Friday, March 31, 2006


I haven't posted any pics where you could really see all the way around the whole house so I thought I'd show these. So, here we go! This is standing on the west side, which is the side you will drive up to.
I'm standing about where the parking area will be.
I am standing on the back retaining/foundation wall, looking down into the dogtrot area. The wall and the footings for the other side (you can see here) are poured through for the dogtrot. Right now our framing stops at the begining of the dogtrot.
Here, I'm on the east side (where the rest of the house will go).
I'm standing in the dogtrot space now, looking down the front of the house. At these columns, I can walk completely to the other side without bending over. The bottom of the joists on this end are about 4" about my head (I'm 5'6") and on the other end, I have to stretch to reach the joists. Lots of space. The rock wall I am going to build to close up the house will fit right up under that overhang of the joists.
This is at the NE corner. That one tree (that the scaffolding is leaned against) is fairly close to the house but I believe we still have room to put that deck even if we enlarge it a little over what was first drawn.
This is taken from what most people would think of as the back yard.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Hallelujah Chorus

These are some of the drawings we have so far but they are not THE drawings. But they are pretty close. We just have a few details to finalize and move a few little things around some. Maybe. Anyway, like I said before, I wanted to wait until we had final drawings but since its been going a little slow I figured I'd just go ahead with what we have. Besides, this shows a pretty accurate view of the process of designing a house. The grid overlay on this drawing makes it a little hard to see some of the stuff but I think you can tell pretty much where everything is. The kitchen windows are going to change some; I'm not sure that we need that many. One of the windows in the pantry is leaving; don't want it to get warm in there. The deck out front will be bigger. The side with the 2 bedrooms and a bath is not even done, we are still moving quite a bit around in there. As you can probably figure out, we are just building the side with the living room, kitchen etc. right now and then will move into that section and then build the remaining part of the house.
This view is one I showed before and now it has evolved some. This is standing on the west end of the house looking back at it. We are really having some difficulties with this covered walkway in the back there. I really like it and the way it looks but its going to block all my sun and thermal gain coming in through the lower part of the house. We would have to rely solely on the clerestory for solar gain. I don't want to try that plus I like sun in the kitchen. We've thought of skylights, cutting the walkway down etc. Now, the grid pattern and the windows, etc. are what is on the inside walls of the house. I was very confused by this when I first saw the drawing because I knew I did not want those big windows on the west end. Too much heat in the summer. Those windows and door are going to be on the wall next to the dogtrot. Those things projecting off the front of the house are the deck and a large planter. There are still plenty of details to add and other stuff. This weekend we hope to put down the subfloor and then next week I must finalize the window sizes because we'll be standing walls the next weekend!! I have to decide between double-hungs or casement windows etc. I like casements but we may have to go with double-hung (which I think is what he has drawn anyway) because of cost.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

I Fall To Pieces

These are a couple of the more interesting things we have found in our little creek. Mostly we pick out trash that washes down after a big rain but one day I was standing up on a high part of the bank and saw something unusually round in the water. I thought at first it was a large nut off of a bolt but when I got down there I was ecstatic to see it was the top of this old hand thrown jug. As a potter I took it as a very good sign and the fact that it probably held whiskey made it even better!
I love the fact that you can still see and feel the potter's throwing lines on the inside. I wonder how old it is and what the person was like who made it. Judging by how consistant the thickness of the walls are, I think he was probably a pretty good potter. And I guess it was a he; I don't think there were too many women potters awhile back.
This is just a little piece of a teacup in the Blue Willow pattern. That's very popular here in the South. Both pieces had been in the creek so long that all the edges were worn very smooth. Allen keeps hoping that one of us will stumble upon or over a large gold nugget in the creek. I would settle for a big emerald or ruby too.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Old Friends

In order to help finance the house, I have hired back on part time with the construction company I used to work for. They are a commercial company (building hospitals, retail etc) but the job I'm going to be on is a house. It is a restoration of a very large house built in the 1920's. It should be very interesting. The house actually has a room in the basement that was a room in a castle in England that was disassembled and shipped over here and reassembled in this house. I am quite excited really. I will be working with some of my old buddies again, which is always fun, and doing some welding first thing which is also fun.
We are still waiting on drawings for our house and did not do a whole lot this past weekend on it. We are ready to put the subfloor down but the local lumber yard was out of the plywood we needed so we just worked tidying up and putting in some last framing. We could have got the plywood at Lowe's (devil store) but they are running about $5 a sheet more than the lumber yard here. Lowe's, Home Depot etc. are generally a rip on lumber (and some other stuff) and I don't like buying from them anyway.
This post is also in memory of an old friend too. An old carpenter I worked with years ago when I was just a little apprentice girl, passed away this past week. He was a dear man. I worked with him on the first 2 jobs I was on and back then he was one of the few men who would work as my partner (apprentices are always put with a journeyman until they get some experience). He used to tell the most awful, corny jokes and I could not help but laugh and we would get in trouble with the boss. Boss man always threatened to seperate us but he never did. He had not been retired long when they found out he had cancer and he did not last too long. Alot of the guys I have worked with are really good friends still. Some people tend to think the men wouldn't treat a woman construction worker well but for the most part they are some really good men.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Changes or What Kind of Fool Am I

This is a house that Allen is working on now in Birmingham. It was built in the 1920's and was very small but he has remodeled the original part and added a second floor. It is a pretty big house now. This area of town is very popular with young affluent couples now and this is one of the last houses on this street to be redone. Many of the houses in this area were built using this type of rock. We call it chert rock; I don't know what the real name is. You see it alot in very rural areas too. I guess it has always been cheap material and so people would just go gather it up, which is what I had to do because the stone yards won't cary it. I think it is considered "trash" rock. I've always wondered if this stuff is found in other parts of the country? We were in Arkansas, Kansas etc. a couple of years ago but I don't remember if I saw it there. Anyway, the owner, who is also the architect, is extending the front porch and adding some columns that must match the rest of the house. And guess who got volunteered to do the stone work.... Laying the rock is not quite as bad as having to go gather it and haul it down there.
I have got to finish this second column and then Allen will pour a slab at the height you see that first one at and then we will continue the columns on up and I will lay a wall in between the columns so you won't see under the porch. This is why I haven't blogged every day or have been late posting comments! We go in pretty early and have been working until dark. It's a little slow work trying to fit those stones because they are so irregular. I like doing stone work but I'll be glad when I'm doing it at my own house. I have had one job offer from a guy passing by too!
The weather has been great although a bit chilly at times and this tree is beside where I'm working so the enviroment is nice. Don't know what kind this is but it has a great smell too.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Crying, Waiting, Hoping

Well, I'm getting very anxious, waiting on the drawings. And when I get anxious, I make mugs. Anything that is a repetitive motion that I don't really have to think about. Besides, I'm really low on mugs right now so I might as well. These are the handles for the mugs. I pull a bunch of these first and let them be drying and while they are, I trim the mugs. I will only throw about 16-20 mugs at a time. Some people will throw 100 or so in the same sitting but I just get too bored trying to do that. I have to get up and look at something else etc. I'm not a very good production potter. I like to make whatever I feel like at the time, which is not always good when you have lots of orders. Sometimes I might not feel like throwing cassaroles for a month or so.

Anyway, here I am trimming. I make a small foot on the bottom to recess my name in so it doesn't scratch the surface the mug is set on.

I attach the handle at the top and let it drap over 3 fingers and then attach the bottom. Alot of people ask me why I put that little wiggle at the bottom of the handle. One of my ceramics professors always said that a handmade item that had a utilitian purpose, should also carry a mark of the person who made the item so that the human to human connection would be obvious and complete. Their hand would use the item that your hand obviously made. Not like the sterile items from the stores. This is not a very good example of the wiggle that I'm talking about though. If you let the clay get just a little too dry it's very hard to do right.

And here's the completed mugs! Ready to dry and then be bisqued fired. Then they will be glazed and fired again. I don't know if you can see it, but on some of them I press a little seashell around the rim or bottom or some other natural object that makes a nice impression.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Black Dog

"Black Dog" is one of my favorite Led Zep songs so I thought I would show ya'll a pic of Miss Betty. I have mentioned her here I think and on Rurality. She's not the sharpest knife in the drawer sometimes but she's a sweet dog. She actually belongs to Fred. She was just a stray that came up a couple of summers ago and he kept her. She used to come down and visit us regularly when she heard us working on the house but some other dogs were passing by there one day and they scared her. Now she will not come back down unless I walk with her the whole way. We are living in the back of Fred's store right now to save money while we build our house and so Miss Betty comes to see us every morning, hoping for a treat. I try to walk every morning for exercise and she will always go with me. There is a very steep hill that I walk down and then back up and she used to go with me to the bottom but now she will stop about half way and wait on me to come back up. Maybe she's not as dense as I thought. I was going to put on another pic of Grendal, my cat, but Blogger is being very stubborn lately about accepting pictures so maybe later. We are still waiting expectantly for drawings and will post them as soon as we receive some finals.


Thanks to Pablo at Roundrock Journal for mentioning my little blog on his blog! Thanks a bunch! I noticed quite a few people stopping by from there. Hopefully, I will have some posts soon pertaining to the house. I apologize for it being slow but it will pick up soon I think. I hope..?
Hey Pablo, I moderate my comments so even if you are on an old post and leave a comment, I will see it. Maybe you or Blogger or whatever is the problem will get that straightened out soon! We miss your input!

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Workin' On A Building

What with it being Sunday and all, I thought I'd use an old gospel title for today. That's a real old one and kind of obscure I believe, so don't know how many of you will know it. Anyway, its raining here today so we are not able to work on the house, dang it! We almost got all the floor joists up yesterday and would have finished today. Oh well.... Allen wanted to use this pic 'cause it shows his ol' stupid tractor in the background. Just joking, its a good tractor, even if he does pay it more attention than me sometimes. He says its not as much trouble as somebody else he knows. In these pics I am nailing on some temporary bracing to hold the joists. They are a little more sturdy to walk on this way and it holds them at the proper distance apart until you get the decking down.
I'm not sure what I was talking about here but I seem to be discussing something him. These are 14' long 2x10's that are lapped on the middle supporting beam. This section of the house is only about 1,000 sq.ft. so that's why it may look a little small. But we just don't need alot of house. I have had several people question me about this but I see alot of people that have these large houses and only use half the rooms in them. That doesn't make alot of sense to me unless you do alot of entertaining where those rooms are used then. I like to entertain but our parties are just not that fancy.
We worked until after dark because we knew it was probably going to rain us out today. Allen wanted a picture after dark that showed the underside. I'm not sure why. I think he is just thrilled that there is now enough of a house to have an undeside. He keeps trying to convince me that we can just put a tarp up over the joists and move in but I don't know...... it's still a little chilly here at night.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Here Comes the Sun

Well, spring is slowly but surely pushing in. The weather has been great lately and lots of flowers are coming around. These are my first flowers at the house site to bloom. I love daffodils and narcissus and anything in that family. We cleared the land in front of the house underneath a large stand of sycamore trees and this is where I threw out about 2 dozen of these bulbs.

On an unrelated note, the other day Allen and I went searching for stone for a house he is building in Birmingham. Many of you have seen the posts here and on Rurality's blog about all the stone in this part of Alabama but even I didn't realize the extent of the different types available. There are several quarries and stone yards just down the road from us and these pics where taken at one of them. There are just acres of all kinds of stone in all different colors; its really cool. I guess I'm weird but I just drool over all these rocks and what you could build with them.

These were some of the more unusual ones we saw. I had never seen any stone around here like this before. These pics really don't do the color justice; they were much brighter. These had been sawn into tiles about 16"x 24" x 1" thick and were fairly smooth. They did not have many and I wasn't even going to bother to ask the price. Allen and I have been trying to think where we might could use a piece or two of this maybe as an accent or something. We could probably afford a little bit.
Here I was just trying to show a little better detail in that one stone. It appears to be some type of sandstone I think, so I don't know how well it would stand up to foot traffic.

Also, we received our first large delivery of lumber this morning for framing so hopefully I will have pics of that tomorrow or next day if the rain holds off. And by the end of next week I am supposed to have completed drawings of the house. Or very close. I can't wait!

Thursday, March 16, 2006

My Old Addiction

Due to some requests, I am posting a few more pottery pics. These are examples of the Raku pottery I make. It is a low-fire pottery that is just decorative. Raku originated in Japan in the 16th century as a part of their tea ceremony. In this process, the pieces are fired really quick in a small outdoor gas kiln. One load takes about 15 minutes as opposed to 8 hours for a load of stoneware in an electric kiln. It is fired to around 1,800 degrees F. (Mid-range stoneware, which is what my functional pots are, is fired to about 2,300 degrees F.) Anyway, you take the pots out of the kiln when they are still glowing and very quickly place them in a container (like a small garbage can) with combustible material and throw the lid on quick. I like to use pine straw or newspaper. If you fire at night it can be fairly dramatic, plus to me, its easier to judge the temperature of the kiln etc. at night.
Putting it in the garbage can with the combustibles is called reduction because it sucks all of the oxygen out of the atmosphere in the can. This lack of oxygen causes certain colors to come out in the glazes like the bright copper you see on these pots. If you just let them sit out in the air the glazes would just be green. Same principle as how when copper metal is left out in the weather it turns green over time. The black areas are where there is no glaze and the pot absorbs carbon from the burning of the combustibles. After reduction most people quench the pots in water to seal the colors on but you can just leave them in the can and let them cool completely. However, something about Raku robs you of your patience and you've just got to see it as soon as possible.
The original Japanese process did not include the reduction part and they actually used theirs to drink out of. In the 1950's Paul Soldner and some other potters brought the technique to the U.S. and started monkeying around with it, like we Americans do with everything I guess and came up with this. I don't do as much Raku as I used to but would like to get back into it a little more.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Something Coming Up

Hey! We actually started the framing! Here we have framed up the main beams that will support the floor joists. These beams are composed of 3 side by side 2x10's. We used 16 footers where we could and spliced in shorter sections to complete the overall length with the joints staggered. Does that make sense? Sometimes I don't know if I make sense. The 2x4's running across are just for bracing right now. This section of the house is 28' wide so the floor joists (which will run crosswise over the beams) will span 14' approx.
Here Allen is explaining or bragging about things to Fred and his twin daughters. Allen's daughters, not Fred's.

This is just a little detail of the beams from underneath. The beams are just nailed now but we will bolt all three 2x's together at the joints this weekend and they are also bolted to the steel columns with lag bolts.

Someone asked me about architect fees the other day and I don't think I answered that as well as I could. Maybe this is better. Most architects get 10-12% of the estimated value of the building. Allen says residential architects get a little more than commercial. I don't know.

I will post some more pottery photos as soon as I can as I have had some requests for that.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Here, There and Everywhere

Posts about rocks are popular right now so I thought I'd show off some of my rocks! This rock is how we determined where the house was going to go. Sort of. I really liked it and it was in the general area that we knew we wanted the house so I said let's just position the house so that this rock will be near the entrance and we can see it when we are sitting out on the patio sipping mint juleps. Or whatever. It's nicer in the summer when the ferns are up and really green. The house will run length-wise by this rock and I thought a little water feature would be nice near it too.
Here you can kind of see where the rock sits in relation to the house.
Keep in mind that the rest of the house will continue on past where we stopped the wall at for now and also what most people would consider the back of the house is kinda the front. The house really won't have a definate front or back. The rock is near the top center of the photo. The ground level elevation at the base of that biggest tree over on the right is what I want the finish floor elevation in the house to be. So, all of that tore up dirt in between the tree and the wall will be filled in and flat. I have found a tremendous amount of flagstone on our land and will use that to build the patio here, upon which we will sip libations in the heat of the summer.
We have dup up tons of rocks everywhere! Big ones, little ones, flat ones, you name it. I am currently piling them up wherever there seems to be a concentration of them. Later I will use them to build the wall that will close off the underside of the house etc.
This is a small pile of the flagstone. Most of these came from the old dam and were placed around the spill way. I believe these were probably hauled in but maybe not. I need to gather alot more of these to have enough though.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Shelter Me

I've been waiting to put up any drawings of the house until we had something final (these are preliminary) but since things are going a little slow I am going to show a little of what we have so far. This is a cross section of the living area (the section we are building now). Now this is very, very basic; we have not clarified how the roof will be supported or anything. This mainly shows what we are trying to accomplish as far as using the sun. The formula is very simple; orient the house length-wise on an east-west axis, concentrate glass on the south side, insulate well, provide adequate overhangs on windows for the summer. It is very important not to exceed 7% of your total floor space in south-facing windows though or the house will overheat. So if you had a 1,000 sq. ft house, you should have no more than 70 sq. ft. of glass on the south side. In cooler climates, they say to limit the north and east windows to about 3% but here in the south, we can have more because they help with cooling, which is our biggest challenge. The clerestory windows will help throw sunlight onto the north side of the interior and if we have an interior wall constructed for thermal mass, they will help warm it. I have been using a number of books for reference but I really like "The Solar House" by Daniel Chiras. Its very easy to understand and he gives you lots of references. You must calculate the size overhangs you need also so that all those south-facing windows will be shaded in the summer. I went to and they have a program you can use to figure that out. It is the coolest thing. You must know your latitude and longitude and the size windows etc. and it actually animates the sun passing over the window so you can see what it will be like.
This is Allen's version of the house that he drew some time ago. Now, he could actually build the house just from this but I told him I wanted just a little more to go on. We have one more I have not put up that shows the house from the outside but it is going to change considerably. We feel that the house should "reflect the vernacular of our area" as I once heard it put. I suppose that could bring many things to mind. It will employ some old southern methods of cooling such as a dogtrot that will also give it a retro look as well as the metal roof and lap siding.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

From Me To You

We had amassed a small collection of gift cards from friends and family over the last couple of years and finally got around to doing something with them. We waited so long because we wanted to buy something really special seeing as how the cards were Christmas gifts etc. and bought with our future house in mind. Our initial thought was to buy lighting fixtures or something like that but just couldn't find anything we liked and then it finally dawned on us to maybe get trees. Well, also we wanted something that would go directly into the house but anyway....... this way we can give gifts back to those friends and family in the form of jams and preserves etc. made from the fuits of these trees. That is, if I can learn how to make such things. Allen and I love fresh figs so we got 2 Brown Turkey fig trees. We got 1 Santa Rosa plum (supposed to be self-pollinating) and 2 blackberry plants. We try to use only organic methods of gardening and I like that brand of fertilizer and I'm so happy Lowe's has started to carry it. Can't think of the brand name right off though. We are still waiting on drawings but maybe it won't be much longer and I will have something to show ya'll about the house.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Cool, Cool Water

The back of our property is a mountain which slopes down on the end near the house and several springs issue out of this end. I believe 2 are on our land but there are several more in the area. The resulting streams from them all eventually combine and form a little creek which is the property line for a piece. This particular spring is going to be our water source for the house. Allen put a 1" copper pipe up in the spring just to be able to get samples of water easily and try to reduce the amount of dirt etc. If it tests out okay (and it should) we will dig a small reservoir and Allen wants to use a hydraulic ram to pump the water from here to the house where it will be filtered. I think we will use the reverse osmosis type filter probably but I need to do a little more research. Anybody have any experience with such things? Now, I don't understand anything about hydraulic rams or whatever but Allen does so that will be his job. We are trying to avoid using electricity to pump the water but I don't know if this will be possible. The flow just out of the copper pipe we put in is about 120 gallons/hour. There is much more actually coming out of the spring though and we have never observed this spring to dry up. Fred's (the man whom we aquired the land from) family used these springs over 70 years ago for their water supply so I think they are fairly reliable. There is water and gas etc. at the main road but to bring it back to the house would be a pretty good expense and I believe I would like spring water better anyway. I do not agree with flouridation in the water systems and even though I know chlorine is needed in city water, I don't like bathing in and drinking that either. So maybe this will work.
It was getting dark when I took these photos and on this one I used a flash. I thought it made a really funky effect with the water. The green stuff at the top is watercress which grows abundantly in these streams. I have heard that it will only grow in fairly pure water but I don't know. There are also these little cone-shaped snails that Fred calls "periwinkles" but I don't know much about them either. I will try to get a photo of them though.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Friends in Low Places

This little guy lived on the front of my store all last summer. I say "lived" because I guess they don't have a very long life span and I have not seen him in quite awhile. He would either be in my flower pots out front or on the front windows. Once, he decided to hang out above the door and when I went out to check the mail he fell on me right as I came out! Well, it scared the crap out of me but luckily I did not smash him or anything. He just ran off to the flowers.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Nice Work If You Can Get It

Well, things are still a little slow with the house right now so I thought I would just show another view of what we have so far. We have still not completed our drawings. I know some of you are saying" you don't have drawings and you are building?" Well, we do things a little different sometimes! We have the footprint of the house and how we want it (or must be laid out to work with the sun) so its enough to put in the foundation by. I would not recommend this approach for people who do not have experience in building though.
This is the back retaining/foundation wall. It is a standard 8" thick and 4' tall here and then gets taller down where it turns. Poured concrete is much better than block and sometimes just as affordable. But even if it costs more, concrete is worth it. We will put a french drain down at the footing and then backfill so that we will have a flat area for a patio at the entrance. We set anchor bolts in the top of the wall (approx. every 4') when we poured which will be used to bolt the rat sill down. The rat sill will be a P.T. 2x6 and will carry the floor joists on this side. There will be a termite shield in between the concrete and 2x6. I don't think termites are going to chew through the concrete (although I have heard urban legends to the contrary) but they are a real issue down here. Having two 90 degree corners in this wall also stabilizes it greatly and relieves us of having to worry about putting bracing in between the foundation posts on the front of the house.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Clay Conf. Part 2

Also on Sunday, the sculpture dept. arranged a bronze pour to coincide with the end of the conference. The bronze program had just been started when I was still at Montevallo so I have done this. It is one of the few programs around that allow undergraduates to pour bronze. They also cast aluminum and have a killer welding and forging set-up. Any kind of metal work. I first learned to weld here when I took my first sculpture class. I believe in this photo they are lowering a bronze ingot into the crucible. That's the professor on the right. He is The Man. This guy knows how to do anything and is much loved by all the students, past and present.

Here, they have picked the crucible up with the help of a little motorized chain hoist. The bronze is somewhere around 2,200 degrees F. I think. It is somewhere in that range. The crucible is made of silicon carbide, the same material that kiln shelves are made of. The little box looking things in front of them are the molds for what they are going to be pouring. There are several ways to make molds and different materials that can be used for the molds in casting bronze. These particular molds are resin-bonded sand and they are using the lost-wax method of casting which I think is fairly standard with bronze.

Here, they are pouring as you can see. It is a fairly nerve-wracking procedure; or it was to me. It can be very dangerous and you have to pay attention to everything. That is the prof. again there on the right. The students are actually doing everything themselves but he is guiding them along. That really helps the nervousness part.
They did not have to let the molds cool for very long at all (about 20 min.), so we were able to see them bust the pieces out. This mold actually cracked in the pouring but the piece was fine. I don't know if you can tell it is a hand. The forearm is still encased in the mold.

Edited to add: Kara, check my comments under the" Time Out" post and I tell all about how I got started in pottery etc.