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Tenacious Z and the Dream Greenhouse

Tuesday, December 19, 2023


  It's been awhile since I updated you. The good news is the plants are all in place and thriving. The not so good news is that I haven't been able to hang out with them, because, well, there are problems. The greenhouse structure was finished at Halloween. Here we are and it’s almost Christmas and it’s taken this long for me to figure out why my ventless gas heater wouldn’t stay on, and also that it was woefully underpowered for this space. It's taken me this long to select and take delivery of the right heater for the job. A few nights in the teens proved that I had to get something bigger. I had to borrow an electric heater from Shila to keep it above 55 in there. Gawrsh. 

This, of course, is primarily because I have to have all four windows cracked a little open to admit enough fresh air in for combustion. The solarium is THAT tight. Tight as a drum. So on cold days and nights there is a constant frigid draft. Between the pervasive gas smell and the draft, I haven't been comfortable spending much leisure time in there. The plants are fine, staying warm enough and growing beautifully. But it’s not yet safe Zick habitat. I keep the sliding glass door to my bedroom shut all the time, unless it's warm enough outdoors to turn the heat off. 

I had a consultation with Wilson Heating. What a relief to have HVAC professionals step into the space and assess it from the perspective of their years of experience. Don and Austin Wilson proposed that I obtain an Empire wall furnace, powered by natural gas, with 35,000 BTU capability. But the single most important thing is that this heater has what’s called a concentric vent. Fresh air flows in from outside, and exhaust goes out in another pipe nestled in the same vent. It’s like a cloaca for the heater. And it’s exactly what I’ve been needing. Oh, to be able to close those dratted windows for once, and have this space heated like any snug room! Oh, to be free of the ridiculous condensation that runs down the glass--a byproduct of  the oxygen-starved ventless heater! And we’re so close!

As my long-awaited wall furnace arrives, Curtis shows exactly how much he is worth as a watchdog in this clip. Which is Nothing. Worthless.

On Friday, when the heater was finally delivered, this huge semi truck came up the driveway bearing the heater which weighs well over 100 lb. And right behind the truck, totally by chance, came Bob McCollister, from American Glass and Metalworks, here on a separate mission to fix a leaky door. What are the chances that two people in huge trucks would arrive at the same moment? 

Then the problem was: How were we going to get that huge heavy heater down to the greenhouse? My dolly would be useless. The driver had an electric forklift but could its tiny iron wheels travel over the gooshy mud of my beat up lawn? We had to try. The driver pulled and I pushed and the forklift hummed. When it got bogged down I pushed harder. And against all odds we got it to the greenhouse door! But it needed to be carried in. Enter Bob. The two men hoisted it inside. I was sooo grateful. My lower back has been in spasm for awhile and too much lifting is why. Two angels got it done. I don’t know what Providence sent them at the same moment but it was so lucky for me. Two Man Lift:

On Saturday, Jeff Cline came over to bore a 9” hole in the beautiful wall he’d built. It was hard to watch, but you’ve got to squeeze some lemons if you’re going to get lemonade! I played assistant, keeping a steady stream of water on the masonry blade to keep the dust down. It was a mess, but not as bad as it could have been. 


The heater came with a template to help Jeff make sure he would be drilling the hole in exactly the right spot. There's no room for error when you're talking rigid pipe, a 130 lb. heating unit, and solid concrete.

We measured five times and cut once. My dad taught me that.

Jeff Drills a Hole

This felt like a scene from The Great Escape, except I think they used spoons and knives to break through the wall.  Breakthrough! 

And now the heater sits, unpacked and ready, in the middle of the space. I so hope it can be up and running for Christmas. I understand that everyone is slammed, especially heating contractors, and it's getting on Christmas. I'm prepared to wait, but I'd love not to have to! My friend Carin L. suggested I go by the nickname "Tenacious Z." I loved that! and oh, how I love Tenacious D, Jack Black's duo with Kyle Gass. It fits. Whatever it takes to get The Greatest Greenhouse in the History of the World, I'll do it! 


It's an Honor to Be Here

Sunday, December 17, 2023


 Last summer, I was invited to submit pieces for consideration for a show of natural history art by Ohioans
to be held at the Decorative Arts Center of Ohio in Lancaster. Although I very rarely show my work any more, I was more than happy to get together some favorites, old and new, to submit. To my surprise, all five were selected for the show by curators Maria Burke and Madeline Beaumier. Maria herself is a sculptor and exhibit preparer, and the artistry both curators brought to the exhibit was evident everywhere.

photo by Jessica Vaughan

I think it only sank in on me what an honor it was to be there when I walked in at the opening September 29 and saw the company my bird paintings were keeping. Such a big, beautiful, huge-hearted show! 

Artists were coming at natural history subjects from all directions and media: photography, painting and sculpture; interpretive and photorealistic. 

                                                 photo giclee of OSU specimens by Ardine Nelson

I met my friend and soon-to-be BWD cover artist Ann Geise, and was delighted to find our works displayed together. Two of Ann's lepidopteran works  hang above my white-breasted nuthatch developmental painting, which has neither been shown nor published before.

BWD Magazine Editor Jessica Vaughan and I perused the exhibit together. What a treat to see such talent coming our of our beloved home state!

The Decorative Arts Center of Ohio is a beautiful destination nestled in Lancaster's historic district.
You won't want to miss this beautifully curated and conceived show of Ohio artists, each interpreting nature in their own way. 

To top it off, DACO engaged John Luchin of Classic Interactions, Inc. to create a video of each artist's personal statement and vision. We artists sent him our images, videos and recorded narrative tracts, and John produced and tied them all together beautifully. The videos can be accessed on iPads stationed in each room of the show. Here's mine:

Here's what you need to know, but you'll have to get there before December ends! Show closes Dec. 31.

As I drove home from the opening, I felt very lucky to have been included in this review of some of Ohio's finest natural history artists. 

A full moon rose over Main Street as I drove home, feeling honored and thankful.


Zickefoose Holiday Cards are Here!

Saturday, December 2, 2023


 UPDATE: I am SOLD OUT of these cards. Thank you, everyone, for your support! Happy Holidays! 

Well, I just ate my last plate of Thanksgiving leftovers yesterday. Eew. But they went down OK. It reminded me that it's time to think about the coming season and get these festive holiday cards up in front of my lovely blog readers. They've sold like hotcakes on Facebook and Instagram, but I have yet to offer them here. And now, from the Department of Shameless Commerce:

ZICKEFOOSE Holiday Cards are here, and they're gorgeous! They can be yours--just click the links below!

I'm delighted with these cards--the stock is heavy and has a lovely finish--really a pleasure to write on. The four designs are my four favorite winter paintings, two whimsical and two just peaceful and pretty, a good mix, I thought, for anyone on your list. 


Cards are a big 5 x 7" and feature four designs: American flamingo, rufous hummingbird, eastern bluebird, and cedar waxwing. The cover is eggshell gloss, and the inside writing surface is blank--no message, matte finish and perfect for pen or pencil. $25 per pack, with envelopes.
I ship these in a flat envelope, via USPS ground. I can ship up to three packs for the same ten bucks: bulk savings.
1 set 16 cards, $25 + 10 S&H
2 sets 32 cards, $50 + 10 S&H
3 sets 48 cards, $75 + 10 S&H

Here's wishing you all the happiest of holidays!
And as always, thank you for your support.

Baby Baby, All Night Long

Tuesday, November 28, 2023


 When we last left our hopeful heroine, the gas line had been newly replaced, gas heater installed, and all the plants had been replaced in the new greenhouse. It was time to relax and enjoy the space. Or was it?

I woke up at 1 AM on Sunday, November 5, checked--blue flame showing. OK. Went back to sleep. At 4 I woke up again to a rapidly cooling greenhouse and a dead stove. With some difficulty and a long wait, I got it started again, only to have it cut off again at 9 AM. There went all my theories about it going off when the house gas demand was at its lowest. I was running two furnaces and cooking breakfast when it went off the second time. What the hell. Why wouldn't this stove stay lit?

At this point I had to conclude it was the heater. Maybe it has a bad thermocouple. So I called Kathy and Bill W, my beloved neighbors who swoop in to rescue me with great regularity. And that Sunday afternoon, we switched  out the heaters, and put Old Reliable in the new one's place. I knew this heater was bombproof. This HAD to be it. We'd replaced the line; we had gas; it had to be a malfunctioning heater. I went to bed with all the plants out in the greenhouse, closed the sliding glass door...

I woke up at 3:22 AM on Monday, November 6, checked the heater. The air was cold; the heater was dark. Old Reliable had kicked off, too. ARRRRGHHHHHH!!!

At this point I knew I was well and truly screwed. But I didn't cry; I didn't freak out. I just restarted the damn thing, got back into bed, and tried to sleep again. I was so very tired, night after night tending this stupid heater like a crying newborn baby. And I didn't even have a cute cuddly baby to show for it. I was so done with worrying about the plants, worrying about whether I'd ever be able to use or enjoy this new space that beckoned me through the glass. Just exhausted. I'd worked myself to the bone to get this dream off the ground, and all I got was sand in my face, night after night after night. I couldn't sleep for worrying.

On top of that, whole space reeked of gas. All the time. You might think I'd have been sitting out there every chance I got. Well, I wasn't, because I didn't want to breathe that reek. I was spooked, clear through. I felt lost, uncertain and in a certain way, cheated. This isn't how it was supposed to smell. This isn't how it was supposed to be. I kept the glass doors that led into the house closed all the time. Even when I'd pop out to see if the heater had died in the middle of the night, I closed the doors behind me. I didn't want to be breathing that reek. It was awful. Not only that, but there was so much condensation running down the glass and pooling on the frame and floor that I went out and bought big microfiber cloths to mop it up with. I'd wring them out into the plant pots, and keep mopping, all day long. So much water I put an African saddle-billed stork in there to look for fish.

I couldn't remember ever noticing a gas reek in the little old Groanhouse. I didn't have a ridiculous amount of condensation, either. A pleasant humidity, for sure, but not quarts of water running down. What the hell was going on? Why couldn't I keep a heater going? And why was I drowning in condensation?

It was time to contact Chip Ditchendorf, my friend who is also a contractor who knows all the best people, who put me in touch with my gutter guy, my mason, and several other outfits as well. I described the problem with the gas stove going off predictably every night around 2:30 AM and often the next morning, too. I told him all that we'd done--replaced the entire gas line, switched out two different heaters, and still this happened every night. And Chip asked, "Have you ruled out make up air? The greenhouse might be too air tight? Maybe leave a louvre opened a little." 

I thought I knew the answer to that. "No I don’t think airtightness is the issue. Space is absolutely huge and there is a gap in the door, and it happens when the fan is going too."

Well. I was dead wrong, as I so often am, and Chip had already figured it out. But just to be sure, he texted Jason Forshey, a local expert on gas installation. And this was around 6 AM, on the morning when I figured I was just screwed, after the SECOND gas heater we installed on the BRAND NEW gas line had cut off at 2:30 AM. 

 I can't tell you how honored I am to have Chip asking questions on my behalf, of the person most knowledgeable in this field, at SIX in the MORNING. In Chip's words: "He deals with this stuff. He is also in demand/on fire. It's like getting an audience with a tribal warlord. I have his ear. I'll text you shortly."

Instead, Jason Forshey himself called me around 7. Asked me a bunch of questions. One of them was, "Is there a lot of condensation on the inside of the windows?" 

"YES. Quarts and quarts! I have to mop it up several times a day and wring out the cloths!" 

Jason told me that that excess condensation is a byproduct of an open flame gas heater that is starved for oxygen. "There's carbonic acid in that water. You don't want that," he said. 

Fer sure! I don't want carbonic acid; I don't want all the condensation, and I want my durn heater to stay on! 

Jason explained to me that the heater was getting starved for oxygen in the wee hours, and kicking off for safety reasons. The greenhouse is simply too well-built--too tight--and fresh air can't get in anywhere. There's a tiny slit between the doors, but it doesn't bring enough air in the feed the flame. Ironically, when I'd drag myself out of bed and open the sliding door from my bedroom, and pop in to try to re-start the heater, that act would let in juust enough fresh air for the heater to run for a couple more hours. If only I'd known that's what was going on! It had been a rough nine nights.

Mr. Forshey told me to try cracking the windows that evening, and see how it did. Wow. That's a simple fix...I can DO that!

So I opened all four windows about a half-inch. And I left the plants in there, and the heater ran all night, HALLELU!! For the very first time, I had heat all night! Of course I woke up at 1 and 3 and 5, staggered to the window to check...and the blue flame was smiling back at me each time. I went back to sleep with a dreamy smile on my face. The Tribal Warlord of Gas had explained it all. Of course, Chip had figured it out already, but it was really nice to have confirmation from someone who does this full-time.

I thought I had made it through the worst passage in the greenhouse construction: when I had a greenhouse but couldn't seem to heat it. But it's not over yet. I still have a bunch of things to figure out. 

I've held this post because the landscape is changing so fast. Since I wrote this, a polar vortex rolled in with a couple of days that haven't gotten out of the upper 20's F. And, because I HAVE to crack the windows to let in air, the little gas heater I was assured would heat the space has been fighting to keep temperatures inside the structure in the 50's. Awk! I had to borrow an electric space heater from Shila to augment its efforts, which are surprisingly feeble at full tilt. Time to call Chip again, for another reference.

Wilson Heating's experts just came for a consultation, confirming a lot of what I've learned by hard experience. 

1. I'm woefully underpowered with my little blue flame heater.

2. The gas smell just goes with the territory on an unvented heater in a tight space. Ugh. No. Need another solution.

3. Cracking the windows is giving my heat to the great outdoors. There is a better way: to get a larger heater that is vented both for fresh air and exhaust.

4. It's probably not going to be possible to both heat and air condition this space. This is not a surprise to me. Heating is mandatory. AC, nah. I'm fine with using it for only three seasons. In summer, I'm moving my plants out and gardening outside, not trying to sit inside a glass box. 

Until then, I am happy with the greenhouse structure, but I don't spend as much time in it as I'd love to, because there is still a scent of gas in the air that freaks me out. The only time I sit in there and work or read or do my language lessons is on warm days when I can open the windows fully. Time to move on from using an open flame heater.

The four side windows only open 6" at full crank. Wish it were twice that! I asked about some kind of extender and the glass guys told me there's nothing that can be done. I certainly hope the automatic roof louver will take care of the major ventilation come summer.

So Wilson Heating is looking into wall-mounted gas heaters (possibly radiant, as opposed to open flame) and I cannot WAIT to see what they recommend.  Ideally, they'll find a vented one that will both pull in fresh air and send its exhaust outside. Until then, I'm leaving all four windows open at night, from a quarter inch to 1" wide, depending on the outside temperature. As you might imagine, this is a lousy strategy when it's 20 degrees out there. It's drafty and uncomfortable.

 After a rough period when the built-up gas fumes blasted all the blossoms before they opened, the greenhouse now seems to be treating the plants pretty well. Things are coming back into bud and bloom and the blossoms seem to be completing their normal life cycles. (With the exception of my Thanksgiving cacti, which took great offense to the space, dropped buds, and had to be brought back inside).  I think I've got enough oxygen coming in for the plants, even if it isn't quite enough for me. I take a great deal of pleasure in potting plants up and arranging them where they'll get the right light and heat. I'm not there yet, but it's so much better.

It's been very frustrating, running into these issues and having to figure out what's going on by myself. I can't imagine I'm the first person to run into this problem with a newly constructed solarium or greenhouse that needs supplemental heat, but is so tightly constructed that a gas heater uses up all the oxygen in it and cuts itself off. Surely that's happened to someone else! For some reason, it didn't occur to me to turn back to Botanical Greenhouses LLC for advice until just this week. When I did, I got some great advice both from Jen Sutton of BGLLC and Bob McCollister of American Glass and Metal Works, and that set me on the path of consulting with Chip and then with Wilson Heating. They helped me understand that there IS a heater out there that will do this job, and I just have to ask the right people to consider the space and make recommendations. I'm looking for something that won't roar like a shop heater, stink like an open flame heater; something that will allow me to keep the doors open between my bedroom and the solarium.

If anything has surprised me, it's how much I've had to learn to get this project done. I came into it knowing absolutely nothing about the process or what would be involved in constructing a solarium. I had to figure out how to get a concrete pad poured, and a foundation built, and I'm in the process of figuring out how to get the whole place wired in a way I can afford (the last estimate I got set my hair on fire). I'll get the heat situation figured out, too, in time. It's all a question of asking the right people for help. I am lousy at asking for help, always thinking I might have the answer, but this experience has made me more willing to throw up my hands and the white flag when I'm outclassed by the obstacles I am facing. On the bright side, I've kept this record right here on the blog, recording just how thorny it's been, so anyone embarking on such a project will at least go into it forewarned and forearmed. 

Creole Lady says, "You keep working on it. I'll keep pumping out the lunch-plate sized blossoms, because this suits me just fine!

Yes, it'll be my happy place, in time. We're most of the way there.

I can't wait until I can sit in here for hours, working away, or just gazing around at the plants I adore so much, and the bright or snowy winter days outside. 

Nothing good ever came easy, I guess!

I've Got Gas Problems

Friday, November 24, 2023


I used to say, when life got hard, that forbearance is my superpower. I've been flying low with my Cape of Forbearance these last few weeks, keeping it all in perspective, knowing that problems get solved eventually. Waiting for the eventual is tough, but in light of what much of the world's populace is going through now, it's nothing. I have a little problem, and it'll get solved, eventually. Here's my little problem.

(This was written on November 15. I've figured some things out since then, but it's not yet the way I want it. Anyway, here's the story).

For ten nights, I've been waking up at 1, 2, 3, 4...and going out to check the heater in the greenhouse. It has been kicking off every single night, usually from 2 to about 4, and then often around 9 or 10  the next morning. Charming habit, that, especially when nights are in the 20's. We installed the newer of the two small Dynaglo blue flame gas space heaters, reasoning that the newer one might be better. Both saw use last winter. I got the new one probably in December 2022.

 Walter and I have been trying to figure out what's been going on with this heater the entire time. First we blew out the line using gas pressure, to see if there was water in it (none came out, though there was a lot of water in it when Walter did the initial hook-in). Finally we concluded that there had to be a problem with the line, so I asked Lane Johns to come back and dig out the 23' line with his small excavator. 

It was delicate work, excavating the shallowly buried gasline, but I was sure we didn't want to dig it by hand. The clay was muddy and heavy as could be.

We were very surprised to see 1" PVC running from the house to the L junction, where a 2' segment of 1/2" iron line was connected. We thought we'd found the problem--maybe that 1" line was too big, and the gas lacked sufficient pressure to push through 23' and around the L-bend of probably 5' to the heater. 

So on Nov. 4 Walter replaced the entire line. All new 1/2" iron pipe, fittings, everything ship-shape. We had to rule out a bad line as the reason for the heater kick-off.

It was a huge day, November 4. Not only did Johns Excavating come to dig out the line, but Walter, Brandon and Kevin came to mow the meadows with my old Massey '54, and to burn a couple of my huge "rok's nest" brushpiles. I was pretty excited to see the tractor and excavator both deployed at once.

Curtis, of course, was completely nonplussed.

Though I did absolutely everything on Nov. 4, which was the big mow and burn and putting the bonsais to bed,  with heavy equipment roaring all around, before I allowed myself to go to bed, I committed the ultimate act of hope: I replaced all the plants in the greenhouse.  We had a new gasline. Surely the heater would run all night tonight!

You see, I'd been shuttling them in at night for the last 8 days so I could sleep, for gosh sake, without having to wonder if they were slowly freezing to death out there after 2 AM. My lower back was absolutely shot, lugging those monstrous plants in and out of the bedroom every evening and back out into the greenhouse every morning. Leaving the plants for the night was my way of saying, "We've got this conquered now. The struggle is over. Time to enjoy this greenhouse. All will be well."

To Be Continued...

Day 6: Let's Get Some PLANTS Up in Here!

Tuesday, November 14, 2023


 Sunday October 29 dawned gray and pouring, but still warm. Shila couldn't wait to see the new space any longer. I couldn't WAIT to show it to her. It was so wonderful to experience her reaction to finally being able to walk into the greenhouse!   Plus, it's the closest I can get you to walking into it yourself. I think you can see why she's such a wonderful friend. My joy is her joy, and it goes the other way, too.   


One thing she can be depended upon to do is to flip out with exactly the right amount of enthusiasm and joy (turned up to 11) that the situation warrants. I love her for that!

Shila also came because she knew I was in a real crunch. She wanted to help me get the two big Creole Lady hibiscus down out of the tower room before it got too cold to take them outside and hose them down. A week ago, I arrived at her house with pots and clippers and together we repotted her entire plant collection. It was EPIC. We are one hell of a team.

That cold weather was the real time pressure I was facing. The poor plants were absolutely felted in aphids and I was determined to get them clean and free of bugs before installing them in the new space. Man, it was SO much easier bringing them downstairs than up had been (not surprisingly; gravity was working with us), but it was also a breeze to do it together. I do everything by myself, and so does Shila, but two people can do so much more than one.

It was a hibiscus douche to remember. I sprayed the crap out of those trees. oooh look at that space, framed by crimson maple leaves...nice shot Sheels!
Photos by Shila Wilson

I'm smiling because since I wrote this, I've already taken the hibs out for another spray and douche. It's no biggie to roll them out the door and have at it with the hose. In the little Groanhouse, I had to unload most of the plants just to get one hibiscus out. This is wonderful! I expect to have many fewer aphids and much less spraying this winter than ever before. 

Had to take a selfie once we got some plants inside. 

After Shila left, I kept bringing plants downstairs, from all over the house. I still didn't have any heat in there, but it was still warm, and I was relying on Walter to show up that afternoon.  I was just beginning to wonder where Walter might be when he and Colton showed up around 1 pm to lay the gas line and install the heater. Thank goodness!  He'd spent the morning getting all the stuff he'd need. I was so, so grateful. Shopping for pipe and fittings is second nature to him. Enemy territory for me. He simply knew what diameter pipe each piece was, and he brought the right stuff  to do the job. 

I was madly moving plants in even as they were working on installing the pipe and stove. 

I simply couldn't wait any longer to get plants in there!

I couldn't believe how many plants I had, stuffed in every window in the house, and how beautiful they all were. I had had to bring them in weeks ago when it went down to the upper 30's. Most had whiled away the time in the tower room, which gets great sun, although it gets very hot up there on warm days. Obviously they hadn't suffered much! But really, the house was just loaded, every good window crowded with plants reaching for light. 

I was so thankful I'd have heat by evening, because the wind was picking up and it was starting to get chilly. The installation wasn't easy in the awful sticky  mud and rain, but by nightfall there was heat in the new greenhouse! Walter and Colton to the rescue!
Thank goodness for friends, friends you can call and hire in a pinch. 

Oh, but I wasn't home free yet. Not by a long shot. The heating fun was only beginning. 
There's always a Rest of the Story. 

Liam is 24!

Tuesday, November 7, 2023


This sweet fella turns 24 today! I miss PoPo, the soft and squishy version of Liam,  whose ears stuck out so adorably. As you grew, they laid back. Boo! 

PoPo at 5

Liam at 19 or so, giving me the same smile, making his mama's heart sing with a selfie from the campus of West Virginia University.

When I saw that his eyes matched Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains where our ancestors came from, I had to get this photo. I know I've used it in other birthday posts, but I love it so. And I love him so. 

I've been with you every step of the way--from those epic nine first steps in a row when you were nearly 21 months old, to the biggest step of all--moving out in early October to sail the work/home/life sea by yourself at last! 

You've picked a great city--our beloved Columbus--and a great company--Trader Joe's--in which to live and work.  Both the city and the company are big-hearted and friendly, like you. It is a pure delight to see you appreciated and supported in a job you love. It's a marvel!

With help from your good cousin Gus, you've got a Real House to live in at an affordable rate, and friends your own age to hang with. Hooray for that! Those are in real short supply here in Whipple. You're finally getting a true 20-something guy experience!

Thank you, dear Gooshy, for making Liam's landing in Columbus so soft and easy!

Once you get in the rhythm of work and life, I feel sure the drawings will begin to flow. Can't keep a talent like yours under wraps. Work that art muscle, son! Grab a concept and go with it!

Pretty darn fabulous neighborhood, with such interesting walks leading in every direction.

Within just a short walk, you and I can look at houses like this and dream! 

Victorian Village is the place for house dreams.

And you're only two hours away. So when you get to missing us like we miss you 

                                                   (and some Cwummy weawwy misses you!)

you can zip down here. And I promise when I get my crazy-glass greenhouse situation under control, I will be coming up for some long walks, a little retail/restaurant therapy and a good visit with my lovely son. I want to hear all your stories, preferably over a fine meal of someone else's provenance.

I know that, where adult kids are concerned, no news is good news. I heartily support this sudden move out of the harbor. Just know that the Mothership will always be here to throw you a line, give you a tow, and help set your keel straight. I am delighted to see you at the wheel at long last.

Happy birthday, beautiful boy. I couldn't be prouder of you. 

Fair winds and following seas to you!

Day 5: Trying to Get Heat

Monday, November 6, 2023


 Saturday, October 28 was a doozy. A real doozy. I'd spent much of Thursday and Friday making calls, trying to get someone to come and hook up the gas line coming out of the house to run into the new lean-to, and to install a heater for me. I got nothing but no's. My seventh and last call was to my friend Walter Dean. You see, I didn't want to lean on my friends to help, but I simply couldn't get any heating/cooling company to come do this in less than several weeks to a month from now. Who knew I'd hit a roadblock like that at this stage of the game? I should have figured on it, based on how everything else had gone, but I guess I'm the eternal optimist. 

Walter swooped in and rescued me, grasping my situation and knowing about the frost coming by Monday night. He and his son Colton came out on Saturday to take a look at the job, and Walter measured everything out and made me a shopping list.  I had offered to go into town and pick up the stuff he'd need, because I didn't want him to have to make a trip to the hardware store. Again, the eternal optimist. 

It was good to see Colton soaking in his dad's instruction, so willing and eager to help.

He followed close on Walter's heels wherever he went, and lit out running for the truck to fetch supplies when asked.

Before I went to town for materials, I had to do two things. I knew it was going to rain a ton and very soon, so I took the Rudbeckias I'd been nursing in pots all summer long out to plant them on Bill's grave. I had to dig the whole thing up again to weed it, and then I dug holes for the seven plants. It was rather huge. 

While I was digging, I unearthed not one but FOUR Ravine salamanders. I tell them from the "lead-backed" form of the very common red-backed salamander by the fact that they look like Graniteware, the aluminum roasters my mom passed down to me. Black, with tiny speckles of silver and blue all over. 

Needless to say I dug very carefully, dreading hurting one, but all four were perfectly intact. One was even chewing on an earthworm when I dug it up! So cute!

I also found a beautiful Lactarius indigo (Indigo milkcap) mushroom.

When I was done, the skies were lowering and it was starting to rain. I was so glad I'd gotten those plants in and the weeding done. But my work was only beginning.

I felt bad asking Walt to drop everything and put in a heater for me, so I mad the decision to dig the trench for the gas line. He's recently had shoulder surgery and there's no way I wanted to see him dig a trench in clay.
It turned out to be 2' deep and 9' long and buddy, it was work. I still felt it in my thigh muscles three days later.

Trench dug, it was time to take a break and get in that new space and just revel in it. The Japanese maple, seen through the glass...

A couple of plants waiting outside to be brought in.

It would never be this empty again, and I wanted to enjoy the space. And rest for a few minutes.

I went looking for a chair in the basement and stumbled across these sawhorses that Bill had made many years ago. They were hidden under the basement stairs. I couldn't help but feel he'd led me to them, because I was about to buy a sawhorse kit and make my own. And poof! There they were! 
This keeps happening. Today, I was adding a greenhouse thermometer to my shopping list when I was moved to clean out all the birdseed trash cans in the garage. It was a terrible job; the seed was infested with every awful thing you could imagine. I had to wash everything, including the cans. And there, face down on the garage floor where I was sweeping, was a greenhouse thermometer, still in its packaging. Thanks, B. Message received.

Thanks, B. These will do very nicely.

Evening was coming. I warmed up and wolfed down a small piece of frozen pizza and headed for town. By then it was getting dark. I walked into Lowe's with the shopping list Walter had given me. Here's the list. Seems straightforward, right? It took me awhile to even find the gas plumbing section. Forget finding someone to help me.

 I stood in front of the enormous bank of fittings, looking at the array of pipe sizes (let's see, was it half inch, 7/8", 3/4", or 1"? I remembered seeing two different sizes of pipe when I was digging). I looked at the fittings. 90 degree. Straight. Reducing or not? But what diameter? How could I not have measured the pipes? This is one of those things Walter would know, just looking at it, and I would not.

I realized I was beaten before I even started. I ran aisle to aisle looking for anyone who might be willing to help me. Right. I dragged a teenager from Tools down the plumbing aisle. I might as well have just asked myself the questions. An older man who actually worked in plumbing walked by, trying not to let me catch his eye. That's a high art at Lowe's. Hide, and avoid eye contact especially with clueless women. I started to ask him a question and he cheerfully waved at the fittings section then announced he was going to lunch. It was 6:30 pm. "Wouldn't that be dinner?" I asked. He smiled, ducked his head and kept walking. I was on my own. Welcome to Lowe's. Have a great day! I pretty much hate trying to shop there, except for the racks of dying bargain plants. Those I can peruse with a knowing eye, and I don't need help. Everywhere else in the store? Ugh. I'm lost.

So I went to the space heater aisle, thinking I would buy a vent-free blue flame gas heater one size up from the one I had, because the greenhouse is so much bigger than the 8 x 12' Groanhouse. Again, nobody within a mile to help or answer questions. Finally, a teen even younger than the tools teen showed up to answer my call. He knew even less about gas heaters than I did. Hopeless. I broke away and roamed about a half mile up and down the deserted aisles until I found an employee with a little silver in his hair, some age and wisdom on him. I showed him the heater in my cart, showed him photos of the greenhouse, told him the dimensions. 

"That thing you're buying would heat an entire mobile home. It would run you out of that place. The heater you have at home will be more than enough." FINALLY. Somebody who knew ANYTHING. He saved me $200 and a LOT of trouble. OK. We'll go with the heater I already have. Then I finally got Walter on the phone and asked him to do the shop himself. I had no choice. I had tried, to no avail, and it was almost 10 pm. 

I was beat, done in by my own optimism. Just let people who know what they're doing do this, Zick. There are many things you are unqualified to even attempt, and this is one of them.

I grabbed an overpriced Panera sandwich, drove home, fell into bed exhausted, and didn't sleep for wondering whether I'd get heat in time for the big freeze. This would become my pattern for the next nine days.

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