Update on the Mudroom

June 21, 2018

Over the past eight months, between other chores and projects, I have been working on our mudroom. Slowly I got each wall paneled. (The work was slow because many of the boards were warped, the walls are not plumb, and the floor and ceiling are not level. It was, of course, a crazy idea to put straight lines on this room.)

Nevertheless, I persevered, wall by wall.

Last summer — when I actually started this mudroom project — my friend Tom and I had begun staining some of the boards “Ipswich Pine” before I thought better of it. I now decided to use those stained boards on a single wall. The other option was to buy new boards, and I couldn’t spare the cash. “It will be an accent wall,” I told myself hopefully. In mid-February Nick came in and over several days laid the floor. On seeing the terra cotta tile (bought on deep sale the year before) against the Ipswich Pine wall, I was extremely glad I had stopped staining the paneling. The effect was very orange.

In early April the paneling was basically done and I asked Tom if he would be willing to help me finish trimming the room. I knew I had to rip the last boards near the ceiling and I was nervous at the prospect of using my table saw, a creaking behemoth. I also had no idea how to trim the windows or door frames.

Tom kindly agreed to help, and suggested I should pick up some sawhorses for the job. I planned to go to the nearby city to the big box store, but we had a snowstorm. Instead I found a plan for a pair of quick and dirty stackable sawhorses and cut up the pieces on my chop saw.

When Tom arrived we screwed together the sawhorses in about five minutes.

Total cost, $25. I immediately loved those sawhorses.

Tom also oiled my old table saw and fitted it with a sharp new blade. “It’s a nice saw,” he said kindly. Tom is a very encouraging person. (And as you can see, we were working in a tight space with stacked clutter everywhere. He never complained.)

We started to trim the doors, beginning with the back door. This door had been poorly installed by Dean back in 2009 and the only way to keep it from blowing open was to keep it locked at all times. Not only was the frame slightly racked but the strike plate was in the wrong place. Naturally, Tom fixed it.

It took us the entire morning to trim that one problematic door. One morning the following weekend, we finished the other three. (Our work sessions were generally only a few hours. Tom typically works six days a week, so it was extremely generous on his part to give me so much of his free time, week after week.) The next time we met, we cut and put up simple ceiling moulding and baseboard all the way around the room. A couple of weekends after that, we started on the windows.

These windows had been a mess of insulation, house wrap, and cobwebs for nearly nine years.

I was happy to see it all disappear under fresh clean trim.

At one point this spring Tom and I drove over to the bed and breakfast lodge belonging to our friends Tony and Nancy, to inspect their mudroom lockers. Like us, Tony has a long experience with our school, and in renovating the lodge he had copied the student lockers, while upgrading them (not only are his lockers wider, for middle-aged bottoms, but the seat is higher, for middle-aged knees). For many years, I have coveted Tony’s lockers. Now Tom and I would copy his design.

May was so busy for both of us that we were only able to spare a single morning to frame the locker bench seat. Another month flew by with all its attendant chores. This past Friday I managed to get a friendly electrician to stop in and hook up the two outlets under the lockers before they became inaccessible under the finished bench.  And yesterday Tom and I got the lockers framed.

It’s important to understand that Tom is the brains of our work partnership. I am merely his assistant. He measures to the nearest millimeter and runs the saws. I steady and catch the boards and use the nail gun. Here is Tom, ripping slats for the bench seat (in the usual disaster of the garage).

Tom showed me how to use a router to round off all the edges. I held the boards.

I nailed down the slats and slowly the bench grew.

Now we had to cut the plywood for the locker walls. Tom’s Makita is a lot nicer than my Skilsaw, so he made the cuts.

Tom is a great person to work with. He is extremely talented, quiet, kind, and patient — and so determined that it is easy to forget that he is 75 years old.

We cut the locker sidewalls, notched them, and toenailed each one to the wall.

By the end of the day the frame was in place — and Tom had to head out to his real job.

It may be another week or two before Tom can come back, but I have a list of chores to finish before then anyway (sanding, wood-puttying, putting up the rear coat hooks).

This mudroom has been a long project, and the end is not yet, but it is deeply satisfying to see it begin to come together.

Thank you, Tom!


The Slate

June 12, 2018

A number of things are making me feel particularly foolish. I get so angry at myself it’s hard to sleep. I don’t have time today to write about the problems so instead I’ll share something cheerful.

I’ve always wanted to have a chalkboard in the barn. By now you know I am comforted by lists. (I have learned that if I can remember to write something down, there’s an excellent chance I will remember to do it.) Modern whiteboard markers are frozen and useless here six months of the year, so I’ve wanted a chalkboard to mount in the entry as you walk into the barn aisle. But real chalkboards these days are hard to find, and very expensive.

Last summer I was walking through a neighborhood barn with the owner. Leaning in a corner was a giant piece of slate, about 4.5’x3′. My eyes brightened. Miss Dexter was trying to clear out her barn and would be happy to have me take it away. I picked it up just before snow blocked the barn doors for the winter.

The slate was an 70-lb potato chip, simultaneously very heavy and very fragile. With difficulty I walked the big slice of stone into my barn tack room to be stored out of traffic until I had time to address it.

In January my friend Larry routed some pine to make me a frame. Unfortunately with the frame the slate was too big to fit anywhere in the barn. The winter was long and I had no mental bandwith for extra problem-solving. The slate sat untouched, part of the general clutter.

Yesterday, however, discouraged by recent events, I decided to cheer up by cleaning the barn. I came upon the slate and frame and suddenly felt motivated to tackle the problem. I took down a broad shelf next to my milking stanchion, pulled out the frame, and measured. I realized that if I shaved the frame by 1/2 an inch all around, I could squeeze the slate vertically in the space without, as I’d believed, having to tear down the stanchion. I carried all the pieces of the frame up to the garage to my table saw and cut them down.

Then (standing on the shelf I’d just removed) I grunted the heavy slate up to rest in the bottom piece of the frame which I’d previously screwed to the wall. Though I’m tall, I’m not really very strong so it was touch and go there for a while, the heavy slate wobbling, the shelf wobbling a bit under my feet. But I got it done. I drilled in the rest of the frame, and… I now have a chalkboard in the barn! I still have to secure the power strip that controls the lights, but the slate is ready for my lists.

It’s the little things, sometimes, that lift your spirits.


January 11, 2018

For some reason this week has seemed very long. I’m trudging through my lists.

Yesterday afternoon the temperature began to climb and after work I spent ninety minutes sweeping snow off the big stack of tongue-and-groove panel boards I had stored on the porch, shaking them clean, and carrying them into the mudroom. It has been so cold that the boards were still dry. I did not want them wet, or worse, encased in ice.

Every Sunday I look at the long-range forecast and stage all the week’s chores according to the weather. This wood-moving job had been penciled in for Tuesday, but I had the students’ stomach virus that day and barely dragged myself through classes. Thankfully, the serious thaw didn’t start until last night.

However, now — in addition to moving boxes, jackets, barn clothes, boots, dog paraphernalia, and the giant air compressor and other tools — the mudroom is crowded with stacks of boards. There is a narrow path through all the mess.

I must finish the paneling. I just haven’t had time.

I had planned the work for this Friday night, Saturday, and Sunday, because DH was supposed to leave this afternoon and be away for four days on business. Just clearing a space to work on the walls will require a lot of shifting and stacking. Everything will look very much worse before it looks better. DH is a neat person by nature and living in any sort of mess is stressful for him. He has enough stress right now. So I had thought, Terrific! He’ll be away for the mess tornado! But now it appears his trip has been canceled.

Of course I’m happy to have DH home and not putting in exhausting hours on the road. However it means I have to figure out how to manage this job without the house looking like a FEMA site.

Before I can do that, today’s challenge is to dig out the buried barn paddock fence — now four feet deep in wet, heavy snow — before it refreezes into a permanent winter landscape feature.

Plan B

December 11, 2017

I worked hard every minute of the weekend and made a lot of progress. Just not enough.

I still have five reports to write this morning before work, thirteen more finals to grade, and classes to prep for. Meanwhile yesterday I didn’t get a single panel up on the sheep paddock.

The panel that meets the barn runs up a slope of gravel. This gravel is frozen solid. Chips of ice and rock stung my face and ricocheted off my glasses. At one point I thought my lip was bleeding.The pickaxe was striking sparks in the cold. Why, oh why, did I not do this job in October? I spent an hour on this two-foot section and chipped away only about two inches. That small hump is holding the entire fence panel four to six inches off the ground.

There is so much more work to do for this project: eleven more panels to hang, ten more t-posts to drive. This doesn’t even count cutting two panels, straightening (how?) a fence post that one of the cows rubbed and pushed out of plumb, rerouting the fence wiring, or building the necessary barn door. It is due to snow 4-8″ tomorrow and drop below zero Wednesday night. I realized yesterday in the gathering dark at 4 PM that I would never be able to finish if I kept trying to do the job properly.

My new plan is to drive all the t-posts today after work and then tack the panels to the wood posts with a single staple in each end, not worrying that they’re not perfectly straight and level. I’ll secure them for the winter to all posts with zip ties, pile rocks along any gaps (rocks will freeze to the ground; just collecting them will require a sledgehammer to knock them free), and correct everything next spring.

Rocks and zip ties were never part of my plan for this paddock, but as the saying goes, “Needs must when the devil drives.”

Back to reports!

Starting the Sheep Paddock

December 10, 2017

Last Sunday I began putting up 16-foot welded wire panels to build the sheep paddock. I meant to start this project six weeks ago. Unfortunately due to other commitments it kept rolling off the bottom of the list.

The first task was to carry each of the fourteen heavy, wobbly panels two hundred yards to the future paddock. Next I had to assemble my tools: pickaxe, shovel, hammer, bucket of fence staples, level, string, nails, steel t-posts, post slammer, wire post clips, and clip tightener. By the time I got it all to the site I was sweating and could remove my wool hat.

If you look at the top picture you can see that the ground is very uneven. This continues to greater and lesser degrees entirely around the future enclosure.

To erect each panel I pull a string tight between the two treated posts, and sink a t-post at the midpoint. Then I smooth the path for the panel, digging out the high humps with my pickaxe and filling in the low points with my shovel.

Last Sunday the ground was half frozen, coming up in chunks fanged with hoar frost, but I could still work it. I got my first two panels up.

I had realized belatedly (while Damon and I were setting posts) that this corner would be problematic, as it backs up to a stone wall. It was too late to do anything then, with Damon in pain and two posts already laboriously set. I imagine I will put extensions on those posts and run electric lines or barbed wire across the top. It will look a bit strange, but with my budget I can’t worry about looks, only effectiveness.

I had meant to get the rest of the panels up over the course of last week. I had printed out a schedule with two hours of fencing written into each day. Unfortunately, issues with my real job suddenly rose up to take over my life.

Every spare minute and ounce of energy was burned.

Now it’s a week later. Yesterday afternoon, after writing (late) student reports most of the day, I managed to put up two more panels before dark. Each panel takes an hour. The ground is now frozen solid three inches down.

As I chopped with my pickaxe, chips of ice sprayed my glasses. My numb hands were bleeding from the barbs on the fence staples I pulled out of my pockets. Typical! I smiled to myself, remembering Allen’s scolding. Blood from my cut hands dripped down on him from my perch on a ladder in the snow as we put up metal roofing on the homemade sauna. “How come you always do this shit in the winter time?” However I knew he would respect that I was out there trying. No skills, maybe no wisdom, but I could work. In one of our last conversations on the phone, Allen laughed hearing my list and said affectionately, “You are a busy bee.”

Today’s list, with times attached to each chore, is 10.5 hours long. Only one of those hours is devoted to fencing. Tonight the temperature is due to fall to 14° F and by Wednesday it will be below zero. I think in my one hour I will need to pull all my lines, sink all my posts, and do my best with the pickaxe. The ground will soon be iron.

* * *

This morning there was a large pile of coyote scat in the middle of the driveway in the bend by the birches. He was right under my window.

Tiny Pleasures

December 4, 2017

Yesterday was a busy day without much time to concentrate on projects.

However I did add a few boards to the mudroom paneling, including this one which made me happy. To fit this piece I had to cut a hole in the middle of the board (not from an edge) and trim off the back of the groove (there was no way to slide the groove over the tongue of the lower board in the tight space). All of this would be obvious and easy for anyone with a better brain than I have, but I felt extremely clever to figure it out.

Soon, of course, the board will nearly disappear under door trim and brick trim from each edge, but beneath will remain this tiny board that whispers to me: You’re not entirely incompetent!


Slowly Paneling

December 3, 2017

Work on paneling the mudroom proceeds slowly. Not only has my time been limited but the mudroom itself is a challenge.

The poured concrete floor is not level. The ceiling is not level. The walls are not plumb, leaning slightly either in or out, and in several spots are bowed. While the concrete floor is not my fault, the rest is a testament to my limited building skills back in 2009. It all would have disappeared under the smooth blankness of sheetrock, but for some reason last spring I had the bright notion to panel the room with the straight lines of tongue and groove pine. What was I thinking?

At the bottom of the first corner, I worked very hard to line up the boards, like matching a pattern at a dress seam. However the floor slopes, the west wall leans west, and the north wall bows in. Despite all my efforts, when I made the bottom board level, the joint was 1/16″ off.

I knew this discrepancy would multiply as the wall grew higher, and sure enough it did — to half an inch.

I couldn’t think what to do, puzzling over it for an embarrassingly long time. My brain doesn’t work spatially, remember?

First I tried cutting down the groove on one small board. Oops, that does nothing. Then I tried cutting down the tongue. Nope. I finally realized that to get back on track I’d have to remove the boards and rip a lower board down the middle to remove a quarter inch.

However, my table saw is submerged in the flotsam of the garage … the boards on each side of the window had to meet and be level above it … and I was dealing with a bow in the wall that meant the capping board wanted to stand out a half-inch from the surface (the finishing nails were not strong enough to pull it in). At this point I gave up and decided to go with my friend Gary’s advice: “The simplest thing is to add a piece of trim over the joint and worry about something else that is really important.”

The decision was made. Still, I hated to have the obvious fault, so I pulled DH out to the mudroom to show him.

“I’m going to add a piece of corner trim,” I said, “and there will be the wood cookstove and the chopping block in front of it and the hanging rack above, so I think it will be OK.”

DH was reassuring. “Of course! No one will ever notice.”

Certainly he will not. A few minutes later he asked if we had a hatchet. He wanted to split some kindling for the woodstove in the homemade sauna I built for him in 2010.

“Yes, we do. It’s on the shelf in the garden shed.”

He looked baffled. “Where is the garden shed?”

I built the garden shed two years ago. It’s an 8′ x 12′ building. He has walked past it hundreds of times.

He has never noticed it.

I think for all its imperfections the mudroom will be fine.