Thursday, November 22, 2007


There's been a bit of a pall cast over this year's approaching holiday season, mostly due to the following prospect: we are leaving our temporary housing as of Sunday and the house is not ready. Even if it WERE ready to move in to, "ready" is SUCH a relative term. The prospect of moving in right now involves accepting a living environment closer to camping out than moving into a finished dream house. The house is a complete disaster area with inches of saw/plaster dust covering every surface, tools spread out on every floor (the living room, office, and basement all have their own "workshops" set up on them), unfinished cabinets without shelves or doors or handles, floors that need tiling and some that need finishing, and miles and miles of finish work to be. Oh, and did I mention, no doors to any of the bedrooms? So, even IF the plumber comes Friday and gets the heat working and IF the carpenters finish the stairs and railings and IF we pass inspection...

...OK, OK, snap out of it, Ben! Get some perspective: we HAVE a home, albeit an unfinished one. Think of all the people in the world (in our own state, even) who don't have ANY housing, or whose housing barely meets their needs. Do you even hear one of those stories on the news about some place in the world where the people are experiencing such unimaginable suffering that it snaps everything into perspective and you realize you have NOTHING to complain about? And so much to be thankful for. So, here I am, snapping out of it. Stepping back and seeing the big picture, taking a deep breath. We have so much to be thankful for (come on, join with me here) family, friends, employment, plenty to eat, clothes to wear, a safe and warm place to live, a country that prizes freedom, tolerance, and justice. For all of these, I am grateful. Happy Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Sprinting toward the finish line

7:30-5:30 @ school; 6:00-8:00 w/ family for dinner + bedtime; 8:00-12:00 @ house working till I drop. Are we there yet? No time to write much today, just wanted to get some new pics up for everyone out there. More to come.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

This place almost looks DONE! (Just don't look inside...)

On Thursday the landscapers came and backfilled around the foundation, graded the lot for drainage, and built a gravel parking area. Since the entire lot had to be cleared in advance of this, the result is not only the final grading but a clean site - a first in months. For the first time I actually feel like I am looking at a finished product. What a great feeling. Since Thursday we have been hit by the tail end of hurricane Noel and got a fair amount of rain. I drove over to the site last night and took a look at the drainage situation. With one small exception, the site was draining perfectly. Of course, since all the soil had been loosened the mud was deep. I am hoping that with time it will compact and be more navigable. Right now it's basically unpassable. Like the deck, we really can't afford any landscaping per se but also like the deck, there is a certain amount we HAVE to do. For example, I need to create some kind of path from the parking space to the front steps. We also need to something about the lack of any ground cover. Since it is too late in the year to grow grass, we will have to do something creative about the mud situation. The landscaper recommended spreading hay all over the site. This will keep the kids off of the mud in the winter and spring. In the dryer months it can be raked up and grass seeded. Or whatever. Still, I think the hay-thing won't look very nice...but then, given the options, what else can we do? Any thoughts out there?

Grown-man's Treehouse

When I was a kid a neighbor had this *amazing* treehouse: multiple stories and a view that, at the time, seemed like it went for miles. I guess I have always wanted a tree house of my own -- and now I do! When I asked our architect Noah of Jasonoah Design Build to sketch up some ideas for a deck, I knew I would not get something "typical". That, of course, was the whole idea. If you have been a long-time reader, you may recall those plans (if not, click here.)

As I wrote earlier, budgetary restrictions (what budget?!?) forced us to use materials that were not what we ideally wanted: witness the stair risers made of primed trimboard and the pressure treated lumber. Sigh. I had envisioned mahogany to match the front stairs and wire cable railings, etc. Perhaps some day.

It was fun to watch the builders take off the temporary braces (which were perpendicular to the ground) and add in these diagonal braces. They have been incredulous all along about this design (probably because they have never built a treehouse!). They just shook their heads and smiled...a pretty common reaction at our site...But you can't deny: it looks SO COOL!

We initially had planned NOT to build the deck this round because we just didn't think we could afford it. Actually, that part has not changed - we STILL can't afford it (thank God for generous credit card companies!) We didn't even have a door planned for the second floor location you see here, just a tall window roughly the size and shape of a door which we would put in later. But the town said that we had to have another egress from the second floor, and in an instant we were forced to confront another major expense. The choice was between putting in just a small landing and a staircase to the ground or build the whole thing. It just seemed to make sense to go all the way. So, here we are.

(Be sure to click on this to enlarge) The addition of the treehouse deck will enhance the entire living experience of our new house. With the living spaces on the *second* floor and no way to quickly access the outside my fear was that we might feel somewhat "trapped". The addition of the treehouse deck means that we can enjoy dinners outside (which we like to do pretty much every night in good weather), parties will have a place to expand, and SOMEDAY I will have a quiet place to take coffee on the weekend...


At long last the plasterers returned and they seem to be staying until the job is done. (One of the biggest frustrations of working with all these contractors is the common practice of beginning a job then disappearing for a day, two days, even a week before returning to finish the job.) In the image above, you are looking at the street end of the downstairs well as the mess that these plasterers make! (This we were told to expect.)

The view up the main stairs to the second floor.

Detail of plaster and timbers. Our builder does a lot of antique timber frame work so he has a plasterer who knows how to negotiate exposed beams. All along I have been looking forward to seeing what this would look like - the plaster up against the barn's timbers. The way this shot (above) is framed it looks like some artist's abstraction. This abstract quality in modern architecture is the hallmark of minimalism. Of course, our house is not a true minimalist house, but there are "minimalist moments" that (for me) really enhance the building's beauty.

This shot (above) really doesn't do it justice, but the upstairs is really shaping up nicely. It is here that the modern and the antique come together most noticeably. Again, up until the contractors/builders actually finish a particular detail everything is purely conceptual. We imagine what it will look like and how it will feel, but the outcome is a mystery and never certain. When it begins to finally come together piece by piece, bit by bit we can begin to catch glimpses of what the end will be. In this case, I am very pleased with the results.

When I arrived on site Friday evening (it was already after dark) as I came downstairs I heard an awful sound: water, like the sound of a tap left slightly open and dribbling into the basin. Now, we don't HAVE running water in the house yet and as there was nobody there...I freaked out. This (above) was the culprit. The plasterers had hooked up a hose to the basement water service to mix their plaster and had not QUITE turned off the hose. The hose was in a large plastic barrel and had filled the entire thing to the top and then had begun to overflow across the master bedroom floor. Eventually it had found a hole or two and was cascading down to the basement. There were two small waterfalls, and this was the sound I was hearing echoing throughout the house. FORTUNATELY I caught it soon after it had begun to overflow and was able to stop it before it had gotten too far. There won't be any damage. That subflooring material is really tough (it was exposed to the elements for months before we got a roof on the house) and the puddle in the basement was small and will dry before long as well.

This is the boys' loft. You can see the challenges posed by the exposed frame of the barn. There are many places where the beams protrude from the plaster and I am sure this has slowed down their progress. Still, they are doing a careful job and I think the results are going to be really beautiful. I believe they will be finishing up the job on Monday, at which time the plumber and electrician are free to return and finish their work. This week will be an important one. I am hoping (praying!) that, contrary to what experience has taught us, they will be prompt and finish up quickly. Occupancy will not be far behind.