Shangri La

Shangri La

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...