Sunday, February 28, 2021

Project cottage: Just keep digging...

I planned to have the steps to the cottage dug out by now, but yesterday muscles I didn't even know I had protested over my recent adventures, so I decided on a day of rest. Pretty sure the muscles yelled about "middle-aged chubby woman who spent all winter sitting down with a computer and a cat on her lap." 

I always feel in a hurry when I do things - I want to see results - but this will have to be a long-term project. At least that's what the smart brain cell keeps telling the others... 

Before - looks like a hill!

Not quite "after" - but getting there.

This is so exciting - I am eager to see the end result. With my pace and weather permitting, I hope to be done with the digging phase of the project (all around the cottage) mid March. But, this time a year that's truly depending on the weather. Paws crossed!

Friday, February 26, 2021

Project cottage: the excavation has started

We've had a few days with lovely weather, the snow has melted, and if it were up to me it wouldn't come back. For now, the great outdoors is green and welcoming again. The first spring flowers have even popped their adorable little heads out of the ground. 

Milder weather means the dogs and I have resumed work on "project cottage." I work and they watch, looking like: 

"She's sure doing that backwards." 

"Should we tell her?" 

"Nah, it's more entertaining this way." 

I've been trying to fix the door - some hooligan kicked it in and destroyed the hinges. When I first spotted the cottage I thought it didn't even have a door, because one half had collapsed. 

It's not perfect yet, but it is an improvement. And with some more time and work I think it will become a decent door again.

Inside the cottage, one of the ceiling tiles has fallen down. They're far from original - deeming from the material they were probably put up in the 1950s - but that's not the interesting part. It shows an old layer of newspaper in the ceiling that belongs to a more original ceiling covering. The newspaper is dated 1896 and has ads for the White Star Line that would eventually build the Titanic.

I would guess the cottage itself is even older, but I don't have any proof of that besides a hunch. Some details look much older. Of course, they may have been reused from another building.

Anyway, I've been looking forward to the snow disappearing and the ground thawing, because there's a good deal of digging to be done. 40 years of sediments has built up small mountains of soil, and all this must be removed - before I do anything else. I'm not particularly good at digging, but I'm hoping this soil will be fairly soft and easy to move. 

I wanted to start with digging around the front door, partly because it will be easier to get in and out without having to climb and crouch to get through the door, and partly because it's impossible to close the door.

Many of these older houses without a porch has a slab of rock or something in front of the door, and I was hoping to find something like that. Guess what? Reality is even better. 😍

I found stairs!

There's one more step that's currently below ground level - three total. All this has been hidden under 40 years of sediment build-up. I stood on the top step with a feeling of awe. I am the first person to use it for four decades, how cool is that!

I didn't have time to complete the excavation today - I had to go home and get ready for work - but that's probably a good thing or I'd have to roll out of bed tomorrow. (My muscles are already complaining, lol.) But, weather and Mother Nature willing, I'll be able to show a photo of the cottage with stairs soon! 


Friday, February 19, 2021

Kårtäkt - yes, that is the name of a Swedish village

Someone asked why I'm so fascinated with old houses. I wasn't aware of it at the time, but it started in this cottage, back in the 1970s. It's very old, located in a tiny village named Kårtäkt.

When I was a little girl, the cottage was called "Hildurs Kammare" - Hildur was the woman who owned it, and "kammare" is short for "Slåtterkammare," which means a cottage that was used during harvest season. Her last name might have been Sundin, I think Hildur Sundin sounds right, but don't put any money on it.

There was a crumbling cellar behind it, and a barn where the cows and such used to have shelter during summers. I haven't been here for decades, but I bet both cottage and barn are still there. I don't know exactly how old they are, but a couple hundred years at least.

Anyway, Hildur was the lady who rented it to my parents. She was very old and super nice, and we went to see her once a year to pay the annual rent. Going there was exciting, but also a bit terrifying. She had a huge house she didn't live in and a one-room cottage in the same yard that she did live in. She also had a farmhand who used to drive around on an ancient moped. He was always drunk.

I was so small when I last saw her I don't remember many details. She eventually sold "our" cottage and surrounding fields to a nearby farmer. Visiting them to pay the rent wasn't anywhere near as exciting.

There was one room and a hall, and it was smack in the middle of nowhere. No water, the well had gone dry a long time before we got there, so we brought that from the city. No electricity. Mom would keep a fire going in the open fireplace and cook over the open flames. She was very good at it - and I learned to make fires when I was like 7. I can still see her crouch in front of it, stirring the fire to make it just right. All this was in an era long before cell phones and other types of entertainment, so if you wanted something to do, you'd better have brought a book. 

It was also in an age before digital cameras, so I don't have a lot of photos.

Down the road was a farm, and with a little luck they would have cows or horses out on pasture. There were two other children in the vicinity, both older than I. A boy who had a birth defect so he was in a wheelchair - those were big and clunky things in the 1970s - and a girl who had a horse. I can't remember her name, but the horse's name was Salván. (Typical me, remembering the name of the horse and not her...) He was a Norwegian Fjord Horse and sometimes when I was really lucky she brought him down to us so I could pet him.

Other friends included the neighbor's cat and a moose. My dad was terrified of moose, so he didn't approve of the company I kept. But seriously - there was nothing there except for the animals in the forest!

All this was okay as long as I was a child, but frustration and boredom grew with age, and as a teen I loathed being there. My mom and dad eventually got divorced (that was a relief, actually) and mom kept the cottage. She had it up to the mid 2000s - over 30 years! Around that time my aunt got cancer and it was the last straw for my mom. She didn't want to do anything after my aunt passed, and not even the cottage was any fun. I think the owner's daughter wanted it too and mom was probably happy that someone else would care for it. 

I pretty much grew up here - we were here all spring, summer, and fall every year. Apparently winters too since it's winter on the photo, but I don't remember that. And I guess this is why I have such a fascination with small, old, red off-grid houses. 

They represent innocence and the freedom of childhood. Nostalgia, peace, and a simple way of life that isn't possible today. And they must be protected.

A new fun project

There's a cottage about a mile from my house that I've passed so many times when exploring with the dogs. It has looked increasingly dilapidated, obviously empty, and one day when the dogs wanted to explore the path to it I just followed them. Okay, that isn't entirely true; I may have encouraged them. 😆 

A couple days later, curiosity got the better of me. I went back and snuck inside. At some point in time, someone must have kicked the door in.

This used to be a kitchen wood stove. The actual iron stove is tossed out in the back yard. Why anyone would bother with pulling it out and putting it outside is a mystery to me - it has to weigh a couple hundred pounds.

The rest of the kitchen is also ruined. These photos are from December, and since then someone has shot at the covering of this window. What is it with people and wanting to destroy things?

There are two rooms besides the kitchen. One is tiny and more of a storage area, and the larger one is in poor shape. I don't know what happened to the floor in here, but it can't have been good. I mean, the wood obviously rotted, but that doesn't explain the hole. 

Imagine how proud that stove must have looked once upon a time!

There are mysteries in the yard too. Like, what the heck is that?

Anyway, the place kept calling out to me. I posted about it on Facebook and one of my neighbors said no one has lived there for at least 40 years. At that time an older couple used it as a vacation home.

I looked it up on a property map and it's a part of a gigantic forest lot. The owners live in another city. Just before Christmas I gathered courage and reached out. The person I talked to confirmed that it has been empty for all that time, and said they keep trying to board it up, but people seem dead set on destroying it. 

I feel compelled to try to save it. This little house has been through a lot, and it's still standing. That says something - I'm not sure a modern house would look this whole after 40 years on its own. So the owners and I have come to an agreement. We're making a contract to show I have the right to be there - and that way I can call the police if the people who shot at it come back. I'm going to try to fix it up.

Carpentry is not on my list of skills, but this is a small and friendly building to practice on. I am good at painting and yard work, so that's two out of three... And it's okay if it takes time. I'm super excited to get going, and I am so happy the owners and I are thinking along the same lines.

Now, here's the comical part: I want to save this for the sake of saving it. To me, it is something worth doing. 

Maybe I will use it as a creative retreat - a place to go to write, read, or just sit in nature. Or maybe there's a future where a family from a city has this as a much needed escape to get into the countryside. Maybe children will play in the yard one day, and maybe I'll drive by and wave, delighted because I helped make it possible.

I joined a Facebook group about saving old houses and posted photos of this project. Within five minutes I had 26 comments telling me what a horrible idea this is, and people were still typing. It was all along the lines of, "Why would you do a thing like this when you don't own it? You can't make any money on that. And what if they sell it to someone else? Are the owners at least paying you? What do you mean you're doing it because you want to do it? How can you profit from a thing like this?"

On top of that a guy was mansplaining how I will need heavy machinery to dig out around the house and the yard, and lift the building to make sure it becomes straight. Okay then... 

I felt like I was talking to a bunch of Ferengi. I tried to explain, but that got old quickly, so I deleted my post and left the group. This isn't about making money; it's about saving something. Doing it can benefit both me and the community.

I don't have to own everything. There might be a point in the future where I ask the owners if they're interested in selling to me, but it's much more likely that I think this is a super fun project until the house is whole and pretty. I love the process of making things whole and pretty. Once that's done I usually need something new to work on.

We'll see. Right now I am excited, and the Ferengi among us will not steal my joy.

Now I just need the snow to go away. So I can get there with my car, and start taking the shrubs down, and, and, and... I'll keep you posted!

The Universe - or is it Fate - is fickle.

If someone had told me yesterday that an asteroid would collide with Earth, that we'd have a flood of Biblical proportions, or that a so...