Ranch Redux: A Ranch Done Wright

Where Angels Fear to Tread

April 1, 2013
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All of my friends and family who have been asking for an update on the house, here it is.  Please forgive my tardiness.  Really, we have been quite busy with the finishing process.  It is not as sexy as placing poles or framing the house, so there is less to photograph and write about.  Let’s just say we have made a lot of progress.  Finishing the house has been excruciatingly slow.  Originally we thought the project would take two years from start to finish.  Of course it has been more than that already.  Little by little the jobs have gotten done.  So here is the story.

We did the grading of the lot and started working on the back yard.  It is really a great transformation from a construction site to a usable backyard.

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The view from the backyard turned out much better than we expected.  We couldn’t be more pleased.  Tim spends many happy afternoons on the deck with his binoculars and a beer.  It is a great pleasure to see him enjoy the fruits of his labor.  He spent so much time and energy building our dream house.  He certainly deserves to sit and watch the boats sail by.  The sunsets are particularly grand.

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Living in a coastal desert, we have taken pains to install drought resistant plants.  There are so many fabulous varieties available to choose from.  I am notorious for having a brown thumb, but I am going to do my best not to kill these beauties.

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Although we were not quite finished with the house for the holidays, we decided to decorate with abandon anyway.  We found all of our old, treasured family Christmas ornaments and started decking the halls!  It turned out to be simply beautiful.  I have learned so much from my mother about decorating.

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When we found out we had to tear down the back room and rebuild it, it was one of my darkest moments.  However, it seems as if this turned out to be a blessing in disguise because we were able to reconstruct the room big enough to hold a billiard table.  Tim and Joe have had many lively billiard tournaments.  Joey is getting quite good and is thinking about starting a billiards club when he goes to high school next year.  I stick mostly to pinball and Words with Friends.

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After flirting with the idea of building a cinderblock wall between the kitchen and the living room, we decided to keep it open.  We love the uncluttered feeling, although it means I have to keep the kitchen cleaner than I am used to.

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We may have been foolhardy when we started this project, and we clearly bit off more than we can chew, but now that it is mostly done we are happy idiots.


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Three (Not Fifty) Shades of Gray

August 30, 2012
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We finally came to grips with the color of our plaster.  It wasn’t easy because we kept changing our minds.  We first were sure we wanted a dark aqua green-gray with lighter gray trim, sort of like Agua Hedionda at dusk.  We got the stucco samples from Expo Stucco and we were pretty sure that was the color until we went to Dunn-Edwards and used a computer program that superimposed our color on a picture of our house.  It was just too green!

Then Tim and I started dreaming about blues.  It probably was due to a perfect summer’s day in late June.  The weather was balmy, the sapphire sky clear, and the ocean a glittery cerulean. We had just had lunch at our favorite sushi place in San Clemente and decided to go for a little walk.  We strolled down to the pier where the perfection of the day was clearly contagious.  The pier was pretty busy with walkers and gawkers and fishers along the pier’s railing.  A pack of pre-pubescent giggling girls pranced by dancing for each other to the music in their heads.  We walked to the end of the pier remarking on how it felt like we were on a tropical vacation.

On our way back to shore we noticed many people staring over the south side of the pier railing.  Someone asked “Is that a stingray?” It was a stingray caught by a fisherman’s hook.  Tim and I watched as the man carefully reeled the stingray in.  I couldn’t help but feel bad for the ray even though I eat fish.  We just had sushi after all, yet there is something special about how they fly in the water that made me sad to see the ray hooked. The stingray was struggling while it was in the water, but seemed to give up as it reached the surface. The fisherman continued to reel the ray in slowly, out of the water, ever closer to the frying pan.  Then the ray made a violent, jerking motion that dislodged the hook.  He splashed back into the water and swam away.  Tim and I shared looks of relief and joy, but the fisherman was not so pleased.  A day may come when Lucky Ray ends up on a plate, but it is not this day!

So we went back to Dunn-Edwards and chose azure-gray and midnight blue-gray, pretty much deciding to pull the trigger and order the plaster.  The woman there suggested we get samples and paint large swathes of the colors before go much further.  She told us that pretty much everyone changes their mind after they see their colors painted on large boards.  I guess we are like pretty much everyone. No, the blues were too blue.  Finally it occurred to me that we had a simple, yet insurmountable problem.  We want our house to be painted like the sea: sapphire blue at midday, aqua and mercurial at dusk, gray, sullen and brooding during a storm.  With only pigments rather than the infinite hues of the sea at our disposal, we went with three shades of green-gray.

If you ever need to stucco your house and are in the area, Mike Hamnquist is the guy for you.  The work was beautifully done.  Mike’s crew was on time, polite, and super neat.  One worker, Thomas, has been working as a plasterer for thirty years.  He is a true artist.

The colors of the ocean are etched deep in my consciousness. In fact, I love everything about the sea: the smell, the sound, the surfers.  Oh, the surfers!!  And I love our funny little beach town.  The old part of Carlsbad is an odd mix of contrasts.  There are the multi-million dollar Mc Mansions on the coast, but you walk two blocks east and you could be in any modest Southern California suburb.  A guy sells zucchini, chard, and kale that he grows in his yard from a kiosk in front of his house and five blocks south there is a guy who has to park his Maserati on the street because his garage is filled with his expensive toys. There is a distinct rhythm to the town as well.  During the fall, winter, and spring Carlsbad is pretty quiet.  When I walk on the boardwalk or in town I recognize more people than not.  Then Memorial Day and the requisite RVs parked on the street signals the beginning of the tourist season.

Every May I am caught off-guard.  You would think I would be used to the tourist tsunami considering I grew up in a tourist town and have lived in a one tourist trap or another pretty much all of my life.  I have clear memories of me and my sisters, with linked arms, marching on the shoreline of Big Corona, chanting:

“T.G.H.  Tourists go home.

T.G.H.  Tourists go home. “

They didn’t.  But we knew something the visitors did not. If Big Corona was so crowded that we could barely find a place for our towels on the sand, we could go south, up and over the hill to Little Corona, also known as Buster’s Dip. There was always space there and tide pools too.  Just like our kids know that if the line for Cessy’s is out the door, they can always go two blocks in and get their tacos at Lola’s.

I always feel exhilarated in the beginning of the summer.  I am swept up in the energy and joy of the sightseers.  I am thrilled to hear the various languages in town, some I recognize, some I don’t. I love watching the toddlers squeal as they run from the waves, or the young couples arms wrapped around each other on the shoreline staring at the infinite waves, or the old couples walking hand-in-hand on the boardwalk happy to be on vacation together.  But what is charming in June becomes annoying in July and downright intolerable by August.  By August all I see are strangers racing around eager to do everything in their bucket list before their holiday ends.  It used to be that the tourists would stop me for directions or recommendations, but now they are all armed with smart phones and Lonely Planet aps.  They no longer need the locals.

The frenzy reaches a fever pitch and then like a summer cold, the fever breaks Labor Day weekend. People go back to their homes and work, children go back to school, and the locals come out from wherever they have been hiding.

Carlsbad has pretty much perfect weather. (although we do love to complain if it goes above 80 degrees or below 60 degrees).  We don’t have blizzards, hurricanes, tornadoes, bugs, or even mud season.  The only disagreeable season we have to endure is tourist season.  I guess it’s not so bad.  Happy Labor Day!


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Getting Plastered

June 27, 2012
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I haven’t written anything for the blog in the past few months, mostly because construction has slowed way down.  I could give several objective reasons for the slowdown such as:  Tim’s business has picked up and he busy making exceptionally beautiful ukuleles; we have had family obligations that have taken quite a bit of Tim’s time; in the past six months we have traveled more than we usually do; our construction budget is stretched so thin you could see through it if you held it up to the light; and Tim had to teach himself to be an electrician and wire the house  before we could drywall the interior of the house.  However, the main reason is that the house is actually pretty comfortable now.  Our motivation to spend every waking moment working on the project waned a bit in the winter.   With summer upon us, our motivation is waxing again.

We are really enjoying the house in its present state in spite of being rough.  The house used to be oriented to the east.  The living room faced the street and three out of four bedrooms took up the west facing wall.  Now the kitchen, dining room, and living room face westward, toward the backyard.  The yard itself is mostly dirt and construction debris as of yet, but the light coming in from the big windows and the skylights makes me happy.

Another benefit of facing the backyard is I can observe the secret world of chicken and cats.  You would think that the cats would dominate the backyard hierarchy.  After all, they are gopher killing machines equipped with razor sharp teeth and claws.  Yet, the cats live in fear of the chickens.  Moe will not even venture out the door if the chickens are in sight.  I have to distract the chickens with sunflower seeds to allow Moe safe passage.   Jade, the neighbor’s cat, is a little more bold, but he too gives the girls wide berth.  Clearly, Yoshi and Toto rule the roost.

The chickens love looking in at us too.  They sit outside looking in. It appears as if they are planning on taking over our “coop” just as soon as they can find a crack in our defenses.  If the window is open, they loiter around the opening.  Toto has even gotten as far as standing on the step and leaning in the house.  I imagine Yoshi egging her on (pun intended). “Go on Toto, you can do it!”  Toto answers “What if I get caught?”  “You chicken!” Yoshi chides.  Then the moment passes, something catches Toto’s eye, and they go back to scratching the dirt looking for bugs.

Although construction is progressing slowly, we are making some progress.  After the lathe, electrical work, and drywall on the exterior walls, we had the exterior plastered.  It took the plasterers six days to apply the scratch and brown coats.  The brown coat is really grey (I don’t know why they don’t call it scratch and grey).  First they mix the cement and put it on a hawk, which is like a heavy tray.   Then they apply the cement, by hand, with a trowel.  It is very physically demanding work.

They did a really nice job.  There were fast, careful, and neat.

Mike, the stucco guy, told us to wait as long as we can before we have them apply the color coat to give the house a chance to settle.  That way the cracks that are bound to happen will happen before the color coat is applied.  So we wait.  Before the plastering the house talked to us in a constant, quiet way.  It whispered, whined, and chuckled.  When it rained the house got more talkative, but it was never that loud.  Now that we have tons of cement hanging on the wood frame, the house has changed its tune.  It is quieter for longer periods of time, but when it decides to say something it bellows: “CREAKKKK!!!!”  With each creak and crack, the house settles and we get closer to the color coat.

We are struggling with the color scheme.  The house has some pretty dynamic angles so we don’t want to go too bold with the colors choice.  Tim’s dad, Joe, warned us against making the house look like a Rubik’s cube.  Sadly, I guess primary colors are out!  The chimney looks a little like a ship’s smokestack, so we are staying away from nautical blue-greys as well We are leaning toward green-greys,  grey, and taupe.  They are safe choices, but hopefully not too boring.  It is tricky because stucco is forever.

In the meantime we watch the chickens terrorize the cats, listen to the house settle, and enjoy  the balmy days of June.


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Year of the Dragon

February 13, 2012
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Normally when the New Year comes around I feel nostalgic and a little sad to see the previous year end.  Not this year.  That White Metal Rabbit year was a real tough one.  I remember so clearly Christmas 2010, siting at the kitchen table doggedly writing our Christmas cards.  We had no walls, no heat, and trenches that filled with water running through our house, but I was determined to have a great Christmas in spite of it all.  And we did, largely due to Tim and the kids going along with my fantasy, and our dear friends who gave us the refuge of their home while they were visiting their family back East.  So when the Year of the White Metal Rabbit began, I had high hopes. Years of the Rabbit are usually pretty awesome; Joey was born in the last one.

Year of the Rabbit started with the theft of our car.  We got it back, pretty much unscathed a couple of months later, but this should have been a warning sign of the trials we were to encounter.  Last winter was the rainiest in recent memory, and the rain seeped in to the trenches leaving the house damp, dank, and cold.  The foundation pour had to be postponed again and again.  Later in the year, we found out about having to rebuild the back room from the foundation up.  As we got further into the remodel, we knew that we really were beyond our ken. Framing took twice as long as we expected, we had several problems with our windows and skylights, and the summer slipped by.  Then Joey broke his knee.  I was pretty much at my wits end, but I knew we had no choice but to go forward.

Toward the end of the year things started to look up.  The framing was finished, the roof was completed, and we no longer had to worry about rain streaming into the house.  Moreover, and more importantly, Joey healed well and fast, so he didn’t need knee surgery.  What a relief.  Corrina and Sam were coming home for Christmas and we had some amazingly low tides!

Right before Christmas, Tim and I moved upstairs.  It isn’t completed and we only have a bed and night stand, but moving upstairs made all the difference in my attitude.  It is like living in a tree house.

Often I stare out the picture window and wonder how Tim and I ever managed this project.  With a shoestring budget and no real understanding of construction it feels as if we pulled off a casino heist à la “Oceans Eleven” or something.  Tim and I underestimated everything: the cost of construction, the time it would take, the disruption that the construction would cause.  The only thing we overestimated was our capacity to live in chaos.

Nevertheless, this time I didn’t have to pretend all was well at Christmas, it really was.  We set up our dining table, got a beautiful Christmas tree, and reveled in friends and family.

Corrina and Sam came home to a livable space, not finished, but livable.  We now are water tight with paper and lathe. Tim is working on the electrical system.  We will begin the plastering process in a week or two. Living here is hardly a challenge anymore!

As bad as it was, I did learn some things in the Year of the Rabbit however.  I learned that I have a very resourceful husband who would be great to have around in a post-apocalyptic world.  Tim managed to keep us safe and relatively happy during some of the most difficult times.  Like when someone drilled into the water pipe and we had no water inside for a few days, Tim fashioned, Rube Goldberg style, water from the hose outside to cook, clean, and bathe.  I also found out that if you are without a toilet for any length of time, it is better to use the grocery store’s bathroom, which is clean and well stocked, than the gas station’s bathroom.   I learned that I am very lucky to have friends who will drop what they are doing when I call, to help us battle the rain. Without them we would have lost hope and abandoned ship. And, I know that I am tough, but not as tough as I thought.  Tim would always say it was like we were living in the pioneer days.  I cannot emphasize enough how glad I am that I did not come of age during the pioneer days.

Yes I am happy to see that mean old Rabbit in my rear view mirror.  I have high hopes that the Year of the Black Water Dragon will be auspicious for us all.

Happy New Year!

 

 


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Woke Last Night to the Sound of Thunder

November 19, 2011
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How far off I sat and wondered.  For the first time in a year the sound of rain did not put fear and loathing in my heart.  We no longer have canals filled with dirty water running through our house, threatening to overflow.  They are filled with a solid cement foundation.   Tim and I don’t have to battle the elements shaking our fists at the heavens chanting “please stop, please just stop!”  (It does no good anyway…) We now have a roof with effective and melodic roof drains.  The windows are in and I stand dry behind them watching the rain move in.

Finally, after four months we are roofed, and yet both Tim and I are antsy.  All day long last Saturday it rained and Tim and I went from room to room marveling that we didn’t have waterfalls streaming in the house.  Water was pooling outside, but only a tiny amount of seepage came through the bare, unplastered walls.  We just couldn’t trust that we were safe from the weather.  I guess it is just a minor form of post traumatic stress disorder.

A couple of weeks ago we had the roof installed.  We wanted to do one of those old timey, mid-century, big rock roofs, but unfortunately they do not install those roofs anymore.  It has something to do with cancerous materials or something.  Sometimes as I am driving around old neighborhoods and see a big rock roof I become green with envy, wishing to go back in time.  I doubt if I would like being a woman in the 1950’s, but I do love the roofs of that time.   So we had to compromise on a composite roof, small rock on the flat part and asphalt shingles on the pitched part of the roof.  It looks good. Tim was a little disappointed with the roofers’ detail work.  He had to go back and fix things to make the lines look right.  All in all, the roof is brand new, water tight, and sound; all very good things.

The framing is morally, ethically, spiritually, physically, positively, absolutely, undeniably and reliably done!  In fact, it is not only merely done; it’s really most sincerely done.  I will miss Charlie and Chino, but I am so relieved to have such a large part of the project completed.  It looks really good.  J., Charlie, and Tim really built a pretty house.  Tim would tell you there are many things he would have done differently, and if you have a couple hours and a nice growler of “Revelations” from Pizza Port he could catalogue those things for you.   But all in all, it really looks nice, and he did a fabulous job running the framing.

We ordered a soaking tub and kitchen sink from Appliance Alley in San Diego.  If you ever need appliances, and live in the San Diego area, go to Appliance Alley and ask for Bill.  He is very good at gauging what you want and guiding you to the right appliance.  When it came to the kitchen sink, a Kholer stages, I already was sure about what I wanted.  There were some sketchy internet sites where I found the sink pretty cheap.  I told Bill what price I found and he matched it. They are local, deliver for a reasonable fee, and best of all, Bill doesn’t try to up sell you on things you don’t want.   We like being able to support local businesses, so it is a win-win.

Things are slowly starting to get back to normal. We started bringing things back from our storage unit and bringing back the semblance of a home.  We have a comfortable living room set up now.   We even had our annual Halloween party for Joey and his friends.  It is nice to get back to the routine that has been disrupted for a year.

When we started this whole project I thought I was an adventure scout and it would be pretty easy living in a minimalist way.  I thought I would be able to keep my sanity during this ordeal.   I had hoped I could make the spaces, such as they were, cozy.  Instead, we all have gritted our teeth and just endured it.  The only person who could have pulled off gracious living under these circumstances is my college roommate, Nancy.  She and her husband live in the mountains of Santa Cruz in a wonderfully wooded area.  When I visit them I feel like I have arrived at a combination retreat and spa.  Nancy always has had the ability to make a space homey.  She was a river guide in college and used to take people out on overnight trips.  Within minutes of beaching the rafts, Nancy created an oasis of organization and calm in the campsite she was in charge of.  I could have used Nancy’s expertise this past year.

There is just one thing holding up the show now: doors.    We found the front door of our dreams.  It is an eight foot, aluminum frame door with four obscured glass panels.  It is the front door of the groovy store “Solo” in Solano Beach.  We inspected the door, got the information we needed, found the company on the internet, and asked for a bid.  All day Monday I was imagining this beautiful door gracing the front of the house:

Reality set in when Tim got the bid.  One eight foot, aluminum frame door with four obscured glass panels costs $4700.00!  That is without installation.  Still, we could afford it if we did without little things like drywall or wiring.  I guess we are back to the drawing board when it comes to the front door.

This weekend it is supposed to rain again.  I know we are good, high and dry, but as the clouds amass my anxiety rises. Tim is putting up more Moist Stop up and inspecting the roof.  We act as if we are preparing for a battle.  Will I ever love the rain again? I hope so.

 


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Adventures in Framing Part Four: The Final Chapters

October 12, 2011
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Ground Hog’s Day

“So how long will the framing take, J?”  I asked the first week in July.

“Six weeks.” He answered.

“Really?”

“No Problem.”

I was skeptical, not because I know anything about framing or building or even how to hold a hammer, but because the project seemed so big and complex.  Tim did so well with and enjoyed the process of organizing and building the foundation, he was excited to start framing with J., a master carpenter, Charlie, an experienced framer.   And so it began.  Every day, Monday through Friday was the same as every other. The alarm clock sounded each morning signaling another workday just ike the previous workday with the compressor roaring, the radio playing the same songs, and J. and Charlie’s banter.  Like magic, the frame of the house sprung up. Things went along swimmingly for the first five or six weeks.

 

In mid August, when Corrina was visiting, I asked Tim “how much longer?”  He said “Two weeks, three on the outside.”  A little over time and budget, but to be fair, there were many things that Tim, Charlie, and J. did not foresee.  First, they had to tear down and rebuild the dining room. Second, every wall they tore into was riddled with termite damage.  Basically, they built a new house around us.  Almost every wall was rebuilt, and Tim, Joey, and I were living in the construction zone.

 We Could Have Had It All

At about week six things began to change on the worksite.  The strain of the job began to wear us all down.  Things were taking longer than we thought, and it was harder living in the construction site than we anticipated.  Tim and I became very eager to get the house roofed and wrapped before the rains came.  As our urgency to get the job completed waxed, J.’s enthusiasm for the project waned.  He started the day later in the morning, left earlier in the evening, and began to take longer lunches.    The drama at the work site escalated.  I never thought I would say this, but I began to look forward to the straight-forward, drama-free zone of my work in academia.  Finally around week ten, J decided he had enough.  We should have known he was not it for the long haul because he told us repeatedly “I am here for a good time, not a long time.”    Thankfully Charlie stepped up to take the lead on the job and Chino stepped up on the ladder to help.  Tim and J. parted friends, so it’s all good.

 Little By Little

A couple of weeks ago I asked Tim “how much longer?”  He said “Two weeks, three on the outside.” I reminded him that I heard that before.  I have since stopped asking.  It will be done when it is done.  The house he is building is really much more than the house looks like on paper.  Everyone who tours the place with any building experience remarks how well built it is.  The joke is Tim is going for tolerances of 1/32 of an inch. Charlie likes to remind Tim that this is “rough framing,” but Tim has high standards and the house reflects that.  Clearly we underestimated the complexity and scale of the job and what three guys could accomplish in six weeks.  I doubt if anyone could have built the house cheaper given all that was done, but I am pretty sure it could have been done faster with a larger crew.

During all of the construction, the beat goes on.  On Labor Day Tim and I worked putting tarps on the roof because it was drizzling a little and we wanted to stay dry. We had just finished dinner and I was settling in with a good book and a glass of red wine when Joey said “I am going out mom.”

“OK” I replied.  About ten minutes later I get a call from him that he hurt himself and needed to be picked up.  I was just about to tell him to buck up and walk it off, but thought better of it at the last moment.  Tim picked him up, brought him home, and we inspected his swollen knee.  It looked real bad so we took him to Palomar Hospital for an xray.  It turned out he had an avulsion fracture of his anterior tibia spine. Ouch!  He was very brave under the circumstances.   We worried that he would have to have surgery, but after several xrays and an MRI, it looks like the boy dodged a bullet.  He was not wearing a helmet and I couldn’t help but think that this accident could have been so much worse.  His life and ours could have changed in an instant if it was his head he hit rather than his knee.

While Joey was recuperating, we had a swarm of plumbers put in all new plumbing including roof drains.  Ed and his crew came three weekends in a row, putting in ten hour days, and knocked the plumbing out.  It was very impressive.

We also replaced our electrical panel and put the electric wires underground.

In addition, we had our panoramic doors installed.  These doors are really cool.  They look like sliders, but really are slide and folding doors.  We splurged on these doors in the living and dining rooms.  It will completely open the living and dining rooms up to the outside, increasing our entertaining space immensely.

 

Last week, days away from the having a water-tight roof, an early storm came through Carlsbad.  We had dealt with rain before and thought our tarps and buckets would be sufficient to handle the water.  Those previous rains were isolated thunderstorms or drizzle.  They were short-lived and presented few problems for us.  This time we got hammered!  We saw the storm on the horizon the night before, so we spent the entire day Wednesday preparing.  It rained for about an hour Tuesday night so we had a preview of what we could expect.

I left the house at about 2:00 p.m.  to take Joey for an MRI.  It had just started raining.  When I got back to the homestead two hours later Tim was in full rain gear, on the flat roof, trying to sweep the rain into the roof drains.  I rushed into the house and saw that we were flooding pretty badly.  Tim worked on the two high roofs and I took over the bottom floor.  Rain was pouring in mostly in two places: the hallway and where the sliding glass windows were.  I grabbed the shop vac and went from one area to another trying to keep the rain from getting in our room and the kitchen.

I thought we could handle it until it really started to pour!  We needed buckets, old towels and help! I told Joey to call Cheri and Greg; I called Scott and Leah, and then ran next door for help.  The Calvary arrived just in time.  We had three shop vacs going sucking up the water and we made dams where the water was seeping through the walls.  Finally we got ahead of it downstairs and Scott went upstairs to help Tim.  Mercifully, the rain stopped and moved out.  It was an epic battle that would have been lost without our dear friends’ aid!

Now that we are almost finished (the roof is scheduled for Monday!) it is clear that a lot of progress has been made.  The shell is almost done.  We will be water tight and then can relax and finish the interior details at a more leisurely pace.  It has been a tough couple of months, but we will enjoy our home for years to come and soon these trials will be distant memories.  Things are coming along.  As Chino says: “Little by little Tim, little by little.”


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Joey’s Guest Blog: Perfection Amidst the Chaos

September 19, 2011
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Toast Haiku

Perfect Piece of Toast

Its magnificence awes me

Eat it with relish


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Adventures in Framing Part 3: Moving on Up

September 4, 2011
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In the past couple of weeks our little ranch house has undergone an amazing transformation.  The new house is emerging from the old one as we put on the second floor.  The ranch house first floor roofline still exists along with the California Fill over the garage, but the new lines of the modern house are becoming much more distinct.

I always thought that I was pretty competent at reading floor plans and envisioning the 3d space therein.  I even thought I had a good idea of what the new house was going to look like inside and out, but as it is being built, and I see the actual spaces and details, I realize how limited my view was.  I am so pleased with the work of our architect, Sam Wright.  He took our hazy vision of what we wanted our house to look like and made it better.  The spaces are comfortable and the details make this house look more like a custom built home than a remodel.  Sam has taken a genuine interest in the construction process.  He is over a couple times a week to answer questions and give us moral support.  It is more than we expected and we really appreciate his guidance.

Framing the upstairs has given me hope that someday we will be done.  Tim and I had such hubris to take on this remodel.  Even though I have watched hundreds of hours of HGTV and Tim has successfully completed many small to medium home improvements, we knew nothing about organizing a construction project of this magnitude.  Tim has shown a remarkable ability to learn on the job, but it has been a trial and exhuasting.

If we knew how hard it was going to be I doubt if we would have attempted it.  Tim likes to say we have moxie, but I think we were really just fools.  It is just like how we began our life together.  We were young, foolish, and sure that getting married and starting a family would be a snap.  In both cases I am glad we went all in because now we have a lovely family and will soon have a lovely home.

Last week we had a 40 ton crane at our house to place the large, 500 lb parallams on the roof. It was quite a spectacle for our cul-de-sac and several neighbors came out to watch the action.  Our next-door neighbor, Casey, was particularly fascinated with the work.

Anthony from Bob’s Crane rental skillfully moved the parallams from the ground to roof with incredible precision. From there, J., Charlie, and Tim fastened the parallams to the frame of the house.  By the end of the long, stressful day our top floor came into focus.

J. and Charlie then installed the floor joists and sheathed the roof of the retreat.  We have a nice view of the ocean from the upstairs bedroom suite, but from the second floor roof it is fabulous!  We can see all the way from La Jolla to San Clemente.

We have another workman on the job, Chino.  Tim and Chino are a team prepping in advance of J. and Charlie as they complete the framing.

This summer had been such a blur.  We have been so completely consumed by our project that we just let it slip by.  We didn’t really go anywhere or do much of anything.  Yet, it was a summer full of momentous events.  We had graduations to celebrate: Sam graduated from UC Davis and Corrina graduated from NYU.  They both visited, but sadly not at the same time.  The chickens laid eggs and there was even a volunteer sunflower to brighten up our construction site.

A sad event that happened this summer was the passing of my beloved Auntie Rosie.  Rosie died quickly one night in July soon after celebrating her ninety-first birthday.  I went to her funeral service at The Holy Redeemer Catholic Church on a mild Saturday morning in Montrose.   It has been a long time since I stepped into a Catholic church.  The church was quiet with muted light streaming through stained glass windows.  There is something timeless about Catholic services with the ceremony, scripture readings, hymns, and incense.  There were only a few clues that gave away in what decade  Aunt Rosie’s service occurred. There was the the skin colored microphone that Father Timothy was sporting, as well as the altar boy’s Jason Beiber haircut, and his scuffed, lime green Converse All Star tennis shoes peeking out from the traditional altar boy robes.  It was a particularly lovely funeral mass with an uplifting sermon and a woman with a beautiful soprano voice singing the hymns.  It put me in contemplative mood thinking about my dear auntie.

When I was a little kid I always looked forward to going to Aunt Rosie and Uncle Bill’s for holidays.  The whole, extended family would converge on their house on Shasta Circle.  It was a magical place for a kid from the suburbs.  My cousins had two rather rambunctious monkeys and a pool table.  Generally our parents would be in the living room talking and partying pretty much leaving the kids to their own devices.  My mom was always dressed the nines and smelled divine.  What a knock-out she was (still is)!  My dad and Aunt Rosie, his sister, took turns being the life of the party, telling stories and singing.  I could hear the grown-ups’ laughter and wondered who was having the most fun, them or us.

I loved that Aunt Rosie never spoke to me like I was a little kid, even though I was.  When I got older my Aunt Rosie and Uncle Bill moved from their old house to a new house in Glendale.  We still got together fairly regularly although sometimes some of my siblings or cousins were absent.  Whenever we said goodbye, Aunt Rosie would say “I will pray for you.”  As a know-it-all teenager I thought there was some implied criticism in her kind words and I was probbaly not very appreciative. It wasn’t until I was older that I realized that Aunt Rosie was a devout woman, she prayed for everyone, and it was just her way of saying she loved me.

I will miss Aunt Rosie and will pray for her in my own way.

May she rest in peace.


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Adventures in Framing Part 2: Going Topless

August 15, 2011
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The framing project is going apace.  We are still open to the sky, battling zombies and mosquitoes. Several people have told me that we could never get away without large swaths of our roof in any other place but Southern California.  After all, it never rains in California.

The rebuilding of the back room has become a blessing in disguise.  Tim and his friend Richard dug deep and wide foundation trenches.  The soils guy said that they were actually deep enough to hold a second floor.  Hmmm, maybe that will be our second remodel.

Interesting things are unearthed whenever Tim starts digging.  In one trench he found Austin Powers, fully articulated!

So now, not only will we now have a dining room that will have a chance at staying up during a major earthquake, but when we poured the new foundation we salted the cement with brownish-red rock and amber glass.  When we grind the slab we will really have a dramatic floor.

Pouring the grade beam, foundation, and slab was quite a process.  David, the pump guy, came to our house about an hour before the cement truck to set up his interlocking hoses.  He and his helper started at the far end of the pour, filling the trenches with cement, and disengaging sections of the pump hose as they got closer to the cement truck.

Fernando finished the concrete pushing the rock and glass far enough in the cement so it wouldn’t pop up when we grind it, but not so far that it is buried too deep to be seen.

The framing of the walls has become a family affair.  I even helped to put up a wall in the dining room!  Tim’s dad Joe and our dear childhood friend Jeff came down one morning to see the progress. J. and Charlie immediately put them to work lifting up a huge laminated beam called a glulam.  With a little ingenious engineering by J. and Charlie, and raw manpower, the beam came to rest at the top of the structural steel poles without incident.  Houses are either lego or tinker toy type structures.  Ours is more tinker toy than lego.  The poles hold up a series of glulams and paralams that in turn carry the second floor.

When we didn’t have the extra manpower of Joe and Jeff we rented a lift to install the heavier paralams.  Sometimes it was just Tim, J., and Charlie lifting the beams.  Luckily J. knows how to pop Tim’s back in place.

A couple of weeks ago I looked up in the sky and worried about the clouds on the horizon.  It smelled like rain, but the weather channel said there was only a twenty percent chance of thunderstorms.  Surely they wouldn’t be on the coast.  That Saturday night Tim and I went to bed only to be awoken at around midnight to the sound of rain on what was left of our roof.  It was sprinkling and it only lasted about ten minutes.  Joey was getting rained on and didn’t even wake up.  We laughed about it, cleaned up the water, and went back to bed thinking we dodged a bullet.

At about 5:00 a.m. I heard Tim say “Oh crap, it’s really coming down.”  I was deep into a dream where I was fighting a large snake like the one in Harry Potter.  I was waging battle with “Sting” (Frodo’s sword, not the singer).  In my dream I somehow lost my sword and started throwing rocks at the snake.  It looked pretty bad for my me, the snaked looked pretty hungry, but I still didn’t want to break from this dismal dream to face reality.   It was pouring rain in the house for about 35 minutes.  Tim was sweeping the rainwater out the back and I was frantically moving electronics into dry areas.  Joey slept through the whole frenzied ordeal.  It occurred to me as we were swabbing up the water that at least we didn’t have to worry about the rain ruining the hardwood floors or carpet.  It really just made our cement floors better looking. Small blessings.

I am sure someday I will look back at this time of open air living fondly.  Moe and his kitty friend Jade waking us up at night playing rafter tag, the sound of planes going over our heads as we are watching T.V., the sound of trains roaring through our town, the constant threat of zombies and rain.  Yes, I imagine it will be something to laugh about one day.


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Adventures in Framing Part 1: Feathers Fly

July 24, 2011
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Framing is the best of times and the worst of times.  It really is wonderful to see the walls go up so fast.  In a matter of hours Tim, J., and Charlie can frame a room.  I can see the spaces materialize as if by magic, but it is really stressful.  Every morning at 8:00 a.m. J. and Charlie come by to begin their work.  Immediately the compressor roars to life and the nail guns begin their tattoo.  I love the progress, but, not being a morning person, I hate the disturbance of the peace.

We really have it as good as it gets.  We have known J. for about a decade and he is a friend.  Charlie is a great guy too.  They are very mindful about the fact we live here and are conscientious about keeping the house secure and inhabitable.  I have heard horror stories about other people’s remodels so I know we have a good thing going.

There are times though when I think I am going to jump out of my skin.  Like when J. and Charlie cut the trusses.  Our house, pre remodel, had interior curtain walls.  The bearing walls are on the outside perimeter.  The thing that holds up the exterior, bearing walls are the triangular trusses running the width of the house.  In order to put up the second floor J. and Charlie have to cut the base of the trusses, remove segment of the triangle where the second floor will be, and reinforce the part of the trusses that will remain.  In order to do this they had to prop up the outside walls and remove most of the roof shingles and plywood.  This reduces the weight that the trusses have to carry.   I was pretty worried about this; afraid the walls would come tumbling down.  J. and Charlie kept on bolstering the existing roof until Tim and I were satisfied and then successfully cut the trusses. Miraculously what was left of the roof did not fall down.

Living without a roof, under the stars sounds nice, but it has its drawbacks.  Right now there is no rain forecasted for the next week or so, but if it rained we would be in deep bandini!  Also there are the mosquitoes.  We don’t have many mosquitoes in Southern California, but those we do have are enjoying a blood banquet here.  Then there is the noise.   During the day I don’t notice as much because we are making our own racket, but at night we can hear everything.  It actually is louder inside the house than outside.  The train sounds like it is coming down the street instead of a mile away.  We hear cars and planes and the boom, boom of the marines at Camp Pendleton practicing for World War III.  But the thing that makes me feel the most vulnerable, what keeps me up at night, is the fear of zombies.  Without a roof we are helpless in the face of an invasion of the undead.  As I lie in bed trying to sleep with the new sounds and mosquitoes buzzing I imagine hoards of zombies amassing, eager to feast on our brains!

Needless to say, I am not sleeping well these nights.  Last week I decided if I can’t sleep well, at least I can sleep long, so I went to bed really early.  At about 2 in the morning I heard an unusual noise and jumped up to investigate.  My nocturnal investigations are not uncommon and usually Moe, the cat, barely awakens from his slumbers, but this time Moe was really agitated.  He was pacing back and forth, looking out of the window, running up and down the temporary stairs.  I thought that he was upset because there was a cat fight outside that he wanted to get into it with the Calico Killer.  Then I heard the chickens squawk.  Chickens generally roost silently from dusk to dawn, so I knew something was amiss.  I threw open the back door and yelled toward the chicken coop not knowing what predator was trying to eat our sweet little pets.

 

Tim stumbled out of our room bewildered and concerned. “Get the flashlight Tim!  I think someone is eating our chickens!”  Tim ran back to get the flashlight and we both charged out the back door barefoot and in our pajamas.  The cat followed nonchalantly behind us.  The flashlight illuminated a huge possum sitting on the roosting bar in the henhouse.  I thought that was the end of the girls until I swung the light around and Toto, who we call “The Enforcer,” charged toward me, wings out, clucking like crazy. Her offense isn’t much of a defense, but it is impressive nonetheless.  “It’s OK Toto. It is only me.” I reached down and she, recognizing my voice, immediately quieted and let me pet her.   I think the girls have imprinted on me and think I am their big chicken momma.  I began the search for Yoshi and saw her cowering against the back fence.  Tim said quietly, “T. the possum is chewing on something.” I had a ridiculous mental image run through my head of a cartoon possum chewing on a cooked chicken leg. Luckily Yoshi was standing on two legs and I didn’t see any blood, but couldn’t tell if Yoshi was hurt or not.  I was pretty sure Toto was O.K.

 

So now Tim and I are faced with a dilemma.  We have a snarling, hissing possum high in the henhouse and the chickens are afoot.  We couldn’t just leave them like that.  Tim tried to get the possum out by hitting it with a rake, but it just wedged itself higher in the rafters.  Tim said “We need to dispatch this possum… We could shoot him.”  We are really close to our neighbors and if a shot rang out in the middle of the night five or six 911 calls would follow.  I could imagine the SWAT team surrounding the house, the helicopter circling, and the loudspeaker telling us to “come out with your hands up!”   We rejected that idea at once, not wanting to initiate such a ridiculous scene.  We have a ton of tools around; Tim said he could hack the possum to death with a shovel or something, but neither Tim nor I had the stomach for that, so we turned the flashlight off and two hens, two humans, and a cat waited for the possum to make his move.

 

“I think he moved.” Tim whispered.  Sure enough we heard rustling in the coop.  Tim handed me a rake. “Just in case he comes your way.”  The thought of an angry possum running scared in my direction was not comforting, but at least I had a rake.  The possum thumped down on the floor of the chicken coop, ran out the door, and disappeared into the honeysuckle. Success! The Chicken Defense Force met the enemy and prevailed!  We put the girls back in the henhouse, locked their door, and went back inside our house.

 

It was really hard to get back to sleep after waging (not so) mortal combat with an oversized marsupial.  While I was tossing and turning I went back to fretting about possible rain storms, mosquitoes, and of course impending zombie attacks.  If it looks like rain we can always staple up a tarp, and while we are so open we really can’t do much about mosquitoes except scratch.  What about the zombies?! I think I will take my friend Leah’s advice about the zombies: “keep the lights low and the noise level down, and hope they are sluggish.”


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We are embarking on an adventure turning a boring little ranch house into a modern style remodel.

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