In 2018 I retired after 39 years of life in Taiwan. I moved to Holland, MI, and bought a hundred year old house in the city.
The town was platted out sometime in the 1960s, and included alleys in the middle of blocks. One by one, the city “vacated” many of those alleys, but some remain. Near our house there’s one that a community association “neatened up” within the last 10 years. It’s an “art alley”. One back yard installation included a few racks of colored bottles on poles. They attracted me. I figured I could do that, myself, in my own yard.
After examining the installation, I decided that I could do it cheaper too. I sent out a request for empty bottles on a neighborhood bulletin board, and got “not few” responses, sometimes linked to statements that “we didn’t drink all that wine” or “the bottles accumulated over a long time.” (That’s Holland, MI piety speaking). My own installation, because I did it on the cheap side, blew apart in the wind more than once. Lots of bottles and red vases smashed before I finally figured out how to make it secure.
As I live and drink, I accumulate bottles regularly. Three windows in the garage were “bottled up” in 2022. More racks and installations have taken places in the yard. As I write, there are 50 bottles and vases, drilled and washed, waiting in the basement for another inspiration to strike.
With the kitchen project, electricians, plumbers, dishwasher installers, etc. all calling me the last three to four weeks, I’ve been answering unknown numbers more than usual. Some of the time it’s been someone I want to talk to, some of it’s folks looking for my money.
Yesterday morning I was still expecting a couple more calls about the dishwasher so I picked up an area code “952” when it rang. I knew straight away it probably wasn’t the dishwasher but I usually wait to hear what my unknowns want before I give them the brush off. She jumped right in an identified herself as calling from a colonoscopy center and asking when my last one was. I was able to truthfully tell her I had done the mail-in a couple of months ago and then we ended the call. Who would have thought you’d ever get a call like this?
I spent all afternoon thinking about it and imagining what she tells people at parties when they ask what she does. “I make cold calls to talk people into colonoscopies” aren’t words that I’d be willing to say to strangers.
What is a current trend that you just don’t understand?
I think I’m a fairly upbeat person most of the time. So when I’m crabby, I really feel it. It was just one of those days where every little thing built up.
Finally got through to somebody about the dishwasher and got answers – not what I really wanted, but at least answers. My recent excellent experience with the cabinet installation did not suddenly make me think all projects would go on schedule and be hunky dory but when they showed up with the dishwasher and couldn’t de-install the old one, and couldn’t explain why to me because they didn’t have much English and my Spanish doesn’t include any electrical- or plumbing- detailed vocabulary. Did get somebody on the phone from the company who would translate, but the end is still the same. No dishwasher installed today. Plumber today. Maybe. All this has required that I change plans for lunch today. Meh.
Then I got an email from my ex-boss. I officially “start” work tomorrow, although until I have a computer and the program is ready to turn over, I won’t actually be doing anything. Meh.
My favorite tv channel hasn’t been “connecting” today. You’d think that since I’ve seen every episode of Midsomer Murders, this wouldn’t be that big a deal. I can watch old episodes on Freetevee but it’s not the best app for reception. Meh.
My stamps came from the post office today but I only got half of the order. 23 minutes on hold before Customer Service picked up. She was very nice and apologetic and the rest of the stamps should be here later this week. Meh.
I took out all my frustration on a non-person, the Xfinity survey system. After unsuccessfully trying to figure out my tv channel problem, I got an automated survey from Xfinity. If you were at Blevins on Sunday, you’re probably laughing right now (we did vent a bit about surveys during book club). I was vicious with a Zero and a No I wouldn’t recommend and No, you didn’t resolve my problem. Unfortunately I know the information will go nowhere and it didn’t actually make me feel less crabby to savage the Xfinity survey. Meh.
YA and I have a disagreement about one thing at the State Fair. She loves to go through the Home Improvement Building, see all the vendors, ask questions, take brochures and cards. I do not. Honestly, on days when I go by myself, I skip the building altogether. But when we go together, I always trail after her.
This is how we ended up with cabinet refinishers sitting in our dining room in mid-October. Contract signed, cabinet fronts selected, countertop material chosen, knobs and pulls picked out. The original date they suggested was the first week of December. I pushed it to January – between our Hawaii adventure, the Great Gift Exchange and the holidays, I couldn’t face having no kitchen during any of those times.
All the time we waited and made preparations, I was anxious. Seems like nobody has ever had a big home improvement project go smoothly. When they said it would take a week, I expected it would take longer. In fact, Occasional Caroline and I worked out that if the remodel didn’t go as planned, we would do Blevins at her place instead of mine. I set up the plumber and the electrician for a week after the project was supposed to be finished. Weird, anxiety-ridden dreams filled my nights for a week before they showed up. And we can’t even get into how long it took to get everything out of my kitchen and breakfast room. The photo above is the front porch… the dining room looked similar. It took me 6 days.
Turns out this project was the exception to the rule. Jake showed up on time every morning and was finished by 10 a.m. on Friday. 4½ days. No surprises, no unexpected issues. Of course since my anxiety had scheduled the plumber so far out, I had a great looking kitchen but no water. And no point in moving the fridge back until there was water. Luckily I was able to reschedule the plumber for Saturday morning and the electrician is coming this morning. (Electrician is just to provide better wiring for the hood over the stove.)
I’ve started putting everything back – I expect to be all done in the next day or so. It still seems unreal to me that all my low-level worry came to naught. Of course, I’ve been to the hardware store seven times now for this 4½ day project (s hooks, little can of white paint, contact paper, electric face plate, wire, cleaning stuff, etc.)
Guinevere is not a guard dog, despite her desire to be one. When I spend time downstairs, especially if I’m hanging out on the sofa, she feels the needs to watch out the windows and alert me to the existence of dangerous dogs walking by the house, mutant squirrels touching any of our trees or bushes and any other life-threatening happenings out front.
So it wasn’t a surprise when she reacted to some tree work going on across the street. It was fascinating; they had one of those big cherry pickers that had to anchored on both sides, two other big trucks on the street (which made the snow emergency a little tricky) and six guys that I could count, mostly up in the tree. For a bit I was thinking they were taking the tree down with all that equipment and all those workers but it wasn’t an elm and otherwise had appeared to be fine. After a couple of hours it was clear that they were just pruning and trimming. The project lost a little luster for me at that point.
But then I looked about a bit later and saw the strangest sight. They had dragged all the bigger branches away to the chipper and were cleaning up…. using rakes! Obviously rakes were the correct tool but you just don’t expect to see anyone raking during a snow emergency, the day after 10+ inches to snow. (I know the picture isn’t great… I wanted to make sure that you could see that it was actually a rake.)
How can you identify a dogwood tree? (All bad tree jokes and puns welcome!)
The cabinet guys come on Monday so I’ve been slowly but surely emptying the kitchen and breakfast room so they can do their work. In the breakfast room, along the windowsill, I found one of those temporary hooks filled with face masks. Various designs, although a preponderance of black. This kind of “put up a hook and hang stuff of it” is right up YA’s alley so the only surprise was that I hadn’t noticed it earlier. This is in addition to various other places we have masks, including a little pocket of them in my car.
Then later the same day, an Amazon package got delivered and YA came up stairs with two boxes of covid tests (I almost typed COVID-19 because that was the protocol at my job but now I don’t have to, do I?) When I asked YA why she got them she said “we’re running out”. There was a lot of testing around here when YA had covid in July and then we were seriously exposed the end of August, and then the first weeks of December to make sure my cold was really a cold.
In the last two weeks I’ve been to the theatre and to a concert. The concert required a mask and the theatre recommended (and I complied). YA and I mask on planes.
The new normal feels like it has snuck up on us, although considering we’re 3 years in, it’s kind of a silly way to think. But if you stop to think about it, most new normal do sneak up on you. I could never have imagined today’s technology and medical advances when I was a kid.
Anything you never thought you would ever get used but eventually did?
Yesterday while it was still snowing, my neighbor to the north got his snowblower out and worked on his driveway. A couple of hours later YA headed out with a shovel to do the steps and back sidewalk. Across the street my neighbors were struggling to get their snowblower going. One neighbor to the south was out doing her steps as well.
Me? I’m sitting inside in sweatpants and fat socks, watching tv and sipping my beverage. For some reason I have always been and “wait until it’s over” kind of person. I would rather do 8” once than 4” twice.
And this works out rather well for me most of the time. For example, as I type this, my other neighbor to the south is currently doing OUR driveway (for which he will be rewarded generously with homemade cookies). My neighbor to the north did our front sidewalk when he was out (cookies for him as well). So by the time this ends and I finally venture out, I’ll have less to deal with!
The end of another year, pretty fitting that it happens on the last day of the week. It just fits the calendar so nicely and it feels so right that the last day of the year, the last day of the month, also ends on the last day of the week. And then we begin another month, another week, another year on the first day of the week. No open squares, it just all seems better that way.
The end of the year, all the old hackneyed, banal phrases of closing out another chapter, turning the page, another chance to try it again. But they still apply.
On the farm I will collect mileage from all the vehicles and the hours on the tractors and the lawnmower, the four-wheeler, the gator, and even the total gallons on the diesel barrel pump. I put all the data in my spreadsheet to compare with the other years. (At one point I believe we had to report the mileage to our accountant and there must’ve been a deduction for farm mileage or something. Now it’s just all under the standard deduction but I have always enjoyed keeping track of things like that). I also have our farm balance sheet that I will spend the next month working on. It’s fun for me; I like compiling the data and seeing the changes, adding pretty colors, and formatting it.
During 2022, I kept track of how many dozens of eggs I moved out of the house. It was easier keeping track of the dozens going out then it was the eggs coming in. The last few weeks I haven’t actually moved very many, so counting the eight dozen I have on the counter now, I moved 320 dozen eggs. That’s kind of impressive. That’s 3480 eggs. Which averages 10 eggs per day for an entire year. Back in October I only moved about 10 dozen, while between March and August it was upwards of 30 per month. If you count all the chickens around here, which is somewhere between 40 and 50, 10 eggs per day doesn’t seem like enough. I never said I was looking for efficiency, I’ve always said it was a chicken retirement farm.
I’ve also been getting crop inputs finalized for next year. Prepaid some fertilizer, locked in prices on some other products, and finalizing my seed orders. It’s discouraging that fertilizer and chemicals are as expensive this year as last. Hope for another good year of crop production and prices. I expect prices will have to crash and we’ll all take a loss one year before things will come down again.
A lot of the stuff we do before the end of the calendar year so that I can take the financial expense this year. There’s also typically a discount on pricing when you order sooner. My seed company discount goes until mid-January, and I expect to be driving again by then so I will get that done at that point. We paid off all of this year‘s crop loans, paid off another small loan on my truck, and paid a good chunk of an operating loan. Also, at the end of the year the equity checks come in from the various co-ops that we belong to. March 2023 will be 19 years since I sold the milk cows. The dairy co-op that we sold to, AMPI, has a 20 year payback on their equity and so for the last 18 years I’ve been getting a check for a few hundred dollars from the dairy co-op even though there has not been a milk cow on the farm. The check this year was for $200. There’s $2.48 remaining in my equity. Seems to me it would’ve made more sense to just add it on too this year‘s check. But whatever, one more check from the milk cows.
We are all glad the weather has finally warmed up. The ducks finally got out of the pond and actually came back up in the yard. Chickens, squirrels, pheasants, and lots of birds are out and about and enjoying it. The show has melted off the deck so I can go out there and walk around a bit.
I am getting along very well on my knew knee. (Gnu G-knee!) And the 37 staples were removed from the incision on Thursday. The doctor gave me a good report. A few days prior to that Kelly took me out for a ride in the gator, it was just nice to get out of the house. She even took me over to the shop and I got up in the tractors. Just to say I could. Again, after all the trouble I had the spring and summer, I didn’t really think this would stop me, but it still felt good to get in there. I sort of expect to be driving again this weekend and I may have to take over snow clearing duties soon.
Prior to the surgery I had to remove the two earrings that I wear. I asked daughter to put them in. She doesn’t have pierced ears, and she’s never done earrings before and I thought this would be good practice for her. As a guy, I can’t get them in myself, I generally ask Kelly. Daughter got one in and Kelly got the second one.
Years ago when I was giving a farm tour to some elementary school kids, a little girl asked me about the ear tags that I put in the calves ears. I was kneeling down and face-to-face with her and I told her it was like getting your ears pierced. I have a very vivid memory of her looking to my ears at the same moment I Iooked to hers. I had earrings, she didn’t and I thought to myself, this is a fascinating little discussion and I wondered if she’s going to go home and ask to get her ears pierced.
One of the movies I watched this week was ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’. One of those movies I’ve heard about and seen bits of, but never seen the whole thing. I enjoyed it. I also watched ‘All That Jazz’ for the 349th time. I was home alone so I had it loud to make it the best it could be. And I picked some new bits out of it. I never get tired of that movie.
Boy, If I was gonna pick a week to stay inside, last week was the week to choose. Although 5 months ago when we set this up, I wasn’t expecting this weather yet. I think there’s some record of the second week of February being historically the coldest. I do remember February 1996. Daughter was born in 1995 and that February she was in the NICU with a bad cold. Kelly spent nights there with her. I was still milking cows and doing chores and it was -42° one morning. That’s the coldest I remember. An owl spent the night in the garage it was so cold. And some yahoo went 4-wheeling with his truck in one of our fields and got stuck and came into the barn looking for help. I wasn’t very nice to him, but I did pull him out. Eventually.
This cold weather is also a helpful remind that I didn’t turn all the heat on in the house this fall when it first got cold. Because we have electric heat, all the rooms have thermostats and individual breakers. I turn them all off in the summer. When it started getting chilly, I turned on some of them. They’re not all labeled, so I only turned on what I thought were the important ones.
Then later we started saying ‘It sure is cold in the living room’ forgetting that I hadn’t turned everything on. Until last week. I managed to get my knew knee (I know that’s wrong, I just enjoy the alliteration) down to the basement for several things, including going in to check that breaker panel and oh. Yea. Only about half are on. We don’t use the basement for much, so I set those all to about 50° and turned on all the heaters. Boy, there’s nothing like the smell of dust burning off a heater.
Got my grade for Meteorology class. ‘A’. I don’t take classes spring semester; too much other stuff going on.
The ducks are spending all their time in the pond with this cold weather. Maybe to stay warm, maybe to keep it from freezing. It has shrunk up a little bit as the stream of water coming into it is pretty light. We seem to have picked up a couple stray ducks. One flies away when Kelly approaches, but there’s still an extra in the pond too. Alumni? Possible. And the chickens don’t have much interest in coming out of the coop either. Kelly opens the doors and throws out corn for them. But no Thanks. We’re fine. They do have water, corn, and egg layer ration in the pens. No reason to come out if they don’t want too. The guineas come out a bit further, but even they don’t go far.
I’m getting around pretty well on the knee. Better than I would have expected at this point. It’s still uncomfortable due to some swelling, and it’s still all sorts of colors. I get a little stiff in the shin and calf. Takes a few steps to get the muscles and tendons loose and moving. Using a cane 50% of the time and walker 25% and nothing 25%.
I’ve hit the BDDT phase of recovery. ‘bored, discouraged, depressed, and tired’. Hard to sleep at night just cause I have a hard time getting comfortable. And eventually, lack of sleep just makes me grumpy. But I’m surviving!
Did you know there is drone racing on TV?? On NBC! With fancy lighting. And drones, which I don’t care so much for, but the lighting is cool. Found a lot of old B&W movies on these new TV channels (new to us. Something called ‘Pluto TV’ which I haven’t quite got all figured out). Jack Lemmon in ‘Operation Mad Ball’. Spencer Tracey in ‘The Last Hurrah’ (with Basil Rathbone and John Carradine. Man, what a long face he has! And he sure could scowl!) ’12 Angry Men’ and things like ‘The Professional’, and several versions of Pink Panther movies. Plus, ‘St. Vincent’ on Netflix. Highly recommended.
Kelly continues to be my rock star. Not only doing all her work, but my work too. She really has never liked cold weather, so extra accolades on her for getting up early and going out to collect eggs and feed everybody. The day she spilled water into her boot I thought she’d quit. But she’s almost starting to enjoy driving the tractor and plowing snow. Almost.
WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO WITH A WEEK STUCK INSIDE?