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This post is long overdue.  I started a draft many weeks ago titled “Countdown to Kentucky,” but gave up on finishing it when I had to throw my countdown calendar out the window and resign myself to being here in suburbia much longer than I’d planned, when it became apparent the final projects were progressing more s-l-o-w-l-y than originally allowed for.  As usual, I underestimated the time and energy needed for several of the most complex, labor-intensive portions.  How does anyone know how long a certain job will take from start to finish?  All we can do is throw a dart on the wall and aim for it, which is what I did.  So I aimed too low.

I’m still counting down, but the target is softer now, made squishy with humility.  First it shifted four weeks to the right of my first departure date, and now another week or two is inevitable, if I want to get everything done.  And I do.  Though I would dearly love to be at the Farm already instead of here.

Truth is, aiming at leaving early (my original date was May 16th) has helped me accomplish an enormous amount of work in a ridiculously short period of time, much more than if I’d had a more “realistic” departure timeline.  I call this working better under pressure.  Scare yourself into thinking you only have a week to build a spaceship, and you will probably get at least the launch pad poured by Friday, all by yourself, which would be a monumental achievement by any measure.  This pretty well describes what I’ve been up to since March 26th, after my household goods were all packed in the trailer and taken away, leaving me free to concentrate on the landscaping projects.

My “Daily Notes and To-Do Lists” notebook charts the course of these final efforts, and it is truly amazing to look back through the days/weeks/months and see what I’ve gotten done.  It makes the list of work remaining look really, really small, which is such a good thing.

The moving trailer was picked up on Monday, March 26th; on March 28th two pallets of block and a yard of gravel for the last terrace wall were delivered, and I spent the day moving more than a half-ton of concrete by hand from the driveway to the edge of the backyard.  The Final Landscaping Projects phase had begun in earnest.

I’ve kept a rigorous schedule since then, fueled by my passion to get everything done and focused on the mid-May departure date.  My day – every day of the week – begins at 5 am with coffee-making and a shower, then out the door walking the dogs by 6:30, then back home to breakfast for the three of us.  I’m lacing on workboots and grabbing my gloves by 8 am, just as though I were working on my old landscape crew.  I knock off around 6:30 pm to take the dogs for their second walk of the day, then it’s shower and eat something and check email and update status on Facebook and finally drag myself to bed.  Blog posts take too long for me to write at this pace.  A simple sentence or two and a progress photo on my facebook page has been about all I can manage.  But it has paid off:  I am down to the last of it now, and the things completed outnumber the things left to do by a long shot.

I’m still not done yet, though.  As far along on the list of things as I am, I’m still here; the dogs and I are still here in San Diego, walking the chaparral canyons for exercise instead of hiking up the farm road or running through the lush pastures of the farm; making improvements to this little suburban home instead of setting up our livestock operation in Kentucky.  I dare not even plan the final trip, having already forfeited a non-refundable ticket for what I thought would be Bear’s return flight after helping me drive out there and unload, purchased when the best guess I could come up with was it would all be done by mid-May.

Ah, well.  This is life, this is but a small glitch in the Big Project, this is nothing, really, in the Big Scheme of Things.

In truth, it is a test of my strength, and fortitude, and determination.  I planned to do these renovation projects on the house and yard before I left and it is important to me to finish them and leave this little place in good condition when I go.  So I am in limbo here; working joyfully on hugely satisfying projects I’ve had to postpone for years and finally have the time to do, but aching to be gone, to be planted on the Farm, rising every morning with an even longer list of projects to throw myself into.

This strange and frustrating moment where I am stuck between my two lives will end soon.  I’ll survive project limbo, and one fine day I’ll pack the dogs up into the little Toyota pickup with the last of my earthly possessions in a Uhaul trailer behind, and drive east.  Probably through tears, a little sad to leave it all behind.

So don’t let the lack of blog posts make you think I’ve given up on the Big Project:  it’s just a trying time, and every minute’s precious, and I’m keeping an abnormal work schedule to get through to the end of it all here so I can finally make the move.

Back to work I go…

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The last winter storm of the season blew rain through San Diego County today, making for a very wet, very windy St. Patrick’s Day.  I’ll have to don green and raise a Guinness with friends at the local pub another year, as I’ve only 4 days left to finish packing before the moving truck is here to be loaded, and still have a ways to go.  The end of this labor is very near.

So it’s St. Packing Day for me, and I’ll wait to celebrate until the last box is nestled inside the big trailer and the doors are closed and locked, ready for the storage yard.  A 28-foot trailer will be delivered out at the curb on Wednesday and picked up the following Monday, giving us five days to cram all the belongings I’ve collected over the years into what I hope will be enough space.  Never having moved by commercial truck before, and being an official stuff-monger, I’m a little worried that it won’t all fit.  I guess we’ll see.

Anything that doesn’t fit will have to go with me in the little U-haul trailer I plan to pull behind my Toyota pickup when I finally drive out to the Farm.  That will hold things like my tools and home office stuff, hazmat items that can’t be shipped commercially, things I’ll need right away, things I’ll need here at the house to finish up the landscaping projects – these things will go directly with me to Kentucky.  There should be room for odds and ends.

I started packing bit-by-bit over a year ago in anticipation of this move.  Needing to make room in the hallways to paint and replace baseboards, I rented a little storage space last Spring and started moving books and boxes into it a few at a time.  I boxed up half my fabric stash to make room in a spare bedroom closet for Bear’s model train stuff, and then stored all my hanging clothes to make room in my closet for dresser drawer modules, enabling the rearrangement of the master bedroom into a Bear Cave.

Since the 2nd of March I have been packing full-time; emptying cabinets, dragging boxes out of attics, wrapping things and fitting them into the right size boxes, over and over again.  My thumb tips are cracked and sore from handling all the paper and cardboard, and the dogs spook at the ripping noise the tape rolls make as boxes are assembled and taped up.  The flurry of activity has them on edge.  We’re deep into it, I tell them.  This is how we get to the Farm.

Some days I rue the packrat in me.  Conventional wisdom advocates thinning out stored belongings before a move, donating or throwing away items that can be purchased at your new location.  Well, I don’t want to have to buy a lot of stuff, ever again.  So I grit my teeth and lovingly, carefully, wrap each cider bottle and canning jar in bubble wrap and then a sheet of newspaper, nestle all sorts of useful objects together in boxes and label them for the future, knowing they’ll stay stacked on tall shelves out in the shop building until a need for them arises.

It’s a fine line between having too much stuff, and skillfully conserving resources on hand.  I supposed it is good to have to move it all every twenty years or so, just to force yourself to take an inventory and dispose of what no longer has any value.  I have donated a dozen boxes  of clothing and miscellany to Goodwill, given away California gardening books, and thrown out some things that just disintegrated with age.  But most of what I am packing (and will have to unpack on the other end) is useful, and cherished, and will save me from expending limited funds at some point, so I consider it worth the effort.

Bear will have more than a bed and a TV left, in case you’re wondering.  Mostly I am taking the excess, the dust catchers, and leaving a clean, streamlined, efficient and liveable space.  Just right, in my opinion, for a busy bachelor not much good at keeping things tidy.  And all sorts of room to stack his own collected stuff, which will be another bridge to cross when it’s time for him to join me in Kentucky.

But for now, I pack, and pack, and pack.

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It sounds daft, I know, to wish a winter would go by more slowly.  Most folks wish for the exact opposite, fervently hoping February and March will pick up speed and rip by like a sheet of plywood caught in a gale-force wind, bringing warm planting weather behind it.  Hunkered down waiting for spring, the cold dark months usually crawl by with excruciating slowness.  Not this year, not for me.  This winter is the flying sheet of plywood, and I’d give anything to find the kill switch on the wind machine.

Much has been done, but much remains.  Since the rummage sale, I’ve made two trips to Jackson, MS to attend Grazier’s courses given by the Stockman GrassFarmer staff, stopped in Dallas for a weekend to visit my brother and his family, participated in an Appleseed rifle shoot, and made enormous progress on the condo renovation project.  I’ve continued to pack, finishing several rooms and have at long last scheduled my household goods move, putting that target on the calendar, finally.  The point of no return is now behind me, and as the gale continues to howl around me I’m struggling to stay focused and not fumble.

Good shooters learn a lot of techniques that have a great deal of applicability to everyday life.  One of them is how to make a quick, effective magazine change.  Many timed courses of fire require a magazine change, and it’s a good skill to have.  That rifle’s not going to do even the best shooter any good if she’s spent her bullets and can’t get a full mag back in before the charging bear is upon her.  Any exigent scenario would apply, not saying I’m a bear-killer or anything.  But in the heat of a moment as critical as reloading to shoot the charging bear closing in from 30 feet away, the very simple process of dropping an empty magazine, picking up a full one, inserting it into the rifle and charging the chamber for a shot, will become enormously complex, and easily gooned up with unintended fumble factor.  That’s why a mag change is considered an essential element of marksmanship skill, and is part of every test.

The phrase they teach to help us learn it is, “slow is smooth, smooth is fast.”

Think about it.  The main reason for fumbling is hurrying.  And who wouldn’t be hurrying to shove in fresh rounds to kill a charging bear?  But panicked hurrying is the enemy of calm, dexterous movement, and you need dexterity to effect a rapid mag change.  Slowing down, although counterintuitive when you are counting teeth in the angry bear’s mouth, will get that magazine in faster, because it eliminates the inevitable fumble factor.  Hard to do in the face of danger, so we memorize the mantra, and practice, practice, practice.

I am fighting the fumble factor in my life right now.  Finishing my projects here in California and getting myself moved to the Farm before summer, is my mag change.  Bullet on target will be me and the dogs in the little Toyota truck, pulling into the driveway of the farmhouse.   The complexity of the tasks here, the enormity of work remaining to be done, is the charging bear.  There are days when I look around in complete despair, thinking how impossible a task I have in front of me – so much stuff to pack, so much work to be done, and that bear is RIGHT THERE in front of me!

Those thoughts don’t help, they only make me lose focus and motivation and I find myself circling around not really getting anything accomplished, and feeling sorry for myself to boot.  I even start thinking I will NEVER get to the farm, that I’m going to be stuck here in suburbia forever!  Of course that’s just nonsense, but it has the same effect on my ability to get things done in a day, as hurrying and fumbling to change out my rifle’s magazine.

I can’t let the fear and panic I feel prevent me from getting the fresh mag in, and getting the shot off.  I refuse to let that happen.  So I will say, and learn, and practice:  slow is smooth, smooth is fast.

And I will shoot that charging bear before she gets to me.

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I will miss this.  Chard, beets, broccoli, carrots, peas, lettuce, turnips.  In January.  I love my little SoCal garden.

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I don’t know if it is traditional to take a photo of one’s first sunrise of retirement, but my dear friend Liz reminded me to do just that about a week before my big day.  She probabably caught the idea from a recent TV ad for retirement planning but hey, it’s a good idea, don’t you think? 

Capturing the dawning moment of the rest of my life – what a splendid tradition to participate in.  Thank you Liz, for motivating me to pack my camera and tripod down into the chapparal canyon behind our house on that morning walk with Skeet.  It’s not the most perfectly-composed photo, but the best I could do with the delayed-shutter function and a befuddled dog tangling her leash around my legs.  I shall be able to remember that morning forever now.

To refresh the story (which I have let languish far too long):  I have finally reached my 24 year mark with the Navy, and chose to retire at my current paygrade of Lieutenant instead of accepting the promotion to Lieutenant Commander, which would have obligated me for another two years of service.  Why turn that promotion down and retire now?  Because I am no spring chicken, son; and it is high time for me to start the farming enterprise I have been planning for so many years, out in Kentucky on the little farm we bought five years ago. 

Farming is hard work, yes it is.  And I’m not getting any younger; ergo, there’s no time to waste. 

This will be a solo (ad)venture for me for the first few years, as Bear is still gainfully employed in his civil-service position and wants to run with it to his second 20-year retirement.  (He finished up with the Navy in 2000.)  So he’ll stay here at Bear and Thistle West for a time, babysit the underwater mortgage until the housing market starts recovering, and keep the lights on at 637 Redlands.  It’s a non-traditional plan but we hatched it together many years ago and it still works for both of us, so I will soon be Kentucky bound to start my herds and flocks and raise a few chickens too.

Soon.  Not tomorrow, though I would have liked to have been there by now.  However, as my official title is She Who Builds, Landscapes, and Paints Walls, I can’t leave until all the building, landscaping, and wall painting projects are complete.  Mind you, I’ve been working on most of these projects for the past couple of years, and I would have liked to have had them all done by now.  But they’re not, and so I must stay to finish them, and set the Bachelor Bear up for many years of low-maintenance, stress-free home life.

My labors of Hercules, as it were.  There aren’t twelve of them, and they’re not treacherous, but I can’t have my reward (move to the Farm) until they’re done.  And how long, you ask, will these suburban labors take me to finish?  I’m hoping only a couple of months.   So please bear with me as I blog about retaining walls and condo renovation and re-setting flagstone walkways and other non-farm tasks; bit by bit I swear I’ll get this pile-o-work done and get myself and my dogs out to Kentucky where my beautiful farm and the work of a lifetime awaits.

Hoping to travel out in March, before the pastures really start growing, and in time to till up a garden spot.

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Well the big project is done.

It is a fine 6-foot side yard privacy fence atop a well-built concrete knee wall that keeps the wooden fence above the grade of the neighbors’ yard, which varies from 7″ higher than our property at the front to 16″ at the back.  The wall is 53-feet long, supported by an 8″ x10″ footer reinforced with rebar.  That baby ain’t going anywhere.  I built it for eternity.

It replaced the most rotten, crumbling, too-short falling down fence you ever saw, which was a completely inadequate division between my private backyard homestead and a really obnoxious neighbor.  The lady and her kids are quite nice, but this guy is loud, dumb, and intrusive.  I’ve had ample opportunity to develop a deep-seated dislike of his personality just listening to him blaring his weirdness from 20 feet away.  He yells at the kids and the dog.  He’s mean to my favorite neighbor lady friend on the other side.  Then he pokes his head over the falling-down fence and tries to start a conversation with me at 7 am when I’m in my pajamas with pillow face.  I had to build this fence, people.  It was a matter of survival.

Tearing down the old fence didn’t take all that much muscle, as the termite-eaten boards were light as a feather; it just had to be wrangled apart, posts wiggled out, and the whole load driven to the landfill.  But living without a fence between the two yards, no matter how lame a fence it was, is not acceptable in suburbia.  So I bought what seemed like a vast length of shadecloth fabric, affixed grommets to the top and bottom edge, and strung a construction screen from conduit poles to work behind.  It worked pretty well although it didn’t completely block line of sight, and blew over a couple of times during heavy rain and winds, but served the purpose of separating the yards and keeping the neighbor kids from just wandering through.

Then the digging commenced.  I planned to form a 10″ x 8″ footer centered on the property line, and once the fence was down it became clear just how much excavation that would require.  Plus, the ancient bougainvillea bushes on the neighbor’s side had been planted right next to the old fence line and were terrifically overgrown, so they had to be radically trimmed (ouch!) and as the footer trench was excavated, roots sawn through and removed.  Lotsa roots. 

It probably took me the better part of two weeks to get the fenceline cleaned up and ready to form for pouring the footer.  The fabric screen went up and down several times, needing moved back as the dimensions took shape and the need for more space to work became apparent.

As we have no frost level to speak of here in San Diego, I started my footer right at ground level and only made it 8″ deep.  Which is still overbuilt for this light-duty application, but that’s how I like to do things.

  The top of the form is nothing more than oiled 2 x 4’s fastened together and plumbed to stakes.  A  jig built from two 10″ crosspieces and a short board made setting the level and width of the far side relatively easy.  Once the form boards were in and level, I finished digging out the remaining 4 – 5 inches, ran rebar down the length, and fixed 2×3’s along the center to form a key slot for the wall to bond to.

One of the biggest challenges I encountered was working around the edge of the 16-foot slab that the previous neighbors had poured right up to the old fence.  We called a friend over to cut it even with the property line and I poured the footer underneath it, thinking I could somehow form the wall around the dang thing and incorporate the edge within the new concrete.  As I got closer to wall construction I decided the slab needed cut back again, and the new cut edge became one side of the form for the first, low wall section.  Of course, I had to buy a honkin’ saw to get the job done.  Every girl needs a worm-drive Milwaukee saw with diamond blade, don’t you think?

First wall section (about 23-feet long, 7-inches high) formed and ready for concrete:

Front wall section poured, Thanksgiving weekend.  I needed to get the front part of the fence and gate built and the backyard closed back up before we left on our December trip, so I worked at it very steadily and took advantage of the holiday weekend.

The project got a huge boost toward completion when my sister arrived for a week over Christmas and offered to help finish the rest of the wall.  What a great Christmas present!  The weather cooperated, amazingly, and we targeted New Year’s Day for the big pour. 

January 2nd, we poured the last section, the 16-inch high portion.   I lost count of the number of bags, sorry to say.  It was a LOT of concrete though.

I was very pleased with how it turned out, and it was a great learning experience.   Although I’ve done a few concrete projects before I’d never built a concrete wall, and figured this out bit by bit, reading books and adapting instructions to fit my particular situation.  The forms held well, the posts are aligned and plumb, there is rebar running through for strength, and it looks great.

In addition to forming and pouring concrete, the fence boards got two coats of stain, both sides, prior to putting them up.  It is much easier to paint a fence before it’s built.  But it was a patience game, since there were too many to lay out all at once and painting one side at a time meant flipping twice, allowing for drying in between.  Several nights of drizzle set the paint job back until I learned to cover the freshly painted boards with plastic overnight.  The job seemed endless, but I persisted with it, working by worklight in the evenings during the week, and was able to finish building the fence atop the wall by January 6. 

(I never know what vertical reference point to anchor these perspective photos to.  The fence is straight and plumb, as is the house, really.)

I am glad it’s done, and glad it turned out well.

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Yikes, nearly a month gone by without an update.  So much for that New Year’s resolution to post more regularly!

Truth is, I’m out of the habit, and spending an awful lot of time projecting, so free time is truly limited.  One habit I have gotten into, though, is working at least an hour a day outside after I get home from work, often by halogen worklight.  It has really helped me wrap the big fence project up, but it cuts my evenings short inside, leaving just enough time to cook and eat dinner before I have to drag my old bones to bed.

And of course once enough time passes, it can be difficult to find an entry point back into the journaling stream, so much has gotten done and should be reported on.  This fence project, for instance, which none of you’ve heard a thing about but I’ve been working on since mid-October.   I wish I would have written about it a little at a time as it was progressing, instead of leaving it to the end to describe start to finish.  There’s a trick to that I have yet to learn.  It doesn’t help that I’m not a speedy writer, and these days my thoughts are more scattered than ever, so sitting down and capturing a day or two’s worth of happenings seems to be a huge challenge.  I doubt I’m alone in this, though.

But, the side fence is finished, glory hallelujia.  I learned to pour concrete walls and gained a lot of confidence in my ability to see a major project through from just an idea to completion, the product of my own labor.  Yes, I had a little help, but most of the work was mine, and the result delights me to no end.  I’ll give a proper rundown of the whole thing start to finish in a separate post, complete with pictures.  Tonight, I want to just get back to updating, and move forward.

Most weekends I make a to-do list like the one above, starting it bleary-eyed over a hot cup of Saturday morning coffee and adding to it as the day progresses.  I put everything on it I want to get done, whether it seems like too much or not.  I find the challenge of lining things out helps me use my time better, keeps me motivated. 

I didn’t get everything done on my to-do list this weekend, but I came darned close, as you can see.  Last weekend I built a firewood rack and set it up on the New Fence side of the house; this weekend we picked up a half-cord of firewood, two trips in my little truck, which looks to be more like 3/4-cord, so I had to build another rack this morning to unload the second truckload.  Got all that done before noon, in time to listen to the 2nd half of Praire Home Companion that I missed yesterday.  I just about fell asleep out on the back patio listening to the radio, so I went in and took a 30-minute nap.  That wasn’t on my list, but I needed it.  Naps are good.

I’ve started a Ladies Fitness Club with the girls at work, more of a support group than anything, prompted by the need to help one of our top Sailors get back within bodyfat standards after her pregnancy.  She and her husband just bought a house a few blocks from us, so I’ve talked her into getting together to walk her dogs out on the chapparal trails as often as we can.  We started today.  It’s good to be out moving my body again like that.  And the dogs are great therapy.

Leftover meatloaf-and-home-canned-veggie shepherd’s pie tonight, a fire in the fireplace, blog post nearly done.  Good weekend.

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