Thursday, December 30, 2010

When it snows, ain't it thrillin'...

Unless that snow is accompanied by blowing winds and sub-zero temperatures, and a death-defying (at least in my mind) ride down I-90 and 787 on highway roads that were of the “Make-Your-Own-Car-Lane” variety.

Monday, December 27th – a day that will live on in infamy, (once again, at least in my mind). It began at 6am when my husband roused me gently from sleep (with a shove to the side and a growled “Get up! The alarm went off!”). It took me a few moments to open my eyes and remember where I was. But once I did I bounced out of bed, fingers and toes crossed in the hopes that either the snow was sooooo bad that nobody would ever venture out in it or that the weather forecasters had once again made a mountain out of a couple inches of snow. Neither hope won out. The snow was not so bad that nobody would ever venture out in it and the forecasters had been pretty accurate in their predictions. My husband obligingly got out of bed and dressed, as did I, in preparation for snow shoveling. Never fear concerned readers, my mother-in-law, moved to action by my pathetic admission of bootlessness in my last post, gifted me with a pair of bona fide boots for Christmas. That was the one highlight of my morning – slipping my feet in to nice warm boots and having said footsies stay dry while I got a cardio workout shoveling snow. The snow wasn’t too heavy but there was a lot of it. A lot of it. I paused for a moment in wonder as a backhoe made a third trip around my street to clear it of snow. A backhoe? Things must be bad out there.

By 7am the driveway had been shoveled and the cars cleared of snow. Mother Nature had thoughtfully deposited another ½ inch of snow on the space already cleared. I walked back inside, checked weather reports one more time, praying for some statement prepared by the Government of New York State advising New Yorkers in general, but Historic Cherry Hill’s Communications Coordinator in particular, to stay off the roads. A call from the Director came and like a child waiting breathlessly for news that school was cancelled, I leaped at the sound and answered. No such luck. Apparently in the real world, people with jobs are expected to go to work. Crazy, crazy notion. The word from the Boss was that Joe the Hammer was coming in to work. Since I had foolishly volunteered to take the early shift for once (of course on the first major snowfall of the year) it looked like the restoration project, like the postal service, would be stopped by nothing - I was heading for work. My husband, stood with concern, watching my departure. Or at least I thought it was concern until I realized he was putting together the new snow rake he had just got and that his back was actually to me.

The roads were delightful, and I maintained a bare-knuckled grip on the steering wheel all the way to work. Once I arrived, after driving at a breakneck 30 mph on the highway I found that although the driveway had been plowed at some point, it was buried once again and that the city’s plows had blocked up both entrances. Luckily I had the foresight to carry a shovel with me, more because I thought for sure I would need it to dig myself out of a ditch, but happy to use it in a less dire situation. As I stood at the base of the driveway, shoveling out a big enough space to pull my car off of South Pearl Street, Joe the Hammer came driving up. With his window down he shouted across the road to me “We only got 1 ½ inches of snow where I live.” Which apparently is on the equator. With The Hammer’s arrival as my relief pitcher, so to speak, he took over the shoveling for me while I waded up the driveway and dug out the door to the museum to get inside and find another snow shovel. By the time I had located one in the outside ladder room, The Hammer had finished shoveling and he moved my car into the parking lot.

The Hammer’s inspection of the windows found that snow blew in around one of the temporary windows located at the back of the house. He cleaned up the mess and packed that window as well as other temporary windows with foam, (sealed with tape in some cases), to prevent a repeat occurrence in another room of the house. His plan for the day had been to work outside setting up the scaffolding on the south side of the east façade, in preparation for sill work! Joyous news. But for now, because of the wind and super cold temperatures outside, that work will be put off until weather conditions improve.

If you look closely, you can see some of the foam Joe the Hammer used to fill in space on either side of the window.
A close-up of the foam

Tape used to cover a gap.
The only temporary window which the snow was able to breach.
The south side of the east facade and the future site of scaffolding.
An example of how the blowing snow covered everything!  This is the screen door of the entrance into the museum.
The Hammer's car made it up the Hill but my poor little minivan didn't stand a chance.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Working in a winter wonderland...

It’s cold outside. It’s really cold inside. As I type, I am sitting huddled in my chair at the computer with my electric heater blasting and my sneakers sitting on top of it drying out. I don’t know if this is a fire hazard and quite frankly, I would welcome some flames just to thaw out the top portion of each of my toes. I know what you’re thinking – it’s winter, there’s snow on the ground, why are you wearing sneakers? If you must know I have no boots. There I said it. My name is Mary, I live in upstate New York, it is winter time, and I don’t own a pair of boots (not unless you count my bright yellow and blue rain boots which I do not because they offer no traction in the snow). Maybe some of you haven’t seen the video I made recently for Historic Cherry Hill’s End-of-Times, wait that was a typo, End-Of-Year Appeal on facebook. If you haven’t, let me just say my lack of winter boots is the least of my family’s worries.

If you watched the video, then you may be feeling sufficiently sympathetic towards me to not hold the “no snow boots” thing against me. By this time you must be able to tell that I’m not the brightest light bulb on the Christmas tree (I’m more along the lines of the one that blinks on and off randomly, you know, the one that you tighten, and it seems to light up nicely, but the next time you come into the room it’s off again), and maybe you’ll forgive me for lacking wintertime essentials. Any who – I was taking a long time to explain that it is cold. Period. Whether you are outside or inside the museum.

And because it is cold, I may have taken a perverse delight in the meeting that was held here at the museum last Wednesday. It was a meeting attended by the architectural team, Western Building, and Cherry Hill. Here’s where the perverse delight comes in – it was very cold that day, and all of the foreign dignitaries at the site had to suffer in the cold while they inspected the work. I acknowledge that at the end of the day they got to go back to their heated offices and wait for the feeling to return to their fingers, so it was really only a temporary discomfort to them, but still - they suffered. If I wanted to be fair I should say that the only heated place The Hammer gets to go on his workday is his car and that he is the only one who actually has to work outdoors and in the unheated section of the house, but I don’t feel like being fair. I bet his car is a lot warmer than my cave with its electric heater that even a caveman would turn his nose up at.

But where was I? I’m sorry, I’ve noticed that my memory is not what it used to be since the sensory receptors in my brain have frozen solid. Ah yes, the meeting at the Arctic Circle. I was not present for it (much to the relief of all involved as they knew: a) they wouldn’t have to repeat things in a slow and distinct voice; and b) they wouldn’t fear that any of their comments would appear in the blog) - I relied instead on the stellar recall of the Director and the Curator. Let’s just say that the basement windows aren’t the only thing affected by dry rot. (That’s just a little restoration humor – I know the architectural team and Joe the Hammer totally got that joke!) For all of you lay people, I was making a humorous comparison, implying that the recall ability of the Director and the Curator has been affected by dry rot as have the museum’s basement windows…but I kid. They were able to recall in stunning detail how cold it was outside.

A meeting of the Polar Bear Club...just without the water

And some other things.

First things first – the architectural team approved all of the work that had been done thus far. Joe the Hammer received praise for the quality of his workmanship.  (If only poor Joe could have heard their compliments but alas, the exposure to the elements had frozen his ear drums rendering him deaf.) The options for heating the inside of the house for work purposes was brought up. I may not have mentioned this but it’s cold in the house and cold outside. For the mason to put the nogging back in place requires mortar, which requires above-freezing temperatures to spread properly. Western will be using a 110-amp electric heater inside the house to provide heat in the North Parlor while work is done on the nogging and also for the window painting that needs to take place inside the house. There is still some talk about needing higher heat temps on the outside of the house to continue restoration work. The idea of a tent and a blower using 220 amps for heat was tossed around making the Director a little nervous as she considered that just running the vacuum cleaner inside the house tends to trip the breakers. Western will be bringing an electrician by to evaluate the museum’s electrical capacity before using the blower.

110-amp heater in the north parlor whose sole purpose is to keep the room warm enough for mortar work to be done.
Mortar work done in the north parlor, courtesy of the heating power of the 110-amp heater.
Mortar work waiting to be done.  You can see the original nogging in this picture, waiting patiently for its turn.

Both the architectural team and the restoration workers were in agreement that exterior painting would have to be postponed until the spring. We will now have to approach the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (Parks) with the plea to allow us to run two EPF grants at the same time because if we push back the painting to spring, and if Parks does not allow us to use two grants simultaneously, then we’re going to be sitting back looking pretty and incidentally looking at a nice long delay in the restoration project as we wait for the spring thaw.

But put a check mark in the good news column because it sounds like (try and follow this) the south post in the north parlor located to the right of the front door (if you're facing the house), may not be in the terrible condition it was previously believed to be in. Yes it is floating in air - definitely not good, but the architectural team was pleasantly surprised to learn that the damage didn’t extend too far upwards in the post. Because of this the post may not need a dutchman repair with the white oak. It may be able to scrape by with an epoxy repair, specifically a structural epoxy, which when dry will be as strong as the beam of wood. The bonus with the epoxy repair would be less of a loss (say that five times fast) of the original wood. The group looked at the southwest corner post of the house. Once again there was hope that that post is not in as bad shape as was previously thought. Western and the architectural team will be looking at the report from the bore testing that was done previous to the start of the restoration project to reevaluate that particular post.

The Director is hoping that by having been a good girl all year, Santa might give her a southwest post in better shape than previousy thought.

Taking a break from the bitter cold outside, the group sought refuge in the bitter cold inside and inspected interior work. On their journey through the house they stopped to discuss a couple of windows that showed a serious degree of wood rot caused by water entry. As professionals are wont to do, they stood and discussed the various causes for the wood rot including the possibility that wind-driven rain may be responsible or that the way the window sill was constructed may be to blame ultimately concluding that they didn’t know the answer. After that illuminating conversation, the architectural team and Western teased the hopeful heart of the Director by mentioning once again that the south side of the east sill may be in better shape than previously expected.  (Wow, that feels like déjà vu – I have the feeling that I have written a sentence like that before - about structural elements being in better shape than previously thought.) Work in the north parlor is still continuing. The mason has mortared some of the nogging back in place. Once the nogging work is finished, and The Hammer gets some lath nails he is waiting on, he will be able to finish the work on the interior wall in the north parlor.

As exciting as inspecting work in the bitter cold can be, the group then got in their warm vehicles and took a trip to Western’s workshop where the window restoration work is being done. The Director and the Curator met the Window Fellows who are carrying out the restoration work on our windows. We know that the basement windows of the house are in pretty terrible shape due to dry rot, and it is questionable as to whether or not it is advisable to try and restore them. A decision must be made whether to restore them or not. If the decision is to not restore but build new ones it might seem obvious that we would restore them to be as authentic as possible – basically new exact copies of the original. While that is the obvious option there is still another option which we have to take into account when making this decision. The option behind door number 2 is to document and retain the existing window and construct a window that is authentic in the elements that will actually be exposed – but is not operable and thus has no pockets (which would not be visible once the window was installed).

It wasn’t all blissful heat and thawing out of the extremities for The Director and the Curator. They were faced with some tough questions concerning the exterior window hardware. You tell me if you could answer, on the spot, what color to make the hinge attached to the shutter, the hinge attached to the window frame and the shutter dogs. Not so easy is it? But like true Jeopardy champions, the Director and the Curator were able to pull it off under pressure and answer in the form of a question - What are three examples of the type of detail one must consider during a window restoration project? This is not an easy question to answer. First of all, the Director and the Curator were actually aware of this question as it was emailed to them a couple of weeks ago and they had been discussing it for some time, so I guess that although that makes them Jeopardy Cheaters, it also makes them responsible museum staff. Ideally a paint analysis would be undertaken to verify the historically accurate paint color; however the cost of the paint analysis is prohibitive for the museum at this point. The Curator and the Director had to decide on a different course that would be a responsible alternative. The Window Fellows verified that the existing paint on the hardware was stable enough to prevent the destruction of the original fabric of the hardware, thus preserving the historical evidence for future paint analysis. In the meantime, the hardware would retain its current colors. The hinge attached to the shutter will remain the same color as the shutter, the hinge attached to the window frame will remain the same color as the frame and the shutter dogs will remain black.

Original windows from Cherry Hill awaiting work.

Pieces of original framingfrom some of the museum's windows.
Example of restored shutter
Box o' hinges - parts of window hinges
Piece of sash lock with model no. stamped in it. 

Other side of sash lock.

That is a brief summary of the meeting that took place last Wednesday. Oh I forgot, Western has provided us with some new benchmarks.  (I stopped listening to the Director after I heard the word February.)  I don’t much care about benchmarks anymore, I just want to stay warm while at work – and judging from the smell of burning rubber wafting from the location of my sneakers laying on the electric heater, I just might get that fire I was hoping for.
Sneakerss roasting on an open fire caused by an electric heater, jack frost nipping at my finger tips, nose, toes, ears....

Friday, December 10, 2010

Twas the Nightmare Before Christmas

The view from the meeting room at the architecture firm we employ is pretty cool. I know this because a) I attended a meeting at said architecture firm last Thursday in said meeting room, and b) I spent a lot of time looking out those windows during the meeting at said architecture firm in said meeting room. In fact, not just the meeting room is awesome, but the entire firm is exactly what I thought an architectural firm should look like – by the way, I never knew I had preconceived notions about what an architectural firm should look like either.

Perhaps my focus was on the view out of the windows all around me, because the conversation taking place within the meeting room at times was beyond my limited understanding of grant administration. In my last entry I may have mentioned that the museum was the recipient of a $300,000 EPF grant (Ignore the sound of a horn tooting, it’s just me).

**Warning – some background information on EPFs coming up, you may need a sip of coffee or other caffeinated beverage before you continue reading**

An EPF grant is a grant from the Environmental Protection Fund. Makes sense right? That a historic site would receive an Environmental Protection Fund grant. Of course it doesn’t. Not unless you know that there is a Historic Preservation Category for the Environmental Protection Fund. As the fund apparently is its very own entity, unrelated to any state agency, the grants are administered by the appropriate agency for relating to the category of the fund. In our case, since we received an EPF grant in the Historic Preservation Category, our grant is administered by the NYS Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (herein referred to as Parks).

The Director called a meeting with the architects to discuss how the restoration project would proceed especially in light of this unexpected early EPF Christmas gift. After a road trip down the Thruway (by the way - Starbucks has an awesome peppermint hot chocolate available for this holiday season) the Director, the Curator and I arrived at the firm’s office and proceeded upstairs to the pretty cool/awesome meeting room. We were greeted with a plate of pastries, water and coffee – all things guaranteed to put us in a jolly mood. But this Communications Coordinator’s belly stopped shaking like a bowl full of jelly once talk began of 3:1 ratios, managing fees as a portion of grant money, and the rules determining how many EPF grants can be administered at any given time for one project.

Despite feeling a little out of my element, I took my pen in hand and began scribbling down phrases and incomplete sentences as fast as they flew out of the mouths surrounding me. And here I sit, looking at my several pages of scrawl determined to glean some type of knowledge from the chicken scratch I call my (panicked) note-taking.

Clearly note-taking may not be my thing.

The only complete sentence I see in my notes is a question about whether it is reasonable to expect to be able to complete the first two phases of restoration work with the funds we have thus far secured. There is no answer to that question. Instead there is a list of things that must be completed to consider the first two phases well and truly finished: attic and basement insulation, perimeter wall insulation, roof inspection and flashing repairs, drainage on west side of house. Then follows in my notes a helter-skelter of squiggles, arrows and misspelled words as the architects the Director and Curator talked about what those things would entail. For example, discussion was held on how the walls would be insulated – blown in through the cedar shingles on the back of the house where there isn’t nogging blocking the way, or blown in through the interior walls in each stud bay? And then there are my illegible notes about issues of condensation followed by the final word that nothing can be decided until the architects create a thermal model of the wall showing temperature and humidity levels which will help them decide the best course to take concerning insulation for the house.

A decision has to be made regarding when environmental work (heating and humidity control) will be done. Apparently it might be more practical to use a chunk of money for the environmental work to be carried out separate from the EPF money to be used for insulation and roof work. Speaking of roof work, there was conversation about when the initial roof inspection would be carried out.  Could that be part of the pre-development work so that the roof inspector could have an estimate for the work before the actual work phase of the roof work begins? (Apparently there are three phases to grant money - pre-development, administration, and actual work). Something to think about. Or if you are me, to write down and then forget about.

Oh and by the way, due to regulations tied to state monies, if the architect’s fees go above a certain monetary amount for a project, then we have to go back to bid for architectural services. There is a real possibility that when we begin the next phase of restoration work we will first have to put the architectural work out to bid – a whole process that will inevitably delay the start of the next phase of work.

Parks usually prefers that when EPF funds are being used, that one EPF grant be used up completely before another EPF grant is administered. Cherry Hill is in the position of having two EPF grants which would mean that we should finish using our first grant before we tap into the funds from our latest $300,000 EPF. The problem with that in this case is that the work we will use both grants to pay for are rather symbiotic in nature. It would make more sense to do the work simultaneously. Because of this, we may have to make a case and present it to Parks.

Confused? Well then you feel like my notes look …and my brain works. So lets move on to things that make a little more sense to me.

I had a chit chat (not over tea and scones) with The Hammer to get caught up to speed on what work he had accomplished over the past two weeks (my children and their nasty stomach bug held me prisoner in my home for a while thus my need for an update). The Hammer said, with minimal pomp and circumstance and by minimal I mean he pulled the ear bud from his iPod out of his ear, something to the effect that the sill and post repairs are done on the north end of the east façade. Now imagine a cartoon character with her eye balls popping out of her head and her tongue rolling out of her mouth to hit the floor. There, you just imagined what I looked like upon hearing the news (and you also know why I didn’t have many dates in high school).

Sill work is finished on the north end of the house?! Posts have been repaired?! That’s a big deal right? I thought so which is why it struck me as odd that The Hammer wasn’t jumping up and down and squealing in delight with me (besides the obvious fact that he isn’t a little school girl). Either he was too cool for school, I was not cool enough or I was missing something.

As usual...I was missing something. Or rather a series of somethings. Namely, yes the sill work and post repairs were finished on the north end but there was still more work to be done before The Hammer could put a fork in this part of the structural work and declare it done.


• Pressure treated 4x6s had been installed to replace the previous sill.

• White oak was used to repair the exterior posts.

To Be Done:

• Masonry workers have to come and mortar the original nogging back in place, as well as repoint parts of the foundation wall.

• The original lath and plaster have to go back up on the interior wall in the North Parlor.

Once those two things have been accomplished then the structural work on the north end of the house will be finished.

Kind of.

That leaves out the work that still needs to be done on the posts located at either side of the front entrance, as well as the sill currently covered by the remnants of the front porch. That particular bit of work depends on when the front porch will come down. When I asked what factors go into making that decision, The Hammer explained the rather obvious matter of egress from the building. Temporary stairs will need to be put in place. So until that remaining section of porch comes down, no post or sill work can occur in that area.

Once this remaining piece of front porch is removed, The Hammer will be able to evaluate what repairs are needed to the sill and the posts.

Where East Berlin and West Berlin meet (East Berlin being the old sill and West Berlin being the new sill)
The whole south end of the house still needs to be opened up and structural repairs made (as needed, and we’re really hoping the sill is in better shape than expected on that end).

An example of The Hammer's handiwork - he had to label all new wood with the words "New Wood 2010"for future reference.

I got The Hammer’s point – maybe the jumping and squealing is a bit premature. Especially considering the bad news we just got – looks like it’s too cold outside to paint exterior windows. That part of the work will have to be postponed until the spring. Did I mention we’ve been luxuriating in 20-odd degree weather here in Albany the past couple of days? You can imagine how pleasant it is inside the house! And if you can’t, go stand outside and answer the phone or pretend to type on an imaginary computer and you will soon get the picture. (Maybe the fact that I’ve decided to break out the skirts and heels in blithe disregard of the thermometer reading is contributing to the freezing cold feeling I’ve had huddled in my office against my circa 1983 space heater every day of this week.)

Any way you slice it – it’s cold, and while the sill is toasty warm snuggled behind its thermal blanket, we the staff are forced to fight over the chair closest to the furnace in our volunteer room during morning coffee time…the kibosh has been put on all squealing.

While the sill is nestled all snug in its Thermal Blanket bed with visions of sugar plums dancing in its head....
Mama in her kerchief is clearly not settled down for her long winter's nap (although she is wearing several layers of clothes to keep warm while she works). 

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Love Means Never Having to Say You're Sorry

The honeymoon is officially over. My fairytale romance with the Restoration Project has come to a screeching halt. When my relationship with the Restoration began back in August, like a pre-teen girl with her first crush, I was blinded by my emotions (and by the reflective glare of my braces whenever I happened to pass a mirror). I fooled myself into thinking that the Restoration Project, with its shiny tools and mysterious terminology (C-beams, lally columns, plaster and lath) was some kind of God. It could do no wrong. It was saving the house. Yes siree, I walked along hand in hand with the Restoration Project, convinced that this was true love. Sure I “knew” the path ahead would be bumpy and maybe even a little frustrating but as a well-respected 80s hair band once sang – every rose has its thorn.

Well – our relationship is no longer shiny and new and the bloom has definitely left this rose. We’re at that point that all couples eventually reach - we spend way too much time together and know way too much about each other. What went wrong between us? Did I alienate the Restoration in some way? Make it feel like it wasn’t important enough? How had things gone downhill so quickly? Hurt and self-doubt turned to bitterness and a wistful yearning for yesterdays when I thought the Restoration hung the moon.

Prime example of knowing way too much about each other.

What has sparked this lovers spat? Well, according to the original construction schedule, today was supposed to be the last day of phase one restoration work. Western Building would have been going over the “punch list” making sure everything was done that was supposed to be done. But a funny thing happened on the way to the end date, namely – work was delayed. So now there is a newly updated construction schedule which puts completion of phase one as January 28, 2011 – and somehow, it feels like the Restoration has forgotten a very important anniversary for us and tried to make up for it by presenting me with a bunch of dyed-orange carnations it got for half-off from a Price Chopper trying to get rid of its leftover Halloween themed product. What went wrong?

Luckily The Hammer is a certified Restoration Relationship Counselor and he was able to sit down with me (actually, we stood up on scaffolding) and he talked me through some of the underlying issues that were ruining my relationship with the Restoration. First of all he explained that this was just typical Restoration behavior and it was something I had to accept as a natural part of the Restoration. That was a huge step. I already knew about the delay with the search for the white oak and I was able to come to terms with that fact and stop blaming the Restoration for it. Once I learned to accept these things and then move on, I found it easy to listen (and really hear) the rest of what Counselor Hammer had to say.

It turns out the north sill of the east façade is in worse shape than was originally thought. This sill was replaced, probably sometime in the 1980s. It’s not so much that the wood itself is compromised, but more that the way the wood sill was installed was problematic. The sections were shorter than they should have been, and end sections were not lined up to meet each other. Also, there was little done in the way of leveling off the area where the sill was to rest. The end result is, that the northeast corner post is actually floating in air as the sill upon which it is supposed to rest is instead busy curving down trying to reach the stone foundation upon which it is supposed to rest. Counselor Hammer showed me that it wasn’t right to blame the Restoration for something that happened way before we ever got together. A lot of bad things came out of the 80s and I had to understand that this was just another one of those things.

The black arrows in the above picture point to the exposed north sill in the east facade of the house (the layers of wood just above the stone foundation).  

The space between the top of sill (the five layer of wood you see in the picture) and the bottom of the northeast corner post is a problem - namely there should be no space there.

Example of  where the end pieces of the wood, which makes up the original north sill, do not meet.

Western will be correcting the problems that are currently affecting the sill and then they will turn their eyes and hammers to the south end of the east façade and begin the project all over again. The good news is that the architectural firm that we employ and Western both feel that the south sill may be in better shape than was anticipated and therefore it may not be necessary to replace the entire sill.

I was never one who put much stock in couples therapy but having gone through the restoration counseling that we did, I can now honestly say that it really works. After reaching a place in our relationship where I could accept the Restoration’s honesty without blaming it, my newfound understanding was put to the test. In addition to the sill replacement that was necessary, the wood frame for the basement windows on the north end need to be replaced as well. The wood frames have fallen victim to dry rot. In the past I would have been very upset and blamed the Restoration for not predicting this, but in my new place of light and love I am able to listen to the Restoration’s explanation, and then…accept it.

Earlier photo of the two basement windows.
Dry rot has deteriorated the wood above the window.
In case you missed it the first time - another photo of the rotted wood above one of the basement windows.

Yesterday, the Director received a letter notifying the museum that we have been reserved a matching grant of $300,000 from the Environmental Protection Fund (EPF) “for the restoration project.” It was like the Restoration wrote me a love letter and gave me a gift that is more precious than roses, or candy, or jewelry – it gave me the promise of cold hard cash.

Coming from this place of light and love, I will cherish the time I have left with phase one of the Restoration and not count down the days until January 28th. After reaching this new level of understanding and renewed commitment to the Restoration, I have closed the chapter on the Glenn Close side of me that was sharpening my knives and boiling my water in anger. I just hope that as the end date draws closer, after a couple of months spent greasing myself with animal fat in a desperate attempt to retain body heat as the cold weather begins in earnest, that my love for the Restoration doesn’t morph back in to Fatal Attraction-I’ll-cook-your-rabbit-in-a-pot anger again. No relationship can survive rabbit stew…or greasy animal fat.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Mystery of the White Oak

The guys are still working inside. Even though the Noah’s ark-like deluge we suffered the past couple of weeks is over.  So I said to myself, says I, what are a couple of big, tough restoration workers doing inside during these last sunny, pleasant days of fall?  Why aren’t they taking advantage of the “warm” weather and working like crazy outside?  The anticipated completion date for this phase and a half of the restoration work is sometime in November.  I smelled a mystery…well, it was either a mystery or the forgotten tuna salad sandwich I found shoved into the bottom of my bag.  Either way – something smelled fishy.  I did what any curious Communications Coordinator would do-- picked up my magnifying glass, dusted off my copy of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and went straight to the Director to get the answer to my question.

The following is a dramatized version of the conversation that ensued:

CC - “Why aren’t the guys working outside?”

D - “They’re waiting on lumber.”

CC - “Oh.”

D - “They need wood with a certain moisture content.”

CC - “What exactly does that mean?”

D - Silence

CC – Silence

D – More Silence

CC – Throat clearing.

D – “Oh are you still there?”

CC – “Yes.”

D – “That’s a good question for our architects. Why don’t you email them with it?”

Clearly the Director wasn’t talking.  There was obviously more to this mystery than she was willing (or able) to fill me in on.  It became painfully obvious to me that I needed to (actually) do some work.  So I composed an email and sent it off to the Preservation Assistant at Tilly Architects, I’ll call her Agent L (L stands for Laura, I’ve mentioned her once before in the blog – I can’t believe I just told you that! It’s because I am the Communications Coordinator, and I just feel a need to communicate information all the time. Curse this gift of gab!).  I sent her a deceptively innocent email, basically asking what moisture content was and why it was an important factor for the type of lumber used in our restoration.  The truth is, I felt I was on to a much bigger plot – a planned sabotage, if you would, of the restoration project.  I had a hunch (my mother never made me walk with a stack of books on my head like the other moms did – hence the hunch).  I also had a suspicion something more nefarious was afoot at the Hill and I was determined to get to the bottom of it.

Agent L tried to pull the wool over my eyes by giving me some “legitimate” answer to my questions:  “To answer your questions, Western is working to locate the specified lumber, White Oak, No. 2 with 19% moisture content.  Finding lumber with the right moisture content for restoration projects is extremely important.  Wood with too high or too low moisture content can be either too wet or too dry, causing the wood to shrink or swell.  Since we are repairing the structural posts and studs and eventually the sill, we want to avoid a large amount of movement (swelling or shrinking) of the wood elements.”  Sure it sounded believable and apparently is technically true, but I didn’t buy it.  Especially not when I read her next line:  “Because the required lumber sizes are big (8.5x8.5, 4x4), finding certified white oak with the necessary moisture content has proven tricky.”  Right there!  Did you read it?  Finding the right kind of wood has proven tricky.  My spider senses were tingling, something seemed a little off here…her answer was too smooth, too professional, too factual to take at face value.  So I began to look deeper.

Who would benefit by extending the length of time it took to complete the first phase of work and part of the second?  Would the architects?  Would Western?  Then it occurred to me, what if this was an inside job?  What if one of our own was behind this scheme?  Could it be the Director or the Curator?  Maybe they had taken a sudden liking to being at the house by 7am in the morning, maybe they discovered how much more work they accomplished after having seven cups of coffee in a three hour time period instead of their regular four.  Or was it the Education Director?  She hasn’t made an appearance yet in this blog which is already suspicious.  Maybe she was enjoying the break from all of those fourth and fifth grade classes whose yearly pilgrimages to the museum have been suspended due to the restoration work – maybe enjoying it a little too much.  That made much more sense.  But as I know from having read a mystery tale or two in the past, sometimes the suspect is someone who appears to be above reproach, who seems to have an unassailable, airtight alibi.  Who would that be in this case?......

The List of Suspects:

Western - is their absence a sign of guilt?
This question mark symbolizes Agent L and her cohorts at Stephen Tilly, Architect - nameless, faceless - guilty? 

Maybe a certain Director has been hitting the mug a little too frequently and thinks a delay in restoration work will fuel her habit?

The classic signs of a coffee junkie are evident in this picture - but does it mean the Curator is guilty?
Perhaps someone doesn't want to interrupt her beauty sleep with real work - is the Education Director the likely culprit?

OMG, it’s me!  I’m the sinister, scheming suspect; the dastardly, daring dilettante; the maniacal, menacing….mom. 
Public Enemy Number 1

Of course, it all makes sense now.  Who would benefit the most if this restoration project was delayed?  ME!!  Because I am the blogger.  I’m the one basking in the adoration of my readers, I’m the one with all of the fame and glory. It’s so simple, and uncomplicated and genius…just….like…me!!  How did I not see this before?  And what do I do about it now that I know the truth?  Stash myself in some tiny little cell as punishment? – oh wait, already in one-- it’s called my office.  Put myself at the mercy of some warden? – that position’s filled, she’s called the Director.  No, I’ll just sit at my computer and bide my time – let the rest of the staff, the architects, and Western think all is well, I won’t clue them in to the discovery I made about me.  Then when the opportunity presents itself – I’ll flee this little popsicle stand I call Albany, cut the husband and kids loose, and head someplace where nobody will ever find me.  Someplace where the sun is always shining…I’m thinking Vegas baby, I’ve always had a hankering for sequins and slot machines.
Nooooo!  The Director just received word from Agent L – Hey (Jude) has located some reclaimed white oak just the size we need.  The moisture content of this wood is on the low side of what we need, between 7 and 8%, but by wetting the wood, Western will be able to raise the moisture content.  The architects will accept anything within a range of 15 to 24%.  Drat!!  My scheme to delay the restoration has been foiled!  So long Vegas dreams, at least until another underhanded plot is conceived and carried out.  Hopefully I will be smart enough to catch my next double-cross - as a wise president once said, ‘Fool me once...shame on...shame on fool me, you can't get fooled again.’

Saturday, October 2, 2010

A River Runs Through It

You know what’s no fun? Bulk mailings. Bulk mailings are no fun, as I learned this past week. Especially when you have to mail out 1700 pieces of mail. Maybe some of you out there think that that’s small potatoes, and maybe you’re right. Or maybe you’re being a little judgmental and should take some time to reevaluate how you view the world. All I know is that stuffing 1700 flyers into 1700 envelopes, stamping 1700 envelopes 1700 times with the museum’s permit number, printing out 1700 return address labels, and 1700 address labels, and then putting those 1700 return address labels and 1700 address labels onto the 1700 envelopes, and gluing 1700 envelopes shut and putting 1700 envelopes into zip code order seemed like a lot of work to me. I say seemed because I approached the bulk mailing less as the person who physically was doing the work and more as the person coordinating other people who did the work (including a bunch of volunteers and pretty much all of the staff) - I’m not doing that work by myself, that’s just crazy! But from my vantage point (the floor underneath my desk where I hid so no one could find me) it seemed like a lot of work.

You know what else is a lot of work and absolutely no fun? Cleaning up after Mother Nature. In case any of you have missed the rain that poured down outside your window almost every day this past week, we at Historic Cherry Hill can tell you all about it. We can tell you that restoration workers don’t work outside in the rain. (Talk about a bunch of sissies). Luckily Joe The Hammer was able to spend a day inside measuring the windows, but unsurprisingly not a lot of exterior work can be done in a downpour. We can also tell you the sound water makes when it flows along a needle beam right into the north parlor of the house. It sounds like water coming from a low-running faucet, and it looks like water coming from a low-running faucet, and it leaves a mess behind like water coming from a low-running faucet would when it is running into a historic house and onto the historic wood floors. In case I haven’t been clear enough, earlier this week some rain decided to take a journey following the route provided by a downward-angled needle beam (downward meaning the exterior end of the needle beam was higher than the interior end of the needle beam) right into our north parlor. Now a situation like this is already the stuff of nightmares but what gave this mini-disaster a particularly Wes Craven-Freddy Krueger-Nightmare on Elm Street type of feel was the way in which the running water was discovered –

By the Director…

while conducting….

a special tour…

to a group of graduate students from SUNY’s Public History Program.

They say you can tell a lot about a person by the way they react in a crisis. When the Director discovered during her tour that HCH had its very own Niagara Falls, she tried to pretend that it wasn’t really happening while she continued the tour, and then at her first opportunity she went back to plug up the leak. Interesting approach. Probably better than what mine would have been – acting the part of the little Dutch Boy with my finger in the dam (except instead of using my finger I would have been using my cupped palms to try to catch the water) while I laughed nervously and turned fifteen shades of red.

The Director was able to temporarily stop the influx of rain water into the parlor. Towels and a fan were used to clean up the mess and there was no lasting damage done to the floor. The next day the Director purchased a large amount of plastic sheeting and attempted to temporarily correct the problem on the outside of the house until the project manager from Western, named Jude (I like to call him Hey), arrived to deal with the problem permanently. The permanent solution also involved rerouting the gutter that previously was dumping water right onto the naughty needle beam to instead dump its water in a more appropriate place, namely the ground.

There you have it, straight from the Communications Coordinator’s mouth – bulk mailings and downward-angled needle beams are a lot of work and no, I repeat, no fun.

(And to Big D and The Hammer, in case you guys are reading this, I was totally joking about the whole “sissies” comment. No disrespect meant. Really, please believe me. You guys are very strong, and your nicknames make you sound like a couple of hit men or bald-headed bouncers at a biker bar, or pro-wrestlers, and I just want to make sure you understand that I do NOT think you are sissies. I’m very attached to my knee caps, and I don’t like swimming with amphibians of any kind. Just so we’re clear.)

The river ran through here.

Between the red arrows you may notice a section of the gutter missing which contributed to the amount of water that flowed into the house. 
This view better shows the Director's temporary fix until reinforcements could arrive.  She may be no Bob the Builder, but she got the job done.

The professionals came and fixed the problem.  The shiny metal you see in the picture filled the gap in the gutter.  Also notice the absence of the plastic sheeting.  A nicer look all around.

This picture may be difficult to view, but if you can look past the chain link fencing in the foreground you will see the bottom of the gutter where, thanks to the shiny metal piece shown in the previous picture, the water can now flow to the ground...instead of into the north parlor.


Friday, September 24, 2010

More of the Same

It’s probably not a good sign when I approach Big D and The Hammer for a work update and they scurry for cover. And let me tell you, these guys tower over me and I’m about 5’9” - it’s not easy for them to scurry (and it’s also pretty obvious when they try and hide behind one of the posts of the deck). They probably view my weekly visit as something akin to a root canal – painful. Not only do they have to put up with my vapid smiles and vacant stares, they have to try and explain things to me with crayon drawings because real construction plans are too advanced for my simple eyes. It’s not easy for me either, you can imagine my own feelings of trepidation when I walk out the door of the museum and around the corner to interrupt their work and ask my questions. At least they’re good-natured about it (once it’s clear they can’t escape)…when Big D spied me through the chain link fence Wednesday morning he greeted me with a deadpan “Not you again!” He was joking, I think, although, he didn’t really smile afterwards and he did pantomime hanging himself to The Hammer when he thought I wasn’t looking. Thankfully they didn’t have to explain any new concepts to me this week – it was just more of the same work. They’re still working on shoring up the east façade of the house to conduct their repairs to the exterior posts and studs. I forgot to specify something last week. All of the interior repairs they have completed thus far as well as the shoring and planned exterior repairs they are working on now are on the north side of the east facade at this point. There is still the south side of the east façade to get to, and when they do, they will be starting the process all over again! And there are still those darn windows to restore, all 49 of them. But that’s another tale, for another day.

Oh where, oh where has our little porch gone?
Oh where, oh where can it be?

Oh, there it is, neatly stacked.

These are called lally columns. 

The needle beams (shown here perpendicular to the house) are anchored to the lally columns.

Interior view from the north parlor showing where the end of the needle beam pokes into the room.  

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Ode to Fall

I love fall. I love apples, sweaters, cider doughnuts, pumpkins, Halloween, Halloween candy, beef stew, oatmeal. I love fall. (That was my lame attempt at a haiku…I know it’s not a haiku but that’s because I didn’t pay attention in English class when we learned about them…which is a sad commentary on the length of my attention span if I can’t make it through a haiku). While the calendar hasn’t officially declared fall yet, the crisp bite in the wind and the falling leaves show us what Mother Nature suggests we can do with our calendars – advance them forward by a few days. Why? What were you thinking?

There is another thing I like about the fall (surprisingly, it doesn’t involve food) – fall cleaning. Yes I admit it – I enjoy spring and fall cleaning. But let me be clear, it doesn’t mean that I am a regular practitioner of the biannual tradition - I’m lucky if I can get my kids cleaned twice a week, let alone my house thoroughly cleaned from top to bottom twice a year. Still, I enjoy the feeling I have after a job well done, a house well cleaned. This fall, I turned that love of cleaning and organizing towards my Director’s office. My Director turned me back towards the door. But I persisted and after a couple more knocks on her door and a pretend phone call from a senator who had a bucket of money he was looking to spend on a historic house (how did she fall for that one in this financial and political climate?), I was able to distract her for a moment and sneak into her office while she hung up the phone in disgust.

Gesturing to her current “organizational system” which consists of stacks of papers sitting on every level and unlevel surface available in the office she shares with the Business Manager, I suggested it was time to clean out her files and organize her space. After a lot of discussion back and forth, the Director agreed to a fall cleaning. (If I was talking with any other person, I would categorize the “discussion” as foot-stomping and pouting on the Director’s part and stony determination on my part.) Once the dirty work of going through file drawer after file drawer began, the Director started to second guess the advisability of following through with the job, and to fearfully question whether this was the right thing to do. My answer was, it’s too late to go back now.

There’s a point to my rambling, I promise. When I arrived at work this morning, I commented on the work Big D and his partner in restoration, Joey the Hammer, (totally made up nickname, just thought it went well with Big D), were doing. In the midst of the discussion, the Director began to voice her sudden fears about the whole restoration undertaking, asking herself more than me, “Are we doing the right thing?” She knew the answer to her own question: We don’t have any choice. We have to address the structural issues facing this house. We have to resort to these serious measures because these are serious problems. She got a handle on her fears and went back to trying to renegotiate the timetable for the fall cleaning of her office. (It has suddenly dawned on me that her restoration fears may not have been real but instead may have been a means to delay the inevitable continuation of office organization.)

Stall tactic or not, as I inspected the restoration work - more closely following our conversation, I had a better understanding of the Director’s sudden doubts. When I walked into the north parlor of the house, I could see clear through the wall to the sun-shiny world outside. And no, the accidental inhaling of radioactive plaster dust did not give me the superhero power of seeing through walls (although the accidental inhaling of plain old plaster dust, which is floating in the air in liberal amounts, has given my airways a white-washed look). The reason I could see through the lower portion of the wall was because the wall was not there. The brick nogging has been removed from between the posts and the room is exposed to the elements. I don’t know how anyone could avoid the moment of panic and second-guessing a scene like that generates. Particularly when one works in a historic house where shoes with pointy high heels are not worn because of the soft pine wood floors. (If you do wear pointy high heels you walk around on your tip-toes like an overgrown fairy, lest a heel should come in contact with the pine wood surface.)

Enjoy the panic inducing view!

The interior studs are shown here with their dutchman repairs.  The dark colored wood is original, the light colored wood beneath is the new wood.  The long piece of light colored wood to the left of the repaired original probably provided support while the repairs were being done.

This is a picture taken a couple of weeks ago which shows the new pieces of wood used for the dutchman repairs to the interior studs prior to their installation - each piece of wood was cut to size to fit with a specific interior stud.

Putting on my investigative blogger hat (a truly hideous looking thing) and my “I swear there are some functioning brain cells in my head” face, I approached Big D and The Hammer. Interrupting their work, I asked if they would mind explaining what they were doing. They didn’t mind at all, Big D and The Hammer are very accommodating guys. They explained what they had done thus far as well as what their next steps would be. I warmly thanked them and trotted back downstairs to my little cave, sat down in front of the computer and couldn’t remember a single thing they told me. I tried my best to write down what they said but when I read over my first sentence, ‘They will use a [blank] thing and also a needle[?] to keep the house from falling.’ I knew there was no help for it - I had to bother them again.

Back outside I went, to take pictures and figure out how I could get them to repeat everything they just told me, without letting on that I had the memory of a small sieve. Luckily Big D was able to interpret the clueless look on my face and checked to make sure I understood what was happening. That was all the opening I needed, and in the next minute I was under the porch with the guys, looking at c channel beams, listening to Big D patiently explain things a second time. From the blankness of my stare it was apparent that the lights were on but no one was home. Luckily the ever resourceful Hammer grabbed the construction drawings and visually showed me what they were doing. Then I got it! Finally! Until I got back to my desk and promptly forgot the names of all the materials being used. I put a call in to my engineer husband (no way was I going back outside to bother them a third time), and he, more than familiar with my mental limitations, verified my understanding of the process. Once I hung up the phone with him, I felt pretty confident. That confidence hitched a ride out of the museum as I tried to explain the process to the Director and the Curator - several torn sketches and a few tears of frustration later – they got it.

This is the area under the front porch where Big D and The Hammer tried to explain their work to me for the second time.  Did I mention that I bothered them while they were on their break?  I know, could I be any worse?

Now I’m going to try and explain it to all of you (my apologies ahead of time). Big D and The Hammer are prepping for dutchman repairs to the exterior posts and studs of the east façade of the house. To carry out these repairs, they have to shore up the façade before they begin removing the rotted sections of wood. They have already completed dutchman repairs to the interior studs, which did not require the shoring the exterior repairs do. They have to anchor temporary posts both inside and outside of the house - the temporary interior posts will sit on the sill and the temporary exterior posts will sit on the ground underneath the front porch, rising up through holes cut in said porch. On top of these two posts will sit the needle beam. The needle beam will rest on the temporary posts, perpendicular to the house. The restoration guys have anchored c channel beams along the exterior façade of the house, just below window level. These c channels will rest on top of the needle beams. Basically, when they begin to cut out the rotted wood of the original exterior posts and studs, (thus removing the original support for the walls of the house), the weight that once rested on those posts and studs will be transferred to the needle beams and theoretically the façade of the house will not collapse while they complete their work. Comforting theory indeed. No wonder the Director was questioning the whole process. Who in their right mind would not doubt whether or not it was advisable to knock out the walls of a 223 year-old house and cut off the bottoms of posts that are supposed to be holding up the house? It makes me nervous thinking about it, but then again, my office is directly underneath the façade of the house where they are working so I may be a little oversensitive. Should anything, theoretically, go south, I will probably go with it.

View of the c channels, located below window level, along the length of the facade.  When the dutchman repairs are done, the weight of the house will shift via the c channels to rest on the needle beams.  

They are called c channels because the shape of the beam resembles a c.

Looking at the physcial evidence of the structural damage of the house sure cured my fears about the holes in the walls.

This evidence is a little bit of overkill on the part of the house - okay we get it Cherry Hill, posts and studs are hanging in mid-air, you don't have to be so dramatic about everything. 

Just like the dreaded fall cleaning the Director was forced to undertake – the restoration project must continue on as well. It is work that needs to be done, and the longer it is put off, the worse things will get. Even if the necessary work is liable to give all of us on the staff moments of doubt and hysteria, we have to think of the bigger picture - our responsibility as caretakers for a cultural institution. There’s no backing out now. (The work of shoring the façade is going well, the same cannot be said for the fall cleaning of the Director’s office - that project is on a temporary hiatus.)