Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Winter Break In

We had a winter break in this past weekend. I know this is not the proper use of the English term "break in;" rather, it is a literal translation of the German term "Wintereinbruch." I decided to put forth this unusual use of "break in" because I feel that is exactly what we experienced.

It's not even Thanksgiving, and the trees haven't shed all their leaves yet, but temperatures plummeted to 25F and it snowed substantially. On Sunday roads and sidewalks were decidedly icy.

I was still stubborn enough to go for a walk while my son was at basketball practice, which is when I took these photos. I have to admit, though, that my nose nearly froze off, despite me having donned my winter coat, boots, hat, gloves and shawl. I even put on long underwear but I did forget how quickly your fingers freeze when you're trying to take a picture on a Smartphone (the traction on my touch-screen-usable gloves seems to have stopped working) in these temperatures.

In the evening, while leafing through my Poem A Day book in search of a different poem, I stumbled upon the following one, which I had dogeared at a previous reading and which the editor slated for the day of November 26. How totally appropriate it was for our winter break in!

The Winter's Come

Sweet chestnuts brown, like soling leather, turn,
   The larch-trees, like the color of the sun,
That paled sky in the autumn seem'd to burn,
   What a strange scene before us now does turn--
Red, brown, and yellow, russet, black, and dun,
   Whitethorn, wild cherry, and the poplar bare;
The sycamore all withered in the sun.
   No leaves are now upon the birch-tree there:
   All now is script to the cold wintry air.

See, not one tree but what has lost its leaves--
   And yet the landscape wears a pleasing hue.
The winter chill on his cold bed receives
   Foliage which once hung o'er the waters blue.
Naked and bare the leafless trees repose,
   Blue-headed titmouse now seeks maggots rare,
Sluggish and dull the leaf-strewn river flows;
   That is not green, which was so through the year--
   Dark chill November draweth to a close.

'Tis winter and I love to read indoors,
   When the moon hangs her crescent up on high;
While on the window shutters the wind roars,
   And storms like furies pass remorseless by,
How pleasant on a feather-bed to lie,
   Or sitting by the fire, in fancy soar
With Dante or with Milton to regions high,
   Or read fresh volumes we've not seen before,
   Or o'er old Burton's Melancholy pore.

                                                        John Clare

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

A Building Rises

I am quite behind on chronicling the progress of building our country barn/apartment. Needless to say, by now it's a recognizable and quite formidable building.

But back to where we were: The foundation was poured and since it is a pole barn, the poles are laid out here, ready to go up.

The next time I stopped by, the poles were erect and this was going on: raising the trusses for the roof.

Men at work (That's going to be its own series soon.)

After another absence of mine, it looks like a house!


Northwest corner of building (for my own documentation purposes)

Love the interplay of lines here!

The plans from which this whole thing rises.

Taking a break

Monday, November 16, 2015

There Must Be Something to Set Against All This

Whenever something horrible happens like the Islamist terrorist attacks in Paris this past Friday, I ask myself, there must be something to set against all this.

This is a line from my favorite movie, Charlotte Gray. The protagonist, a British spy in Vichy France, says, as one of her Jewish benefactors is carted away, “there must be something to set against all this.” In a hurry she decides to type a letter and makes it appear to be from the already deported parents of the two children who are being carted away with him, and she pushes it through the door slits of the moving freight train. This letter is the little something, a fabricated morsel of joy for those children, that she manages to set against the horror they find themselves in.

So what can I, right now, set against the horror of what happened in Paris on Friday? I have several elaborate political opinions about what is happening on a geopolitical scale and what might be done about it, but first and foremost, since I am not a world leader or "influencer," what can I, little me, "set against all this?"

Massacres like this are stark and urgent reminders that my answer in the face of sudden death, calamity and violence is this: Live the best life I can. Make the best of this very moment I have, living in safety. And even if not in safety, there is almost always a little something we can do. This is the main lesson of Primo Levi's Survival at Auschwitz, but it was also my very personal conclusion after I lost my father to a sudden heart attack when I was 21. Life can be over just like that. And even if it's not over, it can change in an instant. None of us has control over that and therefore, while we are alive, we must make the best of the life we have. Live with the most joy and the greatest kindness and also the greatest purpose. We must strive to leave something better behind, must work to make an impact, so that, when our hour comes, and we have a second to look back, we can say, "I lived my best life."

Of course it is not easy to accomplish this in the mundanness of everyday life, but that is exactly our challenge, and so we can use every reminder that comes our way to step up to the plate. We must set beauty and joy against darkness and terror, which is why I immediately contacted my friends in Paris (thank God they are safe), and why I chose a picture of the glorious Eiffel Tour (taken from the window of the apartment we rented on our most recent trip to Paris) as the title image of this post rather than the dark ribbon Google associates with it.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Study in Concrete

I didn't get to see the pouring of these foundation walls (sadly, I don't make it out to the construction site way as often as I would like).

So when I came by a few days after the first two pictures in this sequence were taken, the basement had been poured and its framing plates were already off. Here we're looking directly at what is going to be a staircase going down to what will be our tornado shelter (if you remember my post "Tornado Trees" from 2012, you know that those dangerous twisters are a reality we have to reckon with).

We get to climb down!

A contemplation of lines looking out of the basement window into the climb-out well.

Above ground again, the site seems almost too neat.

I continue to be fascinated by the construction equipment, such as this giant screw, used to dig holes for foundation concrete pillars.

The remnant of a thick cardboard tube that is inserted into the hole after the screw has come up.

Then the concrete truck roars up. I've always loved the red and white trucks of the Ozinga concrete company, so I was thrilled to see one appearing at our site.

It's slobbery work, pouring concrete to make one of the foundation pillars!

Washing up