Thursday, January 2, 2014

Domestic Daze

Yesterday was the first day of the rest of my life. It was also the first day of 2014. A year ago it was cold (high of 21 and low of 5). Well, yesterday was cold also (high of 28; low of 1) I know, it's the first week of January in the Midwest: it's supposed to be cold. But things are also different this year.

Twelve months ago my marriage was foundering; today Ma'ikwe and I are doing well. Last year home was Sandhill, now I'm auditioning Moon Lodge for that role (although hardly the only advantage, it's highly attractive sleeping curled with my wife every night when it's so ding dong freezing outdoors and our house is suboptimal when it comes to heating—Moon Lodge doesn't have its radiant floor hydronics operational yet and our brave little wood stove can only crank out so many BTUs).

As Ma'ikwe and I have been continuing our abstemious regimen (at the request of our therapist for the duration of our time in couples counseling), we forewent Tuesday night's raucous New Year's party—which featured celebratory imbibing as well as head banging music—and retired to our warm, dry, and acoustically secure bed at the temperate hour of 10 pm. The reward was an early start to January with clear heads.

Excepting a little noodling around with email over morning coffee (a virtual communication ritual I virtually never forego), I chose to follow the lead of the US Postal Service and treat Jan 1 as a holiday, and gave a cold shoulder (easily accomplished in this weather) to the call of my laptop—which would happily claim every waking moment if I let it.

Instead, I gave my attention to domestic affairs, even while Ma'ike conducted a brace of planning sessions and attended a collage ritual (don't ask).

Forthwith is my report as the Home Secretary of the day in our little homesteading house on the prairie:

Chopping Wood
o  Fortified with caffeine, I gathered up the gas-powered chainsaw that I had borrowed from Sandhill, plus bar oil, a container of fuel mix, and the chain sharpening thingamajigger, and headed for our two-year-old woodpile (we also have a one-year-old pile that will get my attention in the weeks ahead, but it's prudent to burn wood on the FIFO inventory system). Moon Lodge owns an electric chain saw, but it's currently incapacitated with a stripped plastic drive gear—how does anyone sell, with a clear conscience, a chainsaw with a plastic drive gear? What were they thinking?

It was a perfect day for this work:
—The temperature hovered around 20 degrees, which means the ground was frozen (no mud), and the cold was counterbalanced by the vigorous nature of the work. 
—We were starting to get orange-alert low on the wood supply that was split and stacked in our greenhouse/front porch, which means this needed to happen soon.
—The thaws from last week meant that there was no snow or ice on the wood (which makes a big difference in maintaining chain sharpness), and snow was predicted for later that day—so we were racing the weather.

Back in mid-December I had split all the wood that I could (in the manner of the woodchuck) that had been cut into stove length segments before winter descended. That meant I had accumulated all manner of knotty chunks that were still too large for the wood stove to eat. Thus, my morning started by setting up a couple of work stations atop wooden stumps that I could use to position those pieces for sectioning. The stumps served two purposes: a) raising the work to a more comfortable height; and b) keeping the work off the ground where I might inadvertently dip the nose of the saw into the frozen dirt, dulling the chain in a blink. I set up two stations so that I could rip two knotty chunks in one running of the saw, often cutting only 80-90% of the way through, leaving the last bit to be split by hand. Then I could finish off both pieces with the wood maul, toss them into the done pile (ready for hauling to the greenhouse), reload new chunks on the stumps, and go again. I got a nice rhythm going. 

In addition to unknotting (the denouement of wood splitting), I also made a serious dent in sectioning the remaining logs into stove-length drums, all of which I subsequently split. I got far enough along that I think I can complete cutting up the 2011 vintage pile in one more serious half day.

Meanwhile, Jibran and Ma'ikwe each took a turn coming over with a garden cart and hauling away the ready-to-burn pieces. Altogether, we invested about six person hours in the work, yielding: a) at least three weeks of firewood; b) a family bonding experience; and c) a much neater yard. The first snow flakes started falling as we unloaded the last cartload of wood. Very satisfying.

The Karma Yoga of Dishes 
After a brief respite near the wood stove—to release the knots that had accumulated in my back and shoulders after hours of releasing knots in the wood—it was time to handle the dishes, which has become one of my specialties among the three Moon Lodge residents. (I'm not counting the cat, who can do a fair job of cleaning the oil out of a tuna tin, but isn't for shit with a scrubby). We divvy up the regular maintenance tasks, and both Ma'ikwe and Jibran are content with my handling the dishes. In return, Ma'ikwe does most of the cooking and Jibran hauls drinking water.   

Is there anything more universally symbolic of domestic routine than doing dishes? Because Moon Lodge does not yet have running water (Ma'ikwe likes to tell say that we have "walking water," because we have to traipse to the Common House to get it—excepting when we're clever enough to capture snowmelt from the downspouts), we tend to be parsimonious about water usage. That translates into letting the dishes accumulate for a few days and doing them in batches.

Yesterday it was time. The first thing I do is place the plastic container of dish soap (which is supposed to be a liquid) in the open pot of water we keep on top of the wood stove to humidify the air. The soap tends to congeal in the dispenser (our kitchen is on the north side of the house; a blessing in July, but not so hot, so to speak, in January) and the hot water turns it from an opaque gel into something clear that can be squeezed out of the bottle. Then I scoop pitcherfuls of hot water out of a five-gallon graniteware pot (that we also keep on top of the wood stove, just for this purpose) and fill two containers at the sink: one for soapy water and one for rinse water.

Starting with the utensils, glasses, and cups, I work my way through the bowl and plates, eventually getting to the pots and pans. It is highly gratifying to see clean order emerge from the dirty chaos.

Hauling Water
But that's only part of the routine. In addition to not having running water, we don't have draining water either. Thus, we collect the waste water in a five-gallon bucket that then needs to be emptied outdoors, followed by reloading the graniteware pot on the stove with cold water to start the cycle for the next round of dishes—probably sometime Saturday.

Boxing Day
Although Boxing Day was officially last Thursday, my last bit of domestic focus was devoted to moving boxes and books away from the north wall of the guest room, so that our neighbor, Bear, could install three more shelves—all requiring a ladder to access—to accommodate all of the books schlepped over to Moon Lodge when I began emptying my Sandhill bedroom Thanksgiving Weekend.

While I still have more books to extract from my old bedroom, it's a milestone to have at least unpacked all the boxes already brought over. (It's also a good idea to remind myself every decade or so what in the little jimmy dickens I actually own.)

Thus did I ring in the New Year, by wringing out knots, dish rags, and books on the floor.

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