So let me tell you about my tower #14: But this, but that

The narrative has been played out, and unfortunately so has the work on the house.

There are more stories:  lighting, flooring, the glorious deck railing, landscaping, decoration, the highs, the lows, the surprises, the disappointments, the could-have-done-differentlies and the-things-to consider-next-times.   But details have been slipping away  and my muse is calling me to follow.

Friends and neighbors celebrated the completion of our addition at a party on a spectacularly warm, sunny afternoon last Columbus Day weekend. We celebrated too. The tower is great. Lee and I have been in the whole house for almost a year and it is our home, comfortable like an old bathrobe.

But the poor little cottage – my sweet cozy nest on the river – needs TLC. The walls in the cottage need spackle and paint. They always did, even before we opened up the second floor and buffed up the skeleton.  Now after groaning and creaking with the added weight, the walls are crying for help.

I knew this would happen.  I’ve been here before.

I like many of the design concepts the previous owners incorporated into the cottage:  the trim-less windows, the curve where the ceiling meets the walls, and the mirrors on the sliding doors to the bathroom.  They’d look great in a coffee table book.  Perhaps that’s where they belong.

Lee has nothing good to say about them. He sees the workmanship; I see the look.  The edges around the windows keep chipping and tape is popping up all over. The rounded angle at the ceiling line was beyond the ability of the drywall man. The mirrors on the bathroom sliding doors are very, very heavy and they push the confines of the door housing. One of them only opens all the way at certain times of the year.

2014-05-29 07.02.54Lee would rather be finishing the stone walk, and he is, and he has to comply with lead paint regulations elsewhere, but most of all he wants to stop abusing his 67-year old body.

To keep us both smiling I finally decided to call our favorite painter friend to repair and paint the walls in the cottage but she seems to have disappeared.   Know someone good?

Once the painting is done the house can more or less grow old gracefully. Cold air fills the top floor of the tower when the winter winds blow down the Hudson, but the heavy quilt I thumbtack over the warped door reminds me of long winters in New Hampshire when I hung blankets on stairways to keep the heat from drafting upstairs. Baseboard moulding sits loose where it should be stained and attached, but why is that different than the curtains hemmed with safety pins? The stair treads in the cottage are well scuffed and spotty, but they are memories of running barefoot up to bed after late nights in the hot tub –  peaceful moments I had during my solo years in the cottage.

We’ll get there. Whatever needs to be done will be done – hopefully before the family gathering this August. But the rest will wait until whenever we decide to sell.

 

So let me tell you about my tower #13: Heat and running water

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Air conditioning — Mobius Fan by Westinghouse, no longer made

Looking for a project?  Upgrade your heat and plumbing and fuss over your septic system and drainage.  Then you can casually mention to friends and neighbors the tens of thousands of dollars you have spent on the hidden mechanicals in your home.  They will admire your attention to detail and potential problems, envy your ability to spend grand sums on the highest quality of unseen pipes and tubing, or they will think you have lost your mind – maybe they will do all three.

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Shower tile work

I replaced the furnace in 2008.  Four feet of water flooded the basement during a freak rainstorm.  A frantic neighbor called me up in New Hampshire to report that water was pouring through the retaining walls on my land, gushing down the sloping lawn, and funneling through the 1870 stone foundation under the front porch. I listened but refused to react because she had called me once before to tell me that the electricity had been out for three days and the days were 20 degrees or less.  That time I panicked, asked the neighborhood handy guy to install a generator and lost my refrigerator, cd changer, microwave, phone, modem, and television to mishaps in connecting it up.

It was still raining when I arrived at my house two days later.  The cascading fountains on the front lawn rivaled those of Las Vegas and the roar heard from the basement stairs brought to mind Niagara Falls.  I could see nothing.  The electricity was out and the flashlights were dead.  I sheepishly closed the door and went to a friend’s house to wait out the storm.

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Lee’s “Female Form” & Biasi panel radiator

That little event cost me well over $6000 and a lot of tears.  The plumber drained the boiler and disassembled the exhaust and intake.   He cut the heat lines, removed and replaced the circulators.  He replaced the Peerless Pinnacle LP gas stainless steel efficiency sealed combustion boiler with a new one, and then reassembled the exhaust and intake, reinstalled the heat lines, rewired and started the boiler and did an efficiency test, at least that’s what the invoice says.  My neighbors installed a sump pump for me.

Water, heat, electricity & phone/internet cable going underground from the cottage to the tower.

Water, heat, electricity, phone & internet lines going underground from the cottage to the tower.

The town and neighbors were great during the crisis.  The fire department pumped  the water.  They did it for a lot of people.  Some neighbors thought the water pumped from one of the homes higher on the hill found its way to my basement.  The highway department regraded the road.  Friends helped throw out a lot of the unsalvageables.

That didn’t solve all the water problems in the basement.  Rebuilding the French drains helped a bit as did redirecting downspouts, but the basement still is not reliable storage space.

During construction we discovered that the pipe leading from the septic tank to the dry well had shifted and now flowed in the wrong direction.  Just a few more thousand on my bill.

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Radiant heat tubing

We were pleased that the new tower and the regrading of the front yard diverted the water that used to flow straight towards the house,  and the basement stayed relatively dry during heavy rain.

This summer however we had a house full of happy young folk and noticed that the toilets were all gurgling.  When everybody left we called in the plumber.   He had us try this and that and dig up this and that and we discovered that our dry well was filling up with ground water from a day or two of soaking rains and was back filling our septic tank.  So we had our favorite excavator come in and dig up the yard one more time to install a French drain to draw off water.   He told us after he did the work that he didn’t understand where the water came from because the ground was bone dry.

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Shower tile work

Whoa.  I just did a search to see how that Pinnacle boiler ranked in price and customer satisfaction and was shocked to see how many people have had very unhappy experiences with it.  The positive comments come from plumbers who say you have to know what your are doing or forget it.

WizardofOzThe oil company service man said the same thing about the Buderus oil burner in my b&b in New Hampshire.   He had no clue.  It was much more impressive than my little Pinnacle.  I would stand in front of this blue machine with six circulators blinking at me as they went on and off  and recall a field trip through the Deer Island Waste Water Treatment Plant in Boston. What if even just one of those couplings came loose. The thought was horrifying.  Obviously the engineers in the plant knew what they were doing.  I could find no images of the inside of Deer Island online. It looked like a cross between what lay behind the Wizard of Oz’s curtain but 1000 times as large, and what one would imagine a nuclear power plant looked like.  It’s probably top secret.

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Brain-like soy-based foam to keep the heat in.

But I digress.  Heat and plumbing are essential, and Sean did a great job making our home cozy and comfortable, but I resented spending the money.  Lee and his man Derrick installed all the bath fixtures so I was able to save there.

Electricians also are unbelievably expensive and the bulk of that work is also hidden in the walls.  Our town does not require a licensed electrician so Lee did the electrical work.  It was frustrating for him at times and he had to call in Scott as reinforcement towards the end.  But at least he didn’t have to hear me complain about paying the bill!

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Concrete sink, bluestone countertop

Let me just sum up.  We’ve now got five circulators coming off the burner, two for the cottage, two for the tower and one to the hot water heater.  The previous owners put in Burnham cast iron baseboard heating which is sort of classy, but just like inexpensive baseboard the end pieces fall off and furniture can’t be placed against the wall.  Papers are constantly falling off the back of my desk getting lost in the dust bunnies.

We’ve installed radiant in the first floor of the tower – it’s WONDERFUL.   We’ve got cool (I don’t mean temperature) Biasi panels on the second floor – not as classy as Runtals, but much more economical if you can call any of this economical, and a perfect fit out-of- production Hearthstone Tudor gas stove on the top floor.  We installed bare baseboard on the bridge and Lee built a bench around it for plants.

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More shower tile work

The fun purchase was a concrete sink we found in the horse-traders barn at Williams Hardware.  It came complete with a fancy-shmancy never-would-I-pay-full price-for Kohler faucet that lists for over $1000.  It wouldn’t be my first choice, but why complain since it  came as a bonus with the sink all for $200?   Of course since it was the floor model it didn’t have any of the hidden parts. Our shower is an earthy earthly paradise.  Lee created sea and sky murals with hand made tiles from his pottery period.

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The Tudor

Last week when the temperatures were down to minus 9 and the gusts were recorded at 28 miles per hour (much higher along the river)  I was delighted with the heat generated by my Pinnacle and cute Tudor.   And I’m walking on air having just watched my loyal sump pump keep the basement free of water during the downpour the past day and a half.

We’ve got that generator as back up when the power goes out, six ceiling fans to keep us cool in the summer, and a gas fireplace in the living room.

Please no more surprises.

So let me tell you about my tower #12: Ups and Downs

Lee and I will be young forever.  Lee may not actually believe this, but he certainly did not encourage me to look at the tenuousness of that assumption during design stage.  His method of operation is to take no responsibility and let me make my own mistakes.  Then when something goes wrong he’ll say, “I wouldn’t have done that.”  If he doesn’t say that it is what I imagine.  It’s okay.  He’s prepared.  He has a dumb waiter at his barn which he used to move pottery up and down from his workshop to the kiln which will fit into our spiral corner just in case.

plan showing stairs

We climb 27 steps to get into the tower’s top floor.  The easier climb, going up in the cottage and over the bridge has 29 steps.

Perhaps it was not the smartest design but it is fun to live in a tree house.   So far there has been only one evening that I couldn’t possibly climb those stairs and that was two days ago after spending time on my knees in the garden.

Tuck is not really this goofy looking --

Tuck is not really this goofy looking

Nobody has fallen down the stairs except my dog Tuck, on the spiral.  It is a good thing he got over that embarrassment quickly since he is a dog with little self-control.  He’s not allowed to cross the alley between the cottage and the tower because he will be overpowered by the desire to chase rabbits or take a swim.

Looking across the alley from the tower door

Looking across the alley from inside the tower door

We’ll be sitting in the kitchen and decide we should walk the dogs.  Lee crosses to the tower to get Jaxon’s leash.  Tuck is up the steps over the bridge and down the spiral to meet him at the door.  Lee comes back to the kitchen through the alley.  Tuck is up over and down and greets him at the door.  Lee remembers he forgot his phone.  He cuts across to the tower, and Tuck goes up over and down to meet him over there again.  It’s great.  Tuck has never been happier.

Jaxon on the other hand will not use the spiral.  I admire him for recognizing his limitations.

The culprit stairs

The stairs have fallen with me on them.  Lee claims the blame, but it’s partially my fault also.  He was working on the three steps that go from the bridge to the tower and left the project for lunch or whatever.  I dislocated my finger when the steps collapsed beneath me.  That was a down. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I’ll probably have a stiff index finger and not be able to make a tight fist for the rest of my life.   Lee will probably be very disappointed I didn’t post the photo he took of my finger — the one that he has used to gleefully gross out most of our friends.

Sitting on the top deck and having morning coffee is an up and makes me so glad we threw out common sense and built our home with all those steps.  We are in the shade, we see three herons in their usual places, an eagle, fishermen, and an early sailboat.  There’s a delightful breeze.  There is a lot of bird activity in the trees at that level in the morning.

IMG_0839Our stairway to the second floor is a spiral from Stair-Pak in Pennsylvania.   It’s all oak, and arrived in pieces, each numbered so that there would be no mistakes putting it together.  It went together easily and looks great.  Make sure you check with them before you buy elsewhere.

Our stairway to the third floor was designed and built by our friend Scott Ziegler – a true craftsman.

Still needs finish work & painting --

Lee designed and built the bannisters out of a slab of cherry. He built our coffee nook and storage under the stairs from excess flooring.   The risers and sides of the staircase still need finish work and painting.

He's watching you --

Close up of the head of the monster in the railing

And Lee built new handrails on the second floor landing in the cottage.  He hated the ones that were there. The railings sit on metal rods which screw into the floor for easy removal — convenient for carrying furniture up and down and into the two rooms on the second floor.  Also for spanning a ladder over the stairwell when painting the ceiling and walls or placing a light fixture.

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Ah – and then there are the outdoor steps complete with Lee’s wife’s family goddess which traveled from China by plane on the lap of his father-in-law.  Now she protects our home and our families.  Later she will stand at the door of his son’s home and hopefully she will continue to bless my boys and their loved ones as her own.

Just a brief aside.  We received our Certificate of Occupancy yesterday.  Thank you to everyone who worked with us!

So let me tell you about my tower #11: Window Shopping

During our one week of beautiful spring I painted sashes of windows that didn’t get painted in the fall.   A lot of time has passed since shopping for those windows, and time has given me the opportunity to grade my choices.  Most were right on, unfortunately even those decisions that were made quickly with a foreboding sense of “oh well, most likely this will cause me distress later.”

*

Time also has given me the opportunity to wonder once again why I am continuing to write the Tower saga.  Sometimes it is torture.  What I write seems so dry.  My mind is bubbling with other stories to write:  falling down the steps and dislocating my finger; my cousin’s wedding at the Hotel Pierre; life in the sixties compared to life when you are in your sixties; thoughts on my America.

Then, last night as I struggled with Tower #11, I realized that building this addition with Lee has been anything but dull.  The year has been an incredibly rich, creative and romantic adventure.  We’ve been frustrated together, aggravated with each other, physically and mentally exhausted though not necessarily together, ready to run away from each other.

But we’ve also had an almost sinful amount of fun and have celebrated our happiness over and over.  We’ve made it through a large, long project, one that often severs relationships, and we’ve come out stronger, more committed, more convinced.

The Tower saga has been an exercise that seems to plod along.  Hopefully when completed it will be an interesting read for those who were involved, and perhaps for some who weren’t.  My enthusiasm ebbs and wanes.  I am pleasantly surprised by the evolution of the individual chapters, how often they change course and turn into essays on something else.  That said, at this very moment I just want to get it done – and that applies as much to finishing the house as to writing about it.   Lee has told me that he will suffer the depths of my lows about the house and everything else, as long as he can share the peaks of my highs, which is really quite dear.  My moods are something like New England weather.

*

LittleHouseMy nose always wrinkled whenever I spoke about the look of the cottage.  Its charm was within and the view beyond, but from the outside the house appeared about to explode.  The contrasting color of the simple window frames, even without trim, was too major a statement for such a small house.  It could have been a 3D rendering of houses I drew when little – in fact there is one of my houses next to a giant apple tree painted on the wall under the sanitas in the kitchen of the house where I grew up.

The color of the cottage was wishy washy.  The back of the house reminded me of one of the hastily constructed, non-descript and neglected office buildings I used to see on the train from Boston to New York back when. Try not to miss the car graveyards and the skinny fox slouching through tall weeds and sumac as you imagine the scene.

The addition gave me my chance to make it better.

My plan from the start was to buy Pella windows to match those in the cottage, and to paint both the cottage and the tower to match the color of the windows.    I received lots of “advice.”  Pella is difficult to work with, they are expensive, look at Marvins, look at Andersons, you can paint the trim even though it is vinyl clad, change the color, use a contrasting trim, one color is boring.

I spent too much time trying to discover why everyone wanted me to do something different and got quotes from various companies and suppliers, played with different color schemes, then did what I wanted in the first place. I  like the monochrome look and on its own Pella Tan has character and fits the landscape.

Most of the window choices were straightforward.  The holdups were those around the spiral staircase and on the bridge.

Spiral Window, 2nd Floor, Facing South

Spiral Window, 2nd Floor, Facing South

In the end I decided upon one awning and three fixed squarish windows in the spiral corner.  It is okay, although the original design of two full walls of glass – which I nixed  — was so much more striking.  Perhaps I should have researched commercial storefront windows for a cleaner look in this space, but . . .

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We made several stops at the Door Jamb in Shokan, just a few miles past the Pella showroom, looking for the two front doors, which would face each other under the bridge.  The cottage came with a full windowed front door and I felt very exposed when someone came to call. That door was going to go up on the third floor of the tower as an exit to the deck.

My task was to pick the door and then consider the price.  Two mahogany doors with full stained glass windows were spectacular. They didn’t fit my “master” plan, which was simple and stark.  At this time the addition was my fantasy lookout tower at the top of a mountain.   But they – the doors — were really spectacular, and Lee offered to pay the overage.  Every now and then shimmering prism patterns on the wall delight us.

IMG_0528 cropped moreWhile there we also looked at windows.  We found seven tall, narrow white vinyl clad Anderson double hungs for the bridge.  These would be troublesome, but any decision would put an end to my stressing over what to buy.  The windows lacked certain features, but were “a very good price.”   Really wish they dropped down for cleaning.   Really wish we didn’t have to use small sliding screens until Lee has the time to build full sized ones.  They look great both inside and out and we’re looking forward to filling our greenhouse bridge with plants.

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We also bought quarter rounds at the Door Jamb, again fighting the feeling that I was making a mistake.  They are fixed and the second floor landing where they are needs ventilation.  They were a bear for Lee to tape and mud, and I still am not sure how to paint them, but they provide the spiritual aura to the space that I’ve written about before.

Lee and I “discussed” window trim for months.  I wanted the no-trim look of the windows on the second floor of the cottage, but Lee could only see problems when he looked at them. Wish I had found this post before today.

I’ll have to wait until my next house for trimless windows.  It’s not wise to push your finish man too hard when he is working for free out of the goodness of his heart.

IMG_0773IMG_0775We picked up four ten-pane interior fir doors on craigslist. Two of these became closet doors.

The other two are double doors to the master bath, and provide us a view of the field and the Hudson from the second floor.  Wall space is tight, so we hung one as a slider and one on hinges.  Towel racks provide some privacy, but more is needed for me to feel comfortable.  Lee has fewer inhibitions.

So let me tell you about my Tower #10: Topping Off

20120503_105536Putting the top on the tower was not a celebration, but we all seemed to know something special had happened.  The Tower looked good.  It was high up and the crow’s nest measured 11 feet by 11 feet.  Like a sailing vessel, it was designed to withstand stress from the winds.  And it was windy.  Dave and his crew came every day, always shaking their heads because the wind didn’t blow until they reached my street.   I had very little to do with it – the wind and the work.

IMG_0725Everyday the sun was shining and the sky was crystal clear and bright blue.  A north and a southbound Amtrak train with a shrill whistle passed by almost every hour.  Throbbing tugs pushed barges up and down river.  The trees were not yet full, and we could see and hear freight trains across the Hudson several times during the day. It was bass season and people came to fish from the park or from boats that they launched from the landing.  Families came for picnics.  Couples came to kayak.  Men came to pee. There was a lot to see and take in.  And then there was the wind. 

2013SBcontestmainlogoworkjWorking in the wind was exhausting and the crew was tired by the middle of each day.  But they were definitely having an adventure working on this house. 

Duke, our architect, had given the plans to his engineer to make sure the wind would not rip off the roof.  Perhaps I had put too much emphasis on the wind?  When Dave studied the final plans he thought it was overkill and I’m sure he was thinking money and how to reconcile the increase in materials and time with the quoted cost.  I’m sure Lee was annoyed with me for being so obsessed with the wind, because he now had some hard drilling ahead of him.

20120501_144424The hurricane-proof construction made it difficult if not impossible to build the tower’s deck — which is the second floor roof — with enough of a slope so that rain and snow could run off easily. At least that’s how I understand why we will have to be diligent about removing water from our roof deck.  We also are currently trying to decide how to best attach both gutters and railing posts to the edge of the deck.  This might always be a problem with any type of construction, but if it were, I would think there would be several routine ways to deal with the situation from which to pick.   

Fortifying the roof, however, was the right thing to do.

We’ve had some very windy days and nights since the tower has been up.  We hear the wind blowing through the passage under the bridge and around the two structures. The noise is a bit disconcerting.  We still haven’t learned what is normal.  We woke one morning to discover two saw horses had blow over the side, thankfully not hitting anything or anyone.  Our main criterion for choosing furniture and potted plants for the deck is that they be heavy.

During design phase I talked about how nice it would to leave the ceiling open on the third floor.  Nobody joined in the conversation.  When we actually got up to building the third floor I brought it up again, and again received no encouragement. Perhaps then, I suggested, could we have a cathedral ceiling?  No takers there.  I thought mmhmm and crawled back into my hole.  When I finally saw how hardcore the rafters and beams were in the peak, I understood a little better.  Yes, I could have insisted. It would have taken a bit of time and patience to come up with an attractive pattern and a search for quality, but, after spending the past few days painting trim in the room, I am content with the ceiling.

PlanChecking the plans in hopes of finding a design worthy of an open ceiling, I instead found a “flitched beam” here and a “flitched beam” there.  This is what wikipedia says about flitch beams.

Flitch Beam 14-40-37Due to the high cost of labor, use of this type of beam has greatly declined.  The advent of high- strength engineered lumber which uses modern adhesives and lower cost wood fibers has rendered this system largely obsolete.

Dave seemed to love challenges. Hopefully his memory of constructing a roof based on an obsolete concept and building it in the wind, will evolve into one of the stories he tells for a long time.  It will be something I speak of with a fond memory. Doing something the “old-fashioned” way gives me a buzz.

I’m still not comfortable with the deck.  The roofline does not extend far enough over the deck to protect it from the evening sun and the rain can come in the windows because of the wind.  Double hungs would have allowed me to open just the top window and the overhead would probably have kept the rain out.  Sliding windows would have given us more room to walk on the deck when the windows are open.  It’s tight especially on the northwest corner.  But I like casements and if I wind up being unhappy, I’ve only got myself to blame.  The surface of the deck is made of some space-age elastomeric and fabric combination that has yet to prove itself, and the color is not one I would have chosen.  Why do we need such a big deck in the first place?  These concerns and doubts may vanish after our first summer enjoying it.  I no longer think about what color I might have liked.  I’m keeping an open mind and hoping for a small container garden on the southern side and beautiful sunsets with a glass of wine.

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Thank you Lee for this view of last summer’s lightning and hail storm — 

It is really a wonderful space.  I want to be up there looking out at the river and the mountains while I enjoy my morning coffee, while I work at my computer, while I curl up on a couch and read, while I lie in bed and gaze up at the stars, when I wake up and see the sun reflecting off the snow and ice or the colors of the autumn.  I want friends to enjoy it.  I want it for Lee’s and my private nest.  It has less than 100 square feet of floor space, barely enough room for a bed let alone a couch and a table and chair.   

Lee reminded me:  “You wanted it this small,” and he is right.  I love it.  

Can’t wait to move in.

So let me tell you about my tower #9: Breakthrough

frontDave is gently ripping apart the second floor landing of the house.  He’s poking around to see how to support the dormer and the bridge that will connect it to the tower.  I had been wondering about the integrity of the sagging roofline since buying the cottage.  Today’s  demolition reveals there is no ridge pole and the old front walls bow out.

I visited my mom today so was not home while Dave was working.  Lee and I had already moved the bookcases out of the hall so Dave had room to work.  I expected the landing would be in chaos upon my return, but. Lee had cleaned up so well that only some sheet rock dust and some stray insulation remained.  He’s wonderful.  But I didn’t expect the closets and laundry room to be emptied into my office/guest room.  It’s crowded.  I can live with it.IMG_0433

I also wasn’t expecting to find the dark somewhat rotting wood of the original 1870 roof.  It makes me so nostalgic for my 1780 barn in New Hampshire. But it’s just nostalgia, not regret, and now I have a new old home to keep alive. 

Drafted pre-May 22, 2012, and unfortunately revised & revised & . . .

 *

The thought of writing about the construction of the addition was with me from the very start of the project.  I knew it wouldn’t be Tracy Kidder’s House, but who wants to do what has been done.  It would be my addition.  It was a start.

Finally I had bonded to the project.  I felt a responsibility and a love towards the old beams and the buckling front wall.  My little cottage had stood through 150 years of pelting rains, heavy snows, and the winds that blow down the Hudson, whistling around the cottage walls year-round, occasionally even driving my “outside” dog Tuck inside.

Pulling this portion up now that it fits into the chronology and anticipating reliving that rush of emotion, I was so let down.  The revised draft began:

Work on the tower has been on hold for a week. It is totally discouraging since I don’t feel I can do anything to speed it up.  I’m at the mercy of the contractors and the weather.

My first rewrite was written when I was down, when the weathermen had been forecasting rain just about every day for three weeks. It hardly rained during that time, but who knew.  Dave wouldn’t break through the roof in case it poured, and it did, but only once or twice.

Lee couldn’t start work on the inside until Nick, our concrete man, came and poured the slab over the radiant heat pipes. Nick wouldn’t schedule the truck for the foundation because he worried the truck would sink into mud if the rain should come. Mud never happened.

20120522_190623Dave said he was going to pull out the sheet rock along the staircase to see if there were any supporting posts, but he wouldn’t do that until he was further along with the other work.  I lived with fears of the worst:  the first floor cabinets torn out, the floors destroyed, and all my careful planning of the addition to keep the integrity of cottage intact having been done in vain.

That high that I expected to find in the writing, the high from discovering the old house, is no longer evident in the writing.  Was it ever there?

A lesson learned.  Don’t discard the old when revising.

*

We were on hold for quite a while, both the house and my writing.  Tower #1 was written on June 29th.  It took about five weeks for me to become inspired again.  I didn’t want to write about my tower while down.

Unfortunately other dates are mushy through this, but I believe the slab was poured and the roof was opened up by the first week of June.  It was gloriously sunny and windy weather.  The winds had come in and lasted for several weeks.  Dave and his crew loved working by the water, but hated working in the wind.  It is a miracle no one was blown away carrying plywood.

They opened the roof, and you can see the bedroom door off the second floor hallway. The third picture in this run, taken after the framing had begun on the dormer, shows how the closet, stairway, and laundry closet line up under the new LVL.  Hopefully you can approximate how low the ceiling was at the top of the stairs, low enough to bump one’s head repeatedly, and why we wanted to bump the ceiling up into a dormer.

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IMG_0714If you need help envisioning how low the ceiling was, imagine two bedroom closets built into the front sloping wall that are sized for children, or maybe men, but definitely not women who wear dresses that cover more than their bums. Definitely nothing longer than mid-thigh.  Now imagine bumping your head when stooping to get something from the closet.   We have the former owners who lived here and orchestrated the 2004 redo of the house to thank for this.  Lee bumps his head probably more than I do. My only consolation is that the former owners must have bumped their heads also.

IMG_0713The ceiling on the landing is now extraordinarily high for such a small room, and with the sun pouring in the round corner windows we installed, and the niche in the wall that Lee built with a leftover window from a house he renovated, I feel as if I am in my personal chapel.

Dave found a very non-intrusive way to add posts on either side of the staircase to support the new LVL that became the major support of the cottage and all the new weight it was to bear.  That only required redirecting a few water pipes in the basement.

My office was a disaster until two weeks ago when we  finally decided we wouldn’t be making that much dust for awhile.  We put stuff back into the closets, at least temporarily, and moved some of the furniture over to the second floor of the tower. Yes, I did survive the clutter, but very grumpily.

I should let you know too that Lee has moved into his man cave two weeks ago.  It looks like a squirrel house to me.

So let me tell you about my tower #8: It dropped from outer space

20120326_100810Framing came next, but writing about it was difficult.  Seven weeks have passed since My Tower #7

I had very little memory and no photos of the first and second floors going up.  Lee thankfully had pictures on his phone, including some additional shots of the foundation going in.

This image of the first floor with the post for the spiral staircase corner gave me a jolt.  I had walked past it each day as it was going up, but had forgotten what it looked like, even seeing it.  After about three weeks looking at the photo and focusing on the time, only bits and pieces of my thoughts re-emerged.  I remembered avoiding the tower, and feeling awkward even entering it.

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My first thought looking at the photo was that positioning the addition at an angle worked.  A few days later I remembered coming to that same that same conclusion back in the spring.

Second floor bath looking north

Second floor bath looking north

I remembered how some days it seemed extremely small, and others large.

This was late April 2012.  Why were the memories of that part of the construction so buried?  So much of my life is like that – no memories, jumbled memories, happy memories of things that didn’t happen.  Was there something going on that was troubling?

Checking my email from that time, everything seemed under control.  In March I had moved my mom to a new assisted living, this one in New Jersey, which was a four-hour  ride round trip.  Most likely I was nervous about how she would do, and trying my darnedest to remain calm about my new commute, but right away she did fine and the drive was okay as long as I did it in the daylight, so that probably wasn’t it.   In fact, even though she remembers less and less and less, she looks happier and younger and is eating better than she has in a few years.  She also swears professionally when she is getting a shower, but once she is dried and dressed and sitting with a snack she always says a very sincere “thank you.”

Younger son Alex had just moved into one of Lee’s vacant apartments across the river.  He had no “real” job and no “real” money coming in, but at the same time he seemed unruffled and happy and it was fun having him so close.  He’d stop over to do his laundry and have dinner.  Older son Morgan had recently broken up with his girl and moved into a new large apartment in Brooklyn. He also was starting his job with The Mayor, and his new life was coming together so I don’t think that was it.

IMG_0414I had to look back to find out when my neighbor put the plastic wire fence along side my bedroom window.  But that wasn’t until June and I did work myself out of that “why me?” state fairly easily.

Perhaps I was just worrying about the possibility of things going wrong?  Annoying the builders?  Stepping on toes?  Money?  Lee and commitment?  Turning 65, which included having to make a decision about Medicare?  Could I have already started obsessing about the election?  Perhaps I was still a wreck after having been diagnosed with myopic degeneration and having already had three Avastin shots in the eye?  That could be.  Shots in the eye aren’t fun. They are not half as bad as having your ophthalmologist fire lasers at a retinal tear above a nerve, but still not fun.

I was worrying out the windows and the drainage.  I’m still worrying about the drainage, but we got through quite a few heavy rains with just a little dampness during Irene and NO water at all in the basement after the deluge earlier this week so I hope I stop worrying about that.   It was before Irene, so the Hudson flooding wasn’t yet on my mind.  I just don’t know.

Mom and the French PressPerhaps I was just tired.

We all forget things.  When my mother moved out of her house a lot of her possessions wound up at mine – including my letters and post cards to her and my father when I lived in Paris in the seventies.  Someone else could have written them.  I didn’t remember the museums, the picnics, the side trips, and the discoveries, just being lonely and in over my head.  It was good to read about having fun.  Either I walked through Paris in a fog, or I was a very creative liar.

But anyway, even though I much rather be writing about what’s going on now, this is my post on the beginning of framing.  It went up so fast, which could be why it is a blur.  In fact I do remember being Late as Usual and running out the door to drive to Jersey and not having the time to see what was going on.

We all soon realized that the second floor was higher than it needed to be and that we would now have three steps in the bridge and the bridge would be about 12 feet tall.  If I had been paying attention, perhaps I would have seen that before the two LVLs went in that would become the top of the bridge.  (I love throwing construction terms around:  laminated veneer lumber.) No way was I going to ask Dave to adjust the height.  We all thought it would look a little weird, but actually it has turned out to be okay.

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There.  It’s written.  Now the story can move on.