things into places I wouldn't even walk to. They are that adept and confident in their abilities, but I guess that comes with experience.

Either way, I had to drive over near Britton's Lumber to show the guys how to get to our house, which was a little strange, but I think it's standard M.O., not that I would know. I did worry that he'd have trouble with our driveway, which is a bit narrow and muddy, but the guy didn't blink and eye and just drove right in, no problem. You should have seen where the truck was at the sight where they loaded the wood, it was like threading a needle. I asked the driver (for the record, his name was Lance Simons, and he did a stand-up job) to load the wood in a space near the wildflower patch. Actually, it's right on top of the wildflower patch, and though we'll miss the flowers, we had to put the stuff somewhere. My biggest concern was sparing Marty's daughter's tree, and I asked Lance if he could spare it's life, and he said no problem. I marked it with red surveyor's tape to be sure.

Then the fun began. N quickly got dressed and joined me outside to watch, and it's pretty cool. I have to confess, I thought Lance was very conscientious about how he loaded the wood, more so than I thought he had to be. Then again, it ties in with the New England hard work and honest day's work ethic. You do a good job and take pride in what you do, not necessarily just to make money. Sure, money's important, but so is doing the job right. My point is, I wouldn't have known one way or another if he'd just dumped the wood on the ground and left. Instead, he took measures to preserve the integrity of the wood, and again, this could be standard M.O. for loggers, but it impressed me, nonetheless.

Now I figured they'd come with a dump truck and just leave the wood in a pile, but they actually use a large hydraulic arm to lift the logs out of the truck and onto the ground. Before he got too crazy, he fabricated a makeshift pallet out of a few logs to protect the wood from the ground. For those of you unfamiliar with using firewood (I just learned this a couple of years ago, the hard way!), you can't leave it in contact with the ground or it will rot. There were even a few times where the wood slid off the pallet and Lance stopped to pick them up and put them back. Somehow this just impressed me.

After all was said and done, he took off and we got to stand around and admire the pile. It's a lot of wood, and now I've got to cut the stuff up and then split it. They say wood warms you twice, once when you stack it, once when you burn it, but I've found, at least with me, it warms you at least four times, maybe more.

Either way, thanks to Andy and Lance. We got our wood, one less thing to worry about, and now I can focus on tuning up our lawnmower, fixing the house, and getting the garden ready for Spring. Oh, and most importantly, being a real man for my wife and kids.

Until the next time, thanks for reading.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Everyone in Vermont Needs a Truck and Blue Belt Responsibilities

After all is said and done, I'm still not sure if I'm ever going to get my firewood, but I'm not going to stress about it. For whatever reason, PD said that it's now or never, and I'm not sure why. Whatever be the case, now I'm all neurotic about whether or not my firewood guys is actually going to come through. It's hard when you're so dependent on other people, especially ones you don't even know and have never met.

So I sit and wait. I have other options, albeit more difficult ones. I really wanted to just have them deliver the logs and I could cut them at my leisure, but we'll see where this one goes. In the meantime, GS said he'd have plenty of wood, just no means to transport it, so I need a truck. Who in Vermont doesn't need a truck?

That said, last night at karate, my sensei said if he gets his dump truck up and running, I could borrow it to haul wood, just fill the tank. It's got a 454, so that could be an expensive proposition, but very doable. He also said he's got a logging job coming up and might have a line on some wood, so I asked him to keep me in mind. This wood gig sure takes some thought, though only when you're trying to save money.

Last night in class I had to fulfill some of my blue belt duties and actually teach a new student about what we're all about. I never know what to say, but just went over the basics and it seemed to go well. The girl in question is a natural, BTW.

Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to Andrzej Pobiedziński for the pic.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Helping Out and Sugaring

Just to make things a little crazier, it actually snowed yesterday, and it was cold. We spent some time outside taking care of things in preparation for Spring and heard the sound of chainsaws nearby so we went to investigate. Our neighbor, EB, was out there cutting down a beech tree and he was all by his lonesome, so I offered to help out and he gladly accepted, not that I can do much of anything. Either way, another pair of hands can't hurt, and when doing dangerous work, it's not a bad idea to have another body around. It doesn't get much more dangerous than logging.

I got to learn a little about cutting down trees, and it's interesting when you consider that it takes decades for the tree to grow, and it really doesn't let go easily. Why should it? In fact, it seems to hold on for dear life in the worthwhile quest for survival. Makes you realize that you really have to have respect for trees, they are an amazing thing. After cutting the tree, he realized it wasn't going to fall, even after cutting several sections off, and EB decided that he'd come back and with his tractor and pull the thing down. In the meantime, he cleared some brush and cut some small saplings, things I could help out with. It was a beautiful, cold Spring day and it felt good to be outside. And I was happy to spend some time with one of our many iconic neighbors (they have a street named after them), not to mention a source for future maple syrup. We put our order in.

Later that day, after hanging out around the house, we went for a walk and once again passed EB's house (it was actually his parents-they are four generations all living within a mile of eachother-kind of cool) and he was boiling the maply syrup, so we stopped by for a visit and got the tour. His son SB was there and the grandkids, and eventually EB's mom, the great-grandmother stopped by to finally meet us. It was really cool, and she's the sweetest, nicest woman. How lucky to have all her family so close by.

The kids had a blast, got to play with our neighbor's kids, and they made some new friends. Best of all, we connected with our neighbors, who just happen to be real Vermonters.

Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to Joe Zlomek for the pic.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Careful What You Wish For continued

I got a message from PD that our firewood was coming this weekend, and it kind of took me by surprise. On the one hand I'd like to get the wood and know that I have it in my possession, on the other hand, it means I've got to deal with it, which means getting the chainsaw, the chaps, the boots, the helmet, and all that good stuff. Up to now it's just a been an abstract concept, but eventually I've got to turn it all into a reality. And then I've got to actually cut the wood.

The problem we have is that to transport the wood, they've got to drive down our road, and it's been posted because it's a mud pit. Almost impassable for our tiny car, so I can't imagine what an 18-wheeler would do. They'll have to move the wood during the early AM when the road is still frozen, but we shall see. Just goes to show you, be careful what you wish for. You just might get it.

Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to Hans Thoursie for the pic.

Friday, March 20, 2009

New Look

My wife asked me if my blog was green since it is implied in the title, and it dawned on me that it should be green in lieu of exactly that. Thus the new look.

Hope it works for you, and thanks for reading.

Getting Stuck and Sugaring

The mud has gotten so bad that I'm thinking this will be a mud season to remember. Already our road is in terrible shape, and our driveway is taking a beating. Part of it unusable thanks to my trying to drive the truck through it, and I'm thinking I might have to go in there and do a little repair work. Not that it would help.

We've decided to stop using part of our road and will have to drive in from the opposite direction. It makes life inconvenient, but sure beats getting stuck. I think the road are so bad that our wood guy won't be able to make it through to deliver our wood, if that even ever happens. Whatever be the case, it might take a little longer, which isn't the end of the world.

It's been a busy sugar season by the looks of our neighbors, and we've yet to join in and watch/help. I'm actually not sure how to take part, but am wondering if I should just give them a call and invite ourselves over. They are such nice people and I'm sure they would say fine, but I feel a little funny. We'd love to help.

We're hoping for some warm, dry days to deal with the mud. I've been told what makes the difference is when the trees pop out their leaves. That apparently suck the water out of the ground and ends mud season. I'm all for it.

We'll see how this one goes. Until the next time, thanks for reading.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Mud Season Approaches

The seasons, in typical Spring fashion, can't seem to make up their minds, and we're getting the typical temperature fluctuations of hot to cold. At times the change is pretty significant, going from the 40's to the single digits. What you get are the slick, icy conditions that make getting around a challenge, but I'm wondering if it's better this way, because what really makes life hard is the mud. At one point, our road was so bad that we were seriously worried about getting stuck before the cold weather set in. Now that ski season is over, I wouldn't be disappointed if the snow melted quickly and Spring arrived with flourish, because there are so many big projects to take on, and I can't begin them until it gets a little warmer and drier. Then again, there will be plenty of time for that.

Still waiting to hear about our firewood. I can't picture what 8 cords looks like in tree length wood, but yesterday at Cobb Hill, I spoke with Steve (really cool guy) and expert woodsman, and he showed me a pile that was about 12 cords. Based on that, I think the wood we ordered will fit in the designated space. My main concern is for Marty's tree, which when you think about it, is still a strange thing that she put it there. What's she thinking? In the end, we'll do our best, but I can't account for the actions of other people trying their best, meaning the person who will deliver the wood.

BTW, Steve used Stihl chainsaws and brought up the interesting point that a smaller bar actually cuts faster because the chain has a shorter distance to travel, which makes sense.

Looking forward to some warmer weather, but mostly drier weather. Haven't been doing much sugaring, though we see our neighbors out and about and should take the initiative. It's awkward inviting yourself over to someone else's gig, but they are so nice, I know they'd be happy to have us along.

Until the next time, thanks for reading.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Choosing My Chainsaw

People seem so relaxed about dropping several hundred dollars on equipment, it amazes me. Then again, when it comes to most serious stuff, you have no choice, it's expensive. I've narrowed my chainsaw search to a Stihl, even though my neighbor has a Husqvarna, as does his neighbor. It sort of boiled down to my gut feeling, and I went into it thinking Husqvarna all the way because that's what my buddy Jim has and promoted.

But I'm also a big and loyal fan of Joe's Equipment in W. Leb, and all they don't carry Husqvarna. Just Stihl and Jonsured (and Echo, but barely), and I've grown to trust them. It's still going to cost me a bundle, with chaps and helmet and boots, but I'm leaning to the 270. My friend G has the 280, and that has more power, but the 270 is about $100 less, and that's what they showed me and recommended. Obviously, bigger is better, but I think it's reasonable.

My karate instructor said he uses both Stihl and Husqvarna and says they're both great saws, but he mentioned that Husqvarna made their saws available to big chain stores, and the quality went down, whereas Stihl is adamant about only going through dealers. I kind of like that, though I know Husqvarna's still a great saw.

That's the way it is for this week, but things can change on a dime. Until then, thanks for reading.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Firewood Karma and Mud Season

I took my first steps at being an assertive homeowner and community member by reporting a local road that was in disrepair. I even used that word, that sounds a bit pretentious in retrospect, but I didn't want to seem overbearing. It also might have seemed self-serving because the road in question just happens to be the one our house is on, but what are you going to do? Mud season is peaking it's head around the corner, and though we have our share of cold days still, it's been hovering around the high 40's on some days, and the mud is pretty serious.

Our road gets to be a swamp, and since we're one of the few families in Vermont that doesn't have 4-wheel drive, there have been a few instances when it wasn't for certain that we'd make it through. Fortunately the really bad sections are right in front of our neighbors, and since our neighbors are all true Vermonters (not necessarily natives), they have tractors and trucks, and have in the past bailed us out when we were stuck. Even still, best to avoid those situations.

I was told to call the town center and let them know about the problem, it's the only way they know, so I did. I spoke with the town manager, B, who is kind of like the mayor, and he knew who I was. That was kind of cool for a Flatlander. I've met him on a few occasions, and he's a great guy, but never figured that he actually remembered my name, but such is the way of small town life. You've got to love that. He said he'd put the road on the list and they'd take a look at it. I'm sure they're inundated with complaints, and at some point they'll probably re-surface our road with hard pack. The temp has dropped so it's probably more manageable, but in the next few weeks it'll be a disaster.

In fact, looking around our house, I can't help but think that this mud season is going to be a whopper. Last year we lucked out, Spring was short and dry, just right if you ask me. I'm guessing this year we won't be so lucky, but you never know.

I was talking to my friend, P, about firewood and he's a true Vermonter. Of course I was curious about where he got his, and he told me he buys several cords a year, up to six, at $200 a pop. I was floored, that's expensive for so much wood, and later realized that he might have been yanking my chain in an effort to be coy about his source, much like I've been in the past about mine. So my firewood karma is coming back to haunt me, but I guess I'm getting what I deserve.

Either way, I don't know that's what he was doing for sure, and in the end, if and when I get my chainsaw, it will undoubtedly open up more options.

Until then, thanks for reading.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Relinquishing the Key

For whatever reason, I was in possession of the key to open the karate dojo, and felt this huge burden of responsibility to be there not only on time, but early to let everyone in. I usually got to class about ten minutes before it began, because I am dependent on my wife getting home to watch the kids. With the key, it meant that I should get there earlier, though it's not imperative.

Yesterday, R was running a little late, and I knew they were testing a black belt, so I packed the kids into the truck, drove over, let everyone in, and then brought the kids back home. R was there by then, and it was a question of a few minutes, but I felt better having dealt with it.

And, sensei was there, so I gave him back the key, and now I'm absolved of having to be there early to open the door. Big relief, now I can focus on other important matters, like getting dinner ready for R when she gets home. Not easy being a homemaker, especially when you're trying to study karate at the same time.

Thanks for reading.

Quick House Assessment and Crazy Weather

K came by yesterday while plowing the driveway and gave us a quick assessment to the roof situation, and like most things in life, there was good news and bad news. The bad news is that the roof is clearly leaking and needs to be dealt with at some time. K could see water damage on the ceiling and said it was clear the water was getting in and at some point needed to be dealt with. He also mentioned that the root of the problem was more than likely in some inadequate insulation on that section of the ceiling.

The good news is that since the leaking was due to ice buildup and not a big hole in the roof, it wouldn't require replacing the shingles, at least not in the short term, and could very well be avoidable if I can just keep all that ice off the roof. I.e., I've got to be more diligent about clearing the snow off the roof, and I've got to clear more of it off, on the order of all of it. I was originally told to just remove the snow about foot off the edge to avoid icicle formation, but even when I did that, I could plainly see that the ice simply formed further up the roof, and now I'm suffering for my sins. At least there is a remedy, if not a solution.

There is also a problem with our front porch with leaking. When the roof is doing it's job of keeping water off the deck, we're fine, but once that deck gets wet, it's like a sponge. I don't get it, personally, I don't see how the water gets in, but it does, probably through the grout, and then it flows to the basement. We're getting rot on the floor, you can see it in the basement, which is a complete bummer. The long range goal would be to replace the floor, a huge job, but in the short term, keep that darn water off the deck. I've got to come up with a plan, but for now can just abate the situation by using a tarp. Sure, it looks awful, but beats having rotting floorboards.

Funny how Marty never mentioned these things. It stems from a flawed design on the porch, the thing is angled towards the house so all the water that hits it flows and collects against the front door. It's got nowhere to go but inside.

Yet another project for the Summer.

The weather thew us a curveball, as well. As much as I love snow, I was taken by surprise by how much we got, and it's wet. The ground is still soft, so when K plows it, it comes up mud. The bright note is that the skiing will last a little longer, if I can motivate the kids to want to go. Maybe today...

Until then, thanks for reading.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Looking Ahead to Home Improvement Projects

gables on dormers
painting trim
painting clapboards

Wow, we have a whole slew of home improvement projects, and in a way I'm looking forward to warmer, drier weather so I can get them done, but on the other hand, I'm dreading it, for the simple fact that I don't know what I'm doing. Then again, I've never let that stop me before.

We have a leaky roof situation, something you dread as a homeowner. As much as you need water to live, for a house it can be your worst enemy. We're seeing a little water damage on the ceiling and assume the ice damns that built up over Winter have done their dirty work. A job like that will call for a call to Boland Custom Home Improvement, or BCHI, at least for a look.

I was checking out the gables on the shed dormers (I love when I talk the talk) and the side boards need replacing, as do all the clapboards along the bottom of the backside (the south side) of the house. So what I'll need to do once the weather dries out is rip out the clapboards, check the plywood to see if it's rotted (a high probability-total bummer), and then apply preservative and Vycor-I love that stuff. Hopefully, and this is a huge hopefully, I won't have to replace the plywood, because that's a bear of a job.

This Spring/Summer I'll also have to paint the South facing sides of the house, and all the trim along the roof and the windows. On top of all that, I'm going to attempt to cut and split 8 cords of wood, prep the garden, build assorted shelves, mow the lawn, be a good father to my kids and a loving husband to my wife, and finish a barn.

Piece of cake. Until the next time, thanks for reading.

Wood Options and Be Careful What You Wish For

I've been searching furiously for wood, and though I know I have some time, it's important to bear in mind that Spring is here and Summer will arrive before you know it, and you really need those hot summer days to dry the wood. That is, until I get my act together and have two years worth sitting around the property, I need to burn semi-dry, semi-green wood. I know, however, that one day the wood will be dry and crisp.

The problem I seem to run into is where to get the wood, the biggest problem by far being how to transport the stuff, you need a serious truck, and not the kind you can ask a friend to let you borrow. After all was said and done, I did find someone who would deliver tree length logs, but only if I buy 8 cords. I have no problem with that, except for the minor inconvenience that I don't have a chainsaw, but I can't let that stop me, can I?

So I told him that I was interested, and didn't hear back for a few days, so I started getting nervous that I waited too long and hadn't made the list. That's how my neurotic, Flatlander mind works. I didn't want to hound him and piss him off, but I also didn't want him to forget about me. Well, by the time had I worked myself into a frenzy, the guy called, and indeed I had made the list. We talked, he was very cool, and he said he'd deliver the wood in a couple of weeks.

What? Now I've never done this, and had to take a moment to consider if I was ready to buy 8 cords of wood, and where the heck I was going to put it. I can't use the old space because we are still planning on finishing the barn, and that's where the septic system is going to be-more on the barn later.

I finally decided the wildflower patch would work, because it's far enough away to not ruin our front yard, there's a road there (though it's covered with wildflowers, which we'll miss), and there's the issue of M's trees. She put her darn tree there, the one she planted for her daughter's birthday, and I think there's enough room, but really hope that in the process of unloading the wood, he doesn't level it. That would really suck.

So I think I've got my wood. I won't say for sure until it's sitting on our property, but at least I feel relieved that I don't have to keep searching for it. Of course I managed to find a way to still worry about it, because I want to maintain a connection with this guy, but I don't know if I'll buy 8 cords every year. In fact, I know I won't, but think I may have a way to work around it.

And then there's the issue of the chainsaw, but that can wait. At least until tomorrow. For now, let me relish my small victory, because they are few and far in-between.

Until the next time, thanks for reading.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Making it Look Easy

K came over yesterday from Boland Custom Home Improvement and fixed our boiler pipe, and one thing that really impressed was how confident he was and how easy he made it look. A sign of a true professional. I only say this because things like this, especially where plumbing is involved, scare me to the point of being paralyzed. It's not that I'm so afraid of it, it's I'm just terrified of screwing it up, because when you blow it with plumbing, it can really come back to haunt you. Something about water that you don't want to mess around with it. That and electricity.

Now I realize K has a lot of experience, but he did it as if it was his second time doing it. In other words, he knew what he needed, what to do and how to do it, and without hesitation pulled it off. I look at the pipes in our basement and it looks completely insane to me. It makes a little sense, but for the most part, you've got pipes coming off of other pipes, which all lead to everywhere and nowhere at the same time. In all fairness, I did figure out where the pipes leading to the mudroom were, and I did figure out how to shut off the baseboard heating zone, so I get some credit. Even still, to actually cut pipes and try to reconnect them is beyond me.

I did watch K do it, however, and have some sense of what he did, so maybe, just maybe, next time I might be able to pull it off myself. All I need is to get some tools.

Ironically, we had the pipes rerouted because we wanted to go away this weekend and worried about the pipes freezing and house being too cold for the cats, but in the end, it is so warm. The weather is hovering around the low 50's, and I think freezing pipes were not an issue, but how were we to know that?

Backtracking a little, our pipes in our mudroom burst because we don't use the heat. We dealt with it by simply shutting down the zone that connects the baseboard heat, since we don't use it. We need it, however, if we go away, because we have to keep the house warm enough when we're not in it, as every New Englander knows. Since the pipe leaked and we shut down the zone, we couldn't do that.

ANYWAY, we've now cut the mudroom out of the heating loop, and can run the heater if we need to, right as Spring has arrived and cold temps could be a thing of the past. We're just glad to have dealt with it.

Until the next time, thanks for reading.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Yanking My Chainsaw and Searching for Wood

I've been shopping around for chainsaws, and as I stop in the various stores in the area, I get the distinct impression that people are trying to sell me more than I actually need. The story I keep hearing is that I need at least 50cc's and 18 inches or more. While this is true, I am also aware that their impression of cutting wood and mine might not be the same.

Here's my dilemma-I am once again on the search for wood this year, and think that this will be an ongoing gig until I inherit 100 acres of prime hardwood forest to cut and split my own trees. Unfortunately, landowners don't take credit cards, so that's not going to happen any time soon.

As I may have mentioned, my previous source of wood has upped his price to the point where it's may be beyond our reach. Sure, we could afford it, but do we really want to spend that much money on wood? We need heat, no doubt about that, but we have some time. Not a lot, but some, and I figure we can shop around for a few weeks and at least see what's out there. I've been told that wood should be going down because there are a lot of guys who want to sell it, but I've yet to see this. I have seen that prices have dropped slightly from last year, but my goal, in the end, is to find a reliable source that I can turn to each year.

So far, I've yet to find it, but what do you expect from a Flatlander?

In the meantime, I'll keep shopping for my chainsaw. It looks like I'm going to drop about $300-400 easy, but that's what everyone tells me. My good friend Jim said spend at least $500 and get one that will last you a lifetime, but I don't know if I'm ready for that.

I'm looking at Stihl and Husqvarna, and maybe one of the Japanese models, but the Euro models seem to be the ones to get. Everyone I know has Stihl, and I am having a hard time locating someone who sells Huskies (listen to me, so pretentious) nearby. They say to get one from somewhere that will services it, but I don't know why you couldn't buy it somewhere else and have them service it. Then again, I'd like to support local businesses, and as far as that goes, so far, Joe's has my loyalty. I love those guys, but I'll still shop around.

More on my chainsaw odyssey later. For now, I'll investigate my wood options.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Quiet Karate Class

Our sensei has not shown up to our past two classes, but fortunately for us, Grand Master Hammond has. It must be a little awkward for him to come and not have his past student, and our current teacher, just not show up. For Master Hammond, it's a long trek to get there, and it's nice of him to make the effort to show up. And even though I get nervous around him, we've been jiving a lot more and I've found him to a very interesting and warm person, once you get past the fact that he could rip out your liver.

And the classes have been small. The dedicated few, if you will, though my buddy PC was a no show. Even still, it's a good time for me to practice my katas and get them down, not to mention preparing for my next belt. Now karate to me is all about embracing it so that it becomes about embodying the philosophy rather than just showing up each week to test and get a belt. I bring this up because we only meet once a week, and at first glance, this doesn't seem like enough. Truth be told, it isn't, but only if all you do in terms of learning/practice is that once a week gig.

The reality is, we know what we need to know and practice, and it doesn't require being in class to do it. In terms of katas, one step spars, and even sparring moves, these are all things that you can and should practice on your own time. Endurance, flexibility, and strength are also things that have value in daily life, so I guess, given that we don't have much choice anyway, once a week can work if you dedicate yourself in your free time. Even when you're not in class, I've found it valuable to keep it in my mind and envision things when I can. It puts you in the moment.

I'm still working on this, but I'm getting there. Especially with my katas, specifically my bo kata. Master Hammond said he might put me on the spot at R's test, and the minute he said that I could feel my anxiety level skyrocket. What is it about performance anxiety that gets the best of me?

Until then, I'll keep practicing. And thanks for reading.

Firewood, Chainsaws, and the Bookcase

It seems like every year I've got to think and worry about getting firewood. What a pain, and this year it's no different. As I may have mentioned, our usual firewood source has raised his prices, understandably so, but has now pushed the cost into the realm of inspiring me to be more of real man and cut my own wood. I.e., it may very well be time to get a chainsaw. Mind you, I'm not about to start downing trees myself, not that we had any to spare, but you can save a lot of money, not to mention find more regular sources of wood, if you buy the stuff in log-lengths. Our biggest issue is with transportation. I know a few friends and places that would sell me wood, it's just getting it home that's the problem. If you buy cut and split, you're easily looking at $170/cord, and that's on the lower end.

It always brings me back to the chainsaw dilemma, the time may have come in my real-man training to get one. The question is, which one? I'm leaning towards Husquavarna, don't ask me why. Everyone I know has a Stihl, and I've been told the Japanese make a decent one, though it seems like no self-respecting lumberjack would be caught dead with one. I've been told to cut that amount of wood I'm looking at, I'd need about 50-60cc saw with a 16 inch bar, minimum.

It's all Greek to me, though I'm guessing I'm looking at about a $400-500 investment. Ouch. I'll also invest in all the safety equipment, which includes the chaps, helmet, and boots. Real man gear, that's for sure.

On the domestic front, since our little discussion about finishing the bookcase, I've actually finished the bookcase. It was a lot less painful than I'd anticipated, and though it needs a few minor adjustments here and there, it's basically ready to roll. I feel so empowered about the whole thing that I'm inspired to build another one, which hopefully won't take another six months to finish. I will say this-it was nice using the Ecoprocote stain and finish because it being Winter and all, I couldn't open the windows and the stain was very minimal in terms of fumes.

Until the next time, thanks for reading.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Things Coming Back to Haunt Us

We had a problem a few months back with our baseboard heating. The mudroom is isolated from the rest of the house and gets really cold, even if it's toasty everywhere else. When we had the sub-zero temps, the pipes in the baseboard heating froze, and then they burst. Water was everywhere, and we resolved the situation by shutting down that zone completely since we don't use the boiler for heating, just hot water.

It was a fine and simple solution until we decided to go away for the weekend and realized we couldn't because we can't leave the heat on. In fact, we can't use the heat at all because the pipe is cracked, so we canceled our plans and realized we had to fix this problem.

Enter Boland Custom Home Improvement. KB came over and checked it out. I asked him if we could just bypass the room entirely, via the basement, and he said of course we could. KB can do anything, he's that kind of guy. He said he'd shoot for Thu or Fri, bring new pipes, reroute the heating system, and voila: we're back in business.

On another home improvement front, I finally started staining the bookshelf I made about five months ago. The problem is that it's pretty big, about eight feet tall, and looking at it makes my stomach hurt. It's also tough doing indoors, with the fumes and all, but I'm using this soy-based stain and finish that I got from the Ace Hardware store in Provincetown. They were the only place in New England that carried this stuff, and I personally like it. It's called Ecoprocote, and it's non-toxic, low in the toxic fumes department, and meets the Green Building requirements.

It's bio-based and sustainable, though I think when you're an experienced professional, you don't go in for new and gimicky things, you want the tried and proven materials. A lot of seasoned professionals will only work with oil based stains, but I'm neither seasoned or professional, and in the interest of keeping our home a reasonably safe place, chose this product.

I've done a few shelves, and they came out nicely, so I have no complaints, other than perhaps the cost, which is a little higher, but everything eco-friendly is.

Until the next time, thanks for reading.


I'd like to clarify my saying that I took a bullet for GL. What I really meant was that in helping him out, my life was inconvenienced, nothing more. No big deal, and truth be told, Gary has always been there for us, so it was a no brainer to help him. I'd do it in a heartbeat.

But it really clarifies the difficulties in having only one car. Our Mazda Protege is a great car, it's served us well and we hope that it will serve us for a lot longer. I'm old school in that I believe cars should be driven into the ground before you replace them, and that's why we got our Protege. We're on the verge of 100K miles, and no major problems. It handles the snow well, also, but that could simply be our Nokian Hakkas. Great tire.

Even still, it'd be nice to have another car, even if it's a junker to just get us to the rec center. R thinks buying junk is a waste of time, but meanwhile you're sitting there without transportation. What is the lesser of two evils?

Thanks for reading.

Grounded and Back in the Firewood Hunt

A question was posed to me by my wife that really forced me to take a step back and take a good look at my life-how could I justify going skiing as much as I do while there are so many projects that lay around the house unfinished?

My answer?

I can't... so I won't. Total bummer. We were planning on going skiing this Sunday, had it all planned out, and were ready to hit the slopes right after breakfast when my wife posed the fateful question. Part of her complaint was that it meant that she would be at home all by herself because after a hard week at work, she not only didn't feel like rushing out the door with all of our ski equipment, but that she wanted us to spend time together, as a family. Now how could I argue with that.

The ski season winds down to an end, and we missed out on a prime skiing weekend, but such is life. It's more important in the end to spend quality time together, and though skiing can be a family gig, it's not exactly warm fuzzy time playing games and being together. So we can take a break. Besides, I get a sense the kids were wanting a break, anyway. Boo-hoo!

Then again, it is snowing, so maybe it's a sign.

I am also being punished for my complacency and selfishness in the firewood department. I got a great deal last year on firewood, kind of fell in my lap, actually, and I, like the people I was disdainful of, guarded our secret source like gold. I figured this year would be easy, I'd just give a call, get our six cords, and be on our way, but it was not to be.

I put in an order for six cords, and our man got back to us, but the price had gone up considerably. So much so that I'm wondering if it's even worth it. Not six cords, at least. I was bummed, once again, and figured I was getting what I deserved for being so clandestine about it all. Just goes to show you, you can't go through life without dealing with it like a real man.

Now I'm once again in the firewood hunt, and life is no longer so simple. I do have some leads, however, and this could very well be the year that I get my chainsaw, because I may very well need it.

Until the next time, thanks for reading.