Sheetrocking the First Floor

March 31, 2017

Before the first floor could be closed in with sheetrock, all the wiring and plumbing had to be addressed. A problem I’ve known about since my earliest house-planning days was dealing with the upstairs bath waste pipes. In the initial drawings from the house company, these pipes ran down the middle of the wall between the two windows above. This resulted in a big bump-out on the wall in the middle of my dining room, just where I want to have a sideboard and hang a painting.

I went around and around with the architect. “My sideboard [I don’t own a sideboard; it’s on my search list for Craigslist] has to be against that wall!”

Finally I suggested running the pipes all the way across the south wall to the edge of the kitchen, where they could head for the basement through a partial wall abutting the refrigerator. Amazingly, this thought carried the day. It’s not a perfect solution but I felt a box along the top of the windows was preferable to ruining the dining room.

The first room to be completely sheetrocked was the simplest: my office. (The room is 9′ x 12′. If someday there is a need, we can convert it to a first-floor bedroom.) In the meantime I look at the space adoringly. I am strongly soothed by office supplies, filing cabinets, and bookshelves — the elements from which I create order in my typical chaos — and this little room will have them all. The room will not be as bright as it is currently, because the front porch will cut off the limited north light. But for me that is OK. It will be a haven of books. Bookshelves. Filing cabinets. Order. Ahhh…

This week Nick has moved the misplaced front doorway — the result of a typo in the house company’s plans — to its correct position. The operation was undertaken with his usual care, involving a supporting beam and lally posts while he removed and replaced the doorway header. But now it is done, the walls are rebuilt, re-wired, and insulated, and the opening is ready for the door.

All the ceilings are in. The photo below is looking from the front doorway across the living room. The southwest corner of the house has the most windows, as that edge faces the view.

And here is the living room from the other direction. This living room will be much smaller than expansive one we lived in for many years. There is a window behind the stored front door leaning against the wall. But this window, too, will be north-facing and covered by the front porch. The living room will be dim. But there will be a gas fireplace in the northwest corner (left in the photo below) and my hope is that it will be cozy.

Here is the doorway (it will be a pocket door) to the laundry room/pantry off the kitchen. There is not a lot of space for cabinets in the kitchen so my plan is to have open shelves to the right and the washer and dryer on the left.

My cardboard mudroom door has disappeared as the real walls have gone in.

The water and waste pipes in the box across the dining room ceiling now have been insulated.

They run to the basement through the enclosing short wall around the refrigerator. I insisted on this plan and this wall, so naturally I’m a little nervous. I hope it works.

The house is now almost completely sheetrocked. The photo below looks from the sliding doors (which someday will lead to a front deck) across the dining room, past the door to the cellar, past the hall, to the kitchen and its pantry on the left, to the mess awaiting me in the mudroom.

A bit of sheetrocking still remains to be done around the doorways to the office and the first-floor half-bath.

The walls around the temporary stairs are also not yet finished.

However every day there is more progress. Nick says he has hired a firm to come in to tape, and it will be soon.

The basement will be heated by two small electric fixtures hung on opposite corners of the room’s ceiling. With my OK, Dan the electrician bought them early and Nick built temporary stands for them, making one heater each for the first and second floors. These will keep the rooms warm while the joint compound dries.

I was amused to see that someone (Nick, I believe) couldn’t resist decorating one of the heaters with a little electrical tape.

I am very, very lucky to have found these extremely talented, thoughtful, and funny builders.


A Little Heart-lift

March 30, 2017

I have been feeling tired and anxious. With the house I have hundreds of decisions to make, often with financial repercussions, usually under time pressure. Work is busy. Poor DH has had a grueling schedule, on the road constantly. On Tuesday he drove out at 4:30 AM and drove back at 11:30 PM. Every night he’s had a dinner interview or a Skype appointment. I am juggling bills, taxes, deadlines. What can I pay now, what can I defer? There are so many stacks of paper everywhere I’m afraid I’ve overlooked something. The worry is making it hard to sleep.

Meanwhile the weather has been raw and dreary. Grey skies, wet black tree trunks, icy mud. The air is warmer than the snow, which causes a cold mist to form and roll along the ground, like something from a monster movie.

After work on Tuesday I drove down to the farm in a hurry to do barn chores before rushing into town for an appointment. I glanced up at the house as I slammed the door of the truck.

The door to the future screen porch was going in!

For the next half hour as I trundled wheelbarrow-loads of dirty bedding out to the manure pile, I watched the work. By the time I left the farm, the door was in.

My heart lifted. These little gifts — with their promise that despite all the setbacks over the years, and all my worries now, the house really is going to happen — keep me going.


March 26, 2017

When we moved into the lake house 18 months ago, I packed 95% of our possessions and stored them at the farm. Most of our furniture (after 30 years in faculty housing, we don’t own much except beds and bookcases) is in the garage. Most of the books and other boxed stuff is stacked in the unfinished mudroom.

In my contract with the builders, partially finishing the mudroom — wiring and insulating, sheetrocking the ceiling, and tiling the floor — is included. Finishing the walls is not. I myself will be finishing the walls, probably in May. I got a deal on a load of “rustic” tongue-and-groove knotty pine. I imagine between the cheap pine and my skills, the result will indeed be rustic. I will press on. It is a mudroom. (I can hear Allen in my mind: “You ain’t buildin’ a church!”)

However, before anyone can finish the mudroom, I have to empty it. The entire 16’x16′ space has been stacked head-high. Everything must be moved to the new basement.

My plan was to work on this project an hour a day over vacation. Instead I got very sick and the virus hung on for days that stretched into weeks. We had a blizzard.

By the time I felt well enough to tackle the mudroom, there was a snowbank over four feet high in front of the door.

After an hour of labor, I had shoveled a path to the doorway. See the hump in the path? Solid ice under the roof valley.

A couple of years ago I had found a discarded hand truck with rotted, flat tires. For $25 I had my friend Mike replace the tires and now I had a perfectly serviceable tool.

Unfortunately, carrying it into the mudroom, I slipped on the ice, tripped over the hand truck, and the left steel handle reared back and smacked me in the jaw like a hammer. I gasped for quite a few moments on my hands and knees, wondering if my jaw was broken. Luckily, no. However the rest of the day was spent with a bag of frozen peas clapped to my face, and it hurt to chew for a week.

The following day Lucy came down to help me move boxes for an hour.

We also wrestled my big steel filing cabinet down the cellar stairs. Lucy had been dubious, but after many years of working alone to move items too heavy for me, I felt confident that with a hand truck and two women we could manage it. I was right.

After that, I have tried to address the job for an hour several days a week. We own dozens of boxes of books. The work is not hard but climbing up and down the temporary stairs is a workout. People pay big money to use stair-climbing machines, I remind myself when my thighs begin to tremble.

To capture the warmth from their propane heaters, the men had the mudroom sealed off with plastic. Every day I’d have to un-tack and re-tack this sheeting. I rarely saw the builders, usually visiting the site after they had left for the day.

On Saturday I arrived to find the plastic replaced with a flattened cardboard box.

The cardboard was reinforced with furring strips and had a handle made of electrical wire and PVC pipe.

It even had a weighted door closer made of a piece of rope, an empty wire spool, and a scrap of 2×4.

Finally, the door was labeled.

My heart smiled.

I have moved most of the book boxes and now I’m down to the large items — heavy packed boxes, bed frames, giant industrial shelves, plus all the miscellaneous “stuff” that was thrown in on top of the neat boxes in the last minute rush: styrofoam insulation, hoses, window screens, miscellaneous lumber and other building supplies, children’s sports gear, a doll house. The move in 2015 was done under such pressure that I had no time to sort or evaluate anything. It all went in, higgledy-piggledy.

Little by little, I’ll get it moved. I’ll sort it next summer.

Sheetrocking the Upstairs

March 25, 2017

I hadn’t realized the reason Jon and Amanda’s window was left until last was so that a crane in the driveway could lift dozens of sheets of sheetrock through the opening. By the time the window went in, stacks of sheetrock leaned against every wall on the second floor.

Nick and Mike started by sheetrocking the ceilings. Our room…

Jon and Amanda’s room…

… and finally, Lucy’s room. However, before Lucy’s ceiling could be tackled, they had to build access into the attic, the space above the mudroom that connects the new house to the old garage. This meant pulling off the old sheathing and framing a doorway.

I am very excited to have a walk-in attic. This space was not included in the house cost so I will be insulating it and covering the walls myself. I have sheets of leftover sheetrock from the garage build seven years ago, so I plan to use that. I won’t be taping or using joint compound. I think plain drywall will be fine. It is an attic.

After the new section of wall was framed, Lucy’s ceiling went in.

Once that was done, the work seemed to go very quickly. Every day I’d stop by after teaching and more walls would be up. Our room…

Jon and Amanda’s room …

… Lucy’s room (and Lucy, inspecting between ski races).

The stacks of sheetrock dwindled. The closets, the bathrooms, the stairwell were all enclosed.

Last week they started the first floor!

Lucy’s Loppet

March 21, 2017

Lucy came home from college for spring break thrilled with the new snow and jumped into Saturday’s big local Loppet ski race, postponed from earlier in the season. Her racing season is over and she is tired. Her coaches have instructed her to rest. Lucy knew if she entered the 25K she would be tempted to race it, but she thought it would be fun to ski the 50K marathon (31+ miles!) simply “for a workout.” (I know, I know.)

Luckily, one of her best friends and training buddies, Nina, was also home from college and wanted to do the same. No pressure to go fast or beat each other. They just wanted to ski.

Lucy packed for this race as if she were going on a long hike.

The race announcer has known both girls since they were children. He surely could see that they were skiing easily side by side. However his job was to drum up suspense. Referring to them by their last names, he would say into the microphone, “Now Lucy is fighting ahead and gaining the lead!” or, “Now Nina pulls away!”

The girls laughed to themselves. They were casually discussing when to stop for water.

In the photo above, Lucy and Nina are emerging from the single-track tunnel under the road.

As planned, the girls crossed the finish line together, holding hands, just as Lucy did years ago with another friend in the 25K. In the automatic timing, Lucy was half a second behind Nina, with 3:27:31.

These days, the girls are so fit, and so few choose to ski a race so long and grueling, that they came in second and third overall!



That Moment You Know You’ve Been Following Media Too Closely

March 20, 2017

Last night I was waked up by a chorus of howling and yipping that sounded as if it were right under my window. I struggled up on my elbow and checked my watch: 2:10 AM.

Coyotes, my brain said. I wonder what they are howling about?

FAKE NEWS! replied my brain.

Part of me was reassured by this answer — Oh, OK — at the same time that another asked foggily, No, what?

I was still smiling as I fell back asleep.

*   *   *  

Today Lucy and I head to Vermont for a long day of appointments. I am packing Kleenex. What a tenacious virus this has been! Tomorrow school starts again.

The Blizzard of 2017

March 15, 2017

We knew snow was coming, but after a couple of years of promised storms passing us by, everyone in town had doubts we would really get the 10-12 inches they were predicting. Still, just in case, Nick spent all Monday putting up new ice and water shield on the back roof.

The snow started Tuesday morning. The flakes were so dry and tiny, it was easy to pay no attention. Mindful of the forecast, however, I mucked the barn and filled the water buckets so everything would be ready if I decided to bring the cows in early. Then I sat at the dining room table with my mug of chicken broth and my box of Kleenex, and got lost in accounts of prisoners of war starving to death in Manhattan in 1776.

When I looked up it was 1:30 PM and snow was blowing past the porch, a fog of white. Only a few inches covered the ground, but the tiny snowflakes were so light they were hanging in the air. Deciding the cows would probably like to come in out of the wind, I climbed into my coveralls and headed out in my truck.

I pulled onto the highway and I was shocked. It was a white-out — blowing snow so impenetrable I could barely see the icy road directly in front of my truck.

I was even more appalled when I reached the farm and discovered that Nick and Mike were working at the house. I knew immediately that they’d made the same mistake I had. Looking out the windows at a few inches of snow, they’d dismissed it as a concern. I drove down to the barn, hurriedly let the cows in, and tossed everyone hay. Then I texted to Nick that he and his father needed to leave as soon as possible. Nick knows I am a worrier, but I insisted. He texted me later that it had taken his father more than two hours to get home. “Dad said it was a wild ride!” Soon afterward the county highway department closed the roads.

But the farm animals were snug in the barn and I was safely at home with the dogs and my books. As Charles Ingalls would sing, “Let the hurricane roar!”

It did. The tiny flakes were now adding up at an unbelievable rate. Walking the dogs before bedtime, Toby was swimming underneath the powder like a snow mole, and even Stash was floundering in snow up to his ears.

It appears we got a bit over three feet overnight. This is our Honda. I’d swept it clean just before dark.

The plows were out all night long. This morning Stash kept me company while I dug out the truck.

I was worried when I drove down to the farm that I might have to hike in on snowshoes from the highway, but Mike had already plowed.

Of course, the barn paddock electric fences were buried and useless.

The water trough was below the level of the snow.

I decided I’d keep the cows in. After their breakfast grain I began mucking stalls. Moxie looked at me and indicated she’d like to go out.

“You really don’t want to, Mox, but I won’t stop you.”

Moxie plowed through the snow with the resolution of a tank. Then she seemed to have second thoughts.

“Hmm. Maybe I should reconsider.”

However, once the Boss Cow was out, Elsa and Mel Gibson were bellowing that they too wanted to come out to play. Wading in, they bucked and snorted and explored.

I threw them some hay to munch while I freshened their beds.

I’m an old mom. I know toddlers get tired of playing in cold snow faster than you think. Sure enough, in just a few minutes they were mooing at the door.

“Can we come in yet?”

When I opened the gate, they rushed down the aisle to their box stalls with dry straw and lay down with sighs of contentment.

Even cows know that’s the best way to enjoy a blizzard. From inside.

Geek Week

March 14, 2017

DH is headed to China. Lucy is back in college. Jon and Amanda are leading their lives in Connecticut. For a week I am all alone. (Except for the two dogs, the barn cat, the cow, the heifer, the bull, the eleven sheep and ten lambs, the two geese, the six hens, and the rooster.)

It is my school vacation. Usually at this time of year I’m juggling lambing and calving while attempting some out-sized farm building project. However, this year the calves are due in June. Lambing has unexpectedly ground to a halt. I am sick with a vicious sinus cold that won’t quit. And now, for the next two days, they are predicting a blizzard carrying over a foot of snow.

I have decided that all of this adds up to God telling me to rein in my Puritan work impulse for a little while and have some self-indulgent fun.

For me, one of the things I enjoy most is historical detective work. I simply adore following research trails. Today, with the internet, I can reach into library and museum collections across the country, Canada, and England. How fabulous to be discussing 18th century shoes with a cordwainer (shoemaker) at Colonial Williamsburg! How exciting to get emails from the British National Archives in “Kew, Richmond, Surrey”! What fun to search Revolutionary War newspapers, now digitized, and to have so many 18th and 19th century books scanned by Google and available free for download!

At this point, however, I actually have done most of the research needed for the story I’ve been plotting. (There are a few holes left: I’ll keep them like Easter eggs to reward myself during the tough patches.) My next task is to organize this information and analyze it. I have to take notes on all the books, diaries, letters, newspaper clippings, and maps, and then massage the information into a useful, coherent whole. This will take a lot of time. The work is less thrilling than the research but also satisfying as my notebook becomes filled with material.

My story is set in the area of western Connecticut in which I grew up. Many people forget that the American Revolution was a civil war (also, in New England, a religious war, but that’s another kettle of fish). Unlike the later Civil War, the American Revolution had no geographic lines, no North vs. South. The Revolution pitted not only neighbors but families against each other. It is heartbreaking to read the hand-written battle reports and realize that the dead and wounded of the enemy could be so often identified by first name because the protagonists grew up in the same town or were, in fact, kin.

Many of the supporting characters in my story will be fictionalized versions of real people. Above is part of a chart I began over the weekend to keep track of just a few of the complicated relationships in this corner of a small village in Connecticut. Now I have laid out on the dining room table the first stack of files and books I hope to annotate in the upcoming days. I am trying to be disciplined: to make all my notes on Revolutionary New York City; then all my notes on Fairfield County; then all my notes on the timing of a colonial farm year; then everything on ladies’ clothing, and so on.

The snow is falling, the dogs are snoring, I am brewing a cup of tea and can’t wait to dive in.

Yesterday I wrote to an unmet research friend in Canada (with whom for the past year I’ve been sharing discoveries from the British War Office papers) to tell him of this unexpected time alone, with no outside responsibilities except the animals.

Mike immediately wrote back, “Enjoy your Geek Week!”

Going Out in Style

March 13, 2017

This was the fourth and last time Lucy qualified for the nordic Junior National Championships. In future years she will be in the U23 category and no longer a junior. She has simultaneously aged out of her club ski team. I’m wistful for her, as this local group of boys and girls has been such a friendly, supportive, joking crew.

However, what a way to go out. It’s hard for a non-sports-person like me to comprehend an event like this. There were hundreds of competitors from all over the country, including a huge contingent from Alaska.

In the two distance events Lucy finished in the top ten, qualifying as “All-American” for the second and third time. She skied her leg of the relay with the second-fastest time in her age group. So she has both medals and satisfaction.

Lucy also was chosen to carry the torch to light the cauldron to mark the start of the championships. This honor was something of an error. It was supposed to be a local Olympian who carried the flame. However there was a mix-up and when the time came for the hand-off, this gentleman was nowhere to be seen. The flustered local announcer recognized my girl standing nearby in her jeans and leaned into the microphone:

“And noooooow, Lucy H— will carry the torch to light the cauldron!”

Lucy was startled but happy to oblige.

Yesterday I drove her and some of her friends to catch their ride back to college. The intense week is over.

Shearing and a Mystery

March 11, 2017

The sheep are shorn! Yesterday felt like a long day. It was a wise decision for me to forego worming and hoof-trimming.

After driving Lucy to her ski race, walking the dogs, turning the cows out, and mucking the barn, just standing for 3.5 hours at Roger’s elbow — ready to take the clippers or pass them back (“Scalpel!” “Yes, doctor!”), bag fleeces, and rake up dirty wool tags — was about all I could manage between bouts of coughing and sneezing.

Roger is always quiet, patient, and calm. He seems to hold the sheep effortlessly, and even the frightened yearlings who’ve never been shorn usually relax under his hands. After he sheared Royal, my big ram, he kindly trimmed his feet. (I’ll trim the rest when I’m feeling better.)

As each sheep was shorn, I slipped over her/his head a collar and nametag. These are hard rubber neck straps from the Netherlands (61¢ each, but shipping from Europe brings them to $3) and nylon neck tags from Ketchum Manufacturing ($2.10 each). Ewes have black tags, rams red. I could have purchased simple numbered tags for $1.10, but I spent the extra $1 apiece to have my sheep’s names engraved. This was a frivolous expenditure on my part, and one I’m glad I made some months ago, as dollars are so tight I could not justify it now.

I’ve always wanted my sheep to have nametags. Many years ago a big breeder on our sheep list wrote contemptuously of “backyard breeders with six sheep with names.” I have eleven sheep, and they all have names. My hope is that my ewes will stay with me for a decade. I see them every day for years. Of course they have names.

They also all have eartags, and I can remember their numbers (“11, that’s Cider”) and most of their faces. But nothing is as easy for me as reading. So this is another of my experiments. I’m not sure it will work. The collars are snug on my bigger ewes even without a wool coat. We shall see.

Meanwhile, with the heavy wool removed I was shocked to find that the three ewes that I assumed were due to give birth any day have no udder development. In my records, Magnolia, Petunia, and Larch were all bred in early October and potentially multiple times after (the repeated blue smudges that made me lose track last fall). What could be going on?

It’s a mystery. I have never had such a long and strange lambing season. My ewes almost always become pregnant on their first breeding. Magnolia has twinned every year since she was two. Petunia had triplets last year.

What was different this year? I could only think of three things.

  • The girls spent the summer grazing on the farm, rather than at Betty’s.
  • I supplemented them with alfalfa pellets.
  • The hay I bought last fall from Rick (“I’m giving you second-cut for the same price as first-cut, and you know why? Because you’ve been such a good customer for so many years!”) turned out to be 1/4 inedible chicory stalks.

But would any of these have affected Royal’s fertility or the ewes’ conception?

I have now researched all three variables and have discovered that feeding legumes — alfalfa is a legume — can reduce conception rates. I fed alfalfa pellets through the end of October. Sigh. My mother used to quote my grandfather: “Live and learn, die and forget it all.” (I’ve never been sure of the exact meaning of this motto but have always found it vaguely comforting.)

It’s possible that these three girls and even one of my ewe lambs, all of whom had blue crayon marks, were bred again successfully in November or December. It could be that they are pregnant now, and due at the end of April or even early May. Who knows?

I imagine they know. But they can’t tell me.