Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Construction: Week 3

Well, last week was rather up and down.

There was a lot of hanging around waiting for things to happen; it felt frustrating and tedious by times.

The plumber was unable to come on Monday, but I couldn't go anywhere because I was waiting for the inspector to come and ok the under-slab insulation and vapour barrier. She came in the mid-afternoon and signed off, so that was good.

My plumber came with an assistant on Tuesday morning to install the in-floor heating pipes.
So neat and orderly.
The pipes are all zip-tied to the wire mesh.
Once all of the pipes were in, the plumber pressurized them with an air compressor to make sure there were no leaks.

My plumber came back on Wednesday to bring me my shower pan and invoices for the work of roughing in the plumbing.

My builder came on Wednesday, too, to have a look at the heating pipes and take photos and measurements, so they can be sure when they anchor the walls that none of the in-floor heating pipes will get ruptured.

The slab contractors weren't able to come on Wednesday OR Thursday – there was just no space in their schedule.

Wednesday was not a fun day. I was in a terrible mood and didn't feel like going anywhere or doing anything.

I felt a bit more upbeat on Thursday, but I still couldn't go anywhere because I was waiting for the first delivery of materials. Since the concrete truck still needs to be able to back up to the form, the materials have to be placed properly on the site, so they won't all have to be moved out of the way when the concrete truck comes. There is a hefty penalty if the concrete truck comes and can't access the site.

The boom truck is pretty cool.
Tucked out of the way for the time being...

Bad news

I received a couple of pieces of bad news on Thursday. For one thing, although the slab crew would come on Friday morning to make their final preparations, it would be Tuesday before the building inspector would be able to come sign off – and therefore Wednesday (at the earliest) before the concrete could be poured. So more waiting was on the cards.

Also, the results of my Efficiency Nova Scotia New Home Construction Program Review came in and showed that there was nothing feasible I could do to be eligible for rebates for my project. My Energuide rating works out at an 82, and there is not much I can do at this point to push it over the threshold for rebates, which is 85. This is partly my fault, because I waited too long to do the assessment – essentially, after making inquiries about it earlier this summer, I then forgot all about needing to do it until a couple of weeks ago... If I had done the assessment before my design had been decided, I might have been able to make changes that would have brought me up to an 85. But, not necessarily. My house is so small that changes to the mechanical systems don't have much impact. Also, the base load in the model is for two adults and a child, rather than one adult and a cat. So, I will doubtless be more efficient in my home than the model shows, but bureaucracy doesn't work like that and there will be no money back from the government for me.

On the plus side, the assessment was done by a friend of mine who works in the energy efficiency industry and we got to have some nice chats as we went back and forth discussing questions and options.

By the end of the day on Thursday, I was in an even grimmer mood than I had been on Wednesday. Fortunately for me, a friend came, helped me get my newly-delivered doors into my shed for safekeeping, took me to play tennis for the first time in years (which was super fun) and then to a party with many of my favourite people.

Next steps

I was in a much better mood on Friday and happy to see the slab contractors come back and finish installing the rebar for the project. I sent photos to the engineer who had designed the slab and he was impressed by the execution.

Continuous lap rebar
The finished underslab
Steps 6, 7 and 8 of the slab got completed this week. Just two more steps to go!
  1. Excavation (Week 1)
  2. Construction of the form
  3. Under-slab plumbing
  4. Under-slab plumbing inspection
  5. Insulation and wire mesh (Week 2)
  6. Inspection
  7. In-floor heating pipes
  8. Rebar
  9. Inspection
  10. Concrete pour
I paid for the excavation and the first phase of the plumbing this week. Money is flowing out quickly now, as I knew it would. This project has not felt particularly blessed financially. The bank declined to extend my line of credit. There will be no rebates from Efficiency NS. This makes me all the more thankful to my friend who gave me a sweet deal on the excavation work, and who is also willing to dig a well for me when the time comes. And I am deeply grateful to a couple of dear people who have offered me short-term loans if I get in over my head. 

Ever changing moods

I notice my moods have been cycling more rapidly than usual, which feels challenging. I struggled through the early part of last week, was very chipper Thursday eve through Saturday eve and then quite depressed again on Sunday and Monday over the holiday weekend. I think this is a combination of hormones and the stresses of this undertaking. I have wished, more than once, that I had had the foresight to know that I should build a cabin immediately after landing back in Nova Scotia, when it would have been less expensive and when I was not yet into the emotional rollercoaster of peri-menopause. I feel that many times in my life, I've gotten ready to do things (my personal chef business, my music career) years later than would have been optimal. But, I'm here now. And I'll get through this. While it might have been easier seven years ago (or 10 or 20), it was also not possible for me then – if it had been, I would have done it.

Here I am, in the present moment, taking things day by day – or hour by hour, when that's necessary. Sometimes, I'm in a crappy mood and feel overwhelmed and anxious. And sometimes I'm in a great mood and feel like I can manage everything just fine. And that, my friends, is my life these days.

Lumber is Salinger's favourite camouflage.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Construction: Week 2

This process is getting smoother as it goes along. It took me almost a whole week before I managed a report on Week 1 and here is the Week 2 update after just a couple of days. 

On Monday, last week, my amazing friend and another amazing friend of ours came to spread several tons of Class C and Class A gravel to extend the pad around the foundation. We had to hustle because the crew was coming to build the form at 2pm. So, hustle we did and we got 'er done in time. 
The pad at the beginning of the form's construction.
The form had to be meticulously measured to make sure it was a rectangle and not a parallelogram. I was proud to see that our measurements were very close to the pros'. As the form was built, it had to be leveled, too. A couple of our corners were a few inches lower than the others, but it was nothing that a little crushed rock couldn't fix.
No fair! They had a rock "slinger" and filled the form with gravel in a fraction of the time that it took us to spread gravel for the pad!
Three-inch thick and 2-foot wide foam insulation was placed around the edges on the inside of the form. The centre was then filled with gravel up to the edges of the insulation.
On Tuesday, the plumber came to install the under-slab plumbing. It was an unbelievably hot day for late September in Nova Scotia. Actually, it was an unusually hot day for Nova Scotia – period. To reduce the risk of my plumber passing out from heat exhaustion, I pitched in to help dig channels in the gravel to place the pipes and then helped fill in around them. Even sharing the work, we had to take several breaks for water and popsicles.
It's a small job – one 3-piece bathroom and a kitchen sink, but it's still a lot of pipes...

Once the under-slab plumbing was done and inspected, the slab contractors had to come back to do the next steps.
Stakes and pieces of 2x4 bolster the sides of the form, so it won't fall apart when the concrete is poured.
Insulation is fitted over top of the gravel and pipes.
Rebar and wire mesh are added to reinforce the concrete.
Surprise! The plumber needed a wooden box to put around the shower drain to keep it free of concrete and allow him some wiggle room to place the drain correctly under the shower pan. I had no idea this would be necessary, but fortunately, my builder was able to build the box on short notice and the slab contractors cut the angle to fit the slope of the insulation.
To recap, the following steps were completed during Week 2:
  1. Excavation
  2. Construction of the form
  3. Under-slab plumbing
  4. Under-slab plumbing inspection
  5. Insulation and wire mesh
I felt much more steady during Week 2 than I did during Week 1. Working with friends the first week gave me the safety to meltdown and be supported in my doubts and fears. Now that things have moved into the hands of strangers, I'm rising to the to occasion and pulling myself together a bit more. It helps that I feel like I am developing a better handle on this process. Learning what to expect and what I can do to help facilitate things is helping me maintain a more positive and relaxed attitude.

It helps that the contractors working with me (and their crews) have been stellar, fitting this project into their schedules with virtually no delays. It feels like a complicated process to weave all of these inter-dependent tasks, but so far, it's been almost seamless, and that is helping to build my confidence. 

I'm optimistic about Week 3. If things continue in the same vein, the slab should be poured by the end of this week! (knock wood)

Friday, September 29, 2017

Construction: Week 1

Mumma, for why all these changes?
Well, after months of planning, designing, stressing, worrying and lining up contractors and estimates and quotes, the ball finally started rolling last week. 

I had found a contractor to pour the slab for my foundation, but I couldn't find anyone who was available to do the excavation. It feels like the entire south shore of Nova Scotia is madly building, trying to get things done before the snow flies and contractors are busy, busy, busy! I feel lucky to have found the great bunch of contractors who've agreed to work on this project, but I struck out trying to find a excavation contractor who was available, affordable and with whom I felt comfortable. And without the excavation work, nothing could move forward.

Luckily for me, my friend of the amazing chainsaw skills has myriad other skills and offered to do the excavation work I needed to have done. Not that he's not extremely busy, too, but he made the time so that work at my place wouldn't be held up – a tremendous and generous gift to me.

The first task was "scrubbing off" the organic matter, dead and alive.
It was a perfect opportunity to take logs that had been cut over the past year and a half to make way for the driveway and power lines and load them on the trailer to go off to be milled into useful lumber.
One of the limbs had to be removed from old Father Maple so that the big trucks would be able to back right up to the form. He remains a stately, if somewhat less crooked, presence. 
We had to have a couple of loads of shale delivered.
And my friend brought tons of gravel in his truck and trailer, too... 
...much of which we spread by hand using shovels, rakes and buckets.
I got to drive the excavator when the right-rear wheel of the truck went over the edge of the driveway and the truck had to be assisted back onto solid ground.
The awesome slab contractor loaned us his transit level so we could check how level the pad was as we spread the gravel. 
A DEEP trench had to be dug for the well line to go out from the house. You never think how deep 4 feet is, but it's deep enough when you're trying to dig through rocky South Shore Nova Scotian soil! 
I'm not going to lie to you, I melted down more than once last week. I felt so overwhelmed. I wished that I had never had the temerity to think that I could organize having a small cabin built for myself.

Days were spent leveling ground, moving logs and getting gravel in place. Despite being worn out by the work, I did not sleep well, waking up in the middle of the night with anxious thoughts like, "What am I doing?" and "Why did I decide to do this?"

There were some shaky, miserable hours. Fortunately, a number of people close to me provided moral support and tangible help, often exactly when it was needed most.

And there were some exiting moments, too. I invested in a chain saw and used it for the first time ever! And I drove the excavator. And I worked: healthy, outdoor, physical labour.

As the work progressed, I started to feel better. Excavation was hard – it felt like we were ripping the land to pieces. Fortunately, after ripping it apart, we started to put it back together again. And for me, as that happened "Why am I doing this?" and "What am I doing?" transformed into "I am doing this."

The definiteness of that is a lot more comfortable than sitting in the unknown of doubts and second guesses.

And since I am doing this, I want to embrace the process. After several wobbly weeks, I've come to understand that if I want this house to be built wholeheartedly, by people who are kind and easy through the process, that means that I have to find kindness and ease in my heart, too.

Otherwise, there is no point.

This construction project requires Salinger to be vigilant and alert. On Friday, when all the machines had gone away for a bit, he had to have some serious naps to recover from all of the excitement.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Less Crooked, Less Wooded

At the same time that I've been stressing quite a bit about this building project, things are moving forward. 

A little over a week ago, my dear friend who is an artist with a chainsaw came over and in about two hours felled six large trees – two dead and four living – all too close for comfort to the site for the house (especially with all of the big storms that we can expect to keep threatening the Atlantic coast). 

Two spruces felled meticulously right on top of each other.
The smaller spruce was riddled with ants. All the more reason to be glad that it's no longer towering over where the cabin will be! 
The spruce that got taken down by my compost pile was a giant. It's hard to count the rings exactly because the ones in the centre are so tiny, but my guesstimate is about 120 years. *bows head*
The giant on the ground.
There is quite a comfy spot to sit in the branches of the downed tree.
From the perch pictured just above, there is an excellent view of this crooked pine. We left this tree standing as it is obviously leaning dramatically AWAY from the site for the house and is highly unlikely to fall on top of it. 
Two steps forward and one step back: my clothesline had to be dismantled temporarily, as it was attached on one end to a maple tree that was leaning sharply toward the site for the cabin, a maple tree that can be seen here lying at feet of the other end of the clothesline. Installing the clothesline was my first DIY project on this land and it has been consistently useful;
I will miss it until it can be set up again.
Salinger was surprisingly unfazed by the changes. He seemed happy to be the conquerer of the newly felled trees, including the "clothesline maple" pictured here.
There is much more sunlight now in the Crooked Wood. It feels a bit odd, but I'm sure I'll get used to it – and I'll be especially glad to be less shaded during the brief winter days...

Last week was a hard one for me.

I felt really crappy about deciding to kill those beautiful trees. I didn't expect to feel that way because I didn't feel anywhere near as bad when we felled many more trees to bring in the driveway and the power lines. Not to mention all of the firewood I've burned to keep warm throughout my life, each chunk of which came from a beautiful, living tree and to be honest, I never really even thought about it...

Perhaps my overall state of mind, my anxiety about the build, is what made me feel so guilty and sad about these trees. Or maybe I felt so bad because I knew these trees. I've lived here for two summers now and those trees have been some of my closest neighbours.

They were beautiful. They were my elders. They were here first. And I had them removed because they were in my way and because I could. They grew here for sixty, eighty, a hundred+ years and then each came down in a matter of minutes.

And although we honoured and embraced them before they were felled, and although they will live on, becoming furniture and/or hugelkultur beds and/or firewood and/or beautiful decomposing logs and brush that will nourish this land and give life to other trees, to fungi, mosses and insects, I mourn them. (Their deaths have made me look at some tricky questions around my own sense of entitlement, but I think I'll save those thoughts for another blog post).

As things stand now, "Them's history," as my Nana would have said. Fortunately, I'm recovering from feeling guilty and sad about deciding to cut them down. I'm doing this – I'm making a permanent dwelling for myself on this piece of land and there is no point feeling bad about it. Since I'm going to do it anyway, it's better to do it with love, gratitude and celebration than with self-doubt and regret.

This attitude adjustment has arrived just in the nick of time: we're breaking ground today. 

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

It's my happening... and it freaks me out

So, uh, I'm building a cabin, yeah?

Well, I'm not building it. I might contribute some amount of work to the project, but mostly it's going to be built by other people.

People who know what they are doing.

And that's a good thing.

So far, I am finding this a tremendously complex and daunting process. There are so many different people who need to do so many different things. Estimates have to be requested, acquired, considered and selected for each element of the project.

Decisions must be made.

I confirmed my third contractor today – and I am having a full-on anxiety meltdown.

I'm not entirely sure why. I mean, what's the worst that can happen? It can all get horribly fouled-up and I'll wind up with a bunch of debt for no actual building or a building that I can't live in and I will have to declare bankruptcy and lose this land, my shed, my un-winterized tiny home on wheels, the new building (or some unfinished part thereof) and have to start over from scratch. 

Well, that's not so bad, is it?

Afterall, it's only money and security and the comfort of feeling like I'm good at modern life. I think I can live without all of those things. I think I have the resilience to come through this if it's a massive disaster.

But, I hope it won't be.

Please, please, please, don't be a massive disaster.




Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Stay calm... and build a cabin

It's been a while since I posted here.

For one thing, I've been underwater with a big desk-work project for the past 6 weeks.

But for another thing, I have been feeling nervous, stressed and a bit fragile. It's challenging to put myself down in pixels when I'm feeling that way. It can take me a while to figure out how to express myself. Also, it's a whole lot easier not to say anything and let others assume that I am just over here, doing my thing: calm, cheerful and collected.

I have not been that calm. I have been feeling very challenged this year by the process of trying to get my tiny cabin designed and built. These are uncharted waters. I don't know what I'm doing, or how it's going to get done. I hope I'm going to succeed, but at the core, I just don't know and for me that stirs up fear and anxiety.

The dream

Then, this morning, I had a dream.

I was walking in New York City (which, FYI, is where my dad was born/grew up and is one of my personal, life-long "happy places"). It was November and I was wearing my winter coat. It wasn't quite cold enough for a full-length wool coat, so, I kept overheating, especially when I went into buildings. So, I kept taking off my coat to stay comfortable. And I kept losing it. With my wallet and phone in the pockets. Each time I realized it was missing, I would retrace my steps and ask if anyone had seen a black coat. And each time, some kind person would have kept it safe and would hand it back to me with a smile, with my wallet and phone right where I left them.

Then, while walking down a street in midtown, I randomly encountered the daughter of some friends of mine (who I was supposed to look up while I was in the city, but hadn't yet contacted). We started chatting, then some friends of hers bumped into us and we all decided to go to a restaurant for drinks and a snack. On the way there, I got separated from the group and lost them. In real life, that sort of thing would be very upsetting to me. In my dream, I took it in stride and kept walking, relaxed and enjoying the experience of being in Manhattan. Eventually, I found the restaurant they were in and was able to rejoin them.

The reality

This dream feels like a timely message from my unconscious mind.

Basically, I am being reminded that things are going wrong and going right all of the time.

That is the nature of the chaos of this world, a world where things continually happen – and don't happen – either because they were put in motion/stopped by one of over 7.5 billion people, by one of countless butterflies or for no particular reason at all. Our human brains try to impose order and meaning on the VERSE* so we can pretend we are charting a course from where we are to where we want to be (or at least keeping our heads above water), but we are kidding ourselves if we think that we are able to control more than a few of the variables, let alone all of them.

My project to build a cabin on my land this year feels like a complex task that is exposed to many forces beyond my control. It feels like there have been a lot of delays and missteps. Unlike last spring, when everything fell into place seamlessly, quickly and with minimal effort (despite my lack of knowledge and understanding), my process this year has felt choppy, raw and uncomfortable. Last year, it felt like the VERSE really wanted me to get settled on this piece of land, but this year, it seems indifferent – or perhaps ambivalent.

I have been trying (very trying, as we joke in my family), but at this point in the process, there are still several vital pieces that are not yet in place. And we are supposed to break ground this month!

Of course, there have been some exciting and serendipitous moments, too. I have people on my team who I trust implicitly. I have friends who have been rock-steady and generous with their support. And I have had opportunities to grow. I have braved asking for help – help getting unstuck, help handling my anxiety, help with many tasks and pieces of information. And some – not all, but some – of the time, I have been met in ways that have reinforced the things that I am learning.

The trouble is that the things that aren't working have been looming large while the things that are working feel hard to hang on to.

I have been stressing and sometimes even catastrophizing. And I have been taking things personally, feeling like it is my lack of ability and knowledge, my mistakes, my poor decisions, that have been at the cause of every difficulty. I have been dwelling on the very real possibility that this is not going to work, that I am going to #fail. That's not a very fun place to be. Doubt (and even worse, self-doubt) are bad company.


And then, this dream.

The first half of the dream says loud and clear – trust other people. People have your back.

The second half of the dream says – stay relaxed and keep the faith. Connections will happen organically. And even if pieces fall apart, they will come back together. I can find enjoyment in the process. I will get where I'm going, even if I don't know where that is or how to get there.

I feel gratitude that my unconscious brain knows (far better than my stressed-out conscious brain) how to navigate this process. And I love that it cared enough to take me to New York last night to show me the way.

In closing, a favourite New York photo – a mosaic of sea turtles swimming (effortlessly ;) in Houston Street subway station.
*VERSE = Very Enormous Random Swirl of Events

Friday, August 4, 2017

Quitter! (Part 1)

Soda pop

So, about 300 days ago, I quit drinking pop.* 

Screen cap from my Quit for Health app.
I'd had a one-a-day habit for years. I started with Diet Coke in my teens (more like three-a-day back then), but after I drank way too much aspartame pulling an all-nighter in Uni, I switched to the full-on sugar version. Never a coffee-drinker, I settled into the habit of drinking one Coke (or an occasional Dr. Pepper) in the morning to get myself going.

Or, if I was trying not to drink pop first thing, or at all (both of which I attempted many times), it would be my fall back emotional safety net if things got bumpy in the middle of the day.

I resorted to it if I felt sad. Or angry. Or if I needed energy. Or if I needed to dig deep to find one last burst of cheerfulness to get me through the day.

I thought quitting was going to be a miserable experience. I thought I would become a total ogre and that everyone would hate me.

Quitting was hard, don't get me wrong. I probably looked at my quit app hourly (or more often than that!) for the first couple of weeks. And for a couple of months, I would say my mood was a little darker than usual, but not ogre-calibre. As the months have gone on, I feel like my more-or-less usual self without needing those bursts of sugar – which I used to think were an integral part of me, something I couldn't possibly live without.

This far into the Year of Quit, I don't really think about it anymore. I think I've transformed into a person who doesn't drink pop.

And just look at that screen cap up there to see the amount of sugar I have not consumed in 300 days – over 11 KILOGRAMS! That's more than 5 and a half of those bags of white sugar you buy at the grocery store. Terrifying. And I thought nothing of it for years and years.

It's kind of amazing. And it's probably the first time in my life that I am glad to think of myself as a quitter.

*In the interest of absolute accuracy and transparency, I have been 98.5% pop-free for the past 300 days. Which means I have had pop four times, once by accident and the other times when I was feeling unbearably cranky. Nobody's perfect, and 98.5% is close enough for me.