So let me tell you about my tower #14: But this, but that

The narrative has been played out, and unfortunately so has the work on the house.

There are more stories:  lighting, flooring, the glorious deck railing, landscaping, decoration, the highs, the lows, the surprises, the disappointments, the could-have-done-differentlies and the-things-to consider-next-times.   But details have been slipping away  and my muse is calling me to follow.

Friends and neighbors celebrated the completion of our addition at a party on a spectacularly warm, sunny afternoon last Columbus Day weekend. We celebrated too. The tower is great. Lee and I have been in the whole house for almost a year and it is our home, comfortable like an old bathrobe.

But the poor little cottage – my sweet cozy nest on the river – needs TLC. The walls in the cottage need spackle and paint. They always did, even before we opened up the second floor and buffed up the skeleton.  Now after groaning and creaking with the added weight, the walls are crying for help.

I knew this would happen.  I’ve been here before.

I like many of the design concepts the previous owners incorporated into the cottage:  the trim-less windows, the curve where the ceiling meets the walls, and the mirrors on the sliding doors to the bathroom.  They’d look great in a coffee table book.  Perhaps that’s where they belong.

Lee has nothing good to say about them. He sees the workmanship; I see the look.  The edges around the windows keep chipping and tape is popping up all over. The rounded angle at the ceiling line was beyond the ability of the drywall man. The mirrors on the bathroom sliding doors are very, very heavy and they push the confines of the door housing. One of them only opens all the way at certain times of the year.

2014-05-29 07.02.54Lee would rather be finishing the stone walk, and he is, and he has to comply with lead paint regulations elsewhere, but most of all he wants to stop abusing his 67-year old body.

To keep us both smiling I finally decided to call our favorite painter friend to repair and paint the walls in the cottage but she seems to have disappeared.   Know someone good?

Once the painting is done the house can more or less grow old gracefully. Cold air fills the top floor of the tower when the winter winds blow down the Hudson, but the heavy quilt I thumbtack over the warped door reminds me of long winters in New Hampshire when I hung blankets on stairways to keep the heat from drafting upstairs. Baseboard moulding sits loose where it should be stained and attached, but why is that different than the curtains hemmed with safety pins? The stair treads in the cottage are well scuffed and spotty, but they are memories of running barefoot up to bed after late nights in the hot tub –  peaceful moments I had during my solo years in the cottage.

We’ll get there. Whatever needs to be done will be done – hopefully before the family gathering this August. But the rest will wait until whenever we decide to sell.

 

So let me tell you about my tower #13: Heat and running water

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Air conditioning — Mobius Fan by Westinghouse, no longer made

Looking for a project?  Upgrade your heat and plumbing and fuss over your septic system and drainage.  Then you can casually mention to friends and neighbors the tens of thousands of dollars you have spent on the hidden mechanicals in your home.  They will admire your attention to detail and potential problems, envy your ability to spend grand sums on the highest quality of unseen pipes and tubing, or they will think you have lost your mind – maybe they will do all three.

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Shower tile work

I replaced the furnace in 2008.  Four feet of water flooded the basement during a freak rainstorm.  A frantic neighbor called me up in New Hampshire to report that water was pouring through the retaining walls on my land, gushing down the sloping lawn, and funneling through the 1870 stone foundation under the front porch. I listened but refused to react because she had called me once before to tell me that the electricity had been out for three days and the days were 20 degrees or less.  That time I panicked, asked the neighborhood handy guy to install a generator and lost my refrigerator, cd changer, microwave, phone, modem, and television to mishaps in connecting it up.

It was still raining when I arrived at my house two days later.  The cascading fountains on the front lawn rivaled those of Las Vegas and the roar heard from the basement stairs brought to mind Niagara Falls.  I could see nothing.  The electricity was out and the flashlights were dead.  I sheepishly closed the door and went to a friend’s house to wait out the storm.

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Lee’s “Female Form” & Biasi panel radiator

That little event cost me well over $6000 and a lot of tears.  The plumber drained the boiler and disassembled the exhaust and intake.   He cut the heat lines, removed and replaced the circulators.  He replaced the Peerless Pinnacle LP gas stainless steel efficiency sealed combustion boiler with a new one, and then reassembled the exhaust and intake, reinstalled the heat lines, rewired and started the boiler and did an efficiency test, at least that’s what the invoice says.  My neighbors installed a sump pump for me.

Water, heat, electricity & phone/internet cable going underground from the cottage to the tower.

Water, heat, electricity, phone & internet lines going underground from the cottage to the tower.

The town and neighbors were great during the crisis.  The fire department pumped  the water.  They did it for a lot of people.  Some neighbors thought the water pumped from one of the homes higher on the hill found its way to my basement.  The highway department regraded the road.  Friends helped throw out a lot of the unsalvageables.

That didn’t solve all the water problems in the basement.  Rebuilding the French drains helped a bit as did redirecting downspouts, but the basement still is not reliable storage space.

During construction we discovered that the pipe leading from the septic tank to the dry well had shifted and now flowed in the wrong direction.  Just a few more thousand on my bill.

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Radiant heat tubing

We were pleased that the new tower and the regrading of the front yard diverted the water that used to flow straight towards the house,  and the basement stayed relatively dry during heavy rain.

This summer however we had a house full of happy young folk and noticed that the toilets were all gurgling.  When everybody left we called in the plumber.   He had us try this and that and dig up this and that and we discovered that our dry well was filling up with ground water from a day or two of soaking rains and was back filling our septic tank.  So we had our favorite excavator come in and dig up the yard one more time to install a French drain to draw off water.   He told us after he did the work that he didn’t understand where the water came from because the ground was bone dry.

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Shower tile work

Whoa.  I just did a search to see how that Pinnacle boiler ranked in price and customer satisfaction and was shocked to see how many people have had very unhappy experiences with it.  The positive comments come from plumbers who say you have to know what your are doing or forget it.

WizardofOzThe oil company service man said the same thing about the Buderus oil burner in my b&b in New Hampshire.   He had no clue.  It was much more impressive than my little Pinnacle.  I would stand in front of this blue machine with six circulators blinking at me as they went on and off  and recall a field trip through the Deer Island Waste Water Treatment Plant in Boston. What if even just one of those couplings came loose. The thought was horrifying.  Obviously the engineers in the plant knew what they were doing.  I could find no images of the inside of Deer Island online. It looked like a cross between what lay behind the Wizard of Oz’s curtain but 1000 times as large, and what one would imagine a nuclear power plant looked like.  It’s probably top secret.

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Brain-like soy-based foam to keep the heat in.

But I digress.  Heat and plumbing are essential, and Sean did a great job making our home cozy and comfortable, but I resented spending the money.  Lee and his man Derrick installed all the bath fixtures so I was able to save there.

Electricians also are unbelievably expensive and the bulk of that work is also hidden in the walls.  Our town does not require a licensed electrician so Lee did the electrical work.  It was frustrating for him at times and he had to call in Scott as reinforcement towards the end.  But at least he didn’t have to hear me complain about paying the bill!

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Concrete sink, bluestone countertop

Let me just sum up.  We’ve now got five circulators coming off the burner, two for the cottage, two for the tower and one to the hot water heater.  The previous owners put in Burnham cast iron baseboard heating which is sort of classy, but just like inexpensive baseboard the end pieces fall off and furniture can’t be placed against the wall.  Papers are constantly falling off the back of my desk getting lost in the dust bunnies.

We’ve installed radiant in the first floor of the tower – it’s WONDERFUL.   We’ve got cool (I don’t mean temperature) Biasi panels on the second floor – not as classy as Runtals, but much more economical if you can call any of this economical, and a perfect fit out-of- production Hearthstone Tudor gas stove on the top floor.  We installed bare baseboard on the bridge and Lee built a bench around it for plants.

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More shower tile work

The fun purchase was a concrete sink we found in the horse-traders barn at Williams Hardware.  It came complete with a fancy-shmancy never-would-I-pay-full price-for Kohler faucet that lists for over $1000.  It wouldn’t be my first choice, but why complain since it  came as a bonus with the sink all for $200?   Of course since it was the floor model it didn’t have any of the hidden parts. Our shower is an earthy earthly paradise.  Lee created sea and sky murals with hand made tiles from his pottery period.

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The Tudor

Last week when the temperatures were down to minus 9 and the gusts were recorded at 28 miles per hour (much higher along the river)  I was delighted with the heat generated by my Pinnacle and cute Tudor.   And I’m walking on air having just watched my loyal sump pump keep the basement free of water during the downpour the past day and a half.

We’ve got that generator as back up when the power goes out, six ceiling fans to keep us cool in the summer, and a gas fireplace in the living room.

Please no more surprises.

So let me tell you about my tower #12: Ups and Downs

Lee and I will be young forever.  Lee may not actually believe this, but he certainly did not encourage me to look at the tenuousness of that assumption during design stage.  His method of operation is to take no responsibility and let me make my own mistakes.  Then when something goes wrong he’ll say, “I wouldn’t have done that.”  If he doesn’t say that it is what I imagine.  It’s okay.  He’s prepared.  He has a dumb waiter at his barn which he used to move pottery up and down from his workshop to the kiln which will fit into our spiral corner just in case.

plan showing stairs

We climb 27 steps to get into the tower’s top floor.  The easier climb, going up in the cottage and over the bridge has 29 steps.

Perhaps it was not the smartest design but it is fun to live in a tree house.   So far there has been only one evening that I couldn’t possibly climb those stairs and that was two days ago after spending time on my knees in the garden.

Tuck is not really this goofy looking --

Tuck is not really this goofy looking

Nobody has fallen down the stairs except my dog Tuck, on the spiral.  It is a good thing he got over that embarrassment quickly since he is a dog with little self-control.  He’s not allowed to cross the alley between the cottage and the tower because he will be overpowered by the desire to chase rabbits or take a swim.

Looking across the alley from the tower door

Looking across the alley from inside the tower door

We’ll be sitting in the kitchen and decide we should walk the dogs.  Lee crosses to the tower to get Jaxon’s leash.  Tuck is up the steps over the bridge and down the spiral to meet him at the door.  Lee comes back to the kitchen through the alley.  Tuck is up over and down and greets him at the door.  Lee remembers he forgot his phone.  He cuts across to the tower, and Tuck goes up over and down to meet him over there again.  It’s great.  Tuck has never been happier.

Jaxon on the other hand will not use the spiral.  I admire him for recognizing his limitations.

The culprit stairs

The stairs have fallen with me on them.  Lee claims the blame, but it’s partially my fault also.  He was working on the three steps that go from the bridge to the tower and left the project for lunch or whatever.  I dislocated my finger when the steps collapsed beneath me.  That was a down. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I’ll probably have a stiff index finger and not be able to make a tight fist for the rest of my life.   Lee will probably be very disappointed I didn’t post the photo he took of my finger — the one that he has used to gleefully gross out most of our friends.

Sitting on the top deck and having morning coffee is an up and makes me so glad we threw out common sense and built our home with all those steps.  We are in the shade, we see three herons in their usual places, an eagle, fishermen, and an early sailboat.  There’s a delightful breeze.  There is a lot of bird activity in the trees at that level in the morning.

IMG_0839Our stairway to the second floor is a spiral from Stair-Pak in Pennsylvania.   It’s all oak, and arrived in pieces, each numbered so that there would be no mistakes putting it together.  It went together easily and looks great.  Make sure you check with them before you buy elsewhere.

Our stairway to the third floor was designed and built by our friend Scott Ziegler – a true craftsman.

Still needs finish work & painting --

Lee designed and built the bannisters out of a slab of cherry. He built our coffee nook and storage under the stairs from excess flooring.   The risers and sides of the staircase still need finish work and painting.

He's watching you --

Close up of the head of the monster in the railing

And Lee built new handrails on the second floor landing in the cottage.  He hated the ones that were there. The railings sit on metal rods which screw into the floor for easy removal — convenient for carrying furniture up and down and into the two rooms on the second floor.  Also for spanning a ladder over the stairwell when painting the ceiling and walls or placing a light fixture.

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Ah – and then there are the outdoor steps complete with Lee’s wife’s family goddess which traveled from China by plane on the lap of his father-in-law.  Now she protects our home and our families.  Later she will stand at the door of his son’s home and hopefully she will continue to bless my boys and their loved ones as her own.

Just a brief aside.  We received our Certificate of Occupancy yesterday.  Thank you to everyone who worked with us!

So let me tell you about my tower #11: Window Shopping

During our one week of beautiful spring I painted sashes of windows that didn’t get painted in the fall.   A lot of time has passed since shopping for those windows, and time has given me the opportunity to grade my choices.  Most were right on, unfortunately even those decisions that were made quickly with a foreboding sense of “oh well, most likely this will cause me distress later.”

*

Time also has given me the opportunity to wonder once again why I am continuing to write the Tower saga.  Sometimes it is torture.  What I write seems so dry.  My mind is bubbling with other stories to write:  falling down the steps and dislocating my finger; my cousin’s wedding at the Hotel Pierre; life in the sixties compared to life when you are in your sixties; thoughts on my America.

Then, last night as I struggled with Tower #11, I realized that building this addition with Lee has been anything but dull.  The year has been an incredibly rich, creative and romantic adventure.  We’ve been frustrated together, aggravated with each other, physically and mentally exhausted though not necessarily together, ready to run away from each other.

But we’ve also had an almost sinful amount of fun and have celebrated our happiness over and over.  We’ve made it through a large, long project, one that often severs relationships, and we’ve come out stronger, more committed, more convinced.

The Tower saga has been an exercise that seems to plod along.  Hopefully when completed it will be an interesting read for those who were involved, and perhaps for some who weren’t.  My enthusiasm ebbs and wanes.  I am pleasantly surprised by the evolution of the individual chapters, how often they change course and turn into essays on something else.  That said, at this very moment I just want to get it done – and that applies as much to finishing the house as to writing about it.   Lee has told me that he will suffer the depths of my lows about the house and everything else, as long as he can share the peaks of my highs, which is really quite dear.  My moods are something like New England weather.

*

LittleHouseMy nose always wrinkled whenever I spoke about the look of the cottage.  Its charm was within and the view beyond, but from the outside the house appeared about to explode.  The contrasting color of the simple window frames, even without trim, was too major a statement for such a small house.  It could have been a 3D rendering of houses I drew when little – in fact there is one of my houses next to a giant apple tree painted on the wall under the sanitas in the kitchen of the house where I grew up.

The color of the cottage was wishy washy.  The back of the house reminded me of one of the hastily constructed, non-descript and neglected office buildings I used to see on the train from Boston to New York back when. Try not to miss the car graveyards and the skinny fox slouching through tall weeds and sumac as you imagine the scene.

The addition gave me my chance to make it better.

My plan from the start was to buy Pella windows to match those in the cottage, and to paint both the cottage and the tower to match the color of the windows.    I received lots of “advice.”  Pella is difficult to work with, they are expensive, look at Marvins, look at Andersons, you can paint the trim even though it is vinyl clad, change the color, use a contrasting trim, one color is boring.

I spent too much time trying to discover why everyone wanted me to do something different and got quotes from various companies and suppliers, played with different color schemes, then did what I wanted in the first place. I  like the monochrome look and on its own Pella Tan has character and fits the landscape.

Most of the window choices were straightforward.  The holdups were those around the spiral staircase and on the bridge.

Spiral Window, 2nd Floor, Facing South

Spiral Window, 2nd Floor, Facing South

In the end I decided upon one awning and three fixed squarish windows in the spiral corner.  It is okay, although the original design of two full walls of glass – which I nixed  — was so much more striking.  Perhaps I should have researched commercial storefront windows for a cleaner look in this space, but . . .

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We made several stops at the Door Jamb in Shokan, just a few miles past the Pella showroom, looking for the two front doors, which would face each other under the bridge.  The cottage came with a full windowed front door and I felt very exposed when someone came to call. That door was going to go up on the third floor of the tower as an exit to the deck.

My task was to pick the door and then consider the price.  Two mahogany doors with full stained glass windows were spectacular. They didn’t fit my “master” plan, which was simple and stark.  At this time the addition was my fantasy lookout tower at the top of a mountain.   But they – the doors — were really spectacular, and Lee offered to pay the overage.  Every now and then shimmering prism patterns on the wall delight us.

IMG_0528 cropped moreWhile there we also looked at windows.  We found seven tall, narrow white vinyl clad Anderson double hungs for the bridge.  These would be troublesome, but any decision would put an end to my stressing over what to buy.  The windows lacked certain features, but were “a very good price.”   Really wish they dropped down for cleaning.   Really wish we didn’t have to use small sliding screens until Lee has the time to build full sized ones.  They look great both inside and out and we’re looking forward to filling our greenhouse bridge with plants.

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We also bought quarter rounds at the Door Jamb, again fighting the feeling that I was making a mistake.  They are fixed and the second floor landing where they are needs ventilation.  They were a bear for Lee to tape and mud, and I still am not sure how to paint them, but they provide the spiritual aura to the space that I’ve written about before.

Lee and I “discussed” window trim for months.  I wanted the no-trim look of the windows on the second floor of the cottage, but Lee could only see problems when he looked at them. Wish I had found this post before today.

I’ll have to wait until my next house for trimless windows.  It’s not wise to push your finish man too hard when he is working for free out of the goodness of his heart.

IMG_0773IMG_0775We picked up four ten-pane interior fir doors on craigslist. Two of these became closet doors.

The other two are double doors to the master bath, and provide us a view of the field and the Hudson from the second floor.  Wall space is tight, so we hung one as a slider and one on hinges.  Towel racks provide some privacy, but more is needed for me to feel comfortable.  Lee has fewer inhibitions.

So let me tell you about my tower #9: Breakthrough

frontDave is gently ripping apart the second floor landing of the house.  He’s poking around to see how to support the dormer and the bridge that will connect it to the tower.  I had been wondering about the integrity of the sagging roofline since buying the cottage.  Today’s  demolition reveals there is no ridge pole and the old front walls bow out.

I visited my mom today so was not home while Dave was working.  Lee and I had already moved the bookcases out of the hall so Dave had room to work.  I expected the landing would be in chaos upon my return, but. Lee had cleaned up so well that only some sheet rock dust and some stray insulation remained.  He’s wonderful.  But I didn’t expect the closets and laundry room to be emptied into my office/guest room.  It’s crowded.  I can live with it.IMG_0433

I also wasn’t expecting to find the dark somewhat rotting wood of the original 1870 roof.  It makes me so nostalgic for my 1780 barn in New Hampshire. But it’s just nostalgia, not regret, and now I have a new old home to keep alive. 

Drafted pre-May 22, 2012, and unfortunately revised & revised & . . .

 *

The thought of writing about the construction of the addition was with me from the very start of the project.  I knew it wouldn’t be Tracy Kidder’s House, but who wants to do what has been done.  It would be my addition.  It was a start.

Finally I had bonded to the project.  I felt a responsibility and a love towards the old beams and the buckling front wall.  My little cottage had stood through 150 years of pelting rains, heavy snows, and the winds that blow down the Hudson, whistling around the cottage walls year-round, occasionally even driving my “outside” dog Tuck inside.

Pulling this portion up now that it fits into the chronology and anticipating reliving that rush of emotion, I was so let down.  The revised draft began:

Work on the tower has been on hold for a week. It is totally discouraging since I don’t feel I can do anything to speed it up.  I’m at the mercy of the contractors and the weather.

My first rewrite was written when I was down, when the weathermen had been forecasting rain just about every day for three weeks. It hardly rained during that time, but who knew.  Dave wouldn’t break through the roof in case it poured, and it did, but only once or twice.

Lee couldn’t start work on the inside until Nick, our concrete man, came and poured the slab over the radiant heat pipes. Nick wouldn’t schedule the truck for the foundation because he worried the truck would sink into mud if the rain should come. Mud never happened.

20120522_190623Dave said he was going to pull out the sheet rock along the staircase to see if there were any supporting posts, but he wouldn’t do that until he was further along with the other work.  I lived with fears of the worst:  the first floor cabinets torn out, the floors destroyed, and all my careful planning of the addition to keep the integrity of cottage intact having been done in vain.

That high that I expected to find in the writing, the high from discovering the old house, is no longer evident in the writing.  Was it ever there?

A lesson learned.  Don’t discard the old when revising.

*

We were on hold for quite a while, both the house and my writing.  Tower #1 was written on June 29th.  It took about five weeks for me to become inspired again.  I didn’t want to write about my tower while down.

Unfortunately other dates are mushy through this, but I believe the slab was poured and the roof was opened up by the first week of June.  It was gloriously sunny and windy weather.  The winds had come in and lasted for several weeks.  Dave and his crew loved working by the water, but hated working in the wind.  It is a miracle no one was blown away carrying plywood.

They opened the roof, and you can see the bedroom door off the second floor hallway. The third picture in this run, taken after the framing had begun on the dormer, shows how the closet, stairway, and laundry closet line up under the new LVL.  Hopefully you can approximate how low the ceiling was at the top of the stairs, low enough to bump one’s head repeatedly, and why we wanted to bump the ceiling up into a dormer.

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IMG_0714If you need help envisioning how low the ceiling was, imagine two bedroom closets built into the front sloping wall that are sized for children, or maybe men, but definitely not women who wear dresses that cover more than their bums. Definitely nothing longer than mid-thigh.  Now imagine bumping your head when stooping to get something from the closet.   We have the former owners who lived here and orchestrated the 2004 redo of the house to thank for this.  Lee bumps his head probably more than I do. My only consolation is that the former owners must have bumped their heads also.

IMG_0713The ceiling on the landing is now extraordinarily high for such a small room, and with the sun pouring in the round corner windows we installed, and the niche in the wall that Lee built with a leftover window from a house he renovated, I feel as if I am in my personal chapel.

Dave found a very non-intrusive way to add posts on either side of the staircase to support the new LVL that became the major support of the cottage and all the new weight it was to bear.  That only required redirecting a few water pipes in the basement.

My office was a disaster until two weeks ago when we  finally decided we wouldn’t be making that much dust for awhile.  We put stuff back into the closets, at least temporarily, and moved some of the furniture over to the second floor of the tower. Yes, I did survive the clutter, but very grumpily.

I should let you know too that Lee has moved into his man cave two weeks ago.  It looks like a squirrel house to me.

Christmas 2012

One night mid-December dinner was meatballs and spaghetti a la Otto’s. My noodle man Lee had been looking for meatballs to satisfy my craving at our favorite grocers. I can’t remember where the craving came from.  We have been watching a lot of Fellini.  Does Marcello’s father eat spaghetti and meatballs in La Dolce Vita?  Lee’s noodles are so good that I often tell him he should open Lo Fan’s Noodle House and finally bring a great Chinese restaurant to the Hudson Valley.  But “meatballs and spaghetti” is not really his thing.  He was also a little turned off because he had just read an article on the unsanitary – disgusting is a better word — conditions surrounding our meatballs on their way to the grocer’s meat counter – any grocer’s meat counter, not Otto’s in particular.  We still ate the meatballs but he has given up his search for tasty ones.  Maybe the craving will come back and I’ll start trying to concoct that meatball of my dreams.

My office is so crammed with stuff we piled into it because of the construction going on at our house, that I moved gift wrapping downstairs to the living room.  After dinner I picked up where I had left off the evening before.

Lee was at the piano and he sounded good.  He was playing Maria – and I realized he had discovered how to separate his two hands and play a single note in the right and accompaniment in the left – something he has been trying to accomplish for a while.  Lee is a self-taught piano player – he needs to reinvent piano theory on his own in order to understand it.  It takes time, but he does it.  While at first it frustrated me, I now admire him for his persistence and success.

The boys and I were celebrating Christmas/Chanukah on the ninth night of Chanukah.  The date is never as important to us as is the occasion.

But it was Christmas that was on my mind as I wrapped presents.  Our Ch/Ch (pronounced chichi) gathering, was also the negative tenth day of Christmas.  Usually wrapping presents brings on conflict of a sort.  I enjoy wrapping presents, although, as my father used to say, not too much: it goes on too long, or there’s not enough scotch tape, or I worry if I’ve overdone, favored one son, or . . .

This year though something was different.  I was having fun wrapping; there was a little scenario unfolding.   I always use posters saved from our children’s bookstore for wrapping paper.  It is getting harder and hard to cut up these posters as I am getting further and further into the collection and pretty soon only my very, very favorites and the signed ones will be left.  I selected the posters so that each package had a full picture on the front – that was something new.

IMG_0704The leftover gift-wrap paper from the store which reads “the most important twenty minutes of your day” is always my choice for wrapping books.   We read together every morning from when my children were babies until they went to school, and then every evening before going to bed.  This year I actually stretched and chose books and other gifts for them on my own, not from their wish list.  This made me feel good about myself as I must be feeling more confident.  I think they liked them, although they are much too kind to their mother to ever say “What were you ever thinking, mom?”  They always choose books for me in return.

I used red rosin paper left over from laying the floors in the addition.  The paper folds so beautifully.  It was a delight to work with, so my pleasure was not only emotional and intellectual, it was also physical

IMG_0701All the gifts to girls had angel tags, and all those to the boys had stars. (Oh my goodness.  Did I really say girls and boys and not women and men?!)   The tags were also left over from the “Giving Tree” that we used to have in the store.  In the past I chose my tags according to color, or if the presents were from Santa, or Mrs. Claus (she always gave the clothes — a tradition carried on from Nanny), or from Mom and Dad, or just one of us, or by how many words I could fit on them, or – you really don’t want to hear any more.  But I’d love to tell you the story about the snowman bags.

I had already been wrapping presents for three nights.  No rushing, everything was well paced.

Being at ease in the living room was a new sensation.  The room had never worked for me.  At Thanksgiving Morgan and I repositioned some of the furniture and that helped. The fireplace always smelled, and above the fireplace is an empty cabinet built for a large flat-screen TV.  That’s another story, which I will spare you, at least for now.  It’s no matter because once television became hi-tech and the news became gossip, TV failed to interest me any more.  And TV is something I always watched in bed, not with guests in the living room.

The fireplace is gas and an ugly one at that.  It was necessary to turn the gas and the fans on full blast to avoid the stench, which meant that it was only on during power outages.  The man where we bought our little gas stove for the tower suggested I take the whole fireplace apart and clean it well.  That helped too.  He also wanted me to remove the firebox completely and get the dust out from behind, but enough is enough.

The living room is starting to be a good space.

IMG_0695Our Ch/Ch gathering was very warm and we didn’t leave until much too late.  Alex and Morgan’s new girlfriends were there and I hoped we did not overwhelm them, or even worse, frighten them away.  When Morgan wrote and told me that he thought “the Ch/Ch that Alex and Sam hosted was wonderful,” I decided we had all done good.

Lee and I went out to a romantic early dinner at Ship to Shore in Kingston two nights before Christmas.  When the food is good (it doesn’t have to even be great) and I can use my fingers to eat, the restaurant is quiet, it has a bit of elegance without pomp, the waiters are polished, personal and yet keep their distance, and we are happy, I consider the dinner romantic.  The waiter asked us if we were all done with our Christmas shopping.  (Perhaps we looked as relaxed as we were.)  There are gifts that the elves didn’t finish on time and there are two in the freezer that I forgot when loading up our sleigh to Brooklyn.  But we were not only done with our shopping, we were done with Christmas and all I had were happy memories.

Perhaps I had none of my usual Christmas angst because there are now so many people speaking out:  we are not a Christian country; there should be real separation between church and state; God does not belong in school, on the dollar bill, or in party platforms.  It was such a breath of fresh air to learn that the Democrats left God out, and such a disappointment to see God put in.  There is even a growing movement ridiculing the so-called War On Christmas.

Last night, Christmas Eve, I worried a little.  Were Morgan and Alex enjoying Christmas Eve and Christmas Day?  Did they and I over-react to my last year’s rant by hardly mentioning the word?  I hope they are enjoying themselves with friends and that we can look forward to many more Merry Christmases together in the future.

So let me tell you about my tower #5: It’s not on an island

Mom might like it better if I wore my pearls —

It’s been hard to write about the tower these few weeks. For one, I’m actually working on the house – painting, not very well but hoping to improve with time.  Yesterday I was up on scaffolding – and I was moving it around and pouring paint out of a five-gallon can.  My mother wouldn’t approve and the way my back hurts right now, I might agree.

Two, I feel guilty every time I sit down at the computer knowing Lee is hard at work. Third, my mind is focused more on the present stage of the tower than on a year ago when we were studying drawings.

I have also been totally distracted by the ugliness in the air:  the blatant disregard of truth, equality, ethics, science and suffering by so many of those in control in our country.   It didn’t seem right that I should write about my happiness.  It seemed disrespectful to those without a place to live, without food on the table, a job, health, without hope.

But Michelle made it okay.  She said it all last night at the Convention.  Rather than read my rant, hear her speak of the America I know and I want for my children.    Michelle said it better than I could and it is okay for me to think and write of other things.

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We still held some hope to get the addition up and closed in before the winter.  Actually only 36 days passed between the “please rethink” email and the “love the tower” email of August 21, 2011, but it was a long 36 days.

From the south

Duke came to visit with the new model (which now looks a bit battered in the photos) and a set of drawings.  It looked fantastic and had “wow” appeal.  He incorporated many of my wants into the tower.  It had a greenhouse bridge over the doors to the two structures and the entrance to the house was not visible from the street.  He angled the house so that we captured the best view from the observation deck and maximized the footprint while taking into consideration the 10 foot-septic tank setback.

Street side

He topped off an 11 x 11 observation floor with a wide shallow roof that would enable me to keep windows open at least on the third floor during the rain, and provide shade (although not enough shade I discovered and grumbled about for a few miserable days after it actually was up).   And he lined up the first floor windows so that you could see green grass and sky through the addition from the living room.  It wasn’t the angle I had envisioned, but it worked just as well.

We talked a lot about the window walls that framed the spiral staircase corner.  They were visually striking and would allow lots of light into the space.

View during today’s morning coffee

Duke left and we played with the design.  Lee didn’t say much but I knew what he was thinking.  It was an expensive little addition compared with our original idea.  We had started simply:  one story plus a loft in a square shed roof structure with a balcony for morning coffee overlooking the river.

My thoughts were along the same line as Lee’s.  All those angles and windows and that large deck were going to bump the costs up, but we started calling the addition our tower.

First I cut windows.  It was easy to take away the transoms.   It was also easy to eliminate the two picture windows on the third floor.  One faced a brutal winter north wind, the other side faced neighbors, and we also wanted wall space to hang our art.

North side

We didn’t need five little windows in the second floor landing of the cottage.   Three more deleted.

We knew we didn’t need or want all that outdoor deck, which actually grew even bigger in subsequent drawings.  The tower is to be our private space, not for entertaining.  We decided to limit the deck to the area adjacent to the tower.  I don’t know what we will do with all that deck we still have.  The roomiest side looks over our neighbors’ yards and outbuildings – not the nicest view and definitely none of my business.  We may eventually put up a trellis and perhaps a clothesline or make a container garden in that area.  We’re thinking of getting IPE decking tiles for the deck, and we’ll add them a section at a time.

River side

The window walls around the spiral were the biggest problem.  Everyone – including me – loved the look.  However these windows didn’t face the water, they faced the street and our neighbors.  Lee and I sometimes thought of our tower as our cozy nest in a tree house.  Living with those windows would be like living in a fishbowl.

I obsessed for months on how to preserve the excitement of the window walls yet add privacy.  What was the point of all those windows if they had to be covered up?   The spiral stair made it troublesome, if not impossible, to reach to open and close curtains, let alone windows.  I didn’t want windows I couldn’t open or clean.   Even so, I checked into shades and blinds and tinted glazes and sheets.

My visit to Hunter Douglas was surreal.  Anything the saleswoman showed me that might work cost as much as the windows, if not more.   Lowe’s and Home Depot weren’t much better, nor was the web.

Dave, our builder, said we could wait to order windows until after the building was up.  That helped and I eventually settled on four large square fixed windows, letting the privacy issue rest.  I have used my mom’s old tablecloths, flat bed sheets, and rolls of woven toweling from Lowell National Historical Park for curtains.   Certainly I will find the right piece of material squirreled away amongst my treasures and hang it strategically.

We actually were able to place one awning window in the spiral wall and get some air circulating in that corner.  I didn’t have to compromise totally on the “no-windows-that-don’t-open” rule.

It wasn’t until we were actually ready to start building that I discovered a major omission in the drawings.  The original cottage had a dormer riverside, but not to the front.  If you were short to average size you could stand tall at the top of the stairs, but it was still a bit precarious to cross the second floor landing to get from one room to the other.  If you were tall, you bumped your head.  Even before planning this addition, I would fantasize popping out the roof and making that landing a livable space.  That was on my original wish list.

From the top before the dormer went in and oops, the roof is on crooked —

Somehow we all overlooked it.  When the architect added it back in I thought we were making it easier to put the pieces together.   Dave told me otherwise!  All of a sudden the original cottage had to support not only the bridge but also an entire new room.

Dave had another surprise.   Because Lee and I had told Duke numerous times that there were very strong winds coming down the Hudson which often blew for days with gusts of 40 – 60 plus miles per hour, he passed the plans to an engineer to make sure that the tower and especially its roof would be able to withstand this abuse.  The engineer added LVLs and Simpson ties and lots more lumber and. . .   We’ll get to that later.

The tower is standing.  It’s wonderful.  There have been frustrations and compromises, but in the grand scheme of things they are minor.  Lee reminds me each time that I will come up with a solution and that we will be very happy.  I pout, but he is right.