Thursday, May 24, 2007

Homestead History

As I've mentioned, we live in a farmhouse house built in 1851. We bought it from the 70 year-old son of the folks who bought it in 1940. He remembers growing up in this house, having the indoor toilet installed in the 1950s because they got tired of going outside to the outhouse, building the now-decrepit chicken coop out in the yard for a 4-H project. Both Homestead Mama and I always wanted to buy an old house and fix it up, putting our own stamp on it. The house is extremely solid with good bones - the main beams that it is framed out of are clearly recycled from older structures, as they have mortise & tenon joints in them that don't pertain to our house. These huge 10" - 12" square beams are like iron; we broke many a drill bit in them trying to run the electric wires. Our house has some sags and nary a square angle to be found, but it is solid as can be.

The house came with 10 acres of land which is made up of about 1.5 acres of mowed landscaped lawn surrounding the house & garage, replete with huge lilac bushes, maple trees, perennial flowers, and walnut trees; the remainder of our property is meadow and trees. We bought the place 'as is', gutted it of all the horsehair plaster & lathe, and with judicious use of contractors, friends, Girl & Boy Fridays, and much help from our families, have carved out a livable space. We put in all new plumbing, electrical wiring, fantastic insulation, reframed the upstairs to create 2 small bedrooms and a huge master suite, refinished the 150-year old floors ourselves, and had all new windows installed.
It is close to being a stunning example of a renovated farmhouse. We still have some smaller projects to do (to install trim around windows and doors, frame out the closets that we built into the master suite dressing room, strip paint off some old doors we reused, install some door hardware, etc.) Then there are the larger projects still to come – we’ll need a new roof in the next 10 years, and there are 3 or 4 layers of shingle up there to be taken off first. We’ll install clapboard siding in the next 15 years, and get the details on the exterior we want. We also have 400 square feet of an addition to finish, and we'll attack this in the summer of 2009. It is an uninsulated ell of the house that will become a lovely family / guest room and a laundry room. This ell had been built after the turn of the century directly on the earth, and for around 75 years has been sitting wood on soil. It is a testament to the old growth wood that houses used to be built with that it was in amazingly good condition - we had a contractor excavate and install a nice new foundation under it last summer (stage one of the ell renovation) and there was only a few feet of wood sill that was rotted out and needed replacement. The contractor couldn't believe it.

Now that we've owned it for 6 years and have (almost) 2 babies, we are thinking how nice it would be to have enough extra money laying around to pay someone *else* to put our stamp on it. I have a list (those of you who know me can snigger here, as you know it is more of a sorted prioritized database) of things to get done and is regularly re-prioritized to accommodate our lives. Before each baby, we go through a mad rush to deeply clean, tidy, finish a couple more construction items in preparation for not having any extra time for at least 6 weeks. Now with the second baby, 6 weeks seems optimistic, but I'm maintaining my optimism as long as I can.

We have a Girl Friday, a handy-woman who helps us by doing all the things around the house that we are either physically incapable of doing (at least one of us has been pregnant for a couple years now) or don't know how to do. She worked in construction for years and is really capable and talented. She works a lot faster than I would, and thinks things through, often making things better than we had planned because the opportunity presented itself in the course of her work. She installed a new bathroom floor in the house we own across the street and rent out, and she built us the most beautiful flagstone front path to the house with stone we retrieved from our property. In many ways, she is a dream. The only downfall is that she now has a regular job and is only available a few hours per week. She showed up at 8am this morning ready to put in a few hours of work. Amusingly enough, Homestead Mama let Girl Friday in downstairs when she was letting the dogs out and the next thing I know I hear a "Hi!" from behind me. I was on the bed in my underwear, on my hands and knees over Pequita letting her play with my dangling necklace hoping to get another glimpse of her new tooth. Ass to the doorway, oblivious of company. My, did I get red in the face. Thank goodness she is a friend and a woman, or the screech I let out would have lasted longer and been a lot louder. Her arrival actually got me out of bed (I was running very late, having been up from 1 - 4:30am with hormonal insomnia). I was out the door with the baby in 20 minutes; Homestead Mama was tending to the animals and getting Girl Friday set up with tools & supplies when I left. By 9:30 I realized that I had left my cell phone at home in the morning rush, and called H-mama to let her know that, and to remind her that it was my birthday today (38 years old!). After apologizing for forgetting the day, she told me a little story than only affirms my deep affection for contractors/laborers that are bonded and insured, which Girl Friday is not.

Girl Friday started her day working on finishing the hole surrounding the upstairs bathroom skylight. Our ceilings are sloped on the second floor, so the skylight is the only window in the bathroom - a vast improvement. Homestead Mama's father came to help her install it, and we never insulated around it and patched the drywall that was disturbed in the installation. Girl Friday apparently cut the rigid foam board insulation (that has been stored behind the tub for a couple of years in anticipation of this project) to fit the holes, then was sealing around the edges with a can of expanding insulation foam. Since the ceiling is sloped, this is above her head, and the foam promptly started falling onto the floor and instantly adhering to the finish. Drat - I had meant to supply her with a drop cloth. H-mama ran to get some paint thinner which was supposed to clean the foam off surfaces. The two of them opened the can, splashed out some chemicals onto a rag in Girl Friday's bare hand and then were startled when her skin started to burn and turn red. Did they READ the can before using the product? Sure, enough to ascertain that it said Paint on it somewhere. Were they concerned when it poured out think and glutinous and not at all like paint thinner? No. Guesses as to what they had just exposed themselves to? Anyone? Yup, highly caustic, toxic, carcinogenic, only-use-with-special-hazmat -gloves paint stripper. (Of course, those words could be used with thinner and they still would have used their bare hands, despite all the nagging I do.) H-mama had no exposure, thank goodness, as she's still breastfeeding, but Girl Friday had to wash her hands repeatedly and keep them in cool water until the burning subsided. I believe that she is still in my house working, but I hope she takes it easy. We have all summer to insulate that window, and I have other projects for her to do for which she’ll need her skin.

1 comment:

Momma Penguin said...

Happy Birthday! Your house is BEAUTIFUL. I love it, you must be proud. So, any day now...when are you giving up work? Are you anxious?