Sunday, January 30, 2011

Home Groan

Well, Mac has spent most of the past few days in the basement of our new (old) house, cranking and adjusting the jacks, to level the floors and generally straighten the frame out as much as possible.  At various times in the past, previous owners, or perhaps workers that they hired, had cut into the supporting joists which were not really adequate to begin with, seriously weakening them.  Those he has reinforced and the little house is now sturdier than it has ever been.  At the same time, he also has taken steps upstairs to correct the sagging in the roof, adding a beam and supports.

The house has been speaking to us, groaning and creaking with labor pains as it struggles toward it's rebirth. Sometimes the noises are soft and barely perceptible, other times they are loud complaints.   It increases my sense that the house is almost like a living being-someone I am coming to know more with each passing day.

Last night, Mac announced that he feels it is as close as he can get it.  The floors have been raised a little over two inches.  I noticed the difference as I stood in the kitchen and observed that the floor seemed less lopsided than before.  The changes can also be observed in the cracks that have now appeared in the walls and also in the caulking where the bathtub meets the tile.  This was expected and won't matter in the long run as we plan to eventually replace all of it.

I spent yesterday helping Mac out in the only way I really could, by pulling nails out of the old wood studs upstairs.  It seems that every nail ever pounded into the skeleton of this house is still there - or was until yesterday.  Large nails, medium nails, steel  nails, iron nails, wire nails and teeny, tiny finish nails.  What's with all the nails?

A lot of them had no heads, which made pulling them out more of a challenge for me, but I was undaunted, and kept at them with my crow bar and claw hammer.  Mac has now started the framing, so it will save him time if I can do this sort of small stuff.  Here I am rockin' my safety glasses.

At times the amount of work still ahead feels overwhelming, but we are doing what we can with our limited time and resources.  Mac is never one to take short-cuts and wants to do things right the first time, a policy I fully endorse.
The one thing really slowing us up is the weather.  Mac takes a full day to shovel us out here where we are living now, then heads over to the new house for several more hours, and then eventually has to shovel out the work site at his real job.  All the time dedicated to this snow removal is time stolen from the new house, not to mention trying to keep his supplies unburied.

We are enduring a winter of record-breaking snowfall here in the northeast and as absurd as it sounds, there is another huge storm expected in a few days.  The piles are so tall now that it is getting dangerous just trying to drive around town; you can't see around corners at all when you pull out of a street, and have to edge out so far you risk getting smashed by oncoming cars.

Rigby seems confused by all the huge drifts and piles.  She is limited to staying on the shoveled paths, because otherwise she sinks in over her head.

The icicles hanging off roofs are incredible.

Just look at how small Mac's dump truck looks next to the massive snow mound.  Meteorologists foresee this pattern of a storm coming every three to six days continuing through February.  I wonder where are we going to put it if it keeps coming.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

So Keep the Shovel Handy...

"I said, the guy on T.V. says they are calling for ten more inches to fall tonight...Yep, that's right, so just keep shoveling, okay Mac?"

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Just Want To Say...

Thanks to my dear sister and her hubby for all their help with the nasty tear-out work at our new home.  By the time we were through with the dirty work, my poor Bro-in-Law was swelled-up, red-eyed and wheezing and we were all covered in dust and debris.  Lots of people have offered to help, but you guys are the only ones who actually showed up.  It is times like this when folks show their true colors and you find out who your real friends are.  We are so very thankful for you!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Let The Fun Begin!

It is twelve days since we signed the papers and took possession of the little house on the quiet street.  Immediately, the demolition began.  The entire house(every room) had been paneled in inexpensive (and not very attractive) laminated wood paneling.  It had been improperly installed, sometime back in the dark ages of the seventies (we guess).  As a result of the inept workmanship and poor materials used, it had begun to wave and buckle away from the studs and was relatively easy to tear off the walls.  What we found underneath was ancient, splintery lath and horsehair plaster.  I am really struck by the fact that each of these little strips of wood had to be cut by hand and then installed one at a time, with at least three nails hammered into each one.  There must be thousands of them.  Can you imagine the time that tedious labor consumed? 

My astonishment was increased when I had a look at some of the nails and saw that they too were wrought by hand, judging by their inconsistent size and rough, anvil-hammered appearance.  I think we really take for granted the ease with which we can do things in this day and age.  When this house was built in 1900, there was no Home Depot to run to, just down the street.  When you needed some more materials, you had to go out and cut down a tree or fire up the blacksmith forge in the barn.  Thank goodness for modern conveniences, that's all I can say!

The pile of wood you see above is just a small number of the pieces of lath we tore out.  Behind that, up against the outer shell of the house we found clumps of something Mac calls "rock wool".  Its consists of little balls of cottony stuff that apparently passed for insulation, somewhere back in the mists of time. Now it is filthy and hangs out of every crevice.  I desperately hope it doesn't have anything like asbestos in it.  Mac doesn't think it does.  We are wearing masks and safety glasses as a precaution, for whatever protection they might provide. 

What it does have in it are tunnels throughout, ending in little round openings every few feet just about the circumference of an average mouse.  Occasionally, a small acorn falls out with the clumps of wool.  It seems there were some unseen residents nesting behind the walls in the grubby fluff.  We have to remove all this old stuff so that Mac can properly insulate the roof and walls, keeping in the precious heat, thereby reducing our future fuel bills.  Once that is done, he will put up new drywall and a plasterer will come in.

With some help from my sister and her husband, Mac and I now have the entire upstairs gutted down to the outer walls.  It's a little frightening to think that we will have to move in exactly eight weeks from now.

What you see in the shot above is our master bedroom.  The more Mac tears out, the more I struggle to stem my rising panic... kidding! (sort of.)   He will start framing out a half bath and small hallway in this area this coming week.  He still has to attend to his day job if we are to be able to pay the bills, so most of the work will have to be done at night and on the weekends.   Luckily, I had today off from work in honor of Martin Luther King Jr.(thanks for the dream, Dr. King!)   I have spent most of the three day weekend following behind Mac with the shop vac, sucking up the never-ending clumps of rock wool, splinters, old nails and mouse droppings, so that he can have a relatively clean area to work in.

We were surprised to find that there had been a fire in the roof at one time.  Several of the planks and rafters were badly scorched.  It is something of a puzzle, because there are no wires anywhere near the blackened wood, and the chimney is not close to that area either.  We have not yet been able to figure out what might have happened.

Yesterday, Mac went down into the basement and started to jack the house up so he could shore up the floor joists.  The supporting columns down there were actually only temporary columns that had been permanently secured to the floor and left there, some time ago.  These had become all rotted and rusted - not a good situation at all.  He knew that they were unstable and quite unsafe, but he was still surprised when one of the old supports let go with a loud boom as he was working down there.   I felt the house shift, but Mac had already secured everything with new temporary supports before he started working, so everything was okay.  I wondered aloud what might have happened if he hadn't.  "Well, the living room would have collapsed into the basement, right on top of the furnace."  he answered, matter-of-factly.  I'm so glad he knows exactly what he is doing, otherwise I would be freaking out right about now.

I will try to document the ongoing work at regular intervals so you can follow our progress. 
After this project, if I never lay eyes on "rock wool" again, it will be too soon!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


Late yesterday, a low pressure system from the Ohio Valley trekked across the eastern half of the country, headed for the coast. At the same time, another low was churning over the Atlantic just off the coast, driven up from the south by the jet stream. The two storms collided off the coast of Long Island during the night and hooked back over Massachusetts, exploding into a Nor'easter - the signature new England storm that meteorologists compare to a winter hurricane. 

Blizzard conditions raged through the early morning hours and when the dim light of dawn broke over New England, the sights were surreal. Over a foot of heavy snow muffled everything, bending trees and breaking branches, and swathing our entire world in a thick, downy blanket.

The clothesline post looks like a frozen crucifix in some far northern shrine. 

The kicker is, it has not stopped yet!  As I write this, it is still snowing outside, albeit, not at the crazy rate it was this morning. 
The weather folk are calling what happened over us in the wee hours a "snow bomb", because when the two storms combined and settled over southern New England, it caused thunder and such intense, heavy snow that the storm "blew up" right on top of us.
The snow reportedly weighs about twenty pounds per square foot, according to newscasters.   As I was hoisting a heaping shovelful and tossing it over the drifts that stood taller than me, I wondered aloud why it is that we don't live in the Bahamas.  Mac is a man of few words and never answers rhetorical questions.  He simply shrugged as he dug in again.

I am very grateful that the Governor ordered all state workers in the executive branch to stay home today.  It would have been a life-threatening ordeal to try and drive the short distance to the office in these conditions.
By mid-day we had been smothered by about eighteen inches of heavy snow.  Mac has spent the entire day shoveling us out here at CatBird Heaven.  My son joined him for a few hours, and I helped for about an hour and a half too, before I had had enough.  Now he is off to the new house in my little four-wheel drive to un-bury it as well.

The picture immediately above shows the area where we have our little umbrella table in the spring and summer.  The one below is the same view in warmer weather.  I thought you might like the "then and now" comparison.

Oh sweet summer, I miss you so...

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Sea Change

Today my world underwent a transformation.  It started out like any ordinary day; the sun came up, the coffee brewed, the animals were fed and I made eggs for Mac and myself.  But then instead of going off in opposite directions to work, we drove together to a lawyer's office and signed the final settlement papers on our house. 

On the drive home afterward, the entire world looked different to me.  I felt as if I had undergone a complete change in outlook - this same feeling came over me on the day I brought each of my children home from the hospital after their births, also.  Somehow the whole world seemed different and new.

 I looked around at all the houses whizzing by the car windows and noticed how appealing they looked.  The paint colors seemed clean and bright, the yards looked inviting and the personal touchs, door garnishments and other adornments seemed sweet and whimsical, and it made me feel good inside just to see them.

I mentioned this sensation to Mac and asked if he noticed it as well.  He smiled and said no, nothing different about all the homes today - he had always noticed others' homes.  I thought about this and realized that I hadn't really liked to pay much attention to these things before, because it made me feel like a poor kid with her faced pressed up to a toy store window.  It was painful for me at some level to take in and appreciate what most others around me had, while I had no hope of having it myself. 

Over the years, I had seen Mac go into other people's homes and transform them into lovely, comfortable, stylish places with his handi-work.  While Mac had made our apartment and backyard at Catbird Heaven into a very nice place to live, it just wasn't the same because it was never ours, and we knew it never would be.

Years ago after Mac left the iron workers he had once constructed metal buildings with, he had worked for a residential home builder here in town, and with that crew he built a sprawling neighborhood from the ground up; a development consisting of cute, contemporary Capes and Ranch homes, frame to finish.  I could only watch year after year as he brought the dream of a home to life, for everyone it seemed, except us.  It felt sort of like attending a feast, but not being allowed to eat, or sitting on the beach on a hot day in front of a beautiful sea where there is no swimming allowed.

But that has all changed now.  Near sunset this evening we pulled up to the house...our house, with keys in hand.  As we walked around, planning and measuring, we were both struck by the amount of work that lies ahead.  The house needs so much cosmetic help, and a bit of structural help too, but we are up to the challenge.  As the last rays of the sun poured through the windows and the western sky ignited, we were overcome by awe...we had finally done it.  Mac let out an exclamation.  "What?" I asked, though I already knew the answer. 
"I can't believe I am actually standing in the kitchen of a house that I own." he said, shaking his head and laughing.
 "I know!" was all I could say, smiling from ear to ear. 
In the months to come I know our joy will be tempered by the realities of making it a home, and the even bigger reality of meeting all the financial obligations that come with it, but I have faith that we will be able to do it.  A lot of hard work lies ahead waiting for us, but it will be so worth it.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Bird's Eye View

courtesy of VicFieger 2010 (Not New York, No)

Happy New Year

photo by Idea go,

It is amazing to me that another year has drifted into the history books.  I would be here all week writing if I were to try and sum up the year that was 2010.  So many changes, upheavals, losses, gains, sorrows and dreams fulfilled. 

All in all, it was a very good year for Mac and me.  In our lives, the first very positive change was that I started my new job last January after being Cut Adrift! from my beloved, previous position at the end of 2008.  I have found a new role and some new associates, some of whom I am only just now starting to think of as friends.  I definitely have trust issues from earlier experiences, and apparently it takes about a year for me to begin to think of someone new as a friend. 

My new position was created by "ARRA", the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, perhaps better known as the Obama Stimulus (thanks, Mr. President!).  As such, it was a temporary job, with only a limited amount of funding to fuel it.  My new boss, however, sought out and has found a new, more stable funding source to which she applied and got approval to make mine a permanent position.  Part of the deal was that the job had to be posted as an opening to the general public, and I am now involved in the very weird process of applying for my own job.  One hundred and six applicants sent in resumes.  Interviews start within the next few weeks, and since I have a full year's experience with glowing reviews, I think my chances are very good.  This has been another reason that the undertaking of the expenses of homeownership right now is more than a little terrifying, but I am running on faith all the way.

Of course, that astounding development of finding ourselves in the role of new homeowners was the biggest change the past year has brought for us.   I say "finding ourselves in the position", because it actually does feel like it is something that just happened to us, rather than something we caused.  It has been just that surreal.  Going into 2010, neither Mac nor I could have imagined in our wildest dreams that we'd be buying our first home before the year was out.

The elderly lady Emma, to whom I wrote the letter in my last post had been living alone in the little home for some time.  She lost her husband over twenty years ago, and her children have long since grown up and moved away.  She recently moved in with one of her kids and so the house became available.   I am told that she is quite sad to have left her home of about fifty years, so I wrote the letter to try and explain what it means to my family to be taking it over.  I will bring a copy of it to her representative at the closing this week and ask that it be given to her.  I hope it helps to alleviate some of her sense of loss. 

There were so many coincidences, synchronicities and strange happenings that made everything come together in this unlikely venture, that I have to believe that something big is at work here.  Although I have always tended to be a very anxious person, I find myself moving serenely and deliberately through my days and dealing with each new issue that arises with an odd air of calm and resolve.  This has reinforced my deep sense of trust that in the big picture, all will be well for us in 2011 and for the foreseeable time to come.  I finally feel that the universe is smiling on us.

May the year ahead be one of peace, love and prosperity for all of you and yours.  God bless us, every one!~ Deedee