Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Our Next Big Adventure: The Maghreb

A few years ago, Jennifer and I decided to venture out of our comfort zone and experience a new culture.  We chose Morocco.  We became enchanted with this ancient land and promised each other we would be back.  Morocco has got to be the most photogenic place on the planet.  I would encourage anyone reading this to go to Google, click images, and type in "Morocco".  Then scroll through a couple of hundred photos to see some of the rich colour, and culture.  The one thing you won't get from the images are the smells and the sounds.  They add to the sense of ancient about the place.

Now fast forward a couple of years.  We just had our 3rd son Ezra.  Jenn has been off of work for almost 2 years,  when she gets a phone call.  It is the Canadian foreign service.  They offer her a position with 1 year of French language training and 2 more years of training within her position before she is to become "rotational".  This means she will be taking posts around the world.  With each passing year we would see the list of cities available for post for that year.  We would spend nights imagining ourselves in those places which would only add to our desire for adventure.  

When we received the list in September 2013 it had the following options:  Santo Domingo, Abu Dhabi, Lima, Lagos, Columbo, Guangzhou, Rabat, Bridgetown, Brussels, Kabul, Caracas, San Salvador, Bangkok and a few others.

The one that stood out to us was RABAT.  This was our chance to get back to Morocco.  We put it atop our list and within 2 months were notified that we needed to prepare to move.  We are headed to Morocco.  

Currently we are trying to prepare all things for our posting in Morocco.  We have been contacted by various members of the church there (there is a small unofficial branch for the expats).  They seem wonderful.  We are trying to prepare our children for the adventure.  Anders thinks it is exciting because he found out they have lizards there!  

Sad to say but we are thin on family photos.  Here is the most recent one I could find with all of us on it.  Looking forward to our adventure in Africa:

Dear Diary, Meet Stradivarius

I Just realized looking back through some of these old posts that this was the closest thing I have to a journal (sad) so I had better try to get back to it a little more in order to have at least a sparse documentation of our life.

Here is what the cabin looks like now:

I found a farmer in Notre-Dame-de-la-Salette (about 10 miles away) that had a nice stand of white pines up on the mountain.  I purchased 45 of them.  They grow stronger and straighter up on the mountain because of the adverse winds and cooler conditions.  I recently heard that some researchers suspect this was the secret to the Stradivarius violin.  They found that during that time period Europe was going through a mini ice age which made the trees grow slower, which means they annual growth rings are closer together creating a harder, denser than average wood.

Here is what the logs looked like after felling the trees, removing the bark and then hand planing the cambium layer off.

The start of the dry fit of the logs

Then I rented a crane, dismantled the cabin and labelled the logs, and drove the 15 km up the road to where I had made the foundation the year before.  The crane was there a day and a half as we placed the logs 1 by 1.

A couple weeks later I was able to get  up there and frame in the roof and dormer with the help of my friend the carpenter.

For weeks I worked on the upstairs with no floor to stand on.  It was scary carrying materials and working while having to always make sure you were stepping on the part of the plank that wouldn't give way between the floor joists.  I never got comfortable with it but did it anyway.  I love the views of the lake out the windows. They are electric greens and blues.

The windows and doors were made by my friend Fritz.  He is a german master craftsman and has taught me things about wood I had no idea man had discovered.  They have tilt and turn german hardware and are made of Mohagany.  Low E argon insulated glass, 3 coates of stain before any hardware or glass is installed and all for the price of the cheap white pvc window.  He bought an old mine 2 villages up the highway and has set it up with many German, Italian and Japanese industrial machines for planing, joining, sawing etc.  He even has a machine that takes all his sawdust and compresses it into wood bricks for his stove.  He also makes his own biodiesel.  He tells me that when I am ready, he will supervise me and allow me to make our kitchen on his machines.  His company is called "Boiserie Traditionel"

Next I had the sawmill across the road saw some nice thick pine beams so we could build a nice rustic staircase.  The floor is concrete.  After this photo was taken I had some professionals come in and diamond grind the concrete to a shiny polished smooth surface.  It looks very earthy but clean.  You can see little pebbles in it almost like there was an inch of epoxy on top.

Below is the side that faces the lake.  We put a nice porch on it to watch the thunderstorms.  In this photo we can see the roof jacks and safety boards are still on the roof.  I had just finished installing the roof.  The roofing material looks exactly like a cedar shingle but it is made of 100% recycled polyolefin plastic.  It will last well over a century with no maintenance required.  It is good to keep this material out of the landfill too.

Below is a shot of the porch.  Eventually when everything else gets done I plan to find a way to screen it in for mosquito season.

Here I've added all of the insulation, vapour barrier and tongue and grove panelling to the ceiling upstairs, drywalled in the interior walls, and I guess I'd better explain the fish since you've no doubt been straing at it.  Because this side of the house has a long shed dormer that runs the length of the building, the purlin on this side of the house isn't symmetrical with the purlin on the back side of the house.  So we put in 2 fake purlins.  So from the outside it looks symmetrical but since it is fake, we didn't run it right through the house.  Instead there was just 6 feet of log sticking out into the room on either end of the cabin.  So I had a buddy who does chainsaw carvings come in and do a pike in this room nd a trout in the other room.  I like it.  Jenn thinks its a little wonky.  The way I see it, if she wins and we cut it down I can NEVER have my way.  If I win and we keep it up, she can still get her way one day down the road.

I found an old beech tree that had been cut and sitting for a couple of years.  I brought it to the mill and had some posts sawn.  Brought it to see Fritz with the design I wanted and he set me free on his machines to make the kitchen.  This is the rough frame of the island.

My poor family has shared me with the cabin for so long that we decided to change it from a work site to something somewhat livable.  Now we all go and enjoy the cabin together.  We've even rented it a bunch of times by word of mouth.  However, I am finding that with everything in there, and the will to enjoy it, my progress on the finishing has slowed to a trickle.

We named the company that will rent and maintain the cabin Chalet Life.  the website is Chaletlife.com.

We named the building "Nauvoo Haus".  It is a little German twist to a building that was commissioned to be built in Nauvoo in the mid 19th century as a hotel / guesthouse for any travellers who were coming to discover the Mormon settlement in Illinois.  It was to be dedicated to be a "delightful habitation for man, and a resting place for the weary traveller that he may contemplate the glory of Zion" (Doctrine and Covenants 124: 60)

Here are the verses in section 124 that deal with Nauvoo House.  I liked learning about it and thought there were many parallels with what I wanted this place to be.

 22 Let my servant George, and my servant Lyman, and my servant John Snider, and others, build a ahouse unto my name, such a one as my servant Joseph shall show unto them, upon the place which he shall show unto them also.
 23 And it shall be for a house for boarding, a house that strangers may come from afar to lodge therein; therefore let it be a good house, worthy of all acceptation, that the weary atraveler may find health and safety while he shall contemplate the word of the Lord; and the bcornerstone I have appointed for Zion.
 24 This house shall be a healthful habitation if it be built unto my name, and if the governor which shall be appointed unto it shall not suffer any pollution to come upon it. It shall be holy, or the Lord your God will not adwell therein.
 56 And now I say unto you, as pertaining to my boarding ahousewhich I have commanded you to build for the boarding of strangers, let it be built unto my name, and let my name be named upon it, and let my servant Joseph and his house have place therein, from generation to generation.
60 And let the name of that house be called aNauvoo House; and let it be a delightful habitation for man, and a resting-place for the weary traveler, that he may contemplate the glory of Zion, and the glory of this, the cornerstone thereof;

Le Montage

So we found a beautiful stand of White pines up in the mountains about 13 miles south of la salette. I went to meet with a logging company who had purchased the rights to the sector and managed to mark out 45 of their largest trees for the cabin. Although we only needed 38, it is safe to go with a few more so you always have the right log for the right place. I gave the loggers $10 500 cash right there in the bush with a handshake that the logs would be delivered to our dry in site. Pretty stupid now that I think of it, even if I had him scribble a receipt on the back of a business card.

If you are wondering what a "dry-in" site is I will explain. It is a convenient location to build a log cabin. In this case it was an open field with a crane, electricity and a shipping container to lock our tools in. This is where we will build the cabin only to be later dissasembled and shipped up to our foundation where it will be re-assembled and remain for the next century or so (hopefully).

I contracted a man named Jim Flynn (Flynn log homes) It turns out he was slow this year (like no projects at all) and so was more disposed to take pity on this poor boy with high hopes. He cut me a deal. Then he lowered it when I commited to help 2 days a week for the next 2 months. We settled at $25 000 for the shell. (I feel weird publicizing the numbers but I have already started a running talley on the previous post to fully document the project).

The last week in March was "Go day" we double checked the measurements of my foundation (which was out by 3 inches in one corner because I'm a salesman not a builder). Next we went and levelled the dry in site and squared it to match my foundation. Early April we were having some pretty warm weather and by this time my logs had thawed and we started to peel them. When logs are cut in the summer they peel like a banana because the sap is running. However, ours were winter cut. This is advantages not for peeling but for keeping out bugs. If you summer cut then you need to work them quick and cant take time to set up or the bugs will get in them.

Logs can be peeled with a draw knife or a spud. Since I had neither, I brought an ice pick and a third guy we had hired to help us, Michel ( I like him alot, a humble man who is patient and likes to teach - reminds me of my father a bit) took my ice pick and put it on the grinder to round out the edges so it would slice through the bark better. So I ended up using a modified ice pick which didnt' work well at all, or so I thought. It turns out that the ice pick actually worked out relatively well, the problem was that it was hard work and it has been a while since I've put these bones to a good rattlin.

After the peeling we took a pressure washer to remove the cambrium layer so as to leave nothing to desire for the bugs. We could now let the logs sit until we needed them.

Most of my days after that were spent planing the logs. I used a hand planer and planed every square inch of every log before we used it. It was a grueling job that started out taking 2 hours a log and in my prime I was able to knock one out in about 45 minutes depending on the knots and crevices to navigate. This step made the logs look gorgeous and they became easier to scribe and notch a tight fit as well. I also spend alot of time strapping up for the crane and then placing them where they were to go. I didn't do the scribing but I observed and took notes. There are so many little nuances to the entire process I think I would have to do another project or two before I felt comfortable to try one unassisted.

I never took the crane for granted. Even to the end I was amazed at how dependant we were on that crane and how beautiful it was to work with it. It was a 100' boom extention on a 23 tonne crane that Jim bought second hand. I often felt how I think the soldiers in Afghanastan might feel working with air support. It is like a magical hand drops from the sky with what you want when you want it and where you want it. Just hook up the log you want moved and then walk to where you want it moved and Voila, it drops from the sky.

It was so exciting to see the walls going up one by one. The scribes were tight. There are no spaces and no need for chinking. Jim said this was the first cabin he has done where the customer had requested a full upstairs. They always do a half loft or mezzanine to overlook the great room. But I wanted living area because I was afraid this was money for a too tiny of a cabin. We are now very comfortable with the space this cabin will provide.

Next comes "Le Montage". The erecting. There were a couple things that had to be done before the cabin could go on the foundation. The problem was that I had gotten ahead of myself and booked a crane to show up on the property on a certain day to unload the cabin. This send us scrambling. Nothing was more important now because the crane was booked and a hefty down payment made. If you are wondering why we didn't use Jims crane it was because it wasnt big enough to boom the logs as far as we needed and he didn't have a license for it so he cant operate it off his property. The crane rental cost us $160/ hour and it was a 2 day project! During "le montage" I felt like I did when I sat in my car praying and yes, crying, as I watched the drillers drill our well at $25.00 / foot a couple years ago. Anyhows, I digress....... scrambling.....oh yes...... So we were scrambling to be ready for the crane. The logging truck that

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Monolithic slab foundation

A lengthy follow up on my last post. I have re-applied for my permit (my 1 year is up) only to be denied. My heart sunk. What would I do? It turns out 6 months ago they changed the rules and it is not permissible to build the garage before the house. So I have to get a septic permit first and then apply for a house permit. Not the end of the world, although I thought it was when I first heard the news.

Okay now.... on to excavation. There was no ceremonial first shovel scoop, as there will probably be no ribbon cutting at the finish. Just an enthusiastic me giving the backhoe some simple instructions and poised to fix up any of his mistakes or sloppiness. I was content with putting a little elbow grease into it because it meant I didn't have to have an exact plan yet, and I love flying by the seat of my pants (or in other words I'm lazy and lack foresight).

I soon found my plan. It kind of appeared out of nowhere, shovel by shovel, week by week. Turns out I basically did the excavation by hand. Okay I did some research too. The foundation I am using is called a "monolithic pour". It consists of a thin slab of concrete thickened around the exterior. The whole thing is floating on polystyrene insulation. This method was discouraged by CMHC until they saw scandinavians doing it successfully for about 15 years now. As a result they have provided information on their website. Here are some photos.

This is after the tractor leveled it out and raised some earth in the middle for me.

Now with this kind of foundation it is not necessary to dig below the frost line. I managed to score about 1000 sq. feet of styrofoam insulation from the roof of a building that was taken down. It cost me $300.00 for all. It will give me twice the R value suggested for under slab insulating. On top of that I had to put a vapor barrier and I again found some vapor barrier/foil bubble insulation that I got for free at a tradeshow. This will also help the insulation of the slab. Vapor barrier is used on the warmer side of the insulation so that when the warmth meets the cold, the moisture in the warm air (cold air holds little moisture) will condense and we dont want that condensation to touch, and therefore ruin the insulation.

On occasion I have been told I was wasting money and time putting insulation under the foundation. I believe they were too distracted by my biceps to notice the ace up my sleeve. You see I plan on putting an electric heating coil into the concrete when they pour it. I bought two 400 foot coils which should keep us plenty warm.

Next, comes the wooden forms. I have been told horror stories of wooden forms breaking and having huge concrete messes to clean up. So I over engineered this aswell. It actually took me an entire day just to rip the forms apart after the pour.

Then hired a guy to put in plumbing for the kitchen, water room, and bathroom.

By this time it was late October, the prep had taken me the entire summer on my part time building schedule. I had to leave for Toronto and the forecast gave us about a 2 day window to pour the concrete before the cold. So I bought some flood lights and spent all day and the entire night finishing up with the wire mesh, rebar, and spreading the heating cable. The sun was coming up while I got in my car and started for Toronto for a late morning meeting. I was exhausted, but exhilerated. My excitement kept me going. I showered at a truck stop.

When I returned from Toronto, this is what I saw:

I learned some lessons whilst foundationing.

1. ENDURANCE - Everytime I felt I was in over my head (every stage so far), I would keep the shovel moving while thinking of how I was going to come up with the money to hire a professional to finish for me. After a while I could see my progress and was encouraged and able to continue.

2. I TALK TO MYSELF - Okay, I always knew this, but I'm not sure I've always been so supportive of me. Saying things like "try again J dawg, that rock ain't got nothing on you" or when I had escaped a setback or done something well I would hear myself say " blessings! blessings!". These and many more very interesting conversations. However, I promised myself I would not gossip on myself.

3. I CAN SLEEP ANYWHERE - damp trailer on a stormy night, bottom of dirt hole, boulder overlooking lake, bottom of canoe floating in the middle of the lake.


5. I HAVE CHATEAU COLOURED GLASSES - All the advice I have received have been "good enough" anecdotes. They all clash with my vision of grand. Trouble is when you over engineer one thing, I've learned that you over engineer everything for fear you are creating a weak link in the chain.

Almost done........

Cost so far:

Excavation including 8 trucks of gravel - $1100
Insulation - $300.00
Wood for forms - $50.00 (thanks Paul Desousa)
Screws - $30.00
Vapor barrier insulation - $0.00
Rebar and wire mesh - $450.00
2 Heating coils and 2 smart thermostats $800.00
Concrete and labour - $4200.00
Ferry fees and tools and lunch and misc. - $400.00
vibrating plate/earth packer - $45.00
2 bales of straw $60.00

Cabin total so far: $7435.00

With snow looming on the horizon I had to protect my investment. I pulled my trailer to a farm and asked to buy 2 large round straw bales. He loaded them with his tractor and they just barely fit. With some help from Ryan Palmer we rolled them up onto the foundation and spread it to about 1.5 feet thick, covered that with tarps, and hoped for the best.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Permit me to share

I wish I enjoyed documenting. Watching old videos of vacations or recalling the experiences of building the cabin would be much more fun with detailed record. However, when I am in the moment, documenting always seems like such a bother, such a detractor from the moment. I guess I pay for it down the road.

That said, I will try to recount some of the details of building this cabin.

Step #1 - The Permit

I've heard it is important to get on the municipality's good side. You dont' want a war when it comes to permits. When I showed up at the municipal office in Val-des-bois, I was ready to charm. However, the cards were stacked against me. When the guy found out who I was he was angry with me. It turns out he was previously a real estate agent. The agent who listed my property. The problem is that, unbeknownst to me, the owner waited until his contract with the realtor ran out before we closed the deal and therefore didn't have to pay any commissions. Which might explain, in part why the agent now has new employment. He was irate! He was not very helpful.

My plan was to build 2 cabins. The first one would be rustic and smaller, we would use it until the second one is built and then it would become a guest cabin/rental cabin. The second would be larger, luxurious, and modern. It may become our home eventually or maybe even a luxury rental even though this larger cabin couldnt be build for years. But hey, we are planing.

I asked:

"Are we allowed to have 2 cabins on the property?"

and the permit issuer said "no" without any explanation.

I asked if I can build a garage separately,

I think he could see my little wheels turning.

"Yes but....", he countered..... " I am trying to get the bylaw changed that you can't build your garage first because you will just live in it and not build the other one"

"How long until the law is changed?" I asked

"Any week now". He said

"What if I buy the permit before the bylaw changes?"

"Your permit is good for 1 year from the time you bought it bound by the bylaws when issued"

He sounded more upset, and a little defeated.

A couple weeks later I went back and he seemed to be a little kinder. I had decided to build our first cabin with a garage permit. I asked if he needed professional drawings for a garage. he said no he didn't so I told him I was thinking about doing a 24x30 garage about 15 feet from the property line. A minute later he had printed out a building permit that says 24x30.....15 feet from the property line and charged me $35.00 for it. Wow, that is almost fishy that it was that cheap and that easy. Never in Ontario. One of the few times I have ever appreciated the "distinct society" differences in quebec.

I wonder what he will say when he sees a garage with a kitchen, bathroom, 2 bedrooms, a fireplace, and heated floors? He he. I will have to do some smooth talking.

Part # 2 will be a differnt post. It will chronicle the excavation and foundation.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Erasure Unyouthfulness

There is a song that pops into my head from time to time. A tune that we used to dance to at the youth church dances in the 80's. It was done by Erasure and the first verse goes:

"I'd like to be a child again, so many things to do
Playground noise and colour toys, and everything brand new......."

Although it is true that children are easily amused by colours and toys, there is probably more truth in the observation that little boys are attracted to critters and animals. It was this urge, im sure, that jumped up out of their little bodies and snatched my birthday card off the Walmart shelf. They woke me last week to gift it to me on my birthday. I share:
You see, if a squirrel sharing his loot is cute to you,imagine how bad Konrad and Anders would have felt to have left him on the shelf. Then I opened it up to read the anticipated clever caption. I share:

Turns out, scooters gift came in handy. I will try to explain that but first enter 2nd verse of Erasure "when I needed you most":

"....I'd like to be a pirate ship, in search of hidden gold
on ocean waves I'd swim away, and sail around the world"

Ever since I have had it in my head to build a cabin this summer I have been on a treasure hunt, searching for tools, supplies, and ideas at discounted prices (only when the free supplies are elusive), searching "hidden gold" if you will, to build Nauvoo haus.

On Tuesday I found myself climbing a 40' Tv Antenna. After asking around, I found a good man who agreed to let me have his TV antenna if I took it down for him. I was nervous since I've never had experience with these things. However, this is where Scooter the squirrel's nut helped me out. Although, it probably had less to do with testosterone and more with the climbing genetics that, doubtless, runs in Scooters family. Anyhow, with my dads old Bell Canada climbing belt a few deep breaths, and a good quality diaper, I made my way up to the top. While on top the wind had a little fun with me as I swayed about 2-3 feet it seemed back and forth. After some creative manoevers and with my dads encouragement from the ground we managed to dismantle it piece by piece. I share:

I have a similar picture with a 12' satellite dish on top of my car. No I am not starting a spy station or a behind-the-curve telecommunications company. The TV tower will be used to make myself a crane that will help me position the 500lb logs of the cabin on days when I am working at the lake solo. The dish, well......lets just say that is next years project and without going into details, I plan on powering our entire cottage with electricity using the dish.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

My main squeeze

In the same way we show gratitude on a day other than thanksgiving, I'm going to pre-empt Valantines day and send a shout out to my Jenny.

She is what champions are made of. She has been enduring constant pain and discomfort the last few weeks (shes about 8 mo. pregnant) and still manages to be relatively pleasant to be around:) She is winding down at work and taking more time off until she leaves in a couple weeks. She hasn't decided if she will take 5 years off yet.

When I met her she was very career oriented and had a lot of things she wanted to accomplish. Whenever I breached the subject of children I had about as captive an audience as I do when I try to talk to her now about anything during the boys waking hours.

Like Eve and like most women after her, she woMANed up and decided to endure the bad to know the good. If it were up to men to bare the children I'm positive real estate prices would be much cheaper than they are now due to a much smaller populous and more available land. Thanks for the mortgages ladies!

Now, with career goals and opportunities in sight, Jenny is contemplating pushing them off for at least another 5 years (if this is our last child) to take one for team Jakob. It is admirable. Although she is much changed over the last 10 years and although my perception of who she is has changed / evolved, it has all been for the better.

We have a soundtrack to the movie "Rushmore" and the words to one of the tracks is fitting:

"I love you more today than yesterday, but not as much as tomorrow"