Country Living Series

Thursday, December 31, 2020

Rest in peace, Maryann

As a sad ending to a challenging year, Dawn Wells -- Maryann from Gilligan's Island -- has passed away.

I've always had a soft spot for Gilligan's Island, and particularly for Dawn Wells. From everything I've read, she was as charming in real life as she was on screen.

Rest in peace, Maryann.

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

The cat who fell upstairs

On my post "Moving Adventures," a reader asked: "I was wondering what happened to your barn cat you had.Were the new owners going to take care of him? Hopefully. Would be kind of sad to leave him behind and used to having someone around and feeding him as well.Winter can be brutal for animals."

This is in reference the cat who adopted us a couple years, whom we christened Simba because he looked like a lion. (That's a mouse hanging from his jaws.) Since Don is allergic to indoor cats and since Mr. Darcy does everything in his power to kill any cat he sees, taking Simba with us when we moved was out of the question. Our original intent was to leave him for the new owners of our house.

  

Well, when Older Daughter returned from her four-year stint in New Jersey, she absolutely fell in love with Simba and rechristened him Frumpkin. New goal: Frumpkin goes with Older Daughter when she moves to her new place. It's clear Frumpkin used to be an indoor cat anyway, so it seemed like a good plan.

Now that she has her own place, Older Daughter is now the proud owner of Frumpkin. And oh my, this cat fell upstairs. He's been bathed and groomed, the vet cleared up an ear infection, and soon (he won't like this!) he gets neutered. (To our surprise, he's an intact tomcat. With all that fur, we had no idea. Apparently the vets had never seen such a quiet and mellow tomcat before.)

I asked her to send me some of her favorite photos of Frumpkin in his new digs.

Coming home to find the cat waiting for her in the window:

 

Lord Frumpkin presiding over the bed:

Frumpkin watching a movie. Or rather, Frumpkin lying on Older Daughter's chest while she watches a movie. (I think this is my favorite photo. He looks so happy!)

 Frumpkin discovers the couch:

 Frumpkin discovers the bookshelf:

 
Frumpkin discovers the cat tree:
 

Frumpkin watching "Cat TV" (birds!)

This is "Frumpkin joining me at the computer to help me shoot bad guys as per our nightly ritual," explains Older Daughter.

This is Frumpkin watching Older Daughter as she emails me the photos of him for this blog post.

So yes, Frumpkin fell upstairs. He's a very happy cat.

Monday, December 28, 2020

From a retailer's perspective

This morning I was in contact with Glenda Lehman Ervin, VP of Marketing for Lehman's in Ohio, on a matter of business.

After our business was concluded, I asked her: "How are things at the store? Still nutty, or have things calmed down?"

She replied: "Our direct sales are still very busy with the main problem being back orders. Many vendors are months behind and the reasons are varied: product supply chain issues, employees out sick with COVID, reduced capacity due to social distancing regulations....  We are encouraging people to place their orders now, to reserve their place in line as we expect spring to bring heavy demand again.

We were slammed over Christmas with high COVID demand, coupled with Christmas demand – carriers were running behind too so we had early shipping deadlines.  2020 has certainly been a wild ride!"

This, folks, is what's going on from a retailer's perspective. As frustrating as things have been for customers, it's just as frustrating for sellers who are doing their best.

That's why Glenda added in a separate email, "We are also encouraging people, in these frustrating times, to be patient.  As a consumer, I feel it myself – long lines, delays in shipping, products out of stock. It is frustrating – we all need to give ourselves and others grace (formerly defined as “courteous good will”).  We are all doing our best!"

Maybe that's the lesson to take into the New Year: Be kind to people. You don't know what they might be going through.

Saturday, December 26, 2020

Moving adventures

Merry (belated) Christmas, dear readers! I thought this would be a good time to catch you up on the events of the past week. Yes, we're now installed in our new home. Grab yourself a cup of tea and join us on our latest moving adventures.

I'll start by relating what happened a week ago (Dec. 18). We had reserved a 26-foot U-Haul truck at the local distributor for Dec. 20. We received a phone call about 7 pm on Friday evening (Dec. 18) from a U-Haul representative confirming our one-way reservation. "You can pick up the truck from [Name of Distant City]," he told Don.

At first Don was confused. "We reserved the truck in [Local City]," he explained.

"Oh no, we don't have anything in [Local City]. But you could pick up a truck in [Even More Distant City] if you want."

In 30 years of marriage, I have seldom seen Don angry. But when it became clear the U-Haul representative was saying our only option was to take a five-hour round trip to pick up a truck from Distant City, or a seven-hour round trip from Even More Distant City -- rather than the local distributorship 15 minutes down the road -- my husband erupted. "I've had this truck booked for two weeks! I have people coming in to help us load! And you're telling me at the 11th hour no truck is available? CANCEL IT!!!" And he slammed down the phone.

So there we were, stuck in a rental house we were eager to leave, unable to move our household goods because a truck wasn't available at the local distributorship. There were no alternatives in the area (the only U-Haul competitor, Penske, wasn't anywhere near us).

After an hour or so, Don calmed down and called U-Haul back and spoke to a different representative about renting a 20-foot truck (rather than a 26-foot) from the local distributor. "Sure, there's one available," the rep said, after hearing about what happened with the other vehicle.

"Are you sure?" inquired Don. He received a confirmation number, but vowed to darken the door of the local U-Haul distributorship the moment they opened Saturday morning.

So, the next morning, armed with his confirmation receipt, Don drove to the local U-Haul dealership. "I'm here to confirm this 20-foot truck," he said.

"It's here," affirmed the clerk.

"Are you sure?" persisted Don, and reiterated why he was wary.

"Yep, I'm sure," replied the clerk. To prove his point, he called out to a fellow employee, "Hey Bob, that 20-foot truck is available tomorrow, right?"

"Oh no," replied Bob. "The drive shaft is bad. It won't be available for a couple of weeks."

The poor clerk got a deer-in-the-headlights look on his face at this news.

Don leaned closer. "Don't tell me," he gritted, "that there is no truck available for me tomorrow."

"Ah, let me see what I can do," sputtered the clerk. He typed rapidly on his computer, then made a phone call. "Hey Charlie, can you get that 20-foot truck here by 9 am tomorrow? You can? Great!"

So, with the promise of a truck on Sunday, we spent Saturday packing and hoping for the best. On Sunday morning, we picked up the truck without any problem, along with two bundles of rental blankets for padding.


After that, the day was insanely busy. Older Daughter came by along with three friends, and we all heaved and carried and pushed and stacked our household items in the truck.

This is the back side of the rental house. As you can see, it's built on a steep hillside. The disadvantage is everything from the lower level had to be schlepped up the hill to the truck.

The advantage is we were able to move the canning jars -- already stored in the home's little basement pantry -- right outside the back door, where we loaded them into our little trailer.

A funny thing happened during this process. We've known the two young men helping us since they were five and seven years old respectively. The older one is now married, and he told me his wife was learning how to can. "Be careful," I told him. "THIS --" and I pointed to the vast quantities of full canning jars spread out on the grass -- "is your future." The poor guy looked a little shell-shocked.

Eventually we got most (but not all) of our household goods packed into the truck. We weren't quite finished, but it was getting late and we had a two-and-a-half hour drive ahead of us. We can move the rest of our stuff later.

We paid and thanked the young people who'd helped us, buttoned up the vehicles, and hit the road. Don drove the U-Haul, and I followed in the car, towing a whole bunch of canning jars in a trailer. The dog and parrot were in the car with me.

And we drove. We drove and drove and drove. It got dark. It started to rain. Then it started to really rain. The road narrowed and got windy. For mile after mile after mile, we drove through rain and darkness toward a destination that somehow seemed unreal and ever-receding.

The last mile was purely uphill, and our poor little car didn't like it, not pulling a trailer with half a ton of full canning jars behind it. But we finally made it and pulled into our driveway.

The sellers had left behind some furniture they couldn't bring with them, notably a large dining table and four chairs.

We unloaded minimal items from the truck. It was dark and raining, and we were wiped out. We unloaded only enough to get by for the night -- our mattress, bedding, and the parrot's cage. We also had an ice chest containing the contents of our rental house's refrigerator. What we didn't unload (because we couldn't find it in the dark) was our toiletries, and any kitchen items such as cutlery or plates.

Then we heard a knock at our door. Our nearest neighbor, a sweet older woman, stopped by to welcome us to the neighborhood. She brought a paper plate of cookies wrapped in aluminum foil. We chatted for a few minutes and then she left. Little did this dear lady know how much we appreciated her gift. We slid the cookies off the paper plate onto the kitchen counter, and Don and I shared the paper plate for our humble dinner (he had to cut the cheese with the tiny blade off a miniature leatherman-type tool I had in my purse). Then we wrapped the remaining food in the aluminum foil from the cookies.

After this we tumbled into bed, filthy and exhausted. We had no idea where any bath towels were packed away, much less soap, shampoo, hairbrushes, or clean clothes, so showers were out of the question. We just slept.

The next morning we woke up -- and finally, we could see what it was we'd bought. Fog whispered in and out of the region, and we were enchanted by the view.

We leashed up Darcy (there is no fenced yard yet) and went walking around. That white building is the barn, with a bigger footprint (1800 sq. ft.) than the house (1400 sq. ft.).

The inside of the barn is cavernous, and filled with useful things the sellers left behind.

The property is roughly square-shaped, and sloped. Only the wooded corner is steep.

Here's a rough schematic of the property, which has three "benches" (levels). The center triangle has the house (left) and the barn (right) and is where most activities will take place. The outlying sections are pasture:

Interestingly, there is no driveway connecting the house to the barn. The house is accessed by one driveway, and the barn by a separate driveway. Don's thought was to drive the U-Haul to the barn, then back it up across a lawn section to the house, where we could unload at a more convenient spot.

It was a nice theory, but we didn't account for the mud. The U-Haul got stuck in the mud. And by stuck, I mean stuck. Oh heavens, it was stuck. There were times it was even sliding sideways downhill before Don could bring it to a stop. We spent half an hour putting anything rough in front of the wheels to give the truck some purchase -- branches, chains we found in the barn, boards, you name it. Finally -- praise God -- he was able to gun the vehicle out of the mud. We caught our breath and eased the truck back down the barn driveway and back toward the house. (Note for the future: Get some rock on the driveway.)

This photo doesn't do justice to the depth and nastiness of the mud pit.

After that exciting interlude, we were tasked with emptying an entire truck, but without the aid and assistance of strong young friends. We sighed and got to work.

We promised ourselves to work at a leisurely pace so we wouldn't blow ourselves out. Easy does it, right?

Comically I picked up a sealed bag of broccoli I had brought with us, and it literally exploded on me, spewing broccoli everywhere. I think it was the elevation change.

So there we were, leisurely unpacking, taking our time. The weather was perfect, the temperature pleasant (for late December).

Then Don made a critical mistake: He checked the weather. It seems our interlude of pleasant sunshine was coming to an end within a couple hours, and rain was moving in. Crud.

So much for leisure. Suddenly we were moving things into the house frantically. We stacked and piled and piled and stacked willy-nilly. By the time darkness fell and the rain moved in, it looked like a hoarder house.

This included offloading half a ton of canning jars. For the moment -- since freezing temperatures weren't expected that night -- we put the jars on the porch.

By the end of the day, even Darcy was exhausted.

If we were tired and filthy and sore and exhausted the night before, it was nothing next to how we felt when the rain started and we retired indoors. But at least we knew where our clothes and towels were. Don took himself off for a shower and I was faced with a grim realization: the one thing I couldn't find was a brush and comb. With long hair, those items are critical. I remember packing them away, but where? Each box looked identical to every other box, and even though most things were labeled, I had foolishly neglected to label the box with toiletries.

(A piece of advice: When emptying out your house while moving, pack up your toiletries and a change of clothing into a separate box and -- this is the important part -- don't pack it into the moving truck. Put it in the front seat of the car or truck cab.)

I wandered around for an hour before I was able to find a brush and comb. But ah, it was bliss taking that shower. Still, both of us were very very sore, with aching muscles and backs.

That night I had a dream. I dreamed our realtor, a very nice lady named Holly, called us in tears and told us the sellers had pulled out of the sale (shades of what happened before), and we had no place to move. In my dream, Don and I dithered and tried to come up with a contingency plan. Then I woke up, felt my horribly aching muscles, and grinned. "Too late," I murmured. "It's all ours."

The next day we had to return the U-Haul to the local distributorship. We swept out the truck and folded the rental blankets...and realized we'd left one unopened bundle of blankets at the rental house. No biggee, we naively thought. We can ask Older Daughter to pick them up and return them to the original distributorship. So off we went to the nearest town to drop off the truck.

We went into the U-Haul distributorship, dropped off the keys, and explained about the missing bundle of blankets. The clerk looked grim. "I can't check in the truck without the blankets," he said. "It would be considered a partial return, and I can't do that."

"Can we have our daughter drop the blankets off at the point of pickup?" Don asked.

No.

"Can I just pay for the blankets that are missing?"

No.

"This is ridiculous!" Don sputtered. "Are you telling me that if a single blanket goes missing, we have to keep renting the truck forever? What if we couldn't find the blankets, or they'd been stolen?"

The clerk was unmoved.

We left the distributorship, muttering dark curses against U-Haul. After discussing it intensely for the next few minutes, we decided Don would drive me back home, then he would embark on a five-hour round trip to fetch six cheap U-Haul blankets.

Which he did. A quarter of the way through his trip, he called me and asked me to get on the phone with U-Haul and see what kinds of options we had.

I finally got hold of a very nice customer service representative and explained what had happened, and quite frankly she was appalled. She asked to put me on hold, which I was for over half an hour. Turns out she was climbing the U-Haul chain of command and explaining what happened. When she finally got back on the phone, she said she was in contact with the local U-Haul distributorship (where we had returned the truck that morning), and we were clear to either purchase the blankets outright, or return them if Don was successful in fetching them back from the rental house.

"So your husband has two options," she told me. "Either he can return home now and pay for the blankets, or if he continues on to bring them back, we will compensate him for his time."

I thought that was a reasonable compromise, considering the circumstances, and said I would try to reach him to ask which he preferred. I also warned her he might be out of cell range, since communication along part of the route was iffy.

I finally reached Don after about half an hour, when he emerged into cell range. "So you can either turn around, or keep going," I concluded after relaying what the U-Haul rep had said.

We discussed it a bit longer, and since by then he was over halfway back to the rental, he decided to press ahead.

A few minutes later, the local U-Haul clerk (where we returned the truck that morning) called. He didn't exactly sound apologetic, but he did explain the regional manager had been on the lot during the time we were returning the truck, and she had told him no partial returns were permitted. Whether this actually happened, or whether he was just covering fanny, was immaterial by this point. Don and I were spitting mad. It will be a cold day in hell before we ever rent a U-Haul truck again.

Don got home many hours later, with a bundle of unused U-Haul blankets in tow. After all that, he decided we might as well just pay for them and keep them. They weren't terribly expensive, and we'll have uses for them. While we hope it will be a cold day in hell before we ever rent a U-Haul truck again, the harsh truth is we may not have a choice.

But after that, things improved. We made inroads on setting up the house. We met a couple more neighbors. We walked around the property and made plans for this or that. We arranged and organized.

 The wildlife around here is amazing. So far we've seen hawks, eagles, turkeys, quail, pheasant, deer, elk, and coyotes. In fact, wildlife is so thick that I have a small game I play. I'll pick up the binoculars and train them on some random location and see what I can see. About eighty percent of the time, I can see something -- a flock of turkeys bobbing over a hillside, the creamy rumps of elks as they graze, a hawk sitting on a tree. Beautiful.

When Christmas Eve came, Don hung his Santa hat on the coat rack -- it comes out once a year -- and we settled down to watch "A Christmas Carol" with George C. Scott (the best version of that classic story!), and toasted in the birth of our Savior with Irish cream.

It's the first Christmas we've had alone since we were married, and we missed the girls terribly. Talking by phone (or, in the case of Younger Daughter at her overseas duty station, by YouTube voice chat) just isn't the same. However in the next day or two, we're traveling back to see Older Daughter and have a late Christmas celebration planned with two neighbors who have joined us for Christmas since 2003.

Just one more interesting side note. Don fell into conversation with a charming and talkative owner of a local hardware store a couple days ago. This man related how a relative of his got into "bidding war" on a house in the region. Apparently this man was under the mistaken impression a "bidding war" meant both interested parties would slowly working their way up to the actual asking price on the house. So he decided to bypass this: "Oh what the heck, I'll just make a full-price offer." The realtor looked at him sadly and explained the asking price had been shot past long ago and was now far beyond his budget. That's how fast rural properties are moving. Many of the incoming buyers are from out of state.

This casual conversation made me realize how fortunate we are to have bought this place. We didn't get into a bidding war, and the sellers accepted our full-price offer almost immediately. The fact that out-of-state buyers didn't bid against us and clean our financial clocks makes me see the hand of God in this. I guess this is the place we're meant to be, and we're grateful.

So that's what's been happening in the last week. I'll take more photos of the house when we have it a bit more organized. A belated Merry Christmas to you all, dear readers!


Sunday, December 20, 2020

It's Christmas time in the city

Despite being an avowed country girl, I must confess the song "Silver Bells: It's Christmas Time in the City" is one of my favorite secular Christmas tunes. Go figure.

For the first time, we're living urban during Christmas and it's kinda neat. For example, yesterday I kept hearing what sounded like drums, but couldn't place the sound. After a few minutes, I looked out our back window and saw a small three-person music group, socially distanced in an elevated parking lot, serenading passers-by. It was great.


Naturally, all storefronts and windows are dolled up, including the World's Most Fabulous Used Bookstore that I'll be very sorry to leave behind. (Let's just say I've given them a fair bit of business in the short time we've been here.)

I also liked seeing this Little Free Library, something I'd heard about but had never seen in person.

It's a pity this little nook is so far away from our place, or I'd stuff it with a number of books I've read and can pass on to others.

And there have been other pretty sights too, such as a new snowfall on landscaping and trees.




It's probably no accident I tend to focus on little bits of nature, such as this snow-covered nest left over from last summer...

Or snow bending down branches outside our window.

And of course, people are adding pretty touches of color to their homes.

One evening we experienced a strange phenomenon. On a moonless night -- remember, moonless -- the air was lit up as if the moon was full. We postulated the city lights were bouncing off both a low cloud cover as well as snow on the ground. The photos below (un-enhanced in any way) were taken at 9:30 at night, at a time when our street is normally very dark since we have no streetlights. It was almost light enough to read by. Top photo is from our front porch, bottom photo from the back of the house.

But despite the temporary charms of city life, it's time for us to leave and move to our new home. Today -- Sunday -- is moving day. So we'll say goodbye to the lights and color, and get ready for another chapter of our Adventure.