Monday, June 30, 2008

The Jar is Half Empty!

This is not one of those philosophical discussions, as one might think- it is a fact. Yesterday, I filled a jar to the tip top with my favorite chocolates and left it out on the counter. My little spot of decadence in the day, a yummy dark chocolate morsel to get through the afternoon. It was full to the top and no room for a lid, so the jar was left open. Therein, apparently, was my mistake. When the chocolates were in their bags on the counter, no problems, in the jar however there is a serious problem. This morning the jar is half empty!

After turning an accusing finger on Emrys and being convinced that he wouldn't have eaten half the jar of chocolates overnight and being pretty sure that I haven't been eating in my sleep the only real explanation is that we have some Free-Loading Rodent-Squatter who has raided my chocolate! and I'm ticked! I'll share my yummy treats with people- (although I've been known to hide them when I'm out of town), but with a Free-Loading Rodent-Squatter - no WAY!

There's now a lid on my half empty jar and Emrys has been put on trap duty. F-L R-S - your days are numbered!

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Tyler Cabin Adventure IV

Water is one of the most fascinating substances on earth. Or perhaps I should say, water is the indicator of some of the most fascinating facets of life on earth. Think about it: life as we know it could not exist without liquid water. But liquid water only exists in a certain range of atmospheric pressure, and in a very narrow range of temperatures (0-100 degress Celsius or 32-212 degrees Fahrenheit). If the planet Earth did not accommodate this range of temperatures with sufficient frequency, life as we know it would not exist at all. All in all, it's pretty cool.

But water has its downsides. Water speeds up corrosive processes, plays host to oodles of microorganisms, and facilitates cooling. In short, water can make stuff rot, grow fungus and bacteria, and make you cold.

It can also undermine basements.

The log house had some serious seepage problems in the basement. Although work would have to be done inside the basement (more on that later), the primary task to prevent continued sopping of the basement was groundwater diversion. Earlier generations had allowed the downspouts from the gutters to drain directly onto the ground at the corners of the house. That had to change.

First, we attached black flex tubing to the downspouts in order to catch all that falling rainwater. Then we sunk the flex tubing underground, so that the water would exit downslope, far away from the foundation.

Here's a shot from the opening, after we replaced the sod. Now the water will run off away from the house. And the groundskeeper will still be able to mow around the building uninterrupted.
One side of the house needed a long run of underground flex tubing. Here, three gutters were dumping onto the ground. Definitely had to change that! Here's the Bushman Chris hard at work getting the tubing in place.
And another shot of his better side. Notice how we also improved the grade against the house: the dirt should slope away from the foundation--which it hasn't in at least 20 years. Pretty slick, eh?
And when it's all covered up:

The dirt will soon be covered by the voracious lillies of the valley and ferns that take over this side of the house. And voila! Water away! We need it, we drink it, we bathe in it--but keep it away from our foundation!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

More BC Gags

In case you were wondering (I was), the Wylie's Dictionary for June 13th and 21st--those were my gags.

In case you want to keep track, the Wylie's Dictionary for July 5th and 19th--those will be mine, too.

They still won't let me sign my name to them. Sigh. Well, at least I won't have to worry about paparazzi.


Monday, June 23, 2008

Tyler Cabin Adventure III

It's amazing what God creates. After being chopped down, cut up, stuck together with pitch, and exposed to thirty-two years of wind, rain, sun, and insects, the larch logs that make up the log house are still solid at the core. Well, this is true for 90% of the house. There is one section that's rotten, due both to insects' work and a long time of poor gutterage on that patch of the house. But after we were done peeling and scraping the bark off the logs, here's what most of the exterior walls looked like:

Not showroom quality, mind you; but which one of us would look this good after being cut down and left to weather for three decades? If you had only this much greying and cracking, you'd be singing Hallelujah!

Notice, however, the spaces between the logs. Although Grandma and Grandpa put what looks like tar between the logs, they were never properly chinked. Part of this was due, I'm sure, to the fact that it's very hard to chink logs with bark on them. Besides, Thoreau didn't use chinking, I'm sure. Chinking is just another one of those modern inventions that keep you soft and reliant on petroleum-dependent industrial society.

It also keeps your log house standing longer and its occupants warmer in the winter.

By the time another generation of Tylers reached adulthood, there were spaces in between the logs that you could see light through. (No lie: You could stand in the house and see bright sunlight through the cracks. Of course, you couldn't do that most of last week, because it was raining. But trust me. The gaps were huge.)

So we had to chink.

Chinking is really glorified (and by "glorified," I mean "extra expensive") bathtub caulk. Take a tube of caulk, introduce it to a randy bag of mortar mix, give them a motel room for a couple hours, and BANG: you get chinking. Squeeze it on like caulk, and it hardens like mortar with a little flexibility. We bought four boxes of chinking (eight tubes to a box) for a few hundred dollars (ouch!), and got to work. (Praise the Lord: the labour was free--if we fed them.) Here's Geo under the eaves, filling up the gaps.

After you've tooled the bead of chinking with your finger (which is much cheaper than buying an extra expensive spatula designed especially for the purpose), here's what it looks like:

See how nicely the colour matches?

It's supposed to take about a day to dry, but since it rained all week, our chinking took about three days to get solid. But we've been telling ourselves that's good, because it means that the chinking won't pull away from the wood by drying too fast. (We're now experts in the log house renovation field: we can tell ourselves these things.)

Now the rain can't get in between the logs and rot them; and the wind can't squeeze in there during the winter time. Which means maybe that cute little wood stove won't have to work as hard.


Sunday, June 22, 2008

Tyler Cabin Adventure II

The term "cabin" often connotes a small, rustic, and cozy structure intended for a retreat or a simplified mode of living. The Tyler cabin certainly fits this bill. It is a 24 x 32 foot structure with a single room and a bathroom on one floor. The only interior walls are those around the bathroom; the rest is open on from floor to ceiling. The bark is still on the interior surface of the logs, so it feels very rustic. When you put a crew of eight people in a one-room cabin, however, it goes from cozy to cluttered. Here's a shot of the cabin interior. Notice the retro lamp over the dining room table, copious plastic cups, and laptop.

Here's another shot, from the other direction. Uncle Jim is enjoying a tasty beverage; you can see the small wood stove that sits in the middle, stove pipe running up to the peak of the roof.
The two cots in the background, including their mattresses, are original to the cabin (1976). I suspect that if I contacted the CDC, their archives department would have an interest in taking them away (or Homeland Security, afraid of future bioweapons development).
I'm sure that some of you are wondering what we did with Sadie while we were gone. A few of you perhaps thought that we left her behind in Harpursville, to suffer being closed into the house while we had a rural camping adventure. Fear no more. Here's proof that our mutt came along with us, had the run of the cabin and the surrounding forest the whole time, and had eight people to convince that no one had fed her for at least three days. (I think she must have got at least two extra meals out of us, what with all the coming and going.)
A Tyler family characteristic is the collection of stuff for fear that "that might come in useful someday." I like to give it an acronym (because acronymns are sexier than the whole phrase): THiDAS. That's Tyler Historical Detritus Accumulation Syndrome. Who knows when someone--particularly the large number of family members disproportionately interested in history--might want access to that piece of paper or that object? Who knows if that--teapot, loose screw, napkin, or bit of string--might come in handy someday? We don't know, so we save it! Here is just one stack of things that could not be thrown out by earlier generations.
I suppose I can't complain about THiDAS too much. The plastic-wrapped piece of blonde oak furniture in the picture is a cabinet that someone made for Jim some years ago that he doesn't have space for (!) at home. But Jim figured someone might want it some day. So Sara and I are going to take it and put in in our house.

I mentioned the squatters. We're pretty sure that over one hundred generations of mice have called this cabin home. And as much as we appreciate the emotional attachment these rodents have to the abode of their great-great-great-great . . . grandparents, this appreciation does not exceed our repulsion for their detritus and tendency to carry disease. So we did what we could to evict this generation and future generations from the cabin. On the front lines of this effort stood Krissy, our most intrepid cleaner. Here she is with one mop-load of mouse-residue extracted from the pantry.
Kudos to my sister-in-law, who goes where angels fear to tread. I guess she's as extreme as Geo, but in a different way.

Tyler Cabin Adventure I

Some families gather in hotels and go to amusement parks.
Some families go to one member's home and sleep on the floor in their cousins' rooms.
Some families meet in foreign countries while on vacation.
Not the Tyler family.

The Tyler family owns a log house in Brooktondale, New York, just 20 minutes southeast of Ithaca. My grandparents had it built in 1976 (my birth year) from larch logs cut in the next door town of Danby when the forestry service decided that the state forest there needed to be thinned. My grandfather had the logs cut and placed without peeling them, under the assumption that larch logs are resistant to disease and insects such that they don't need to be peeled or treated. Well, this may be true of larch for 3 to 5 years, but not for 32. So the Tyler family (with additions--Uncle Jim, Christopher, George, Geo, Krissy, Sara, Emily, and myself) set upon the log house from Sunday to Saturday in order to make a dent in 32 years of deferred maintenance.

First we had to debark the whole exterior. Much of it just peeled off by hand (with the help of thousands of generations of insect activity--sorry, Grandpa--and 31 summers of sunshine and rain). Some of it required scraping. Some of the bark had to stay on, because we chose hand tools rather than cob-blasting. We just didn't have it in the budget to rent an industrial-power air compressor. Here are the backs of Emily and Geo, scraping away. Note the courses of logs above them, that still have their bark on.
When you defer maintenance on a rural home for 32 years, certain members of the rodentia and insecta families assert their rights to squat in your territory. As a result, the living conditions inside the cabin become offensive to anyone except the most rugged Appalachian mountain people. Thus, we made our sleeping quarters in a tent village on the lawn. (Thanks to a couple of tents borrowed from the Conas!)

By the way, we had this work week, whose major tasks were all exterior, planned for about three months. You'd think we would have had a shot at at least three days of sun. No such: it rained every day except the day we left.

Here's Emily, hard at work (don't let the smile fool you) peeling larch bark. She joined us all the way from Guelph, Ontario, to be part of this Tyler madness. Note the ladder on which she perches. It's an old-school wooden extension ladder, probably a few years older than I. Still works, though.
Here's my brother Geo, working so hard that he doesn't have time to look at the camera. One virtue of leaving the bark on (to give some credit to Grandpa's Thoreausian dream) is that the wood underneath did not grey as much as exposed wood (like the porch pillar that Geo's leaning on). Which is better: greyed wood without insects, or insect-damaged natural colour? You decide--before you build your own log house.

A persistent issue in the cabin is water supply. When Grandpa and Grandma had the house built, they dug a 60-foot well which, while providing chemically clean water, also spit out a lot of silt. So the water is always grey. What's more, the well has a very slow flow rate, so you can't use more than a gallon or two before the pump has to draw more and the pressure goes down. In their effort to echo the simplicity (and economy) of Walden Pond, my grandparents didn't put in a retention tank or pressure tank. So showers are out of the question at the cabin. There just ain't enough water flowing in.

However, the Tyler family has some extreme characters in it. Some of us are extreme dreamers and philosophers (like Christopher); some of us are extreme intellectuals and specialists (like Uncle Jim); and some of us are extreme experience-seekers. Geo is one of the latest. Case in point: though the ladies had a local state park scoped out to take free showers, Geo was not content to wait for the 20-minute drive. So, when it rained and we discovered that one of the gutters had clogged up, he showered under the waterfall from the north-east corner of the house:

I'll leave you with that picture for now. More to come from the First Annual Tyler Family Cabin Work Week.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Garden Galore

The garden is coming along well. Although we live in a little patch of colder climate (we tend to be a couple weeks behind those who live on the river floodplain), the plants are taking well. The snowpeas, lettuce, spinach, and asparagus have borne us quite a bit of produce already. We praise the Lord for the abundance of spring and summer!

Our strawberry patch holds the promise of many strawberries this year. We got the hot tip that you have to cut the runners in order to get the plants to bear fruit. So we did. In this one photo, you can see one pink strawberry and ten green ones--plus the flower that will become a fruit. Now, we just have to keep the vermin away.

And of course there is the great upside-down tomato project. Here's one of the four posts with the four planted buckets hanging from it.

And here's a close-up of the plants. On each of the plants, the central stem turns upright, going against gravity. However, on each one there's a side-stem that thinks, "OK, you go that way; I'm going to see what happens if I go this way." So the side-stem goes sideways and down, and finds sunlight past the edge of the bucket. I hope the side-stem sends messages to the central stem, so they can get their acts together. Next year's marinara depends on it.
~ emrys

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Where Does the Time Go?!

Life is full right now and I’m enjoying most of it. The thought of a day at home without a to-do list a mile long sounds appealing, but not probable for quite a while. I’m still trying to get caught up from my trip to Wisconsin. I was gone for 9 days and it was a great time visiting with family and friends. Emrys even cleaned while I was gone, which was a great treat to come home to. However the Garden Elf was on vacation and none of the weeding got done.

I’ve gotten most of the veggie beds cleaned out now, the flower beds have been sorely neglected. Jack in the Pulpit & Columbines are under attack by the Evil Weeds and I’m hoping to get out there this afternoon if it’s not too hot. The first batches of asparagus, spinach and snap peas have already been consumed is promise of much more to come – yummy! We also have green beans, cucumbers, squash, soy beans, peppers (3 varieties), carrots, tomatos, broccoli and cauliflower all doing their growing thing to fill my fridge & freezer with produce. I love it!

The baking projects of winter have waned and I’ve taken on other fun kitchen experiments – like making yogurt. The first batch is in the incubator as I type – we’ll see how it turns out. Emrys was especially happy when I pointed out that I had used whole milk for the project – not the lowfat stuff.

Craft fair season is right around the corner. I’ll be setting up for the Owego Strawberry Festival on June 21st and the Montrose (PA) 4th of July Festival so I’ve got to get my act together! I’ve got the candles poured. Now it’s just the organizing – bleh! I have special orders coming in for the end of the year holiday season which is really exciting!

I guess that’s about all that’s fit to print. Time for me to quit procrastinating and get to work!