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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Hot and Tired

The Inland Northwest is going through the same drought as the rest of the country, though the spring rains have kept the grazing fields greener longer than they might otherwise be. But, it's hot, and I'm tired after spending a couple of hours cutting and stacking some hawthorn brush that the excavator tore out when clearing a path for our house modules to climb from the county road to our home site. The Stihl chainsaw is still running well, but I've had to clear it a couple of times from flooding. Unfortunately, that kept me out in the sun longer than I'd have liked. It must be a lot tougher on the crew from Town Craft, who have spent the week framing the garage, nailing up the house and garage rafters, building the balcony and porch, and nailing up siding. But, they're young and fit, and seem to be handling it pretty well.

Every day, I've been walking Pepper the Wonder Dog up to the house site to see the progress. In just more than a week, the progress has been phenomenal, and I think that is largely the result of Stratford picking good subcontractors. This morning, the carpenters were hard at work, as was the HVAC crew from Erco, putting in the duct work for the heat pump and the floor vents. Last night, as I was catching up on a few minutes of the Olympics, the drywall finisher was coming down from the house, seeing his way down our half-mile driveway with his headlights.

Stratford worked closely with me on our audio/video area, building in shelves and running all the wires through the wall behind, which also is where the fireplace vent passes. Later today, Mike Tinsley, our Stratford designer will swing by to drill access ports for the component connectors, preparing for Town Craft to shore up the wall framing to support the weight of a large flat-screen TV and a fully articulating mounting bracket. Here are a few pix from the past couple of days.

Rapid on south face of house with balcony and porch

Balcony construction

DirecTV runs wiring for dish installation Saturday

Garage framed, rafters nailed up

Installing primed Hardie siding


Kitchen shrouded for drywall finishing

Friday, July 27, 2012

Speed Building


 It's been just five days since the first of our four house modules was hauled up to our home site. The builders have taken the weekend off, but they've gotten a tremendous amount of work done. Here are a few pictures. 

First module arrives at building site
Drywall finishing

Garage framing

Internet wiring
Kitchen cabinets in, awaiting countertops
and appliances

Porch and balcony under construction

Thursday, July 26, 2012

A Small High School Reunion

I graduated from high school in 1968. Since then, I've kept in touch during the past 44 years only with my best friend since 8th grade. For a while we both lived in Virginia, and for 10 years we lived in adjacent states, and saw each other frequently. I've really had no interest in going back to New Jersey since I left in 1974, returning only for an occasional visit with my parents until they moved to Florida, for my 1980 wedding in my parents' home in Whiting, for my 20th year college reunion in 1992, and my father's funeral in 2002.

After I moved my mother to Idaho following her first stroke, I flew back to Florida to empty and sell her condo. While there, I received a call on my cell phone from a high school classmate, encouraging me to attend our 30th year reunion. I really had no interest, and declined the invitation, as I couldn't think of more than a few classmates I'd want to see. As it turns out, the reunion coincided with my first pancreas-related hospitalization. Timing is everything, I guess.

Last year, this same classmate started a Steinert High School Facebook group, and, as I was pretty new to Facebook, I joined. What a curious experience. A few of my classmates look almost as they did in school. Most are visibly older, heavier, balder - like I am. Some I just didn't recognize by name or face. Many, I've heard from once, and no more. I was pleased to reconnect with Mike Silvestrov, with whom I'd been friends from kindergarten until I left New Jersey and we lost touch; and Kathy Wingard, my bus seat-mate on our senior trip to Washington, D.C.; and Barbara Lee, whom I last saw when we were college freshmen, she at Douglass College, and I at Rutgers College - both colleges of Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey.

Barb and her partner, Florence, bought a self-contained RV, and have driven it across the length and breadth of this country. I saw on Facebook that they were in Alaska with their two chihuahuas and found their photographs interesting. Imagine my surprise when Barb contacted me and expressed interest in visiting Karen and me on their way back to New Jersey. I quickly agreed, but wondered what we'd talk about after all these years.

With Barb (r) and Florence (l)
at our new house site
Yesterday, at 6 p.m., they rolled across our gravel-strewn culvert and pulled into our front yard. I'd never met Florence, so I really didn't know what to expect with her. Barb and I had been friends, but not close friends. I remembered her with long dark hair, and piercing eyes. She still had the eyes, but her hair was now short and largely gray; and, like most of us, she'd gained weight. When I moved from New Jersey to Virginia, I did my best to lose my Jersey accent; Barb, who's live her life to date in Jersey sounded like Chris  Christie, but without the crazy edginess.

It was a fun mini-reunion. We caught up on what we'd been doing since freshman college year (she worked in publishing, then in nursing), how long we'd been with our "spouses" (she and Florence, unable to marry in New Jersey, for 17 years, Karen and me for 32); people we remembered, some of whom she'd reconnected with in person, some who've died; things we remembered or had forgotten about each other; how I've adapted to rural lifestyles; our mutual love of pets; family illnesses; our similar political beliefs. I'm glad Barb and Florence came to visit. She invited us to visit if we ever came east, and if we did, we would. But, I think we're confirmed westerners.

Best wishes, Barb and Florence. If you see any of our classmates, say "Hi" for me.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Crane Set Day

It's 5 a.m. I'm still half-asleep, but there are things to do - bake an apple pie for a visiting high school friend stopping by today on her way back to Jersey from British Columbia; go to Home Depot to pick up a load of wood flooring and underlayment; and, yes, write this. Yesterday was a blur of activity, but here goes.

Crane Set Day. For the past few months, our builders have made the day, the event, seem rather mystical. Well, it wasn't quite that, but it was pretty damn impressive. Late Monday, I received a voice mail (we'd been out, walking Pepper) from the fireplace installer saying he'd be up Tuesday to install the unit. Considering the modules hadn't been set, I thought that was a bit early, and left a message with his answering service for Ken at R&R Heating to call Scott Dawson, our building site manager, to confirm or change the fireplace install date.Yesterday, at 6:15 a.m., after feeding the critters, I high-tailed it on my ATV to meet Scott at my neighbor's entry gate where I figured he'd be waiting for the final house module to be trucked in; I was wrong. No sign of him. So, I headed across my neighbor's property to the trail used for hauling the modules, and there he was, with the strapped-on-an-Advance Transport-trailer module about to cross onto our graved driveway. No call from R&R (they did call later that morning and postpone fireplace delivery); time for the crane set. Three of the mods had been delivered on Monday, and there they were, clustered around the crane like turkey chicks around mom.

Stratford designer Mike Tinsley
Modules stripped of shipping materials
I stood on a high point of the building site overlooking the scene as the sun rose to my left. The last mod in was the first to go on the foundation. Travis and his workers from Town Craft Construction were swarming over the mods, stripping protective wraps and braces. Periodically, I came down to peer through the windows at the nearly finished rooms, the finished kitchen cabinets, the French doors to Karen's study. For the occasion, Mike Tinsley, our Stratford house designer had shed his usual Hawaiian shirt for a sleeveless t-shirt (never would have guessed a Japanese-design fish tattoo on each shoulder) and a framing hammer. Once the mods were stripped and the detritus moved, it was time for the big show.

First mod is up...

Travis and his guys screwed a come-along strap to one interior end of the mod and wrapped 8 2"-wide, 1/8" thick steel straps under the mod up to where they could be secured to the crane spreader bar. And then, lift-off. The crane gently hauled the mod upward, pivoting toward the foundation, while some Town Craft guys used guy ropes to guide the mod into place - first the far outside corner, nailed; then the near outside corner, then the inside corners, men on long crowbars jimmying it just right. Then the second lower module, same procedure, but with chains and a come-along to snug the units up tight to one another. Workmen went into the modules to ensure that the joint lines met perfectly, Third was the upper right module, and as it was getting ready for lift, Karen came up the long hill by the spring to join in the fun. In the meantime, her son, Donovan, his friend, Kathy, and Kathy's mother, Ann, came up to see the proceedings - as had two prospective Stratford client groups. With all the visitors, the construction crew, a tractor-trailer, crane, four modules, Pepper-the-wonder-dog, and the crane owner's domineering little Corgi, it was quite a scene.

...and set...
The third module presented the first problem - heat output and air intake vents that didn't square with the lack of vent connectors in the fourth module. So, the vents were slit and butterflied, and hammered back onto the fascia. Now that all the modules are in place, the HVAC contractor will install new vents and make the connections this morning. During the day, the mods were bolted together, and the Coeur d'Alene crane lifted roof trusses that Town Craft hammered (mostly) into place. The rest should be done today.

...and jimmied into place



Neighbors started to arrive during construction. Erin Hart and her blue heeler, Noodles, jogged across the valley (fit in her early 40s) to see the work, and we were able to take her inside. All the kitchen and bathroom cabinets were in; the audio shelves were done; many of the doors were installed, as was corresponding trim; tubs and showers were in place. There were a few transport cracks to be repaired, but the windows were intact. Still a lot of finish work to do, inside and outside.

Donovan watches fourth mod set


That evening, as Karen and I walked Pepper up to the house site, we were met on our driveway by neighbors Joel and Cheryl Daniels in their two-seat Polaris ATV. Karen, Pepper and I humped it up the steep side of the west-facing hill to meet them at the house site, and gave them the tour. A nice couple, we don't see them as often as we'd like, and after the tour Cheryl offered homemade jam and marmalade as a housewarming gift.

Lift straps removed
Roof trusses swung up by crane


















On our way back down the driveway, we were met by neighbors Pat Ferry and Cheryl Hamilton, who drove us back up to the house site in the bed of their pickup truck (another new experience for this former city boy), and we gave our third tour of the day. We noticed a few more issues, like the laundry chute in the master bedroom that hadn't been cut through to the laundry room (guess they wanted to stack the modules to make sure the cut went through correctly), and the fact that we have too much, too large furniture. But, we'll get that sorted out.

Today's schedule: HVAC, more framing, fireplace install (?), roofing. As for me, I just pulled an apple pie out of the oven, and it's off to Home Depot to pick up the wood flooring and underlayment that Karen, Donovan and I will be installing.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Mod Set - D Minus 1

6:30 a.m., and I'm stirred from post-breakfast stupor by the sound of engines. It's the building site manager, Scott Dawson and excavator par excellence Bryce Lish. They're heading up to the job site; I'm getting dressed. I've already fed the cats and dog, so I leap onto my ATV and skid gravel up our driveway to where the crane has been resting for the past week, waiting for the rain to stop. It did on Tuesday.


Digging out stumps from the trailer path
As I went down to the county road to open the gates onto Dave Pielaet's land, Bryce maneuvered his backhoe CAT down the slope north of our land us, tore out some low-to-the-ground tree stumps, and transplanted a fir that was dead center in the trail the house modules would take up to our property. The crane made its way up to the house site with little difficulty and set up near the garage foundation.

Lift spreaders were rigged and ready to go tomorrow.




Crane set at house site
I drove down to the house to get Pepper and take him for his morning walk, but instead of making our usual loop, I took him down the trail on Dave's land, down to where the crane had been, and down toward the county road to wait for the first module. Suddenly, it was in sight, following two lead cars with flashing yellow lights, sitting on a flatbed the size of a trailer, behind a Volvo truck. 


Module arrives at county road gate...














It stopped at the county road gate to Dave's property. Many measurements of the gate and sweep angles. Advantage has one truck with a variable pintle, which allows the trailer wheels to be aligned differently than the tractor wheels. Scott lifted off a gate to ensure more room, and after much maneuvering, the truck and trailer were through.


...and goes cross country...
But, instead of coming up Dave's gravel road, the truck swept wide left into Dave's grazing field (the steers were fenced onto the woods behind his house) and made its way up to the gravel turnaround where the crane had been the previous week. Part way, Bryce used his CAT to tow the tractor/trailer, keeping it on line with the second gate. During this maneuver, Karen held Pepper on lead while I took photographs; she was eventually relieved by her son, Donovan, who also took photographs while I managed my camera and Pepper.

After Scott convinced the Advantage Trucking drivers that they really didn't have to remove any additional trees to get the load up Dave's hill, they started off again, Bryce towing. Near the intersection with our driveway, Bryce did have to rip out a few bushes on our fence line, but after that it was smooth moving, up our driveway and onto the building site, where the module-on-a-trailer was parked east of the garage.

...through the trees...
...to the house site
...where it's staged for lifting tomorrow
Two more modules to go today. Tomorrow, the final module will be dragged up to the building site, and the module set will take place. Wednesday is Mod Set - D Plus 1. Let the interior and exterior finishing begin!







Sunday, July 15, 2012

Be Careful What You Wish For

I wished for sun, and I got it all week, with temperatures in the 90s during the day. Walks with Pepper were hot, sweaty affairs, some ending with him diving into Cable Creek to cool off. No indoor cooking - sandwiches some days and a grilled steak last night. Then, our luck ran out.

Early this morning we woke to rain - buckets, sheets, torrents. Pick your adjective of choice. Thunder and lightning. Harry, the old, short-tailed cat got spooked and attacked Pepper, who was shocked. He backed up with a confused growl, but didn't go after Harry. I started fretting about the house site. Would the crane arrive for pre-set? How much water would there be in the foundation?

I drifted off to sleep on the living room sofa, to be awakened at 7:30 by our next-door neighbor, Dave. The crane was in his driveway and under assembly. What the hell? I'd told them to call me before they arrived so I could meet them at the gate. They had. We don't have cell service at our house, so we use Vonage, an Internet-based phone service; apparently, the thunderstorm knocked our our Internet service, so no phone call (we're using cell phones at our new home site; buh-bye, Vonage).

4 inches of rain in the foundation
I dressed quickly and ran my ATV up my driveway to the house site; there were about four inches of water in the foundation. Crap! But the trail from our place down to Dave's was holding up pretty well. Damp, but not muddy. I turned onto the top of his driveway and down toward the gate.





Crane assembly


There was the partially-assembled crane and two operators. As I watched them finish putting the crane together and running cables for the hook, Dave, his girlfriend Teresa, their two dogs (Molly the mastiff and Duke the Australian shepherd), neighbor Pat Ferry and his dog Harley, came by.

Molly, Teresa, Dave, Pat





Pat, who like Dave is as much a friend as a neighbor, offered the use of a pump to suck the water out of the foundation. I gratefully accepted and went back to my garage to pick up a hose and an extension cord. We set up the pump, which
started working like a champ. Pat told me that, on the way over, he saw that the crane had been positioned at its staging point, and the guys from Coeur d'Alene Crane were walking back to their trucks.


Pat positions the pump

 Pat went off to help his girlfriend fix her sprinkler system, and I came back down to the house, where Karen told me Mike Tinsley, our job manager from Stratford Homes called. The whole project has been pushed back a week, but the crane will stay in place, so there's no additional mobilization fee. I'd left the pump going, but, as I started this blog, the rains started again, coming down as hard as they did this morning. When it stops, I'll go up and disconnect the pump. What's the point? Forecast is for more rain through Tuesday, clearing to 20 percent on Thursday, 10 percent on Friday, then clear and sunny through the following Tuesday. Mike will notify all the subcontractors to stand down. And, we wait.

Crane will spend the week on-site at Dave's

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Little Things

It's moth season, and windows throughout the house frequently host moths of all sizes and shapes, drawn by interior lights. But last night, something different caught my eye as I passed the bedroom. Upon closer inspection, I saw it was a tree frog. The first flash shot of it clinging to the window pane must have blinded it. It dropped to the sill and stayed there while I took a second shot. A half hour later, it was gone.



Thursday, July 5, 2012

Fourth of July, Liberty Lake

Karen's friends, Cam and Marcia (her college roommate) left in their Airstream trailer yesterday morning after a fun three-day visit. This was the first time I'd gotten to spend any significant time with them, and a long time since Karen had.

For much of the 4th, we spent time straightening up the house and clearing the DVR of episodes of The Colbert Report we weren't going to watch (Nikki Haley) and those we wanted to (Bonnie Raitt), watching new telecasts of Olympics trials and deleting "encore presentations," and cleaning up some pretty good leftovers.

Me, Cheryl, Pat, Theresa, Dave above Liberty Lake
Later in the afternoon, our neighbors Pat and Cheryl came by on their ATV and invited us to go with them and Dave and Theresa up to the state lands overlooking Liberty Lake to watch the city fireworks. We had a great time, riding up rutted logging roads, taking with food and libations, collapsible chairs and barbecue forks, paper plates and plastic forks. Dave also drove up some dry firewood, and before we got there he and Theresa built a small fire pit on a patch of level ground backed by rocks on a tall ridge.



After an hour-and-a-half of good conversation, fire-roasted hot dogs, mustard potato salad, quality beer, and S'mores (meh), the fireworks began, first at the Spokane Fairgrounds, then at Riverfront Park, and finally  over Liberty Lake.

Kerry and me







Karen, Cheryl, Pat, Theresa, Dave roasting hot dogs







 It was a grand vantage point, looking down on the lake and the exploding multicolored shells, as well as the lights of Liberty Lake, Spokane Valley, and Spokane itself. When the show was over, we doused the fire, cleaned up everything we'd packed in, and descended through the dark, retracing our tracks by the light of the full moon and the ATV headlights. Theresa, bless her heart, insisted I borrow an extra Carhartt jacket of Dave's that she'd brought along. Toasty. I've got to get one before I have to plow the half-mile driveway to our new house this winter.
Liberty Lake at night, with Spokane in background



Before we left for the hills, I put our Brittany, Pepper, in the back yard with a bowl of food and a bowl of water. When we got back, Pepper was loose, in front of the house, wet, dirty and smelly. It was too late to bathe him, so we dragged his dog bed into the living room and made him sleep there. He was so exhausted, he did. Shortly after we got home, Pat called to say his big old dog, Harley, was in his swimming pool when he got home. I think the two dogs were in serious cahoots last night.




Fireworks and city lights of Spokane Valley and Spokane

This morning, I let Pepper into the back yard, washed and dried his bed, and then gave him his first bath. Shower, actually, lathering him down with my shampoo (should get some dog shampoo, I guess), hosing him off and drying him off with a big thirsty towel. He loved it. I got wet. Now, smelling lightly of moist dog and shampoo, he's lying in his fresh dog bed as we watch President Obama speak at Maumee, Ohio. The sun is bright and the sky is clear. It's looking like a good day.





Pepper resting after his morning shower









Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Two Weeks to Go

Karen's college roommate, Marcia, and her husband, Cam, are visiting from California on their way to an Airstream rally in Alaska. We're glad they brought their own bedroom with them, since our house is stacking up with bits and bobs for the house we're building. Today, we took Marcia and Cam to the Stratford factory to see our house under construction and to Great Floors to see the granite and marble we've picked out for countertops. Crane set is in two weeks, and the guys in Rathdrum are making great progress.

Kitchen cabinets being installed

Brazilian granite for countertops
Brazilian granite for kitchen island
Master bath under construction with tile backer board
Indian marble for the master bath vanities

(l-r) Cam and Marcia Murray and Karen look at fireplace/TV/audio wall in  living room
m