The Attic Project

Our attic is BIG, roughly 1600 square feet, and rises 1.5 stories above the rest of the house. When we moved in 9 years ago, it was filled with all sorts of stuff. Built-in cabinets and shelving, semi-framed walls, and lots and lots of flies. The space had served as a workshop and storage area for the former owner whose fondness for collecting left it filled to the brim. Wood was everywhere; stacked in piles, propped against surfaces, arranged on the floor. Honestly it was hard to see the forest for all the trees. Here’s what it looked like in 2009.

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Spider Village & Ladybug Land

When I was little I was deathly afraid of spiders.  So much so, that when I found a big ugly one on me in the night (circa 1983), I moved into my sister’s bedroom and slept on her floor for a whole month.  And no, it wasn’t the least bit comfortable.

As I’ve aged I’ve gotten past the terror a spider can induce.  I’ve matured.  I’ve come to realize that spiders are small creatures who for the most part mean us no harm.  We are the scary big monsters THEY cower in fear from and try to avoid.  Part of this is hogwash, I know, part is rationalization.  But for the most part it works.  I can calmly shoo a spider away when need be – or even catch it gently in a cup, paper pressed against the opening, to escort it outside.  I never kill spiders – they have their purpose after all, and I much prefer them to the biting insects they call food.

Anyway, the reason I am sharing this is b/c I spend a goodly portion of each day tending to a fire which consumes vast quantities of wood.  I wrote about this whole wood situation before (feel free to refresh your memories here).  We keep most of our wood stacked outside, but weekly my husband & I must bring in a new stash for burning.  This wood is home to many, many spiders.  For safety (and peace of mind) I wear protective leather work gloves while shifting wood, lest I get bitten by a startled arachnid.  But I can’t get past the paranoid fear that one day I will encounter a brown recluse and wind up losing an arm.

I know this is paranoia at its best.  These little spiders are terrified of me, stomping around in my heavy snow boots, cursing audibly with each heaving wheelbarrow of wood.  But it remains so firmly planted in my psyche that any time I get a tiny unexplained cut on my hand, I watch it the same way an underpaid office worker watches the clock.  I check it 60 times an hour, just waiting for it to change. IS IT GETTING BIGGER??  IT’S LOOKING BIGGER!! IS IT BUBBLING??!!

All of this is nonsense, of course.  I scratched my hand sweeping up debris from the floor, or caught it on [insert whatever it was] but the fear remains.  It doesn’t help that all this firewood we haul inside is stored in the hearth in our kitchen.  The room in which I spend most of my time.  And now that this firewood is stacked inside the warm & pleasant walls of our heated home, the formerly hibernating army of spiders living inside said wood is now WAKING UP.  And converting my kitchen into their Spider Village.

In the changing light you see them.  The vast network of spiderwebs dangling above our heads, crisscrossing the room from the windows to the doors.  I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve been standing at the island, chopping or kneading or simply going about my business, only to look up and find a spider dangling inches from my face.  Looking at me as if to say, “What’s for Dinner?”

For the most part I don’t mind living amongst so many many-leggeds.  Sure a few of them are HUGE (we’re talking inches) but for the most part they’re very small.  And they do in fact seem to be helping us with the bugs.  Not that you’d expect a home in the dead winter of Maine to have an insect issue, but for some odd reason we do have them.  Not gross ones, no cockroaches or big scary beetles or anything.  No, we have ladybugs.

We noticed them right after we moved in.  It was hard not to, seeing as they’d taken over our attic.  At some point in the course of The Dole House’s long and illustrious history, these ladybugs took up residence and now, 600 generations later, we’re still sheltering their kin.  It was odd at first, finding we had so much company.  But over the past (almost) 18 months, we’ve gotten used to each other.  We no longer think it strange, the small piles of expired ladybugs trapped between the window frames and storms.  The ladybug corpses littering the window sills (which must be dusted periodically) or the occasional ladybug you find clutching onto a curtain.  For some reason, our younger daughter’s bedroom seems to be the ladybugs favorite room in the house.  Ladybug Land.  Our little girl spends her nights counting the tiny red dots on her ceiling, watching them weave their way from point to point.  They’re sweet really.  Perhaps if you look carefully you’ll find another world living inside your home, too.

The writing’s on the wall.

Today we’re going to continue the wall theme — w/ a tribute to Dole House graffiti.  A mixture of old & new.

attic writing 1

attic writing 2

Upstairs in the attic, scrawled on the chimney plaster.  And on the attic beams.

writing on attic beam

Downstairs in the keeping room.

writing - keeping room

more writing - keeping room

behind the fridge

And in the kitchen.

kitchen graffiti

Downstairs in the basement there are signs.

basement signs

And yesterday – in addition to the dead rodent, I found writing behind the wall.

writing - dining room

The Mystery Flue.

One of the most striking things about our new (olde) house is its original heating system.  Not oil, not gas, but CHIMNEYS!  Downstairs in the basement you can see the bottom arches of these massive brick structures, rising from the ground like roman aqueducts.  Impressive in scale and beautiful in form and function.  This Book speaks at length about colonial chimneys and is a great read for anyone interested in the subject.

chimney base

Our house has two of these giant chimneys, and every room in the house (excluding baths, but including the attic) has a fireplace.  The largest of these fireplaces is a hearth in the family room, in which five people can stand at the same time.  Both that fireplace and the one in the keeping room have hanging irons for cooking, and both have adjacent baking ovens.  Which unfortunately no longer work.. but a girl can’t have everything.

When we bought this house, a top priority was getting these fireplaces working again.  And in the past two months, we’ve lavished more attention on them than anything else.  First, my superhusband had to install a hatch in the roof, in order to gain access to the immense chimneys and get them uncapped.  No small feat!  Working three stories up, alone.  He not only did all the work himself, but he did it w/ aplomb.  My hero.

up on the roof - hatch installation

working hard - john installs hatch

Next, we (meaning JOHN) had to uncap the chimneys.  Again, no small feat.  Since the caps were custom built wooden structures, layers thick, literally screwed into the masonry.  Did I mention they were also massive and unbelievably heavy?  Yup.  John (the bravest man I know) not only deconstructed them – but he did so standing on the edge/s of our roof, ALONE.  While I watched from the hatch, snapping photos.  Just to give you a idea of scale – this is the larger of the two chimneys.

big chimney

When John uncapped the larger chimney above, he discovered a heretofore unknown TENTH FLUE.  We thought we only had nine fireplaces, b/c that’s how many you can see.  But apparently there is a mysterious tenth fireplace lurking somewhere in this house.  Hidden beneath a wall?  It was anyone’s guess – until yesterday.  When we spent the better part of an hour in quest.  John went up on the roof, and dropped a large bell into each flue, which he would shake loudly.  The girls & I ran from floor to floor screaming up IT’S THE LIVING ROOM!  IT’S IN GEORGIA’S ROOM.  And so on.  Until we determined the location of the tenth flue.  John suspected it was on the first floor.  I believed it was a 2nd fireplace in the attic.  WHO WAS RIGHT??  JOHN- of course!  Although it wasn’t a fireplace, per se.  The 10th flue actually goes to the brick beehive oven in the living room – which is sealed at present.  But it sure was great getting to the bottom of that mystery.

beehive oven

TOMORROW: pt. 2. The Tale of Two Chimneys.

An ode to my kitchen.

When we began looking for a new house, we saw many kitchens.  Some were so-so, some were downright beautiful.  But none of them spoke to me.  Except to say HANDS OFF! the way a lady might slap a frisky man.  I was looking for a plow horse, but all I found were prima donnas.  Until SHE walked in.

my kitchen

My kitchen is not showy.  Like the rest of this house, it is old.  It is not cherry & granite, stainless steel, status and POWER.  It is simple.  It is trying in some ways, like an elderly relative who needs help finding their glasses.  You wonder WHY DON’T YOU JUST PUT THEM ON YOUR NIGHTSTAND? But you search for an hour anyway.  Out of love.  My kitchen has character.  That rare attribute that only comes w/ age.  From its retro counter to the curve of its built-in shelves, my kitchen makes me happy.  I like its red color.  I like the way the vintage cooktop wobbles.  I even like the way the tap leaks unless you turn it slightly to the side.  MY KITCHEN.  Like a favorite pair of sweatpants, it’s what you turn to when you’re hungry.

cooktop

Even though I don’t have a dishwasher anymore, I am not angry.  Each day & night as I wash dishes by hand, I look out my lovely window to my nice next-door neighbor’s house. I think about living in this most historic home.  I think about what it was like 250 years ago, when EVERYTHING was work.  And then I feel humbled, and grateful.  For all the modern conveniences I do have.  Like my OVEN!  Even though the dial doesn’t correspond to the temperature, so everything is guesswork – It sure beats cooking over a campfire.

my oven

And there’s my washing machine!!  Which is right there in my kitchen.

my laundry room - in my KITCHEN!

Sure, some people might think that’s odd.  But I don’t.  I am so happy – b.c I LOVE DOING LAUNDRY!!!  And I LOVE to cook.  So now I can do them at the same time!  My husband even wired the clothes dryer into the kitchen, so now I can fry bacon and dry my pants, simultaneously.  But there’s more.  The former owner – when he modernized this kitchen in the 50s, thought practically.  He knew there’d be a need for counter space as well as convenience, and he didn’t want to sacrifice one at the expense of another.  So he crafted a special countertop that lifts and/or slides out from atop the washing machine.

cool countertop

So you can access the machine whenever needed, but when not in use, it functions as normal workspace.  Pure genius!

I know you are all wondering WHERE IS THE FRIDGE??!!  WHERE DO THEY KEEP THEIR FOOOOD??!  When my husband wired the clothes dryer into the kitchen, we had to move the refrigerator into the adjacent keeping room.  Mostly b/c there wasn’t anywhere else to put it.  It took a little getting used to, but now the fridge LOVES it!

fridge in keeping room

He gets to hang out right next to the fireplace.  So he stays cozy warm, even while he’s keeping our ice cream icy cold.  Plus he likes being part of the action.  Sometimes we even throw him scraps when we’re eating.  GOOD BOY!