Thursday, May 29, 2008

Some Flowers

Here's a few things that are blooming around the house right now. A jack-in-the-pulpit, right beside my steps going up to the deck.
Some little white flowers. They are by the steps also. These are fairly common around here. Nice ground cover.
My little wildflower meadow. It's a lot more prolific this year than last.

Bee balm. This is very common here. I like it though. It always strikes me as a hippie-like plant with it's pink dreadlocks.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Sweet Freedom

These images are from the Alabama Veteran's Memorial located in Birmingham. Allen was the superintendent for the job and I worked on this one a little. If you live here in Alabama I would encourage you to make a trip here and if you are ever passing through our fair state it is worth a side trip to see. It is out in the middle of the woods in a very serene setting. It consist of this courtyard with these large concrete columns which are embedded with artwork, letters and the stories of Alabama's Medal of Honor recipients. My first and only public sculpture is here.

Then there is the 'temple' part which has the names of all Alabamians lost to war engraved on the walls. It's a fairly simple design but very striking. Allen took Fred to see it (Fred was in the Navy) a few weeks ago and took these photos. The walls of the temple are solid 2' thick concrete. In fact, there is more concrete in this job than I have seen poured on some much larger sites. If I remember correctly, just that center beam of concrete in the ceiling (that has the rounded bottom) weighed around 90 tons.
The outside of the temple has some vines growing on it, per the architectural firm, and really gives the place a feeling of timelessness. You can sort of make it out in the background.
They have almost filled all the spaces on the walls with names. It would be great if there was never any reason to add more.

*Micheal McDonald

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Lessons Learned

The post today is to answer a question asked of me by a nice young lady wanting to know about apprenticeships. The photo is just a random one I took at the end of the day on the job. We were waiting on the backhoe operator to come with the machine and get the tools to put up. We put them in the bucket of the machine and have him carry them to and from the shed as there are way too many for us to carry.
Anyway, Charlotte, to answer your question: There are different types of apprenticeships, depending on if it is a trade or craft you are learning, but basically you work for a journeyman or master doing all the tedious, everyday work of the craft in exchange for lessons taught by the craftperson. It is somewhat like a college degree as apprenticeships usually last 4 years and at the end you must pass certain tests etc. and produce work of a certain quality in order to be set up as a journeyman. In our line of work, the apprentices work on our jobs and at the same time attend school one day a week, in the afternoon, which is also taught by the older carpenters. In each class they are required to build at least one project and there is also written exams etc. I sometimes teach the welding class and during the last 2 weeks of class I require my boys to construct an item of their choosing. They have already spent the majority of the class time learning the technicalities of welding and then apply them to a project. Craft apprenticeships are similar in that you learn from the master as you work for them and then usually you are given use of the studio in the after hours to produce work of your own. Generally, the master will give you some guidelines about what they want you to make. Obviously, our apprentices are paid and I think most in the crafts receive at least some small stipend for their labor.
I will tell you this, most apprenticeships are designed to be somewhat hard. A lot of our boys have trouble with this idea on our jobs but it weeds out the ones who are not really interested in the work. As an apprentice you are the lowest man on the totem pole, if you know what I mean. The laborers even have authority over our apprentices. You will get every crap job there is. It's not meant to demean you in any way but you must learn every aspect, good and bad, of the craft you want to pursue. I have read that the potters apprentices in Japan must sweep the floor and clean up after the masters for 2 years before they are even allowed to touch any clay. We are not that bad on ours but they often complain that the foreman doesn't think the shovels fit anybody's hands but the apprentices.
I hope this info helps. Most women would do well to learn some kind of trade skills as it adds tremendously to your self confidence levels and self reliance.

*Alicia Keys

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Whiskey and Green Tea

This house is the one I am kinda using as a model for the colors on my house. The colors that you have seen on the house so far are primer. Some of the trim is the correct color but some of it is going to be restained. I really liked these colors. They feel very earthy and organic. Even the red and I think they all go with the galvalume roof well. And I think stone will look really great next to the green, if I ever get that done, that is. Of course, the architect hates it. I think he just fusses just to have something to disagree with me about. I don't have as much that I can paint red, as this house, besides my door though. I may add some steel brackets to my clerestory overhang and thought they would look good in red. I could add some window boxes as this house has but I have never really liked window boxes. Well, it will work out. As I said before, I think, I am using an opaque stain. It is water based, basically an acrylic resin. I am very happy with it so far but I wonder if it will be prone to fading.
Not much has gone on with the house this week. I have had to attend to some of the issues with the land. We finally pulled that tree up out of the creek and cut it up and I had to go down the driveway trimming limbs and saplings back. The grass seed I sowed is coming up great! Finally, the runoff is slowing down. I have started on a small retaining wall around the parking area. Planted a few more flowers.
We left work a little early today due to a strong lightning storm. If it just rains we have to wait until the boss calls it; lets us get out of the rain. But if it is lightning then we are allowed to call it. I was glad for a little rest as it was still raining when I got home. My back is pleading for more rest though! We have had to grade gravel for concrete slabs all week and that sucks. If you have never had to pull gravel then be very thankful. It does build up good stomach muscles though. I'm very anxious for the 3 day weekend coming and maybe I'll get a lot more done on siding.


Sunday, May 18, 2008

Cover Me

Siding update! Well, I have turned the corner, so to speak, and have run both the north and east sides as far up as I can reach with the current scaffolding. Here, I need to put my flashing above the windows and door before I can go any higher. On the north side I am completely finishing the siding as I go up, painting and all, so that I don't have to rebuild the scaffolding, so it is taking a little longer. Allen came and helped me this weekend so it went some faster. We had a little excitement Saturday though that I could have done without. We were on the north side working and I started noticing a bunch of these little bugs flying everywhere. Not that unusual; but after a time there was a lot more. I walked around to the east side to go in the house and there were hundreds of these little things everywhere and they looked like flying ants. Allen said it appeared that they were coming from the east and then it occurred to the both of us; we were in the midst of a termite colony swarm. I ran in the house and they were coming in under the door and seemingly through cracks in the windows too. If you don't live in the South I will tell you that nothing strikes fear in a homeowners heart down here like the word "termite". Maybe "tornado" but it's about the same. So, we spent the next 2 hours vacuuming termites out of the house and spraying and caulking, anything to get rid of those horrible creatures. No sign of them today.
Someone had asked about how I was running the siding around the windows since I had run the trim first. The siding is just cut out to the profile of the window and trim and then very carefully lifted into place and nailed. This is a piece waiting to be installed.
This is the same piece installed. If you are careful you can get a pretty tight fit. I will caulk these joints and paint and you'll never know the difference.
I have several plugs on the deck and around the house that I had to accommodate. When I was running the circuit, I just drilled a hole in the exterior wall and roughed out about a foot of wire in the approximate area I wanted the plug. I did not set a box yet. When I started running the siding I then could see where each piece was going to hit and could then put the box in the wall making sure that it was going to hit fully within one piece of siding. You don't want it to hit in between two pieces; it makes putting a cover on a royal pain. The siding is nailed every 16" on the studs. When I located the studs I just plumbed a line all the way up (that's the black line on the Tyvek) so that I would know where they were as I was nailing. I am using 4d galvanized nails with a small head for the siding. I am using 8d galvanized casing nails (no head) for the trim. You have to be careful with galvanized nails. I think that it is easier for your hammer to slip off the nail as you are driving it and hit the board. It's bad because if it slips off and you hit your nice, (expensive) cypress trim and leave a pecker mark, it will cause you to talk very ugly for a few minutes, so be aware of this.
Just for the record so that everyone does not think that I am a complete moron, I wanted to make a note of something. Pablo left a comment on the last post saying I should write a novel because I had a good theme in that post. I asked what that theme was; I wasn't sure. Well, I know what the main theme of the post was but I have noticed that a lot of the comments I get are not about what the main topic was, since I tend to ramble at the end of a post, such as now. That post had several ideas in it so Pablo could have, theoretically, been speaking of one of the others. Ha! I'm still dense and it takes me a while sometimes to think about things.

*Bruce Springsteen

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Ray Of Light

As I slowly carve the dense underbrush and brambles further and further from the edge of the forest surrounding my little house, I have noticed an incredible array of native shrubs and flowers beginning to emerge now that the sunlight is able to reach their roots once again. Species that I have never seen before and never imagined lived here in this valley. This is Grancy Graybeard (chionanthus virginicus) or "old man's beard" as many older people call it. There are several of these shrubs near the house as I have recently discovered. My mother recognized it when she came to visit recently and told me it's common name. Tons of flowers are also coming out such as violets, jack-in-the-pulpit, bee balm, butter weed, coreopsis and many more that I don't know right off.
One day while working in the garden, I was thinking about how all this life was blooming around here that I never knew would be here and it suddenly struck me how maybe our own lives are like this. If we cut back all the superfluous crap and stuff choking the light out of our lives, things would begin to bloom that we never knew were there. It doesn't matter if you look at this from a religious point of view or strictly philosophical because we all have way too much stuff in out lives that we think are so important, that really doesn't mean much. Too much physical and mental clutter. I mean, when we are at the end of our time here, is that 52" TV really going to matter? Or that we saw every episode of "American Idol"? But I'm not just picking on television, there are lots of things that occupy more of our finances and time than they should. Like, some people are appalled that I don't color my hair. What? Good God, if some man won't turn my way because the gray is noticeable at 10 feet then he probably couldn't handle me anyway.
I do think I work way too much sometimes. I get up at 4:30 a.m. and go to work for 8 or sometimes 10 hours, come home and work some more on this house or in the yard. I don't usually stop until time to go to bed about 9:00 p.m. I do try to get out on the weekends sometimes and attend a gallery opening or some such thing. Last month I went out on a few dates with a guy that a friend set me up with but nothing came of that. I am thinking that I may try to do a few arts and crafts shows this year just to get back out and socialize. Of course, there are some things that it's nice to indulge in a little. I like to make things and probably spend maybe a little too much money on music. I've mentioned before that I have had doubts about why I am trying to build this house this way (paying for it as I go and spending so much time on it) but I just didn't feel I had many options, so while I had the energy and money to do it, to go for it. It's a slow, hard way to go but I don't have any family or whatever that I would otherwise be neglecting so, why not? I'm glad now not to have a house payment but sometimes get very tired of never being through.
It's raining today over most of the state, a steady, soaking rain so we did not work today. I slept a little late which was nice but am frustrated because I can't work on the outside of the house! I think I will try to work on finishing the pantry walls. That is one room I have long ignored and it won't take much to finish it which would help my feelings a lot and help with some storage issues too.
* Madonna/ Ray Of Light album
she's flying, trying to remember where it all began
she's got herself a little piece of heaven
waiting for the time when earth shall be as one.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

All Our Past Times

I have been going through some old work photos to try and find some that might show form work for slabs and more specifically, the rebar specs, but have not been able to locate hardly any. Ron over at Homesteading Hickory Hills is about to form a slab roof for his root cellar and I am trying to get him some photos etc., although I think he is already on the right track. I haven't forgot about you Ron and will still send that little sketch for the outside forms. I did come across some funny and interesting photos though from waaay back though. This one above is obviously me but about 7 or 8 years ago. I was a journeyman at this point, working on a hospital. It struck me how clean and neat I look then. I mean, we try to all keep ourselves neat looking at work, as best we can, but my ol' hardhat is much more battered now, with a lot more stickers. Many construction workers collect stickers from the jobs they work on as sort of a record. I have 2 now that I prize highly with the NS logo; given to me by a major sweetheart. My nail apron is held together in many places with tie wire. I guess I am going to have to break down and buy some more. That hammer is still the same one I carry now but it is needing to go into retirement too. It has just gotten about impossible to find a 20 oz. leather handle, straight claw Estwing though. I don't wear suspenders anymore. Actually, that did not last long at all. Most of the guys wear them because our pouches are so heavy but let's just say, they don't have anything up top to "get in the way" of suspenders. I found them very irritating and I have enough caboose to keep my apron up, unlike most men! A lot of people ask me why I don't wear my nail apron when I work at home. Well, ours are a little different than what these guys on This Ol' House wear! Ours are longer and can weigh 15-20 lbs. if carrying all that we do for form work. When we get a chance to take them off, we do!
Turning 40 also has gotten me thinking a lot about where I've been and things I've done. I guess I've had a very different life experience than most women. This was a job I was on in North Carolina. It is not one of my favorite job memories because I was married at the time but it was interesting. It was who I was married to, not the fact that I was married btw. This is what we call a tilt-up. Basically, you pour the wall slab on the ground, as if it were a floor slab, and then you stand them up and secure them to the building frame. You can stack them up like cards on the ground and you spray a release agent on each on to (hopefully) keep them from sticking to one another. These are about 8" thick and weighed about 35 tons apiece. They have more rebar in them than a regular slab to withstand the stress of movement. Pouring the panels is fun and interesting but setting them is very dangerous and nerve wracking, at least to me. Generally, you have a separate contractor come in and set the panels. These guys make "danger pay" which is a higher rate when they are doing this because it is so risky. Many men have died because the wind will get up quickly and snatch the panels around or various other problems and break the straps to the crane.
With these big openings you would have a slight chance of getting through a hole but with the solid panels, well, at least it would be a fairly quick way to go. I was just a little apprentice on this job and had never been around anything like this before. We had a crew come in, mostly Hispanics, and began setting the panels on a Monday. Well, that night they all went out and just got really hammered because they were all too sick to come in the next day. Some of these guys are kinda rough. Anyway, we couldn't wait on them so we had to start setting them ourselves. Fortunately, our bosses had experience with the panels but it was still very scary to me and the other apprentice boy because we were the ones that had to climb up on the panels and secure them after they were put in place. We were very happy to see that crew come back in the next day. I think they were a little surprised to see that we had set a bunch without them.
I'm still working on siding; it's going pretty slow but it looks good. Maybe some photos of that soon. It has rained some more so I've had to stop now and again because of that. I did take the time yesterday morning to plant a good bit in the garden before it just got too late, so am very happy about that.

*Eric Clapton/ No Reason To Cry album

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Skin O' My Teeth

Well, I finally started running the siding. Let me just say, cement siding is very heavy to put up by yourself. I expected to be very sore in my shoulders this morning when I got up but actually felt pretty good. What I did was to measure up off the bottom of the sheathing to establish a level line. I put one mark on each end and one in the middle. A nail in the middle mark held one end of the chalk line and I popped the line one side at a time. Sighting down it, it looked pretty good. Once this line was established and the first run of siding up, I just repeated this process moving up, measuring off the top of the siding and allowing for an 1 1/4" lap of siding. This works only if you stay on your line well. I am going with a 7" reveal on the lap. I don't think I mentioned that before. The smaller reveals look too busy to me and seem more appropriate on a Victorian style house or similar.
Allen showed up at the end of the day to help with the cut pieces around the windows and he took these photos. It is going pretty slow as does everything around here. I am going to try to come up with a sketch or something of what the house will look like when it is completely done. It will change a lot. In addition to a whole 'nother half of house, there will be a large planter bed of poured concrete in front of all that concrete block you see. So, the block will not show at all. I am anxious to get that covered up. I am working on plans in my head about how to conceal a root cellar within this planter since it will be concrete. Of course, you will not be able to walk into it but it will be on the north side of the house and could store a fair amount of produce.
Above the block (around the windows) I am going to lay stone. I have started this process but have not gotten very far.
The title to the post refers to the fact that I swore to myself years ago that I would have my own house before I turned 40. Well, I turned 40 yesterday. But I live here and it is great. Being at home all week has really brought home the fact that there is so much here that is undone. I feel like a lot of times that I have bitten off way more than I can handle. I only have a few things planted in the garden and there are trees down all over the place from storms or construction that need cleaning up. It's hard for just 2 people to construct and maintain something on this much land, much less one. Allen has not started construction of his house yet (still working on the road) but I need to be able to help him when he does.
Some very heavy storms came through today so I had to stop work on the outside. We got a good bit of rain though, which is good. My non garden needs it. It is supposed to be nice tomorrow so I hope to get a lot done.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Knock On Wood

This is a load of cypress from Louisiana that I had milled to use as the exterior trim on the house. It is beautiful wood; I almost hate to stain it a color but that's the way it goes. I am using Hardie board lap siding on the house but could not find a suitable trim board in the Hardie product so that is my reason for going with the cypress. The options for trim are very limited when it comes to pre-manufactured siding but you don't have to go with what they have. The boards here were milled down to a full 1 1/4" thick by 12" wide. We then ripped them down to 5" for window and door trim and one side of the corner boards. The other side is 3 3/4" so the corners are equal and it worked out to use some of the 3 3/4" boards for the bottom trim under the sill. The drop from ripping these boards was exactly the right size to make the sill extensions out of so it worked out perfectly. The windows came with sill extensions but they were sized for brick mould, which I hate. Since I am going with a 5" trim, the sills were too short. Not too big a deal to make more and the ones on the windows popped off pretty easy.
Here you can see 2 of the north windows trimmed out. Yes, the trim goes up first and the lap siding will butt against the trim. That way you don't have any spaces under the trim as you would if you were to lay it over the siding. That calls for more careful cutting of the siding but that's OK. I am just hoping that there in minimal shrinkage in the wood. I still need to put up my corner boards, which won't take too long, and then I can start actually running siding.
This is a little detail shot of the trim. The small groove in the back of the sill will cover up with the siding. The windows had a 1/4" tenon along the front that the sill extension fit over so we had to make these with the same thing. It will help keep the sill in line. I ran a bead of caulking in that groove and then slipped it in place. I also nailed, up through the sill, into the side pieces in order to hold that 1/4" reveal. Wider boards sometimes want to try to twist so I'm hoping to stop some of that. The sills extend past the sides 1" both ways, as does the header piece. That is sort of a Craftsman style trim and always been one of my favorites.
I am using an opaque stain on the trim and siding. It is basically an acrylic resin. Goes on like paint but you can actually see the grain in the wood well. I am very pleased with the look. I think it has something like a 20 year warranty. I am trying to avoid the peeling and blistering that you get with paint by using this stain. There are a fair amount of colors to choose from but not like paint. It is the Olympic brand. I wanted to use Cabot but they did not have the colors that I wanted.
I have never thought of myself as a great trim carpenter but am very pleased with how this is looking so far. The wood trim just has such a nice feel to it.

*Eddie Floyd

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Comin' Home Part 2

So this is the second half of the drive. This is at the sharp turn by the rocks. Lots of oak leaf hydrangeas grow along here.
The drive makes another kind of sharp turn at the top of this little hill and then it is the final stretch to the house. I am looking back down the drive here, towards the creek. Several concrete truck drivers have had a pause here at this curve but we have never had any problems getting any of the big trucks in.
This is the last leg of the journey and you can see in the distance where the clearing starts. There is a little area here, over to the right, where there is another large boulder and that I want to plant more hydrangeas and ferns etc. Maybe some more daylilies!
Now it opens up to where the house sits. Over to the right is my pathetic little garden that I am woefully behind in planting. Hopefully, this will be the last photo you see of that freaking house wrap as it will soon be covered with siding! I know the house looks funny but when all the retaining walls are poured around it etc. it will look closer to the ground. The way it is now does not make sense to a lot of people but I know in my head what it is going to look like finished. I just have trouble explaining it to everyone else.
To answer your question Pablo; I believe this was a 25 acre lake and the shore of it came to about where my house sits. You can see how the land kinda slopes off to the right; in the direction of the creek. We have found an anchor and fishing lures right in the vicinity of the house and driveway. The dam broke in 1963 so it has had quite some time to grow up. I was born in 1968 but we won't discuss that as my birthday is Wednesday and I may be having a crisis. Oh yeah, you can see ol' Blue sitting over there in his little parking spot and who is now paid off!
I start my weeks vacation tomorrow although I will be working the whole time. But I will be working on my house and not for the Man so it is very good.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Comin' Home Part 1

It occurred to me the other day that I have not posted any photos of the land or garden areas in some time and that a lot of readers may have no idea what type of surroundings are here. I am tired of posting shots of the unfinished house so I thought I would show some other stuff. Allen and I have a little over 17 acres here although it is divided between us. It is basically a whole valley. My house sits back off the road about 1,000 feet. The terrain, my desire for privacy and layout of the property lines are the reason for this. Basically, the best home site was just that far back. When we first acquired the property it was completely inaccessible. Fortunately, since I work for a large construction company, I was able to procure the use of some heavy equipment to make things work out. Still, I tried not to disturb the terrain any more than necessary. Oh, a large part of the land was once under water because back the 50's, this was the site of a man-made lake. This photo shows the beginning of my drive. There is a very large sycamore tree right there on the right.
I enjoyed Pablo's video he made of his drive into his land and so that is part of where this comes from. I have no idea how to make and download a video though so this will have to do. Basically, I just walked up to the furthest point you see in the photo to take the next one. The sloping banks you see on either side of the drive here are what is left of the old earth dam. I was very fortunate to be able to use this soil as the fill and base for the driveway. It would have been very expensive to haul in that much dirt and very destructive to have tried to gather it from around the property.
This is just past the dam and right before the big rock bluff that I showed a few days ago. Some of the areas on the sides of the drive are fairly bare and I would like to eventually have these all planted with native shrubs and flowers. The rock bluff is on the left but it is mostly obscured by the trees now. We had to move a few very large boulders here to be able to get the road in but just moved them over to the other side to help shore up that soil. We also moved the small, spring creek over just a few feet to give a little more room! What you can do with even small equipment. Of course, we got a backhoe stuck right here so bad I thought we were going to have to call a wrecker. If you look off to the right at the turn there in the drive you can see where the spring creek joins the main creek. I have planted some groups of irises and there are at least 2 different types of ferns that grow there naturally. Maybe you can make them out in this photo. You can see the main creek over to the right for most of the drive. It makes for a very pleasant walk too.
I will show the rest of the drive tomorrow maybe. I have this whole week off from work and hope to get a large portion of the siding up. I received the trim yesterday afternoon and will start staining that Sunday since it is raining here today.
*Deep Purple