Shangri La

Shangri La

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...

Friday, May 31, 2013

Sanding the drywall: slightly better than insulation, worse than everything else

LSW here.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. During our last trip to Shangri-La, we were hell-bent on getting some serious work done. As you can read in the previous post, we met that goal. Let me tell you about it from my perspective.
My first task of the weekend was to sand the rest of the drywall. Physically, this is an easy job. All it takes is some elbow grease and the Vermonster’s specially-made mesh-nailed-to-a-wooden block tool. However, it is also the filthiest, nastiest, nails-on-a-chalkboard kind of job. You sand and sand and fine, powdery dust magically starts to cover everything, including your lungs and your eyeballs. About ten minutes into the action I donned a face mask and sunglasses which helped, but also creates a nice sweat barrier when you’re working. So then you’re sweating and being covered in carcinogenic pixie dust. To make matters worse, the Vermonster is a perfectionist when it comes to this sort of thing whereas I’m more of a “We’ll just stick a cabinet over that seam” type of gal. It’s just not a fun job.
On the other end of the spectrum, however, was more tile work. Of all the jobs I’ve done on the cabin (and admittedly, that’s only a fraction of what the Vermonster has done), I find tiling to be the most satisfying. More specifically, I find grouting to be very calming in a Zen kind of way. Once you get the rhythm done—fill, scrape, wipe, fill, scrape, wipe—you can imagine Mr. Miagi standing there saying, “Wax on, wax off, grasshopper.”
The downside to it all, however, is that you have to stay bent over on your knees all day long. Now that’s fine if you’re 25 years old, but I am not. It all goes to hell after you turn 40. I’m prone to sciatica and I have disc issues in my lower back. I couldn’t stretch out by the end of the day and, of course, we’re sleeping on cots which didn’t improve the situation. Lucky for me, I work at a spa during the week so I was hooked up. As soon as I got home, I passed out on a massage table and let my co-worker have his way with me. A couple of elbows on my pressure points and I was a new woman. Now I’m ready for the next wave of grouting. I’m just thrilled that the dry wall is done. 

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Twister in a Closet: The Tiling Continues

There’s nothing like the prospect of guests to force you to get your house (cabin) in order. Having completed the kitchen tile and a good chunk of the trim, the front tile was nagging at me: If I could get it laid prior to their arrival in late May, we could grout it the day before they arrived and have the place looking less constructiony and more cabiny. It’s futile to be ‘house proud’ while you’re still building, but there you have it. Adding to the ‘work in progress’ ambiance were the mounds of dirt thrown up by the winter plowing that needed to be raked down and re-seeded.

And so it was that I found myself back in Shangri-la solo on a sunny and temperate mid-May Friday for what I thought would be just a few hours of work. You know how that goes.
Pulling in, I was pleased to find that Ivor Stevens – who does our mowing and plowing – had already taken care of the dirt mounts and mowed for the first time. Next winter we’ll minimize the damage by marking the driveway better and limiting how much plowed. We only need space enough for one car, after all – winter guests are unlikely until we either expand the place or build a heated guest cottage.
The tile work, however, was rough. Unlike the kitchen – which was basically a rectangle, required minimal tile cutting (due to careful selection of accents) and had an entry at both ends – the entry space was such that the first tile had to be laid furthest from the walls and closet. This means that I basically had to work from the most accessible location to the least, struggling not to:
  • Move freshly laid tile while standing on them
  • Drop mastic on the same while prepping new sections
  • Contort myself into impossible positions to complete the work in the entry alcove and closet 
Imagine playing twister in a small closet. Sux. And my leg muscles were sore for the next two days as a reminder. And to make matters worse, I realized when nearly done that I had used the wrong trowel for both the entry and the kitchen – laying enough mastic for 6” and smaller tiles rather than 6” – 12”. Big or small oops? We’ll see, I suppose.
In the end, what I thought would be a 3 hour job took almost 6 (“twice as long and 3 times as much”), and I was on the road before 6. Should have stayed overnight and enjoyed a beer and burger at the Saxtons River Inn.
A couple of other quick notes:
  • I remembered to turn on the water properly this time – first the well pump, and then the water heater after the tank was full. I left the water on figuring the freezing was over; I was proved wrong 3 days later, but I suspect 2 nights of 30-degrees between two days in the low 60s won’t prove a problem.
  • The knob on my hose bib turns, but no water comes out – what gives? It’s not like this is a complex piece of machinery. I’ll have to fix it for our guests, as they’ll be using a hose connection for the pop-up we’re renting.
  • In the end I was able to return 4 boxes of tile and recover about $100. I left 1 box of each type in the crawlspace, just in case any of them are damaged in the future.
 Next up: Hardwood floors, guests, food, beer and campfires!

Saturday, May 11, 2013

The Price of Hot Water

The 2013 'first weekend' in April had a modest goal: Install the Kitchen Tile and get the trimwork around the bathroom door so our guests in May could feel they had a modicum of privacy. We arrived on Saturday to find our friends up the street were in for the weekend and so promptly got together for a walk up the trail. I'm sure the neighbors shook their heads in disbelief, knowing that the logging road we were heading toward is essentially a river during 'mud season'. We soon found this out, but somehow managed to navigate half way up the mountain before finally admitting defeat. The boy stayed to play with their kids all afternoon and we met up again later for homemade pizza, wine and conversation. Very nice.

Sunday morning we set to work, deciding that we should finish sanding and priming before starting the tile work. We hung a drop cloth to keep the dust at bay and the LSW gamely set to work. Miserable job, that is, and the place was back to looking like a construction site. While she was at it, I began framing the windows in primed 1x4 joined by pocket screws. After a couple of false starts, I had it down to a system, and all of the windows were trimmed out by the end of the day.

Halfway through the day, however, I noticed that we didn't seem to have any hot water. Huh. After checking that none of the wiring was loose, we had a decision to make: Call an electrician and take the double time hit for a Sunday call, take very cold showers and deal with it during work hours Monday, or call it a weekend and go home. Most people would have chosen one of the latter options, but I wasn't about to give up either my hot shower after a hard day of work or my 4-day weekend. Two weeks later I received a bill for $275 for 1.5 hours of work. I should have gone with the cold shower.

The fault, it turned out, was mine. When we were setting up, I turned on the well pump and the hot water heater at the same time. I recall wondering at the time if I should do that, but the water tank is small and I figured it would fill before the element had time to heat up. Wrong. Apparently, without water to draw the heat off, the elements burn themselves out almost immediately. Fill the tank first, moron, and then turn on the water heater - that's why you installed a separate switch for each, remember? The electrician was kind enough to show me the $10 tool I'd need to replace the next one myself and save $250, so now I'm packing extras...

On Monday we covered the 10'x10' kitchen in 1'x1' tile with 3 accent strips and decided to spend the afternoon geocaching in New Hampshire. On Tuesday, the LSW got to work grouting while I installed the bank moulding on the windows and finally trimmed the bathroom door. By noon we were taking notes on all of the supplies we were running low on and packing up.

A very productive weekend. I had expected to complete the tile work, but had no idea I'd be able to also complete all of the window trim. Nice to exceed expectations every once in a while. The next trip is solo in May - I'm hoping to get the entry tile in place in advance of the hardwood flooring weekend in late May...

Friday, April 12, 2013

Counting the Costs

For those of you keeping score at home, here's how this year's costs are shaping up:
  • 320 square feet of millrun solid oak flooring, underlayment and supplies: 2,200
  • Enough primed 1x3, band moulding and toe cap to complete about 70% of the trimwork: 375
  • 100 square feet of kitchen tile, accent tile, grout and supplies: 350
  • 70 square feet of entry tile and related supplies: 250 (est)
  • 8' spiral stair: 2,000 (est)
  • Railings, spindles, newel posts, bullnose oak and misc. to rail off the lofts and bridge: 800 (est)
Then there's the kitchen cabinets, hardpack for the driveway, insulation for the basement, hardwood stove and furniture for next year. And then we need to begin building the guest cottage...

The Season Begins!

...if only briefly. In need of a break at work, I took off a recent Friday to relax, and decided to follow it up with a day trip to Shangri-La to deliver supplies. I asked The Boy if he'd like to join me, fully expecting him to decline. He didn't, and I was pleasantly surprised. He turned sullen, however, when - one hour into the trip - he found out that this was just a day trip, not an overnight. Honestly: I thought he knew.

We pulled into the driveway to find that our property somehow contained the only snow in Vermont, and enough of it that I could not easily walk around the property. How is this possible? It's like we built on a highly localized ice age.

No changes inside, and still no evidence of mice. Weird.

All's Quiet on the Northern Front

I unloaded the truck while The Boy examined a 'meteorite' in the snow outside the front door, and we were on our way home within the hour. The next trip up will be soon, when tiling the kitchen and beginning the trimwork will be on the docket. While we're there, I'll be reserving a pop-up camper for some friends who were foolish enough to volunteer to help with the hardwood on the following trip...

Monday, March 25, 2013

The Pick-Up

Trip 2 of 2...
Well, we placed the order for the flooring last Saturday, and on Thursday we got the call that it was in. My trusty steed - the 4-cylinder Ranger - can supposedly schlep 2,000 lbs, and the 30 boxes of flooring was supposedly 1,970 lbs. Perfect, right?

Probably, but 15 boxes dropped the ride height enough that I didn't want to chance it. Never mind that the full load would have overhung the box significantly. Two round trips to the store later, and it was neatly stacked in the basement. The LSW wasn't thrilled to be dragged from bed (at 10AM!) to unload construction supplies, but such are the burdens we must bear.

Next step: Cart at least half of this load to the cabin in the next week. The other half will go up when we open the place up this year. Also next: Tile selection...

Saturday, March 16, 2013


Millrun-grade red oak hardwood flooring, soon to grace our humble abode...
The final trip of 2012 was devoted largely to enjoying the cabin a final time before winter, though we did manage to finish the wall priming everywhere except the kitchen. What I remember most from that trip: Spending every night huddled around our little fire pit in the front yard, looking every bit the vacationing flatlanders to our incredulous neighbors, who (I'm sure) couldn't understand why you'd sit outdoors in 35 degrees when it was perfectly warm inside. What can I say? I like what I like.

We've only been up once this winter, staying at the Putney Inn and doing a little Geocaching make the trip worthwhile. The staff at the Putney Inn was wonderful - they took a shine to The Boy and allowed him to help man (boy?) the front desk while we enjoyed an excellent dinner in the restaurant. And we got 6 geocaches, elevating our total to 230. No surprises at Shangri-La: Everything was as we left it in November, though we were surprised not to find mice carcasses everywhere given that the poison we left out had clearly been investigated.

And so, with the Vernal Equinox right around the corner, we're looking to 2013. We are so close to being finished we can almost taste it: Floors, spiral stair, trimwork, basement insulation and kitchen. We're excited, and so are our neighbors, who have watched our primary residence descend into a hovel as every dime goes north. 1 more year, my patient friends. 2 at most.

Floors are the first priority. We'll lay the tile in the kitchen and entry, and then move on to hardwood downstairs and up. We're likely to finish up with the Spiral Stair and tackle the insulation and kitchen next year, but we'll see. It's at least theoretically possible that we could finish it all this year.

Materials, anyway, are accumulating: There's a full-size refrigerator in the garage that I got free while delivering some Craigslist-ed tools to a guy who wanted to get it out of his garage; he had just remodeled the kitchen and he traded it to me for the equivalent of $50 to avoid having sell/dispose of it. Then we purchased a nice flat-top electric stove that was the victim of another remodel and saved ourselves about $600 over buying the same new. Both will go up after the tile is installed in the kitchen.

This morning we dropped $2k on Red Oak millrun-grade solid wood flooring and underlayment to finally cover the dirty sub-flooring we've been walking on for the last two years. We originally wanted bamboo, but its apparent propensity to scratching and tempermentality in the face of temp/moisture fluctuations made us reconsider. Engineered flooring would have been cheaper, but its appearance (you can always tell) and limited ability to refinish put us off. I want to do this once, and so it needs to last as long as we own the place.

I really liked the look of Hickory, but understood that its hardness makes it difficult to install. Pine was temptings in terms of price and 'rusticity', but we were concerned that it might be too much: Pine floors, pine ceilings, pine lofts and pine trimwork. In the end we went with 'millrun' red oak - a grade between 'rustic' (lots of knots, imperfections, and color variations) and the premium grades that cost a whole lot more and looked too refined for a 'cabin'. We ended up going prefinished for convenience sake, though unfinished might have been a little less even after hiring someone to do the finishing (which I just didn't want to tackle).

So we should have about 30 50-lb boxes of flooring in the basement next weekend waiting for the first trip up. In the meantime, we're looking at tile options...