Saturday, May 24, 2008

This Old (Crumbling) House

Where's Norm Abram when I need him? Actually, I suspect if the "This Old House" crew ever got a look at our home improvement projects, they would run screaming.

Exhibit A: The blurry picture to the right. This is what the walls in our bedroom look like. I don't know when they were last painted. They make me feel like I'm sleeping in a cell in Alcatraz. These are lath and plaster walls. Know what's stuffed into the walls? Horse hair. Oh yes. I'm sure it goes without saying they are original walls.

It also goes without saying that they are in beyond terrible condition. I will eventually paint the room, but the amount of prep work before I can do that is ridiculous. A normal person would have just ripped the whole wall out and replaced it with drywall. But we're not normal. We like our horse hair, and spackle is a lot cheaper. Plus, A. is a self-proclaimed artist in spackling and plastering. Good thing. He very tactfully informed me that I am not "well-schooled in the ways of old houses." Indeed. I rely heavily on his artistry.

So please excuse me. As the photographic evidence clearly demonstrates, we have a lot of work to do.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Was I Adopted?

A recent conversation with my mother included the news that the annual Firecracker Triathlon*, held every year in JULY, in TUCSON, ARIZONA, for CRAZY PEOPLE LIKE MY FAMILY WHO WANT TO FRY THEIR BRAINS, has been canceled this year due to construction on the course. And both my mother and my brother were disappointed. Disappointed that they would not be courting heat stroke by swimming, cycling, and running a triathlon course in JULY, in TUCSON, ARIZONA. How can I be related to these people?

Okay, so maybe in my younger days I was very sporty and active. I did the Iron Kid triathlon when I was 7 years old and we were living in Hawaii. And I played a lot of sports, to the point of doing both track and soccer at the same time, meaning two practices a day, back to back. And then I burned out. I guess I peaked early.

Since quitting soccer in high school, I have been not so inclined to do anything involving running. Or anything sports-related, for that matter. This is why I was the only child not to participate in the annual Tour de Tucson bicycle race with my dad. Know how long the Tour de Tucson is? 111 miles. And no, there is not supposed to be a decimal in there somewhere. I don't even like to drive 111 miles, forget pedaling a bike that distance. My father was very disappointed in me.

But did you know country people don't really exercise? Not the kind of exercise that requires skintight shorts and a helmet, anyway. I don't think anyone within a hundred mile radius of my current home has ever participated in a triathlon. I don't even know where the closest triathlon is. It's awesome. It's like I've found my place in the world. A place where it would never occur to anyone to swim across the lake when they could sit on the beach, to ride a bicycle when there are perfectly good pick-up trucks, or to run when they could drive. A place with people just like me.

Yeah, I blend (MOVIE QUOTE ALERT). Until I start laughing uncontrollably at the tractor pull and everyone stares at me because no one else sees anything funny about drinking beer at 10 a.m. and watching men in overalls manipulate heavy machinery. I have some assimilating to do yet, but the no exercise thing? I got that one down.

* My dictionary tells me there is no second "a" in "triathlon." This looks so, so wrong. It bugs me. It should be "triathalon." But it's not. Just thought you should know.

Thursday, May 22, 2008


Hey, remember the Pit of Despair? Remember how creepy I said it is down there? I thought you might like a visual of the creepitude.

This is what happens to potatoes in the cellar. The mutants will destroy us all one day.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

All Together Now . . .

Let's welcome my brand-new, freshly minted, hot from the oven (ha!) niece into the world. She is 9 lbs 14 ozs, a good, strong girl, which is the only kind we like around here at the mini-farm.

She is also the first grandbaby for both my family and my sister-in-law's family, so I suspect the child will be spoiled beyond belief. I won't get my turn until her christening in July, though. Boo.

And let's all join together one more time to shout "CONGRATULATIONS!!" to the new mommy and daddy.

Thank you for your participation in this important event.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

About Damn Time

Hey, you know what's surprisingly difficult? Getting a good picture of our house. I finally found a good angle and managed to get the photo before the sun went away again, so you can see a photo of the house (and Otty's butt, if you look carefully) at the Blackrock post.

And if you were wondering what the hell a cobblestone house is (understandable--I used to think cobblestones were only used for paving streets), you can read about the style here.

Just Keepin' It Real, Y'all

Is anyone else getting tired of photos and descriptions of fancy houses, fancy food, and fancy parties on this site? I think I'm veering off toward the pretentious again. We all know that no one really lives like that all the time. With the possible exception of Martha Stewart, and I'm not entirely convinced she's human. Plus, she has like a million employees, and I bet my house would look that good all the time if I had people to clean and fix everything for me.


In the interests of full disclosure and de-pretentioning (IT'S A WORD NOW, OKAY?), I present documentation of straight-up redneck life. This is A. in the pasture cutting up the old Jeep for scrap metal. Note the sheep in the background, doing their best to make the scene pastoral and bucolic.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Unpopular Mechanics

Have I mentioned my complete lack of knowledge about machines? No? Well, have I mentioned that we have about a TRILLION gadgets with motors that I use on a regular basis? Yes, I am a complete moron about motors and all things related to them, and yet I am regularly encouraged to use various expensive devices that could conceivably dismember me if used improperly.

If you have some kind of idealized view of country life where we all get back to the land (get back? I'm already there, thanks) by trimming our lawns by hand and chopping down trees with an axe, let me ruin that pretty fantasy for you. Country life means machinery. The sound of summer around here is the sound of combustion engines.

We have a lot of machines: chainsaws, lawn mowers, trimmers, water pumps . . . and I'm lucky if I can even start any of them, much less figure out what's wrong when they don't start. There's all these complicated buttons and choke levers and God knows what else on them. I pretty much just randomly flip switches and pull cords until whatever the thing is roars to life. The only thing I absolutely will not use is the Stihl chainsaw, because that is a seriously brawny piece of metal. I have a hard time lifting it, much less holding it steady enough to avoid cutting off my foot. I leave that one to the man of the house. Gender roles? I'm all for 'em.

Unfortunately, I can't avoid all the machines. I'm the one who's home and has the time, so I do most of the landscaping/gardening/mowing. When we got our new (used) lawn tractor, I got the thing stuck on inclines like 4 times, with one tire spinning in the air. And then A. helpfully pointed out to me that perhaps inflating the COMPLETELY FLAT TIRE on one side might improve my stability. Noted. Now, please excuse me while I go die of estrogen-related shame. Thank you.

I would be perfectly happy to stick to my kitchen and my house, but the damned grass keeps growing, so I keep struggling with the machines. And my own stupidity. I think the machines are winning.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Meet the Family--Blackrock

I've been meaning to post about our house for a long time now, except it's really hard to know what to say. The house is pretty much like a member of the family. Whether it's like an infant demanding care and attention at all times but with the potential for greatness in the future, or an elderly grandparent requiring periodic large financial investments to keep in working order, depends on my mood. But like any proper family member, it has a name. And its name is Blackrock.

Well, it's not like there's a sign at the foot of the driveway saying "Blackrock." And actually, no one else really calls it that. The name was created as a joke by one of A.'s cousins, or maybe his brother, and I just think it's the perfect name for the house. Stately and faintly sinister, which is as good a description of the house as any.

See, the thing is, Blackrock sort of defies description. I mean, I can give you the stats: Built 1860s, Gothic-style cobblestone, 18 rooms (yes, you read that right). But the character of the place is totally unique. It's been in A.'s family for over 100 years--we are the 6th generation to live here. The house and the 6 acres it sits on are what is left of a massive farm purchased in the 1890s that was slowly sold off by the family over the years. Most of the furnishings date to around the turn of the 20th century. They come with the house. The kind of history that evolves from such a long period of continuous occupation is so different from the modern world, the world that I grew up in, that the word "rooted" doesn't even seem strong enough.

It is a beautiful, very impressive house. And it is also a royal pain in the ass. If you've never lived in a very old house, you can't have any idea of how difficult the most simple task becomes. There is a constant parade of workmen here, and they all get the same look of bewilderment and astonishment when they see the mess of electrical wires in the basement, the defunct water pipes, the push-button light switches, the asbestos-lined heating ducts, the ABSOLUTE CHAOS that resulted as various modern improvements were added randomly throughout the decades. Everything that we have to have done, even something like getting a new door for the cellar to replace the rotted one, for which we've been waiting for EIGHT MONTHS, becomes an ordeal. Everything has to be custom, and everything costs triple what we think it will. We have the family house, but the family money is long gone. This is why most old family homes get sold, of course, but A. would sooner sell an organ than sell this house, so here we are, hanging on while the modern world moves in all around and taxes go up.

Yet, despite all the aggravation, hard work, and constant financial drain, we love this house. I love this house. I'm proud of it. It is special and unique. You can buy an old house, but you can't buy the family history and pride that we have here. So here we stay, the latest in a long line of the keepers of Blackrock.

The End.