55. The Cave under the Cottage

If you’ve ever been caving, you might know the feeling — a generic uneasiness as you’re thinking about it and hiking to the cave; several gulps and maybe some sweating when you see the entrance and realize it’s barely big enough for you to get your shoulders through; deep breaths to keep the panic away when the darkness envelops you; the urge to shout when you emerge from the dark hole in the ground. YES! I LIVED!

I went caving once when I was younger, braver, skinnier, and more bendable. I had to crawl downward into the entrance head first and had to stand on someone’s shoulders to be shoved out the exit. I never had the desire to go again, although I did feel euphoric when we all emerged from that tiny hole unscathed.

There is a cave under our cottage.

No, it's not a coal mine.No, it's not a cave.It's our very own access to the bowels of our cottage. And it's right in the kitchen!

No, it’s not a coal mine.
No, it’s not a cave.
It’s our very own access to the bowels of our cottage. And it’s right in the kitchen!

The opening is about 18″ square. You don’t have to go down head first, but you might have to stand on someone’s shoulders to be shoved out… There is another way in and out, but you still have to shimmy through the crawl space in the dirt and rock to get there. And that’s where the plumbing is. And that’s where the wiring is. And that’s where the gas line is.

caving 002We knew that Mr. H.C. would have to go down there. The gas line needed to be moved for our stove; the mouse chewed wires needed replacing with mouse proof aluminum BX cable, and the plumbing to the refrigerator needed to have copper line run to it. And we were hoping to add to the duct work to have another register in the kitchen floor.

We kept putting it off. There were thoughts about Spiders and Mice and Snakes, oh my, but the snakes were the biggest worry. We looked it up. (Mr. H.C. isn’t married to a librarian for nothing!) Rattlesnakes (not likely) hibernate in Pennsylvania until April. Copperheads (more likely) hibernate in our area until March. Hmmm. I tried to be upbeat, but after all, it wasn’t ME going down there. I would have taken his place, but I don’t know nothin’ ’bout nothin’. Let alone plumbing, wiring, and duct work…

Our neighbor said, “Ah, you’ll be okay. If you see a snake, just don’t corner ’em.”  That was the confidence Mr. H.C. needed. He packed up his biggest hatchet, put on his hat light, and strode off to the mines.

We sent Mr. Henry down first as a scout. Sort of like the canaries they send into the mines? He took one look at the opening in the wall and hopped right in — down the rabbit hole — eager to explore. He disappeared and in a few minutes was back, with only some dust on his whiskers and seemingly unconcerned, at least about mice or snakes.

the cat in the cave

The work went just about as smoothly as it could. Of course, I’m the one writing this, and I was also the one who was upstairs holding lights, feeding gas and copper lines, and handing down tools. The easy job. The clean job. Yep, those are the ones I like…

Mr. H.C. did not have the clean job. No, he didn’t. To grab the flexible gas pipe you see in the photo on the left, he had to slide up on his back in the dirt. The workable space diminishes as one gets further in — there is about an 11″ clearance between the floor joists and the ground. Did I mention dark?

caving 009
It looks as if he should be able to jump right out, but there is duct work in the way, so he had to slither through the crawl space to get out. Thank goodness he was the only one slithering — no snakes or critters of any kind, alive or dead, were spotted during this adventure.

caving 012And as if we don’t have enough holes in this floor, Mr. H.C. cut another one and in 15 minutes had the duct work fitted for a new register in the kitchen floor. With two registers and all the holes patched, this kitchen might be downright toasty next winter.

And Mr. H.C. was indeed, euphoric when he had climbed out of that tiny hole unscathed. How about a shower and a glass of wine?chardonnay on the porch

52. Now that we’ve seen the worst…*

We’ve been working on this little cottage every weekend for almost a year now.

We are no longer under any illusions. We know that the wiring is haphazard, the upkeep has been minimal, and it was built in fits and starts without much planning. (This is not to cast aspersions on previous owners and builders — they were our grandfathers and great uncles; they were our fathers and mothers, and we loved them.)


Checking to see how easy it will be to disconnect the sink faucets and drain…

We thought we were prepared for what we were going to see when we took out the cabinets.

We were wrong. WAY wrong. We were not prepared.

We were both so appalled that I only took one small picture, and that was AFTER we cleaned up the floor of insulation, mouse nests, hickory nuts, dead bugs, a mummified mouse, and an inch of mouse droppings. There was no photo of that, because, quite frankly, I don’t want to remember it.

But that wasn’t the worst.


Yes, in the picture above those ARE holes in the walls. See how the wall doesn’t appear to meet the floor? It doesn’t!

Yes, in the picture above, you can see mouse-chewed wire through the holes in the wall.

And yes, in the picture above, that IS a hole in the floor. Under the cabinet were three pieces of plywood about 8×12″ just sitting on the joists. Not nailed down. Of course, those boards moved when the cabinet was pulled out and dropped into the crawl space below. Basically, there was not a nailed down floor under the cabinets. We spent seven minutes staring aghast at the ground; we spent three minutes wondering if Gus the groundhog (see post 21. Apple Picking Time. ) would poke his nose into the kitchen; and we spent eighteen minutes scurrying around fixing it temporarily, so we could sleep at night. While I guarded the kitchen from Gus, raccoons, snakes, bears, or any other critter that could possibly make their way up that hole, Mr. H.C. found enough boards to cover the floor for now while we try to figure out what’s next. We are not wimps here; we’ve seen holes in the floor before…

Just one more polite rant: These cabinets were installed by a Professional Cabinet Company. What kind of professional would leave holes in the floors and walls and shrug and say, “Oh just leave it, the cabinets are going there anyway!”???

Right. A cabinet company that is still in business! Admittedly these cabinets were installed 35+years ago; but thirty-five years ago, did they still leave holes in floors? Now, we’ve all seen or heard horror stories of Professional Remodelers who have done irreparable damage to houses. Any stories out there? C’mon, the worst remodel saga you’ve ever seen — in 100 words or less. Let’s hear those stories!

Plans seem to change daily around here… And it’s not usually boring (unless you’re sanding windows…) So we’re off to buy metal lath, plaster, and some floor boards.

Let’s hear those stories…

*Mr. H. C. reminds me that this, very likely, is NOT YET the worst…

31. Lamenting the Lost Ladybugs of my Youth

Ladybug Lament

One ladybug is delightful,
Two ladybugs are nice,
Twenty-one ladybugs are frightful,
Thirty ladybugs will quite suffice.
Fifty-two ladybugs are a nation.
Seventy-four ladybugs are an

I lost count at 74 ladybugs last week. We were planning on painting an outside wall of the cottage; the day before we had finished scraping, caulking, and priming. Getting a coat of paint on that northwest side of the house, before the really bad weather set in, seemed judicious. As we were priming, there were a few ladybugs here and there, but nothing to remark about. Although Michael did say “Now that I’ve caulked up all the holes, the bugs will either be inside or outside.” Very prescient.

The next morning ladybugs were everywhere — inside, outside, on the ceiling, on the floor, on the windows, on the new door…
Yes, I know, bad poetry abounds. Bad times call for bad rhymes.

Remember when you were a kid and a ladybug landing on your sleeve was good luck? I remember running into the house with a lovely RED ladybug on my hand, shouting for everyone to look. We had to say the rhyme, “Ladybug, Ladybug fly away home, your house is on fire and your children will burn” before she flew away.
No, all ladybugs are not girls. This picture proves it:

Adult ladybugs Harmonia axyridis.

Adult ladybugs, Harmonia axyridis. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But all ladybugs in this country did used to be red, not orange or yellow or plain. Remember? The first ladybug I saw at the cottage this summer was red. I thought, “Yes! I am back in the countryside where there are real ladybugs again.” I haven’t seen another red one since. They are all that sickly rust-colored Asian ladybug Harmonia axyridis. This Asian lady beetle was introduced in the seventies (by the U.S. government) to control aphids on several agricultural crops, including pecans and soybeans. They are larger and more aggressive than our native ladybugs coccinella novemnotata, more commonly known as the nine-spotted ladybug. They not only eat aphids, but also crops (grape growers are calling them pests) and they are being accused of eating the larvae of the native ladybugs as well.

Most people believe the imported species has caused the decimation of the native species. Cornell scientists are studying the problem and are trying to reintroduce colonies of the native species. You can read about the Lost Ladybug Project here, and perhaps even become a Citizen Entomologist! I’m joining up!

For more information about the lost native ladybugs you can link to these articles:

1. Coccinella novemnotata, Nine Spotted Lady Beetle

2. Is That Ladybug Carrying a U.S. Passport?

3. Ladybugs : What Everyone Wants to Know

and don’t forget to read Eric Carle’s classic picture book The Grouchy Ladybug. No wonder she’s having a bad day — she’s being eaten by non-native species!

Never did get that side of the cottage painted… We didn’t want it to be spotted! We’re hoping for good painting weather for at least another three weeks…