Monday, August 31, 2015

I am floored.

The perfectly beautiful, totally imperfect ship lap flooring
 We are definitely movin' on up, not to the East side but to the North. The second story of our grain bin house is being laid as I blog and it feels wonderful; as if-maybe-we'll be able to move in here before the first Illinois blizzard hits. We've given up the idea that we will be in before the first frost, unless of course first frost is delayed past its usual date of Oct 15 and extended to Nov. 15-but we're OK with that. It's easy to be OK with delays when the weather is sweet and the camper is not freezing. We'll see how positive our attitude remains when we have to break ice out of our coffee cups in the early am.

Our second floor is being built with reclaimed wood just like our floor beams and joists were. At a cost of roughly $500 we brought home Shiplap Flooring  from who knows where; old barns, old homes, old chicken coops even, through our "supplier" just down the road from us.  Each piece of wood is unique in its composition, size, amount of nail/screw damage etc. I'm painting the underneath portion of each board a flat white for deeply considered reasons; it was the cheapest at the hardware store.

To wash or not to wash that is the question

I am hopeful the flat of the white will pose a fine juxtaposition to the shimmer of the floor joists polyurethane. ("Juxtaposition" in a grain bin house--how pompass am I?)

Painting them proved a challenge as many were sporting decades of dirt. The first few boards I cleaned with a dry wire brush and then gave them two coats of paint. Then I got the bright idea that I should wash the boards. What a mistake. The more I washed the more dirt seemed to just ooze up through the grains. When I thought the boards were dry enough to paint after washing ...I did so but they held on to the water more than I thought and the dirt then melded in with the paint leaving rusty colored streaks. So those boards had to dry another few days and get another coat of paint.

Against the wall; the floor boards that were washed, then painted, a big mess.
I have to keep reminding myself, this is a recycled home with recycled materials. Nothing will or should look perfect.

It was indeed exciting to see Keith screw in the first floorboard. With son Jason helping to cut boards to length and then lift them up through the joists, it didn't take long to get about a third of the floor completed.

The first few boards of the second floor going down

Help from above...always good

View of ship lap floor boards from the first floor

Even more thrilling was walking up the steps, curved ones to the left of the landing, straight ones to the right and onto the actual second floor. It is now easier to visualize how the three small rooms up there might look. We've already decided to make our own bedroom smaller and the library area bigger.

We read more than we sleep.

Straight steps leading to the right of the landing

Curved steps to the left of the landing

Friday, August 21, 2015

Here Comes The Joist.

 Lots of floor joists, all reclaimed wood, all 2 by 8's technically but measuring in at 2 by 7 and 15/16 or 2 by 7 and 5/8 etc...This makes for creative work when positioning them on top the beam as future floor support and causes us to wonder existentially : just how screwed up will the final floor be? Will we be able to set a chair at one end and watch it rush to the other side Poltergeist fashion?

Image result for poltergeist chair scene
That Mary Beth is some cheerleader isn't she? Been a few years (decades) since I could do splits mid air like that.

Back to boards. Like the beam and posts we purchased the floor joists from our neighbor who deconstructs old barns and resells the wood. These joists came from various buildings and match only in the fact that they are all old. A variety of wood types, all have nail holes, gauges, faded spots, stained areas, chalk, ink and pen marks. A few were even grave markers I believe but why ask? To prepare them for center stage I ran a wire brush over them to remove the most caked on debri and then coated with polyurethane. Even dried on chicken manure glows with a little polyurethane I've noted.

This made some of the boards absolutely gorgeous while some took on just a dirty shiny look. The worst looking will support the floor above our bathroom as they won't be seen while those who made the cut-literally-will be seen from our main first floor living space. It took a good amount of time to measure for this project as with the curve of our building no joist was the same exact length or width. Overlap at the main beam area will be cut back and evened up.

Along the inside wall, additional boards were cut and secured in between each joist and discussion was had regarding do we keep these cross boards exposed as well or cover with drywall? Knowing we will do the drywall ourselves, a task we have yet to learn, we decided to keep these smaller cross boards exposed; that way less drywall cutting and pasting. Besides if people are focused on the fact that these cross boards don't match they'll be less likely to notice our shabby drywall techniques.

PS. I apologize for the quality of the last two pictures at the beginning of this post. Blogger for some insane reason will not let me remove them. or perhaps it's just because they are positioned so close to the Poltergeist clip. They do have some weird lighting in them don't they?

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Stairway to Heaven, Not Quite



Keith demonstrates stringer stability
This post is for my most astute follower Kris (be sure to check out her blog RIGHT HERE ) who noted I skipped a step in our Grain Bin House construction sequence...the building of the stairs. She was right of course, I should not have skipped over the very thing that will eventually elevate us to the second floor, so here goes:

We waffled for some time about how to access the upstairs of our new build looking at spiral staircases, steps that just followed the curve of the internal walls, a rope ladder,  an escalator, or a staircase that sat smack in the middle of the first floor.

We went for the  smack in the middle of the floor design. I hear you, what kind of sense does THAT make? Well, the spiral staircase would take up less floor space but would make moving items like mattresses and beds a bit tricky. The staircase that curved along the inside of a downstairs wall would work but would take a lot of time to build with all the different sized steps. The image of my rotund self swinging wildly on the rope ladder was too painful to seriously consider and the escalator, priced at $20,000 was bit over budget so this left us with the monster in the middle.

Building it took several pages of graph paper, multiple visits to the internet and lots of calculator time plus numerous trips to the decrepit house to measure its horrible staircase: too steep, too narrow, too ugly. Knowing what we did not want made it easier to plan what we did want.  Keith started with two 2 x 12 pieces of wood which he cut into the matching "stringers."

No, I do not know why they call them that. They should be called "saw-tooth supports" in my opinion. Stringers sounds like something bad coming out of a nasal cavity. stringer was attached to the bathroom wall frame which allowed Keith to climb up to the stair landing level and build the actual landing frame. This then gave him something to which he could attach the second stringer.

Then he cut the steps and screwed them in place. A large post was notched into the bottom steps for even more stability for the stairs as well as the big beam above. Later we will put in the risers to each step. The landing at the top will split to the right and the left. To the left will be a few steps leading into our small library area which will lead into our bedroom and to the right will be a few wider steps (because the curve of the wall there allows more width) leading into a small office.

Underneath the stairs though, the real space conservation magic will occur. Under the short part of the staircase will sit a Lowboy water heater, all of 30 inches tall. To the right of that will be our water softener. To the far right will sit our washing machine. Since I usually only wash clothes once a week, a far cry from the two loads a day I did when all four kids lived at home and I had fancy, aka unstained, corporate work clothes; having the washing machine tucked away and maybe slightly inconvenient in location will be no problem. There will also be room above the washer for a couple shelves.

At least that is the fantasy I choose to keep lodged in my pea brain.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Beam me up Scotty...and Keith and Colton and Jason and Kyle

 It took some brains and even more muscles but we have our posts and beam up in the Grain Bin House and most importantly no one died. Being the mom , nurse and safety captain I was most concerned about the dying part and drove the other parties nuts with my constant need for structure and planning. "Ok now, who is doing what? What end goes up first? What are our positions? Who is responsible for getting ladders into place? What is the secret word to yell out if you think you are going to drop the beam on your head, or someone else's head? or my head? Is everyone up to date on their health and death insurance?"

But once again we barreled through and are now well on our way to a second floor. Before installation we purchased vintage, and I mean vintage, posts and a large 17 foot beam from a neighbor who deconstructs old barns. The main beam and the two supporting posts were all 8 by 8 and the floor joists we bought to complete the completely unmatched set were various lengths since nothing is very square in a new round home-to-be.

Original tenon and mortise joint of the 100 year old beam

Long beam before trimming and sealing on benches.
Keith sitting on two shorter supporting posts
 The wood is in various conditions of age, size, patina and abuse but all is structurally sound. To give it the image of similarity I wire brushed all the surfaces and then coated each piece with polyurethane, some of which itself was decades old and kept "just in case" by Keith from other projects.

I'm glad he did because a new gallon of polyurethane is over $30 and we did have to buy a couple gallons after using up all the old stuff we had. The wood, being old and dry sucked up that sealer like Dean Martin used to suck up gin.

With three strong sons to help, Colton, Jason and Kyle, there was first a lively discussion about the process. Dad had his method in mind (attaching the beam to the south wall post before lifting it onto the stair post) which was questioned by a son or two but he persevered.

Large long heavy beam on left, shorter supporting
post on right. Main contractor Keith: middle.

We tried his method and as I mentioned above; no one died. Thus his method was deemed a success. Working in 90 degree outside heat, with a heat index of about 100 in the metal building, we also managed to get the beam up without too much name calling; good natured teasing, yes, but nothing brutal.

The process went like this: Keith and I carried in the main support post ( a mere 150 pounds or so) and attached it to the stairs the day before.

Although the stairs do take up a fair amount of floor space,
underneath it we will keep our water heater, water softener and washing machine
The day of, the other post was hauled inside as was the large beam which weighed close to 300 pounds and took four of us using hay twine and 2 by 4's for leverage.

Sons Kyle and Jason bring in the big beam.
The other two helpers did their share but went for drinks.
Inside the bin Keith attached the big beam to the remaining post with more 2 by 4's. Then the five of us lifted the L shaped beam plus post so it reigned like a big letter V on the floor. Then while two of us held it steady the other three, on ladders and the stairs hosted it the rest of the way up to rest atop the post already in place at the bottom of the stairs.

The discussion on HOW to lift the beam up on top of the center post.
Note: No sons were harmed in this process.

Every job needs an overseer.
Colton, Jason and Keith discuss Christmas
grab bag gift ideas.
The beam had been pre-notched by Keith to fit against the south wall of the GBH both up top into the framing and down below at floor level. but once in place needed some more chisel work to make it fit tight.

Beam in concrete floor notched into
wall framing
Beam notched into top part of wall frame

While Colton rammed the beam all Viking style from on top the
staircase the rest of us held steady and maneuvered to post into position.The beam is cut not to reach the wall on one side to allow for the stairs which will rise off the landing both to the right (into a small office) and to the left (to a small library.)

 The whole concoction was further stabilized with a lag bolt from outside the GBH through the metal wall and into the post as well.

Soon we'll start putting in the floor joists and then...the second floor!

Beam in place on the north side
Beam in place on the south side

The Daily Bump and Grind of Caravan Life: Electricity

So in my last post I mentioned that water vexes me. Electricity therefore makes me jittery. I used to say that I hated electricity until eldest son, the electrician of course, commented that I did not hate it or else why would I use it all the time?

Oh how I miss those diaper days...before they could form words.

Ok, I don't hate electricity but I do so HATE getting shocked, physically not emotionally. I'm sadly at that age where I am not emotionally shocked very often but run me into a 4000 volt electric fence wire and I turn ugly foul mouthed hippie. Charles Manson would back away from me I'm telling you, I get that ugly. I never intend to get shocked but there have been instances where The Poor Farms co-owner has moved a wire without following the appropriate communication protocols and WHAMOO I get bit. Grrrrrrrrrr.

But one must have power unless one wants to be completely Amish and we are not yet that brave. The old decrepit house had old decrepit wiring so a new electrical system with H-panel was installed on a whole new pole in the front yard, (thank you again elder son) and now drop cords rule our lives.

New pole new wiring new life


Solar charger for fences. Our only "solar panel"
We have drop cords leading up the decrepit old house to run our freezers, power tools and washer. We have drop cords running down the property to the caravan for a few lights and a tiny fridge there. We have drop cords going out the GBH construction site for more lights and more power tools there. We have drop cords leading out to the electric fencer as well as the vacuum pump for milking our cow.

We did consider solar power but the cost is not cheap. Perhaps if we were in our twenties we'd live long enough to see our investment in solar panels or wind power pay off but that is not the case, so we are very much at this point on the electric grid. We have decreased our power use in other ways through: no microwave, no clothes dryer, no dishwasher, no air conditioner. I don't even use a blow dryer anymore.

There is no dress code here on The Poor Farm so why bother with pretty hair? Clean hair is luxury enough these days.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The Daily Bump and Grind of Caravan Life: Water

Handy Dandy Camp Shower
Fill with water, heat in sun, lather, rinse, repeat
Nearly four months of camping, wait, that's not quite accurate; I had a month off in an tiny apartment with hot and cold running water, I'm such a cheater,  while Keith held down the campfire. So it's four months for him and three for me and I dare say, we are coping.

I will say though, if we had known it would take an hour to do dishes, three hours to do laundry, at least an hour for each decent meal; I'm sure we would've sold the old farm and moved here anyway. But perhaps we might have prepared differently.

For example I would've had an escalator installed between the caravan and the old house because for crying out to Saul, we drudge up and down that hill a million times a day. I also would have begged borrowed and absolutely stole as many good quality hoses I could've gotten my hands on. We spend a good amount of time dragging hoses from one animal waterer to another.

Water. It vexes me most.

It will be awhile before we can afford to have the mid 1800's well repaired, so for now we run water from it via a pump and hoses. This well water tastes pretty good and tested free of e-coli and nitrates but it is high in some rust colored stuff which makes guests a bit nervous. Such wussies.  Perhaps it is iron or perhaps its real GOLD. Whatever it is for now we are running it through a PUR water filter before we drink it. Which means filling up plastic jugs, carrying them up to the old decrepit house and into the big fridge plugged in there. Then after its filtered we drain it back into more jugs to carry down to the caravan for coffee and tea water. Because we have only a teeny tiny fridge in the caravan we can only store one days worth of water there.

So far no one has gotten sick--heck we drink raw milk everyday, what's a little un-softened well water going to hurt?--thus we consider our well water experiment a success.

My outdoor kitchen
It's not pretty but at least it is functional...sort of.

The well water also works well for washing our dishes (after heating the water over an open fire until its very hot) and for our makeshift al fresco showers. It does not however work well on our hair. Nope, we get major straw hair if used for shampooing. So Keith rigged up a rain water collection sight off on of our old sheds, running the rainwater through a paper milk filter, and presto change we've got water that doesn't leave our hair with orange streaks. When rain is frequent as it was all through June and July, we had lots of rainwater for showering/hair care but now that it is drying up in Central Illinois we use our rainwater very judiciously.

I've got some squirreled away in the truck of my car. I have longer hair you know. Don't tell Keith.

Laundry also takes water and time. I do have a washing machine up by the old decrepit house but we've elected to go dryer free from now on. So laundry is done once a week (hose dragged across yard again and hooked up to washer) When the cycle is done I haul the wet stuff back down the hill to our clothing line. When dry, I fold it, put it away in the caravan and haul more dirty clothes up the little hill, into the washer and then out on the clothes line. Like the dishes and the showering, it takes time but at the end of the day...I sleep like a flippin' rock.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

We've Been Framed and it Feels Good.

The Grain Bin House build continues with our first layer of insulation and downstairs framing  this past week. We did hire Sealtite of Fairbury, to do the thin layer of closed cell insulation, a job that only took 2.5 hrs. After all the framing is complete we'll have another company blow in cellulose insulation. Sealtite guys covered the entire inside of the grain bin all the way up to the very top. Due to the in and out curve of the GBH metal walls the depth of the closed cell insulation varied from 1/4 in to almost 1 in. thus the reason we decided on two layers of interior insulation.


Fanny's dirty white coat illustrates how nice and bright light green
results of the closed cell insulation.
We like working with small local companies and the owners of these two are cousins and were happy to work with each other on our project. We considered using only plain batt insulation which would have been cheaper but we wanted out GBH to be well protected from  Illinois cold winter rains and snows and secure enough to hold in the heat from our rocket mass stove. The closed cell spray on foam we used has a high R value of 6.5 , almost double of the open cell spray on foam plus because of it's glue like properties it adds to the walls structural strength.

Closed cell foam covering the bolts that hold the bin panels together
This type of insulation is an excellent vapor and moisture barrier.

Because of its round stature framing took some creativity but we finally decided on the construction of 2 foot by 9 foot rectangles out of 2x4 lumber. Fortunately my husband is a Keith of all trades, primarily self taught and not afraid to take on something new, like building a house Dorothy's Tin Man would envy

 Each "box" was built separately and then installed inside the GBH. As we've been touting for years, child labor is encouraged on our farm. Below is grandson Wesley helping his papa with some of the frames. The labor can be a bit slow when using this demographic but sure it's free.

Over the years Keith has saved lots of lumber from other buildings we had torn down on our previous farm like chicken houses and goat barns plus pieces from past projects and /or gifts from others who had leftovers from their projects. Thus the framing is a mix of new and old wood.

Kitchen windows will go on the left.
Large window on right will go just behind the steel
barrel of our rocket mass stove heater.

Every other box was attached directly to the metal wall of the bin while alternating boxes were screwed to their neighbor, their neighboring box I mean. Keith pre-drilled holes in GBH wall then while I held the frame in place on the inside he drilled the screws into the wooden frames from the outside. It took a good bit of manpower to attach the frames to the heavy metal of the GB but when all done the framing will be tight and solid.

With the first floor framed in we are now working on the staircase and from there we'll install a large overhead wood beam and several floor joists in order to support the second floor. Then we get to frame in THAT level. The really tricky part will be framing in the slanted ceiling. Lot of long skinny pie pieces!

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Great Craic Was Had, Ireland 2015

Celtic Crosses at Kilmacduagh Monastery just outside Gort, County Clare
 A couple of you were kind enough to ask about my recent trip to Ireland so  I'll take a little break from Poor Farm activity and share my adventures at NUIG (National University Ireland, Galway)

Welcoming statue at NUIG

If you have followed me over here from my old blog, The Midlife Farmwife, you know this was not my first visit to the beautiful island of Eire. When I lived in corporate nurse management world and later when Keith and I had our much larger organic beef/pork/dairy business there were more funds to gad about, so I've done the tourist thing in Ireland many times in the past 15 years; this year however was very different.

I went as a gawky, doe-eyed, innocent student.

Ok, ok, I went as a grey haired, cynical, wind-whipped, and wrinkled around the edges student. Same difference but less likely to run off with an Italian Study Abroad student; who has the energy for that anyway? I was part of Irish Studies Program at NUIG a four week session hosting students from all over the world. I focused on a Creative Writing course taught by super author Mike McCormack and Gaelic Culture and Literature taught by the dynamic Kicki Ingridsdotter and Liam O'hAisibe'il master of placenames, surnames and all other Irish names only he could pronounce. I also squeezed in an Irish Language class, a Sean Nos Dance class, a Sean Nos singing class and invited myself to a couple extra field trips I wasn't scheduled to attend. I certainly got my tuitions worth.

Like I said, grey-haired, cynical, wind-whipped etc...
In years past I would rent a car , rent a cottage and bury myself in the isolated countryside somewhere in the Burren, but this year being on a students budget, there was no car and I needed to stay in the city. This was no problem. Galway is reported to be the fastest growing city in Europe (pop. 74,000) and with an average age of  34, it was alive with music, dance, great pubs (is any pub in Ireland not great? Of course not.) and restaurants. City Centre is fantastic for walking and gawking as it is blocked to traffic and full of activities.

I especially enjoyed the "buskers" those who perform in the streets for money. Glen Hansard is one of the most famous Irish buskers, a very personal favorite of mine, who has gone on to great acclaim . I would often grab a cup of tea to go and wonder Galway streets after class just for the fun of people watching and short story material gathering.

Galway City Centre

Buskers include all types of entertainers

View over Dingle Bay

Belted Galloway cows seen from our bus ride down into Dingle
Green, so wonderfully green.
One of our field trips was to the Dingle Pennisula where we viewed the film sights for Far and Away (our tour guide said the locals voted Tom Cruise with The Worst Irish Accent ) and Ryans Daughter with Sarah Miles and the ever handsome Robert Mitchum, who by the way used to keep quarter horses years ago in the Frankfort, Ill area; a ranch I worked on as a teenager. This means that my arse and Mitchum's arse have shared the same ride. Yeah, I knew you'd be impressed. Good thing. No one in my family is, no matter how many times I tell the story.

Film sight from the beginning of the 1992 film, Far and Away.

Film sight of beach scenes of the 1970 film Ryans Daughter
Field trips were always on the weekends and involved bus rides, ferry trips (to the Aran Islands) and while in Dingle; a two night stay in a hostel. The excursion I loved the most was the one nearest the school, a short trip to the home of author/poet William Butler Yeats, Thoor Ballylee.

Thoor Ballylee, home of William Butler Yeats near Gort
County Galway, Ireland. This bridge was also used in the 1952 film
Quiet Man with John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara
To walk across the bridge where he once walked, to sit in his home in the room where he once wrote, to look out over the same Streamstown River he viewed was a moving experience for this writer.

That evening after making it back to my little rental studio in Galway I found an email from the iYeats Poetry Contest folk informing me that a poem I entered back in May, While Waiting for the Coroner, was being recognized as "highly commended." This is my first published poem and I am thrilled and once again a big believer in The Luck of The Irish. My poem was inspired by the families I cared for while a hospice nurse. If interested in giving it a read just click Here.

So there you have it, How I spent My Summer, more or less. Next post...back to life on The Poor Farm and more GBH updates.

View from inside Yeats home, Thoor Ballylea