Shangri La

Shangri La

Friday, April 25, 2014

If you love something, set it free

LSW here. Piggybacking on the Vermonster's previous post, I'll add my two cents about furniture shopping. We put a lot of forethought into the mattresses. We researched them. We memorized the Consumer Reports mattress issue. We went to IKEA during a school day so we'd have plenty of time to try out each mattress without The Boy asking if we were done yet. And so we went from one gross mattress to another (how many people do you think lay down on those things all day long?), comparing the levels of firmness versus softness. We took a long time figuring it out, which is not usually our M.O. We finally found the perfect one and then prepared ourselves for the seven-mile hike to aisle 32, where we could pick up said mattresses. (Fortunately, we had fortified ourselves earlier at the IKEA cafĂ© with lingonberry pancakes and "sausages" and "coffee.")
A few hours later, after hiking through lighting, bathrooms, kitchens, Poangland, the Gumdrop Forest, World of Futons, and Everything Shelves, we found ourselves near the finish line. We got a trolley and went to aisle 32, bin 30 which was ... empty. They were out of the mattress we had picked out. Okay, onto our second choice in bin 28 which was ... also empty. A quick survey of the bins revealed that there were only two types of full-sized mattresses available.
We heaved our rucksacks back on and began the long ascent to the top of Mt. Mattress Land. We tried out the two -- let's call them semi-plush-- mattresses and decided that yes, these would do. So much for all our research. We took one of each and called it a day.

The Boy's loft, complete with way cool IKEA lights

With God as my witness, I will never sleep on a camping cot again!

Now, about that trailer incident. The Vermonster worked hard all day assembling the bits and pieces that would become the beds, and I painted our side of the loft. While we enjoyed hot showers and post-work beverages, The Boy went outside to play his version of Hunger Games. He came back in and told us he had opened the trailer but couldn't get the door closed again. "No problem," said The Vermonster, and then he promptly took that information and put it in the recycling bin in his mind.
A half hour later, we were off ... the Vermonster in the truck with the trailer, The Boy and I following in my car. As we bumped down the muddy, pot-holed dirt road, The Boy shouted, "The door! It's open!"
And that's when the door to the trailer swung open and ripped right off, shooting to the side of the road.

Give a hoot, don't pollute!

I jammed on the brakes, but The Vermonster just kept going. He was clueless. I wasn't quite sure what to do next. I got out and dragged the door to the side of the road and then hauled ass, trying to catch up to the truck. I was honking the horn and flashing my lights and The Vermonster just kept going and going. "I am so dead. I'm dead meat!" The Boy kept saying. Finally, the car that had been driving behind me sped up and drove up next to the truck. (Clearly they weren't as concerned about their shocks as I was.) "You lost your door!" the passenger shouted. Yep. So we retrieved the door and began the long drive to Brattleboro in which The Boy offered up all his allowance to pay for the damage.

We returned it just the way we got it.

The story has a good ending though. Turns out, in a typical fit of hyper-caution, The Vermonster bought the extra insurance. Huzzah! We were saved.
With a spring in our steps and a whistle that needed to be wetted, we went to Whetstone Station where I ordered a special house-brewed extra-dry cider that was amazingly like champagne. As I was drinking it, I was sad that I'd never have it again, as it was a limited run. It was a thing of beauty, and 8 percent alcohol.

And now, for two last bits of news from this most recent trip.
At the market, I spied a strawberry Charleston Chew. Haven't seen one of those in years, so I had to get it for The Boy. Even better, I stuck it in the freezer so he'd have the joy of smashing it into little pieces before eating. He loved it.

And finally, we have officially disposed of this:

The Vermonster's handmade sanding tool. RIP. May we never have to use it again.

Ikeafest 2014

When Ikea opened a few towns away from us in Flatland, we followed the herd to check it out, and our reaction was mixed at best. We were rats in a one-way maze, unable to leave until you've been forced to see everything they offer. And man oh man do they have a lot on offer. I was both disgusted that 'durable goods' had been made disposable and fascinated by the idea that I could walk out with a flat-packed kitchen that could be assembled with an allen wrench. Driving home with a consumerist hangover (despite buying nothing), the LSW and I had the same assessment: "That stuff would be great in a dorm room or vacation home."

Flash forward a number of years, and here is how we opened year 6 of or little build-it-yourself adventure...

 To be fair, this isn't all Ikea. And there was also a farmhouse sink and 2 mattresses that wouldn't fit into the shot.
We had a kitchen and beds from Ikea, closet and storm doors from Home Depot, and a tag sale lamp; now we just needed something to sit on in the 'living room'. We wanted a sectional, but the space is small and we didn't want to overwhelm it. And how to coordinate furniture delivery? And where are we going to find a furniture store near Shangri-La when we're forced to drive an hour just to get towels?

Google to the rescue: Home Reserve. Sectional sofas in the Ikea spirit - configure to taste, receive in boxes, and assemble it yourself - while being small enough for the space AND having storage under each cushion. Afraid it was too good to be true, we ordered piece 1 of 6 to check it out.

Imagine that this is a photo of my putting it together instead.
The particle-board frame came in numbered pieces packed together with compressed foam and fabric. Everything went together in about 30 minutes. The good: Much sturdier than you'd think, looks really good, and all of fabric comes off if needed for cleaning or replacing. Less good: The bottom cushions are pretty short, so an ottoman is a must if you plan to relax. We needed small, though, so we were sold. I assembled it on the first day of 'opening weekend 2014'...

Note the U-Haul in the background - the LSW will share a little of that experience in a future post!
...and bam! Bob's your uncle.

The perfect fit!
No time to enjoy it, however, as we had sworn that 2014 would be free of camping-cots and sleeping bags. It was too late to assemble the beds, though, so we figured we'd move the mattresses into the loft and sleep on the floor for night one.

Low ceilings and the need for storage led us to platform beds with 2 drawers on each side. In order to pull out the drawers comfortably, though, they needed to be Full rather than Queen. This was fortunate it quickly became clear that it might be impossible to get the mattresses upstairs.

Here's the thing: That triple 'beam' I put across the middle of the cathedral in a fit of over-engineering was a big mistake. It forced us into an extremely narrow spiral stair, and will ensure that almost nothing larger than a lamp will make it into the loft once the railings are up. If it weren't for my (apparently) excellent special relation skills, we'd have been forced to downscale to twin mattresses (and maybe beds).

If it ever comes down, it will be in pieces.
On day 2, we decided to finish the gable walls before assembling the beds. Before the trip, I read this blog from beginning to end and noted that the things we complained most about were insulation and drywall sanding. last year we ended with one rough layer of mud on the gable seams, and I decided to 'cheat' to avoid dust all over everything: We'd simply cover the seams with 1x4 trim. And so we did.

There was enough paint left over to do both sides, but The Boy wants his side blue, so its in primer for now.
While the LSW primed and painted the gables, I got to work assembling the base cabinets to make sure they fit the space. They did, though I found that I needed to rethink the upper cabinets around the window as I didn't plan its location for standard cabinet sizes. Yet another in a long list of lessons learned.

Still a mess, but we're getting there.
Better on this side!
It was good to have the sawhorses out and begin to get a feel for what a real kitchen will be like. On the next trip we'll mount and finish the lowers and start planning for the uppers.

We finished out the trip with the beds, which were deceptively complex and took about 5 hours to assemble. The day after all the assembly, my fingers ached. Not the muscles - which are largely in the lower arms - but my fingers. Allen wrenches are not the most ergonomic of tools. That or more evidence that I'm getting old.

I had planned to finish the siding under the eaves and the storm doors, but, as always, everything took twice as long as I expected so they'll have to wait. (You'd think I'd be better at that by now!)

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Spiral stairway to heaven

LSW here. You'll be happy to know, the summer came and went without any further injuries.
We've been busy the last couple of trips up to Shangri-La. Beautiful wood floors just don't appear out of thin air, you know. Admittedly I had nothing to do with them, so the Vermonster will have to add his two cents. All I know is that we used a flooring STAPLER, not a flooring nailer. This difference was fortunately pointed out by the gentleman at the hardware store where said equipment was rented. (Yes, we had to rent it again. The Vermonster took apart his co-worker's stapler, which she had generously lent us, but to no avail. It needed more help than he could give it.) Another good thing-- we found that a closer hardware store rented tools, not just the evil two-hour-away Home Depot.
So while the Vermonster did the hard work, I did the meditative work of sealing tile, painting trim, hanging the new shower curtain and staining the decks.

But hold onto your hipster knit hats, because we have some big news: the spiral staircase is in da house! We went back and forth a million times on whether we should get a staircase or a ship's ladder. I was actually pushing for the ladder; it seemed more in tune with the cabin vibe, and we'd found some beautifully crafted ones that would've been cheaper than the staircase. But here was the true test: when the Vermonster finished the upstairs floors, I wanted to take a peek, which meant I had to climb up the regular ladder. Not really a big deal, unless of course, you're suffering from mind-altering vertigo, which is my permanent state. I got stuck on the top rung and thought we'd have to call the fire department to get me down. Only there is no fire department in town, thus rendering me a shaking, sobbing mess. The decision was made. A spiral stair it would be!
A big truck showed up in front of our house and out came a huge box. No, it wasn't free shipping with Amazon Prime. This box contained 11 heavy-ass stair treads, one even heavier gate, and a huge pole. We somehow managed to squeeze it all into the truck and my car and off we went.
Let me just say, it is a true miracle that we got that staircase up without incident. This is due to the Vermonster's strength, agility and skills with spatial relationships. I have none of those qualities; however, I do lay some mean tile.

In any case, it took pretty much the whole day, but by the end, we had this thing of beauty:

We stood back and looked at it and both had the same revelation: we don't want a woodsy, moose-themed cabin. We want a New York loft in the woods. After five summers of working on the cabin, we finally had a vision for it. Next up: insulating the basement, railings at the top of the lofts, and kitchen cabinets. By next summer, we should be D-O-N-E. DONE!

One last note. In August, our beloved kitty Bud Light started slowing down. At 14, he wasn't really an old cat, but we knew his time was coming to an end. We obviously didn't want to leave him alone, so we took him up to Shangri-La with us one weekend. He actually perked up a bit in the cabin, and spent some time exploring and sitting in the grass. That was his last weekend with us, and I'm happy that he got a chance to be there. Rest in peace, Budley.


Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Days Without Accident: 0

LSW here. And now, Memorial Day Weekend from my point of view. The Vermonster picked up the pop-up camper on Friday morning. As you can see from the picture, it is just a wee thing. It could practically fit in your back pocket. You would never guess that, once unfolded, it would turn into the most glorious toy ever for a couple of seven-year-olds. THANK GOD we had the camper that weekend. While Mother Nature unleashed her wrath, the tiny folk sat in the camper and watched movies, played games and learned what it would be like to someday live in a New York-sized apartment.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Braumeister and I headed into the big city to do some food shopping. We stopped at a couple of farms, the Grafton Cheese Company and the Brattleboro Co-op, where we procured all the fixins for some gourmet meals. For example, I present to you these beauties: Pizzas on the grill topped with beef and spiced potatoes; caramelized onion, goat cheese and arugula; and Vermont pepperoni and smoked cheddar.

They were amazing. Of course, we had a selection of beverages to go with them.  (Stored in the new refrigerator!)

Because the gents worked so hard installing the hard wood floors, we ladies decided to sleep out in the camper with the kids. Imagine, if you will, what it's like to be in a teeny-tiny camper while the winds whip around you and the rain beats down and the heater kicks in with a loud "BOOOOOONNNNNNNNGGGGGGG" every few minutes. Fortunately Mrs. Braumeister had a sense of humor about this all and she stayed up all night giggling while I escorted The Boy back and forth to the cabin for bathroom breaks.  

On Sunday, the skies cleared up a bit, so we took the kids to Billings Farm where they were having a Cheese and Dairy Weekend. Hurray! The kids ate ice cream, we ate cheese and everyone was happy. And then we came home to:
Taa Daa! An almost-finished downstairs. This is the library book that the Vermonster has had out for about six months now. I hate to see what the overdue fines are. In any case, I can't tell you how exciting it is to actually be able to stand on smooth boards instead of the filthy, splintery sub-floor. Almost as exciting as this:
Actor re-enactment of the fall.

Yes, the Vermonster almost plummeted to his untimely death on our last day at the cabin. You see, after all these years of being able to climb up the ladder like a monkey, the Vermonster forgot that the shiny new floors might not provide the same amount of grip as the old crap floors. For about five seconds, I grappled with the thought that I was going to have to finish this damn cabin by myself. Fortunately, he just got a little banged up. 

Saturday, June 1, 2013

The Flooring Begins!

We can smile because our backs have not yet given out. They will.

Over a particularly good IPA one evening a month ago, Braumeister and I formulated a plan whereby we would rent a popup camper and he, Mrs. Braumeister and The Girl would join us for Memorial Day. The concept was that The Boy and The Girl would keep each other occupied while the ladies availed themselves of the myriad Vermont distractions while I and Braumeister tackled the hardwood flooring. In my mind, it was all cookouts with organic VT faire, good microbrews, and campfires under the stars.

And the work, of course.

The gods were only partially with us, though: The weather over Memorial Day weekend was less ‘bucolic spring’ and more ‘monsoon’, resulting in a sleepless (but mirth-filled) camper experience coupled with our first indoor ‘campfire’.

Strange, but fun.

Fortunately, Sunday lived up to its name, and we (mostly) completed the downstairs floors and celebrated with some really killer microbrews, gourmet VT grilled pizzas (thank you LSW and Mrs. Braumeister!) and a campfire under the stars. Nice, nice, nice!

Day #1. We got this far before the nail gun stopped working.

Some random notes:
  • The nail gun was on loan from one of my employees, which turned into an awkward fact when it stopped working 4 hours into day 1. It seemed to be firing (or was it?), but the nails were not feeding. This was bad for two reasons: 1) The weekends work was in jeopardy and 2) there is no way I can return a borrowed tool – to my employee – not working. We solved the first problem by driving an hour to the Keene, NH Home Depot to rent a floor nailer. The second problem has yet to be solved, but will probably involve disassembling, cleaning, and praying. These bad boys are almost $500, and I really don’t want to buy one. (Renting one, btw, is $35/day – a no-brainer if you have less than 1,000 sq ft to do…)
  • A popup camper - $350 for the weekend – is worth 4 times that in that it will keep your 7-year old and his friend out of your hair for an entire weekend, no questions asked. Pretty cool little rig, too – at about $7,000 new, a viable – and more flexible – alternative to building a guest cottage. At $3,000 used…
  • The LSW and Mrs. Braumeister took The Boy and The Girl to Billings Farm on Sunday, to rave reviews. Apparently beautiful, engaging and educational for all involved. I and Mr. Braumeister wouldn’t know, as we spend the entire day discovering how tempermental our middle-aged backs actually are.
  • A recent commenter to this blog dropped by with his wife on Sunday, and we had a brief – but enjoyable – conversation. Like us, they are pursuing the dream of building their own place in Shangri-la, not that far from us. They, however, are made of sterner stuff – living with far fewer amenities over the last 6 years, and doing things like excavating for the foundation themselves. My hat is off to them, and I look forward to dropping in to see their progress soon.
  • Flooring is not difficult, but it is tough on the back. You are continually bent over selecting pieces, laying pieces, and nailing them in place. The flooring nailer is a slick piece of kit, and I was pretty proud of the way I could knock even bowed pieces in place almost as fast as the guys you see on YouTube. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: If what you are doing is difficult, it is because you don’t have the right tool.
  • Vermont pepperoni and smoked VT cheddar make for an awesome grilled pizza! And there is no better way to enjoy grilled gourmet VT pizza than around a campfire followed by s’mores under the stars.
  • It will take you almost 4 hours to completely clean, disinfect and switch the hinges on the free refrigerator you got while delivering sold woodworking tools listed on Craigslist. You think it will take 30 minutes, but it won’t. It will be awesome to have all that cooling capacity for your microbrews, but it will be sorta sad to introduce the ‘modern world’ buzz to your quiet cabin evenings.
  • Being able to tow a camper behind your modest, cheap, 2WD, 4-cylinder Ford Ranger will make you fall in love with it all over again. How does anyone live without a pickup? Be damned if I know…
  • ‘Mill Run’ flooring is interesting; about 30% of it will have the puttied knots and imperfections that you bought it for (‘character’) but you will discard all of this trying to get a relatively uniform appearance – even though that is NOT what you wanted. You will fight with yourself even to include the darker pieces that are otherwise perfect. In the end you will wish you had just picked out the pieces randomly and lived with the results. Oh well – maybe for the lofts…
  • Flooring joins framing and wallboarding as the jobs that most radically transform the appearance of the building. What a rush to stand back and see that dirty, faded subflooring (that you have been looking at since day 1) replaced by beautiful, clean oak.
  • The new flooring, however, affords much less traction, and you may find yourself stepping onto your loft as the ladder providing 90% of your support suddenly gives way. When that happens, every 1/100 of a second will be world onto itself as you desperately attempt to avoid a major injury. Fun, fun, fun! The LSW and the Braumeister watched the whole thing in real time, so perhaps we can get the LSW’s perspective in a future blog post. My first words after the pain allowed me to speak: "Please tell me the floor isn't scratched..."
Done! Except for the last 4 rows on the left...