I wanted a drawbridge, but it wasn’t in the budget.

This was Castle Frostbite’s portcullis just before we left for our trip:

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The state of things last week:

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And today:

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I could show you a graph of our bank account balance correlating to the picture series above, and you’d see a rather significant downward curve. The corner of the porch and entry area had rotted to the point that the floor had developed a four-degree tilt, so it was high time to Get Shit Fixed. As always, once the handyman started ripping out stuff, he found more rot, so he ripped out more stuff, and so on. At some point there was a cement truck involved, but now there’s a solid foundation underneath that spot, not just logs dropped into dirt.

The job isn’t finished yet—the outside needs a new wooden stair set, and the inside of the new entry area still has two interior walls to be finished—but it’s coming along. And now I can actually get bulky things into the house via the front door instead of having to cart them around the house to the sliding glass door of the living room.

Got too much money and/or free time? You too can experience the joys of owning a fixer-upper!

auxiliary power activate.

That last power outage only lasted a few hours, not almost two days like the one last week.  This winter is almost over, but we’re probably going to pull the trigger on an emergency preparedness upgrade in the form of a propane generator.

Why propane?  Well, we have the necessary infrastructure, since we have two propane furnaces (only used for backup these days), and a 500-gallon propane tank behind the garage.  We’re looking at a 7kW unit, which would be big enough to run all the essentials in the house.  Once it gets in, we’ll have it wired into the existing panel out in the garage, where the propane line comes into the house already, and venting won’t be a problem.  Chances are we won’t have to use the genny more than once a year at our current rate of power failures (National Grid is pretty solid out here), but when we do have to use it, I’m sure we’ll be glad to have it.

the migratory writer.

When the painters and drywall guys repaired the water damage in the bck half of the house, we took the opportunity to move the two kids into the smaller of the two back bedrooms.  They were only sleeping in there, since they use the second living room as a playroom, so all the space in their bedroom was unused.  Their former bedroom is now the new office/guest bedroom, and the former office is now the kids’ room.

The new office is more than twice the size of the old one and has twelve-foot ceilings, so it feels substantially more spacious.  We’re splitting it between the two adults for office space, and there’s a queen-sized bed in there as well.  Even having only a third of the new office as my space, I feel like I can spread out just a bit more than before.

Here’s my new office for the scribbling of the words and such:

desk

On occasion, I talk about my writing habits and methods, which have changed over the last few years, regressing from the computer to the typewriter and then to longhand.  One thing that has been constant, however, has been my inability to do my work in just one spot all the time.  I’m a highly migratory writer—in the course of a day, I’ll work at my living room desk, on the couch, lying down in bed, at the office desk in the picture, and occasionally at the local coffee shop.  That’s why I prefer devices and tools that can be hauled around with a minimal amount of fuss.  Even though my favorite writing tools have changed (I’ve been writing longhand now for a year and a half), my least favorite writing tool has always been the immobile desktop computer set up in one specific place. 

With two kids to parent all day long, I basically write in the cracks of the day: in the quiet hours of the morning before the kids wake up, on the couch while they’re watching a movie, on the bench at the playground when we go out, or in the evening when everyone else in the house is asleep.  Because of the stop-and-go, irregular nature of my writing sessions, being able (or having) to write only in one spot with one stationary desktop system is a recipe for not getting much writing done. 

In contrast, the notebook and pen are supremely flexible writing tools.  I can grab them at a moment’s notice and change rooms, or stuff them into a bag to haul to the playground, without having to worry about bringing along power adapters or checking battery status.  I can work indoors or out in the yard in bright sunshine, and when I have to put the writing kit aside to give Lyra a boost on the swings, I don’t have to worry about anyone snatching my expensive stuff and running off with it.  Nobody cares to steal paper notebooks full of handwriting.

Every writer has a different set of tools and methodology, but when you’re a writing full-time parent, inflexible writing setups, firm writing times, and elaborate rituals are not your friend. 

<sounds of drilling and sawing>

We have a home restoration crew in the house.  They’re repairing all the water damage we got before we put the new roof on the place, so it’s three days of drywall dust, fresh paint smell, and dog hysteria at Castle Frostbite.  Add to that mix two kids who think that anyone coming through the door wants to know everything about Thomas the Tank Engine and Winnie the Pooh, and you have an environment that’s not very conducive to writing.  I’ll be staying up late for a few days to get some work done in the living room, when everyone’s in bed.

After we’re done with the repairs, the plan is to move the kids into the smaller of the downstairs bedrooms, and use the bigger one for a combined office for Robin and me.  Their current bedroom—the future office—is quite spacious, and having only two kid beds and a dresser in there is a waste of all that space.  (The kids play all over the house, but mostly in the adjacent second living room, which we call the “sitting room.”)  When we claim that big bedroom as office space, we’ll finally have enough wall space to put up bookshelves and unbox the majority of our library, which has been stored up in the attic since we moved in.  I mean, how are you supposed to know it’s an office if the walls aren’t lined with books?

And yet another $NON_TRIVIAL_AMOUNT of cash later, another part of the house is hammered into shape.  At least the homeowner’s insurance paid for the lion’s share of this one.  Slowly but surely, Castle Frostbite is turning into an adequate and proper dwelling.

the desk: fluctuating entropy.

It’s rather more messy than usual, despite the thorough reorganization I did a few weeks ago.  Work spaces have a way of getting silted up with the detritus of daily activity.

The display is now in a corner, so I have a clear view of the Big Green Desktop on the other side of the windows, and to reinforce that the computer is not the raison d’etre of the desk.  I’m on a simplification binge right now, so I reduced the setup to its minimal necessary components.  The Mac mini doesn’t take up much space on its little shelf, and I tossed out the powered speakers in favor of the ones built into the LCD display.  It’s not exactly room-filling sound, but it’s sufficient for YouTube videos and the occasional WoW session, and it saves a lot of desk real estate.

The portable device on the desk mat is a cellulose-based laptop with solid-state data storage.  It requires no power at all, and the stylus-based input features a 100% accurate handwriting recognition.  It’s super-light, boots up instantly, and the screen is perfectly legible even in direct sunlight.  It’s also dirt cheap…I have a dozen or so stashed away, and they sold me the whole stack for less than a c-note.  Living in the future is awesome.

barbed wire is out of the question, unfortunately.

Our current dog-and-kid containment force field in the back yard consists of a simple plastic deer fence with a strand of PetGuard Invisible Fence run through the bottom of the plastic mesh.  The deer fence alone isn’t enough to keep the dogs from weaseling through underneath, and the invisible fence by itself isn’t enough to keep them in the yard when they’re excited enough to run right through the discomfort zone, but the combination is surprisingly effective–the deer fence keeps them from running through the wire, and the invisible fence keeps them from just slipping underneath the fence.

That said, I have been tasked by the Lady of the Castle with looking into a more sturdy and permanent solution.  I had professional fence builders out here, and they quoted me $6,000 and change for a 250-ft. mesh fence, mostly because the lay of the land and the granite slab underneath much of the yard requires a whole lot of drilling.  I have no experience with fence-building, but I’m not entirely ecstatic about the idea of writing yet another check for $LUDICROUS_AMOUNT to yet another contractor, so I’d like to get something in place by myself.

To those of you who know a thing or two about fences and the building thereof: Is the DIY route feasible in this case?  And if so, what kind of fence would you run around an uneven downhill slope with a big-ass granite slab sitting underneath most of it?  I have anywhere from a few feet to a few inches of dirt on top of the bedrock.  Or should I just save myself the agony, and stack up a six-foot wall of Goodyears all around the Castle?