Thursday, May 29, 2008

What's Happening at the House?

Well I can no longer pretend that updates on our home renovation project serve as writing exercises, but it doesn’t seem right to leave the saga without a conclusion.
My last post was in mid April, a full six weeks ago, so you would think that everything is done right? Well we are getting there. Dick Weaver tells me that he expects to be wrapped up by the end of next week. I just laugh at that since the guys installing the gutters have been AWOL for days and days.
Our fantastic framing crew installed new bead board on the porch ceiling, replaced all the soffits and fascia boards, and rebuilt the roof returns.

They gave me a day with a new definition of al fresco dining. But it didn’t last. By day’s end, the door had been replaced.

They also worked some magic on the back wall of the house. Apparently, it was a bit bowed. I had noticed the huge gap between the countertop and the wall before, but always assumed someone cut the counter wrong and had to patch. Nope. When the wall was pushed back into place, that counter cozied right up beside it.

The painters also showed up. Given my lack of imagination on colors the house now looks just like it did before we started, (aside from the fact that the siding looks like wood, but is concrete). With the addition of plywood and house wrap under the siding, we can have some confidence that the house will remain standing during our wild spring storms.

The inside trim and patching is done, but we are still waiting for a bit of paint.

We also have a new beam in the basement to hold up the Northeast corner of the house, and the mason stopped by to seal up some cracks and brick up a window.

The plumbers had real fun repairing the waste line leak in the basement. As compensation, we let them install this whomping big pump so that the washing machine could be properly drained into the waste line instead of the yard. They also re-routed the drain on the sump pump. Haven’t got a definitive answer on how to legally vent the hot water heater yet, but hope to have that wrapped up next week too.

While I was in Hartford Mark and Lady supervised and the same company that did the siding built the new deck. As it turned out the guy they had available is a finish carpenter, so this is one precisely built deck!

While we were off in Illinois, fishing and relaxing with family lots of activity went on. The front porch pad was demoed, and both the porch and the patio were framed up for the concrete pour.
One small problem was uncovered when the front porch pad was demoed. It appears that nothing was holding up the front door either. The sill was almost completely rotted. Today the crew cut out the bad wood and replaced it with pressure treated wood and metal flashing to keep water out in the future. Also the porch is now sloped away from the house. What a concept.

Today the concrete was poured and it is looking great.

And lo and behold, the gutter guys did show up.
We still have lots to do in the next week, but there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Writers Can Be Teachers Too

Yesterday afternoon I spent about thirty minutes talking with a group of teachers from Talcott Mountain Academy in Avon, Connecticut. That has me fired up a bit, and thinking about my work as education. I have been invited by the Student Council of visit the students and talk with them about Lou's War: The Stephensons in World War II. The day is being organized for language arts and social studies students who will conduct interviews with World War II veterans later this month.

Though I haven’t been in a classroom in years – either as a student or as a teacher – I often think of my work as educational. In writing non-fiction, my goal is to provide information that is useful to the reader. Here are a few rules I try to follow:

Write with an audience in mind. I can’t know where my writing will end up. A plant profile written for amateur gardeners may also be read by landscape architects. But, I have to decide which audience is my primary target. Will the reader know what is meant by the phrase “cold stratification” or must I explain?

Research the topic before starting to write. Even when writing about a topic I know well, some research is necessary. Reading what others have written on a topic often points to something new I can add. A rehash of what others have already written has little value for the reader.

Position the most important points up front in a news article. Begin with a brief who, what, when, where and why. As the story unfolds, peel off another layer of the onion and reveal more information. This allows the reader to decide whether to read only the first paragraph or the whole story. Either way the reader learns the central facts.

Stories need a beginning, middle, and an end. Stories that are read all the way to the end begin with an introduction that engages the reader quickly. The middle holds the meat of the story. To hold the reader’s interest, it must be presented in a logical manner. The material could be presented in chronological order, or for example, an article about a plant might first cover the positive characteristics of the plant, and then growing tips. The ending should wrap up and unanswered questions introduced earlier in the piece, and may offer conclusions and suggestions for further thought and study.

Leave the reader wanting to know more. And, provide some clues on where to look. Internet links to sites with supplemental information are a good place to start, along with books to read, movies to see and places to visit.

Next week I will have the opportunity to share my ideas about writing with a group of exceptional students. We also will be covering tips research and conducting interviews, and what I have learned about World War II, not from a book but from my father’s own experiences. I’m sure I will come away having learned more than I taught. I’m hoping to encourage a couple of students to try their hand as guest bloggers, so watch this space for that.