Tuesday, June 11, 2013

"Mud Season" to Summer and Back Again

Apparently summer has just been itching to return to Southern Vermont this year! Mud season, the infamous post-winter period that plagues New England in the weeks after the snow melts, seemed to forget to clock in for work this year. The typical VT landscape for April, a cornucopia of varying shades of taupe,  was looking surprisingly green when we ventured up there in late April with family and friends in tow. The 45 degree days we were accustomed to for that time of year were replaced with 65 degrees and sunny. These early warming temps might be a scary sign for summer, but for the moment we're happy to take what we can get.

All is green, all is bright...

After our late April visit, we had to take a month-long break from the farmhouse while I finished up my LAST MONTH of graduate school! Now, as a proud but unemployed graduate from the Global Institute for Public Health at NYU, I can focus my time the way I'd prefer - all things farmhouse!

The Merkel parents joined Tony and I for a week-long work marathon the week after graduation. To say it was family fun for people of all ages would be a misnomer, but the four of us left there feeling very accomplished, if not a little exhausted (aka physically broken). Between the past two visits, we've checked a few big items off of our to-do list. Let's take a look!

The Side Porch

She was ugly on the day we bought her, and she was ugly on the day we took her down. The side porch has been one (of many) aspects of the outdoor property of this house that has taunted me for 31 + months. Its rotten roof, its missing floorboards, its haven of spider nests... I have been dying to see the day this thing disappeared. With the help of Steve, Meredith and good ole Artie Merkel, that day came and went this past April.

My hopes that the snow would demo the roof for me... gone.

As with all things in this house, it was built too well for its own good. Taking down this seemingly rickety little side porch was, of course, a chore and a half and took far longer than any of us expected. What seemed like an hour or two task at best was practically an all-day affair. Marlene, the granddaughter of Florence Crowninshield (the last woman to live here), brought by an amazing set of photographs of the house and its residents last week, dating all the way back to Wales Cheney's Civil War days. One photo of the house shows the side porch looking rather elegant and extending all the way to the back of the house. Therefore, this excuse for a side porch was just a sad shadow of its former self. With that bit of information went any guilt I may have felt at tearing this bad boy down. It was time for her to go.

The Sawzall solves all

What was left of this porch was still so well made that it put up one heck of a fight coming down. Hours passed as we slowly (and awkwardly) dismantled the roof, the flooring, the ceiling joists and finally the porch post. Much to our dismay, we discovered Mr. Cheney had been so confident that this porch would withstand the test of time that he built the porch floor INTO the house foundation. Our dismay doubled when we discovered, as we took floor beams out, that the foundation sills in said porch corner were also rotted through. Was it wrong to hope that the rotted sills Tony replaced two summers ago on the right side of the house were the only ones?

Yes, yes it was. I actually wouldn't be surprised if all of the house sills are rotted through, a fact that we hope to blissfully ignore as long as we can leave the foundation untouched elsewhere. For now, the corner support of the house near the bay window is M.I.A., and poor Tony will have to find the emotional and physical strength to take on replacing another rotten sill beam at some point this summer. We wish him godspeed.


The Hedge Wall
Oh, the hedge wall...

When Tony first suggested the idea, I was not on the pro-side of that wall. My great hope was to build a stone wall that ran the entire length of the lawn, but as Tony rightfully pointed out, this would be insanely time consuming and also a guaranteed death sentence for our spinal health. Tony's idea was to end the stone wall at the small creek, and on the opposite side create a hedge wall that would run along the road until the woods creeps in. Once I realized the hedge wall was yet another opportunity to get creative and design something, I got behind the idea 100%. 

And so began my obsession with landscaping. Shrubbery, to be specific. I researched the hell out of shrubs and hedges, even investing in a lovely guide titled "Native Plants of the Northeast" by Donald Leopold. In doing so I discovered the amazing array of native plants that exist and thrive in our little corner of the world. After coordinating shrubs by spring blooming color and fall foliage (and after much discussion with every kind and patient friend who would listen), we settled on three: Mt. Airy Fothergilla, the Highbush Blueberry and the Gray Dogwood. The blueberry bushes will give us actual blueberries in the summer, and the mix of these three shrubs will provide us with a rainbow of oranges, bright reds and maroons when fall arrives. After hunting these plants down via Amazon, it was time to get planting.

Hole digging 101

When Meredith and Steve came to 'visit' in April, they helped get the hedge wall going. We have decided on doing four Blue Princess Holly bushes partnered with Red Twig Dogwood bushes as anchoring points for the ends of the hedge wall. We are also going to install a wrought iron gate near the far end of the wall, so trucks heading up to the maple orchard can pull onto the property. These gates (leftovers that we found in the backyard) will be attached to two lovely wood beams from the basement. We laid out the dimensions for the gate and planted a set of holly + dogwood bushes on either side as the final two anchoring points. These will provide a lovely bit of color in the dreary winter months!

Tony putting the 'edge' in hedge

The Mt. Airy Fothergilla will be the star of our shrub wall. For every one Highbush Blueberry or Gray Dogwood bush we have, we have two Fothergillas. As long as our little shrubs manage to survive the coming summer (and a few summers and winters to come), we will have an impressive shrub wall that delights in both spring and fall in just a few years. Perhaps by then the house will finally be painted haha.

Tis a wee hedge wall for now...

We are waiting on a few remaining plants from Amazon to be delivered, and once we receive those we will be in business! Fingers crossed they come soon because it certainly isn't getting any cooler out there, and we don't want those baby shrubs to fry in the July heat.


The saga continues! There is not too much exciting news to report on this front. After taking down the side porch during our previous visit, I took to the ladder and sanded and prepped the second floor on that side of the house, along with the porch corner. Artie Merkel, master painter and primer, took to the rungs and got the entire side primed in one day. Unfortunately, we have to leave the upper corner of the house alone for the next month, give or take flight time, as I discovered a nest of baby birds chirping their little heads off in the far reaches of the roofline. With momma bird in a pure panic nearby, we opted to leave that corner alone until the younguns take to the sky. Wikipedia tells me this should take about 5 weeks. Let's see if they're right! Oh the things restoring a farmhouse will teach you... even the growth cycle of sparrows.

Artie Merkel in his element

My grand plan for this coming weekend, when we'll be spending a whopping four straight days at the house, will be to put on my brave pants and climb to the highest reaches of the peaks to sand and prime up to the very top of the house. Our new ladder is a sturdy one, so I shall place unwavering faith in its ability to also not waver, and we'll see what comes of it. As long as no birds or bees attack me at 30 feet up, I'm anticipating the yellow will be GONE from that side of the house by Sunday evening.

 Up, up, and awayyyy

The Foundation

It's like a bad cold that you just can't seem to kick. It's the gnat buzzing around your head. It's my accruing student loan interest. Foundation work... it's annoying, and it never goes away. Just when Tony thought it was safe to get out of the basement and up into the light, he was pulled back down by more crumbling brick walls. Truth be told, we knew this work was coming but didn't want to acknowledge it. The main foundation wall under the library, which connects to the wall Tony replaced last summer, was buckling in at the corners. This wall also had some bricks knocked out so the new pipes for the oil tank could be run through it, which required patching anyway. Add to that the need to rebuild the wall where the new basement windows are going in, and you have a foundation wall not worth keeping. Taking down a brick wall in an afternoon? Why, that's just old news to Anthony Dallaryan.

The most handsome bricklayer in all of Vermont...

During our week-long visit two weeks ago, Tony managed to take down and rebuild the entire brick wall in a matter of days. The end product - perfection! We now only have the back left corner of the house left to do, which should be a piece of cake for this young man, and rebuilding the areas around the new basement windows. Tony will have it all done in no time flat! We believe in him.

Done and done.

Other Happenings...

 The Windows! Sues is keeping at it with window repairs. I haven't had the heart to count how many are left to clean out, re-peg and glaze, but suffice it to say... plenty. We're making progress though! Fingers crossed the entire first floor is done and glazed by summer's end.

The Orchard! Here I am, gettin all down and dirty with the orchard trees. The orchard plan has been finalized. We now have a total of 15 trees, with plenty of variety to go around: peach, nectarine, plum, 2 kinds of pear, 2 cherries and 6 varieties of apple.

Anyone care for a homemade fruit pie? We'll have plenty of fruit to share!

Well, people, that is everything for now! As always, tons of pictures are stored away on our Photobucket page. Check out our album from late April, when we demo the side porch, or our latest week-long priming, gardening and brick building extravaganza! We'll be back at the house in a mere two days, and with so many beautiful summer weeks ahead, you can expect many updates!

Until then, Toto Merkel just has one question...

"When will this all be over???"

Thanks for reading! Until next time!
- Melissa


  1. This house certainly needs a lot of changes and improvements. You can notice in the photos how weak the house structure was. I know that it's a bit daunting when you think of the things you need to do. But if you're truly dedicated to regain the beauty of this house, you wouldn't mind about having to work on the roof or in the basement the whole day. Well, with the help of everyone, I know that you can succeed. :)

  2. The pictures really show how this property badly needs a repair. Not just a simple fix, but it totally requires a major renovation. You can see all the signs – from rotten roof to damaged siding. But I can see how dedicated you are in bringing back the beauty of this house, and I believe in you guys. Do your best and good luck!

    Vernia Kale @ Muth Roofing