Monday, September 25, 2006

You Oughta Know

If there's anyone out there considering restoring a ruin, allow me to offer you three tips that might -- just might -- save your sanity:

1. Don't visit your ruin when it is raining.

When in the midst of restoring a ruin, always remember that grey and rainy skies can be far more illuminating than sunshine. On these dismal days, every flaw in your house -- the cracked walls, the sunken roof, the dangling wires, the sad, straggly garden -- will seem larger than life, as if someone has placed a giant magnifying glass in front of them. You will see everything, everything, that is wrong and you will be gripped with the terrible knowledge that you could not rid yourself of the house even if you wanted to at this point, because who would want this heap of junk? You will feel trapped and horrified. You will wonder if the villagers who think you crazy are right.

You can skip all this angst-making stuff by not going to your house when it rains. Or, if you're very sensitive, even when it's overcast. However, if a rainy day sojourn is unavoidable, just keep reminding yourself that any rising desire to flee is just the weather talking. The feeling WILL pass. When the sun comes out, you WILL love your house again. Maybe it's only because the sun is blinding you, but who cares?

2. Don't believe your worker when he says he's coming "next week."

While it's true that he very well might come "next week", there's no point in believing him until it actually happens. Trust me: a big dose of cynicism here is a healthy thing. It'll save you from feeling the sharp claws of betrayal when "next week" arrives and he's nowhere in sight. This way, you can just shake your head, laugh, and say, "Oh that crazy worker...I just knew he wouldn't show!"

That said, this doesn't mean that you can't get back at your truant worker by harassing him with a barage of annoying telephone calls and faxes. Dawg, correctly not trusting the "next week" response, has been bedeviling our carpenter in this manner for the past 3 weeks. We knew we were getting to him because by the end of last week, he stopped taking Dawg's calls. And, sure enough, today, he showed up at the house. Turns out, he wasn't able to get in because the mason put a new lock on the front gate and no one had the key, but that's another story.

3. Don't tear down old telephone/electrical wires without protective goggles.

Two weekends ago, while working downstairs with Red, I hear a crash and then a yelp from upstairs. I call out to Dawg, who has been yanking down old telephone cables, to see if he's okay. He answers: "I don't know." This response is mildly worrying -- it wouldn't be difficult to get injured here -- so I dash upstairs. Dawg is standing there on the 1st floor landing, a wire cable dangling from his hand, a smattering of blood on his t-shirt. "Is it bad?" he asks me, hopefully. It isn't. It's just a scratch on his cheek. No worse than a shaving cut, I tell him. Dawg feels somewhat robbed of his moment of high drama until he realizes that it could have been bad. "It could have scratched out my eye!" he declares, "I should have been wearing protective goggles!" I agree, it certainly could have been bad, and he definitely should have been wearing protective goggles. I offer to get the camera to document his narrow escape. Dawg agrees that this is the right move. So, here is Dawg, taking one on the cheek for the house.

Don't let this happen to you.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Moving so fast looks like we're standing still

Oh wait - we are we standing still.

Okay, yes, we knew that nothing was going to happen in August. But still, it was so, so sad to come back, refreshed and optimistic, and see our poor house looking as pitiful as ever. There's really no point in me posting more pictures. The interior looks the same as it did in July -- jacked up. The exterior is a bit better: one attic window that was protruding has been fixed. And the grey, crumbling stone around some of the lower windows have been replaced with sparkling white stone. And we hear that a supporting pillar has been installed in our cellar. Tiny steps. Itsy-bitsy movement. We're crawling, ovah heah.

Don't mind my moaning. It's our own fault that we forgot what the house looked like during vacation. We got waaaay ahead of ourselves. When the architects visited us in July, they brought us electrical and heating plans of the house. Unlike the discussion of The Best Way to Replace Rotting Beams, talk about electrical and heating plans is fun. When you're building your own house or doing extensive renovations, you, the owner, get to decide where you'd like each electrical outlet, off/on switch, and heater in every room. This is no simple task, since that means you must also be able to envision what each room will look like, furniture and all, even when the room doesn't yet exist.

Take the bedroom for example. Naturally, we want electrical outlets on either side of our bed for reading lamps, clocks and the like. But where will the bed go? The bedroom is big enough to have a few options. We want to make sure we make the right choice because once the electrical outlets are in place, we're pretty much committed. (I mean, think about it: when you rent an apartment or buy a house, you set up your bedroom according to the space and the location of the outlets, don’t you? Yes, you do.) We don’t want to have extension cords trailing across the room, or wake up one day and say – damn! Why did we put the bed so close to the door/near the fireplace/far away from the radiator? So, it deserves quite a bit of thought. And that’s what we did on our vacation: we looked at our plans, tried to envision each of our rooms with basic furniture, and plot our sockets and heaters accordingly. (That said, we were not working from scratch. The electrical and heating plans from the architects gave their recommendations – we modified the plans to fit our vision.)

It was so exciting to envision our house as it could be. We imagined it clean, dust-free, with actual floors. A bed here, a closet there, overhead lights everywhere. We contemplated the configuration of our bathrooms (where should the stand-alone tub go? The walk-in shower? The heated towel racks?), whether the hallway needed an extra radiator (yes), and the best place to put the boiler (the front part of the cave). All this was reasonable and fun, but then we got carried away. We started visualizing the tiles for the bathroom floor… the style of faucets we’d have…the type of material for the double sink….the huge, stainless steel refrigerator in the kitchen….parties in the garden…cozy fires in the library…. friends in guests room….In other words, by the time the vacation was over, in our minds, the house was already built.

So, it was shocking, nay, horrifying, to return from vacation to find the house the derelict heap of rubble that it is. We immediately got on the phone to the workers. They won’t be able to start again until mid-September. At the earliest.

Well, at least we’re ready.