Starting the Porch!

April 12, 2017

The house is sheetrocked and waiting for the “tapers” (typing this word I think of church candles, but in fact it refers to the crew who will arrive, starting tomorrow, to tape the drywall).

In the meantime, Nick, his father Mike, and his uncle Jerry have begun work on the wrap-around porch. The porch deck (before its roof goes on) will serve as their staging area to put up the house’s siding and metal roofing. It will be good for them to have a level spot in the sea of sloping mud and rocks.

The builders’ careful work last November has paid off now. Though they’ve checked and re-checked with a laser level, the poured concrete Sonotubes are perfectly aligned.

After only two days, most of the floor joists of the front section are in.

If you knew how often tears come to my eyes, you would not believe it.

Learning to Assert Myself

April 11, 2017

Yesterday after work I had a meeting with Nick, my wonderful builder. My insides were jelly. I had almost decided not to say anything, but then I broached the subject in an email and I was committed.

One of the few splurges I am choosing in this house is a tiled shower rather than a pre-formed acrylic one. DH loves the shower here in this lake house and I had decided this would be my gift to him.

Last week Nick had framed the shower stall with a bench as I requested, and covered it with special sheetrock. I had looked at the bench.

“It seems very narrow?” I ventured.

The bench is 11″ deep. I have since seen on the Home Depot site that this is a fairly regular depth. I thought to myself that sitting on a slippery 11″ shelf would not be ideal for us as aged people. The shower seat in this house is 15″ deep.

“You only need it to rest your foot on when you are shaving your legs,” Nick explained.

Hmm. I was not thinking of a need for shaving my legs in this shower but of a need for a safety grab bar. I worried that using this bench might be akin to doing wall-sit exercises. However the bench was built and I didn’t want to upset Nick or require him to tear anything apart. So I let it go.

Then this weekend I noticed the entire shower was framed, sheetrocked, and mudding had begun. The walls and ceiling were all flush with the room. This was not what I wanted. I wanted the shower to be set off rather like a doorway, with a dropped header and small 7″ walls on each side, to contain the water. This small framing detail has meant no wet floors in the lake house.

My immediate reaction on seeing the disappointing shower was to say to myself, Well, it’s done, and I’ll have to live with it. I thought about this disappointment all day as I carried heavy packing boxes. I strove for resignation. I’ll get over it eventually.

But that night when I was emailing Nick about something else, I found myself typing: I need to talk to you about the shower. We agreed I would meet him yesterday after my teaching day.

As I got out of my car at the farm, my heart pounded. Standing next to Nick in the future bathroom, I was apologetic as I explained the shower design I had hoped for. Nick was stoical. His face did not change as I outlined alterations that would mean tearing out his hard work.

“I can do that,” he said calmly.

When I got back in my car I was wilting with relief. It is absurdly difficult for me to insist on matters larger than punctuation.

  *   *   *  

After walking the dogs, I then drove an hour to the nearby city to look at kitchen cabinets. The simple cabinets I chose last September went up in price almost $1800 in January.

The house-building process seems designed to keep me in a stew of anxiety.

Grunt Labor

April 10, 2017

Yesterday was a clear, sunny day in the 40°s. Though there is still snow in the woods, the snow in the fields ebbed away. The warm spring weather after a grey week of spitting snow and freezing rain was a tonic. Having dragged myself through Saturday with the remains of a sick headache and nausea, for Sunday I had a long list.

I had planned to go to church but Rick, my hay man, emailed that he would be at the farm with an early morning hay delivery. I had written to Rick this winter to express my unhappiness with this year’s hay, loaded with inedible weeds. Every day I have had to clean the hay racks of tough stalks. The ground of the barn paddock is littered with stalks. While I have saved on mulch hay for bedding, mulch hay is half the price of feed hay. I should not be using feed hay for bedding. I have also worried about the weed load being introduced to my farm.

Rick got out of his truck in the bright morning sun.

“How ya doin’, Cry Ass!”

Rick is Rick. Still, he brought better hay.

But after stacking hay bales, the main job for the day was emptying the mudroom. The biggest problem there was the two giant steel shelves. These shelves were cast-offs from the school maintenance garage seven years ago. Luke and I had snagged them to hold DH’s climbing gear.

The shelves are seven feet tall, 18″ deep, and probably weigh 200 pounds apiece. I had hoped to have help moving them, but Lucy went back to school early last weekend and this weekend there was no one available.

Whenever I have to move something too big for me, I think of my older brother, who was a mover for many years and taught me a few tricks of the trade. Always try to slide something rather than lift it. Though the shelves are multi-colored from years of paint (I will be repainting them next summer) and scratches were not a real concern, I did not think I could slide them. Too heavy.

But I did have this wheeled trash can dolly. Maybe I could roll them?

I removed the stacked boxes from each case and took out all the individual steel shelves to lighten the load. Then I tipped each shelf on its side on the dolly.

The dolly has a rounded top so the load was extremely tippy as I pulled each shelf through the kitchen and dining room. I was terrified a heavy shelf would slide off and damage the new sheetrock. I moved very, very slowly to the head of the cellar stairs. At that point, I lifted each off the dolly, pivoted it in a ten-point turn, and pulled it halfway into the stairwell.

Then I nipped around and got in front of the shelf on the stairs. I pulled it gently until it tipped to rest against my back. Bracing the heavy weight with my thighs, I walked down the stairs slowly (and puffing with effort) step by step until I was safe at the bottom.

Whenever I successfully accomplish something difficult (with Allen, with Luke, or recently with Lucy), it is my habit to shriek, “We are the champions of the world!” Yesterday I smiled to myself and thought, I am a champion.

After ten minutes to “walk” the heavy shelf into place, I began loading it with its previous boxes.

Then I went back for the next one. By the end of the day, both shelves were down and loaded, with more boxes in front of them.

Another quadrant of the basement has all the books, the filing cabinets, and various boxes and bags. I had zero time to evaluate anything when I emptied our school apartment. That will happen this summer and I imagine a great deal will go to Goodwill or the dump.

It was fun to revisit the past (a plastic dinosaur with JON on the bottom of its foot) and read the box tops as I carried things to the basement: in Lucy’s handwriting: FRAGILE! Lucy’s rock collection. Ah yes, those fragile rocks.

The mudroom is almost empty, except for Lucy’s childhood dollhouse (too fragile for manhandling) and a lot of miscellanous farm equipment. I will deal with all that tomorrow after work.

It was a long day of grunt work listening to hymns. Very satisfying to make visible progress.

Sheetrocking Done!

April 8, 2017

In recent days I have been sick with a terrible headache, the kind that wakes you up in the middle of the night, turns your stomach, and makes it impossible to sleep. This has been mystifying to me. I am normally a labrador retriever among humans. My basic setting is obliviousness. I have no allergies or health problems. I am extremely lucky and galumph through life paying little attention to my physical body. Though I get coughs and sniffles, bumps and bruises, and arthritic aches and pains, I generally can press on without too much misery. But not this week. DH has been off on a business trip and my head has been pounding. So I have fallen behind on this blog.

The sheetrocking of the main house is basically complete. Almost all of the last bits and orts have been closed in. In the photo of above you can see the living room. The wall around the stairwell is finished. Someday, I hope an antique bookcase from my grandmother’s house will stand against this wall. In the meantime, the front door is still propped against the north wall, blocking the living room window. Apparently the door goes in after the sheetrock is taped and mudded. Who knew?

See this dull northwest corner of the living room?

This is where the gas stove is going to go. This winter I have looked at a lot of gas stoves. As someone who has heated with wood, and split and carried a lot of logs, there is something distressingly dude-rancher-ish about a gas stove that you click on with a remote. Still, that is what we’re going to have in retirement, and I know we will enjoy it, so I’ve been searching.

Unfortunately, it seems most people have fancier taste than I do. The gas stoves I’ve seen locally seem to feature lots of bright enamel and glazing and curlicues and glass. These extras make most stoves both extremely expensive and even further from my taste. Thus I was thrilled last week to drive to the nearby city and find a plain matte black gas stove that reminded me of our old Vermont Castings wood burner. Amazingly, it also has more positive reviews, a better warranty, and is 2/3 of the price of the fancy ones. Score!

I found a photo of a simple mantel and fireplace set-up online and I’m waiting to hear if Nick can build it inexpensively in the corner behind the stove.

Here is the view looking through the dining room and kitchen to the mudroom doorway, now covered with insulation. As you can see, the plumbing above the windows has been entirely boxed in.

The same view, but from the southwest corner: the doorway to the cellar, the hall doorway, and the pantry wall and entry.

The doorways to the office and the half-bath, from the living room doorway at the foot of the stairs.

Upstairs: the master bedroom, with our windows, bathroom, and walk-in closet.

Jon and Amanda’s room has been finished for a while, but now the stove-pipe for the wood cookstove in the mudroom has been boxed in. This has eaten up part of their closet.

There remains about 8″ between the wall of the closet doorway and the box for the stove pipe, right inside the door. I know my father would build a shoe rack or some other clever item for that space. I will have to think and consult with others more ingenious than myself.

But put in mind of my ingenious dad, I asked the builders to sheetrock down the inside of the eave. I told Amanda that there would be this little extra space in the closet and she emailed back, “Fortunately I am small —” As I read I began to chuckle, thinking of Amanda’s little bottom receding into the distance as she disappeared into the bowels of the eave.

Still, I imagine the extra space will come in useful someday.

Here is the far wall of Jon and Amanda’s room. They are going tomorrow to look at a dresser and mirror listed on Craigslist for this six-foot wall.

Connecticut has many more options in used furniture than the Adirondacks. I foresee potential trips with my truck in the future.

Meanwhile, Lucy’s room is also done and the men have started sheetrocking the attic above the mudroom, which is accessed through her bedroom.

The attic is not included in the house contract. The plan was always that I would pay for the insulation, but do the sheetrocking myself. However Nick convinced me to let them go ahead and put up the sheetrock, too. This sheetrock is left over from building the apartment seven years ago. I am merely paying for their labor to put it up.

The sheets are big and heavy and I hadn’t been quite sure how I would manage the job alone. I had figured I would google it — google being the modern equivalent of the book Dad gave to each of his children: Reader’s Digest’s How to Do Just About Anything. But it would have taken me a week. . .

.. and I think it will take the two men a few hours. The attic will not be taped and mudded; my goal is simply an insulated, smooth-walled storage space.

And now the crew doing the taping of the house will be arriving any day!


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.