Friday, July 27, 2007

More joists and some window trim

Sorry we've been slipping a bit here with the updates.

Let's catch you up:

So I think it was last Monday that we continued installing additional ceiling joists, this time we were working in the tool room (which one post-construction day will be miraculously transformed into studio/office space). The room is small and completely cluttered and piled. Tools, supplies, scraps, miscellaneous debris.

The job went relatively smoothly. Erika put some more paint on the window trim parts that we had cut, while I worked in the tool room cutting away blocking and braces. It took us two nights to add 5 joists. Sliding the 12' joists into place was tricky in that tiny room. All that's left of the joist project is the bedroom. We'll probably have to move our bedroom out into the living room for a couple of nights as we work in there.

Thursday was a good day. Our furnace was delivered! It was already positioned on the pad when we got home from work, and Chris (our company rep) was there and gave us the run down. Thankfully, he also left us with some detailed literature on everything from best burning practices to maintenance.

Then we made our way to the roof to nail up the exterior trim on our dormer window. This went pretty smoothly, with minimal cutting required (how come two pieces were 1/2" too long?). It didn't take long to nail up the four pieces of trim, two spacers, and the molding we cut. Ah, finally we can officially cross the window project off the list!

Here's a photo of the window with the first piece of trim installed. This piece was basically a spacer that sits beneath the top molding strip that we cut:

And here it is, all trimmed up!

We finally ordered the components for our radiant heat system. That was months in the making. It should be here Tuesday. The plan: we're in New York this weekend, but Monday we'll install a vapor barrier on the ground of the entire crawl space, and by Tuesday we should officially be engaged in the heat system installation - anticipated to be a major project, second only to the bathroom.

- John

Friday, July 20, 2007

Makin' trim

The other night we had to make a couple of cuts to the wood that Erika has painted up for the attic window trim. The trim is 3.5" wide but the bottom piece of trim needs to be 2.5" wide because of the shape of the roof and all. The trick was going to be making a straight, 1" cut eight feet along a thin piece of wood. We've got my dad's old table saw but we haven't put it back together yet.

We used the work bench. Clamped a piece of wood to one side of it, resting on the frame of the bench, to act as a guide. Then we clamped the circular saw to the other side of the bench. Now we could adjust the position of the guide in relation to the saw simply by opening and closing the work bench table. Pretty smooth.

Erika held her finger on the trigger and I fed a test cut through. Worked out nicely, so we cut the real thing - success!

Next up, we needed to cut another 8' strip, this time we wanted it to be only 1" wide and with a 45 degree side. This will be part of the upper moulding on the top piece of the window trim. Adjusted the saw deck and re-clamped it to the bench. We had to feed this piece through with another piece of wood, and the cut was completed by Erika pulling on the strip from the other side. Again, it worked and it was good.

Last night, Erika painted the newly cut sides of the trim.

Also the other night, I wired up the dining room GFCI outlet, a standard outlet, and closed up the dimmer knob switch for the dining room hanging light that we're going to install. Once we wire up that copper chandelier that we scored, we'll have switchable lighting in every room! We'll finally be able to put away the drop lights on extension cords. Simple pleasures.

I've got some photos of the saw action, but not with me. I'll upload them in a couple of days.

- John

Wednesday, July 18, 2007


Tuesday after work we got some things done:

- finished cleaning out the crawl space
- repaired the kitchen sink drain that broke under the house
- fixed the open-ground electrical issue in the tool room
- brought the bathroom electrical up to speed

After work, we made a quick stop at the hardware store for an elbow, threaded end piece, and adapter. On the way home, we detoured to look at some fence boards that Erika found offered on Freecycle. Unfortunately, we never found the house, which was a little disappointing because we're dying to check out these old 16' fence boards that this family apparently has an ongoing supply of, free for the taking. We'll try again Wednesday.

Erika got suited up and mentally prepared to get into the crawl space and clean the last remaining bit of it, the section directly under the kitchen and extending to the bathroom. No one was looking forward to this. Earlier in the week, she noticed that the old sink drain, which passes through the floor and elbows 90 degrees right inside the crawl entrance, had come apart. So, in addition to having been unknowingly washing our dishes right into the crawl space, the unmistakable smell of dead rat was evident. Yeah, I guess we never followed up on that rat post, eh? Two days after we set the peanut buttery trap, it was missing. Part of this crawl space cleaning would be dead rat hunting.

I got to work cutting and assembling new pvc to replace the old broken stuff, and Erika took the droplight under the house and began removing rocks, wood, insulation scraps, and snake skin. She found the rat, too. Ew.

I really wanted to help out in there (no, really, I did!), but we've decided that I really need to give my arms a break for a little while since I feel like I've strained something in an unfamiliar way. Even the small amount of slithering around on the ground to fix the drain brought on the cramps. So I went inside to track down the problem with the tool room electric.

Last week, I swapped out the old black wiring, ungrounded outlets, and old switch in the tool room, but after I finished, my tester indicated that the new outlet had an "open ground." That was a quick fix last night - took it out and saw that the ground wire pigtail had separated from the rest of the wire. Fixed. Electric restored to that room.

Then I worked on the bathroom. For all this bathroom celebration (it's still exciting to use this room!), we never did tuck the outlet and switches into their boxes and put in some lighting. We figured we'd wait until we had the fixtures that we want, so we've been using a drop light that clips to the door frame. This is the same light that we use to light the dining room, so there's always an extension cord and we've always got to move the light from one room to the other. So, I tucked and screwed the outlets and switches into their boxes and attached the face plates. Then I wired up the basic pigtail socket overhead that my dad left for us and screwed in a light bulb. Hooray! There's electricity and switchable lighting in the bathroom now! Amazing how good it feels to have a light on a switch.

That was pretty much it. Not bad for a Tuesday!

- John

Monday, July 16, 2007


Sunday, I woke up at 9:30 to a quiet house. John had been up since before 7, working on the path! He'd made it almost to the area at the back of our property that's relatively clear and open--the closest thing we have to a field, currently inaccessible with all the summer growth. But now it's just 10 feet or so of berry bushes between us and the field. It's pretty neat to be able to walk around on the land a bit.

Time to get back to joist work. We got the second one in place in the dining room, but when John started screwing the two together, he discovered a problem.

Saturday, John had done all the screwdriver work on the living room joists--about 130 screws. I'd tried taking a turn at one point but quickly got frustrated--I hate to admit it, but I just don't have the arm for that job: holding the driver overhead, putting 3" screws all the way through a new 2x6 and into the old rock-hard joist. When I try it the screw inevitably ends up not quite sunk, with the head partly stripped. So we had a real division of labor on this task, and John had killed his arms. When he started doing it again on Sunday he realized just how sore he actually was and that he really couldn't put in another day like Saturday. I knew it was serious when he just sat on the couch and looked bummed. So I tried a few more screws, but still no go. Hm. Here we were with a Sunday ahead of us and our bodies letting us down.

True to form, John had a backup plan: lag screws!

He zipped down to the hardware store and bought enough 4" lags, plus washers, for the dining room. These we could put in with a socket wrench: something we both could do. Only problem was, the first 4" lag got snapped by the old joist. Back we went for shorter screws, 2.5". These went in fine and, gazing at an entire joist held by lags, I was very impressed with the looks of it--like a bridge support. We also added 16d nails between the lags for good measure.

As we made our way across the room it became clear how much better this method was, not only because it's faster but because I could contribute so much more to the process. It's never a good feeling to stand around and watch John do all the work on some grueling task. We'd predrill, wrench in the lags, and then bang in the nails with our very wonderful framing hammer sent to us by Ellen and Scott: powerful! This job is like a dance, with the constant up and down ladders and changing tools and following behind the new joists putting the braces back in: many little steps coordinated between the two of us. Not coincidentally, we played the entire 4-hour dance mix from our wedding as we worked, plus a Herb Alpert album for good measure.

A couple of obstacles in this room: the header at the chimney, which had to be doubled; an extra 2x4 joist (why was it there?) which we took out since it was sagging badly, contributing nothing to the structure, and threatening to make ceiling installation rather nightmarish; and wiring through a topplate right up against where we were putting a new joist.

Finished up, cleaned the massive mess this job produces (dust, wood blocks, a zillion tools), and sat in the creek for a while talking about everything we want to do with the house and how much better things are now that we live there.

- Erika

Joist hoisting

Before I get all typey about our weekend of joisting, let me recap some of the loose ends that we tied up last week:

- finished taping and sanding the drywall outside the bathroom and the one dining room wall which is shared with the bathroom
- primed it all (looks great for now!)
- upgraded the electric in the tool room (still need to track down that open ground)
- measured and cut exterior wood trim for the dormer window
- painted eaves and more windows
- epoxied the wooden backsplash to the vanity top
- siliconed the vanity sink basin

Okay, now the joist weekend. We need to double up all the ceiling joists downstairs (except for the kitchen and bathroom) so that the house will be able to soundly support an attic bedroom and half bath. We estimated that it would take 25 2x6x12 planks of pine. I called up our local builder's/construction supply store (not the big box) to see if they'd deliver and not only would they deliver, but their prices are lower than Home Despot. Not having to make two trips for lumber in the van would've been worth the premium alone, had there been any. The wood, along with a case of glue, was dropped off Friday.

There had been a big debate (okay, mostly in my own head) about whether the new joists needed to rest on a beam at each end, or if "sistering" them and stopping just short of the beams would be as good. After thoroughly investigating this, I decided that we needed to rest on the beams. It would increase the strength as much as it would increase the rigidity. And, being that I think our ceiling joists are undersized anyway, why not go all the way? The main issue with going all the way to the beams was the question of what kind of sagging and crowning issues would we encounter. Also, on each beam there is blocking between joists. Blocking is the wood that's nailed to the beam and fit snuggly between the joists. This contact helps the joists carry the weight across the beam. Each block would need to have 1.5" cut from them - would this be easy where there is blocking in the eaves?

I couldn't imagine sleeping soundly Friday night if I didn't know the answer to the blocking cutting question, so got the reciprocating saw out and tried it out. It took me 20 minutes or so to get the first one. But, I figured out what was going on pretty quickly and within an hour I had cut 3/4 of the blocking in the dining room and living room and saw that this was not going to be an issue.

Saturday morning after the farmers market and a nice breakfast we got down to the joist project, starting in the living room. With the blocking already cut, we just needed to cut through the wooden brace that keeps the joists from bowing. Sliced through that and knocked the small piece off the old joist with a mallet and flying shards of wood. The whole front wall sits just under the eave of the roof, so that end of each new joist would need to be notched so that it could fit in there. By the second or third joist, Erika had this down to the point where, once pounded in, the joist would just barely come in contact with the slope of the roof, which was great because that meant we were keeping as much wood intact as possible. Gif animation time:

Just before lifting each joist into place, we'd put a nice thick bead of glue along the old joist. Then, with Erika on one ladder and me on another, we'd lift the plank up over the inside beam, slide it back and lift the front end up, and then bang it forward into place. All but one of them needed to be whacked with the mallet in order to get it to slide into place or to stand up under the old strongbacks and attic floor. Often times once Erika's end was on the beam, my end would be too low to slide over the front beam. In these cases, I'd push up on the joist with all my strength, hoping to barely clear the beam and at that moment Erika would whack the other end with the mallet and the joist would slide and wedge into place. It felt great to know these things were being wedged in and set tightly with the structure of the house.

Once in place, we would set a couple of clamps on them to help bring the old and new joists together. Then the screws. We put 2 three-inch screws (one above the other) every 16". Trying to screw into that old wood, as you've heard us say here before, is sometimes damn near impossible. It took all the strength I had to get these in and countersunk. I'd be hanging back off the joist with one arm and using that leverage to pull myself back in as my other arm drove the screw. Sometimes I'd use my head and neck against a neighboring joist as leverage. By the end of the day, I estimated that I'd sunk over 130 screws this way, and only one or two weren't sunk to my liking.

The day progressed like along those lines. One exception was the stairwell to the attic. When the previous owners put in the staircase to the attic, they did not leave enough head clearance. We looked up at the framing there and very quickly understood exactly what needed to happen, and we also noticed errors in their framing (we were pretty proud of both these things). We would need to remove the header, cut the joist that extends from the header to the outer wall, and cut 11" of attic floor away. After careful measuring, we wedged a temporary stud between the floor and half joist and then cut the joist, about 11" before the end of its span. Then we made the rest of the cuts and removed that part of the attic floor. We cut a second header out of some of that rock hard house lumber and nailed it up. Voila, proper clearance (and the temporary stud kept the joist from falling on anyone's head)!

Inserting that joist was pretty exciting. It required a lot of force to lift one end into place. Erika and I did this shoulder to shoulder standing on the staircase. We lifted and bended the thing with our entire bodies until it suddenly snapped and whipped right into place. It was pretty cool. And now the living room joists were all done.

We started on the dining room joists. It was getting late. By the time we finished putting the first joist up in the dining room, I just didn't have the strength to get the screws in. Barely had enough in me to keep the drill above my head. So we swept up, straightened up, and started cooking the night's feast.

- John

Monday, July 9, 2007

Red hat and top coat

Friday, Erika did some more trim scraping, priming, and painting. Berry picking, too I'll bet.

We knew what we were in for on Saturday, because we had been there before: painting the roof. Last round was the primer, this round was the top coat. We got up nice and early and rolled down hill to the farmer's market and stocked up for the week. I treated myself to a pound of local beef because I knew we'd be totally drained after 9 hot hours on the roof.

The painting went well and we were better prepared this time. We brought lots of water up there, wore hats, and had enough paint on the roof to get the job done without coming down for supplies. We pretty much duplicated our pattern and technique from the last time, with Erika taking chicken ladder duties out back and me taking them up front. We started a little after 10AM and finished at around 7PM.

We cleaned our brushes and had a beer on the back lawn, admiring our work.

I was really hoping that we'd be done in time for me to play in the woods, and we were. So I grabbed the clippers and began cutting a trail from the back yard up into the back woods. The goal is to have a trail up to the summit of the property, as a way for us to get back there and enjoy some of the land. See now, in the middle of summer, it's completely overgrown and impenetrable thanks mostly to the brier. I spent more than an hour back there and made good progress before getting a wood fire going so that there would be some coals to cook these tasty burgers on. And they were tasty. We ate outside in the dark at the picnic table and finished off this bottle of champagne. Topped it off with vanilla ice cream, chocolate chips, and fresh wineberries (we've been putting those things on everything!). THAT's how we recharge after a tough day on the roof!


Sunday, after wineberry pancakes, we decided to hit a couple of trusty antique shops for some lighting ideas. Cruising down route 29 with all the windows down that summer morning, Pinback never sounded so much like Thingy to me. It was a good cruise but the store on the other end of it was closed until 1PM and it was around 11. Turned around and headed to Covesville where we picked up an old copper chandelier that we may use in the dining room. We also scored some silver chalice-looking things that we plan to mount on a small wood shelf and wire them for vanity lighting above the bathroom mirror.

I'm not sure what happened after that. I know we came home and made some lunch. It was so hot that I just put the fan on in the bedroom and fell right to sleep. A nap! Wow. I must have needed that. Erika woke me at one point to tell me that the first baby phoebe had left the nest. We'd been watching them practice and exercise the past couple of days, and now one was sitting in the bush outside. By evening, the other two would also leave the nest. Congrats, Phoebes!

Erika scraped some caulk and got a coat of paint on one of the window's exterior trim, and I took advantage of having a little more time to continue carving a trail up into the woods.

Oh yeah, our garlic is hanging out to dry on the front porch. Smells so nice!

- John

Friday, July 6, 2007

Rats and Snakes


Last evening was a crawl space evening. We wanted to get in there and continue, if not finish, our work of cleaning out the large rocks, small stones, random leftover wood scraps. We started off in the crawl space that's the middle third of the house's footprint, since we'd done half of that space last week.

We dropped a light into the back corner of it by way of the access hole in the basement, then we clipped up a light at the entranceway outside the house. Suited up and crawled on in, took the metal rake with us. On our bellies, we raked a lot of the small stones off to the perimeter trenches, filling in where the earth slopes down to meet the foundation walls and footer walls. Then, I went into the basement and Erika passed the large rocks and debris to me through the opening. In no time at all, we had that section of crawl space cleaned up. Feeling good and comfortable with our new techniques, we decided to head on into the second crawl space (which is a little messier and a little harder to maneuver through).

We opened the door to the rear crawl space and put the light in. Surveying the area and developing a plan. I was noticing several fresh green hasta leaves strewn about the area. Hmm, wonder why that is...and then, the answer: Rat! Pretty big...fat squirrel-size. Just sitting in the middle of the crawl space, half backed into its nest of pink insulation, eating its leafy dinner and cleaning its paws and face as it went.

It was pretty cute. But it was the Rat. I wished aloud that I had a pellet gun, or at least a slingshot. Where's my slingshot? It has been out of commission since the cow pasture paintball days of my youth. Erika continued to think it was cute. I wondered why my reaction against this mammal was so strong. No real reasons to feel disgust towards this creature, my feelings are based solely on its species. I guess that's not very fair. (Later analysis determined that I am a ratsist, guilty of ratsism.)

Okay, the Rat won this round. We weren't going in to flush it out. Thought about sending Toes in after it, but Erika objected based on what the typical outcome would have been: Toes would've run in there, the Rat would have gotten away, and Toes would spend the rest of the night just sitting in the crawl space and refuse to come out.

I put the door back on the crawl entrance and we backed off. A few minutes later, the other crawl space door fell open. I went back to fix it and as I reached for what I thought was the piece of rebar that holds it in place, it moved. Not rebar, but a snake!

So there was a large black snake slipping out of the crawl space that we ourselves were just slithering around in! Had it been in there with us all along? Erika got some chills. Wow. We watched it leave the first crawl space and slither along the house and start to go into the rear crawl space. Go get that Rat, Snake!

But the snake didn't follow through. We watched it for a while, but went on with our work as it slithered around towards the back of the house. Guess we'll have to buy a Rat trap after all.


We used the rest of the dusky light to begin clearing the large rocks from where we dug up the side yard, and did some raking and thinking about how to bring back some greenery to this part of the yard.

We also picked a place to toss all the rocks and thought about the possibilities of having "living" stone walls that just grow out into the woods, pruning as we go, and eventually having some snaking walls/trails.

I pruned around the newly forming stone wall area, and continued to prune branches above the slab where the furnace will be placed in a few days.

We put together our order for the furnace after dinner.


- John

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Pad by Dad

Monday, after everyone else left and John and I headed off to work, my dad poured the concrete slab for the boiler all by himself.

John made some calls, found a cement mixer to rent in Waynesboro, and called my dad with directions. The next time we connected with him was at lunchtime when I called to check in. He was breathing very hard and said he was in the middle of dumping the 32 bags of cement (he'd bought 2 more) into the mixer and only had 4 left to go. Good lord, these things weigh 80 pounds! That's 2,560 pounds!

Didn't talk again until we got home and walked in to find him showered up, making a painting and listening to Bill Evans in the dining room. He'd already returned the mixer. We checked out the slab as it cured under a tarp. He'd also rented a power tool for busting through that rock in the foundation and said it had taken about 4 minutes as opposed to the hours spent on Sunday with hand tools.

So there you have it! The guy even found time to stop and check out a used car while he was driving back and forth to Waynesboro, which for those of us who know him is pretty hilarious.

We know that was a backbreaking job and wow, Dad, thank you. We wish we could have stayed home to help, but it's so great to have that slab poured! Now we can order our boiler and hook it up. We're light years ahead of where we were last Friday.

- Erika

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

The Right Choice - Hydraulics

There was a minute or two, at a certain point in time, where I actually said aloud, "worst case, I'll dig the trench with a pick axe." Then came the trench machine debate: would the machine handle our stony ground? should we get the largest ride-on model? And at the last minute, while on the phone last week renting the machine, the wise man on the other end said "I would rent a mini-excavator for this job." A backhoe. So that's what we did. And it was a damn good thing that we decided to.

Friday evening, I pulled into the driveway and there it was, parked. Minutes later, Erika and her mom pulled up. And 20 minutes after that, my parents and my sister Sarah arrived. It didn't take long for my Dad to get me to start up the machine, drive it 'round back and take a sample dig. Oooh, that was nice. Effortlessly, a 1' hole, large rocks and all.

Up and at 'em Saturday morning. My dad and I located where the main water pipe enters the house from the well, and dug it out a bit so we could see where it crossed the incoming trench's path. Then, Erika joined us for the staking out of the exact location of where we'd put the concrete slab for the furnace. We ran some string along the projected path back to the house. Next, the big ground breaking.

The backhoe took some time to get used to. For digging, there are two joysticks - one on each hand. Right hand out tilts the bucket out, right hand in tilts the bucket inward. Right hand forward extends the arm, inward retracts the arm. Left hand out raises the arm, left hand in lowers it. Left hand in and out swivels the entire cab up to 360 degrees. Mobility is achieved using the two levers, one for each tread. Once you get the hang of it, each hand is controlling two motions. Digging was slow-going at first, and the machine would bounce around, sometimes tipping up on its toes or back on its heels. Slightly unnerving at times, but you learn to work that weight. By lunch time, I was confident that we'd be able to pick up the pace and get the trench dug out in another hour or two.

3 feet is a deep trench, my friends. Doesn't sound too deep, but it is. And another thing: we've got rocks. Big ones. I don't think we'd have had an easy time lifting them up and over the trench walls if we were using anything else but this machine.

By the time the day was out, I was able to move the arm and bucket with good accuracy, working and picking rocks, scraping earth within a few inches of the exposed water line.

Erika's dad arrived late in the afternoon, and we all gave some thought to how we'd run the conduit for the water and electric to and from the furnace. Trench dug, we washed up and mom mixed up some margaritas and we had some snacks before cooking a whole bunch of chicken over the fire pit.

We got up early Sunday morning, had some eggs out at the picnic table, and put together the parts list for the conduit that we needed to lay in the trench. We were lucky enough to be able to buy everything we needed right down the road at the True Value hardware store. Those guys have been invaluable to us in terms of assistance, advice, and patience.

We also bought the cement for the 7'X5'X6" slab. Ideally, this would have been bought over at the aggregates place on the tracks, but for a few reasons (mainly mechanical) we didn't do it this way. So, we bought 30 - yep, 30 - 80lb bags and loaded 'em on the pick up. 100' of drain tile, 70 feet of plastic water pipe (conduit for the electric), rope for snaking, and Erika's mom and dad bought us some more required gear, like a step ladder, sledge hammer, and cold chisel. Yay! Thanks!

By the time we got back, Seth (Erika's brother) and Tammy (Seth's girlfriend) were awake and out of their tent. Seth and Marty started trying to punch through the poured cement foundation of the house (a task they'd later accept defeat over - and who could blame them? they hit a boulder lodged in the middle of the foundation) and my dad and I cleaned the trench, laid the conduit and snaked ropes through 'em.

Dad and Erika shoveled dirt and sod over the conduits to provide some padding for the heavy rocks that were definitely going to tumble down on top of them during the back filling, then I started up the backhoe and used the blade to bulldoze the dirt back down into the trench, over the conduit. Seth and Tammy took turns on the backhoe for a while too because who wouldn't want to ride this cool thing? Also used the machine to tamp down the area where the slab will go.

With the trench back filled, my dad and I started building the form for the pad out of scrap planks. Eventually, my dad and Marty took this job (they ended up using a sheet of plywood and some 2x4 pieces to build a more consistent form) while Seth and I unloaded the cement bags from the truck.

With the form built and leveled, the truck unloaded, and half the people in attendance already showered up and thinking dinner, we called it quits and got ready for the evening snacks and margaritas (thanks mom!). Erika's already filled you in on the amazing chicken and eggplant feast that ensued, and then we celebrated well into the night around a blazing fire.

We're so constantly touched, amazed, and grateful to everything our families are doing for us to make this project successful and fun.

- John


This weekend was our biggest work party ever. We kicked it off with a lovely Friday dinner of tortellini soup and two kinds of pie, courtesy of my mom. Saturday morning we leapt out of bed, took a group outing to the farmers market, and buckled down to it. While John, his dad, my dad and my brother Seth worked on the ditch and heat line project, the rest of us chickens were up to a different task: scraping all the window and door trim around the house. Both our moms, John's sister Sarah and Seth's girlfriend Tammy made like ants--an army, crawling over the house with scrapers and pliers.

It was no small job, but with so many people it went fast. There were tons of staples to be pulled out of the trim on the back porch--looks like someone was trying to keep plastic sheeting up on those windows, which we know from experience is basically futile. Saturday morning, John's mom started worked on them with pliers and Sarah and I scraped. I hated to spend too much time scraping that back porch since we'd like to tear the whole thing off anyway, but of course that will not happen this year. And the bank says: paint the trim.

As we worked on this, my mom fired up the weed-whacker (am I spelling that right?) and trimmed up our whole yard. She's a pro at this and has a whole suit that she wears: ear protection, goggles, long pants. She even trimmed up the path from our yard down to the creek, which is currently lined with wineberry bushes that produce a scandalous amount of berries. Then she got out the loppers and cut down some of our more egregious volunteer trees near the house. I warned her away from the yellowjacket nest I discovered last week with the mower. (Just one sting.)

Scraping, scraping, scraping: we kept at it. Paint chips flew. Sarah and her mom were total troopers with the tedious job. Honestly, much of Saturday is a blur for me, until the part where we stopped working and had margaritas.

My dad arrived in time for dinner: chicken grilled on the fire pit, pasta salad. We ate at our picnic table--must have been 10:30 at least--and laughed and finished off with more pie. These are good times. We sat around the fire and wondered when Seth and Tammy would get in (they had to leave late from Pittsburgh) and eventually staggered off to bed.

Sunday: eggs, toast, fruit on the picnic table. Nice clear weather. Tammy's car in the driveway, she and Seth ensconced in the tent and probably having trouble sleeping through all our morning chatter. We heard they'd gotten in at 2:30 and then sat up for a while around the fire. After a while they crawled out, I forced a house tour on them, and then they bravely volunteered to help.

All the women scraped and scraped and scraped: more scraping: we kept scraping. And finally we also started painting! Just the primer, but it made a big difference in looks. Ladders and paint poured into empty cat-food cans and various brushes and gnats flying around some of the windows. My mom and I worked together on the south side of the house while Sarah and Tammy did the porch ceiling, leaving a corner untouched where the phoebes are currently raising a family. (Of phoeblets, of course.)

Got all the windows on the first floor scraped and painted except for two near where the ditch project was underway. Wow! What a beautiful illustration of "many hands make short work," or however that saying goes. Thank you, thank you, thank you to all the hardworking Ladies of Trim.

That night's dinner was an absolute feast, made by John's mom, of stuffed mushrooms, chicken and eggplant parmesan, spaghetti with homemade sauce, salad and bread, plus champagne. Beautiful. And, for dessert we had a mesmerizing fire-spinning show from Tammy! Seth stood by with an asbestos blanket just in case, but she gave a flawless performance and impressed the pants off everybody.

Dish-doing, fire-sitting, moon-looking.

- Erika