I’ve been having a lot of work done at the house because I suddenly have the money to fix things.

I received another grant of benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs. When I made my original disability claim back in 2008, I asked for assistance for multiple disabilities that began during service. Most of all I wanted help with my PTSD, and about two years ago, the VA agreed and I received benefits. To be honest, I sort of forgot about the rest of the claim.

The end of February, I received an unexpected new decision from VA to grant benefits for plantar fasciitis. No one ever told me about foot care in brand new combat boots with no arch supports. So, as one does when they are 18 years old and getting yelled at in Basic Training every day, one keeps her mouth shut. Unfortunately, my feet were injured.

The monetary portion of this award was backdated 13 years. My therapist called the length of VA appeals decisions an “involuntary savings plan,” because no one actually wants to wait 13 years to get assistance, but also I would not have had the discipline to save this much money during those years. I spent my own money in the intervening years to get orthotics and see foot specialists, so now I can just use this money on whatever.

So my feet are as fixed as I can get them. My very old claim is fixed.

The fix that has been waiting the longest after my 13-year-old VA appeal is an awning over my back door. Remember the awning repair? I found a local guy, Brian, on and hired him to build me a new awning. He pointed out that the steps were made of plywood and up against the wood of the house and everything was warping from rain. I hired him to build new steps. While he was at it, he installed motion-sensing outdoor lights and a light in the awning. He pointed out that the electric wiring in the well house adjacent to the back door was done wrong, and I hired him to fix the wiring. He discovered this problem because he plugged in his battery charger and it blew up. Because some bonehead (my former roommate) had wired the 240V right to the outlet. Jeez louise. So I bought the guy a new charger.

It’s how home improvement always, always goes. You plan to spend X amount on X thing, and in the end Y, and Z must be added.

Brian’s assistant, Tracy, sets up the compressor. Brand new awning will now protect my door from the weather better than before.
The awning is done. Notice the lights beside the door, and the old steps. The new wood needs paint, but as you can see, the entire wall was looking pretty cruddy. I’ll paint it this summer.
New steps, new lights on side of house and side of pump house.
He removed the lights from the wall beside the door, and installed one in the ceiling of the awning instead. So classy.
New sturdy steps of pressure-treated wood.

While they were there, they built a new ramp for the Lil’ Hussies because their old one was ruined by age and weather.

New ramp for girls.

Speaking of girls, they also got some home improvement! I’ve been spending every other weekend at Pedro’s house and leaving my poor girls exposed to raccoons on those nights, because I’m not here to close the door to the chicken house at night. Pedro found an automatic door online from These doors are super high quality, simple construction, and include optional photosensor and solar panel. I need all of the above, and I just happen to be able to afford these fabulous accessories.

I was DREADING the door installation. I finally spoke up and told Pedro about how I was intimidated by the electronics of it all, and he said that kind of stuff is fun and motivating for him, like a game to figure it out. I should have whined much earlier.
The door size I chose was almost an exact match for the old door-hole, so we didn’t bother cutting at all. Pedro gave the rationale that the Lil’ Hussies might even like it better if everything still looks the same on the inside.
Looking down on us is a curious chicken. She’s wondering what we are doing to her house. Behind her you can see the house and new awning from a different angle.
Chicken attack update: That’s GT! She is no longer a truncated chicken. Her tail feathers are not fully grown, but she is definitely more chicken-shaped now.
It works perfectly!! You can see the photosensor right above the door, but the solar panel is on the right side, where the sun would be if it was shining. This cute little door opens and closes based on light or dark. The chickens were scared of it for two days and wouldn’t step into the house from the outside, but now they don’t care anymore.

There was one other thing I wanted Brian to do. Last fall I put a rock through my kitchen window with the riding lawnmower. The glass was double-paned, so my kitchen wasn’t cold all winter, but it did need to be fixed.

This hole was about 1 1/2 inches across! Luckily the rock did not smash through both panes.

With my new involuntary savings money, I decided to splurge and replace the broken window with a garden window. If any of you have been doing any kind of work around the house, buying appliances, or furniture this past year, you know prices are up and wait times are humongous because the pandemic not only caused increased demand for stuff in our homes, but also disrupted the supply chain by sending commerce in all these new directions. Then there was that massive tanker stuck in the Suez Canal, etc etc. So anyway, I was paying double for wood and though the garden window wasn’t too much more expensive…it was hard to get. The local Lowe’s and Home Depot were completely out, I tried a couple other places, and finally found a place with garden windows in stock. Ish. They had to be ordered from a faraway factory and shipped. It took some time. No worries, since 2020, everything takes time. I am patient.

In the meantime, I tried to get a few cabinet companies to finish some wood for me, to be used as trim. No takers. So I had to do it myself. First I went to multiple stores in Longview just to FIND the right kind of wood in the right size (e.g. supply chain disruption+demand). Then I had some awesome folks at a paint store help me figure out the best stain and varnish. Then I found Mom’s old wood sander out in the shop. I tried my best to finish the wood myself.

We had some sunny days and I took advantage of the weather to do this smelly work outside.
My two precious oak boards had a couple flaws, as you see, but it’s all I could find. The lumber store literally had two oak 1x6s. The 1x6s were to trim inside the window and the small trim pieces would be around the outside of that. I wasn’t really visualizing what Brian was planning, but he told me how much wood to get, and I trusted his instructions.
Racecar realized I was preoccupied, and left in pursuit of other diversions.

When the window arrived I had to drive an hour and a half to get to the warehouse to pick it up. It was a huge, noisy, daunting place and I showed up with a vehicle way, way too small, it turns out.

Milgard factory in Tualatin, Oregon.

The garden window was safely ensconced in multiple layers of foam, plastic, and cardboard. A few employees were wonderful and decided to help me. They brainstormed. I frowned in consternation. They removed a layer and considered, and had me back the Jeep up to the loading dock. They removed another layer. Finally, they removed everything. They loaded it up for me and it fit. We all said goodbye and crossed our fingers. And yes, I got the thing home in one piece and did not dare put the brakes on hard the entire trip.

There is no – translation: zero – wiggle room here. The metal flanges are touching the sides of the hatch opening. But it fit. Whew!

Brian and Tracy came back and they put it all together, only needing me once, to help Tracy hold the new window up to the wall while Brian placed the initial screws to hold it in place.

Old window out. Siding had to be pulled away from the house to fit the flanges behind them.
You can see Tracy through the window. It’s up! They took a break before working on the trim, which needed to go outside and inside.
Aha. Now I see what he was doing. It looks beautiful. And hey, check out how great the match is with the window trim and the cabinet. Brian said he chose the grain to match too. Clever.
Another example. I am so proud of myself. The match is fabulous.
Look. At. This. So beautiful. What a great idea this was. I am so excited to decide what to fill the space with. There is a glass shelf, but I am not certain I will use it. I might put in tall plants, or a hanging plant.
It adds an unexpectedly large space, when it used to be merely a 5-inch windowsill.
This is what it looks like on the outside. Oh, you can also see this year’s deck garden too.

A few days before I had begun mowing the lawn, then misjudged the location of a stump (since it was my first time mowing for the year), and got the blades hung up on the stump. Or something. I didn’t have the upper body strength to dislodge it. I tried releasing the deck from the tractor, and I could easily lift the tractor. But not that blade deck. Omigosh, it’s freakishly heavy to begin with, but was clearly embedded into the stump below it. Thank goodness for Tracy and Brian, who – upon noticing the mower abandoned in the yard – instantly recognized a damsel-in-distress situation and trotted down the hill to assess the damage. I was a little validated to see that it took two men a full fifteen minutes to get the thing disconnected from the stump. That made me feel less like a weakling.

They lifted the tractor off the deck and turned the deck upside down. The blade on one side was hitting the frame every rotation, so something was off. While they worked on the garden window, I drove to the parts store and bought new blades. They attached the blades during another window break and it was not that. Then we discovered a new problem.

Abandoned tractor mid-mow.
Immobile mower. Deck is released, but I can’t budge it out from under the tractor.
With blade removed you can see the cracked housing.

I called the guy at the tractor store to see if the lawnmower housing was in stock.

“I’ve never heard of a housing getting cracked,” he said. “Are you sure? You would have had to hit something pretty hard. Is it the star attachment on top? Usually the star is damaged.”

“Yup. I cracked the housing,” I replied. “Do I get a gold star?” He laughed. He had the new spindle/housing, with four new bolts sitting on the counter when I showed up.

A few days later, with rain in the forecast, I found some motivation and called my neighbor, Dick, to ask if he had an impact wrench. He put it outside for me and I swung by his place and picked it up. Once I started working on the mower, I discovered I needed additional tools to remove some other things before I got to the broken housing. I was still digging around for drill bits when Dick showed up, wondering what I was up to. I was so grateful because the best way to do all this stuff was for one person to hold the deck in the air while the other reached underneath, or one person to hold the steel cover out of the way while the other used the wrench or my power drill. Dick relied on my knowledge of the deck to reassemble his side of it beneath the mower. I re-wound the belt by memory (I’ve done that too many times…).

I was scared to turn on the blades. Dick said, “Well, you won’t know till you try it.” His matter-of-factness gave me courage and I cranked it up. Vroom! All was well. I gave a victory cheer. Dick laughed at me and trudged back up the hill to his truck and I drove the tractor up. I put some gas in it. And I went back to work.

I mowed.
And mowed.
And mowed.

I got the whole dang property done before the rains came! That’s a relief. It’s simply too much trouble to mow wet grass. I have to stop every twenty minutes and clean the green sludge out from under the deck. It makes me squeamish to put my hands up in there and clean the area around the blades. Yikes.

All this time I’ve been doing other work as well. Retirement is exhausting, I swear. So today is the the last day of Week 6 in Oregon’s quarter term system. I’m up to my eyeballs in mapping and, while it’s fun, it’s challenging. I’ve been doing more math than I’ve done in a decade, and all the stuff is here: geometry, calculus, trigonometry, but at least it’s just the basics so it’s easy enough. Quizzes and labs every week. I know way more about maps than anyone would care to know. Ok, the professor clearly cares…

At the same time it’s been time to do my job as a training consultant with Veterans of Foreign Wars. VFW is wonderful to work with and they honor be by calling me back year after year and asking if I want to teach. The answer is always yes. This is my third time teaching via Zoom, and with the reliable support I get from the administrators, it is a breeze. I received my topic last month, did my research, created my presentation, test questions, exercises, and slideshow and turned it all in. Then Tuesday I taught 155 students in a single class. You can do that with Zoom. It went fairly well, even though I crammed tons of information into a somewhat boring topic and I hope I kept people awake. Or, most of them, at least.

Things are only ramping up, and I have lots more ahead. Like continued work with a personal trainer at an actual GYM, in person. It has been so great to be in a gym again now that I’m fully vaccinated. I go at 6am and often I’m the only human using the equipment. Tomorrow I’m going to join the Belle Brigade in a real, in-person RACE. Can you even believe it? It must be one of the first in the country to start up again. So I’ll be walking with my ladies, a 1/4 marathon power-walk. Wish me well. Love you all.

29 thoughts on “Fixes

  1. My VA-delay story is trivial compared to yours, but in 1971 they approved my educational benefits under the G.I. Bill so I could study at the university here in Frankfurt.
    It took the VA six months to send the first check, and in that interval President Nixon decided to take the dollar off the gold standard, so the dollar lost nearly a quarter of its value against the D-Mark. To make up the difference, I started teaching English part-time at the Frankfurt Adult Education Center, which was a blessing in disguise because I was able to go on working there in various capacities for the next 48 years.

    1. What a story!! It sounds like you took advantage of the blessing part of it, and made a life for yourself. Thank goodness you started teaching English. Such bad timing for you, when the dollar went off the gold standard. But I imagine it would have been bad timing for someone no matter when it happened, and it had to happen.

      1. Yes, it did have to happen, and in retrospect I think going off the gold standard was one of Nixon’s better decisions, even though it made life difficult for me at the time.
        On another topic entirely, I’ve been meaning to ask you if you know the opera “The Rake’s Progress” by Igor Stravinsky, to a text by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman. We had a brilliant production of it here in Frankfurt in 2012, with Brenda Rae in the lead female role of Anne Trulove, the woman who remains faithful to Tom Rakewell even though he is not at all faithful to her. In the trailer (at ) the stage director Axel Weidauer speaks German, but the American tenor Paul Appleby speaks English and he’s the one who does most of the talking (also about Brenda).

      2. I had not heard of the Opera, nor of the character of Anne Trulove. I watched the whole clip you sent me and it seems like a good show, though possibly hard to watch due to the subject. I get quite excited about any glimpse of the Trulove name, as from what I can find, it’s quite rare, especially with that spelling. (there is a large clan of Trueloves in Texas) Thanks for the tip on the performance and I’ll be looking for it in case it ends up anywhere I happen to be.

      3. I’ve just looked up The Rake’s Progress in operabase, and find that four performances are scheduled for May-June 2022 at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. Six performances of the same opera were planned for March-April 2021 at the Lyric Opera in Chicago, but they all had to be cancelled because of Covid.

      4. Oh cool! It’s great that it’s being performed somewhere. I’ve only been to NYC once in my life, so that trip isn’t in my cards. But this means it could show up elsewhere, too, and that people are still interested in the story.

    1. So scary!! I was grateful that the workers hadn’t been zapped, or *me*, since I’ve been using that outlet for the past year. Holy cow. I’m so grateful that Brian knew how to fix it, and did that for me. Yes, busy here. I’m gonna have to take the summer off from school again, to catch up on everything.

  2. It is so good that you have received the money to deal with all those maintenance problems and have a great team, and Dick, on hand. Just don’t let the people who finally approved your claim see you leaping about on your blog or learn about the power walk. 🙂

    1. ha ha!! I know, right? But seriously, my feet are better now because I have learned how to care for them on my own. I love how you refer to my “team.” Yes, that’s what I’ve got I guess. Living at this big property alone for so long has made me reliant on others. I used to be ashamed to have to ask for help, but I have learned that a lot of times, people like helping.

  3. Ohh, Crystal, I’m so happy for you and all your achievements and improvements in your beautiful home, and that one windowsill that could become your reading shelf! Could it support your weight? You are exactly everything that I’m not, gym included. I gained so much weight in one year that I barely recognize myself.

    Next: I LOVE your car plate!! “Oregon – dragns – salmon!” But of course!

    And I can’t believe you had plantar fasciitis! This was what I told my doctor that I have but he just laughed and said “Close enough”. So mine is a different problem but it’s a similar calcification thing, and also due to one fast walk in flat sandals years ago. It’s still damn painful even after 8 therapy sessions last summer (electricity + laser + ultrasound), and I don’t know what to do next. Now it will be better when I can start wearing summer sandals again (reinforced with the silicon step-in heel part, whatever you call it).

    So happy for you, I really am. Over here, still nothing certain about how to go on. Probably my uncle will come to take me and bestia to Slovenia where I’ll be vaccinated some time in June. I wish you a lovely May.

    1. I have fantasized about that wide windowsill too! Honestly, I think it’s going to be a hit with Racecar when she finds it. I have gained weight since I retired, and gained more during the pandemic. Luckily I don’t worry about pounds, but think more about what clothes I still fit into. I bought all new pants. Then had to buy new pants again. Then I refused to buy any more pants and decided to figure out a way to stop gaining weight! The trainer has been great (If I have an appointment, I hold myself more accountable than just telling myself to work out more), but he’s focused more on strength and overall fitness. I’m not losing weight. So…I don’t really know how to fit my old jeans again. Maybe they’re part of my past, ha ha. I could write a goodbye poem to them.

      So, to be honest, I am not sure of plantar fasciitis diagnosis for myself. My pain is all in my arches. I thought plantar fasciitis is more about heel pain, and tends to be most painful in the morning and gets better with more foot movement. My feet feel awesome in the morning, but the more I walk around, the more they hurt. I have invested in high-quality orthotics and arch support, and shoes like Birkenstocks, and my feet are a hundred times better. I explained all this to a podiatrist, and he said, “Yes, that’s plantar fasciitis.” So ok, whatever doc. I know you have struggled so much with foot pain and that can ruin your quality of life by not being able to walk comfortably. I’m glad the season is coming where you can wear shoes that make you feel better.

      So a possible June date for vaccination! I am so, so, so glad to hear it. I am glad you can begin making plans for it, even if you’re not sure yet. My love to you and all your family. I wish everyone had the easy access that I had. I wish the US would do more to support the world.

      1. Hihih, a goodbye poem to your jeans! Splendid. Do it! Yes, when every step hurts, one thinks a little before taking any. Even though I walk the dog twice a day every day. Vaccinations are available, this is not a problem here. I just need to get to Slovenia. And so do you. 😉

    2. Oh, and your comment on my plate. I knew someone would say something because it stands out in that photo. I never thought to read it through like you did: Oregon – dragns – Salmon. I chose this plate design with the salmon because part of the proceeds I spend to keep the car registered now go to assisting rivers and fisheries in Oregon. Hey! Pedro just told me that Ljubljana has a lot of dragons. No way!! I had no idea. If you’ve mentioned it in your blog, I’ve missed it or forgotten. Anyway, while I had no special reason to visit Ljubljana before (my obsession is with Piran), now we MUST go there.

      1. Hihhi! Brilliant! Ljubljana is my city of birth, OF COURSE we will go there!! It’s the city of dragons and I thought I did a post with dragons once but I might do one again just for you. 😉

  4. Wow, Crystal, I got tired just reading your post! I may have to take a nap. I laughed at this: “I should have whined much earlier.” Sounds like things are going well for you, however. Peggy aid I are looking forward to your visit in late May. –Curt

    1. ha ha! I had to take a nap after writing it! Things are going well. I swear, my life is charmed. I’ve earned it too. It’s crazy to think how hard things were for so many years and now I’m walking on sunshine. I am really excited to visit you two. My first trip for fun since August 2020. It’ll be a first road trip for Pedro and me, too. We may be arriving as early as the 27th, if that would be ok. I’m checking on it and will let you know.

      1. Thank you! We would be leaving after Pedro gets off work, so arriving late. Around 8pm? Maybe as late as 9, but hopefully not. And staying two nights, if you’ll have us. 🙂

      2. Two nights are perfect. If you aren’t eating along the way, we’ll have a pizza ready to throw into the oven. Will you be available to play was on the 28th or do you have things planned? 🙂 –Curt

    1. Thank you so much Bethany. You are so right about repairs being rewarding. I bought the house from a man I didn’t like very much, and it was clearly his home when I moved in, with his design choices. Part of the reward when I change things around here is that I make it more my home and less his with each thing I fix. I think his theme was “Hunting Man Cave,” ha ha! And yes, it’s now more colorful and bright and interesting and comfortable and I personally think it’s so much beautiful. Thank you for the validation. ❤

    1. Thanks Jolandi! It’s already time to mow again, but I can’t because I need to catch up on schoolwork. Even though there is so much yardwork to do, I don’t mind at all because that’s where I catch up on my podcasts and do much of my reading. It means I actually look forward to mowing and also weed trimming, which takes hours and hours. I love the window too, and it’s still mostly empty as I look at it each day and think about what I want to fill the space with. Racecar still has not discovered it, which is good, because it means she doesn’t spend much time on the countertops when I’m not looking. 🙂

      1. I can imagine Racecar would love it if she discovers that space with its wonderful view. 🙂
        Unlike you, I love to allow my thoughts to roam when I’m busy with outside work, but I do catch up on podcasts when I’m busy with cooking or doing dishes inside.
        Good luck with catching up on all the schoolwork.

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