Thursday, January 24, 2013

Freeze Farm

The early-morning skies last Sunday were quite ominous.  It was a very unseasonal +7C that morning.  Dark skies like this aren't exactly common during winter-time.  I watched the weather roll in, and within minutes, the first of many snow squalls hit:
Snow squalls are interesting if you're inside warm by the fire with many furry friends at your feet.  If you're on the road and one of these babies hits, you'll gain new appreciation for road delineators, and if you can't see those, there are always hydro poles to guide you, preferably before they make contact with your front bumper.

You can't even make our barn out in the above photo, but it's there where it always is when I look out of my wide screen TV, a.k.a. the kitchen window.  When I was joking about the Transport Quebec mouthpiece talking about vizzie-billie-tee zee-roh in my earlier post, this is what he means.  Zero visibility.  The tractor might be 50 feet away from where I took my photo, and it's barely visible.

We had a great sunset Sunday evening when the skies cleared up:
Snow squalls are generally harbingers of colder weather.  But just how cold, well, let's just qualify it as c-o-l-d:
Conditions of -27C on Wednesday.  This morning the mercury read -24C.  Well, my zest for life just flew out the window with a forecast like that.  That pretty much sums things up these days.

I went to get our weekly flyers out of the mailbox when I got home this afternoon.  Eric was out in the woodshed splitting wood, and Cooper was shivering outside on alternating legs, (he spends a total of 60 seconds outside these days), so I figured I might as well make the trek to the mailbox and bring the flyers in.  The proverbial wimp in me wanted to rush into the house and cast my layers aside, and hug the wood stove like my life depended on it.  However, the true Canadian in me, said, "go ahead, get the flyers in the house, it won't kill ya".

With a windchill hovering around -30C, it's not just cold, it's freezing cold.  I wish I could adequately impress upon you how cold that feels, and unless you've experienced it, you can't possibly comprehend.  You know the dreaded brain-freeze you get from eating ice cream?  Well, you get the same thing during these temps, but you get it from simply inhaling.  That's how cold it is.  I could have thrown myself in a snow bank and let a swift death overcome me, and trust me, at these temps, it's just a matter of time before exposure does a person in.

It's not all aches and pains, though.  My new-used car?  It came with a remote starter.  Wheeeee! is the sound I make these mornings, watching my car start from the comfort of our warm house.  Actually, wheeee (minus the exclamation point) is also the sound the car makes when it starts on days this cold.  Hearing a car start in weather like this is painful.  Even the LCD display on the dash takes a while to come to life.

Another upside?  The sunsets:
Absolutely fabulous.  The peaks of snow in the forefront are man-made.  The city comes by with their big snow plow and blows the snow into the field across the street.  Given the windy conditions, our road would become narrower and narrower with each passing hour.  It basically buys the snow-plow operator a bit of time between his rounds.

Monday's forecast shows a high of -7C, which, while not T-shirt weather, will feel positively balmy when this cold spell finally breaks.

In the interim, I'll have to keep myself occupied by throwing yet another log onto the fire, picking up my knitting, and brewing another cuppa tea.  Survival of the fittest, Shim Farm-style.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Easy Steps to Create Your Very Own Moat™

 Part II b - Summer 2005 
A promise is a promise.  It's an absolute white-out outside with snow squalls forecast for the rest of the afternoon.  The winds are gusting to 90 km/h and I can't see the barn from the kitchen window.  I had planned on going out this afternoon, but suddenly, knitting and sipping tea by the side of the wood stove is my only option.

Life's tough like that sometimes.

Eric made a good point reading my last post regarding our foundation work.  Given the fact the work took three summers, we needed to protect the uninsulated parts of our foundation from frost heave.  Our sweet old neighbour, the venerable Monsieur Lefebure, suggested an old-time method.  We used hay bales piled up against the sides of the foundation, effectively preventing frost-heave from shearing insulated and non-insulated portions.  Again, while unorthodox, it worked marvelously.  We must be trend-setters too, because the hay-bale concept is popping up all over our neighbourhood.  People are using this method to keep their water mains from freezing, their septic drains from freezing, you get the idea.  Monsieur Lefebure was definitely on to something, and we miss his pragmatism.
So, for those of you who are still with me, here's the Reader's Digest Not-So-Condensed Version of our work during summer 2005.  We excavated and exposed the entire 24' western side of the foundation.  The white pipe in the foreground served to drain the sump-pump chamber that collects ground water from the french drains that surround the house.  This pipe is now buried, I'm happy to report.  One less thing to mow around.
I know, just by looking at Eric, that he's dejected by the size of the holes in the foundation.  Trees and shrubs belong NO WHERE near your foundation, and this is why:
These are roots from a juniper shrub that was planted about 12 feet away.  While privacy and wind protection are one issue, there's little point in planting a tree if the roots are going to force their way like tentacles through your foundation.  Believe it or not, these roots went right through the foundation and into our crawl space.  In the spring, they proved an awesome entry point for run-off water. To compensate for this, we buried a water collector in our crawl space, chucked in a sump-pump, and when the water level rises, the pump kicks in and pumps the water out through the black hose right beside the little window in the photos above.  This pipe is now buried, and since the foundation work is done, the sump-pump actually never kicks in anymore.  It's good to have redundant systems though.  Only in extreme cases, say when our water table rises during a spring thaw, does the pump go on.
Once the foundation was repaired to Eric's exacting standard, he covered the entire wall with mortar.  The black hose that runs along the top of the foundation is a soaker hose that we ran to keep the mortar wet while it was curing.
Then, we added polystyrene insulation, our fabric-wrapped french drain held in place with gravel.
And then, we added tons of sand to create a smooth and level base for yet more polystyrene insulation.
Here we can see the ensemble of insulation with polyethylene sheeting covering everything.  (Remember Christo? Eric's channeling him and doesn't even know it).  It's just an added layer that water needs to seep through to get to the foundation.  By this time of year, it's dark early and we just want to back-fill everything before the snow starts to fly.  It's been another long, mucky summer.

To finish the surface above ground after we back-filled, we cut the polyethylene sheet at the ground-line, and used that horrible red Tuck-tape to affix it to the pink insulation.  That stuff ain't going anywhere.  We then covered this with a waterproof aluminum membrane.  We used a two-part epoxy-based mortar from Sika to protect the pink polystyrene.  If memory serves, we applied a layer of adhesive fibreglass mesh, and then Eric troweled on the mortar.  Then we capped the top with an aluminum flashing that's tucked under our siding, and Bob's your uncle, as Eric is wont to say.

We'll get around to changing the siding of the house at some juncture.  While aluminum siding isn't our product of choice, it's still doing the trick so we don't see the need to change for esthetics only.  We've got bigger fish to fry.  Eventually, we'll replace it with a fibre-cement covering, something like James Hardie shingles or paneling, or a combination of both.  Our house is crooked, so uneven shingles could nicely mitigate the fact we're not working with right angles or straight lines.  But that will be for another decade.

We'll move on to part III, or the summer of 2006, when we tore down our entry (I use that term lightly), with plans to replace it with a 10' x 12' timber-frame structure built on an actual foundation and basement we can stand up in, unlike our non-functional crawl-space.

Again, nothing goes as planned, and while the foundation and slab are complete, we didn't expect what we found, which is why we moved our renovation show to the inside of the house again.

Remember I told you that if you listen closely enough, your old house will tell you what it wants done?  Well, our old house told us we needed to pay attention to the upstairs.  So did the government.  Before they decided to can their Ecoenergy retrofit program, we moved indoors, where my hammer-blow-by-hammer-blow account of our upstairs renovation, AKA The Knotty Pine Purge, starts.

And I'll also try to explain why there's still a drill press in the living room, but that's another digression all on its own.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Easy Steps to Create Your Very Own Moat™

Part II - Summer 2005

For the uninitiated, I posted about our foundation woes in what was supposed to become a three-part series, covering the three summers it took Eric to restore our1850's field-stone foundation.

Somehow, in the midst of our on-going and never-ending renovations, the CD with photographic evidence was misplaced, a common occurrence in our somewhat disheveled environs.

Alas, said CD was found and duly loaded onto my laptop for several months now.  (Who am I kidding?  It's probably been over a year.  I'm time-challenged because I need to be. It's a survival skill I've carefully developed to keep my sanity in check).   From there, the photos have been mocking me, begging me to finally complete the mini-series that the foundation repairs became in our lives.  It's not a place I return to happily, but if this helps but one soul, my post is worth my time and effort.

Given the amount of people who find this blog by searching "french drain" and "how do I repair my field-stone foundation?", I thought it would be best to put a bit of effort into completing my little tome, lest I let any delusional and like-minded soul down.  For what it's worth, I pity and admire you, rolled into one happy emotion, the kind that makes you shudder and smile at the same time.  You poor, poor fool.

So, pull up a chair (hell, pour yourself a drink), read Part I from 2008 (no, I don't procrastinate much, why do you ask?), and hang on for the rest of the ride:

During the summer of 2004, Eric brazenly and optimistically excavated two of three sides of our summer kitchen, as well as the 32' that make up the back-side of our house.  We dug, we drained, we repaired, we waterproofed and we insulated.  It was back-breaking, never-ending and thankless.  When everything was back-filled, you couldn't even tell what we accomplished.

I use the "Royal We" throughout, but it was Eric, of course, who bore the brunt of the work, and I simply as chronicler, and hose-wielder, and gofer and tool-washer and convivial cohort who knew just when to bring out another glass of water, before Eric slid into a dehydration-induced stupor from wearing the fishing pants above.

When summer 2005 rolled around, Eric excavated the third side of the summer kitchen, as well as the western side of the house.
The summer kitchen had been excavated and repaired, probably in the mid-80's.  The job was OK, if you're into half-measures.  The work didn't include proper drainage, which we correctly assumed we needed to keep the foundation from heaving during the long winter months.  Eric excavated, repaired the glaringly large holes that remained, and we insulated, water-proofed and added proper french drains.   It all sounds so easy, doesn't it?
How to go from the above, to the below, I'd qualify as a threesome between art, perseverance and skill.

In the above photo, you can make out the (formerly) black plastic container that served first to mix mortar, and then later, to collect what we came to refer to as "pet rocks" that Eric would use to fill holes shown above.  I'd be in charge of collecting "pet rocks" from several places around our property, such as the water-hole in front of the barn, and the large pile of field-stones on the back-side of the barn, surrounded by raspberry canes and other man-eating weeds.  At some point in time, Eric would hold up a rock, and say, "I need something bigger/smaller/pointier/flatter", and it would be up to me to procure the exact specimen.

I never thought that being a rock-fetcher could provide me with hours and hours of entertainment like it did.  I'd run back to Eric like a hyper Labrador bringing back a stick during a rousing game of fetch.  If my rock didn't meet regulatory approval, I'd hang my head, dejected, and go and look for a better one.  If on my third try I came up empty, it would be at this point my pout would turn to anger, and epithets like "go find your own @#$|%&* rock" would be hurled in Eric's general direction.  I'm congenial and patient like that.

Eric developed a patented wash-and-rinse method of removing the old crumbling mortar and loose rocks with a garden hose.  This method proved effective but messy.  It's also the reason the fishing pants were necessary, and scenes like below part of our routine scenery for months on end:
Eric submerged a sump-pump in the plastic pail to get rid of the run-off, and the plastic sheet served to guide the water to the pit.  Old plywood and particle-board sheets prevented the sun from hitting the foundation and drying the mortar too quickly, and the old Molson Dry umbrella served to protect Eric from the beating summer sun.  When the work was finally complete, I was ecstatic to pitch that umbrella out.  Things looked white-trash enough without the additional logo-representation of beer, no less.

Eric also developed a technique of ensuring the mortar reached its intended rock.  You have to understand that our foundation is about 4 to 5' or well over one metre in depth.  The best way Eric managed to get the mortar to fill the gaps between his pet rocks was by forming a baseball-sized ball of mortar in his hands, winding up, and throwing a fast-ball into the hole.  While I'm sure the stone-masons among you shudder, this technique proved to be the most effective way.  He build up layer of rock and mortar this way, restoring things to their original state.  Unorthodox, but it worked.

Once the field stone foundation was repaired, we set about insulating everything with polystyrene held in place with polyurethane foam.  I cut a vein in my leg with an X-acto and have the scar to prove it.  It also happened at the exact moment Eric's company called and asked where he was.  Sometimes, "seize heures" in french (16:00) can be confused with "six heures" ( 6 o'clock or 18:00), if you're speaking in a language that is not your mother tongue, and not using a 24-hour clock.

Eric works in a profession where time is money - lots of money.  This is how I found myself, clutching my leg, furtively packing Eric's suitcase while Eric ran into the shower, and (gasp) driving with him to the airport to save him the time it would take him to park his car.  (The things I do for this man, you have no clue).  I still remember trying to staunch the impressive flow of blood as I had my leg up on the dashboard, and the looks of by-standers as Eric jumped out at the terminal, me taking his place behind the wheel, all the while looking like a major-crime victim in my blood-soaked jeans.  One of those star-studded Moments in Home Renovation that simply leaves you shaking your head in recollection.


We created a level base for the french drain:
Added the french drain which we wrapped in landscape fabric:
And yes, it's a necessary evil if you're on a clay base, for all of those Googlers who ask.  From there, we waterproofed and back-filled the whole schmeer, and excavated the western side of the house.

It's at this juncture that I realise I don't have any photos to show exactly how we finished insulating or waterproofing this part of the foundation.  It's also the point where I realize unless a day held 30 hours, (like I believe they do), this post is going to be part of a multi-multi-part series.  If that weren't enough, Blogger is giving me fits tonight and not allowing me to save my work at regular intervals.

Lest my work get lost in the shuffle, I'm posting this now for internet posterity, and promise to come up with part 2-B in under 4 years.


Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Welcome 2013

Since I ended 2012 with a "Year in Review", it would be fitting that I start 2013 in the same vein as 2012.

Welcome 2013!

Since we missed spending both Christmas AND New Year's together last year, our strategy and planning actually worked this year.  Eric managed to get the 24th off, as well as New Year's eve and day.  Things were going to work out for us, after all.

After a scrumptious New Year's Eve party at friends, we fell into bed at 2 AM.  One thing I have discovered over the years is 1) control rich food intake, and 2) ditto for alcohol consumption.    While I behaved last night, if you can call eating foie gras, scampi bisque and beef Wellington "behaving", I was also the designated driver, since Eric is most always the designated drunk.  (He's French, he can't help it.  Plus I think he deserves it - he's always shafted on weekends and holidays.)  But going to bed late throws me off, and waking up close to 10AM is the closest I come to feeling hung-over and jet-lagged.

Today, I need a nice blanket, a hot fire, and lots of mineral water.  Tomorrow, after a good night's sleep, I'll probably recover.

In 2012, I resolved to not buy any more wool and finish everything I start.  To say that resolution crashed-and-burned is an understatement.  I bought wool, I was given wool, and while lots of little projects flew off the needles, the biggest project I finished was my neutral Saga:

It's been finished for months, (despite the fact it languished for many more...) and when I finally threw it on and asked Eric to take a photo of me in it, this is what he handed me:
My ass, in digital form.  My husband, either not clear on the concept, or forever the joker, I know not which but I forgive him for both.  Thanks sweetheart.  At least it's proof my thighs don't touch.  I'm telling you, all the walking I do is paying off.

Now, since this is my second Saga, I did a few things differently.  I made a large this time, and added repeats to make the sleeves longer.  Despite using the same needle size for the seed-stitch border, it turned out a bit wavy, but I haven't blocked this baby yet, so that feature might block out.  Either way, I actually like the wavy, somewhat flared look.  I have monkey arms, so I added a few row repeats in strategic places on the sleeves as well as the yoke, so they're longer and not 3/4 like the pattern is written for.  I also wanted a large because I knew I'd be wearing this over my regulation gray cashmere sweaters which I wear like a uniform in winter months.  I've got them in all shapes, shades and styles.  The only prerequisite is that they're gray, and cashmere.  I aim high.  I always say, if I'm gonna be cleaning my house, I'm gonna be doing it in cashmere.  Take that, Mr. Clean!

I stalled on how to finish the front.  I didn't want frog-clasps like the first one, but something different.  It took me a few months to figure out what that "different" was.  Finally, I made a rolled garter stitch border, sewed it on the inside, and added buttons on both sides, all closed with a simple crochet loop:

The inside of this sweater is as nice as the outside.  I will be in love with lopi forever.  Here's a closer look at the closure:
Perfect it isn't, because it's not exactly wind-proof, but I was aiming more for look than practicality.  At some point, I'd procrastinated about this sweater so long, I just wanted it finished.  Job done, moving right along...

I blogged about my Blue Hole shawl which provided hours and hours of fun:

However, I didn't blog about the Vancouver Fog fingerless mitts done in Lana Gatto camel hair (seemingly on liquidation the world over and fabulous stuff!) and a cabled hat from Rowan book 48 called the Tinker Hat that I completely re-wrote.  I didn't do anything the pattern called for in the end.  I cast-on 96 stitches instead of 109 going down 2 full needle sizes, knit it in the round instead of seaming (who does that? who seams a freaking hat?) and winged every single crown decrease.  I also used only one ball instead of two, following some helpful tips on Ravelry.  I love this hat, it fits perfectly and is super-warm despite being loosely knit.  I love me some Rowan Cocoon, but I don't love me the price...but this being a one-skein project given my mods, I can easily justify the cost.

I cannot however justify the cost of the Sweet Georgia I ordered to make the Colour Affection shawl.  Not realizing it's dyed to order and the delivery time was 6 weeks, by the time I received my order, my love affair with the pattern had faded away like lust is wont to do.  Now this wool is languishing in a Rubbermaid bin in the laundry room.  Not even cast on, this wonderful wool might need to find another vocation.  So much for my 2012 resolutions.

Likewise, I fell in love with Kate Davie's Rams and Yowes on a whim.  Kate knows how to write a pattern, and Jamieson and Smith Shetland could be my antidote to lopi, I'm that much in love with it.   Again, total impulse purchase, but the project is still chugging ahead:
I've got 924 stitches on 3 circulars and can't hope to take a picture that makes sense, but it's turning into a work of art.
The border, which will be doubled, is a ton of work.  I've turned the corner and am now decreasing, so I'm on the downhill slope.  Busy bashing away on this baby, I hope to have a photo of my completed lap-blanket before long.  And I promise to keep my finger away from the "BUY NOW" button, and keep my Mastercard firmly in my wallet when it comes to buying more wool on-line.  You heard it here first.

In the interim, the days are getting longer, and we've probably gained a half-hour of daylight since the solstice just over 10 days ago.  Once again, the setting sun casts a shadow of the house against the side of the barn, and in minutes, I know I'll see the moon rise from behind the barn.  Despite the fact it's a bone-chilling -14C outside right now, with a wind-chill that would freeze exposed flesh in minutes (there's always a downside, isn't there though?), it's that time of year for reflections on the past and hopes for the future.  

So, with a click of the mouse, I'll turn the page on 2012, and open the book that is 2013.

My hopes are that everyone can experience the peace and gratitude that I feel, from the moment I pull up the blinds and find another fresh day waiting for me outside.  From the time I put my head on my pillow at night, resting with the knowledge I've done my best and accomplished something, no matter how inconsequential it seemed at the time.  From the knowledge that I've been kind and good and smiled and laughed, done a small favour or a big one, I appreciate my life, plywood floors and all.

Here's to 2013.  May it exceed our expectations.  May you all be able to see the gold instead of the snow.
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