The Historic Preservatonist

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Hawk’s nest atop the silo

We got a little surprise after Mass on Sunday.  As we topped that last hill on the drive home, we realized there was a car in our driveway.  A car with Massachusetts plates.  And then, something like Goldilocks, we discovered that there was no one in it!

The guy who owns our house, our friend and boss, had gone to high school with this guy who later got a ph.d from Boston University in historic preservation.  They had been talking for some time about this guy coming up from NY (where he now lives) to see the house.  There are a newly arrived from Philadelphia cadre of Brazilian carpenters (keep with me here) who will soon descend on the outside of our house to get it in to shape (I love that real life always has weird detail like that.  A whole gang of Brazilian carpenters!).  So really, the expert came in the nick of time.

The historic preservationist had been in Northern Vermont to check out an old log cabin and, all very last minute, stopped by.  The company COO let him in to our house.  As I work at the Farmers’ Market on Saturdays and am dead tired afterwords (having heat-sensitive MS and standing for 7 hours in 85 degree weather is quite a combo) my house is at it’s absolute messiest on Sunday mornings.  So I was mortified, yet also a little thankful I didn’t have any notice as I likely would have flipped out and stayed up cleaning.

They (the preservationist has an assistant) had already been through the main house and barn but they had missed the servants’ quarters.  So I took them back in and then followed them around like an over-eager puppy because an expert on my house was standing IN MY HOUSE.

They took moisture readings and about ten million photographs and lots and lots of notes.  They looked at tiny little details like the mullion shape (the window on the left is older than the window on the right).

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He said the first one was original (probably 1810, we had thought the house was built in 1806 but he thought that was too early).  The white mullion has a shape typical of the Greek Revival period and is a little later (btw, I wasn’t scribbling this all down so I apologize should any other experts read this and I’ve messed it up).

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The butternut moldings that surround every single door and window (well, not in the servant’s quarters, but everywhere else) were added during the Victorian era.  In my mind it is these moldings that really give the interior it’s personality; I can’t imagine what it looked like before they were added.  He dated the moldings by examine the joinery and edge shape.

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As an aside, it seems like so much of the dating of things in his field has to do with everyone doing what is popular at that moment.  What happens when the individualistic folks do interior design?  I guess that by definition they are the exception.  And, though I like to think of myself as the quintessential upstream swimmer, I totally fell prey to the granite kitchen counter epidemic of the 2000’s so I guess we are all simple sheeple who go along with the herd.

barnWho wants to sit on my barn couch? And you thought my cellar was bad.

(You probably thought those window pictures were bad, but clearly the photography is just getting worse and worse)  There are multiple barns on the property.  The one next to the house was built around the same time as the house.  The main interior is a big open space with an old set of kitchen appliances, a derelict power wheelchair, and our collection of bikes, pool toys, golf clubs, etc.  The above picture is of one of the two “under rooms” (I’m sure there is a correct term but I have no idea what it is).  The preservationist kept referring to the barn as “significant” so I may stop thinking about it as the enclosure that houses our junk.
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We have a giant industrial fan, which will come in handy in case we ever need to film a 1990’s style Nine Inch Nails video

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The original “bathroom”, this tiny room in the barn would have contained a bucket.  I love that there’s still a mirror there.  Just in case you’d like to freshen up.

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Every single porch column (and there are many) has been turned in to bird residences thank to woodpeckers.  Some of the holes are at head level and you can be standing outside, then there’s a rustle nearby and several birds will fly out of the columns.  Creepy.  I’m sure those Brazilian carpenters will have fun dealing with this.

tombstone (1)We had been told by some neighbors that some former owners (and, for a two hundred year old house I think it’s pretty cool that it’s on owner #3 or 4, depending on how you look at it.  The family name changed due to marriage but it was the same family for the first 175 years) that the marble paver at the base of our front stair was actually a stolen tombstone!  Leo and I have been discussing just how exactly to deal with this for weeks now.  It’s huge.  And marble.  And it’s very well buried in the ground.  So how should we get it up to see if there is writing on the reverse side without breaking it?  And, if it is a tombstone, how will we figure out which grave (now unmarked) it goes to?  These are home maintenance issues that just never came up in suburban Detroit.

So we asked about it.  As it turns out, the preservationist had done his doctoral thesis on the architectural reuse of gravestones (actually, the thesis title had about 40 words in it, my little mouse brain translated that into the above title).  So, in the entire world, there are probably only 1 or 2 other people who are qualified to tell us if this is a pilfered gravestone.  He said “no” which is 17 kinds of awesome as we never could exactly figure out the logistics in getting it up and returning it to it’s intended spot!

An official preservation plan is being written up right now, which I cannot wait to read.  He thought it was  a shoo-in for the National Register of Historic Places.  So the exterior paint continues to peel and the columns still have birds in them, but we are in fact moving forward on getting that fixed and getting it done correctly.

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A photosafari through my cellar

This post is intended only for Mid-westerners and their westerly neighbors.  If you live in Vermont or New England or really anywhere East Coast, please leave now while you might have the tinniest modicum of respect for me.  If you continue you will likely say to yourself “that looks exactly like my cellar” and also “wow, she is really obnoxious and whiny” and you may never be able to look me in the eye again.

Ok.

Just us flatlanders left?

I’ll continue.  A “basement” in Michigan is either finished (so a second family room) or unfinished (a place to store boxes, do laundry, and hide from tornadoes).  In Vermont, at least in a 200+ year old house, a cellar is where the mechanical stuff goes.  And also where one can keep one’s spider web collection.  And that’s it.  My only experience with an old cellar before moving to Vermont was that of the Firestone Farm in Greenfield Village which prepared me for this about as well as going to the French part of Epcot prepared me to visit France.

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It all begins with the stairs.  It is impossible to descend the stairs without your head becoming completely covered in cobwebs.  I suppose it might be possible for me to dust or clean the stairway but I really cannot imagine having the time or inclination.  Ever.

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Immediately to the right of the stairs is this lovely collection of pipes and faucets.  My home is “heated” (I use the term loosly as we are never actually warm, instead the “heat” is there mostly to keep our temperature ever so slightly above freezing) by radiator, baseboard heat, and also forced air.  Some rooms have all three, many rooms (every bedroom) has none.  Why three?  Why not simply expand one system?  I have no idea.  So maybe the faucets are radiator-related.  Maybe someone over the years just thought they looked nice.  I have no idea.

oiltank

This is the oil tank.  In New England, people heat their homes with “oil heat” which is found deep under the ground in rare pockets where the remains of unicorns and fairies have decomposed in just the right conditions to create it.  It is priced accordingly.  The oil comes to our house via tanker truck and one must descend the horrible cobweb stairs periodically to manually read the oil heat tank level and then try to guess when the next $650 shipment should be ordered, usually monthly.  Yes.  $650 a month.  I’ve mentioned to many people here that it used to cost $120/month at the very most to heat my 5 bedroom home in Michigan but I’m pretty sure they don’t believe me.

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Next to the tank is the “root cellar”.  That light bulb has long ago burnt out and, thanks to the flash on my phone, this is the first time I’ve ever seen inside.  Wondering what’s in that chest freezer from the 30s?  I dare you to open it.  No, really, I dare you.

oven

The electrician thought that this might be the remains of the original cooking stove.  Can you imagine eating food that had anyway been prepared here?  Disgusting.  Please admire the loose and loamy dirt on the floor.  Our dirt here is almost pure clay, so why is this loamy?  Wait, don’t answer.  I’m better off not knowing.

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A cheery window. I’d like to thank whoever decided to put the breaker box ALL THE WAY AT THE FAR END of the cellar.  Seriously.  Great idea.  Our house was wired for electricity in the 20s when people owned three electrical devices total and never updated so a breaker is tripped at least every other day when we dare to do things like run the dishwasher and have a light on at the same time.

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I’m guessing this might have been a coal chute at some point.  Or not.

stump

One of two tree stump stools, thoughtfully placed in case you want to sit down and really soak up the atmosphere down here.

So there you have it.  Please think of me and my poor basement-deprived children the next time you all go downstairs to watch a movie on the big screen.

 

Whatever

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Hey, look at that, I have a blog.  I nearly forgot.  I started selling at the farmers’ market (I think that’s where we left off) and then I started volunteering at the kids’ school two days a week and then we went to Maine.  So it’s been a busy time.

Maine was lovely, thanks for asking.  It’s 3.5 hours from our house and I’d never been before.  We rented a cottage near the beach in York and ate obscene amounts of seafood morning, noon, and night.  Leo and I had lobster rolls for breakfast twice.  Owen (who is allergic to shellfish) had mussels at every meal (they’re mollusks) and we managed not to sicken him with all the shellfish nearby.  Ice cream was consumed nightly.  Joe threw enough rocks into the ocean to raise sea levels globally by at least an inch.  Patrick carried around a pound of sand in his diaper wherever we went (ow).  It was lovely.

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The house is actually getting towards being done.  I really didn’t think this day would ever come (which is funny because it’s only been a few months).  The upstairs bathroom still needs tile and I think we talked about a coat of paint on the pantry.  The outside of the house needs major attention but the inside is pretty close.

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Before and after on the bathroom

Today the Vermont sales guy had a function to go to so we were short staffed.  Burlington has a little bit better sales than Rutland so I went there.  In Rutland I usually gave out 50 or so samples.  In Burlington I gave out 206 before I ran out of cups!  It was quite a day.  They were having a week-long jazz festival in the same park as the farmers’ market.  That started at noon so the last two hours of the market where nearly impossible to talk to people because of the extremely loud music.

I live near a woman who invented a type of rug punch (fascinating, no?)  After reading about her one night and then hearing multiple mentions of rug hooking, I got it in my head to try it out.  So I did.  It was a lot of fun (and I still have the other half of my 4 hour intro course to do) but it just killed my hands.  The hand surgeon had given me the steroid shots two weeks ago and they’ve already worn off which I think means that surgery is in my near future.  That also means that I probably should not sign up to spar in the next karate tournament (the only adult category is 18+.  Those 18yo whippersnappers should know they’ve dodged a bullet).  I could just compete in a different category, I suppose, but many of the forms popular with the ladies involve doing the splits or some sort of acrobatics and why oh why DON’T THEY HAVE A MIDDLE AGED CATEGORY BECAUSE I CAN’T COMPETE AGAINST TEENAGE GYMNASTS???

So, there you have it, from the farmers’ market to the structure of karate tournaments.  We still have 2.5 weeks of school left here before we move in to summer mode.  I still can’t decide if it will be more or less chaotic then.  I guess I’ll find out.

tractors

meh

I’ve been suffering from a serious case of “meh” lately.  Maybe it was the 12 hour drive to and then again from Detroit for Easter break.  Or maybe it’s that it’s Spring and not nearly as cold, but still cold enough for a coat weather and seriously will I ever be warm again?  Or maybe it’s having a break and then going back to the grind.  Or the fact that I still have 8,456 boxes to unpack. For whatever reason, it’s “meh” all over here.

I decided that I couldn’t possibly put off potty training Joe any longer.  Potty training is – hands down – my least favorite parenting duty.  I started potty training Owen before his third birthday and it was a total disaster.  I was still recovering emotionally when Mary turned 3.  I put it off so long that she actually asked to potty train and that was that.  In one thousand years Joe probably wouldn’t think to ask so I put it off because we drove to Florida before Christmas.  Then we were about to move (the change would probably just make him regress, right?) then there was that drive to and from Detroit…

So that’s happening.  He is VERY motivated by candy (he demands “poop treats”, “pee treats” and even “fart treats” which are NOT A THING but he won’t believe me.  Hopefully we’ll be well established in this before the next 12 hour trip back to Michigan.

living room
I would add a before picture but can’t seem to find one right now.
Just know that it was bad.  Real bad.

My living room is box free!  Plus it contains a 6yo watching tv on the iPad who has thrown her dirty socks on the floor.  I’ll take that over boxes any day.  We shoved the coffee table to the side in order to practice karate there, which we do over the internet.  I probably should have bothered to put it back.  The books in the bookcase are a really odd mix of our college books, homeschooling books, kids’ easy readers, and cookbooks.  But I can sort them later, right?

I got all hopped up on homesteading blogs recently and decided to make face cream.  It actually turned out really well, better than the kind I had been using and much, much cheaper. It took all of 5 minutes maybe and now I feel totally self-sufficient, like I’m ready to shear my own sheep to make a sweater.  Directions here. Obviously it  smells like tea tree oil after you add the tea tree oil.  You probably put that together immediately.  I did not.

I’ve also decided to ferment a bunch of things after reading all those homesteading blogs.  The kids will just LOVE my new hobby, I just know it.  A family of 6 needs at least 3 or 4 kinds of sauerkraut, right?

boxland/coldland/mudland

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Unpacking is taking forever.  I don’t know why I thought it would be any different than packing, but I did.  This house has a root cellar with a loose dirt floor (it’s frightening; Leo calls it “the dungeon”) so that’s not a storage option.  The attic is accessible only by ladder, so that’s not a storage option.  The pantry is slated for some surface renovation after all the windows are redone, so I can’t put stuff in there.  And the windows are being redone in the servants’ quarters so that’s off limits too.  People in the early 1800s probably owned 1/128th of the stuff we do, which I guess I knew yet never really thought about, and I just have no where to put it (there isn’t even a linen closet or a medicine cabinet – where did they keep their cocaine-laced snake oil???).

Also, people in the early 1800s didn’t have electricity.  The house was wired in the 1920s, according to the electrician, and not updated.  There are rooms with only one or two outlets, none of them GFIs (well, until yesterday when I had the electricians out).  The entire upstairs is on one circuit.  That wouldn’t much be an issue if there was a heat source upstairs.  There isn’t.  At all.  I keep trying to commiserate with people in Vermont about the INSANE WEIRDNESS that is not having heat in the bedrooms but everyone just shrugs their shoulders and says that they have no heat upstairs too.  There aren’t any fireplaces or woodstoves upstairs either.  Just cold.  So I bought some space heaters.  But we can only use one at a time without blowing a circuit.

I asked the electrician about splitting the circuit so my babies wouldn’t freeze.  He got kind of a faraway look in his eye, paused for a moment, and said “that’s a big job”.  He then went on about something involving 14 wire, BTX, jargon, jargon, jargon.  End of the story: I don’t think we’re getting more power upstairs.  So it’s fun at night to pick which kid gets heat which night.  Two boys share a room, so they have quantity going for them.  But theirs is a south-facing room that is generally the warmest.  So maybe my daughter whose outlet, up until yesterday, only worked when the bathroom light was on.  Or the baby, because he’ll wake up at night.  I actually had a problem in Michigan keeping the boys from running around half-dressed.  That problem was instantly solved when we moved.

Leo and I have an electric mattress pad that was a wedding present.  We only used it for a few months a decade ago until I became pregnant with Owen and decided the heat would make him grow 4 arms or horns or something in utero.  It’s just the thing in VT, though.  And I have been sleeping so well with the cozy warm bed and the 58 degree room.  I used to wake up at night to go to the bathroom or watch tv, but the freezing temps and the warm bed have completely solved that problem.

We got our first heating bill in Vermont – $648 for a month.  Again, no one blinks an eye at this.  Everyone uses oil heat here and everyone lives in an old, drafty house.  There’s a new natural gas pipeline planned for the county, which could bring a much cheaper heating option.  From the hand-drawn roadside signs you would think natural gas was a liquid form of pure evil whose only purpose was the ecological destruction of everything in it’s path.  I don’t get how using a petroleum product that might as well be liquid gold for what it costs is any better, but I also haven’t really broke in, socially-speaking, with the marker-wielding sign drawers who are against all change period.

Despite what still feels like freezing cold temperatures, the snow is finally giving way to cold mud.  I’m honestly not sure where the driveway ends and the yard begins.  The mud is bad enough that I carefully patrol all entrances and exits, making sure that NO ONE EVER wears shoes in the house.  It’s intense.

All the kvetching aside, things are slowly moving along in the right direction here.  The kids are enjoying school (although it looks like Mary might be dyslexic) and we’re certainly plenty busy.  Eventually it might even be spring and – who knows? – possibly even summer.

Bucolic Plague

We went to the Shoreham library yesterday to get some books.  Like most places here, there’s a boot room so you take off your boots there and walk around in sock feet.  I will get back to Michigan and automatically take off my shoes at various establishments (Target, Meijer, etc.).  The library has doubled in size recently, going from 1 room to 2!

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Joejoe was having a rough day.  He sat down at the communal puzzle table, which had a giant 1000+ piece half done puzzle on it, and decided that he’d work on it.  Of course, all puzzles he’s ever done start from scratch so he began by crumpling up the completed pieces.  I did not photograph the look of horror on the librarian’s face…

We managed to find some books for everyone by utilizing the card catalog.  When’s the last time you used a card catalog?  I think maybe, for me, it was junior high.

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Please excuse the poor quality picture.  I wanted to take one of the card catalog but I also felt kinda dumb doing it.  So this was taken on the sly.  Luckily Joejoe wasn’t paying attention at this point or he would have dumped out all the cards so we could rearrange them.  Seriously, they’re going to love us here.

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My Michigan self sees a rural dirt road and automatically assumes that the speed limit is 50.  In fact it’s 35.  And that’s good.  Probably you won’t encounter another car on any local trip.  But you might.  Because the roads are quite twisty, you don’t get much notice of oncoming traffic.  There are plenty of places where the 1.5 lane-wide road has a granite rockface on one side and a steep drop-off on the other.  Oh and the road is gravel so stopping is tricky.  Don’t go 50.  You will die.

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I stopped by the “new” house this morning.  The kitchen ceiling already looks so much better, right?  I was really impressed by the amount of work done just in the two days since I was there.

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I have two wall-mounted historical can openers!  Oh the luxury of it all.

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This is the former 1 room school house down the road.  Shoreham Elementary, right now, has about 70 students. Over 100 years ago, there were 10 different school houses scattered around town; I wonder how many kids were in each school.  This is one of the school houses (at least I think it’s one of them).

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This is the back view of the farm.  The lower left corner is the banks of the Lemon Fair river.

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The river is dammed at this point.  I’ve been told there’s good fishing here (Mary is so excited!)  You can canoe here too.  I am having trouble imagining it not frozen.

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There you go, Nina, a shot of the exterior.  Obviously, some painting needs to happen.  But that will have to wait until the one weekend in mid-August where the temps will be above freezing for a full 24 hours.  I’m going to sit on the porch swing and drink lemonade that weekend too.  It’ll be great.

The “Before” Pictures or Look! My House is a Dump!

First of all, it isn’t “my” home.  We’re going to live there for three years and then either buy something here or build something or live rough (ok, not live rough).  Most homes around here are 200 year old farm houses.  I’ve been assured that the guest house, in which we’re currently living, was in worse shape than “our” new house.  We’re not moving out of the guest house until we’re 100% ready to.  A whole team of workers and contractors are about to descend on this puppy Monday morning so that someday, in the not so distant future, we’ll all look back on this and laugh.

So let’s get down to it, shall we?

The kitchen.  Obviously the paint falling off the ceiling is high on the list of things to do.  The cabinets are metal and from the 40s.  The appliances are newish.  If anyone has any ideas beyond paint the cabinets, change the hardware, let me know.  The backsplash is tile that has been painted over and stenciled with pineapples, probably in the mid-eighties when stenciling pineapples on things seemed like a great idea.

P1010913P1010917A wood stove and a nine year old

This is the front entryway (which is no longer the front entryway).  It’s by far the worst room.  The yucky wallpaper is coming off, the ceiling is being scrapped and painted and the window will be replaced.

P1010921Owen just can’t hide his feelings about this room.

The five bedrooms all look something like this.

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This is the upstairs bathroom.  There’s another full bath that is in fine condition.  This one…not so much.

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The hallway, which is fine.  I added that to balance out all the really bad pictures.  When you come visit, I hope you exclaim “Your hallway!  It’s fine!”

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And the view from the driveway.  I’ll take it as-is.

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There’s a whole nother wing to the house that we’ll just seal off.  We don’t need the space and there’s plenty to do with the main house.  Also, the wing (wouldn’t it be great if it was to the west?  I’ll have to remember to check) is in worse shape than the main house.