Shangri La

Shangri La

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Looking Forward to 2012

2011 saw the transition of the cabin from a place we work on to a place we still mostly work on, but can also occasionally just enjoy. Trips up are a lot less expensive now that we don’t have to book a hotel/inn/campsite and eat out. Not that eating in is exactly easy – a portable grill and a toaster oven only take you so far.

So what’s in store for 2012? I’d like to say we’ll finish everything, but I doubt that will happen. Even done on the cheap, the kitchen will be a chunk of money, and we’ve still got floors, ceilings, the back deck and an endless punch list to deal with. And the remaining insulation work in the ceiling and basement.

I’ll be happy next year if we manage to complete the insulation, build the back deck, finish the wall-boarding in the gables, install the t&g ceilings, and close in the eaves and porch ceiling. If money allows, it would be nice to get the floors down and the spiral stair up, but I don’t expect it.

Right now I’ve got 8 long weekends in Shangri-La on the calendar – roughly one per month from late April through early November. My father is contemplating a trip up and is recommending we ask my sister’s family to join us for another ‘big push’ weekend. Both he and my sister are slave drivers, so that could take us a long way to done.

But for now, a long winter’s nap - Happy New Year, everyone!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Wrapping up 2011

There were two more trips to Shangri-La in October before we closed up shop for the season. Both were to be family trips, but the vertigo the LSW has been battling combined with a forecast of sub-freezing temperatures, cancelled the second, and I went up alone.

On the first trip, we managed to install the rear porch light, fix the dodgy job I did months ago on the front porch light, fix the non-working heaters (as suspected - loose connections), complete the downstairs drywall and install half of the kitchen tile backer board. Why only half?

To properly install the rear porch light, I had to remove the sheetrock we previously installed around the back door. In doing so, we noticed that the sheetrock and the floor to the left of the door was wet. Somehow we’ve got a little water coming in around (through?) the back door, and I don’t want to do any more work around it until we fix it. I really hate having to ‘revisit’ work we thought was done, but there you go. is this happening?
Given the wood rot at the base of the door, I suspect a bad seal.
 Another exciting experience that Saturday: I have a habit of getting to the basement door by using the rock wall next to it as a ladder, leaping from stone to stone like a mountain goat. Or not, the LSW and The Boy can attest by my writhing on the ground, clutching my ankle and spewing obscenities for 10 minutes. By nightfall, I was limping around the cabin contemplating a trip to the hospital. It was a little better the next morning, however, so I soldiered though. Took almost 2 weeks to be back to 100% again, though.

Before we left, I drained the water from the house, and - while I was at it, replaced the well filter. In the pic below, it becomes apparent why we need one.

Old and new filters - see if you can tell which is which!
The second trip was just for the day, and focused almost exclusively on installing the ceiling insulation. This is an awful job. It seems easy, but you end up covered with millions of tiny little prickly fiberglass hairs that drive you crazy and make you feel filthy until you’ve had about 3 showers. I wish I could say I’m done, but there’s still half the ceiling to do.

More lessons learned, by the way: The only cathedral ceiling insulation I could get to fit 24” rafter spacing was 10” thick R-38. This worked insofar as I have 12” rafters and need 2” of airspace for roof ventilation, but it is well shy of the R-50 that code recommends. Thankfully code is not an issue in Shangri-La, but if I had known, I might have opted for 10’ – rather than 8’ – walls to provide room for foam board insulation above the tongue-and-groove ceiling. As it is, there is precious little headroom in the lofts, so R-38 will probably be our max.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Mus musculus

Die, you adorable little bastard!

I’ve been told that all cabins have mice, no matter what you try to do to keep them out. I’m convinced they can squeeze through a nail hole, but it isn’t necessary as the eaves are still only loosely sealed and the basement door is hardly air-tight. On our last visit, I lay on my cot listening to the scurrying of little feet in the dark hoping the LSW didn’t hear it and cut our trip short. In my mind, I’m rehearsing a speech about the mice we have at home despite the presence of one lazy (though admittedly de-clawed) cat.

When we last left, we made sure all food came with us, and the soft stuff – pillows, sleeping bags, cot pads, etc. – went into plastic bins. Still, I had planned to return to install a more secure ‘inner door’ on the basement entrance, perhaps supplemented by mouse poison or traps. As a good Buddhist, I’m conflicted about this, but it’s unlikely to be an issue now until next spring. With temps in Shangri-La hovering around freezing, and the basement (and hence water) insulation still on the ‘to do’ list, we’re unlikely to be back to do anything except check on the place until spring.

Until then, the mice, unfortunately, have run of the place.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

October 3, 2011

This is the second of the Monday day-trips to work through the punch list before the season ends. I’m up at 4 and out by 5, something I haven’t done since ski trips in college. It’s dark out, overcast and drizzling while I pack up, and the rain continues off and on all the way to Shangri-La.
Next year, a spiral stair will replace the ladder.

I stop for coffee at Dunkin, and then at the Putney Co-op for an egg and cheese and something to stash for lunch. I’m thinking sharp cheddar and some fresh bread, but then a Thai peanut wrap catches my eye and I’m good to go.

At the cabin, the gloom and drizzle make it feel colder than it is, and I turn on the heat and discover that two of the units aren’t working. There’s nothing complex about electric wallboard heaters, so I’m assuming I have a bad connection somewhere. I’m not going to look for it today, however – I prefer to have someone else around when I’m working with 240-volt wiring. Yes, I could just kill the main breaker and have at it, but I’m cautious to the point of superstition with electricity, so I’ll wait until the LSW is up here with me next weekend.

I make the completion of the downstairs wall board the mission of the day. I’m this close to being done, and finishing it will allow me to free up space in the kitchen. The more materials we use or clear out, the more it feels like a living space rather than a construction site.

I’ve got a few big spaces to cover that will require full sheets, but I’ve got smaller areas as well. The first job is to sort through all the scraps to find pieces that have the beveled factory edges meant for taping – you don’t want to cut up a full piece if you have scrap that will work. Despite five full sheets and a lot of good scrap, I work over the next 5 hours and come up 4 sheets short: I need two 3 x 8 pieces – one for the entry and one for the back of the closet – a full sheet for behind the [future] refrigerator, and a 2 ½ x 8 piece for the ‘command center’ (where we have the fuse box, phone, thermostat, well and hot water heater switches). I also need another 4 sheets to cover the gable ends in the loft, so I’m about 8 sheets from being done – approximately $40 in total.
The 'command center'
The work continues to be simplicity itself: Measure, score, snap and cut. If you need a right angle or a cut-out for a gang box, some of the sides will have to be cut with a sheetrock saw: Stab the sheet and then saw. Position the board and screw it in using a cordless drill and sheetrock screws. Voila – Bob’s your uncle.

I interrupted the work only once to rough-in the wiring for the center lights and their 3-way switches. While  doing so, I nearly fell off the ladder at the sound of knocking on the porch door. I’m not the nervous type, but we’re just not used yet to getting visitors up here. Turned out to be a representative from FEMA making sure everyone knew how to contact the agency if they had a claim to file in the wake of Irene. Evidence of my tax dollars at work! Having weathered the storm with no damage to speak of, we spent 10-15 minutes talking instead about how one goes from being a desk jockey to building your own place. My response boiled down to overconfidence and a whole lot of books.
An oven, counter and refrigerator will ultimately replace the materials, sawhorses and ladder...

After the last board was up, I cleaned the place thoroughly, stacked the unusable wall board in the truck and reacquainted myself with the remaining tools and materials stacked under what is currently passing for a kitchen countertop (two sawhorses and a bunch of leftover siding). The only surprise was that I had an unopened second container of cement for mounting down the tile backer boards in the kitchen and entry. Bonus! I know what we’ll be doing next week…

Friday, September 30, 2011

Half off hardware goodies!

We interrupt ... well, nothing really. But I just wanted to alert our Connecticut readers to today's Groupon, which you can bet we jumped on real quick. Ring's End, which has lumber and building supplies, is offering half off certificates. So for $25, you can get $50 worth of stuff, or go for the gold and spend $100 for $200 worth of sheet rock, insulation or other goodies. Check it out HERE. Maybe this means we'll get the downstairs all finished by the end of the fall!

[Vermonster Update: We bought $100 worth, which I used to buy half of the insulation needed for the cathedral ceiling. Bonus!]

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

September 26, 2011

I'm taking a break from the usual manic Monday routine to do some work at the cabin. Up at 5, packed and on the road by 6:10. I’m thinking I’d like to see if Brattleboro has cleaned up since the Hurricane, but the traffic into town is significantly backed up and I hop right back onto the highway.

A few more exits up I find I’m able to travel the roads that were blocked during my last trip. There’s earth-moving equipment in many places along the river, apparently rebuilding the riverbanks at critical spots. There are two mobile homes that appear to be a total loss, one house that that is marginal, and a covered bridge that made it through but took some heavy damage. Pretty impressive from a ‘river’ that is usually 1 – 4 feet deep at most.

After a stop at the village store for a croissant and the local papers, I’m at the cabin by 9 AM. The leaves are already beginning to turn and the roads have a picturesque dusting of the ones that have already fallen. It would be the perfect fall day except that it’s a little too hot and already somewhat humid.

My goal is to complete the electrical and plumbing work – of which very little remains. The first task is to correct the dodgy job I did installing the front porch light – mounting the light to the wall and feeding the wires to a gang box facing the cabin interior. What was I thinking? Even the electrician left a note saying “uh, you might want to consider…” 15 minutes, a hole saw and an round gang box and I can hold my head up at an IBEW meeting again. Not that I'd know where to find one.

That fix was the only thing preventing me from finishing the downstairs insulation, however, so I decide to put it up now rather than waiting until the LSW and The Boy are with me. Insulation is deceptively nasty, and the less we work with it while we’re trying to enjoy the place the better. This leads to the first ‘son of a bitch!’ moment when I realize that the two rolls of R19 I bought were for 16” – rather than 24” – framing. How could I possibly have missed that? I knew they seemed like too much of a bargain when I bought them. I decide to make it work, however, and spend the next couple of hours finishing the downstairs insulation.

I consider turning back to the electrical after lunch, but the temptation to cover the insulation with dry wall is overwhelming and I give in. This leads to the second SOAB moment when I cut two leftover pieces of wall board only to find that they are both 1’ too short. Yes, Norm, I hear you: Measure TWICE, cut ONCE. Aggravating the situation, I find that I need to change the framing inside the closet to mount them. No surprise, as SOAB moments are invariable followed by ‘more work than expected’ experiences. The reframing I do here opens my eyes to 3 other minor framing tasks I’ve been stalling on, and I figure I might as well address them while the mitre saw is out and the Paslode is cooperating.

I use the two short pieces of drywall I’ve cut and patch in smaller pieces above. It’s the entry closest, and I reason that I’ll cover the seams with a shelf. I then put the remaining insulation in the loft, and – with my new framing-ray vision - realize I have additional framing to do on the gable walls in order to effectively mount both the wall board and pine ceiling. SOAB! (And MWTE.)

At this point it is 2:30, and I still have to unload the kitchen/entry tile backer boards from the truck and clean up before leaving, so I call it a day. Looking around, I feel like I got very little done. As always.

On the way back, I travel through Brattleboro and am pleased to find that Flat Street has been cleaned up and the Latchis looks like it is about to reopen (maybe it already has?). My favorite restaurant – the Flat Street Pub – is still closed, however. I’m back at the house by 6:30 – in time to talk with The Boy before bed. The only beer in the fridge is a Heineken left over from somewhere, but even cheap beer tastes really good after a long day of travel and ‘real’ work.

Next week I’ll be up for another day trip, still trying to finish the punch list before winter sets in…

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

All's Quiet on the Cabin Building Front

When we began this project, The Boy was 2 and his needs - while continual - were at least restricted to the home. He was, in a word, ‘portable’, and went where we went, when we wanted to go.

And so we dreamed of monthly long weekends at the cabin, facilitated by my generous vacation days and the LSW’s from-home freelancing career.

What we forgot, of course, was that The Boy would soon become encumbered by interests and activities generated by:
• Him – “I don’t want to go to the cabin – there’s nothing to do there”
• Society – Insofar as absence from school is ‘truancy’
• Us – We’ve become the parents we formerly scoffed at, enrolling him in Soccer, Karate, Religious Education, etc, and ourselves in the PTA, Father’s Club, etc.

So when, exactly, do we get to escape to Shangri-La? July and August, apparently. A shame as we love VT most in the fall. The best I’ve been able to do this year is 2 weekends prior to Thanksgiving for the whole family, and 2 overnights for me. My original goal was to have all of the insulation in and the wall board up this year, but it’s starting to look like the cathedral ceiling and basement insulation will have to wait until next year. I should be able to get all of the wall insulation and wall board up, however.

Since the last post, there was a single trip up the day after the Hurricane. As the LSW noted in the previous post, VT was hit pretty hard by flooding – apparently the result of the land being pretty much water saturated before Irene came a-callin’. The cabin was apparently untouched except for having no power, but the towns around it got hit pretty hard. The major roads in from the North and West were effectively impassable, and my route from the South involved at least one significant detour. I arrived at 3PM, checked the cabin inside and out, breathed a sigh of relief, and headed back south for dinner.

We were lucky, and our thoughts are with many of our neighbors up there as they rebuild.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Hurricane Irene update

LSW here. As you might've heard on the news, Vermont got a surprise wallop from Hurricane Irene. We expected the worst in Connecticut, so we were prepared with lots of water, food and candles, but no one ever suspected that Vermont would take a hit. We're very lucky-- the cabin is fine. Unfortunately, some of the neighboring towns didn't fare so well. Our hearts go out to the residents of Grafton, Saxtons River, Brattleboro and all the other towns that are now faced with having to recover from the damage incurred by the overflowing river. No doubt it's going to be a long, hard road from here on out.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

We are FUN.

LSW here with the Top Ten Most Awesome Sauce Things About This Past Weekend in Shangri-La.

1) I forgot to pack The Boy's suitcase. Fun! Where do people go to shop for clothes in our little paradise? I have no idea. I drove 1 1/2 hours to the nearest Walmart.

2) Despite the fact that our "kitchen" consists of a toaster oven , a coffee maker and an electric griddle set over a couple of boards across some sawhorses, it's still nicer than my "real" kitchen at home.

3) There is nothing, I mean nothing, more exciting than styrofoam. (And clean underwear.)

4) Except maybe Battleship. Hours and hours of Battleship. 

 5) Sandwiches, but they're not on bread. They're on pretzels. Pretzels!

 6) We like to include an educational element to our weekends in Shangri-La.

 ("The otter die cuss it smoket to much" and "He done got shot." Can't make this stuff up, folks.)

7) Road eggs. So charming, so quaint. Until you accidentally stick a $10 bill instead of a $1 into the locked cash box.  

8) Beer. Called The Vermonster.

9) Fireworks in the pouring rain.
10) Clear water!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Nothing is Ever Quite Done

 Looking around this weekend I was struck again with how nothing ever seems to quite get finished.
  • The siding is done, but the eaves still need to be boxed in.
  • The plumbing is done except for the hose spigot and the bathroom vanity.
  • The landscaping is done except for the driveway surfacing.
  • The electrical is done, except for the track lighting, the ceiling fan and the exterior outlets.
  • And rewiring the porch lights.
  • And installing the bathroom light/exhaust unit.
And so it goes - a growing punch list that I’ll get to ‘next time’.

Then there is the unexpected re-work ; month I noticed that one of the porch posts - comprised of 4 glued-up pieces - had a couple of small seam splits about ½ way up one side. This last weekend there were similar splits on the center column and additional splits on the first column. What gives? Could a 6x14 porch roof really exceed the combined 7500 lbs the posts are rated for? Or is it a manufacturing defect? I’ll continue to watch them, but they’ll probably get replaced with solid 6x6 posts (with a little decorative embellishing) before the winter snows add to the load this year.

And the regular work continues. There was some additional taping and sanding in the bathroom, but most of the weekend was given to insulation and sheet rock. My father hung the first 6 sheets of wall board in the dining/kitchen space, so this was my first experience with gypsum board. Turns out its messy, fairly easy, and very gratifying. Like framing, the changes are dramatic and the clear evidence of progress kinda propels you along.

The tools are simple, too: Saw horses, tape measure, chalk line, pencil, utility knife, wall board saw and cordless drill.  Put a sheet on the saw horses, measure and mark it for pesky obstacles (like windows door), cut one direction with the saw, score the other with the utility knife, snap the sheet at the score and cut the opposite side with the knife.

Easy, right?

Until you discover that you cut everything ‘mirror image’ so the backside faces outward. Or that you measured the distance to the window from the wrong side of the sheet. Or you go to lift the sheet up without adequate support and break it. Or you don’t support a ‘snapped’ piece adequately while cutting it and rip the paper on the reverse side. Or you lay the piece up on the wall only to find that your framing apparently isn’t 2’ on center after all.  (How did that happen??)

Fortunately, my father had clued me into some of these pitfalls previously, so I only ruined one of the 8 sheets we ultimately put up. Another reminder he provided: Keep the factory edges where sheets meet - there is a ‘valley’ toward the edges that is designed to keep the seams level and invisible. If you must cut a factory edge, do it on an inside or outside corner, or against a door or window where it will be covered by trim work.

Really, though - this is up there with tiling as a job too easy to ever contract for again. Taping, maybe; putting the wall board up - no way.

On the walls, anyway. I suspect that the ceiling would be more of a trick, but we‘re using tongue-and-groove pine, so we‘ll never find out.

So now each downstairs wall is mostly done, as running out of insulation and the need for final wiring work prevented us from finishing the job. One more thing for the list of ‘next times’…

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

First Night Part II

The LSW covered the ‘First Night’ weekend pretty well, but I have to weigh in on a couple of thing:

1)    Mice. There has been evidence of them in the cabin since the beginning. They are getting in through the basement hatch, and can easily get upstairs through the various plumbing and wiring holes. The basement hatch is going to get a better seal when I finish insulating later this year, and the holes will be filled with spray insulation just as soon as I finish what little remains of the plumbing and wiring. Even then, I suspect they’ll always be a presence – just like they are at home (unfortunately).
2)    Spiders. It’s not like they are everywhere, although their numbers are growing in the crawlspace. Which is odd, as I’ve never seen any bugs down there, so what could they possibly be eating except each other? Buddhism be damned, I’m going to start spraying the bastards next time I’m up; I don’t like spiders and I’m not going to have them lurking in the floor joists ready to attack me.
3) The toilet. There is always one job that gives you unforeseen problems and trashes your carefully planned schedule. The toilet was generously donated by my father, and - I've no doubt - was working fine when he removed it. I’m sure it was something we were doing, but after removing the tank for the 5th or 6th time we just snapped. Kudos to the LSW for opting to run to Keene, NH rather than pack it up and go home. The new toilet was less than $90 and took all of 15 minutes to install. We could have wept when the water from the first flush ended up in the bowl rather than on the floor.
4)    Orange water. We had been warned that this was likely. The water tests fine and looks clear coming out of a hose, but accumulate some in a white toilet or bath and it is, in fact, rather orange. Quite rather orange, in fact. I’ve been assured that this is just minerals and can be cleared up easily with a well filter. Not wanting it to permanently stain the toilet until the next trip, however, I sourced some clear water from the Saxtons River and poured it in before we left. On the way home, however, it occurred to me that river water probably has microorganisms in it, and I now fear we’ll find a jungle growing in (or out of!) the toilet when we return. Oops.
5) Dog Eat Dog World hot dog truck in North Walpole NH. The LSW and I are in perfect agreement: This place is kick-ass, and I don't even (usually) like hot dogs!

Best part of the weekend: Beer and burgers on the front porch Saturday evening.

Strangest part: The coyotes (Wolves? Unicorns?) we heard Saturday night.

Most unexpected: Where the hell were all the bugs!?! Growing up in Maine I remember black fly season, mosquito season and deathly cold season – something I figured was true everywhere in northern New England. Apparently not in Shangri-La, however, although I was pestered by horseflies whenever I got more than 100 feet away from the cabin…

First Night

LSW here. Settle in. It's going to be a long post.

Will it work? Here's a hint. This was toilet #1.
It’s amazing the things I’ll touch in the cabin that I wouldn’t even go near at home. (Insert your own joke here.) For instance, a single spider at home is cause to freak out. The cabin? Eh, they’re part of the ambiance. Mouse poops? At home I see evidence of one and I put on the haz-mat suit, convinced we’re all going to die from hantavirus. At the cabin, I just clean it all up with a vacuum and Lysol wipes. (Although I just this very minute read that you’re not supposed to vacuum them up; so much for my brazen attitude. Now I’m back to freaking out.) In any case, this was, dear reader, a Very Special Weekend. This weekend, we stayed overnight.
Here was the plan: We leave Friday at noon, get to the cabin by 3. We begin installation of toilet, which should take an hour, give or take. Then hang the shower curtain and twist some knobs and handles and such in the basement and bask in the glory of indoor plumbing.

Here’s how it really went. The Vermontster set about the toilet duties while I cleaned up the aforementioned mouse poops and started painting the window trim in order to prep for hanging up the blinds.
The inaugural flush. We are one fun family.
Two hours later, we’re up to our elbows in orange well water in the toilet that seems to be leaking from the tank. We pull the tank off. Adjustments are made. We put it back on. We flush. It leaks. And so on and so forth.
By 7 p.m., we had a decision to make. We decided to get the toilet to the point that we could use it, but had to keep a bucket underneath the tank and ignore the drip, drip, drip. So much for the quickie install. Then, in what seemed like might possibly be a fool’s errand, we taped all the cracks in the eaves with masking tape, in an effort to keep out any mosquitos. You can stop laughing now.
We headed to Bellows Falls for dinner. We’d read that Miss Bellows Falls, the old-timey diner in town, had a dinner special. For $15 you get soup, salad and an entrée. We’re not talking open-faced roast beef or a club sandwich. The menu was very tantalizing to our organic, free-range, gourmet taste buds. The Vermonster ordered the beef molé and I got the balsamic pork. The soup was a butternut squash bisque, and the salad was largely composed of edible flowers. The concept was excellent. The atmosphere was wonderful. Unfortunately, the food was only so-so and the service was S-L-O-W. We have faith that if we go back for breakfast, things will be better.
After dinner, despite the late hour, we decided to walk down Main Street, which was all a-bustle. It felt like we were on a movie set. The clock tower was lit up, and behind it, the clouds were all puffed up in front of the Green Mountains. There were people everywhere. “How cool!” we said. “The town is alive!” It was only when we got to the movie theater that we realized that it was opening night for the last Harry Potter movie, so the crowds were there early. Otherwise, it probably would’ve been a couple of tattooed old guys sitting at the bar at the VFW.
And this was where the adventure truly began. On the way back, we realized we’d never been to the cabin at night. In the dark. In the woods at night.
Who needs The Ritz when you can have mis-matched sheets and camping cots?
Oh yes, I was having a mild panic attack, but I kept it under wraps lest I freak The Boy out. We purchased three camping cots and pads from Cabela’s and lined them up in the “living room.” We settled in and prepared to experience our first evening of out-in-the-country quiet. The type of quiet that keeps city folk up all night. You know, the absence of police sirens and honking horns and drunk 20-somethings singing “Sweet Caroline”  and all that.
We were about a half hour into lights-out when the loudest motorcycle on the planet announced its presence. It must’ve been going 90 m.p.h. on the twisty, dirt road below our property. All I could think was, “You’ve got to be kidding me.” We just built a cabin in the woods three hours away from home and this is what we hear?  
Well, better than a bear, I thought to myself. Because that’s been my recent fear. We’ve had a bear sighting in our town in Connecticut (a mile away from our house), and it’s freaked the crap out of me. What would I do if The Boy and I were out walking and suddenly happened upon a giant mother bear and its babies? Hey, I know all about that Mama Bear protection instinct. It can be deadly.
So, in the scope of things, a motorcycle didn’t seem too bad.
And then … phase 2 of the night. A sort of barking/howling miles away. Only it was getting closer. And closer. And closer. “They’ve got granola bars and beer!” I imagined the alpha male saying to his pals in wolf-speak. I was at the ready. I had a plan in place: shine the spotlight in their eyes and hit them with my Walkman if they came in through the door.
But thankfully, they didn’t. And, I might add, there was nary a mosquito, either. Evening One was a success.

The next morning we awoke ready to get to work. The Boy and I headed down to the general store to get some coffee (we couldn’t fit the coffee maker in the car) and the Vermonster set about the task at hand. The Boy was busy regaling the locals with chit-chat when one of the women in the store said, “Your husband just called. He needs matches.” Ah, yes, THIS is why we love Vermont.

Back at the ranch, things weren’t looking too good. We were elbow-deep in orange well water, tightening bolts and re-fitting washers and it just wasn’t happening. The toilet was still leaking. We took a drive to the nearest hardware store (20 minutes away), where we found a simple $4 toilet repair kit would save us lots of aggravation and money. Hooray! Then it was time for lunch. We stopped at the Dog Eat Dog World hot dog truck in Walpole, NH. Absolutely brilliant. 

I’ll be writing about this on my food blog, but let me just give you a bit of a teaser and say: hot dog with bacon and Thai peanut sauce, $2.
In any case, it was then back to the cabin with our miracle kit.
Pull off the tank. Drain the water. Put in new nuts and bolts and washers and wax seal and …drip. Drip. Pour.
Here’s where you, dear reader, get to be creative and insert your own colorful language that you think the Vermonster might use.
We had a decision in front of us. 1) Call it a day, pack up our stuff and go home, leaving the toilet job until the next trip. 2) Try yet again to make this thing work. Or 3) go to Home Depot and buy a new damn toilet.
The choice was easy for me. “I’m going to get a toilet,” I said, and headed off on what I thought would be an hour trip.
Three hours later, I returned with a giant box.
We tore into that thing and—boopity boopity boop—set it in place, flushed it a few times and experienced the miracle of Sir Thomas Crapper’s invention.
What you don't see is that the water is actually orange. We like to call it our mineral bath.
While I was gone on the Home Depot Mission from Hell, the shower rod was installed, as was an entire wall of insulation. All was good. We celebrated by jumping in the river to cool off. 
He's thinking, "Who needs a bathtub when we've got this?" He's kind of right.

Toilet #1, waiting for its new purpose as a planter
That night, we cooked some burgers on the grill and sat out on the front porch for the very first time. The sun made crazy patterns on the trees, and we listened to “A Prairie Home Companion” from the radio in my car. It was absolutely blissful. For the first time in this 3-year-old adventure, I actually felt like we were doing it. We were living the dream. We have our own place in the Vermont woods! And we built it! That night, we all slept peacefully. No motorcycles, no coyotes.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Mid-June and early July 2011

Having failed to achieve a working bath in May, we moved the goal-post to mid-July. This resulted in two interim trips - a weekend trip with the whole family in June and a day trip myself in July.

On the July trip, we celebrated the completion of the siding when my carved fleur-de-lis finally went up in the front gable. Nothing is without its trials however, and - after spending every night for a week carving it - I got a little too enthusiastic with the nail gun very nearly ruined it. After a temper tantrum and a shameful string of profanity, however, I had an idea and - voila! - all is well. (The carving was supposed to be both a nod to my ancestry and a way not to have to shingle the gable. For the latter: Mission Accomplished; for the former: We're a little concerned that people will think that it is a Boy Scout camp...)

C'est formidable!

And so the endless siding job comes to an end!

The other big achievement was all the LSW's - she grabbed the float and grouted all the tile. She then attacked the sheetrock taping. What a woman!

While she was at it, I got the plumbing to the point where only the tub spout and the exterior hose spigot remained. I also hooked up the first of the electric baseboard heat.

And VTel came around to hook up the phone, so now I can call 911 should I happen to nail my foot to the floor...

Finally - contact with the outside world.

We might have gotten ourselves to a working bath, but the LSW discovered that the annual Quechee Balloon Festival was Saturday and we couldn't resist the temptation. 

This, my friends, was worth the trip. Carnival atmosphere, local crafts, plenty of free food samples, plenty of stuff for The Boy, a beer garden, French-and-Indian War re-enactors(!), and lots of balloons.

There were about 30 of them, and the crowd was allowed to mill around the field as they were being inflated and launched - getting you right up close to the action. The boy loved it. We did, too. It is impossible not to be positively giddy when there are a boatload of balloons launching all around you.

Lodging for the weekend was at the Super 8 in Brattleboro courtesy of bargain prices the LSW found on the web. I would have liked to have stayed at the Saxtons River Inn again, but every dime in savings counts these days.

In early July, I was back up for a day trip. I had a long list of things to do, but in the end I managed only to seal the grout and hook up the remaining baseboard heaters. Hennessey Electric came in the following week to inspect my work and hook the the water heater and baseboard heat to the service panel. Done and done. The next trip, we'll be staying overnight...

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Mid-May 2011

Pictures from the 'big push' weekend. We didn't quite finish the bathroom, but a lot more drywall went up than anticipated, so it all balances out...

Insulating is a terrible job. It seems easy enough, but somehow you end up feeling dirty and itchy. You can get rid of the dirty with a shower, but about 20% of the itchy lasts for the next week. We finished almost 50% of the walls, though, so at least the end is already in sight.
My friend Nick showed up unexpectedly on Saturday and offered to lend a hand. This was our first 'drop-in' visitor, and - given that he lives 3 hours away - was much appreciated. He claimed to have no building experience at all, but then proceeded to help my father drywall all of the bath and part of the kitchen.
My father - like my sister - can be a real slave driver. Once he starts he doesn't stop, and somehow he kept us working until 6 PM on Monday even though I was ready to leave at noon. Getting home at after 9 PM after 3 solid days of work really sucks when you know you've got to get up at 5:30 AM to get to work on Tuesday, but be damned if we didn't get a whole lot more done than if I had been there myself!

The crew - dad, The Boy, me and Nick. The shower is in, the tile is down, the insulation and wallboard are up and *most* of the plumbing is in place.
Tile is easier than it looks! (Although this is easy for me to say as my father and the LSW did all the work while I ran the PEX.)
Once you get the drywall up, you can really begin to imagine the place done...
...until you turn and face the opposite direction. *sigh*
The solution: Just don't turn around!
It's hard to see, but this pic differs from the one about in that the vanity plumbing is in place, as is the diverter valve and the shower head in the tub. The day we get water from something other than a hose will be celebrated with champagne, believe you me.

So, in summary, the 'big push' weekend resulted in:
A bathtub
Bath insulation
Bath wallboard
Bath tile
90% of the waste plumbing
90% of the inlet plumbing
40% of the total wall insulation
40% of the wall sheetrock

Do we have a bathroom? Not yet. Are we close? Hell yeah!

Saturday, April 30, 2011

April 30, 2011

First 2011 overnight with the family; looking to install the backer board for the bath tile in advance of my father's visit in May.
Friday, 8:30 AM - we hit the road in two cars. I give the LSW the option of a quiet ride in the truck, but she opts for time with The Boy to keep her awake on the road. I'm not sure how I feel about this.
10:00 AM - jumping jacks by the LSW and The Boy at a scenic overlook in MA. The boy is just having fun; the LSW is trying to summon enough adrenaline to stop weaving all over the road.
11:45 AM - Shangri-la is about 2 weeks behind Trumbull in terms of spring foliage, but at least the snow is gone. I brought the lawn mower, but there's really no need. We move the dining room table inside, and find we have a place to sit after almost 2 years. Celebrate with roast beef sandwiches and chips.

3:00 PM - the tile backer board is down, with seams taped and mortared. I was afraid that this would be more complicated than it seemed, but - honestly - it wasn't. The LSW scooped the thinset mortar onto the floor, I troweled it, and down went the backer board. Screwing the backer board down took longer than laying it.

5:30 PM - the first two rows of shingles are up on the left side of the gable above the porch, and the porch floor is sealed. We retire to a cottage at the KOA in Dummerston, and then head into Brattleboro for dinner.

Saturday, 8:00AM - breakfast at the Putney Diner. Excellent spinach, mushroom and Swiss omelet. We indulge the boy in a piece of apple pie for breakfast, and the waitress scowls at our parenting skills. The Boy, however, cleans his plate for once, so its not for nothing.
11:00 AM - the only thing on the agenda is the front siding, so the LSW wears herself out in endless games of hide-and-seek with The Boy. When he decides to play whatever this game is, she is disturbed enough to begin placing a second coat of paint on all of the trim work...

2:00 PM - the front siding isn't done, but its damn close. I've spent more than 5 hours working on an incline, and my muscles are voicing their disapproval. The weather has cycled from between sunny and 65, raining and 40 and overcast and 50 about three times. The Jehovah's Witnesses have shown up to share the good new with us, and all of the trim has a second coat of paint. Not a bad half-day's work.

 I'd like to say that exterior is finally done, but we've still got to paint the front door, seal the eaves, and build the front steps, not to mention the rear deck, pergola, shutters and window boxes...