Sunday, August 7, 2011

The New 'Typical Work Week'

Only one month ago, my typical work week still consisted of sitting down to a computer at 9am and remaining there, minus the occasional break for wandering, until 5pm. Now, in the midst of my 'summer of freedom' before grad school kicks in this coming September, a new work week looks rather different. By 8am, an hour before I'd normally start working, I am already 15 feet up in the air clinging to a ladder while I sand down the front of the farmhouse. Instead of ringing phones or city traffic noises, I hear the sound of the river following its course across the road, and the birds flitting about from tree to tree. By 9am I'm baking in the sun, and will continue to do so until 6:00pm when the sun finally goes down behind the mountain. My day will be filled with rotary sanders, hauling bricks or perhaps digging up large rocks to clear the thorn patch so it can be mowed down. By 8:30, we close up shop and head for the hotel, where we immediately pass out in a fit of exhaustion.

All in all, this work day suits me very well. I might actually prefer it to a day in an air conditioned office. Go figure!

For as insanely cold as Vermont can get in the winter, it apparently also knows how to get pretty hot! Last month, Tony and I spent the 16th through the 24th (minus a brief two day return to NYC) up at the farmhouse working from sunrise to sunset. Our company for that workathon was Antonio, a NJ carpenter that has done work for Tony's family before. We sweated our way through each day, but the warmer weather and longer days had us flying along in terms of progress. In that time we tackled quite a few different tasks, so I think it best to break the review down one by one. And what better place to start than with our least favorite word...

The Foundation

As it turns out, having an accomplished carpenter on the job can really speed things along. Who knew? The tagteam of Anthony and Antonio spent the entire week down in the basement, completing nearly all of the woodwork that needed to be re-done before a new brick wall could be laid down.  A&A went section by section, cutting out the old rotten support beams, putting in temporary supports, cutting new pieces to fit, and securing them. This process was, in the end, fairly excruciating thanks to the giant, rusted cast iron nails that still hold this house together so snuggly. The old gal simply did not want to give up her original beams, rotten or not.
Those rotten floor joists are outta here

By the end of the week, Tony and Antonio had replaced all but one rotten support beam. More damaged beams had been discovered as they went along, but they managed to take care of them all. Once all of the new beams were in place and were properly supported, they began the process of replacing all of the rotten floor joists in the bathroom, kitchen and library. At any given point, a wrong step in any of those rooms might have sent you on an express trip down to the basement floor. The house, still stubborn to give up its original structure, held tight to each and every floor joist that needed to be replaced. The fellas struggled downstairs, cutting each of the 20 + beams into 10 or so different pieces, and then pried each piece off of the ceiling above. The amazing attention to detail that was put into this house has made this whole process a nightmareish one, but we're thankful for it nonetheless! The quality of work Wales Cheney put into building this home is probably the only reason it's still standing.

We will be returning to VT this weekend and Tony (and possibly Antonio) will finish up the job in the basement. Then, we begin contacting masons to get in there and lay down new brick. Once that is all complete, never again shall we utter the word 'Foundation'!


The Exterior

In order to prevent there being too many cooks in the kitchen, I spent my week outside working on the yard and on the house itself. Mrs. D got the ball rolling during our last visit by sanding down the windows and painting them with primer. I picked up from there and kicked the painting process into high gear. Over the course of the week, I managed to sand down the entire porch area, including the porch beams, the second story above the porch and at least half of the front of the house. I was able to sand as far as my little ladder could reach, which was about half way up the second story windows. Before I can continue, we will need to bring in a much bigger (and much sturdier) ladder from NJ. The biggest problem I can anticipate is swatting away wasp nests and giant spider webs from the roof line without panicking and falling a few dozen feet. We're still formulating a plan on how to do that safely.

Once the porch was totally sanded, I painted the entire area with a plain white primer. This small step immediately improved the appearance of the front of the house. Well.... somewhat, anyway! It's amazing to see how a plain coat of fresh paint can already begin to bring out the beauty of this home. I am very convinced we're going to have a lovely house on our hands someday.
A white-washed porch!

For now, we must continue to sand sand sand before any painting can be done, and I can vouch for the fact that sanding down the house is not a pleasant job. As soon as the sander is placed on the old, chipping paint, it explodes off the house in a fury of dirt and paint chips. I spent an entire week lightly coated in a flattering yellow-green dust. As unsavory as the need for sanding is, it's a necessary evil that must be done. I plan on continuing along my path of dusty destruction this weekend, and I sincerely hope that two sides of the house will be sanded and ready for paint by mid-August. We'll see how my timeline actually pans out!

Odds and Ends

A few other projects were tackled during our visit, thanks in part to a surprise housecrash by my lovely friends Meredith and Azhar Alami! These wonderful individuals put Jamaica, Vermont into Mapquest and embarked on a 4 hour drive without actually knowing the location of the house. They hoped that they would recognize the house just by sight, and thankfully it's not easy to confuse this house with too many other yellow/green Victorians. They brought with them not only jokes but the will to work, which is my favorite kind of farmhouse guest! Together, we knocked down the ceilings in the living room and front hallway, and also took on some landscaping work. Azhar managed to make more progress on my thorn patch landscaping project by cutting through the still untamed section of thorn and raspberry bushes. By clearing the land, he helped uncover more giant rocks that must be dug up and moved. Once this area has been cleared of boulders, we will be able to till the ground and put down grass seed. Finally, the overgrown thorn patch will be a thing of the past!
Chaos presides over the entrance hall as the ceiling is demo'd

The Conclusion...

Spending a whole week in Vermont allowed us to great a deal of work done on the house, but the extra time also let us make some great local discoveries. By stopping to chat with other builders and local folk, we got to know John of Okey Dokey Baking, a talented baker from NY now residing in Jamaica who is trying to make a name for himself at the Jamaica Farmers Market. We also met Nelson of Coleman Hills Lumber Mill. Nelson is one of those amazing farmers that is so in tune with the world around him, he can predict the yields from his maple trees just based on the direction of the winds each spring. His lumber mill and farm, magnificently situated at the top of the Green Mountains, is one of the prettiest farms you could ever hope to behold. Also, it is only 15 minutes from the house, as opposed to the Home Depot which is a 50 minute drive. All of the wood is cut to order, often with the bark still attached. Just a side note, but the cows that graze at this beautiful farm provide milk for Cabot Cheese. I now officially approve of all Cabot products. If they're getting their milk from these cows, then they are making some happy cheese!

Cows happily grazing while Tony is gazing

As beautiful as the weather is in Vermont at the moment, we're still well aware that fall is on its way. We have plenty to do on the house before the cold weather returns, so we plan on hauling ass the next month or so! We'll be returning for at least 3 days this coming week, and I have plans to spend the following week at the house solo, sanding the exterior without pause. Time is of the essence and we must get these projects done while the warm weather sticks around!

I believe it's safe to say that our foundation woes are nearing completion, and by this coming weekend the majority of our work should be done! Then, our TBD master mason will put up a new wall, and all can rest well knowing that the house will be sitting on study ground for another 100 years.

Another summer update is looming on the horizon. Stay tuned!

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