Such a Pretty Ugly

Don’t get me wrong; I love living here. I love living here year-round and appreciate all the modifications necessary for a warm winter. But that doesn’t mean I see it all through rose-colored glasses.

And the truth is, it gets ugly around here in winter. Here is what it is like in an 1909 summer cabin in a winter with regular lows around negative fifteen:

For one, we have this pink Styrofoam insulation up along several of the walls. There is no way for us to put insulation inside the walls themselves without extensive work (drilling holes & adding foam insulation is not an option without further knowledge of the wiring).

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I don’t really mind the pink panels. I do think they are ugly, but for the most part I optically tune them out. The biggest pain is the physical space they take up. It’s only an inch or so here and there but on our front porch, where it is narrow and we need it the most, it adds up.

The front porch in general gets the brunt of ugly in the winter, which is a shame because it is the room with the best views and the most views. Looking out at Meta Lake, the porch is walled on three sides by huge windows. Even with the pink panels and the vinyl/shrink wrap over the glass, it’s too cold to stay out here to enjoy the view. The front porch is also the default area to store items that may be kept outside at other times of the year. It used to be, back when this was a “summer” cabin, that EVERYTHING got stored here. You couldn’t move around until you started hauling things out. Now we try and store much of the outdoor furniture under the house.

Besides the panels, the other all-around home ugliness is the vinyl or plastic over all the windows. We have a hard time getting the sticky-tape that comes with conventional window plastic kits to stick over the length of our windows and for the duration of winter. So instead Tom buys bulk vinyl and/or window plastic (depending on sales, availability, etc.) and tacks it up with wood lathing and penny nails. On the porch windows that do not have storm windows, he hangs vinyl on the outside as well. Very ugly. But very effective.

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The hope is that with the vinyl…and maybe some of the thicker plastic?…we can take it down carefully and reuse it next year. Last year I spent a few hours pounding penny nails out of wood lathing so those could be salvaged.

I would love to not have to put up the plastic and I hate the idea of putting nail holes in the house year after year. But the alternative is to re-do all the porch windows. Too expensive even at it’s cheapest for us right now.

Another necessity, for another year or so at least, is this cement board smack dab in the middle of our living room. The original hearth is technically illegal for even the fireplace itself, let alone the cast iron stove that protrudes almost a foot. We will, in time, cut part of the floor away and inlay a decorative piece of metal for a permanent solution. But the fireplace will be in jeopardy whenever the house is lifted for the basement addition. So until we know the final outcome, the cement board stays. We have wanted exactly zero inside fires during the summer so at least we get a seasonal reprieve from this eyesore and foot hazard when it can be stored away.


While not exactly ugly, the “staging” area for our wood pile is not pretty either. It’s also a space hog. Again on a narrow porch, the back porch this time, we put down one of those shallow tubs a washing machine rests in. When wood is dragged over from the wood pile (we use a small sled and often then pull the sled up into the house), wood gets stacked here first for snow to melt away.


Very few of these uglies will be rectified by a basement addition.  That would be like a tummy tuck fixing your drooping eye lids.  There is the hope that the additional heat insulation a basement provides would mean not everything pictured here is 100% necessary for winter survival.  But I’m not holding my breath.

When these ugly ducklings make their appearance in fall, I am dismayed but also a little excited.  It is a sign of change and a thrill to batten down the hatches.  It is us against the elements and we will win!

But now, five months later, I am tired of them.  I wish for different changes.

Remind of that when my car gets stuck in the spring mud pit that is our driveway.

Hot Flashes

I know I have written this here at least once, but to refresh everyone’s memory…our little cabin in the woods was built basically a 1-season cabin.  The only heat available until Tom and I moved here permanently was 1) the fireplace (which for some reason after the awesome stash of firewood under the house was used up no one ever thought to, you know, BUY MORE WOOD) and 2) electric in-wall heaters.

With those two antiquated systems and $800/month to pay the electric bill, you could maybe survive here in spring and fall.

But winter was definitely out.

There is no basement.  No insulation in the walls.  When we started there was a smattering of fiberglass mixed with lots of animal droppings in the attic.

Tom ended up with the plan to put radiant floor heating in so that we can live here year-round.  We looked at inserts for the fireplace and even traditional furnaces, but pumping hot water through tubing was the cheapest, least invasive way we could keep ambient temps above freezing.

(We will, at some point, add a basement.  We will add a bedroom down there and come winter, that will be a prized location because right now?  Our crawlspace?  IS A SAUNA OF AWESOMENESS.  With only reflective sheeting between the tubes and the crawlspace, it is by far the warmest area of the house.)

The radiant floor heating was a great idea.  The fact that Tom figured it out and installed it (all but hooking up the hot water heater to our new natural gas line) was amazing and astonishing and let’s all just agree that me snagging a man like that falls under “Life’s Not Fair” for all the other single ladies out there.  So not worthy.  And yet, here I sit with warm toes writing this blog!

One of the things Tom did in deciding to install it himself was pay for a professional to design our system and provide his expertise to our unique situation.  In paying the professional, we received discount codes to major producers of radiant floor heating items.  That paid for the fee itself.  Let alone the advice.

For example, the professional gave Tom the advice to NOT install tubing in certain areas.


Like underneath your toilet.  Because hot flashes while pooping are categorized as Not.  Cool.IMG_5689.JPG

(The pink stuff on the walls is thermal insulation.  We have that tacked all around our crawlspace with other insulated material to keep our heat, well, ours.  Since there is no insulation in our walls, we put it up in the winter inside the house to make our heating more efficient.)

He also said to plan to not run tubing under your refrigerator.  Tom extended that to the pantry so we can store food and drink with cooking/hot toddying them.



So with this advice in mind and plans in hand, Tom crawled under the house for a few months.  And we survived last winter – the Coldest Winter On Record in these parts – quite nice with an additional wood-burning stove insert into our fireplace and lots of nice wood which is an entirely different post.

This one is long enough, THANKYOUVERYMUCH.

Last winter we learned there were some things the “Radiant Floor Heating Expert” didn’t know.

Like, you don’t want to cook your cat litter boxes unless you REALLY LIKE the smell of cat poop all throughout the house.


That’s the same pink insulation you saw on the walls.  Keeps heat AND poop smells in! What WON’T it do??

But mostly we learned about added benefits.  Such as, having bed ruffles traps heat under beds and when a cat is missing during the winter you have a one and four (four being the current number of beds in the house) chance of knowing exactly where they are.

For the most part, I forget that we have radiant floor heating.  It’s the small things like – why is this box warm?  how did my shoes get dry? – that snap me back from regular life to radiant floor heating life.

And so, today, when I cleaned the cat water fountain (OF COURSE OUR CATS HAVE A WATER FOUNTAIN.  Are you new here?)  (Seriously, we have had urinary tract issues up the wazoo, which I suppose might be translated to urinary tract to some and therefore accurate without this aside BUT IT IS HERE ANYWAY DAMMIT.  If you have peeing issues with your cat, consider a water fountain.  Seriously) when I decided to swish a bit of vinegar in the reservoir to combat mold, and came across a pleasantly…warm..concoction.


Warm wishes this holiday season from the Jessica In Progress household.  Especially under the sink.

Happily Ever After

Family has been here.

B & V (Betty and Veronica, of Archie fame which is MUCH HARDER to purchase now then when I was nine) was a big hit with my SIL snd SILOR (Sister-in-law-once-removed).

We had a great time. If anything, I wish I’d said “screw it” to work on Thursday as well as Wednesday to hang out.  Drinks were drunk.  Humanity was fought with Cards.  Catan was Settled.  Fall leaf colors were collected.  Food was grilled and fried.

This represents the last (as we know it) hosting we will do for awhile.  Holiday plans are set elsewhere and Tom and I will (hopefully, pretty please?) be too busy with holiday shoppers in between.

There are some stressful events in our midst.  For legal and professional reasons I don’t feel the desire to vent them here.  Mostly, they are financial.  Which in the end means very little because we are still very fortunate and have options.  (These are more personal financial issues than professional – the shop is fine.  For a 9 month-old-shop, that is.)

I really feel like this week should be “buckle down and tackle hard problems” week.  While we may not officially “close” the cabin for the season anymore, the last guest has written on the chalkboard and the laundry is waiting to be washed.  Fun is done.  Important and Adult and Serious is here to stay.

Yet…after a quick sweep of the vacuum and a dip of dishes in soapy water, we are left with a much cleaner and cozier cabin than we’ve had most summer when we were so busy our feet moved too quickly to stick to the un-mopped kitchen floor.

Not only does a string of guests mean the house is clean, but the pantry is full too!  Not of Ramen and beans (fiscally responsible/destitute food), but leftover S’mores ingredients and those emergency crackers we never broke into because someone bought more chips!

So…I am going drink my way-too-caloric drink, nibble on a chip, hug my shoulders up to my face that beams with squinched up eyes in pleasure at my surroundings, and tackle being an adult some other day.

Back To My Normal

Everything I want to write about deserves so much more time and attention than I have to give at the moment.  Fingers crossed I make it back soon to give topics justice…

We had a house guest…two weeks?…ago?…and I forgot to ask him how I might refer to him here (if he felt comfortable with being named at all).  A friend from years and years ago.  I couldn’t (and therefore didn’t) take time off for his visit, but he relaxed and entertained himself and we did manage an afternoon trip to see some of the nature sites the upper peninsula of Michigan has to offer.  There was also good beer and a camp fire.

I couldn’t take time off because I had already scheduled a week off, starting the day he left, to join some of my dearest friends at The Wildcat Sanctuary in Minnesota.  This is the first trip our non-profit, Animal Warriors, has managed to coordinate remotely.  Three people flew in from Tampa, one New Mexico person arranged work travel in such a way she was already in MN, and I drove over.

We worked our asses off together over the weekend, and then each day we lost a worker to the real world until Wednesday (yesterday) when I drove the last person to the airport and headed home myself.

Actually, we were the second and third to the last people.  Kath, my beloved AT companion in 2012, will be there for a month to help with a gap in the intern scheduling.  She is the one who coordinated this trip having done month-long stints at the sanctuary last year.  I am already scheming how I might manage another weekend away while she’s there.

In four days, we finished the top and bottom of a brand new enclosure, as well as helped with the last touches on another habitat.  I am sore, sore, sore.  And happy, happy, happy.  These project-specific trips can be so useful for rescues and animal organizations once they realize the skills and experience we can offer.

Tom was jealous of my trip, but so extremely supportive.  He held down the fort here including taking Markey the Sheltie to his first post-op checkup to remove staples and examine the pin site.  All is going as expected on that front and Markey’s personality inside the house is really blossoming.  Outside is he still frightened and skittish.

Things are still in limbo with the tree situation.  I’m not sure where the neighbors stand in submitting a claim to Wisconsin Public Service for their garage repair and I’m pretty sure Tom has not heard back on our claim for the increase in the tree service needed after the fall.  But the huge log of white pine has been removed by someone who needed it and paid for it (pine would not be good for an indoor fire and we already have plenty of wood piles for outdoor-only).  The other tree that fell, the oak, is slowly being carved and split by Tom to keep us warm this winter.

As an added bonus, the right someone finally read our craigslist ad about free hay for mulch.  Even after creating a hay bale garden, adding some to our mulch pile, and using hay to fill in an old stump depression, we had about 20-30 bales leftover from winter insulation.  It was wet and decaying and not good for much of anything.  The strings had mostly rotted off so moving them was difficult and a huge pile ended up right in front of the living room windows which was not at all ugly to look at every single morning.  Such a relief it is gone.  Tom is putting up some sort of insulating board over the foam insulation in the crawlspace gaps so we will not have a repeat of hay-gate next spring.

I just got up to look out at those living room windows and there is a bright red leaf stuck in a baby pine.  When I drove through town on my way home yesterday, I noticed the streets were distinctly less crowded.  Our humming bird feeder, which sat almost untouched since spring, has been emptied twice in three weeks.  Fall is just around the corner.  It has been a satisfying, exciting, busy summer.  I know I should not look forward to a slow season and slow sales at The Hiker Box.  But right now a little catch-up time sounds wonderful.

I Have A Sheltie At My Feet

The tree from the last post did not last.  Our karma ran out.  Somewhere between 12 to 24 hours before our set tree service appointment, it fell on the neighbor’s garage.

Since we had to park out by the road, I ran back to the house for something and got stung in the head by a hornet from the nest we’d decided we could ignore because it wasn’t in our usage path.

(Tom actually decided that.  I thought it was too close to the road and they could bother joggers/walkers/bikers.  After I was stung (IN THE HEAD!), he moved to action and when I returned home, the nest was no more.)

That Sunday our foster dog Maggey went to her “furever home”.  (Sometimes I love the animal rescue puns.  Sometimes I don’t.  The quotations tell all.)

In all seriousness, if she could not stay with us she found the best place to be.  I was maybe 2 years older than her new “owner” when I got my first dog.  Whom I would position to sleep on my pillows while I slept curled at the foot of the bed.

Maggey is set for a good life and I have perhaps created a mini me with no gestation necessary.  Win.  Win.

The Vilas County Humane Society’s director, Jen, had been waiting for a skin test on a mange dog to fill our vacant spot.  While Centrifuges whirled, a year-old male Sheltie on the run got hit by a car.  He has a removable pin in his left femur (ACK SCARY RIGHT??) to set the twisted break.

Since I was sent on a Friday to decide (mange or DO NOT LET THIS PIN GET STUCK ON ANYTHING.  TAKE HIM TO ANY VET YOU WANT, DON’T CALL ME FIRST), guess what I decided?

Here is where I would show you a picture of Markey.  The Sheltie with the pin.  But it is not uploaded (like the pictures of the tree on the garage which we have shared with Wisconsin Public Service) and many times that would stop me from even starting this post.

“You talk of dogs and trees, but where’s the iPhone quality PROOF?”

On Wednesday, a moving company supposedly will turn our check and fancies into real live map cases that we will have to find room for.  Ever since we bought the map inventory and started learning about the business, we opened an account with an online resource for customized maps and have sent three out this week as far as Vermont.

(I just put a comma instead of a period behind Vermont.  Vermont, Vermont.  The REAL Vermont.  Where the map will get splashed with maple syrup.)

People like customized maps.

Meanwhile, me, whom gets lost on a hike that doesn’t circumvent a lake and SOMETIMES EVEN THEN, has learned by heart at least three of the USGS Quadrants involved in Eagle River and the 28-chain of lakes.

I am frustrated.  I am sad.  I am happy. I AM BUSY.

It is my “day off” and I have cooked for three hours so that I AM SMALLER.

I have a Sheltie at my feet.  And I don’t need a picture on the Internet to prove it.

Literally a Correct Use of the Word Literally

This is the tree top that has literally been hanging over our heads for two weeks:


Also, figuratively.  It’s the 25-foot straw that broke the camel’s back.  The camel being my stress levels and ability to multitask.

Two weeks ago, we had a magnificent storm roll through.  I sat on the front porch and enjoyed the rain lashing out at the landscape and the lake.  It reminded me of the storms of my childhood.  Such a nasty shock to get yanked back into adulthood and home ownership responsibilities by the same storm.

We didn’t hear the pine tree fall.  Tom went out after the storm for something else entirely and found it like that.  It is hard to see in the pictures, but an electric line runs right under it – diagonally across the driveway to the neighbor’s yard to another pole.  (The pole-to-pole is important because it distinguishes who is responsible for clearing the line.  Pole-to-pole is Wisconsin Public Service.  Pole-to-house they will come and drop the line so that you may clear trees yourself.)

Tom called Wisconsin Public Service immediately.  Nothing was done the next day.  When I called, I was told they closed the ticket because power was restored to the area.

I opened another ticket and the next day had a call from their tree contractor that he would not responsible for 100% of the work as the oak tree that currently holds up the broken pine doesn’t pose a threat to the electric line.  We said we knew and he said he would try to get out there as soon as possible.

A week went by.  Nothing.  We noticed more leaning, cracking, and buckling of the oak.  Tom called Wisconsin Public Service again.  They said they would come out.  They didn’t.  They kept flagging it as a “tree trimming” request.

Finally, Tom called on Sunday and contacted our state representatives requesting their aid.  Wisconsin Public Service finally sent one of their own people out (not a contractor).  He was as concerned about the situation as we are, but again they would not cover the whole job.

At this point Tom said if they would drop the line, we’d arrange for our tree service to do all the work.  We didn’t care if it cost us extra we just needed it fixed before we were 1) blocked in/out of our driveway and 2) in a legal battle over who owed our neighbors for their garage.

The Wisconsin Public Service guy gave Tom his personal number to coordinate the line drop with our tree service company.

I hope they can squeeze us in today.  I feel like we have used up all of our karma on this one poor oak tree.






It has been warm enough (mid-20s or so) to comfortably walk in the mornings.  Even on days I have other exercise planned I like to do this.  Getting outside first thing just makes my day go smoother.

Of course, we have rain and snow mix predicted for the next few days.  But tomorrow’s temp should be in the thirties so maybe I will umbrella up and keep at it.

I had two other spring-specific occurrences on my drive in to work.  The first was that I used cruise control.  That hasn’t been safe to do since October.  And not a minute too soon as my right ankle is a little cranky about breaking in a new pair of hiking shoes.  It was during a re-alignment to take pressure off that it hit me I could push the CC button and not ride to my slippery, icy doom.

The second was that I saw a bald eagle.  They winter here so seeing one is not a huge deal (got real up-close with one in February that was eating a deer road kill), but this eagle was perched on a tree top!  Overlooking open water!  Fishing season may not quite be here for humans, but that eagle was ready and eager for some perch or walleye.

And dare I put it in writing?  It seems people are out shopping for hiking and camping gear more this week.

I’ll keep you posted on when all the snow leaves our yard.


Waming Heart and Home

It was negative 25 degrees (without windchill) when I got up this morning.

Most of Wisconsin and Minneapolis decided to shut down today.  And I had the option to do so as well.  My boss texted yesterday that I did not need to feel obligated to make the drive.

But the world didn’t seem that horrible. I decided to take an extra half hour to warm up the car and then toodle on in.

I so deserve a randomly not fair and not earned for doing anything more than showing up bonus.  Because I was the only one who decided to come in and I came in to a flood.

A pipe burst in the back and it’s causing all kinds of havoc.  Our office is actually three separate store fronts that have been combined.  There are lots of small rooms and connecting doors and it’s a whole big mess.

I am particularly grateful that my boss did not decide I should figure out how to handle it.  We don’t even keep a push broom or a decent janitor mop on hand.  Oh, and did I mention the flood in the back area had half turned to ice?

The professional carpet cleaner could not come out because he can’t suck water out to his tanks in this weather.  It will freeze up his system.

At least the actual rooms we use to work in are unaffected.  Unless you count the foot traffic of landlords and plumbers and repair people.

Finding that burst pipe this morning made me all the more thankful for our rehabilitation of our home.  One of my fears about us living here for the winter is that somehow we will break the house.  That after over 100 years of getting to just chill all winter, it would creak and complain and break at the constant heat and use.

We’re by no means off the hook.  We already know of a spot where the paint has suffered because we did not vent the water heater far away enough from the wall.  And the real test will probably be spring, as the ice on the roof melts.

But with the radiant floor heating supplying constant warmth to our pipes, it seems more likely famine than flood will drive us out.  So, as always, send cookies.  And wine.  People have wine famines, right?

Ultimate Reuse

I’m not big on New Year’s Resolutions because I’m big on resolutions 365 days a year.

Every few weeks I read about something I want to incorporate into our lifestyle, realize my old organizational method for XYZ doesn’t fit in our new home, or become mindful of a daily routine that has slipped into weekly with poor results.

I am a list-maker, a check-er-off-er, a spreadsheet-er.  (Also, a pain in the ass to live with.  Except for the fact that my “-ers” have positive results.  Which is also sometimes a pain in the ass.)  You don’t need to set aside a special day for me to decide I should eat healthier or budget better.

I usually make resolutions on January 1st because, well, I like resolutions so why not?

But not this year.

2013 was amazing and awesome and also extremely disappointing.  The fact that we did not finish the Appalachian Trail gets sadder to me with each conversation about the new business because starting your own business does not mean tons of vacation days.  I could not even begin to guess when we might have a chance to complete the hike.

Still.  We accomplished some kick ass stuff in 2013.  I’m proud of our 1,600 mile journey by foot.  I’m astonished we actually pulled off the move from Florida to northern Wisconsin and I’m writing you from a 68 degree room of a 1909 summer cottage while it’s neg something outside.  We are so happy and excited to be living here. And we’re just getting started.

So I’m not making any big resolutions of how I might be a better person in 2014.  It’s going to be hard and hectic and not like anything I’ve ever experienced before.  I want the flexibility in my commitments to do what best suits us at a particular point in time instead of holding fast to a “But I said I’d walk three times a week!” while the basement floods.

Although I will let you in on a little secret:  In our business plan, one of the 2014 goals is to hike once a week.  I have to hike for the business to succeed!  Whoo!

I’m also still busy applying old resolutions and spreadsheets to our new life.  The biggest for us is being able to reduce, reuse, and recycle more.  Having a little land, living in a more pro-recycling state, and having a bit more time and storage space available has really bumped up our game.  Consider yourself warned on future blog topics such as, “Compost, Yum!”and “Twelve Ways To Reuse a Paper Towel Tube No I Am Not Kidding.”

The other old resolution I am going back to (besides eating healthier, exercising more, and saving more money…who doesn’t do what now?) is celebrating birthdays with real snail-mail cards to friends and family.  I loved doing that in 2012.  Our hike and move made it not very feasible in 2013, but I reached out to friends and sent off canning care packages for the holidays.  That made me feel 100% more connected to them than any social media comment or email forward.  Without their love and support, I would have never felt confident to move so far away.  I want to ensure 2014 means old friends know they are important.

So, what are your non-new-year-resolutions?

Less Awesome

I have cellulitis again!  (And thank you spell check for wanting to change that to cellulite.  Yes, I’ve got that too.)

A very bad case of cellulitis in my groin area stopped our hike of the entire Appalachian Trail this summer.  It got me wondering about bumps I’d had previously and whether instead of being cursed to get so sick, I was actually very lucky that this was the first major illness I’d had from my skin issues.

This time it came on fast.  Within twenty-four hours I knew I needed antibiotics and possibly more.  This is scary for a number of reasons.

1) We live in the boonies now.  We’re actually lucky that we have two clinics and a hospital within an hour drive. But that is a far cry from the 10-minute commute to over a dozen doctors, clinics, hospitals, and specialists we had in Tampa.

2) We had no idea of the quality of care at these facilities.

3) Thanks to the Affordable Health Care Act, Tom and I will be covered by a decent plan on January 1, 2014.  So far I believe cellulitis lurks in the shadows, striking at the most inconvenient times.

My saint of a husband dropped everything yesterday morning to accompany me to a clinic.  I had felt OK and gone to work. The cellulitis is in a crease of my left thigh and I would guess that the drive to work and sitting at my desk squeezed/inflamed it.  I then ended up at work alone, felt like shit REAL quick, and had a mild panic attack over trying to drive such a long distance feeling the way I did.

The clinic was nice and clean.  Everyone I saw was professional, knowledgeable, and sympathetic.  They only asked for a small amount upfront and then bill later so I’m unsure how reasonable the visit was.

I saw a Dr. Smith, who chided the previous health care I received on the fact they did not drain the infected area in August.  (Not in a mean way, but in a “I am a Dr who likes to see proper care given” way.) Then when he examined me, he realized he couldn’t drain this either.  (Cellulitis presents on me as very hard, not fluid at all, knots pretty deep under my skin.)

So I got some antibiotics, told to apply hot compresses almost constantly, and a request for a re-check in a few days.  Merry Christmas to me!

My favorite beverages are wine, whiskey, and water. Guess which one I’m allowed to drink right now!

Let’s start a new Christmas tradition of stuffing wet hot rags down our pants!  All! Day!  Long!

In reality, I’m aware I’m very lucky.  I caught this early enough (and crammed three servings of cephalixin in me yesterday afternoon) so that I haven’t had a fever.  The antibiotics to clear up the infection are generic.  I am able to work from home some so I don’t get too behind and can get paid to wear PJs.

And it’s taken me twice as long as usual to write this because I’m getting used to the keyboard on my brand new laptop that Tom insists was not a Christmas present but a “You need a new laptop” present.

Since I would have chosen one without a ten-key built in because HELLO all that space could mean less crampy-hand positions, I will accept this as a non-Christmas gift and expect multitudes of tangibles in festive glory tomorrow morning.  Just don’t be surprised when I jump up and down for joy if a rag falls out of my PJs.