Sunday, October 7, 2012

Everything I Like To Do, I Learned From My Uncle

This past weekend, my sister and I went "camping".  I have now been camping twice with her, and I think I can safely say that the next time we go, it will have to be nearly perfect, because we have already dealt with everything that could possibly go wrong.  The first time, years ago, we awoke to a river running through our campsite (under our tent) because of COURSE the only available site left in a campground in Wells, Maine in August is situated on the low part of an old creek bed.  Grabbing your wet tent and hauling ass out of a campground at 4:00 am, beer cans and sleeping bags flying?  A priceless memory.

This time, we arrived at our campsite in near darkness, set up the tent at dusk, purchased damp firewood that would not ignite and discovered the campground had no running water.  However, my sister and I sitting miserably in the woods is not the subject of this blog post.

The point is, I keep doing these things.  This summer alone I have slept outside at a family reunion in the pouring rain and lead four innocent and unsuspecting friends down the Saco river (camping included) in August, blazing the trail with my "extensive" nature knowledge and the fact that I had canoed the river once before (when I was eleven).   I also have a newly-hatched plan to purchase a tow-behind camper and live in it (possibly year round).  My sense of adventure seems to know no bounds, and I finally figured out who to blame.

My eldest uncle, Steve, has been dragging anyone who is willing (or anyone young enough to be unable to protest) on "adventures" (he's a registered Maine guide, and his business card once said something like "Steve's Scenic Safaries to Exotic Places") for longer than I have been alive.  Some of our highlights included a 3 day, 2 night canoe trip with several family members and friends down the Moose River (I think I was about ten) and a "day" hike up Mt. Katahdin.  My uncle also taught me how to drive, gave me my first landscaping job, and likely put me on my first pair of skis.

Yes, the above paragraph sounds idyllic, doesn't it?

It gets better when you hear that we put our boats in that river at about 6 pm in the wilderness of Northern Maine and paddled in the pitch blackness across a lake on the canoe trip.  I remember crying, being completely convinced that we would never survive the adventure - and it was just half an hour into the weekend. 

We hiked Katahdin beginning at noon, thinking a nice easy day hike of one of the highest peaks in the Northeast would be no sweat.  My uncle brought a bag of M&Ms for sustenance, and no flashlight.  More tears ensued when we were still hiking at 9 pm.  Neither myself, my aunt Leslie, or her friend who accompanied us were terribly impressed with Steve's planning skills.  I think by then I must have been twelve or so, at least enough time had passed between trips that I had forgotten my vow to "never go anywhere with Uncle Steve again".

When Steve hired me to work for him, I was fourteen years old and the job required being able to operate a motorized vehicle.  He started me out on an ancient Gravely lawn tractor, which was replaced by a three-wheeled atv with a trailer (for hand-picking rocks from a large field), which I promptly used to run over my own foot.  

With such a great track record, we moved on to bigger and better things, and Steve taught me and my best friend, Elizabeth, how to drive his Jeep, which was at least 40 years old.  No one really believes me when I tell them that I learned how to drive on a 4 speed Willys Jeep, and nobody in my 9th grade class believed either of us when we told them we'd been driving all over the back roads of the Sunday River valley, unlicensed, in a dump truck (Sorry, Steve, if you didn't exactly know about that one).

I credit my uncle with teaching me that the kind of work that I would grow to love would never pay me much.  My duties as his employee included staining sheds, mowing lawns, endlessly weeding flower beds, and then there was that damn field with all of those rocks.  All for $5.00 an hour.  I was, at the time, a bargain.  Now I don't even get out of bed for less than $10.00 an hour... still, I think, a bargain.

Steve's personality always leads to interesting encounters with people all over the world.  You can most certainly stop in any town in any New England state and find someone who knows Steve Wight.  I'm sure you've heard of the "6 degrees of Kevin Bacon"... there are only 3 degrees of uncle Steve.  There's "sure, I know Steve!", "I've heard of Steve", and "let me tell you about what happened the one time your uncle convinced me that we should go _______".

I guess it would be safe to say that most of the things I enjoy doing at the age of 27 are things Steve taught me.  I still love Jeeps and trucks, I mow lawns for a living, and I escape to nature as often as I can with anyone who will agree to come with me.  I am also, as everyone in my family will attest to, the loudest voice in every social situation, and usually the center of attention (unless Steve happens to be there).

My uncle Steve is 69 years old today.  He has managed to be the family patriarch for 54 years, married a very patient woman, owned and operated a successful hospitality business for many years, is an outspoken and (generally) respected member of my hometown community, has three children, five grandchilden and several granddogs. 

And one neice who can't thank him enough.

Monday, January 2, 2012

The Tiny Life

As some of my "followers" (gosh, that sounds pretentious) on facebook may know, I moved exactly one month ago.  I have previously blogged about living alone, and I still do, but I moved into the apartment on the 2nd floor of my building.  Hooray, less stairs!

The entire living space (minus the bathroom, because I don't count bathrooms as a place you can "live") is 180 square feet.  For those of you, like myself, with no concept of space, that's 12x15 feet.  About the size of your average dorm room.

I was watching HGTV last week and saw a new show about apartment hunting.  The agent was referring to small, one room apartments as "bachelors" instead of "studios", so that is what I am calling my place.  My bachelor sized apartment.  See what I did there?  I turned something cramped and inconvenient into something extremely trendy.  Thank you, Home and Garden Television.

This photo does not do justice to how small the apartment really is, but please imagine that this is about half of the one room.  The kitchen area is about 6x12 feet.  Countertops?  What you see is what there is.  Also, I am sure you've noticed that the refrigerator looks un-level.  That's because it is.  The whole place is.

Perhaps the most interesting part about the apartment is the bed.  At first look, it would appear to the naked eye that I have no bed.  Do not be fooled, as the large doors that line one side of the room contain a....


Oh yes, they do exist outside of sitcoms about broke waitresses struggling with two jobs, trying to get by and maintain their independent lifestyle...oh, oh God.

But back to the bed.  I don't understand how it works exactly.  There are lots of hinges, springs and dangerous looking metal parts.  By pulling on the foot board, the whole thing folds out (with a rather satisfying bang) and drops down, sheets, pillows, stuffed animals and all.  It takes up the entire room.  There is barely enough space to walk around when the bed is folded out, so it has to be packed away every morning.  There is also a "Murphy" table and benches that fold out of another cabinet in the wall.  Yes, I live inside a pop-up book.

The best part about moving into this minuscule space is that I have absolutely no desire to go shopping.  I can't, I don't have an inch of space to put anything else.  The 2nd best part is that I don't ever, ever have to host another house guest - because unless we are going to keep the bed folded up and cover the floor in air mattresses, there is absolutely no space to add another person.  Which is exactly how I like it.

The downsides, I suppose, would be that I certainly cannot entertain (I don't have a functional table, and the bookcase is actually in front of the folding one), and that I had to get rid of almost half of my belongings.  That includes:

- a dresser I swiped from my college apartment (it was there when I moved in!) and have painted 3 different times to match different apartments over the last 4 years,
- 4 bar stools that I absolutely loved (the old place had a bar),
- a shoe rack (and, subsequently, about half of my pairs of shoes, since I no longer had a place for them)
- a reasonably sized television (see photo.  I built the shelf that the TV is on, and the screen is probably about 18".  If the room was any bigger, I wouldn't be able to see the picture),
- my box spring (the ol' Murph only takes a mattress on top of the cracked plywood and spring base),
- piles, piles, and more piles of junk I always thought I'd need again some day.  Oh yes, this means that the red Tu-Tu left over from a beer fairy Halloween costume 3 years ago went to the Salvation Army, along with old quilt fabric, many rolls of wrapping paper, t-shirts I haven't worn in 5 years, and about 1/4 of my famous baseball cap collection. 

I'm sure I will thank myself for this one day.

This tiny living thing has started to teach me a lot.  For instance, you can't just leave your clean laundry in the basket until it's time to do more laundry and then just dump the clean on your bed...if you don't have a bed.  And if you allow mail, change, shoes or dishes to pile up, it is immediately noticeable.  I have to be really tidy in this space, or it gets out of hand VERY quickly. 

I can't buy too many groceries.  BJ's Wholesale Club?  Forget it.  If I purchase more than one box of pasta at a time, I have to rearrange the entire cupboard to make space. 

Getting drunk in this apartment is actually really dangerous.  Any clumsy or wide turns, and things are falling off shelves and the wall.  When the bed is folded out, the doors nearly block the hallway to the point that I can barely get by, so if I am even the least bit out of sorts, I crash into it.  I'm pretty sure the woman below me already hates me.

SO.  Why do this, you ask?  Why mortgage the space upstairs (which was no huge digs either, I should add.  The only difference was one small room, but it felt like a lot more) for living in a glorified walk-in closet? 

Besides the price, which is exactly HALF of what I was paying for rent upstairs (and that was a total steal), I have convinced myself that this is all I need.  The only bill that is not included is my electric, which I paid last week at the whopping price of $16.43.  Of course it's cheap, the whole place has only two light switches.  And I can simplify my life by necessity (what 26 year old needs 4 bar stools?), which is very handy for someone who has just a touch of "hoarding" in their blood.

Also, as noble and trendy as I am trying to make this "Bachelor" apartment thing seem, I would be deceiving you of my real motives if I did not point out that my rent is now just slightly less than my student loan payment...