greatbear: (aerial me)
Today Jeff and I worked at splitting most of the firewood I've been cutting up from downed and dead trees in our yard. The three small racks around the house are filled to capacity, and the big woodshed is nearly full now, which is good; this is enough wood to get us through an entire winter on average. Thing is, I have barely scratched the surface, since the giant silver maple that has been slowly dying over the past several years has been taken down. This tree alone will yield several cords of mostly usable firewood, and I don't have much more "official" space to store it all. I haven't finished the cleanup I began of a large, three-trunked cherry tree that got blown over in a nasty derecho (violent windstorm) a few years ago. this will probably end up being another half cord on it's own in addition to the large amount split and stacked today.

We did this chore in about 4 hours, and with mostly minimum interference from our somewhat damaged bodies. Jeff has mostly recovered from his hernia surgery, but I am still highly cautious of my back/spine giving out again. It seems that it has happened around this time of year every time, and as the result of doing lots of work involving lifting and twisting. By the end of today's chore, I was feeling the twitches of pain that reminded me of how it began to give out all those times, and I started getting upset. So far, I only have the normal bit of soreness that comes from doing physical work beyond the everyday levels, which is good. But I can't help but feel that trepidation when I take up my work clothes and tools and perform the next usual chore that comes with living at Mayhem Acres and wondering if this one is going to be my downfall once again.

I hate this feeling with every fiber of my being.

We worked for 4 hours today. I can't say I was spent afterward, actually, after we had lunch and rested a bit, I was ready to go out and do more. Or, more to the point, my "old self" was ready to go and put another several hours in, but my new reality kicks in and holds me back, and I spiral into frustration. If indeed my spine gives out, I can look forward to about nine months of pain, immobility, atrophy, and the sheer frustration it all brings. I have no idea if I would be entering another circle of hell, or it would be just another good accomplishment. So I feel stuck. All I can do really is just go on with life, albeit carefully, and hope for the best. Problem is, rather than have my normal drive, I am just coasting through my days while the world shoots past at breakneck speeds as it leaves me behind.

I am wired to measure my life by my accomplishments, big and small. For the longest time, I was doing really good. The health stuff put the brakes on several times, and each full stop had a longer period to get back up to speed, never matching what was in the past. I am quite literally a broken man, beat down by these accumulated mishaps, abandoned by friends, standing in front of the mirror and on several occasions being shocked at the shrinking, bony and wrinkled visage staring back. My clothes don't fit anymore, they hang on me more like on a scarecrow, and even the newer stuff I got which is more size appropriate still has me looking haggard. I'm not aging gracefully, but this is my gig now, and all I can do is run with it. If I had more certainty in things, I know I could do better. As it stands, I don't know if the next day would put me in the hospital. And with that, the mental load is far worse than the physical.
greatbear: (tools)
I've been scarce around these parts. I've been preoccupied with a lot of different things lately. When I last left LJ-land, I had posted how I had finally brought my new front door home after weeks of waiting for it to be built and shipped. I was anxious to start the installation, but rather than putting on my tool belt and kicking butt, instead we took some time off for much needed rest and headed out to the Eastern Shore of MD and did some camping at Elk Neck State Park, along with some friends we had made this year in PTown. We got two adjoining campsites so we could be neighbors. While they had camped at the site before (and recommended it to us), we hadn't, and were very pleasantly surprised at the calm beauty of the area, despite there being a lot of families camping that weekend. The sites had lots of space between, and the area was wonderfully wooded with tall trees, with the whole shebang nestled along the Chesapeake Bay. Camping in this sort of setting takes me back to my early childhood, and I feel a warm comfort in that environment. Couple that with our friends and some of the most perfect weather and you have the recipe for pure relaxation. The pooches loved it, and they too had their own four-legged friends to socialize with, as our camping buds brought along their two Italian Greyhounds. We went for a little excursion to the adjoining little town of North East on Saturday, where we found delightful little artsy shops, antique stores and quirky eateries (I know, how gay) among the friendly locals and visitors. Jeff and I decided to put our newly discovered campgrounds on the short list of ideal getaway places. At about 80 miles from home, it's far enough to feel like we had traveled a good bit, yet not so far that too much of the event is taken up by driving. We will be be doing a bit more "vacationing locally" as a means of getting to know the more immediate areas and what they had to offer, with the added bonus of being a cheap means to have fun.

The week that followed I had gone out for the rest of the supplies needed to install the door, and I also ordered more of the pieces to build the home automation system. I began removing trim and other parts to take out the old door and frame, then with the help of our local friend, Wednesday when Jeff came home I tore out the old door and the three of us maneuvered the old one out and muscled the (much heavier) new assembly in. I temporarily affixed it in place to keep the weather out and the dogs in, we enjoyed some dinner later in the evening. The following days I positioned, shimmed and adjusted the door to close and seal properly, trimmed the door out on the exterior, sealed and caulked and installed the keyless lockset. That weekend we went to PA for our monthly visit to Jeff's parents. This week I began the electric work, installing a new inside lighting fixture in the style of the new door glass, and installing the devices for the automation and control. Part of this involved tearing apart a portion of a wall next to the door and reworking some of the electrical wiring inside. That wall hid something that had been bothering me for 25 years. When the electricians that initially wired the house before the drywallers closed everything up, they had forgotten a short run of cable between to electric boxes. This resulted in the forward part of the living room having no power to the outlets. To fix this, they had popped holes in the two adjoining boxes and fished a cable between them. I never knew how they had fixed the issue until several years later when I had taken out a light switch to install a dimmer and found a huge chunk of the plastic electric box missing and a cable spliced inside. While I had the wall open I replaced the boxes, the hacked-in wiring and added space for three controls. Two of them directly control the light outside the door and the inside light in the entryway. The third space in the box will have a "scene controller" that will operate several outside lights located all around the house from one location. Pressing a single button begins a programmed process that can, say, turn all the outside lights on at full brightness, useful if we have company or we are doing work outside at night. Other buttons can turn on and off various combinations of inside and outside lights before leaving the house or returning, or turning all the outside lights off and setting the one outside the front door to a very dim setting before going to bed. All of this is part of a Z-Wave remote control protocol that integrates with the home automation system. It's already programmed to turn on a few inside lights at a low setting early in the morning when Jeff is getting ready and leaves for work, whereupon it shuts them all off until the next weekday. Now the outside lights can come on as well, since he leaves when it's still dark. The system can control existing remotely operated lights and appliances here, along with the Nest thermostats, the home theater receivers, alarm system, and lots of future items I have planned. Best of all, I can control it all remotely via the internet either with a PC or smartphone from anywhere. I can make sure the door is locked, open it if a friend needs to be let in while we are away, turn lights on and off, you name it. The system can grow as I need it to. It's a very practical system, and all the devices and appliances can work manually as if there was no profound technology behind it all. It's also a fun way to seriously get my geek on.

In coming days I will close the wall back up, spackle and finish the drywall, then install the interior trim around the door. I also want to take out the 25+ year old vinyl floor and put in some nice ceramic or marble tile. After that is done, I will move onto the living room, finally creating the light shafts for the skylights I installed in the roof four years ago, then begin the somewhat major reworking of the living room and dining room areas. I want to split the living room into two separate areas rather than the oddly shaped, somewhat amorphous "great room" it is currently. New carpeting and flooring will go in at this point. Then onto the sunroom, where I can finally finish the relatively small amount of work left over from where I started on that room about ten years ago. All of this will be a good winter/indoor project as the seasons change.

Those that know me well are quite aware of the wildcard in all of this, and that's my overall health and my back and nerve issues I am constantly dealing with. While I have been busting all manner of ass lately, it has been far slower than I am usually able to do such work. I can get maybe a half hour of good working time before I have to stop, sit down, and take the load off my lower back and recover. If I go for longer than that amount of time, or I have to do much in the way of twisting, or standing in one spot, the pain begins to appear then fogs my concentration. I get angry, the quality begins to suffer, and I will go totally aggro if things are not coming together as I want them to. Tools get tossed about, cursing begins, dogs hide under beds, and progress becomes more halting and drawn out. So far I've managed to keep up pace, but I have to force myself to quit while I'm ahead, as it were, before things start to crumble. So far, I've been lucky that I haven't had any major setbacks (yet) and I've learned to stop work despite the urge to keep going when things are going well. That last part is a doozy for me.



This is what the entryway looks like currently. If I manage to get all the other work done I described above without (much) incident, and some other, more pressing things get done, I want to take out the aluminum vertical siding that is currently there and replace it with some form of brick, slate or stone. but for now, I am happy, hell, giddy that I got this far. It's taking more time and much more effort than I am used to, but it's still me doing all the work and doing what I love to do. Now, if my increasingly old body can keep from falling apart at the same increasing pace, I will be a rather happy dude.

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Phil

December 2016

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