Monday, February 18, 2013

A Place of My Own

One of the biggest adventures in all of this has been the integration of two completely different households, one who has lived on the ranch for decades and has developed its own way of doing things based on the necessities of their life there in the beginning, and one coming to the ranch recently and bringing with it technologies, ideas and very different ways of doing things based on modern life. Sometimes it's circumstance that keeps the two from mixing, and sometimes it's circumstance that brings them together.

On her end, AuntI has been living in the home her father built, with siblings and relatives that had their own agendas and massive collections of stuff, and stuck in a situation gone to the dogs. When we came on the scene four years ago, she was holed up in a garbage bin of a house in ill health and with no means of correcting her environment. She slept in a recliner in the living room, and somehow managed to navigate not only the disaster conditions left over from the feud with her brother all these years, but our construction mess as well. But living alone these last four years, it also gave her a commanding view of the driveway and outbuildings, animals and FedEx drivers and PUD techs checking the box, any activity inside the house, and complete control of the phone and TV. She was queen of the domain.... until we moved in.

We brought a crazy schedule, widely varying public-space-use time (even amongst us three), DVD players and computers and wi-fi and Dish, dogs that chased away the deer and indoor cats that climb in her lap and block her view of the TV. We cleaned up and out, replaced, remodeled, redesigned, and essentially turned her quiet, remote life on its ear. We got rid of the slop bucket and 39-gallon garbage can in the living room, and brought in typical kitchen garbage cans, feeding the scraps to the chickens, cats or dogs, depending on appropriateness. We turned on music when she was used to quietness, and made plenty of noise cooking or painting or just horsing around as a family.

But in all of it, we tried to make it an easy transition, keeping AuntI in the loop on paint colors and intended remodels and generally on the way we do things and how it might affect her. The one thing we never really talked about, though, was moving her back into her room at night.

It was a slow process. A couple of months ago, our dear friends Curmudgeon and Bones helped us clean out AuntI's room. The pink floor was brown with dust bunnies the size of small dogs, the pale curtains with young children on them were tan with dust and cigarette tar, the old plastic shades brittle, and the glass light cover, clearly chosen by a doting father for his only girl, filled with dead bugs and cobwebs. The bed hadn't been moved since the 50s, she claimed, even though the mattresses were fairly new when she stopped sleeping in there. The clothes we removed from the closet four years ago in the bathroom remodel still laid in piles on the bed. Dressers and chests and a vanity were piled with things that she hadn't been able to reach in ages, as the growing mess piled up around her. We understood she couldn't change any of this on her own, so we set out to make a comfortable space for her in her own room.

After scrubbing and vacuuming, sorting and stacking, we finally ended up with a nice space. Our old entertainment center became her shelving, holding almost everything precious to her. Her vanity became a vanity again, and her dressers returned to their proper function. A new clothes rack graced one corner, with plans for an accordion room divider to appear to mask its presence. An old TV with a new Dish Joey sat in the entertainment center waiting for her to move back in. This all left the majority of the room for her current recliner when the new one arrived.

It was due just after New Year's. It didn't show up until two weeks ago. All this time, we hadn't progressed beyond the "it's a place where you can get away from us" part of the conversation. I had assumed she knew what I was hoping, but apparently she didn't.

When the delivery truck showed up (sliding into our woodshed and a stack of tires in the mud, and needing to be pulled out by the backhoe), we quickly moved AuntI's current chair to the side and set up the new one. She began to acquaint herself with it, and we moved the old one into her room, setting it up to face the window and the TV. I made an offhand comment about how wonderful it was going to be for her to be able to sleep in her own room again. I was surprised when she said she wasn't sure she was going to.

Honestly, my heart sank. I've had a difficult time adjusting to a home I own, but feel belongs to another. Every move I make is watched, analyzed, usually questioned (mostly out of curiosity over our different ways of doing things), and sometimes shared with her closest confidantes. I head to bed when she's ready to sleep out of respect for her, but it's far too early for me; I sometimes pushed her to watch the 11pm news, just so I'd spend less time staring at the ceiling in the dark. It was still her house, and her schedule.

When I left the house that night, I pushed one more button. I asked Dude if he would make sure to get her room set up for her before he went to bed, making sure he knew where her space heater was and the associated items that would need to be moved for her comfort that night. I then quickly walked out the door for a few hours.

When I came home around her bedtime, she was still there in the living room, playing with the remote to her chair, adjusting pillows, and generally adjusting. I tried not to look disappointed and asked how things were going. Seemed well at the moment, but by the time the news came on, she announced that the new chair was giving her muscle spasms and she'd have to sleep in the old one for the night. I calmly said, "Alright," but inside I was cheering, "Yes!!" Not for her suffering, of course, but for her chance to see that her room was her room, a place for her away from us, where she could sleep without our interruptions getting water in the night or Dude leaving for work at O'Dark Thirty.

That night, I stayed up until 1am, working on projects, watching inane TV shows, puttering around the house, and eventually turning off all the lights and the TV and the fishtank. Things I associate with my life, my home. Finally, it was really my home. That one change changed everything for me, and maybe for AuntI too. She's continued sleeping in her room, and I've been able to stay up every night on my own schedule. Dude and I came home late last night to find not only our daughter in her room nearly asleep, but AuntI in hers reading and the living room lights off. I sighed. Home. Finally.

Photo--First Map

This map comes from the BLM Cadastral site and is dated 1881. It shows a military road touching the edge of our property in Section 9.

So what, you say? One of our current outbuildings is reportedly a wayside house from said military road, long ago moved to its current site near our current house (pictures of it soon). Until finding this map, we were not sure if the story was even true. Perhaps it is.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

The Bathroom: the Future

So many details, so much time... but I'm not intending to let it stretch out too far.

- Trim both the door and the floor. I don't think I'll do a ceiling trim; my time in a tiny loo in London taught me that small spaces seem larger with taller ceilings, and "seamless" surface transitions give the impression of taller ceilings. But the odd surfaces and minimal space around the door are going to make this a challenge.
- Recaulk the floor edges and around the toilet. I've had too many plumbing failures int eh past to trust a tiny little bead of caulking. Plus, future planning for elder-care issues mean protecting my walls.
- Fix our elusive plumbing problems. the low-flush toilet decides not to flush, sometimes 25 times in a row. Makes for a long commercial break. And the burping and gurgles coming from the drains every time we run water int he shower and sink are getting old; they may be septic-related, though.
- Fix the just-as-elusive electrical problems. Only one of the three receptacles work, but I honestly haven't checked to see if the breaker is wired in yet. The remaining one keeps tripping the breaker with our bedroom; I need to ckeck with my contractor to remember what we did for circuit planning. And there's the run back to the breaker box that we haven't identified and don't remember why it's there. If I can get the team all in the same room, we might be able to figure it all out.
- Straighten out the twisted receptacle. That might be a touch difficult, since the box inside the wall is twisted too.
- Match switches and receptacles. We put in the white ones one day when we couldn't find the brown ones and the hardware store wasn't an option. Shouldn't be too hard to make them all match -- just need to shut down the breaker and do it.
- Repaint the walls where we moved the grab bar, and on the ceiling where I simply messed up the paint job. Self-explanatory.
- Push the window out a cople of inches, then finish and trim out. Long story for later, but the benefit is a deeper sill. I like that.
- Pull up the flooring and screw down the floor, preferably before I recaulk it. Why I didn't think of this back when we did the remodel, I don't know, but the doorway is now squeaky and it's keeping Dude awake at night.
- Put that plastic edging stuff around the sink. Not something I've had any experience with, but apparently I need to learn.
- Tile the wall niche next to the toilet. Now that we know the sound-proofing in the adjoining room is effective, I can finish it off instead of boxing it in.
- Rework the heat settings in the shower. The hot-to-cold gradient on the one shower knob is reversed only on the hot side. Might wait on that change until the first time I have to get into the wall again.
- Add mini shelves above the towel hooks for our personal totes. No storage space means creative decorating.
- Add mini shelves on either side of the mirror. Same reasoning.
- Replace the half-width shower curtain with one that isn't paint-splotched.
- Put in the permanent rubbed bronze shower curtain rod. The twisty type keeps falling down.

And then, someday, I can spend my money on matching towels and decor.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Better Than Chocolate

I'm not horribly sentimental about holidays, especially ones that require gift-giving. Yesterday -- Valentine's Day -- was one of those days that just conjures up crazy emotional expectations that, with our unusual schedule, just aren't reasonable.

So, yesterday, Dude came home from work and Munchkin and I came home from our internet appointment in town, and we honestly had no expectations for anything other than a normal day. Outside, it was around 50 degrees -- a heat wave for our area -- and the sun was shining, making me think of all the gardening things I'd like to do and all the things preventing me from doing so.

We decided to start demolishing the woodshed. It's an ancient building, probably put there in the middle of the driveway by Dude's great-grandfather; it should have been torn down years ago. The ancient dinner bell has fallen across it, and everything once safely stored inside has been trapped for decades. It looks as though it could fall over and crush a car at any moment.

With two prybars and three sets of work gloves, we started tearing it down board by board. We salvaged all the handmade hinges, and the giant, still-sturdy beams, and put the rest of it in a pile to be sorted as sell-able barn wood.
Two truckloads and a few bruises later, we can now see through the woodshed to the bunkhouse and backhoe. What a difference it's made! And Dude has discovered that this kind of thing is far more desirable to me than roses and candy!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Bathroom: the Remodel

After rebuilding the floor and replacing ancient plumbing to and from the toilet (its own forever story, since it's about an hour from the nearest fully-stocked hardware store), we finally had a toilet in. Low-flush seemed best, considering the fear at the time that we had no water. We turned it to face the door again.

We laid in greenboard for the new walk-in shower, but had a professional do the water-proofing and tiling (he also put in the new smaller, energy-efficient window, while he had the walls open). I designed in an extremely sturdy bench at one end, and included a hand-held shower head. All the plumbing had to be done through AuntI's closet, so that was an adventure. We also included a small niche in the wall for typical shower stuff; the partial walls that allow light into the shower can only hold so much shampoo. Three different tiles are used: a large, tannish 12x12" tile for the walls, done in a basic running bond pattern; a small, stone blue 2x2" square pattern for the floor and bench; and a pretty French-cross, rubbed bronze 4x12" tile running horizontally about eye level right through the niche (and unfortunately, messing up the running bond just a touch -- but I'm trying not to let it annoy me!).

Above the shower, we have a fan that had to be vented along an interior wall before reaching the outside, just so electrical worked properly. Above the door, we have a small heater; set at 60 degrees, it doesn't come on often, but it's helpful on really cold mornings. One bank of lights hangs from the wall to the toilet, and two more sidelight the mirror above the sink.

Speaking of the sink... that was a huge design problem. My father (my main contractor) and I found a lovely European-style sink and cabinet that just met our needs. The counter is only about 12" deep, and by taking half of AuntI's closet (to be replaced elsewhere), we were able to fit it into this tiny space between the shower and the door. The sink itself protrudes out from the cabinet, leaving just enough room for the door to swing past it. It was the one piece that made the bathroom work. Above it, I have a free-hanging mirror with rubbed bronze details.

The ceiling is white, the walls a very light tan, all the details rubbed bronze, and the floor a matching tannish stone look. We chose the floating, self-sealing Allure flooring from Home Depot; it goes in easily, cuts with an Xacto blade, and can be pulled up without redoing an entire floor.

We also commissioned our dear friend Curmudgeon to build a box for AuntI's special toilet seat. Knowing from family experience that some of these necessary items just don't make for great decor, we created a place to hide it. The latch is magnetic, so easy to use in time-sensitive, lack of dexterity, and lack of mobility situations. I'm always trying to think of the future, and this was one of those brilliant moments where necessity leads to invention. We're trying to encourage Curmudgeon to turn these into a business as he approaches retirement.

After three years without a door, I finally put that in last fall. It's now painted black with rubbed bronze hardware to match. It took a long time, but I learned quite a bit about stripping paint, staining wood and re-knobbing old doors!

The bathroom is not quite done, and I'll discuss that in the next post; but it's comfortable and one of my inspirations when the design work gets difficult.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Bathroom: the Demo

The first thing I noticed was the lack of sheetrock. Not surprising for the age of the house, but I hadn't thought about what was appropriate for the time. Interior walls were made of 1/4" pressboard of sorts -- brown cardboard-like sheets that tear instead of breaking. Exterior walls were tongue-in-groove on both the interior and exterior, with thin insulation encased in black plastic, between rough-cut 2x4s that were definitely not on-center by any stretch of the imagination. They were then covered by the same pressboard.

There were pipes going nowhere inside the walls, electrical wiring that scared me, and various other construction anomalies, arising from either old practices unfamiliar to me or to Hillbilly's hillbilly ways. We call it duct-tape-and-baling-wire, but that's putting a nice spin on it.

My handy-men took the tub to the front yard; the backhoe then handily moved it to the dump pile, and then eventually to the pasture for a water trough. The toilet, sink and electric wall heater were trashed. Funny story -- when we pulled out the tub and the associated built-in spacer, we found a huge pile of bobby pins from Dude's grandmother. Decades of lost ones had fallen down the little crack against the wall! I'll post the pic when I find it.
Munchkin, The Maestro building shower bench

We ultimately tore it down to stud walls and subfloor. Munchkin and her cousins enjoyed playing PeekaBoo through the holes in the floor, and one very young one climbed to the 2nd story window on the ladder  (under Munchkin's watchful eye). Her dad, inside the bathroom, wasn't entirely pleased to see her appear at the window, but I kinda found it funny.

One last amusing story: we had purchased a commode for AuntI (this being the only one on the entire ranch), but the rest of us rested with nature. Personally, I found one of the old outhouses to be more accommodating. The funny part was getting a cellphone call while indisposed therein. Talk about a generation gap!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

The Bathroom: As It Was

We knew, when we inherited the place four years ago, that we'd need to do quite a bit of remodeling. Frankly, we didn't know how much of an understatement that is (remember the whole "this much to do" thing?).

A couple of months into sorting papers, AuntI called to say the toilet had flooded the bathroom and was leaking into the basement. She wasn't kidding. The old floor tiles were floating on about 1/2" of water, and the drip down below was falling onto the broken concrete floor about two feet away from the utility sink.
I looked at Dude and said, "If we're going to fix this, we're going to fix it right."

Here's how it looked before the demo. The door was both slime green and mandarin orange, depending on the wear pattern. It led to a three-foot-wide and -long "hall"  that backed up on AuntI's closet on one side, and Hillbilly's bedroom on the other. On the right was a short tub, with no curtain or shower head, and plenty of rust and calcium deposits. On the left was a rusty porcelain wall sink, with all its underparts dusty and visible for all the world to see. Beyond that was a formerly-white porcelain toilet (with calcium-stained bowl) on the same wall, but facing the tub. With only inches between them, a user either put their feet in the tub (taller people, anyway) or put them under the sink by sitting sideways. A narrow window adorned the far wall, which was the cause of the strange arrangement in the first place. Hillbilly didn't like stepping into the tub to open the window, so moved it to the side; I, on the other hand, was always disturbed by the view to the toilet from the salt flats, including that portion of the valley belonging to our neighbors. This was all topped off by about three paint colors from the 1960s, and nasty old tile on the floor (probably asbestos-backed, but we aren't sure).

There's only about 50 square feet of space in there, so remodeling options were limited. First, though, came the demo. Enjoy a few pics of my personal demo Dude and another crew member crammed in there like sardines, swinging prybars and hammers, while I write the next post.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Carrots Love Tomatoes, Librarians Love Books

I caught spring fever this week. There’s still a few inches of snow and ice on the ground, and every day is either foggy or cloudy and foggy, but the end of campaign season for me has left me yearning for a new project… or an ADHD diagnosis.

Last weekend, I forced Dude into a discussion about how to irrigate our football-field-sized garden. Not productive, I must say. Too many unknowns. Will the wells run dry if we irrigate overnight? Will using a gravity feed option provide enough pressure for sperinklers? How often do the salt flats flood? Where do we put the greenhouse? Can we effectively keep the deer out without running half a mile of extension cord? How can we ground a low electric fence so we can electrocute rattlesnakes before they hide in the bean teepees or potato tires? Okay, so it went beyond water systems, but you get the point.

This weekend, I started the annual list, but one on steroids so we have enough to can for the year.
“Green beans?”
“Yes.” “Yes.”
“Yes.” “Of course!” Munchkin loves carrots.
Immediate response of “No!” Munchkin doesn’t like them soft.
Chorus of “No.”
“Well, I want a few for myself, so they go on the list.”

After veggies, fruits, trees, vines, herbs and crops had all been listed, I started on the flowers. Not the decorative kind, of course – I’m far too practical. I’m talking about edible flowers, tea flowers, and the inevitable final consideration of companion flowers.

Off I went to the triple-stacked library downstairs. Somewhere in our thousands of volumes, I have a well-worn, water-tortured copy of “Carrots Love Tomatoes,” my favorite tome on companion planting. After searching the gardening, ranching, cooking, and architecture shelves (you never know – Frank Lloyd Wright had some very organized landscaping), I started looking in odd places. Between Aristotle and Sherlock Holmes? No. With Ted Dekker, Frank Peretti and C.S. Lewis? Nope. Christian homeschooling? Dave Barry? Local railroad history? Nada. I even checked the scrapbooking boxes, since my dear friend had returned it to me somewhere around one of our playdates. Still nothing. I may have packed it in the seed bins, now at the storage unit.

In the meantime, I returned to the living room with two armloads of books on xeriscaping, French kitchen gardens, and backyard homesteading. Dude laughed, calling me a crazy librarian.

Ooh. Maybe that’s an idea! I’ll be working at the library this week. I can borrow a copy!

Ah, the joys of a gardening addiction!

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Disappointing Disconnection

Well, it was disappointing news on the internet front. We had decided to go with the local provider, provided he was able to locate a receiver that could “see” the tower in town, but still transmit a signal to the house. The lure of a minor monthly cost was a bonus. The cell tower option was getting to be more expensive than our gas bill, and the satellite options weren’t too far behind.

The tech came out this afternoon, and wasn’t too optimistic. The Pinnacle, a rock outcropping 130’ across the driveway, is higher than our roof, and is still the most reasonable location for a receiver. But between there and the front door are two arms of the driveway, a falling-down woodshed, a giant elm, and apparently, an underground phone line. Not to mention the ice, snow and mud. At 4 cents per foot of cable, we want to do this once, rather than drive or plow over it and have to replace it later.

So, we have to wait until the ground thaws, and then dig a trench, lay some conduit, and call the tech back. One to two more months of internet hell. By then, I will have met everyone in town. Good for the social life, bad for efficiency and progress on re-steading.