boxland/coldland/mudland

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Unpacking is taking forever.  I don’t know why I thought it would be any different than packing, but I did.  This house has a root cellar with a loose dirt floor (it’s frightening; Leo calls it “the dungeon”) so that’s not a storage option.  The attic is accessible only by ladder, so that’s not a storage option.  The pantry is slated for some surface renovation after all the windows are redone, so I can’t put stuff in there.  And the windows are being redone in the servants’ quarters so that’s off limits too.  People in the early 1800s probably owned 1/128th of the stuff we do, which I guess I knew yet never really thought about, and I just have no where to put it (there isn’t even a linen closet or a medicine cabinet – where did they keep their cocaine-laced snake oil???).

Also, people in the early 1800s didn’t have electricity.  The house was wired in the 1920s, according to the electrician, and not updated.  There are rooms with only one or two outlets, none of them GFIs (well, until yesterday when I had the electricians out).  The entire upstairs is on one circuit.  That wouldn’t much be an issue if there was a heat source upstairs.  There isn’t.  At all.  I keep trying to commiserate with people in Vermont about the INSANE WEIRDNESS that is not having heat in the bedrooms but everyone just shrugs their shoulders and says that they have no heat upstairs too.  There aren’t any fireplaces or woodstoves upstairs either.  Just cold.  So I bought some space heaters.  But we can only use one at a time without blowing a circuit.

I asked the electrician about splitting the circuit so my babies wouldn’t freeze.  He got kind of a faraway look in his eye, paused for a moment, and said “that’s a big job”.  He then went on about something involving 14 wire, BTX, jargon, jargon, jargon.  End of the story: I don’t think we’re getting more power upstairs.  So it’s fun at night to pick which kid gets heat which night.  Two boys share a room, so they have quantity going for them.  But theirs is a south-facing room that is generally the warmest.  So maybe my daughter whose outlet, up until yesterday, only worked when the bathroom light was on.  Or the baby, because he’ll wake up at night.  I actually had a problem in Michigan keeping the boys from running around half-dressed.  That problem was instantly solved when we moved.

Leo and I have an electric mattress pad that was a wedding present.  We only used it for a few months a decade ago until I became pregnant with Owen and decided the heat would make him grow 4 arms or horns or something in utero.  It’s just the thing in VT, though.  And I have been sleeping so well with the cozy warm bed and the 58 degree room.  I used to wake up at night to go to the bathroom or watch tv, but the freezing temps and the warm bed have completely solved that problem.

We got our first heating bill in Vermont – $648 for a month.  Again, no one blinks an eye at this.  Everyone uses oil heat here and everyone lives in an old, drafty house.  There’s a new natural gas pipeline planned for the county, which could bring a much cheaper heating option.  From the hand-drawn roadside signs you would think natural gas was a liquid form of pure evil whose only purpose was the ecological destruction of everything in it’s path.  I don’t get how using a petroleum product that might as well be liquid gold for what it costs is any better, but I also haven’t really broke in, socially-speaking, with the marker-wielding sign drawers who are against all change period.

Despite what still feels like freezing cold temperatures, the snow is finally giving way to cold mud.  I’m honestly not sure where the driveway ends and the yard begins.  The mud is bad enough that I carefully patrol all entrances and exits, making sure that NO ONE EVER wears shoes in the house.  It’s intense.

All the kvetching aside, things are slowly moving along in the right direction here.  The kids are enjoying school (although it looks like Mary might be dyslexic) and we’re certainly plenty busy.  Eventually it might even be spring and – who knows? – possibly even summer.

you’ll never guess who I heard from at church this morning

The bigger kids do religious ed. before church.  There is a Catholic church nearer to us, but the only Mass time is 7:30pm Saturday (past two kids’ bedtimes) and, uh, those two very same kids are the ones who have the most behavior issues during Mass.  I’m no fool; that would never work.  So it’s off to the other church, 25 minutes south of us, every Sunday.  It’s too far to go back home after dropping them off at class.  I spend a little time goofing off in the rectory, checking my phone and chatting.  Then I make my way over to the church.

So far, I’ve always been the only person there a full hour early for Mass.  The building is unlocked, the candles lit, the lights are on so someone must have been there first but I’ve never seen them.  I’m very cautious about where we sit during the actual Mass.  You can tell from the personal objects in the pews (reading glasses, missals, rosaries, kleenex) that people have staked out their pews and I don’t want to mess that up.  I’ve chosen a pew near the back for us, one with a support columns right in the middle which, I assume, makes it undesirable and not likely to be someone else’s.  The church is old enough that there could even be people who have sat in the same pews all their lives, or maybe their family has sat there for multiple generations.  Hopefully no one has inherited the inconvenient column pew as their family legacy.

But in the early morning I sit up front, so as less to look like a suspicious ne’er do well.  I figured I had a lot to pray about and the total silence of the early morning church was easier on my gnat-like attention span.

Lord, help me to find my path in this place.  Help me to figure out what it is I’m supposed to do.  More than anything, please let me hear your words.

Then, out of nowhere, I heard a very loud man’s voice: “TESTING, TESTING. 123. CAN YOU HEAR ME?

I simultaneously jumped out of my skin, had a heart attack, and passed out.

Instead of being told next to go to Ninevah or free the Jews or sacrifice my first born, I got silence.  Then the sacristy door popped opened and an older man walked out.  “We’ve just got a new microphone this morning, could you hear it?”

“uuuhhhhh. uuuuuuummmm. Yeah”

Despite so carefully choosing a “respectable” pew position, I think I still came off as totally suspicious because of my stammering.  I bet I was white as a sheet and stunned looking too.  Probably one of those heroin addicts Vermont is supposed to be full of.

After getting the microphone sorted out, he came out and sat.  Other’s showed up and started saying the rosary.  He led, slowly and carefully saying each word.  A woman behind me responded.  I assume she must be an auctioneer of some sort as I simply could not keep up with her. “holyMarymotherofGodprayforussinnersnowandatthehourofourdeath”  It reminded me of the rosary CD from the Mary Foundation, where the lady announcing the third set of mysteries sounds exactly like Huckleberry Hound.  She throws me off each and every time, even though I know it’s coming.  Clearly, I have ADD-type issues with group prayer.

The rest of the morning went on without incident, except that the priest ran out of Eucharist during communion, his count was probably thrown off by having a new family.  One other little boy and Owen were left in line while he went back to the alter for more.  But everything was normal and I’ve managed not to hear disembodied voices for a couple hours now.

3 Lents or what VT and MS have in common

I’m pretty sure no one needs my two cents on spiritual matters.  I’m not much of a role model and hardly learned on these things.  But, because of a massive blizzard here, we’ve been stuck at home for days and days and days with nothing to do and the sound of my own voice might be comforting.  This will probably ramble a bit, I apologize in advance.

Two years ago, I had the Best Lent Ever.  It was exactly what I always Lent to be: a carefully pre-planned routine of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving all chockablock with spiritual exercises and learning and I stuck to it perfectly.  I felt I grew a lot and finally lived up to my own admittedly high Lenten standards (I’m highly competitive and yet completely untalented, so that leads to all sorts of perceived competition in completely inappropriate matters: I will do Lent better than anyone!)

Last year, I don’t even remember what my plans were.  The day before Ash Wednesday, the dreaded Tuesday that begins at 8am leaving for co-op and ends at 9:30 pm coming home from scouts, I realized I was experiencing double vision.  I’d had a few flashes of it in the days prior but, if I concentrated hard enough I could make it go away.  That Tuesday morning it wasn’t bad enough to make me wonder if driving to Ann Arbor was a good idea, but it was noticeable.

The next day it was bad enough that I finally went to the doctor (but not until 8pm).  I will never forget the two clover leaf freeway exits I had to take to get there, all dark and icy and me driving with one eye shut firmly in order to see.  Was it really stupid of me to drive?  Sure.  But I also never really thought of myself as being sick or incapacitated. Only people who have been drinking or are on drugs shouldn’t drive; it never occurred to me to evaluate my own fitness for it.  I still felt pretty good, it was just a vision thing.  In fact, I had convinced myself that an ongoing sinus infection had caused swelling in my frontal sinus (swelling of what, exactly, I don’t know) which had pushed one eye out a little and misaligned my vision.  Each eye could see perfectly well on it’s own, just not together.

The end of that story (which is an entire lengthy story in and of itself) is that I have multiple sclerosis.  I ended up with severe double vision, loss of feeling in my right side, and no sense of taste.  The fatigue was horrible too.  So I gave up driving.  Cooking.  Going to fun events.  I had to wear an eye patch to keep from being nauseous from the double vision.  I’d switch eyes frequently to avoid damaging one, which got more than a few looks from people (there’s some comedy from the 80s where someone does that, can’t remember which movie though).

A couple days before all this happened, I had sat on the bottom of my coat in my car and turned sharply, which partially ripped out the sleeve.  I had forgotten about that completely until it was time for Mass that first Sunday of Lent.  I had recently started at a new parish and didn’t know many people.  I wasn’t strong enough to stand during most of the Mass, but made an extra effort during the passing of the peace.  I’ll never forget the look of shear terror on the 7 year old boy’s face as I turned around in my pew to great him and he saw the piratey front-side of the lady in the tattered black coat.  After Mass I realized that I couldn’t look more like Griselda from Cats if I tried.

There was lots of giving up that Lent.  Lots of doing without.  Of course I hadn’t chosen any of it.  I definitely changed from that experience and probably I grew too.  I’ve always had a problem with control, with adapting to new situations quickly, changing course.  It wasn’t the Lent I chose, but it was the Lent I got.

On to this year.  Leo got a new job in rural Vermont and we’ve just moved.  While I consented to the move, it was certainly not my idea.  Living on a farm may be some people’s idea of a “good life” it certainly is not mine.  We have a month between arriving in Vermont and actually moving in to our house; all we brought was what we could fit in the cars (so not much).  I have 5 outfits, most of which are not nearly warm enough.  I brought a sewing machine to amuse me but not the power cord.  I still do all the cooking and cleaning but I have none of the right tools (the 1yo was weaned when I was diagnosed with MS and takes bottles.  There’s no microwave here and I overwarm each. and. every. bottle.)  I gave up homeschooling, which I loved (all except Mondays at around 10am when everyone suddenly realized it was no longer the weekend) so that the kids wouldn’t be stuck lonely in our house all day with nothing to do.  I gave up having things to do (there aren’t enough people here) and places to go (ditto).

I did have “real” Lent stuff planned, but most has gone out the window.  Instead there are new things like doing without an electric toothbrush (which I’ve always wanted) even though it’s half off (that’s doing without, right?  Even if it’s in a real First World way).  Being cold all the time.  Staying inside for days on end.  Never seeing friends and family and familiar surroundings.  Will this end up being some awesome life-changing learning experience? IDK.

I’m struck by how similar this Lent is with the last.  I didn’t choose either.  Neither was preplanned or scheduled.  Both involved changes that required me to adapt quickly, which I’m never good at.  So – hey there – I guess I just equated moving to rural Vermont with getting MS.  You’re welcome, Green Mountain State!  I find you and MS equally debilitating!  I’m currently free of all MS symptoms so hopefully at this time next year I will be “recently moved to the Vermont countryside” symptom-free too (with new friends and things to do).

That wasn’t really going to be my point when I sat down.  I think there was going to be some deep take away about spiritual growth and “life happens” and stuff.  Instead you got ramblings with  a side dish of offensive too (well, if you’re a Vermonter) and 10 minutes of your life that you’ll never get back.  Hey,  you’re now having a Lent just like mine!

Bucolic Plague

We went to the Shoreham library yesterday to get some books.  Like most places here, there’s a boot room so you take off your boots there and walk around in sock feet.  I will get back to Michigan and automatically take off my shoes at various establishments (Target, Meijer, etc.).  The library has doubled in size recently, going from 1 room to 2!

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Joejoe was having a rough day.  He sat down at the communal puzzle table, which had a giant 1000+ piece half done puzzle on it, and decided that he’d work on it.  Of course, all puzzles he’s ever done start from scratch so he began by crumpling up the completed pieces.  I did not photograph the look of horror on the librarian’s face…

We managed to find some books for everyone by utilizing the card catalog.  When’s the last time you used a card catalog?  I think maybe, for me, it was junior high.

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Please excuse the poor quality picture.  I wanted to take one of the card catalog but I also felt kinda dumb doing it.  So this was taken on the sly.  Luckily Joejoe wasn’t paying attention at this point or he would have dumped out all the cards so we could rearrange them.  Seriously, they’re going to love us here.

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My Michigan self sees a rural dirt road and automatically assumes that the speed limit is 50.  In fact it’s 35.  And that’s good.  Probably you won’t encounter another car on any local trip.  But you might.  Because the roads are quite twisty, you don’t get much notice of oncoming traffic.  There are plenty of places where the 1.5 lane-wide road has a granite rockface on one side and a steep drop-off on the other.  Oh and the road is gravel so stopping is tricky.  Don’t go 50.  You will die.

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I stopped by the “new” house this morning.  The kitchen ceiling already looks so much better, right?  I was really impressed by the amount of work done just in the two days since I was there.

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I have two wall-mounted historical can openers!  Oh the luxury of it all.

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This is the former 1 room school house down the road.  Shoreham Elementary, right now, has about 70 students. Over 100 years ago, there were 10 different school houses scattered around town; I wonder how many kids were in each school.  This is one of the school houses (at least I think it’s one of them).

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This is the back view of the farm.  The lower left corner is the banks of the Lemon Fair river.

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The river is dammed at this point.  I’ve been told there’s good fishing here (Mary is so excited!)  You can canoe here too.  I am having trouble imagining it not frozen.

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There you go, Nina, a shot of the exterior.  Obviously, some painting needs to happen.  But that will have to wait until the one weekend in mid-August where the temps will be above freezing for a full 24 hours.  I’m going to sit on the porch swing and drink lemonade that weekend too.  It’ll be great.

The “Before” Pictures or Look! My House is a Dump!

First of all, it isn’t “my” home.  We’re going to live there for three years and then either buy something here or build something or live rough (ok, not live rough).  Most homes around here are 200 year old farm houses.  I’ve been assured that the guest house, in which we’re currently living, was in worse shape than “our” new house.  We’re not moving out of the guest house until we’re 100% ready to.  A whole team of workers and contractors are about to descend on this puppy Monday morning so that someday, in the not so distant future, we’ll all look back on this and laugh.

So let’s get down to it, shall we?

The kitchen.  Obviously the paint falling off the ceiling is high on the list of things to do.  The cabinets are metal and from the 40s.  The appliances are newish.  If anyone has any ideas beyond paint the cabinets, change the hardware, let me know.  The backsplash is tile that has been painted over and stenciled with pineapples, probably in the mid-eighties when stenciling pineapples on things seemed like a great idea.

P1010913P1010917A wood stove and a nine year old

This is the front entryway (which is no longer the front entryway).  It’s by far the worst room.  The yucky wallpaper is coming off, the ceiling is being scrapped and painted and the window will be replaced.

P1010921Owen just can’t hide his feelings about this room.

The five bedrooms all look something like this.

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This is the upstairs bathroom.  There’s another full bath that is in fine condition.  This one…not so much.

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The hallway, which is fine.  I added that to balance out all the really bad pictures.  When you come visit, I hope you exclaim “Your hallway!  It’s fine!”

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And the view from the driveway.  I’ll take it as-is.

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There’s a whole nother wing to the house that we’ll just seal off.  We don’t need the space and there’s plenty to do with the main house.  Also, the wing (wouldn’t it be great if it was to the west?  I’ll have to remember to check) is in worse shape than the main house.

I finally understand sweaters

I never really understood the need for sweaters.  Too often, I’m too warm in the winter.  If you go from your 70 degree house, to your soon to be 70 degree car to the 72 degree store (those stores are always just a touch warmer, right?), well, you don’t need a sweater.  Heating in the suburbs is targeted at non-sweater wearers so if you end up wearing a sweater (purely as an aesthetic homage to the winter wear of yore) then you’ll be sweaty.

Or so I thought.  I’ve only been in the rural Northeast for 48 hours but let me tell you that it’s cold.  Bone chilling cold.  I know you’ve heard the phrase “bone chilling cold” but I truly mean that my bones have been chilled.  And chilled bones are not a good time.  It’s not that the actual temperature is that different from the upper Midwest.  They’re about the same.  It’s that the buildings are old and drafty and the heating oil is expensive.  So the houses are more like 65.  Or 62.  And, if you’re sitting near a window it might be more like 60.  Or 58.

So…sweaters.  Who knew?  Apparently they are useful.  Should you be reading this from a well-heated room in a Midwestern suburb and you have a closet full of unworn sweaters, you might want to consider shipping those to some poor, frozen soul in New England.  We could put them to use.

 

Welcome to 1980

I’m putting the kids in the local elementary school in Vermont simply to have something to do.  That’s a sound educational decision, right?  When we visited last year (in the spring, when we could actually go outside), we were all climbing the walls for lack of activity.  I joined the local (local = 1 in the entire county) homeschool group and they do have some events, but they’re all in Middlebury which is a bit far.  And there’s no co-op.  And we’re all extreme extroverts. And there are virtually no afterschool activities. No scouts. No…nothing (you didn’t think those sentences could degrade any further, did you?) So, off to school they go.

I thought it would be interesting to interview them on video after their first day of school.  If the whole “school thing” works out, they will know those kids for a very long time and it might be interesting to record their first impressions.  Then I thought it might be interesting to record my first impressions.  So, two paragraphs in, that’s what’s happening.

We’re moving to 1980.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing.  It’s just different.  There’s almost no cell phone reception in Shoreham.  I imagine it’s due to a combination of lack of population, granite mountains, the NSA not particularly caring about the activities of the community, etc.  So there’s that.

There’s no Target in the state of Vermont.  Since I haven’t purchased clothing from a store that doesn’t also sell groceries in over a decade, this is a bit worrisome.  There are no fast food places.  We don’t eat much fast food, but there are times when it is really, really handy.  I wonder if those times might occur less frequently in VT as I doubt we’ll be hurrying between activities.  In fact, right now I have the monthly library story time on the calendar.  And that’s it.

Should anyone from VT ever read this, I apologize.  As I sit in my box-filled home in Michigan this is what I’m expecting.  I’m expecting to meet lots of great people too.  Eventually.  Probably not as quickly as I’d like.  I’m also expecting to have to learn to live without some of the “modern conveniences” I’m used to.  Maybe the kids will be able to go outside and play in a way just not possible in suburban Detroit.  Maybe the kids will make new friends and go over to their homes in the same spontaneous way I did as a kid that my other MI mom friends have told me no longer exists (but if there are no cell phones, how will I know?)

I look forward to reading this a year from now to see just how far off I was.

A tiny bit more info on the house

houseI found this photo online, so it might not be the house we’re moving in to.
But it probably is.

One of my favorite blogs, HouseUnseen.com,  is so named because the couple bought a house in Michigan off the Internet and moved from California.  I’ve been thinking about them a lot lately. I bet they saw pictures of that house beforehand.  They probably knew the layout, number of rooms, etc.  We’re not buying a house, so the financial risk is off the table, but we are moving across the country to live in a house that I don’t know anything about.  I wonder if that’s more or less stressful.

From what I could gather from the Internet, there are five bedrooms.  With four kids, we knew we wouldn’t be able to fit in a smaller home.  Shoreham (population 1200) doesn’t have a big supply of homes for sale to begin with so, when the offer of a large rental house appeared, it seemed perfect. The owners had mentioned eight bedrooms.  I’m not very picky about these things but now that I’m packing boxes I realize that I really do need to know which it is is so I can figure out what furniture goes where.

Our friends, who own the home (but have never lived there), are out of town so they gave me the number of the former owner.  I called, left a message, and she called me right back.  Think about that for a second. I don’t even think we ever had the phone number of the people who sold us our Michigan house a decade ago.  Now imagine them calling a possible renter on my behalf.

She seems super nice and told me all about it.  The five bedroom/eight bedroom confusion is a matter of labeling.  The rooms exist.  I still don’t know the room dimensions, but our furniture is pretty small and we’re not taking all of it so I’m not terribly concerned that it will fit.

There’s both a parlor and a living room.  There’s a kitchen and a walk-in pantry (score!) There’s a dining room, downstairs bedroom, and a “back room”. Upstairs there are four bedrooms and three “other” rooms (my sister guessed that they might not officially be bedroom because they may not have a closet).  So my worry that we won’t fit is gone. Owen suggests that we adopt some extra kids to fill the house.

I forgot to ask about the laundry hookups.  Hopefully they exist.  I don’t know if I can really stay on top of laundry for six with a washboard.

The house is 200 years old.  It’s heated either by something that comes in tanks (oil?) or there’s an outdoor wood furnace.  I had to look up what an “outdoor wood furnace” is, which is when the whole country living being different from the suburbs really hit me.

Google maps says there’s a cemetery in the side yard.  I’d built up a a whole back story for the dead people in the side yard.  The former owner guessed that there might be a broken headstone out there, but really played down the cemetery label.  I was a teeny, tiny bit disappointed.

The current plan is to leave Michigan at the end of the month with just what will fit in our cars.  Our stuff will follow along by mid-March.  It looks like the documentation requirements for traveling through Canada has changed yet again since last summer and, since my kids don’t have valid passports, we’ll have to go the long way around Lake Erie. What does an extra three hours matter when everything is about to change so dramatically?