Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Finishing out 31 with a busy week.

Last week Alexe put 70+ hours into her store, making up for a crap set of employees who maliciously bailed, all three, in a single week, and did so in ways that could be as inconvenient as possible.  (A text message at close to midnight before Alexe's day off?)

Alexe stepped up like a champion, despite the traumatic exposure to less than desirable people, and made sure her customers didn't notice anything was out of the ordinary.  It left no energy for much else, and what we saw of her was generally 12 minutes between getting home and being in pjs and in bed.

What that meant on the homestead was a 7 day stretch of single parenting, in a week with Valentines Day parties at school, and those schools being closed on Friday.

And yet, things just seemed to get done.

The venting for the hot water heater was brought up through the floor and out the upstairs walls, as per recommended installation guidelines from the manufacturer.  At the same time I cut through the wall to create reasonable-sized access to the attic of the other side of the house, up to this point only accessible by a tiny trap door int he top of a downstairs closet.  That attic now has planking, and electrical outlet/lights.

The kids were set up to make their own Valentines Day cards for their classmates. The art table was established, and I provided blank cards cut from construction paper.  Annaliese really got into it, and while the first few she decorated and had me spell the names of her classmates so she could write them down, she quickly became tired of waiting for me to stop what I was doing to help her, and instead found the list of her classmates, and copied them down herself, checking off the list until she had 14 labelled, signed, and nicely decorated cards.  Caspian was harder to get to focus, and by the time he gave it a whirl, Annaliese was well into her third card.  He got frustrated, and refused to try.  The competitiveness between these two...

Having burned so much energy working on the bleeping kitchen ceiling, I took some time for more rewarding projects.  The roughed-in arch for the stairs, the stair plates, and some trim installed to make the entrance to our bedroom feel a little more whimsical.  

Natalie had put up some of these Hungarian-style book shelves a while back, and after she reminded me of what they were, I took a crack at some on afternoon.  Very simple design, the vertical supports are attached to the wall on the inside of the cut-outs to hide them after the shelves are put in place. A little time to sand the verticals, and the notching of the verticals, and then the shelves at corresponding spots so they lock int each other, took a bit as well, but a couple hours, and:

Voila. Still deciding on whether to paint them white, or paint the verticals white and stain the shelves themselves dark.  

Our friend John stopped by for a visit, and an accosting by the kids.

Annaliese's interest was not in the headline, so much as the picture of the kid wearing a mardi gras mask.

The library out on a chocolate party.  That meant a big table, laden with chocolate, grab a plate and enjoy.  None of us could believe it was real, but we all did our best, and left with chocolates in our pockets and an armload of paperbacks from the 25 cent table.

A picture of the elusive Alexe, who cae down to visit e while I made a late night meal of corned beef hash and farm fresh eggs.  The chickens are laying daily now, at least two of them are.

And then, on Thursday, Valentines Day, the kids were brought to school with their bags of Valentines cards, (Alexe worked behind the scenes to make sure Caspian had some nice homemade ones,) they each brought  bags of apples, because we're that kind of family, and I came home to meet the delivery truck.  Which managed to get stuck at the end of the drive and require me to hop ont he tractor and pull it out, but half an hour later, our french doors had arrived!

And there was no resisting getting started right away.

After picking up Annaliese from school, of course.

The first door I chose to put in was at the foot of our bed, a Valentines gift to Alexe.  Step 1, create a hole in the wall.

Step 2, frame the hole in, and put in a solid header. Step 2 came after we picked Caspian up from school, A gets out at 11, C gets out at 12.  There was a pause in progress after each child run, to sit on the couch and oow and aaah at all their valentines, and then have them sort out the 10 pounds of candy they had each received, and put it in jars up high.  Holy crap, kids eat too much candy around here.

Just before 2, in time for my date with Alexe, the first set of doors was in.

And the kids and I rocketed down to the store, where Alexe and Dixie had just survived a crazy lunch shift, and Dixie had saved two of her Valentines Specials for us to sit quietly by ourselves in a booth and enjoy.  We plugged the kids into a cartoon show on a laptop at the front of the store, and had a relaxed, chattery meal together.

My hard working girl, and the love of my life.

And look at the amazing lobster cakes Dixie made, served on cheese grits with a fennel salad.  I've eaten at many, many top end restaurants around the country and parts of the world, and this lady is as talented as I've ever come across. 

Home after our date, Alexe having to be there until closing, the kids being pretty good, I started on door number two, between our bathroom and the upstairs porch.  Steps 1-2-3 again.  In this case there was  window here, which was more difficult to repurpose to a door than starting with a solid wall.

Later that evening...  The doors themselves are great.  True divided lights, super-insulated, made by Simpson in Washington state.  They were pre-hung by a company in Memphis, however, and after I installed them, perfectly square, it became apparent that 1) the folks who did the hanging work did it on a table, and the aluminum thresholds were allowed to bow-out, which meant after they are installed correctly, the doors are too long and will not close without being re-fit, and 2) the doors in a couple cases were simply hung at different heights, in some cases over a quarter of an inch difference in two doors that should mirror each other.  

Grr, I'll have dealings with that company later.  Right now there's no way I'm delaying this part of the  project any longer.

The next morning, the upstairs light was finally what I had envisioned three months ago.

View from bed, out onto the porch, and to the massive cedar tree that grows on the back end of the yard:

Annaliese kept up the card-making, and wrote to several of her friends, decorating the cards, then dictating to me what she wanted to write, and I would spell the words out for her, sounding them out as we went.  She is going to feel so free when she turns the corner and starts reading and writing on her own.

Friday morning, light came to our kitchen.  Door #1, step 1-2-3.


Interlude to clean up a mess in the laundry room.  What happens when a puppy-pit-bull-mix gets ahold of a down pillow?  This.

Friday afternoon, a day when the kids did not go to school, they took a much needed nap, and I was able to knock out steps 1 and 2 for this door while they were asleep.


Saturday, I decided to leave the third kitchen door leaning against the wall, and finish out some walls.  Wiring for refrigerator complete, and outlets for the possible dishwasher and the counter top kitchen tools to the left of the sink completed, I put up bead board walls.  Man, does that feel good.  That wall, or section of wall, is paint-away from being completely done.  Of course the doors have to be removed and stained/sealed, but the end is in sight!

Saturday night, a break from the long week for everyone, the kids went to their friend's house to play, an Alexe and I suited up, in tux and gown, fro the Junior Auxiliary gala.  I had it in my head that JA had something to do with fundraising for youth athletics.  It wasn't until I was at the party that I was told it's a girls club.  

We had a fun time, though the dj just couldn't get things right.  Luckily there are a few more parties coming up at the galleries where we'll be able to boogie a bit more.

On Sunday, missing Alexe and having spent the morning putting up more bead board, the kids and I trouped down to the store for brunch, and to visit a very busy Alexe.  The place was hopping, so the kids and I sat in a booth and I read them books until things slowed down, and we ordered our breakfast.

After we finished, the kids got to work.  Caspian cleared dishes form booths and brought them into the kitchen, and Annaliese cleaned the surfaces.  Really.  It was the greatest thing to sit and watch.

The kids and I went home to a beautiful sunny afternoon, where we did a quick house clean up, five loads of laundry, and played in the yard waiting for Alexe to finish her shift.  It turned out, in order to not got to work on Monday, for me on my birthday, she was at the store until 5, three hours after closing, to finish up payroll, scheduling, and deal with the last pissant who had quit earlier in the week and was refusing to complete her IRS paperwork and demanding her last paycheck under the table.  Alexe staggered home with a cell phone chirping away with disrespectful and downright mean texts from this girl.  I took Alexe's phone away from her, fielded the texts fro her employee for a few minutes until she gave up, and we were able to enjoy a few minutes of the later afternoon as a family.

Annaliese prepared many bowls and buckets for a marrying game she planned.  Each container was filled with sawdust, decorated on the top with wood scraps and magnolia leaves, and while two people danced around the yard, "getting married", the third would dance around them, throwing up handfulls of sawdust.

We all married each other, and then saved the rest for when Alexe came home.  Alexe and I danced around our yard, while our two pumpkins danced around us throwing sawdust in the waning light.  It was pretty magical. 

While waiting for Alexe to come home earlier in the afternoon, the kids prepared a picnic for her.  They trucked armloads of food out out the blanket, and then ate most of it. 

The leaning tower of...

And then on Monday I turned 32.

Alexe and the kids slept until almost 8, and oddly, I was awake at 7.  I had a very leisurely morning, relaxing with a Ludlum novel, cuddling with the family when they all woke up and piled into our bed, getting sung to, having breakfast brought to me in bed, and generally not feeling like I had to do anything.

Annaliese gave me a "haircut", an incredibly soothing experience.

I took my book and went to the BTC for a quite lunch of reading and eating an amazing Say Dixie sandwich, by myself, no kid wrangling involved.

Home to my family, where Alexe made the best birthday cookies I've had yet, and we all sat down to an early milk and cookies celebration.

Talk about being a rich man.

And then, Alexe dropped me off at the movies in Oxford, where I watched the Bruce Willis shot-em-up flick while she and the kids went to get my birthday present. (Cuisinart!!)  

They picked me up after, we went out for pizza, an headed home.  

It was one of my best birthdays ever.  Friends stopped by, friends called, my sisters made a big deal out of me, and I chatted with my parents in the morning.  

And despite all the craziness, our family feels more settled and centered than it has in a while.  Alexe's store, through her massive efforts, is doing great.  The kids, despite their whining and fighting, are having a great life.  And I'm going to knock this house out and get on to more fun things.

My favorite quote of the weekend, from Caspian, who came racing upstairs with two eggs in his hand to show me another hen had started to lay, shrugged his shoulders and tilted his head to the side and said, "I guess this means we're farmers now." 

Sunday, February 10, 2013

The daffodils are out, and the sinus-fog has cleared.

Tonight as I was tucking Caspian in to bed, he held up his plastic police badge and said something about me owing 57 cents, and needing to come to the police station. (He's been very focused on money recently, mostly any coins he can find/steal and stash in his piggybank, which he is constantly removing the bottom plug from, pouring out his surprisingly substantial coin collection, and happily counting.)

I asked him if he wanted to be a police officer when he grows up, because if he wanted to be he would make a great one.  Quote: "No daddy, I want to be all sorts of things.  A mail man, a pig, a shark... When I'm a grown up shark I'm going to come to your house, move all the grass, come inside, and eat you."

That's more clarity on a career path than I've got right now.

It's been busy times.  I broke down and went to the doctor, this time not the specialist who did my surgery and has kept me on steroids and various repetitive antibiotics, but to our friendly local gp, mother of four, thirties, moved here in the past four years from florida with her husband, and is a smart, grounded, hard working expatriate like me.  She listened to my history, put me on a different set of medications, and spent most of her time talking about preventative things I can do to break this wonderful merry-go-round I've been on for years.  So far it's working, four days in. 

Which means the doldrums, which had earnestly set in, lifted, and this endless house project, specifically the kitchen ceiling, finally started to feel like it was getting somewhere.  Before I can actually put up the ceiling downstairs, I need to install all the radiant floor heat tubes, cover them with aluminum flashing, complete all the plumbing for the upstairs bathroom and downstairs kitchen, rewire the kitchen lights and outlets, then I can re-install the insulation and start nailing up the bead board.  All of this work is time consuming, boring, and does not provide the visual progress that puts a skip in my step.  

But!  Plumbing is done, radiant tubing for this half of the house is done, aluminum flashing is all installed, and I'm waiting to track down a pex crimper for the 1" header lines so I can do a pressure test before installing the insulation.  I really don't want to be tracking down a leak through insulation.

With luck I'll knock that all out in the next couple days, and be ready to start installing the french doors when they arrive on Thursday.  That is going to change everything, open the whole house up, and let us see our beautiful farm without having to find one of the few doors to exit through, or look out one of the few windows.

Alexe's store looks great, the updates were needed and have made the place feel more-right with no break-in time.  She's having a rough time with some staff, a perpetual problem that she is going to solve after realizing, two plus years in, that the effort of checking references and staying on top of employees is worth the added up front and ongoing effort for the crap it generally mitigates in the future.  Her other option is to turn employee management over to me.  Let's hope it doesn't come to that. After this past week it was the first time she asked, and the first time, after seeing her unhappy for the whole week, I seriously considered it.  

That's enough text, let's go find some pictures of the charming rascals... 

And after looking, I think I need to make more time for photo snapping. The pickings are a little slim from the past week...

We repurposed the geo-dome I made for Burning Man into a moveable chicken run.  Chicken wire over the top is pending.

On a sunny day when I was working on the porch, replacing the round columns with matching cypress posts and securing the cedar flooring, so happy to be working outside and out of the )^*)^$-ing kitchen, Caspian kept me company, bombing around on the Skuut.  The incline from the house to the current chicken location is not gentle, and he mad the run on his own several times.

The kids had a movie date with Ms. Polly, the photographer who rents the front three offices above the BTC.  She set up a little theater for them, and in two hours they made it halfway through Ever After, what with all the snacking and question breaks.  They have a follow up date scheduled for Tuesday afternoon.

The kids have been getting better and better about amusing themselves.  With the weather being nice-er, they wander in and out, and I check on them periodically to see what they're doing with the pups, or to the cat, or why it's so quiet in their rooms.  For the most part, with the exception of their never-ending raids on the kitchen, they're doing a good job of amusing themselves and wearing out before bedtime.

This was prepping for a game of princess and policeman.  He locks her up, she escapes, chasing ensues.  The variation which we play more often, and requires a third person, me, involves Caspian's superman shirt, I'm the bad guy, and he is the super hero.  Annaliese is still a princess, locking up is still required to start the game, and chasing ensues.

Yesterday Annaliese went to a birthday party, and then these two kids went to a valentines party at church for 3 hours.  It's a fun practice the churches have, providing parents with some wonderful alone time at very low cost.  Alexe and I had an amazing evening home alone, with waffles and a fire and good books.  I can't remember the last time we were home alone.  

The kids were worn out, and we woke up this morning to torrential rains. (I got to run down to the building twice, first to check on a disgruntled cook who was overloading a circuit and passive aggressively not flipping the breaker, all of ten steps away, second to fix a leaking roof.)  We had a very nice family lounge the rest of the morning, until Alexe had to go to a jewelry party thrown by a friend.  (Ask her about that, heh heh.)  The kids and I took a glorious nap, and woke up in the late afternoon.  

We made popcorn and settled in for a family movie, one of the OSS 117 flicks. (They're funny, if you play along.  If you're not so much into hammy french spy films, I'd recommend Jean Dujardin's "Cash".  All around good flick.)

We wrapped after 8 this evening, and the kids, being well napped, were racing around the house on bikes, or jumping on the couch.  This picture was taken some time after 9, notice Annaliese is wearing my boots.

Alexe, who didn't get to take that nap with us, went to bed.  The kids and I watched tonight's new episode of Top Gear, british version, thanks to a friendly youtube uploader, then I tucked them in.

Moments ago Caspian came upstairs to explain to me that his covers are messed up, and his sister is five, (fingers held up correctly,) and he is only this many, (three fingers held up but not identified as three,) and so I can;t expect him to be able to fix his own bed yet, because look, (hands with three and five fingers respectively held up side by side,) that's a big difference.

I went down and tucked him in.  Who could resist.

Those pictures left a lot of the week out.  We had a fun time planting 20-some-odd fruit and nut trees around the place, a much easier task with a handy tractor + post hole digger + 12" auger.

At some point when the family was all home and the weather was nice we did a major yard clean up, loading the truck for a dump run with most of the lingering construction refuse, and keeping the burn barrel going with scrap wood and cardboard.  I'm trying not to jump the gun on final grading of the yard and ordering the cotton gin trash or other top soil for the yard until after the doors/roof/siding steps are done.  

The house project is going to need to wrap up in the next few months.  I'm excited about what we're going to have once it's all done, but there are issues with boredom and antsy-desire to do something challenging and a bit more think-y that are getting severe.

Fun little side projects, like hitting Pitney Bowes at the perfect time, aren't cutting it.

Minutes before 11 pm here, and I just took another walk to see the mewling 3 year old, who had turned on his bedroom light, but after a third tucking in, he gave my hand a final hug and three kisses, told me it smelled like grapefruit, and crossing my fingers here, rolled over and closed his eyes.  

Sunday, February 3, 2013

BTC Upgrade, baby steps on the house, and some much needed family time...

Four days were lost to a severe cold/flu type thing the week before last.  Alexe lost a day, the kids two, and me and this little kitty were laid up from Tuesday to Friday.  I was bored out of my mind, and my darling bride, after her four hours of caregiving that is granted for any sick-event, was testy for most of my down time.

It turned out the little cat was allergic to the stitches from her spaying, and after ripping most of them out, had an infection.  Saturday morning I was back on my feet, and we took her to the vet for a steroid shot and antibiotics.  By Sunday she was back to her happy self.

Friday night, though I wasn't all that solid on my feet, there were so many things that hadn't been moving, and I did a few small things. Kitchen faucet installed:

The radiant floor heat system is slowly coming together.  One of our many trips to the Other Other place, the local junk yard / hardware store.  This place has a huge inventory, spread around the inside of an old school, and all around the front and back lots.  You have to look, and often a flashlight helps in the rooms that don't have great lighting, but almost anything I can't find elsewhere is in there, if we have time to look.  

The kids are very comfortable with Ralph, the owner.  We needed four feet of 1" copper on this trip.

The weather has been an odd mix, from lovely warm days, with nights in the 20s, to cold dark days of spitting ice.  Sundays are our only reliable family day, when Alexe isn't consumed by the store, and I force myself to stop fiddling with the house.  We were lucky to have one of the nice weather days last Sunday, and walked to church.

The walk there took a while, the walk home was even longer.  Caspian had to sample all the viable resting spots...

Annaliese decided to copy him...

Alexe pulling a Vana White at the wilderness sign, with the kids practicing their letters.

Look at how long the legs on that little girl have gotten!

Caspian has been reveling in three year old behavior, with 80% of his words coming out in a grating whine, but his charm breaks through often enough to keep us attached.

Monday through Wed. of last week Alexe and I closed the BTC and made some changes/upgrades.  We built a lunch counter, installed an ice maker and walk in cooler in the kitchen, put a new door between the kitchen and the restrooms, reorganized and cleaned and added display units for new products Alexe has tracked down...  (There aren't many pictures of the process, we were busy.)

Making this possible was the support of our community, in the form of Jackie and Cassie, who took the kids from 11 to 5 for three days in a row.  

Annaliese and Caspian had an awesome time.  

On Tuesday evening we all walked to town for ice cream after wrapping up for the day.

On Wednesday, as if hosting our kids every day wasn't enough, Jackie had us over for dinner so we could relax after our break-neck three days of renovations. Dinner was delicious, and going home and putting the kids straight to bed, without worrying about food or dishes, was excellent.

Alexe headed back to the store to make her final tweaks before opening on Thursday morning, and I didn't see her until after 10.  She loves her store. 

After three days of no progress on the house, I didn't have much time to visit the store on Thursday and see how it went, but on my quick trip to grab the kids at noon, it was very satisfying to see the new lunch counter lined with folks.

On the house front, there's an annoying order of events that I have to follow.  The radiant floor heat can't be fixed below this floor until the new floor is nailed down, and the bathroom plumbing has been put in.  (The last thing you want is a nail to puncture your water lines after you've installed them.)  So after looking at many options of flooring that I couldn't get excited about having in my bedroom and bathroom, I found a nice stack of 1x8 pine planks at the Yalobusha Lumber Company in Coffeeville.  (I'd never been there before, nice people.)  

I'm putting this down with cut nails, straight nailed.  These nails are really large, and made for hammering into masonry, so it's been a workout driving them into the floor.  After a dark stain, and a couple coats of urethane, I think this is going to look great.  (I'll have to run the floor sander over it first, but all that will follow the upstairs painting and french door installation.)

With the floor nailed down, the radiant system can start going up.  This is most of the manifold setup, waiting for the piping to be tied in.

The water lines, for the second floor, starting to be run.  The insulation had to come down, then lots of holes had to be cut to run the lines, next will be stapling up the aluminum flashing that attaches the tubing to the subfloor, the a reflective barrier, then the insulation goes back up, then the wiring for the lighting gets moved around, and then I can put the bead board ceiling up.  oh, before all that I need to finalize the plumbing for the bathroom.  

After the long week, Alexe took Saturday and Sunday off for some much needed family time, and on Saturday we suited up on a cold, rainy day, and headed to Ripley, MS for the monthly flea market.  

The market is huge, and even though only 30% of the vendors were set up, there was lots to see.

Alexe wanted chickens.  There were plenty of chickens, though it looked like most of the business was targeted at fighting cocks.  We think, no way for us to know for sure.

The livestock markets are about as rough on the animals as I've seen anywhere in the states.  Cages of puppies stacked five high, full sized dogs crammed into small cages, goats and ponies and miniature pigs shivering in the cold.  And yet, a brisk business of buying and selling was going on.  

We took a hot dog break:

The kids had a pony ride at some point, and then we stopped for more snacks at a flea-market diner.  Hot cocoa and biscuits with fried apples.  

A potty break.  Takes a special girl to make a fairground restroom, and waiting to wipe a three year old's butt, look good. 

Kid with a snake.   I'm not a fan of snakes, but seeing as it was 37 degrees, I felt for the snake.

We ended up with four hens and a rooster for $51, 25 fruit trees for $90, and headed home.  We stopped at Sugaree's bakery in New Albany and wandered the antique shops there, hit up a playground somewhere along the way, and did a little supply shopping at Lowes.  I usually avoid spending money with the big chain stores, but none of the local folks carry any 1" pex to copper fittings, and I needed four.  That, and a piece of flexible material for the stairwell arch, also unavailable from the local options. 

A dinner of crawfish and homemade guacamole, and we wrapped our Saturday with the last 30 Rock episode.

This morning we've had waffles, the kids have washed the resulting stickiness off in a bath, and relaxed playing is ensuing with loud wilco-ish music pouring out of pandora.

I get a kick out of the kids refusing to wear clothes, and bringing their toys over to the heater instead.  We're all looking forward to the new heating system.