I was stuck in a Bob Newhart Episode and I wasn’t even mad…


Mornin’ all.

I was washing dishes the other day, putting off the biggest hassle on my “To Do” list for as long as I could.

I think I mentioned that we’re in a polar vortex of hell at the moment. Er, let me clarify: we *were* in a vortex. At this exact moment, we get a hiatus from the insanity for two days so that a Nor’easter can roll in and make everything worse. Don’t worry, that’s not going to last long. It’s supposed to be -25 again on Saturday.


The plan for the day I was trying very hard to avoid was to try to spelunk into our Scary Beyond Reason basement to investigate a frozen pipe.

Hang on. Let me set the stage. I’ve spoken of the Basement That Must Not Be Named before. Calling it a “basement” at all is very generous. That word implies that there’s some sort of order, rhyme and reason to it.

Or, at the very least, walls.

We have under our house a pit. What was once a real foundation a hundred and fiftyish years ago has sunken, crumbled, separated from the walls of the shack we call home. At the deepest point, you can alllllmost stand up if you wedge your feet into the canyon carved through the center by a hundred years of spring runoffs coursing over the dirt…floor? Is it even a floor? Can you really call a mud slick a floor?

You see? You see what we have to deal with down there? Every time I consider our basement, I’m thrust into a pique of existential pondering.

The stairs leading into Golum’s Lair used to be stairs. Do you know what happens to wood when it sits in bog water for years? Because whoever decided to make this particular staircase out of cheap ass pine clearly did not. Each trip down now is a fun game of “Will The Top Bolts Be Enough To Hold Me If The Cinder Block Slipped?”

One day I won’t win that game and will have to play a sudden death match of, “Is An Extension Cord A Viable Substitute For Climbing Rope?” I’ll let you know the answer when the time comes.

A rotting staircase leading into the pits of despair. Those are the hassles ones faces if they can even get INTO the basement. All that only becomes a consideration once I navigate through the obstacles in my way just to get to the door. A large stack of car parts, an M&M display, boxes of paint, some pictures I’m going to graffiti…

What I’m saying is that it’s a process to get to the basement door, a death-defying feat to successfully descend the stairs, and an outright trial of fortitude to traverse the wilds of the deep to locate a frozen pipe in -20 degree weather.

But, I needed to. A frozen pipe can quickly become a burst pipe if not handled in a timely fashion. It was stupid that we let it freeze in the first place, because we damn well know better. We dripped all the other faucets in the house…we just forgot to do the same for the tub. Nothing else froze, and in -20 degree weather, that’s saying something. Still, our fault, our problem.

So I was washing up the dishes, mentally plotting how I’d go about getting into the basement to assess the frozen pipe situation when I heard some muttering. I shut the water off and called to my man, because I thought it was him. He hadn’t said anything, and I shrugged and went back to the suds. Once again, I heard talking. I listened for a second, recognized the voice, then got excited.

We’re talking kid on Christmas morning who heard a puppy’s yipping through the box that was wiggling around under the tree levels of excitement. I was, as we say around here, wicked fuckin’ excited.

“Hon, I think Jim might be in the basement!”

Jim is our unhandyman. He’s a rock bottom priced Jack of Few Trades that the landlords of our duplex have used for every repair in this place over the last decade and a half. I like the guy, he’s quite a character. But he doesn’t exactly deliver top notch work.

He doesn’t claim to, either, though. That’s a huge point in his favor. He knows he’s fast and cheap, and does work that you’d expect for the price. He makes no bones about the fact. I have to respect that.

Hon went out to see if Jim’s truck was at the neighbor’s. There was, indeed, a truck there, and we were talking about how we’d get into the basement to talk to Jim about the bad pipe when there was a bang on the floor under our feet.

“Hey guys!” came the voice. “It’s me, Jim! You know…the plumbah!”

I opened the door to the cupboard under the kitchen sink and called back through the hole around the drain pipe. “Well hi, Jim! I thought that was you down there! How’s it going?”

“Oh, fine,” he called back. “I’m wicked busy right now with all this weathah. Hey, yer neighbor’s hot pipe froze and I forgot which one a’these boilers is hers. Can you run yer hot watah so I can feel the friggin’ pipes and figure this shit out?”

Hon leans down toward the cupboard, joining the conference call in progress. “Not a problem,” he shouted, in case the connection wasn’t so good. “Hey, Jim, while you’re down there, we’ve got a frozen pipe, too.”

“Shit. Which one?” yelled Jim.


“Hot or cold?”


“Christ. Okay, here’s what I’m gonna do. I’m gonna stick this propane heatah goin’. It’s got propane for four days. Give it three days and if yer watah’s not flowin’ by then, I’ll come back with my friggin’ Salamander and make this cellah a thousand fuckin’ degrees and thaw everythin’ out forevah. Sound good?”

“Sounds great! I’ll turn that water on for you now.”

“Thanks guys!”

I turned the watah on for him. In just a couple minutes, we heard, “Jesus that’s fuckin’ hot!” I shouted down into the redneck cellphone, “You find it, Jim?”

“Yeah, got it. Thanks! Stay wahm!”

“You, too!” We shut the door to the kitchen sink, thus ending our discount Skype session with Jim.

If you’ve ever wondered what the best part of winter in New England is, that’s it right there; shouting through the drain hole with unfettered glee because your neighbor froze their pipes worse than you froze yours, giving the landlords no choice but to call in the discount handyman who will muck around a -20 degree frozen shit pit so you don’t have to.

THAT is the joy of winter in New England.

You know you’re jealous.

Thus concludes a quick little Musing for Snowday, January Shitstorm, 20screwthiswinter. I got home from work yesterday and was able to take a hot shower. The propane heater worked! Jim didn’t have to make my cellah a thousand fuckin’ degrees. Too bad. Would have heated up these old wood floors…


All I need is a tractor and an empty septic tank…


Mornin’ all.

Summer is having one last blast.

…scratch that. This year, summer never really kicked on. You can’t really have a “last” blast if you never had a “blast” at all. We had only a handful of days over 90 degrees, and when it didn’t rain, the air was dry, not humid like it normally is in the summer. In short, we were pampered in comparison to an ordinary year.

Mother Nature decided to smack us upside the head with actual summer. It’s hot. And sticky. And feels ucky and gross. I’ve already turned on the air conditioner. It’s supposed to be near 90 today and as humid as a sumo wrestler’s armpit. Doesn’t that sound pleasant.

Ah well. It’s got to break soon. Hell, in a couple months when the snow’s falling and the wind howls with icy terror, I’ll be remembering the time I complained to you all about a late season heat wave and kicking myself for forgetting that it can always be worse.

We drove around yesterday and looked at some houses that are on the market. In my little town, that would be about half of them. You drive up almost any street here and you’re guaranteed to see at least a couple houses for sale.

“Bethie, you exaggerate.”

Often, yes, but not about this. There’s a street here in town that leads up to the school. It is a Desirable Neighborhood, close to “downtown”, close to the school, with the Community Center’s enormous open fields that taper off into forest as a back yard. The houses are Victorian styled, they almost all have fantastically huge garages, and their views of the rolling fields are gorgeous.

Picture this… You wake up in your large, Victorian home, to see the autumn sunshine over a frost covered New England field, with the patchwork colors of the autumn quilt covering the trees of the forest that lines the clearing. You sip your coffee as you lean against the antique woodwork of the open door frame, and watch the light twinkle on the frost, the heat of the morning sun beginning to make wisps of steam curl up into the crisp air when all of a sudden, a majestic buck regally parades into view. And not a single neighbor takes a shot at it off their back porch. Not one.

That’s a Desirable Neighborhood in this town, my friends.

There are seven houses for sale in this particular Desirable Neighborhood. There are less than 20 houses total on that street.


Well said. Wow indeed.

“Okay, so why the mass exodus?”

Taxes. See, in NH we don’t have silly things like income tax and sales tax. However, would you believe we still have state expenses? And that we need to pay for them? As such, we have property taxes. While everywhere has property tax, in NH, the lack of other taxes means that we pay out the wazoo for the privilege of owning property. Our rate here in town has a base of $28 per $1000 of assessed value. I don’t know why the town does it like this. Why don’t they just say 2.8%? Because…math? Who knows.

So that’s the base. However, depending on where you are, the property will, of course, be assigned a different value.

We looked into one of the Victorian houses for sale in the Desirable Neighborhood just to see. We knew it would totally be out of our price range, but we just wanted to know what they were going for. It was a 4 bedroom jobby with a garage on 1/2 acre of land. A good sized house, to be sure, with the added bonus of a nice garage. They are asking only $167,000 for the house. It’s a steal!!!

…until you read the tax information. The 2014 property tax is just over $7,800/year.

“Wait Bethie. Your math is off.”

No, it’s actually not. See, the tax counts the house value AND the assessed land value. So for just that little half acre of land, they charge an additional $3,000ish/year. For half an acre.

To give you an idea, there’s another neighborhood in town that goes back into the hills. The road sucks getting there and you can’t get cable, so don’t even try. However, because it is not a Desirable Neighborhood, the home was in the same ballpark as far as size, but comes on 4 enormous acres of land. It’s yearly tax is only around $5,000.

See, even in a tiny redneck town, it’s all about the neighborhood.

I did not know this until we started looking for houses. Actually, I suppose I did sort of. I never really gave it much thought, though. If we want to live in the Desirable Neighborhood, we need to plan an additional $680/month tacked on to the mortgage JUST for tax. We are not shooting for the Desirable Neighborhood. That’s like paying two mortgages just to be able to watch deer frolic in the field. I don’t even like deer.

While toolin’ around, we accidentally ended up going around the lake. Tiny little lake homes that just look expensive let us know we were SO not in the right neighborhood, but the road was narrow and filled with people who paid way too much to look that stupid in their coordinated velour jogging suits. We couldn’t find a place to turn around, so we just had to press on. I said, “Oh, no. I think we’ve ended up in a cul de sac.” To which my man said, “We can’t afford to live in a cul de sac!”

No. We can’t. No Desirable Neighborhood, no lake properties, no cul de sacs.

We got turned around and lived through the condescending looks leveled at us as we passed by the town’s hidden wealthy. Took a turn off that street, saw a trailer, and instantly felt better. Then we got up into the hills.

I’ve lived in NH my whole life, and one thing I can say for certain is that if the town has back hills, which most will no matter how large the center of the town may be, then the properties you will find in these hills vary about as much as anything can. In the Desirable Neighborhood, the houses and properties fit a rough pattern. Victorian style home, large garage, same sized lot, same majestic view of unmolested woodland creatures. Around the lake, there is a property protocol, too. Tiny house, but meticulously maintained. Not a blade of grass longer than the rest, white picket fence an absolute must, and I believe in the purchase agreements the velour suit thing must be a requirement since everyone has them.


Driving through there was like ending up in Children of the Corn. Only with rich people.

Neighborhoods tend to take on personas, certain vibes, whether they were built to be intentionally conformist by one development firm, or sprang up in dribs and drabs over the years as people bought and developed individual lots. The need to fit in with the neighbors is evident.

But, in the back hills of any decent NH town, all rules are broken. The only “vibe” is, “Mind your own damn business.” One property might contain a thousand dollar trailer left over from the 60’s, with old tv dinner tins patching up the siding, while just up the road, you’ll find a couple million dollar estate. It’s a mix of everything up in the hills, and that makes for an interesting holiday Monday drive.

Those developed hill properties rarely come up for sale. You can buy untouched land up there, but the kind of people who intentionally build their homes in the most hard to reach places do so because that’s where they fully intend to nestle in and be kings of their empires, whatever form those empires may take. I don’t blame them a bit. If I ever get rich enough to not have to do silly things like go anywhere, I’d do the same.

Among all the fantastic, sprawling estates, and the cozy, hoopdie little trailers, I saw a property that I just loved. It’s got a little stream through it, hills, forest, and a large clearing. Someone had set up a work shop, one of those huge prefab steel tubes that just look like they’d be fun to shout into to hear the echo, and they had a few tractors parked outside their home. What was the “home”? Two campers strung together with a little tin roof. Like old 70’s Winnebagos.

What a life, huh? Get a huge piece of gorgeous property tucked back where no one will bother you and play around on tractors all day. Tell society to eff off, get a couple campers to skirt around building codes…

I’m not being sarcastic. That sounds awesome. And if we didn’t have kids, that’s exactly what we’d do. I told my man that. He said, “I’m game if you empty the bathroom holding tanks.”

…perhaps there are some drawbacks to this idea I did not initially consider.

We turned down a road that lead up to an enormous spread with a little pull-over spot in front of a stone wall and a sign that read, “Turn around in this spot. Do not come through this wall.” There was no gate, just an old fashioned stone wall that had probably been there for a couple hundred years. There were no obvious signs of any security measures. No cameras. No guards. Just a small, open stone wall and a sign.

In the back hills.

Of NH.

Trust me, that’s all the security they need. Anyone who reads that sign and doesn’t understand that their ass will be shot if they go onto the property will learn pretty quick. We turned around as respectfully as possible, just in case, and made our way back down the hill. We did not turn down any more unmarked roads.

So that was our day of local sight seeing and property watching. We found a couple we like, so keep your fingers crossed. Seems everything in our price range is “cash only”, which is moronic when you think about it. If I had $70K in cash, I certainly wouldn’t buy a $70K house that needs total renovation. I’d buy a $200K gorgeous place with one helluva good down payment.

Actually, $70K would probably get me a nice chunk of redneck heaven up in those hills, with enough left to get a couple old trailers to stick on there. And maybe even a used tractor.

Hm. Now if I could only think of a way to trick someone else into emptying the holding tanks…

Thus concludes the Morning Musing for Tuesday, September 2, 2014. Keep your fingers crossed for a little one we really like. Figuratively. I don’t really expect you to walk around for weeks with your fingers uselessly twisted together, though I thank you for your commitment to the cause…