Monday, October 8, 2012

We Are The 98%

By August, most of the major construction was done. The house is down to that 98% complete phase. Our time has been consumed by the annual summer frenzy. Friends and family have traveled up for a visit.  Berry vines needed spraying, firewood prepared for the winter and the million maintenance chores that had been put off during construction really needed attention.
   One of the things holding up the building permit was the lack of rail on the basement stairs. It didn't take Ed long to do, it was just getting to that item on the list that was difficult.   The trim work will have to wait until winter.

   Before Ed moved the winter wood into the storage area of the basement, he wanted to build a storage area to contain the bulk of the wood mess. And while we're at it, let's put in some shelving for the overflow from the kitchen pantry. I like the sound of that! Next year I hope to be canning garden produce, and this will be the perfect place for it.

But the basement is, after all, a Man Cave, and what Man Cave would be complete without some tools? Yes, Ed found a corner for a small workbench (in contrast with the big workbench in the barn).

   Really, the only things left to do are to finish the trim work on the exterior columns and finish the trim in the basement. Those will be winter projects.
   Oh more thing.... that pesky permit. Chuck-The-Building-Inspector came out and did the final walk-through. The building department here has been a very pleasant surprise, and a joy to work with. Chuck patiently answered every question during the building process. He was thorough but never heavy-handed and we thank him for all his assistance.

  So now it's official. We can breathe a sigh of relief and relax a bit. Summer is winding down and we'll tuck in for the winter. Not that Ed will stop building, it just won't be under a timeline.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

It's All Bull&hit Or That Bites

     Ed put up the trim up around the man cave doors, and it looks great. It's solid and heavy, just like the doors. We are still looking for rustic iron hinge straps and door hardware that doesn't cost an arm and a leg. Now he's working on the newel post and the rest of the rail and trim for the stairs.  It's the last thing before we can get the house finaled. You know...before we're supposed to move in.

    Another one of those last details was the outside stair rails. We were one rail short (don't ask) on the back steps and had to wait a week to finish this project. Ed doesn't wait well. When the delivery truck arrived, Ed was anxious to get it in. This requires drilling holes in the cement to anchor the bottom of the rail. That requires a masonry that works. Ed had a Vermont American bit that he'd bought previously. It lasted two holes and burnt to a crisp. You'd think with a name like Vermont American that the darned thing would be made in...well...Vermont..or at least America. Not. It, like so many things that are poor quality, was made in China. So, Ed had to wait (again) until we went into town to buy a Bosch bit, made in Germany.


 Once he had equipment that worked, the rail went up quickly. People may still fall down the stairs, but at least they'll have something to grab on to on the way down.

   Because the weather here is less than friendly to vegetable gardens, tomatoes in particular, we had discussed building a greenhouse. The little garden between the house and the chicken coop is a good size, but it gets too much shade for anything but the berries. The only flat location for a good sized greenhouse is down in the pasture. It would be a major project, and while Ed doesn't shy away from a large project, it did present several problems.  The whole thing would need to be fenced against the elk. That's a big fence. It's some distance from the house. I would need to take the Gator down any time I expected to haul produce back up to the house. We'd have to find a water source for those few times a year I'd need to water the plants. And most importantly, when I finally hit 85, am I still going to want to drive down there to pick some lettuce?  What to do?
     As I sat on the back porch with a cool beverage, it hit me. The answer was right under my nose...literally.
Directly below the back deck, right up next to the cement retaining wall was a long flat strip of ground being used for nothing but a place to mow.  Perfect!
   After I explained my idea to Ed, we started looking around for materials. What do we need, and what do we already have? In the construction left-over pile, we had some 2x12 boards used for scaffolding, a huge pile of forming stakes and some PVC pipe. We need about 9 cubic yards of decent topsoil.
 We called Sam Longtain again.
   "You're in luck." he says "I'm levelling a site on an old farm, and I have a load in the truck right now."
   He brought out a load of the most beautiful, weed free, unlumpy, clayless soil this side of a garden center I've ever seen. It's all I can do to stop myself from jumping up and down and clapping my hands.

  So Ed started forming up the raised beds, using material we already had. I'd like to say I dug out all the grass and weeds in that raised bed area, but it would be a lie. I'll probably pay for that later.
    Ed used the tractor to load dirt into the Gator, then drove it to the back of the house. The dump bed on that Gator has paid for itself over and over, and saved us hours of backbreaking labor. The last bit on the end was closer to the slope, and we couldn't position the Gator to dump the dirt. Instead, we brought the dirt around in the Gator, transferred it to a wheelbarrow, and rolled into position.
Once the dirt was in the raised bed, Ed mounted a pressure treated 2x4 along the top of the block wall (masonry bit again) then put lag bolts every 4 feet, leaving them sticking out about an 1 1/4" . Using some left over 3/4" schedule 40 PVC, he made hoops that curved around and fit over more forming stakes driven in on the outside of the box.
   At the far end I'll fasten 6 mil clear plastic for a greenhouse area in the spring for tomatoes and other more delicate vegetables. The rest will be covered with bird netting to deter deer, rabbits, birds and hopefully raccoons. The netting is very tangly and I'm hoping it will do the trick.
    It's convenient to the house, close to a water source, and as I get older, more easily accessible. The whole thing is 60'x4'.  If I can't grow what I need in 240 square feet, I need to study up on gardening.
     Although the dirt is beautiful, we decided it could a boost. I called the local landscape supply place for steer manure.
     There was a pause..." have dairy compost, though."
     Really? Is it different if it comes from girl cows rather than boy cows?  I should have known. This is dairy country, not beef cattle country. We took the truck and picked up 2 cubic yards of black gold.
     It must be the genetic farm girl in me. I just don't mind the smell. We brought two yards of  "dairy compost" back by wheelbarrow and dug it into the topsoil.  During the winter when the two honeysuckle plants are dormant, I'll relocate them.
     I could hardly contain myself. I fished out my seed packets to see what I could put in the ground NOW. I planted cabbage, kale, garlic, onion seeds, and  sugar peas. The whole time I was planting I could hear the darned chipmunks chirping, watching, chirping, moving closer, watching, waiting, watching.  Oh no! I'm on to you. I've had you sneak in and dig up my seeds before! I staked down bird netting nice and tight over the surface of the soil. Once the sugar peas sprout, I'll move the netting higher.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Man-Cave Has Doors

   The second winter we were here a huge windstorm brought a 100 year old spruce down directly across the driveway. With the help of neighbors and a logging crew who were working on the other side of the road, we got the driveway cleared. We found a local guy with a portable saw mill, and stacked the wood in the newly built barn.
   Ed wanted to use the lumber to build all the interior doors, baseboards and door jambs. Luckily he came to his senses before that happened.  He did, however, decide to make the doors for the man cave. There are  seven. Two from the theater room to the shop, three for closets, and two from the saloon to the gym. The lumber he is using is rough-sawn spruce 2x12s.
   I bought two sets of planer blades.
   Ed proceeded to make a Mt. Everest sized pile of wood shavings. After the lumber had been run through the planer numerous times, he sanded it. He beveled each edge of each board. Then he used a biscuit joiner to lock three boards together, glued and clamped them and started the next one. When the glue was dry, he sanded some more, applied stain, then set up to spray the finish. He set them up in the shop portion of the basement, just like he did the interior doors.
   More spraying....more sanding. He hung all the  doors, which weigh a ton. For the first time, the basement looks less wait...that's what he wanted...a man cave. At least now I can't call it a dungeon.  The doors are up. They still need trim, headers and hardware. We're thinking wrought iron hinge straps, clavos, and door knobs.

   The grandkids were here until last week. They are city kids, used to urban pursuits. Facebook, computer games, iPhones. It wasn't raining and they needed to go outside and DO something. At 14, they are a little past the play age, but I sent them out to explore. They had a bottle of water, a box of graham crackers and complete freedom. They didn't know what to do.
   I taped directions on the door.
   They did take a nice long walk down the road to check out the neighbor's horses. Yes, I did let them back in the house.
    Jackson, at 8 weeks, was just too little to send outside to play, so we kept him in and played "dress-up" Poor kid didn't have a chance, although he didn't seem to mind the attention. I have a hunch we won't have any problems getting this little guy out to get into mischief when he's old enough.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Oh Beautiful For Spacious Skies

  We had friends and family coming up for Independence Day, and the push was on to finish as many things on the To-Do list as possible.
   First on that list was the cement. This was one of those things that it's worth paying someone else to do. It's hard, grueling work in the best of conditions. The weather was perfect...overcast, no rain, not too cold. Jim Bjorge and crew worked like crazy. Still, it was a two day pour, and took about 19 cubic yards of cement, front and back.
   Oh glorious surface! Oh beautiful stone! I am finally able to walk from front to back without covering my shoes in wet sand or sticky mud. The amount of crud being tracked into the house by pets and people has diminished threefold.
   But wait...there's more. We still needed rock to meet the level of the cement. We called Sam Longtain about bringing out some gravel.
  I thought that it would be dumped in a big mountain and then Ed would have to use the tractor to smooth it out and spread it around. Silly me! Sam  dumped it and rolled forward, so it spread it out in a ribbon of gravel. Ed finished the rest up with his tractor.

   Elicia and I were working to get the house ship-shape for company. All of the windows had to be washed inside and out. That's a lot of Windex and paper towels. We mopped the floors, made sure all the bathrooms were clean and tidy. Then I went to the store and stocked up on enough food for an army. It was a challenge, but I managed to get everything stowed in the fridge, or in a cabinet someplace.

    As soon as the cement was set up, Ed knocked the forms off and set up to build the back porch stairs.
    First he cut the stringers...all 34 of them. Each one had to be scored correctly, then cut. By the time he was done, he was pretty tired. Staying half-bent over while holding that heavy skilsaw all day, well that's just plain hard, repetitive work.
   Then he put the stringers in place and nailed them in. The nice thing about having the large expanse of stairs in the back is that there is no porch rail to obscure the view.

   Ed ordered Trex for the stair treads so that they would match the deck and require less maintenance. It came to the lumber yard in several shipments and required several trips to town to pick it up, but he was finally able to start installing it. We still didn't have the material for the risers, but what we had would have to do for now.

   The cement was in, the gravel was spread. The back steps were functioning. The bathrooms were clean and the fridge was full. We were ready for the holiday weekend.
    There are still things to finish. We need to complete the columns, front and back. The Man-Cave in the basement still needs to be done. But it is a comfortable, welcoming home.
   We had perfect weather for Independence Day. Friends, family and neighbors gathered for a barbecue. Fireworks lit the night sky. We are so very blessed to live in this country, to be free to pursue our dreams.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Walk This Way or Keep Your Balance

We are having friends up for Independence Day and Ed has a list of things he wants to get done before the big day.  As usual he's having to work around the weather to get them done.
  At the top of the list is the cement walkways around the house. We're still fighting a losing battle with the sand that was used to backfill the basement walls. Between three cats, one dog and two people that's a lot of grit tracked into the house onto the new floors. Ed and I change our shoes at the back door, but we don't seem to be able to impress the animals with the importance of this little step.
  As the weather allows, Ed has been forming for the big concrete pour. There will be a parking pad in front of the front porch, sidewalk around the grass and to the side door. There will be another parking pad in front of the garage, walkway in between the garage and house, and underneath the garage overhangs front and back.
   I think Ed owns more forming stakes than most contractors. Every time we do a project, we need ten more.
   Behind the house will have a walkway from the side porch to the back porch stairs and a pad for the back steps, which will also form a landing at the base of the stairs. The portion behind the house and garage will require a concrete pumper truck. Those things are amazing. They hook up to the concrete mixer, extend a monster hose over the two story house and into the back. The back portion is scheduled for this Wednesday, with the front part to follow a few days after.

     I, of course, have been working on putting icing on the cake so to speak.  When we began construction on the house I had two huge planters full of hostas that I moved to the vegetable garden and promptly forgot about. I noticed they were glorious and  moved them to the back porch.

   I ordered a patio table last month and it came right on time. I like this one because it's longer than many of the standard ones. It seats six with plenty of room, and ten in a pinch. I sure hope it stops raining so we can actually use it.

   The year we bought this place, 2005, I bought a cedar porch swing. There was a pergola off the dining room door of the double-wide and the swing fit perfectly between the posts. I was pretty good at remembering to bring the swing in during the winter. Once the double-wide was gone and during construction, there was so much stuff in the garage the swing never made it inside.
   Fast forward two years, that poor swing was looking pretty tired. The cedar was dry and weathered. The bolts had somehow worked loose. Ed helped me pull it free of the weeds and grass. I gave it a quick sanding. Ed tightened up all the hardware. I found half a can of outdoor stain and seal and a paint brush.
   There is just something so restful about a porch swing. They even look contented.
   This house is tailor-made for large gatherings. It is my fondest hope that those big boisterous gatherings happen. But it also offers little corners of peace.  A porch swing, a hammock under the maple trees, a trail down to the pasture....a balance between happy noise and solitude.

Friday, May 25, 2012

It's A Tough Job But Somebody's Got To Do It

     I've taken off again and left Ed on his own. This time it was because my little grandson was about to give his debut performance, and what a performance it was. After a considerable labor, Ellen presented us with Jackson Edward Miller.  He's perfectly perfect in every way.
   While I've been down south helping with the baby chores, Ed has been preparing for the last big cement pour. He began by cleaning out all the junk under the garage overhang. This was the area that became the collecting point for all of the stuff that could stay outside but needed to be out of the direct rain, including but not limited to plywood, diesel cans, the log splitter, various leftover lumber. He sorted stuff out, threw other things away, relocated other pieces. After taking a massive pile to the dump (why did I save this?) he used the tractor to smooth out the dirt and gravel on the driveway.
   He will pour cement under the columns around the overhang of the garage, pour an apron out 20' or so, make a walkway over to the front porch. Then the walkway will continue between the two buildings under the apartment stairs, behind the garage under the back overhang, and walkway over to the back porch stairs on the house.  Any way you look at it, that's a lot of cement!
    This narrow back portion by the back porch was a bear to dig out. He had to do it with a pick and shovel, and it's a tough job. There was 2" of landscape rock over heavy dryer felt that all had to be removed. Once that was up he had to use a shovel to create the pathway.

   The rest of the back area by the porch was a little easier. Ed was able to get the tractor behind the house and let the tools do the work. This is where the stairs will come down off the back porch to a landing. We wanted to avoid putting a porch rail across the back porch because it would obscure the view. Stairs will provide a nice alternative.

     In the meantime I'll be here helping with household chores and spoiling baby Jackson rotten. It's a tough job, but somebody's got to do it.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Plumb Crazy

   Ed has been working on the "Finish This" list, which somehow sounds so much better than a "To Do" list. When the sun shines (or sometimes when it doesn't) he works on the outside stairs and porch rails. He's been waiting for a few missing parts to be shipped, but is doing what he can when he can.  Both stair rails are up on the front porch and they look good!
   He also worked on the pickets on the side porch and back stairs. Each picket has to be cut to length. There is aluminum sawdust everywhere, but this is just about it for aluminum pickets. The rest of the rail is tempered glass.
   I ordered a patio table on-line, bought chairs and am ready to have BBQ on the porch!

On those days less suited to working outside, he's been finishing trimwork inside the house.

Stair skirting installed.


Finish basement stairs and install handrail.


   Install Theresa's transom in the dining room and make trim pieces.


     I should break stride here and say that I finally finished grouting all of the backsplashes. I sealed the slate in the bathroom with the spa tub so that Ed could install the final bit of plumbing left to do in the house. Plumbing is not his favorite activity, but at least for this one he doesn't have to dig anything up or crawl under a house.'s not a plumbing project without it's little idiosyncrasies. After several trips to the barn, some mumbled expletives and a spill involving several towels, he got it all hooked up.

    Meanwhile, we noticed that the well which is in the front yard by the driveway was making some funny gurgly noises. This is one of those things that should be attended to as soon as it's noticed, instead of the middle of a holiday weekend with a house full of company. We're not crazy...we called the well guy.
    The first thing he said was that the well head really shouldn't be below grade because contaminants could enter the well. So out came the shovels. After looking at the whole thing, they'll be back next week to bring it up to speed. Hopefully we can increase our water pressure at the same time.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Theresa Gets Groutchy

   Poor Tiger. After escaping from his new home, he was alone and living in the woods for over two weeks. With some help from a very nice family who worked as "Tiger Spotters" we were able to find him and bring him home. Midnight and Mittens aren't particularly thrilled with his return though. In fact, Midnight goes out looking for a fight every day. Yesterday, after two particularly bad screaming matches, Ed looked out to find them less than two feet from each other. As far as we can tell, Tiger was completely submissive, but wouldn't leave. Midnight didn't really want to fight, but couldn't back down. It was Panther And Lion On The Savannah. They stayed motionless for over an hour before Midnight finally decided it was time for a snack and sauntered toward the house.
   Ed has been working on that To Do list. He finished the backboard for the bathroom lights so he could center the lights without having to rip out sheet rock and rewire the wall. I like it. It ties in with the door and window trim and the mirror frames.
   And look at that snazzy backsplash! I finally put the backsplash tile in the guest bathrooms.  In fact I like this tiles so much I may rip out the backsplash in our upstairs bedroom and replace it with this. It goes beautifully with the granite.
   The downstairs guest room got the same treatment. I had an awful time with the angles on the pencil bullnose. I don't have a mathematical, technically visual brain. I thought I had it right, cut the bullnose on the tile saw, brought the piece in. It was a perfect 45* cut, but on the wrong side of the piece. I did that three times in a row! It was a "don't talk to me" afternoon. I finally managed to figure it out. Now all they need is grout.

   Yesterday the weather was beautiful, so I decided to grout. And I had a ton of it to do. The craft room backsplash, the spa tub tile and backsplash, and the two guest bathroom backsplashes.
   Last year when I grouted the fireplace surrounds, Elicia was here to run buckets of fresh water for me. This time I was on my own.
    I started with the craft room backsplash. There wasn't much to do, the grout was a light cream color, and I didn't have to bend down or reach much. It was a piece of cake.
    Then I moved on to the spa tub backsplash. It was like I'd stepped into the Twilight Zone. The grout was Charcoal. The slate tile mosaic is uneven. I had to get fresh buckets of water twice as often, step in and out of the tub and reach everywhere. It wasn't much fun. I wore gloves to apply the grout, but gave up during the wipe-down phase. By the time I was done, my hands looked like I was a 20 year diesel mechanic.  I tried Boraxo. I tried bleach and a scrub brush. They still look horrible.  The good news is, I like how the black grout looks with the slate. The bad news is, I'll probably use the same color grout on the guest bath backsplashes.
    Ed has been working to get the stairs to the basement aka ManCave completed. He is using spruce lumber from a tree that fell on our property some years ago. He planed the rough lumber, cut a bullnose on the stair treads, made risers and boards for the landing. They all had to be sanded, brushed with a pre-treatment, stained and varnished. Some days were so cold that he couldn't use the varnish until the temperature got above 50*, which is always an iffy proposition around here.
    Yesterday the weather was beautiful, he threw open the bay door to the basement, moved his tools to the basement door and started to install the stairs.
   In spite of several interruptions (cats fighting, lunch, wife swearing profusely at grout) he got in six stairs and risers and the landing. Only 10 more to go.  After they're all in, they will get several more finish coats. Then he'll put up the handrail and the stairs will be complete.

   He's also been working on a Craftsman style oak frame for an embroidery piece I did for the dining room. Embroidery isn't one of my major talents, but the sentiment is heartfelt.  
   I like the MacKintosh roses. In fact, I decided to make a companion stained glass piece for the transom over the dining room french door, just to the right of this wall.
   I got sidetracked (cat fights, lunch, grout) yesterday, then ran out of clear glass, but I expect to have it done by the end of the week.