Thanks to….

two people walking outside with a big cedar chest

This weekend Kate and I are both home. She’s making pasta sauce, I am waiting for Jim to arrive after we lost a day of visiting to his shingles shot (over-50 folks, get that vaccination too!). The Magic Castle is basically empty and there’s probably one more day of trash removal that needs to happen in the barn and the underbarn. Gotta pay someone to clean the place proper and then go through the long thankless task of replacing the septic and then this place can finally belong to someone else. Then we have the much smaller and less awful task of unpacking the things that we moved to Westport and moving on with one less house. I am HERE FOR IT.

So this is just a gratitude post about the weird and wonderful ways that people and organizations have been helpful. I’m sure I am forgetting some, but here are the ones I am remembering.

Friends, generally – everyone who showed up with food, who offered to show up with food, who took a thing, who accepted a thing that was given (it’s ok if you don’t keep it), who offered to take away a thing that was causing a problem, who offered to help unpack, who helped me load and unload my car, who went on a tour and said encouraging things, who connected us with a person or service or something useful, who listened when we just needed to complain a little. Shown above are former tenants Josh and Shannon taking home a cedar chest that had been in the barn since god knows when.
Habitat For Humanity (and associates) – they have a service in the Boxboro area that will pick up first-floor furniture for free, but will also, for a fee, take other things that they might not otherwise accept and will take them down flights of stairs. Two not-very-large men came and cleaned out some things we weren’t sure how to get rid of.
My local liquor store – for the endless boxes
My local thrift store – for being willing to cheerily accept these boxes once filled with various random things, week after week
The movers (John Palmer) – except for a timing snafu, the three guys who moved the things we had from Boxborough to Westport couldn’t have been better or nicer
Internet Archive – for taking a lot of books that we weren’t otherwise sure what to do with and making it all super easy
The well guys (Skillings) – they found the well! No one ever knew where that damned thing was. And they didn’t have to tear up too much of the lawn to do it.
The water filter guys (Premier) – we installed a full-house water filter system after my Mom died because the water was icky (she never minded, we did) and then it broke when we started using the water in the house more. So we got it fixed.
Lonnie the septic guy – you get the feeling that this house has had a lot of water issues. Lonnie was a nice laid-back guy, sort of half-retired who did our septic inspection. The news wasn’t good but he was as nice about it as he could be.
The metal guys – we had a lot, a LOT, of random trash metal in the basement including a huge motor that was so heavy we couldn’t budge it much less lift it. Mauricio and his crew came and got rid of it with good cheer.
The Hazmat people (Devens HHW) – We drove our hazmat stuff in two cars to Devens’ Hazmat day. Kate knew the woman who worked there and she was incredibly nice
The dumpster guy (HiHo) – Not the easiest to communicate with but reasonably priced and good with timing, depite the Yelp reviews to the contrary. Nice to be able to pay someone local for this kind of service.
Boxborough historical society (BHS) – they took a lot of things (old newspapers, old t-shirts) which we felt weird disposing of
Steele Farm (town link) – they took a lot of farm stuff including the old windmill, a lot of weird metal implements, a few huge ladders, and an old plow
Schoolhouse #2 (details) – they took the old school desks which otherwise I am not sure Kate would have been able to get rid of it
Susan and Bob – while the house is being sold AS IS we had a few minor things that needed fixing just so people could walk around the place. Bob did the fixing, Susan did the communicating and it all got taken care of.
Local eateries – Bravo, Smack Noodle, Oscar’s, Minuteman Grille, and Nan’s kept us fortified
Internet cheering squads – Every nice well-wish or other nice comment or thumbs up or commiseration or whatever has helped us feel not so alone in all of this.

the thirteen people who came by today

a blue tractor with the bucket holding two apple baskets and a sled

As many of you know, I am cleaning out my mom’s house, aka the Magic Castle with my sister and sometimes Jim. What you may not know is just how many people this kind of thing involves. I’ve been here all day today and I think we spoke to thirteen people all of whom came by the house at some point today and were in a small way part of the process. Here’s a list.

– I woke up in the house and texted Kate who came over with coffee.
– While we were having coffee the septic inspector, Lonnie, showed up with the terrible news that the septic will not pass inspection. This was expected, it’s ancient, but still a hassle because you need the system inspected to sell it to anyone who wants to get a mortgage. And there’s nothing wrong with it, it works, but needs to pass nonetheless. Fixing it is lengthy and costly. Oh well.
– We decided to work out our frustrations by continuing to clean out the barn and while we were in there Bob came by. He was my mom’s carpenter and has built or fixed a lot of things around here. He had replaced some stair treads earlier in the week and gave us his opinion on fixing another iffy step on another staircase. When we first inherited this place, he fixed all the six-over-six windows that had cracked glass panes. Good man to know!
– Nancy came by with her grandkids in the car to pick up two old school desks that we’re donating to Boxboro’s old historic schoolhouse. Her car was full of grandkids so her husband showed up with his truck. Nancy also had a friend with her who was our elementary school janitor’s daughter.
– Shannon and Josh stopped by. They had lived in the apartment (this house is a two-family) and were running numbers to see if they could afford to buy this place (not exactly and they had some reasons to stay where they’re living in Littleton) but they had seen an old cedar chest in the barn that we said they could have, and came by to pick it up. Shannon had gone to school with Nancy’s friend (or her kids? I never know how old anyone is.)
– Jim arrived with burritos and we had lunch. (he is part of the clean-out crew so does not count for the purposes of this list)
– As we’re putting more stuff out on the FREE pile out front, two of the up-the-road neighbors showed up, Scott and his wife, and took all the apple baskets we’d left there, and one of the sleds. Said they’d use them for the holiday fair at the local church (the one Kate and I used to go to when we were kids). Tried to sell them on taking a 24′ apple picking ladder (we have one left!) and they may come back tomorrow for one.
– Jamie was a pal of my mom’s, and she helped him with a lot of things. He sometimes works on his truck in her driveway and stores a lot of stuff under the barn. He has some challenges and we were a little concerned about telling him we were selling the house, but he came by to move some stuff and we broke the news to him and it went okay.
– I’m still by the FREE pile and Ray walks by. He lives on Pine Hill Road (a few roads away) and doesn’t know us but vaguely knew our mom or some other older lady who lived at this house who he talked to once while walking by. He was full of random history bits, appreciated the house for a bit (there is a lot to love) and mentioned some story about the woman he spoke with telling him that this house had been a stop on the Underground Railroad which was news to me so very unlikely to be true.
– Last visitor of the day was Bill, our mom’s backyard neighbor who came by with his tractor to give us some plans his surveyor drew up. We’re giving him some of the wetlands in the backyard (our properties abut) so that he can preserve his view and in exchange he’s been helping us with various things like putting new gravel on the driveway and other TBD stuff. He’s paying all the costs but has been keeping us in the loop. It’s been a really nice relationship–he was also good friends with our mom–and we sent him home with two apple baskets and… another sled.

Tune in next week to hear about all the guys (so far only guys) who have been helping us with aspects of the actual clean-out!


Me and Jim, outside, standing in front of an American flag

Me and Jim on the 4th

Skipped June here. Nothing was much going on. The trees filled up with leaves. I saw Jim a bunch of times and enjoyed just picking up where we left off; it made the past year’s worth of uncertainty and stress compress into something much smaller in my memory. I took down the squirrel ladder because it became, for one scary night, a bear ladder and let me tell you that story in person, it’s a good one. But really the last month for me has been a combination of some shifts in my world of work and some shifts in how I’ve been doing things since the Pandamnit Times began.

For starters, since seeing Jim is now a safe possibility, I’ve stopped working at MetaFilter on Sundays and Mondays. This was a great thing to get to be able to do during a dreary year and it was good to be back among the team there. At the same time, the same old problems are the same old problems and I was eager to get my weekends back. So I’m now just there answering questions and being my usual superfan self. At the same time, I’ve picked up some library shifts in Chelsea while they work on hiring a replacement. It’s a one-room public library, serving a community of about 1200 people and you’re the only person working when you work. It’s fun, interesting, busy, and a little frustrating all at the same time. I’ve been liking getting to do library work again.

I started working there only a week or two after the library re-opened to the public (they had window service only during COVID) so we went from masks-required to no-masks-required within about a week. Since kids come in to the library, my personal policy is I wear a mask if any patrons are wearing them. Orange County has low COVID rates even among Vermont counties (second-lowest rate in the state), so I am comfortable with this as a plan. And I went inside to a restaurant for the first time since March 2020. I might do it again. I went to an outdoor cookout. I hugged people indiscriminately. I stayed out past dark. I watched the town parade in the rain–in my bathrobe since I had spaced the actual parade starting time, it runs right by my house!–and performed a very brief wedding on the actual 4th of July.

Jim’s at home playing disc golf this weekend and I am here mulling over what to do with my first two-day Saturday-Sunday weekend since February 2020. I remember how it used to be, kind of, but also feel the possibilities of being able to do things a little differently.

bird return

red breasted nuthatch sitting on a suet cage with suet in it

It’s been a weird downside to this pandamnit time that my house–usually set up well for feeding and observing birds–had seen a huge drop off of bird visitors for no reason I was totally sure of. Could have been the ladder leaning up against the side of the house, leading to more squirrel activity (I could watch squirrels climb ladders all day). Could have been a nearby predator. Could have been that my feeders were ganky. Or maybe it was more neighbors being home and setting up their own feeders. Who knows? But this winter there just wasn’t a lot of bird activity here, though definitely lots elsewhere. So little that I didn’t even participate in Feederwatch this year because it was too depressing. But as the buds on the trees have turned into leaves, and I got some new feeders and cleaned the old ones, there’s been a little bit more feathered activity going on outside. I counted seven species one day–red breasted nuthatch (pictured), white breasted nuthatch, hairy woodpecker, downy woodpecker, chickadee, tufted titmouse, mourning doves–a high water mark for 2021. I’m fortunate to live above the bears, so I can keep the feeders out even as they come out of the woods and terrorize the local garbage cans.

Jim and I are both counting down the days til we’re fully vaccinated, they’re in the single digits. I don’t expect my life will change terribly much when I’ve hit that date except my life will have a lot more Jim in it. And I’ll start there.

I sleep well in March

A color photo of a metal disc which is on top of fire hydrants so you can find them in the snow. It's painted a shiny red and is contrasted against the blue of the sky
I’ve never understood it, but I sleep well in March. Something about winter being over, the weather still being cold, the days getting longer, my allergies not quite kicking in just yet. This March, a weird March, is no different. Even though I’ve still got a pretty elaborate sleep hygiene ritual, it reliably works this month and I haven’t had an “up til 4 am” sleep fail in a while.

This may be partly because my teeth have mostly stopped hurting, my gallbladder hasn’t been heard from, and I’ve walked 62 miles this month. Just circles around and around the neighborhood mostly. Sometimes with friends and sometimes just me and my thoughts and my camera. This picture is one of those things that live on the top of fire hydrants so you can find them in the snow. And the snow only really exists in little shadow areas right now, so I went out for a walk in my sneakers today, the first time since… I don’t know when. Which is good because my hiking boots are starting to really show the wear. I haven’t been treating them any differently, but I’ve been wearing them a LOT more and, surprise surprise, that matters!

Today was the “Hey 50+ year old people, get your vaccination appointment!” day. So I did. Fortunately, bad web interfaces don’t faze me much but oy! I made a mini-tweet thread about it this morning (yep, I got up early) and I don’t have much more to say except I’m sad for all of us that this is the path to safety and it’s worse than it needs to be. My year hasn’t been terrible, it could have been much better. Many peoples’ were worse. Mine has mostly been literally and figuratively walking around in little circles, getting some sunshine, and waiting for brighter and better days.

cheerful not happy

photo of a wallk of snow with the sun peeking out from behind it with some wispy clouds being lit by the sun.

Really trying to at least get an update a month in here, but the news is still basically “No real news.” Kate got vaccinated. Ronni got her first shot. I’ve been going on walks every day that I’m not at home working all day (so out and about maybe six days a week, not bad). Sleep’s been okay. Teeth have been less okay. Gallbladder has been okay so far and I’ve been pretty happy to be able to postpone surgery until a time that is more convenient. My Scrabble game is okay. Jim’s been doing well. I’ve found a bunch of new YouTube stuff–Taskmaster and No More Jockeys–to give me some teevee to watch when I’ve got some extra time in the day. I found my sweaters that I somehow thought I’d gotten rid of. I’ll worry about my memory after there’s some herd immunity.

I read elsewhere about someone discussing how they’ve been coping with all of this. Someone told them they seemed happy all the time. They responded that while they were far from happy–happiness can be elusive during times of great upheaval and restriction and trouble–they were able to mostly be cheerful, put on a decent face when interacting with other people. I’ve been working on the same thing. Obviously I’ve got folks in my life to whom I can just say “This aspect of this whole thing sucks!” However, in a general sense, my public face is mostly not the “This sucks!” face. Now that I’ve thought about the differences between happy and cheerful, and how they can each appear externally, I feel better about saying “Not bad, and you?” to people who ask me how I’m doing, without feeling like I am lying or faking it.

I’ve got nothing but time to think about this stuff when I’m not purposefully hurling myself into time-consuming hobbies like creating a navigation box for State Libraries or Stadium Organists on Wikipedia. Looking forward to warmer weather when it’s easier to walk in the woods and hug some trees, and later months when it’s easier to walk to other houses, hug some friends.