And the road goes on forever...

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Building a House, a Piece at a Time

Marc is back again, and things have been very busy for me. I helped at the shelter recently for the photo shoot of pets with Santa, stuffed envelopes for a 9000-piece mailout, and just finished a run of early shifts at the bakery involving the Christmas rush, which had me arising at 3 a.m. for a week. I can’t count how many Christmas cookies I frosted and decorated! On the 24th we must have had at least 50 special orders of breads and buns in addition to our normal packaging. It was exhausting, so I really enjoyed Christmas day as a day to recuperate! 

Now to the title of this post: one thing about building a house over the course of several years is the chance you get to really think about things and how you want them. It’s been bugging me that it has taken so long for our kitchen to be finalized. We’re living with temporary open shelving, a temporary island, and no stove vent hood. 

Tackling one thing at a time, I finally goaded sick Marc into at least starting the shelving this trip home. (Every single time he flies it seems, he ends up sick and this trip was no exception). The melamine that currently hangs is too thin, has warped from the weight, and it did nothing to address the brackets that are less than stellar and wide open to view. We went together to Menards and picked out birch butcher block which he is then cutting down into 12” wide boards. He oiled them with the stuff that we do our butcher block in, so the natural tone of the wood will match what I have going on with other woods. He will also need to come up with a fabrication of some type of corbel he can do to cover the metal brackets which support everything. Originally the plan had been to have floating shelves and the brackets would have been encased, but I since changed my mind, figuring that would look too modern.
Then, it was onto thinking about the island. We had gotten a quote a couple years ago of one we had drawn up to match our bottom cabinetry and the price was over $3500. So, we’ve been letting it slide, while I just use my $100 stainless work table with shelving for pot storage. One advantage I’ve really come to love is the fact this has large casters so can be moved. 

My brain got to whirring with the idea of maybe just replacing the stainless top with wood butcher block; something that would go with our main Boos block. When you purchase butcher block you can get either lineal wood grain or end grain. The end grains are small pieces glued together and make a much superior cutting surface but are also labor intensive to build so their cost is about four times as much, depending upon depth. I had our butcher block done ten inches in depth and it’s the closest thing to heaven I can think of to cut on.
I was happy to think of ordering a lineal grain top for the work table at a depth of just 1.5 inches, but Marc really liked the idea of something more matching our main block so suggested an end grain of three-inch depth; also made of hard rock maple. This would be a special order of Boos to the tune of approximately $1400. Not cheap by any means, but much better than the afore-mentioned $3500, which wouldn’t even include a top. We had pretty much decided this would be the way to go and he would try and get it ordered to match up with his next visit home in Feb. However, as he got searching the internet, he saw another interesting idea for a top to the work table. Plus, it’s something he himself could make since he likes tinkering with woodwork. 

Since Wisconsin has many trees, there are plenty of sources for obtaining many different slabs of wood, either hardwood or evergreen. Entire companies specialize in this as do small sawmill yard places on Craigslist, so finding material is an easy matter. It is amazing what creative minds have come up with using live, raw edge slabs, cut in half then turned inward to form a “river” which is then filled with epoxy, colored or clear. Marc is intrigued enough with the idea we are considering it for our island top—which I think would create such a spectacular, one of a kind focal point for the kitchen.
If we take it far enough, we may even be able to use a huge old oak which fell on our property a few years ago. It still struggles to live, having one artery root which still feeds its suckering arms. If we had one of these companies cut it into slabs, it may make some nice wood. Punkiness and rot within the trees can lead to nice cavities which can be filled with the epoxy, creating exciting patterns.

My ultimate love for a stove hood is real copper but spending upwards of $3000 for something like that isn’t in the cards either. I will be researching faux painting a wood one that Marc could build or maybe checking into a local fabrication shop that may be able to do something rustic with tin at a reasonable price. If I’m lucky, maybe be summer’s end, I’ll finally have a finished kitchen, yay!

Friday, November 30, 2018

The Holidays

The Green Bay Packers are the alter at which probably 80% of Wisconsinites worship, thus making Aaron Rogers their God. Have you ever known me to follow sports of any kind? No, I’m not turning into a fanatic, but given that on game days the bakery decorates everything from cupcakes to donuts with green and gold sprinkles I thought it only fitting that when it was my turn to decorate cookies and the Christmas gingerbread men, that some would just have to wear the green and gold #12.
The holidays are bringing forth all sorts of fun things to bake and package: traditional breads I had never heard of before (Rye turtles, anyone? Yes, they look like turtles and are labor intensive) to me having to unpack and prepare around 100 pumpkin and apple pies just before and around Thanksgiving. My shifts were much longer but have now calmed down in the lull before Christmas. 

Mother Nature has been fairly kind to us with many of the major storms passing to the south of us, hitting Chicago-land instead. We still have only a dusting of snow on the ground although temperatures are running about ten degrees below normal, so it definitely feels like winter! The kitties have found their ways to stay warm and aren’t so keen on stepping foot outdoors.
It’s still better than what those poor folks in California are dealing with. I am from the Chico area and have many relatives there, some of whom have still not been able to return home. I read with sadness about how the fire had destroyed Honey Run covered bridge, a structure that had stood for 132 years and was the last of its kind in the U.S. My father carved his initials in it when he was a boy and he is buried not far from there at a pioneer cemetery in Nimshew near Magalia. His marker was provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs, out of bronze, and I am left wondering at what temperature bronze melts or is destroyed or if the fire skipped that area and all is well for the dead in their eternal sleep.

Thursday, November 8, 2018


Marc has come and gone on his latest visit and I didn’t get much time with him, which was depressing. I had to schedule a colonoscopy for when he’d be here to drive me, and that process killed two days, then I was scheduled to work four days. I think we had one full day together when the weather refused to cooperate as well. 

He tried to relax from his stressful job and also got more done on the sunroom. He ran the electrical outlets, used up some leftover insulation he had available, and started on getting up the pine walls. He ran out of material, so the final portion will be done during his next visit at Christmas. I'm left to decide upon which window wrap I want: painted or stain grade. I'm thinking white surround might be too busy and appear too choppy, so am leaning towards having it match the walls. Right now the T&G is natural while I decide if I want to whitewash it or not. Any painting has to wait for summer so I've plenty of time!
Life during this time of year in Wisconsin is mostly a non-event; it’s been a rainy, blustery, cold Fall which precludes getting out much. Yard work is over and done, the lawnmower put away and the snowblower now taking its place waiting for its turn. I’m hopeful I’m able to run it on my own since I leave very early some mornings for work. Having the four-wheel truck is good backup but we hate to run it in winter due to the salt-caused rust. I don’t have that problem with my old Saturn because it’s all plastic quarter panels, hence no rust. 

Marc won’t return for Thanksgiving, so I’ve volunteered to work if someone else at work wants it off with their family. They tell me the bakery gets very busy over the holiday season, so I will likely be doing longer hours soon. By the end of the month I may also get training to work in the deli some as well, and I’m looking forward to that. All in all, I really enjoy having the job and am thankful for it. It gives me a sense of community during these long, lonely days of having a husband I rarely get to see. And so it goes….

Monday, October 15, 2018

First Snow

Just a few days ago it was looking like Fall was about to reach its apex when a series of very windy, wet days ensued, knocking most leaves prematurely to the ground. So much for Fall....

So, this morning with temps running a good 15-20 degrees below normal, we woke to our first snow skiff. I really think we could be in for a blast of harsh winter weather this year with it coming on so soon. It's a good thing I already thought to locate the snow shovel!
I'm not sure what exactly brought about some changes at my place of employment but my primary tasks have been changed up. What could, I guess, be viewed as a demotion?: being pulled from the donut line, has turned out to be a Godsend of better hours and shifts. I now primarily will be packaging and pricing, which involves bagging buns and rolls, packaging cookies, pies, croissants and danish, and then dispersing them to their allotted shelf or table space. In addition, I still participate in the "pull" which involves going into the freezer to pull all the the donuts, buns, etc. and arranging them on their trays, which will be needed for the next day's baking. I'm just as busy so time flies, but I now get up at a more humane time to make the 7-10 a.m. shift. I like it! Occasionally, I guess when needed, I will still man the donut fryer and get messy with the frosting (I am slated for one early morning this week) but a new guy has been hired to fill that shift. 

I'm very happy with my little job and I look forward to going into see everyone and move so quickly for those few hours nearly every day. It keeps me from being a recluse and it's nice when I look at the bank account to see deposits of money I've earned mounting up. How else am I ever going to get that pontoon houseboat I'm yearning for? 

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Fleeting Fall

It has been such a rainy past month in Wisconsin that I haven’t been able to get out and enjoy the fall colors as I normally do. Now, leaves are rapidly falling, and I may miss the entire thing, oh no!
Having made the decision not to go west this winter I was faced with how best to spend my time alone. Marc now only gets a home visit every six weeks and I abhorred the idea of being stuck inside all winter by myself, with boredom potentially following. So, I decided for my mental and financial well-being it was time to go back to work! 

Waupaca has a very low unemployment rate and just about every establishment has a Help Wanted sign out front so finding something was easy. Knowing I did not want to cashier, I decided to take the first thing offered where I also first applied, as a chance to have a somewhat flexible part-time schedule and be a job where I’d learn new skills. I can now say I’m known as the “donut Queen”, as I work at the bakery of a local supermarket, primarily responsible for producing and frosting/icing the donuts that get made daily. Here’s an example of my daily output for the "case" and in addition we often have special orders we fill--on this Sunday I also did a 5 dozen church order!
I am also being trained to bag and label/price the various rolls, breads, muffins, etc. that roll out of the oven without break during the wee morning hours. Yes, my work is primarily the graveyard shift; weekends I arise at 2:30 a.m. to make it to work by 3:30 to do a five-hour shift. Otherwise, I have a more normal 7-10 a.m. shift bagging and pricing. I’m trying to stay at not more than a 20-hour workweek but suspect that will rise around the holidays when it gets super busy. 

I still have found time to work in my volunteer work with the shelter, although given the early morning work hours I often must nap during the day. Being in a set routine and sticking close to home I suspect my blog may grow strangely quiet this winter, so bear with me. I’m undecided yet as to whether I will continue working when summer rolls around and I have so much yard work and watering to keep up with, to say nothing of the annual shelter rummage and bake sale responsibilities. I enjoy being active and busy and feel those who work or are engaged in civic activities/volunteerism maintain a much better outlook as they age, so who knows?

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Ghostly Endeavors: Fayette, Michigan

What is it about ghost towns that so attracts us? The fascination of how our ancestors used to live; the thoughts of a slower pace of life (was it really though?); digging through antiques, or merely gazing upon something which has stood time’s test and nature’s best to knock it down? 

We descend, literally, onto Fayette State Park’s shelf as it sits in all its glory, faded and sandwiched between a dazzling sky and the endless view of Lake Michigan disappearing into the horizon. We are practically the only ones there. It literally almost takes my breath away and I feel like a kid with a counter full of candy jars in front of me, not knowing which one to pick from first. To have a whole town to ones’ self to explore—how enticing! Even though that only lasts for about a half hour, the town never does become crowded during our visit.
Fayette, for all the buildings missing, is very intact with 20 still standing. Michigan state parks system keeps it in a state of arrested decay and occasional restoration, creating a few vignettes in some of the buildings with furnishings from the period. Others are left with their ghosts, their cobwebs, peeling wallpaper and dusty floors and are not available for touring so the best one can do is snap photos against window glass. Incongruous as it may seem, there is also a modern dock and harbor for visiting boaters, sitting amongst the pilings from over a hundred years ago which stretch around the bay like jagged bad teeth.
It was essentially a company town, started by the Jackson Iron Company to bring charcoal pig iron smelting closer to the source of the ore for shipping. Lime kilns were also built to provide lime for the furnaces and for mortar to build with. The 500 residents were primarily immigrants from Canada and northern Europe with half the population children; with the tiny homes crammed, they must have been suffocating.
Simple plaques record diary entries from residents, putting together a story for us to follow today. The park service has also worked hard to delve into architectural clues to obtain information on the day to day of life in Fayette and some buildings offer up guess boxes for visitors to guess at answers about the town’s life.
Eventually the hardwood forests needed to create the charcoal required for running the huge blast furnaces played out—early photographs show the hillside cliffs entirely denuded (nothing like the lush forest we see today)—and the mill closed. Residents drifted away to other endeavors and even the town’s highly touted hotel closed by WWII and the remains of town became a state park in 1959.
Although off the beaten track of Highway 2, on the Garden Peninsula of the U.P., it is definitely a worthwhile detour.