Saturday, November 18, 2017

Fenchurch Remembers Year One

One year ago I drove into downtown Bangor and signed a lot of papers in exchange for a set of keys to the oldest house on Thomas Hill.  I had a few moments of quiet at the house before the plumbers arrived to jack hammer a decayed cast iron waste pipe out of the basement floor.  It seems like there's been banging and cutting and a great deal of crashing around ever since. (Some of it, but not all of it, intentional.)

I think I can safely say that I am still on the steep part of the home renovation learning curve. And the safe use of power tools learning curve.  Also the how to be a good business partner and how to peacefully coexist with others curves.

I spend a lot of time just being tired.

But a lot has been accomplished in this year, due mostly to Zaphod's hard work (and perseverance in the face of suffering).

  • Rotten cast iron waste pipe replaced.
  • Laundry / half bath upgraded.
  • New wood stove and back chimney lined.
  • Structural repairs have progressed.
  • Front chimney has been rebuilt and relined.
  • Rotten exterior stairs removed, damaged roof repaired, new balcony added.
  • Electrical service upgraded.
  • Corner of foundation dug out and mortared inside and out with drainage added.
  • Family room demoed.  Bathroom demoed.
  • Lightbulbs replaced.
  • Leaves raked and wood cut.

Thank you to everyone who has contributed though encouragement, cleaning, scraping paint, swinging a hammer, pulling the trigger on a power tool, or bringing us vodka. (It's a muscle relaxant, Fenchurch-Mom!) 

We are grateful for your support as we make plans for another busy year.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Zaphod's Best Weekend (Ever!!)

It is a well known fact at Highlands Bangor, that Zaphod loves to dig.  His love for digging is second only to his love for moving things.  So this was pretty much the best weekend that Zaphod can imagine.  (If anyone knows a good libel lawyer, Zaphod is taking names....)

On Saturday, while Trillian kept the little people occupied, in an attempt to prevent the entry of water into the basement, Zaphod and Fenchurch dug their trench a little deeper and then started throwing mortar at the wall, literally.  Fenchurch found that her instinct to "color inside the lines" did not really lend itself to throwing mortar at a wall, so Zaphod threw and Fenchurch mixed...because mixing mortar is kind of like mixing "just add water" cake mix.  Except you wouldn't want to eat it.  And it's a looooooooot heavier.

Four bags of mortar later and Zaphod and Fenchurch were both done for the day.  And only about 1/4 of the way around the wall.  Thank goodness next weekend should be sunny...

On Sunday, to rest from throwing mortar, Zaphod and Fenchurch moved things around.  There seems to be an unwritten rule at Highlands Bangor - if you're going to move something, the place you put it must be as inconvenient as possible for whatever job needs to be done next, thus forcing you to move the thing again.  The heavier the thing, the truer this is.

But rules are meant to be broken - so Zaphod and Fenchurch moved slate (for the keep-water-out-of-the-attic project) and wood (for the let's-not-freeze-to-death-over-the-winter project) to places which should hopefully be relatively permanent until the slate goes on the roof and the wood goes in the fire.

And Zaphod is looking forward to doing it all again next weekend!

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Flash and Bang

Fenchurch-mom and Fenchurch-dad spent this past week at Highlands Bangor; Fenchurch-dad sawed and banged and carried things with Zaphod while Fenchurch-mom ran in circles after the orbiting Frogstar for whom baby gates now represent mere obstacles rather than boundaries.

We are indebted to them for their help and generosity.

Fenchurch-dad had hoped to see the dark red balau decking go onto the balcony, but alas, there were too many prerequisite steps and he had to go home without seeing the balcony completed.

Another day's work by Zaphod and Fenchurch has finally brought them to the point of laying the deck. 


After Zaphod buys the screws. 

Because he didn't mention to Fenchurch before she went to the hardware store today that he didn't have the necessary screws. 

Because he didn't think they'd make as much progress as they did. 

And Fenchurch declined to go to the hardware store twice in one day because she needed to make sure she had time to passive aggressively snipe at Zaphod via blog post.

Someone has to get up tomorrow to go to the hardware store, that's all Fenchurch is saying.  And that someone probably isn't going to be her.  No sirree-sir, Bob Zaphod.

Videos of the day's work are below.

For those of you who have the time to watch all 4, you can leave your vote in the comments.  Alternatively, we may also call him Wonko the Sane.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Sunday. "Funday?"

Dear Reader,

For those of you who may be wondering how things are going at Highlands Bangor, you will be delighted to know that our crop of itsy bitsy teeny weeny yellow polka dot strawberries is ripening.  At least, those that survive mowing.  In fact, wild strawberries constitute a substantial portion of what some would call our "lawn".

Today, in an attempt to take back said lawn, Fenchurch started up the mower (which required more than two pulls on the starter despite the guarantees painted on the side of the mower).  The mower protested that it was neither a scythe nor a weed whacker and it did not like to do this kind of work.  Given that mowers don't speak, you may well wonder how it communicated these opinions to Fenchurch.  Principally by clogging, choking and dying every second row.  During the quiet interludes when Fenchurch was cajoling the mower back to mowing, Butterface's roooooo of hopeless despair could be heard from the house.  She was alone. Alone!  And it was dinner time.... and there was NO DINNER.  She was in the dinner room.... at dinner time..... but, no alone....ROOOOOOO.

All in all, it was a sad hour for the strawberries, the mower, Fenchurch and Butterface.

And during this time of suffering, where were Zaphod and Trillian?  Naturally they were doing what all child-free parents on a weekend away do - they were shopping for bargains on planers and dust collection systems.

In fact, these last several weeks have been a period of prioritizing, re-prioritizing, figuring out and shopping for light fixtures.  Fenchurch has been grateful to have the company and help of Runi who planted a garden for the little people, cleaned many things, helped Zaphod demo and fix and fish wires through walls, and loved on Butterface, the demanding, entitled, chowhound.  And at the end of it all, she promised to come back in 6 months - mostly because her tickets are non-refundable.

More about our next big project coming soon.


Thursday, June 1, 2017

The Ruler of the Universe Is Coming!!

Tonight is the long awaited arrival of Fenchurch's friend The Ruler of the Universe (henceforth Runi, to save typing).

Fenchurch has prepared the guest room by press-ganging Zaphod into moving totes.  Zaphod loves moving totes.  His witty comment of the day was, "A 6,000 square foot house and there's never anywhere to put things."  As usual, he triumphed in the face of bitter hardship and insufficient closet space.  Butterface approves the result.

And in response to feedback from previous visitors who declared themselves "always lost in your house", Fenchurch has added helpful labels around the house.

She's almost here!

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The May Recap

May has been a month full of hard work and discovery here at Highlands Bangor.

The city came to take away our brush piles.

A friend of Fenchurch's came to help take down the family room ceiling.

This eventually led to the discovery of our "art" brick walls.

We discovered what a ton of plaster debris looks like and costs to dispose of.

A bird discovered that it could fly down the chimney but not back up.

On a trip to Zaphod's parents, Butterface discovered driving at 45 mph is much less effort than running at 45 mph.

Violets have been found in a decrepit planting barrel.  (To make up for the countless forget-me-nots heartlessly mown down.)

And we have a brand new electrical service drop and meters.  We also passed our first electrical inspection due to the stellar work done by Zaphod under the guidance of our electrician.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

The Bucket of Fenchurch

Fenchurch loves 5 gallon buckets.  They are so convenient.

You can fill them with cast iron to take downstairs.
You can fill them with plaster to take upstairs.
You can fill them with water for mopping or trash for trashing.
They come in bright colors.

Also -
Fenchurch is an opportunist and tomorrow is brush collection day in Bangor. So if you're trying to find us, listen for the sound of the city chipper.  I think they are going to be at our house for a while...

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Long Weekend, Long Wires, Long Post

Some photos from the long weekend activities here at Highlands Bangor.

Fenchurch's friend Babelfish spent the weekend.  She and Fenchurch and Zaphod raked and hauled leaves and created what may become the biggest leaf compost heap on the eastern seaboard.  It's as tall as the fence, and the yard isn't finished yet.

While working along our overgrown cedar and lilacs, Zaphod found a t-shirt...

... and Fenchurch found dog poop!  (Enough to half fill two contractor bags.)

The end result was lots of bare dirt, so please focus your attention on the area of purple snow drops.

Also Trillian made a fantastic lamb dinner for Easter Sunday.  (He is risen...)

And on Monday we moved the work indoors.

Zaphod DID get his joist sistered.

And the new electrical panels floated.

And much wire pulled through holes.  (Zaphod generously cleaned out the space behind the existing panels before it was necessary for Fenchurch to investigate the inside.)

If you are really bored, or really supportive, you can watch us unbox a new panel!

Friday, April 14, 2017

Off Limits

On the days when Trillian is showing off her mad barista skills, Zaphod has charge of Frogstar.  If you think it's hard to clean and mind a toddler, try repairing a dry-rotted joist while your 2 year old explores the 180 year old basement.

But Zaphod managed it with some improvised child gates to limit the little one's wanderings.

Yesterday, Fenchurch was impressed by the joist repair in progress, work the electrician required because he didn't want to run wires through the existing rotted joist.

Today, she was impressed by the nature of the improvised gates after she made the strategic morning error of trying to make both coffee and toast (ok, pop tarts) at the same time - and the electrical infrastructure denied her either.

Venturing down to the basement to reset the circuit, she found her way blocked by this...

...and decided cold cereal and half a pot of cooling coffee would be fine.

Looking for novel ways to keep your toddler contained?  If you can haul it, you can have it!

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Queen of Broken Shovels – Part Duex

The editor of sincerely apologizes to Trillian for the late publishing of this post.  But since it snowed yesterday in Maine, she feels somewhat vindicated.

Queen of Spades Broken Shovels – Part Duex

Written 15 March 2017

Our survival from last month’s nor’easter was made possible by a gracious offer to transport a member of the house to a local small engine repair store for snow blower parts. Our survival from this month’s nor’easter named Stella was a bit of different story.

After the previous storm there was only two surviving shovels - even after a passerby plowed the end of the driveway leaving a snow pile two Butterface's deep and the snowblower was repaired. However, those shovels weren’t so handy, except to Benji-Mouse and Frankie, as they were child sized shovels. No amount of shoveling with a quarter sized snow shovel would un-bury us from a typical New England winter storm. Zaphod duly obtained replacements between the storms and with the snowblower repaired we were prepared for whatever spring surprise might await us. Then came Stella.

Safely nestled into our beds for the night, we awaited any school cancelations or delays in the morning. I awoke early and checked my email for an email from the principal. Surely enough, a two-hour delay. The storm wasn’t nearly as powerful as predicted. A forecast of 12 – 18 inches of snow became 5 – 8 inches of heavy wet snow. I rolled over and went back to sleep hitting the snooze alarm on my phone. Zaphod on the other hand took the opportunity to get busy moving snow.

After clearing the lower end of the driveway, just enough so we could get out the snowblower quit. Unbeknownst to me, it quit four times as the auger belt repeatedly needed to be adjusted before catastrophically failing.  As I stumbled downstairs for coffee, Zaphod presented me with the gift of said belt and sent me out to obtain a suitable replacement plus spare. Our snowblower tagged John Deere was actually made by Murray, although identical to either a Toro or Craftsman model. A google search provided the needed information and off I went.

I returned in enough time to drop the littles at school, only to find out the belts were too short. Sent out again, I went to the small engine repair shop and purchased replacements. Turns out these were also just a hair too short and the belt shredded. Zaphod was not amused.

Third time is a charm, right? Uh, no. Just no. Third attempt to an automotive repair chain was closer but no cigar. The right length, but just narrow enough to sit too deep in the pulley that it was too long. Another google search revealed that yet another area department store carried the part and had it in stock. I sent a text to Fenchurch that the part was available. Fenchurch with reward points in hand joined me. Alas, the parts and service department was at yet another location across town. We left without an auger belt, but three pairs of clearance shoes in its’ stead. Well, the reward points expire, right?

Do we go all the way across town to get the part? No, of course not. We go back to the first store, where I had been just eight hours earlier. It wasn’t perfect, but a a belt 0.15 inches too short was well within the 0.5 inch tolerance of the pulley.

Within an hour the driveway was nearly clear, well except the bank at the upper end of the driveway. But before next winter, the now out of round pulley needs replacement.  

Written by Trillian.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The Stud Finder

Fenchurch had the delightful experience of lumber shopping with Zaphod this evening.  She had, before tonight, no idea that a 2"x4"x8' sold at a very big store could be "no good".  But Zaphod won't settle for anything but the best (of what's available).  He must have the straightest boards with the fewest, smallest, most central knots (as compared to the other options).  He will not settle for the boards stacked to the front which have already been picked over, but dives to the back to eye the length of a potential stud.

Apparently pretty patterns don't matter in studs.  Which is why Zaphod was in charge of choosing lumber.  And Fenchurch kept her artistic commentary for another occasion.

Want to learn Zaphod's secrets for finding the right studs?
Come visit us at Highlands Bangor!!

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Zaphod Opens a Box

Video evidence that Zaphod can hold a hammer and Fenchurch can hold a phone.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

The Book Says

Hangouts chat dings.

Zaphod: May I disconnect breaker 1.8 for about 5 minutes? will it cause any disruption?
Fenchurch: I'm on a conference call.  Can it wait 20 minutes?
Zaphod: Yup. Let me know
Fenchurch: Thank you.  Yes.
Zaphod: I've got some measuring I'm doing at the moment - drawing the third floor.  Figured while I was up here I would put in the GFCI for the deicing cable.
Fenchurch: Ok.
Zaphod: So no rush.

Time passes.

Fenchurch: Everyone is still shouting.  So..... more than 20 minutes.
Zaphod: haha.  No worries, I realized I had never updated the third floor so I'm up here drawing it in
Fenchurch: Ok!  I'm getting up for lunch.
Zaphod: Ok.  I'll be quick anyway.  Just an outlet change.

In real life, on the third floor.

Fenchurch: Whatcha doin'?
Zaphod, looking at two black insulated wires: I don't know which one of these is hot and which is neutral.
Fenchurch: Aren't the wires supposed to be marked so you can tell?
Zaphod: These are knob and tube.  Maybe in a perfect world.  Can you tell any difference?
Fenchurch, enthusiastically: I'm sure there's a way to tell.  I'm pretty sure I read about it in that book.  Hang on let me get it.

In the kitchen, while Fenchurch waits for the microwave.

Fenchurch, reading from Wiring a House, 5th Edition: The oldest wiring that you might see in a house is knob and tube.  The wiring is still legal to use.  The copper wires have a rubber coating and a single-cloth braid -- black for the hot wire and white for the neutral or return (most wire is so old and dirty that both colors look the same).


Zaphod: I can figure it out.
Fenchurch: Please don't damage yourself or anything expensive.

Microwave dings.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Queen of Spades - Part 1

Work has been quiet here at the Highlands for a few weeks. The unfortunate events of respiratory illnesses followed by stomach viruses, and now we are in the midst of a a series of snow storms. 

We received a few inches over the weekend, and the local stores were full of anticipation with sales of milk, eggs, bread, water, and various adult beverages to survive the nor'easter due to arrive on Monday. For those not so familiar with the term nor'easter, it is a major snow storm, somewhat akin to a hurricane. It often follows a similar track though the storms rotation is counter clockwise so the wind comes from the northeast, hence the name. This pattern pulls moisture off the Atlantic Ocean and dumps that moisture in the form of snow, lots of snow, not unlike the lake effect snow seen around the Great Lakes. This is why most Mainers have either a plow or a snowblower. 

Monday's storm was forecast to leave about two feet of snow, and snow it did.  All night, all day, and the winds were blowing. School cancelled. I sent Benji-mouse and Frankie out to burn off some steam Benji-mouse was about waist deep in snow, and they lasted a little more than half an hour before coming in for some mulled cider. 

Fenchurch had been faithfully taking Butterface out to use the facilities and it was clear that greyhounds, especially the drama queen of greyhounds, do not like wading shoulder deep through snow. Given Zaphod's sore back and a snowblower temporarily out of commission, Fenchurch shoveled a path around the side door to Butterface's designated "facility" spot. Looking outside I determined that I should take a shift after she came in and I got the kids settled. Still windy and getting colder, I ventured out. 

Trillian:     Do you have cash?
Fenchurch:     Yes, I do have cash.
Trillian:     I am wondering if the neighbor with the snowblower would take a bribe to get the worst of the snow.
Fenchurch:    I've got $50.

A pause in the conversation.

Trillian:     That was a bust. 
Fenchurch:     Was he rude or just no luck? 
Trillian:    I couldn't get past the bank. I waved him down, but he never came over. The snow is easily two Butterface's deep at the end of the driveway. (pauses) We are officially snowed in. 
Fenchurch:    Shovel into the street and let the plow take it away.
Trillian:        What would Jesus do?
Fenchurch:     Walk on it ... he would totally shovel into the street. 
Trillian:     No, wait that was Moses who parted the waters. 

Hmm .... where can I find a Moses?    

Posted by Trillian

Saturday, January 21, 2017

The Ghosts of Wallpaper Past

Zaphod told me (Fenchurch) that he had found a box of old wallpaper, and I got excited hoping for peacocks.

Alas, no peacocks.  But some (hideous) boats and plaid, plus stripes of many colors and some little pink flowers.  And lots of textured off-white.

Samples available if anything catches your eye.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Fenchurch responds to Readers

How is Zaphod's bathroom coming along? Is this on 1st or 2nd floor? Does one bathe before they come and then bring their own porta-potti? (Just an idea.)
~~ Flying Eagle
Bathroom privileges?
~~ Anonymous

Dear Flying Eagle and Anonymous,

Work on Fenchurch's bathroom (on the second floor) is temporarily on pause while Zaphod does other things like discovering (more) leaks in the basement, demolishing an old animal pen in a corner of the garage so he now has space to sort bolts and brackets and nails in peace, and contriving a pulley system for his ladder collection.  (I think the second attempt came out rather well; the first was liable to decapitate the unwary.  If at first you don't succeed...)

This leaves Highlands residents with 1 functional shower, 2 functional toilets and 5 functional sinks.  (I will send a congratulatory postcard to anyone who can guess the correct location of each sink.)  There is therefore no need to bring your own potty as all volunteers are permitted (and encouraged!) to use any of the functional facilities and to wash their hands before returning to work.

Sincerely yours,
~~ Fenchurch

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Welcome Guests!!

Highlands is ready to receive its first overnight guest. Anyone willing to scrape, screw, scrub or scramble is welcome to sleep on a lovely blue air mattress with blue sheets and a blue blanket on the daring black rug.

(While helping to reassemble the desk re-located from the family room downstairs, Zaphod said "I can't be sure you're not transforming this room back into hideous..." This would be a good time for you to stop talking, Zaphod...)

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

A Bath for Fenchurch - Part 3: Tub Away

Fenchurch's leaking bathroom had a cast iron tub which was built into an alcove.  It was clearly going to take a great deal of effort to remove it, so Zaphod and Fenchurch opted to remove the shower walls in hopes that they could gain access to the troublesome pipes.

After a great deal of levering and nail pulling, they discovered that the pipes were plastered in on all four sides.  Additionally, an opening in the floor revealed that a couple of joists had been cut away to make room for cast iron waste pipes from the toilet.  Zaphod deemed the tub "structural" - somehow contributing to the support of the surrounding walls since the joists were clearly compromised.

Not only did the leaky pipes need to be identified and repaired, but the joists would need to be strengthened before the bathroom could be reassembled.

First, Zaphod and Fenchurch-Dad set up some supports in the dining room as a precaution.  "You can't support a house on 2 inches of framing," said Zaphod.  Trillian and Fenchurch agreed with him that, in principle, it was a bad idea for anyone or anything to come crashing through the dining room ceiling.

Then Zaphod and Fenchurch-Dad took sledge hammers to the tub and carried it out in buckets.

More floorboards came up revealing a patch work of "fixes" made to the compromised joists, one of which is clearly not attached to anything at one end and can be lifted with no resistance.

And this is the state of Fenchurch's bathroom today while work is ongoing in other areas of the house.

Posted by Fenchurch

Sunday, January 8, 2017

A Bath for Fenchurch - Part 2: Carpet, Vinyl, Wood - Oh My

The logical first step in making a functional bath for Fenchurch was to find the source of the leak.

Ripping up ugly carpet can be very satisfying, so Fenchurch decided to share the experience with a friend who came to town to help out around the house.  (Fenchurch clearly knows how to show her guests a good time.)  Zaphod obligingly removed the fixtures (for sale, should you want them) to facilitate the ripping process.

Under the carpet there was a layer of vinyl, and around the tub, a clear plastic floor mat with little spikes, like the ones you see in offices.  Clearly we were not the first ones to notice a leak.

Fenchurch and friend used a heat gun to pull up the vinyl floor.  Fenchurch only "missed" and caused heat bubbling in the paint on a very small section of trim. 

After that, a section of plywood came up.  (Fenchurch was permitted to use a circular saw on the floor.  No one was injured, including the saw.)

Posted by Fenchurch.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

A Bath for Fenchurch - Part 1: The Peeing Problem

Highlands was listed as a 2.5 bathroom house.

The home inspector had warned that the floor in the bathroom that was earmarked for Fenchurch probably had a rotten floor, probably as a consequence of the rug.

On day 1, the plumber came and went through the house with Fenchurch to identify which of the bathrooms were really usable and which not.  They stood in the basement and watched water running down the outside of the cast iron waste stack.  Fenchurch decreed that all physical needs would have to be met elsewhere.

For Sale: The plumber believes these fixtures (toilet / sink) to be from the early 40s. We do not plan to re-use them.  Please get in touch if you would like to acquire them.

Posted by Fenchurch.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Zaphod Speaks the Truth (In Love)

You may recall from Blue Like Shag that we ripped up the "blue room" carpet leaving us at the mercy of the floorboard pirates and also with cold feet.  So Trillian, Frogstar, Fenchurch-Mom and I bundled down to the local Surplus & Salvage to see what we could find by way of replacement carpets.

Long story short, Fenchurch-Mom kept Frogstar entertained while Trillian and Fenchurch picked out a green carpet remnant for Benji-mouse and Frankie's playroom, several area rugs, and a large (13' x 14') piece of textured coffee-brown carpet.

Zaphod helped with the installation of the brown carpet where the blue had been, including levering the radiator up so the carpet could be fitted underneath.  Standing back to survey his work, he commented, "You've managed to transform this room to hideous."

After all the effort involved in laying the carpet out, Trillian and I hated to agree with him, but sometimes you just have to accept the truth.  So the brown carpet was re-rolled and laid out in the next room.  Where it has been deemed, if not "magnificent", at least "much better".

And as Zaphod reminds us, "You sleep with your eyes closed."

Monday, January 2, 2017

Burn, Baby. Burn.

It's been a busy day here at Highlands.  Fenchurch-Dad and Fenchurch-Mom came to visit and kick start their New Year's exercise program - by smashing out a cast iron tub and chasing Frogstar around the house, respectively.  Photos tomorrow.

In other news, one of our early home upgrades was a new wood fire chimney liner and Jotul Oslo wood stove.  For emergencies.

Like when the heating oil company forgets that you have two furnaces and two oil tanks and only fills one tank (the one NOT connected to the furnace for the main living and sleeping spaces).

Then everyone is sitting around after dinner complementing Fenchurch-Mom's chili ("Genuinely good." says Zaphod), and someone wonders aloud whether it really is cold in here or whether it's just them.  And the programmable digital thermostat is fussed over and much insulted before Zaphod asks the all-important question..."Is the tank empty?"

Fenchurch is aghast at the idea of 500+ gallons of heating oil being gone already ($$$). Trillian (always practical) descends to the basement and returns to confirm that the tank is, as suspected, empty.

"Can you call them?" whines Fenchurch.  "I'd just end up being snarky."  Trillian politely made the call. (Polite to both Fenchurch and the oil company.)

An hour later (8pm), the tank was filled and the furnace restarted, but by then, Fenchurch had declared it an emergency, lit the fire, made coffee and settled in to a place within feet of the blaze.

Posted by Fenchurch, by the fire.