Thursday, December 10, 2015

Image result for cornucopiaHAPPY THANKSGIVING!

November 26, 2015: This year's turkey and its companion dishes were just as delectable as last year's but we promised not to inundate our audience with a multitude of food pictures again. Instead we would simply like to give thanks for our current circumstances, our country home and all our family and friends, both old and new.

We hope your holiday month ahead is filled with joyful activities, heartwarming moments, and an abundance of patience.

Monday, October 19, 2015

October 18, 2015: First snowfall! And the night temp dropped into the low 20's. Seriously. Dear Mother Nature, we Florida gals are definitely not amused. This is a picture of the first snowfall last year...on November 4th!

Well, we have to admit that there were signs this winter would be harsher and/or longer than the last. Ryan told us one indication was the abundance of acorns. Personally, we noticed a lot of the leaves were falling before changing color. And when the colors came, the display wasn't as vivid or plentiful as last year, and within a week of the change starting--before we even had a chance to take a drive along the Mohawk Trail--strong winds stripped most of the trees completely. So we shut off the pipes to the outside faucets, brought in the hoses and plants, closed the vents in the attic and spread out the stacks of fiberglass insulation up there. Plus, we've contracted with a new company--Whirlwind--to provide us with snow plowing service.

As Marilyn is typing this, Surner Heating just arrived to refill the oil tank, which is good since we've already been turning the furnace on at night for about two weeks already. On the positive side, we have a brand new, energy-efficient system AND the price of the oil is waaaaaay less than last year.

So we've gotten out our winter coats and hats and the doggies sweaters and will hope the quantity of acorns was a fluke.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015


October 7, 2015: This post was originally dated July 31, 2015 and said -- HAPPY ANNIVERSARY to us! Exactly one year ago today, Joie, Marilyn, Milkdud & Sweetie took physical possession of Chateau de Joie. That's right, we've been working at making this olde house OUR house for 365 days!

The plan was to celebrate the mile-marker by launching our Video Log (vlog) but the need to finish all outdoor projects on the summer's list before Joie had to dive back into school mode and Marilyn having to finish her Christmas anthology and no one volunteering to hold the camera for us... well, the excuses go on but there WILL be a vlog and our own YouTube program one of these days! (We enjoy clowning around & showing off too much not to do it.)

That said, we still want to share the text portion of the belated anniversary blog post.

Despite the number of days that House won out over Humans, we are filled with pride when we look around and see how much progress we've made so far ...


5 tons of refuse removed from the house interior, garage, attic and yard (still plenty more in all those areas for next summer's dump run);

Hacked/tore down/dug out 6 pieces of heavy-duty playground equipment left over from property's previous use as a daycare center, including a huge sandbox;

All trees cut back from the house and overgrown bushes trimmed;

New electrical boxes plus replacement of wiring and about 3/4 of lighting fixtures;

Replacement of all kitchen and laundry appliances;

Removal of 1200 square feet of drop ceiling tiles, mouse infested insulation and plastic sheeting between main floor and walk-out basement;

Installation of 1200 s.f. of new sound-reducing ceiling tiles;

Evicted the mouse and carpenter ant population from every nook and cranny of the house (the outside is all theirs);

Conversion of the former mud room and storage area for the daycare center (along with a lethally unsafe shower) to an en suite bedroom;

Total renovation, clean-up, reconstruction and painting of the 2 pre-existing bedrooms downstairs;

Extreme cleanup of the downstairs bathroom including replacement and re-tiling of one entire moldy wall;

Renovation/updating of the downstairs kitchen including refinishing cabinets, replacing hardware and laying a new tile floor;

Installation of wood slat blinds on the downstairs bedroom windows;

Painting of all the downstairs walls and trim and replacement of living room furniture;

7 new doors installed and all openings, holes and pass-thrus walled up downstairs;

Outside pathway to the downstairs and adjoining patio cleared, replaced and refurbished;

Parking lot cleared of debris and expanded to fit additional cars;

Upstairs kitchen renovation begun, including tear-out of dividing wall and built-in table, conversion of dumb waiter space to a refrigerator "nook", conversion of corner (inoperable) double-oven space to a cozy, shelved appliance nook, plus installation of 2 additional (unfinished) base cabinets to commence the barista area;

Had old pool filter system removed and new one installed inside the garage;

Completely refurbished pool patio, coping and surrounding concrete wall;

Tore down dilapidated wood fence around pool and built a new one...with a wave on top;

Cleaned, renovated and re-purposed the stairs and garden area between the pool patio and downstairs patio;

Removed hundreds of feet of rusty chain link fencing and dug out 14 steel, concrete-based fence posts;


Cleaned and cleared overgrown area on the side of the house and converted an old tire swing to a whimsical planter;

Removed decades of filth and various items of clothing and garbage from the air registers and returns (what we could reach by hand) then had all the air ducts cleaned and sanitized;

Had 50-year old furnace, air conditioning system, pool heater, humidifier and electronic filter system all torn out of the unfinished basement area and had a new, compact furnace and a/c unit installed, plus had the washer and dryer stacked beside it so that the utility area of the basement is clean, roomy and totally functional...possibly to be re-purposed as a gym;


We planted our first tree;

Finally, since a part of this big move involved a drastic climate change, we learned how to build a fire in our very own fireplace, went sled-riding on our very own slopes and endured our first New England winter with only a few challenges;

And lest y'all forget why we're here, Joie successfully completed her first year as a doctoral student at the distinguished UMass Amherst and has now moved on to year two.

The above list was started because we were constantly working so hard without always feeling like we'd accomplished much. So we decided to remind ourselves why we're so very tired.  The review really picked up our optimism for the next phase! We highly recommend the process.

We hope you enjoyed our little flashback and continue to stay tuned as we move our efforts back indoors...

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

September 29, 2015: We had a major unveiling today!
    Thanks to Mark of Sokoloski Landscaping, a good portion of the "back yard" got a haircut for the first time since we moved in last summer.

Although Joie had to be at school, Marilyn, Milkdud and Sweetie were entertained for hours as the brush hog cleared acres and acres of weeds, reeds and other undesirable plant life.
Of course the ecosystems that house the deer and other resident wildlife were left untouched. Here are a few before, mid and after pics:
Before view right...
Before view left...


Before view center...

Mid-way
After view center/right

After view left
If you look closely, you might be able to see a few autumn colors creeping in, but a lot of the leaves have been simply turning brown and falling to the ground, so we're not sure we'll get the magnificent display we had last year. At any rate, we'd better take advantage of the cleared land to actually walk the entire property...before that white stuff comes back.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015


August 12-Sept. 22, 2015: Land's sakes alive y'all, an angel done gifted us with a genu-ine Magnolia tree!


But it's not just any old tree. This one has a history that makes it quite special. In the mid-1800s, a Magnolia tripetala (common name Umbrella Magnolia) was uprooted in Kentucky and replanted in Amherst, Massachusetts by Edward Dickinson. Although Edward served in the Massachusetts Senate and both the U.S. and State House of Representatives, he is also known for being the father of Amherst-born poetess, Emily Dickinson. That original, and quite magnificent, tree still stands on the Emily Dickinson museum property.


The tree we were given is a grandchild of that first tree. It grew up on the property of one of Joie's PhD comp committee members, Professor Laura Lovett. She not only offered Joie the tree but she and her partner took care of digging it up and settling it in our car.

As we've mentioned previously, we do not yet own a pickup truck and the offer of the gift had a time constraint, so we improvised. You can surely imagine the smiles and waves we got as we hauled our 15+ foot long cargo at 10 miles an hour for the entire 2.5 mile trip that took us thru the UMass Amherst campus!

We considered ourselves even luckier when we arrived at our house and saw Jerry and Kevin, the wonderful, accommodating, super-efficient lawn care team from Sokoloski's Landscaping, South Deerfield. With a slight readjustment in their to-do list for us, they were able to help us dig a sizable hole. Since a good deal of the barrier mound in front of our house is solid rock, we held our breath as the shovels broke through the grass in the spot where we really, really wanted to plant the tree--a straight view from the kitchen window--and gasped as our good luck streak continued.


Still improvising due to the need for speed, we used some of the leftover wood from the fence construction as stakes. The guys pounded those blocks into the earth around the hole's border and Marilyn drilled holes into the wood. Then Joie and Marilyn had the honor of setting the tree in place. Still using what was immediately on hand, drapery cording and rubber insulation were used to anchor the trunk to the surrounding stakes.

The next five weeks had us sweet-talking Maggie into surviving, covering the root area with compost and uncovering it to make sure the soil bed got fresh air, feeding her coffee grounds and keeping her damp from top to bottom. But the 85-90 degree afternoon temps and brutal sunlight fought our efforts.



Too soon, most of the leaves turned brown and fell.
Most, but not all. Plus there are a number of green buds on the bare branches, so we're pretty sure Maggie is a survivor...just like her new foster parents!

We promise to let everyone know if she makes it through the winter.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

September 6, 2015: Mad Marilyn strikes again! Is nothing safe from her path of destruction? Ummm, not really. Especially not if it's a rotting, critter-attracting eyesore. Besides, she's already confessed to receiving great pleasure from demolishing stuff.

Some of you may recall that the house we purchased was previously used as a daycare center. Last summer we managed to tear down all but one of the multiple pieces of heavy-duty playground equipment scattered across the property. Swings and see-saws and monkey bars and climbing ropes...they all got chopped and dumped!


Here's a reminder pic we took part way through one of the crashes.

Only one thing had been spared--a giant (12'x12') sandbox under the red maple. Its elimination had been postponed because we'd considered using the existing box and frame for a little vegetable garden. But when we learned how much more work such a project would add to the already impossible to-do list, we tossed that idea.

Still, what were we to do with all that sand?

The answer came as we were digging out the ridiculous fence posts mentioned previously. We could use some of the sand to fill the deep holes and the rest could be dispersed to the depressed areas on the property that tended to hold water after it rained.


Soooo, with a fiery gleam in her eye, Marilyn headed down to the sandbox, armed with a variety of tools. As it turned out, the wood was so rotten and the screws and bolts so rusty, all she needed was the crowbar and a few decades of repressed rage.

The sand was filled with ants and spiders and snakeskins, toy shovels, trucks and molds, plus a stray 4x4x4' block of wood.

Oh, and lots of weeds. However, amid all those weeds, Marilyn was given a deep purple promise of future beauty...



Thanks to the condition of the wood (& Mad Marilyn's penchant for violence), the demolition was completed in half a day...despite the 3x12x12' boards buried deep in the ground that formed the foundation for all the other boards and trellis which were secured by so many bolts and screws, we're pretty sure The Incredible Hulk must have been one of the children attending the school.

Cleaning up the weeds and trash in the sand only took another hour.

BUT, hauling all that heavy wood up the mighty hill to the trash heap in 90+ degree heat...well that took several days. However, a big shout out to our housemate Sarah, who took an hour out of her uber-busy getting-ready-for-back-to-school schedule to lend a hand.


Dispersing the foot-high ton of sand could take months since Joie has now switched from her Reno Queen tiara to her full-time doctoral student cap and Marilyn can only manage a bucket at a time by herself, but we have a plan for that newly cleared area come Spring!

At the moment, we're imagining two or three purple Adirondack chairs and footstools and a small light green table to set the wineglasses on... 

Thursday, September 3, 2015


Marilyn doing her last pole dance
May - August, 2015: A different kind of pole dance!    Okay, so we've mentioned THE POLES and THE CONCRETE several times already...mainly because anything we were trying to improve outside was dependent upon eliminating one or more of the damnable fence posts. Considering how deeply they were sunk and how much concrete had been used, they were clearly intended to withstand the end of time.

2 feet down & still going

The very first one was dug out by Marilyn as she was trying to create an unobstructed path for our housemates to get to the lower level.



That was back in May...and there were 13 more to be removed. Since each pole removal took at least two hours and an inordinate amount of energy regardless of what tool was used--and we did have a lot of other projects going on--we ended up averaging only about one pole dance a week. And it wouldn't have even been that good if it wasn't for the additional help we repeatedly received from our cher amie Adeline!

On August 31st, there were only two poles left standing and, given it was the last day Joie could do any more reno work, it was IMPERATIVE  this particular chore come to an end.




So Marilyn dug the deepest trenches she could manage around the last resistors, then Wonder Woman Jo-Jo huffed & puffed and yanked and yowled...

She will NOT be defeated by a phallic symbol!
A very happy ending indeed!



















~~On Top of Old Concrete~~



Now how do we get them off the property?

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

June-August, 2015: We built a fence! It took all summer but we finally finished it.
That noise you hear is Joie and Marilyn giving raspberries to the couple of men who looked skeptical when we mentioned our intention, with a one-finger salute to those who actually smirked and informed us we could NOT build a fence.

To be perfectly honest, however, we did receive guidance from our favorite sorcerer, Ryan Regan Ladd, who has been kind enough to allow us to serve an apprenticeship under his tutelage. Because we don't own a pickup truck or a really big table saw, we also had to depend on him to bring us the wood (altho we did help load it all onto his truck at the lumber yard) and cut it as needed.


First, we want to tell you about the original fence, circa 1965. Obviously it had to have been very well-constructed to last 50 years. Metal fence posts were anchored into the concrete wall on the two public sides of the pool. Huge bolts were used to secure the horizontal boards to the poles The vertical slats had wood spacers on each side and fit tightly into narrow grooves cut into the base and top 4x4 cross-bars.


Unfortunately, after we took possession of the property, the rotten wood began collapsing a piece at a time, until it became a top priority.

Despite the rotten and carpenter ant-destroyed sections of wood, it took days to remove all the rusty bolts and pieces of wood that had literally petrified to stone. Then another week was filled with scraping off the many layers of old paint and rust on the poles and repainting them with a flat granite shade of Rustoleum. At least we didn't have to install new fence posts!


Jo prefers to use brute strength...

...while Marilyn concedes to needing a ladder & a good ratchet wrench
 
Jo uses Hammer for the killing blow

At this point, Ryan again came to our aid with a great quantity of orange plastic to prevent animals or sober people from falling down onto the pool deck.



FINALLY, we were ready to build a new fence. Levels, string, carpenter pencils, markers, drills, ratchets, a couple hundred pieces of specifically cut wood, and over five hundred lag screws went into the construction project.


Marilyn takes credit for the one thin/two thick slat design but Ryan must be thanked (again) for providing the idea for the piece de resistance--






Ryan loaned us his jigsaw and gave instruction but Joie did the cutting and Marilyn did the sanding.


Giving a wave to our previous residence by the beach!
Since we used pressure-treated wood, the fence cannot be stained or painted for a year, but we may need that long to decide what color it's going to be. After the tire swing makeover, we're kind of into whimsy, so anything goes!












We promise to post a final-final photo of the fence...along with our super-secret plan for the concrete wall around the pool next summer.

By the way...we're posting this on September 1, 2015, which makes this the one-year anniversary of the Rural Renovation Diary blog! We're not sure how the year flew by so quickly...guess we've been too busy to notice :) 

Thursday, August 27, 2015

August 12, 2015: Woeful to Whimsical in 5 (sort of) simple steps!
Some of you may recall that the property we are renovating was once a preschool, with A LOT of playground equipment made of sturdy 4x4s secured in several feet of concrete. Last summer we managed to remove all but two of those structures. The disposition of each of those reminders of earlier times are deserving of a post of its own.

Today's subject is the sad old tire swing on the side of the house by the downstairs entrance. The reason it wasn't torn down with the rest is that its frame is bolted into a giant maple tree and we weren't certain how the tree would handle the separation. So, instead of dismantling it, we decided to add it to our summer outdoor renovation list.

1. This was the hardest and most time-consuming step. We had to clear the area around the tire swing, which included removing more chain link fence and concrete laden poles and resetting the cockeyed concrete stepping stones.
2. Next, the entire wooden frame got a good scrubbing with concentrated wood cleaner to remove the decades of mold, dirt, moss and algae. To our complete surprise, the wood looked brand new an hour later.
3. While the wood dried, the chain was cleaned and painted with white Rustoleum and the tire was painted a bluish-green.
4. The frame was primed then painted a happy shade of purple.
5. A healthy Boston Fern was transferred into a large, light green pot and inserted into the tire.

The end result ...

Easy-peasy fix-up, right?

Tuesday, August 25, 2015


July - August, 2015: Step by step, inch by inch, slowly we turn...
...the property around. A few blog posts ago, we announced the completion of the pool renovation. However, in order to truly finish the job, much of the work we'd done around the pool had to be extended into the adjacent area. Here's a "before" pic.

The fenced area here was originally for pet use...but our Milkdud wasn't able to navigate the 2 flights of stairs to get down there from our living space. Thus, there was no need for the chain link fence or 3 obstructive gates.

Removing the tall, non-functional, lighting pole and associated electrical wiring was done by Bussiere Electric. Tearing down the chain link part of the fence was not that difficult for Jo and Marilyn, but removing the poles, which had each been planted in two to three feet of hundreds of pounds of concrete, was another one of those cussing and screaming jobs that cher Adeline had to help us with. (No pics because there were so many such poles all over the property, we decided their removal deserved a blog of their own.)


The rickety old wooden trellis, that sort of camouflaged a gutter going over the pool stairs and down the back hill, had been a target of so much speculation and derogatory comments, Marilyn took great pleasure in pulling it down without the aid of tools.


At the bottom of the stairs, we discovered a nice surprise buried in the dirt--slabs of flagstone! Digging those out and adding some of the pebbles we had left over from our other downstairs patio project, gave us a good start for this area clean-up!




Once the stairs and downstairs patio area were cleared of extraneous fixtures of all sorts, the stairs, walls and last section of fence were treated to the same loving attention the pool area had received.


Sparkles on the steps
Dark gray tread w/white skirts



The walls were primed white and the weed patch between the two stairways was converted into a rock garden to show off the gorgeous pieces we keep finding. Special thanks to Ryan Regan Ladd for donating a few grand examples from his yard!

It's been a long, hot summer, with plenty of interruptions and unexpected challenges, but it's a delight to finally be able to show off what we've accomplished instead of just telling what we planned to do! Huge thanks to all those who have let us know they've been enjoying our stories!