Monday, December 7, 2009

End of fall

On the 5th of December, we hosted an open house for Brian Klipfel for people interested in masonry heaters. To our surprise and delight, over 20 people showed up, many staying for hours. People are interested in non-fossil fuel heating alternatives and certainly masonry heaters are one of the most efficient ways to do it. In the picture you can see some of our guests looking at pictures. Ted LaMastra is the guy in the back with a hat on. He did much of the masonry work for our foundation.
That was the last fling of fall. It started snowing and by midnight we had over five inches. The seasons have changed.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A Fall Harvest

When I was young, “hunting season” meant small game: rabbits, pheasant, ducks, squirrels. It certainly did not mean the white-tailed deer. Deer were so rare that seeing one was the outdoor thrill of the year. Today, I spot a roadkill carcass almost every mile on the way to work. Today, “Hunting season” in Eastern Pennsylvania means deer (and sometimes turkey) and little else. The annual deer hunt is so essential to the rural experience that the local schools are all closed on the Monday after Thanksgiving, the traditional “First Day” of buck season.
We see plenty of deer around the lodge, and see plenty of the damage that these four-legged locusts do to crops and the woods. But then, deer have become a crop of their own, like cattle or pigs. It’s just a little harder to kill them, that’s all. Still, we saw some success this fall during bow-and-arrow. We hope that our hunters will have even more success during the upcoming rifle season. Otherwise, we might be left with nothing but old trees, ferns and timothy hay.

Monday, November 2, 2009

The mixed days of October

This has to have been one of the wettest years in our memory (Sorry, California). The apples are huge (but with so much water, almost flavorless). The kernels on the corn are huge too, but the cobs from our sadly depleted field were small. It seemed as if it rained every weekend, making it hard to get work done on the house. Still, some progress continued. We had our "final" inspection, then spent two weekends fixing all the little details the inspectors wanted. One of those being a street number for emergency responders. We had a number by our gate, but decided to add our mailbox. Its numbers will be hard to miss.
Not much fall color this year. Again, too wet. This weekend it blew and blew and rained, and the leaves came down.
The corn is gone, replaced by gazing deer and a rye cover crop. We walked the field, picking up "cobby" corn to feed to Laura and Steve's chickens. We picked up plenty of golf balls too. once lost in the corn by golfers on the adjoining course, but easy to spot now with the corn down. After three years of injecting "Merit" into the ground, our hemlock appears Wooly Adelgia free and healthy. We will continue to hope.
The house is holding onto its temperature and remains comfortable. More amd more, this is our home.

Friday, September 25, 2009

New lower price

In other good news, Amazon is once more directly carrying The Golden Horn at a five dollar discount over the "list" price that PublishAmerica chose. So now you can get my first novel for "only" $19.95 once more and even get super-savings shipping. Such a deal! :-)

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Window Treatments

Moldings around the windows of our passive solar home might seem to be low-priority, something we could work on at any time. But the approach of winter has given that project a higher status. We need to get the windows finished while there is still warm weather, and we need to have a way to install curtains to hold in night-time heat. The biggest challenge was the large, south overhead window in the central bay. We ended up making our own scaffolding, then spent two days staining, varnishing and painting. With the curtains installed, one window is finally ready for the cold season.

Hot Water, Part 1

Two major projects have remained for our house to be completely liveable: Power and hot water. But as Linda has pointed out. “I can live without electricity, but I won’t live without hot water.” So the hot water system became our next priority. We engaged Craig Edwards and Kirk Rohn of the Evergreen Group to do the installation. The hardest work was installing the posts and frame for the panel. We went with a large panel in hopes that it would be enough, even on cloudy, winter days, to avoid the need for a supplemental heat source. The panel is now in place, the tank is hooked up and the system is working with temperatures above 150 degrees F. on sunny days. Despite our lower upstairs water pressure, there was enough to enjoy my first shower on Saturday. We may have all the details complete by October.

The Watchers, Part Seven

Another entry in the story started last year: Let me know if you want more.

“Titus, poor Titus! What has this place done to you?” Benjamin sighed before bending over once more to fasten the strap on his other sandal. Should he have left two days ago? He had secured a seat; he had gone to the aeroport. Why had he come back? It could not have been the warmth of his hosts. They had been but strangers. He took a deep breath. “It’s the girl.” There, he had spoken truth at last. He had been plagued with mysteries from the moment he had left his own country, but none were vexing him as much as that child with her sweet voice, big eyes and impossible hand. She had saved his life … and threatened it as well. What was she? For the eighth time, Benjamin ran what he knew to be truth back through his mind. She was a worship house child, she was an adolescent scholar, she was a rich family’s second daughter, she was a ninja warrior. She had two hands, or one, or many? She wore a simple shift or silken gowns, or black tights. She spoke of the “watchers;” she agreed that this was an evil place. What was she? Very smart and much too wise for her physical age, that he knew to be true. Otherwise?
The Wall. She had mentioned a “wall.” She said it had answers. “Hmm.” Benjamin opened the paperback novel and his compupad. He began leafing through the book’s off-white pages, occasionally pausing and noting a word or letter. He typed these characters into a fresh document on his compupad. When he had two lines of text, he hit return, entered a password, confirmed and began to page through the screens that the compupad provided. He took no notes and when he was done, he did not save anything. Instead he ran a second program that deep-erased any record that he had ever accessed any outside source.

“I don’t like this.”
Why? the thought passed through Beriana’s mind.
“I am too old, too tall. I am growing up.”
Does that matter?
“You know it does. I used to be a little beggar girl. Now …” Briana made a sour face. “The last time I went out with the bowl, a man offered to take me to a place where they make love. He thought I was trying to sell my body. I don’t like that.”
We have only a few left. We need someone to see for us.
“I don’t want to do this.”
Remember your promise?
“I remember.” Beriana rubbed her right hand, then folded her arms and hugged herself. “This is the last time, for sure.” She began changing.

Nineteen beggars squatted in a line against the north wall of the square. Some were missing limbs. Two appeared to be blind. Beriana seated herself close enough to the group so that she was clearly one of them but not too near. Her business today did not involve coins. She hunched down, trying to make herself appear as small and short as possible before setting down her bowl in front of herself. The sun felt good, and Beriana turned her smudged face toward it, gathering in its heat, then she shielded her brow with her left hand and began watching. She did not have long to wait. The paster arrived within three tick-tocks of her own arrival. He was trying to appear casual, as if he were a simple visitor from the south lands, or some other closer country. He studied the brass bracelets in Uncle Ollie’s stand, spoke briefly with a horse vendor, even looked her way briefly, but gave no sign that he recognized her. Then he approached the older part of a stone-rubble wall that closed in the south side of the market.
“If you know so much about this man that you can predict exactly when he will show up where, why do you need me?”
You know the answer already to that question.
“Humph.” The girl made no further sound but concentrated on watching the pastor’s every move.

Benjamin certainly did not know what he was looking for. He traced the lines and cuts of the wall’s massive boulders, occasionally touching projections or nobules. This had to be the wall the girl had referred to. No other wall was so old or more storied. Here the first humans had overcome the first demons, hurling them from the wall’s heights to destruction on sharp rocks below. Here had once been the altar of love and hate where the first judges had granted marriages and cast evil humans to their deaths. Dark red stains, some washed by rain and scoured by winds back to a limestone white, hinted at ancient violence. Benjamin did not touch the stains. Instead he searched with his eyes, squinting and moving his head back-and-forth to catch each irregularity from as many angles as possible. When three tick-tocks has passed, he straightened and stretched his back. He tried once more, this time using the corners of his eyes as he had in the hotel room. Nothing. The wall, this wall, was supposed to have answers, yet he had found none. He sighed, failure and frustration complete, then, as he turned away, a quick breeze began to blow.
The sudden wind caused stall awnings to flap and even toppled several poles. Merchants grabbed cloth and wood and held on. Shoppers pulled hoods up to shield their faces from the stinging sands and dirt swirling through the booths. The threatening chaos caused even the girl’s companions to pull in their bowls and mute their begging chants.
Benjamin remained still as the sand grains pelted his cheeks, He listened to the sounds of wind and sand squeezing through the crevices and grooves of the wall. The wall was speaking. When the dervish column of air had run its course, he smiled and turned away. He came quite close to the girl as he left, close enough to easily drop a coin in her bowl. The clink of metal against fired clay like a clap of thunder, caused all but the girl to stiffen, but the pastor did not look back as he continued on his way.

“You heard?”
Yes, we heard. We do not need eyes to know that he has caught the first message.
“Am I done then?”
Yes. For now.
The girl retrieved the bowl and its offering with her left hand and got to her feet. For a moment her eyes appeared to see nothing while her left hand rubbed the fingerless knuckles of her right. Then she swallowed a faint sob and followed the same route out of the market that the pastor had just taken. [To be continued.]

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Evolution of ideas and plans

Here are some examples of the drawings for our house that we made over a two year period. We had a fairly good idea of what we wanted from the beginning, but had to come up with a design that was practical and affordable. Affordable meant that many of the fancy features such as a bump out in the bedroom and a balcony disappeared before the end. Practicality meant that we had to shape dimensions and spaces to meet standard block and timber sizes.
These are for the south elevation:
The first shows some of the very first free-hand sketches I made as Linda and I discussed layouts. Even in these first drawings the south orientation, the kitchen and living areas appear pretty much as they would be in the final.
The next drawing is from the the dream stage when any fantasy could still be indulged in. The bump-out on the right would have allowed us to lie in bed and view the world. The balcony and central window would have been nice. The tall tower would have been neat.
In next drawing, reality and the advice of Aaron have intruded. The fancy parts are gone and the roof line is lower in order to save timber. The tower remains an tower, but also lower.
The last drawing is the as-built. We went back to an eight-foot second floor to simplify the timbering. but kept the total building height the same. As a result, the tower sits lower on the roof.
More drawings of the floor plans later.

Monday, August 3, 2009

July activites at the new place.

The center of our house, looking up.
Despite a lack of entries here, July was a busy time for us. With the south deck on our new house finished, we could start to enjoy sitting out there, cooking, eating and watching the corn grow. Linda cleaned the old cushions and we were set.

We turned our attention to the kitchen. We cut flooring to make a countertop and finished it with four coats of nice, old-fashioned shellac. The plumber got in there and now we finally have a working kitchen sink.
We started to add the railings to the east deck and by the end of the month had finished all but a few balusters on the steps.
This has been a rainy month, but we still have the sun and the views to remind us that we live with nature and take whatever the weather brings.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Finishing the south deck

On Sunday, June 28th, we finished the south deck—thereby keeping with our plan to have it done before the end of April …
We enclosed the rest of the west side, redid the corner post on the east, installed and sanded the railings. The house proportions look better now. Next will be railings for the east deck. The corn is getting higher.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Our timber framer

Since he is Amish, you will not find any website or e-mail address for our timber framer. So I thought I would put in my own plug. We learned about Aaron King through a friend who’d had Aaron build him a timber frame barn which later became a home. I looked into several different timber framers before visiting Aaron at his shop in the spring of 2007. I was not only impressed with his shop, which was orderly, clean and run using either pneumatic or hydraulic-powered tools, but by Aaron’s understanding of what I had in mind and his ability to explain ways to improve the design and gain savings in the process. I made three visits to his shop that spring, each time taking Aaron a new set of drawings. In the end, we had a plan that both of us were happy with.
His craftmanship, precision and sense of the wood were superb. No matter how much the ideas for our house were Linda’s and mine, it was Aaron’s ability to translate those ideas into finished timber art that really make our house special.

Aaron K. King, LLC does not have a phone, but he can be reached at his shop’s address: 21 West Eby Road, Leola, PA 17540.
You can also reach him by calling the number for the phone that lives outside his shop in its own little booth. If no one answers, leave a message. (717) 656-8253.

A special note on terms: Many people see our house and say, “Oh, you have post-and-beam construction.” Well, yes and no. While technically a timber frame structure is a type of post-and-beam, that term is generally used for structures in which the timbers are held together with steel sleeves and/or bolts—such as I used to make our deck. In “timber frame” everything is pegged together with wood dowels, in this case, oak.
Timber framing yields a structure that is all of the same material (wood). This results in tighter joints with less chance of wear from the harder steel flexing against wood. Generally builders consider timber frame buildings to be more durable, stronger and better-looking, although either methods can work well. That is why we went with timber framing. It was also a construction method we had both grown up with and admired.

All the pictures were taken either by Linda and myself using a Nikon Coolpix 995, a D70 or a Nikon SP equipped with an F-mount 21mm nikkor.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The South Deck: continued

The deck on the south side of the house continues to "mature" as we get time on weekends to work on it. As you look at these pictures, watch the corn grow from weekend to weekend.
The second weekend in June we had good weather and managed to lay down the deck boards and get the east-side railing in place.
Last weekend, despite miserable, rainy weather, we got in the south and west railings and the last two deck boards. The posts are held with half-inch carriage bolts and everything is screwed together. We made the railing quite high for more security. Another weekend or so, and it may be done. Then we have to work on kitchen counters and the railings for the east-side porch.
Kent Kjellgren, an Energy Star examiner, came by to finish our energy audit, including the blower test. The equipment pulls air into the house under sealed winter conditions, measures the resistance and this, in turn, indicates how much leakage the house has. He had a frustrating time because the house is so tight that he had a hard time getting a reading. We have around 205 CFM, which is almost no leaks at all.