Emerging from a LONG Winter

This morning was the first time since last November that I’ve been able to go outside without a hat and mittens. Such a long winter!

But along with me, the Earthly Coat material has emerged from the snow with no apparent sign of damage during its (our) hibernation.


In fact, the extreme cold and snow seemed to be kind to it since the surface is even better felted.


Now I need to decide where to put the Coat for the next few months since I need access to our garden area for the summer. Perhaps it will become a coat for the wood pile. Decisions decisions. Good thing Mother Nature doesn’t need to decide where to put her grasses and flowers. I just hope that we will soon see some of HER work. At this time last year, we had wildflowers in full bloom but today I just see weathered leaves and dirt out there.

In the next blog, I’ll be back to work – degumming silk. It’s an interesting process. Tune in!

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The End? of Earthly Coat

Oh my goodness. This update is quite overdue. A busy life has kept me from concluding my thoughts on the Earthly Coat experience. But I’m not so sure I should blame a busy life. Deep down, I haven’t wanted the Coat to be put to its “eternal rest”. But it’s been two months since the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum Dirt-O-Rama exhibit closed and the Coat was taken down, so I must face up to reality. (And if anyone is following the news, the American Psychiatric Association says that grieving becomes a classified depressive disorder after just two months so let’s not go down that path!)

As a result of my delay, this post is a big one. There’s a lot to show and share…

Here's the view from the top of the coat. This was the same view my inner eye saw when I first visualized the project. I am grateful for actually being able to make that inner vision real.

Here’s a late summer view from the top of the Coat. This was the same view my inner eye saw when I first visualized the project. I am grateful for actually being able to make that inner vision real.

The Coat survived the six months of a Minnesota summer fairly well. Only during the last few weeks did it really start to show signs of fatigue.

Last view of the front of the coat. I was struck by the fact that, as summer turned into fall, the coat and the surrounding environment faded in a similar manner.

Last view of the front of the Coat. I was struck by the fact that, as summer turned into fall, the Coat and the surrounding environment faded in a similar manner.

Sun fading was a major factor in its disintegration. On the left you can see the area under the arm that was protected from the sun and to the right is the surface that was exposed to the sun. Major fading!

Sun fading was a major factor in its disintegration. On the left you can see the area under the arm that was protected from the sun and to the right is the surface that was exposed to the sun. Major fading!

Last view of the back of the coat.

Last view of the back of the Coat.

The Coat continued to transform until the last day of the exhibit.

Grasses continued to grow into the base up until the end. Even during the drought conditions of this fall, the coat supported this growth by protecting the soil beneath from drying out as drastically. This is a clear example of the beneficial effects of mulch.

Grasses continued to grow into the base even during the drought conditions of this fall. Growth was supported since the Coat kept the soil beneath from drying out as drastically. This is a clear example of the beneficial effects of mulch.

The ground around the coat had no grass growth but the soil beneath the coat edge did!

The ground around the Coat had no grass growth but the soil beneath the Coat edge did!

Apparently some critter wanted pieces of the right sleeve for its winter home since there was a huge chunk of sleeve material missing by the time I took it down. That, and a general slough-off of the felted imagery, turned the Coat into a weary-looking beast.

The work of a critter's "re-tailoring"!

The work of a critter’s “re-tailoring”!

Even though the background was starting to show wear, the flowers still held their own. I believe this was because greater care was taken in felting the flowers onto the background and that made them more impervious to the outdoor elements.

Even though the background was starting to show wear, the flowers still held their own. I believe this was because greater care was taken in felting the flowers onto the background and that made them more impervious to the outdoor elements.

All things considered, I have to say it still held a regal form and commanded attention up to the end.

I love this image of the old majestic oak tree seemingly growing out of the coat!

I love this image of the old majestic oak tree seemingly growing out of the Coat!

Tear Down Process

Compared to the set up—which took several days in the hot, unbearable sun—the tear-down was a snap. We were in and out in less than 4 hours.

First, I took a scissor to one seam and cut apart the front edge from the back.

Cutting off the coat from the framework.

Cutting off the Coat from the metal armature.

That opened up the sides and we simply pulled the Coat material around the metal armature frame—along the way, cutting the sewn-in threads that held the material to the frame. I had wondered what sort of problems we might encounter when pulling the Coat ends out of the soil. No worries there. The material that was buried underground had disintegrated over the summer to a very weak fabric and it simply tore off at the base! From dirt it came and to dirt it returned, just as expected. Let this be a lesson when choosing what type of clothing to buy. Do you want a garment to last for eons (polyester, nylon) or something that will serve its purpose in your lifetime and leave a smaller footprint on the earth (natural fibers like wool, cotton, linen)? 

Here you can see the effects of disintegration in the buried coat edge.

Here you can see the effects of disintegration in the once-buried Coat edge.

The now-removed coat seems to become a part of the grasses around it.

The now-removed Coat seems to become a part of the grasses around it.

After taking down the Coat material, we were left with the metal armature. We snipped off the plastic twist ties and the metal ones at the base, taking off the hardware cloth and digging the soil away from the structure as we went. Compared to the effort it took to get the structure in place, the removal was a joy!  The basic armature was finally revealed again and, after only a few turns of a wrench by a tall person (my sister—thanks sis!), the pipes were taken down and the structure lay around us in pieces.

My husband Jim helped me wrangle the unwieldy pipes. It is like a Tinker Toy® construction—a carefully balanced structure reinforced by the "walls" of hardware cloth so when the walls are gone, you just pop out the pipes (after removing screws) and voilá!—it becomes a totally transportable form.

My husband helped me wrangle the unwieldy pipes. If you read the earlier posts, you’ll remember that this armature is like a Tinker Toy® construction—a carefully balanced structure reinforced by the “walls” of hardware cloth so when the walls are gone, you just pop out the pipes (after removing screws) and voilá!—it becomes a totally transportable form.

The coat is gone! All that remains is the armature trench and stump chair. You can see some of the armature pieces on the ground behind me.

Earthly Coat is gone! All that remains is the armature trench and stump chair. You can see some of the armature pieces on the ground behind me.

Wow. That made it final. Earthly Coat was no more.

It's gone! All that remained we when left was the stump "chair".

It’s gone! All that remained we when left was the stump “chair”.

Pondering Its Demise

This “adventure” has caused me ponder what sort of crazed mind would attempt such a massive effort only to destroy it in the end? Ah—the nature of an artist! I see it as a lesson in seeing (and feeling) the temporal reality of this world. We exist in one moment and are gone in the next. But what we leave behind is hopefully the art that remains in hearts and minds—and souls. Art can be found in the experience of joy, wonder, and curiosity. It doesn’t require a manifest physical existence to have a lasting effect. My hope is that Earthly Coat brought this experience to a few people and remains as a fond memory of a positive experience on this earth, bringing to life some considerations of how each of us puts a mark on the world—preferably for good—for peace—for love. I saw all these aspects throughout the summer. From families having a joyous, open-hearted romp around the Coat to couples sharing a cuddle inside the Coat’s protection to people pondering how their clothing choices impact the earth.

A game of Hide-and-Go-Seek.

A game of Hide-and-Go-Seek.

Earthly Coat Reborn!

Truth be told, the Coat DOES still exist, although it’s in pieces now. The Coat material is lying in our garden and has become a winter home for a wild rabbit. I will let it continue to disintegrate there, perhaps cutting it up further in the spring and spreading the parts around our woods as mulch and/or for creatures to use as bedding. The metal structure is in pieces in our garage but in the spring I plan to reconstruct it somewhere on our property. I’m going to wrap stainless steel wire around the armature vertically (like a weaver’s warp on a loom) and turn it into an ongoing outdoor weaving. So you might say it will be reincarnated as a new art piece in the spring—the time of rebirth! I’m not sure what its ultimate fate will be in this form. Perhaps it will become another art piece that may be moved elsewhere if interest exists. Or perhaps it will remain here as a private garden structure/sculpture on which climbing plants can grow and something that I may continue to play with and enjoy sitting within. I believe the funnel/tee-pee-like shape creates a remarkable space for deep thoughts and creativity so I will put it to good use if its ultimate existence is the latter.

Future of the Blog & Recent News

I will keep this blog going with periodic news and updates on the structure’s rebirth and other tidbits of this creative life.

The first bit of news I want to share is regarding my upcoming YarnWorks book. I believe it IS finally “upcoming”. The original publisher (Quayside/Voyageur Press) has had it on the back burner for the past year while changes were happening in their business organization. They have finally restructured the business and the book is now being published by Creative Publishing international—one of Quayside Publishing’s “craft” publishing branches. We expect it to be in bookstores in September of 2013.

I dove into a LOT of research and hands-on projects during the writing of YarnWorks—more than could even fit into the book. So my next post is going to begin showing some of the behind-the-scenes work involved in the creation of the book. I hope you will keep tuned in!

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Developments at the (Nearly) 2-Month Point

“It’s a volcano.”

“Look at the painted flowers!”

“It’s a coat for the stump.”

“It looks like something Hagrid would wear.” [A giant in the Harry Potter books.]

“I want a coat like this!”

Those are some of the comments I’ve overhead at the Coat during the past (nearly) couple of months. It DOES look a bit like a volcano—with arms! And the flowers DO look painted. (This becomes a teaching moment for me to describe the needle-felting process.) It’s so fun to hear how people see the Coat.

Earthly Coat has become a magnet for visitors. I think it’s because it has a human shape and that naturally encourages people to approach. And this is especially true of children. They run up to it like it’s a grand old friend just waiting for them to visit. I’ve also seen families gathered around the Coat enjoying a picnic lunch, with the children playing hide-and-go-seek around and within it. And I’ve heard stories of others sitting on the stump inside the Coat and reading a book. This is just what I wanted! I’m thrilled that everyone is enjoying it for their own reasons—whether that be as a volcano, an object of artistic expression, or a delightful place to cuddle up with a book.

Structural Changes

The outdoor environment is naturally decaying the material over time, as any wool garment would decay if left to summer elements. Mainly, the decay is occurring in the wool colors that are slowly fading, with purple being the first to noticeably fade. If you visit the Coat, lift up a sleeve (gently) to see the fade factor between the shaded under-sleeve and the main exposed surface. But remarkably, yet not too surprisingly, this summer of hard rain and wind has made the surface smoother and better felted! This is most notable on the exterior.

Pest Management is either doing a brilliant job or the bugs have only been visiting the Coat to take a nap away from the brutal sun. I see no pest damage at all and the bug numbers have not increased—in fact, they seem to be fewer so I suspect Pest Management has had a part in that.

On the other hand, visitors have been very “hands on” with the Coat and it has had some notable degradation from human touch. This has occurred mainly with elements on the interior and on the level of a child’s reach and at the top where I sometimes catch people hanging! (Oh, please don’t do that!) The Coat material is slowly shifting lower on the structure due to the effects of gravity, its weight after being soaked in a rain, and that occasional grabbing/pulling by visitors. Some minor re-sewing has been needed to maintain its best attachment to the framework and to keep further visitor damage at bay. But generally, it’s holding its own out there.

The Most Exciting Development

Can you see it? Look to the lower left of the photo above. Grass has started to grow through the base of the Coat! This is what I hoped would happen. I can hardly wait to see it develop further. Maybe flowers will grow too? I purposely didn’t seed the Coat during the install for two reasons: 1. I didn’t want to encourage plants that might be seen as unwelcome to the Arboretum. 2. I didn’t want to force my will on the Coat’s future. I wanted to see what might naturally occur over time as the Coat stood in place just waiting for nature to take over.

This is truly an ongoing and changing exhibit. I’ll keep you posted on further transformations as the summer goes on.

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“Earthly Coat” Revealed!

“Earthly Coat”

I’m at the end of my long journey for the “Earthly Coat” creation… and the coat has just begun its duties at the MN Landscape Arboretum, as a symbol of our earthly coat: the soil—and to serve as a reminder that all of our clothing comes from the soil (yes, even synthetic—through eons of time). Of course, many people see the coat simply as a fun and lovely thing to visit and that’s OK too. I wonder how many photos have been taken of family and friends in the coat—and how many more will be taken up until the end of the exhibition in October?

My reflections this week have centered around how I have to accept that the coat will change during the coming weeks and months. Nature will have its way with the fiber. The sun will probably fade the colors. The rain has been very kind but all the touching by visitors will abrade the surface more. (That’s OK. I encourage touching.) In the meantime, I’m trying not to babysit the coat by primping and preening it. This is hard not to do since I spent so many hours and so much effort creating it. But I’m trying to accept that the coat belongs to the world now and I need to be as “hands off” as possible to let it be what it is.

Nevertheless, the Pest Management division at the Arboretum is keeping an eye on the earwigs that have taken up residence under the sleeves. They don’t appear to be doing any damage. We think they’re just hanging out. (Hey, if I were an earwig, I’d hang out on the coat too!) The more troublesome visitors have been moths, although the ones I’ve seen aren’t clothes moths. I heard that oil of cloves is a good bug repellent so I used an eco spray on the coat (EcoSmart®). It has oil of cloves as an ingredient, along with a few other organic insecticidal ingredients (smells wonderful—really!). The bugs took off when I sprayed under the sleeves but I understand that they have returned. So it appears the coat may become a study for the pest management people. It will be interesting to see if they can find another solution. (I got some EcoSmart on my skin when spraying the coat and didn’t get attacked by mosquitoes, as others did, while taking a stroll through the wildflower garden. Could it also be a mosquito repellent? It’s a non-toxic product… not that I’m recommending it be used to repel mosquitoes. Just wondering…)

But I never expected the coat to remain fully intact through the course of the exhibit. That’s one of my points in creating the coat for “Dirt-O-Rama.” In fact, the natural disintegration factor is why clothing is hard to find in ancient burial grounds. It’s basically very compostable (aside from synthetic fibers—another reason to avoid synthetics). I just don’t want the coat to disintegrate too early in the course of the exhibit. And since the Arboretum staff needs to consider the whole of the Arboretum operations, pests and all, I’m leaving the pest situation to them. So if necessary, I’m OK with pest management—for now. I know the Arboretum tries to follow the least toxic methods of pest management anyway. But let’s hope the bugs are just visiting and not turning the coat into an open smorgasbord!

In any case, visit it soon to see it intact!

Visitors enjoy the accessibility of the design.

Then come back again in a month or two, and again before it closes in October, to see how it’s changed. I’ll also keep you posted here on its status.

FYI… from this point on, I may be putting up fewer posts until my book (Yarn Works) comes out next spring. But I won’t abandon the blog so please don’t abandon me! It’s been great to meet so many new friends through this medium and share this experience with everyone. I’d love to get your reactions to the coat so, after you see it, please send comments—photos too. With a “once-in-a-lifetime” adventure like this, sharing the experience makes it all the better. Thanks for helping to make this journey more complete for me. I hope it’s also been enlightening for you. Onward!

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The Parts & Parcel of “Earthly Coat”

All of the final design elements are in place, the coat has been properly landscaped with mulch, the signage is up, and now we are just awaiting the public opening this Saturday, June 2. With great relief I can say that the coat has survived two mega nasty rain/wind storms in fine form. In fact, the bad weather seemed to enhance the felting!

You will locate the coat next to this signage for the exhibit. As you can see, Earthly Coat is number 7 on the trail of “Dirt-O-Rama” art exhibits and informational features that focus on the soil.

There has been great media interest in the exhibit. I encourage you to go to my Facebook page (see link to right) and you will get links to some of the media stories and a few early peeks of the coat too! (In exchange for the early peek, please “Like” me on Facebook!)

During the installation, many Arboretum visitors came up the hill to see what the coat was all about. I especially treasure one comment from a seasoned summer exhibition visitor who said she thought that “Earthly Coat” is the best summer installation she has seen to date. I am humbled by the praise and grateful to have such a marvelous reaction after the many months of hard work. Thanks to all!

Next post: The Great Reveal! For now, I have some fun for you…

My intention with this blog and the exhibit is to make this experience be educational and fun for everyone so, with that in mind, here is a little game you can play when you come out to visit the coat:

Find It! – on Earthly Coat
Different plants and other soil life found at the MN Landscape Arboretum are depicted on the panels of “Earthly Coat.” Here is a list of the panels by group—not in order on the coat. I challenge you to bring this list (to print it, you may find it easiest to copy and paste the list into a text file), bring it to the exhibit, and find the correct coat panel that contains each group. Some items are artistically represented on the coat in their actual size and some are much larger, in relation to the size of the coat. This will be a test of how well you know the life of soil (and how well I managed to artistically depict them on the coat!). I’m sure that over time the coat will naturally lose its details due to the elements so visit it soon to find all of these items!


Blood Root
Great Blazing Star
Blood Root
Great Blazing Star
Wood Frog (this is a Lucky Frog so make a wish in front of him!)
A stick
Ash Tree Seed
False Solomon’s Seal
Pine Cone

Morning Glory
Coneflowers – purple & yellow
Lily of the Valley
Maple Leaf
Black-eyed Susan

Dusty Miller
Oak Leaf

Butterfly Weed
Cardinal Flower
Compass Plant
Birch Leaf

Moss Rose
Blanket Flower

Lady Slipper
Crab Apple

Trumpet Vine
Ground Squirrel
Cat Tail


INTERIOR PANELS–children will especially love to identify these…

Enjoy finding the parts of the parcel of “Earthly Coat!”

For those of you who have read this post to the end, you are being rewarded with a preview of the coat panel art…

One last note before I leave this week’s post…

Please help to respect the coat and don’t allow your children or other children to climb, pull on the coat, or throw things at it. I’ve already watched this happening and it makes me and the coat very sad. Thanks for helping to respect the coat, the effort of its creation, and what it represents: our rich, life-giving earthly coat – the Soil!

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The Final Installation of “Earthly Coat”

Structure Install

It’s up! On Saturday, my welder collaborator (Clark Babler of West End Welding) helped me haul the metal structure to the Arboretum. I owe him a debt of gratitude, not only because he hung around to help dig a large stump into the center of the coat interior, but also because he used his welder muscle to guide the structure into place and lock it down into the ground. The stump in the center will be both a chair for visitors to sit on and a stool for visitors to stand on so they may “wear” the coat—or at least pretend to wear it! 5 dog tie-outs have been buried around the base and attached to the metal structure that, hopefully, will keep the coat from flying over the Arboretum in a strong storm. (Although, I have to admit, that would be a cool sight!)

Here’s Clark and my husband Jim putting the structure in place. It’s sad that all of Clark’s work won’t actually be seen (maybe) during the course of the exhibit. But know that under the huge wool coat there is a very secure metal construction welded by this man.

Here’s a last look at the structure before the coat covers it up.

Coat Install

Sunday was the coat install day. I’m guessing that the coat must weigh about 100 pounds. There were 5 of us involved with moving the coat to the site and, after a collaborative debate on the best tactic to employ, we managed to lift the coat onto the structure pretty uneventfully. A misty rain started just as we finished up the placement so we quickly covered the coat with tarps. Special thanks to Gerri, Colleen, Jim, and my sister for coming out on such a nasty day.

The Finishing Details… Landscaping the Coat

My sister and I came back on Monday to finish the landscaping. It was brutally hot with not a single cloud in the sky but we managed to fill in the soil around the coat ends and level out the interior without completely collapsing from dehydration. With all the drop by visitor interest, we didn’t finish the landscaping until the end of the day. Not that we were complaining about the huge interest. That was fun and encouraging. But it was getting really hot out there and we were on a deadline so I called my husband out to the site to be the public voice for our work as we finished up the landscaping detail. Of course, by then it was late afternoon and fewer people came by so we recruited Jim to help out with the shoveling (in his dress clothes! poor guy) so his contribution was still noteworthy.

The Final Sewing

On Tuesday, my sister (who I have to call an additional collaborator due to all of her help) and I sewed the coat to the structure. As a test, this time we left the caution tape around the coat as we were working and it was interesting to see that fewer people came up to see what we were doing when the tape was in place. Only the brave dared come up to the “dangerous” coat! Still, the interest was strong and we didn’t finish the sewing until late in the afternoon. Then we made a run to the hardware store to pick up some more duct tape to secure the tarps back in place for the severe weather that was to come on Wednesday and Thursday (to keep the landscaping soil/mud from floating onto the coat during the storm). The coat will ultimately have mulch around its perimeter and interior floor and that is expected to keep mud at bay during the duration of the exhibit. But the mulch hadn’t arrived yet and storms were coming.

High winds started just as we were began putting on the tarps that evening. In fact, the tarps were turning into kites as we tried to wrap and secure them. It would have been funny if we hadn’t been so darn tired after the long, hot day. And the wind continued in force through Wednesday, so much so that I made a late afternoon visit to the coat to be sure the tape was holding the tarps in place. All was well.

Wednesday night and Thursday brought on torrential rains and I feared the coat might be floating in mud even with all of our wrapping efforts. I wasn’t able to visit the coat today but the Arboretum staff opened it up for a Fox/Channel 9 TV shot (M.A. Roscoe—look for it—perhaps on the morning Buzz program?—sorry, I don’t know the broadcast date/time but it can probably also be found on their website) and they said aside from a gallon of water that had collected here and there on the tarp, all was well. Whew! This was the first day I hadn’t visited the coat in a week and it felt odd—like leaving a child to fend for herself. I hope to get the mulch around the coat tomorrow or at least in the next few days so the coat will no longer need to be covered. From that point on, we will see what will happen to a 7-foot tall, needle-felted wool coat left out in the elements!

I can’t believe it’s in place and nearly ready for the “Dirt-O-Rama” public opening on June 2nd. And you’ve all been patiently waiting to see the final result so… ta-da… here it is!…

Ha! I bet you thought you would be getting a sneak peak. Oh no! Not yet. It IS under this tarp but you must wait for the opening on June 2nd. And then, maybe then, I’ll give you a bit of a look at it on my blog.

Next week, I’ll give you a verbal peek of the visual elements on the coat so you can locate them for yourself when you come out to visit it.

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The Great Dig

But First, The Staking

On Monday, I staked the coat location at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. The staked area is 10-feet wide to accommodate the width of the metal supporting structure and the coat ends that will be flared out and buried into the soil edges.

The Arboretum was humming with school groups and as soon as I pounded in my first stake, a half-dozen school children came running up the hill shouting “Cool!”. I don’t have a clue about what they thought was so cool about a single stake in the ground but they must have been seeing the potential of a single stake marking something grander. Oh children, just wait until the structure starts forming!

As you can see, “Earthly Coat” will be at the top of the hill above the Sensory Garden and Wildflower Garden parking lot and just outside of the Rose Garden. If any of you had visited my “1 in 10,000” exhibit a few years ago, this year’s exhibit is just a bit farther down the hill from “my” grand oak tree.

The site I was given was my first choice and where I sat and visualized the exhibit during the introductory project meeting in the fall of 2011. I was looking for a location in which people would have a great view of the beauty of the surrounding grounds while standing or sitting within something that made them feel like they were wearing the earth. (I hadn’t fully developed my coat idea at that time.) My hopes are that this panoramic view on the hill will give a regal feeling of wearing the earth via the coat. Just down the hill, you can see the Ordway Picnic Shelter. When you come out, plan to bring a lunch and enjoy the view!

Final Sewing Details

On Tuesday, I had to tear down the supporting metal structure and get it out of our dining/living room so I would have enough room to attach the coat sleeves and collar. The coat is HUGE! For the past few days, I have been sitting in the middle of the opened space like a queen (or perhaps Mother Nature?), with the coat gathered around me, while I’ve been stitching the final details by hand. The hand work has been especially enjoyable after all the rush, rush of the main construction. It feels meditative. And every time I sit down to work, my pup Rose comes over to lie down on “her” coat. She is REALLY going to miss it.

The “Great Dig” Day

Yesterday, Thursday, was The Great Dig Day. I had a “crew” of 5 generous friends and family who “volunteered” to help out. (Actually, my friend Tom said he shouldn’t have answered the phone the day we called seeking help! Funny guy.) Fortunately the ground was kind to us and broke quite well with shovels. An hour and a half later, and after coping up with 25+ mph winds, we had dug out an average of 6 inches of soil across the entire 10-foot diameter pit. That soil will be placed back around the structure and coat when the installation is complete.

The main digging crew, minus my sister, pausing to photographically record the historic moment.

My friend Rita and I are digging out the edges of the pit.

Tom expresses his “joy” at a job well done.

Here’s the result of our labor: The Pit!—waiting for the next step: Re-construction and placement of the metal supporting structure.

Our eyes are to the sky for the next 2 days. Thunderstorms are threatening. The structure and coat are scheduled to go up this weekend but I think I’ve scheduled the installation to avoid the worst of the nasty weather that may be coming. Crossing fingers…

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