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September 21, 2008
Gail at work

Not the mountain house: Gail textures the bathroom wall at our Bay Area house

It has been an “interesting” year for us. Back in May, we wrote about how our best-laid plans to build our mountain house have been interrupted by the intrusion of real life. At the time, we were referring to our son Joss’ scoliosis surgery and subsequent rehabilitation.

The ensuing months have not been any kinder. On August 18, Russell’s only brother passed away after a four-and-a-half year battle against cancer. During this time, Curtis’ exoskeletal osteocarcoma had necessitated radiation, three rounds of chemotherapy, three surgeries and ultimately amputation of his entire right arm. Ultimately, the cancer metastasized into Curtis’ lungs and throughout the rest of his body. Russell and his sister spent weeks shuttling back and forth between California and Texas, both to share Curtis’ last few weeks and to make funeral arrangements.

On September 19, our eldest son Cameron made his big move an hour’s drive south to begin his freshman year at the University of California Santa Cruz. Needless to say, we have not had many opportunities to escape to our mountain house as summer turned to autumn this year.

Strike three was the failure of one of our bathrooms at our primary house in the Bay Area. This bathroom had been causing us problems for years, requiring a replacement of the toilet and countless trips by Russell into the dark and cramped crawlspace under the house. For the past several months we had been noticing an increasing odor of mold, but we couldn’t figure out where it was coming from.

After checking the crawlspace, the hallway, the closet and the furnace room, Gail finally began ripping up the bathrooms. When she ripped out the floor of the downstairs bathroom, Gail discovered that the toilet had been slowly leaking into the subfloor and supporting joists.

With Russell in Texas for weeks on end, Gail began the slow job of completely gutting and rebuilding the bathroom. There was never any question that she would do all of the work herself; she had actually been wanting to redecorate the bathroom for years and had money set aside. In addition, the project would give her good practice for the similar work ahead in the mountain house.

For several weeks, Gail’s tasks included installing, taping, texturing and painting new dry wall; installing a reflective tin ceiling; stripping and refinishing an old cabinet that would serve as the new sink console; and installing all of the new fixtures. She was able to solicit Russell’s help to install the new joists and subfloor when he was in town.

The reconstructed bathroom with a new subfloor section (tongue and groove!) and a new cork floor

In between, Gail also found time to make a trip up to the mountain to continue wiring the house with her step-brother Jim. The work is slow but steady, and we now have live power outlets throughout both the downstairs and upstairs. Gail estimates that the wiring work is now more than halfway done.

At the mountain house: Gail installs wiring for a ceiling fan, on a high ladder over the stairwell hole

Gail also continues to have “animal adventures” up on the mountain. A letter from August recounted her evening encounter with a bat in the hallway. During this trip, Jim saw two mice run across the floor in the evening. This despite a supposedly sealed house and lots of rodent poison left out for the last several months.

It was in the middle of the night that Gail was awoken by a loud “splash,” followed by several minutes of smaller splashing sounds. When the noises stopped, she fell back to sleep. It wasn’t until the next morning that she realized what had happened. Apparently, one of the mice had gotten into the water catch-basin under the upstairs sink, and couldn’t get back out. What Gail found the next morning was a drowned mouse, which she appropriately disposed of in a spot outside that we have designated as our “animal burial ground.” One down, one to go. Gail left another bucket of water under the sink just in case.

Overall, we are looking forward to things settling down again so that we don’t have to juggle so much in our schedule. We have an inspection due in November for both wiring and framing, neither of which are finished yet. Given the way things have been going, we’ll just have to schedule the inspection for whatever we have completed when the time comes.

Gail has begun keeping her own notepad, listing the wiring tasks that remain


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