Ever since I got back to my Little Red Schoolhouse in Vermont from Idaho in March after spending the last month of my mom’s life with her, I’ve kinda just been focused on getting through the day to day of my own life. It’s a strange feeling losing both Kateri and my mom. It’s uncomfortable not having the option of reaching out to them… and them being there. My world got subsequently smaller with the passing of each of them. My universe contracted. I felt isolated and alone as the living started moving on from the losses I was reminded of every morning as I sipped my first cup of coffee and that which blanketed me every evening when I crawled into what used to be Kateri’s bed. Living a life with loss is challenging on all sorts of fronts, but luckily… I’ve still got a whole bunch of people in this world that I love dearly, and who dearly love me. My sister is one of those at the top of the list. Although we weren’t exactly close for the first 20 years of adulthood due to distances and drinkin’, life has provided us the opportunity to reconnect with each other and reminded us that we do not have to do this alone. I have friends. I have family. I am thankful to have my sister… and it was awesome having her and my brother-in-law visit for a week for the first time… without their children!!
One of the intentions Dina and Tom had on their vacation was to help me out with things around the house. Leading up to their arrival, I had started a list of projects that the four of us could maybe do while also setting some time aside to simply chill. Now, you can fit a lot into a week and since this is a blog post and not a book, I’m just gonna go through a few of the projects that Dina and Tom helped me out with at the ol’ Schoolhouse and some of the adventures that the four of us had (Sis, Bro-in-Law, Girlfriend Amanda, and I)… in chronological order.
Unplanned Lawn Mower Maintenance
I wanted the Schoolhouse to look as “put together” as I could before they arrived so I tried to mow the yard as close to their arrival as possible. Unfortunately, the drive belt on the riding lawnmower decided to snap in half with only a few more passes left needed to finish the job! Amanda and I went into town and got a belt on Monday, Dina and Tom arrived Tuesday night, and the four of us learned how to replace a V-Drive Belt using milk crates and manuals in the back yard!
Last year my mom wanted to buy me automatic garage doors for my birthday… which would’ve been fantastic! Unfortunately, I have an old ass garage with old ass garage doors… that is (are) kinda falling apart… and I don’t have room for the garage door motor things. So I asked my mom, “How about an Ooni Pizza Oven instead..?!”. Let me tell you, Amanda and I love breaking that thing out! (It doesn’t hurt that Amanda is a baker and will just “throw together” pizza dough!)
The Wood Pile Competition
Although the stacking of wood really only covered Wednesday and Thursday, it took just about the whole week to actually “finish” the project. Stacking wood is part of our culture here in Vermont and I wanted Dina and Tom to share in that experience! I asked my wood guy if he could deliver it the week they got here and he actually delivered it a couple of weeks prior… just enough time for a few critters to set up shop before we started moving it!
Before Kateri died, we would stack next year’s wood in neat cubes behind the potting shed under the lean-to and talk about how the guy down the road would put metal rings in his and make cool designs. After Kateri died I guess I was looking for a little creative outlet and decided to try my hand at making next year’s wood look a bit more interesting. Not to mention stacking it not so far away from The Schoolhouse!
Friday we decided to take it easy and do a little sight seeing and junk shopping, so we loaded up in the cute little Renegade and headed south. Our destination was Hillbilly Recycling in Bridgewater and even though I don’t care for Woodstock… it was on the way and an idyllic little New England/Vermont town for them to experience with it’s covered bridges, shops, and town green. It was a nice day of looking at other people’s crap, eating sammies in parking lots, staring through the car windows at the sea of green blanketing the mountains as we drove the winding rural roads… and stopping for creemees before heading home!
When Kateri and I first bought our house in 2015 my family drove cross country to deliver some furniture… and a piano. On that trip we tried to hit Wingaersheek Beach in Gloucester. It was Kateri’s and my favorite beach to sit on ever since Randy and Vicky introduced it to us. Kateri and I would wake up around 4:00am after loading beach chairs, our umbrella, the beach bag, and her pop’s army blanket into the Jeep the night before so that we could get to Gloucester and grab breakfast at George’s… and still get to the beach when the sand was cool and there wasn’t a sea of colorful nylon domes. Unfortunately, when my family visited they had a dog with them and we couldn’t bring Lucy (the dog) into the park… so we adapted and went to another spot.
This year I wanted to give my sister and Tom a nice East Coast Beach Going Experience and thought we would hit Wingaersheek this time around! I thought we had everything lined up. There were only the four of us. A friend was gonna swing by The Schoolhouse before and after work to let Xander out. The weather was gonna be beautiful… and we had bought an extra beach umbrella for the added security of shade!… a necessity for the beach. So Friday night we got everything ready to go, hit the road early Saturday morning, drove the three hours down to the Massachusetts coast, and got to Wingaersheek before 8:45am! Everything was going as planned until we turned onto the road that leads to the beach. As we made the right turn we noticed a big sign saying “Advanced Reservation Parking Only”…!!!… something the city of Gloucester had implemented in May… and something we had not looked into! So once again we adapted… and Dina and Tom got to see the same beach we went to six years ago! The four of us made the most of it and still had a wonderful time simply sitting in the sand… people watching.
The other plan that day was to hit a clam shack so that Dina could get a lobster roll and we could test to see if Tom had gotten over his bad experience the last time we went to the beach together. When they visited six years ago and we had gone to the beach, we had also gone to Woodman’s so that they could have that Clam Shack experience. Well, the seafood didn’t sit too well in Tommy’s stomach (we think the sun was the actual culprit) and let’s just say we left a soggy brand new baseball cap in a compromised paper bag on the side of the road somewhere in New Hampshire… maybe… and I was thankful our 2004 Volvo XC70 had leather seats! I’m happy to inform you that this trip to the clam shack was far more successful than the previous one!… fried shrimp and all!
Once we made the trek home from the ocean another little unanticipated thing happened… COVID. As we putzed along across New Hampshire, Amanda was feeling a little stuffy and had a scratch in her throat… uh oh! Once back at The Schoolhouse she decided to be safe and took a COVID test. Let me tell you, for not having children and not having had COVID yet, when that first little line showed up (pretty much instantly) we were kinda like, “Ummm… now what?!”. Luckily my sister is a mom and has already had to deal with The Rona in her house… plus she already had it… so we decided it would be best for Amanda to stay at The Schoolhouse and quarantine in my bedroom, I would sleep on the couch (it’s like camping… with TV!), and she would be able to come out and hang with us (socially distanced!) when she felt up to it as we worked on the next project… The Fire Pit. We were fortunate that besides a splitting headache for a day or two, she had a pretty mild case… and I anxiously waited for the symptoms to make their way to me.
The Fire Pit
Sunday was all about The Fire Pit… (and making sure Amanda was doing OK!). When Kateri and I first bought The Schoolhouse we found a little spot in the woods that we thought would make a decent area for a fire pit. I dropped a few trees to open up the view to the sky and we foraged rocks to make a ring and kind of left it at that. When my family visited in 2016, they actually flattened out the area around the fire pit and encircled the sitting area with various stones from the hillside. It looked amazing! Unfortunately, if you were sitting in a camp chair next to the fire there wasn’t enough room for someone to walk past and/or your knees would be on fire because you’d be sitting 2 feet away from some good sized flames! (I think it’s illegal to have a fire less than four feet tall in Vermont..?!) We had always wanted to widen the ol’ hang out area, but we figured it was already a hundred times nicer than before and there were plenty of other projects to get to. Once Kateri died and I was left to my own devices, the fire pit moved pretty far down the priority list… until my sister said she was coming to visit! So on Sunday afternoon after a lazy Sunday morning, the three of us made our way up to the fire pit with shovels, rakes, and gloves to start Fire Pit 2.0.
In the years leading up to my sister’s visit, I always felt weird about wanting to change the fire pit. I mean, my family put a ton of time, energy, and love into providing Kateri and I with a cool little place to hang out and I never wanted them to feel as though we didn’t appreciate it. I love the fact that they were able to come back, experience the old pit, agree that a bit more space could be nice… and then simply made an afternoon of creating a wonderful and beautiful space with nothing but a few tools, time, and some good old fashioned effort.
Trail Maintenance Monday
We decided to stick around the ol’ homestead for the last few days of Dina and Tom’s visit and on Monday Tom and I played in the woods while Dina tackled the flower beds in front of the deck. When we first bought the house, there were overgrown paths that the previous owner had used to gather wood for the winter. I spent weeks walking the path, cutting brush, and making little piles of limbs along the trail that I figured we could take to the fire pit and burn… which never happened! So now I have little piles of limbs which are slightly hidden from leaves that have fallen over the years. This year, Tom started off making little piles on the path and we figured we could do the same thing… pick them up and burn them in the new fire pit! Now, I haven’t really done much trail maintenance recently so there happened to be quite a bit of crap (branches/fallen trees/etc.) on the path. Enough so that by the time Tom got to the back 9 it was less about making little piles and more about simply clearing the path… which involved switching to just hucking the shwag off to the side and into the forest! Either way… the paths are clear… and I have plenty of wood to enjoy in the fire pit… because I live in the woods.
Man… it was hot on Monday… and I decided to break out the chainsaw. Personally, I love the smell of gasoline and burning oil with the sound of a two stroke engine echoing through the forest. If I can be all sweaty and dusty while wearing layers of protective gear… even better! Of course, I’ve also kinda beat up the chain to the chainsaw over the last year so I was able to make one pass around the walking path, started on the fallen tree by the fire pit, and then stopped after it took way too much effort to slice three chunks off the end of it. Chainsawing is fun… but not with a beat up chain!
Yup. It was Tuesday evening, our last night together in Vermont and we were eating dinner on the front porch when I sorta sucked some food down the wrong tube which made my eyes water and nose plug up. At first I didn’t think much of it even though I was very aware about the possibility of getting COVID considering I was in close contact with Amanda leading up to… and when… she tested positive. Then, after a bit of hanging out… my nose never cleared up! The plan was for me to drive Dina and Tom to Boston in the morning so they could catch their flight home and I started worrying about how that would go if I tested positive for COVID! Once I mentioned my nose was all plugged up, we had decided the best course of action was to take a test so that we knew what was going on… and then take it from there. So, I grabbed a test from the bathroom, brought it out to the deck, swabbed the ol’ nostrils, did all the stuff, and three drops of the snotty solution on a pregnancy test later… two lines!… Balls.
I will say, when I saw I was positive with The Vid… I had an initial little internal freakout. I mean… I smoked a lot… A LOT… of things in my life and this is one virus I just didn’t wanna get even though I knew it was just a matter of time. Luckily, Amanda’s experience had been pretty mild so far and that’s what I was hoping for. The pressing matter was how to get Dina and Tom to the airport! Ah… problem solving. Fortunately, there is a bus that runs from Hanover/Lebanon, New Hampshire to Logan. All we had to do was figure out how to get them to the bus. So we had Dina and Tom drive my car to the station while Amanda and I drove and “isolated” in her car. Once at the station, Dina and Tom were able to get on the bus… and Amanda and I drove our separate cars home… safe! It was weird not giving Tom a hug goodbye, but we know the times we live in… and we don’t need a hug to know we love each other… even though it would’ve been nice.
The Schoolhouse is Once Again… quiet.
It’s now Monday morning, Dina and Tom are back at home in Idaho, Amanda is back at her place, and I’m here with Xander in The Schoolhouse listening to the hum of fans and air conditioners as I reflect on the past two weeks. Four and a quarter years ago I was taught the lesson that nothing in life is guaranteed. I was taught the lesson that the amount of love we have for someone or something does not have a direct correlation to the amount of time we have to spend with them. I was taught the lesson… and forced… to live in the present and to make the most out of whatever experience I was currently going through, both the good ones and the bad. I have a good life. I have a good job. I have good friends. I have memories of a beautiful life with my wife, Kateri… who I will cherish and love till the day I die. I love my sister, Dina. I love my brother-in-law, Tom. I love my girlfriend, Amanda. I love that they were all here with me at The Little Red Schoolhouse in the woods of Vermont for last two weeks… and I currently miss them all.