Friday, October 22, 2010

Porch Rebuilding

When we bought our house, we knew that the porch was not in great shape. One side of the porch is significantly, uh, bouncier than the other. The dryer, for whatever reason, was plumbed to vent directly under that corner of the porch. The fact that you can look underneath and see flagging supports, buttressed joists, and other patchwork fixes does not inspire confidence. Last fall we had a significant chunk of one of the posts replaced with new wood, because it was rotted through and through, and we didn't fancy having the porch roof collapse after a heavy snowstorm. The front steps leading up to the porch are a terrible hack-job of carpentry, and the hand rails on either side wouldn't survive a swift kick.

Of particular concern is the paint on the decking, balusters, railings, and posts: it is cracking and chipping all over the place. Seeing as the house was built in 1916, it is almost certain that at least the lowest coat is lead-based. The railing is just about at the height of Brynna's mouth which, needless to say, makes us nervous. Properly stripping and lead-abating all those spindles, the posts, the decking, and the rest would be the work of an army for the next five years. It is just as well, the bottom section of just about every single baluster is rotted through and through. Here's one that I ripped out, quite literally, with my bare hands:

See what I mean?

I guess I can't fault the balusters all that much - they are nearly 100 years old, and clearly the purple paint job was not very well done. They are most definitely finished, and not worth salvaging. Neither is the decking, nor the framework underneath, nor the steps attached to it. The posts are in decent shape, as are the upper decorative railings and the roof itself.

So, we have resolved this fall to rebuild the porch. In a way, the dilapidated state of things makes our choices pretty clear: tear out anything suspect and build new. Our carpenter and I had already agreed on recycled plastic decking, so that it need never be painted again. The frame underneath would get a few new footings and joists 12" on center for additional rigidity. The load-bearing posts will get stripped in place to bare wood and refinished properly.

(This is a job that I would gladly undertake on my own. It's within my capabilities, would give me great satisfaction in the doing and in the observing, and would let me make good use of and expand my tools. Alas, I have gradually come to accept that ability and opportunity are two very different things and, if I want this job started and finished in the next ten years, I really will have to pay someone else to do it)

A sticking point, however, were the balusters. It turns out that our railings are a lot lower than code requires these days, so we could find no suitable replacements in any catalog that were short enough that offered even a similar-looking profile. Our carpenter shopped it around to a handful of places, and came back with costs averaging about $50 each. Considering that there are 80+ spindles to replace, that comes to a rather eye-popping total.

When our carpenter's latest lead didn't pan out, I took matters into my own hands. I yanked one spindle free, scraped it clean of most of its paint, and measured it out. As an engineer, creating models of existing parts it something I'm rather experienced at. Besides, I had just recently bought a set of 12" Mitutoyo dial calipers second-hand from a guy in the area, and this gave me a fine excuse to use them. After sketching out the key dimensions on paper, I created a detailed model of the part in Pro/E, a CAD package I use daily. From this I created a 1:1 drawing, which I then sent to several area woodsmiths for a quotation.

One wood turner not far from Concord responded favorably and, after some back and forth about this and that detail of form, construction, and material, etc., we came to a deal that was about half what we had been seeing. The new balusters will be nearly identical copies, authentic to the time period, plantation-raised mahogany that should well last another 100 years. I considered that a few hours well spent!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Upgrades on Four Wheels

Northern New England, for those that don't know, is Subaru Country. There must be something appealing about how awesome all-wheel-drive is in the snow. Maybe it is the ability of Subarus to last to 200,000 miles that appeals to a Yankee's sense of thrift. Whatever the reason, there are a lot of Subarus around here.

So, when Hilary's car reached the end of the line a year ago by utterly failing New Hampshire inpsection, we had little difficulty in replacing a '94 Legacy Wagon that has 140,000 miles on it with a '95 Legacy Wagon that had 203,000 miles on it. This was largely a strategic move: at the time we were in process of buying our house, and didn't want to muddle our credit by applying for both a mortgage and an auto loan in the same breath. So, we sought a bridge car with a little life left in it, one that could take a place of Hilary's flagging station wagon at least through the winter. We paid a whopping $750 for it in a private sale, spent a little to fix it up and - wonder of wonders - managed to get over a year and 10,000 miles out of it.

We knew it was getting old by any number of measures. We could tell from the various noises that it was on questionable mechanical footing. Sure, it was always a struggle to find third gear. Sure we hardly put any money into fixing or maintaining it. But golly if it didn't start up every single time! We took it in for its annual inspection a while back and were told that they would pass it this year with some reservation, but assured us it wouldn't pass again next year. I guess 15 New England winters had finally gotten to it, and were beginning to cause some real structural integrity issues.

So, with tremendous gratitude, we drove that car to a Subaru dealership in the area and bought ourselves a new one. Well, not exactly "new" - it's a 2002 Subaru Outback wagon with 60,000+ miles on it. That's pretty low miles for a car of that age, and seems to be in great shape. It even has butt-warmers, something Hilary is quite pleased about with winter on the way. Here's hoping to another ten year, 100,000-mile relationship with Subaru!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Tea Party Rally, Brynna and Elmo-Style

Except, wait. The people who want to abolish the Department of Education probably also want to abolish Public Broadcasting. Sorry, Elmo!

OK, OK, we'll move away from politics. Brynna has become deeply immersed in pretend play over the last month or two. She carefully cares for Elmo at home (and a Cabbage Patch Kid at daycare): wiping his bum, changing his diaper, tucking him in, and singing him songs. Recently, she has begun cooking make-believe meals for us. The other day, I was handed a large container that apparently contained "strawberries and cheese and noodles and mac and cheese." After an appropriate amount of appreciative slurping noises on our part, Brynna takes back the container and says, "More, Mama? More, Dada?" and then heads off for an imaginary refill. Now, she's even cooking for Elmo!

Alex and I just stand in the kitchen, listening to her chattering away adorably to Elmo, and try not to giggle too loudly. I just grabbed this shot when I was summoned to push her chair up to the table...she set everything else up on her own.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Trip Report: Lonesome Lake

Sunday was a splendid early fall day, and we decided to spend it outside.

There was a slight complication, in that I didn't propose this day of hiking until 9:30, which is when I woke up. (In my defense, I was at the hospital from 2 to 4 AM checking on a surgical patient I was called in to see.) So there was no good way to reconcile the hour plus drive up to Franconia Notch, and the hike and the drive back, with Brynna's normal 12ish to 3ish nap. We decided to go for it anyway.

And boy, was that a good decision!

While we ran around packing, Brynna entertained herself by trying on her new hats, just inherited from the little girls next door:

(No, she's not supposed to have a pacifier when she's out of her crib. But sometimes she finds one anyway, and then we have to find a suitable distraction so that we can take it away without setting off a huge screaming fit. So occasionally we turn a blind eye.)

We settled on a hike that Brynna has actually done before.

Jasper was much more comfortable with his saddlebags this time.

Brynna rode along with Alex, chattering all the way. "I like hiking! I hiking, Dada hiking, Mama hiking, Jasper hiking! We go up, up, up mountain! High, high!"

We then enjoyed a lovely lunch by the lake:

And then we set off back down the trail, deciding to let Brynna walk for a little way on her own. As expected, she was a huge fan of the bridges, big and small:

(No, Jasper hasn't turned into a zombie. The red-eye reducer doesn't work on doggie green-eye. Alex will try to Photoshop it at some point...)

As you can see, she is quite the trooper. She actually managed to hike/slide/stumble/jump her way down well more than half of the trail, though she did need frequent boosts from one of us over puddles or big rocks and logs. We kept trying to put a hand on her to make sure she wouldn't go catapaulting down the trail, but she would exclaim "No hand! All By My Self!" and then in the next breath, would stick out her arms with a "Help me!" Eventually she was tired enough that we wrangled her back into the backpack for the last half mile or so.

I think she was asleep before I had the car up to speed on the highway. She's been talking about her mountain experience ever since. Hurray for our tiny hiker!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010


A couple of weeks ago, we had a wonderful trip to Old Sturbridge Village with Alex's Aunt Donna.

We started the weekend with a night in Boston, and dinner at Donna's favorite Italian restaurant. Brynna was a charming dinner companion, flirting with the waiter and digging into her Insalata Caprese and then some of my Pasta Marinara.

The next morning, we headed to Sturbridge. Brynna was very excited to meet all the animals. (She's not quite old enough to understand the historical part of things.)

Hello goat!

Hello ox!

Hello fake ox!

We also had a great ride on a riverboat. This was, I think, Brynna's first boat trip and she loved it.

She played in this toy cart:

And we even got to ride in a real stagecoach, with two huge horses pulling us along. Sorry, it was too dark inside to get photos of that, but as you can imagine, Brynna loved it too!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Vacation Part 5: The Long Way Home

Brynna was an absolute champ on the long drive home from Rochester. She didn't even cry once!

We did, however, learn that it is a BAD idea to get a peanut butter and jelly sandwich from Panera and then hand it to the two year old in the backseat:

Yup. That's peanut butter. And jelly. All over the legs...the face...the hands...

Monday, October 4, 2010

Vacation Part 4: Rochester Romping

Sore throat aside, we had a wonderful time in Rochester with Grandma, Da, Aunt Kate and Christopher.

Here we all are, out for ice cream. Brynna declared that she wanted "purple ice cream!" and luckily the ice cream stand was able to provide it:

She also was deeply impressed by Christopher's much larger serving:

The next day, we headed off to the splendid Museum of Play.

I expected we'd spend the whole time in the Sesame Street exhibit, but Brynna barely glanced Big Bird's way.

She did have time for tea, however.

And she loved the Butterfly Garden, though she wasn't sure that she wanted any butterflies actually landing on her.

Bear Country was a hit.

We also had a great day at the zoo.

There was a cool tunnel set-up that let you pop up inside one of the exhibits like a prairie dog. Brynna went with her dada:

Brynna actually took this photo:

She loved hanging out with Aunt Kate and the polar bears:

And watching the seals and sea lions swimming:

Her favorite part was the elephants:

Back at home, Brynna enjoyed reading the book that Grandma put together for her. It's about Grandma and Brynna playing hide and seek, as you can see.

Our other big outing was to Charlotte Beach. Brynna loved playing in the sand with Da, and waving at a passing groomer.

All of us got to kick back and relax:

And then we got to try the carousel!
Brynna was quite alarmed the first time I tried to seat her on one of the animals. So we ended up taking our first few rides on one of the sleighs instead.

But after Da showed her how much fun it was to ride on one of the animals, we progressed to a stationary horse, and then to an up-and-down pig.

Brynna was talking about it for days. We can't wait to go back!