Tag Archives: Home

Cleaning out the Cabin.

In 2001 we had the rare good fortune to purchase a piece of land near our present home in Alonsa. Every spring, summer and fall we spent as many weekends as possible on our property. Almost every weekend we took a few building materials out and added to our little off grid cabin. By the time we stopped, we had a neat 12 X 8 cabin with an outhouse, a loft bed, a wood stove, a small kitchen, solar powered lighting, and thousands of wonderful memories. We put a formal conservation agreement on the land to protect it for future generations. Because of the fire hazard in letting the prairie land just build up material, in year six we let a neighbour start running their cattle on it. The cattle also preserved the wonderful unbroken original tall grass prairie plants flourishing there. Without cattle, we would have been letting the open space be overtaken by aspen.

We had so much fun at the cabin. Campfires in summer, long hikes, watching the seasons change. Every weekend different wildflowers would be in bloom. We got to experience cycles of nature, drought, and flood, and waves of insect infestations that you just don’t experience when you visit a campground. We discovered miracles like an outbreak of tent caterpillars means a good year for bald faced hornets and limited tree damage in a complete ecosystem. Meanwhile in the city, we observed how the urban forest without bald faced hornets was totally devastated. Northern lights shone many a night and the stars were beyond magnificent in the rural dark. We learned so much about nature, evolution, ecosystems and diversity by living almost every weekend on that land. We also got to know the people in Alonsa.

In 2010 our lives changed dramatically when we sold our city house and moved into a travel trailer. Living in the travel trailer meant we spent less and less time at our tiny cabin. We eventually ended up visiting it once or twice a year to inspect it and check, always intending to go back, but never quite getting around to doing it. We were aging and it was getting harder and harder to do without electricity and walk to an outhouse in the night especially the year a bear took up residence in our yard. There was a savage outbreak of ticks three springs in a row. Much as we loved the place we just kind of stopped using it. We did continue to go out and walk it. We planted trees and we tended to it, but we were just not staying overnight anymore. When we were ready to settle down and give up the travel trailer lifestyle, we first planned on building on that land. Buying our house in town turned out to be a mere fraction of what building would cost. Why should we stay in a rough cabin when we have a nice house 6km away?

When you don’t tend to a cabin, it starts falling apart. Each time we went back we would find something had happened. There were several break ins and each time the result was broken windows, missing stuff and damage. Not all the break ins were humans. Three years ago we arrived to find the body of a poor racoon who had broken in but could not get back out again. His little corpse had rotted and then dehydrated in one corner leaving nothing for us to find but fur and bones. I felt horrible about that. Before he died, he did considerable damage to the ceilings and walls trying to get out. poor raccoon. The following year the 2018 Alonsa tornado barely missed the cabin but did take down all the mature trees around and laid several on the cabin making the area a walking hazard and absolutely ruining any possibility we’d ever want to go back. Astonishingly enough, we discovered the tornado’s edge effect had not only knocked down all the trees, it had picked up and scattered our woodpile.

This spring we decided it was time to admit what was obvious to everyone, and clear out the cabin of all valuables and give up on it. Our plan was to take off the door and let it slowly decompose while acting as a haven for birds and wildlife like so many of the old farm buildings around here. Usually carpenter ants will move in and slowly eat the old building to nothing until if falls into dust after a decade or two of being home to birds and bats and other wildlife. It was a bad year for ticks, again, so we decided to wait for summer. The stroke happened. It was too wet in fall after the big storm and all the rain. This week, the ground frozen and the weather not too bad, we finally started. We are clearing the cabin.

It hurts. So many fond memories. Over the years that we used the place we moved all the silly undignified things I love but weren’t magazine decor for my home out there. Some of the stuff I carried out included a gift of a nameplate in Hebrew my daughter bought us while she was in Israel. There was a canvas with three handprints of one set of my grandchildren. The youngest was a baby that Grandma’s day. The boys are all taller than me now. I found and bought an old plaster wall plaque at a garage sale because it reminded me of a sweet elderly woman from my childhood who showered me with grandmotherly affection. She had an identical matched set on her kitchen walls which I admired as I sat at her table eating homemade cookies and absorbing normality. I put this treasure up on the wall of the cabin because it was an old piece of junk to be ashamed of no matter how many fine memories and good feelings it brought me. There were special books I had put there to read and reread and reread again on hot summer afternoons. (Human thieves never took our books.) There were nature guides for animal tracks and identifying wildflowers. There was also an entire kitchen I used to cook over the fire or on the wood stove. All of it loaded into our truck and hauled home. The work is slow because my husband can’t carry heavy stuff and walking around the downed trees is awkward for both of us. The awkwardness emphasizes how much we have both aged the last thirty years.

Misty loves this job. She spends her time racing about the cabin, sniffing everything. She is reliable off leash, never going further away then 25 metres or so and coming when we call. She accompanies us on each trip back to the truck. She runs the place, leaping over the logs using her canine four wheel drive and exuberant youth with the grace of a white tail deer. Her puppy joy eases the hurt of this change. Coming home to our snug little house we have stuff to sort. Keep, wash, discard, recycle, give away. A box in the basement is filling for our next trip to town and the Salvation Army. Keep, wash, discard, recycle, give away.

I found a special spot for that old plaster bit of junk laden with sweet memory. It’s on my teal cupboard above the joy giving teapot with the butterfly top I found at a thrift shop, with the matching sugar bowl and creamer my daughter gave me, opposite the little bird on my curtain rod and beside the winter scene on a plate I bought on our travels south. Every time I look at that bit of plaster junk I remember that kind woman and I feel like someone just gave me a big comforting hug. I find myself thinking about how nice my life with my husband has been during three fine decades full of joy and exploration and personal growth. Now that I am the old lady, I no longer care about what people think of my home decor. Change is inevitable as life moves on. I have learned that what is important is how you respond to it when it comes and that you really need to accept hugs when you can no matter what a visitor might think of your decor.

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Renovations Continue

When we got our little house on the prairie we knew there would be a lot of work to make this house our home. The work is ongoing. I have discovered I have some unrealistic expectations about how much effort goes into interior painting. In addition to the paint job, I had a bunch of other work planned. Specifically each room in our house had only one plug and the kitchen was missing some essentials. One plug per room may have been enough back in 1960 when this house was built but it is totally inadequate today. Also every light fixture in our house was simply a plain white wall mount with a bare naked bulb. I’m not big on spending money on home decor but that bare bulb is not acceptable. I needed to put in a new double sink and a stove hood to make life better. Fumes from cooking were bothering my asthmatic lungs. I wanted some new handles on the cupboards. This was a want not a need. Call me OCD if you like but I want all the handles on my kitchen cupboards to match.

The stove hood is in and functional, complete with exterior exit for smoke. It is really nice to have. Yesterday I was making apple pie and juice spilled and started burning and the fan sucked it all outside instead of making me wheeze.

And then there was our new puppy and her need for a front fenced area. This took quite a bit of energy and money. She has also eaten up a lot of potential work hours with her need for attention. Who can do fix-it stuff when a darling puppy wants to play?

Another major cuss addition was this new double sink with a faucet with sprayer. We also installed a separate tap with drinking water that does not go through the water softener. This ate up a good two weeks of fix-it time. I also put in some water proof backsplash where there had been peeling paint I had temporarily covered with white shelf liner. Life is so much nicer with a proper kitchen sink you can get wet.

Another lifestyle irritant is there was no plug in the bathroom and I had to use an extension cord to blow my hair dry. That is problem fixed. The one light was the bare bulb look was too far from the bathroom mirror to be of any use. I now have a nice new fixture above the mirror with its own light switch and a proper GFC plug. The old bare bulb light has a new fixture. It still needs paint but we now have light.

When you start painting you also start noticing stuff that needs upgrading. I painted around every doorknob and I was face to face with old ugly. After considered options we upgraded to new doorknobs with the neat new push/push open and close. This was between want and need. We could have made do, but the doorknobs were not fully functional. Plus push pull doorknobs will be nice as we age. They are already really nice! And, of course the old curtains did not match the new paint and so new curtains and rods were in order. I would have classified that as want not need except that the new curtains are all themoregulating material to cut down on drafts, and heat moving in during summer or out during winter. Because it is my own place and I don’t care what anyone thinks of my taste I also got lace and bows and cute little white birds on the curtain rods.

In the midst of my repainting the interior, the last of the two new windows arrived. That actually worked out well because the men installed the windows and I finished and painted around them and saved some labor. Replacing those 1960 era single pane farm windows with properly sealed double pane windows has made a dramatic difference in drafts already. We can now open the windows and have drafts when we want them and close windows and get rid of drafts when we don’t want them. The cost of the windows will eventually be recouped in heating costs, if we live that long.

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I have concluded that interior painting takes about ten times longer than exterior painting and it generates many more jobs and a lot of extra expense. We are determined to not go into debt fixing up this old house. This summer we kind of blew our budget and so we were frugal through September and we need to live frugally through October to help balance our budget again. The other thing about painting the interior is that you can’t just walk away and leave it until tomorrow. Everything in your living space is in an uproar. When you pause to cook dinner you have to go find where you stowed every single item while the cupboards were drying. I spent more time doing that than actually painting. As my husband says, quoting his old mentor the meteorite scientist Ed Anders, about “when you are estimating how long it will take to do something, multiple by ten and then change units.” That goes for the money end too.

Credit where credit is due. I am the main fixer upper in our family but hubby dearest cheerfully took on any chore I asked him to. That included anything that required being taller, or stronger or jobs that need three or four hands. I also assigned him the traditional male stuff still required by our sexist society, like dealing with tradesmen and sales people in hardware stores. He was very handy for keeping clerks out of my way while I quickly filled my basket with what I needed. (hardware store clerks always go for the men first.) He was also the master of finding help if they happened to not be around when I did need them. Best of all, since he’s partially colour blind, he has been delighted with all my colour choices.

I can’t say I was raised to be a fixit type. I am self taught. When I take on a project I first decide what I want. Then I research all kinds of ways to do it. I use youtube a lot. I just love it when people put up a how-to video. There are some really great videos out there that explain all kinds of stuff like how to add a plug or change a light fixture. Pin interest, Google, blogs and social media are also a great resource. I have also had my work checked by an electrician in the family and plumber who is a friend. The last thing I want to do is cause a fire or a flood. Occasionally, there are a few clerks in the hardware stores who actually know what they are doing and they have been a huge help to me. I have gotten to know some of the good ones at my favourite stores and I always ask them how they would do it first. The good ones have introduced me to better products like shark bite plumbing parts. These work fabulously well and mean excellent seals without soldering. I would not have known about them if the clerk at Ace Hardware hadn’t told me. I often start thinking about what I want to do and spend much more time researching it than the time I actually spent doing it, once I have decided how. I have tried to leave grateful comments and add explanations on blogs whenever I find I have learned something useful the next person doing the job might need.

Once I know how and what I want, I start looking for the stuff I need to do it. I use Amazon a lot but not exclusively. Living in rural area, Amazon saves me trips into the city and have mostly things at comparable or lower prices. Home Hardware has a great website and I can order anything and have it delivered locally to the nearby store. They have beaten Amazon on price and quality many times and get a lot of my business. Ace hardware nearby with the really knowledgable people gets a lot of my business too. I have also used second hand stuff where I could. Second hand stores and garage sales are especially good for picking up tools. Certain things simply can’t be done by us and those are best left to a professional. Installing windows is one of those things. Finally I have been blessed by wonderfully skilled neighbours who are willing to share their knowledge and tools, like the tractor with auger we needed for the puppy’s new fence.

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One final note. I am a procrastinator by nature. I also have this constant voice in my head from my childhood when I got called lazy and useless a lot. The result is I can usually think of something better to do than fixing things. To keep myself motivated and organized, I spent a couple of hours making lists of the many jobs that need to be done. Each one is one simple thing that would take 1-2 hours to do. I also include maintenance stuff because even though you are busy with painting or plumbing jobs, you still need to keep up on those occasional jobs like vacuuming the truck, cleaning the travel trailer fridge, or washing its exterior.  I cut up the list into individuals papers to go into a job jar. Every morning I take one slip out of the job jar to do that day. If I don’t feel like doing what I picked, I put it back and pick another one. If I am feeling ambitious, I will do more than one. The process has been a way to organize myself, and it is very satisfying to take a slip and crumple it up and throw it out when the job is done.

My original plan was to paint the interior of the house this summer and put in new flooring. I was overly ambitious. We got one half of the interior painted and we have done many small things to make our house into our home. The other half of the house’s interior will have to wait until next year. The new flooring will go in after that, hopefully that will be next year as well. Finishing should be much cheaper because I already have most of the materials. I get discouraged when I think about how much we have left to do. I feel better when I think about all we have done. It really helps to looks at a “before” and after pictures.

 

Home Again

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We pulled into our Manitoba home late on March 13, 2016. We got in two days ahead of schedule. We just wanted to be home so when we left Sisseton SD we just kept driving. We crossed the border into Canada at Selkirk about 4:00pm. Each time we cross they check something different. This crossing it was making sure our pet’s papers were all in order. This is why you need to be fully prepared for anything because you just never know what they will test you on. Of course our pets papers, along with all our other papers, were in order so they let us back in.

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We arrived home to winter. Even though spring has arrived further south it’s really just end of winter here. I have to admit I planned it this way on purpose. I wanted to see our Alonsa home in winter. We have been five years now without winter and in a very weird way I have sort of missed it. Plus coming home early meant we saved about $600 in out of country health insurance which also offset some of the costs of having our dollar plunge to 0.68 of the USA dollar. The other thing I was curious about is I have had three full years without a single asthma attack requiring a trip to the hospital. My allergist attributed that to being away from snow mould. I guess I wanted to test to see if my lungs have healed instead of just functioning without exposure to snow mould. So far so good! We were also worried about our little house. I must admit feeling some resentment about that. We had five years of being worry free about the stick house and now we have this anchor which also at times feels like a burden. It was a relief to back into our own driveway and see out little stick house is still standing.

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We promised ourselves we would not try to move into the house that night. We were going to just stay the night in the trailer and then move in the morning. Well that didn’t work out. We were so excited to be home we moved right in anyway even though it was almost midnight. Everything was fine. Well sort of. Houses require maintenance and when you leave for months, repairs pile up. We found our kitchen sink’s tap is leaking and will require replacement. Our furnace wasn’t working properly. The neighbours who had been so kindly watching our house for us told us it had started acting funny just two days before and since we were so close to home and the weather was above freezing, and it was making enough heat to keep it warm enough to not freeze, they would leave it for us to deal with.

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The dogs and cat acted like they knew immediately where they were. Fred in particular seemed to be quite happy to be home and the first time we turned our back, he promptly took off to tour the town. He strolled back home about two hours later after setting every dog in the town off barking at him as he came by to say hello.

Snow snow snow blanketed everything. My garden is frozen. The ground is slushy/frozen mess. We dug out winter coats first thing for our daily walks. We then spent the next few days unpacking the trailer and settling back into our stick house. We got an electrician to come and fix our furnace ($80) then the guy to drain our holding tank and check if it needed thawing ($85) and the plumber who had fixed our sump pump while we were away and drained our flooded basement dropped off his bill ($141.25). We learned how to wash dishes fetching water from the tub instead of starting the flood in the kitchen sink again. We did a temporary fix on one deadbolt that failed over the winter until we can get to town to buy a new one. We have two screen doors to fix. One will likely have to be replaced, not fixed. Wind blew them both open and ripped out the frame of one and the door pull of the other. We will make do until we get a chance to go to town and find a good deal. We will check out the “ReNuz It” store and see if they have a nice screen door for cheap. I think that kitchen faucet is as old as the house and we want one with a sprayer so I think the result will be an improvement. I did a temporary fix on that one screen door when we first moved in to try to make it do for now so fixing that properly will be an improvement too. Still, I asked my husband more than once to remind me why we bought a stick house again.

There were soon many reminders why a stick house is nice. I have room to rock in my wonderful rocking chair which was waiting right there for me. The house is warm now that the furnace is working properly. I can take a shower or a bath and use as much hot water as I care to. The “big” kitchen is lovely. I can make chile, wait for bread to rise, and make apple crisp without having to play Chinese puzzle with the limited counter space. We got the new washer in place of the old one and it works like a Maytag is supposed to. The little Panda washer spin dryer did its job but it sure is nice to throw in a load and set it and walk away instead of the infernal wash, manual wring, move wet clothing to spin, spin, rinse, manual wring, move wet clothes to spin, spin cycle. The clothesline is still sitting in the corner of the basement. It’s too cold to hang laundry outside.  It sure felt good to carry loads of laundry warm from the dryer upstairs to fold. Even so, it took a full week before I really felt at home again.

There were so many little things still to do. The trailer had to be drained and winterized. Even though it was above freezing when we got home, I knew, being March it would get cold again fast so the third day home I drained the water and put in the RV antifreeze we bought in North Dakota. We went through the whole trailer, taking out anything that might freeze solid. We left the good mattress in for a few days of subzero weather because that kills dust mites and any Florida cockroaches that might have joined us for a trip to Canada. After everything had been thoroughly frozen we changed mattresses. There have been two snowfalls since we got back and that electric blanket means we can turn the thermostat down low at night and snuggle. The trailer needs a full front to back cleaning and reorganization but it’s too cold to even think of that now.

I still have a whole lot to do over the next few weeks. The final sets of proofs for the book are here and need our attention. I started some plants from seeds. I am showing my faith it will warm up and we will have a garden again. I am looking around at the interior of this little house and thinking I need to get at fixing that again. I have promised myself I will not spend another penny on the house until everything I have material purchased for is used up. That mean painting the garage and finishing the bathroom tiles. The truck needs a full inspection, wash and wax, inside and out. There is always something to do, isn’t there?

And there are some special good things. Our internet provider contacted us with the good news that our area now has upgraded service so we can finally enjoy full LTE Wifi for a little bit less than we were paying for the slow stuff! Best of all, our assorted neighbours recognized us and every step outside of the house we are greeted with pleasantries and asked about our trip. We heard all the local news too, a new baby girl in this family, an elderly grandfather who was very ill when we left has passed on. We feel we have a community here and we really like that. And so we are home.