YIPPEE, Volume Four, April 19th through May 31, 2004
Welcome to the fourth issue of YIPPEE, the journal of Chris and Cassandra's Adventure with Yurts.
As is perhaps obvious now, "Hey, we'll live in a yurt!" is much quicker and easier to say than implement. Particularly complicated if one of the intended yurtlings has MCS and another travels for his employer. And again, if the intended occupants require plumbing and power. Perhaps if the prospective yurtlings were independently wealthy, steps could be skipped and processes made speedier!
In honor of what is supposed to still be Spring (summer doesn't start 'til June 21st and besides, C&C are still wearing hats and flannel shirts), let's get some Spring Cleaning done. In other words, some quick updating before delving into the crux of YIPPEE. The week-by-week summary goes like this:
- land, land, land, Chris upstairs
- plan, design, land, cold, plan, upstairs work
- plan, price, land, mold, land
- Chris NJ, Newfane's back, price, plan, storms
- awnings, Turkey Mountain, Newfane, plan, price, cold(still), storms
- Chris Indiana, storms, plan, palm failure, Judymom, Newfane
- (the concluding 2 days)-Newfane, offer made, Chris Arkansas
That doesn't clear it up? Alright then. Here goes...
He did some work upstairs for his employer throughout the first two weeks. Then, Sunday May 9th thru Friday the 14th, he was training on PeopleSoft Portal 8.8 in NJ. He went to Indiana for additional Portal installation review, May 24th thru 27th. Then on May 31st, he embarked on a trip to Arkansas, for the start of a five week project.
She kept the various health tasks going, managing and implementing the project from YIPPEE Headquarters, otherwise known as the 14' yurt, or the Love-Shack. The steps taken during YIPPEE 3 did lighten the burden on her system. As a result, she has had a bit of an easier time bearing, and pushing on in spite of, the symptoms in order to work on the project.
The only major 'new' health impediment for this time period became apparent as the rains set in. The house, which had never worked out health-wise, but is necessary for daily living, became significantly worse. Eventually C&C figured out the problem: mold. Yes, Cassandra is clear for molds and does not suffer like she used to a couple years ago. But, some molds are worse than others: truly toxic, a big drag on the immune system, and apparently flourishing under C&C's rental house. As with so many other things, once they understood what was happening, on May 5th, a rule was set. Unlike the other rules, this one gets broken a lot. It has become more like an urgent guideline that has nasty repercussions if not followed. Or, a rule one very much wishes they could follow but the situation dictates otherwise. Cassandra cannot avoid entering the house on normal days, let alone rainy ones. When Chris was home, he could handle most of the daily food and water needs, laundry, etc. and say to Cassandra "No, I'll do it. Get out as fast as you can, Go! Go!" With lots of rain and Chris traveling again, some days and weeks are more of a struggle than others. One action which did help: Chris closed the house's crawlspace vents that had been open and allowing moldiness to creep out towards the yurt.
Speaking of creeping (or, um, more accurately, slithering): May brought with it snakes. Jake, Blake and Drake must now be watched for en route to the house or yurt. Usually they hear C&C first, and slither back into the greenery. If only the spiders and other crawling critters were so considerate!
Prompted by their discovery of mold issues, C&C removed the Reflectix skirting from the yurt's platform to allow air underneath. Cassandra raked out a bunch of piled up grass which indicated a mouse had indeed been sleeping there in the winter.
Turkeys were spotted in the meadow. Ants were combated in the house. Black flies and mosquitoes emerged to hunt. Later, on May 30th, the first of many dragonflies was spotted.
Effective bug repellant was found! C&C tried countless bug repellants over the previous two summers, without success. On May 8th, they tried yet another one. But to their joy, this one worked! Neither of them likes the smell at all, but it works! No bites!
On May 28th, the second (human) visitor saw the yurt and yurtlings. Chris' mom, Judy, was out east for a week visiting family in Massachusetts. With Chris away during the week, a visit was scheduled for Friday. Chris arrived home at 3AM. No matter how exhausted C&C are after Chris arrives home, they never fall asleep right away. Under a lightening sky, they managed about three hours sleep before the 8:30AM alarm prompted them to get ready for their guest. Cassandra always needs some time to recover after the morning trek to the house. After some direction difficulties and other mix-ups, Judy-mom was dropped off, courtesy of a cousin. Standard procedures were completed. It was a short visit, but everyone was happy to see each other! Chris drove his mom back to Mass. (about an hour south) and then went food shopping on the return trip.
The winter hats are not only still kept handy, but have in fact been donned several times. Originally, C&C thought it was ridiculous to be wearing them on April 28th. But then May 22nd arrived! That low electric bill they keep hoping for remains out of reach. Cassandra had the heat on almost every day at the end of May. Things are headed in the right direction though: the heavy winter comforter was taken off the bed, the snow pants were relocated into the house and some 'summer' clothes were brought out to the yurt in exchange for the sweaters.
It hasn't been all cold and rain. Cassandra mowed the grass for the first time this year on May 10th: dandelion heads were flying everywhere! C&C use a human-powered mower. Last year Cassandra handled the lawn care herself and dealt with the resulting illness. But this year, with the project, C&C decided that she would only be doing the areas that are free of health risks. Unfortunately this adds to Chris' already full schedule when home, but saves Cassandra from getting too bad to work on the project.
Modifications to the 14' yurt:
With the warmer weather and increased creepy-crawly activity, C&C realized they should have purchased the dome bug screen and a screen door. For a couple reasons, they decided to just make do for now. Chris used parts from last year's valiant, but ultimately failed, screen cube effort to craft a screen for under the dome as well as a screen door. Both took much longer to complete than he would have liked. Both also involved coordination to limit Cassandra's symptoms.
Putting the windows on and taking them off, which must be done from the outside, was unpleasant enough. During a rainstorm at the end of April, after putting the windows on and sitting inside the closed yurt, C&C realized that they would have to do something different.
Nesting Bird Yurts offers real glass windows of the 'normal' household variety. C&C researched and considered this option thoroughly until the reality of finances set it: a N.B. yurt, setup like that, would cost twice as much. None of this solved their immediate desire to have appropriate ventilation, if needed, while also keeping rain from coming into the yurt. So, on May 3rd, they called up Pacific Yurts. After asking a few questions, an order for two window awnings was placed.
The awnings arrived, Chris unpacked them and wiped them down. Cassandra was tested for their safety. Chris started putting them together on May 15th but heavy thunderstorms prevented completion of the task. The following day, he Ziploc bagged the relevant instruction pages so that he and Cassandra could complete and attach them. The awnings still need a little adjustment. But, the window situation is greatly improved!
While doing yoga on the 24th a bit of water was noticed on the floor under rafter support #6. Though it wasn't much, it warranted investigation. A strap from the awning was discovered to be caught in between the window and screen. Rainwater from the overnight storms had run down the strap, through the screen, along the lattice to end pooled on the floor, by the rafter support. Chris went outside and corrected the situation, ensuring that all awning straps were outside the window. Cassandra began wiping off the lattice and drying up the floor. They made a mental note that when putting on the windows, care must be taken to keep the straps out. Or, maybe when they get to finalizing the awning adjustments, they will ensure the straps don't hang down.
As might be guessed from earlier reports about weather, the windows haven't had to be removed that often. Yet.
Cassandra kept plugging away at design and drawing to get C&C's ideas solidified. The connection between the 30' and 14' yurts, a mudroom, deck and the welcome center all had to be finalized. On April 28th, C&C worked together; deciding on deck, connection and mudroom, then hashing out the welcome center needs and layout. Over the next few days The Plan was redrawn, detailed, and noted. Chris, using a laptop in the house's upstairs office, transformed this into a document. Print copies were generated. One was Ziploc bagged for the yurt. Another copy went to the green builder, via postal mail on May 1st, along with other information that Chris compiled.
Using the new Palm's internet capability, Cassandra started searching for, reviewing and pricing the components needed for their plan. Internet connection speed remains a drag. But where C&C live, faster connection is not available.
Another new Palm capability became useful: Excel spreadsheets with increased functionality. Upon discovering this new feature, Cassandra immediately saw the benefits to YIPPEE. She created one spreadsheet for energy consumption readings, calculations and notes. The comparisons for yurt costs were entered into another spreadsheet. The components C&C had listed in the Official YIPPEE notebook were entered as well, so that costs could be analyzed. Cassandra is so grateful! Having done finances manually for almost two years, she relishes in the ability to summarize, move, rearrange, calculate and more with a mere few clicks.
On May 15th, C&C had the same idea separately but almost simultaneously. To keep things simple, and safe, they could do it all with yurts. They had unresolved concerns about safely building the mudroom and welcome center. Now, they got pen and paper out and continued brainstorming of options. The net result is a 2nd version Plan which uses the 14' yurt as the Welcome Center. The Main Living Area has the same 30' plans as Version 1, but the bedroom and mudroom are housed in a 20' yurt. C&C have communicated with a Pacific Yurts technical representative about various aspects. The two yurts are easily connected.
Having no word back at all from the builder, despite follow-up attempts, C&C decided to start getting construction prices on their own. Chris updated and printed copies of the version two plans. He went to Home Depot for quotes on the kitchen cabinets and counter, the deck, yurt platforms and internal walls. The kitchen guy nicely made attempts to understand Cassandra's health restrictions. Though his usual inclination was otherwise, he did work up a quote for unfinished plain wood cabinets and gave rough figures on granite counters. C&C later decided that for safety, ease and time concerns, they are likely going to make a simple wood counter.
The yurt platforms, loft, walls, and deck have not been fully priced yet. Home Depot was not able to help; they can gladly quote a price from a materials list. But, C&C didn't have a materials list yet. A regional building supply store advertises free building estimates and planning assistance. After a few phone calls, on May 22nd, Chris headed up to Lavallys in Newport, NH, to meet with an assistant there and review the plans and pricing needs. The assistant sat with Chris, indicated it all looked good and said he'd pass it on to the guy who does quotes. While Home Depot returned a kitchen quote within a couple days, this place has yet to respond.
C&C had previously obtained a quote on radiant floor heating materials. They each took the time to read the manual and review the quote.
Cassandra's web browser on the Palm malfunctioned repeatedly, and then quit entirely, the week of the 24th. Her research and pricing efforts were stalled until Chris was home over the weekend. A hard reset, performed upstairs, did resolve the issue.
All glitches aside, by the end of YIPPEE 4, the project cost spreadsheet only had a few holes. C&C were happy with the direction their plans were headed. So much work was done that a second Official YIPPEE notebook had been started.
(The project plans are available in the Construction area of the web site)
Now, "What about land?":
Apparently, buying a minimum 40 acre, remote land parcel is not so easy!
YIPPEE Four began with a massive search for land. Of the land parcels that had been promising enough to warrant a trip, Westminster West, Ripton and Lowell had all been ruled out.
On April 21st, Chris made a second trip to Montgomery. In anticipation of taking Cassandra on a trip north, he explored a way around the Border Patrol, he had been through several times before, which was set up near the interchange of I-89 and I-91. He never did discover why they were set up a couple of hours below the actual border. The important thing for YIPPEE was: having to stop, roll down the window, be exposed to various contaminants including the patrol officers' laundry and personal care chemicals, and possibly come under scrutiny for the oxygen tank and mask, would have debilitated Cassandra for weeks and was unacceptable. Chris figured out the best place to exit the interstate and get back on in order to avoid unnecessary illness for Cassandra. This route was used successfully on a later trip.
Chris then continued on to Montgomery, to visit the town clerk and gather more information. He was told by a nice fellow, "If you move up here, stop over and we'll have a barbeque." The pizza shop not only knew what tofu was, but had used it on a pizza. Chris got a positive energetic vibe from the townspeople. Snowmobiles, in large numbers, traveling on a nearby town road, (to something called the 'jiboo') ended up ruling this lot out. But not before Chris attempted to convince himself it would be OK. He estimated that the town road these snowmobiles frequent was about 1000 feet from the edge of the property, across an adjoining property and its open field.
Back home, a few days later, Chris roped out 1000 feet from the Poocham rental house, straight down the field, to get a sense of the distance. The very nice downhill neighbor, who lives across the road from the bottom of the field, came over to chat. He alerted Chris of his plan to spread commercial fertilizer on his field, and shared his concern for Cassandra's health. Chris kindly thanked him but felt quite a bit of panic. Winds blow up the hill, to be stopped by the rental house. Last year, when this fellow mowed the field, Cassandra got intensely ill from the relatively less toxic tractor fumes.
C&C remained level headed to create a solution: leave for the day. A trip to the Baltimore, VT, parcel was planned for the next day, April 25th. They would determine once and for all its viability. Or, they would at least hike and escape the worst of the chemicals. C&C spent four hours on the property: assessing its potential, hiking, locating boundaries and enjoying their lunch while basking in a little bit of spring sunshine. By early evening, as they returned home, the field work was done and rains had started: the chemicals would be soaking into the ground and less of a windborne issue. The neighbor had only spread his field, which is not in the same wind passageway as C&C's field. What a relief! Cassandra had only gotten ill from the fertilizer while it sat piled at the end of the field, for less than 24 hrs, prior to being spread.
C&C decided to pass on the Baltimore property. They had kept it as a possible for so long due to the gorgeous views and its near perfect southern exposure, nestled into a ridge to the north. But their hike and subsequent sketch with a 'pros and cons' listing pointed out overwhelming flaws. The property was disheveled from logging, the steep terrain and logging road left little room for home sites suitable to C&C's needs. The best home site was too near the borders. Their decision was cinched two days later after learning that another 50 acre parcel across the road had gone up for sale.
Throughout the last two weeks of April, C&C used their newfound web-access-via-Palm-in-the-yurt to scour the internet . Countless websites and listings were viewed in hopes of locating Land for Sale in Vermont or New Hampshire to meet their needs. They even briefly considered a couple parcels over in New York. Countless emails were dispensed to request additional information. C&C tackled the search from numerous angles: For Sale By Owner, Real Estate companies, Brokerages, Logging and Forestry Companies, Classifieds. Reviewing previously discarded properties, they gathered agents' names and email addresses in order to let them know, "We're still in the market". Fourteen pages in the official YIPPEE notebook were penned by this massive land hunt effort. Amazingly, many inquiries (via phone or email) went unanswered.
Applying the same careful review process as was described in YIPPEE 3, a few promising land parcels did rise to the surface. Chris made a trek on May 5th to see 80 acres in Richford and 121 acres in Woodbury. Despite being within walking distance to Canada and having some lovely mountain views, Richford got ruled out immediately. The interior was strewn with logging leftovers and offered an unpleasant vibe to Chris. Conversely, he had an excellent vibe from the Woodbury Forest property and returned home excited about the prospect.
Stressed but hopeful, C&C rearranged, juggled, crammed and pushed off various tasks in order to make the trip to see Woodbury Forest, together, on May 8th. Because this was the longest trip Cassandra had been on in a while and interstate travel could not realistically be avoided, she was feeling far less than wonderful upon arrival. After recovery efforts got under way and bug deterrent was applied, Cassandra started hiking into the property with her pack and poles. Chris returned to town, without Cassandra, and refueled the vehicle for the return trip. Back at the property, he caught up with Cassandra; they hiked and discussed. Chris was a little disappointed that Cassandra wasn't more enthusiastic. But, she was feeling quite ill from the trip and doing her best to hike as well as study and imprint the land features in her memory for review later. Factors of time, weather, bugs, and illness, resulted in a relatively short hike: a few hours. After driving around a bit to assess the surrounding places, C&C headed home. The property was nicely cared for with appealing terrain and a beautiful setting. The views up top were phenomenal. There was good southern exposure. An email to the broker for more information let them know that this parcel could, indeed, work.
Adjacent to the Woodbury property, sat a small cabin on 10 acres, for sale through another agent. C&C investigated this and contemplated the idea of using that as the Welcome Center. The potential for relocating to a safer environ more expediently was appealing. An existing structure could, perhaps, reduce construction needs and also be leveraged off while the Main Living Area plans were implemented. With this particular cabin, and also the Woodbury Forest land itself, the main hurdle ended up being financial. While reasonably priced per acre, the Woodbury land had the highest list price of any property visited.
C&C's preferences to build safe and per plan notwithstanding, they retained the notion that an existing structure might be of benefit to them. Consequently, a new listing sent to them earlier that week, on May 6th, became more intriguing. It was for 92 acres in Jamaica, VT, on Turkey Mountain, with an existing trailer and garage. Additional information was requested, emailed and faxed the following week while Chris was away at training.
On May 13th, Cassandra received a call from one of the real estate agents she had talked with back in the fall. The Newfane 147 acre property, which she and Chris had been interested in, was now back on the market. The contract had fallen through. In Vermont, certain tests, such as soil percolation, cannot be done in the winter. Although the property did end up passing the test in late April, the buyer had gotten cold feet about all the work needed to build where it would perc. Since C&C plan on building in the middle of any property, this was not as much of a concern for them. Cassandra emailed Chris promptly and they decided it was worth reinvestigating. Cassandra arranged for the agent to fax the map and deed again.
Later, at home, Chris obtained, and bagged for review, the faxed material on the two properties: Jamaica and Newfane. He made the trek to view both on May 17th, returning home that night scratched and bitten. He had not applied bug repellant every two hours as instructed! He spent the majority of his time scouting out Jamaica. C&C already knew the property had a trailer and garage at the entrance, for possible use as the Welcome Center. Chris discovered a partial foundation on the property too; of no value to the yurtlings. Chris located some of the boundaries: enough to suggest good potential, but not nearly enough to get a solid assessment. The town of Jamaica itself seemed appealing to Chris; with its artsy coffee shop and public use restrooms. He headed over to the Newfane property for another hike; to find the location of the perc sites, and evaluate whether this land was truly worth considering again. It was.
After planning and preparations, C&C made a joint land trek on Friday the 21st. The Newfane property seemed more pressing. It had continued to generate interest over the winter, while sitting dormant as a contract-pending type of listing. Since C&C were somewhat familiar with it already, Newfane was visited first; with the idea that if Newfane immediately seemed like it would be ruled out, they could then head up to the Jamaica property. As it happened though, they were very encouraged and hiked until almost 8PM. First, Chris showed Cassandra the areas that had been perc tested already. They hiked further up the logging road to see an area Chris thought might make a natural home site. Continuing on, they searched for the boundaries. Previously, in the fall, when the land went under contract, C&C had not yet determined the boundaries. This time, a well marked boundary line was found and followed, to a point that seemed like a corner. Being unable to find any additional markers, they made their way along the hill in a downward direction, heading towards the entrance point and keeping an eye out for markers. Cassandra had started detoxifying more heavily. Afternoon sun had transitioned to evening dusk. Without any semblance of a logging trail to follow, it was rough going. After a while, they recognized an old logging road from their fall trek. What a relief! C&C returned somewhat more easily to the vehicle. By that time Cassandra was feeling better and they ventured a go at locating the boundaries on the north side of the property. The steep and rocky terrain eventually became exceedingly difficult; no further boundary markers were spotted. The exertion had given Cassandra another increase in detox symptoms. Turning to navigate back, through the, now darker, rough terrain, they determined that the Jamaica property would have to be viewed another time, and headed home.
An email with a few questions was sent to the Newfane listing agent. On Sunday the 23rd they received a reply stating that she couldn't continue marketing the property. The listing had expired and the owners were still not sure if they would relist it! But on the 25th, Cassandra got the phone call that the land had been listed again. Since Chris was in Arkansas that week, many discussions ensued, over email and phone: between C&C, and between Cassandra and the agent. The agent was hoping C&C would make an offer so the land would not be put under contract before they could decide (as had happened in the fall). C&C knew they could work some contingencies into their offer, but were hesitant to proceed until, at least, the boundaries were known to them. Eventually an arrangement was made for one owner to meet with Chris and walk the boundaries. This transpired successfully on Saturday the 29th. Happy with the results, C&C filled six pages in the YIPPEE notebook with their review and assessment of this property on the 29th and 30th. They pondered, discussed and came to a good understanding.
When C&C originally started looking at land, their building plans consisted of "let's put up a yurt and live in that". For people without MCS, that might, indeed, be an inexpensive and quick venture. For C&C, it is not. They must live in the interior and ensure good boundaries between the MLA and everything unsafe (the WC, as well as anything at or near the borders). As C&C's plans progressed, they became aware that the upper price limit used in their land search was set too high. Yet, in order to settle into a place with enough buffer to create a safe haven for C&C, where Cassandra could make better healing progress, finding the right land parcel remained of critical importance. The Newfane property certainly fit the aim of purchasing as much land as possible. The safe buffer zone considerations seemed to also be in place. While construction plans can be altered if need be; land cannot realistically be relocated or altered. C&C shudder at the thought of what might have happened if they had purchased land and started building before realizing the import of keeping MLA and WC apart. Living in, and struggling with, unsafe living environments for years, has impressed upon C&C the dedication needed to carefully proceed. They found encouragement in how this property had fortuitously come back onto the market after they had gained additional knowledge, climbed a steep learning curve, and made crucial adjustments to the building plans.
Setting aside other tasks, C&C quickly arranged a trip to see the Newfane land once more and make a few final assessments. Possibly due to increased activity for the Memorial Day weekend, or for some other unfortunate reason, Cassandra was exposed to something en route which made her quite ill. Upon arrival, steps were taken to counter this. C&C waited in the vehicle for a little while. Then, slathered in bug repellant, hiking commenced. Chris first led Cassandra to an area recommended by the owner as a potential home site. While standing on a rock, looking out across the landscape, C&C made their decision to buy the property, hugged and kissed. They also hiked over to the other potential home site and explored some more along another old logging road. Heading home, Cassandra was again hit by toxic exposures. After showers and attempts at recovery, C&C crafted an email to the agent with their offer intentions. The next day, the 31st, a holiday for most Americans, was hectic with Chris' preparations for travel, Cassandra's illness and then Chris' departure in the early afternoon.
As was done in Volume Three, the one-way driving distances and times (per Mapquest) from Poocham Road to each property's town follows:
- Montgomery: 167 miles, 3 hrs 32 minutes.
- Baltimore: 39 miles, 1 hr 4 minutes.
- Richford: 184.57 miles, 3 hrs 35 minutes.
- Woodbury: 128.01 miles, 2 hrs 31 minutes.
- Jamaica: 33.89 miles, 1 hr 10 minutes.
- Newfane: (to Williamsville, where Baker Brook Road begins) 19.72 miles, 42 minutes.
- There is no more for YIPPEE four -