I’m not sure if I’ve had a single project on the farm that has brought me such varying levels of joy, frustration, and what the actual fuck.
(That was the “what the actual fuck” part, in case that was unclear.)
The abbreviated version of the greenhouse saga is this: I spent four years dreaming about putting a greenhouse up in my garden, but it never made it quite high enough on my priority list until 2016 when I finally bit the bullet and ordered a kit greenhouse (from here.)
I put it up in spring of 2016, and it was awesome. Except…
I also fucked up– big time– by using some rebar ties to secure the greenhouse to the ground instead of putting in a legit foundation. In early 2017 I paid the price for that mistake, and the broken pieces of my greenhouse have been stacked haphazardly in my barn ever since.
In fall of 2017 I did what I should have done to start and put a legit foundation in. (By “legit foundation” I mean, 6 concrete piers set four-feet in the ground… there’s 960lbs of concrete for the rebuilt greenhouse to set on.)
I tied a sill plate down to the piers, and all that was left was to repair all the greenhouse pieces and reassemble them.
I continued to put that part off for another year an a half because I guess I liked the sense of guilt and frustration I felt every time I walked into the barn and saw the broken greenhouse pieces lying around?
But finally, finally, six weeks ago I started the arduous task of disassembling, fixing, and reassembling all the greenhouse pieces.
The smartest thing I’ve done in a while is to just plan for a whole afternoon of set-up without the expectation that I would actually start working on the greenhouse panels at all.
Then, once everything was ready to go, I basically set up a triage center for the panels. Panels that needed to be washed went outside in the rain (smart, right?), panels that just needed the poly-carbonate re-installed went in one pile, panels that needed new wood framing went into another.
And then I got to work.
It took two full weekends (with the help of my mom, and some wine, of course) to get the majority of the panels fixed.
“Fixing” generally meant disassembling the broken frames…
Making replacement parts out of cedar… (The original frame was redwood but that’s not readily available in these parts.)
And then reassembly, which, if I’m going to be honest, was a complete bitch. Fitting the polycarbonate sheets back into the frames was not the most fun I’ve ever had in my life, but we got the job done…
I also got really good at straightening out these metal brackets using a sledge.
Then it took another weekend to clean, sand, and stain the frames, as well as fixing/piecing together miscellaneous parts.
Some of the brackets had to be bent to very specific angles, which means I got very specifically creative with my swearing. And my bracket-bending methods.
Finally, a month into this project, it was time for the moment of truth.
Here’s the thing, I did do the necessary math for setting the foundation and the new sill plate for this greenhouse, but I did it TWO years ago, and it has been outside in the elements ever since. Then I cut all of the new base frame pieces that had to both be the exact size as the panels AND fit around the sill plate just last weekend. So. What are the chances all of those things tie nicely together?
In my world, basically zero.
And yet. I have to give my 2017 brain credit, because that shit fit together without a hitch.
You can kind of see what’s going on here. The new sill plate (not part of the greenhouse kit) is tied in to the 6 concrete piers with anchor bolts. The bottom frame of the greenhouse sits outside of the sill plate and is screwed in to it every 12″. Then the greenhouse panels are assembled on top of the sill, as intended.
However, I added a LOT more fasteners to hold the panels to, well, everything.
It took about 4 evenings of assembly (rushing home after work and calling my mom over to help hold the roof panels in place), but…
DONE. 100% rebuilt, with a thousand-pound foundation, which is about equivalent to the weight I feel has been lifted from my shoulders now that this thing is back up.
It’s only been up for a week, but there have been even more garden upgrades since then, and it’s pretty amazing that in March the garden looked like this…
It’s going to be a good year for the garden, you guys.
Last year I used the word “manageable” to describe spring on the farm, and, I mean… that’s hilarious.
I didn’t know that was even an adjective that existed in my vocabulary related to spring on the farm.
But, to be fair, I was training for a few big adventures last spring/summer– and just started a brand new job– and I’m pretty sure I hadn’t slept in months. So I just did not engage in the farm last spring. No big upgrades. No major improvements. And–dear god–no new animals.
Which, if you do the math right, means that this spring I am obviously going to stress double about everything, because I have been storing that shit up in my heart FOR A YEAR.
But the good news is I build a lot of shit when I’m under double the stress, and the last few weeks have been no exception.
Here’s what’s been going on in the garden…
First, I don’t think I’ve personally managed to collect more than a handful of strawberries from my 30+ plants over the last couple of years, and I assume that’s because they are delicious and everything else on the farm thinks so too and eats them before I get a chance.
I’ve been half-ass stretching some chicken wire over the beds where the strawberries are, but that wasn’t doing the trick, and also looked like a mess. The good news is that I hoard both power tools and wood in my barn, which means when a brilliant idea strikes I can walk right outside and build it.
Which is exactly what I did…
This is basically some 2×2’s, 1×4 cedar, and 1/2″ hardware cloth cut to fit over the top of my raised beds.
This was not a complicated build. I cut the 2×2’s to size, then put one trim screw through the corners to hold it together.
Then stretched hardware cloth over the top and stapled it down while trying not to bleed to death from the one-thousand tiny cuts I always sustain when working with this stuff.
Then I cut the 1×4 to size, screwed it down to the 2×2’s with more trim screws, and used a couple of strong-tie brackets made for 1x’s on the inside corners for support.
(To be fair, when I said “this is not a complicated build” that does not mean that I didn’t cut half the boards wrong at least twice for the first one I put together, which obviously resulted in disassembling the whole thing and using all of the swear words. But in theory it was an easy build.)
And then I had this:
Which is is better in both form and function than this…
Definite upgrade. I made two of these covers (one for each strawberry bed) that will stay on all growing season, and we’ll see how the strawberry harvest fares this year.
Also, while I was at it, I made a couple of other raised garden bed accessories…
Back when my greenhouse blew over, my mom had the brilliant idea to use the panels of the deconstructed greenhouse as makeshift “cold frames” on a few of the garden beds, and it actually worked really well. Which got me thinking that having some cold-frame lids for a few of these beds isn’t a bad idea at all to help with early planting and extending the growing season.
So I built some.
Well, okay technically I started building some late on a Friday night, and then when I woke up Saturday morning spent a fair amount of time wondering why the hell I cut everything the way I did the night before…
Story of my life.
Here’s what I ended up doing. Same basic structure as the other lid with a 2×2 frame topped with 1×4’s.
However on these lids, instead of hardware cloth, I used some twinwall polycarbonate panels (from Greenhouse Megastore) which is basically the same material my greenhouse is built from.
I bought panels in their “easy to ship” sizes, which worked out okay. I basically used one and a half panels per “lid”, and the polycarbonate was easy to cut with a sharp utility knife (you have to cut it on both sides.)
I attached the panels to the inside of the frame with 1″ screws for a metal roof (the kind that have a rubber washer on them.)
Here’s the result…
I’m sorting how the best way to vent these, because I’m afraid they fit the raised beds so well that they’ll create an oven in those boxes on sunny days in early spring. Currently working on some hinged “legs” that will allow a bit of air-flow in the beds if needed. We’ll see how it pans out.
AND, while I was at it, I knocked together this delightful little project as well…
Back when I had the fence put in around the garden beds–in 2014–my mom swiped a couple of scrap 4×4’s from the fence posts, and for FIVE WHOLE YEARS we have used them as portable “seats” to put on the corner of the garden beds wherever we’re working.
Looks comfy, right?
But, as I was sitting out in the garden pondering the mysteries of venting those cold frames, I had an idea…
An idea that required about an hour of time and some scrap wood.
Before I took them out to the garden I made my mom guess what they were, and her exact response was, “A bird house? Oh wait no… ARE THOSE SEATS?!”
Yes. Yes they are. Portable seats, actually, that will slip on to the corner of any of the garden beds.
I used one 8′ deck board and whatever scrap 2×4’s I had around to make 4 of these. Here’s how the dimensions turned out…
Can’t believe it took me five years to think of this.
Also, I’m not just building things in the garden, I’m actually growing things too. So far:
Asparagus (finally, year 3!)
Potatoes are in the ground…
And I have a bed full of onions.
The rest of the plants are still growing in my mom’s basement for the time being, but we’ll be transplanting them out to the garden over the next couple of weeks. (5/15 is our last frost date up here in Zone 5.)
And if all of that wasn’t exciting enough, I’ll be back with another garden update soon, because this is happening… again. Finally.
My energy level–and that magical ability to knock together a cabinet on a whim using nothing but some scrap wood and a bottle of wine–came to an abrupt halt at the end of January, because that’s the infuriating thing that happens when it’s legitimately negative forty degrees out.
I mean… that sucked.
I wasn’t completely ready to give up on cabinets though, so over the last couple of months I have very slowly pieced together a couple of the built-ins for the Lake House.
Which basically means that on the weekends my mom and I would sit in front of the heater in her living room for a few hours talking about how we didn’t have the energy to do any real work, and then eventually would open a bottle of wine, and the next thing you know…
Yes, I own pretty much every tool known to man, and they are only an 18 second drive down the road, BUT WHY DON’T I JUST USE THIS EYE SHADOW TO MARK THE PLACEMENT OF THE OUTLET EXTENDERS INSTEAD.
Also doubles as a straight-edge when needed. Just saying.
I have also, on more than one occasion, rigged up a “table” to cut wood on in my mom’s garage…
And, on one particularly chilly afternoon…
Hanging out of a window holding a couple of sheets of lauan on the roof of my car because the truck flat out refuses to start in -40.
My mom’s hand was frozen in this position for like 10 minutes after that…
(Don’t worry, it totally thawed out.)
We did mostly build a thing!
(That is masking tape we were using to visualize shelf placement.)
They’re still in-progress, but the fact that we got anything done at all is a sign we didn’t completely give up this winter.
And now that we’re almost to April, the lake has gone from this…
Literally over the course of a week.
The other interesting thing you might notice about that second picture is that THE DOCK IS GONE.
So, add that to the list of fun and exciting things we’re learning about lake life. One day your dock may just up and disappear.
To be clear, my mom’s amazing neighbors removed most of the dock sections in fall, and then I froze my knees off removing the final posts in November. Historically they leave that first section of dock in over winter and it’s fine, but not this year.
This year, I had to go on a dock hunt. In my kayak. Real life, you guys.
So, add “dock repair” to the list of things I’m going to learn to do this spring.
Other than finish the built-ins in the living room (and possibly adding some storage to the laundry room) our only other big Lake House project for the summer is this:
This deck is effing huge. More than 600 square feet. The foundation is solid, and the decking is so-so, but the railing and some of the stairs are in need of replacement sooner rather than later. Also, some of the deck had been covered with an outdoor carpet, which my ninety-two year old grandma decided HAD TO GO last weekend, so she just started pulling it up herself.
And then I was like, “Well if Mamie is going to pull up the carpet, I’m taking the built-in picnic table out!”
That is totally an OSHA approved way to demo something, by the way. You should definitely be kneeling on top of a table with questionable structural integrity WHILE YOU ARE DEMOLISHING IT. With a sawzall.
(OR maybe literally never do any of the shit you see me do on this website because you will definitely lose a finger and/or die and everyone you know will be like WHY THE HELL DID YOU THINK THAT WAS A GOOD IDEA, and I will not be held responsible for that shit. Your call.)
Anyway, we also took down this little arbor because it was half-falling down already…
Everything already feels just a little bit cleaner…
But the real reason we’ve started demoing that side of the deck is because we’re seriously considering opening it up and putting in stairs that go straight out to the water. Something like this…
We’re still thinking through the furniture plan for that space, so we’ll see where we end up.
Here’s how our complete spring/summer 2019 list is looking for the Lake House:
Finish living room built-ins
Install breakfast bar counter
Fix (and install) dock
Possibly create some additional laundry room/entry storage
Or, you know, maybe I’ll just spend all my time kayaking instead.
Can I just start by saying, holy shit… year seven?
I mean, what the hell have I been doing for the last seven years? (Besides digging post holes, because… obviously.)
Here’s what’s crazy about that. 1.) I am way older than I realized. Like, I don’t think about it much, but when you make me sit down and do the math, I am much, much closer to 40 than not. And yet, still drinking beer and making slightly-irresponsible (and awesome) decisions regarding power tools, so… some shit never changes.
Also, 2.) There was a time–a little more than seven years ago–when I was convinced the “best” years of my life were already behind me.
Not that I consciously put much stock in my age, but I was post-30, I’d put a ton of time and energy into building a house that I never really ended up living in, and once I moved out I had no idea what I was going to do next.
Up to that point in my life I had been in relationships with really good dudes, but they were also relationships that did not bring out the best in me. (FYI, those things are not mutually exclusive. The fact that I’m not always my “best” in relationships is not a reflection of my partners in those relationships, nor is it a reflection of me. Fact: Two awesome people can be not-awesome together, and that’s not a story we tell very often.)
The point is… that girl seven years ago? She had no fucking idea. Just randomly drove over a hill one day…
And found this place.
And it turns out my very best years were not behind me, but in front of me.
I had no idea how strong I was. How much weight I could carry. How many problems I could solve. I had no idea the many ways this place could break my heart, and fill me with joy, and teach me about the kind of person I want to be.
And yet, here we are.
Taking my seventh victory lap around the farm..
Thinking about all the things that have happened since the first time I did this back in 2012.
After seven years, I’ve learned enough to know the best years are never behind me, but that the years in front of me may look far, far different than I ever envisioned.
I’m so grateful for this place, and every year I take a little time to remember that. To reflect on what it has brought me. In the early years I was just grateful I found it, and some years I was grateful for all the things I accomplished on my own, or the things I managed to grow and harvest. But this year– seven years in– I’m particularly grateful for the relationships I have because of it.
I’m a loner by nature. I mean it legitimately rarely occurs to me that people might want to, like… come over and hang out? And yet…
I’ve made friends that are perfectly accepting of my slightly-antisocial behavior. They invite themselves over and insist on helping me plant trees…
And, of course, she has the very best neighbors too.
Are we blessed? Absolutely.
But I wouldn’t have thought that seven-plus years ago. When I had to make the very difficult decision to leave a house I’d put all of my energy into building for a couple of years, and a relationship that wasn’t bad but also… wasn’t really good. When I assumed my best friendships and relationships were already behind me.
I wouldn’t have thought that when my mom went from the sad little single-bedroom apartment that she lived in for a decade (and legitimately had a drug addict break into once while she was sleeping) to buying a condo that she didn’t love.
Those things didn’t feel blessed, they just felt fucking hard.
And I won’t deny there’s a lot of luck involved in ending up where I am, but, also, there’s a hell of a lot of doing the hard thing. Over and over again. Of consciously not taking a “safe” or traditional path when I didn’t feel those things were right for me. Of learning to be open to connections with people, and–gasp!– occasionally asking for help (even when the openness and vulnerability makes me very very uncomfortable.)
There’s a cost to all of it. A hell of a lot of tough decisions, and calculated risks, and hard fucking work, and soul-crushing winters–dear god, the winters–but seven years ago when I first saw this place, I didn’t ask for it to be easy. I didn’t believe that it was owed to me, just because I wanted it. What I said to myself (and the universe) was that I would work as hard as was necessary to deserve this place. And I’m grateful every day for the chance.
So, that’s where I’m at right now. Coming off a year that made me stronger in ways I hadn’t asked for. Knowing the work will continue this year–that the farm will ask more from me, and challenge me in new and different ways– and that it will also bring so many gifts (and people) into my life. And being grateful for all of it.
Well, technically, it’s really a girl, her tent, and another 30 lbs of gear strapped to her back (while she hikes up a mountain) but who’s counting, really?
(Uh. I am, you guys. I am counting Every. Single. Ounce. in that pack, because those are big fucking mountains sometimes.)
Up until a couple of years ago, my most amazing life experiences– the things that really taught me to dig deep and take a hard look at who I am when shit gets tough— those experiences all happened on the farm. Or when I lived in a garage for 18 months and built a house in my spare time. Or, you know, during any one of the numerous “what the fuck were you thinking?” projects I’ve taken on over the last two decades.
I’ve documented most of those things on this website, so trust me when I say that I find it as strange as anyone that in the last year or so those amazing life experiences–the ones that have taught me to dig deep, and take a hard look at myself when shit gets tough– well, they’ve mostly happened when I leave the farm entirely. When I hike out into the wilderness where there are no projects, or power tools, or big responsibilities.
When I’m just a girl with her tent.
And I guess maybe it isn’t that surprising that after 15 years of finding bigger and crazier ways to challenge myself through house projects, that eventually I’d be so comfortable in this space that I’d start challenging myself elsewhere.
But I never would have guessed it would be camping.
I mean, previously in my life, when people suggested I might like “camping”, they were met with, at best, polite incredulity. After all, I have all of the benefits of camping in my backyard (wide open spaces, bonfires, a beautiful view) along with a king-sized mattress and indoor plumbing just a few steps away. Sooo… camping? Hard pass. Thanks though.
You guys, I also once said, definitively, that I would never own a house because it was too much work. So, I mean, when I’m wrong, I am wrong.
But, to be fair, all of my previous experiences with tents had been in “car camping” settings, and there’s a big difference between car camping and backpacking.
For the uninitiated:
Car camping typically means sleeping in a tent at a drive-up campground that, more often than not, has tiny, cramped campsites, and at least one annoying group of kids that stays up way too late drinking beer and talking VERY LOUDLY (because I am a cranky old lady who has wicked insomnia at home, but also has a very strict bedtime when I’m in a tent. Obviously.) To be fair, I’ve actually done quite a bit of car camping in the last two years when I go outdoor climbing–enough that I have a designated car camping tent– and I’ll tolerate it (with earplugs), but I don’t love it the way I love backpacking.
Backpacking, on the other hand, means hiking out to places you cannot reach by car– which also means you have to carry, on your back, everything you need to survive— and either “dispersed camping” (i.e. pitching a tent in places where there are no designated campsites) or staying at rustic campsites that tend to be private and have basically no amenities (other than maybe a bear locker to store your food in so an actual bear doesn’t mistake your tent for a human-sized snicker bar one night.) And this, it turns out, is one of my very favorite activities.
For me, there’s typically months of prepping that lead up to a hike. Prepping for the travel (finding a good trail, figuring out the best time to hike it, planning for flights or drive-time there, and figuring out how to best get to the trailhead and back.)
Then there’s the physical prep. Studying elevation maps of the trail, and making sure I’m both strong enough and have the endurance to hike 12-20 miles a day, sometimes straight up, or, worse, down hill, always carrying a ~35lb pack, occasionally with not as much oxygen as I’m used to at sea level.
I spend a lot of lunch breaks on a stairmaster with a weight vest on…
It also means prepping my gear, which entails a lot of studying the terrain, understanding the weather, putting together meals with the minimum amount of weight and maximum amount of calories, making adjustments to my gear list based on lessons learned in previous hikes, and always, always trying drop the weight in my pack. (Trust me, on your 20th mile of the day, every ounce counts.)
And then, the adventure.
So, so many late night or early morning flights. I don’t think I’ve ever started a hike well-rested.
You can’t fly with fuel canisters, so there’s always a “where the hell can I get a fuel canister” panic when I get to my destination. (Legit walked 7 miles to 3 different stores in Reykjavik the night before a hike to find fuel once.)
Then, getting to the trailhead.
I’ve rented cars at the airport, dropped them off at the closest rental to the trailhead, and walked the last few miles (a pre-hike, hike.) I’ve rented a van with strangers, who after 4 hours in the car became friends, and spent the weekend hiking with them. I’ve taken busses, and, once, a ferry (sea-sick is a fun way to start a hike, let me tell you.)
There’s always some confusion as to where the hell the trail actual starts, and then, after all that…
This is the moment, every single time, where all the chaos of travel and over-thinking falls away. This is the point where you pick up your pack– everything you need for 3-5 days right there on your back– and start walking.
I love every part of this. I love the minute the uncertainty fades away, when the map and compass and trail all line up, and I know I’m headed in the right direction. I love feeling the physical training kicking in after just a few miles on the trail, when my body responds to the hard work of carrying a pack uphill and falls into a rhythm of “hell yeah, we’ve got this.” I love when civilization and day-hikers fade away, and I’m the only person as far as the eye can see. I love that moment, when it really sets in that I’m out there, on my own, and everything I do counts. Every decision I make is vitally important to survival.
There are no takebacks on the trail. No “oops I forgot” and running to the store. But (as I learned on my first solo hike) you can’t be the nervous nelly who packs 50 pounds of gear “just in case” and expect to get anywhere either.
I’m not a person who has ever been able to relax on a beach for more than a few hours, or “shut off” from work for more than a day or two, so being out on the trail is the only time in my life when I’ve been truly able to unplug. Not because I don’t have service (I mean, that too) but because my immediate needs become paramount. Do I have enough water? Where’s the next good place to refill? Am I still on the trail? Have I consumed enough calories? Am I feeling steady on this sketchy path with a 2000 ft drop off both sides? Do I need a rest? How many miles before dark?
Have I said I love every minute of it? Because, guys, I love every minute of it. Even the minutes when I want to quit. When I realize I didn’t bring the right blister-pads for my feet and that shit is going to hurt for the next 30 miles. When my water runs low because I didn’t fill up at the last stream. When I literally fall asleep on my feet, while walking, in the middle of the day. When I’m counting every step of the last mile down a treacherous hill, swearing under my breath every time I lose my footing.
When it goes from a humid 65 degrees at sea level, to freezing rain at 4000 ft, all inside of a couple of hours.
And also when I find myself in the most beautiful places.
Because I’ll tell you this, I’ve structured my life on the farm in a way that tests me. That very often asks me to do hard things and be the best version of myself. But it doesn’t quite compare to this. Adventuring this way, out in the wilderness on my own, it isn’t just that I’m asking myself to be smart, and strong, and capable in general. It’s the immediacy of it. There is no choice but to be smart and strong and capable in this moment.
And that is an incredible feeling.
When I reflected on my life on the farm in 2018, it made me stronger, but in a way that felt disconnected from the things I love about the farm. This part of 2018 though? This made me stronger in a way that grounded me, right to the core.
This farm has basically operated on a big list written on a big chalkboard for the last, oh, five years. (For real: 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017)
I don’t know why I would mess with a system that works, other than because I’d piled a bunch of shit in front of the chalkboard that runs my life and then just didn’t move it. For a year. So, that about sums up 2018.
Luckily I did get my shit together in December, and created enough storage that I could excavate my forty-eight square foot chalkboard, and oh hey look…
The biggest thing going on around here this year is going to be putting in new windows on the back half of the house (don’t worry, the original 1850s windows are staying, but I’m upgrading the windows on the addition) and then… residing the wood part of the house.
This is 100% necessary this year because, and I’m not joking, the chickens have started eating my house.
I’m planning to re-side in the same live-edge cedar planks I spent a year hand-fucking-nailing on to my last house…
Talk about some shit I thought I would only have to do once in my life. It’s cool, though my hammering arm is like eight times stronger than it was the last time I did this, so it should be done in a flash. (Ha.)
Seriously, that project is going to take basically all of the not-frozen months of 2019, but I’m hoping I might be able to check a few other smaller things off the list in between.
Like rebuilding the greenhouse (finally) and continuing with projects at the Lake House.
Also, I don’t want to jinx it, but I could potentially have kitchen with, like, a real floor and everything this year. (That is a very, very optimistic statement considering 1/12th of the year is already over, but let’s roll with it. That’s what January is for, right? )
Here’s the thing. While I like being strong, I don’t think I’ve ever walked into a day (or month, or year) and said, “You know what? I’d like this year to make me a stronger person.” Better? Yes. Better is easy. Better is 2015, where I was in a groove, and checked more projects off my list than ever before in a way that felt easy. I came out of that year feeling like things couldn’t help but go my way.
But stronger? You don’t get stronger without going through some Very Hard Shit. And nobody asks for that. Nobody looks at a day (or month, or year) and says, “Okay. Today I’m ready for everything to fall apart.” Right?
For me, 2018 was a year of getting stronger.
2018 was a year of difficult decisions. Of being brutally honest with myself. Of pushing my physical limits. Of occasionally being weak (and selfish) and swiftly paying the price for both of those things. Of watching the narratives I’ve been telling myself about different parts of my life slowly fall apart, or blow up in a spectacular fashion, or morph into something else entirely.
2018 was a year of big adventures. Of new experiences. Of making connections with people in ways a person who chooses to live isolated on a farm in the middle of nowhere doesn’t usually make connections with people. Of taking on new, big things (I’m looking at you career change, solo hikes, lake house.)
2018 was a year of remembering what it’s like to go at it alone. Of remembering that sometimes you have to. Of knowing that even when your life is full of incredible people, even when they’d do anything to help, sometimes you just have to sit with your own shit and figure it out.
But the hardest part about 2018 was that the times in between all of those other things–the difficult things, the big things, the new things– that time was just… meh.
You guys, I’m good in a crisis. I can dig deep and handle some Very Hard Shit. And lord knows when things are going well, I can love the hell out of my life with the best of them. But, meh? That feeling of being once-removed from the things in your life you’ve always loved? Or hated?
Can I just say? Fuck. That.
If there’s something that’s nagging at me about 2018 it’s that I feel like just I went through the motions on the farm more than anything else this year.
But, also, when I look back on 2018, I didn’t feel quite as connected to the farm and the work as I have in previous years. And I think sometimes that’s part of what happens when you’re focusing on not only the Very Hard Shit, but also processing said shit, learning from it, and, you know, getting stronger.
And, listen, even if it’s better for me in the long run–the learning, and growing, and getting stronger– I do not now, nor will I ever, love the things that it requires me to give up in the moment. The hard sucks, but I’m good at hard. The part that makes you feel disconnected though… it’s unsettling. (And maybe not healthy? But to be fair, it’s the only way I know how to do it.)
And maybe that’s the last and biggest lesson 2018 was going to teach me. That it doesn’t have to be comfortable, or feel good, or look like progress to help you get to a better place in the long run. (I mean, you know the first rule of DIY: It Always Gets Worse Before It Gets Better… I’ve been learning that one over an over again for decades.)
Every year can’t be the year can’t be the best year yet. Sometimes it will get worse before it gets better. And some years will test you, tear you down a little, and let you put something even stronger in it’s place… building a better foundation for the next awesome thing you’re going to do. I don’t know if that’s what 2018 was for me, but it feels like it might have been.
So, this is kind of post-script to everything I’ve said about 2018. I used to sit down and bang out posts for this website in a day or two, but in the last year or so the things you read here have often been in various stages of drafting and re-writing for a month (or more) until they become cohesive. I have no idea why that is… I’d like to think it’s the sign of a better, more mature, writer. But let’s be honest, my grammar is still horrible and I say “fuck” twice as much as I used to, because I’m older and don’t give a shit. I think I might just be getting slower with age.
Anyway, my point is that I drafted this post in early December… before I went on a tear building cabinets and making what felt like some pretty significant progress on the kitchen (and the laundry room and mudroom) right at the end of the year.
So that was kind of a surprise ending to 2018, even for me. Which was a pretty awesome end to a pretty weird year. I’ll take it, and I’m damn excited for what will happen in 2019.
The only appropriate way to follow that title is this: Hell. Yes.
The last weeks of 2018 were nothing short of a gift. An incredible time when I had the time, the energy, and all the materials to spend all my evenings out in the shop, building all of the things…
Which basically amounts to a million cabinets.
Okay, not a million. But enough to drastically change the storage situation in my house, which feels like nothing short of a million-cabinet miracle. This house has been a disaster for the better part of a decade.
Technically this is an old pic, but it looked basically like this:
In just two evenings and one Saturday, I built two pantry-style closets for this room, which required no shortage of wine and floor space…
Nothing like assembling cabs on an uneven garage floor, right?
Still. It worked.
Let me tell you, after The Great Cabinet Painting Month of 2016 I never thought I would have to dodge through an obstacle course of half-painted shelves to get through my kitchen ever again, but WELCOME TO 2019 GUYS.
In all fairness, this only lasted a day. And then, this…
Listen, it’s not finished, okay? (And honestly, when in the history of this fifteen– fifteen?!?!– year website have you ever seen me legit finish a project? Never? Okay. Well let’s not go crazy and get our hopes up now.)
There will be uppers on top of these, shelves between them on the bottom for the laundry baskets, and a bar between them at the top for hangers. Plus, paint. But mostly its not finished because that very pink floor tile is on the brink of being evicted once and for all. (I know, I know, I’ve said that before. I really do mean it this time thought.) So no crown molding or final finishes because everything is going to have to be moved out of this room at some point this year. But I wanted the cabs to be functional in the meantime. And they are.
On one side I gained a functional cleaning storage closet (which holds the rarely-used vacuum, never-used steam mop, and other assorted cleaning supplies that I like to buy on those rare occasions that I want to feel like a grown up) and on the other side an even more functional pantry for canned goods, egg cartons, and other kitchen items that aren’t used on a daily basis (I’m looking at you, eleven cans of black beans, because WHY.)
Also, since I was on a role with the “let’s build cabinets to hide all my shit” theme, we really need to talk about the mudroom, which most recently looked like this…
The mudroom has been a constant source of “what the shit is going on in here?” because, seriously, what the shit has been going on in here… for the last seven years?
I just can’t with this room. I mean, I can… for like 2 weeks. And then a project happens (or I build a gym in my house) and then all of the shit just ends up in the mudroom again.
So I finally gave up and built a bigass cabinet. Because in my world right now, you can solve any problem at all by building a cabinet. (Need more storage? Cabinet. Insomnia? Cabinet. Procrastinating a workout? Cabinet. Cat died? Build a million fucking cabinets.)
For real. This thing is so big I had to assemble it in the room because even with my mom’s help we didn’t think we’d be able to carry it assembled from the garage.
For days after we cleaned this room out my mom would walk into the house and say, “I just can’t believe this.” Because you could walk through it without tripping. You know where you’ve set the bar in your life when that’s what impresses your mother.
Also, two things:
1.) I also built upper cabs for all of these, so they’re floor-to-ceiling storage.
2.) There will be doors on all of these beasts eventually. Probably because I’m going to buy them from somewhere since I do not have the patience for door-building right now.
Also, while I was at it, I painted every-damn-thing, including the new breakfast bar area…
And the window seat.
You guys, this window seat is weirdly (but officially) my favorite spot in the house. It doesn’t have a cushion on it yet so my ass hurts all the time, but I still sit there every morning, some evenings when I’m still working on my computer, and basically any time I just need a break in the house. I have no idea why this space that I’ve decidedly ignored for the last seven years is now my favorite, but I’m just going to roll with it.
It’s not finished. But if you look at it in the right light, and squint your eyes a little bit, it almost feels like a real house and not a construction zone (for the moment.) Seven years, you guys. And a solid three with this room under construction.
So, yeah, I built some motherfucking cabinets. And I feel great about it. Sometimes I feel like if I’m not telling a good “before and after” story (you know, one with all those pretty before and after shots we’re so used to seeing these days) that I don’t have a story to tell at all. But you know what? This is my life. My amazing, messy, beautiful, perpetually unfinished life. And, lets be honest, for girl who spends a lot of time by herself in a garage with a bottle of wine and a bunch of old power tools? I have a lot more fun than I probably should.
And if you’re here reading this, cheering a little inside for pictures of a kitchen that actually looks like a kitchen again (uh, with plywood floors), it’s because you’ve been in this with me for the long-haul. Getting invested in projects and stories that may take years (or decades? please god, not decades) to come to a satisfying conclusion.
Seriously? Thanks for that. And for all the support when things get tough, or when I just can’t quite figure out how to tell the stories that need to be told.
2019 is shaping up to be a pretty epic year.
P.S. Oh, sorry, did you think I was done building cabinets? Because I also totally started on the built-ins over at the Lake House…
I’m not done being the crazy-cabinet lady (who can create makeshift sawhorses out of patio chairs) yet, you guys.
Okay, listen, to be fair, it’s a mostly finished window seat.
And at this exact moment in time–the moment where I’m on a roll building assorted cabinetry, and my mom and I are having a blast working between our two houses on the weekends, and there hasn’t been a farm crisis in the last couple of weeks, and I’ve actually got the time and energy to sit down and write this post–things are good. Really good. I’m living the dream (as long as we all understand “the dream” is covered in sawdust and still doesn’t shower or do the dishes quite as much as is socially acceptable.)
But let me also tell you that while things in this moment are good, it’s only because I have been living right on the cusp of “what the actual fuck” for the last several months, unsure if I’m going to tip right over the edge into crazy-squirrel-lady-who-has-given-up-on-doing-anything-she-loves-ever-again or, you know, manage to claw my way out of that hole until things feel right in my life again.
(I’m not joking about the Crazy Squirrel Lady part. They invaded the house and started hiding walnuts in my laundry.)
Here’s the thing. My life is not now, nor will it ever be, a study in balance. I’m a creature of extremes. Of periods of time when I’m in the grips of a big project or a physical challenge and feel like I have the energy and vision and drive to take on the world… and times when I don’t. When I feel the absence of that energy so acutely that even though I know that it’s just a recovery period, and that I will find myself engaged and energized in my own life again at some point in the future, there’s a part of me that says (very loudly and incessantly), “Welp, that’s it. I guess I’m never going to do anything good again, and everything feels off in my life, and I’m just going to be exhausted forever. Awesome.”
I’m compelled to say that out loud, because what I really want to do is skip over all the things that have sucked lately and just talk about is how awesome it feels to be building all kinds of shit right now. But, even though I haven’t been in the right space to update this site as frequently as I used to, telling an authentic story is still the most important thing to me.
And life is (almost surprisingly) good right now, but only because I’m on the other side of some shit that has been really hard.
First, because I burned through a ton of energy this summer making a pretty big career change and spending a lot more time away from the farm that I’m used to.
And because I spent a solid 8 months training for a solo 50 mile hike in Iceland…
(I crushed it–finishing in 2.5 days instead of the 4-5 I planned for– but also very quickly felt the post-adventure blues. It’s a real thing.)
And then because the very worst thing happened… I lost Bubs.
I mean, I did not misplace him, obviously. I lost him to cancer (which, I know, sounds very melodramatic for a cat. After being otherwise healthy and acting normal he stopped eating one week, and then I found out his intestines were riddled with tumors and he didn’t make it out of the surgery to try to remove them.)
I get that cats are not humans, and for most people cats are not even dogs, but this cat in particular has been my companion for the last 12 years. He was literally the inspector for the very first big project I completed on my first house (the first badass pergola)…
And has been with me through every house, every relationship, every project…
And every blog post since…
I understand all of the intellectual things about how he had a great life, and we got to spend 12 years just hanging out together…
But it still fucking sucks, and I miss his cat face every day.
(Although I did find a desiccated bat on the middle of the living room rug two weeks after he died and was like HOW ARE YOU STILL DOING THIS TO ME WITH THE BATS, BUBS?! I do not miss waking up to dead bats in the bed, but I do miss my cat.)
So, that was hard.
Not only is it tough not to have him around, but within a couple of weeks, the squirrels moved out of the attic and started hiding walnuts around my house. (The one I found under the covers of my bed was the last straw.)
Also, the mice started hiding Bubs old cat food in my shoes.
That’s not… I’m not making that up. It happened a handful of times before I realized some creature was doing this to me on purpose.
I mean, I knew Bubs was good at catching shit, but I had no idea how much work he was doing on a daily basis to keep the house free of rodents.
So, just to recap: New job, big adventure, post-adventure blues, dead cat, rodent invasion, and also this has been a tough year for a lot of my friends in a lot of different ways, so just add all of that into the general mix of hard shit and, oh, I’m sorry, did you come here to read about a window seat?
Yeah, so, I managed to come out on the other side of that mess of feelings, a little worse for wear, but with my sanity mostly intact. And then I built a window seat.
As one does.
I had my HVAC guys come and move the baseboard heat for me because it required a bit of finagling. Then I bought a piece of 10′ plywood, made a napkin drawing, and went to town.
It looks civilized from the outside, but the inside is just a mess of blocking.
Originally I was going to make the storage in this thing drawers (see drunk napkin sketch above) but then I realized that after I accounted for the baseboard heat, the drawers would only be 5″ deep. So I went for the next best thing…
Flip top! (A couple of stainless steel piano hinges did the trick.)
I only expect to access this storage space once or twice a year (it currently contains my window AC unit and a bunch of canning jars.)
And just to provide context for the size of this beast…
It’s over 9′ long. Like everything else in this house, weirdly oversized, but we’re just going with it.
I finished the top of the bench with iron-on veneer on the cut ends…
Legitimately the only use this iron ever gets. Also, if you ever have qualms about iron-on veneer, I also used this exact stuff on the tables I built for the office at my last job. Those tables have been in the common area of that office (used by 50 people or so daily for the last 3+ years) and the veneer held up beautifully.
Back to the project at-hand though…
The last step was to trim out the front so that it looks a bit more in line with my cabinets.
Trim is always the critical factor in taking a project from “what the hell are you doing?” to “Huh. That looks pretty damn good.”
Also, you can’t beat the view…
It needs to be painted, obviously, and I’m in the process of ordering a custom cushion, and then if you need to find me after that, I’ll just be laying in this window seat for the next eternity.
BUT THAT’S NOT ALL.
Did I or did I not say I was on a roll with the cabinet-building?
After three years of staring at the ass-end of these cabinets, I finally got my act together and finished them.
This whole project was a study in creative problem solving and using what I had on-hand.
First, I wasn’t entirely sure how I wanted to handle the trim on these, but I knew I wanted to replicate the look of the cabinets because the big blank panel that used to be there (before I added a 3rd cabinet) kind of drove me nuts.
And then, of course, once I figured out how I wanted to do the trim, I found out that none of my local lumber suppliers sell 3/8″ thick trim boards in any kind of usable length and width. Turns out, however, that I have a bunch of 3/8″ thick tongue and groove pine planks from an unfinished project upstairs, and if you rip the tongue and the groove off?
Perfect trim boards.
But then there was the question about how I should hold the the pieces of trim in place while the glue dried in the spots that had no usable clamping or nailing surfaces.
Also, funny story, that is not paint in my hair. That’s legit all the gray hair the last four months seven years life has given me that I stopped coloring for a minute because I was too busy not having a meltdown to care about.
Good news, I did not have a meltdown. My hair is very gray. And the back-side of my kitchen cabinets look like this.
I am considering that the bottom trim board really needs to be a bit beefier, and weighing that against my desire to screw around with this anymore when I’ve got a couple more drawers, and secret cabinets, and at least seven sheets of plywood’s worth of built-ins I’m hoping to get done soon.
I’m telling you, it was a long, hard end to summer but I’ve got a wave of energy when it comes to building cabinets right now, and I’m going to ride it as long as I can.
It turns out there are good and bad things about the Lake House in November. The bad thing is that it legitimately is too cold to spend all of the daylight hours out on the kayaks. The good news is, since I’m not spending all of the daylight hours I have available out in the kayak, there’s plenty of time to work on some other projects in the house.
Remember how I said my mom and I are going to take it nice and slow with projects around the Lake House?
For once I was not lying. We are actually taking it nice and slow with projects around the Lake House.
My mom spends most of her time here, but occasionally she’ll spend a night down in Ohio during the week, and my new favorite thing to do in the evenings is to raid my mom’s wine cabinet fridge and paint things in the house while she’s not there.
Swear to god, I “borrowed” those sweatpants from a college boyfriend 17 years ago and they are now a testament to all of the rooms I have painted white in my life. Also, if you’re thinking, “wow, you really don’t get a lot of paint on your pants, if that’s what 17 years worth of painting looks like” you should see my hair.
First of all: HOW EVEN.
Second of all: While it’s annoying that I literally cannot walk near a paint can without unintentionally creating some kind of skunk stripe on my head à la the cat in Pepé Le Pew… honestly? I also really only feel like myself when I’m singing loudly to the radio in an empty room, late at night, with a roller in hand and paint in my hair.
Projects at my own house always feel very complicated, so I’m grateful the Lake House has brought more of those easy, fun, paint-in-my-hair DIY moments back into my life.
And then I may have gotten a wild hair and bought some window treatments while I was at it…
Here’s the thing, we’re not actually planning to close the shades on these windows ever, because they look right out onto the lake (obviously.) But there’s something to be said for dressing up the windows to make a space look more cozy, even if you don’t “need” to.
(For reference, the bamboo shades are from justblinds.com, the sheers are from Pottery Barn (in alabaster), the rods are from World Market, and the curtain rings/clips are from amazon because they’re a hell of a lot cheaper than the ones PB will try to sell you. Also, none of that shit is sponsored or affiliated or anything like that, it’s just what I bought under the influence of a bottle of my mom’s wine one night.)
We also decided to put a console table behind the couch to give us a place to set things while we’re lounging in there (like we do) and also because literally the only place in the entire house where you can get more than one bar of cell service is next to that window. So we needed somewhere to set our phones so we could stream Christmas music while hanging our stockings. Obv.
What I love about this is that it’s actually the table I built a few years ago out of old barn wood we cleaned up on the farm to hold the TV in my living room, which became obsolete back when I partially re-did that room a couple of years ago. Technically I was using it behind my own couch “temporarily” because it was not at all the right size, but I built that damn thing with my own hands and didn’t want to get rid of it. And now I don’t have to, because it fits perfectly behind my mom’s couch. I do have to build another right-sized table for my own living room in the near future though, because I learned the hard way that I no longer have a good place to set my beer when I’m watching the best Christmas movie of all time.
Also, while we’re on the subject of Christmas, you may have noticed that the Lake House living room also looks much cozier because we put a tree up in there. Which is true. It’s actually a nice compact artificial tree I had been storing up in my attic for the last couple of years. If any of you are wondering how my mom and I spend our time together on the farm and at the lake… this pretty much sums it up.
After we successfully got the tree down (without being attacked by and/or killing any wild animals) my mom looked at me and said, “Why does this always happen to us??”
I don’t know, Mom. But it sure is an adventure, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.