Saturday, February 26, 2011

1884 Pegs and Cotton Top Trees

It's been an odd week around here. On the one hand, we had a Craigslist deal go sour, and we ended up losing money and time in the "deal," but learned a very good lesson (or two) in the process.  On the other hand, an eBay transaction in which I sold an electric guitar, only to have the buyer suffer buyer's remorse and request a refund, ended well enough, with the guitar being returned in the same, excellent condition in which it was shipped, and the buyer refunded.  I learned a lesson on that one too.... NO big ticket items for me on eBay... it is NOT worth the frustration.  I'm looking forward to GIVING the guitar to my friend and fellow guitarist in the choir... I know he will play it for years to come and thoroughly enjoy it!

1992 Les Paul Studio Electric Guitar
Meanwhile, we've made some progress on the old farm house, though the more we work, the more work we find.  Still, I am happy we are progressing. Despite the crazy weather, including brush fires last weekend that burned over 1000 acres in Gloucester, and took the home of a friend, we have managed to actually get some of the rotted beams replaced and some of the leveling started.  Of course, this means we have to continue tearing off the wall coverings to see what lies beneath.
Cutting an inspection hole in the ceiling
Performing rotten-beam-to-ladder gymnastics
and "sticking the landing!"
Peeking between the ceiling and second story floor
This renovating process is an interesting one, to be sure.  I've lost count of how many times we have stood there, scratching our heads, and asking ourselves, "what is holding up the house?  what is holding up the stairs? what is holding up the wall?"  We have decided that it is either "old man Jordan" (the original owner of the house), or it is the most recent owner's crazy wiring..... it looks as if he was seriously trying to hold the house together with electrical wiring.  There are wires that go everywhere and lead to nowhere!

And, what exactly is supporting those stairs???
Welcome, please jump in!
This is what was under the floor tile at the front door!

Now, that is one healthy looking foundation, yes?
Nevertheless, our contractor has put in a bunch of new piers to replace those that are crumbling, and added some where piers were completely missing. He has started the slow process of jacking up the house, replacing the beams as needed in order to have something strong enough to support the weight.

Nice beam, huh?
Removing rotten wood
Jacking, after introducing new wood
New beam supporting old wall
Original peg in beam
Umm. is that tinfoil plumbing???
It is amazing to me that this house is still standing, given the state of the beams.  However, it has been neat to find some of the original pegs...yes, pegs, not nails, that were used in the original construction. These pegs were hand made, and actually look to be in better shape than the beams they held together.

Front Room... new piers in place, compaction soil added
Do you see the peg in the beam?
Here is the peg, after removal
And today, though the morning began with heavy rains, the sun came out and warmed up the day.  Of course, then the wind picked up and trees fell across the roads, and tarps ripped from their tethers.... still, the blue sky and the gigantic clouds were beautiful.  If I didn't know better, I'd think it was already March!

Interesting sky

"Cotton top" tree

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Merry Rough Terrain

We decided we should rent a heavy brush mower this weekend.  The weather was to be warm and clear and we opted to spend the time outside, rather than inside the farm house renovating.  We picked up the machine, touted as being able to clear up to 2/3 acre of brush per hour, from the rental store yesterday, just before closing.
Offloading the Merry Rough Terrain Mower
This morning we unloaded the unit, named the "Merry Rough Terrain Mower."  Interesting name... not sure what's supposed to be "Merry,"  -- the rough terrain or the mower.... nevertheless, we started mowing "merrily" around 10 AM.  This is one powerful mower, to be sure, and it took a bit of getting used to.  We took turns trying it out, though I never managed to shoot a photo of Joe behind the controls.  While one of us was mowing, the other was tending to the thorny vines that swung overhead, chopping them down with the loppers, even as they tried to snag our hair, faces, and arms.

Merrily we run along!

Or up a tree

Come on Judy, Keep up!

Dodging obstacles

I, for one, need a little more practice before I would consider myself to be a master of the Merry Machine.  In fact, I think I was stuck, wheels spinning, more times than I was actually moving forward.  Reverse is not a pretty picture with this particular mower.  Once stuck, it was easier to lopper my way out than to try to reverse my way out.  By 1:30PM, we were both pretty hungry and ready to take a break.

After lunch we continued the rough terrain mowing.  One thing we have a LOT of is rough terrain.  By the time we had to call it quits for the evening, we MIGHT have cleared 1 acre total.  Still, our bodies feel a wee bit less Merry than when we started, and we have a fair number of bramble scrapes and such even through our long, multiple layer, clothing.  Did I mention we have a LOT of brambles?
Underbrush Cleared

More clearing

Still more to go, but making headway

Underbrush, be gone!

The GOOD news is that we rented little miss Merry Rough Terrain Mower for the WHOLE weekend, which, of course, means that tomorrow after church, I will be donning my work-outside-overalls and joining Joe in the merry, merry rough terrain for round two.

Since we still had a little energy left after our day outdoors, we decided to tear off some more of the wall covering in the old farm house.  We wanted to verify what our home inspector told us when we bought the place last February.  He indicated that many of the floor joists would need to be replaced, but that the beams and rest of the structure was in good condition.  I'm guessing I will NOT hire this home inspector again, should I ever need a qualified opinion.  While he managed to point out outlets with missing covers, he missed the fact that 3/4 of the beams...those beams that support the WHOLE house were completely failed.  So why was I not surprised to see the state of the wall when the wallboard was removed?

Lovely Wall (oh, yeah!)

Demolition Man

Yanking off the Wallboard

Coaxing it with a Hammer

Yes, Yes, Lovely, Sturdy Wood....

Even better!

Ahh, the joys of bringing a relic back to life!

Stripped to the Bones...

Friday, February 18, 2011

The Long and Winding Road

Paul McCartney is not the only one to have traveled a long and winding road.  Had he been, I imagine his song by that name, and recorded by the Beatles, would never have reached the popularity it enjoyed.  We, most of us of that era at least, related to that song.  The song was one of love, unrequited, romantic love presumably, but love for certain.

Yesterday, as I drove the three plus hours to visit my Dad and step-mother in their home in Maryland, the thought crossed my mind that this road, this sometimes winding, sometimes straight, sometimes busy, sometimes ridiculously congested and sometimes, once in a very rare while, lonely road, was taking me back home.  My destination was not that of any of my childhood homes.  My destination was not to a meeting with an old romantic love.  My destination was to that first experience of love... the father's love.

I really don't like to drive.  I don't mind the smaller, country roads, but once I reach the hustle and bustle of traffic around the DC beltway, I am more than ready to cry "Uncle."  Instead, I keep my eye on  the road and the seemingly millions of other drivers jockeying for position on that same stretch of pavement, and trust that I will make it to my destination in one piece, and without preventing anyone else from reaching their own destination.  At least the Winter weather had taken a back seat, for a minute, offering us just the hint of the promise of Spring.

While I went to visit Dad,
Joe continued the pace on the farm house renovation
This trip was an especially emotional one for me.  I had not seen my father since he suffered a stroke a little over two weeks ago.  My sister had visited him while he was in the hospital, and had reported she was encouraged by his mental alertness, and such -- theirs had been a good visit, albeit under less than desirable circumstances.  My daughter, son-in-law and my nieces had enjoyed watching the Superbowl with "Grampa and Lynne" -- Dad having been released from the hospital the night before.  Everyone had told me that Dad had lost a lot of weight, not due to the stroke, but rather to the radiation treatment he had undergone which interfered with his enjoyment of the taste of food.

As I approached their neighborhood, I saw an ancient, very thin woman, tending the shrubs in her front yard.  Her "favorite" soft polyester pants hung loosely on her rail of a body, and she looked incredibly feeble.  But she was out there, enjoying the opportunity to bask in the sun's warmth, if even for a little while.  This elderly woman had to be at least 90.  As I passed her, creating her "story" in my imagination, wondering if she had family nearby, it occurred to me, that one day my parents will be in the "very old" stage of life and that the trip to visit would be made more often... that long trip from my home in rural Virginia to theirs in Maryland Beltway suburbs.  And, while I very much dislike the congestion of those roads and the stress of the drive, it also occurred to me that the door at the end of that road led to something I very much like...and that one day there will be no more reason to travel that road.

By the time I arrived at Dad and Lynne's, the stress of the drive was behind me.  I parked on the street in front of their home, locked the car doors, and made my way to the front door.  I rang the bell, as is still my custom, though I am well aware they are just as happy if I simply walk right in, and set right down (yeah, those lyrics from another song also seem to fit).  There was no immediate answer to my pressing of the doorbell button, so I surmised that Lynne had not yet returned from a quick run to the grocery store, and not wanting Dad to overexert himself, I let myself in.

"Hello!" I called out as I entered their foyer.
Dad's familiar, tenor responded immediately from the family room, "Hi Judy!"

Dad was standing, moving toward the door with the aid of his new friend, the walker he has named "Johnny."  It was clear the effort was really more than he needed at this point and I was sorry I'd rung that doorbell, rather than simply opening the door and letting him know I was there.  Still, within a minute, he was back, more or less comfortable in his rocker/recliner chair.

His appearance took me aback at first.  He was so much thinner than last I'd seen him at Thanksgiving.  The thinness of his face accentuated the size of his ears, ears that I'd never before considered particularly big, but which yesterday struck me as huge! (Yes, Little Red Riding Hood and the wolf disguised as grandma, DID come to mind.)  Still, thin or not, Dad was Dad.  He was detailed in his stories (we Fletchers are ALWAYS detailed in our stories) and he was sharp, helping ME remember a word that eluded me.

Dad and I visited for maybe 20 minutes before Lynne returned, having stopped by Dad's doctors to get some answers to some test results.  We all sat and chatted for another half an hour, before we decided it was time to share lunch.  Perhaps the most challenging part of Dad's recent medical escapades, at least for Lynne, has been his disinterest in food -- pretty much any food.  Obviously, and Dad is well aware of this, nourishment is required to sustain life, so opting out of eating is counter productive.  Still, if nothing tastes good, and the sensation of food on the throat is unpleasant, I can completely understand his aversion to the whole process.

Lynne had laid out the sandwich "fixins" for one of our all-time favorite lunches -- the "build your own bonanza."  In years gone by I can recall some pretty creative sandwiches built by my brothers, our children, and OK, yes, by me!  The three of us sat down and Dad looked at the offerings.  He didn't reach for the platter of meats or ask for the plate of cheeses.  There was some discussion about the spinach and the lettuce, not being a viable option for him with his current medication.  Then he proclaimed that he'd been thinking he'd like to try a Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich.

Growing up, PB&J was, undoubtedly, the staple at our house.  I have no idea whether Mom liked them, but all six of us kids certainly devoured our share over the years.  Dad carried a PB&J with him to work for his lunch, at least the first, oh, I dunno, 18 years of my life!  So Lynne hopped up from the table and in a jiffy (no pun intended) retrieved the jar of peanut butter and another of jelly from their shelves and placed them on the table in front of Dad.  Dad looked around, obviously still missing something.

"I'm looking for the butter," he announced, though I'm not sure we had asked.  Still, I laughed as I went to the refrigerator to get the gigantic tub of margarine.  Dad ALWAYS butters his bread before lathering on the peanut butter and jelly.... I never met another person who made the sandwich this way, but Dad declares it keeps the peanut butter from sticking to the roof of his mouth.  Dad proceeded to make his favored PB&J and then proceeded to eat the WHOLE thing!

We enjoyed a nice conversation over lunch, though I could tell Dad was getting sleepy.  He has always enjoyed his afternoon nap and yesterday was no exception.  At just before 2PM, he excused himself from the table, belly filled for a change, and trying to stifle a yawn, said goodbye to me, and headed off to the bedroom for his nap.

Lynne and I chatted for another half hour or so before I headed back to the car to begin that return trip, opting to leave, hopefully, ahead of the rush hour Beltway such luck.

It was a good trip, all in all.  I am glad I went.  I am hopeful Dad will return more to his pre-stroke self with time, as I can see it is incredibly frustrating for him to will his hand to do his bidding, and be rewarded with a hand that refuses to recognize the brain as commander and chief.  His leg is getting a little better, more feeling, some better control, but it is clear Dad has a long and winding road ahead of him too.

Sunset before I made it back home

By the time I reached the rural roads of Virginia, the sun was setting, offering me more beauty in which to reflect.  I took no photographs on this trip.  Yes, I had my camera with me, but it did not seem appropriate to take pictures.  Rather, the pictures I captured are only in my own memory, downloadable to no computer.  I am confident there will be many fun photos in the future.  For now, I shall be happy that the road took me safely there and back.

February 15th  as full moon approaches

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Soup, Footers and Craigslist Escapades

Wintertime is souptime, in my world.  Most days the crockpot is busily transforming the various ingredients loaded into the crock into a wonderfully savory soup.  Sometimes the soup is a thick, hearty concoction and sometimes it is a light, vegetable broth.  Always, when served alone or with bread, or sandwiches, it is a hit.

On Tuesday, the contractor who'd agreed to help us resurrect the old farmhouse, arrived to take a look at our work.  Joe and I had spent Mud Bowl Weekend, preparing the site so that the broken, rotted boards and the trash from the floor removal was out of the way, allowing the contractor to make a closer inspection of the challenge ahead.  He brought his wife along and she and I immediately hit it off.  She's a lovely woman, one who has spent the last 24 years of her life homeschooling their seven sons.  She homesteads, raising as much on their land as possible.  So we chatted about gardening, and raising chickens and goats.  We chatted about old houses and our preference to see the relics restored to decent living homes, rather than left to decay.  And she asked about my overalls.  Before they left, she had accepted a pair of the capri length overalls that had been included in my "10 pair lot" eBay purchase last year.  It seems she has been having trouble finding them in the thrift stores anymore.

After examining the house, the contractor was confident he could tackle the job.  We agreed he'd begin work Friday morning, after the "snow event," predicted for Wednesday, had the opportunity to clear out of the area.  Finally, finally, the old farmhouse was going to be moving toward a new set of beams and joists, with new piers supporting her, and with the ultimate goal of a sound and relatively level floor.....

Friday morning I heard the light knock on the garage side door.  On a conference call for work, earphone in my ear, I ran down the steps to meet him.  When I opened the door, he held out a box.  In the box were two quart jars of homemade soup, a loaf of homemade bread and a copy of Countryside magazine.  He explained that the box contained his lunch, prepared by his wife, and that he was to share it with us!  While the guys got to work on the digging of holes for cement, and the removal of even more rotten wood, I returned to my work, in the quiet of the garage apartment office.

Under Construction
Getting to Work
Old boards from House
Some three hours later, I headed down to the garage, where I set up a temporary dining area.  The Craigslist table and chairs we'd bought in December were called into duty, and, in just a few minutes spent moving boxes and other items out of the way, the table was set, ready for the three of us to enjoy lunch.

Garage Diner

Soup's On
Over the delicious soup and bread meal, we talked about the project, and I can honestly say this guy is just as eager for this to succeed as we are.  He has performed similar renovation work on his mother-in-law's house and on his aunt's house. We discussed different options, and by the time we'd had our fill, we'd come up with some good plans for the next steps in the house project.  After lunch, I returned to the "office" and they to the house, and thus it went until nightfall.  When he left after the first day on the job there was already visible progress being made.

Jack Supporting Failed Beam
Saturday he returned -- his little box truck, that is his rolling workshop, loaded down with 20 80-lb bags of cement.  While I ran back and forth to the pond house, doing laundry, running errands, doing yardwork at the pond house, the guys dug seven more holes, into which they poured cement.  These will become the footers for the new piers upon which this old structure will eventually rest.  Gigantic roots from the giant sycamore tree, roots which ran under the house, had to be cut to accommodate the new footings.  It is AMAZING the amount of water that pumps out of tree roots... seriously amazing.

Digging Holes for Cement Water Filling From Tree Roots
Saturday lunch was, once again, shared in the make-shift garage diner -- this time it was my crockpot soup with store-bought bread.  Again, it was a most pleasant meal, with lively conversation.  We each had second helpings, and were quite full when we got up from the table.  And then it was back to the job.  By the time he left Saturday, after dark, all of the new footings for the front room had been poured.  Tuesday, when he is scheduled to return, he will tackle the kitchen/dining area footings.  The place now is beginning to look more like a construction zone than the demolition zone it has been for the past few months.

Bags of Cement on Front Porch
Mixing Cement and Filling Holes
Old Brick from Failed Piers
I'm looking forward to the next couple of weeks and the transformation of the old farmhouse.  Of course, as these things have a tendency to do, the possibilities of what "could be" are expanding the scope of the project, but I really feel we've got the right guy for the job.

Pouring Cement in the Holes

Old Timbers from the House
This afternoon we took it easy.  We took advantage of the beautiful weather, and spent the afternoon following up on Craigslist inquiries.  By the end of the afternoon we had met several very interesting individuals, and agreed to purchase some odd items, but items which will help us in our construction. Some of our stops were more of the heartbreak that is this economic climate.  The photo below was taken at yet another house being foreclosed.  The owner lost her husband almost a year ago in an automobile accident... now she is losing the home they had been renovating together for eight years...

Beautiful Home of Another Victim of Foreclosure
The last stop on our Craigslist journey was to pick up a four drawer filing cabinet.  We arrived at the house of the sellers to find they were an 85 year old woman and her 57 year old daughter.  Before we left with our filing cabinet, we'd brought in a HEAVY new T.V. they'd just purchased, and set it up, moving their old HEAVY T.V. to the front room; we'd learned that the daughter and I had been at FSU during the same years, she working on her Master's degree, I on my undergraduate degree; and we had agreed to return later in the week, bringing them MY two drawer filing cabinet... As it turned out, we exchanged no money on this transaction, rather, exchanging items.  Interesting folks we have met in our Craigslist escapades!

Sunset Started as We Were Leaving Our
Final CraigsList Encounter of the Day
It was a busy week, for us.  We met some nice people and made some headway on the house.  And tonight, when we returned home, we had a nice bowl of soup...with bread and butter... a perfect ending to pretty decent week.