Two glorious weeks spent toiling away at 'the cottage'. The weather pretty much sucked, and we cared not a whit. We got a lot accomplished.
Quebec has this odd custom of legislating vacation time for the entire construction industry. Many other related supply sectors follow along, so the week we arrive, many of the places we want to deal with are closed 'til the following Monday. We head to town for groceries and spend a few days doing odds 'n ends. One job, repairing a hole in a wooden culvert, has been nagging us for a year and we finally get it done. I also get to continue work on stripping the 5-panel doors I bought. Our friend Keith has given me a tip: cover the stripper with aluminum foil. It stays wet longer and doesn't oxidize as quickly, so it works longer and better.
I've mentioned there was a lot of furniture and junk still in the house when we took possession. Most we trashed, but some we kept. There was a huge two-pedestal desk upstairs that I thought might be nice once it was stripped, and I have been using it as my door-stripping worktable. Out of curiousity, while waiting for the stripper to work on the door, I take a closer look at the desk. I pull out one of the extensions and apply stripper. The first three layers of paint, including a mint-green layer, come off easily. Then, there is a varnish that just turns to gel and drips right back off the scraper when I try to lift it. I figure out that steel wool is what's needed. Finally, I'm down to a nice medium brown oak board. Nice enough, and I can now imagine what the desk will look like, or so I think.
Back to the door, where I'm now working on side two. This door will be our bedroom door, so I want it completed soon. Scrape, reapply stripper, reapply foil. I have finally figured out what works best, so the work is easier than the first side, but the static posture is hard on my back. After an hour, I'm pretty much beat. I show DS the bit of desk that I've done and we agree it's quite nice. I get a couple more hours done on the door over the next few days, and keep looking at the desk. I'm trying hard to stay focussed on the door, but the desk is calling...
Ultimately, I am unable to resist the desk. Close examination reveals the wooden drawer handles are removable. I take one off and apply some stripper, then wrap it in foil. Unwrap the handle. add some elbow grease and steel wool, and what do I see peeking out at me from under all that gaudy 'make-up'? A beautiful quarter-sawn oak desk handle! I have an original quarter-sawn oak desk, possibly dating back several decades, maybe even to the Craftsman era. I am thrilled, and proceed to remove and strip two more handles and one drawer front just to be sure. The top of the desk shows a long strip where clearly something was removed. It may have been a roll-top. I will have to do some research. More good news: the desk is built so that the top is removable, which will make it easier to bring downstairs. This will be necessary, because it has now been promoted to becoming my desk.
We get one mostly-sunny afternoon and take some R&R time, but after 20 minutes, I am no longer able to sit still. I decide to finally move the satellite dish from it's location over the centre of the patio doors. It has been bugging me, because when I stargaze from bed, there it is. I'm at the top of the stepladder. DS is behind me on the deck playing guitar. I notice the dog snorfling along in the grass and realize he is herding a snake towards the deck and DS, who is absolutely disgusted by them, and more than a bit afraid, as well. "It'll go under the deck", I think to myself, but continue to watch just in case. Of course, it chooses the overland route and is headed right for DS's feet. She has her back turned and is missing all of this action. I opt for the 'less detail is better approach' and order her to lift her feet. "What?" "Lift your feet!", but it's already too late.
The reptile in question has passed right over her bare feet, causing a bloodcurdling scream no doubt heard several counties over. The dog, encouraged by all the commotion, has decided that for the remainder of the vacation his second-favorite activity will be snake-hunting in the remains of the rock garden that extends from the lake to the deck. His most favorite activity remains chewing wood of any kind, but he does prefer the cordwood stacked and waiting for winter and the woodstove. I think he believes we were most kind to organize supplies for his favorite pastime in such an accessible way. No amount of discouragement from us can change his view of our woodpile, so we have to keep a close eye on him.
Monday, after dropping off the dog to be 'babysat' by friends for the day, we head off to place orders. We need a window and we're ready to order our woodstove, and that involves a 45-minute drive. The first window place we stop at there is one salesman, and four customers ahead of us. We quickly tour the showroom and realize they don't have what we want. Another stop at a hardware store, and he directs us to a manufacturer in town that we didn't even know existed. He assures us they have what we want. He gives us directions, but they're not quite accurate, so we lose time trying to find them. After being helped by two guys standing at a loading dock, including the ready loan of a cellphone, we get proper directions.
Their showroom includes the style of grille we want, but we're not sure about the PVC-covered wood frame. Their sales person shows us what she thinks we're looking for, but we're not certain it's what we want. We both want to get this done, though, and don't relish having to buy all our windows in Quebec City, an hour and a quarter's drive away. We decide that it's a south-facing window and we can live with what we're being shown. As in anything else, there are umpteen decisions to be made. Because we have to add insulation to the wall, we're not sure what total depth we need. We go for 12", to be safe. Overkill, but easy enough to trim on-site. This window is the only one that must be done before all the exterior wall renovations; we'll know the depth for the rest. We end up with a casement window with two sections, with the single grilles at the top, in a 3-over-one arrangement for each section. Double-pane argon and low-e, just over $500 for a window that is 52 x 47. We were figuring on about $450, but the extra depth factors in. The window will be ready for our next visit, so that will be handled before the fall. (A subsequent visit by a friend reveals that if one wants PVC-covered wood-frame windows, they come with wood interior frames. This just doesn't work in our climate, so all-PVC is the best compromise.)
We leave at 11:00 AM. It's nearly noon, and we have one errand done on a list of 6 different stops. We head north to order our woodstove. There again, there is a little bit of sticker shock. The stove itself, a Hearthstone Mansfield with black enamel trim is $3,300. It's a soapstone stove, and we'd been quoted $3,100 for a significantly smaller Vermont Castings stove, so that's palatable. It's the chimney (18' at $850) installation ($450) double-wall stovepipe, etc. that brings the final total to $5,700. We'd been expecting about $4,500, but we accept that this is the cost and place the order. Delivery is likely two weeks, and installation will be set when it arrives, but their lead time is currently short as the season is just beginning.
We are exhausted and our transactions-per-hour stat is dismal. We revise our list, knock off two stops and make short work of the other two. The dog is glad to see us, but just. He regards our friend Pary as a playmate, and she gives him lots of reason to, so he's quite happy with her and her partner Piaf.
Tuesday morning, we start the real work. First off, the scrap metal. We had been rounding it up and placing it near the house for easy access. We called the firm we had spoken to months ago, who promised delivery of a container the next day, Wednesday. By 4 PM he's still a no show, so we call. No answer. Thursday morning, early, DS gets 'hold of them. 'We didn't have one available' is the response. Why didn't they tell us, or call? 'If we could predict the future, we'd all be rich' is the response. We are not impressed. Friday morning, guaranteed. At 2 PM on Friday, we start calling other scrap metal dealers. We are promised a call back from one of the bosses of one firm, but by suppertime, nothing. We are pissed. We have spent the last three days just tinkering around, not undertaking anything major, because we want to be able to just drop what we're doing and get the junk loaded. There are things that must get done, so Saturday and Sunday are set aside for building the wall where the woodstove will be placed.
First, we have to take down the existing wall. Because we want the cinder-block heatsink wall, we need 2x6 framing. The current bit of wall that is there is, we learn, 2x3. We figure out work methods for getting the pine shiplap paneling off the wall with little damage, so we will have no problem salvaging them for re-use as wainscoting. Removing the paneling reveals the existing wall was framed in three stages. It was intended to be a half-wall, then got filled in, and later got lengthened. This is what builders refer to as change-orders. Most clients make many during the building of a house. We're no different when we renovate, but at least we're our own contractors!
Now we have to figure out exactly where the stove and chimney will be. We go upstairs and open up the floor to make sure we know the truss spacing and how it relates to the new wall. We call one BIL who is able to tell us the clearance for double-wall chimneys, and we determine the chimney placement in relation to the upstairs wall and the trusses. We couldn't hope for better, and the chimney centre I had roughly determined by measuring was within one inch. Not bad.
By Sunday suppertime, the first section of wall, up to the cinderblock section. is built and the wiring is re-run and functional. We're pleased, because this is the first real step in renovations. Actually getting work underway has also been very good from another aspect. We are beginning to see concretely (haha!) how the wall and stove will relate to the rest of the room and house.
As always, we think and discuss forward and beyond what we're actually doing, to make sure we know how the remainder of the project will pan out. We've realized the in-floor hydronic heating would likely be an unnecessary expense. The woodstove will be able to keep the main area of the ground floor comfortable and we can change the old baseboard heaters for more efficient convectors and electronic thermostats. The concrete slab will be a significant heatsink, and the $20,000+ that it would cost can be put to better use. It also means that we don't have to worry about allowing for the extra thickness of the overpour in our renovations, and can therefore tackle projects in the meantime as finances permit.
We realize the cinderblocks we were going to use for the raised hearth are too thick, but this is in fact a good thing: we have enough thinner ones to make the hearth, and so will have enough thick ones to build the wall without buying more. More recycling, less expense. We go to bed happy. We're soon to get happier. No, this is not an X-rated blog, lol.
Monday morning 7:30 AM the phone rings while we're having breakfast. It's Salvage Guy #2. He will have a container to us this morning, and gets directions. At 7:31, we leave a message for Salvage Guy #1: don't bother, we've found someone else. At 9:30 AM, the container from Salvage Guy #2 is delivered. We waste no time getting Mr. Case (the bulldozer) to work. At 10:30, Salvage Guy #1 arrives with a container. I go see him and tell him he is not needed. I explain a message was left at 7:30 AM cancelling. I point out that not showing up when promised and not calling has worked against him. He utters not one word, turns around and leaves.
As they say, you know who your real friends are when there's work to be done. Piaf and Pary have asked us to call when the container shows up. They arrive at noon, bearing lunch to boot. We have several large pieces and it's slow going getting them loaded, because a bulldozer is not the most multi-functional piece of equipment, but four women can be pretty resourceful. By 5:30 PM, we have spent a couple hours wrestling with the second-to-last large piece, with no success. We stop for the day and resume the next morning. P & P stay overnight and give us their time until 10:30 AM.
Ultimately, we give up on the problematic piece, and one other. By the time P & P leave, all the bulky pieces are loaded, and it's all hand-bombing left. The old utility trailer has been sitting, loaded with small stuff from the garage and house, for weeks. We empty it then get three trailer loads from beside the garage, and another three from behind it. We take two 20-minute breaks, but don't stop for lunch. We want this this job done. The scrap metal is the last junk from the previous owner and we want this gone. We have even scrapped our old utility trailer and loaded it, and the container is full. By 2:30 PM, we are calling Salvage Guy #2 to come get his dumpster. It will leave the next day.
We've been together 12 years now, and like many couples, are often on the same wavelength without discussion. We have both been thinking that a dinner out is in order, and laugh when we share this thought. I can't remember a time when the shower felt better. We get back from dinner to a message from Salvage Guy #2. Please call, he'd like to come get the dumpster tonight. We do, and he shows up at 8:10 PM. Some other friends stop by to visit at the same time, and watch the whole process. I'm in the house with the dog, on the phone with P&P to share the news, and to calm my nerves because I'm concerned about the loading. From my vantage point, it is taking a long time and I'm concerned it weighs too much. He finally gets it on, and gets over the deteriorating culvert without breaking through. He makes a significant dent in it, though, and during our walk the next morning we face the fact we will have to replace it, and soon.
We call another local salvage guy we've been told might come pick up the last two pieces of junk. He arrives shortly thereafter to check them out, and by bedtime, they are gone. We are so happy to have this job finished. We continue with odds and ends, clearing some brush, gathering and cleaning the cinder blocks we will use for the hearth, pricing slate tiles locally, and picking blueberries. Last year, we found 2 or 3 shrubs. This year, we realized there are close to 30! We make stakes to mark them and paint the tops blue so they will be easy to find. In all, during our two weeks vacation, we gathered about 4 lbs of berries, and there are still some remaining.
Before we leave, I lay mortar and the blocks for the hearth base, and set the first course of the larger wall blocks in place in a bed of mortar as well. We have been unable to find fibre-reinforced cement and half-blocks locally, so the rest of the wall will have to wait until we come back. Further research has shown that 4' is the highest we can build mortarless without rebar. I'd really rather not have to deal with pouring cement down the holes of the blocks inside the house, which comes with using rebar. We decided we will steel-stud frame the top and cover that and the cinderblocks with cement board, retaining it's fireproof character, but cutting down on the heatsink a little. Oh well.
One of the last jobs is setting up the weather station. The past several days have shown us that none of the local forecasts capture us and that if we want to have any idea of what to expect where we are, we need local data. We decide to use the TV antenna, and while I'm up there, I decide to get rid of wires that run from the house to it to power lights that no longer work. There are also wires that hang down, and end in taped-on marrettes laying on the ground. I can't imagine that they're live, but we check just in case and learn they are! Not able to determine what breaker they run from, we opt for just shutting down the main entry. It takes several hours of work 20' up in the air for me, but by early afternoon, the wires are gone and the weatherstation is up. The wires still end in taped-on marrettes, but just under the eaves at the peak of the roof, well out of anyone's reach.
The report, promised to be faxed to the municipal office by August 6, had not arrived by the time we left. We're getting tired of being promised things that don't materialize. Why can't people just tell the truth and face the fallout?
The cherry on the sundae:
P&P had camped the weekend before we arrived and had had three opportunities to observe a young moose eating from the bottom of our pond. We'd been there two weeks and had seen several tracks, but no animals. I'm getting ready to mix mortar when DS calls me to the patio door. There is Morton Moose nibbling on branches near the lake. Eventually, the moose ambles down the bank and we spend 40 minutes observing the noshing of what we call skunkweed. (The beavers used it as mortar in the dams I spent last summer taking apart, and it truly smells of skunk.) Moose must have really bad breath. Oh, and Morton is a she. DS gets several photos with her big zoom lens, and we get a couple shaky clips with the digital binoculars. What a gift for our day of departure.
Other wildlife spotted during this vacation includes a grouse the dog accidentally flushed out of the brush while we were picking blueberries, a cormorant (from the bird books we have, way off the beaten path as we are hundreds of miles from sea), one lone duck (we think it's the same mixed-species bird that visited last year) and herons. We see one, who we've named George, almost daily. Occasionally, he brings Georgette. Once, he brought Georgette, Georgina and Jorge. Sensing a theme? It's a name I once came across, and seemed apt. We name the wildlife generically: all the groundhogs are Murphy, all the hares Bugs. It makes it easier to alert the other to a viewing opportunity and quickly. We haven't named the snakes.
Seeming to proceed at a snail's pace at first, two weeks have just whizzed by and we pack up and head back to the city.
Early on Tuesday
Back to the city
Back to the lives that we don't choose
Driving, nothing to say
This is ok
It is just one of those things we do
Early on Tuesday by Jesse Cooke