Trying to beat the heat on a budget

A few years ago, when we told people that we didn’t have air-conditioning, they seemed impressed.

Now they just look at us with a mixture of confusion and pity and then offer us their spare bedroom until the heat wave passes.

Maybe we’re just stubborn, but we’re not giving in yet.

For my part, I object to the cost of A/C. We spend a lot to keep our drafty old farmhouse warm in the winter; I refuse to pay for climate control in the summer as well. While I’m happy to have A/C at work, I can’t bring myself to run it at home.

Mark, on the other hand, doesn’t care about the money; he just doesn’t like artificially cold air. Go ahead and ask him what he thinks of convenience stores doubling as meat lockers in the summer months.

As a contractor, he often works in blistering heat, and he says it’s easier to tolerate when you aren’t alternating between extreme temperatures.

That’s certainly not an issue in our house.

To manage the heat, I’ve become obsessed with non-mechanical forms of temperature control. On hot mornings, I check the outdoor thermometer every few minutes. When the outside air starts to get warmer than the house, I race around shutting all our windows and doors, closing curtains and pulling shades.

Where needed, I tack up tablecloths, towels and bathrobes to keep out the sun. (Forget shiplap walls and distressed white furniture; I maintain that this is authentic farmhouse style.)

Then I put on an orange sash and act as door monitor, enforcing a strict rule that no door be open for longer than three seconds. “You’re letting all the cool air out!” I yell at anyone who enters the house with insufficient urgency. You should see how many citations I wrote up in the first half of July alone.

As night falls, I again watch the thermometer for the exact moment when the outside temps fall below those inside. Then I open everything up to let the cool air in overnight.

Thanks to my diligent door and window management, I can keep the house at 78 degrees when it’s 93 outside — for a day or so. Because my family members insist on using the doors — sometimes several times a day, and usually far too lackadaisically — I lose ground quickly. During the hot spell a couple of weeks ago, the temperature differential shrank with each successive day until the house held only a two-degree advantage.

Mark seems miserable but resigned to the heat. (You can tell by the way he lollygags for up to eight seconds when coming in the door.) I, on the other hand, am always looking for ways to cool off.

Before bed every night, I take a shower. I start with the water set to “Caribbean Ocean” and then make it a few degrees colder every 10 seconds, down through “Maine Coast in August” and so on until I reach “East Middlebury Gorge.” I keep it there until I start involuntarily hooting like an orangutan.

So refreshing.

This year’s unprecedented heat has been too much for the old box fan that usually keeps our bedroom comfortable at night. So I replaced it with a small but fierce and deafening industrial fan I found in Mark’s shop. It’s quite powerful; instead of low to high, it has settings for hurricane categories 1 through 5.

We sleep under a sheet to protect us from mosquitoes, but with the new fan we have to hold on tight all night long. If one of us lets go, the sheet snaps like a sail and billows across the room. Fighting the headwind, the two of us together can barely drag it back across the bed.

So, yes, living without A/C has its logistical challenges. But as anyone who knows will tell you, perhaps the biggest challenge is psychological: managing the irritability that comes with the heat. Diplomacy skills are essential.

Purely as an example, say that your husband has spent the day working on a sunbaked asphalt roof in humid 95-degree weather.

When you come home from your comfy air-conditioned office to an 83-degree house, remember not to say, “Geez, it’s hot in here,” or, in fact, anything weather-related at all.

Otherwise, there’s a good chance he will tear up all his unpaid door citations and sprinkle the scraps right over your head.

Pantry building, step by (slow) step

In May of 2017, Mark started building me a pantry — the old-school walk-in pantry I’ve been dreaming of for years — pledging that I would have a finished space by November.

Thanksgiving came and went, and my pantry did not get done. Mark, always the card, says he never specified which November. He also insists that he’s not the one who’s been holding up the schedule.

He hasn’t wanted to pressure me, he claims, but in fact he’s been dying to start framing the cabinets. I just haven’t given him any plans.

This is partly true.

I haven’t given him blueprints, per se, but I have told him that I want some shelves, some cupboards and some drawers, and I want everything the right dimensions so that all of our stuff fits without too much wasted space.

He says I need to be more specific.

Fine. So one time I got a piece of paper and drew the right end wall of the pantry. It had shelves across the top and a bank of drawers and cupboards on the bottom, plus side-by-side pullouts for trash and recycling.

“Like this,” I said.

He looked at my sketch.

“This is what you want?”

“This is what I want.”

“See, it’s gonna be a little tough, because you’ve drawn nine feet of cupboards, and that wall is 60 inches long.”

What a perfectionist.

Recently, I explained to him that we needed to work together, one step at a time, to hammer out the details of what I want and what he can fit in a 5-by-10 space.

He says this is not how he works with typical clients. I say I am not a typical client: Not only are we shackled together for life in an arrangement that goes beyond a normal business relationship, but also I am not paying him.

There are so many decisions to be made: How deep should the cupboards be? How many shelves? How wide should the drawers be? Where will I keep the waffle iron?

I haven’t had much luck finding online resources. There seem to be only two types of pantries represented.

The first are those on fancy home-design sites, where the shelves are bare but for a set of matching glass canisters equally full of colorful bulk items (because who doesn’t keep three pounds of red, orange and green lentils within easy reach at all times?) and a series of white bowls placed 18 inches apart. Not a cereal box in sight.

The others are those seen in more practical home magazines. These are designed by detail-oriented cooks who arrange items by function, size and color and alphabetize their canned goods. There is a checklist by the door, and every time an item is added or removed from the pantry it is noted accordingly, using a color-coded key for canned vs. boxed items, etc.

Not only do I not work that way, but I automatically hate anyone who does.

I need a space where I can grab things quickly — suggesting open shelves — but where my cavalier storage habits are hidden — requiring closed cupboards. I don’t want to say I’m a slob, but the completely open-shelved pantry at our last house usually looked like it had just been hit by a 6.1 magnitude earthquake.

My food storage habits reflect my cooking style: off-the-cuff and whirlwind. To see me flying around the kitchen — splashing olive oil on the counter and leaving an eddy of onion skins in my wake — you’d think I was a contestant in some sort of speed-cooking competition where the penalty for coming in second was death. (Note to Food Network: This is a brilliant idea for a show.)

I’m sure there’s an ideal pantry layout for me; I just don’t know what it is yet. Fortunately, Mark is playing along. Whether he’s being a good husband or he’s just too tired to argue, he has started framing up the base cabinets in his workshop, and he’s letting me make decisions as he goes.

Just before he makes a cut, I shout “Stop!” and run into the house with the tape measure. I check the diameter of my largest stockpot or skillet, run back out to the shop to give him the OK (or, more often, a revised measurement), and he cuts. It’s not the most efficient process, but we are getting closer to having a functional, finished pantry.

Call me overconfident, but another November is coming around soon, and I think it just might be the one.

Stuck in the mud — gardening 2017

Stuck in the mud — gardening 2017

This year’s heavy rains have made my vegetable garden not only soggy, but downright dangerous.

Now, I’ve always had a healthy fear of the garden, but it’s been mostly regarding spiders — less in terms of venomous bites than in terms of my reaction: having one skitter up my arm, causing me to jump, step on the blade of a hoe and take the handle right between the eyes. It could happen.

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