A Bit Overwhelmed

November 10, 2018

The painting above is of me searching for an honest workman.

The well company I hired to fix our well problem has given me changing stories about costs, rattling my confidence, and has not yet returned to do the work, currently priced at $1500 (from $800) and originally scheduled for last Monday, then Tuesday, then Friday. “Probably next Monday or Tuesday,” the man now writes. It is due to be 15°F tonight and tomorrow night, so undoubtedly the faulty pump switch (replaced this summer) will freeze again. I’m going into town today to buy a heat tape to wrap around the well casing. I hate to spend $35 but on the other hand I would happily pay $35 not to be without water for three days.

There is an outdoor outlet not far from the well, into which I could plug a line to the heat tape, but there is no power to that outlet. Of course not! The electrician said he would come back to do it in September. I will run multiple cords to the front of the garage.

Meanwhile, in the fall of 2017 I had hired an excavation contractor to do the grading around the house (something actually in my builder’s contract, but as we were already incurring fines from the bank for delaying the mortgage inspection, and as I was reshaping the front lawn, I covered the entire cost without comment). Before the excavation contractor left, he promised to return with a load of stone. You guessed it: he never returned. This fall I emailed his wife to ask if I could get that stone. She wrote that it would be delivered ten days ago, on Thursday or Friday. On both days I waited, fruitlessly.

When DH and I reached our hotel this Wednesday, I found two emails from the contractor’s wife. The first said that she was sorry for the delay, but it would be delivered this Thursday or Friday. Half an hour later, the second email said, actually, it would be delivered at 3 o’clock that day. That is, it had been delivered while I was away. I was beside myself, but with iron self-control I wrote to her politely, expressing my concern. She was airy in her response. She was sure it was fine.

I was equally sure it was not. I did not sleep that night, worrying.

Sure enough, the driver had driven the 20-ton load across our leach field. Thankfully, only 1/4 of the field. Still, the ruts are significant. (My gloves are there for scale.) Allen always told me never to allow anyone to drive on this section of lawn and I have been vigilant for ten years. It never occurred to me that anyone might come while I was not at home.

Then the driver dropped the heavy load directly on top of our septic tank.

This stone delivery is a huge new problem that I need to solve immediately. It is blowing snow and we are due to have winds of 50 mph this afternoon. My tractor is dead and Damon doesn’t feel well. I have shoveled at least 60 tons of gravel in my day, but I was younger then — and so was my bad elbow.

I am trying to stay calm, and think.


Let It Go

November 3, 2018

It’s been a tough week. I wrote my builder a quick note of inquiry last Saturday when I discovered that he had come to the house while I was at work and removed all his scaffolding and ladders. These have sat here since last November, when he left promising to return in May to finish the work he had been paid for the previous June. In May he wrote an angry email and promised to return in August. At the end of August he returned briefly and promised to finish the rest of the work. At that time he told me to order $800 worth of brick. The brick is stacked on our porch.

He never came back.

We had house guests over the weekend, friends and teenagers in town for the memorial of my former student who died. The memorial was beautiful … and draining. We returned home exhausted.

At this low ebb, after more than a month of silence, I found an email from the builder. In the next six weeks, he would send me a couple of checks, covering what he considered the remaining work. (He appended a short list.) But he would not return.

He wrote, “I consider this a fair and honest resolution/closure to our contract,” and (bizarrely) reassured me, “I’m not upset.”

I was shocked.

As he left for a three-day business trip DH said patiently, “Just write, I look forward to receiving your checks.”

Even hot-tempered Damon growled over the phone, “Just write OK — or you won’t get fuckin’ nothin’.”

But I couldn’t get over my sense of betrayal. The list he provided, even without all the promised work already removed, still left out a number of items. I thought the real dollar amount was quite a bit more. I wrote him a short, polite note, stating that I was sorry he would not return and listing those items.

The next morning I received a long email, attacking me as self-centered, grasping, and ungrateful. How dare I bring up those items, when he had lost so much money on my job due to having to work around us? (Because he didn’t meet his finish date, a point he has consistently failed to note.) The personal viciousness of the email made me feel sick. After trashing my character, the email closed piously, “I will pray for you.”

I have never been able to cope with anger directed at me. What a fool I had been to reply! DH was gone and I felt shaky for days. I told myself to move on but I had to flog myself into putting one foot after another, walking the dogs, doing barn chores, teaching my classes. I did not sleep.

One afternoon I was mucking the barn when a confused yellow-shafted flicker flew in and then tried to hide by stuffing himself in a crevice behind a beam. I gently pulled him down. I “knew” the bird was a message from my late mother, who taught me about flickers so many years ago.

I carried the bird carefully outside — and then I let it go.

Today I’ll start moving the brick off the porch.


Painting the Porch

October 20, 2018

Yesterday after work I painted porch railings on the north side of the house for two hours before having to go out to dinner for DH’s job. The temperature had risen to 50° and I was determined to use the brief window of warmth profitably. There was a stiff wind and paint drips blew back at my face as my coveralls snapped in the breeze. Even putting a first coat on only the front side of the rails was slow work, and a half hour into it I realized:

  1. I would never make appreciable progress in the short time available. For my builder to be able to proceed with the screen porch (requiring pre-painted rails and posts, two coats) I would need at least two full days of warm, dry weather. I thought back to our long summer of drought, and how easily I could have accomplished this job if he had ever informed me that “exterior painting” of the house did not include the porch.
  2. I should stop my efforts on this cosmetic work and start priming all the scraped wood on the second story of the garage, which has been bare since July 2017.

However there was so little time, I didn’t know where any primer might be stored, I am afraid of extension ladders, painting anything at all  requires so much mental discipline (given my loathing of painting) … so I just toiled on doggedly where I was.

The small section of painted rails looks so nice, I have to work hard not to be bitter. Waste. Of. Energy. DH says encouragingly that maybe we’ll have a week of Indian summer in November. Today it will rain with high winds and tonight it will be in the 20s with snow.

Ah well. I have plenty of other chores to keep me busy.

Mama’s Fan

October 16, 2018

In the 1970s, when I was a teenager, our grandmother came to live with us. Mama (as she was known) was suffering from confusion due to tiny strokes in her brain. At this time her house in Alabama was sold, and our mother brought many pieces of family furniture back to our home in Connecticut. Among these were the giant 1830s-ish bookcase now standing in our living room here in the mountains, and a ceiling fan from Mama’s enclosed porch.

I vaguely remember Mama’s porch from my childhood visits to Alabama, but as a little girl I was less focused on the ceiling fan than on the large carved parrot sitting on a swing in the corner. (I think Mom must have passed on saving the parrot.) The fan, I’m guessing from the 1930s, was installed in our Connecticut sunroom, where we had many happy times. When Mom and Dad’s house, in turn, was dismantled in 2004, I asked for and saved the fan.

Now, this was not an entirely practical move. The old fan had an alarming tendency to sway in a circular motion with its blades, while creaking. It also hung low, designed for the high ceilings of the hot and humid South. Mom and Dad had mounted it on the sloping vaulted ceiling of the sunroom. I had no vaulted ceilings. (Of course, in 2004, I had no house, either. I had taken the fan in hopes.)

For thirteen years after Mom’s death and the breaking up of her house, the body of the fan had lived in a giant box under a table in DH’s and my bedroom. Eventually the crumbling box moved to the farm garage. Last summer I brought it out and showed the fan to the electrician and the builder. Was there any possible way I could use the fan in our mudroom, with its eight-foot ceilings? They conferred, and told me that if I were willing to pay for an extra hour of labor, they would frame a recess in the sheetrock to pull the fan body higher. Done.

Last fall I emptied our storage trailer. Unbeknownst to me, it had leaked for many years. I was numb with sadness as I pulled out one ruined item after another. I opened a bursting box and found the blades to the fan. Long ago I had wrapped them carefully in blankets. The blankets were soggy and covered with black and green mold. The wet fan blades were not in good shape. I laid them out to dry, my heart heavy. Then I moved on to other, more pressing problems.

Last week I decided it was time to deal with the fan.

I inspected the blades. The iron was rusted.

The finish was entirely stripped and they were covered with a light film of mold.

One blade had broken in half.

This last was very discouraging until I realized that the crack had flecks of old glue. Aha! Once upon a time the fan blade had been broken and repaired. I wondered who had originally mended the blade. My grandfather before his death in the 1950s? His hired man? My father? Whoever he was, now I was following in his footsteps — I wasn’t the cause of the broken blade, merely another restorer! My mood immediately improved.

I set to work. First I carefully sanded off the mold and last remains of the old finish. Then I glued the fan blade back together with epoxy.

After the epoxy dried, I used a wire brush to clean the crusty rust off all the iron.

Then I stained the blades with Minwax English Chestnut. The blades didn’t take the stain perfectly — the color was much darker than expected, and the finish peculiarly shiny. Later I worked on the blades a bit more with 000 steel wool to try to remove the shine.

I repainted the iron in matte black enamel.

When everything was dry, I hung the blades.

You can see the crack if you look, and the finish remains slightly strange. (I’ll consult with Tom.) Moreover the fan can’t be turned on until the electrician returns to connect the wire to the switch. Still, I am happy.

I imagine my grandmother, born in 1894, would be perplexed, wondering why her granddaughter was monkeying with any such masculine project. But I think Mom and Dad would be pleased.

Mama’s fan lives again!


Last Grass of the Season

October 15, 2018

After a grey, wet, and windy Saturday, yesterday was beautiful. Clear and cool.

Too cool for painting the house. Between chores I raced into town to buy brushes, then waited all day for the temperature to hit the required 50° F. It rose to 49° by 3:30 pm, as the sun was sliding down the sky. Too late for paint.

Today is grey and rainy again. I have heard nothing from my builder in three weeks. I am trying to be peacefully resigned… with limited success. I wonder if he’ll ever finish anything. DH thinks probably not. I remind myself that the loss is only money. Still, it stings — partly because I worry about finances, but perhaps even more because I was a trusting fool.

The sheep are resisting the switch from grass to hay — chasing green, I always call it. At this point they would prefer the sorriest green weed to the nicest dried bale. However once we have snow (maybe this week) the fence nets will be put away for the season and hay will be their only option.


October 8, 2018

The flaming leaves are beautiful this year. This photo was taken almost a week ago and the colors have only intensified. I revel in them, knowing that in another ten days the leaves will fall and the trees will be stark and brown for the next six months.

The short-lived beauty of the season reminds me that all time is fleeting. The sixteen-year-old son of a colleague, a boy I taught for two years, committed suicide last week. He was revived and lived for two more days. It has been harrowing. I did not sleep for a week, dreaming about him.

In the midst of this aching sadness I have continued to march through chores. Gradually I am getting things done. I remain frustrated with my builder, who has been back for a few hours on about 5 days since the last week in August, but does not seem overly (or even at all) concerned about finishing the job, even as he now defines “finishing,” i.e. leaving off many items. The “completion date” for the house was June 30, 2017, and unfortunately I made the terrible mistake of paying him the final installment at that time.

Here is the southwest corner of the house in October, 2017. (The grey is pre-primer.)

The builder told me when he quit work in the fall that he would be back in the spring. In the spring, he angrily said he would be back in August. He would not meet with us. He did not answer emails or texts.

Here is the southwest corner of the house in October, 2018.

The back of the garage was scraped in July, 2017 and has been bare since then. After a summer of drought, it has rained on and off for the last two weeks. We need rain badly but as I look at the forecast and know we may have snow by Halloween, I worry that the painting will be finished in a slipshod manner in poor conditions. Who knows when he will be able to get to the brick work on the chimney or the contracted screen porch. It appears he will finish very little inside the house.

At this point I am focusing on my own many projects and trying to stay positive. Certainly with Owen’s death I am pointedly reminded that contractor problems are not the big problems of life.

Cookstove and Cast Iron

September 30, 2018

We got the cookstove into the house and I hung up a bunch of my cast iron pots and pans (I haven’t found and unpacked them all) and my father’s bread bowl. This is the west side of the mudroom.

I was very pleased to use a steel pot rack I had bought in 1986 but put into storage in 1991 when we moved. After twenty-seven years the rack was red-brown with rust. I worked on it with a wire brush and spray-painted it black. Since the ceiling joists were not spaced helpfully, I hung it from the one available and then drilled holes in the steel and bolted the back two sides to the walls to hold it level.

There is still a bunch of work to do in this room. I have to panel the bump-out under the pot rack which hides the exhaust pipe from the kitchen stove. I have to refinish the blades of my grandmother’s ceiling fan. The cookstove has to be hooked up. Tom and I are going to build a base for the cast iron sink I found in the back of a neighbor’s barn, and then I have to figure out the plumbing. We have to finish building the lockers (Tom was sick this weekend), I have to varnish the lockers, and hang the rest of the locker hooks. I have to trim the edges of the brick behind the stove with moulding, I have to nail quarter-round along the baseboards, and I have to put a coat of sealer on the walls. All three doors need painting or staining.

So — the room is far from finished. Nevertheless it makes me very, very happy to have it coming into focus after dreaming of it so long. Yay!