Friday, October 31, 2008

Faith in old ladies

A few weeks ago, Bill Nemitz of the Portland Press Herald wrote a marvelous column about town clerks and voting in Maine. You can look at it here. The gist of it was that clerks in Maine are not likely to be ruffled by national scrutiny if it turns out that the whole election rests on the one electoral vote in Maine's Second Congressional District. See, Maine splits its electoral votes, unlike most states, so in a bizarre fantasy world, it could happen. Not likely, but whatever. It was a great column, and he put voice to what many of us know to be true: Maine Town Clerks are not to be trifled with.

A couple of weeks ago, I had the occasion to visit with an old colleague/competitor at her vacation place up in Machias. We worked at competing daily newspapers many years ago but have remained friendly. She is a hardened veteran of daily news reporting, and I was a neophyte right out of college, more accustomed to being IN the news as a protester or activist than writing the news from the other side of the notebook. I still scooped her once or twice. Back then, that was the highlight of my month. But anyway, we laughed and talked and told stories over a homemade meal. I mentioned the Nemitz column and we both agreed with his assessment.

See, most people view voting process and procedure as some murky thing done in back rooms by scary people with axes to grind. S and I know, and truly, any reporter who has ever covered a small town election day knows, that town clerks, particularly town clerks in small Maine towns, hold few things in higher regard than the election process. I know of no clerk who was more partisan than she was clerk. I cannot imagine it. These women - for most of them are women - might be ardent supporters of one candidate over another, of one party over another, but never - and I do mean NEVER - would they compromise the integrity of the voting and counting process. Period.

These old gals (for many of them are seniors) are the keepers of democracy in its purest form. They are the pith and marrow of democracy in Maine, and truly, in America. If their candidate loses by one vote in their town, then he loses by one vote. Period. That's all there is to it. There is no wiggling of the votes. There is no fenagling of anything. The votes were cast. They were counted. The numbers are the numbers and the clerks dutifully call them in to the Bangor Daily News and to the local candidates when the tally is done. In Maine, the BDN has historically been the agency that works with the Secretary of State's office to compile and tally vote totals all over Maine. Darned if I know why, but that's how it is done here.

So anyway, S and I got to talking about town clerks we'd known over the years. A favorite was an old battle-axe of a woman out in B, Maine. God bless dear CM, she's still kicking around in municipal government, so I won't name names or actual locations. CM is legendary among town clerks in that section of Maine. For years and years, she kept all municipal documents in her kitchen, tax stuff, car registration stuff, hunting licenses, fishing licenses, everything, right there in boxes and file cabinets. On Halloween night, she'd be up late, not giving out candy, but issuing hunting licenses for deer season that starts at dawn on November 1. She ran the whole town and dispatched the volunteer fire and rescue and ambulance service as well. She ran well-baby clinics and kept an eye on who was in need and who was building without a permit. One year, when things were particularly contentious in town, she was asked to moderate the annual town meeting.

Now in Maine, the annual town meeting is a thing unlike any other. Voters get together to decide the entire municipal budget and to approve or reject any major policy issues, decide on roads and schools and local emergency services. And then there is often a potluck dinner when it is done. Town meeting is serious stuff. And in small towns, it behooves residents to disagree without being disagreeable, because the guy you're shouting at in debate is going to be the one driving the fire truck when your house is burning. So anyway, CM was asked to moderate in a year when emotions were high.

She arrived and took the podium as moderators do. She set aside the gavel and gave the podium a sharp rap with her rolling pin. "Now listen," the legend has her cautioning the opposing groups assembled in the grange hall, "the first one of you bahstids to step outta line gets smacked in the head." She brandished the rolling pin again.

The budget was decided in record time and everyone enjoyed the luncheon. Or else.

With such formidable women in charge of counting votes, I have more faith in the democratic process here in the rural parts of our nation than I have in the more urban areas where women with rolling pins are not guarding the process.

ADDENDUM: I have just learned that a new municipal clerk WITH THE SAME NAME as the one in this story is running things in town B. Apparently there is no family connection. But you know what? I still won't disclose the identity of the woman in the story. Because she is more typical of Maine Town Clerks than not. She could be any town clerk in any tiny town anywhere in Maine. And that's what I love about Maine.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

kitchen project

so I write a scathing indictment of people who don't vote and I can hear the crickets chirping. Pictures of the dog get oodles of comments. go figure. Here's a diversion from the usual political stuff that seems to be overwhelming us all of late.

Last fall, I spent a couple of months as a cook at a funky little restaurant in Bar Harbor. The Cafe Bluefish is known worldwide for its lobster strudel, and it is divine. While I was there, I learned how to make the lobster strudel, and the seafood strudel and the spinach strudel. I am NOT going to post those recipes here. I was entrusted with them, and that's that.

However, I have created a variation on a theme of the strudel thing. See, the original recipe calls for cooking sherry, and I don't use alcohol in my kitchen. It also uses soybean oil and soy products, and a family member has a life-threatening allergy to soy, so I don't use it here. Also, L has a life-threatening allergy to crustaceans (not mollusks, just crustaceans) so I do not use lobster or crab or shrimp.

So that doesn't leave a lot of the original stuff for me to work with. Except the method. So I took the method I learned and applied it to ingredients that won't kill me or my family, and came up with a chicken and spinach four-cheese strudel that seems to work.

Again, in order to protect anything that might be construed as proprietary information, I am only going to describe the basics of what I included. If you are really determined, I imagine you can fiddle around and find some kind of proportions that work for you, but let me tell you, making these things is an all-day project that dirties every pot, pan, bowl and cutting surface in the kitchen. I cannot imagine doing this multiple times to tweak a recipe into something perfect.

Here are the basics:

Chicken breasts, boiled, skin and bones removed, diced (10, I think)
Lots of feta
Lots of swiss
Lots of cream cheese
Lots of leftover partial bags of not terribly freezer-burned mozzarella
Five huge bags of frozen chopped spinach
five pounds of onions, cut up and caramelized

phyllo dough
unsalted butter

So I mixed the top stuff together in the biggest bowl I own and it barely held it all. I brushed the butter on the phyllo, stacked them nicely, and wrapped the dough around a scoop (about 2/3 to 3/4 cup) of the filling.

This recipe cost me about $80 in groceries and made around 40 of these things, 36 of which went straight into the freezer. The ones in this picture were a little over-sized and made in the au gratin gizmos for our supper last night, but they look like elongated versions of the typical round strudels served at the restaurant. I have some filling left over, too, that I think I might put in a pie crust for supper tonight. (I ran out of phyllo before I ran out of filling.) The total estimated cost of these things is about two bucks a piece, plus my labor. Even if I charged $100 for labor (eight hours at $12.50), that still only brings the price per entree-sized portion up to something less than $6 each. Not bad. But I'm not selling them. These will be on hand all winter to be dinner when we need them. The marvelous thing is that we can take out as many as we need for a meal, so if we suddenly have guests, no problem, we can expand the menu without having to go shopping. Just thaw a little, and pop in the oven on a cookie sheet. Fabulous.

The nice thing about the project is that I won't have to make them again this winter. And that is a very, very, good thing. My kitchen is now wrecked. It will take a couple of days for me to recover completely.

More politics later this week. For now we are enjoying the crispy phyllo and cheesy goodness of the strudels.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Democracy is not a spectator sport

This is something I wrote a long time ago, but I think it still holds true and is timely. If you've seen it before, get over it and go read something else. I have updated some of the stuff to make it more current.

I have heard in the past year or so, the argument made that neither candidate inspires, that neither candidate meets the needs/wants/desires of a particular voter, and therefore, that voter has decided to stay home on November 4. L's family is like this. Her brother feels that any president ought to have experience in the military, but he has no faith in McCain's abilities, so he will not vote this year.

He is among those same people who were raised on welfare and SSDI, who have relied upon the government for everything from the day they were born (think WIC program) and yet still refuse to participate in that program.

I don't think her mother has ever cast a ballot and does not know who her local, state, or federal representatives or senators are, nor could she name the vice president of the US. This goes beyond ignorance, which is a lack of knowledge, directly into the realm of willful stupidity, which is a flat refusal to care or learn.

They abdicated their responsibility, and others defend them, saying that I should not be harsh in my assessment of their behavior.

Cultural relativism is an interesting, but inherently flawed argument.

Cannot we agree, as a community and a society that there are some things that are just wrong?

Certainly people can believe what they like, but I would argue that there are some beliefs that are wrong.

Murder is wrong.

Hurting people is wrong.

Child abuse is wrong.

Elder abuse is wrong.

The belief in Aryan supremacy is wrong.

The belief that one gender is superior to any other is wrong.

The belief that homosexuality is an abomination is wrong.

And belief that democracy is a spectator sport. is. just. wrong.

I believe that I have the right to say racism is wrong. Sexism is wrong. Homophobia is wrong. Discrimination is wrong. These are truths.

I also happen to believe that with the rights granted to us by the United States Constitution and all of its Amendments, come great and grave responsibilities to care for and maintain those rights and those documents. Part of those responsibilities means taking an active role in the process. Working for things we believe in, fighting things we are opposed to, and voting when we are called upon to do that. I view our system of government much like a living thing. It must be cared for and paid attention to or it will die. Part of the care and feeding of our system of government means voting. Nobody can do it for us. Like feeding our kids, it is our responsibility.

I have an interesting proposal: If someone wants to shirk that responsibility, and defend that decision with any number of arguments, fine. Let that person abdicate their responsibility, but also let them forgo all of the benefits their government provides. No more unemployment checks, no more disability checks, no VA medical care - oh wait, that's already been gutted, never mind - no protection under the law. Got mugged? Didn't vote? Sucks to be you. OK, don't want to pay taxes? You get to eat the food that has not been inspected. You get to drive the vehicle without seatbelts and airbags and those little explosion-preventing features mandated by law. Oh, but taxes pay for roads, so you can't use them.

I think Australia has compulsory voting. I like that idea. You get hit with a hefty fine if you don't cast a ballot. Nice. That's one way to make sure everybody participates. But holy shit - is that how it should be? I hardly think so. Active participation in democracy is like active participation in parenting. It's just something you should fucking do. It's your (our) job. No questions, no complaints, just do it. Turn off the tv, get up off the couch and attend a candidate's night. volunteer, even, but do something to get involved in the process. Even if all you do is call the candidates and ask a couple of questions about issues that are important to you. How do you feel about school funding? What are your thoughts on pollution and what can we do about it? Gay rights? Abortion? Just ask. If they're running, it's their job to answer, and to listen to your concerns.

Or sit home and let the rest of us decide for you. Because you are too scared, or overwhelmed or you dislike conflict or maybe just because you are a lazy, stupid fuck. This is your life, your world, that is being affected here. And that means it is mine, too. I care enough to participate in my world, and by association, your world, too. Pull your own weight.

Get out and vote and quit your whining. Don't like the candidates? Then put up or shut up and run for office yourself. Not willing? Then be grateful someone else is and give one of them your support.

I will stop now because I am horribly frustrated by this whole thing.

Why are we even arguing to convince people to participate in their own lives? Fuckit. Stay home if you want. Die stupid. It's your right.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

slow starting

We've got a batch of poor weather coming through today. Rain and wind and general nastiness out of the south-soutwest. Blowin' a gale out there right now in fact.

My sweetie and I are having a quiet Sunday morning. We slept in a little bit, then I made popovers and coffee for breakfast. We've got to do the grocery shopping at some point, but thus far we are both still in our flannel pajamas and in no hurry to put on clothes that need to be buttoned, fastened or tied.

Our little dog Quinn is lazier every day of her life than we are on Sundays. At precisely 11:49 a.m. today, she yawned, stretched, shook her ears and crawled out from beneath the covers where she sleeps near our feet. She climbed down out of bed, wandered into the dining nook, yawned twice more and looked up at L. Well, she kind of looked up. Her eyes were not entirely open yet. And she leaned dangerously to one side as though she might fall over.

Quinn wakes up very, very slowly.

L picked her up and the little pooch curled gladly into the pose you see here and snoozed for another half hour. I wish I could have such a schedule, even on one day a week, never mind her rigorous regimen of seven days a week. Wake up when I feel like it, wander out toward breakfast, cuddle into L for another half hour, hit the bathroom and then climb back into bed. Humph.

Talk about a dog's life.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Of windows and progress

So, I have been working right along on this sun room project. Yesterday Sam and I put up the plywood sheathing on the roof (over the pine planks already there), laid the 5/8 plywood overlay on the floor inside, got some of the roof trim done and drip edge on, and seemed to be making good progress.

This morning I consulted with the guys at the help desk at EBS in Bar Harbor, who also called in another contractor who was there to help with the consult and we agreed that I needed to take off a piece of trim, run some flashing and ice and water shield up behind it, lay my shingles and THEN put up the trim. Oh. Thanks a bunch, guys. Actually, they were pretty good about the whole thing. Very helpful and not even the tiniest bit condescending.

I also realized (all on my own) that I had erred in the cutting of the drip edge, so that came off and was replaced with two new pieces. Today I finished the trim, fixed the drip edge, stuck down that bituthane ice shield (pronounced bitch-e-thane - fun to say but not exactly a bad word!) at the top edge where the other roof will drip onto it and at the bottom where ice dams are likely to occur and then I put lots of tar paper in between (nearly 40% overlap). Then I lugged shingles - 80 pounds per bundle - through the house, up the stairs and out onto the iron balcony where the circular stairs begin. I can step over the rail there (almost step, anyway - it's about an inch taller than my inseam, so there is some toe-tip sort of scootching and hopping involved - quite amusing to see this 40-something, never-you-mind-how-much-I-weigh lesbian do, I am sure) right out onto the roof of the newly built sunporch. I brought up four of the eight bundles today - for 50 year shingles, it takes four bundles to cover 100 square feet - and set to laying them out on the new roof. They look a lot like the ones I put up on a friend's roof last year in November (Yikes but it was cold!) and will be very nice when done. I was only able to get about half of the roof done (nine courses, including the doubled-up first course) before it got too dark to see. I carefully climbed back off the roof and went downstairs. I turned on my new halogen lights to illuminate the yard so I could put my tools away. Honestly, that tripod rig with two lights on top could probably light a runway. Holy cow. Anyway, progress continues.

But that's not the big news of the day. Windows were mentioned in the title up there at the top of this thing. Remember the windows? This is a post about the windows. I ordered them on Oct. 9 and was told they'd be put on a truck and delivered on the 13th. Yippee for me. But, no windows on the 19th. Humph. So I waited and worked. Still no windows. Today I called to find out when to expect the truck.

NOVEMBER 21, the guy said. You can imagine how pleased I was. I groused, I nearly shouted. I got sarcastic. I reminded him that I had ordered nearly $10,000 worth of windows and they changed the delivery date by more than a month without so much as a phone call? Oh, I was wild. I'm supposed to put in the hardwood floor (they went with 5" wide natural hickory - gorgeous!), but I can't do that until the windows are in. I have to put up Western Red Cedar clapboards, but I can't do that until I have the windows in. I lit into that poor guy pretty bad. I think I'll go up there tomorrow and apologize. I shot the messenger. It wasn't his fault that the factory in Iowa takes extra time to natural color tint the glass (whatever the hell that is? I think it has something to do with haze and glare) and nobody mentioned it. I may take him cookies. It depends on how badly I feel about it. And how much it is raining. If the rain is light, I'll go try to get some other stuff done. If I don't go up there, I will call and apologize. I let him have it pretty bad.

I had hoped to have this job buttoned up at least by the end of next week. Windows in, roof on, siding and trim done, I could work in relative comfort on the hardwood floor and interior trim. But it is not to be. I made a phone call when I came home for lunch and found myself a few days' work next week, and I'll make another call tomorrow to see if I can find some more after that. I'll just be stuck putting up windows and clapboards in November. Let's hope it doesn't snow. I'll do what I can for now, tarpaper the outside of the building, put some plastic over the window holes to keep out the weather, and find ways to keep busy until the windows come in. I'll order the hardwood and have it there and ready for when I can get to it.

I have a friend who says "There is no such thing as bad weather, only insufficient clothing." Yeah. I'll think warm happy thoughts about that philosophy come November when I'm trying to put little bitty nails into clapboards with frozen fingers. Grrr. Oh well. I have work. I'll keep busy. I just hate it when the world does not operate according to my schedule.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

I forgot one thing... Marshmallow Olympics!

The Totally Trades day ended with what I have to say is one of the cleverest activities I have ever seen - a thing called Marshmallow Olympics!

No shit, this is sooooooo cool.

The girls (over 100 of them) competed as teams representing their schools. Each school team got a bag with what looked like two cups of stale miniature marshmallows and about a half a box of toothpicks.

Then they were told to build something. Prizes were to be awarded for tallest structure, most realistic-looking, best geometrical design, and a few others. They go 15 minutes and no further instruction than that.

Honestly, the concentration and effort was as intense as anything I have seen out of adolescent girls. There was no sniping, there was no bitchiness, there was no bossiness or unpleasantness. And each school team worked differently. Some had each girl do something with tasks assigned by one or two leaders, some had a few girls working in the middle with others crowded around offering ideas and guidance, one team even had each girl make her own structure and then they were all stuck together to make a large one.

A few thoughts occurred to me as I wandered around looking at the projects underway. First was wouldn't I like to do a Myers-Briggs-Personality-Type-Indicator study on each group, and second was that while the groups were competitive, I heard none of the usual "their is better than ours... we suck" stuff so common among adolescent (and older) girls. Each team had a unique structure. None was more than 8 or 10 inches tall, but they were in all kinds of shapes and sizes.

It also occurred to me that this would be an ideal team-building, MBTI exercise for staff development workshops or things like RA trainings in colleges and such.

Of course, the girls loved it. It taught them to work together, to learn from each other (some had been to bridge-building workshops during the day while others had not) and it taught them some problem-solving skills. And they had a great time.

Again, I was thoroughly impressed.

Wonder and discovery

So I took a couple of days to drive up the coast and visit an old colleague and then venture further on to help out some friends at a thing called Totally Trades.

The colleague and friend was Sharon, and we used to work at competing newspapers many years ago (dear god - was it 15 years really? Urk - yes it was!) in Pittsfield. She's preparing to retire to Machias if the work details can ever get figured out, and she has a little house there where she retreats on vacation. She visits her daughter and new grand-baby and paints and creates beautiful things in her studio. I was very impressed with her talent - I had only known of her work as a writer, and journalism is pretty cut-and-dried. There is not a lot of creativity involved in most stories. But her artwork was stunning. Brilliant colors, bold lines, delicate squiggles. Any effort I have ever made to produce such things always look like something a third-grader made, so I am duly impressed. We had a good visit, I got to hold the grandbaby a little bit, and I crept out in the morning dark to head to Calais for the tradeswomen's thing.

Totally Trades is a one-day conference for girls in junior high and high school to expose them to possible careers that they might not otherwise consider. Local agencies and training schools and such participate, and tradeswomen with all kinds of skills come and talk about what it is they do and help the girls do some hands-on stuff just to try for fun.

I helped out with the Women Unlimited group, which offered a couple of sessions in which the girls got to build (and take home) wooden tool boxes. The pieces are all pre-cut and bundled so that the girls can build them within the hour or so class time allotted. There is a lot of measuring and marking, followed by drilling of pilot holes and eventually, assembling the pieces into a tool box that is neat and clean in its simplicity, utterly useful, and it looks like lots of tool boxes that kids have seen. My job was mostly to make sure they were measuring eighths of an inch and not sixteenths and that they had the edge of the wood lined up with the zero on the ruler and not the end of the ruler. And I served as materials vice, holding down the ends of things so they could use both hands on the drill.

I am not one to get all touchy-feely and misted up over much, but I have to say, it was nearly magical to watch these girls go, in the course of an hour, from being afraid of measuring eighths and terrified of a cordless drill to feeling confident enough to gently countersink the screws to make a smooth surface. They learned how to change out the bit from a drill bit to a screw bit and how to drill holes and put in the screws. Several of them quickly picked up how to tell by feel when the boards were where they were supposed to be and they got fussy about making sure it was right. There was no "close enough" for these kids - they wanted the tool box to be perfect. They took pride in what they were doing.

In the second session, there were an odd number of girls, so one of the teachers from their school was drafted to participate (things work better in partners). As we laid out the pieces and got ready to begin, she said nervously to me "I've never built anything in my life."

She'd never held a cordless drill, never mind used one to drill holes in a board.

Not only was she a marvelous example for her young partner, showing that adults could learn things too, and could be willing to admit that they did not know a thing, but her emotions were plain on her face as she went from terrified to cautiously confident with the power tools. She and her young charge learned a new skill together. The kid actually learned a little faster than the adult, and both were pretty impressed at the end.

I was humbled and awed by it all.

So often I teach myself things on the job. In fact, I expect to learn things on each job I do. Sometimes I learn about hardwood floors, sometimes I learn about drip edge and flashing, sometimes I learn about window sills or copper pipes. I never think much of it, I suppose, because I have (perhaps misplaced) faith in my problem-solving skills. I know that I can learn things, and I know that if I can figure a thing out, I can master it. I don't remember not feeling this way, but I suppose I must have at some point. I don't know, though. I remember when my father was building our house, how he rolled out the plans and stood over them until he figured how what they meant. He then set about figuring out how to build from wood what was drawn on the page and how to put it all together so it would keep his family warm and dry that winter. Of all the unhealthy things that man modeled for me in my childhood, this is perhaps the one healthy, positive thing he showed me. Don't be afraid to learn new things and don't be afraid to work hard doing it. So anyway, I have confidence - sometimes when I have no business having confidence - but I've got it.

But these girls hadn't got it yet when we met yesterday. Many of them were farm girls, and knew lots of things, like how to drive a tractor and crazy stuff like that, but they lacked faith in their own abilities. They didn't really comprehend or value their own skills and talents. In the course of an hour, they seemed to gain momentum; they seemed to gain confidence, both in their skills and in their ability to learn new ones.

I also have a new respect for the women who teach the toolbox class. I was merely a volunteer who happened to have an interesting profession. These women are amazing. One has an MBA. She does the financial stuff at Women Unlimited. Another does office-type things that are beyond my comprehension. Neither is a tradeswoman, but both are confident in their ability to handle these tools and to teach these skills in a way that a professional tradeswoman cannot. They can relate to the young women so much better than I. They don't build things for a living, but they are capable in this regard, and that shines through and the girls see it. It is real. It cannot be faked. And it was an ingenious idea for whomever came up with it. Get the non-tradeswomen to teach this class.

Because often tradeswomen forget what it is to be scared of the drill. We forget what it is to struggle to add fractions. We forget that people have to be told to hold the drill straight up and down and to keep it running when you pull the bit back out. That stuff's automatic for us, but foreign and scary to a novice.

At the end of the class, each student wrote her name inside the tool box she made. I overheard a conversation of plans for the girls to sign each other's tool boxes to serve as mementos of the day. It made me smile.

I hear there is another Totally Trades day in Bangor next month. We'll see what my schedule looks like, but I'd love to volunteer at that one as well. I have a new appreciation of what the Women Unlimited staff do and of the courage of these young girls to step up and learn something that the whole world so often tells them is none of their business. I need to be reminded of those kinds of everyday acts of bravery.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Poject progress

I am most pleased with this project. It has been challenging nearly to the point of overwhelming, but I have been able to meet and succeed at each turn. It is a good feeling.

A month ago, this is the sun room that was in place. Notice how the stone steps lead up to a platform that is actually built up over the cedar clapboards (that's bad).

A week ago, this is what the project looked like:

Things have been moving along at a steady pace. The old sun room was torn down, and the new one is beginning to take shape. The rafters have been reinforced, the subfloor is down, the walls are up and yesterday the rafters and roof planks went on.

I am especially proud of the rafters. For the record, I HATE rafters. I hate finding that correct angle, and all of that pitch stuff (so many inches per foot) just makes my head spin. Because of the confines of this project, there really wasn't a lot of calculating to be done. I only had so much room to go up, and I only had so far to go out. Essentially, I held up the two-by-six, scribed a couple of lines, made a cut and trimmed it until it fit like I wanted. Then I made the notch where the stringer meets the outside wall, and it all went together pretty much without incident.

The client wants to look at the rafters and the pine boards of the roof, so we had to be extra fussy with how they looked. I had my helper sand each of the rafters to get rid of blemishes and ink and such, and then she sanded some of the planks as well to get rid of scuff marks and boot prints. That's my helper, Anne. Her daughter is getting married this week. She is remarkably calm, considering.

In this case, we are going to put up drywall inside and it will run right up to the roof planks on the two end walls. So I had to build out the end rafters to give me something to screw the drywall to inside. Here is how I did that with some scrap two-by-sixes, a two-by-four, and some half-inch plywood. Now that portion of the roof area is the same thickness as the two-by-four wall beneath it. I will put uprights in 16 inches on center next week.

Here is a picture of the roof edge of the carriage house associated with the property. Note the curved cut and beveled edge below the end plate.

The client really liked that style and asked me to duplicate it on this project. The curved cut was especially tricky. I had to dig out my sheet metal dividers and scribe several variations of an arc on a piece of thin plywood until I got the right length of the cut and the right depth of the arc. I didn't want it to look like someone took a bite out of it, nor did I want it to be too shallow to serve as an accent. Here is what the rafter ends look like before we put any roof planks up.

Here is the roof edge with planks and a tarp to cover them for the two days of rain we are expecting. I think they are going to look really good. The roof planks will go all the way to the end of the rafters, but that will require ripping boards on the table saw and I was short on help and time by the time I got that far, so the last course will have to wait until after the rain.

And here is the inside of the room with rafters and planks in place. It is a little darker than the old way, but with large windows, it will still be very light and airy.

And here is a look at the ceiling view that the client will see inside:

The stone steps that went up to a landing where the sliding glass door was on the old sun porch proved to be a bit of a problem. Left as they were, there was no room to put up clapboards, and they would allow snow and ice to build up against the wood, which would cause it to rot. We're doing this with an eye toward not repeating the process any time soon, so the steps had to come down a notch. One level of stones, actually, is what came off. Here is the pile of rocks. They will have to be moved next week when I have a suitably burly helper, but for now, they are out of my way.

Buried within the top layer of stones on that platform was an old metal safe box. It was topped with a wood cover that had been double-wrapped in plastic to prevent rot (it did not work) and the top had once been sealed, but years of neglect had taken a harsh toll. It was filled with nothing but very rusty water. Here is the empty box. We were much disappointed.

This is what the stone steps look like now.

Here's what it looks like when you step back a little. Notice how the steps only go up to about six inches below the sill. This will help prevent rot in the future.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The next right thing

So I was burned out. Perhaps I still am. I am less inclined today to post something clever and sarcastic and snarky about what the Republithugs are doing/planning/saying/fucking up and more inclined to see what difference I can make in my own world.

When I am jammed up and feeling blocked and paralyzed by fear/anger/frustration/etc., my recovery community tells me that the thing to do is the next right thing. I do not need to win the war today. I just need to do the next right thing in the long list of things that need to get done.

So this is it for me for today. I seem to be out of coherent words with which to rail against the powers that be, so tonight after work, I report myself to the local Democratic party office to volunteer. I'll do what needs doing, be it stuffing envelopes, assembling yard signs, data entry, whatever. They need bodies willing to help, and as far as I can see, that is the next right thing to do.

Volunteering tonight also brings me into better alignment with my own oft-repeated ideas about "put up or shut up." Often I complain that this campaign or that effort is not being run to my satisfaction. I don't help those campaigns, of course, which makes it easy to sit back and criticize. I don't like the person who is in charge of that group, so I don't join, no matter that 99 percent of what happens is of benefit to me or in support of things I support. No, I prefer to fancy myself superior and sit back and judge and be an ass. This year, in this election, there is no room for my ego or my judgment. The people running these things might not be doing it as I would, but so what? They're out there, working their asses off, doing the best they can. I'd say it was a safe bet to think that they do not lie awake nights thinking of new ways to piss me off. They've got far bigger and better things to do. So I suck up my ego and my attitude and offer to help. Even if that means cleaning the office coffeepot. Whatever needs doing. The next right thing.

Blogging is good, talking and making points and speaking the truth are good. But truly, up to this point, what have I done besides run my mouth? Not much. I made a donation once. It wasn't really very big. And I wasn't terribly gracious about it. I have been working lately with a woman who cannot vote (she is a French national, not a US citizen) but who has volunteered more at the local Democratic party office during this one election cycle than I have in years. My lack of effort is not something I am particularly proud of. She seems to care more about the politics of my country than I do. That puts me somewhere in the company of those losers who don't even vote. Ouch. That is not comfortable for me.

So now it is put up or shut up time in my world. It is time for me to do the next right thing, to show up and volunteer, and to put my body where my mouth has been these long months. Time to do the next right thing. Join me?

Sunday, October 12, 2008


OK, so it finally happened. I'm toast.

I have had all I can stand of Sarah Palin, John McCain, that Ayers guy, Reverend Wright, the Keating Five and everything else. I am utterly disgusted and fed up. I do not believe that the press is independently investigating a damned thing. I am convinced that they are nearly a mindless herd, dashing from one shiny, sparkly thing to the next, easily distracted until there is something really good, like sex, on which to focus incessantly.

I am disgusted with the American electorate. For the most part, I think people are sheep who believe whatever they are fed so long as it does not require thinking. Thinking is viewed with suspicion and distrust. People who think are called "elite" and "uppity." Politics has been reduced to chants in high school gymnasiums. "Drill, baby drill" has usurped "yes we can" in the American psyche. It both scares and saddens me.

We are a nation founded by very smart men. Washington, Jefferson, Adams (I and II) and that whole crowd had a keen sense of history, of what kind of monumental thing they were undertaking, and they understood, or at least read and studied, the philosophers of old. The Greeks, the Romans, the ancients. They understood that the masses were led by the smart ones, and that it was their grave and solemn duty to lead responsibly. They understood that theirs was not a position from which to garner personal gain, but a position of stewardship. It was their responsibility, and that of the government they created, to provide safety and security to those whom they sought to govern.

I don't see that kind of stewardship today. I see the mob taking over. It is as though the elites have wrung every last drop of profit to be had from the system and are now boarding the last plane out of Dodge. It strikes me that they are behind the scenes on the sinking ship, packing up the last of their belongings while occasionally appearing for long enough to whip the crowd into a renewed frenzy before ducking back behind the curtain to pack some more.

I get the feeling that on November 5, many of the people pulling the strings will quietly disappear to the safety of offshore holdings and leave America, raped, burned and barren, to the rest of us. The two candidates now fighting for the top spot will be two levels of loser. The young guy will be loser number one, the guy with the empty prize - a nation with pillaged coffers, looted resources and crumbling infrastructure. The old guy will be the lower grade of loser, having been sold the dream that his wealthy friends were going to stick with him when it was over. He'll be the guy stood up by his prom date only to find his wallet stolen and not enough in his pocket for cab fare home. He'll retire to one of his estates with his anger and his frigid wife for company and slowly (or not so slowly) drink himself into oblivion. He may try to rally his forces in the Senate, but will be the one whispered about by the others, ridiculed for believing he still holds some kind of power. Having sold out all of his principles in pursuit of the brass ring, he will be an empty shell of a man. A few kindly, senior members may still invite him to lunch occasionally, but it will be for the sad ritualistic recital of how it was "in the old days."

I have voted already, and that is good. I do not know if I had to endure three more weeks of this shit if I could still find the energy at the end to mark a box on a piece of paper. I am frazzled. I have heard it all, read it all, gotten angry about it all, railed against the injustice and finally collapsed. I wonder if that is the opposition's strategy - to wear the thinking ones among us down with their relentless onslaught of crap. It could be.

For me, for today, I will enjoy the sunshine and the foliage. I will go outdoors and look around and find beauty where I am. I may take my little dog for a walk. I may watch some football. I'll go to the grocery store and I'll make some lunch. But for today, I will not engage about politics. There is nothing more for me to offer. I am spent.

Thursday, October 9, 2008


So, I am faced with a rainy morning, when I had grand and exciting plans for the day. Time to slow down, I guess.

I have been thinking about McCain's "that one" comment in Tuesday night's debate, but have decided that everyone has written and blogged and shouted about that really enough for my tastes. I do not think I could possibly offer anything new or constructive to that chorus. It was nasty and petty and abusive and indicative of a style that demeans opponents instead of treating them with respect. No more to say after that.

I think rainy days must be made for doing errands and paperwork. That and technical drawings. I think that is what I will end up doing today. With work tomorrow, I expect some great and dramatic pictures of progress.

Today's highlight: CSI Vegas tonight. Woo hoo!

Monday, October 6, 2008


got some kind of flu-bug.

Feeling utterly masticated.

Got up yesterday, had breakfast and then laid on the couch all day. Let the football games watch me instead of the other way around.

Got a big job to do, but not today. Today I will spend making sketches and drawings and figuring out how many 2 by 4s and how many 2 by 6s I will need for this thing.

Money comes tomorrow, will order the lumber then. For now, I stay in my flannels and snuggle up with the puppy.

Your regular program will return shortly.

Friday, October 3, 2008

A near miss

OK, so we sat up and watched the vice-presidential debate last night. And I have to say I was mildly disappointed.

Sarah Palin had the world's expectations so low that the fact that she did not vomit onto her own podium (or anyone else's) OR dissolve into tears OR go completely off the deep end and attack Biden and the liberal media and, and, and for her woes, counts as a victory.

She made a few gaffes, but nobody seems upset by that. She thinks that the general who led troops in the Civil War is currently running operations in Afghanistan, but nobody blinked. Our expectations were really, really low for her.

That speaks volumes about America and what we are willing to accept from our leaders. We are willing to accept a leader who does not know more than one Supreme Court Decision EVER, we are willing to accept a leader who cannot name a single new source that she reads. We are willing to accept a leader who cannot pronounce nuclear but would be willing to drop one on someone.

That is terrifying enough.

But you know what?

I wanted a train wreck last night. I wanted to see her crash and burn in a spectacular fashion. And in a way I did. We just don't get to hear it through that filter.

Sarah Palin showed herself to be a blithering idiot capable only of parroting the talking points she had been fed. If she had been another candidate for vice president and came out onto the stage and offered that performance, the pundits would be wringing their hands and calling it a disaster. But the fact that she is perceived as just a small step above a protozoa in intelligence, her folksy non-answers are being held up as sparkling examples of wit and debate skills.

Dear god, she's still dumber than a hake. We've just been told to expect so little that when she gives up five cents instead of four, we call it a 25 percent over-achievement. Never mind that we deserve leaders with a full dollar's worth of brains and are getting someone who can barely spell her name and who, I would hazard a guess, could not name all the states on a map of the US, never mind the nations of the globe. She spelled U.S.A. right last night and is being heralded as the rebirth of the party of Lincoln.

How utterly pathetic.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Hospital stuff again

This is getting old.

My friend who was treated so badly at the hospital ER back when? Remember her? Well, she went to the ER again this week - she got her hand caught between a bucket loader and a log at the wood yard where she works - and the doctor who was such an ass before completely ignored her. Walked past her a dozen times and never made eye contact. When it was her turn to be seen, he went and got a PA to do the exam and write the scrip.

What is so damned difficult about giving medical care with a certain degree of dignity? Why is that such an issue?

Oh, and she still hasn't received an apology for the first incident.

The annual meeting of the hospital just happened. Maybe everyone was busy doing stuff for that. I don't know. What I do know is that my friend is getting fed up with what she sees as bureaucrats and she is getting disgusted with the whole thing.

I can't say I blame her. It's been something like two or three months since the first bad experience with that doctor, she's received no apology and now she gets snubbed and ignored in the ER. That sounds like retaliatory behavior to me. What place does that shit have in the ER? The doctors who saved Ronald Reagan's life were democrats. Get over whatever personal issues you've got if you're going to serve the public. Can't get over them? Then go into research so you won't have the opportunity to be rude to vulnerable people when they come to you for help.

What bullshit.