Friday, September 30, 2011

Summertime and the Living is Easy... NOT!

Despite the snow on June 20th, summer did finally arrive. Briefly.

In truth, we really went from winter to spring to fall. In fact, now that I think about it, there actually was no summer this year. It really was winter, monsoon season (also known as spring), and it almost went straight back to winter. After all, there was snow again on the peaks nearby in early September, and it snowed at the cabin (though it did not stick) in mid September.

Yet even the spring / summer did not go any smoother. Despite my high hopes that "if I just survived the winter, I'd be okay..." Clearly God has a really good sense of humor....

As at the beginning of June, I got a phone call from my neighbors in the ski resort -- you might want to get here fast. There's a wildfire, and they are evacuating every one.

We raced over there to discover flames licking greedily at the ground not 100 feet from the back of the townhouses. Having grown up on the East Coast, in an area where wild fires are not just not a common occurrence, but don't really happen at all, it was surreal.

I stood on the back patio, and stared at.... fire. At flames higher than the trees, the roof tops, than anything I had seen except in movies. I looked at the townhouse and felt helpless. What could I do? What could I even take? If the flames hit the buildings, there was no way to remove everything.

I offered help to my neighbors, who have a child, cat, dog -- all things that absolutely needed packing up and evacuating. And I looked at my home, filled with "stuff" -- even though some of that stuff was irreplaceable paintings by my now-deceased mother -- I knew I really had nothing that I could evacuate. I grabbed one small painting, put it in the truck, and just stared....

The fire trucks finally moved in, started spraying water, and we watched, dumbfounded, shocked, silent. The flames moved closer to the far building, but the winds continued blowing from the best possible direction, and so we kept watching....

About the time my neighbors pulled out the PBR cans, the sheriff's deputy finally asked us (politely!) to evacuate out of the way. We drove to the highway (about a mile away), pulled over, and watched the black smoke billow. Helplessly. Finally realizing there was no point, and driving back to the cabin with the one painting and our fingers crossed....

Thankfully the winds stayed in the right direction, the firefighters worked their tail off, and the fire was extinguished without a single structure burning down. I thank them wholeheartedly for their hard work and efforts.

And I thought it would be quiet for a while....

Yet exactly one week later, I was pulled off the couch by the phone ringing... This time, it was an "auto call" from the Sheriff's office -- announcing a "voluntary evacuation due to potential flooding".... Seems the main -- make that only -- road out of the immediate area was in danger of being washed out due to the heavy spring run off... Worried about all of the residents in this far off area being stranded, the Sheriff thought we should get out.

I headed up to the road over the River in the pouring rain. Stood around with the Sheriff and his deputies, and several residents of the nearby town, and we stared at the River quickly rising behind the road. There is a "culvert" (a large metal pipe basically) underneath the road to allow the River to flow under and on its way, but several trees and tree trunks had washed down the River and were now plugging the culvert. The water continued to rise....

I did a mental calculation: Alcohol, check. Movies, check. Books, check. Food, check.

Yeah, I was good. I trudged home in the rain....

Two hours later, when the heavy rain stopped, I hiked back up to look again. The water had stabilized thanks to some intermediate efforts to budge a few of the trees, allowing a bit more water through.

I headed over to the sheriff: "Can you believe this?" He asked me. "I went door to door in the town, hit the town's mayor's house and explained the issue. He looked at me, scratched his chin, and said 'Well, if we get trapped, you'll just airlift in beer, right?'"

God I love this place!

I trudged home in the drizzle, snorting to myself....

And just a few days later, I woke up to the 6 inches of snow....

God I hate this place!

But thankfully, it actually did quiet down after that morning of snow, and a power line going down... I was finally able to focus on all the work needed to be done during clear weather -- all the work to repair all the damage done from the winter.

So I suppose "quiet" is a relative term.... After all, the weather stopped bothering me (at least in this area -- when I traveled home to the East Coast to see family, I experienced the earthquake, hurricane, and then a "mud tornado" for lack of a better term on the drive back to the cabin....), but there was a TON of work to do, so really, it's just relative...

And then, it was still September, and it started to snow again.

That night, the night it snowed again as I was walking the dogs -- the night I found myself in my winter jacket with mittens and a hat on -- well, that night I did not cry, though I did pour a big drink, instead I prayed. To God, to Mother Nature, to whomever the heck was listening and had the power to do something -- and I asked (ever so politely, at least I tried to ask politely, if one can accept a few swear words mixed in as polite) for an Indian Summer. That I was NOT ready for winter, had so much more work to do repairing all the damage from the past winter, and could I please -- pretty please! -- have more time. Thank you.

KKMF. Amen.

Winter.... Definitely NOT an Old Man this Past Year....

Fortunately, I suppose now in retrospect, winter actually took its time arriving in 2010. Having not bought the place until the end of August, I definitely needed the Indian Summer that happened that year, giving me time to do the repairs and do a good portion of the tree work prior to those first snows came drifting in....

Unfortunately though, once the snows came drifting in, they... well, they did not stop. With the luxury of final snow reports, I can tell you that the region broke 20 and 30 year records for snow fall -- it was in the top 5 of snowiest winters on record, which includes a massive snowfall winter at the turn of the past century that buried houses and towns.

We were completely unprepared.

We had plenty of wood, thank God, for the new wood burning stove insert I had installed, thanks to the tree cutting -- but otherwise, we were no better than the pioneers.

Snow removal took days of back breaking work, only to have the snow start falling again once that clearing effort was completed.

It piled up on the lower decks and back deck, and I finally gave up on them. It melted and refroze under the deck at the cellar door -- creating a slick patch of ice 6 inches thick and 10 feet wide, causing repeated falls getting in and out of the cellar, and repeated head blows against the newly lower deck bottom.

It piled up on the roofs, outmanning incorrectly installed "snow breaks" and came avalanching off -- taking bathroom vents, gutters, and portions of the upper deck with it.

It caused a "massive avalanche" (highest category on the ratings scale) just a mile away, wiping out a large swath of 100-year-old pine trees and a commercial power tower that runs electricity up the mountains to the towns nearby.

But goodness was it beautiful, and quiet, and awe-inspiring.

Until it snowed 6 inches on June 20th, the day before Summer Solstice. On that day, I cried. On that day, I opened up the bottle of bourbon and poured at glass at 11 am. On that day, I almost called "Uncle"....

What Else Could Go Wrong....

I will admit, I learned pretty quickly NOT to say "what else can go wrong".... As something always did.

I thought the work was done, expenses were where I had budgeted, and all was good. So I finally tried to spend the night at the cabin -- and the water stopped working.....

I head down to the walk-out basement where all the mechanicals are. Now mind you, this is not a "true" basement. It's more like a cellar -- a stone floor over dirt, with the well pump and water system, furnace, hot water heating, some storage, and a sump pump, accessed only from the outside of the house.

We discover that the water system near the pump has somewhat "exploded" -- the well pump is burning hot and appearing to be on the verge of overheating, and oh yeah -- I had forgotten all about the filtering system, which is not completely clogged.

Did I mention the cabin is on well water? And not just any well water, highly mineralized and organic water -- meaning it comes out of the tap with a high, and I mean HIGH, iron content and sparkling quality. So the water system in the cellar is a fairly sophisticated (ummmm, not really -- more like fairly complicated!) system to manage these two qualities.

There is a recirculating pump and holding tank to remove as much of the carbonation content as possible, and then a water softening system with 2 tanks, and a filtering system with three filters. All of these things need constant attention, care and maintenance.

And I had completely forgotten about them during the septic tank and kitchen work.....

And now the filters were clogged, the water had backed up, the well pump was overheating, and the system was on the verge of collapse....

Two plumbers and a well specialist later, the pump was salvaged, the filters had been cleaned, the softener system re-stocked, hundreds of dollars spent, and a year later, I still have a small leak.

But, the system was fixed, and showers, toilets and faucets were useable again.

What else....

Oh yeah. Forgot about that.

A week later, I am in the cellar, and notice first that there is a sticky watery substance all over the floor near the furnace, and then that the furnace itself seems to be off. I pull off the access panel, electricity arcs and flames shoot out momentarily, and then the burning smell kicks in....

And the furnace is dead. And in dying, it separated the tubes for the radiant in-floor heating from the connections, and now gylcol had drained out all over the cellar floor.

Fun. Fun.

Several thousand dollars and weeks later, I had a brand new furnace. At least it's more energy efficient!

The furnace finally fixed, I am able to turn my attention to the friend working on the "wildfire mitigation" required by my homeowner's insurance.

Though a story in and of itself (let's just say that the Fire Inspector I had come recommended trees to be cut down for wildfire mitigation, the Forest Service guy who came disagreed on quite a few, and recommended several others -- and let the confusion begin!), mostly it was just expensive.

Who knew it could cost so much money to remove trees?

And sadly, I wasn't even done when the snow started.... So the tree removal had to continue in the spring... ummm, summer.

As that is what happened next: the snow started. And did not stop....

The Fall... My New Place of Work

The first months of Murphy's Cabin could be defined as my new place of work.

We discovered the septic tank had failed prior to closing (fortunately), which means I at least received a credit in the sale to help pay for this repair. Without a useable septic tank though, it was not possible to move in. So the cabin was a place I visited on a daily basis to supervise the septic tank repair, and do the one "major" renovation I had planned.

To back up a bit: just prior to the cabin purchase, I had just completed a total gut job of a townhome in the near by ski resort. In this case, I took a very well maintained but never once updated 1977 townhouse, and overhauled it entirely. Out went the shag carpet, in came hardwood floors; out went the original kitchen, in came Caesarstone counters, solid wood cabinets and stainless steel appliances; out went the original single bathroom, in came two completely new bathrooms with laundry. It was a labor of love, and quite well done if I say so myself.

So that aside was just to explain how completely nuts I must have been to decide I needed a new project, and to pick yet another one that "needed" work....

Of course, I did not *think* this cabin needed much work -- just the septic tank, and then, because I love to cook, the kitchen.

Little did I know....

So while the septic tank guys dug up and hauled out my old septic tank, and then very very carefully brought in a brand new solid pre-cast concrete septic tank (actually rated for a four bathroom house, so huge!) and set it in place and covered it up -- I thought I would get to work on the kitchen.

And yes -- for those of you thinking along these lines, this meant I was working there without being able to use the bathrooms. Fun! Fun!

The kitchen was a gut job. Once again, an original kitchen. It was actually not in bad shape at all, it simply just had only two feet of counter space, no dishwasher and no oven. When you have a tiny kitchen -- and this kitchen is definitely small! -- you need to do what you can to maximize storage and counter space.

And oh yeah, I was supposed to be hosting my family for Christmas, so no oven was NOT going to work.

I tore out all the cabinets (with a bit of help for some of the more stubborn upper ones), moved electrical outlets due to the new configuration I was creating (moving two outlets on one wall over 4 feet since the stove and microwave were being moved over, and moving one outlet up 4 feet since I was putting in a base cabinet in that location), and then rewiring several that had been wired incorrectly (ie, they were not GFCIs, required by code in water areas like kitchens). I also took down the door between the kitchen and "pantry" area, removing the door and frame, drywalling, and then taping and mudding to return it to simply a wall. In addition, I decided a small "passthrough" or "window" from the kitchen to the dining room/living room area would be key to ensuring the cook stuck in the small kitchen would still be a participant in gatherings. So I opened up a whole in the wall, moved wires out of the way, and framed and drywalled it in.

I then hired painters to get the kitchen smoothed over and painted quickly prior to the cabinets arriving. And with help, began installing cabinets (again solid wood). The countertops were installed (again Caesarstone), and I had a contractor hook up the sink, gas stove, and properly vent and install the microwave.

Finally, with help, I got a new stackable washer and dryer installed, with the refrigerator moved into the "laundry" nook to ensure more counter space.

And so I had a new kitchen -- after many bumps, bruises and a few shocks during the wiring process.

At the same time, the septic tank finally was installed -- after a huge boulder and a wedding (of the contractor's) slowed us down, and they cut my electric wire to out back.


The place was done, it could be lived in now....

What else could go wrong?

Catching up....

The truth is, I should have started this blog the moment I bought the cabin. Instead, I posted randomly on Facebook about my experiences, and only after nearly a year had passed did I finally sit down and start to organize my thoughts and write about them.

The quick background: In August 2010, thanks to a friend, a stumbled upon a cabin in the middle of the woods in the mountains of Colorado. It was exactly what I had originally been looking for in terms of real estate, and, for that matter, exactly what my mother had always discussed wanting:
-- A mountain retreat, on a river, virtually in the middle of nowhere. In fact, it is beyond a Forest Service gate, surrounded by national forest, and the nearest neighbors (besides the wildlife) are perhaps a mile away.

So I found myself going under contract to purchase this place on the first anniversary of my mother's death (having to race to a nearby FedEx Kinkos to fax in the documents while trying to prepare an anniversary dinner for my father), and completed the purchase just two days after what would have been her birthday.

Since those first days of heady excitement it has been.... an experience.

Basically, everything that could go wrong, has gone wrong. And this is why the cabin is now lovingly called "Murphy's Cabin".

I will attempt to draft a few quick posts to summarize the last year -- as well as post some of the writing I have published on it recently -- and then will simply focus on events and thoughts going forward....

Hopefully, as a friend's mom posted to me on Facebook -- I can at least provide humor and entertainment to you as I continue to try and manage living and dealing with the cabin.