Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Remodeling Our Hut Part 5: The ONE Thing(s)

As we continue to work on house plans for our modest remodeling project, I think we may be driving our plan designer just a tad insane.

  We bought our own design software and it has been a wonderful help for us, but the fact is, we're not architects or designers and we overlook the problems she can see.   We've been through at least four of the designer's revisions already and I'm sure there's more to come.  

In her last email, she urged me to actually decide on something, "So my advice, is to find the one thing in addition/remodel you can't live without...what's the one thing that we absolutely need to do and then let everything else fall in place around it."

Well, she's right, I have to concentrate on The One Thing.  Which would be?  Ummmmm.....the mudroom? 

But just as the thigh bone's connected to the knee bone and the knee bone's connected to the shin bone etc., so the mudroom is connected to the kitchen and the kitchen's connected to the dining room and, well, you get it.  It's all connected.  And six inches here or there makes a big difference in a small home.

In a way, this whole process is reminiscent of a poker game, only with higher stakes. 

Designer: 'I'll see you one closet in the mudroom but I'll raise you by losing your countertop space in the kitchen'.  

Us: 'I'll see your lost countertop space and raise you by moving the stove closer to the sink.'   

Everything is a trade off when square footage is at a premium.  We can't figure out how to put a nook in the tiny room that will look the way we'd like and still see the silly garden, so we've given up on playing nooky and are on the search for other options.  

After mulling the plans over endlessly with our friends (aren't you glad you don't have to listen to ALL of this?  Our poor friends......) I finally sent our last revision to the designer late last night.   Now we wait and see how this hand plays out.

None of the homes we've toured have been the size of ours.  I'm sure there are other new homes in the 1500 sq. ft. range still being built out there, but let's face it, they don't make it to the elite 'Showcase of New Homes'.  For the contractors, I suppose it would be like entering a Shetland pony into the Kentucky Derby; after all, you want to impress potential clients with your skills, not have them smirking. 
(By the way, what happened to the Tiny House Movement?  Apparently around here, it didn't catch on.)

The open concept is still the Thing to Have right now.  Almost every home is the same layout, the kitchen with an island and seating, a dining room table next to the island and the living room beyond.

 Though the beige couch above looks lovely, what happens when a toddler launches a spoonful of Spaghettios in that direction?

The picture below is sort of what our kitchen and casual dining area might look like, but again, this house is way bigger than ours.  I may have an island, but there won't be a sink on it because I will need the space.  

I guess what I'm struggling with here and with almost all of the open concept homes is the 'openness', for lack of a better word.
When I walk into any of these new homes, what do I see? 


The vast spaces are impressive, true, but boy, I'd better be able to keep everything neat and tidy at all times if I lived in a house like this.  There's something to be said for having a little mystery.  (And rooms with doors that can be closed.)

Oddly enough, the biggest home on the tour in my earlier post, came in at a whopping 6009 sq ft (don't forget about those nine feet!) and with all of that space, had dedicated rooms for dining and living room separated by walls.  Even though it was a mansion, the rooms felt cozier.

I have been a fan of Sarah Susanka for years.  She is the author of 'The Not So Big House' and many other excellent books on the same topic.  In one of her articles she described meeting with the owners of a large new home who were unhappy.  They had built a McMansion, I guess, and though the views and room sizes were impressive, living in it was definitely not as pleasant as they'd hoped.  It didn't feel homey.  She also observed a party she'd attended in another grandiose home and found that most of the people would congregate in the kitchen, which was coincidentally, the smallest room in the public area with the lowest ceilings.   

It's the way we humans are, we crave shelter.  Little children love tents or possibly best of all, the big cardboard boxes appliances come in.  There's something comforting about a sense of enclosure.

I liken architecture to garden design.  Though we're not award-winning garden architects by a long shot, we borrowed a lot of their philosophies when we built this random plant menagerie of ours.  Carl had the idea of garden rooms in his head when we first planted the evergreens in a series of circles in 1980.  (We always called it our very own Three Ring Circus.) 

I'm very glad he had the foresight and the vision, it is always good to have a sense of mystery of what will be found around the corner.   The picture below is a satellite view of our insanity, taken last spring, I guess, since the apple trees around the dome in the formal garden are in bloom on the left.

 When I weed around here, I simply follow the sun around, if it gets too hot in one place, just haul your weed bucket to the shade.  And when people come to visit, they can't see the whole shebang at once, there's always just a small vista to draw the eye.  (And a place for me to hide stuff we're working on.) 

Though the open concept is bright and airy, there's nowhere to hide in this floor plan.

In this article, Ms. Susanka shares everything I'm hoping for our remodel to accomplish as we both grow older here at the hut.  

I guess there's not really just One Thing after all, it's a whole bunch of things that all boil down to one Big Thing.

Aging in Place is Everything. 

Monday, March 4, 2019

House Touring Once Again

The weekend was once again spent on the hunt for the elusive small kitchen and dining room designs with over forty houses to choose from.  

I think we've been through over a dozen homes so far, and have come away with a lot of new ideas.  Seeing a design on a plan or pictures of a space is one thing, but being able to experience the room in person is very helpful.

Joel, Abby and Audrey went along with us on a few of the houses, which was great.  Joel was providing valet service right to the doors, so there was no need to try to park a car and get out in the middle of a snowbank.
 The snowbanks are very impressive, but no fun to climb over.

We decided to buy a laser measuring device which is coming in very handy for these tours (and for our house, too.) 

 Whenever I want to know the size of a room all I have to do is press the button for a measurement.  It draws a lot less attention than the two of us holding a measuring tape, and we had a lot of people ask us to measure rooms for them, too.  

There will be remodeled homes on tour next weekend, and I'm really looking forward to those.  New homes are wonderful, but most of them are quite large and they can have any floor plan they want.  Seeing the before and afters of the remodeled houses is what inspires me.  

But there's something to be said for being able to tour a 'dream home', too.  The largest home on this tour was over 6000 sq. ft. 
 This house was laid out in a more traditional Victorian pattern, with a more closed off floor plan as opposed to the very open concept most new homes have.  

 Formal dining room is just what it says, formal.

 One of the turrets houses a very bright bathroom.
 Balconies abound.
 Lots of balconies........

 I always wondered what a round room would be like, it's very bright.
 In the picture below, Joel is waving to me from the other wing of the house.

Below, Carl is checking out yet another turret room.

 What a staircase this mansion has, it was really incredible.  There was an elevator, too, in case the stairs prove to be too much.

 The front door (wait, surely they don't call this a front door?) ok, the Grand Foyer had a gorgeous chandelier and very, very shiny porcelain (or maybe granite or marble?) tiled floors.

 Coffered ceilings HIGH overhead, beautiful woodwork, all I could do was shake my head in wonderment.

Apparently there is going to be a large family living here and lots of laundry.
The laundry room was wider than my whole house.  

I really do like touring the opulent homes even though we could never afford them.  

I do think the older mansions and even the smaller, more humble homes have far more character and attention to detail though.  On our way to the next new house, we came across this older Craftsman style home.  I had to have Joel drive by twice so we could take pictures. 

    No, it's not 6000 sq. ft. but this house has so much character.

By the looks of things, this house might have once been part of a neighborhood that must have been cut apart to make room for a large school.  I would guess this house to be at least from the 1930's, but I'm no expert.  

We're just glad it was allowed to remain after the school was built.  What we wouldn't give to tour this one.......

 Sometimes as we drive around we run across homes that make us catch our breath. This house is blessed with picture perfect proportions which makes it seem warm and cozy and yet exudes timeless elegance.  

What a beauty.

They sure don't build them like they used to.


Saturday, March 2, 2019

More Snow?

 We had more snow overnight on Friday, looked to be close to another four to five inches again.  I wonder if March's snowfall will keep pace with February? 
Good Ol' Castle Aaargh, disappearing from sight.

According to the historical weather data, February 2019 is going down in the record books as the second snowiest winter in our part of Wisconsin since 1890 with 30.2" of snow in twenty-eight days.  

Approximately 130 miles north of us in Rhinelander, however, they must think we're wimps, because February brought them a whopping 61.5" of the white stuff. 

This has been the kind of winter I remember from my childhood.  As we drive around here now, in places the roads abruptly turn into near-tunnels with snowbanks pushed up by the snowplows on either side.   Last night's snow was very light and fluffy again, just waiting for strong winds to cause more drifting and worse yet, whiteout conditions.  It's been much colder than normal for this time of year, too.  We're going below zero again this week with windchills forecast to be -20 to -30F.  

Oh, well, it can't last forever.  (Can it?)

 In between snowstorms, on sunny days, we have glorious blue skies and the sun feels so good on my face.  (As long as I'm out of the wind.  Yes, that's right, for some reason, we choose to live in a place where the air hurts your face sometimes.)   
If you've never lived in a northern climate, this next bit is going to sound ridiculous, but I assure you, this is not an exaggeration...   One way I gauge how cold of a day we are facing is when I take my first deep breath outside and my nose hairs freeze instantly.  Then I know it's cold out.  As in really cold.  It doesn't happen every winter, but this year has been a real nose hair freezer.  Yessirree.

And another strange phenomena for us Northern Nuts: For the last sixty years, when I go outside in the fall and winter, I wear a very unfashionable scarf over my head that I tie under my chin (our son David always says I look like a old-timey peasant lady.)  True, it's not a great look, but I have never found a hat that could beat the warmth of my scarves.  

Last week I went out skiing when it was down below zero again.  Even though it was cold, because I was breaking trail, I managed to work up a sweat and soon my hair was wet.  I took off my scarf for the last ten minutes of the trip, and voila!  My hair was frozen instantly.  There is no gel, mousse or hairspray that can match the holding power of ice.  As long as you stay outside, you'll have a windproof, muss-proof coiffure.

Yes, there are strange fluctuations in the weather here, we can go from -30 to +30 in a few hours  (a sixty degree temperature gain!) and it's still below freezing.  But when it's that warm, I don't bother throwing on a scarf or a coat to go get the mail. Heck, 30 degrees is balmy.

Why do we stick around?  Mostly because our wet mittens freeze to our doorknobs and we can't leave until spring.  Might as well wait it out, even if you could find the car in the snowbank, it won't start anyway.



Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Another Random Winter Day

 I did a double-take this morning when I looked at this chair on the front porch; what in the world is that?  Ok, it's not something I left on the chair it's just snow melting in strips, that's all.

Wednesday was another truly random day complete with more random snowflakes, which added up to another four inches of fluffiness on top of the hard-packed snowbanks already in place. 
Door shedding it's skin?

 I didn't even try to shovel out the service door of the garage because the snow is up to the doorknob.  I found it very interesting to see the way the snow is peeling off the door, though.

One more storm and I will be able to easily step over my washlines behind the garage.  I was feeling like Gulliver today, towering over the chicken coop, even though I was up to my hips in snow when I took this picture. 

I'm running out of room to shovel the snow away from the door, so I'll have to come up with a better plan and fast.  The four foot fence post is still sticking out a bit, for now, anyway.  I left the coop door open for awhile this morning so the Girls could have some fresh air and light for a change. 

Temps were in the 20's this morning, so after checking on the hens I took advantage of the warmer weather and headed out skiing for an hour or so.  Things were fine until the sun came out mid-trip.  Almost immediately the new fluffy snow turned into marshmallow snow, building up on the bottom of my skis and bringing my already not very fast forward motion to a crawl.  Soon I had over a three inch layer of snow built up the entire length of the skis, which is incredibly heavy and wobbly to balance on.


 There's nothing for it, the skis have to come off so I can scrape them down.  Releasing my right foot from the binding, I tried to balance on the left ski while bending from the waist to pick up the right ski.  Of course, at that point, I lost my balance and my right foot sank the full length in snow.  

One thing I found interesting is how flexible I can be.  Huh, wow, I marveled, looky there, my left kneecap is almost up to my ear.  Who knew I was capable of this pose?  (And yes, I'm already paying for it.)  While I was stuck in this position, I vividly recalled another time something much worse happened. 

Years ago I was walking down the road one night when the snowplow turned the corner and was barreling down our road toward me.   I decided, heck, I'll just  hop across the ditch to get out of the way.  I was probably in my late 30's at the time, and capable of jumping a mere ditch with ease. I backed up and gave myself a running start and sailed over without a problem.  

What I didn't realize, though, was how deep the snow was until I landed on the opposite bank.  My right leg plunged down into the hard snowbank up to my crotch, stopping me dead.   Since I had jumped with a lot of momentum, my body weight was still going forward, but, alas, my submerged leg wasn't moving at all.   I think that's the closest I've ever come to breaking my femur.  

The pain shot through my thigh almost immediately and I was in a real pickle.  I managed to get out of the snow bank with a whole lot of effort and, yes, tears! and limped home where I had to explain my latest misfortune to Carl.  In no time at all, my leg started to swell, rising up like bread dough, and it was a real chore to get my wet jeans off.  

I was lucky, though, all I have to show for it thirty years later is an area of spider veins where the thigh bone had flexed the most, a constant reminder not to mess with snowbanks.

Back from Memory Lane and my current sticky situation, I was eventually able to get the skis de-marshmallowed and back on my feet and headed for some shady areas where the snow wasn't melting.  I'm going to need to look into some wax for my skis, even though they are waxless, it would help.

It was a relief to get back to the house today.  I didn't cover much ground, but at least I got some fresh air.  I wasn't done with the snow yet, though.  The chickens needed their door closed.

I skied over to the chicken coop to shut the Girls up for the night, but realized my skis wouldn't allow me to get anywhere near the door, so off they came again.  After battling with the coop door, it was time once more to crawl back to the house.  There was no way to put my skis back on in the deep snow, so I flung first one ski and then the other ahead of me, hoping to get them to land a good distance away.  Which, of course, was a losing proposition.  The dumb things just had to go sideways and bounce around, leaving me no choice but to crawl to where they landed.  

I must be in need of psychiatric help, because after all that, I'm still looking forward to skiing tomorrow. 

But, tomorrow will be different; Joel came to plow out our yard again tonight after work and brought me a pair of his snowshoes to wear, thank goodness!  I look forward to remaining upright while filling the bird feeders for a change.  (Stay tuned to see how I fare snowshoeing.)

As the saying goes, 'What doesn't kill us, makes us stronger.'  

Or at least, a bit more cautious.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Anonymous Blizzard?

Once again good ol' Wisconsin came through an epic snowstorm on Sunday.  I don't think this one had a name, though....probably because there wasn't enough snow in it to qualify as a blizzard?  The fun started with freezing drizzle and then changed to snow.  I'm not sure what the total snowfall was, maybe a few inches or less, but the wind made up for it.

Blizzard or not, I think the official name should have been 'Breezy' because it was a tad on the gusty side with 30 mph winds all afternoon on Sunday, with peaks of up to 58 mph at times.  

The west windows in the house were making ominous noises, but the ol' hut held up through another arctic episode.

 There were news reports of whiteout conditions on the highways and a huge 100+ vehicle crash on the nearby freeway leaving scores injured and one fatality.   I'm not a big fan of the freeway during dry conditions but looking at traffic cam videos of the crash, it is amazing there weren't more injuries.  Speed is always a factor.  

Carl and I stayed home.  We needed to work on the house plans anyway and this was the perfect opportunity to throw ourselves into the what-if's again.  We looked through thousands of images of kitchen plans online and had endless discussions, more on that later.  

Anyway, the wind was still howling at 9PM last night, but fearless Joel decided to plow us all out despite the windchills being below zero.  Carl was going to go out and help shovel the snow away from the garage, but our back door was frozen shut and blocked by a two foot deep drift.  Joel had to get off the tractor to shovel us out of the house.  

I could have gone out the bathroom window, I suppose, but there was a 'bit' of a snowbank there, too.
Where's the big bird feeder?  And where is the Quarry?
 We are very lucky to have Joel living out here on the farm.  We would have had to walk a quarter mile in the dark and the storm to get to the tractor otherwise.  

This morning I set out to check on the chickens in the coop and to refill the bird feeders.  Normally, this wouldn't take a lot of time, but today was another story.   

At first, I donned my cross-country skis and made it to the coop just fine.  The snow was fairly hard due to the rain we'd had at times, and drifts were slippery.  I realized I wouldn't be able to carry feed and water while also using ski poles, plus, I couldn't get close enough to the door.  

I skied back around the house to the driveway, and took the skis off.  Ok, will the snow hold me up?  

Spoiler alert:  No. 

We had a pair of snowshoes around here, but danged if I can find them.  I guess I'll have to get serious about buying some.  They sure would have come in handy today.

 I normally keep a small shovel handy, too, but Carl took it to work in case he ran into problems, which is fine.  My other alternative was our large scoop shovel, but the snow was so heavy and hard I gave up trying to make a trail. 

I crawled to the coop on all fours, dragging the shovel along with me.  In the picture above, you can see my tracks, and also how low the washlines are, too.  The door was frozen shut and I had to work at it for a good fifteen minutes before it finally released.   I made several crawling trips to and fro with feed and water for the hens who were greatly confused by the sheer wall of white outside their door. 

Having dealt with the Girls, it was on to the bird feeders.  
The drifts by the bird feeders were quite hard, and since my knees were starting to sting from my wet jeans (why didn't I wear knee pads?) I decided to try standing up instead.
After gingerly walking along, step by cautious step, my luck ran out.  Just as I was about to reach for the second feeder, I sank helplessly one more time.  After finally hauling myself out of the hole, I realized my cellphone was gone.  Oh, brother.  After frantically digging, I finally found it, three feet down.  (Luckily for me, the Lifeproof case is truly lifeproof.)
Luckily, the snow on the other drift held me.  I really don't know what my plan was going to be if it didn't.  That drift is over 6 feet tall.  And I'm only 5' 8".

I made several trips back and forth to the bird feeders, crawling when necessary, and then, finally, it was time to come down off the mountain.

I descended at the highest point because the snow is much harder on the peaks.

What goes up must come down.  Thankfully, it was a nice descent.

And after all of that, I went in, changed into dry pants, and went skiing for a half hour.  In comparison to walking in the drifts, skiing is delightful, I can go wherever I want as long as I stay on the downwind side of the Back Eight.  It was only 4F this morning and there's still a good 12 mph wind with a -9 degree F windchill.  

 Look!  I found the Quarry, I knew it was in there somewhere.

The Formal Garden is looking rather dismal.  The Dome looks really short.

 The pyramid and balls are nearly buried out back.

Strange drifts through the stone wall.

 Hard to believe in a few short weeks I'll be cutting lawn.
 From this:

To this!
Let's get the shovels out, shall we?