Haints Alive!

Weird morning here. Random, unexpected, connecting dots. Or maybe they don’t connect at all. First, while still in the not-quite-awake stage, I would swear I saw headlights coming down the driveway, heard tires on the gravel, but then there was no car. Then a noisy bird outside started yakking, squawking, hollering, incessantly bird-barking (as only birds can do), clearly upset about something, some other bird stealing his food or intruding on his territory probably. Then Nancy played “HAINT” in our Wordfeud game and I didn’t know what it meant.

Ghost or evil spirit, that’s what it means.

I’m not a big believer in ominous bodings, but the headlights-that-weren’t, the raucous bird and word I looked up all did kinda point in one direction, an odd confluence. Not exactly creepy, just mildly unsettling. The temperature here is so heavenly right now I’ve got windows wide open so I can hear and see a lot of what’s going on outside. The window-that-isn’t (yet), the one in the living room, is covered with some variety of house wrap only, reused from the last time it temporarily covered a gaping hole in my house, stapled to the sheetrock on the inside and sealed off with painter’s tape. And that window (that isn’t) connected back to the haint (that probably isn’t either) because just behind me as I sit on the couch, just past the house wrap that covers the gaping hole, is the only part of the porch that has a ceiling.

Let me start over. I’ve got this nice new set of windows in the foyer that allows a full-on view of what/who is coming down the driveway. There wasn’t this much daylight when I woke up earlier, but you can see it would be pretty impossible to miss headlights coming my way in the semi-dark. Headlights are hard to mistake in the dark. Beyond that Benz on the left, that narrow strip of almost-horizontal gray, that’s the driveway.

view out front2mp

Okay then, no headlights. I made a pot of tea, found my spot on the couch and tried to ignore the angry bird by seeing what word Nancy had played in the wee hours when she is always up playing against the word I played the night before. HAINT got her 48 points because she played it on both the double and the triple word spots. Bravo!

Screenshot_20190912-074317_Wordfeud2

I know they don’t allow contractions in this game. You can’t play DONT for DON’T so I dismissed my first instinct that HAINT was a contraction for IT AIN’T – and I know it’s not what Elvis was singing, but I heard “Haint nothin’ but a hounddog!” in my head 😊

The hyperlinking you get when you simply put a word in the google search box continues to amaze me, even after all these years when I’ve used it a gazillion times. In no time flat I had a definition and had to share it with Nancy.

Screenshot_20190912-070934_Wordfeud

She’s hilarious. We both try anything actually – the game doesn’t limit the number of times you can play with combinations and hopefully find something that works, even if you never heard of it, don’t have to know it or have known it, never have to defend the choice. Hey, we didn’t set that up, just enjoying the game!

Haint is often connected with porch ceilings, as it turns out. “Haint Blue” is a color, according to Apartment Therapy. “Once upon a time in the deep South, many people painted their porch ceilings a specific shade of Haint Blue, a soft glue-green, to ward off evil spirits called ‘haints.’ It’s especially common in the historic homes around Savannah, Georgia, and Charleston, South Carolina.”

Photographer Paige Knudsen’s blog post about her house shows this lovely example.

aug18 backporchblue page knudsen

My own porch is far from finished, nor did I or would I ever consider a ceiling of that color. It’s a bit too cold for me. Some people think its benefit has less to do with warding off haints (but if it did, okay, we’ll accept that too) and more to do with looking like the color of the sky, thereby warding off insects like wasps that might think it’s the sky the same way birds sadly crash into windows because they think it’s a continuation of the open space they are flying through. Those misguided wasps (haints if you ask me) might therefore decide to build their nests in some other place. Let’s hope.

By the way, my computer’s dictionary does not recognize “haint” as a word, keeps underlining it and wanting me to change it to “haunt” – how appropriate, hmmmm.

We just put up the plywood this past weekend on the part of the porch where the oddfellow’s bench sits just on the other side of the living room, and just got the lights in, though it’s still windowless here on account of that mysterious thing called “backorder” – did someone maybe drop the new window when they took it off the truck on the expected delivery date of Sept 9, this past Monday, after saying it was “on the truck” the night before? Out of my hands to be sure. But I hadn’t taken a photo of this ceiling yet because when the light was just right, I hadn’t thought of it. Until now, until this confluence of headlights, hollering and haints led me to Oh, this is the perfect time to take that picture – enough light but not too much.

porch ceiling2mp

I have cedar in mind for the ceiling actually, repurposed old siding. Look what happened to the old siding (vertical piece on left, below) after a few runs through the planer (piece on right). That’s some gorgeous, perfectly usable wood.

cedar2mp

Lovely cedar aside, it IS a weird morning around here! As I heard my guests preparing to leave, I got up to say good-bye, went out the front porch door and heard a crash. A piece of sheetrock, temporarily tucked back into where it was cut from the wall in the foyer to get to the wiring to make the lights on the front porch, had fallen.

Huh.

To say nothing of the box spring that’s standing up in the hallway right now while I do some spackling in the front bedroom (closing in other gaping holes). Right after the piece of sheetrock fell from the wall, the box spring unsettled itself, lost its balance and fell toward the opposite hallway wall.

Haints alive!!?? What’s next?!

 

The Mistakes We Make

When we took off the front porch in early October, we had to go around to the back of the house to get in. No way in the front. Too big a step up. And even if you could step up, too much dirt on your shoes would come with you. To the back we went.

dirt filled back in (2).jpg

Replacing the rotted rim joist under the front door and adding new ledger boards took some time, but that got done. Then the framing for the new front porch started.

11.3.3.jpg

In early November, we had this much of the framing done. We cut and laid the boards, and even though they weren’t screwed down until the day before Thanksgiving, we could then at least go in and out of the front door and walk on the new porch. But you couldn’t get on and off it from ground level.

before steps.jpg

The old three-step stairway seemed reasonable for a way up, even if it was temporary, so we mounted that too. We needed gravel to build up underneath the base of the unit. I put as much as was necessary, but no more. At that point it looked like this.

with temporary steps.jpg

Does it seem reasonable to you yet? Deck boards are down/walkable, stairs are secured to the rim, gravel leads to a sort of pathway that leads to the driveway. What’s missing? What would you like to have if, say, you had pains in your legs or a young child in your arms or you walked with a cane? How easy would it be to get up or down those three steps?

A railing, right. You need a railing. Did I think about a railing before screwing in the steps in that spot? I did not. I thought only about myself and Samuel (and Coco) getting back and forth to the cottage and the chicken coop and the driveway (and the yard/leaves). I did not think about company. But company we have. Company we like. I needed a railing.

“No big deal, Mom,” Bradley said when I called him about it. “Secure a short post to the stringer at the bottom and then attach a railing to the short post and your 6×6.” Not a big deal for him maybe. First of all, the steps are too far to the left for a railing to attach to them and to the 6×6. They couldn’t connect.

with temporary steps_LI (2).jpg

 

So I moved the steps over. See, in the right hand photo they are way closer to the 6×6 at the front corner of the porch. I also added a lot of gravel to expand the graveled area to make it more solid for walking on. It feels better underfoot now.

I then found some small scrap pieces of wood to help build up the area to the right of the lowest step so that the front face of the short post would be flush with the front face of the 6×6. I put one piece in on my own, then waited for Joe, who kindly came over to help me put in the rest of the build-up pieces and the post and the railing.

The post needed two long bolts all the way through the built-up layering, and that required long drill bits, a socket wrench and enough comfort with the table saw to cut small pieces to fit (one of these days I might feel comfortable with that particular piece of equipment, but I don’t yet!). We had one of the drill bits but not the other, and it was very cold with a biting wind, so decided to resume work the next evening. Thank you, Joe! The next evening we layered the scrap pieces that brought the post out far enough and secured it in with the bolts, which you can see in this photo taken the next day.

railing (2)_LI.jpg

 

Now all that remained was the railing itself. By this time it was late and dark and cold and I was hungry. I just don’t function that well when I’m hungry, and this situation was no exception. I had found a 2×4 earlier that would work for the railing. We placed it where it seemed reasonable and marked it. Joe cut it on the table saw. We installed it quickly and came inside to waiting, hot chicken pot pie. Good work, yay (!) and I could rest knowing my railing was in place for when Mom and Jerry would come on Thanksgiving.

The next morning I proudly said to Samuel Come see the railing! He followed me out there and immediately said Isn’t it kind of low? Oh dear! It was low! It was where the red line is! What was I thinking!? (Fact is, I hadn’t been thinking much except It’s cold! I’m tired! Let’s be done with it!)

railing_LI.jpg

Thankfully I found another board (the first one was now too short). It served as an even better railing, being rounded on the two upper edges, and I could easily remove the practically horizontal first board (how could I have thought that was a good place for it?!) and replace it with the one you see in a much better place. There are two holes in the 6×6 that I wish weren’t there, but the better railing is solid and good, and both Mom and Jerry loved it and were much more comfortable when they came yesterday compared to when there was no railing.

Mistakes remind us that we are human. When people point out mistakes to us, it’s not necessarily criticism. Sometimes other people see what we didn’t (or can’t or won’t). We mess up sometimes, whether because we are in a hurry or just not focusing as we should be. We do our best to fix it. We make it right. We move on. We (hopefully) learn something that helps us next time.

I still think these steps are temporary, but maybe they stay a long time. We’ll see. However long they stay, every time I see that railing (and the two holes I wish weren’t there!) I’ll remember the dark, cold night I was in a big hurry to get to my chicken pot pie! I’ll remember Samuel’s Isn’t it kind of low? And I’ll remember making it right!

 

 

What’s Under Your House?

Funny how we can avoid some things for a long time. I can’t see the serious rot in this picture (hiding under the porch as it was) so everything must be fine, right? On October 7, the front porch looked like this.

Oct7 front porch.jpg

The steps are fairly new but the rest of the porch doesn’t look great, I’ll grant. It shows signs of age. It’s not going to win any prizes. But for seven years we could walk on it and use it as people use a porch, as the transition in and out of the house, from earth to indoor space and out again. And for 38 years before that, the previous owners did the same.

Wanting a new thing comes in handy sometimes. I wanted a new front porch. That’s what drives this whole project. I wanted a new one in part, I admit, because the old one looked shabby, but mostly because I knew it was in the way of addressing why we sometimes had water coming into the basement. Water coming into the basement made me nervous. It didn’t happen often, but it happened.

Something was wrong, but what? When you know your foundation is wood, and you’ve got leakage, you suspect the wood has something to do with it. But you can’t get to the problem unless you remove the porch. And once you remove the old porch, you have to build a new porch. See? Wanting a new thing comes in handy sometimes. In the end, I get a new porch!

Reality was unavoidable as deconstruction began.

Oct7 deconstruction2.jpg

The joists that held up the decking boards don’t look terrible from afar. But closer up, their condition is clear.

Oct7 joists.jpg

Ah, well, those are going away anyway, you say. Nothing even salvageable here. And once the porch was off the house completely, it still didn’t look too terrible.

Oct7 porch off.jpg

Until you got up close.

bad old close.jpg

There are actually two boards here, one on top of the other, one exterior and one interior. I’ll draw a red line so it’s easier to see what was left of the exterior board after we – easily! – removed the soft, spongy fibers of what used to be solid wood.

bad old close_LI.jpg

Rot is not as icky as some icky things, but it is nonetheless firmly in that category for me. Rotten wood is soft and dry-spongy and comes apart in shreds and flakes as you scrape at it. When you see rot, you think of the insects and the moisture have been working steadily along for decades (that’s what makes it icky for me), turning a hard, dense, supportive substance into a weak filler. When that weak filler is holding up a portion of your house, you had better do something about it.

It’s not always a pretty world. This rot was under my porch all along. How did it get this way? Time, certainly, will cause wood to rot, but the bigger factor is water.

When you look out of my living room windows, you are facing the Southwest Mountains, foothills of the Blue Ridge, a mountain range that starts in Georgia and ends in Pennsylvania. I love the view but I have to be careful of those windows. When it rains, the rain wants to come in on that side of the house. If I have left windows open in warm seasons and I wake up to the sound of rain in the night, those are the first windows I go check. Guess what else faces those mountains: my front door.

When we first moved into this house, rain came in under the front door so bad that it damaged the oak flooring that the previous owners had installed just before selling the house to me. Bradley had taken up the damaged part. When we saw what was underneath, I remember shuddering and thinking yeah, that’s going to need to be addressed sooner or later. He replaced the damaged boards with new boards, Sandy installed gutters that presumably arrested the further development of the rot under the door and we were able to forget about it for a while. All right, for seven years.

inside front door.jpg

The day after Sandy took the front porch off, Joe dug out the dirt. Then it looked like this.

Oct7 wall under front door.jpg

All that weight of all that wet earth for all those years in this part of the foundation made the wall weak. Removing the dirt relieved the pressure, but the blade of the excavator nicked the sheet of plywood in the middle and it was enough to push the soft, compromised wood in just a bit. From the inside it looked like this. You can see that plywood, pushed in, as well as the 2×6 next to it with a large crack.

area in basement (2)_LI.jpg

We put new plywood over the old on the outside, but had to mend the inside of course. We started with a horizontal bottle jack that forced the upright (cracked) stud to a reasonable vertical again, then added a 2×6 to either side of it (and to the upright to the right) for additional support. We also removed those wires and redid the electrical in that area.

interior fix.jpg

Upright supports were strong again, so then we could address the horizontal rim joist in such bad shape under the door. That involved jacking up the house, the nerve wracking part of this project that no one wanted to do, but there was no avoiding it. More on that soon.