Our Halloween party was, appropriately, a huge turning point this year. Halloween marks the end of summer and the harvest, and the beginning of the dark, cold winter. It celebrates that boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead.
This year, Halloween was also my 60th birthday, so I had no option but to find some way to celebrate the milestone (another decade closer to death!). On my 50th, I celebrated that I was AT LEAST halfway dead by heading to San Miguel de Allende, in Mexico, to celebrate the Dia Dos Muertos in lieu of Halloween.
Halloween this year would also coincide with our self-imposed deadline for winterizing the farmhouse before the cold arrived. Our friend Henry, who was the last inhabitant of the house several years ago, reported moving out in November after it got so cold he could see his breath while standing at the kitchen sink, even with the wood-burning stove burning full blast. The thought of suffering the same fate had plagued Beau and I – or perhaps truly motivated us – as we approached the onset of cold weather.
But for now, a party was in order. It was finally time to invite friends and family to join us for a celebration, and to see our new home.
I thought about the festivities at length while scraping old cracked putty off the wavy glass in the dozens of windows I had been relentlessly restoring according to a grueling schedule. Scraping old paint gives you plenty of time to think about all sorts of things – like the ghostly apparitions I’ve reported – from the note from the past we discovered in a wall, to my experience of the prior inhabitants of the house (in my post: Becoming Jane and Phoebe.) This house was perfect for a spooky Halloween party. During one of my scraping sessions I dreamed up the idea of a trail through the forest to see our rock arch, lit with pumpkins and fairy lights.
The suspense (and a bit of panic) set in as the date of the party came closer. It was time to lay down tools and set up all four bedrooms. Finally, the gas heater was installed after weeks wondering if it would ever come. We put away the saw horses littered around the property, I unpacked the dozens of boxes of books, mopped the dusty floors, swabbed every dusty step going up the creaky staircase.
We hung up Beau’s endless collection of amazing artwork (never mind the gaping cracks in the unpainted walls – we’ll get to that in the Spring). We strung the fairy lights to create a trail to the stone arch.
Meanwhile I concocted an elaborate plan for my Boston-based daughter to pick up both my mother – who hadn’t yet seen the house, and my old college roommate (who lives in a cottage on one the ponds Walden writes about), to drive them up to the island from Portland.
Before the party they helped us carve a handful of pumpkins to set our party stage. Everything went to plan. The night of the party was a balmy evening, not at all cold. The farmhouse glowed a warm orange. The barn rafters lit from within.
A full moon shone down into the forest as the costumed guests weaved through the trail of lights to the Stone Arch. Lily’s cat pumpkin flickered atop a huge granite stone while the artist who built the arch answered questions in the woods. When we all came inside to sip on pumpkin soup and apple cider, another friend read us some Edgar Allen Poe. His reading of the Telltale Heart will long be remembered by all. I blew out the candles of the beautiful Halloween birthday cake my mother had so carefully carried up from her favorite bakery in Portland.
Under the shining full moon, the perfect evening came to an end. And then off to sleep.
The next morning we awoke to a cold, gray day. The temperature had dropped by about 30 degrees in those few hours. We said goodbye to our guests. Fearing a possible frost, Beau and I could no longer put off planting the flower bulbs we planned for the spring: tulips, daffodils, bearded iris. We planted them into their beds for the winter.
The next day, it got even colder. Now, we would finally find out whether or not our months of winterizing would actually work.
There was one final step. A community build of window inserts promised “double glazing” for what is most common around here: old, drafty sash windows – even the ones I painstakingly restored are like wind tunnels where the channels holding the old weighted ropes let drafts right into the house!
Over the summer, two volunteers from ”Window Dressers” had already measured all the windows in the house. There is a low cost to these inserts, and for those who can’t afford the fee, the organization can afford to subsidize their windows. EIther way, it is expected that you volunteer in the community build at a ratio of 1 session for every 4 window inserts. With over 20 window inserts planned, Beau and I signed up for a good two days of volunteer sessions for this community build at the local church – alongside a good many volunteers who weren’t getting window inserts at all, but nevertheless participate every year.
Like a traveling circus the community build “kit” would get set up in various nearby towns: in Blue Hill, and then Deer Isle, and then on to Castine etc. A founder of this organization had built an ingenious software platform to get all the wood cut and labeled properly. The kit includes various ingenious but very simple jigs and gizmos that take very little training to operate; one setup for each step of the process. Not to mention a hot lunch shared by all.
The community prepared together for winter this way. By the end of the two days we brought home our 22 inserts: simple pine frames, stretched with plastic and weather stripping. And with that, we put them in place, turned our clocks back to winter time, and took a deep breath. Bring on winter!
Beau has set up thermometers all around the house, which connect remotely to his phone. As the temps drop below freezing (I saw my first snowflakes today), we are suspensefully monitoring the temperature in the basement (our nightmare scenario is that the pipes freeze!), the barn (which is sometimes colder than outside), the kitchen and our bedroom. Yesterday, Beau nailed a weather station up on one of the posts of the garden fence, so we now have a monitor for our hyper local weather system.
We are cozy and warm by the fire. The wood is piled up in stacks. The gas heater comes on in the morning so when we come down for coffee it’s already warm in the kitchen – until we’ve had a chance to light the fire in the wood burning stove. So far so good. The house is holding heat. We have survived our first week of winter temperatures!
The other turning point that Halloween brought was “gifting season”. I have hundreds of boxes to pack – each one gets hand stamped, folded into shape, lined with tissue paper, protected with shred, filled to the brim with so many amazing small batch products that I have rounded up from new makers and those that I've ordered from every holiday season for years. Gift boxes will keep me busy until the next milestone, the arrival of 2024! I’ll let you know then if we are still warm. To be continued…