Friday, March 8, 2019

Jan-Feb, 2019: What's in the box? Joie's reaction to her discovery of a mysterious box was about the same as Brad Pitt's had been in Seven -- a freakout of monumental proportions!

"It's the Plague of a Thousand Deaths," she screamed, recalling the tales of those who had accidentally inhaled the lethal exhumations of an Egyptian tomb. Yes. It was that bad.

It all started with Joie's need to demolish a wall before the start of the new year. The beginning of that reno story can be found in the January 3, 2019 post and, when the transition is complete, the whole story will be related in a blog tentatively titled "Bar Crash 101." But the "What's in the box?" mystery began when the removal of a section of old paneling revealed an air/heat duct (marked with a suspicious white X in the photo). The rectangular holes in the floor are air returns that had been covered by the former built-in bar.

 A thorough investigation determined that the surprising duct came off the main shaft from the furnace in the basement, ran straight up the wall between the dining room and hallway into the attic, crossed over twenty+ feet of the attic floor toward a hole that opened into the kitchen below.  However, the duct was disconnected from the hole.

The Campbell gals had been told the vent in the kitchen ceiling (only about 10 linear feet from the duct in the hall) was an old "fresh air" vent that opened into the attic for cooking fumes and smoke to go up, a function which was actually handled by a new exhaust duct they'd had installed above the stove. Since no air, hot or cold, came out of that vent, it had made sense to seal it off so that nothing undesirable could travel from the attic to the kitchen.

It should be noted that, even if the duct had been properly connected to the vent, the attic is too cold in the winter and too hot in the summer for the heat or cooled air to reach the kitchen by such a long, circuitous route.

The next logical step in demolishing the wall was to remove the duct that served no apparent purpose. Thus, the Reno Queens received another shock when they were greeted with a flow of heat powerful enough to warm the entire upstairs!

After moving into Chateau de Joie, the gals had the original furnace and a/c system replaced with a brand new (very expensive) system, but since their living space was never as warm or cool as it should have been, it was assumed that, as Floridians, they were expecting too much, or perhaps the lack of exterior wall insulation and old windows were the culprits. A mere 4 years later they learned the truth -- a good amount of the heated or cooled air was going straight to the attic!

Ductwork maze
Now you're probably wondering what any of this has to do with Joie's encounter with a mystery box. soon as she realized one major thing was wrong with the ductwork, she decided a complete tracking of the entire system was necessary. By spending a lot of time on ladders and inspecting the crawl spaces with flashlights, several ducting problems, including more disconnected supply lines, were found and, at least temporarily, rectified (a lot of duct tape was involved). Unfortunately, the coldest room in the house held a secret just as bewildering as a main duct delivering heat to the attic.

A rusty old grate very high on an exterior wall of that chilly room seemed to be part of an original clothes dryer vent, but it had been rigged to connect to the main air return to pull fresh air into the system. In reality, that "fresh" air is freezing half the year, which resulted in an ice-cold draft being continuously pulled into the crawl space above the room...solving the mystery of why that room was the coldest in the house.

Behind the rusty grate, a metal duct piece passed through the wall and connected to a large, home-made cardboard box covered in foil with a rusty metal handle on one side. The odd contraption was hung by wires from the rafters. With Marilyn on a ladder outside in the cold working to remove the grate and metal duct piece, Joie worked from the inside to separate the weird box from the other end of that piece.

The mystery box will forever remain a mystery.
At the moment of separation, a blast of ancient black dust hit Joie in the face. And that's when she screeched something about the Plague of a Thousand Deaths.

After all that, the Reno Queens were incredibly disappointed to discover the box was empty, giving no clue at all as to its purpose or what the metal handle was supposed to turn. There was nothing left to do but add the box and its accessories to the growing dump pile...then race to the decontamination showers.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Ye Olde Box
January 3, 2019:
A Tale of Two Mailboxes
   by Marilyn Campbell

Once upon a time there was a happy abode, known as Chateau de Joie, that sat on a peaceful country property where all manner of woodland creatures frolicked. The elderly caretaker of the home was known to all as Mama Marilyn and she enjoyed her various tasks…except for one—fetching the communiques from Ye Olde Box where they were delivered daily by ye olde letter carrier. That task required endurance and courage...for the rugged journey was fraught with peril.

First there was the long walk from the abode to the property's border, along which ferocious beasts waited to pounce on anyone foolish enough to enter their domain.

The walk starting from the front door

Even when she made it to the end of that trek, she had to dodge speeding carriages to cross a highway that was coated with invisible ice in the winter

Mama Marilyn had heard tales of those who had not survived the journey but she was not one to shirk her duty because of a bit of danger.

Continuing walk past parking lot

Last leg of driveway

Unfortunately as the seasons changed and she grew slower with age, she became determined to ease her travails.

Deadly crossing
It took a very, very long time, years in fact, but having a strong will and the time to repeatedly plead for help from local authorities, she was finally granted an audience with the Royal Postmaster.

FINALLY, a week before Christmas she received official permission to have The Box relocated to a mere ten feet from the Chateau's front door.

As a Christmas gift to their beloved caretaker, the local lords and ladies prepared the ground and installed a new post for a new box to be set upon.

Lady Katherine pick-axed

Lord Chris shoveled

Mama Marilyn & Lady K scooped

Marquess Joie, recently injured in the line of duty, supervised

Huzzah! A post set in stone to last for many ages to come. And then The Grandest Box in the realm was delivered... does part b attach to parts a and c?
And lastly, the best part of every tale of woes and wishes...The Happy Ending!

Ready for service!
And from above a choir of angels could be heard singing, "Hallelujah!"

1st Delivery - with room to spare!

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

1/1/2019HAPPY NEW YEAR!!

Looking back on the last 12 months, the Campbell gals concluded that, thankfully, it was not as personally challenging as the previous year had been, but it also couldn't be filed with the best years they've enjoyed together.

Busy schedules and six months of continuous heavy rain prevented them from completing a single item on the never-ending list of renovation items at Chateau de Joie.

NCNW Council House

Joie's winter/spring and fall terms were totally filled with her teaching 2 different freshman classes at UMass (both of which she created) and she spent the entire summer traveling to several major libraries to do important research for her doctoral dissertation.

For those unfamiliar with the PhD track, writing and defending her dissertation is the final step and she expects to complete it by 2020.

Marilyn also took "some time away" in February for a much-needed visit to Florida. During the year, she also completed Some Time Away, the third book in her time-travel mystery series and re-released her three-novella Christmas anthology, Christmas Presents.

L-R: James, Chris, M, Brittany
One of the year's happiest notes was that two more brilliant and delightful grad students joined the Chateau's family in the downstairs apartment!

But that wasn't quite enough for Joie, who was driven by the blind need to demolish a wall, any wall, before the year was done. The gals agreed on crashing the wall of cabinets that had a pass-through but physically and visually separated the dining room from the kitchen. The ultimate plan is to create a completely open flow throughout the main rooms.
The Wall to go bye-bye

The cabinets were built to hold a LOT of bottles and glasses but solid construction barely slows Joie down any more. The heavy wood doors came off fairly easily but a crowbar, nail pull, sledge hammer, and the tip of one of Joie's fingers were needed to remove the shelves.
Quarter-way there

The full story from crash to conclusion will be detailed in a later post.

Unfortunately, the year ended with three, much bigger problems that couldn't immediately, easily, or inexpensively be taken care of--

1) Marilyn's car transmission gave out. It will be more expensive than the car's value, but it can't be ignored because Joie's vintage mustang can't travel on icy roads.

2) With the non-stop rain, it wasn't a shock when water started leaking through the living room ceiling. It turned out to be a very long crack in one section of the roof, as though something heavy fell on it - we're guessing a meteor or piece of space junk that was secretly removed before we could see it, which would explain the black helicopters that regularly circle our property. But regardless of the cause, the roof can't be replaced until spring/summer no matter what the cost.

3) Then the swimming pool, which Joie, Marilyn and several wonderful friends, had successfully closed and covered for the winter, suddenly lost almost all of its 40,000 gallons of chemical-infused water. It was obvious the water drained down the hill into the labyrinth and flowed on to the drainage pond, which suggests a major leak of some sort, but exactly what happened is another mystery that can't be solved until spring/summer.

That's a lot of tough stuff to deal with all at the same time, but one of Marilyn's biggest pet peeves connected to Chateau de Joie was very happily resolved simultaneously. The victory is such a big deal to her that it quite literally needs its own post. Check out the next blog post for "A Tale of Two Mailboxes" by Marilyn Campbell.

Monday, December 31, 2018

Holidays, 2018: Thanksgiving was celebrated two days late at Chateau de Joie, but also had a replay of the menu with a side helping of birthday celebration two days after that. The altered timeline was to make sure all the housemates had a chance to overindulge in food, drink and fun.

As usual, Joie and Marilyn split the pre-dinner duties, then James, Chris, Adeline and Katherine joined in to get all the dishes prepared and on the table. But Joie retained the honor of carving Lucille, the 20-pound star of the show.

 As you can see, no one hesitated to try a little or a lot of everything!
James, Katherine, Marilyn, Adeline & Chris

Joie, James, Katherine & very full plates!

James, Chris, Marilyn, Brittany
The leftovers became the menu for housemate Brittany's birthday celebration, which included a showing of one of her (and the Campbell gals') favorite movies - GREASE!

Needless to say there was an abundance of sing-alongs and plenty of laughs...but the highlight was watching Brittany open her surprise present from Chris and James.

And suddenly, it was the Christmas season! Brittany, James and Chris hung their stockings on the apartment's fireplace mantle and they were magically filled with candy! (Thanks to Brittany's mum)

Marilyn and Joie's fireplace upstairs has no mantle but they still managed to give it a bit of sparkle. If you happen to notice the wok pan on the floor to the right, it's not a present. Its purpose was to catch rain coming through a crack in the roof...but since this blog is about happy holidays, we'll save that story for our end-of-year review.

Though the housemates all visited out-of-state family for Christmas, Joie and Marilyn celebrated The Feast of the Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve with friend (honorary housemate & renovation associate), Adeline.
Joie's latest appetizer specialty - Bruschetta
Mama Marilyn's Scallop Scampi & Angel Hair Pasta
Adeline's Yule Log - a pretty and scrumptious finale

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

November 15, 2018:  Picture it -- Evening. All five residents of Chateau de Joie are comfortably full from a high-carb dinner and relaxed from a variety of beverages, lounging in front of the television, watching the Cold War cult classic, "Dr. Strangelove." Suddenly from the back yard came a disruptive...BANG!

"That sounded like a shotgun," Joie warily stated without moving from her comfy position.
Marilyn frowned. "It's not hunting season...except for coyotes."


That got Joie, James, Chris, and Brittany rushing to the picture window and pulling back the curtains (Mama Marilyn chose to stay put since she knew whatever might be visible in the dark would look the same from her spot on the couch).

To everyone's surprise, colorful fireworks lit up the sky, not precisely in our back yard but very close by.
Guesses were immediately tossed about. "Is it a holiday?" "Something going on at the golf course?" "An event at UMass?" "A Puffer's Pond Party?"

The display stopped a few seconds later and, a second after that, Brittany pointed outside and simply said, "Look." And because everyone was vulnerable to suggestion, they did, and saw...


Apparently someone out there thought the somewhat early arrival of the frozen wet white stuff was worthy of a noisy announcement. Not everyone in the living room agreed. But once Joie noted that sledding would soon be possible, the grumbling stopped (temporarily) and the movie was given the attention it deserved.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

November 8, 2018: Just for the record - No brush hog/field mowing this year or even a final mow of the lawn due to the fact that the entire rear of the property has standing water. Today is one of the few days we've seen sunshine since June so the Reno Queens took the opportunity to take pics. Fingers and toes are crossed that this year's soggy, dreary weather was a fluke and not a new meteorological trend!

Meanwhile, this week's mid-term election results have the Campbell gals smiling in spite of the disappointing summer and fall weather - so many encouraging firsts regarding women with a range of ethnicity as well as LGBT wins! Sending all the victors wishes for a successful future. Click the link below for the Washington Post synopsis:

 Mid-term elections results: A Night of Firsts!

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Fall 2015
Fall sunset 2016
October 11, 2018: An autumn not to be remembered. Actually not much to remember about this last summer either, so this will be yet another post just for the record. The photos in this post were all taken in previous fall seasons...because this one hasn't offered a single breathtaking site. It's rained almost every day since June, often heavily for hours. The pool required regular dumping because of overflowing and a balanced chemical content couldn't be maintained because of the dirty/acid rain.

Speaking of the pool, Joie & Marilyn were given detailed instructions on how to "open" and "close" that hole in the ground (something they never heard of doing in South Florida). They are very proud to announce they accomplished both tasks on their own & can now do it for all the springs and falls in the future!

On a separate note, Joie spent a good portion of the summer doing research for her dissertation in Alabama, New Orleans and Washington, D.C. library archives, and Marilyn used the time to finish her third time-travel mystery novel, so no renovation work or property improvements took place. Marilyn did try doing yard work whenever the rain let up but that resulted in numerous bee and yellow jacket stings and poison ivy rashes, so Joie ordered her to stop fighting Mother Nature this year.
Fall 2014

Other positive notes: in the past month, we enjoyed visits from several family members and friends who were only slightly disappointed about the lack of fall colors; plus we once again have a full house of wonderful grad students in residence.

Finally, the Campbell gals apologize for the lack of reno updates over the past year, but they have big plans for next summer, so stay tuned!

Red Maple 2014
Golden Maple 2014

Sunday, July 15, 2018

How many grad students does it take to... *
June 30, 2018: Bartering is a beautiful thing! Because of such an exchange, the Reno Queens just got to take care of an item that had been on the Chateau de Joie's to-do list for 4 years without ever nearing the priority level. With the necessary material and tools in hand, and the help from an extra pair of hands (namely those of former housemate Katherine), the deteriorating metal screen on the upstairs porch was ripped down and new, nearly invisible screen was put up.
Joie impatiently waiting for her turn with the new staple gun
Although it is still only a temporary fix since the entire porch and its roof must eventually be replaced, at least the magnificent view is now less obstructed. The photos below were taken in the same amount of sunlight & nicely show how much clearer the view is through the new screen!

* Note: Apologies to Katherine, who is no longer a grad student as she graduated last spring and is well on her way to a sparkling career as a professional historian, but Mama Marilyn could not resist using the old joke in the caption.