Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Summer on the Farm

Summer, sweet summer! You have returned to the verdant hills and rolling pastures of southern Vermont. We're so happy to see you!

 Butterfly in the wildflower field next to the house...

Since purchasing the farmhouse, summer has taken on a whole new meaning for us. Summer means a warm house with no need to huddle around the wood stove or shovel out a path to the car. Summer means the disappearance of brown grass and brown mountains and the arrival of a lawn blanketed in warmth, greenery and a delightful smattering of wildflowers. The window for summer weather is shortened in Vermont and every warm and sunny day is a gift from Mother Nature herself.

Well another three months have flown by since I last updated the blog. While grad school kept me beyond busy, things have calmed down and I am currently on "summer vacation" (aka unemployed, depending on how you'd like to look at it). Destitution aside, this break from school is great and gives me plenty of time to focus on VT work!

We've spent quite a few weekends up at the house over the last few months and there is plenty that needs updating. Here comes stories and photo slideshows galore! We've made a lot of progress inside and completely transformed the lawn outside. Things are moving along swimmingly and I think we'll be in a fabulous place for this coming fall.

Let's get down to the nitty gritty!

The First Floor

The first floor checklist as it stood during our last update: Replace kitchen floor, Frame out bathroom entrance, Replace rotten studs remained unchecked. Three months down the line, all of that work is DONE! 

Finishing the kitchen floor is by far the biggest change that occurred on the first floor. After a marathon weekend of sawing, trimming and rummaging during the end of March, Tony and I managed to complete the entire kitchen floor using reclaimed wood already left in the house. At the moment, the floor has a great deal of character with boards of all widths, lengths and color, but should come together as one beautiful, rustic barnwood floor once it has been sanded. While it may not look like a 100% perfect job, it will surely tell the story of this old house. Some of the floor boards are actually old kitchen shelving with roman numerals carved in from an old numbering system. Should anyone choose to examine our floor closely they might just notice this little bit of history showing through!

One beautifully aged barnwood floor... check!

Tony also took on the unfriendly task of cutting out and replacing all of the rotten wood from the former roof leaks. There's nothing we like better than the challenge of replacing brittle, rotted wood in heavy load-bearing corners! Tony's brother-in-law Alastair also stepped up to the plate and framed out the entire first-floor bathroom entrance. It's all squared away and sturdy, silently awaiting the arrival of plumbing so we can install walls once again!

Check out slideshows of a complete kitchen floor and a fixed up first floor!

The Second Floor

After almost a year and a half of work, it was finally time to turn our eye to the second floor! Once 99% of the work was done downstairs, Momma Merkel and I took to cleaning and organizing every room. With little left to do on the first floor, Tony and I finally ordered the delivery of a dumpster so we could get to demoing the second floor. Unfortunately, before we could start ripping apart the second floor we had to start cleaning up the mess we made when we ripped apart the first. This is what happens when you demo without a dumpster...

Time to start hauling plaster and wood over to the dumpster, bucket by bucket...

It took two weekends to get through it all, but by the end ALL of the plaster, lathe, rotten wood and even a rogue toilet bowl made it into the dumpster. The backyard was clean and tidy, the dumpster was half-full and the time to begin second floor demo was upon us.

Our Farmhouse Family Portrait... Bailey looks into the future, unphased by the garbage pile below.

We've made great strides in the upstairs so far! Three bedrooms are down to just lathe, as is the back hallway. The front hallway is completely demo'd, ceiling and all. As always, a series of mouse nests chose to rain down upon me while taking down the ceiling. Let me once again reiterate: I hate demo.

The back hallway also contained a few surprises awaiting me in the ceiling: a series of boobytraps worthy of Indiana Jones. I nearly lost my head to a falling piece of pointed giant slate that tumbled down from the ceiling, only to discover that quite a few sharp objects were somehow resting on the ceiling above. After a few close calls and some careful investigating, I discovered that a stack of slate, along with 7 homemade Indian tomahawks and 3 carved long bows were waiting to fall down upon my head. This made for one strange but exhilarating discovery! Apparently these items had fallen through the upstairs attic and landed on the hallway ceiling. We still have no idea what the tomahawks were for, although I'm fairly sure they are very old homemade toys, probably dating back to a time when giving children sharp metal objects that could pierce skin wasn't frowned upon. Maybe they are worthless, or maybe they're our ticket to Antiques Roadshow! Either way, they're awesome and going on display with our other 'found objects'. They're our own little bit of Victorian folk art.

Watch your head!

Click here to see slideshows of our dumpster divin' weekend and second floor demo!

Demo will continue throughout the summer but we will make way for more outdoor work as well, which bring us to our final and perhaps most dramatic update...

The Lawn

With the arrival of warm weather, nature was a'callin and so we decided to take on a few outdoor projects. Landscaping might be some of the most backbreaking work around but it is always worth it at the end of the day. Tony and I spent an entire weekend planting a total of eleven trees on the property. The line-up of trees seemed like an exciting thing at the time I bought them, but by the time we reached digging hole #3 I was slightly over it. Good thing Bailey was on hand to help us with planting the Orange Flame Maples.

Bails puts his digging skills to good use

We now have two Orange Flame Maples to the left and right of the house, one TINY White Flowering Dogwood on the front lawn, two Weeping Willows in the fields to the left and right of the house, three Kwanzan Flowering Cherry Trees along the road infront of the left field, and three Flowering Bradford Pear Trees along the property line between our home and that of our neighbors'. 

I became tired just writing that sentence. 

There might be nothing more rewarding than watching these little trees grow tall and strong over the years. Fingers crossed that they all make it! We're rooting for you, little guys. (No pun intended).

Tony and Baby Dogwood

And finally, the most exciting change to the lawn! (at least for me) This past weekend we rented two real mothers of lawn equipment: The Terramite T7 backhoe and an industrial chipper. FINALLY, after nearly two years of doing battle with mere shovels and manpower, we rented a tractor with a bucket and hydraulic-powered shovel, allowing us to lift and move ALL of the fieldstones and boulders that lay in a massive heap on the side of the house. After two straight days of excavating the hell out of that area, Tony and I managed to have all of the rocks gone and piled up along the front of the road. We now have a clean, level lawn AND the beginnings of a rock wall! A double win. Gone are the days of the crazy thorn thicket and unknown piles of earth. We have tamed you, lawn. You will be grass once again.

Rocks no more!

Tony also went to town on the giant mound to the left of the house, finally flattening it out and moving the dirt and pebbles over to the driveway area to build up that area. He also used the back shovel to scoop up all of the roots of the former thicket near the road in the front of the house, making that area almost ready for grass seed as well. A few giant stones were also moved into place and will eventually be set up to be lovely little rock benches scattered throughout the property.

It's fairly amazing what three days and some rented excavating equipment can do! The lawn has been completely transformed, and this property is starting to look as beautiful as it should. Once we get the dumpster out of the there (and the house painted) this place will really start to shine.

Starting to arrange the rocks neatly... can you believe all of these were piled under dirt next to the house?!

Visit our sideshows to see tree planting in action and Tony, master of excavation, transform the lawn!

Today is the summer solstice which means a summer full of amazing work is just beginning! Stay tuned to see all of the painting, planting, demoing (and plumbing!!!) that will take place in the months to come. Good things are in store for summer 2012. The Olympics might be happening in London this summer, but our VT efforts will be Herculean in size!

Stay cool and thanks for reading,
- Melissa


  1. I stumbled upon your blog today. WOW! We drive past your house every time we visit our family in VT. Glad you have the stamina to tackle this job, it's a gorgeous house and has so so much potential. It's great seeing it come back to life!

    1. Hi Peter! That's so amazing that you know our house! I hope it keeps looking better and better every time you pass by haha. If you ever see our car outside please feel free to stop by and have a look around. We've definitely been getting a lot of support from the people in town when it comes to fixing up this house. Everyone loved it and was pretty sad watching it fall into disrepair. I think we rescued it just in the nick of time :) I grew up along the shore in NJ and watched so many beautiful old Victorian beach houses fall into disrepair and eventually get torn down. I'm so glad I finally have the chance to save a lovely home from the same fate. Hopefully we will do the house justice when it is done!