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Month: August 2011

Concrete Floors

Concrete Floors

August has been quite the month.  We had what can only be termed as a scheduling ‘bottleneck’.  Several jobs that had to be done but were all interdependent and required some very fancy footwork to fit it all in.  We had to rough in the electrical, finish the rough plumbing, put down the heating pecs on the main floor, pressurise the heating system, pour and level a concrete floor (so that it is ready for polishing in September and allows enough time for the kitchen to go in so there was a two day window in which it could be done) and fit the windows.  All of this had to happen in the space of 1 week.  Fun.

In about two weeks the floor will be stained and sealed to finish it, providing us with a durable, beautiful and environmentally sound floor that will be cool in the summer and warm in the winter.  It will also be a uniform colour that will link together the whole downstairs space, we didn’t want lots of different flooring types breaking up the line of the open plan rooms.  We hope that this way it will feel more like one, fluid space rather than divided up rooms.

And while all of that has been going on inside, the siding has started outside.  This is the first of three finishes that will be used outside.  It is grey steel siding which will last for 100 bajillion years and matches the steel roof.  On the top half of the house we are going for white stucco and the front will have no steel but a mix of stucco and cedar.

Without anything to break it up the siding is pretty dominating right now.  Stephen would probably use words like modern, purist, industrial.  I use words like aircraft hanger.  But part of the design aesthetic  of the house is to give it an agricultural and quite unassuming look from this approach, though it will be softened once the stucco goes on and we put in some planting.  Stephen loves it, I can’t quite get the sound of a Vulcan bomber revving out of my mind whenever I look at the garage.

Time will tell.

I worry about these things, but then I wander onto the ground floor and watch the sun dip over the horizon.  Earlier and earlier the evening cools and the shadows grow longer across the so green grass.  And at the moment I know that the colour of the siding is not the most important thing about this house.

This is.

Windows

Windows

We’ve hit a seminal moment in the build, we have windows!

This is a moment we have been waiting for since Stephen first designed the house.  The windows compromise something like 10% of our budget (which is much higher than average) and are central to the design of the house.  Stephen wanted to create the feeling of almost being outside when inside, to blur the division between our inside home and our outside one and I think he has succeeded.  Each room frames beautiful views, like mini masterpieces; each unique and perfect.

When Stephen was designing this house I said I wanted it to be “filled with light” and so it is.  Each room feels as though it only has three walls, the fourth is a wall of glass.  As well as being aesthetically and spiritually pleasing the glass serves another purpose, heat.  In the winter months we will achieve a goodly amount of ‘solar gain’, warming the house at no cost to ourselves or the environment.  This is based on the Passivhaus model, though we don’t quite have the bajillions of dollars it would cost to build a fully passive house!

The overhangs on both floors are 3ft, cutting out the high summer sun and keeping the interior pleasantly shaded (but still light).  In the summer the sun sets to the far west of the house where there is only 1 window and that is shaded by the study wing so it still isn’t receiving heated sunlight in those sweltering months.  But because the house is orientated South West we are already beginning to benefit from the movement of the sun as he moves to his more southerly position.  During these last days of summer, with our cooler evenings and fresher breezes, we are now able to bask in the setting sun spilling over our threshold and lighting up our evenings.  That perfect light outside tinting everything with gold.

9 months ago Stephen stood in this spot, surrounded by snow and freezing as the winter winds blasted him.  He watched the sun, worked out it’s movements, brought together all his knowledge and reading and then decided on the orientation of the house.  Now we stand at exactly the end of August as the season cools, watching the sunshine spill in and knowing it will continue to do so throughout the winter and spring.  But when the summer heat burns we will be sheltered from it, as we’ve seen these last few months.

He really is a clever bugger.

Sights of Sunday

Sights of Sunday

Today was cool with a brisk wind, the tail of a hurricane brushing past us.  The cooler weather suits me, I can walk the fields in jeans, the wind taking away the heat of the walking.  The boys ran freely, jumping on a fallen tree and gathering flowers to be stuffed in pockets and given as a gift to the big oak tree (in exchange for wishes).

A cosy afternoon at home, the house smelling of granola, my arm tired from whipping a double batch of mayonnaise;  movies for the boys snuggled on the sofa, some daddy made popcorn a tasty treat for all.  Mummy is dreaming of her next sewing project, perhaps I’ll get started today.  Perhaps not.

I think of my house, with it’s windows at last and hope it is safe and cosy.  A good day.

Karma And Concrete Floors

Karma And Concrete Floors

It’s only been a couple of weeks since my last post, but it feels like an age. Why is it that when you’re say relaxing on the beach, or pottering around the garden, time slips past as quickly as a German in a sports car.

But when, just for example, you’re stressing about concrete floors, delivery of windows, construction loans, build costs and whether your children have finally and irretrievably broken your wife, it goes about as fast as a chain-smoking asthmatic doing the 100m dash in flip-flops. If anything, time seems to deliberately slow down so you can savour the low points all the better.

It really isn’t fair and is the fourth thing I’m going to be having words about with The Authorities when I finally shuffle off this mortal coil. For those of you interested, my first three items to discuss being:

  1. Belgium, really?
  2. Why are cows so difficult to draw?
  3. Speeding up Karmic retribution
In particular, I could do with #3 being reviewed asap. It would be pleasing to know that our window salesman had contracted, just off the top of my head, a nasty case of genital herpes for being such an arse and messing up our window installation schedule. Or that the utterly incompetent buffoons (I love that word) at HSBC suddenly and inexplicably lost the ability to count beyond 27. Although, on reflection, that actually might already be true.
Fortunately, we’ve been lucky enough to discover some stars in the last couple of weeks. In particular, a big shout to James, the Concrete Guy. I must admit that my first impression of him wasn’t favourable. He was making demands on Dave and myself at the eleventh hour for a gravel ramp for the concrete truck so that his team didn’t have to push wheelbarrows up a wooden one. Aww, bless. I mean, it’s not that I’m unsympathetic. I’ve shifted tons of concrete, tamped it down while my arms burned against the clock (and lost), troweled it and carted it. It’s a hard job for fit guys. But then I never got paid $4,500 to lay a slab. So my general feeling was one of “suck it up princess and stop blubbering”.
But Dave The Man is a compassionate GC. He called in a favour with Big George, one of our farming neighbours he’s friends with. Big George used George The Tractor and built the ramp. I’d have loved to get a photo of “George On George” because let’s face it, there are loads of amusing images to conjure up there. Unfortunately, I didn’t and so I’ll have to leave it to your imagination.
But in the end, James The Concrete Guy did an excellent job. The floor is smooth and ready for our stains / polishing in a few weeks. In fact, most things have been better this week, so perhaps like Earl, karma is rewarding me for not losing the plot with them all. The windows are getting fitted over the weekend, our new bank (TD Canada) released the construction loan, Dave’s ahead of schedule with the steel siding and I even got my dome garage erected with a huge amount of help from a new friend, Shaun.
Now the weather is turning, we’re a definite step closer to being weather-tight and the August Crunch is almost done. After this weekend there shouldn’t be any big surprises (although there will certainly be lots of little ones). There’s still stucco work on the exterior and a whole pile of jobs to do inside, but we’ll have electricity hooked up soon and running water will follow a day or two after. That’ll do nicely.
Sights of Sunday

Sights of Sunday

It has been a rainy and cool Sunday, allowing for some enjoyable kitchen time without the risk of melting in front of the oven.  I’m making the most of it.

I’m now in the habit of collecting scraps for the chickens as I cook through the day, they love these fresh treats and give us wonderful treats in return.  This weekend I’ve tried two new eggy recipes, a hand made mayonnaise and some lovely mini meringues.  I love the bright yellow colour of the mayonnaise and the flavour was yummy too.  We enjoyed chicken and mayo sandwiches, tuna mayo on baked potatoes and a good splodge on the side of our home made gujons tonight.

The left over whites were turned into these cute meringues which we ate with whipped cream (and some strawberry jam for those who wanted it), still a little warm and chewy in the centres.  If there is a better way to end a day I can’t think of it.

Hoping you had a weekend filled with tasty treats and happy times.

Vanity

Vanity

In an effort to begin clearing out some of the extraneous stuff that is hanging around our house and cluttering our cupboards, I collected a box of said stuff for donation.  A new thrift store has opened in town so this trip afforded the perfect opportunity to peruse and drop off.  Guilt free perfection.

Speaking of perfection, on my way to the cash desk I did a last circuit and found this:

The perfect aqua green and in as new condition.  Not a stitch out of place, not a mark on the lining.  Bliss.  When I was little my Mum had a case like this that held a hairdryer device from the 60’s, my sister and I spent many (many) hours frying our noggins, our heads wrapped in the plastic cap, warm air blowing over our ears.  We would stop and swap when the ear burning became too much, but even then reluctantly.

When I went to the cash desk the young woman asked me if this was a sewing case.  I explained to her that it is a vanity bag, a travel case that a woman would take with her on holiday or a night away, it would hold cosmetics, shampoo, a hair dryer; everything she would need to be presentable whilst abroad.  I tried to ignore the strong feeling I had of being about 190 years old as the young woman listened to my explanation with some interest but no comprehension.  “That’s a lot of cosmetics!” she said, I smiled and took my case away, clutching it lovingly.

The satin fabric inside reminds me of the curtain in a theatre, shiny and glamourous.  This case is from a time when going away was A Big Deal, travel was not simple or easy and the province of the few.  This case will have been filled, not just with belongings but with anticipation.  I imagine it belonged to an air hostess, packing it ready for a trip on the Overnight to Dallas.  Or a business man’s wife, off to some far away destination (Toronto? New York?) to mingle with the great and good in restaurants and at conferences.

I’m not sure what I’ll fill it with, my first thought was to put perfume bottles in it, that seems suitably chic and fitting.  But I worry that might change the smell.  The smell is exactly the same as the case my Mum had, that blissful mix of talc and mildew that speaks of aged feminity.  So for now I think I’ll keep it as it is, empty of belongings but full of echoes.  Full of what used to be.

Making Our Mark

Making Our Mark

When we first bought our land we were struck by the sheer beauty of the natural world here;  the trees, the sky, the rotting vehicles rusting in the sunset.  Ok, not so much with the rotting vehicle love but unfortunately there were plenty of them.  Despite there being way more lovely I couldn’t quite get past this sort of thing.

It would hurt to see this stuff all over our beautiful land, it felt like an affront.   Now when I walk to this part of the field (nearby but not on the exact spot, we’ve decided not to plant or raise living things in that area) I see this:

Much, much better.  Our chicken houses may not be utterly stylish just yet (I have painting plans) but they are beautiful to my eye and show the land is productive once more.

Another offender in the inherited junk stakes was a gloomy old shed/building out the back of the house.  It sat grey and hulking, threatening to fall but not quite doing it.   Glaring at us with it’s broken windows, it symbolised the neglect and abandonment this place has suffered.

Now, however, it looks like this:

The burnable stuff will be part of our Bonfire Night party, the metal will go to the scrappy and the plastic to the landfill (unfortunately).  In the place of the Horrid Shed of Possible Murder (over active imagination?  moi?) is this beauty:

A mere 14 hours of hard labour in high humidity by Stephen and our friend Shawn (heroes both of them) turned one of my least favourite places into a cosy home for George the tractor.  As well as being testament to what two hard working chaps can do in a day, it takes us a step closer to turning our land into a small farm and keeps our precious tractor safe and snuggly.  Perfect.

And last but not least:

Um, well, yes…it may not look like much now, but I can assure you when the elements have done their work this will be the pond to end all ponds.  What used to be The Boggy Pit of Tractor Eating Hell (snaps to our neighbour Dave who rescued George from the bog and also pointed out that the wettest point on our land would be the perfect spot for a pond), is now a 15ft deep pond with a duck extension that is 3ft deep.  I’m assured by Hector, one of our excavators, that 3ft deep is the optimum for ducks and that they don’t like anything deeper so an extension was dug!

The pond has also provided us with around 200+ loads of fill (at $200 a load that is a big saving) and we may even be able to run a geothermal pump through it at a later date.  Even if not it will be a happy playground for future ducks and geese as well as a watering hole for local wildlife.

Although the house is the major project I’m also seeing how we are making our mark on the land too, beginning to shape it into a farm, bringing something neglected and abandoned, back to life.

Beauty Unexpected

Beauty Unexpected

It would appear that an August sunset can make even the most innocuous things seem beautiful.  At our farm last night I was struck by the beauty of everything I looked at, bathed in the golden fire of the retiring sun.

The sunlight washed our newly finished concrete basement floor and kissed the walls and land around.  Even a humble bin bag reflected its glow.  Progress is being made on the house (an update soon I promise) and we are moving ever closer to being in this place full time.  We are making our mark (in not quite solid concrete and other ways) and lingering just a little longer each time we are here.

The glowing sky follows us as we head home, ready for bed but not ready to leave.

The First Draw

The First Draw

It’s now three months since we broke ground on this build way back in May. Half of the time we’d allotted has been consumed with the big stuff: earthworks, wells, foundation and basement, framing, roofing and chicken coops.

The remaining months are, to put it poetically, like a fat Geordie in a lycra dress: squeezed in way too tight and at serious risk of collapsing in an ugly mess the minute things get too funky. Or, to put it another way, tight enough to make your heart stop.
Windows, polished concrete floors, bathrooms, kitchens, electric and plumbing, plasterboard, even stairs need to be done. There’s the outer sheath of steel siding and stucco to put on, a wood stove to install, internal doors to hang, heating and the small matter of a septic bed to lay.

I suggested to Emma that Dave The Man and his Merry Crew could work weekends and evenings but that went down like a liberal manifesto at a Tea Party rally (bit of politics there for my American readers). So, reluctantly I have to accept the odd day slipping here and there for vacations, plumbers that fail to show up and lightweight jessy concerns that it’s too hot to work on the roof when the thermometer nudges 40C.

For all that, I’m not alarmed (even though I probably should be). At 50% time complete, we’re only 35% done with the work. But the reason for my unrealistic optimism is simple. It’s because what we have completed is unabashedly, unreservedly, unmistakably…astonishing. Like a pint of Guinness, the best things come to those who wait and we really have waited for this.

From the south it’s clean, box structure is clear. Unlike anything the Ottawa Valley has ever seen before, the south face is pretty much just glass. Every room will be flooded with brilliance and vistas. Then turn around to the west face and you are presented with a very different perspective. Here you can see the slope of the single pitch roof, the height and delicate stacks of the building.

Around on the north face, it’s all business. Very few windows so we conserve heat and retain privacy from the road. Once the siding is on this perspective will have an almost agricultural or industrial feel.

 

Similarly from the east, there are very few windows to reveal what lies beyond. Only the vast solid oak Portal of Doom (otherwise known as the oversized front door) we’ve bought from an architectural salvage yard will hint at the grandeur inside.

 

Finally, the clear-span interior design is starting to be visible now that the supporting struts have been taken away.
This sounds like a little thing, but it’s almost as important to the design as the windows. Like the Tardis or your mother’s handbag, the space inside feels bigger than you know it actually is because there are no pillars to obstruct the eye. Every room is unified and part of the whole, no corner of it cut off or expected to be “low traffic”. So even though it’s smaller than our last home by 10%, we’re probably getting much more usable space.
That’s further reinforced by the views from every room that are open and draw the eye outside. When we have the money next year, I’ll be building a patio off these ground floor sliding doors / windows. That should add to the available living space and unify the inside and outside. Until then, we’ll have to be content with the view of fields and forest.
Of course, talking about money, there’s a price to pay for all this luxury. We’ve managed to get this far with our savings but, like a first year student who’s heard the rumour of a cheap pint, wandered into the wrong Gentleman’s Club and ended up having way too much fun, we’re about to come face to face with the ugly end of a whole lot of bills. Luckily, Canadians are a rather pleasant bunch so while I don’t expect a visit from “Norman The Negotiator” and an invitation to inspect his Very Deep Pit, I could do without the disappointed looks and lifetime ban at Roots. My sister simply couldn’t live without their high quality hoodies.
So, taking advantage of the prolonged global economic recession and plummeting stock markets, we’ve landed ourselves a rather sweet deal with the bank. Disappointingly, we’ve had to ditch HSBC, our long-standing filthy money-lender of choice on account of them transforming over the last 18 months into a bunch of utter morons with the customer service skills of your average earthworm and all the charisma of an unwashed arse. Instead, we’ve gone all Canadian and signed up with TD Canada. Mainly because the “D” in TD stands for Dominion and that’s all Sisters of Mercy-esque.

I mean, who wouldn’t borrow a boat load of cash from a man who wears big sunglasses at night and has the singing voice of a depressed gargoyle? As you can imagine, I was trembling with excitement for my first meeting with them. Unfortunately, in a devastatingly cruel twist of fate, our personal banker at TD Canada turns out to be a middle-aged chap called Allan. He offered me a cup of tea and told me about his passion for cycling.

Pushing aside my crushed expectations, Allan Not A Goth, explained that unlike a normal mortgage, i.e. where your lawyer gets all the money in one big payment, takes his dirty undeserved cut and then sends the little scrap that remains to the poor sod you’re buying from, it works differently for self-build construction. These loans are done in draws and you need to be as quick as John Wayne and twice as smart to work the buggers out.

We’re 50% of the way through our build, have spent nearly 45% of the budget, done 35% of the work, but only get less than 30% of the money. That’s bank logic if ever I heard it. I’m a reasonably intelligent man and know my way around a quadratic equation, but the way they work out how much money you can “draw” can only be decipherable by bankers or blissed out Fine Art students who have done way too many mushrooms.

Eventually though I did work it out, which is a little worrying since I haven’t been anywhere near a mushroom in years and quite frankly would rather pluck out my own pubic hair than become a banker. All I can imagine is that it has something to do with being a Jedi Knight.

Anyway, using my new-found multi-dimensional mathematical ability, I’ve put in place a schedule of draws that should keep as much of our money out of the filthy grubby hands of banks and lawyers while enabling me to pay The Man. All is good, and the massive crater that appeared on our land last week can now be filled up with water for swimming and ducks, instead of a very deep hole for dealing in a very British way with very debt-ridden dreamers.

Hope you all enjoyed the photos. More will undoubtedly be coming soon!