Chap 10: Our first winter descends upon us

Click here to start at the beginning of the story of how Rosehaven Cottage came to be

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As the Christmas holidays of 2000 approached, the cool and rainy weather came. In our climate (a Mediterranean one similar to the South of France or Italy’s Tuscany), we don’t get rain all summer. The relieving rains finally come some time in October, with some of our first good storms occurring in November. By late November, the overnight temperatures hover in the 30’s-40’s (0-5 Celsius) and we begin to get our seasonal overnight fog. We were pleasantly surprised to find that our proximity to a major waterway leading to and from the San Francisco Bay (the Carquinez Straits) had a wonderful benefit—we could hear the fog horns late in the night as tankers and other cargo ships navigated the straits. I’d always wanted to live in a coastal town after having grown up in an inland valley. This was the closest I had ever come to realizing that dream. The fog horns' soft mournful sighs in the foggy distance late at night were a welcome sound.

The chilly nights were a stark contrast from what we had experienced when we first moved in during the heat waves of July and August. Chilly nights spent in an old house make one aware of every little draft—and we had many. The hallway floors had been removed, exposing the pine sub-floors with significant spaces between them. Cold air rushed in the quarter-inch cracks and chilled our feet when we traversed the hall between the bedroom and the bathroom. Edges around doors, such as the bottom edge of the door leading to the garage, were drafty too. We finally had to shove a towel under that door to keep cold air from flowing in and completely defeating our heating efforts.

The worst culprit for drafts was the room we had come to “affectionately” call “The Danger Room”. This room was part of the addition that had been built onto the house in the early 1960’s. The d├ęcor was indicative of the era and was completely out of sync with the rest of the late 40’s bungalow-style design of the house. My brother had told us of a similar room he'd seen in a friend's home that he had dubbed "The Danger Room" because it looked like all it needed was a mirrored disco ball hanging from the ceiling and techno/rave music blaring and it would make a perfect dance club called "The Danger Room".

The name stuck.

In the Danger Room, were the stairs that led to the half story that was also added in the early 1960’s. The stairwell appeared to be finished until one got halfway up the stairs and realized that the ceiling of the stairwell and the side wall into the large walk-in attic adjacent to the half story upstairs were completely unfinished. We could see the roof joists; the layer of roofing boards with the ends of shingle nails poking through; and the underside of the tar paper on the roof.

In the summer, going up the stairs was an interesting experience. Halfway up the stairs, the temperature around your head would suddenly rise to that of the interior of an oven. If you continued past the top of the stairs through a door into the large room that constituted the upstairs, then the temperature would go back down because the room was insulated. The stairwell wasn’t. It had never been finished since it had been built almost 40 years prior to us buying the house. That fact always baffled us.

With the cold nights of November and December, we discovered that this same un-insulated stairwell was now a draft corridor of major proportions. The cold air from the un-insulated attic that poured in large screened-permanently-open attic vents would come rushing down the stairs seeking the low point in the downstairs living areas. And we had two little kittens that wanted to do the exact opposite by rushing up the stairs and straight into every dirty nook and cranny of an attic space that hadn’t been cleaned in over 50 years.

Something had to be done.

The connection point between the old house footprint and the Danger Room was an 8-foot opening that probably had been a sliding glass door originally. Being an 8-foot opening made it the perfect dimensions for two standard sheets of plywood to be hung to block off the opening. It was the only way we could stay warm and keep our two curious kittens out of harm’s way. So up went the two sheets of plywood. Seemingly miraculously, our house became a whole lot warmer. Yes, we still had drafts coming in the floor in the hallway, but those were remedied somewhat with brown flooring paper and throw rugs.

Getting in and out of the Danger Room to get building supplies that we stashed in there was a bit tricky, so we eventually cut a door in the plywood and put it on hinges. With a sliding lock in place, it became a good makeshift passage door.

Sometime in late November, we experienced our first real rainstorm of the season. The rain came down in more volume than where we had lived only 35 miles south (one of the interesting characteristics of the micro-climate phenomenon of the San Francisco Bay Area). As the rain came pouring down in that first storm, we were confident that all would be fine because we’d had a full house inspection during escrow that had deemed our roof in good condition. Well, the inspection hadn’t checked the flashing along a seam in the differing roof lines between additions. Water came running in along a roof joist, followed gravity down, and ended up running in a steady stream straight into the middle of the Danger Room. At the time, we had no idea that a bent piece of flashing was at fault and we couldn’t climb the roof in the storm, so we put out pots and pans to catch the water and emptied them as they filled. We were truly living in a scene out of a movie—pots and pans filling with rainwater and all.

Fortunately, my brother came to the rescue during a break between storms and discovered the offending flashing. He straightened it and secured it with a nail or two. The leaks stopped and we haven’t experienced one since.

We learned a valuable life lesson during that first November and December. We learned to appreciate having a roof over our heads that kept us dry. We learned to appreciate having a warm draft-free home that kept us comfortable despite the elements. To this day, I often find myself including those two things in my prayers of gratitude, because I know there are still many in this world that live without one or both. I no longer take either of those blessings for granted.

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  1. I just wait for each new installment. I love this saga of the Danger Room... I can hardly wait for the Boom-Boom Room transformation!

  2. I especially love your last paragraph. I too appreciate my three great goods in life: a hot water shower, a comfortable bed and a good cup of morning coffee. Because I've lived at times without them...

  3. You are brave souls you two, for taking on this project.

    My daily gratitude prayer always includes a thank you for 'the peace & quiet, safety & security, and integrity of my home." That last bit about the integrity is because we recently found out our condo has building envelope issues...the bad news ($$$) will be delivered later this year. *sigh*

  4. Beautiful story, Cindy! I always love to read your Rosehaven Cottage stories. I understand what you mean about being grateful-I have gotten much more humble since moving to my current house. But my husband still calls me spoiled when I complain about not having nice big bathrooms with super jacuzzi tubs & big mirrors, and decent walk-in closets, and the like. I have learned to appreciate the little things, like a beautiful lightening show in the sky late in the eve, or the gorgeous crescent moon last night. There's so much that we take for granted... Thanks for reminding me, keep up the good work!

  5. You guys have sure been through a lot. An amazing story! Thanks for sharing. :)


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