Monday, December 21, 2009

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Misty and Maxwell

It is morning. Even before I throw the covers back and set my feet on the floor, I consider the animals who await me. The cat needs to be let out of the bathroom where he is locked up each night so as not to drive me wild at 3:00 am, knocking everything off my dresser as if to say “wake up, you, I’m hungry.” The dog is sound asleep in the dining room below. She’s old and sleeps so deeply now she must be shaken awake. I pull on the clothes I have thrown across the arm of the chair next to my bed, slip my feet into sandals and head to the bathroom. At the bedroom door I stop. I remember now the cat is not in the bathroom. I slowly descend the stairs and cross into the dining room. It is empty. The dog is not there. The animals are gone. My eyes well and I remember that I have buried them both; the cat just one week ago, the dog exactly two weeks before. My eyes throb, my heart is broken. No one will ever convince me that animals have no soul. It is our souls which express our life, which fill and affect the world around us. Take a soul away, whether a soul of man or beast, and the empty space is palpable.

I stand in the middle of the dining room and the quiet is deafening. Our animals were not noisy animals, but the absence of their enormous souls leaves space now where one hears the hum of the refrigerator, the counting of time from the kitchen clock. I turn and gaze out the window to the two piles of stones marking their graves just inside the woods across the yard. It’s so unbelievable that both are there, side by side. Although incredibly hard, we were ready to part with the dog whose decline had started years before. In deciding her last months of care, our vet asked, “What do you do with a decrepit family member?” You love them and care for them to the very end, and then you help them pass with dignity and grace. You prepare the grave, you choose some verse, you put aside a treasured, threadbare quilt in which she’ll be laid. The time comes; the day is heavy and important. You understand how people become tied to their lands. You grieve.

And then without warning, nature takes another life so fast you feel helpless. You know what’s happening as it happens, but you move forward as fast and furiously as you possibly can in the hope that what you fear is truly not so. But it is so, and again your eyes throb and your heart breaks. A grave is dug much faster than before, the burial garment not a surprise. The time spent with the dead speeds by. It’s important to caress him another time and another, to fondle his ear just one last time. A tuft of fur left behind by his now buried friend is tucked between his quiet paws. And then he’s gone. Where there once was one pile of stone there now are two. A promise of a woodland garden is made. A promise of a woodland garden will be kept.

I unstick my feet from the floor and move away from the window. I make my coffee and move forward into my day. I so miss my two little friends. They gave me such love and joy. They enchanted our lives and will forever be remembered.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Drive-by Visit

Earlier this summer, my old friend Butch, his partner, Monroe, and their three kids, Maria, Beatrice and Oliver paid us a drive-by visit as they made their way to a family camp in the northern reaches of Vermont. Well, it was actually more than just a drive-by. They did spend one night, but it was still too short. It was so nice to see them again and to be able to spend time with them. We really need to make an effort to see each other more often.

Since the frog pond is a sure-fire source of entertainment, we all trekked up for a little frog and tadpole handling. Beatrice, holding onto Butch's shoulder, isn't too sure about these slimy frogs.

Ollie felt the need to head to higher ground.

Mickey and the frog share the same Mona Lisa smile.

If Mickey could do it, Beatrice could do it.

Once it got too dark to fish for frogs, silliness and posing began.

Time for a family picture before getting back on the road to Vermont.

The Kitchen

I tried to come up with a snappy title for this post, but sometimes it's just better to keep things simple and call it what it is. If anyone has been keeping track, we have been without a kitchen for over a year now. We have been cooking on a two-burner hot plate (we're on our third!) and in a Crock-Pot. And, snow or shine, we have put our Weber grill to great use. I wonder if I will ever shovel snow again to grill a hamburger when I have a stove on which to incinerate it in a cast iron skillet? Don't get excited - we don't yet have a new stove. Well, we do, but it's in a warehouse waiting for it's big delivery date. That date is yet to be determined. I'm just saying, will I ever trek out into the snow to cook dinner when there is a perfectly good cooking apparatus shining in the warm confines of a nice new kitchen? Things to ponder.

So. A few months back, we went to our bank to refinance our mortgage, take advantage of the great rates due to the downward spiral of the economy, and, hopefully, to squeeze a few more bucks from the bank in order to put in a real kitchen. Well, the depression got more depressing. The appraiser could not give an appraised value for the house that was equal or greater to the price we paid to purchase it given the house's under-renovation condition and the hideous real estate market with declining values. There was even a point during my conversations with the bank where I thought they were going to take away the mortgage we had just because the house was verging on condemnation. At least that's the way the bank made me feel. After a bit of to-ing and fro-ing, the bank manager came to me with a solution. They could offer us a construction loan. I won't go into the gory details about rates and rate changes, but bottom line, we qualified for an extra sum of money with which we could put in the new kitchen. Actually, putting in the new kitchen, as well as restoring the south porch were conditions upon which the loan was granted. With these new figures in hand, I marched over to the contractor's office to see how much he could do with the paltry sum we had just been figuratively and theoretically handed.

I will say that I like my contractor very much. Not because I know that at least one of his office staff reads this blog, but because they all seem to genuinely care, and Mike, the general contractor, seems to show as much interest in and fondness for the house as we do. With a lot of graphite scratching, gnashing of teeth and rending of garments, we were able to come up with a game plan that would allow us to do quite a bit of work with the funds from the construction loan. And so we began.

Now, work on the kitchen actually began months and months ago. You can re-read the earlier posts by clicking here, or you can be lazy and continue reading here. It's okay to be lazy because I'm going to re-post some of the same photos. Instead of giving you a written blow by blow, I'm going to try to give you an illustrated blow by blow. We are nowhere near being complete, but you will be able to see where we started and how far we've come.

Let's start with the outside. This photo is the best one I have showing how the outside of the subject space looked originally.

And then, since the two workshops that we were converting into the new den and kitchen were built on the ground, and since the original framing was a mess, the original walls were removed so a foundation could be poured.

And then new framing was installed.

When the new roof was installed, a lot of shingling and trim work was ripped off because it had rotted around the roof lines and in the corners.

New walls, new roof, new windows.

I appreciate how our contractors took care to recreate trim work around the windows to match the existing trim work elsewhere around the house.

All patched up and looking pretty, and completely different.

Now to the inside. Here's the original kitchen . . .

and the oldest of the two original workshops. This workshop is directly adjacent to the old kitchen and is being incorporated into the old kitchen space to make a large dine-in kitchen.

Before they removed the exterior walls, they removed the interior walls . . .

including the wall separating the two workshops. The door you see to the left is the one door you see in the first first photo in this post. This is the newest of the two original workshops and the one to become the den. As you can see, it had one window and one door. It now has a set of French doors and four windows! But I'm getting off track. Back to the kitchen.

After they removed the interior walls, they removed the floors. You can see how the workshops were built right onto the ground.

Then the exterior walls were removed. What you're looking at below is where the three windows will be over the fireclay farm sink.

But I'm getting ahead of myself yet again. So the walls of the oldest workshop were removed.

New walls were framed in and coils were laid for the radiant heat. A concrete floor was poured over the coils.

Looking into the old kitchen from the old workshop.

Below, the window to the right of the south kitchen door . . .

has been removed and has replaced the north kitchen door.

The hole where the window was has been closed up. The wainscotting will be repaired and may be taken further up the wall in this corner, which will be outfitted to serve as a mud roomette.

The new windows have been installed.

A bio-based insulation has been blown in. (One day when we're rich and famous, we'll have the same insulation blown into the walls of the rest of the house.) The electrical boxes for the recessed lighting, pendant lights and outlets were taped over for protection.

Plasterers hung some kind of "blue board" and then laid a layer of plaster over it; apparently more substantial than the typical drywall and skimcoatting.

Plain door and window trim and baseboards were installed in keeping with the plain style of woodwork found in the original kitchen.

The only appliance that has been delivered is the lonely refrigerator, a Kenmore Elite with French doors and bottom freezer with ice maker.

The kitchen cabinets, of which there will only be base cabinets and no wall cabinets, will be delivered and installed around the end of October. Years ago I learned of a cabinet maker in Vermont called Crown Point Cabinetry. I vowed then that when I had a house they would do the kitchen cabinets. Below is a mock up of a cabinet front they sent for our approval. The cabinets are made of maple with one inch fronts. They will be hand painted with with Farrow and Ball White Tie, a soft, antique white.

The drawer pulls are of Victorian design and patina . . .

and are in keeping with other Victorian hardware found throughout the house.

The drawer pulls . . .

match the front door knob.

We have yet to purchase the lighting, although we have selected all of it. The concrete floor was poured before any of the framing was done, but I can't show it to you until the staining and sealing is complete. Once the floor is finished, Tom and I will prime and paint the kitchen ourselves. The paint color selection may very well push me right over the edge. We had hoped to be able to refinish the old original floor that was under the vinyl tiles in the original kitchen, but when the tiles and plywood were removed, what we had was the history of kitchen flooring, and not in good condition.

Now. One of my requirements in designing this kitchen was that we have a pantry. We explored various options, but the only placement that made any sense was to place it between the kitchen and the den. Some suggested that we not put a pantry there so that the kitchen and den could be one big room. However, the only sensible layout for the range, sink and fridge that I could come up with required an interior wall on which the range would live. This wall separated the two rooms, so there might as well be a small pantry on the other side of it. Are you following any of this?

The picture below was taken standing on the far wall of the kitchen looking through to the far end of the den.

Here, you see the framing separating the two rooms. It is against this wall where the range will live and where the pantry begins.

The pantry is narrow but will accommodate 12-18" shelves on the right side nicely. The wide window makes the space look narrower.

Now for the den. This is what it used to look like with its single door and window. (That's our real estate broker standing there. This was taken when we first came to look at the house.)

And here is the room from the same angle after we got hold of it.

French doors lead out into the north yard. Someday I want either a wood deck or a brick patio just outside these doors.

Well, that's it for now. The next time you see these two rooms in their entirety I'll be taking you on a video tour of the completed project. Probably early November. I'll try to give you glimpses of each addition along the way. Stay tuned.