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Sunday, April 29, 2012

Season of the Tick


Cool weather, no wind, a good day for burning the big slash pile down near the double row of peonies near Anna Spring. I threw a propane torch, gel starters, and a rake into the ATV trailer and drove up the gravel road past the barn, and down to the spring. A few old pine needles, small twigs, and a gel pack, and up it went, slowly, tentatively, but it caught. When I was sure the pile would keep going without my close attention, I drove the trailer over to a smaller pile, in a wetter spot, that just wouldn't burn. So I disassembled it until there was just a large lump of old dirt and ashes and hauled the wood over to the burning pile. Maneuvering stray branches tot he middle of the pile, I let it burn down to embers. Another two burn piles cleared up; two to go.
I finished just in time for Karen and me to to see our building contractor. Time to finalize the design, finalize the color selection, and fork over 40 percent of the construction cost. After all, excavation of the foundation, electrical trench and septic system is set for Thursday and Friday. The building permit's been approved by the country, so the foundation will be ready to pour soon thereafter. Looking at the construction Gantt chart, we should be in the house by September. I felt a bit odd coming back down from the burn pile, but had a Glucerna bar and folded myself into the driver seat for the drive to Rathdrum. On Idaho Rd., I pulled into the left lane to avoid a jogger coming at us, when a pug ran into the road. I slammed on my brakes, but still hit the dog, which got up and ran off. As I recovered from the shock, Karen went to the house where the pug had run from, and the owners jogged down the road after the dog. We went on, and I started feeling poorly. Damn, it was nearly a year since the last time I was in the hospital, but after trying to shake a headache and a 92-degree temperature, Karen bundled me into the passenger seat and we drove off toward Kootenai Medical Center in Coeur d'Alene, stopping four times for me to hurl. Into the emergency room and an IV with sodium chloride. After a couple of hours I was fine, came home, and took a long nap. Chicken soup for supper, and an early bed. 
Late at night, waking for a call to nature, I got up and felt a soft lump under my right armpit. It was a wood tick. Since I'd showered before bed, I'm going to attribute it to one of the four cats sleeping with us on the bed. I covered it in a paper tissue shroud and gave it a burial at sea from the deck of the great ship American Standard. Back to bed and a 7 a.m. wake-up for me, a lot later than usual. 
Feeling great this morning, so after lunch, it's back up to the hills, burning the penultimate slash pile near the bridge I'd built last summer. 

We All Scream for Ice Cream

A couple of days ago, a Facebook friend, a fellow cyclist, wrote that she'd just finished 340 in a few days and would be spending the next 7 eating as much ice cream as she wanted. It got me to thinking about ice cream past, present, and future.


When I was a kid in Trenton, New Jersey, on hot summer nights, the whole family would walk up Greenwood Ave. past the Carvel soft-serve up toward the small ice cream parlor near the Greenwood Theater. My grandparents, parents, sister, and me. I'd usually go for a vanilla sundae with wet walnuts and hot fudge, all presented in a tall, fluted glass, with a flopped-over lip. Afterward, we'd walk home past the smells of honeysuckle and mulberry and flashes of lightning bugs toward the corner on which we lived, flanked on three sides by gas stations.


I didn't eat much ice cream as a singleton, but I married a woman with a taste for butter pecan, and so we indulged in that for a while, occasionally hitting Baskin-Robbins for a few of their 31 flavors when we lived in Laramie.


Stephen Colbert made his big announcement shortly after we moved to Idaho: Ben & Jerry had just created "Stephen Colbert's Americone Dream," vanilla ice cream with fudge-covered waffle cone pieces and a caramel swirl. De-lish. We also discovered Blue Bunny's "Bunny Tracks." Use your imagination.


Then, a bit more than two years ago, a highly skilled surgeon sliced out my pancreas, and I became an instant Type 1 diabetic. Goodbye sugar; farewell Ben & Jerry; hop away Blue Bunny. Fortunately, Dreyer's makes several varieties of no-sugar-added, including French vanilla, butter pecan, and fudge swirl. Pretty good, but not Americone Dream. So Ben - and you too Jerry - open up a big bag of Splenda and get creative. Name something after Charles Barkeley or Dan Marion, and use weight loss for a symbolic sugar-free ice cream. Or, maybe, Jay Cutler (Go Bears) for our diabetic crowd.


Get with it, Pepperidge Farm. Oreo puts out a pretty good sugar-free cookie, but who wouldn't want a sugar-free Chesapeake or Nantucket. Just sayin'. 

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Tractor Time

And, the construction driveway is done, thanks to friend and neighbor Leon Hardy who swung by Saturday morning with his New Holland to spread the gravel Spokane Rock Products dumped last week.

With a few days of sun and the ground drying out some, we're hoping for a start soon on foundation, electrical, and septic excavation. We're also anticipating finalization of our construction loan; how long does an appraisal take?

Friday, April 20, 2012

Hoya Saxa

Wednesday was a really busy day for house-building preparation. Kootenai Electric Cooperative swung by early, about 7:15 a.m., to disconnect our electricity so Spokane Rock Products' dump trucks could bring in 29 tons of gravel to strengthen the culvert over Cable Creek and build a sweeping connector from the county road to our driveway, skirting three large sentinel trees flanking the head of the drive. I was surprised that the process of disconnecting power was so quick and easy - no more than 15 minutes. Since I had no notion of how long the power would be off, I'd packed some freezer packs around my insulin in the refrigerator. Three hours later, my meds were still cold, and the food was still safe to eat.


The gravel dump was scheduled for 8 a.m. At 7:30, our construction manager came out to emplace a Stratford building sign at the head of our driveway. At first glance,  a neighbor could have confused it for a realtor's sign, but it includes our construction address. 


Spokane Rock Products arrived a bit before 8 with a dump truck and trailer, one filled with 5/8" gravel and a trailer with 1 1/4" stone. With the electric power line down, the dump truck was able to raise its bed and spill its load on the culvert - 10" deep, 12 feet on either side of the culvert's center line. Then, as the gravel supervisor, our construction manager, and I worked with shovels and rakes to spread the gravel on the culvert, the dump truck went out to the county road to load up more gravel for the sweeping connector. Seventeen tons was not enough, so he went back to the pit in nearby Pleasentview to pick up another 52 tons to build up the connector. To appropriate the Georgetown University cheer, Hoya Saxa - What Rocks!


While the gravel was being dumped, out friend and neighbor, Leon Hardy, pulled up and offered to bring his tractor down Saturday morning to spread out the gravel in the connector. More friends with tractors. You've got to love it.


Power reconnected, a hot cup of tea went down well.


Next up - excavation. Stay tuned.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Friends With Tractors


It's been a busy couple of days here in Shenanigan Valley, getting ready for the excavation work on our new house. I already blogged about the easy process of getting the foundation staked on Thursday morning. That afternoon, I met with a sales rep from Spokane Rock Products about delivering gravel to strengthen the culvert over Cable Creek and building up a ramp from the county road to our driveway, bypassing the sentinel pine trees guarding the driveway entrance. Next Wednesday morning, a dump truck and trailer will deliver and spread 24 tons of gravel, half on the culvert (5/8" for those of you deeply into grades of gravel) and half off the county road to the driveway (1 1/4"). But, before the dump truck can do its thing - dumping - Kootenai Electric Cooperative, our service provider, will have to disconnect the power line from the county road to the house, since it hangs right over the length of the driveway, too low for the truck to raise its dump bed. After the dump, they'll reconnect the power, all at no cost. The big cost of providing power to our building site (about $11,400) is a bit further down the process.

This afternoon, our good friend and neighbor Dave Pielaet came over with his old Ford tractor to finish the prep work for the gravel delivery. He hooked a logging chain to the front-end loader and pulled out the old gate posts, from which I'd already chain-sawed the gates. Then, using the rear-mounted blade, he leveled the berm that had built up between the county road and our property from years of road grading, providing a smooth entry way for the gravel truck and, within a couple of weeks, a backhoe and concrete pumper. It's good to have friends with tractors.


Thursday, April 12, 2012

Staking the Foundation

When Karen and I decided to build a new home on our Idaho property, she knew just where she wanted to build - on a high point among the trees, where the sun rises early and sets late, where we would have good views of our land and of the surrounding valley. Every time we walked up to that site, we tried to imagine how we'd position the house, moving it west, south or east in our minds, envisioning how close it would be to the well we'd already had dug, worrying about how many trees we'd have to cut. It was all educated guesswork.

Today, Stratford's building site manager, Scott Dawson, and his assistant, Star, came up to stake out the house site. "Don't worry," Scott said. "We can move the stakes as often as you want." Armed with our construction drawings, Karen and I started with the north-south orientation we'd talked about in our walks up the hill. Scott and Star drove in the corner stakes, then staked out the garage and the front porch. Then, they ran orange twine around the stakes so we could see (not literally) the views from the windows and porch; how close we'd be to the existing driveway; and the proximity to the well head. The first time was a charm. Everything was just as we wanted, including access from the extended driveway to the garage door. Only one small tree will have to be removed during construction.

With the stakes and string in place, we can "see" the house every time we walk up to the site - but not for long. The winter road weight restrictions have been lifted, and work on the foundation could begin as soon as two weeks from now.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Prepping for the Foundation

Today was a day for house prep. Early this morning, I drove into Spokane to order a fireplace for the new house. R&R Heating & Air Conditioning will order and install a Heat & Glo double-sided fireplace that will service the family room and Karen's writing studio. It'll be a great room for her to continue work on her third novel.

After lunch, I started dismantling the pole and barbed wire fence that Karen's father installed more than 50 years ago. It runs along the county road and up the north side of our driveway. The placement of two large pine trees on either side of the head of the driveway, one of which you can see over my left shoulder, makes for a tight, 90-degree turn from the county road. Since the concrete pumper and construction crane can't make that turn, I'm dismantling the fence and driveway gate to give the trucks a more sweeping turn from the county road to the driveway and across the culvert over Cable Creek (the culvert will be internally reinforced through the heavy construction phase). I got the first load of fence detritus to the landfill late this afternoon. I expect to finish the demolition and disposal tomorrow. Then, when the house is built and the construction equipment is off our land, we'll rebuild the fence, but we won't replace the gate.

Gates in the country act as a psychological as well as a physical barrier. Last week, some neighbors stopped by on their ATV to visit and drop off some of their homemade honey and locally produced eggs. We weren't home, so they left their gifts on our porch. I called to thank them, and said I'd be up to visit later in the week. They have an electronic gate across their driveway, and on the two occasions I stopped by, the gate was closed. A closed gate means either they were not home or were not accepting visitors. So, no gate.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

It's a Plan - Finally!

The weather finally turned dry for a few days, and this morning I was able to burn a slash pile that had resisted lighting up several times this winter. This was the pile that last fall had sheltered an underground nest of yellowjackets that stung the hell out of me while I was building the pile. With any luck, I finally got them.

After a quick clean-up, it was off to Rathdrum to meet with our builder and sign-off on the final iteration of our house plans. We'd been working with Stratford Home Center since September to get the plans just right, from concept, through site visit, through three formal design phases, to engineering drawings. Now, the plans are done and ready to go to the state of Idaho for compliance approval. Earlier this week, I wasn't sure we were going to get to this point.

On Wednesday, when I called our builder to find out the status of our project, he told me that his office had been burgled the previous day. The thieves stole large-screen TVs and artwork from the adjacent model home and computers, thumb drives, and other electronics and equipment from the design/sales office. The theft was quite a shock to our designer and his assistant, and he lost the early design work for several of his projects. We were lucky; our design was finished and in the main office computers.

We'd seen the final plans in pdf format (tough on the eyes), but today we saw the full-size CAD drawings. Everything was right and tight. We eagerly signed off on the plans and the change orders that finished off the plans. Next week, the job site manager will stop by and survey our building site to align the house axis precisely. Then, if the weather cooperates, we start excavation on the foundation, septic system, and electrical trench. Here we go!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Re-learning to Ride

The old saying goes, you never forget how to ride a bike. Not entirely true. With March bringing the most rain for the month in recorded history, and with the earlier winter being nearly as wet, I'd only been out for one ride this calendar year. That's a far cry from the cold, dry, sunny winters I'd been used to in Laramie.

Yesterday was partly sunny for a change (at least when I started my ride), but cold at 37 degrees, and breezy. I was riding with a new training partner to whom I'd been introduced by someone I met at last week's Tour de Cure reception in Spokane. We rode 35-miles round trip from Spokane Bridge on the state line to downtown Coeur d'Alene. In accordance with my diabetes exercise plan, I turned down the basal rate on my insulin pump to 50 percent, and ate about 20 grams of carbohydrates every 30 minutes, supplemented by half-strength Gatorade. My blood glucose level was fine at the end of my ride, and I was surprised how good my legs felt so early in the season. But I was disconcerted by my bike handling - until I remembered it was like that at the beginning of every new season.

Riding a bike is easy. You get on, you pedal. Gyroscopic forces keep you upright. But a big part of efficient, safe cycling is muscle memory, and this winter my muscles again forgot the easy spin of the pedals that keep the bike moving in a straight line; the small, gradual leans that handle the curves smoothly; the tiny counter-pressures that keep you from lurching out of control when turning to talk with a training partner or looking behind. During most of the ride, it seemed as if my muscles had developed Alzheimer's during the winter. I'm going to have to get in more miles and smooth out my riding style, rebuilding my muscle memory before riding the May 20 Tour de Cure, which already has registered nearly 100 riders. The last thing I want to do is bring down half the peloton.