Sunday, December 30, 2012

When the family's away... Kitchen Building!

A lovely, relaxed, wet and cold outside, warm and semi-dry inside, Christmas was had at the new farm.

Then, the next morning, Alexe and the munchkins packed up and headed to Virginia to spend a little quality time with Alexe's family. (They've arrived safely, and are having a fine time.  Started missing them late last night.)

Which has left me here, with three dogs, a cat, four pigs, and endless projects. (The chickens have been eaten / run off by Olive, one of the new pups.  Goldilocks, the little one, has just crawled into the crook of my arm and fallen asleep as I type, feet up, fire crackling, VPR streaming APHC in the background.)

Wed. saw a ton of errands getting taken care of.  The french doors, 8 sets, have been ordered, for example, though they won't be ready for 5 weeks.  Plenty of things to do in the mean time.

Thursday I headed up to Memphis to meet our kitchen sink, which came down from North of Memphis.  A craigslist find, the sink I've always wanted, born on Jun 20, 1962, a big deep double basin ceramic beast.  No drain board, so if you see one of the old detachable porcelain deals around, please let me know.

Interesting story behind the folks who sold us the sink.  At 16 the woman gave a child up for adoption. The child was three months premature, had several health issues including a hole in the heart, and she never knew if he made it or not.

Flash forward 32 years to 2008, she is married to a meth addict in Colorado, her son is working nights in a grocery store in TN, he's looking for her but knows nothing beyond her name and is having no luck.  A coworker hears his story, repeats it to a friend, who happens to be the mother's cousin, who makes the connection.  They arrange a visit, the mother flies to TN, and never goes back to her abusive husband.  They've been living together since, and seem shocked by the contrast of their current happiness to everything that came before.

I did a few things in Memphis, went to Whole Foods and was shell shocked by the prices, ended up walking out with yogurt and tofu and two slices of bad pizza.  My last stop was a demolition company that salvages architectural stuff, to see if they had a cool tub, spiral staircases, and some used bricks. 

My last attempt to buy some used bricks resulted in an elderly lady acting like I was a hoodlum trying to stick her up at her front door, so I was ready to buy them.

I got lost, and ended up winding my way through some run down neighborhoods on my way to the demolition company.  A few blocks away I passed a pile of rubble covered with guys pulling scrap metals out of it.  I rolled down the window and asked what was going on, they were defensive and said the owner had knocked the old building down the day before, and said anyone could take anything they wanted.  I said cool, and drove on to the demo company.

It was closed.

So I turned around, went back to the pile of rubble, and asked the group if anyone was taking the bricks.  They said nope, so I back up and spent an hour loading up.  I fielded lots of questions about why I was bothering with old brick as guys around me dug out I-beams, copper wire, etc, and I dustily stacked chipped bricks.  

I stopped when the truck springs sagged impressively, and drove home.

It took another 2.5 hours to clean, unload, and stack them inside.

There was a delay, as Alexe, on her vacation, is anxious about her store, and I took a shift to pick up produce and make the store look full and beautiful for the weekend.  Only thing I have to say about that, I'm glad Alexe loves what she does.  Ooof.

It was maybe 2 on Friday when I was home, all supplies in place, and could start laying out the kitchen.  Alexe and I figured out the counter plans before she left, but it's a ways from lines on a floor to lovely brick supports for those counters.

And I've never laid any bricks.  With a trusty book, and a bunch of mortar-sized wood spacers I cut, I started dry-laying to see how it would look.

I quickly became annoyed with that process, and mixed up some mortar.  First thing was to get my supports in place, at least up to the level of the more intricate work that would tie them together.  These seven+ pillars took six freakin' hours.  I went to bed at 1 am, tired, dusty, and a bit discouraged.

(Notice the lovely sink in the background, inside courtesy of my good friend Casey, who showed up 5 minutes after I reached out for help.)

It's not any more impressive from this angle.

The next morning I was back at it.  I suppose this isn't the best starting point for learning how to build in brick.  In my book the arches are in the back chapters...

I spent a little time figuring out the angles, and made a form from one of the old arched windows I replaced in the building.  This was a bit of a cheat, as I was able to skip the arch-brick ratio calculations and piggyback the calculations that had been done when these windows were fit to the brick arches at the building.

I was at it all day.

I took breaks to add wood to the fire, and eat every now and again, but for the most part I didn't leave this room.  For 14 hours.

It was a balance of pleasant, with VPR streaming their excellent Saturday programming schedule, (oh, how I wish the Mississippi public station was better,) and underlying annoyance that it was progressing sooooo sloooowly.

I could only mix half a bag of mortar at a time, adding a scoop of Portland cement to make sure the structure will withstand kids and dogs and many, many years of living.  Racing stiffening mortar, adding water and remixing, picking up the scrapings from the floor and remixing, repeat, repeat.

By midnight I had something that finally felt like it was somewhere.  Yes, it's less than half of the kitchen, but it turned the corner, and is flat across the top, ready for the counter to be set.

I have one more arch to tie around the corner, and the rest will be a series of columns and square-ties similar to the short edges already done, to work around the stove and sink/dishwasher.  I'm going to give the arch another day to cure before taking the form out and moving it to do the other one.

There's plenty of other stuff to do today.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Two week catchup.

A rough two weeks.

The national tragedies hit us all hard, with Alexe being particularly hammered.  She is not the most empathetic person in the world, but the death of defenseless children breaks through her barriers, and she has struggled since she heard the news from Connecticut.

The store has had personnel issues, which Alexe also does not weather well  Dealing with a stealing employee, widespread sickness that has called Alexe in to work on her rare days off, the last of the used coolers that we haven;t replaced with new deciding to kick the bucket, and the general holiday business has weighed her down.

At home, this place has a long way to go.  It's hard to relax, for both of us.  Me because it's like living at my job, and Alexe, because she not particularly patient, and I've destroyed any chance of impressing her with excessive showing off in the past.  

And then there's the rampant illness, that has had both kids run through a puking bug, Alexe through the same, and though I dodged that bullet, I had an old friend the sinus infection come to visit, and halfway through the first round of antibiotics, it decided to fight back hard.  I'm now on a three week course of very strong anti-s, paired with a very large steroid taper.  That would be why I'm awake after midnight, and writing here.  

In all this, many good things have popped out of the woodwork.

We have new tenants for the apartment, and they're proving to be an interesting, cool couple who get the area and are actively enthused about living here.  Both are accomplished in their professional field (photography) and freshly back from many years living overseas, and you can feel them sighing with comfort and pleasure into the slower, more friendly opportunities of this neck of the world.

Projects have continued, though my pace, and mood, are always the first thing to start failing when the infections set up camp in the middle of my skull.

The stairs to the second story have been relocated, and now the house feels much more fluid and connected.  To make this happen the upstairs bathroom had to go.

This very heavy cast iron tub was installed and then framed around.  It was a *^*&^) to get out.  Alexe lent a hand.

View from the living room, in the original section of the house.  Doorway being cut.

You can see how the two story addition was added at a lower grade, putting the second story maybe 5 feet above the floor of the original house.

Ah, cutting stair stringers.  

The toilet is out on the front porch.  A necessary badge for any house under construction/renovation.  The temporary pine treads will be replaced with oak as soon as the dark tung oil dries.

The kids and I took a local Christmas shopping cruise down Main Street.  Caspian was very helpful in the hardware store.

Annaliese took a couple days off from school.  The first was because she was puking, the second was because she told her mother, on the way to school, that she felt sick again.  The moment she was back home with me, she was happy as a clam, and following me with non-stop chatter as we continued on my agenda for the day.  It turns out she had made an interesting connection:  Candy is bad for you, (as we tell her) and she had been sick.  Her teacher, who she adores, gave her candy. Then she got sick.  So... her teacher was poisoning her with treats, so she couldn't go back to school.

We cleared that up, and she went back to school the next day, but I had lots of fun with her as a helper. Separately these two kids are much more fun to spend time with right now; together they are almost constantly at each other's throats.

Anyhow, we went to pick up some cinder blocks at the Other Other Place, (lumber yard / hardware store, a fun story there,) and after driving around back to load up the truck, we met this starving young stray.  She had shown up in one of the storage sheds that morning, and the loaders were worried she was going to get hit if she stuck around there.  Annaliese played with her while we loaded the truck, and when it was time to go, she hopped in and came home with us.

We have been ready for a new pup.  We have the room, and Shadow, while a great dog, is sleeping 23 hours a day, and her hearing is going.  Her guard dog duties have been slipping, and her constant flow of urine have ben vexing, though after her long years of service, she's earned a few ruined rugs.

This young pooch is great.  She may have eaten a couple chickens, and crayons, and chicken food, and anything else the poor starving thing thinks she needs to choke down in case she doesn't find food tomorrow, but I'm optimistic she;ll get through that.  She also had a pooping problem around the house, not helped by her gorging, but we borrowed a crate, and that has almost eliminated that problem.

We named her Olive.  Think Popeye.

At some point we squeezed in a family walk, and I was able to show off the reclamation work I've been doing on the back 10 acres.  This section was an impassable thicket a week ago.

Caspian marched to the top of the hill through the oak forest, and we found a turtle shell.

Olive.  Sitting on the tractor.  Which has given me some trouble.  We've had a couple of cold snaps, mornings in the 20s, and the tractor was not starting.  This being my first tractor, and only having the basic manual, my diagnostic skills are zero, so I spent time replacing filters, which needed it, but didn't solve the starting problem.  I ran through all the safety checks, worried the PTO was stuck on, etc.  

Two days later, I found a scrap of information online, referring to the solenoid ont he back of the fuel pump getting gummed up with oil.  The manual hits a "take to the dealer" wall for anything related to the fuel pump, so I never would have thought of this.  Twenty minutes later, the tractor is starting like a top.  

(Public service announcement.  John Deere model 4400, JD 4400, starting issue.  Cranks, will not catch.  Remove steel guard on the right side of the engine, near the brake pedals, three bolts, two smaller at the top, one larger at the bottom.  Two small bolts hold the solenoid to the back of the fuel pump.  Remove bolts, and pull solenoid away.  You'll see a small rod coming out the front end of the solenoid, probably covered in black oil.  Work this rod in and out, spraying into the solenoid with a cleaner.  (I didn't have any brake cleaner, I used wd40.)  A fair amount of oily gunk will come out, and then the plunger will move freely.  Reassemble, and off you go.)

A beautiful day, the kids and I grabbed some packed lunches form the BTC and headed to the park.  (Alexe gets credit for the idea, though she couldn't come with us.)

This little man is strong, and likes to climb to the top of things.

His feet kept slipping out form under him, and he would grunt and drag them back under his body to keep going up.

You can;t see it in this picture, but there's a huge satisfied grin on his face.

The cinder blocks were for this project, squaring off the foundation to bring the porch all the way across the end of the house.  

Missing my Moore boys here.  This is my first cinderblock wall.

Apparently I was ready to wrap it up, I didn't stop to take a picture when I finished.  I'm not the biggest fan of cinderblock walls, but I wanted to match the foundation on this side of the house.

Both kids had Christmas parties at their respective schools, and the presents they each received have been fun, and the cause of endless bickering.  The tiara, for example, is now in many pieces.

Caspian reeaaally wanted it.  Though to be fair, Annaliese ended up breaking it herself.  

Friday night we went to a potluck/sing along way out in the country.  No pictures, but it was a great evening with good friends and well behaved children.  They were the only kids there, and we stayed until almost 10 pm with no issues until we left, and had to deal with the little party girl who has never left a party happily in her life.

Saturday, we're catching up here, Alexe went to work, and was back a little later with this little girl.  This is a second addition to the family this week, but a woman brought her by the store this morning, and Alexe was smitten.

The kids named her Goldilocks.

She's really too young to be away form her mother, a little over four weeks old.  She tried to nurse from Olive, who I would guess is 6 months old.  They get along very well, until the little one starts the nursing routine, and then she gets batted.  She's eating and drinking well though, and both these pooches are asleep in separate crates in the kitchen.

The new kitchen...

Has along way to go.  However, after endless removal of the crap that was in this room, there have been steps to move it towards the bright lovely kitchen it will be.  The old stairs have been removed, and the 2x4 support walls have been removed and replaced by vertical oak beams.  Then today, with steroids pumping through my system, I decided to paint the lovely tan bricks of the fireplace.

It makes a huge difference, visually, and psychologically.

It also takes forever.  This chimney has raked joints, which mean you've really got to work the paint into the joints to over the mortar.  The lower section still needs a second coat, and I've got probably 4+ hours into it so far.  But, it looks so nice, and after I put the surrounding black plates back around the stove, and paint the blower grills a nice blue and put those back in, it's going to make me smile for years to come.

Annaliese grabbed a box, a steak knife, and carved herself a car this afternoon.  The whole thing was rad, from the idea, to the execution that included no missing fingers, to the layout of the shift knobs and steering wheel.  She did it all herself, grumpily because I was painting and not helping her, but the final product, complete with wooden components, made me very proud.

There's more news.  A lot happens in a couple weeks.  The kids have moved into their new, separate rooms, and are spending their first night there as I sit here.  Annaliese is dreaming, and just told me in a conversational voice that the counter is getting burned.  I'm headed in there now to talk that out.

Monday, December 10, 2012

A rainy Monday morning.

I promise we'll move on to other things after this post, but much of this week was also dedicated to the porch.  On Wednesday it was the two week anniversary of my start date of the wood construction, and I really wanted to have all the roofs up.  

I just made it, despite the spitting rain that kept up for most of the week, and came in with a vengeance last night.  Along with the humidity, we were graced with very warm weather, so I was able to work in a t-shirt, and sweat profusely, for most of the week.

First verticals up on the upper deck:

A look under the vaulted section, the raised platform will be a screened in sleeping porch.  Working around this magnolia has been a royal pain, and I'm even more annoyed that two of the chickens have been roosting in it each night.  That alone isn't a problem, but they poop all night long, and seeing those piles on my fresh cedar floor each morning is driving me bats.  I grabbed one last night and carried it back to the hen house, but I couldn't reach the second one.  

Even so, having the tree inside the porch makes it feel like a tree fort / tropical cabana.  

I like the look of the wood I'm using from the local lumber mill.  Much nicer than a stamped piece of dimensional lumber with rounded edges.  However, each piece has slight variations where the bandsaw might have flexed a little going through a knot, so each rafter has to be custom cut.  It's not terrible, but it gets a bit tedious, especially on a 40 ft run.

Sloooowly coming along.  Third vertical, and some fun working around the chimney.

We're really enjoying having Alexe back.  We put up the Christmas tree, harvested from the back field, and had a nice evening decorating it.  The harvesting party was not everything we hoped it would be, the three year old decided to melt down as we started trooping through the fields, and didn't give it a rest until after we had cut the tree, and carried it all the way home.  The decorating was more fun, a day later.

Pretty girl.  

We have a huge plastic tub full of the Christmas stuff.  The kids reacted like it was a giant box of presents, and were overjoyed with every find.

Still cutting rafters...

Annaliese has been cooking up some amazing imaginary meals.  She's got an eye for plating, which can only come from Dixie.

Ha ha, roof up, completely decked, within two weeks.  It took another day to get a layer of tar paper up, which I am not a fan of, but as we continue our discussions on what the forever roof will be, we need something to keep the place semi-dry.

Alexe committed Annaliese to be a model for a photo shoot meant to capture an image for the front cover of a poetry book that I believe is being self-published, kind of, a son printing his departed mother's last book of poetry.

Then Alexe went on a date with Dixie, so I did my best to get the kids to town on time, 5 minutes after learning we needed to go.

Annaliese was not enthused by the whole affair.  Caspian, on the other hand, loved the hats.  

I have held a quiet hope that I could use the old wagon wheel fence sections as railings around the porch, but until I was finished putting the porch up, I couldn't bear to take measurements and check to see if that would work.

Amazing luck, four sections fit almost perfectly, (within an inch or so,) across the front.  Also luck, a friend popped by, and manned the tractor to help lift these up to the second story with me.  These sections are solid steel, and there was no way I was going to get them up there on my own.

Now I just have to cut down 7 sections of this fence and re-weld to the appropriate size.  No problem...  

A cute set of curved stairs to get up to the sleeping porch.

I'm a little proud of my porch.  The kids are a little tired of me working on it.

Alexe and I traded nights out, and Friday was my turn.  I dropped the kids off with her in Oxford, and hit the town with John and Jav for a pleasant night of catch up.  We hit up Snack bar, my first time, and had a great appetizer, as seen below, and a mediocre (sorry John) duck sandwich, in a packed atmosphere.  I was asked to take off my hat to meet the dress code, while sitting shoulder to shoulder at a raised, 18" wide snack-bar, surrounded by posing young professionals and rich college students.  It was lucky I came with good company.

Saturday morning, with the porch up and at a good resting point, we had a clean up session.  The kids helped move the scraps of wood around, and most of it found its way to a pile they designated as "for our tent fort".  They want something built in the yard that doesn't get taken down.  I'm going to blow their minds when I introduce them to tree forts, but not until after Alexe gets her garden.  That girl is not very patient.

Another $5 well spent visiting the dump.

And, as much as I cringe at the act, I brought some things home from the dump.  Three 12 ft sections of 6 rail wood fence, which are destined to hold goats or sheep or a couple cows, and two big chunks of wood that were the ends of a huge laminate beam.

One I used to throw together this work table on casters to roll around the workshop.  The other, I'm pondering uses for.

One more picture of the porches.  Sigh.  Now I need to get the french doors, and start gutting the future kitchen.

Annaliese is home with Alexe right now, after a night and morning of throwing up.  Caspian is at school for another 40 minutes, Alexe's day off has been cut short by a sick employee, and I need to go grab some welding rod before getting the boy, and then I hope to have some time to play on the tractor before Alexe has to leave and I'm on kid duty again.  And the weather is turning chilly.  And we have some new tenants who will be moving into the apartment, and before that, will be camping out in my office for the next month until it becomes available.  A cool couple, photographers, well known and well travelled, just back after 5 years in Istanbul.  Funny how the times are always busy.