Sandy’s Best Leftover-Oatmeal Ham Sandwich

Ham sandwiches don’t usually start with oatmeal. But one thing leads to another around here in ways I can’t always predict. Getting from Point A to Point M is seldom a straight line.

Point A: It’s been unusually cool for May. This time last year we had the kiddie pool out. But sweater-and-sock weather asks for oatmeal.

Point B: I got distracted while measuring out the oatmeal and milk/water, a simple 1:2 ratio so this is a little embarrassing, but somehow I messed it up because it was too liquidy coming out of the microwave. After a brief huh…what-did-I-mess-up-there moment, I solved this problem by taking a handful of oats (with my hand), adding it to the liquidy, almost-ready breakfast, and giving it another 2 minutes. This resulted in no-longer-too-liquidy oatmeal that had somewhat more texture than usual, the late addition not having had as much cook-time as usual. But cooked al dente, like that pasta stage just before it’s really soft, when there is still the tiniest element that’s uncooked, and sweetened not unliberally with brown sugar, it hit the spot.

Point C: My al dente oatmeal, delicious as it was, did not seem worthy of a photo, so there isn’t one (and a photo cannot convey al dente anyway), but adding more oats also resulted in… more oatmeal. Which is to say, leftovers. On my dear German friend Claudia’s first trip to the U.S., she coined the word over-lefts, which she and I still say sometimes 😊 and which is a sub-point of Point C and not Point D, in case you were wondering.

Point D: I stared at the over-lefts and was about to do my usual – look in my non-working dishwasher for the right size plastic container and transfer oatmeal from bowl to chosen container and place in fridge. What might have steered me away from this idea was 1. The bowl I had microwaved the oatmeal in – an old beauty that I got almost thirty years ago from a man who was then in his 80s and had probably had it since he and his wife got married in the 1940s. A spectacular bowl! Same bowl I often use to mix up bread dough (that’s a clue).

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And 2. (this being a sub-point of Point D) I have been playing around with yeast rolls lately. (Heading toward some kind of bread she is, anyone can see that.)

Point E. I never made rolls starting with leftover oatmeal, never heard of that, but sure, why not? (The following is not a recipe, in case you were wondering and/or looking for specifics. The following is me playing with food.)

I let it cool a bit, added a cup of not-too-hot-not-too-cold water and a tablespoon of yeast (or what looks like a tablespoon in the palm of my hand) and half a cup of flour or so, and stirred this up and walked away. I suspect it helps the end result, this “proofing” of the dough (though I cannot be sure). In any case I get a charge out of the little bubbles that form as the yeast begins its vital and magical work. This was worthy of a photo so here you go. Fifteen minutes (or so) later), bubbles!

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Point F: Having seen that adding yeast, water and flour to leftover textury oatmeal produces a promising start, I remembered that the raisin rolls I made twice recently came out just fine and I decided to take the leap to Leftover Oatmeal Raisin Rolls. This being an experiment (and not a recipe, as stated above), I added some sugar (guessing 1-2 tablespoons, it’s said to feed the yeast, though I know it’s not essential), some salt (a palm-measured teaspoon, never make bread without salt, whatever you do), some more flour (two cups maybe?) and some chopped up raisins.

I love raisins, but they are a bother when un-chopped-up in dough, always plopping out and being uncooperative, and any of you who have tried to chop raisins with a knife will know that that’s not easy either – they stick to the knife and get all clumpy. I used (and was reminded of the usefulness of) this handy-dandy cutter that I know they still make because you can get it at my favorite grocery store, Yoder’s.

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I put the raisins in a bowl and let the blades do the cutting work while I do the up and down work. This thing chops nuts too. You gotta love a cutter with the manufacturer’s name stamped into the top like this. There’s not even a zip code. I love it.

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Adding the raisins and then seeing the raisins and the bubbles gave my heart a leap. What can I say?

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Well then (and you see this is all under Point F, The Making of the Dough), I added more flour till there was just enough so the dough pulled away from the sides of the bowl, turned it out and kneaded it (adding flour as needed) until smooth, then covered it and left it alone to rise, suspecting that the weight of the oats would lengthen the rise-time, which turned out to be correct but I got distracted anyway and a couple hours went by.

Point G: Thankfully guests are starting to come to the cottage again, so I spent some time over there preparing things. The other thing going on and occupying time during the dough-rising is the siding on the house. It’s all well and good for the front to look nice, but the rest looks pretty crappy, so – one side at a time – this needs to be done too. On the wall that looks out over the mountains we have the obstacle of the electric box that was attached to the house in 1973 on top of the original siding, which was attached to stuff that tries to be plywood but instead (I swear) is packed sawdust. It calls itself “insulation board” and claims a value of some kind that means nothing to me.

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Look what it does when you pull it off the wall. It’s gross.

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It breaks, crumbles and collapses, which was actually quite handy as we had to get it away from the back of the electric box while said electric box is still attached to a stiff pole. This we accomplished, rendering the box free-standing on its pole, not standing straight in this picture, not attached to the wall at all, but the electric company will help with that part one of these days.

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Point H: This was a nasty job, fraught with we-are-working-around-an-electric-box worries. You get hungry doing all this stuff (and worrying), so lunch was early and included dividing the dough into 12 pieces and making knots on a baking sheet so they could rise a second time in proper, rolls-in-a-row formation.

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Point I: After lunch we got real plywood up, followed by house wrap. Somewhere in there I peeked into the oven and saw that the rolls had raised well, so I took them out to get a decent picture (plus, you don’t want to see the inside of my oven)…

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(Point J): …and put them back in and turned on the oven and set a timer, knowing I would get involved with siding and not be in the house, i.e. not able to depend on my nose to tell me they were ready. Forty minutes later they were a glorious golden brown and the house smelled like a bakery, which all by itself makes this well worth the effort.

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I broke one open to see what the texture was like (umm, yes, also had a nibble)… Oh, yum! Well worth the effort.

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Point K: By dinnertime the outside wall was looking like this, with real plywood, house wrap, some siding, and the box ready for the guy from the electric company to come and attach it properly.

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But by then I was tired and wanted an easy dinner. Earlier I’d picked some lettuce and spinach from the garden, so a good dinner to me sounded like a salad plus some of these raisin rolls plus a slice or two of ham. Raisins go with ham, right? And you know that ham I mean – the kind that comes pre-sliced, maybe ¼” thick (great stuff for adding to scrambled eggs). A little oil or butter in a hot pan gives these slices a beautiful color and adds to their flavor. Super fast, super easy, super yummy. Works for me.

Point L: I gave Sandy his dinner in two plates – salad on one and sautéed ham slices and rolls on the other. I planned to eat my dinner in discrete sections: ham, rolls with butter, salad (in that order). I gave Sandy mustard because normally he puts mustard on ham.

But no. Not this time.

Sandy put the ham slices on the raisin roll and called it the best ham sandwich! Raisins go with ham, right?! It was gone before I had a chance to document this historic event. Day Two for lunch we added thin apple slices (also his idea, bravo Sandy, full of culinary genius lately).

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Point M (as in yuMMMMMMM!): With or without the apple, these sandwiches were an unexpected pleasure from leftover oatmeal!



Covid Beard Meets Covid Bench

Everybody knows that six feet is the covid-safe distance. Stand six feet apart. Maintain six feet of open space between you and the next person. Respect the six-feet-apart marks you see on floors in stores everywhere. Though few of us have questioned this (arbitrary?) measurement, all of us henceforth will have a well-trained sense of what six feet looks like. Six feet, you say? Six feet I know.

Covid has also affected what people look like. Everybody knows (and can see) that the covid-ban of barbers and hairdressers caused men to fall into several predictable camps regarding their looks: 1. They have continued doing what they always did (rare barber visits or self-buzzing or practically nothing, with mixed results, did someone say there’s a pandemic?); 2. They’ve fretted and cajoled and somehow found someone who would cut their hair and keep them looking as if there isn’t a pandemic that changes things (appearances being ever important) ; 3. They’ve adopted a who-cares attitude and are looking rather bedraggled (you know who I mean, but what a great excuse – there’s a pandemic!); and 4. They’ve played with it. I find this last group most interesting. Hey, there’s a pandemic – what better time to see what a beard looks like?! Sandy says men are getting in touch with their inner Paul Bunyan.

Into this mix, throw my porch project. Two years ago we were ramping up to tackle the destruction of the old one, shabby and rotting and on its last legs as it was. Two years later we are putting some finishing touches on a new, expanded, roofed version. The less-than-well-detailed plan included two spaces for built-in benches, a nice idea but I had had no idea what those benches would look like (“we’ll figure it out” – my famous last words).

Guess how wide the bench spaces are. Yup, six feet. Guess what I like doing. Yup, chatting – relaxed and leisurely, in person if possible! – with nice people I know. Guess how you can safely chat with people outdoors. Yup, sit six feet apart.

Normal people would put two chairs six feet apart and sit and relax and chat and call it a day. Those are the people who have the chairs. Ummm, busy building here, didn’t get porch furniture yet. (Can I crowd-source for that?)

Ta-da! A covid-friendly bench! See what I mean? I think it should be a thing: The Covid Bench. You sit at one end, and I sit at the other, and we will be our follow-the-rules, six-feet-apart selves having a lovely chat.


Like this. And do you see what I see? Yup, that’s a Covid Beard on a Covid Bench! Far be it from Samuel to be bedraggled about it. All trimmed up he is – let us not drop our standards.

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Just try finding a bench like this on Pinterest. I looked and looked, but everyone wants to put the back on a long side, so both people have to face the same direction with worrisome thoughts along the lines of are-we-correctly-social-distancing or they have to practice awkward neck-craning with bodies facing one way and faces facing another. Putting the backs on the short sides makes perfect sense to me. We used the standard 15-degree chair-back angle, and slightly curved them for added comfort.

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The backs went on after the seemingly floating seat (well connected to the 6×6 posts, trust me) and before the outer railing, which turns out to be a great height to rest your arm (as Samuel so beautifully demonstrates) or your tea cup, which I invariably have near me unless (for obvious reasons) I am holding Coco. All to say: My covid bench invites and awaits company, whenever that may be, even if you don’t sport a covid beard!

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Weakness is the Mother of Cajoling

I come to find out that concrete work is a lot like baking. The tools are bigger, the ingredients weigh more, the vessels in which you mix this with that are strictly utilitarian and practically indestructible. No pretty bowls, no hand-carved wooden spoons, no measuring in cups or grams and gently folding ingredients together with a deft wrist action. While standing outside this week, hoe in my hand, tub at my feet and bracing myself to begin combining the contents of an 80-pound bag with the appropriate quantity of fresh water, I thought: Dry ingredients (concrete mix) in the bowl (mixing tub) first, then add liquid (water from the hose) and mix until you reach the desired consistency.

Whose hair-brained idea to build stone steps was it anyway? Oh, right, mine.

Credit where credit is due, Sandy moved most of the heavy bags. My “moving” them is not like his. He lifts and carries.

I cajole. I finagle. I wiggle the bag that’s lying flat on the porch (under cover in case of rain)


until it is separate from its compatriots and in a clear path.

I then coax it onto its side edge and gently flop it over, and over, and over. This flopping-over is more like a thudding-over, but I keep gaining ground and proceed proudly. The bag will not have power over me, will not sit there heavily, immovably, laughing at my weakness (It’s out of her league! it’s saying haughtily. Out of her league!).

When you are weak, you must be creative in the moving of heavy things. The number of flops/thuds depends on how far the bag is from the edge of the porch, i.e. how many bags were in the neat pile, and where the next victim lies in said pile.

In preparation for this careful coaxing I have strategically placed the mixing tub under the very edge of the porch (about an 18” drop). (There is no more glamorous name for this large, plastic, rectangular, masonry-trade vessel, in case you were wondering – I looked it up.) I wiggle, maneuver, jockey and ultimately outfox that haughty bag until its narrow end rests on the guillotine (over the edge of the porch I mean) by about four or five inches, awaiting its fate.  

The sharp edge of my mixing trowel slices through the skin of the neck (I mean the underside of the bag) and guts begin to spill out into my carefully placed mixing tub. Not willing to go to its rigor mortis without making a show of its doom, the powdery mix explodes in a cloud of concrete dust, coating everything in the vicinity with a layer that boldly proclaims I WAS HERE! The same teenager who fingers CLEAN ME on the rear window of a dirty van could inscribe any words anywhere on my porch. For days afterwards, indeed until you purposefully clean it off, that fine dusting stays behind, refuses to blow away like ordinary dust in the wind. No, no. This dust sticks. I WAS HERE!

It occurs to me that somehow I went from yummy home baking to gruesome public execution. What is happening to me!!?? Perhaps having been immersed this past week in Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History 48 – Prophets of Doom and having spent time admiring Sarah Silvey’s #Inktober – Something for the Connoisseurs has something to do with this? I refer specifically to Dan’s telling of the crazy medieval anarchy in the German city of Munster that led to lots of split blood and human cages hanging to this day from the steeple of the city’s church, I kid you not…


…and Sarah’s excellent drawing of Edgar Allen Poe’s coldblooded, The Cask of Amontillado protagonist using brick and mortar to wall up his victim attached to chains (behind that wall you see) in a catacomb.

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Perhaps it is not only true that Necessity is the Mother of Invention and Weakness is the Mother of Cajoling. Perhaps Immersion is the Mother of Metaphor. We are what we think. We paint mind pictures and make comparisons based on what we look at, what we listen to. We develop opinions and take positions based on what we experienced in the past combined with what we see and touch in the now. Our present thing informs the next thing in our path.

Thank God it’s raining. A good day to bake something!! The concrete, waiting for slate on top and bluestone around the base, can continue curing all by itself.

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A Wooden Pie Crust

The other day I had an idea. It fits along the lines of what architects call the “design spiral” and what I see as the way ideas evolve. That is, you have an unfinished, unsettled or ill-defined part of the building project that needs to be figured out. In my experience, light bulbs — a.k.a. ideas — don’t turn on in one click but rather come on slowly, as if someone had control of the dimmer switch. One thought leads to another and in the end there’s a solution, a point of yes-that’s-right-(finally!). All contributing factors – budget, context, history, personality, goals – have been considered and satisfied. You like it, you approve it, you move forward.

Such was the case with the wooden pie crust.

To help explain the situation, here’s a side view of the cottage. See the blue triangle? The blue triangle became a space to fill. Not on the cottage though.


You see, when Bradley was building the cottage, he made the window frames (made the window frames, that’s cherry you see, made that door too, fyi) and then called the local glass company to come and measure for the glass to go in them. The guy measured for the trapezoids wrong (it’s simple geometry, I remember Brad saying to me) and the glass didn’t fit, so the glass company ate the mistake, remeasured, and produced correct sizes. They didn’t want the first, incorrect windows, so we kept them in storage. When the time came to build my porch, I wanted to borrow some architectural elements from the cottage and decided to use these leftover trapezoids. They will flank the as-yet-undelivered center window over the bench. You see the same blue triangles.

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Since the line across the top of this set of windows is straight instead of steeply pitched like the cottage, the trim/molding around the windows either has to work around the angle of the trapezoid or stay straight. Angling the trim didn’t seem right, but if it stays straight, that would leave blank spaces (the blue triangles) that to me would look weird. What do you fill it with? Siding?

What to do in that space – that was the question.

Sandy suggested a decorative rosette. Here are some examples of rosettes one could consider. I didn’t want a flower or a circle or a tree or a fleur de lis or any of these, plus they are mostly made for square spaces, not triangular, but the ones that look interwoven gave me an idea.

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Years ago I knew a woman who had her own basket-making studio. As a homeschooling activity, several times, my children made baskets of their own under her instruction. These are the ones they didn’t claim (when they left home) and I still use frequently. There is nothing like a good basket.


Another factor that somehow came into play here is that I love to bake. When you love to bake, it is not hard to think of pie, especially in the fall when the apples are coming in. I have always loved the look of a lattice top on a pie. Yesterday I bought 40 pounds of apples at my favorite orchard, Albemarle Ciderworks, and soon will be enjoying a piece myself (to say nothing of lots of applesauce!). This image of a lattice-topped pie from shows you what I mean. King Arthur Flour also has a marvelous video that shows how a lattice crust is made.


My idea to fill the blank spaces at the tops of the trapezoid windows evolved from “something has to go in that space” to a solution that feels personal. It combines fond reflections of the baskets my children made years ago and my love of a good lattice-top pie, and it satisfies that part of me that wants something a little less pre-fab, a little more unique, not too expensive and not overly challenging.

I thought of getting ash strips, the kind you would get for basket-making, and weaving them like pie dough. Then I remembered the thin ash veneer you can get in one-inch width, and decided to play with that. It worked!

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This stuff even has a kind of glue on the backing that responds to heat, so when the time comes to adhere the triangular webs to the luan (thin) plywood pieces that Sandy cut into the same size, I will try using an iron, and will do it on a test-strip first of course! This will also serve to flatten it.

And then we will find a way – I don’t know how yet – to affix this to the wall in the empty space and trim it out with the molding. I think it can go both inside and outside as a not-too-obtrusive bit of interest. In the living room I will paint it white to match the inside moldings and on the porch use the same stain as the trimwork out there.

A year ago we started this project. I love that there’s pie as we head into the home stretch 😊!

Haints Alive!

Weird morning here. Random, unexpected, connecting dots. Or maybe they don’t connect at all. First, while still in the not-quite-awake stage, I would swear I saw headlights coming down the driveway, heard tires on the gravel, but then there was no car. Then a noisy bird outside started yakking, squawking, hollering, incessantly bird-barking (as only birds can do), clearly upset about something, some other bird stealing his food or intruding on his territory probably. Then Nancy played “HAINT” in our Wordfeud game and I didn’t know what it meant.

Ghost or evil spirit, that’s what it means.

I’m not a big believer in ominous bodings, but the headlights-that-weren’t, the raucous bird and word I looked up all did kinda point in one direction, an odd confluence. Not exactly creepy, just mildly unsettling. The temperature here is so heavenly right now I’ve got windows wide open so I can hear and see a lot of what’s going on outside. The window-that-isn’t (yet), the one in the living room, is covered with some variety of house wrap only, reused from the last time it temporarily covered a gaping hole in my house, stapled to the sheetrock on the inside and sealed off with painter’s tape. And that window (that isn’t) connected back to the haint (that probably isn’t either) because just behind me as I sit on the couch, just past the house wrap that covers the gaping hole, is the only part of the porch that has a ceiling.

Let me start over. I’ve got this nice new set of windows in the foyer that allows a full-on view of what/who is coming down the driveway. There wasn’t this much daylight when I woke up earlier, but you can see it would be pretty impossible to miss headlights coming my way in the semi-dark. Headlights are hard to mistake in the dark. Beyond that Benz on the left, that narrow strip of almost-horizontal gray, that’s the driveway.

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Okay then, no headlights. I made a pot of tea, found my spot on the couch and tried to ignore the angry bird by seeing what word Nancy had played in the wee hours when she is always up playing against the word I played the night before. HAINT got her 48 points because she played it on both the double and the triple word spots. Bravo!


I know they don’t allow contractions in this game. You can’t play DONT for DON’T so I dismissed my first instinct that HAINT was a contraction for IT AIN’T – and I know it’s not what Elvis was singing, but I heard “Haint nothin’ but a hounddog!” in my head 😊

The hyperlinking you get when you simply put a word in the google search box continues to amaze me, even after all these years when I’ve used it a gazillion times. In no time flat I had a definition and had to share it with Nancy.


She’s hilarious. We both try anything actually – the game doesn’t limit the number of times you can play with combinations and hopefully find something that works, even if you never heard of it, don’t have to know it or have known it, never have to defend the choice. Hey, we didn’t set that up, just enjoying the game!

Haint is often connected with porch ceilings, as it turns out. “Haint Blue” is a color, according to Apartment Therapy. “Once upon a time in the deep South, many people painted their porch ceilings a specific shade of Haint Blue, a soft glue-green, to ward off evil spirits called ‘haints.’ It’s especially common in the historic homes around Savannah, Georgia, and Charleston, South Carolina.”

Photographer Paige Knudsen’s blog post about her house shows this lovely example.

aug18 backporchblue page knudsen

My own porch is far from finished, nor did I or would I ever consider a ceiling of that color. It’s a bit too cold for me. Some people think its benefit has less to do with warding off haints (but if it did, okay, we’ll accept that too) and more to do with looking like the color of the sky, thereby warding off insects like wasps that might think it’s the sky the same way birds sadly crash into windows because they think it’s a continuation of the open space they are flying through. Those misguided wasps (haints if you ask me) might therefore decide to build their nests in some other place. Let’s hope.

By the way, my computer’s dictionary does not recognize “haint” as a word, keeps underlining it and wanting me to change it to “haunt” – how appropriate, hmmmm.

We just put up the plywood this past weekend on the part of the porch where the oddfellow’s bench sits just on the other side of the living room, and just got the lights in, though it’s still windowless here on account of that mysterious thing called “backorder” – did someone maybe drop the new window when they took it off the truck on the expected delivery date of Sept 9, this past Monday, after saying it was “on the truck” the night before? Out of my hands to be sure. But I hadn’t taken a photo of this ceiling yet because when the light was just right, I hadn’t thought of it. Until now, until this confluence of headlights, hollering and haints led me to Oh, this is the perfect time to take that picture – enough light but not too much.

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I have cedar in mind for the ceiling actually, repurposed old siding. Look what happened to the old siding (vertical piece on left, below) after a few runs through the planer (piece on right). That’s some gorgeous, perfectly usable wood.


Lovely cedar aside, it IS a weird morning around here! As I heard my guests preparing to leave, I got up to say good-bye, went out the front porch door and heard a crash. A piece of sheetrock, temporarily tucked back into where it was cut from the wall in the foyer to get to the wiring to make the lights on the front porch, had fallen.


To say nothing of the box spring that’s standing up in the hallway right now while I do some spackling in the front bedroom (closing in other gaping holes). Right after the piece of sheetrock fell from the wall, the box spring unsettled itself, lost its balance and fell toward the opposite hallway wall.

Haints alive!!?? What’s next?!


The Soothing Power of a Dog on a Tractor

I have mistake-on-the-brain because I made a big one this weekend. The maddening part was Shouldn’t I have seen this coming? The worst part was knowing the work I caused for other people, who themselves are doing me a favor and should not have to backtrack because I goofed and then changed my mind. The good part was that in the end it was a fairly-easily-rectifiable, not-the-end-of-the-world mistake. The best part was the dog on the tractor.

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Sandy called her “Farm Girl.” He took a break from hammering, measuring, sawing and fitting to make some amusement and roped Joe into the plan. Coco has a small brain and I expect this adventure was nothing more for her than Sure, whatever you say. I’ll sit here like a doofus, why not? I did not participate in setting this stage, but was called over when she was propped and perky and please-can-I-get-down-now? I was still, at that moment, in the throes of self-flagellation, beating myself up for not seeing the situation clearly enough in my mind to head off the mistake at the pass.

Nothing like a little silly dog to change the subject and bring a smile! Thank you, Sandy!

Come to think of it, a day or so later, the mistake itself doesn’t matter so much. It’s only a window, right? It’s only the window I’d been waiting more than eight years for (and then five weeks after ordering), the window I thought would be perfect, the window marked on my inside wall with painter’s tape and marked on my outside wall with a full-size template – both of which I had been staring at for weeks. We worked all day to get that window in. It was hot! I wanted to LOVE it!

But I didn’t. It just looked wrong. Too small. How can it look so small? But it was too small. I was up half the night trying to figure out how to make it right, but I knew – though I hated to say it – that the new window had to come out.

Out it came first thing next day. Not a super big deal in the end and thank God for the reverse function on the screw gun, but I internally fussed: Whatever made me think a small window there would be the right window there?

A fishbowl. Now I see. It all comes down to a fishbowl. Here is my five-seconds-or-less Pictionary drawing of one.


The house I live in is out in the country at the far end of a gravel road. The only other house you can see from it is my own cottage. But my living room did not come with a front window at eye level. The funky 70s triangular window way up high, now removed, did let in light and did sometimes blind anyone sitting in the middle of the room, depending on the sun’s angle, but no one is that tall. I have never been able to look out and see from this room. Likewise, no one has ever been able to look in and see.

Hence, I have never had to worry about being the fish in the fishbowl! Eeks! Adding a window to that wall is a gigantic leap. Nothing partial. No middle ground. No gradually-getting-used-to-this-new-situation. I will go from being unseen and unable-to-be-seen to potentially being seen in one fell swoop! (Whether there is anything interesting to see is another conversation.). Dare I? Do people do this?

My mother is to blame on this one and she knows it – at their house in the woods on four acres she always pulled the blinds at night because “a bear might see me.” No kidding. (I wish I had Sarah’s drawing skills and could draw a bear looking into a window! Her Happy Friday and Purple chinchilla drawings are among my favorites.)

But here I was with a new (small) window with real glass at eye level. How did I think the size would make a difference? Maybe I thought that if it were small it wouldn’t matter? That people would say to themselves Here is a woman who clearly does not want to be looked in upon (otherwise she would put in a big honkin’ window!) – cease and desist! How did I not realize that window glass is window glass and see-through-able regardless? To this point Joe said casually at dinner, “You get something to cover the window for when you need that, a curtain or a shutter or something.”

I do know about curtains and shutters, what they do, how they work, why people use them. Why did it take this simple statement to make me realize that if you can cover a small window, you can cover a big one!

Ah, well, funny creatures, we humans. Fickle sometimes. Not overly able to visualize upcoming realities sometimes. Dense, you say? Thick? Fuzzy? Obtuse perhaps? Lackwitted? Slackminded? Featherheaded? Airheaded? Bubbleheaded? Blockheaded? Myopic? Cabbageheaded? Chowderbrained? Hebetudinous? Out to lunch? Three bricks shy of a load? (Gotta love a good thesaurus!)

Guilty as charged! But a new window is coming – a honkin’ big window! – picked it out and framed up the rough opening already. It will be better!

The Truth Window

What if we all had a window that people could look into? I don’t mean a window in our house, I mean in ourselves. What if that window revealed the truth about what’s really inside, the parts we generally don’t want anyone to see – our hearts, our motivations, our secrets, our fears, our housekeeping, our habits. Would we frame that window, call attention to it, put it front and center where everyone could see?

Lincoln’s truth window got me thinking about this. He is building a house with walls of straw – straw bales to be exact…

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…which is very cool.* Only of course you don’t leave it like this. Once you’ve stuffed every last chink as best as you can, you apply a kind of pasty goo that hardens and forms into what you might call plaster on the inside, stucco on the outside. Over that you apply whatever weather-proofing or decorative sealant you want – some kind of paint – and ta-da (!) you have a solid wall filled with straw and no one is the wiser unless you tell them.

Or unless you are Lincoln and you add a truth window.

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For all the world to see, no lie, no cap, even once he’s smoothed it out, cleaned up the errant splotches, added the sills and moldings and painted on whatever color they choose – it’s plain as day there’s straw behind those walls.

Lincoln’s window isn’t “the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth” because there’s wood inside those walls too, and standard fiberglass insulation in parts of the house where straw bales didn’t make sense. But it’s a window into the truth. I’ve wondered if sometimes, maybe a lot of times, that’s enough.

I had to write a lengthy report recently. In it, twice, I decided to include bits of information that I could have easily left out, that some might have suggested were irrelevant or best left out. One bit possibly cast some light on a person’s motivation and the other balanced out an otherwise damaging image. I decided it was not up to me whether those bits were relevant or not, but I would leave it to the reader to weigh and discern.

I included those two little windows of truth because to me, without them, the picture is not quite as accurate. Nonetheless, they are just two bits, two little bits in a sea of other bits, any of which may or may not also be relevant. Can I know what matters? Can I know what helps? Sometimes yes, but often not.

Everyone knows there are fuzzy distinctions among the alternately appropriate practices of

Same as I decide what food to put in my mouth, what clothes to wear, what dog I like, I decide what to say, what to do, how to say it, how to do it and what to keep quiet about. I can’t know what the interpretation or the reaction will be, but I reveal the straw in my wall with all those things I do or say or don’t. I reveal my worries, my flaws, my junk, my fluff.

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Look at Lincoln’s truth window again. It’s not pretty. The straw they use to make those bales is a waste product, the leftover stalks after they’ve harvested the edible grain, staks that are sometimes a pain for farmers to get rid of. But here it is – real and useful and strong.

Just as I hope I am – at least sometimes.


*For anyone who’s wondering, properly constructed walls made from straw bales have an insulating value of R-30 to R-35 and are more flame-retardant than wood construction – this is because the bales are dense and tens to smolder when the ignition source is removed.

Bouldering? Really?

The things we do can be divided into four categories:

  1. We did the thing and we’re glad it’s over. High school comes to mind. Potty training. Ill-fated relationships. Recipes that bombed. Escapes from terrible danger. Costly mistakes. Profound embarrassment.
  2. We did the thing and would love to do it again. We maybe even do it again, or do it over and over again. Being on a grand adventure with someone wonderful. Making a new friend. Spending time with an old friend. Listening to favorite music. Reading masterfully written words. Creating something to be proud of in the kitchen or workshop or garden or studio. Reaching a physical or athletic goal. Making someone smile.
  3. We never did it and would like to. We all have a bucket list, even if we don’t call it that. A place to go, a food to try, a goal to reach, a person to meet, a book to read, a concert to attend, a wound to mend, a house to build, a difference to make.
  4. We never did it and we have no interest, desire or compulsion. This is the category that interests me today. For everyone, just as there is a wish-list, there’s also a no-wish-list. Just as there’s a magnetic attraction to some things, there’s a repelling with others. Just as some things call our name, others appeal to us in no way, shape or form.

Like Mom with superhero movies. I say Mom, really, the characters are interesting – some are even well developed. The graphics are amazing, the story lines engaging/ hilarious/ thrilling, the settings larger than life. She says Nope.

Like Samuel with building stuff. I say, Samuel, really, the sense of accomplishment you feel from making this precise cut and watching the board fit perfectly next to the one before it – it’s great! He says I’m going for a run.

Like Lynn with a good movie. She says I’m going to bed.

Like Fred with blogging about golf. He says Writing’s not that fun for me. I’d rather just play.

Like me with climbing, a.k.a. bouldering. Samuel loves it. Lincoln loves it. Julia loves it. Rise loves it. Even Eppie, who’s not quite big enough, loves it.

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I’m happy to watch – I loved watching them! How are they all that strong?!

But I don’t get the thrill. I’m not interested. It doesn’t jazz me. I need to remember this the next time I try to convince Mom to watch the latest Spiderman, or the next time I imagine Samuel is helping because he wants to, or the next time I suggest a movie to Lynn or tout all the blogging benefits to Fred.

Yes, yes, the beat of their own drummer, all that. However, I also need to remember that when I was younger, I didn’t help my mom in the garden. Now I wish I had – I would have learned a lot that would help me in my own garden! This photo is from last year – the strawberries weren’t anywhere near as good as these this year. Help!

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Not very long ago, I didn’t get anywhere near power equipment, which would include any shop tool that was plugged in. Mainly I made food and acted as gopher for those who were building anything involving lumber. Now I use the chop saw and the drills/drivers on a regular basis and I can usually get the nail hammered in with fewer than 20 hits! (And wow! We’ve come so far on the porch since June 4!)


I didn’t like small dogs. Now I smile big when I look at Coco! Ridiculous dog!



I won’t use names here, but you know who you are — you who didn’t used to eat Mexican food, you who made naan bread recently because of your success making pizza, you who wore a sundress and a big funny hat to a Derby party — y’all did things this year that you’ve never done before. Bravo! Who else braved the newness of a thing? Who else pushed the envelope? You know you feel good about it! 🙂

I can’t imagine being interested in bouldering, but down the road, hey, you never know… And even if I never climb those walls, that’s okay. I’ll do something else!

Sixty-Four and One-Quarter

Sometimes, when we have no clue how to do a thing or no clue how it works, we pass it by.

Eh. There it is.

It’s just a thing. We don’t and can’t appreciate what goes into it or what went into it.

Phones come to mind. The electronic inner workings and technological wonders of smartphones aside, even pre-smartphones were a thing we just used. There was no need to understand them – what components were assembled in what manner to produce a device that allowed me to talk to Claudia on the other side of the big pond. We just talked on the phone when we could – and it was wonderful! (Even if it cost a dollar a minute back then!)

Maybe it’s when you have the tiniest bit of know-how or even curiosity that appreciation begins. Maybe the more you know and the more your knowledge grows over time, the more you look in awe at those who have mastered a craft or a skill. The more I learn about bread (and we have been experimenting with a bread that beats anything I’ve ever made!) the more I marvel at bakers. The more time I spend in the garden, the more I admire those who make plants grow beautifully and productively. And the more I measure, cut, level, plumb, square, hold, hammer and saw, the more I stand in awe of builders.

Lincoln comes to mind. On a recent visit, he gifted me with some of his time and expertise. We are putting a roof over the new front porch and, well, most people are fairly clueless about how to do this, myself included. I caught him staring at it on the first day. Can you see his wheels turning?

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Sandy and Joe and Samuel and I had poured the footers and put the posts up (hopefully placed correctly because there would be no moving them!) and laid enough decking boards to be able to stand on.

This is the front view of what it looked like just before he started.


And here’s beautiful Willow (and another angle) the day they arrived. The siding is still up, the old, upper, single-pane triangular windows still in, even the gutter and fascia boards still attached.

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First Lincoln pulled down the fascia board that had hung over the old porch and took out the old windows…

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…then he secured the first horizontal 6×6 connecting the house to the new porch. If you look carefully you can see him staring again. All that staring is not for nothing.

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At one point he took a break for a Coco-hug, and Eppie and Sandy looked on, so I snapped a photo showing some siding down, windows out (and just sheetrock on the inside), roof rafters in over the old porch and some upper horizontals secured in their notched places.

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Within a day or so, all of the upper horizontals were secured and plywood covered the old window openings.

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I thought it a lovely (if sun-splotched) image: the framework framing cutie-pie Rise and Eppie dancing/posing on their last day here. Maybe it’s just lovely to me because I love these girls so much!

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But I still didn’t see the thing that made me gasp in awe a couple weeks later. Sandy and I kept going after Lincoln left. I laid the rest of the decking boards with some help from Joe and removed the remaining siding and got myself a shiner in the process! (Damn cat’s paw tool came back at me just a bit too fast…)

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Sandy finished the roof over the old porch, prepped/shored up all the soffit boxes and mounted the ledger board and angled (principle?) rafters for the front roof (they attach to the house). We used house wrap as a moisture barrier (not that it had any under that old cedar siding for the last 45 years, but hey, moving forward in a better way…) and tidied up a bit. I began laying out possibilities for half-round steps to soften all these straight lines everywhere.

Just prior to beginning the forward-pointing front roof rafters, Sandy and I were staring at the house from a ways back. In particular, we were checking to make sure that everything (ignoring the windows that will go away) looked centered and correct. We were doing the every-now-and-then long view, an ostensibly purposeful way to pause when it is hot and you need to do something else.

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My eye caught the place where the two outer horizontal boards meet in the center. It might be hard to see, but trust me, there’s a line there.

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Up a little closer now. See?

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That horizontal “board” (singular) is actually two boards (plural) “married” to each other, double thickness for strength (in case you were wondering how two boards could just meet end-to-end like that). The outer one consists of two boards meeting end-to-end in the middle; the inner one spans the joint.

“Just curious,” I said to Sandy. “Is that the exact middle of that span?” I had to measure.

What do you think? Yup! From where the two outer boards join together, moving left to the next post, is 64 ¼” and from where the two boards join together, moving right to the next post, is 64 ¼”. Both lengths are sixty-four and one-quarter inches. Exactly.

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And NOT ONLY THAT. We took a level, laid it across to the ledger board that’s secured against the house behind the horizontal married board(s) (and it was level of course, which is part of why you can’t see it at all), squared it up to the house, made a mark, squared that up vertically toward the peak of the roof and made a line. See that thin vertical line? Lo and behold, dead on! Perfectly centered. Perfectly vertical. Perfectly square.

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Maybe this is normal. Maybe it’s just what builders do and maybe they are equally astounded when perfect bread comes out of the oven. I allow for that. But I applaud Lincoln! You don’t learn how to do this overnight. You don’t reach this skill level without putting in a lot of hours, making some mistakes, figuring out how to do it right the first time or how to fix it when you mess up. I am sooooo impressed!

On Saturday Lincoln sent me a photo. “One year ago today,” was all the caption said. A year ago he had just started building his pentagonal, straw bale house in Vermont. From the pile of dirt he was standing on, this is what he saw on July 6, 2018.

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On the same date in 2019, from the same angle, a house stands, a house he built almost single-handedly. It’s not finished because of the many unconventionalities they wanted to incorporate – e.g. most people put up regular siding and a composite shingle roof, and Lincoln has yet to “mud” the outside of the bales and skin the roof with diamond-shaped metal shingles, to say nothing of building his own windows – but they are happily living in it.

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I never have been (and never will be) the Queen of Exactitude when it comes to cooking but my, oh my, you don’t build porch roofs or pentagonal houses or anything else without respect for numbers and the knowledge of how to use them.  To Sandy, to Ernie, to Joe, to Bradley, to Billy, to Mark and in this case to Lincoln especially – to all you guys who build things – WOW! You have my eternal admiration!

Something About This Drill Just Didn’t Seem Right

I don’t pretend to know much of anything about building, yet here we are digging holes, mixing concrete, pouring footers, adding flashing, securing ledger boards, affixing joist hangers, checking measurements and making sure everything is square/level/plumb. I’ve been shown certain things like how to make sure an area is square (the two diagonal distances should be exactly the same length) and how to put a new tip on my handy-dandy, battery-powered (and therefore cordless) drill/screwdriver.

It used to be there were two kinds of screwheads/screwdrivers: Philips (like a cross) and regular (straight). Now there are endless varieties of star and polygon shapes, and all different sizes of those, so you need boxes of bits. Maybe they are called bits and not tips, I can’t remember. Maybe bit is for the drill and tip is for the one that fits into the top of a screw?

This is my great, lightweight and powerful drill/screwdriver. Clearly I am not sure if it is called a drill or a screwdriver, or both. It does both. Does it need to be called both? But the bigger question is: Whatever did they do in the old days without these things?! It’s fantastic!


Some of you are laughing at this picture of the drill already, I can tell.

How we got to this stage in the process is simple: The project that would result in a new front porch, or what you could call an extended front porch (extended off the porch we replaced last year), has been sitting all winter – well, almost all spring too – and I was getting tired of walking through a construction site to get to my front door. The plastic sheeting that has been covering what used to be front lawn was getting to me especially. I was chomping at the bit (not the screwdriver bit!) to make some progress. My son Bradley had had an idea that changed the porch layout design, adding some built-in benches under the soffit (I now know what a soffit is!). Yes, benches under the part where the roof overhangs. This meant more postholes, more footers, more work. But hey, benches!

If there’s one thing I can do, it’s dig. This past weekend I effectively ignored the nagging pain in my right shoulder and by golly, dug holes! You have to dig them right – to the right depth and in the right place. I speak as one who has re-dug holes too many times, including some of these, which comes of not having a very specific plan, but that is another conversation.

Holes. We have holes.


Into the holes we poured cement (is it cement or concrete? – that point is always confusing). Then we put a box on top, a box made of pressboard which is the wooden equivalent of salami – a whole lot of very small pieces all squished together to form a solid. This is what a box looks like up close, with the cement/concrete inside and a thing on top of it called a saddle, or at least that’s what we call it. A gigantic 6×6” post will fit into each saddle.

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The box is there to contain the wet concrete/cement until it sets, i.e. is dry enough to hold its shape and stand on its own. Here are the rest of the footers still with their boxes.

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Once the concrete/cement is set, you have to remove the box. To build the boxes, Sandy used very thin screws that have a weird star-shaped hole in the top. The morning after we had poured the concrete/cement, I found the weird star-shaped tip to put in the drill to unscrew the boxes, and I got it in. I wanted to free those boxes — we had framing to build!

Once you get the boxes apart to this point they just lift off, easy-peasy. I can dig, and I can take boxes apart!



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See how nice it looks when all the footers are box-free? By the time Sandy came over, I had the whole lot of them unsheathed like this.

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He was happy and I was happy because now we could move forward with framing. Then he looked at my tool and laughed. Do you see the little tip sticking out?


“Why didn’t you put the extender in?” he asked. Extender? The tip was sticking out enough for me to unscrew those boxes, but you know, something about it just hadn’t seemed right to me…