Autumn leaves and chores

These autumn days in New England warn us about winter’s imminence with crisp, cool mornings and tease us with moderately warm days. I find myself constantly monitoring the outdoor thermometer and the weather app on my iPhone so that I can make the most of any warm spurts that become more fleeting as November creeps closer.

In August, I noticed that the decks near the front and side entrances were looking shabby. The existing stain had weathered, and the wood grain was visible in some places. While the front entrance was quick to prep with an orbital sander, the side entrance required a pressure washer to remove the algae and grime. The facing surfaces are now coated in what Cabot calls “Cape Code Gray”, and the vertical surfaces, such as the balusters and kick boards on the stairs, have been rejuvenated with classic white. As I labored in old paint-spattered clothes that I wear only for this type of work, my son sat happily on our garden tractor which I parked in the middle of the driveway where we could see each other at all times. He pretended to steer the tractor through the fields of his imagination. Occasionally he’d sip apple juice from a baby bottle and then return it to the cup holder on the right side of the seat.

I can check a couple items off my to-do list, but there’s still lots more to do. In September, we had our back deck rebuilt. We upgraded to a composite product for the facing surfaces, and pressure-treated lumber for the rest. The pressure-treated wood has opened up to welcome its first coat of stain. Also, any day now, we should be receiving two cords of partially seasoned wood. It needs to be stacked and covered with tarps promptly so that it doesn’t fall prey to the drenching rains we often see in October. As part of this annual ritual, we rotate the wood that remains from last season so that we burn it first. Then there’s the storing of the wood scraps that are too small to be stacked. By lining the driveway with tarps and having our firewood supplier drop the load right in the middle, we can funnel the scraps of wood into containers so that it’s readily available as kindling. After the scraps have been removed from the driveway, then…well…it’s time to deal with the leaves. We’ll use our gas-powered blower, and force the leaves right into the woods where they’ll return to the earth as compost. Although trees in rural areas blanket the ground with an impressive palette of color, cleanup is a breeze and we don’t have to fumble with heaps of dried-up foliage. This is a special benefit that we enjoy as rural folk.

After the outside chores are done, I clean the hardwood floors, and put a fresh coat of polish down to protect them from the dry air that our wood burning fireplace insert blows through our living area. And by the time the floors are polished, it’ll be time to make space in our living room for our Christmas tree and all the presents that Santa will bring. Because my son is into sandbox trucks right now, like the behemoth and seemingly indestructible Bruder trucks,┬áthese gifts are sure to take up lots of space.

As I ponder the work on my to-do list, it seems daunting considering that I manage it with a toddler in tow. But the rewards on a cool evening are divine. I light a Yankee Candle, like the Apple Pumpkin scent that now graces the kitchen, brew a fresh cup of coffee from our Keurig, and fix my son a bottle of chocolate milk. Then I’m ready to curl up on the couch with him and watch Mighty Machines or play trains as we wait for Daddy to come home and join us for dinner. It’s such a perfect end to an autumn day.

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Reduce, reuse, recycle

Now that I am a mother, I am much more conscientious than I used to be. In days past, I couldn’t be bothered with a recycling regimen. It seemed too cumbersome, and to be honest, I was a little concerned that I’d become obsessed with recycling. Looking back, that was an appropriate concern.

I am active in local Freecycle and other recycling communities in which the goal is to reuse items and keep them out of our landfills. Just yesterday, I was continuing my mission to declutter our house and our lives by offering up a box of homemade hand soaps. It felt like a covert and sinister operation since my husband purchased them from a coworker, and when I asked him about it recently, he wasn’t ready to part with them even though we have no use for them here in our home. We all have sensitive skin, and we stick to the same trusted products. I gave him a few days to think about what he wanted to do with them, and then I quietly offered them up to my online Freecycle group. The interest was astonishing. People were willing to drive great distances to procure homemade soaps, and one woman came promptly to retrieve them.

Within the last couple weeks, I’ve had a couple items fall into disrepair, and I try to be diligent about getting them back into working order. The first was a digital food scale. One of the rubber feet on the bottom of the scale fell off, and the scale wouldn’t tare consistently without it, even after I repositioned the remaining feet to make the scale more balanced. I explained the situation to a customer service rep from the company, and asked if there was any way to get a rubber foot, which I’m sure cost only pennies. He took some of my personal information, and promised to make it right. The next day, I had a new scale in my mailbox. But being the person that I am, I am now finding a home for the other scale that needs a modest repair.

Also recently, my husband’s Carhartt duck work pants that he’s only worn a couple times in the several years he’s owned them incurred a surprisingly fatal injury. When I was washing them, I noticed that the stitching at the waistband had come undone, and since they’re work grade fabric reinforced with extra thick thread, I knew I’d snap several good sewing needles to no avail. When I contacted the company, they pledged to rectify the situation. Like the scale, my husband received a new pair of pants in the mail today, complete with retail tags. At least in the this case, my conscience is not burdened with trying to put the ripped pair back into service. But sadly, I can only assume that the company threw them out.

And within the last couple days, a vinyl roller shade in my son’s bedroom came crashing down when I tried to pull it down to cover the width of two standard-sized windows. The pin that fits into the cradle of the bracket snapped in half rendering the shade unusable. I called Lowes where I bought the shade a couple years ago, and they suggested contacting the manufacturer and provided a telephone number for customer service. Levelor, the shade maker, indicated that my only option is to buy a new one to replace it, and the polite woman on the phone did not know of a way to repair it. Google to the rescue! I found a video online that addresses this common problem with a quick solution if you’ve got the parts handy to fix it, which I don’t, but they’re easy enough to find when I pass by Lowes again.

I’m careful how much “stuff” I accumulate because when I ponder all the material possessions in my life, few things are truly valuable to me. In the last couple years, in part due to a drop in our income, I’ve stopped buying books almost completely. I am an avid supporter of my local library, and if they do not have the titles I want in their collection, they get them efficiently through the Inter-Library Loan, or “I-L-L”, program.

I’ve become that person I feared I’d become. My husband and I accumulate very little trash on a weekly basis — not enough to fill half of the bulky green trash barrel that he wheels to the curb on Friday mornings. Next to the green barrel on most weeks, we place a clear 55-gallon drum liner that is filled with either paper products, including cardboard, or a mixture of plastic, glass, and aluminum. And every week when that big red truck rolls up and the hiss of its air brakes announces its arrival, my son and I race to the window so that we can watch the technological marvel that we call the garbage truck. The moment it pulls away and continues its journey to another home on our road, my son and I are both a little sad. He wants to observe it just a little longer so we can talk about the moving parts, and I am envisioning the landfill where some of the trash goes, the recycling center that handles the rest, and the nifty sorting systems they use to process it all.