Tuesday, June 28, 2011

A 'Rocky' Start to Summer

Below zero temperatures? Ice forming inside the house? 4 foot snow drifts? All things of the past, my friends, because summer has arrived!!! Today is June 28th and we are officially one week into the summer season. These days, Jamaica is happily boasting temperatures in the 70s and 80s, and the regular summer showers have turned the drab, brown landscape into a greenery-filled wonderland. We can barely keep up with the grass, which seemingly grows to Serengeti length in our absence. After the winter we had, I will appreciate every day of this warm and sunny weather.

So, as you can tell, there has been some downtime with the blog! A month and a half of downtime, to be exact. In our blogging absence, we've spent two hard-working but successful weekends up at the farmhouse. Our first update will be about Memorial Day weekend, when Tony, Mairim, Alastair and Miriam rang in the summer with lawn mowers, wallpaper scrapers and faulty foundations. A little barbequing did occur as well. Yours truly was not present for that weekend, but was instead teaching art in the wonderful land of Kenya. No worries, though... Tony provided me with nightly email updates so I was still as good as present!

Forget the beach... we excavate for Memorial Day!

As promised in our last blog entry, 'big foundation repairs' was the name of the game during our next weekend at the house. Plumbing is not able to go in until the back foundation is repaired, and so the plan for the weekend was to bring in the excavators and their impressive excavating machine to have the back wall dug out, and then have the concrete pourer and his impressive concrete pouring machine pour us a new foundation wall in the back. Of course, as we learn time and time again, there might as not be a schedule during renovations of this scale. As Tony sadly described in his email to me, the excavator began digging until he got a good look at the back foundation wall, and put the brakes on the entire process. Apparently, the back wall was in was worse shape than we originally thought, and he worried the entire structure might be seriously compromised if he began removing the brick wall with the supports it had at that moment. With a mighty (and fairly expensive) excavating machine idling next to him, Tony was informed he'd have to run a series of supports throughout the basement before any brick walls could be removed. Otherwise, this lovely house could pull a tragic Humpty Dumpty during excavation. Just like that, the plans for the weekend were shot. Concrete guy, we never knew ye.

The excavation team... they came, they saw, they left.

The rest of Tony's weekend was less than picturesque. He spent the next few days down in the basement trying to figure out the best way to support this shaky section. Another excavator we'd met previously stopped by and offered Tony some enormously helpful pointers on the best way to support the structure, which Tony then began to carry out on his own. Free advice is always welcome advice! He was able to run a few more supports along the side wall and under the downstairs 'bathroom', which is the area with the most problems. Thankfully this room doesn't connect to the upstairs so it's poor foundation and sloping walls don't really affect the rest of the structure.

While Tony worked below ground, the rest of the Dallaryan/Standing crew worked on maintenance above ground. Mairim and Miriam showed their wallpaper removing skills and cleared the hallway and staircase walls of all of its old paper. This is a big help as we plan on trying to salvage those walls, since putting up new angled drywall along a steep staircase would be a feat slightly beyond our skill sets. While the ladies toiled away inside, Alastair christened our new sit-down mower, which my father was able to get for us for a mere $100. This bad-boy mower comes complete with headlights and attached mulcher... serious business, but the lawn proved to be serious in its own right. It took this professional racing fan two days just to do upkeep on the lawn, and he didn't even get to the entire property. Looks like we better find a way to add a few more hours to the day so we can fit in some mowing while we're up there on the weekends. The to-do list just keeps growing!

Unfortunately, Memorial Day weekend was supposed to be a weekend of huge progress, but in the end it just presented us with more to do... like restoring an entire foundation ourselves. In attempting to find the silver lining to our foundation woes, we can at least say that we're now fully aware of all of the foundation issues, and they can be fixed before it's too late. It's better to fix the foundation now when everything is so unfinished, compared to years from now when everything else is finished inside. Having to jack up a house with new walls would lead to cracks forming everywhere, so once this foundation is fixed we can install our drywall knowing it will have plenty of crack-free years ahead. We just have to keep saying, "We think we can, we think we can..."

Finding the Foundation

My triumphant return to the farmhouse occurred the weekend after I arrived back home. After a few weeks in the Kenyan desert, Vermont's greenery was just what I needed to see! Unfortunately, the weather didn't choose to cooperate, and we spent two rainy (and chilly!) days getting down and dirty in the basement. Thoughts of summer pleasantries clouded our judgement, and so we had to go out and buy warmer clothing before we could get down to our 'weekend warrior' tasks. With our spirits high, we got down to the business of figuring out how to support the house effectively so we could knock down the old bricks and get new support walls going. After facing down a few gigantic spiders and a few hundred tiny ones, a plan was set in place.

Tony and I slowly began going along one of the shaky walls, jacking it up with a hydraulic car lift until everything was level. We then would cut a piece of wood to fit perfectly between the support beam and the stone wall. Once that was wedged in place, we'd move the car lift further down the wall, knock out the bricks, put in a new wood support, and so on and so forth. After 2 days, we had two walls totally knocked down and supported on wood beams. In between of all of this success was lots of digging outside in the mud, mainly to clear away the area around the stone support wall, hauling bricks from here to there and general unpleasant tasks, like climbing into tight dirt-filled spaces on our bellies. It was unpleasant and exhausting work but it was very necessary, and by Sunday evening we were feeling like two very accomplished young renovators.

Our foundation wall - so delightfully unsturdy!

During the weekend a few masons also stopped by to take a look at the foundation work and provide us with estimates. The prices they came back with made our bank accounts very sad, so at the moment we're really weighing our options. $10,000 handed over to a stranger or dedicating a few weeks to this project and spending the cost of a few bags of cement? We seem to be leaning towards the latter. We'll be heading up to VT next weekend for an extended Fourth of July stay, and plan on giving laying brick the old college try. After all, how do you learn something without doing it? A few tutorials and Tony and I might just become professional brick layers ourselves :)

Another update will follow next week! I see fireworks, sturdy brick walls and a few more muddy shoes in our future...
- Melissa

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