Home

My sweet Sunshine started saying the word “home” this week.  It’s adorable and comes out sounding more like “ooohhm.”  Every time she’s done it, I’ve felt my heart squeeze in my chest.  Home.

I grew up living in lots of places: California, Idaho (four different times, two different towns), Indiana, Ohio, Tennessee every summer, Oregon (two different times, two different towns), and now Massachusetts.  Most of those houses were parsonages, meaning they belonged to the churches where my dad was preaching and we were just temporary inhabitants.  If there’s one thing moving so much has taught me, it’s that sometimes home must be a fluid concept.

I’ve met lots of people who feel a sense of ownership over the places where they grew up or have lived for a very long time: people who have a deep sense of pride in their roots and not just living somewhere, but being part of the fabric that makes the place a place at all.  For someone like me, though, without those particular roots, I have no sense of the places I’ve loved belonging to me, more I feel like a part of me belongs to them: little pieces of my heart, scattered across the country.  I can’t get them back (and wouldn’t if I could) but I can visit them and I feel whole in different ways each time I do.

I think that’s why her sweet, tiny voice saying “oooohhhm” squeezes my heart in that achingly, lovely way.  She is not quite two, but for her, this old, yellow farmhouse by the woods in a tiny town in Massachusetts is  warmth, safety, and fun.  She is surrounded by love here, she can be herself without reserve, and wherever else we go, whatever adventures we go on, this is the touchstone we return to-to rest and refuel.

This little farm already has a piece of her heart.  Maybe she’ll stay here her whole life through and be woven into the fabric of the town.  Or maybe one day her heart will break and she’ll leave a bit here as she moves on–learning to love another place . . . and another.  Only time will tell.

For now, I am filled with gratitude for this beautiful town, this incredible house, and the fairy tale landscape that altogether make my sweet Sunshine’s first ooohhm.

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All the Updates!

Big changes coming for Mac n’ Cheese Manor!!!  We are working with the Get the Lead Out program to certify our house as lead free which will include: new windows, siding, doors (inside and out), and trim.  We’re working with MassSave to insulate!  It will likely be a few months yet, but the contractors who will bid on the work have been here to look around and after months of paperwork and phone calls, I feel like we’re finally moving forward!

I have never had a garden and know nothing about growing things, but we’re going to give a small garden a try this year.  Wish me luck, I’m going to need it, or rather, our poor plants are going to need it!  On a similar but different note, we are also planning to build a chicken coop!  I mean, can we really call it a farm, even a little one, if there’s no garden or chickens?

On the battle front, we continue to lose to the squirrels.  We have four traps (three live/one kill) and every day the bait is gone but the traps are empty.  We’ll be welcoming two cats to our home as soon as the construction work is complete and hopefully they can succeed where we are failing.

I stopped using shampoo about a month ago and I’m never going back!!!  I’ve started using New Wash which is completely fantastic, but is also quite expensive.  So when I run out, I’m going to try the curly girl method and see if that works for me as well.  I have a friend who does it and her hair looks great so I’m crossing my fingers!

As it relates to writing, I’ve changed my mind about rewrites.  As I’ve gone through it, I find that most of what I wrote doesn’t want to be rewritten;  It was what it was at the time and looks too different in hindsight for me to even know where to begin.  I’m still going to fill out the rest of my Cancer Files, but by adding to them, not rewriting them.  Everything else I’m leaving be.  There are so many new chapters to write!

It’s been a lovely and difficult winter for me.  It is so beautiful here.  I haven’t loved snow like this since I was a child.  I fall more in love with our creaky, old, farmhouse and rambling eight or so acres every day.  We’ve made wonderful new friends, and I love being home with my Sunshine.  And yet, when the anniversary of my mid-December move arrived, I felt so sad for all we’re missing by not living closer to our families and friends back West. There is a certain kind of loneliness for much-loved people and places that is unbearably bittersweet.

2018 is just going to be a big and busy year for us.  Between repairs to the house, additions to the farm, and our wild baby, we’re going to be hopping and that’s not a bad thing.  I feel like I need to be this kind of busy right now.  Lots to do, but not sooooo much to do that I can’t sneak in a momosa and some writing time here and there.   : )

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The War for Mac n’ Cheese Manor

Friends.  Since the day we moved in we have been beating back the wildlife (i.e. mice, bats, and squirrels) and trying to make Mac n’ Cheese Manor ours and ONLY ours.  Don’t get me wrong, I love all creatures, great and small, but I love most of them not in our house: dogs and cats notwithstanding . . . and maybe someday a pot-bellied pig . . . and maybe a mini pony that can come inside sometimes . . . or lots of times . . . do they make mini pony pet doors for houses?  Anyway, I digress . . .

Our efforts have not been entirely futile.  We have removed two bats (safely and with zero human or bat casualties), we have removed countless mice (safely for us . . . not always so much the mice),  and then there are the squirrels.

We have live trapped and removed exactly one squirrel.  We have three live-traps.  We have baited them more times than I care to list, and always the bait is gone, the little door is down, but the trap is empty.  We’ve made modifications to better our chances of catching the little monsters, all to no avail.

In the thirty or so minutes since I’ve been sitting on our couch writing this post, I’ve heard one (or two?) run up through our living room wall to get to the upstairs.  And this morning, when Carl pulled on the retractable power cord to plug in our iron, bird seed literally poured out of it:
IMG_8661Which means we were likely wrong when we thought it was my sweet Sunshine who poured birdseed into my rain boots last week . . .

In light of all this, we are switching from live traps to not so live traps, and we are getting a cat, and I’m moving the birdseed into an old dog food bin with a lid that clicks shut.  We may have lost the last few (okay, maybe all previous) battles against the squirrels, but we are going to win the war for our beautiful, much-nibbled Mac n’ Cheese Manor!

 

 

 

Winter in Massachusetts

IMG_8345.JPGThe above photo is a snowdrift out our front door the morning after winter storm Grayson, which thankfully had simmered waaaaaayyy down by the time it arrived here.  Winter in Massachusetts is no joke.   We knew this before we ever finalized our decision to move here.  In fact, we knew enough that once the decision was made we spent close to a thousand dollars on new coats, snow pants, boots, gloves, yak tracks, and wool socks.  Just today I used every last one of the items we bought for me and I have never once had cause to regret any one of those purchases.

There are all the little inconveniences that come with living where the serious winters are: things like dry skin and hair, occasional bloody noses, digging your sidewalk out when it snows, and having to start your car fifteen minutes before you go anywhere so everything can thaw out.

Then there are the bigger things.  Like what is your plan for when the bomb cyclone hits and your power may go out for days?  Do you have a plan for when the water to your barn freezes in the pipes under the road? Or how will your 16 year old dog make it down the hill in two feet of snow and wild gusts of wind four or five times a day to use the bathroom?  And how often do you check on your horses to make sure they aren’t turning into icicles?  Did you know that the fuel in your basement tank that heats your whole house can get too cold and thicken to the point where your furnace cuts out?

Here’s what we learned from winter storm Grayson:

  1. Our neighbors (who we already knew were the best) are the best!  We had no plan for what to do if our power went out (we would have had less than one night to do something because all our pipes would have frozen in a matter of hours), but they offered to share their generator with us (literally moving it back and forth between houses) if the power went out in the middle of the storm while it wasn’t safe to travel and buy our own generator.  Thankfully, the power did not go out and we can buy a generator of our own before the next big storm!
  2. Sadly, we didn’t have a plan (though we sure as hell have one for next year!) regarding the pipes to the barn.  So, for now, we are hauling buckets from the house to fill the tank outside and the buckets in their stalls until things thaw out.  That said, I did develop a system involving our sled that works like a charm and has taken a lot of the sweat and tears out of the water-hauling job!
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  3. Our sixteen year old dog makes it down the hill several times a day because we dig him a path several times a day!  The wind blows the snow back into what we’ve dug about every three hours and we have to dig it again, but such is life and the dogs are so worth it.  : )
  4. You check on your horses every time you start to worry again, which happens to be every three or four hours for me, but might be different depending on your circumstances and/or personality.  ; )
  5. The fuel for your furnace can, will, and did thicken to the point where our furnace cut out, but luckily the repair man came (even though it was about midnight) and educated us about an additive you can put in the tank to prevent this from happening.  So we were back up and running within a couple of hours and suffered no ill effects.
  6. Lastly, the importance of having and being good neighbors simply can’t be overstated.  I have been stunned again and again by the kindness of the people we are blessed to live by and I’m finally beginning to understand that it’s just part of living in this wild, beautiful place.  We all check in on each other and we all pitch in to make sure everyone makes it through.  I love living here and being part of this kind, generous community.  : )

As to those minor inconveniences, I took a nice, hot shower tonight, slathered up in cocoa butter, poured myself a mimosa (or momosa, as I prefer to call them) and am now curled up on the couch with my laptop and my dog while my husband runs errands with our little one.  So, for tonight at least, all is well.  : )

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Mac n’ Cheese Manor: So Many Things!

We are FINALLY moving our bed out of the living room today!!!!! : )

I unpacked the rest of my summer clothes and hung them up, so I am no longer using a cardboard box with five outfits in it for a wardrobe!!!!! : )

I cleaned and polished my beautiful bookshelf (still my favorite piece of furniture, sorry new couches!!!) and unpacked my beautiful books.   A house is just not a home until the books go up.  : )

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It was a lovely moment in time, going through my childhood books, combining them with all the books she’s been given, and putting them together on the bottom, two shelves where my sweet Sunshine can reach.  : )

We put the screens in our doors, so there’s fresh air all through the house!  : )

We now have big cans for our bottles, our cardboard/paper, and our garbage and all three of them are out of sight/smell but still easily accessible.

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We put our air conditioner in the living room window so we don’t expire of heat/humidity!  : )

We got a coat of paint on the pantry and, with my parents coming for two weeks, we might just get it finished!  : )

We completely cleaned/cleared out the entry way and organized all of the fix-it-up tools, tool boxes, ladders, buckets, etc upstairs!

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And, of course, we made time for some baby snuggles and giggles.  : )

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We have been busy!  Too busy to write.  And even though I’m technically still too busy to write, what can I say?  The coffee is hot, the baby is asleep, and here we are.  As we get things cleaned up, organized, cleared out, etc, I am falling in love with our house all over again.  For awhile after we moved in, everything was so desperately disorganized, it was difficult to live in, especially with a baby and often, I felt frustrated and overwhelmed.  Now, with my books on the wall, my furniture free of laundry, my clothes in an actual closet and the things we aren’t using tidily stacked in empty rooms upstairs: I can breathe, I can relax, and I am not constantly worried about what my Sunshine might find and ingest.

With my parents here to help, we are hoping to finally finish the pantry/laundry room and maybe, if we’re lucky, get the bedrooms and/or living room painted.  There isn’t much we can do to the kitchen this year because once we start, we’re going to have to tear up pretty much everything.  So, once the pantry/laundry room is complete, we’ll go back to sealing the house and begin work on the barn and fencing.

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I cannot wait to share more of our barn with you all!!!!!!  It is huge, it is old, it is beautiful, and it is full of random stuff!  Before my much-missed horses arrive, we’ve got to clean out the upstairs for hay, buy hay and get it up there, figure out some kind of solution to the sort of bat problem (they are only sort of a problem because they poop, they are sort of awesome because they eat all of the bugs I don’t like!), and get a fence up.  You know, just a couple of paltry tasks, should be no big deal . . .

So there we go!  Now you’re up to date and I’d best get back to work!  Happy Monday, everyone!  : )

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mac n’ Cheese Manor: The Water Problem

We have a water problem . . . er, water problems, I should say.  Back when Mac n’ Cheese Manor was first built (1790), sealed windows, insulation, and proper venting simply weren’t a thing.  And, while many updates have been made over the course of the 230 or so years she’s been here, many others have not.

Our unfinished basement leaks badly enough that where there’s a window under the pantry, there are plants growing.

We (read “Carl”) tried to replace the pipes under the sink in the bathroom and found that no matter how hard he pulled or twisted, the pipe going into the wall (which should pull off without difficulty) will not budge and we’re going to have to cut into the dry wall to see why.

There are no fans in the bathrooms and we found mold in the bathroom closet (Please note, if you find mold in your home, DO NOT read ANY blogs about mold in houses!  Go straight to the CDC website where there is excellent, science-based information on what to do rather than worst case, nightmare stories.).  This means we are going to have to cut a hole through the house to install fans.  I admit I’m kind of excited to cut a hole in the house since I’ve never done that before and I wonder what it looks like.

There are no vents in the roof.  This will definitely require a professional to fix.

Before the new roof was put on (fairly recently, though I can’t remember the year), there were numerous leaks that were bad enough and went on long enough that you can still see water stains in the ceilings of the bathrooms and kitchen and the wall under the stairs.  Not to mention a huge crack in the ceiling of the kitchen that sags a bit.

And so we are continuing to compile what we lovingly and only somewhat jokingly call our “Twenty Year List.”  : )

Luckily, my husband is rather handy (give that man a YouTube video and he can do anything!!) and has taken care of all the leaky faucets, fixed our kitchen sink so the water doesn’t spray everywhere every time you turn it on, removed the extremely gross sink from the laundry room/pantry, and replaced the PVC to the outside faucet so we can fill our doggie/kiddie pool (and properly bathe our stinky dogs)!

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Goals for this week include cleaning out the second, downstairs bedroom, continue going through our clothes and putting the fall/winter things away, and making as much progress on the pantry and furniture I am (still) trying to finish sanding/painting as possible.  It’s gonna be a busy week!  : )

 

Rain, Rain

I’d tell it to go away, but it’s just too beautiful.  I love the way it rains here: big, cold drops that soak everything, a fine mist hanging in the air like we live in a cloud, and the world is all in shades of blue.

I have made so much bread this past month that my favorite, base recipe is memorized and I’ve gone through almost twenty pounds of flour!

Last week, while unpacking and going through my clothes, I found all my work slacks and blouses and had the surreal feeling that I was unpacking, shaking out, folding, and repacking a whole different person.  One year seems like a lifetime ago.

I don’t think I’ve ever taken so long to try at putting a new life together.  I could tell you it’s because I was so tired and so busy with new motherhood or I could tell you the truth; I didn’t want to move so, in my stubborn way, I did, but I also didn’t.  I’m incredibly grateful we happened upon this crazy, lovely house in this tiny, lovely town.  We have been welcomed so warmly, I’ve found it impossible to hold on to my anger and depression.

There’s a patch of blue sky getting bigger outside my kitchen window and the weather app says we’re heading for over 70 degrees . . . I think I’m going to pack up my sweet Sunshine when she’s done napping and find some water today.  : )

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Making Bread

The laundry is started and the clean dishes are put away.  There are roughly 72 more things on my to-do list today, but I’m pausing a moment over a mimosa (I am seriously considering calling them “momosas” from this point forward.) to write and bask in a lovely week.  Admittedly, I have roughly 72 things still on my to-do list because I did exactly none of them throughout the week as I usually try to do; instead, I explored local water spots, went to a friend’s house for snacks and a chat, and made bread.  : )

(The first is a rustic rosemary/roasted garlic loaf and the second is jalapeno/Swiss.)

I haven’t made bread in about three years.  Life has been busy and other priorities have taken precedence.  But this week, I remembered thinking through all the things I’d like to do if I didn’t work a full-time job and making bread has always been near the top of that list.

I initially learned to make bread primarily because of how much I love eating it.  I also have lovely memories from when I was little, living in Ohio and making bread from scratch with a neat, old lady in our church named Eleanor.  Making bread always reminds me of standing on a chair at her kitchen counter punching the dough down (my favorite job) and then picking flowers from her garden to take home to my mom along with the fresh bread.

Once I started making it by hand, though, it became about more than just eating the tasty results.  Making bread has become a form of meditation for me.  It requires patience (not always my strong suit) and it requires focus (hence the reason I only make bread during Miss Baby’s long, afternoon nap.).  If I’m not paying attention as I knead, I might miss the moment that perfect texture arrives.  The recipe books will all give you a number of minutes, but that just isn’t how it works.  Kneading time changes with the temperture, the humidity, different ingredients can affect it.  By no means is it rocket science, but I love giving all of myself to the process.  Making bread always leaves me feeling mentally refreshed, proud, and more often than not, uncomfortably full.

So here’s to Friday (insert raised momosa glass here)!  May I catch up on all the things I do not regret not doing while I made bread.  : )

(And thank goodness for the warning on the cap to my bubbly, or I may have lost an eye this morning!)
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Mac n’ Cheese Manor: The delivery guys who didn’t deliver and why is the toilet water hot?

The weather was rather uncooperative this past week so I have no updates on my adventures in learning how to make old, ugly furniture new again.  That said, we still accomplished plenty!

My first update relates to the plumbing.  The new septic is in and the company that did the work even re-seeded our lawn!  On their last day, while they were still cleaning up, Carl and I made ourselves mimosas and went to the side yard to chat while his mama was in the shower.  As we came around the corner of the house, I noticed water just bubbling up out of the ground!  At that time, we both thought they may have burst a water pipe with their heavy equipment, but no, in fact, it was a very old school system in which the grey water was piped into the yard and ONLY toilet water went through the septic system at all!  Ew.

Luckily, we noticed while the work was still in progress and once the issue was discerned, they scheduled a plumber to run all draining water through the septic system.  When he came out last week, we decided to go ahead and ask him about an issue that had been confounding us from day one:
Why is it that our toilet occasionally refills with hot water?

Now, I don’t know about you, but until living here, I had never once seen hot water in a toilet.  But sure enough, every once in awhile, we’d flush and steam would billow out of the bowl!  Also, it was hard to tell which valves were for hot and which were for cold on all of our sinks because it seemed all of them would go from cold to hot and back again!  Very strange.  And when we asked, judging by the confused/concerned look on the plumber’s face, I’m pretty sure he thought it was very strange as well.  He agreed to take a look and went on down into the basement.

Turns out, there is a little thing called a “sweat valve” that can be placed near the inlet to the toilet and if the water is cold enough to cause condensation on the tank, it will automatically mix in some hot water.  However, on our house, instead of using an actual sweat valve, there was a two-way, manual valve that just mixed all hot and all cold together for everything.  Thankfully, all it took was removing said, manual valve and we had normal, separate hot and cold water throughout!  Oh the things we are learning as we dig into this awesome, crazy, old house!!!!

Okay, onto the furniture.  : )

Some of you may recall that we bought furniture and it was delivered a couple weeks ago but the delivery guys said it couldn’t be moved in because it simply would not fit unless we took it through the window.

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Well, our ancient windows don’t just open up. I’d have to get the drill and literally remove the whole thing in order to do what they wanted.  Also, because they would not touch anything but the furniture under any circumstances, it wasn’t going to happen because even if I got the window unscrewed, I could never have safely gotten it down without another pair of hands.  I suggested we take the doors off the hinges and they said that wouldn’t work.  Needless to say, I was not impressed with them and even though I was pretty sure the furniture would fit, I decided I’d rather not have them try because they clearly weren’t interested in doing a good job.  So I had them take it to the barn where Carl and I could fetch it later.

Later turned out to be this past Saturday.  And, with just a few doors off the hinges, we managed to get both the couch and the chaise in-in no time!  I won’t say it was easy, but it was definitely easier than “Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum Delivery Services” made it out to be.  : )

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So now we have a couch!  And a chaise!  And after five months with no furniture other than a bed and a dining room table, it feels soooooooooooooo good!  : )

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The weather is supposed to improve drastically starting tomorrow, so we’ll hopefully be able to get back to sanding and painting shelves and such for the laundry room/pantry this week.

That’s all for now, happy Monday, Everyone!  : )

Mac n’ Cheese Manor: The Bat in our Belfrey and other Creatures

And, by belfrey, I mean master bedroom.  While my Mamatu and my niece were visiting, I received a text around 11:30pm (long after we had all gone to bed) from my mother-in- law asking me to send Carl to their room because there was something flying around in there and it sounded big!

Carl and I got up and went to their room, turned on the light and found this little guy:

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Now, I think bats are the most adorable rodents of them all, but even so, I don’t particularly want them flying in my bedroom at night.  Fortunately for all, this little guy was quietly and easily moved outside with the help of an Amazon gift bag and we were all able to go back to sleep without any more excitement.  Our adventures with the local wildlife continue!!!

We also (finally!) trapped this little guy who cleverly ate three spoonfuls of peanut butter from two different live traps without getting caught.  He has been safely relocated many miles from the Manor and will hopefully live a happy and full life not in our attic.  : )

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We’ll keep trapping and moving, but the fact remains that until the house is properly sealed, we will likely continue to running into critters here and there as we go about bringing Mac n’ Cheese Manor back to life.  My favorite part of the bat incident was the picture my talented niece drew the next morning on our whiteboard.  Gram is the one hiding under the covers, my niece is the one sitting up with the blanket over her head and Carl and I are under the bat.  LOL!

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