Posts Tagged ‘Craigslist’

Tidying

I just read a provocative best-selling book, called “the life-changing magic of tidying up” by marie kondo (lower case hers), which is especially appropriate now that I’m doing a thorough emptying of my household.

First, the bad:  Ms. Kondo has a serious, and I mean serious, case of OCD.  From the time she was a small girl, she has thought of little else besides organizing, neatness, tidying, and discarding to a ruthless degree.  She believes nothing should be stacked lest it be crushed, rumpled or forgotten, and she even lines up her carrots vertically in the beverage holder of her refrigerator door.  Fortunately for her, she has turned her illness and need for control  – – er, I mean thoroughness  – – into a multi-million dollar business via her books, seminars, and private consultations around the world.

The good news is that while there is plenty in the book to make you gag, there is also much merit and profound truth in her concepts.

Why do we have so much stuff?  Because we don’t accurately grasp how much we own.  When we acquire something we want, it gives us a spark of joy.  The problem is, that spark is easily extinguished once we acquire it and use it.  When you are about to acquire something, or are sorting through things you already own,

decide not only if you will keep it, but where you’re going to put it.  If you cannot resolve the latter, then you cannot do the former!

And when the item no longer “sparks joy” (a phrase repeated throughout the book ad nauseum), it is time to let it go. We can’t really find joy in keeping our house clean when we make it so impossibly difficult to keep it that way.

How do we deal with clutter, the flotsam and jetsam in our lives?  We find ingenious ways to store it so we don’t see it.  Alas, that doesn’t make the amount of clutter go away, it simply hides it.

Putting things away doesn’t get rid of clutter.

Organizing clutter is an oxymoron.  We need to deal with the excess, not push it aside.  (Kind of like life.)

Choosing what to toss can be painful.  It’s sometimes easier to give it to a friend or loved one.

If you want to give something away, don’t push people to take it unconditionally or pressure them by making them feel guilty.

Oh!  I am so guilty of this.  When my mother died,  she left so many beautiful antiques and tschotchkes.  I knew I couldn’t keep them for lack of space, but I also felt guilty getting rid of them because her things  were so important to her and she was so emotionally invested in them.  So I implored my children to take them, as if that would relieve me of the guilt and responsibility in discarding them.  (A few things they actually wanted.  I’m talking about the stuff they didn’t want.)  And just recently I begged my son to take an antique bookcase, sentimental to me because it was the first piece of furniture my husband and I bought as newlyweds and it just seemed to represent the foundation of our marriage and the family we built.  He didn’t take it, but probably felt guilty about saying no because he knows how much that bookcase means to me.  (Look for it on craigslist!)

Oh, and here’s an important side note:

It’s extremely stressful for parents to see what children discard.

Yep.  It’s true.  A few years ago I gave my daughter a family heirloom, a huge, gorgeous handmade dining table that hosted all my childhood family and holiday celebrations.  But it was too big and impractical so after a few years, she wanted to return it.  I had no room now that I was living in smaller quarters.  So she gave it away.  I confess – – it killed me! (I’m over it now.)

Ideally, when we sort through our things, we should be choosing what we want to keep, not what we want to give away. That puts a whole new perspective on it, I think.

By keeping only things that inspire joy, you can identify precisely what you love and need.

But here is the thing.  By looking through our memorabilia and deciding what stays and what goes, by physically handling and touching each thing, we are recognizing and confronting, and processing our past.  We can be thankful for the joy each item gave us, and the memories it sparked.  But in most cases, the sense of joy was at that original moment.  We live in the present; we cannot live in the past.  Time moves forward, never backwards.  So must we.

Another bonus part of this process:  it trains us in decision-making.  When we are forced to make a decision, it doesn’t come easy.  But it does get easier with practice.  And when we are finally able to make decisions without a huge amount of angst, we develop self-confidence.  We know who we are; what we want; what we need.

It’s funny about getting older, but buying and collecting stuff, rather than being a source of pleasure, becomes a burden, because we realize just how enslaved we are by our possessions.  I feel a bit wistful getting rid of stuff, but at the same time, it’s incredibly freeing.

And I’m not getting rid of everything.  Some things really do continue to “spark joy”  and those things remain dear. Those possessions I will keep – – for now.  And if I keep them until I die, my children have my permission to toss them without remorse, because the objects I identify with are unique to me and cannot be forced on another.  But I will try to keep the burden of cleaning up after someone else (me!) to a minimum, for their sake!

 

 

 

 

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“Awesome”

I just put an ad on Craigslist and someone phoned about an item I have for sale.  The caller made an appointment to come and see my furniture, to which he responded, “Awesome!”

This got me to thinking.  Call me a curmudgeon, but coming to an agreement about a time and day to meet is hardly deserving of “awesome.”  By using a word that defines wow – – when an  experience or person or thing reaches to your inner being with a depth that shakes your very soul or puts in you the fear of G-d – – as an everyday expression, it not only diminishes that word and its meaning; it leaves the truly awesome moments sans mot.

“Awesome” gets my vote as the most overused and abused word in the English language.

Readers, what mis- and over-used word gets your goat?

Decluttering: Ah, The Memories

In America, we collect stuff.  I don’t know how it happens, but soon we realize our houses are overflowing with things we had to have but do not need.  I have yet to meet an American rich or poor who does not suffer this sickness.  We live in a tremendously materialistic culture, and are constantly bombarded with advertisements telling us how much we need the latest, greatest, newest, or best.  When we can’t afford it, we use credit cards, because we can’t live without it, whatever “it” might be.  Or it was on sale or on clearance and how can we resist such a great deal?  Even if we don’t need it we might need it in the future.  So we buy, buy, buy. Partly it’s because even the simplest American homes are bigger than most houses in other parts of the world and we have storage space.  And of course, there are plenty of McMansions that can really hold a lot of crap.   I know people in Europe and Israel who don’t have collection fetishes as Americans do, but that’s because their physical environment is so much smaller.  There is simply no room to put anything anywhere, so they desist.  Heck, most homes in Europe and Israel don’t even come with closets!

One thing I love about March and April, even though I kvetch about it, is Pesach cleaning.  This goes way beyond the gentiles’ Spring Cleaning.  We Jews are supposed to turn our homes upside down looking for leavened foods, called chametz , which are forbidden to be eaten or owned by Jews during the week of Passover.  Pesach cleaning and preparations take two weeks to a month.  But in the process, our homes get really clean and downright immaculate.  And best of all, we throw out mountains of stuff that have nothing to do with actual chametz, but are superfluous to our lives.  To be honest, the act of getting rid of stuff and cleaning is an exhausting pain, and we do it strictly out of religious obligation.  But when it’s complete, it’s not only a relief; it’s a release; a cleansing of the soul; redemption.  It forces us to take stock of what’s really important in our lives, and the answer, of course, is not “stuff.”  It is, indeed, a religious experience.

One of the hardest tasks facing a person once their elderly parent dies is getting rid of that parent’s “stuff.”  The thing is, it wasn’t just “stuff” to the deceased.  If they kept it, it was usually because the item had real meaning, whether it was a souvenir that reminded them of a trip once taken, some tschotchke that was part of a hobby collection, assorted memorabilia or photographs of family and friends from younger days.  In other words, a life of memories.

I hate to sound harsh, but . . . well, for the most part, one person’s treasure is another’s trash.  My parents’ memories are usually not my memories.  Going through their clutter helps me better understand who they were and what was important to them, but ultimately . . . it’s still clutter.  And even though I wish I could incorporate their nostalgia into my own oeuvre, and even though I feel guilty as heck getting rid of stuff that I know was an important part of my parents’ lives, in my own house it’s a huge space-taker and dust magnet.  But oh, the guilt!  The sacrilege!

My mom was a life-long collector with fabulous taste.  Even objectively, I can see that most of her stuff is nice.  But: I. Do. Not. Want. It.

It pains me to know that my mother would have been unhappy about my getting rid of her stuff.  Usually there is little I want.  I ask family members if they want it.  Other than a few tokens, the answer is most often “no.”  So I post her things on craigslist, and offer other things to auction houses, consignment stores, and donate things to thrift shops.  I have yard sales, garage sales, and estate sales.  Occasionally people buy stuff that they are really delighted with and then I feel good; because my mother would have loved that her things brought someone else joy and that these strangers appreciate – – really appreciate – –  the same things that she did.  Other times priggish antique and junk dealers swoop in like vultures, offering me pennies on the dollar for things that cost my mom a small fortune.  Usually I say no, because I know how upset my mom would have been by their cold, calculated greed, and that they were buying to make a profit and not because they loved whatever it was that she so cherished.  And so, much of her stuff still sits in my house, collecting dust in cardboard boxes.

For better or worse I may be stuck with my mom’s stuff but if I’ve learned anything, it’s that I don’t want to do this to my kids.  So for the past 4 years, I’ve slowly been getting rid of my own things big and small.   Furniture.  Accent pieces.  Extra cookware and serving pieces.  Things that I no longer use regularly.  Things I needed in my twenties that I don’t need in my fifties.   I always ask my kids if they want it before I get rid of it, and usually the answer is no.  And I try to divest myself of things the same way I tried with my mother’s things:  yard sales, craigslist, consignment stores, thrift stores.  The difference is that it’s my stuff and no one else’s, so it’s easy to give myself permission to let it go.

Fortunately I am not a tschotchke collector (not because I don’t like tschotchkes, but because I am a terrible housekeeper and I couldn’t bear the thought of dusting every few days).  But I have tens of thousands of papers and books and photos that sit in boxes that will eventually suffer either from mildew or dry rot.  I admit it:  like my mother with her stuff, I cannot bear to throw these things away.

The good news is that unlike my mother’s objets d’art, technology has provided me a solution to my media hoarding:  scanning and digitizing.  All those articles I wrote or were written by others I admire that, let’s face it, will probably never be read again, can now be scanned.  (Maybe, just maybe, my kids or grandkids will be interested in my writings and journals and photographs some day?)

I have been slowly going through my bookshelves and re-reading everything.  Not every story brings me the joy I thought I remembered.  So slowly I am dissolving my library; I donate my books to our little rural library here in Maine.  What they can’t use they sell as overstock and that also provides paltry but necessary funds for the library’s use.

But the worst clutter offender:  my photographs.  So far my husband has scanned over 20,000 (!) photos which — and this is almost physically painful for me – – I have then dumped into the trash.  Thanks to an Adobe software program called Lightroom, when he scans the photos, he “tags” them with keywords so anyone with access to our digital library will be able to quickly and painlessly retrieve specific photos based on names, places, family members, events, or approximate dates.  No more going through albums and boxes.  I think there are approximately 35,000 photos total.  But that doesn’t include thousands of slides and film negatives.

Recently I bought a slide and film converter at Costco.  You simply place a negative film strip or slide transparency inside the converter, and in 3 seconds it digitizes the image and stores it on your computer  (essential:  backing up one’s separate hard drive!).  There are professional, expensive converters/scanners out there that do a fabulous job; this one is not that.  The resolution is not terrific and the color renditions and clarity are somewhat off.  But I realized the chance of me or my children (I asked them first) wishing to enlarge a digitized image from their 5th birthday party that happened 30 years ago into a quality 8×10 print copy was indeed remote. Even if I could make prints of all the slides and negatives, it would take an entire room just to contain the albums that would hold them.  It’s nice to view the images and relive the past – – for a few minutes.  Neatly archived, the only space my life’s memories take up can fit on a disk drive . . . or is that just plain, sad commentary?

And then, it’s time to move on.

 

 

 

 

Simple Pleasures: The Spirit of Giving

A few weeks ago, my eldest grandson, 14, came to Maine to spend some time with us.  One day he accompanied me to the transfer station (a nice word for “The Dump”).  There is no garbage pickup in rural Maine; our local transfer station, about 8 miles away, is open several times a week during set hours and that’s where town residents haul their recyclable and regular trash.

When we went over to the dumpster that holds recyclable trash, my grandson noticed a few new-looking baseball cards sitting on a bunch of discarded corrugated cardboard.  He asked me if I would allow him to climb in the (clean) dumpster and take the cards.

“I think we’d better ask the guys who run the dump,” I answered.  Mostly I was concerned for my grandson’s safety – – I didn’t want them to not know my grandson was rummaging around in the dumpster, only to turn on the compactor and cause a horrific accident.

“You want the cards?  Sure!  Go ahead in and get ’em,” the transfer station employee said.  “And if you’d like me to start saving cards for you, just let me know,” he added.

The worker told us that one of the local residents makes “a little money on the side” by trading baseball cards.  He travels around New England, going to yard sales, auctions, and searching through Craigslist ads looking for baseball cards, which he buys in bulk.  He then goes through the stacks and stacks of cards, quickly filtering out 3 to 10 cards out of hundreds that have collectible value in today’s market.  The rest, he brings to the dump.

“I’ll save the cards for you if you want ’em,” the worker told us.  “Just say the word.”  Sure, I answered, we’d take whatever cards he’d scrounge up.  I didn’t think anything more about it.

A couple of weeks went by and my grandson returned home.  When I next ventured to the dump, the worker scurried towards me, carrying three cardboard boxes.

“I’ve been saving cards for you,” he said.  “And I’ll keep saving them until you tell me to stop,” he added.  I had forgotten about our conversation, but the transfer station worker had not.

I opened one of the boxes.  I couldn’t believe my eyes!  Each box contained at least 1,000 mint-condition baseball and football cards:  3,000 cards!

The initial three boxes of cards saved for me by the worker at the dump.  All were in clean, mint condition.

The initial three boxes of cards saved for me by the worker at the dump. All were in clean, mint condition.

Thanks to this transfer station worker’s kindness, I was now eligible for the World’s Best Savta (Grandmother) Award.  This is not an easy distinction when you’re talking about preteen and teen-aged boys for whom grandparents are most definitely not, in the ordinary sense of the word, “cool.”

I was so excited!  Thanking the worker multiple times  (and yes, I always bake him goodies every year during Christmas season, and make sure to ask him how his fishing and hunting are coming along in the Summer and Fall), I placed the boxes in the back of my car, imagining my grandsons’ faces when I presented them with the cards upon my return to my hometown.  This was definitely a case of one person’s trash being someone else’s treasure.  I emailed my kids, alerting them to my plans.

“Just got a boatload of discarded mint condition baseball cards for the boys.  Should keep them busy for hours!”

“Oh, no!”  was my children’s reply.  “More stuff!” they railed.  “Just one more thing to have to clean up after!” they groaned.  “We already have enough messes!”

“Spoken like a true parent,” I replied.  “When did you guys get so old and tired?  You don’t sound like my kids; you sound like I used to sound when you were little!  Just remember how much you used to love collecting these cards when you were kids,” I added with a dose of Jewish Mother guilt-tripping.

So with Chanuka coming, my husband and I drove down to our home town, and presented the cards to two sets of grandsons, boys ages 6 thru 14.  “I CAN’T BELIEVE IT!”  “THANK YOU SO MUCH!” “WOW!” “Savta, YOU ROCK!” “AWESOME!” “BEST! PRESENT! EVER!” were some of the reactions.  For the next six hours the boys got busy sorting the 3,000 cards.

Some of the grandsons sorting 3,000 baseball and football cards.  Their mother was convinced she'd never get her table back.

Some of the grandsons sorting 3,000 baseball and football cards. Their mother was convinced she’d never get her table back.

I have no idea if they found any treasures; for all I know these cards are totally worthless.  But for six hours (and four hours the following day), there was only joy:  no fighting, no sibling rivalry; the boy cousins had yet another bonding experience; and, completely free of charge and thanks to the simple kindness of my local dump worker in Maine . . .  I was the best Savta in the whole world.

Happy New Year to all!

Spring Cleaning House Tour

When it became apparent that winter was finally, truly over and the woodstove could now be retired until autumn, it was time for spring cleaning.

This tortuous process lasted for 2 full days and nights and included dusting, vacuuming, thoroughly cleaning out the woodstove and removing ash dust from every nook and cranny including the ceiling fans.

The sand, salt and dirt traipsed  by our car into the garage was removed (along with the car) and the cement floor soaped, scrubbed and rinsed many rounds until it was clean enough to convert into a temporary bedroom, awaiting summer’s visit of eleven of my grandchildren (all at once!).

Accumulated stuff had to be tossed or rearranged and reorganized.  Winter items, from heavy coats, gloves, and hats as well as crampons, down comforters, and snowshoes were put into winter boxes and summer items were reinstated to the closet.  Our cement floors were re-polished.

Emergency food storage supplies were rotated.

Our food storage supply.  It's not only for emergencies.  When you live 40 minutes from the nearest supermarket, you don't want to make a last-minute trip if you run out of something.  So I make sure to have plenty of staples on hand at all times.  Also, it costs about $10 in gas everytime I make a trip into town.  That forces me to be much better organized about planning menus, and combining shopping, and other errands to keep those trips to a minimum.  When I do go to town, it's usually an all-day venture.

Our food storage supply, kept in the basement. It’s not only for emergencies. When you live 40 minutes from the nearest supermarket, you can’t make a last-minute trip if you run out of something. So I make sure to have plenty of staples on hand at all times. Also, it costs about $10 in gas every time I make a trip into town. That forces me to be much better organized about planning menus, and combining shopping and other errands to keep those trips to a minimum. When I do go to town (about once a week), it’s usually an all-day venture.

Windows and mirrors were washed until they gleamed.  Screens were cleaned.

Seeds were planted in small seed starter boxes and placed on the porch, awaiting transplantation in a few weeks’ time to a summer garden.  (Although it was warm enough to take out the plexiglass panels and replace them with screens, I kept the plexi panels in so that it would have a greenhouse effect and encourage faster sprouting).

Wannabe garden

Wannabe garden

Apple trees were pruned.  Old wasps nests were removed.  The dog got his first heartworm and flea & tick medication, along with a summer haircut.

It was exhausting but satisfying.

In the midst of cleaning the garage, my husband, who reached a momentous birthday milestone recently,  stopped to rest and, looking out onto the woods and the pond,  said, “I don’t know what will be ten years from now.  Will I be healthy or sick? Active and of right mind, or decrepit and feeble?  But I want to remember this moment, right now,  because our time in Maine has been the happiest years of my life!”

It sounds crazy, I know – – he was cleaning the garage, after all – – but it meant so much to me, and I really get it, because I feel the same way.

I took some pictures of our super-clean house because let’s face it, it ain’t gonna stay this clean very long!  Have fun on the tour . . .

Enter at your own risk:

Yes, I know it's kitschy, but how could I not buy this sign for my front door?

Yes, I know it’s kitschy, but how could I not buy this sign for my front door?

My moose hat rack/dog leash holder from IKEA.  That's bear spray at the top of the antler - I keep it by the front door just in case!

My moose hat rack/dog leash holder from IKEA. That’s bear spray at the top of the antler – I keep it by the front door just in case!  We keep our muddy boots under the bench on the left.

Here’s why I love my living room / dining room.  Besides being cozy, comfortable and welcoming, it consists mostly of furniture from craigslist, Goodwill, and the dumpster, closeouts and contractors’ overstocks. Translation:  it was cheap, but it looks great.

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Living room (click to enlarge)

Sofa End Table:  $20 Goodwill

Bookcases:  Total of 4, $5 each from Borders Bookstore that went out of business, found on craigslist.

Mirror:  $50 IKEA. Totally opens up the room, and reflects the woods.

Carpet: $50 Commercial carpet  remnant from contractor’s overstock.

Solid leather recliners:  $400 ea, Costco.  I got these new because I couldn’t find used ones that were comfortable or didn’t smell like cigarette smoke, but in my hometown I did manage to find one on craigslist for $175 that I keep in my hometown.  Recliners are the world’s best invention after the washing machine!

Old futon sofa renewed with new cover:  $15 for cover, Target clearance.

That’s our soapstone woodstove in the rightmost foreground.  Even though we got it on sale, it was not cheap.  But a good heat source is crucial to living comfortably in Maine in the winter.  We bought the best that money can buy, and we do not regret it one iota.

The floors are polished cement.  Not only are they easy to keep clean, but in the summer they are cool, and in the winter, thanks to the woodstove and under-floor radiant hydronic heat, the are nice and warm.  They are also inflammable and indestructible.

Paint:  I love, love, love the dark accent color behind the bookcases, which works because it’s only on one wall broken up by the shelving, and the high ceilings and plentiful windows don’t make it feel like a cave. The color is called Bittersweet Chocolate – – with a name like that what’s not to love?  The light color is called Bennett Grey.  It’s a taupe-y neutral, but what I like most about it is that it subtly changes tone and intensity depending on season and time of day.  Another great color is by the entry, a taupe-y brown called Texas Leather (not shown).  It’s just very, very soothing.

Dining Room (click to enlarge)

Dining Room (click to enlarge)

My solid wood, handcrafted pine farm table, which I use as both a work table and a dining room table, was $75 on craigslist.  I found the beechwood chairs left out for the trash at someone’s house in my hometown.  There was nothing wrong with them other than the soiled upholstered seats.  For $20 I recovered them with faux leather bought at Joanne’s Fabrics, attached with a staple gun.  Since our car space is limited, we brought one or two chairs per trip when we’d travel from our hometown to Maine.

Note all the sunlight:   that’s “passive solar” at work!  Even on a snowy day, as long as it’s sunny, the room will get to about 65 degrees!  Between the energy-efficient windows on the southern and western sides of the house,  and the spray-foam insulation in the walls, the house is airtight and it stays warm on cold days!  The heavy insulation and ceiling fans keep the house pleasantly cool during hot summer days.

My Miele washing machine

My Miele washing machine

I really like my Miele washing machine.  It retails for about $2,000!  I found mine on craigslist in southern New Hampshire.  The guy was asking $1200, and I offered him $400.  I was worried lest he be insulted by my low-ball offer,  but he accepted my price.  Shlepping it to Maine in our car wasn’t exactly a piece of cake, but it was well worth it.   This machine is tops for energy efficiency and quality.  It uses very little electricity, and almost no water.  The secret is in the spin cycles – something like 1200 revolutions per minute!  After a spin cycle like that, the clothes are practically dry when the wash is done, and on a clear  summer day my clothes dry outside on the line in an hour.  Although this machine is much smaller than the typical American washing machine, you can really stuff the dirty clothes in tightly so actually it can handle about the same amounts as a traditional American washer.  Anyone who has lived in Israel is familiar with this European style of washing machine, but Miele brand is definitely the best!

My IKEA kitchen, small but functional (click to enlarge)

My IKEA kitchen, small but functional (click to enlarge)

Kitchen:  $1200 cabinets from IKEA, discounted for discontinued style.  Big Box stores estimated $7000 for a similar kitchen!

Spice Rack

Spice Rack

These shelves from IKEA were actually designed as ledges to display framed artwork, but I found they work perfectly as spice racks.  Yes, I really do use all those spices in my cooking on a regular basis!

Screen porch

Screen porch

Our screen porch is off the kitchen/dining room.  When you are there, you feel like you are in a treehouse, in a canopy of the greenest leaves.  In the autumn thru the Spring there are views of the bog below,  with its amazing array of wildlife, and the surrounding mountains.  What I love about our porch is that it can be used all year round.  In the autumn through the Spring, it has plexiglass panels, and thanks to passive solar, it warms up beautifully when it’s sunny outside.  In the summer, we take off the plexiglass panels and replace them with screen panels.  With summer breezes and because it’s under the trees, it always stays cool.  We also keep a futon on the porch where we sometimes read or sneak a nap.  We often have our Shabbos meals on the porch.  This Spring, I used the table to hold my seed starters.  You are looking at future sunflowers, basil, lavender, parsley, and oregano seedlings.  Once the danger of frost has passed, they will be transplanted to my garden.

Milkweed

Milkweed (click to enlarge)

One of our guests asked me if this floral arrangement came from a designer showroom in Manhattan!  I had a good laugh.  I bought the vase from TJ Maxx for $10.  I found the piece of peeled birchbark outside our house in the woods.  I cut the milkweed from a deserted field, while on a walk close to my house.  Since I don’t live anywhere near a florist and I don’t like to pick wildflowers that grow on my property (many are endangered species,  such as Pink Lady Slipper), this makes a nice “floral” arrangement for my Shabbos table and it lasts forever.

This wild iris popped up unexpectedly along the driveway

This wild iris popped up unexpectedly along the driveway

Okay, now on to my husband’s office.  One of the great things about our life is that my husband, a computer whiz with the job title of Software Architect, works from home.  The biggest risk we took in building our house out in the middle of nowhere was the possibility that there wouldn’t be good Wi-Fi connectivity for a computer, and that would mean he couldn’t work from home.  (A dial-up modem would not have been fast enough to meet his needs.)  Miraculously, our phone carrier offers a DSL line, even way out here in the woods!

My husband works in the basement since it’s less distracting than in the main part of the house.  But it’s not all doom and gloom:  since our house is built on a slope, it’s a walk-out basement and mostly above ground.

Busy at work

There is nothing fancy about his work environment:  a folding table, chair, and computer.  But the view . . . !!!!

Office window view of the woods

Office window view of the woods

The view from my husband's office window

The view from my husband’s office window

To the left of his desk is the table holding his ham radio station.  (He’s been begging me for 35+ years to get a ham radio license so we can participate in this hobby together.)  From this little station he has spoken to ham radio operators from all over the world.

The Man Cave:  Amateur (Ham) Radio Station

The Man Cave: Amateur (Ham) Radio Station

One thing about rural living is that property taxes might be lower, but you don’t get what you don’t pay for!  We don’t have a police force (we have to call the county sheriff, and he could be between 1 – 2 hours away).  Both the rescue and fire departments are run by volunteers, who might be at their workplace when you call in an emergency.  So you have to wait until they get to the station, and then travel to your location, which can be 15 or more miles away.  (Though neither of us suffer from heart disease B”H, we are seriously considering purchasing a defibrillator as a first line of defense.)  There are no fire hydrants for the fire trucks, so when the pumper truck runs out of water, he must make a run to the lake (5 miles away) to refill the truck.  (If G-d forbid you have a fire, the typical approach is unfortunately not to save the house, which under these challenging limitations is almost impossible, but simply to ensure that all occupants are safely out of the building, and that the fire is prevented from spreading to other homes or creating a forest fire.)

We also have no garbage collection; we must take all trash to the dump 8 miles away, and it is open only for limited hours a few times a week.

Let me tell you, when you are responsible for the trash you create, you create a lot less trash.  Suddenly you become conscious not only of what you buy and use, but the containers things come in.  What is recyclable or reusable before it has to be dumped?  Also realize that there are no sewer lines, and everything that goes down the sink or toilet goes to a septic tank, which is under a “leach field.”

The leach field.  Giant boulders prevent cars from parking there, because if the earth gets too compacted the septic waste will not decompose properly.  The whole thing sounds worse than it is - - it is odor free.

The leach field. Giant boulders prevent cars from parking there, because if the earth gets too compacted the septic waste will not decompose properly. The whole thing sounds worse than it is – – it is odor free.

We cannot have a garbage disposal due to the septic system.  But, we can  – – and do – – have a composter.  Egg shells, coffee grinds, tea bags, and  fruit and vegetable peels all go into the composter.  It’s a painless, odor-free process, and eliminates a huge amount of refuse that would otherwise go into a garbage disposal or trash can.  After approximately  2 months of “stewing” the composted food waste creates a rich black humus soil that can be transferred by wheelbarrow to my garden.

We try to run the house on solar power as much as possible.  Unlike most people who use solar power, we are not tied to the grid and therefore do not “sell” any energy back to the power company.  What most people do not realize is that if they are tied to the grid, then if there is a power outage, you will be without power too!  We wanted to have complete independence from the power company, so we opted to go “off” the grid.  The solar panels generate electricity which is stored in a huge battery array located in the basement. These batteries look something like golf cart batteries.  They are very heavy, and frankly, they will be a landfill nightmare when they finish their lifespan in about seven years’ time, so I hesitate to call this system “green.”  We also have a backup to our backup:  a propane-powered generator.

Generator

Generator

The 1000-gallon propane tank is buried under the ground.

The cover to the propane tank.  We keep a marker so we can find it in the wintertime!  We lift the cover to monitor usage so we know when it needs to be refilled.

The cover to the propane tank. We keep a marker next to it so we can find it in the wintertime when it is buried by snow! We lift the cover to monitor usage so we know when it needs to be refilled.  We fill it once a year, in the summer, when propane prices are lowest.  Winter rates are 30 – 50% higher.

Despite the government’s position on encouraging “green” living, did you know that you cannot get a government-backed mortgage if you run your house on solar power off the grid?  We also realized that not everyone appreciates living conservatively in terms of electricity usage amounts.  So we designed our house so that with a flick of the switch, we can go from solar power to being connected to Central Maine Power (CMP), our local Maine electric provider.  This has come in handy when we’ve been without sunshine for a week or more, or on winter days when the days are very short and the solar panels don’t have enough daylight hours to collect any substantial electricity and we need a bit of a boost.

Here is a photo showing both our composter and our solar panels:

WP_001195And here are photos taken from the utility room in our basement, showing the cistern, on-demand furnace, hydronic radiant heat lines and battery array:

The Utility Room.  The grey tank in the left corner is our cistern.  An electric-powered pump draws the water from the well and directs it to the cistern.  The water is so pure and delicious!   The propane-powered furnace provides unlimited hot water on demand. The tubing leads to the radiant heat under the floor.

The Utility Room. The grey tank in the left corner is our cistern. An electric-powered pump draws the water from the well and directs it to the cistern. The water is so pure and delicious! The propane-powered furnace provides unlimited hot water on demand. The red tubing leads to the radiant heat under the floor on the main level.

Our house runs on battery power!

Our house runs on battery power!

We spend a great deal of time in the summer months preparing our wood supply.  That means cutting the downed trees into chunked logs, splitting them, drying them for 3 months to a year before they are sufficiently “seasoned” (otherwise there is too much sap and moisture and they don’t burn well), and then stacking the split and dried wood into the woodshed.    I remember once upon a time, both George Bush and Ronald Reagan were shown on television at their homes in Texas and California, splitting wood with an axe and maul.  This is really, really hard work, especially with the amount of wood we need to split.  We pay someone to do the splitting, and he uses a massive gas-powered splitter.  Each log (especially the oak) is very heavy, but shlepping them undoubtedly beats going to the gym for exercise.

Pile of logs

Pile of logs

The woodshed.

The woodshed

Here is a picture of the back of the house (which is really the front entrance).

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Yes, our skies are really that blue!

The house looks bigger than it really is.  The lower level has a small office, but otherwise it's just a utility room for the furnace and cistern, and a one-car garage.

The house looks bigger than it really is, thanks to high ceilings, lots of windows, and an open floor plan. The lower level has a small office, but otherwise it’s just a utility room for the furnace and cistern, and a one-car garage.  The total living space is around 1000 square feet.

Many people wonder why I didn’t build a log home.  Log cabins are indeed very  romantic, not to mention beautiful.   However, besides their tremendous expense, they are extremely high maintenance.  Wood is slowly but surely constantly drying out and “shrinking.”  This means that the chinking (the white filler stuff that goes between the logs) must be re-applied every few years.  Also, the outside logs must be re-varnished and treated every 2 to 4 years, a big and pricey job.  We assume that we will be on a very limited income once my husband retires, and won’t have the funds for major maintenance costs, so we specifically designed the house to be as maintenance-free as is humanly possible.  We opted to go with fiber-cement siding for the exterior cladding.  It is highly rated as a fire-retardant, but more importantly, it is guaranteed to not need repainting for 15 years!  We chose the color that most resembled the color of the surrounding trees.  It blends in so well with the immediate environment that you can’t  see the house from the road unless you already know it’s there.

Our property is located in a very windy location.  About 3 miles away, back in the 1980s,  there was a historic blow-down that permanently destroyed many acres of forest landscape.  In the summer there is almost always a breeze, but the wind can sound pretty scary during a storm.  The roar of wind is frequent and regular, and we figured based on the noise that some of the gusts had to be at least 75 mph.  We bought this anemometer (a wind-measuring device) from the store at Mt. Washington Observatory:

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The anemometer

But it turns out that our maximum recorded wind speed so far was only 37 mph. It just sounds much louder and scarier because of all the trees.  Placing the anemometer was a bit tricky, since we have to be careful that it isn’t damaged when huge sheets of snow and ice fall off the roof in the winter.

Here is a picture of my orchard.  This heavily wooded area was cleared to allow for more sunshine on the solar panels.  I planted 8 Honeycrisp and Macoun apple seedlings there in place of the thick stand of oak, pine, beech and birch trees that were felled.  Since these semi-dwarf apple trees will only grow to about 15′  high, they won’t create shadows on the solar panels that are placed on the other side of the driveway.

Two-year-old apple seedling:  hopefully only 4 more years to go until mature enough to bear fruit.

Two-year-old apple seedling: hopefully only 4 more years to go until mature enough to bear fruit.

Last summer I also planted 6 blueberry bushes.  I also planted  kale in raised beds, with great success.  This past autumn I planted garlic, and it’s doing beautifully.

Garlic growing in a raised bed

Garlic growing in raised beds

One corner of the orchard has 3 beehives which are not owned by me; I let someone use my property as a bee yard.  He gets the honey, and I get to watch and learn about bees and my plants benefit from the pollination.  At one point I thought I might get into beekeeping, but after observing the Bee Man I decided it’s more physical labor than I can realistically handle.

The bees are buzzing!  The hives are surrounded by a solar-powered electric fence, to deter bears.

The bees are buzzing! The hives are surrounded by a solar-powered electric fence, to deter bears.

In early May, the leaves are still not on the trees.  You can barely make out the apple saplings.  The beehives are on the far right.  In the distance in the middle of the photo, you can see part of my neighbor's cabin, which he uses only occasionally, on weekends.

In early May, the leaves are still not on the trees. You can barely make out the apple saplings. The beehives are on the far right. In the distance in the middle of the photo, you can see part of my neighbor’s cabin, which he uses only occasionally, on weekends. (Click to enlarge)

The same view of the orchard 2 weeks later, with leaves on the trees.

The same view of the orchard 2 weeks later, with leaves on the trees.  The cabin in the distance is now completely obscured by the foliage.

This is my latest future project:  I am having more woods cleared to make room for a raised-bed garden.  I hope to plant squash, cucumbers, herbs, beets, and kale for starters.  The downed trees will not go to waste:  the wood will be used to heat our home in the coming winter.

Site of future garden

Site of future garden

Our property sits on 5.6 acres of woods, and backs onto the White Mountain National Forest.  The WMNF abounds with trout streams, ponds, bogs, lakes, waterfalls, wildlife, and hiking and snowmobiling trails. With each season, the landscape changes.  I never get tired of the woods.  Every day I thank HaShem for enabling us to experience this wonderful, spiritual, and healthy way of life in the woods of Maine.

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Early spring, when tiny leaves are just starting to show. Two weeks later, these trees were covered with heavy foliage.

The driveway.

The gravel driveway.

The same view of the driveway two weeks later, when the leaves are on the trees

The same view of the driveway two weeks later, when the leaves are on the trees

Requiem for a Pop-Up Camper

This week we had to say good-bye, forever, to our beloved 1989 Coleman Newport pop-up camper.

We had camped in tents when we lived in California 30+ years ago, but when me moved East we realized that camping in tents was not very practical due to summer thunderstorms and high humidity.  When the kids were small, those middle-of-the-night thunderstorms were part of the adventure.  Before any camping trip, I made sure to check out dozens of age-appropriate books from the library, and bring along plenty of flashlights with large packages of fresh batteries.  Inevitably, sometime between 2 and 4 a.m., there would be a thunderstorm.  If they weren’t awake already from the loud booms and dramatic flashes of light, I’d rouse the kids from their sleeping bags, and we’d all go into the car to wait out the storm.  It’s dangerous to be in a tent, on the ground, during a thunderstorm, due to possible lightning hits.  So there, in the car, they’d cozy up in the darkness to their books and flashlights, and read until the storm passed.  When the storm cleared, we’d walk through the muddy ground to the tents, inspecting them for leaks and damp sleeping bags.  If the following day would be sunny, we’d simply hang the damp bags on an improvised clothesline strung between two trees until they’d dry out, usually in a couple of hours.  But after a really long downpour, or if the next day’s weather called for cold or cloudy conditions,  it meant that the next morning, instead of a planned hike, our activity would be laundromat-bound, where we’d dry the bags in commercial dryers so we would have a comfortable night’s sleep.  Even if there was no call for more rain, the high degree of humidity in the east coast air meant that things were unlikely to get truly dry, and then mildew would ensue.  When we began spending more time at the laundromat than the mountaintop, we realized that tent camping was no longer a viable option, so we bought a used pop-up trailer.

Meanwhile, our old tents did not go to waste.  It is my firm belief that everyone needs a vacation, even people (or should I say, especially people) who are poor.  But how does a large family of extremely limited means afford a vacation?  Camping!  Tents don’t have to be expensive (they start at $30) but why invest in something before you’re sure you even like camping?  So I came up with the idea of having a camping g’mach (free-loan equipment).  Families who wanted to try camping could borrow our equipment for free.  Slowly, the word spread, and people would call to borrow our tents.  At least 30 families borrowed the equipment over the next five years, and most of them went on to buy their own tents and other camping equipment.  Some liked it so much, they even bought used pop-up trailers and RVs.  Many told me how their camping experiences fostered and improved shalom bayis, and expressed with wonder how they were able to spend quality time with their children without the usual everyday pressures and stressors and minus the distractions of technology.  (When we moved to an apartment several years later, and no longer had adequate storage space for the camping equipment, someone else took over the camping g’mach.  It continues to this day, some 20 years later!)

Oh, the adventures we had!  Wherever we’d go we’d put a bumper sticker from that place on the camper, and our little pop-up was a visual travelogue.

Ah, the memories. Each place held its own adventures, tall tales, and mishaps

In retrospect, it would seem that our children did not share their parents’ enthusiasm.  Perhaps they were traumatized by pit toilets or the strenuous hiking, but as adults, none of them enjoy camping, and their idea of a vacation is a 5-star hotel.  Feh!  It is perhaps my biggest failure as a parent (although undoubtedly my children can think of much more grievous reasons that my parenting was less than stellar), but I am genuinely saddened by my inability to transmit my enjoyment of camping and natural wonders to my children.

A couple of years ago, four of my grandsons decided to spend a night in our camper (which is parked on our property) when they came to visit us in Maine.  One by one, throughout the night, they ended up inside the house:  wild animal noises had scared them.  (Unless you know what it is you are hearing, the noises can be very disconcerting.  For example, the sound foxes make when they are calling to one another sounds like a baby is being murdered.)   To solve this problem in the future,  I ended up finding sound files on the Internet of the various animals that frequent our woods.  Once they knew what they were hearing and that they were not destined to be that night’s dinner, the grandkids were able to relax a bit.  But that was probably the last time our camper was ever used.

The truth is, since moving to the White Mountains, I have had no real desire to go camping.  The multiple places in the past that we had to drive 10 hours to visit and go camping are now within an hour’s drive, so the many hikes we took are simply day trips for us now.  If I want to experience a nap outdoors, I can go on my screen porch and lay on the futon, or string our hammock (with built-in mosquito netting) between the trees.  Thanks to a project I assigned to my grandsons on their last visit, we now have a respectable fire pit (basically just a circle of large rocks and small boulders set on gravel) for campfires and outdoor grilling whenever the mood strikes.  I guess it’s a sign of getting older, and having had the privilege of already camping in places I wanted to experience, such as the Grand Tetons, the Sierras and the Rocky Mountains, but I have no real desire to travel elsewhere anymore.  (The one exception:  I still want to visit Glacier National Park some day.)  I expect that the only real traveling I will be doing in the future will be in my visits to Israel, and occasional visits to California to visit the graves of our parents.

When four of our grandsons came to visit us in Maine last week, they expressed a desire to go camping one night.  We had a wonderful campsite picked out that is located only 3 miles from our home, alongside a stream with natural swimming holes.  But when he went to open up the camper to fill it with supplies, my husband was met with the unbearable stench of mildew and decay.  Cranking it open further, his eyes widened:  swatches of grey fur, 1′ high piles of mouse droppings, and shredded material everywhere.  Hundreds of mice had eaten their way into the camper, where they had nested throughout the winter.  They had lived there, raised broods there, partied there, and died there.  The multiple mouse holes had allowed water to get in, and the leaks resulted in mold.  There was not a square inch of the camper that had not suffered damage: the canvas walls, the floor, the foam mattresses, the wiring, the cabinets – – all completely destroyed by gnawing, shredding, defecation, mold, mildew,  death and decay.

Even before the mice attacked, our camper wasn’t worth much, monetarily speaking.  Due to its disuse and taking up a lot of space, we had actually thought of trying to get a couple hundred bucks for it on Craigslist, but sentimentality had prevented me from selling it.  Due to its age, certain things had already started falling apart and some parts of its interior were literally held together by duct tape.  But it still worked!  And oh, the memories!

That said, I wasn’t overly upset by its demise, although I can’t say I’m thrilled by the cleanup.  I had to buy hazmat masks against the odor, and latex gloves.  In the end, I wimped out, and I played the “helpless woman” card.  Which is weird because I’ve gotten used to impaling live wiggly worms on fish hooks.  But I just couldn’t do this job of sorting through the camper, so finding salvageable items became my beleaguered husband’s job.

Considering that 2 people died last week after contracting a rodent-born virus in Yosemite, the hazmat mask and gloves were appropriate. I could not do this job. I. Just. Could. Not. (Thanks, dear husband. . . )

I would have taken it to the dump as is, but we needed to empty out the many cupboards and storage areas to see if anything was salvageable.  And this being Maine, nothing goes to waste, not even a mouse-eaten camper.  Someone will claim it, deconstruct and remove the interior down to its bare bones, and use it as a flat-bed trailer to haul wood or a tractor.  So our little camper will continue to be of service, although not in the capacity for which it was originally intended.

We won’t be buying another camper to replace it, so I guess it’s an end of an era.  But oh, the memories!

I am so grateful for the many good times we were blessed to experience with our little ’89 Coleman pop-up trailer.

Postscript:  Ten minutes after posting an ad on Craigslist, we sold the camper for $100.  The buyers, just over the border in New Hampshire, will be using it as a utility trailer.  When I told her on the phone that it was mouse infested and pretty gross, she said, “No problem! We’ll just use our pressure washer to clean it up.”

In Search of the Perfect Clothesline

(click to enlarge)

 

Because we are living mostly off-the-grid and are highly dependent on sunny days for our electricity, I needed a washing machine that used very little electricity or water.  Our water comes from a well, but its source is hundreds of feet below the ground.  To get it up to the surface requires a 3/4 horsepower pump – which uses electricity.  So the less water used, the less the pump has to work.

We also want to avoid wasting water, because that flows into our septic system.  A full septic tank is not a pretty smell.  Do you feel frustrated and unfulfilled by your current job?  Realize that there are people who make their living doing nothing but pumping out septic tanks day in and day out, in all kinds of weather.  Makes you start appreciating the persnickety boss and suffocating cubicle at your current place of employment, doesn’t it?

If there is cloudy weather for days and days, and our battery supply is depleted to the point of no electric service, we do have two possiblities:  one is that we simply flick a switch and we are reconnected to the grid via our local power company.  When we’ve had to rely on this, our electric bills have typically been $10 – $25 per month.  The reason they’re so cheap is that we’ve invested a lot of time and thought into how we can cut down on energy expenditure.  Our house is super-insulated which means in summer we don’t need a/c even on the hottest days; in winter it retains heat so well that the woodstove is more than adequate and at times we’ve even had to crack open a window because it gets too hot inside the house!

We’re extremely careful about turning off lights that aren’t in use and using power strips that can be easily turned off to avoid energy vampires.  Most of the lights in the house are LEDs, which use much less electricity than CFL bulbs – – only 10 watts per fixture.  These look like any old recessed lighting fixtures, but they give off wonderful light, are much more pleasing and softer than CFLs, yet more natural looking, brighter and more intense .  I highly recommend them to anyone considering an update to their home’s lighting system:  www.cree.com

We put the largest windows on the south and west sides of the house.  On clear winter days the sun’s rays are absorbed by the glass and warm up our rooms nicely.  This is known as “passive solar.”

There are some things in the house that are powered by propane gas: our back-up heating  system, our kitchen range, our hot water, and our generator.  If we have a week of no sunshine and then there is a major storm and the power lines are down (and this happens a lot), the generator is a life-saver.  The downside, besides the noise, is that propane gas is rather expensive.  We have a 1000-gallon propane tank buried underneath the ground, but at $2.30 a gallon, it’s not something you want to drain quickly.  That’s why we don’t have a clothes dryer – – it eats up too much propane gas.  When I cook, it’s usually on top of my stove, because I find that using a pressure cooker cooks food very quickly and uses a whole lot less gas than if I bake something in the oven.

When looking for a washing machine, I first went to www.energystar.gov This was very useful also when looking for a refrigerator.  You can find out how much energy a particular appliance consumes, and compare different brands.  I found out that a medium-size Miele washing machine was the lowest for both electricity and water use, and it had excellent reliability ratings.  I wasn’t scared off by the smaller capacity, since I’m doing laundry for only 2 people these days.

There is only one problem with a Miele washing machine: the price.  At $2,000 – $3,000 there is no way I was buying one – – new, that is.

Thank you, CraigsList!  A guy in New Hampshire was selling his as-new Miele machine for $1200.  I waited a couple of weeks and then I emailed him.  “I noticed a couple of weeks ago you were selling a Miele washing machine.  There is no way I can pay you $1200, but if you’re willing to take $450 cash, I can be there tomorrow and take it away.”

It even came with an extended, transferable warranty.  I was very excited.  And, I’m happy to report, it does live up to its promise.  Our Miele washer really does get the clothes cleaner, using a bare minimum of detergent, water and electricity!

Hanging the wash is a work in progress, however.

Our laundry smells of fresh mountain air – it’s wonderful.  And we have lots of trees from which to string a clothesline!

A sunny November morning

But the trees have to be at least 20′ apart and here the woods are too thick.  And the line can’t be too far into the woods, because of mud in the spring and snow in the winter.  The clothesline has to be in an area of sunlight, because the cold temperatures and short days in the fall and winter mean the laundry will otherwise not get dry.  Location, location, location!

I do have a single clothesline strung, but am looking into stringing more on the side of the shed.  That’s when I found the Cord-A-Clip.  Even though we did not end up getting a Cord-O-Clip, as I watched the info video on YouTube, I got positively teary-eyed.

It made me think of my mother-in-law, a’h.

My mother-in-law was a TV addict.  She always felt grateful for television.  When she came to this country after the War, she didn’t understand or speak English, and everything and everybody was so different from what she was used to.  She had no money, but she did have a husband and two small children to nurture.  Rent had to be paid and food had to be put on the table.  There was no time to go to night school – – there weren’t enough hours in the day between caring  for the children, and she and her husband working their heads off.

At night when things quieted down, my mother-in-law watched TV.  She learned English from “I Love Lucy” and “Bonanza.”

But as that age of innocence devolved, TV embraced the culture of marketing.  And with it was born “As Seen On TV.”

My mother-in-law was its biggest devotee.

To my mother-in-law, if something was As Seen On TV, it was irresistible.  A product had to be good if it was clever enough and wonderful enough to be As Seen On TV!!!  Soon, the mail carrier  and UPS man were on a first-name basis with my mother-in-law, due to the weekly arrivals of innovative gadgets that were all stamped, “As Seen On TV!”

In her later years, she was thrilled when WalMart and Target created special sections in their stores, whose aisles were limited to items that were As Seen On TV.  It made shopping so much faster – she only had to go to that particular aisle when looking for presents to buy for her family!  Because if it was As Seen On TV, it was surely the most unique, clever and perfect present in the world!

When I saw the Cord-O-Clip, I knew my mother-in-law was smiling down at me from Above.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i4RLDKKdoQQ

If my mother-in-law were alive, I imagine this Chanuka we would have gotten presents marked “As Seen On YouTube!” because towards the end of her life, she really loved shopping on the Internet . . .

We miss her!