December 28, 2008

Snowed In

Our last several days have been spent moving between cooking, eating, tobogganing, sleeping, reading, and stoking the fire. We've been hit with more snow in the past week than I have seen in a very long time, and I'm loving every minute of it.

Fortunately, my mom and step-dad, who spent Christmas with us, came on the 23rd instead of the 24th, because there's no way they would have made it here had they waited. We already had over a foot of snow at that point, and we received another foot on both Christmas Eve and Boxing Day, which delayed their departure until the 27th. We were all happy for the excuse to extend our holiday fun!

Our driveway is much too steep to bring the car down when there's snow, but it does make an excellent toboggan run. Princess, who loves the snow, was beside herself with excitement and kept racing everyone down the hill. She occasionally tried to leap over us as we slid by, but more often than not she landed in our laps as we plowed into her mid-jump.

This is our deck after the second major snowfall. Following Saturday's storm, the snow on the tops of the chairs merged with that on the railing, rendering them totally unrecognizable.

Christmas day dawned clear and cold, so my mom (also a photography nut) and I headed out with our cameras after the morning's festivities for a trudge through the snow. It was very hard work, as I am not known for my long legs and the snow was deep.

The rain chain (a length of galvanized chain used in place of a traditional downspout) has become a gorgeous and constantly changing sculpture of ice.

We're expecting another foot or more of snow again tonight, and as long as we can keep the fire going, I say "bring it on"!

Happy winter!

December 11, 2008

How is it already December??!!

This month seems to have snuck up on me. It feels like we've only just moved into our house, but we've been here for 5 1/2 months already! How can that be? I'm not even remotely ready for Christmas, and I see on my computer's calendar that it's two weeks away. Is this some kind of cruel joke?!

Things are going well around here, although it feels like everything is taking way longer than it should, because we seem to end up having to re-do everything at least once (more on that another time). Despite the problems, the house is coming together and the end is almost in sight (although I'm sure it's still a year or more off!).

Aside from the house, we've met some wonderful people and are really enjoying being a part of this new community. There's such a remarkable difference between small town life and city life - I know more people after 5 months here than I did after 12 years in town. The kids had no problem making friends, and I hear "I love living here" on a fairly regular basis.

We're freaking out about money, as is everyone these days. We kept reassuring ourselves that if we blew the budget too badly while building, we could always just sell the house (not that we would ever want to!), but that doesn't appear to be an option in the current market. So, our frugal-living skills are being put to the test.

I've been taking lots of photos and formulating blog posts in my head, but with all that we've been doing lately I find that the last thing I want to do at the end of a long day is sit down and write about it. Hopefully inspiration will strike and I'll return to regular posts in the not-too-distant future - we've got lots of catching up to do!

September 01, 2008

First Fire

Well, I guess that's it, summer's over.  We hooked the wood stove up to the chimney today and enjoyed our first fire!
Those of you who have been around here for a while might recognize our lovely Jotul stove, which we were careful to remove from the old house before we listed it for sale last year (there was no way I was going to leave it behind!).
Of course, as soon as the fire really got going, the sun came out, and before too long we had all of the windows open to cool the house down.  The good news is, the smoke all went up the chimney where it belongs, so it passed the test run, and we can feel secure in the knowledge that we won't freeze this winter!  
There's been a lot going around here since we last spoke, so I'll try to be better about posting.
Happy September!

August 06, 2008

Do a Happy Dance

I got this video through an email list that I'm on, and it's so great that I just had to share it.

Where the Hell is Matt? (2008) from Matthew Harding on Vimeo.

July 31, 2008

Things that go "bump" in the night.

Just a quick post today so I don't fall out of practice.

I just had to share a photo of the beetle that my husband found wandering in our crawlspace the other night (I don't even want to think about how it got in there). He felt something brush his hand and was quite surprised to see this thing looking back at him when he pointed the flashlight at it. Once he regained consciousness, he called me to come take a look (oh joy), and after we managed to calm ourselves down, we caught it in a jar and put it in our insect cage (count on homeschoolers to have such a thing) for safekeeping until morning so the kids could enjoy its beauty before we let him go.

I was quite concerned that we were infested with some rare species of tropical cockroach, but it turns out that this guy is a Pine Sawyer beetle, which is native to BC. I have to say, I've spent a lot of time in the BC wilderness, and I've never laid eyes on this particular insect before (thank goodness for small miracles), but than again, neither had my father-in-law, who's a retired forester.

I guess we were lucky to catch a glimpse of such a rare creature, but for now, I'll be steering clear of the crawlspace.

July 22, 2008

Playing Catch-Up

First off, thank you for all of your kind words of support and encouragement! I loved hearing about others who have lived or are currently living a similar kind of live/work arrangement.

So, as promised, here are a few photos to show you what we've been up to (none of them are very new, but I thought I'd start at the beginning).

I mentioned in previous posts that one of the things we love about this place is the abundance of wildlife. Vancouver is pretty "wild" as far as cities go, but never have I had so many of them coming into the house! We arrived to find this little guy stuck in our house one day while the drywalling was still happening.

We think he must have been trapped inside for days, desperately trying to get out to the seasonal creek that flows just outside the kitchen window, completely ignoring the fact that there were several open spaces where windows and doors had yet to be installed. By the time we arrived, he was pretty out of it and just sat quietly in my hand for several minutes before flying down to the creek to have a good long drink and a bite to eat.

Last week we had a hummingbird fly in through the french doors, and my daughter and I spent a good 20 minutes trying to get the poor thing out (those things are fast!). We finally managed to free it only after it had completely worn itself out and we were able to catch it in a large glass and transport it outside.

My daughter got this adorable duckling photo one day when its mother brought her and her siblings through our yard. They all scattered when the neighbor's dog discovered they were here, and their frantic mother nearly took my son's head off trying to defend them before he knew what was going on! It wasn't long before she had them all rounded up and back on their way.

Here's my poor husband trying to dig a hole for the cherry tree in our very rocky soil. A shovel just doesn't cut it (you get it in about 1/2 an inch before you hit rock and are stuck), so we've been using a pick-axe to dig all of our garden beds. On the right you see Princess and her buddy Taiga wrestling, which quickly inspired a "No Dogs in the Garden" rule.

Above are the tomato beds, looking very space-agey with my favorite supports, Lee Valley's tomato spirals (which, sadly, they're no longer selling). In the distance there are peppers and eggplants. As you can see, we have a never-ending supply of rocks.
The deer fence that we installed (which runs right behind the white fence) is nearly invisible, and so far (touch wood) seems to be working.
This was taken the day that we successfully got water to travel the 160 feet from our well to the house. Now if only we could drink it!

Here's my very brave husband teetering on a ladder on our not-so-scary lower roof while installing our chimney pipe up through the very steep (and scary) upper roof.

My son's room was the first one in the house to be painted - I was a little worried about the colour, but it's actually a very cheery blue, and it goes nicely with his fish light fixture.

This is what the kitchen looked like the day we moved in. Thankfully, Chuck quickly wired the stove plug so we could have a warm meal.

It wasn't fancy, but we were happy to finally be moved in!

And lastly, a peek at my high tech dish washing setup (note the rust stains in my nice enamelled cast iron pot from cooking with the well water). Thankfully, I am doing dishes inside the house these days.
More to come...

July 17, 2008

Rumours of my death are greatly exaggerated...

I thought that, on the off chance anyone's even bothering to check in here anymore, I'd better get with it and post some kind of update so you don't all think I've fallen off the face of the earth!

The big news is, we're officially living here!! We moved in on Canada Day (July 1, for you non-Canucks), and I think that's as good an anniversary as one could ask for. We arrived to one functioning toilet and drywall, and not much else. We spent the first day or so setting up beds and trying to get a sink plumbed, but I still ended up washing dishes in a washtub outside for at least the first week (but like my mom said, I wanted a homestead, so I should have to live like a true homesteader for at least a little while!). Now we've got kitchen and bathroom sinks, a bathtub, a dishwasher (hallelujah!), and most of our kitchen cabinets installed (complete with lovely plywood countertops). The main rooms have their outlets and light fixtures wired and turned on, but we're still using flashlights in a few rooms (our bathroom and bedroom) at night, because the rooms haven't been painted yet and it's much easier to paint when there's nothing on the walls!

Our well water is as hard as (rusty) nails, and while we were hoping it would clear up with use (which it has - it's gone from brick red to slightly greenish), it seems that we're definitely going to need a softener or something (still waiting to get the results of the water test). Our brand new toilet seems to have a permanent rust ring, and my hair is like straw from bathing in it. The good news is, my newly vegetarian children should have no problem keeping their iron levels up!

For now my days are filled with wiring outlets, painting, building kitchen cabinets, playing baseball with the kids, and unpacking. Our plywood floors take the pressure off as far as cleaning is concerned, and we can't use the washing machine until the water is resolved (although we all look good in orange), so I don't have to worry about household chores too much yet.

The garden is doing okay, but I don't think the soil's as great as it could be (that will be next year's project). We've had broccoli and a few strawberries, and I've noticed a few little tomatoes out there, but we had such a cold spring that the heat loving plants are a bit stunted.

All in all, things are going very well. I have yet to find my camera charger, so I don't have anything visual for you. We're still on dial-up for the time being anyway (I don't mind roughing it, but come on...), so it's probably best if I don't try uploading a bunch of photos. ;D

What's everyone else up to this summer?

May 13, 2008

An Update

Hello! It's been a while since I've posted anything, but we're finally back to a somewhat normal life and schedule. My husband has returned to work, and while we're not quite living in the house yet, we're hopefully only a few weeks away.
Our time spent working on the house was pretty great - we haven't spent that much time together since we travelled through Europe 12 years ago (and no, we haven't filed for divorce!).
I mentioned in an earlier post that we were pretty much freezing our butts while working there, but on April 12, it was positively balmy. We had a work party with some friends who came to help install soffits, and had our first barbecue of the season. One week later (April 19), we arrived to this scene:

It was breathtakingly beautiful, so of course we had to take time off from wiring to have a snowball fight. What a crazy winter it's been.

You may be wondering if I've gone off my rocker and painted the house mustard and black. As lovely as the combination is, the yellow is actually rain screen mesh that we've had to install on the gable ends of the house where the overhangs aren't adequate to keep the siding dry. There has been a huge "leaky condo" crisis in BC over the past 10-15 years (my mom and step-father both had to shell out big money to have their apartment buildings completely redone), because condos were being built with complete disregard for our drizzly climate, so the BC building code has been changed to make rain screen mandatory on most new buildings. The mesh creates a space behind the siding so that air can get behind it and dry any water that may have gotten through. It's an added material and labour cost, but much cheaper than having to redo the whole exterior 10 years from now.

Here you can see the Hardie shingles that we decided to go with. It has been installed on some of the house, but there's still a lot more to do. We've had help with this from a few of the guys on our contractor's crew, as the bank wants us to have everything done before they'll give us a mortgage with a decent rate. So we've had to choose between doing things ourselves and paying more in interest, and hiring someone to help us so we can save on interest. Either way, this is costing us more than we'd ever hoped!

This is my husband giddily wiring the very last fixture in the house. It took us way longer to wire the house than we thought it would, but we saved ourselves approximately $18,000 by doing it ourselves.

This is the stage we're at now - the house is insulated and awaiting drywall. A neighbor who also happens to be a contractor (and an organic farmer - but that's another post!) mentioned one day that it can sometimes be almost as cheap to hire someone to install the insulation as it is to do it yourself, since they get the materials for so much less. We did some calculating, and after our contractor sweet-talked his insulators, we ended up with a deal that we just couldn't pass up, and our house was insulated in two days (something that would have taken us weeks, I'm sure!). Even without a heat source, the house feels downright snug!

Our raven friends have been keeping a close eye on our progress, as have many other kinds of birds. We have dined with eagles swooping playfully overhead, watched red-headed woodpeckers excavating logs for a meal, and you can't be outside for 10 minutes without a hummingbird buzzing past your head.

Spending 6 weeks on the property has given us plenty of time to get to know the area and its inhabitants (human as well as animal), and we are smitten. I have never met friendlier people, and I can't wait to be a member of this community. I already know more of my neighbors than I do after 12 years of living in the city!

This process has not been without its problems, however. As I mentioned earlier, our budget has been blown completely, in spite of our best efforts. Fortunately, interest rates are low right now, and the basement that I fought so hard against in the beginning will in all likelihood become a welcome source of income, as we are going to put in a suite to help pay down the mortgage.

Thankfully, we've been blessed with a good builder, which was one of our biggest concerns about building. Unfortunately the pre-fab company we were dealing with has turned out to be a bit of a dud. If we had to do it all over again, we would hire this particular contractor to stick-frame the house rather than do pre-fab, as this method of construction has saved us neither time nor money (quite the opposite, actually). The upside is, if we hadn't used them we never would have met our builder, and besides doing a bang-up job on our house, he and his crew have become good friends to us as well.

And that's about it. Next on my list: putting up a deer fence up so I can get the garden started!

April 01, 2008

Garden Firsts

The smallest hint of a garden has begun popping up around the house, as the bulbs I planted a month or so ago have recently started to bloom.

These varieties will naturalize and spread, and should eventually blanket the hillside with blooms.

It's not much, but it's a start!

March 26, 2008

Let there be light!

We did it!! We managed to wire two complete circuits and get them both working!

That's a happy man you see before you - I hate to think what his expression would have been like if nothing had happened when he flicked that switch!

We've been freezing our buns off for the past few days, as we seem to be caught in a late winter cold snap. Snow fell on us both yesterday and today, but by the early this evening the sun was out and everything looked amazing.

Perhaps a circuit for the baseboard heaters should be next on the agenda?

March 24, 2008

Days 1 and 2

We got started on the house wrap on Saturday, but we quickly became too short for the job...

...the rest is on hold until we get either taller ladders or scaffolding.

I wired my very first electrical outlet today!

Only 200 or so left to go...

March 21, 2008

And so it begins...

First off, thanks for your nice comments about my little dresser project. I'm sorry that I haven't been responding to each of you individually as much as I'd like, and I promise to be better about it when things settle down a bit!

Speaking of not having a spare moment, the house is finally to the lock-up stage, so the days of having other people to do all the work for us are over, and my husband is officially (as of this evening) on 6 weeks of "holidays", during which we're hoping to get the house to a point that we can actually move in. It likely won't be anywhere near finished at that point, but it will be easier to plug away at things once we're living there, so that's the goal.

This is more or less what the house looks like at the moment (there are a few extra windows and doors now), and I am totally in love! I know it doesn't look like much yet, but I'm very excited nonetheless.

From this side you can see the decks (the closest one is off the dining room, and the small one on the other end is off our bedroom). The pile of gravel on the left is our septic field, which has since been buried.

This is my favorite part of the house so far - the underside of the roof over the front porch, with it's lovely curved brace. The brace is in the wrong place at the moment (it should have been on the outside edge - don't get me started!), but I love the way the soffits look with the rafters.

The first step in our journey starts tomorrow, when we'll start papering the exterior walls so things stay dry inside, and after that we'll move on to the wiring, insulation, and drywall. The scope of the work ahead of us is more than a little overwhelming, but we're trying to keep cool heads about it.

I'll try to post a few photos occasionally, but until then, I hope everyone has a great spring and I'll see you sometime in May!

March 10, 2008


I've been living for the past year and a half with a dresser that only has two functioning drawers. The gliders for the other four have lost all of the little ball bearings that are supposed to make them slide smoothly in and out, and they've seized into a permanent state of not-quite-open/not-quite-closed. If I'm lucky, I can pull a drawer out just far enough to reach in and grab the article of clothing closest to the top, but there are things in the backs of those drawers that I've completely forgotten about over these long months.

I took a quick glance through Craigslist last week and found this antique dresser for $50, and while it was in obvious need of some serious care and attention, it had sturdy dove-tailed drawers (with no gliders to break), and I could tell that it had good "bones".

I had no intention of trying to strip it down to the original wood, so it got a good sanding and priming, and the hardware went into the crockpot to remove the layers of paint that had accumulated on them over the years.

I went to my favorite green building supply yesterday and was lucky enough to find a can of "mis-tint" Safecoat cabinet paint in exactly the colour I wanted (at a reduced price!).

After a few coats of "Autumn" white, the old girl was looking almost as good as new:

A good scrub with a wire brush got the paint out of all the nooks and crannies on the drawer pulls, and they're looking much nicer now. I can't decide whether to leave these handles in place, or whether I should go look for some glass ones to replace them (I just think glass might look better with the white paint).

My favorite part of this dresser is the daisy medallion along the bottom edge.

We've gotten a lot of our furniture from Freecycle and Craigslist over the years for very little or no money. Often all these treasures need is just a little elbow grease and TLC to turn them into something really unique and beautiful.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go use the Jaws of Life to extricate my wardrobe from the grips of my "old" dresser.

February 25, 2008

Good Omens

Whew! Things are starting to fly along at lightening speed around here! We're in a rush to find things like fixtures so that the plumbing rough-in can happen (it's starting this weekend!), as well as finalizing a few other things.

We bought two of our kitchen appliances yesterday, so I can move on to dreaming about other things now (toilets, maybe?). We found a very nice man who sells scratch and dent appliances for about half the cost of new (all tested, and with a six month warranty).

The stove that we bought doesn't have anything wrong with it (it was a floor model), and the dishwasher only has a very slight ding on the side, which you'll never see once it's recessed into the cabinets. Buying slightly damaged appliances has allowed us to upgrade to much higher quality units. We got the Kenmore Elite range with convection oven for about what we would have paid for a entry level coil top. The dishwasher is a Whirlpool Gold energy star model.

Over the past few weekends while at the house, we've noticed that we seem to have a pair of ravens living on or around our property. Ravens hold special meaning for me, so I see this as a very good omen for our life there.

In addition, while we were sitting enjoying the sunshine last Sunday, we noticed the distinct sound of owl calls coming from the woods behind us, and since my husband's family crest is an owl, we're taking this as a positive sign as well. With the reality of our future mortgage becoming clearer, we're looking for all the reassurance we can get! ;D

February 20, 2008

Spring Fever

First off, thank you all so much for your input regarding appliances, it was a huge help! It sounds like the consensus is to go with white, and I think I've found the ones that I want (more on that later). I saw an ad for Heartland Appliances recently that said "Stainless steel belongs in your cutlery drawer", so I'm taking that as a sign. I've even found a line of pressure canners that can be used on ceramic cooktops in case we decide to go that route.

The weather has been downright warm here the last several days, and I'm finding myself with a bad case of spring fever. It's so bad that I've actually been walking around with butterflies in my stomach, like something really exciting is going to happen. This happens to me every year, and it probably explains why most of the big things in my life happen in March when I'm totally abuzz. I never realize how much these dark winter days (which I love, don't get me wrong!) affect me until spring arrives and I turn into a totally different (giddy) creature.
Part of the excitement might have something to do with our house actually looking like a house:

This photo cracks me up. It looks like I managed to catch a tiny cat walking on the fence, but it's actually the neighbor's border collie picking up the stick that I'd just thrown for her - perspective is everything!

My husband and I have been doing the weekly site cleanup instead of paying one of our contractor's guys to it, and it also ensures that as much is being reused and recycled as possible. We pulled nails from our plywood concrete forms for one of our soon-to-be neighbors to use, and we're going to use the left over 2 x 4's to frame in our basement walls. The plastic that comes wrapped around the pallets of wood has been recycled, as have the leftover bits of rebar and metal strapping. Any wood scraps are being sorted and saved for later building projects (the future garden shed and/or chicken coop) , with anything too small being earmarked for the wood stove. Our contractor said that the other house he's currently working on has had three skids worth of garbage hauled away already, but so far we haven't even needed one, and they're nearly finished! I'm hoping we can avoid getting one altogether.

With this warm spell, the ground has started to thaw, and I spent a good portion of our clean-up day planting bulbs. Most of them were wildflowers which I planted on the edge of the wooded areas where they will naturalize over the coming years. My garden fever has been so bad that I've already been to my favorite nursery (even though I have nowhere to plant anything yet), and I've even started a few seeds (just sweet onions so far).

I'm not the only one who's been enjoying the sunshine. While we were out the other day, we saw three eagles riding the air currents over the park we were picnicking at, and when we got home later that day, we heard this guy calling from a tree behind the house (my daughter took this great photo):

Clouds moved in for a while today, but luckily they went away long enough for us to get a glimpse of the lunar eclipse that occured this evening.

I think there's more rain in the forecast, but I've had a taste of spring now and there's no going back. The cherry trees will be blooming soon, and then it'll be game over. I can almost feel the dirt under my nails!


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