City Boy?

I dunno.

Maybe you can take the boy out of the city, but you can’t take the city out of the boy. Maybe we’ve found that we need a little town with our country. Fact is, we now live in downtown Saranac Lake, and we love it. I love walking to shops. I love seeing the fireworks (New Year’s Eve) from our window. I love living in a walkable “Main Street USA” sort of village that has wilderness, boating, and hiking trails within walking distance.

I won’t be too overt location-wise, but we’re pretty much right here at the corner of whosits and whatsis. If I had my windows open, you could call my name from the library steps and I’d hear you.

We’re functionally moved in for now, and we’ll be completely moved in soon. (The RV/Cabin stuff has been moved, but we still need to get the really juicy stuff out of the storage unit.) Meanwhile, it’s fun to be buying curtain rods and pulling things together. Not surprisingly, now that we have a full-size refrigerator and freezer, I’ve become obsessed with freezing things. I think there’s an extra five pounds of mashed potatoes and enough meat for two weeks up in there.

Here’s a few more moving-in-week shots. Nothing’s finished, but we’re getting there.



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A is for Abode

Remember how I went on and on about those little A-frame houses and how quirky and neat we thought they were?

Be careful what you wish for.

We’re moving to downtown Saranac Lake. A small A-frame apartment has become available to us, and it’s a very generous, kind offer.

We adore the apartment, it’s in the village, walking distance to the library, grocery, shops, friends, restaurants. And even with all that, it’s still a bit hidden – off the main road, and overlooking trees. If you’re familiar with the backyards and alleys of downtown Saranac Lake, you might recognize it. (And no doubt, a few readers are very, very familiar with the steeple in the far distance of the photo.)

We will be keeping the Gabriels property. It will become our Summer putter project, much like our neighbor. Perhaps we’ll sell the RV next Spring. Maybe. However, the little cabin will be staying put, and our names will stay firmly printed at the top of our deed. (And tax bill!)

The thing is, the RV is hard. We like it, but it’s hard and it’s expensive. As you know, we take a well-cover off and fill a cistern every day, even when it’s twenty below zero. Every day. We heat an uninsulated RV with propane. It’s a gigantic bill, which takes the rest of the year to pay off.

The pipes freeze a few times a year and have to be thawed and/or repaired. The RV has to be insulated in the Winter, but the insulation can’t stay there for the Summer. We had to have an RV tech in to fix the furnace a month ago. Now the thermostat is now broken … again. I put in a new pump last year – hanging out of the hatch outside on a 20-below day. We carry around a blowdryer because the RV door freezes shut twice a day. I have to defrost the condensation off the windows and mop it up with a towel each day or we get a one-inch-thick window sill made of ice. And of course, we live in about 260 square feet. (Plus 130 sf in the cabin, if you’re willing to go out to start a fire in the stove.)

Compare that to, as I mentioned, a very generous offer.

Little A is four rooms – a bedroom in front, a living room 12×18′ in the middle, a small-but-not-too-small kitchen, and an oddly large bathroom (which I love). There’s a 10′ wide wall of deep closets, and most of the “corner” parts of the bottom of the A-as-in-A-frame have built-ins. The living room has a fireplace and mantel, and although we won’t be using the fireplace, it’s pretty nifty. I want me one of those fakey woodstove electric heater things for it. And our “stuff” will look terrific in there.

That’s right. No more storage unit bills. There will probably be overflow (remember we once had a 1700 sf house full of bric-a-brac, wall things, hundreds and hundreds of books, and general stuff, other than the furniture we got rid of), but the overflow can go into the cabin, because most of the cabin furniture and whatnots will come with us.

Further reason that I love it? It was once the home of Isabel Smith, a tuberculosis curing patient, who became rather famous when Eisenstadt photographed her in Saranac Lake for Life magazine. Isabel was also a memoirist, who wrote about her time in Saranac Lake. Elise Chapin, who ran The Pot Shop on Main Street in the 1950s (and who was also a cure patient and author) also made Little A her home.

Sweet place. There will be plenty of the outdoorsy work stuff I like so much, lots of opportunity for my obsessive snow shoveling habit, and plenty of chances to get in my messing around with plants and fanatical grass mowing.

In sadder news, we had a weasel (or something) attack earlier in the week. Three of the hens were killed (but not eaten). Another had no marks, but seemed very listless and strange. We ran to the store for some StressEez, gave her some extra feed and corn, and we warmed her up. She rallied a little, but she didn’t make it. My favorite yellow Gwen (my Orpington) is still alive and doing perfectly well. Although she seemed sick, she’s now fine. She will be adopted by one-or-another friends when we move.

Good news and bad news. But life is good, and that’s how it comes, right?

You all give me a holler when you see me hop-skip-and-a-jumping the to the library, or down to the Left Bank for a bite. But don’t bother coming up the hill for a visit and knocking on the door … when not playing my piano indoors, I plan to spend most of my time soaking in that big clawfoot tub.


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Merry Christmas from Saranac Lake!

I’ll catch up with you later in the week, friends.

It’s Christmas week and I’m super busy!

This morning was the Christmas Pageant at St. Luke’s in Saranac Lake, and it was absolutely awesome. In addition to the really beautiful work done by Barb and the pageant crew, I had the honor of playing the entire service as a piano & pipe organ duet with our former organist and good friend, Curtis Mercier. It was absolutely wonderful. I wish everyone could have heard the music filling the church and ringing through those historic rafters this morning. It humbles me to know that Dr. Trudeau and generations of Saranac Lakers have been seated in the very same pews, listening to and singing the very same traditional melodies for many, many, many years.

If you’re in the area, up in the morning this week, or you’d like to stop by on your way to work this week – Monday through Thursday mornings, I’ll be playing quiet chants and music of the season on St. Luke’s beautiful pipe organ, from 8 to 8:30 am.

Please feel free to stop by if you’d like to sit quietly, escape the hustle -and-bustle for a few minutes, meditate, or simply enjoy a few tunes. No need to stay the whole time, and you’re invited to come on in whenever you’d like.

The candles will be lit, the red front doors will be open, the accessible ramp and side door from the driveway side will be open, and as always, all are welcome.

*   *   *

A special Merry Christmas this week to Irish45 – a fellow Saranac Lake lover, a fellow student of local history, and someone who is always super kind to this humble correspondent. Thank you so much for the lovely email. Wish you were here, but in lieu of a long trip, here are a few photos – the one of the church in the snow is from earlier this week.


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A Typical Monday

Here are just a few examples of why St. Luke’s is never a boring place to work. In fact often, it’s downright fun.

I’m usually the first one in, so I unlock the doors. Mondays and Thursdays specifically are Community Lunch Box days – an awesome program that provides nutritious, homemade meals to folks who might not otherwise have nutritious food. Also an opportunity for fellowship.

After unlocking the doors, I usually sit down to drink some of my coffee and have something to eat. Today I had my coffee and a donut, and the day seemed to be moving along in a fairly normal fashion. The most unusual thing that happened was that I missed unlocking one of the doors. Mother Ann caught it. Following my little breakfast this morning, I got some music work done, and made some notes for a meeting. Pretty ho-hum.

Most days, I like to observe Terce (or Third Hour) – my short organ/prayer service that I enjoy. My personal version is mainly psalms and a few chants or carols of my choice on the organ at 9am. Very nice today, and I found some neat music.

Later this morning, Mother Ann and I were meeting in her office, going through some music and Christmas things. I had some information to relay to concerning next week’s music. Bang, bang, bang, bang, bang on the door. Some car hit the railing out front.

While Mother Ann was outside dealing with that, I went back into the main church building to get my big fat music book. I went back into her office and sat down. I realized I forgot a piece of paper I wanted, so I went and got it. I went back into Mother Ann’s office and sat down. After a few minutes, I decided I wanted my coffee, so I went to get it. And then I went back into the office and sat down.

As I am coming down the hallway the final time, one of the Lunchbox volunteer guys is staring me down really weirdly. He follows me into Mother Ann’s office and asks if he can help me. I simply say, “No,” and continue to sit there, going back to the notes I am looking at. He asks if I am waiting for someone. While I am thinking to myself, “What on Earth is this guy doing in here?” I explain, “Yes. I’m waiting for Mother Ann.” He turns around and leaves. Odd.

It is at this point that it dawns on me – I am not exactly the most conservative-looking church organist in the world, and today I happened to be unshaven, wearing old flannel, and sporting work boots … repeatedly walking in and out of the Priest’s office while she’s outside.

Dress for success, friends. Dress for success.

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We Wear Grass Skirts in Winter

or, I’ll Huff, and I’ll Puff, and I’ll Blow Your House Down

Winter is here, and frankly, we were late in being ready for it.

However, now we’re in good shape. Better than good. The plumbing and pipes have been returned to their previous non-frozen, liquid-delivering state. We are fully insulated (to say the least), the pipes are safe, we’re warm and cozy, and we have a new resident trapped under the RV. I’ve nicknamed him The 50-Below Heater. He’s a heater inside the underbelly and behind the wall of insulation, in case there is ever like, some freaky 50-below situation. And we brought home a new emergency heater. (No doubt, none of these things will ever be used, now that we’ve gone to the trouble.)

But what I really came to tell you about is our insulation adventure. And if I do say so myself, it is both functional and stylish. Big bales of straw, friends. Two feet deep and three feet long. Last year we used one-inch thick foam insulation board. Did the trick and we never froze, but I hate working with the stuff. This year we used straw bales. I don’t know exactly what the r-value of a two-foot thick straw bale is, but I’ll guarantee you it’s a hell of a lot higher than one inch of styrofoam.

Thart’s a larta straw bales!

You think it looks like an RV Tiki Bar?
I was going for a sort of manger/Christmas feel.
Or maybe it’s Cleopatra’s White Trash Barge.

Baby is decked out for Winter!

After packing in the straw bales very tightly and stuffing every single little crack, la Caravane de la Paille gets a layer of packed snow at the bottom to seal the deal.

This makes us completely okey-dokey down to however-much-below zero. It’s far more that we did previously, and we were fine down to 30-below last year. (In fact, when a few around-the-corner neighbors had frozen pipes, ours were fine.) Anyhow. This is far more than we very likely need to do. But an extra measure of security is nice to have, and truth be told, it was kind of fun. And besides, it’s unique and it looks super weird. After all, we have rep to protect!

“What are those lunatics in the RV doing now?!”



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City Sidewalks, Busy Sidewalks

One of the first things I noticed about Saranac Lake in the Winter was those nifty little sidewalk snow plows they have. A little mini plow the width of the sidewalk. Never saw such a thing. In the city, each resident was responsible for the sidewalk out front, and if you didn’t shovel it, you got a ticket. Merry Christmas from New York City!

Hey, look! Snow dog! We’re all out in the snow! For us humans, most of our outside time is spent shoveling. We’re looking at five days of snow, probably a foot or more so far. We like the entire width and depth of our driveway cleared, so we’ve been out there each day, sometimes twice. As I’ve said before, I think it’s fun. Although I have to admit – Sometimes, maybe once a week, when it’s a night shovel and I am lifting the last scoop full, I start to think twice about shoveling a 25 x 50′ driveway by hand. But usually I’m just smiling. It’s a sickness.

In other news … it’s Christmas! Between community-fun-friendly activities and work activities, my Winter comes in like a lion (as they say). Truth be told, I bailed on playing in the orchestra for The Messiah. I realized that in all of the month of December, there were only five days that did not have something marked on the calendar. Something had to go. I was doubling a part anyway, and learning the music would have been a time problem. So, I bailed. But, now I know what level of activity I can handle for the holiday season. Of course, I’m still playing in the orchestra for the Holiday Concert at Will Rogers (this Saturday at 7:30pm), and all the super neat stuff at St. Luke’s – morning meditations, Christmas Eve, Sunday holiday services. And I’ll play in the Winter Carnival concert. More on all that later.

Inside the ol’ tin can, we’re warm and cozy, but we have the usual Winter water problems. Often, the water is fine. But depending on the direction of the wind, the day of the week, the phase of the moon, and how far below zero we are, lines freeze up. Usually just part. And usually not this early. At any rate, something’s frozen in a weird place I can’t get to. I’m considering two plans based on go-another-route-because-it’s-just-going-to-happen-again.

Plan A is a more advanced version of what we have previously called the Laura Ingalls Wilder System. Maybe put a heated 40 gallon cistern in a corner inside, or a stock tank outside the door with a heater. Fill the cistern (tank) each morning from the well. Keep a giant pot on the stove over a low flame for hot water (à la the Wilders). Maybe something with a spout above the sink for washing dishes. I know it sounds crazy, but believe it or not, we’re used to it.

Plan B is a little more involved. Most of the plumbing and the cold water lines are inside the “basement,” under the bedroom where the furnace and pump are. Those never freeze. Never-ever. But the hot water and kitchen lines run under a section of floor that I can’t get to. Those are the lines that give us trouble. I could potentially take the lines out and relocate them to inside the heated area. However, re-plumbing half an RV is a huge project.

Now, where did I put that giant stock pot?


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Advice from the Wilders

Twelve hour power outage yesterday.

The electricity went out at about one in the afternoon, coming back on at about one in the morning. Odd thing being, it took me a while to notice it. With the battery backup and 12v system in the RV, the only things that need grid power are the microwave, air conditioner, and wall sockets. Although my computer ran out of juice, I hardly needed the air conditioner. And we had light, water, the furnace, and the ability to cook.

Although we probably had two days worth of power if we were conservative, we decided to be super-conservative. If this ended up lasting a few days, I wanted the furnace working as long as possible. Of course, I still allowed myself the luxury of a shower at night and a shower in the morning. That’s the best part of having power even if the lines are down – the 12v water pump still works.

If the outage had gone on for several days, we would have (as we have before) gone pioneer and moved out to the tinycabin, stoking the woodstove for heat. We’d use the propane stove. We would toss a five gallon bucket on a rope down the well to get water, and then heat it on the woodstove. We’d take a half-bath in a washtub.

And then Laura Ingalls Wilder would walk in and whisper, “Hey stupid, the power’s been back on for three hours!”



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