Second Floor Delivery!

December 31, 2016

Yesterday was a big day.

The second floor deck was lifted into place — “Coffee shot!” yelled Nick as he threw back the last of his coffee —


before guiding the decking to a safe landing spot.


Meanwhile Northern Design delivered the wall panels for the second floor.


Nick was in a cheerful mood. His father-in-law had told me Nick had a capacity for singing and humor, but I’d never seen it. He has always been careful to be serious, reserved, and business-like. Yesterday, however, his smile flashed. Snow was blowing in our faces. “We’re singing in the snow, just singing in the snow —” Nick sang, and teased his father at the controls of the boom truck with ridiculous hand signals. “If we can’t have fun, what can we have?” he asked me, laughing.

I think Nick is justifiably proud of the excellent work they are doing. “Everything’s going great so far!” he exclaimed. I have been so anxious for so long, that it has occurred to me only belatedly that Nick, too, has probably worried. Both of us are relieved to see the walls going up.


The men kept a torpedo heater on the heights with them all day, its roaring flame directly pointed at the glue gun, to ensure their glue would not freeze. They also carried up a snow shovel, to clean the joists. By the end of the day, the entire deck was glued and nailed down.

Over this New Year’s holiday weekend we’re due for more days of snow and then freezing rain, so it may be a while before the work starts again.

First Floor Framed

December 30, 2016


This has been a challenging week for my house builders. Snow, rain, ice, more snow — but most of all, the high winds that accompanied the yo-yoing temperatures. Nick and Mike tried tacking up a tarp across the west side of the frame but it billowed and snapped and finally blew down. Fourteen-foot 2x10s were torn from Jerry’s hands and sent spinning. However, they patiently persevered.


Once all the second-floor joists were up, the rest of the interior wall frames could be erected.

I walked through one evening after the builders left, on my way home from visiting Damon in the hospital, before doing barn chores. It was so exciting to step into the little rooms, to run my glove over the future wall of the stairwell, to peek into the future pantry.


I continue to worry that I made mistakes with the design, that I didn’t foresee something obvious. However, mostly I marvel that after all these years it appears increasingly certain that we will indeed have our own house. My feet want to do a little tap dance on the snowy tarps.


Yesterday it was again snowing and blowing. (The worst of the wind was stopped by OSB tacked up over the future west windows.) Nick, Mike, and Jerry toiled on regardless.


By the end of the day the blocking was finished. The first-floor rough framing is done!


A Tough Day

December 29, 2016


My friend Damon is losing his right lower leg to amputation this morning. It’s a sad day. Last week he had finally agreed to a course of treatments in the hyperbaric oxygen chamber for non-healing wounds. We toured the facility and he tried out the chamber, lying down on the gurney and being rolled inside. I figured he was all set.

However, that very evening he developed a high fever and chills. His wife drove him to the emergency room, where he was immediately admitted. He spent Christmas in the hospital. This time the wound would not respond to IV antibiotics. His leg ballooned.

Damon has been unable to work, and in and out of the hospital, for two years. He’s had multiple operations to remove toes on both feet, a picc line, and most recently a wound vac. Nothing has worked for long.

He is a brave man but he is tired of fighting.

Damon knows I am not squeamish, and yesterday when I visited the hospital again he asked the nurse to change the bandages so I could see the wound. (Due to the angle, he cannot see it up close.) I think he wanted me to grasp exactly how bad it was, so I would not second-guess his decision to let it go.

The foot looked like rotten meat. The gaping wound — the original injury was caused by stepping on a thumbtack — extended from his toes almost to his ankle and at its worst was nearly three inches deep. I took a photo with my phone to show him. Damon looked at it expressionlessly. Diabetes is a terrible, terrible disease.

I will be thinking of him all day today.

A Merry Christmas!

December 26, 2016


Our family had a lovely Christmas weekend. Amanda and Jon arrived Thursday afternoon. Here they are Friday morning after walking Teddy (their dog) and Toby (Lucy’s dog) around the lake.

That afternoon we decorated the tree. Jon, at 6’4″, is always conscripted to hang the star at the top.


I miss having all my CDs of Christmas carols (packed in storage with all the rest of our belongings) but Lucy found Bing Crosby and Nat King Cole on Spotify.

Gradually the tree came together. Jon likes to put an ornament he made in nursery school front and center. It is a very sad-looking orange dough pumpkin, mysteriously splashed with green paint, hanging on frayed yarn. “So artistic!” He also turned the ornament made by a student at Christmas 1986, which says “Jon” on one side, and “Lucy” on the other (our two choices for baby names when I was pregnant the first time), so that “Jon” was facing out.


“I’ll put ‘Lucy’ facing out next year,” I said.

“She’ll forget!” Jon teased his sister.

Amanda’s favorite ornament is a tiny framed picture of Jon holding Lucy in the hospital on the day Lucy was born.


The tree was smaller this year but still pretty.


img_0989On Saturday, I had planned to drive us all down to the valley for the Christmas Eve candlelight service, but it was snowing, my organizational energy was flagging, and instead I baked homemade pizzas and we stayed in.

Our family has always had early Christmas mornings. DH and I will never forget the year Jon was six and too excited to sleep — we had finished opening presents long before dawn.  Now, though we remain early risers, we shoot for starting no earlier than 6 AM. This bright-eyed morning tradition is a big concession for Amanda, whose family exchanged presents closer to noon.

Lucy’s present to Amanda was a hand-knitted Christmas stocking, to match her own (made in the ’90s) and mine (made in the ’50s). Lucy taught herself how to turn the heel from Youtube videos. I, who have zero crafty skills, was very impressed.

We all put on our new pajamas from Santa: Amanda, Jon, me, and Lucy. Since DH doesn’t wear pajamas, Santa sensibly skipped him.


Most of our gifts ran to used books. We are suckers for books costing a penny plus $3.99 shipping.


Jon also gave Amanda a log carrier for their fireplace.


After presents, while I roasted the turkey, mixed dough for whole wheat buttermilk rolls, and set the table, the kids played their annual Trivial Pursuit board game. This year the theme was Star Wars.


While I feel pretty good knowing the names of the robots R2-D2 and C-3PO, the kids are all Star Wars devotees. DH, walking through the room, threw in an answer or two…


… but Jon appeared to me to be the Jedi Master of intergalactic trivia.


That evening we had a wonderful holiday dinner with our friends Mike, Tom and Alison, and two of their three children, Emily and Stephen. Tom carved the turkey as usual. There were candied sweet potatoes, stuffing, peas, brussels sprouts, mashed potatoes with gravy, and whole wheat buttermilk rolls. DH helped me serve the pecan pie and ice cream.


Though I was missing most of my cooking and serving supplies in storage (I don’t advise roasting a 23-pound turkey on a cookie sheet) it was nevertheless a happy feast.


Before leaving on Monday, Amanda, Jon, and Lucy went for a ski around the lake. DH arranged them in a “podium shot” before they set out. (I believe Jon is indicating that he is number one, not his sister who skis for her college racing team.)



On the far side of the lake I caught them again beneath Balanced Rocks, the shoulder of Pitchoff Mountain, which my children have hiked since they were small. It’s a classic short hike. Maybe Jon will take Amanda up next summer.


This will be our second and last Christmas in this house. Though I cannot wait for a home of my own, watching the kids laughing and joking on the lake filled me with nostalgia already.


Family times are good times.



Inching Forward With Framing

December 24, 2016


It snowed most of the day Thursday. Jerry was not in — his old car at 240k miles did not pass inspection — and so at lunchtime I pitched in to help with a few of Jerry’s gophering jobs, mostly shoveling snow off the deck. (Mike said, “Jer, your cigarette is missing!”) Nick and Mike worked on interior framing as big feathery snowflakes fell.

Here is the hall doorway into the kitchen and dining room. I remember sitting at my desk last summer, asking the architect to move the window east eighteen inches to line up with the doorway for a long view. So exciting to see it coming to life!


And, as always, there was measuring and remeasuring. Nick and his father are very, very careful.


Yesterday was a beautiful blue day. I drove Damon to the hospital for tests. He has diabetes and has struggled with a non-healing wound in his foot for over a year. Twice they have operated.  He has had IV antibiotics and a wound vac. Still the foot has not healed. They (and I) have urged him to try the hyperbaric oxygen chamber, but he is claustrophobic and in the past refused to consider it. Yesterday I took him for a test run. My job was to pat his shoulder. I think he will do fine.

When I returned to the farm, I found all the second floor joists were up in the east end of the house.


Just as I arrived, the boom truck dropped into place the big beam that will carry the floor joists in the west end.


This beam will also subtly define the dining room area from the living room.

The forecast has changed to days of frozen mix and freezing rain through next Tuesday, so the last hour of work was spent stretching and stapling tarps over every inch of the subflooring, and covering the waiting joist lumber. Quiet Jerry cracked a rare joke to me. He jerked his thumb at the tarped kitchen: “Got your floor in!”


Lucy is home, Jon and Amanda have arrived, there are presents to wrap, a turkey to thaw, bread and pies to bake!

The house project is on hold until next week. Merry Christmas!


Goose Bars

December 23, 2016


By last night at chores I had the goose bars cut and screwed in under all the stall doors in the barn. This is satisfying. This task has been on my list for a year.

Of course it’s a case of barring the gate after the horse has bolted after the goose has been trampled, but still I am pleased. I have no faith that my gander Andy has learned anything from his near-death experience — in fact, I assume that he will feel duty-bound to seek revenge in the exact same manner. The goose bars should stymie this suicidal intention.

I also like thinking about goose bars because the phrase reminds me of the Goose Bar Ranch, the fictional setting for Mary O’Hara’s Flicka trilogy (My Friend Flicka, Thunderhead, and Green Grass of Wyoming). I first read these horse stories as a child and I’ve reread them every few years since then. By now they are old friends.

I don’t think O’Hara ever explained the “Goose Bar” name in her novels, but since she and her husband in real life also raised horses and Guernsey cows, I’ve decided she must have known her share of foolish ganders.

A Great Leap Forward

December 22, 2016

It was -11° F when I got up at 4:30 Monday morning. I figured the men would not come in to work. It didn’t crack zero until 9 AM (their usual start time). However, they were there, bundled up and grinning good morning, their breath smoking in the air.

Most of Monday was spent with measuring tapes and chalk lines, snapping guidelines on the deck for the future walls. Watching men intently pulling tapes and strings while sitting on their haunches in the deep cold was not gripping and I spent most of the day at my desk, closing out my school obligations and working on finances.

However, when I returned at the end of the day for chores I found the south wall of the first floor had been erected!


My heart pounded. The men had come to a convenient stopping place and left early, so I was alone. I tiptoed to each window frame — the kitchen, the hallway, and the dining room — and looked out. So exciting!

And so terrifying. I was suddenly filled with anxiety that I had made mistakes, that the layout I’d sweated over alone for months was, in fact, stupid. I’m not an architect or a home designer. I have learned over the years that I have zero spatial sense. Maybe it would be terrible.

When I got home I told Lucy that I was having an attack of cold feet. Like her father, Lucy is outwardly imperturbable. She looked at me as if I were crazy. “It will be fine.”

The big thing was: it was happening. My house was going up! I couldn’t get over it.


Tuesday was the big day. The weather was cold and blue — but with no wind, it felt balmy.

Nick, Mike, and Jerry drilled a hole in each panel, fitted it with a giant screw-eye bolt, and used the Bobcat to lift it with a chain…


…and carry it around to the end of the house, where they nailed it in.


By lunchtime the west wall was up.


After lunch it was time for the north wall. The boom truck hasn’t wanted to start in the severe cold, but the men warmed it with a torpedo heater and it finally coughed into life. Again each panel was lifted…


… while Jerry guided it around obstacles with a rope leash.


Mike at the boom controls swung it into place…


… and let it down in position.


While the boom held it upright and Jerry steadied it…


… Nick nailed it in.


They proceeded down the wall in this manner. Once the panels were in place, Mike was in charge of final nailing…


… but before the nail gun fired, Nick made sure everything was tight and aligned to the sixteenth of an inch.


“He’s a cabinetmaker!” Mike told me, pretending to roll his eyes, but I knew he was as proud as I was impressed.

Before the last exterior wall panel went up, we carried in all the interior wall frames, including this last one that required the excavator to lift.


Then the last exterior wall was nailed in. Now the only way into the house was through the front door frame.


I took the photo below yesterday morning while walking Stash in the south pasture before chores.


I know this 28′ x 36′ house will be the same height and only 4 feet wider and 6 feet longer than the garage. I know it looks enormous because of the attached garage and the falling slope of the land. However, it does look enormous. To DH, who persists in the comforting illusion that he would be happy in a pup tent, it will look like the Hearst castle.

I think to myself that it’s probably a good thing that he may not go down to the farm and see it until the frame is finished.

Yesterday was forecasted to be another sunny day. Instead it was dark with a strong wind. I jumped to help Jerry secure flapping tarps over a load of lumber and in a rare utterance, he asked plaintively, cigarette glued to his lip, “Is it ever not windy here?”

After Tuesday’s great leap forward, Wednesday was another “invisible progress day,” lots of measuring with laser levels. However, by the end of the day all the rim joists for the second floor were up.


Again, the men came to a good stopping point and left early. I walked through after barn chores as dusk was falling.

The northwest corner of the living room. Doorway to the screen porch on the left, front doorway on the right.


Northeast corner. Front door and study.


East side. Study on the left, half bath and laundry in the middle, kitchen on the right.


Dining room (with stacked, waiting interior walls).


I can’t wait!