One summer’s reading group: Preface

My mother’s parents, Fanny and Harry, also known as Little and Big GG, bought a house in Belmar, New Jersey when I was three? five?  Perhaps I could ask my aunt — just one aunt alive now and living in Wisconsin. It had four bedrooms on the second floor.  Grandma & Grandpa’s had a private porch which I loved to sit on.

CCI13022016_2I remember the day we accompanied them to look at the house — climbing up the porch stairs and walking into the living room with its robust wood pillars and dark brick fireplace.  (The photo is from 1983).  My parents wouldn’t let me play on the stairs to the second floor during that visit.  You could start climbing a few steps either from the entry or from the kitchen.  These two small staircases joined at a landing and then turned to go up to the second floor.  They were a favorite place for me to play when nobody was paying attention once it became our summer home.  A grate in the floor at the top of the staircase so that the heat from the fireplace could hopefully warm the second floor was another object of childhood fantasy.

CCI13022016My mother had two sisters and I was one of eight cousins. We all lived on the same street in Bayonne, and every summer we would go down to the Belmar house. The men — my father and two uncles — divided the attic into three bedrooms and a full bath to accommodate us all as the family grew. I have only a vague remembrance of my grandfather joining in on the work but perhaps I could ask my uncle — just one uncle alive now and living in Wisconsin.

CCI13022016_3Every June after school let out we would drive through Staten Island to the shore. I remember going in our 1937 Pontiac. Even after the Turnpike and Parkway were built we would often go through Staten Island since we lived at the southern end of Bayonne very close to the bridge. We would travel old Route 440 and pass Dinger Farm. I watched for it every trip and would giggle to myself because that was the word one of my aunts used for that strange thing that my boy cousins had but girls do not.

The picture of the car is from 1949 when the car still belonged to my grandfather.  He had a vanity plate.  HR were his initials and he lived at 80 West 5th Street.

The moms and the cousins would spend the summer in Belmar.  We had two refrigerators in the kitchen — two families would share each and each family had its own kitchen cabinet and pantry shelf. As the families grew we would switch bedrooms. It finally wound up that Aerial Belmar copythe older boys and Janet and her parents were on the third floor and my sister and I were on the second. Going up to the third floor to use my favorite shower after a day on the beach was like entering uncharted almost hostile territory. The boys always seemed to be up to some sort of boything. The second floor shower was small and creepy and I never felt comfortable in the outside shower.  It’s amazing that it still exists, while the two porches are now gone.  It’s the little bump out at the lower left corner of the house to the left.  Showers were tough.

The uncles and Grandpa worked in the city and would come down by train on Friday nights. As I got older I was allowed to stay up for their arrival. There would be Entenmann’s crumb coffee cake and coffee. Do you remember the Entenmann’s man coming to your back door to sell cakes and things?  In later years Uncle Eddie would make pizza — which was quite foreign to me. It was much later when Vic’s in Bradley Beach became a regular for us for a fun night of pizza out. My father would take a two week vacation to be with us every summer. We’d go fishing at the inlet which is now apartments, play miniature golf, and go to Asbury Park for the rides and salt water taffy.

CCI13022016_4 (1)I’m second from the right — 1953

As we grandchildren grew into our “tween” and teen years, my aunts and their families stopped coming and the summers consisted of just my parents and older sister and my grandparents. I loved these years at the shore. It was the only time I really felt free — no school, a gang of friends who spent every afternoon on the beach and every evening at the 10th Street arcade. My parents let me roam.

CCI13022016 (1)One year I had a blue polka dot bikini with a wired top which caused me a lot of ridicule from the boys who knew that it wasn’t me. I would get burnt to a bright red color at the beginning of every year. I had a crush on a Lawrenceville boy who sometime would give me a ride home on his bike. That’s him to the right.  At night we played pinball and listened to rock and roll.

My parents eventually bought the house, winterized it, and moved in. I was already away at college and home only for the summers. and moved out on my own immediately after graduation. By that time too many bad feelings kept me from visiting much.

About ten years after my dad died my mom finally sold the house. This was much later than my sister and I knew she couldn’t live there by herself, and she resisted. We moved her to a senior residence in New Hampshire, just a few minutes drive from me.

59070_998689121839_819097_54198838_4550174_nMy boys have few memories of the house, which is my fault for not visiting with them, but we all went down to look and walk the boards a few years before Sandy. I am sure the inside has been modernized — at least I hope so.

Every year as Thanksgiving nears I look for a place to bring the family to celebrate. Nothing is as good as Grandma’s house.

But the house in Belmar and the memories it stirs are an aside to my story.

Click for part two:  One Summer’s Reading Group
Click for part three: One Summer’s Reading Group: Afterward

If I believed spirits walked the land

samandalex_200Morgan and I are planning a camping trip on our fragment of abandoned orchard in Moultonborough.

Both my sons are exceptional and they fill my heart with happiness.  I emphasize my love for them both so Alex doesn’t read anything into our not inviting him to join us.

We three have good, hard, simple, strong memories of this tiny spot in New Hampshire.  A lot of memories for the little amount of time we spent there.

People who have orchards write about them — indexJane Brox for one.  It would be hard to capture the struggle and resolve of working an orchard and the struggle and release of letting it go better than she has, and I’m not going to try. Rereading her books now, after putting our remaining 2.65 acres with apple trees up for sale, has rekindled memories and given words to many feelings never expressed.

Buying this orchard was really a crazy thing for us to do.  My husband Clark had non-Hodgkins lymphoma.  He was feeling good after his bone marrow transplant and wanted to spend his last years working for himself, with me, at home.  He wanted a bed and breakfast.  We looked at other b&b’s but kept coming back to the first one we visited — Olde Orchard Inn.

I’m not sure what he hoped for at this point in his life, but I like to think he found it.

On move-in day we stepped into the kitchen and the house gave me a warm, firm hug as if it were waiting for us for a long time. That feeling never wavered, even when I was alone in it day after night after day in the coldest of winters, with the snow piled high over my head, and the wind wailing outside the bedrooms windows.

Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbHThe land took a little longer to get to know, but after our first harvest we knew we had chosen wisely.  It was hard work, but there was constant reward.  I still wonder about the people who lived and worked there before us and what they left behind.  If I believed in spirits or fairy godmothers or guardian angels I might be able to explain it better.

There were two or three innkeeper/owners before us.  But before them there were only the Young’s, the Larson’s, the Brown’s, and the Abenaki’s.

White settlers drove the Abenakis from their land around Lake Winnipesaukee in the second half of the 17th Century.

Larson era brick house (1)We know that Batchelder Brown bought 50 acres from the colorful General Jonathan Moulton in 1783 for 5 pounds.  General Moulton received a large tract of land as a reward for his successes in the American Revolution and sold parcels to Brown and others who served under him.  The Browns bought abutting property in 1791 and 1803 and members of their large family lived there for over 150 years.   One of the Brown men made bricks from clay by the stream, and built the brick addition when the family outgrew the original center chimney wood structure.  Mildred Carter (a Brown through a second marriage) married Peter O. Larson.  They bought the home and land from the Browns, planted the orchard, and gave it the name Homestead Farm. They shipped apples all over the country and sold them at a farm stand on Route 25.

The Youngs, who bought the farm from the Larsons in 1968, perhaps like my family, loved the land too much. Kate Young Caley writes beautifully of her love for the farm in her memoir.  Unfortunately as I read reviews of her book, this part of her story seems overlooked and unappreciated.

At some point lands were sold off, and houses were built on Orchard Drive.  Homestead Farm became Olde Orchard Inn in 1987.  I’m not sure of all the owners but one of them, was the town building inspector, and that may account for why the tiny bathrooms in some of the guest rooms and a good deal of the wiring look like they couldn’t have passed code!

We bought the land from the Senners who ran the inn for several years.  Grandma Mary, who would ride in the bucket of the large tractor and pick the apples high on the trees, was sad to go.

admin-ajax.phpPeople with connections to the land would visit. A Brown descendent sat down in the old kitchen and and spent some moments in the past.  Two Larson women visited and told me that as children on very cold nights they would sleep on blankets on top of brick ovens behind the central fireplace. These pilgrims would walk the orchard and visit the family cemetery.  We all agreed that there was something special about the house and land.  Guests would ask me about ghosts and tell me they felt a presence. One couple came back to renew their wedding vows because they felt the orchard a spiritual place.

100_0674The 1790 house came with a barn built even earlier, and over 500 trees on twelve acres. We spent our first months there fixing pipes and moving snow and figuring out how to keep warm. But once spring arrived the apple trees exploded with a flowery welcome.

We learned how to care for the orchard by trial and error. We joined Beginner Farmers and went to workshops at the Carroll County Extension.  We tried our best to figure out which apple was which, when to prune, how to keep the apples crisp for as long into the winter as we could.

hat rack treesThe orchard was rather comical. The trees had buzz cuts. Old huge trees were mixed in with newer, younger, smaller  hybrids. Some were espaliered but neglected. Others had grown so many suckers and water sprouts they reminded me of banyan trees.  We found cherries (the birds always got them before us), pears, and a few peaches scattered throughout. The pears did very well, perhaps because there weren’t enough of them to attract their own pests and diseases. The peaches withered away.

You cannot imagine my delight when I discovered the gorgeous raspberries galore —enough to make the richest raspberry ice cream and still have plenty for muffins and kuchens. I liked them because they practically took care of themselves.

There were special moments. We were picking up drops one autumn afternoon.  The sun hit the maples just right, and we sat down and took in the colors, said how lucky we were, and stopped work for the day.

100_0770We saw bear curled up under bushes; a baby cub up in the crab apple tree outside our window.  Sleeping deer left matted ovals in the grass.  Wild turkeys strutted across the field picking up whatever goodies they could find.  Fox would jump up and dive into the snow coming up with a snack every time.

wild turkeysPepper, our dog, would walk along with us plucking dandelions off their stems without missing a beat. He would pick the apples off low hanging branches.

Our second year’s harvest was our best.  I doubt we had one apple that didn’t have a blemish or a hole, but that didn’t matter to us.

Apple Tree, written & illustrated by Peter Parnall

From Apple Tree, by Peter Parnall

The following winter Clark started to fail quickly. He continued to plow but I did the shoveling.  We drove into Boston in early spring to meet Morgan for a Red Sox game, but Clark wound up in Dana Farber.  He went home to hospice. The apple blossoms came and went and the grass grew up to my hips. One of my first mornings alone a mourning dove called to me from the top of the barn.  A weight lifted off my shoulders and Clark was now free.

Mowing took 18 man hours.  When Alex was up, they shared the work, one on the tractor, the other taking the lawnmower up close under the trees.  It was my job now and it was when I really started to love the land.  I understood why Clark gave up when he no longer could manage the mowing.

The new Woodshed -- April 2015

The new Woodshed — April 2015

It was too easy to stay put, protected and comfortable on this magical land, to be the widow at the old orchard who only went into town to buy cheese at The Olld Country Store, or walked across the street for takeout at the Woodshed.  Too easy to create my fantasy of being the crazy lady standing at the door with rifle in hand, dressed in calico and little brown boots, telling the tax collector to get off my property.  Too easy to imagine a slim handsome stranger with a cigarette in a pickup driving up and staying on as the live-in handy man.

I put the inn on the market, split off a small piece in the back orchard for myself, and sold the house to a a woman who had spent some time at the house before it was an inn and had felt the pull of the place.  She and her husband moved over from England and  immediately hung a Union Jack from the flagpole.  Batchelder might have shuddered in his grave.

winter apple treesNow these 2.65 acres are on the market. My sons and I are ambivalent. We want to enjoy the land but we live too far away.  My neighbor who lives in the former apple storage building is under the spell also.  He mows the orchard while he can.

Perhaps someone will buy the property, put up a sweet little home, care for the pears, choose a few apple trees to pamper back to health, steal a few of the raspberry plants from the inn’s property, spend a few years carving out a tree from a behemoth gone wild, and find peace.

But if it doesn’t sell, that’s okay.

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.

 

I hope I’ll get another chance

We just recently moved into the eleven by eight foot loft of our new addition where we can lie in bed and look out over the Hudson and the Catskills.  There’s not much we can do there but sleep, read, and you know what.  It’s very romantic.

Our kids were up for Thanksgiving – three thirty-ish men with their lovely women.  It was a fabulous weekend for us, the first Thanksgiving with the two families merged.

The last of our children left Sunday afternoon, and the house felt suddenly empty, but it also was once more ours alone.  We decided to pour ourselves each a glass of wine and watch a movie in bed ––

*

*

An hour or two later we awoke.  Lee told me he felt like were in our twenties again.

I told him I forgot to open my eyes.

So let me tell you about my Tower #10: Topping Off

20120503_105536Putting the top on the tower was not a celebration, but we all seemed to know something special had happened.  The Tower looked good.  It was high up and the crow’s nest measured 11 feet by 11 feet.  Like a sailing vessel, it was designed to withstand stress from the winds.  And it was windy.  Dave and his crew came every day, always shaking their heads because the wind didn’t blow until they reached my street.   I had very little to do with it – the wind and the work.

IMG_0725Everyday the sun was shining and the sky was crystal clear and bright blue.  A north and a southbound Amtrak train with a shrill whistle passed by almost every hour.  Throbbing tugs pushed barges up and down river.  The trees were not yet full, and we could see and hear freight trains across the Hudson several times during the day. It was bass season and people came to fish from the park or from boats that they launched from the landing.  Families came for picnics.  Couples came to kayak.  Men came to pee. There was a lot to see and take in.  And then there was the wind. 

2013SBcontestmainlogoworkjWorking in the wind was exhausting and the crew was tired by the middle of each day.  But they were definitely having an adventure working on this house. 

Duke, our architect, had given the plans to his engineer to make sure the wind would not rip off the roof.  Perhaps I had put too much emphasis on the wind?  When Dave studied the final plans he thought it was overkill and I’m sure he was thinking money and how to reconcile the increase in materials and time with the quoted cost.  I’m sure Lee was annoyed with me for being so obsessed with the wind, because he now had some hard drilling ahead of him.

20120501_144424The hurricane-proof construction made it difficult if not impossible to build the tower’s deck — which is the second floor roof — with enough of a slope so that rain and snow could run off easily. At least that’s how I understand why we will have to be diligent about removing water from our roof deck.  We also are currently trying to decide how to best attach both gutters and railing posts to the edge of the deck.  This might always be a problem with any type of construction, but if it were, I would think there would be several routine ways to deal with the situation from which to pick.   

Fortifying the roof, however, was the right thing to do.

We’ve had some very windy days and nights since the tower has been up.  We hear the wind blowing through the passage under the bridge and around the two structures. The noise is a bit disconcerting.  We still haven’t learned what is normal.  We woke one morning to discover two saw horses had blow over the side, thankfully not hitting anything or anyone.  Our main criterion for choosing furniture and potted plants for the deck is that they be heavy.

During design phase I talked about how nice it would to leave the ceiling open on the third floor.  Nobody joined in the conversation.  When we actually got up to building the third floor I brought it up again, and again received no encouragement. Perhaps then, I suggested, could we have a cathedral ceiling?  No takers there.  I thought mmhmm and crawled back into my hole.  When I finally saw how hardcore the rafters and beams were in the peak, I understood a little better.  Yes, I could have insisted. It would have taken a bit of time and patience to come up with an attractive pattern and a search for quality, but, after spending the past few days painting trim in the room, I am content with the ceiling.

PlanChecking the plans in hopes of finding a design worthy of an open ceiling, I instead found a “flitched beam” here and a “flitched beam” there.  This is what wikipedia says about flitch beams.

Flitch Beam 14-40-37Due to the high cost of labor, use of this type of beam has greatly declined.  The advent of high- strength engineered lumber which uses modern adhesives and lower cost wood fibers has rendered this system largely obsolete.

Dave seemed to love challenges. Hopefully his memory of constructing a roof based on an obsolete concept and building it in the wind, will evolve into one of the stories he tells for a long time.  It will be something I speak of with a fond memory. Doing something the “old-fashioned” way gives me a buzz.

I’m still not comfortable with the deck.  The roofline does not extend far enough over the deck to protect it from the evening sun and the rain can come in the windows because of the wind.  Double hungs would have allowed me to open just the top window and the overhead would probably have kept the rain out.  Sliding windows would have given us more room to walk on the deck when the windows are open.  It’s tight especially on the northwest corner.  But I like casements and if I wind up being unhappy, I’ve only got myself to blame.  The surface of the deck is made of some space-age elastomeric and fabric combination that has yet to prove itself, and the color is not one I would have chosen.  Why do we need such a big deck in the first place?  These concerns and doubts may vanish after our first summer enjoying it.  I no longer think about what color I might have liked.  I’m keeping an open mind and hoping for a small container garden on the southern side and beautiful sunsets with a glass of wine.

20120622_140412

Thank you Lee for this view of last summer’s lightning and hail storm — 

It is really a wonderful space.  I want to be up there looking out at the river and the mountains while I enjoy my morning coffee, while I work at my computer, while I curl up on a couch and read, while I lie in bed and gaze up at the stars, when I wake up and see the sun reflecting off the snow and ice or the colors of the autumn.  I want friends to enjoy it.  I want it for Lee’s and my private nest.  It has less than 100 square feet of floor space, barely enough room for a bed let alone a couch and a table and chair.   

Lee reminded me:  “You wanted it this small,” and he is right.  I love it.  

Can’t wait to move in.

You can’t have too many extra virgins

Lee moved into his new man cave in January.  His old cave, which was his studio/office/storage facility/private space while we planned and built the addition on my, now our home, was in our friends’ house around the corner. He moved there in October 2011 so that we didn’t have to go across the river and through the woods to be with each other anymore.

One of Lee's cabinets filled with spices and sauces

One of Lee’s cabinets filled with spices and sauces

When I met Lee three years ago he was in the middle of moving  from his home for over twenty years.  His wife Caroline had died and his son had established his own life.   He no longer wanted to be in a rambling empty house and he had recently  renovated a two-bedroom apartment in a Victorian on a quiet but main street, in walking distance to all one could need — almost.    One gathers lots of stuff in 60 plus years, and a lot of memories.  He had filled his apartment with pottery and art and cool hand made things that he and his wife and son had created or bartered for.  It was a very personal and comfortable space.  We became the old couple who walked their big dogs through town.

Soon he made his second move, to his man cave around the corner.  He minimized again, tossing some more, and moving large items into the barn he had built as the pottery studio at his old home.

*

Like Lee I’ve minimized several times. Even so, my home is still filled with furniture, dinnerware, blankets, and more that belonged to my parents and grandparents.  I lived on the same street as my mother’s family, with grandparents, aunts and uncles, and cousins my own age who were playmates always near. We all spent summers together in a big house at the shore. Last year I broke the flowered pitcher that used to sit on my grandmother’s coffee table and I cried.  I know the story behind every item that came from my family, or at least I once did.

Since my husband Clark was an only child, when his mother died, a moving van brought all of the contents of his parents’ house to our door.  I still have much of it, and value it as a tangible connection for my sons to their father.

My sons Morgan and Alex saw my family and Clark’s family most likely two or three times a year, and once Clark’s folks moved to Florida, and the boys got involved in school and their own friends, perhaps once a year.   We got together with grandparents for holidays and birthdays when they boys were young and the adults were healthy, and gatherings were always warm and fun.  It was a different kind of family experience than mine.

I wear a wedding band from Clark’s family.  I think it belonged to his grandmother – but which one?  Morgan and Alex  don’t know that my mom’s mother embroidered the raggy pillowcases in my linen closet when she was sick with cancer.  They don’t know which dinner set belonged to my mom and which to Clark’s, or that the little scissors in the cup on my desk was the one my father kept in the middle drawer of his dresser, the only scissors in our house we could always find.  They will recognize none of the people in the old photographs in the boxes of albums I have in the closet.   I know so few in the boxes from Clark’s family.  Sometimes my boys tell me stories that I passed on to them about people and things, and I look at them in wonderment.  Did I tell them that?   Is the story true?

*

Now that Lee has moved for a third time, into his new space on the first floor of the tower addition, he has picked through all he owns in the world after 66 years one more time.  I IMG_0721don’t think he is as sentimental as I.  Perhaps he is, but when thinking about it he is definitely more practical and efficient.  He gets through it.  I move on, but am never done.

His new space is a bit crowded and disorganized, and there are lots of unopened boxes and stuff piled under the staircase, but it looks great, is comfortable and cozy, and he’s enjoying it a lot.  It will most likely stay that way until we’ve moved into the upper floors and all of our possessions mingle and spread evenly through the entire house.  Then we’ll put pictures on the walls and sculpture on the shelves.

We did however integrate most of our kitchens. We’ve gone through the pots and pans and the dishes and glasses and mugs and mostly decided what to keep in the kitchen, what to store, and what to toss, although I haven’t yet made the plunge and tossed it.

The other evening we went through the spices and sauces.  After combining jars and containers and throwing away items that had date stamps all the way back to 1998, we found we had:

IMG_0724Four

  • bottles of apple cider vinegar, as well as rice and balsamic
  • canisters of sea salt, but no kosher or iodized
  • jars of molasses

Three

  • extra virgin olive oils
  • black bean sauces
  • vanilla extracts
  • baking powders

Two

  • crushed red peppers
  • Lea and Perrins
  • IMG_0719oyster sauces
  • Hoisin sauces
  • oreganos
  • whole cloves
  • herbs de province
  • basils
  • sesame seeds
  • mustards
  • cumin
  • black pepper
  • black beans
  • sesame oils

We had singles of lots of common and uncommon treats, the most interesting of which are:

  • Big O’s $787,000,000,000 Stimulus Sauce (contains no pork)
  • Kotterin Mirin – did you know you only have to walk 11 minutes to burn off the 40 calories per serving of this sweet cooking seasoning?  It is for glazes and sukiyaki.  It has only 15 mg of sodium per tablespoon serving, but corn syrup is the first ingredient on the list.    Funny thing – I just tried opening it see what it smelled like.  It is still sealed.  I didn’t open it.  Maybe it’s a toss.

IMG_0716

  • Tiger Lily Buds – which he never has used, but how can one throw out something with such a sweet name.  It may have to go though because I’ve looked at them on line and they are a different color than ours.  Ours may be from Caroline’s mother’s kitchen which would make them at least twenty years old.  Would Lee’s son want shriveled up flower buds from his grandmother’s kitchen, when he can just walk into a shop in Chinatown and buy them fresh?
  • My favorite of all – Red Boat Fish Sauce.  It is 100% First Press Extra Virgin ca cam (black anchovy) and sea salt.

Not wanting to take any responsibility or show any interest in what he considered a no-brainer project, Lee left the decisions of what to keep and what to throw away to me.  We now have three cabinets full of sauces and spices as well as those in the refrigerator.

The only thing he did say as he flew out of the kitchen to hide in his man cave was “You can’t have two many extra virgins.”

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.