Everyone’s Life Needs a Sound Track

Long, long ago, my alter ego Rhino played a vital part in this blog. We saw him on safari in Africa. We saw him in Munich wrapped in a futbol scarf. We saw him frolicking in the turquoise seas of the Caribbean. But with Rhino, it wasn’t just about the jet setting. We also saw him fish the local goldfish watering holes and sun on the back porch like a normal rhino. Sometimes, we even got a candid as he relaxed between takes of his hit TV show, “It’s All About the Dishes”

But how many times can a sit com writer come up with a fresh script about a Rhino that does dishes? After just six episodes, Rhino’s TV show was cancelled by the Dish network and Rhino found himself back on the shelf, understandably a bit sulky that his fifteen minutes of fame was apparently up.

Recently though, his people came by with some new concepts. His press rep told me Rhino’s show had been picked up for another season. It had been retooled with a new, sexier name, “In the Suds.” A reborn Rhino was ready to re-negotiate a deal with me to be featured in the blog again.

Everything was set for Rhino’s return to blog fame when a major problem arose. With adult children and their friends filling the household over the long Thanksgiving break, Rhino watched a bit too much reality TV. I think it was maybe during a new episode of “The Hills” when Rhino set forth his deal breaker. He wants a soundtrack for his work on the blog. It wasn’t enough that his TV show had its own score. He wanted the music of undiscovered hip young bands for the blog soundtrack as well, and wouldn’t hear me out about how I hadn’t a clue how to discover hip new undiscovered bands.

We seemed, once more, at a stalemate.

But then, Thanksgiving dinner happened. Is there any meal more about dishes than Thanksgiving dinner? It was a perfect storm of greasy turkey pans, mash potato crusted bowls and epic stacks of dinner plates, desert plates, glasses, silverware, pots and pans. Rhino found his best self in that moment. He rolled up his sleeves and started washing, without a camera crew and without a sound track.

He did have some standards. Photo ops with him began only after the dishes were clean.


Here Rhino watches from out of sight as the turkey is transfered from one dish to another and then another. We felt it was important to keep the flame burning on the Thanksgiving theme of endless dishes as well as keep the stakes high for Rhino’s success at the post meal sink.


Ben out and out taunts Rhino with the challenge of the turkey roasting pan.


Several hundred dishes later, Rhino shows why his career as a soap and water star lives on.

We Blow our Carbon Footprint

Before I share some awesome shots of house demolition, I need to expiate my guilt by going over the factors behind our decision to wreck.

For three years, we tried to figure out how to salvage the unsalvageable. As I mentioned in my last post, we had pretty much everyone who has ever held a hammer in the region and many who have not, come through to give advice about whether we could save “Old Gray”.

As one person after another dug into the walls to examine the skeleton of the house to see if we could peel back to the bones and rebuild, it was hard to miss the fact that there was basically no skeleton. To give an example of the poor craftsmanship of this house, the 2″ x 6″ roof rafters were three feet on center. In our house our roof rafters are 2″ X 12″ and are a foot on center. Basically, what this skimpy building style meant was that when our friend Scot MacLeay put his excavator scoop on top of the roof of Old Gray, she quickly fell down.

And even as Scot worked to keep the floor intact during demolition so that he wouldn’t have to scoop up extra stuff from the basement, in the big part of the building, the floor immediately collapsed. Moments later, as rotten carpeting was removed, the floor was revealed to be made of something resembling thick cardboard, resting on collapsed punky cross beams held up by rotten logs in a swamp hole.

Perhaps I have indicated sufficiently why no one wanted to salvage anything from this house, even when everything was offered for free.

So, after three years of paying $3,000 taxes on a house no one could safely spend an hour in, let alone inhabit, it was time to let the whole thing be carted away by some nice guys wearing shirts that said RECYCLE on them. What exactly they meant by the phrase, we did not ask, though the amount of inspections and hoop jumping involved in getting permission to have these guys take the house away made it clear that it was all very legal, if also very sad that a whole house could be of such little value as to be destined for dumpsters.

The truth is, that while I thought I used clothe diapers on my four kids in order to keep our landfills emptier, I was really just saving space for Old Gray. As the house seems mostly to have been made of vermiculite insulation and paper wallboard, I hope it will compost down as well as those diapers would have. Maybe even better.

But let me leave wishful thinking behind to cheer you up with some action shots.


Scot’s first couple of swipes brought down one end of the building.
The white powder filling the air was ground paper used for insulation in the walls. It kept blowing in on Scot in his excavator, making for less than pleasant conditions.

Jim and Will left school during lunch hour to visit with Scot. Jim had considered spending a summer taking the place down stick by stick with help from Will. Here they agree what insanity that would have been. William wants me to point out the toilet holding strong on the second floor.






When Scot got down to the foundation, the nicest part of the building, he pulled out the rocks for us to reuse.


Within hours of demolition, local stone masons were at the site angling to buy the rocks, even going so far as taking pictures for their “files”. We politely declined all offers on the rocks as we do want to use them eventually for whatever happens here on this land in the future. Maybe one of our kids will build here someday? Plans for Ben to camp out in the place were mercifully scraped years ago when he got free housing with his teaching job.

In the meantime, I hope to plant the whole spot with flowering Thyme. It will be a gift to our bees and somehow feels like the right way to thank “Old Gray” for having been all that she could be.

We Opt for Big Machinery

If you have been reading this blog since its early days, you may recall that a number of years ago we bought some land down the road from the farm. It had a little gray house nestled in its abandonned acreage. And this house, the subject of today’s blog, proved to be a classic example of the Potemkin effect.

This phrase was coined when Russian Czarina Catherine took a trip down the Volga after her Prime Minister and lover, Grigori Potemkin, conquered the area. Because the region was in complete and sorrowful disrepair, Potemkin built fake happy villages along the river, full of frollicking actors, all to give the Empress a completely false impression of surface wonder in a region of actual chaos. In a much less important way, this was what the gray house we bought was all about.

The gray house looked fabulous from the road. If I had a nickel for everyone that has said to us in the last few years, “Why isn’t anyone living in that cute little place?” well, I would have a lot of nickels. With its perky standing seam roof and hideous but intact plastic siding, the place looks like a cream puff, but its been a potemkin effect cream puff and a complete nightmare under this prettified outer shell.

To back up twenty years, Jim was the contractor for building our house. We had two carpenter friends help frame the house with Jim. Then Jim, with help from his dad and uncle, went on to do the plumbing, wiring, insulating, floors, finish trim, shingling….. When we added onto the house with our barn, Jim built it with his brother’s help. When we built our big Green Hope Farm addition, Jim did it with the help of Ben. As frequently remarked around here, Jim has not taken his nail belt off since he met me.

One perk of all this endless activity is that Jim now has a vast legion of friends in the building trades. They offer moral support for every building matter that needs to be addressed and every building conundrum.

So when builder friends of Jim’s heard we were considering buying the property, everyone wanted the complete tour, even though this was literally taking your life into your hands when you went in the crawl space under most of the house to examine the broken sills and joists. Anyways, everyone survived the tour to weigh in with their two cents, all of which was the same two cents.

With a broken main carrying beam, roofs under the fake standing seam ones that slumped like a sway back mule, a small river flowing through the dug basement, a chimney collapsed into this basement, no insulation, floors rising and falling like dunes in the Sahara, no wiring or plumbing to speak of, mold everywhere, and no TLC given to the property since 1970, everyone agreed that the building was going to have to come down.

So we bought the place knowing it was really for the land, but still hoping we could somehow tear down and rebuild the house in pieces right where it was.

More friends returned for more visits, because it really is a classic crap building. Everyone in town seemed to know the combination lock on the crap door, 3435, and people, sometimes people we hardly knew, would call with commentary. None of it suggested that anything was salvageable.

Ben moved his potter’s wheel into the old living room, but found the terrible mold smells made work in the charmless space impossible. Slowly, slowly, the talk shifted from trying to rebuild sections while leaving other sections in place to finding a way to take the whole place down.

We kept hoping some punk would toss a lit cigarette into the building, because the red tape to get the fire department to burn the place down was beyond imagining. For several years, Jim contemplated taking it down piece by piece by himself, while I have advocated something less taxing to his shoulders. We were at an impasse, which the town enjoyed as even getting the tax accessor into the basement didn’t seem to convince him that the building was uninhabitable. He couldn’t get enough of that standing seam roof and nice plastic siding.

If you have even read a few blogs, you know that Jim is the brakes and I am the gas, most of the time anyways. But a small miracle happened on 11/11 when Jim suddenly decided he was tired paying taxes on a fake house and that he would call his excavator big machinery friend for ideas about a swift removal. The friend had his excavator free and called people to bring big removal bins to the land immediately. In fact, about ten minutes after Jim called his excavator friend, Scot pulled into our driveway with a big happy grin on his face. This was the moment all Jim’s friends have been waiting for! Jim too, I suspect. I can hear his shoulders sighing and his heart too.

So I am off right now to see the whole thing go. Here the machine that is going to take care of old Gray with the little garage which we are saving in the foreground. May she rest in peace.


As a community of Flowers, Angels, Nature Spirits, Dogs, Cats and even some People, Green Hope Farm can be a funny place……and I love telling you all about it!