Wednesday, December 20, 2023

Merry Christmas 2023


The weather has been very mild this year, at least so far.  We've had some snow, but as of last week, most of it has melted.  A white Christmas was always an ideal of mine when I was a child, but now I'm just fine with the way things are.

The baking is done along with the candy-making, neither of which was necessary, but yet somehow comforting to accomplish.  

We took advantage of the warm weather and decorated outside in mid-November.  I admit, it's far easier to decorate urns with dried hydrangeas and greenery when the soil isn't frozen solid.  Tips to remember for next year.  Copying some trends on urn decorating, I cut down some saplings and spray painted them white to mimic birch branches.  The nice thing about them is they can be reused for years.


I've sat out on the front porch almost every night this month listening to the owls in the woods and enjoying the sound of the wind in the pines.  

All that is left this year is to give the house a good cleaning, wrap presents and welcome family and friends to our home for Christmas.  Another year almost over; it was a year filled with many different joys and sorrows, but overall, we were blessed.


Merry Christmas!

Monday, August 21, 2023

August 20, 2023 Demolition of A Century of Memories

 Though I hated the idea of it, I made up my mind that May would be the month dedicated to tearing down my late parent's home.   The old house had sheltered three generations, but the construction was utilitarian at best, built by my grandfather's family to be practical shelter for a poor farm family.  There were no fancy details.  

My mother would often ask me what would become of her house after she died, and to put her at ease, I would tell her maybe one of our sons would move in, but let's not hasten your passing, ok? 

She'd look at me like I'd grown two heads, "This house won't be good enough for either of them.  They'll want something nicer."

Her house was always a bone of contention with her.  On the one hand, she knew it was no palace, but on the other hand she did her best to make it a home to be proud of.

 In the picture below, taken in 1938, my mom and dad were engaged and had both been attendants at his sister's wedding.  Mom was 18 and my father was 26.  They were standing in front of what would be their house when they married in two years, 1940.

 After their marriage, the young couple lived upstairs in the farmhouse and my paternal grandparents lived downstairs.  There was no indoor plumbing, just a one-seater outhouse.  Mom had to carry all the water she needed for cooking and washing dishes up two flights of stairs and back down again for ten long years.
 A view up the stairs to the second story of my parent's farm home right before demolition.  The steps made a turn at the landing and went up six more.  Ten years of hauling water up and down.
My mother was raised in the city but had not had an easy life before marriage.  Her own mother had died of tuberculosis at the age of 41, leaving four children behind, my mom, the youngest, being only 8 at the time.  The children had to fend for themselves for the most part and times were tough during the Depression.

Below, my mom with her father.  I never knew Grandpa George very well, in fact I didn't quite grasp the fact I even had a grandfather until I was much older.  I don't know why really, Mom always said it was because he had enough on his hands taking care of her brother's large family and we were too busy on the farm to visit. 
He lived a mere three miles away in town and we only visited him once, though he made a good impression on me.  I was too young to even understand whose house we were in, but I do remember the kindly old man who went and got me a sugar cookie. 

Coming to live on the small dairy farm would be another difficult life to bear, but Mom was always cheerful and stoic and the hardest working woman I have ever known.  She lost her first-born son at birth, and then, three years later, in 1945, my late brother, Robert, was born.

  Mom, 25, with my brother, Bob, possibly age 2 or 3 posing on the farm barnhill with the barn in the background, probably just on her way to church on Sunday.  She always looked elegant when she dressed up, even though less than an hour before she had been milking cows.

Thirteen years after my brother was born, I came along as an afterthought.  
Me, age 6, and my late brother, Bob, 19, on his way to back to Germany during the Viet Nam war. 
Pictured below is the house as it looked in 1962 when I was four years old and my father was fifty.  I was enamored with Roy Rogers and his trusty steed, Trigger and pranced around the farm on a stick horse complete with a binder twine tail attached to my jeans.  A not so bright invention of mine was to tie old horseshoes to my feet so I could leave hoof prints in the loose dirt, but when Trigger commenced to galloping, the horse shoes would tend to fly off, damaging my shins.  As a result, good ol' Trigger would pull up lame quite a bit. Ah, youth.  A few months ago, my granddaughter Audrey found a horseshoe in their yard.  Probably one of mine.

 Mom's home had alternately been a source of pride and also frustration.  Saturday was always cleaning day and that meant besides rising at dawn to milk cows morning and night and all the other chores of cooking and laundry with a wringer washer, baking bread every week; feats that most people cannot even imagine, let alone accomplish, there was absolutely no excuse for not vacuuming and scrubbing floors on her hands and knees, right up until three months of her death. 

She wanted her house to shine and was proud of her efforts, but not everyone was polite.  One of my cousins would come from the big city for visits occasionally with a passel of unruly urchins.  Since I was raised pretty much as an only child of very modest means, being around these rude brats came as a huge shock.  
As I was scrambling to save my toys from the clutches of demons destroying everything in sight, my cousin said, out loud, mind you, "We never worry when we come out to visit. It's not like there's anything valuable they can break."

I remember the incident like it was yesterday.  I was quite young, maybe ten years old, but it made me mad.  I looked at Mom and wondered what she would say.  She was never one to start a fight and always polite, but I knew it stung.  Though she did not have a retort at the time, it was the one thing she used to repeat to me for the rest of her life, 'Do you remember that day?  It's not like there's anything valuable around here to break.'  Oh, yes.  I remembered the jerks.

 Mom was given twenty dollars a week for groceries as an allowance of sorts from my father for her work on the farm.  Any money leftover from the twenty was hers to keep.  She was a savvy shopper.  At one time our small town had three competing grocery stores, and on Fridays she would travel to each one for various items on sale.  If she had two dollars or even just change left, the money went into her savings account at the bank.
 Her main goal was to modernize the house.  Indoor plumbing replaced the outhouse the year I turned five.  An oil furnace replaced the old coal burning octopus in the basement when I was twelve.  When I was fourteen, Dad decided to cut the full two-story house down to a story and a half, a decision I never did fully understand.  His reasoning was it would be easier to heat if he reduced the height of the house and took it from a five bedroom to three.  I suppose it could have helped, but the thing is, the upstairs was never heated anyway, before or after.  Winters were extremely cold (I was spoiled and had an electric blanket) and the summers were miserable because as we all know, heat rises.  And doesn't leave at night when you're trying to sleep.
 The years went by and I married and moved to my own new home.  I'm sure the fact we had a brand new house was a sore spot, but I know she was happy for us and I never forgot, 'There's no excuse to not keep a new home clean.'
 Finally, at the age of sixty-one, Mom had saved up enough money to have her kitchen cabinets refaced and a new vinyl floor installed.  But though she loved the improvements, there was one thing she had always yearned for, the Holy Grail of her dreams.....Wall to Wall Carpeting in the living room. Up until 1981, the living room had had a black and white wool area rug in the middle with the hardwood showing on the sides.  But every modern home had wall to wall carpeting, and finally, the day arrived.  She adored her 'soft rugs' and we never walked in her living room with our shoes on.  She bought a new couch and loveseat and felt she had finally achieved her dreams. 
My father passed away in 2001, and for the next sixteen years, she lived alone, though we visited her every day, twice a day.  She was my constant help in the gardens, too, and would come and weed for a few hours before climbing back into her Buick and driving the quarter mile home.  She drove until she was 93 and needed to renew her license.  I was worried her reflexes weren't what they used to be and she was having short-term memory lapses, so against her wishes, we started to drive her where she needed to go.  It was the only time she was ever angry with me, and I wish it could have been different.  Worried that she may fall when we weren't with her, we installed cameras in her home with her permission so we could keep an eye on her.
When her health began to significantly decline three years later to the point she could no longer live on her own, I tried living with her, leaving Carl back at our house, but it didn't work out well.  She'd had a hospitalization and a referral was made to move her to the local nursing home, but when I brought her to the doors of the facility, I couldn't leave her there.  She came to our house to live instead.

It was a sunny, rather warm day in February when she left her house for the last time, and a very emotional one for all of us.  Though she was very appreciative of the fact she wasn't going to a nursing home, she was homesick. She could see her house from our living room window, so near, but so far.  That is, she could, until a sudden eye bleed in mid-March due to macular degeneration took away her ability to focus clearly. 

Despite the devastating loss of her eyesight, she spent her last days with us painting with watercolors and playing hymns by ear on the tabletop organ/keyboard during the afternoon.  One late March day she turned off the organ and sighed.  

"Do you think when the weather gets warmer in the spring I could go back home for awhile?" she asked so wistfully, my eyes welled with tears.

I knew she was missing her aged Wurlitzer organ which had a much richer sound than my silly tabletop thing, but what she missed most of all was her home, her privacy, her old life.  And who could blame her?  There is no place like her home.
"Sure, we can go back when the weather warms up," I promised. 

She seemed very relieved and decided to take a short nap in the Lazy Boy. 
 By this time she was quite unsteady on her feet which embarrassed her a great deal, though she did reluctantly try to remember to use the transport chair to get around.  She detested the walker, those things were for 'old' people, never mind she was 96.  Hospice had been coming in two days a week which she didn't like very much as she was always a very private person, but graciously put up with.  The hospice workers were very kind which was a blessing.

I had to go up to Mom's house to gather things we needed the next day and was immediately struck by how different the house felt.    The warmth had gone out of the building, it seemed infinitely familiar and yet incredibly foreign, almost forlorn. 

As fate would have it, Mom never did go back to her house.  She died here on April 8, 2017.  I'm still not over it, and I know I never will be. 

Standing as a stark reminder was her house, the one thing she never stopped working on.  I kept the heat on until the fuel oil ran out and then the house went cold the following winter.  

Joel was married in 2015 and decided to bring his young family back out to the farm from the city and build a new house right behind Mom's in 2018.  The old farmhouse was in need of serious electrical updating, the foundation was cracking with a wet basement at times, the only insulation in the first story was sawdust which wasn't very warm.  The roof and siding was in need of replacement and the layout was not practical, especially since the 1970's remodel turning it from a two-story to a story and a half.  I removed all of her belongings as time allowed, and donated what I could. 

We tried to give the house to anyone who may want to move it off the property, and we had three interested parties, but eventually they all backed out.  I couldn't blame them, it's not an easy job to move a house even if it was free.  

Right after Mom passed away, Carl's parents' health declined in November of 2017 and they entered the nursing home.  We were trying to handle their finances and visit them regularly and also handle their house and yard. 

By 2019, out of the blue, a contractor took us up on remodeling our own hut here, and we were wrapped up in moving out to Carl's parent's home and helping with the remodel in any way we could.  Carl's father died in 2019, his mom in 2020, and we finally moved back into our sort of done house in March of 2020 during the pandemic.

Then in 2021, a breast cancer diagnosis for me and a double mastectomy followed by a second surgery in 2022, and physical therapy and well, before we knew it, 2023 arrived.

Joel and I did pluck away at Mom's house as time allowed;  once we knew no one was going to want the house, we took out all the hardwood floors and sold them to a flooring company.  The day we took an exacto knife to Mom's soft rug, the Wall to Wall Carpeting, and ripped it out.....I lost it.  I waited until after Joel went to his house for the night before I laid down on her living room floor and wailed my heart out. 

I know it sounds so melodramatic, but all I could repeat through my tears was, "I'm sorry, Momma, I'm so so sorry." 

Tearing apart my childhood home was far harder than it was to see the contractors here sledgehammering my own house to bits before the remodel; so many memories, good and bad. 

There was no huge profit from the hardwood sale, but I was glad to see the maple flooring go to good use somewhere.  He listed countless items on Marketplace and often delivered things to people who were interested for free just to have it gone. 

I wasn't feeling very good for most of 2022, but with physical therapy, by early December, I decided it was time to take the next step and begin demolition of the outside.  We tore the garage down just before Christmas.
Joel and I had stripped off the shingles and hauled them to a recycling facility in the summer and a friend wanted the vinyl siding which Carl and I helped remove, so all we had to do was clean out the remaining stuff from inside the building.

Joel and the excavator made quick work of the garage, and we would have kept going on demolition, but we both caught the flu and by the time we recovered, it was Christmas. 

2023 arrived and we kept picking away at the house when the weather permitted, but with no heat or electricity, it wasn't pleasant work.  Which leads us back to May of 2023 and my plan to devote the entire month to demolition before it was time to plant the gardens and get ready for the busy gardening tour season and our youngest son, David's wedding. 

None of this work would have been possible without Joel.  The man works tirelessly, and always with great patience with his parental units. 

First week in May, and we borrowed scaffolding from our good friends, Terry and Jerry.  Joel climbed up to remove the windows from the house that were still fairly new and in good shape.  We gave them to a neighbor who is hoping to use them in his own remodel.

Safe on the ground, I ripped off the plastic shutters.  I also felt just as sad as the little light post looks by the back door.  The front porch was the next thing we thought we'd remove, but it was paneled in Douglas fir beadboard, so I thought we could use it for paneling our unfinished garage.

The joke was on me; after Carl and I painstakingly removed the beadboard from the walls on the outdoor porch and the back door entrance and hauled them all down to our garage, we were in for an unpleasant surprise.  Years of ladybugs hiding in the beadboard had fallen out when we took it all down and the stench in our garage of decades of bugs and mildew was too much.  Out it went.

Once the windows were all out, the house was a former shell of itself. 
Joel carrying out my mom's big porcelain sink.  It did go to a new home.
This was my mom's dining room, though at one time it was the master bedroom.
I was very happy someone could use the old windows.
Mom's kitchen, bereft of it's vinyl flooring and maple hardwood.  The ceiling fan was also feeling quite sad.

The front porch where my grandmother used to wash clothes with her wringer washer and hang the laundry out on lines with a pulley to the trees.  When I was still at home, I used to sleep on the screen porch in the hot weather.  Mom always sat there in the evenings to take in the sunsets.
My father's old Lazy Boy, looking out the west living room window.
The windows all out and an assortment of sinks from Mom's house and ours, awaiting pickup from people on Marketplace.

Joel tried to scrape off the insulation that had been applied upstairs during the 70's remodel with the excavator, but it all crumbled, so we took the rest off by hand.
Neighbors stopped in to visit as we progressed on the siding removal.  Many of them wanted tours of the house before it was gone.  I was asked, "Aren't you glad your mother isn't alive to see what you're doing to her house?  She always kept it so nice."

I know they meant well, it wasn't mean-spirited, but yes, I did feel guilty.  Very.

I used the tractor bucket to raise and lower Carl and Joel as they took the siding and insulation off and put it in the dumpster.  If there was any lumber worth saving, we loaded it onto our old trailer and brought it home.
Finally, on Mother's Day, it was time to actually tear the house down.  I really did not want to be present for this, but knew I owed it to Joel and Carl to keep a stiff upper lip.  The picture below was the worst part; once the north end of the house was ripped open, it resembled a dollhouse, and in my mind's eye I could see my parents sitting in the kitchen and the bedrooms upstairs.  There was a tiny curtain that I'd missed blowing in the breeze from a window in the bathroom, and when I saw it waving forlornly, I had Joel stop the excavator and went in and rescued it. 

Carl said, "Oh, I didn't know you wanted it, I used the other half to wipe the dipstick on the tractor this morning." 

Oh, it was fine, I didn't mind.  I did keep the little curtain, though. 

It took us days to sift through all the lumber and get it into the dumpster.  Hard, emotional work, but I did quit crying after the first wall was out.

The excavator made the job much easier.  For that, I was grateful.  Below are the basement steps.  Mom had painted each one with flowers years ago and they were so pretty.  I kept two of them.
I have a video of the last bit of the house finally giving up and falling in.  I sat on the tractor and watched and shed more tears, but it was a relief to see it done.  Amazing how strong the construction was; they don't build them like that any more.
Down to the foundation now, but a lot of picking up to do.

And, just like that, the 103 year old house was a mere memory. 

Though I know Mom was fiercely devoted to her home, I think she would have approved.  She was never one to be overly sentimental about things and was always practical.  She loved her little great-granddaughter, Audrey, with all her heart, and I'm sure she'd be happy to know she's living back on the farm, too.

It's only been a few months now, and we're still caught off guard at times when we look out the window and the house is not there.  It was a landmark for over a century, after all. 

All things come to an end, but for me, the memories remain.


Friday, August 18, 2023

August 19, 2023 April Antics

 Right on schedule in late March, warmer temperatures arrived and the spring thaw was here.  Joel was able to kayak down from his house to ours right before dark one night.


We reassembled the greenhouse before all the snow melted in preparation for seed planting.   Joel and Audrey make a great team.

Reinstalling all the plumbing for the heat tables takes Carl a good day to accomplish, but it is much more efficient to provide the plants with bottom heat than to heat the entire greenhouse.  This year's plant count was just over 3000 annual and vegetable seeds which is about average.

The greenhouse is only up from late March until June; it would make more sense to keep it up all year round, but the location isn't ideal, so for now, it is the ritual every year.  

Once I had the seeds in the ground, it was time to do another annual chore, bending, welding and painting cemetery planters.  Carl's late father has made these planters for decades and after he entered assisted living, the torch was passed onto Carl.  He spends weeks cutting, bending and welding the iron before I get involved with the painting.  With our good friends, Jerry and Terry's help, we were able to get them all painted in one day. 


                                      Yes, I've got a cool hat.

                  Jerry and Carl hard at work with the paint.
For early April, it was a very hot day and we were glad to get the chore done.  Several local greenhouses purchase from us every year for their customers.  Carl can spot them from the car whenever we drive through a graveyard.  

With the planters done and the seeds planted, we had a little time to decide what was next on the agenda.  

The spring flowers were putting on their show though we barely had time to look at them.  Our hens were enjoying their time roaming around the garden, looking for bugs and scratching all of the mulch out onto the lawn.  Oh, chickens, you gotta love 'em. 

What I really don't love about them is their strolls across the front porch.  I haven't porch-trained them yet, and they leave evidence about every two feet on the concrete.  Such a mess!  Time for screens on the porch next year.

Carl was able to reinstall his ball fountain creation by the front porch this spring.  We'd disassembled it back in 2019 for the remodel and it sat forlornly in a pile for the last four years.  He had to make quite a few repairs and adjustments which took a few weeks to perfect. 
We had overwintered a slew of geraniums and coleus last fall and I was able to make about 100 cuttings. 

Before long, the greenhouse was chocked full, especially when we made a few visits to greenhouses. So, at this point in late April, things were on schedule, not much to do at the moment other than keep things watered and fertilized until planting in early June.  

What to do with the month of May?  Well, it was time to bid my late parent's home goodbye.  

Up next.