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Thursday, September 11, 2014

Finishing the Battlements

OK, so they're not technically battlements. They're retaining walls. But they're really, really sturdy, like we imagine battlements to be. Even though we've never seen a battlement. Enough, already, about battlements.

The skirting on the NW side of the house had been installed originally without adequate framing behind it, and the erosion from the hill behind it caused it to cave in.

See the stripe in the middle of the house? Where the P.(revious) O.(wner) did not seal the two halves, but rather left them exposed the elements for 8 years? That's where Mikey patched them together. Below that is the section of skirting that is being forced under the house by the pressure of the eroded earth.
We were lucky enough to stumble into meeting a great guy, Tony Carastia, who is a superb earthworks fellow. He dug out the 3 sides of the house that we could easily get to, so that the skirting could be replaced.

The original idea was to replace the faulty skirting AND create permanent access ways to get under the house, instead of just peeling down a section of the skirting and clambering over it, which was the P.O.'s idea of access.

Front trench with new framing

NW side trench
We debated several ideas on creating the access ways. Railroad ties (too heavy and dulls the chainsaw chain too fast), landscape timbers (too expensive), CMU or concrete blocks (too fussy and requires to much precision, neither of us is a mason, don't want to pay yet another person to do something we should be able to do ourselves) - these were rejected in favor of messing about with earthbags. We had already decided to make the tank house from scoria filled earthbags, and we had plenty of bags on hand. And we figured it would be fairly hard to screw it up, since it seemed kind of loosey goosey to begin with.

First row of bags filled with gravel (instead of earth) to provide drainage.
We had to butt the bags up against the new skirting, so it's a good thing that Mikey made the framing sturdy. The little dark stripes on the house in the photos are pieces of masking tape showing the locations of 2x4s and pipes.

A few more layers of bags added.
We were able to level as we went up, although the second or third layer was a partial one to sort of even things up. Surprisingly, we did not make ourselves crazy with the leveling - it was very much a case of  'good enough'. We drove rebar through 5 evenly spaced locations after the first 3 or 4 rows because there would be a goodly amount of soil pressure on the wall. We also drove more rebar in later in staggered places to help solidify the whole thing.  (You may be able to see where we marked the bags on the inside of the curve to indicate where the rebar was driven.) The curve helped with stability.

He looks surprisingly cheerful for a guy who isn't half finished yet.

We added sections of PVC pipe to the top with long nails in order to shed moisture. I now think it was unnecessary in our dry climate, and weakened the burlap-crete. I would not do this again unless I lived in a very rainy place.

 Can I just say at this juncture that we are profoundly grateful for the help of 3 people, without whose generosity to put their work on the internet we could have not done this? Owen Geiger and Kelly Hart have made earthbag building a real DIY concern with tons of information and design ideas. They are both generous with their expertise and experience, and really made us feel that we could do this despite being in our 50's. The covering we chose - burlap-crete - has a long history, but it was the efforts of John Annesley that made this actually doable for us. His recipe, along with details about what he tried that turned out to be unsuitable, let us do this without time consuming experimentation.

Battlement with burlap--crete covering.

And with the backfilling complete - YAY! Finshed! Thanks Tony! Dibs on the Ben-Gay!

In the same spirit of sharing that got us here, please email me with any questions about what we specifically did that worked, and what could have used improvement. And wear protective clothing when working with the rapid set mortar that John recommends. I got burns on my legs from wearing shorts the first day. (Have water and vinegar on hand to treat cement burns and do not use lotion. It can trap the chemicals under its oil layer and deepen the burns!)

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Writing Wihout Crying, Almost

That was a refreshing swim.
 Last Friday, February 7th, 2014, our beloved, beautiful, funny, wonderful spotty dog Hoopa died. She died in crisis. A crisis I was responsible for preventing, and I failed her.  Yet, this morning, I am less depressed. It must be the sun. The sun is out today. Not like yesterday, an awful, gray, cold, gloomy day during which I was very sad. How fickle is my physiology.

I was sleepin'.
 Have I cried so many tears that some of the stress has left my tissues? Does the repetition of daily activity dull or mask the pain? I wish I knew more about the mechanism of this. I just feel guilty about feeling a little better.

My big ol' swamp feet come in handy for lots of stuff.

Sunday night/early Monday morning Hoopa visited me in a dream. She was her usual exuberant self, and this time she needed to be restrained while the pizza guy made his delivery. She was wearing a pretty blue collar, quite unlike her real boring black one. She wiggled her happiness at the visitor, and tried to get close to see where his wonderful smells were hiding. It wasn't but a snippet of the dream that I remembered, or maybe it wasn't much of a dream. But I felt her and saw her, and loved her and was with her again, if only for a few seconds. I love you Hoopie.

Ah. There are the tears. Not all dried up yet, I guess.

Gettin' ready to shake after an unexpected dip in the pond.

Later that same morning, before I got out of bed, I reached over to the spot by the side of the bed where she always came to greet me. I reached out my hand and petted her head, as if she were still there. She sort of was, and sort of wasn't, there. Her spirit was certainly there. It was as if I could almost see her, but not quite.

I want my dog back. Even though it is my fault she is dead, and I don't deserve to have her back. I want my Miss MouseWhiskers back. Miss SpottyHead. Hoopa Chalupa. Hoopie Toots.

Westcliffe grass is the best.

Next Monday I have a session scheduled with the animal communicator who helped me during Sallie's last months. Many people poo-poo this, but she told me things no one could have known. Things that happened when only Sallie and I were present, that I never told anyone. There is no explanation for that. If it brings me some peace, there is no harm in it. If you don't buy this, keep it to yourself. I don't need to hear your opinion right now. Thanks.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Whose Life Is It, Anyway?

I looked up at the clock and it had gone from 9:08 to 10:39, and I had barely noticed. Sometimes I feel as though I could spend all day, every day, reading other people's blogs. Who wants to read about other people's lives instead of living their own? Apparently, I do.

This realization begs the question - why? Well, obviously because I am supremely dissatisfied with my own. Surely this is not good for my mental health. But what to do about it?

I recognized my dissatisfaction a few weeks ago, and resolved to move to the Canon land, if for no other reason that to quench my city created thirst with that wondrous view, and to cut some of the numerous dead trees we will burn for heat. I knew I would miss the boys, but maybe they would come down with Mikey. I had hope.

Meaningful work - maybe that's what I miss. Housekeeping is necessary, but repetitive and boring. Alas, that plan has come to a screeching halt by our slip-sliding adventure in the truck after Christmas. It is just not safe, especially for me by myself with an increasingly variable set of palpitations. And so I sit and read other people's blogs and dream of pit greenhouse and swales collecting snow melt and ponds and ducks and fruit trees and hazelnut bushes.

I was raised in various suburbs as an Army brat. For years after reaching adulthood, I would get "itchy suitcase syndrome" if I lived too long in one place. Then After Kids, I craved to be home, which was wherever my dad was. And he was in Colorado Springs. So home I went.

Life was stressful as a single parent, but doable only because of his existence next door. And then, when I was 36 going on 8, he died. Nothing has ever been the same since - well, how could it be? It is different now without him - but I have been surprised at how the pain of his absence and the one  rock solid love I could count on have become things I have learned to do without. I think, if you let it, time can heal a lot of wounds.

I think that having to get up each morning for the boys lent a stability to my life that I desperately needed. Thanks, fellas. You also helped me force myself to be a better person, because I couldn't just continue on being that big selfish jerk. I loved you too much - more than I knew was possible. I'm profoundly, sincerely sorry it took so long.

The older I get, the weirder I get. I don't know if this is true with most other people. I wish I did know. It might make me feel better. In my youth, it was much easier to "act". I was an actor, after all. Amateur theater, but none the less, theater, and lots of it. I could be in large groups of people and be OK. Now, I just get tired. Like they are stealing my precious energy. And for what? What do I gain? Unless the group is a choir, nothing. I have about 12 people in my life - that's it. And if you put them all together in the same room, even though I love them all, I don't know how long I could stay, comfortably.

I spent as much of my youth as my dad's Army career allowed in the company of horses. They were never frightening to me - just gentle giants. I loved the crappy little ranch where I learned to ride at age 3. My parents loved to tell the story of how we all went WAY out to Black Forest to look at a horse they were thinking of buying for me because I was so horse crazy. (So was Daddy.) The small black mare stood quietly while I was lifted up on to her bare back. Then I gave a good kick and off we went, at a full gallop, through the pine trees. My folks were scared to death - what had they done? But Trixie and I just went for a lope in the forest, and everything was fine. Up until her wretched death, everything between us was fine.

Some part of that kid is desperate to get back to the land where the houses are widely spaced and you can stop and look at the native grasses at your feet and look up and see the birds cruising and feel free.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Slip-Slidin' Away (with appologies to Paul Simon)

In our last trek to Canon after Christmas, we decided to go into town for something after it had snowed about 2".  I said I wanted the practice of driving the dually in snow up the driveway. Michael Francis only lifted his eyebrows. His mouth remained wisely closed. Off we went!

Isn't it gorgeous? Now if we could only get there and then out again without risking our lives...

We were not very far up the driveway, heading into the section with a moderate slope, but a nasty drop off, when the truck started to slide toward the edge of the abyss. (I love that word. How many times does a person get to use that word?) Because I have a profound fear of heights, my first instinct was to take my foot off the gas. This only allowed us to come to a rather panicky stop, but didn't actually stop the sliding much. I crookedly backed down the driveway, all the while wondering how long it would be before my heart stopped pounding it's jungle message. (Dum, dum, dum. Get the f*** away from the edge, you dum, dum, dum, idiot!)

Needless to say, all driveway driving was done by Mikey after that, and he was NOT at all happy about it. We even left early to come back to the Springs when another snow was predicted. We have decided that the driveway is just not safe, and have asked the two northwesterly neighbors for permission to drive across their land, so as to lessen the risk of dying by pickup. Nobody'd even find us right away unless they knew where to look. Arg.

 In addition to our driving fun, someone failed to negotiate the turn from Hwy 50 on to Hwy 9 on the previous snowy eve. The driver hit the upright to which the gate was attached, shearing the old telephone post off at the ground and taking out 30' of board fencing. Good thing we don't have animals to contain. The rotten bottom of that post saved that driver from serious injury or death. Surprisingly, he didn't leave us his insurance information.

And now, some fun! Bubba's feet got very dirty somewhere in the yard and he pranced into the house like nothing whatsoever was wrong! And then he got a foot bath. He was very agreeable after he understood that it was just the feet.

Another great, if imperfect, ReStore sink.

LOVE that face!

Monday, January 13, 2014

Nuestro baño se completa! ¡Casi! (Love that Google translator)

Two days past Christmas 2013 found us in Canon once again, attempting to finish the smaller bathroom. We (that's the royal 'we' of mostly Mike and Don, and a little bit of me) had successfully (not in this order) installed a new tub and toilet, scraped off the popcorn ceiling, painted all flat surfaces, and installed the ReStore procured vanity and faucet, along with  the garage sale travertine tile and grout. Now some small shelving on the wall above the vanity, hang the curtain I stole from the Colorado Springs' house's upstairs bathroom, and Voila! A relatively non-gross place to get clean! Hooray!

This is not the actual vanity, but rather a near clone. I dreamt of this exact model, and then found it at the ReStore store. And it fit in the space. Math people, give me some odds, here!

The stolen curtain's colors work well with the paint and tile. Thanks, Better Homes and Gardens, for your relentless emails.

The faucet, even at ReStore, cost more than the vanity and the tile for the countertop.

 It is no accident that there is no close up of the sink. I fell in love with this large, navy blue, unusual (to me) shaped sink, knowing that it had come from a bar, not a bath. I bought it because it is large enough to wash a giant's undies or bathe a baby or even a small dog who likes to jump out of the bath water.

The shelves haven't been painted yet, but they still hold stuff very nicely.

What I failed to notice was that the white edged lines in the bowl were chemical etching, not water marks as I had blissfully assumed. (I'd never heard of chemical etching, but it turns out to be a big deal with enamel sinks. Use no acids or abrasives of any kind. Not even Magic Eraser.) And then there is the visual weirdness of looking down into your new bathroom sink to see a kitchen "basket" instead of the ubiquitous bathroom stopper thingy. You wouldn't think that would be a big thing, but it turns out it is as weird as looking down and noticing that you are wearing shoes of two different colors. (I dyed some sneakers once. Don't ask.)

But what is does beat, in all it's non-standardness and over-looky-loos, is a tobacco chew stained plastic sink. Yes, Miss Perfection Pants, it beats the crap out of that.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Oz Posts Are Not Australian, But They Are Handy, Like Australians

Mikey and his buddy Tony are quite a pair. Tony finds great stuff at auctions, and Mikey buys some it for projects. Like these wonderful Oz posts that support our new, keep-me-from-expiring-in-the-heat shade cloth cover over the back porch. You just drive these things in with a jackhammer (or the tireless joints of a much younger man), set your metal post in the bracket and move onto the next post.

The first post was driven in on the previous weekend by our own mighty Mikey. It took about 20 minutes, including rest periods. Soon after, a decision was made to rent a jackhammer for the other 3 posts. Each of them took about 35 seconds each. Nuff said.

Here is a clip of Mikey using a jackhammer to drive one of the posts:


Here are the 4 metal posts secured to the ground by the Oz post ground anchors. A ledger board is attached to the house and a continuous loop of multi-strand wire is laced through eye bolts.
A slightly closer look at the wire loop. Carabiners in the corners allow the tension to be adjusted.
Mikey resting under the shade cloth after the fence post bit him. More on that in the story of the backyard gate. He is wearing an ice pack on his head.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Horse Shed Demolition - Stage 1

Last weekend, we started salvaging the wood from the horse shed that blew down last year. There is a fair amount of decent wood in that big, messy pile, so we just dug in and began to unscrew and de-nail the boards. It was very satisfying work until the temperature started to climb, and then it was just misery.

A bit of a mess.

OSB pieces in a less than satisfactory structural role.

Mikey likes to think about things before entering the fray.

There was lots of bending over.

A nice neat pile of reusable boards.
Yay! Phase 1 is complete!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Cabinet Doors and a Day Lost in Westcliffe

Last Friday, after a stressful week(s) of work for Mikey, we took a 3 day weekend to Cañon. The weather was abnormally warm for late March/early April. The bank clock said 88 on Sunday when we were headed home. The sky was fabulously blue, and we were happy to be back in the wilds in the sunshine. Yay for vitamin D!

The first order of business was to fix the barb wire fence to keep out MegaHoof and his friend Kong.

They look so innocent, but those butts can be dangerous.

They had a bad habit coming across the one downed section of fence and pushing around our straw bales. That in and of itself isn't so bad, except that the bales they accosted were being used for important things like keeping the gutter drain in place and insulating the water line from the cistern. Now that we have a well with a hydrant, we were concerned that they'd rub their butts on the hydrant and snap the thing off. So wrestling with barbed wire became desirable. Sort of.

The geodesic quonset in Westcliffe when the tarp was new. This becomes relevant in a minute, but I needed a photo here because the text is too long. Patience is good for the soul.

Mikey did a bang up job of fixing the fence, as usual, while I performed my usual outstanding tool fetching and annoying comment making. It was amazing how tight he was able to re-string the wire!  We'll see if it keeps those rascals out. The PO (previous owner) seemed to feel that cementing in corner posts was against his religion, and as such, the posts that "anchored" the large metal gate were also flat on the ground, along with the gate. Mikey hauled them back into position, but if this four footed black knight and his sidekick lean on them a little bit, the gate will flop right over again. It was late Friday afternoon when we finished, and we were too tired to even think about dragging larger posts down there and setting them properly. Besides, we didn't want to get it all done in one day. Where's the fun in that?

The wind and sun really took their toll on the tarp.

We had heard from one of our neighbors in Westcliffe that somebody had pitched a tent on the land next to ours, and was driving at 60 mph on the dirt road, and doing who know what else. Since they had also sent us the above photo, we decided it was time to take a trip back to the Wet Mountain Valley.

The beloved geodesic quonset had to be divested of its tattered tarp, and generally given the once over. There was only one cracked strut, which we thought was pretty good considering the 90+ mph winds they had up there last winter and this spring. Its fate is unknown. We'd like to finish it, but then again, we'd like to haul it to Cañon and use it for storage there. One problem we keep running into is that one of  us works all the time, and the other of us isn't supposed to sweat or breathe hard. It is REALLY tough to get anything done under those conditions.

Our trip to Westcliffe took up most of the day, and when we got back, napped and ate it was time for more stuff.

OK, so that's really a 3 day total, but you get the idea.

We finally reinstalled the crappy cabinet doors on the crappy cabinets, but after they were all painted. It's kinda cheery now!
Every photo looks better with a dog in it. Maybe some day I will remember to remove the blue painters tape from the floor.
Before. Uck.

 Mikey started the trim work on the hood thingy, but ran out of material before he got too far.
See that little bitty white trim so neatly mitered at the corners? That's Mikey's work!
If we're not careful, pretty soon it's gonna be time to start on the guest bathroom. The one with the black tub.

Monday, March 5, 2012

The Garmin GPS and Mikey Save Us $2,000

Our lot in Cañon City is extremely odd shaped, and it goes literally over hill and dale. We really had no idea where the lot lines were, and I was getting antsy wondering if the beloved ponds were even really on our land. Instead of paying the surveyor 2 grand, Mikey bought a Garmin GPS unit, and found a program online that tells you how to find the points delineating your lot using the information in your deed. Sweet!

As these photos clearly show, our lots line are frequently up. And also over. But it was a beautiful day, so we enjoyed ourselves immensely.

Here are some more photos of other parts of the lot that are not visible until you go up and over, which I don't plan on doing again, as I am not a goat.

And, oh yeah! The ponds are ours! YAY!