We slid right into the last couple of days before Christmas, with everything coated with ice yesterday morning. I spent most of the day scraping ice, doing last-minute shopping, and cooking up Fantasy Beef Stew* in preparation for Christmas dinner. (Today I’ll be cooking Spacetime Chicken Stew.**) This is so we can have a fine feast, but not spend all day Christmas cooking.
I probably won’t be online much until after Christmas (when we’ll be hosting my brother and his wife and two dogs, our daughters and their boyfriends, and a few other good friends in the bargain). So say I’ll Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to everyone now! Merry Christmas! Happy Holidays!
I thought of writing a rhetorical piece about “How did celebrating the birth of Jesus turn into such a frantic race to get everything done?”—not that that applies to us personally, no!—but I decided instead to take a dog’s eye view of the day. Here’s Captain Jack checking out the beautiful, icy pine tree.
*Named in homage to Diana Wynne Jones’s take on hearty stew in fantasy worlds, in The Tough Guide to Fantasyland: The Essential Guide to Fantasy Travel.
When last we saw our intrepid heroes, the paving crew had departed and our heroes were left to reinstall the fence that just one year ago, they had fashioned from raw lumber with their skinned knuckles and calloused hands. Groundhog Day all over again. This might have been a job for a short afternoon break, if everything still fit as it had originally. Of course, nothing did, and so putting it all back took a little longer. But now it is done!
Those are permeable pavers, by the way, in “Beacon Hill Blend.” It’ll be interesting to see how they work out for draining water when Ma Nature hits us with the snows and whatnot.
Day two of the driveway rebuild. A tale to be told mainly in pictures.
Here they work on the permeable concrete pavers near the garage:
The first of two layers of asphalt gets its start:
Loading up the paving machine for the straight run down the drive:
Starting the top layer:
Here’s the final result!
Tomorrow, I hope to put the fence and gate back up. They need to come back and tweak one thing. And then it will be done.
I learned from this project: a) that there are still people out there who do really good work; and b) that no matter how good they are, you still have to be there, checking every detail. Details have a way of getting lost in the dust cloud of construction. If I hadn’t been there looking in every couple of hours and asking for corrections, we would not have been nearly as happy. But we’re delighted with the final product!
While Mother Nature is tearing things down left and right, we’re doing our little bit to build things up. When we bought our fixer-upper, one of the items on our major house-projects list was to replace the cracked and shifting concrete driveway. Now, a mere 26 years later, we are having it done. The proximate cause was a desire to have Allysen’s mom be able to walk on it without risking her neck. But the guy who shovels the snow every year (me) was not above putting in that he wouldn’t mind having a smooth surface to scrape away at.
Many daunting tasks needed doing to prepare for this undertaking, but the hardest for me psychologically was taking down (even if temporarily) a big section of fence I just built and installed a year ago. Here’s how it looked before today.
The paving crew arrived at 7:30 this morning, which anyone who knows me knows is only a theoretical time of the day, as far as I’m concerned. We had to be not just awake enough to move the cars out of the driveway, but awake enough to discuss design details and make decisions. I wonder if they started this early when they built Rome in a day.
Here’s how things looked, soon after, as they tore up the old concrete:
And cut away the most cracked and crumbling part of the garage floor:
And installed the line of granite cobblestone that will edge the driveway:
And smoothed out the newly patched floor:
And laid out concrete pavers on the new patio-in-progress:
All that has happened today. And they’re still out there working.
The situation on the ground in “our” part of Puerto Rico (Ponce) is apparently a lot tougher than we had come to believe. Allysen finally got through to the next-door neighbor for a talk via cellphone. She says conditions are terrible. Still no water, and this in the second largest city on the island. Still no power. They fire up the generator for about an hour a day to charge things up, and they’re being very miserly with the water that’s left in their cistern (which, fortunately, is larger than average for a home). They have enough food still, but many, many people are hungry. The land feels devastated, and for the first two weeks, they felt utterly abandoned. The National Guard was down there somewhere, they supposed, but nobody came up to their side of the city until just recently.
Her description of our property was pretty discouraging, too. We still haven’t seen any pictures, but apparently trees are down everywhere, making things look like a bomb went off. We’re hoping that the original report that the house itself is okay was accurate, but we just won’t know until somebody can send us some pictures.
Frances said in her whole life on the island, she’s never seen anything even remotely this bad. The kicker is that, prior to the hurricane, tourism had been on the rise. Cruise ships had been coming in—not just to San Juan, but to ports like Ponce. Even our house was getting rented. All that’s over. I hate to think how long it will take to rebuild a viable economy.
These folks still need our help in a big way—and will, for a long time to come.
We finally heard from our friend and property caretaker in Ponce, and the word is that he and his family and their house are okay! (Concrete house; concrete structures fared far better in the storm than wooden structures.) We had gone so long without word that we were worried, to say the least. But, he said, the cell companies were working together to get communications back up, and he was at last able to call out. He’s been working extremely long hours as a policeman, and he reports that people have really been pulling together to put things back together. The U.S. military is there, and has been providing much-needed assistance. A little bit of power has come back in the city. I don’t know about water.
Our own house (when I say “our,” I mean my mother-in-law’s) escaped major damage, though a much-loved mahogany tree went down, and also a large Northern pine. There was some damage from the trees falling, but amazingly, all but one of the windows survived, and that one was on the side of an open-air dining area that was exposed to the elements anyway. The road up the hill to the house was cleared by the residents.
We count ourselves and the people we care about extremely fortunate, to say the least. I wish the same were true of everyone. These pictures from the New York Times can serve as a reminder that the people of Puerto Rico still very much need our help.
As I write this, Hurricane Maria is riding across Dominica and other Caribbean islands, trying to destroy whatever Irma left standing. I cannot imagine what it must be like for the residents of those small islands. Maria has been gaining and losing intensity, in the sense that it’s going back and forth between Category 4 and Category 5. Neither of those is something you want to see coming at you.
Sometime Wednesday, Maria will hit Puerto Rico (the red blob in the center of the storm track). We are of course worried about our friends and the family property in Ponce. The current predicted storm track looks as though it will hit San Juan hardest, but will likely also hit the southern coast of Puerto Rico harder than Irma did. All we can do is wait and pray.
Here’s a stunning and sobering video composition of Irma, Katia, and Jose as seen from a new NOAA weather satellite, GOES-16.
Click to view the video on the NY Times website. Do it. It’s worth it. Be sure to scroll down the page, as there are several video perspectives. These amazing images are from a satellite that’s not yet even fully operational.
Do we really want to cut funding for this kind of science? (The current administration does.) Or are we ready to take seriously the problem of global climate change?
Irma Round One (Puerto Rico) left us with gratifying news for our family—friends and neighbors okay, and the house in good shape. We’re still awaiting a detailed report, but word is that the south side of the island didn’t get hit too badly. If there was any damage to the house, we haven’t heard about it yet and it’s unlikely to be serious. We’re keeping an eye on Jose, but it seems to be sheering away.
With that worry down, we turn our attention to Florida, where my brother will be first to feel the effects, near Miami, and then right up the length of the state, where we have family and friends in various locations. Chuck and Youngmee and the dogs are hunkered down in place, having decided that they’re probably as safe in their own house as anywhere on the road or in upstate Florida, given that the whole state is in the hurricane’s crosshairs. The late shift toward the west is good news for them, though not so good for folks on the Gulf Coast. Keeping all appendages crossed, and praying for everyone’s safety!
Our return home was marred by one tiny detail: Moonlight, our beloved 18+ year old cat, had developed an infection in our absence and started using the dining room carpet instead of her litter box. Ugh. Our stalwart housesitter, being new to animal care, knew something was wrong but didn’t know what (not that she could have done much about it, anyway). So we walked in, put our bags down, sniffed the air, and within half an hour were preparing to tear up carpet. We had to throw out about half the carpet in the room. Fortunately, it was a patchwork carpet—pieces of different colors laid down artistically by yours truly. That at least made it easier to take up.
Now—great quantities of Nature’s Miracle, vinegar, and peroxide later—we are engaged in medical treatment and retraining, per excellent advice found on the net.
Just in time to go away again. Jayce and I are off to Miami to help my brother Chuck celebrate his 70th birthday. How can that be possible? We aren’t that long out of school, really! Allysen’s mom is having some medical issues, unfortunately, so Allysen is staying behind this time. And Lexi? She’s in Norway!
*From a GrumpyCats.com t-shirt owned by my daughter.
We had already planned to spend the day seeing the city of Reykjavik, and it turned out we had picked the day of a huge annual Culture Festival, a little like our First Night. The parks were full of musicians and people celebrating one way or another, and it also turned out to be a day when nobody minded if you parked on the grass at the edge of the overfull parking area. (Coming from Boston, where that would be an invitation to the tow trucks, it felt like a big boon.)
Here’s a picture of the National Library, which unfortunately was closed.
Across the street was the National Museum of Iceland, which I got no pictures of, but which had a lot of interesting exhibits about the history of Iceland (something I was completely ignorant about). After working our way through that, we set off on foot to see the “grim church”—which was not at all grim, but a magnificent modern cathedral named Hallgrímskirkja, a Lutheran church with a towering steeple you can go up in for a view of the city. There was a music festival on in the church, as well—unrelated, I think, to the city festival—so we listened for a bit and then went topside for the view.
The fellow on the pedestal in front of the cathedral is Lief Erickson, the statue a gift from the United States, back in the 1930s. I’m not sure what the occasion for the gift was.
Next morning was departure day, with an early drive to Keflavik and the international airport. Their method for handling departures was interesting, to say the least. After working our way through a long duty-free store—I’ve never seen so much chocolate and licorice and booze in my life—we spotted the sign to our gate: 20 minutes walking time away, according to the helpful sign. (They might have mentioned that sooner, I thought.) We sped up. At the end of that race, we found ourselves at the end of a pretty narrow concourse, where people were trying to get on four different flights with the exact same departure time and were gathered in a big scrum. (“Are you in the line for Boston?” “No, this is the line for Dulles.” “Toronto is over there.”) Boarding was via stairs—one last lungful of crisp Iceland air before stepping into a flying canister full of the last flight’s exhalations.
Somehow we made it, though. Four hours later, I was peering down at the Maine coast with its splattering of islands—I had no idea there were so many!—and less than six hours later, we were back in Boston. Home again.