22 September 2007

Ouch. . .

So, today has been interesting - Bill and I got out there and worked on the foundation piers for a while.

Combine cement mix with water, stir, shovel over to cinder block/rebar pier, dump cement in, tamp down, repeat. Like 25 times.

And for some reason everyone is worn out. Including me. Actually my hands, arms and wrists really hurt. I better have shoulders with definition like Madonna's when I'm finished with this thing.

It's slow. Frustratingly slow.

And as I sit here, covered in cement mix dust, it feels like it will never get done.

I know once we get this part done and start framing out the floor, walls and ceiling it will go faster - at least I'm hoping it will. I need it to.

But at the moment, I guess a hot shower is in order, with my own exfoliant scrubb built in. And then maybe to see a movie about the Russian Mob or something... or to read about the plight of a woman in Afghanistan... or just curl up and go to sleep.

hmmm... well either way, happy equinox folks!! (aren't we supposed to feel more balances at this point...?)

More tomorrow - including, perhaps, a shopping list!!
(For the building!!)

Assuming I can even move.

20 September 2007

Get a manicure? or Mix and Pour Concrete?

Well, despite continuing lovely weather, today I didn't get to work on the office.
(I know, it's sort of a disappointment for me too.)

Simply put, I had work I HAD TO GET DONE. And I went to the Y to work out. And I worked at the coffee shop, which is a nice place to work when one is working at home, but wants interactions with real live 3 dimensional people.

At the Y, I was enjoying a cardio-induced high, and looked out the window. The DOT is putting down a new, expanded road. We've been ina drought here, and it's bad. But as I was watching the work going on, there was the stink of fresh asphault and a huge cloud of dirt and dust blew up from under one of the machines. It occured to me that I wondered is it possible to have construction without destruction?

I had to take down some trees, but I'll re-use that wood, I hope. Of course it is faster and easier to get in there and rip up a space, and then plant whatever is needed, but how much of the beauty of a place do we loose when we do that?

My dear town of Athens has recently put a ban on housing projects that clear cut wooded land. It's a good thing. I'm proud of us for that.

On the other hand, I also found myself at the coffee shop talking to my pals the baristas. One of them laughed when I was talking with in a few sentences about getting my nails done or working with concrete. She looked at the new trainee, laughed and said "see Mary is one of our favorites here, because you never know if she's going to get a manicure or mix concrete. She just keeps us guessing, but at least it's never dull."

Tomorrow, I'm hoping to work more with the concrete!!

More contruction, less destruction.

And I'll wear gloves so I don't completely ruin my nails.

Concrete results

Okay, since I'm not able to swim because of the tattoo - looks great- though there is a red welt under it. I suppose that's mostly normal - I'm working on the office/hut/space instead of going swimming.

Today, I could have used the solace of the pool, but found myself having my first ever experience with concrete instead. 40 lb bags of Quickcrete Cement Mix, mixed with requisit amounts of water, and learned about how to get it from point A to point B. We have cinder block piers, reinforced with steel rebar, and now we're filling the holes in the cinder blocks with concrete. This will be stable!!

So I got a chance to get a sense of how it feels and filled two of the side piers (not the corners) with a total of 240 pounds of concrete plus the requisit amoung of water. It took about 2 hours, and I was fairly tired. I could have kept going but it was getting dark, and I knew it was time to stop. Also I took a fall early- or rather a graceless dive down the hillside when my foot got tangled in a root or something. I ended up doing this very strange staggering shuffling running dive that ended with me hurtling myself toward a pile of recently downed pine tree trunks and thinking "Oh, now that's really gonna hurt" - magically, I managed to veer to the left at the last moment and instead did an amazing slide across the forrest floor that James Bond would have been proud of. And my iPod headphones even stayed in tact!! Eurythmics blarring. Indeed, the sisters ARE doing it for themselves.

Everything was fine and I hopped up seconds after Nurse Lucy (the dog) pounced beside me in most dire concern, as I lay there wondering how I managed to miss doing a header into those logs... but still... it gave me pause for thought. BE CAREFUL!

Of course. I forget that. I'm not always going to heal as quickly as I did when I was 14.

But at 14, I'd never spent an evening mixing concrete... And now I have.

And that's sort of cool, when it comes down to it.

18 September 2007

Tuesday....Ultimate recycling

Today, 18 September, is the second anniversary of my step mother's heart transplant. She has it done in Pittsburgh, and the donor was someone 22 years old from West Virginia. It's been a tough day for me, especially since our expectations were so high. Adri, my step-mom was one of my dearest friends. She survived the transplant, but didn't survive surviving it. Her poor body was so worn out that 5 months later, she watched the Super Bowl and woke up dead the next morning - as my father often says.

I miss her a lot.
Before she had the transplant, I used to joke that if she got a new heart, I'd get the reuse reduce recycle logo (above) tattooed above my heart so everyone would know I'm an organ donor. We used to giggle about it a lot. It just seemed so silly.
Well, I've been thinking about it a lot and missing her a lot too. And it seems like 2 years is about right.
So tonight, I went to Midnight Iguana Tattoo Parlor and got it!!
I'll post pictures another time...
But today, after having a difficult day, I went out to work on the office a little and I was thinking that organ donation is the ultimate in re-use. And it is such an amazing gift to someone.
So as I pounded rebar into the ground to stabilize the piers it just seemed reasonable.
And here's the cinch - I can't swim - my much needed favorite stress relief - for a MONTH. So I've decided to dedicate that time and energy to building the office a few hours every afternoon instead. No, it won't feel as good as doing laps and then soaking in the hot tub, but maybe this is Adri's way to help me get this thing built. The tattoo is in her honor, the office in the honor of the donor. It just feels like the right thing to do.
So folks, Please, if you can, sign an organ donor card, and tell your loved ones your wishes. It really is the ultimate in recycling!! And an amazing gift.
A very deep thank you to the anonymous family who shared a part of their loved one with Adri, to keep her with us, even a little bit longer.
(Yes, okay, I know, no blood donations for a year now, but since I'm in sub-Sahara Africa and the Former Soviet Union, they won't take it now anyway.)

16 September 2007

Lesson Learned

Things I learned today:

1. There is a reason that there is a single engineer on project sites.

2. There is a reason that there are engineers.

3. Engineers must be really smart to know how to do that stuff.

4. I am not an engineer. But I do have a whole new level of appreciation for them.

5. Building things yourself, and having to figure out how to do it is AMAZING!! Now I know why all those guys who have given me so much advice always say "I'd love to have time to do something like that myself!"


Oh, and there is not one single right way to know how to do something.


It started like this:

I've been working on work, and sitting looking out my bedroom window wishing to be working out in my office which isn't there yet.

So my dear boss-ish Tim made the comment: Sometimes you just have to start on it.
It made sense. And it was time to see progress. So this weekend, progress has been seen.

First off, we accepted that digging 11 holes in the hard Georgia clay was going to be a huge strain, so we went to Home Depot where we made friends with two really nice, helpful guys "Orlando" and "Jose" (this may or may not be their real names) They came and dug the holes for us and used the word "loco" quite a few times. I think they meant me. Orlando and Jose were great help! We appreciate them very much!! By Saturday at 4:00 we had 11 holes dug!!

This a picture Bill and James standing in for Jose and Orlando, since well, they left right after they finished.
In the meantime, while Jose and Orlando were digging holes, James and I went to Lowes to get
300 lbs of gravel, 25 48 inches #4 rebar, 60 cinder blocks and 1200 lbs. of cement mix. Lowes has a truck rental so we rented the truck, got everything to the house and unloaded! Go Team!
This morning, Lucy, my devoted assistant, partner in crime and our building site supervisor, was out checking out the site. Evidently, she was checking things out before we got to work.

So, I moved the cinder blocks up to the building site. That was fun. Sort of an applied strength training workout - especially since is was up hill. But I got it done (and Bill helped some too!)

Then after lots of trying to figure things out like how in the world to level the cinder blocks in the holes, we gave in and called our friend Seumas. Seumas is the voice of all reason. He's also build a good number of structures. We love Seumas. He said this is the reason he thought using cinder blocks wasn't the best idea. He said using plywood forms made better sense. But after using plywood forms, we'd have that wood left over, and I don't want to have waste from this project, if we can help it. So Seumas and Bill and I figured out how to use a laser level (Bill's newest toy), and gravel and marks on the hoe to get the bases of the holes level and then the blocks leveled. It was a pretty fancy system, and I'm glad we did it!! I definitely learned something about this from them. More on that later.
So we got the first one sunk, I climbed up to see what the view would be from my new office.
It's high, but I LOVE IT!!! IT IS PROGRESS!!

We sank a few more, Bill went in, James came out. Lucy continued her supervisory role.
By the end of the day Lucy was exhausted from all that responsibility of making sure we got everything done right. She inspected every hole, and made sure we were all on the level.

And at the end of the day today, we had 9 footing piers sunk and leveled. We'll fill them with cement after providing additional stabilizing rebar. That will probably be next week...
But hey... IT'S PROGRESS!
And thank heaven's for Aleve... my muscles are so sore!!
But I feel great!!
Thanks to everyone: Bill, James, Seumas, Orlando and Jose, and of course, for her wonderful supervisory work and constant attention to detail - Lucy!

Garden Offices in the News - sort of...

From USA Weekend - the magazine insert to our Sunday paper...

Sometimes the inspiration just keeps coming... I'm just a trend setter, I guess...

We're out to set the footings this afternoon!! Update coming tonight, if I can move...

Enjoy! in the meantime!

Getting away from it all (without leaving)
Homeowners squeezed for space are turning to cozy "cabins" they can build in their backyards. These affordable, DIY units are extending our living space like never before.
By Jeffrey Ressner

As a single mother living in Austin with her 16-year-old son, Sydney Rubin adored the architectural style of her 1952 two-bedroom bungalow. But she desperately needed more space for a home office. Adding a new room would have run about $40,000, and at least double that to convert her carport. Either way, the renovations would have compromised the home's original design. Instead, Rubin came up with a novel solution: a tricked-out backyard cabana that transformed her garden area into an idyllic workspace.
"They're less expensive than an addition and a great way to escape from loud family life in the main house."
"I know it sounds flaky, but it's a really inviting, happy-looking structure," says Rubin, who bought the upscale cabana online after mulling over her various options. The 140-square-foot unit took a couple of workers just five days to build using prefabricated materials, including gorgeous tight-knot redwood panels. Total cost: $22,000. Now she has a home office, a garden feature and a conversation piece.
"Every time someone comes over, they ask the same question: 'Where can I get one?' "
These days, the answer is easy. Prefab cabanas, or "cabins," as people also call them, experienced a resurgence in the 1970s, and in the last few years several companies have popped up selling hip backyard lodgings perfect for art studios, meditation rooms or guest quarters. Keep in mind, however, that traditional "bonus room" additions generally are more sturdy than cool prefab modules and may deliver a better return on investment when reselling your home.
Although separate structures like these often are used for storage, they also can offer homeowners a real refuge -- a different room in which to work, play or just relax. It's almost like having a vacation home in the backyard. The units range in size (100 square feet and up) and are detached from the main residence and immobile. "A new trend definitely started in the building industry," says Casper Mork-Ulnes of Modern Cabana, the maker of Rubin's cube and one of at least a dozen firms offering the nifty single-room nooks. "They're less expensive than an addition and a great way to escape from loud family life in the main house."
Garden rooms in general have become a popular concept as homeowners seek ways to expand exterior living and leisure spaces beyond wooden decks. Some daring folks are experimenting with cargo containers; others park gleaming Airstream trailers in their yards. Jo Stougaard of North Hollywood, Calif., pitched a large canvas tent in her garden, decorated it with safari gear, framed Hemingway photos and African knickknacks and now often hosts fun dinner parties there -- that is, when guests aren't sipping martinis inside a nearby Tiki hut, which serves as yet another outdoor room.
Sometimes fun is trumped by function: Richard Cornelius of Cincinnati spent nearly $10,000 on a Cape Cod-styled mini-home that he uses to hide his swimming pool equipment.
Popular for many years in England, the too-cool garden-room trend got a spark here in early 2004 when Gen X-slash-Y craft magazine "ReadyMade" published a cover story featuring a $1,500 super-shed by California designer Edgar Blazona. With its corrugated metal siding, large glass panels and Eames-era charm, Blazona's MD100 (named for its 100-square-foot size) became an instant classic -- practical yet prudent, retro yet relevant. When "ReadyMade" began hawking the construction plans for $35 online, they quickly became a big hit.
"I call it an adult playhouse," says Christian rocker T.D. Oakes, 32, who built an MD100 on his Lexington, Ky., property over two weeks last September for $3,000, using off-the-shelf material from Lowe's and The Home Depot along with a cheap cordless power tool kit.
Candace Locklear, who lives in the East Bay hills near San Francisco, says building an outdoor room was "totally worth it." She and her husband had considered landscaping their yard, adding sod and a koi pond, but instead built a hip "modern playhouse" for their young daughter. Not only did the construction project bring them closer ("it helped us realize what great partners we really are"), but they've become the most popular parents on the block.
Blazona, a former Pottery Barn designer who offers larger backyard structures at ModularDwellings.com, thinks the market for outdoor rooms is good but says "it's hard to create a true product that can be made anywhere" because each municipality has different building laws and codes.
Dave Kimball, whose New Hampshire firm Shelter-Kit has sold prefab barns and homes since the 1970s, sees his business expanding, especially for the basic $9,975 "Unit One" mini-cabin, which can be used in backyards or combined with optional decks and porches to create larger residential structures. "Our business was exclusively in the Northeast, but now we're all over, including Texas, Idaho and Montana," Kimball says.
And why not? Single mom Rubin says the pre-fab units offer a pretty fab way for homeowners to get back to nature: "These aren't tiny trailer homes; they're beautiful objects surrounded by greenery. I'm in my little room, looking out over the garden, watching squirrels climb up an oak tree. It's far better than any other office I've ever worked in."
Go to top
HouseSmart By Lou Manfredini
The practical side of building a backyard escape
Check with your local building department to see if these types of structures are allowed, and if so, what requirements you must meet. You may need to submit a building plan and survey to show where it'll be located on the property.
Position the structure in a way that avoids problems such as water pooling down in low spots. Consider a gravel base or raised concrete slab to keep your new unit high and dry.
Make sure the design of your new cabin or shed has some kind of visual relationship with your home. Not only will it make a great companion element, it'll keep your neighbors happy, too.
Add some basic amenities to the unit. Having a few electrical outlets, some lighting and even indoor plumbing can be a real plus. (Check out the BioLet toilet, a composting unit that uses no water, at biolet.com.)
Lou Manfredini is OurHouse.com's "Mr. Fix-It" and a contributor to NBC's "Today" show.
Go to top
What's your style?
1. Cottage All that's missing from this elegant mini-home, which even boasts a steep gable roof, is the white picket fence. It's a sweet spot for overnight guests, or maybe a great pool house.
2. Pavilion This octagonal "home extension," designed by Michael Graves for Target stores, makes a great breakfast nook or library. Use more glass walls and it's an awesome greenhouse or artist's studio.
3. Modern dwelling Marketed under various brand names, such as "modern cabanas" or "metrosheds," these fun retro designs are perfect for a trendy playhouse or an urban home office.
Cover photograph by Jean-Yves Bruel, Masterfile


03 September 2007


After planning, replanning, figuring, refiguring, refiguring again, and again, we finally did it!!


It was hot and we were tired, but it is progress!!

More details soon.
Posted by Picasa

02 September 2007


At last!

Labor day weekend and we're doing some labor!

There were 2 trees about 16 and 20 inches in diameter that needed to come down.

It seemed easy enough. So we get the chain saw working (again), cleared away the remaining brush that had been there from the smaller trees I took down last time, and got to work.
Instead of doing it on my own, Bill and James pitched in. So instead of "chain saw therapy" we had an opprotunity to have "family chain saw therapy". With James taking AP (University level) Physics, Bill being the practical man, and me being the one with the most experience in working with chain saws, it was a real battle of the egos.

But actually it was really a lot of fun!
We got the first tree down, but were trying to keep it from taking out a swamp maple I wanted to save. But the first tree got caught in the branches of a larger pine, so we tried to guide it down using ropes we'd attached earlier...

We managed to get it to fall, but it took a few extra cuts and (fortunately) a lot of laughter. And we managed not to loose any of the small hardwoods I'd been hoping to save. What started out as a slightly fussy day, ended with all of us in stitches, and having a good time. And sore and tired.

And we even managed to clear the two trees and have a bunch of big logs left over! (I'll use them for something)

And we've got a cleared space to start the foundation!! That's tomorrow's work, if we're not too sore and tired.
Of course, I know having a professional team come in here and do this would have gotten it done in an hour and the foundation would now be setting. But honestly, the time spent with the boys made the time and energy worth more than I could have paid anyone. James leaves for University in a year, and we won't have these moments again. (At least until we get the foundation started.)
It just makes it feel that much more special.
Let's see how tomorrow looks!!