Paint push Swedish style: white eco paint and gently treated white pine floor.

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I do not like labels, in particularly not the defining ones, since their lack of paradox, complexity, and changeability make them smell an awful lot like lies, or at least gross simplifications. I consider myself a human, most of the time, that is anatomically female and culturally cosmopolitan. The rest is details, social constructions that occasionally have something interesting to say about my experience, but most of the time hide more than they reveal. One of the details is that I was born in the part of the world that rather arbitrarily is labeled Sweden. I moved away shortly after I finished high school, which has made my lasting impression a mix of idyllic childhood memories and critical teenage disillusionment. I never got a chance to get the adult’s more nuanced perspective on the country I grew up in.

There is one thing that I have fond memories of from both my younger, home-team-supporting days, and my older, no-team days—the aesthetics. I can claim no objectivity here; I was force-fed white walls, pale pine floors, woven rugs, linen cloths, natural materials like wood, metal, and sheep skins, sparse design, pale, subdued colors and white white white. It is all about the light, about letting the sun in whenever it comes for one of its rare visits. I never got sick of it, though, and I still find Swedish design the most unpretentiously beautiful and livable.

I appreciate that it is a classless aesthetics—you can find it in Stockholm’s most fancy villas and in the smallest, summer cottage. Everybody can afford to not have too much stuff…to keep their rooms simple, open, and clean. Rich people often get too tempted to show off their wealth, which is probably why high couture and design can be so tacky, and I am sure that there are tasteless Swedes, but most of the time they use the inclination to spend their money on quality over quantity. The result is homes that you can (and should) walk barefoot in, where a jar of dandelions looks sunny on the kitchen table, and quickly boiled summer potatoes with fresh fish, a bit a butter and dill is all the feast you need.

Sebastienne and I currently live in muggy Georgia with its fireflies and ice tea, without a single reindeer in sight (Not that there were any reindeer outside Stockholm, either.) and plenty of sun to go around. We have made this part of the world our home, and though I rarely miss Sweden, I do miss its beauty. Luckily, my Texan wife, who has a (perhaps) surprising love for romantic French country-style, was easily won over to the cozy Swedish country cottage look. My mother gave us a subscription to “Landliv” (Country Life), and its monthly dose of white and wood helped to convince her. The real reason, though, is that we are going to have such a small house that almost any other style would overwhelm the space. I promised her that if we ever get a castle—she can have all the romantic swirls she likes.

51eEW1N5y+L._SY300_First step in Swedish-ification is to paint the walls and the ceiling white. The natural wood is only kept in saunas, ski cottages, and hunters’ cabins. To pick the white was easier said than done, and took us hours of considerations. We had originally planned to use Behr’s “polar bear,” but we decided to use a more ecologically sound paint, which meant that our search for the perfect white had to be done all over. The company Sebastienne found, Yolo Color House, http://www.yolocolorhouse.com/color/explore-color/?color=imagine02,   uses “no mutagens, no hazardous air pollutants, no ozone depleting compounds, no formaldehyde, no phthalates, no volatile organic compounds (VOCs),” and has amazing colors to choose from. We wanted a white that really looked white—not yellow or gray, but at the same time did not feel cold or eye-numbingly bright. The color we finally settled on, “Imagine 2,” has an almost imperceptible hint of lime green in it, like elderberry flowers, something they did not mention in the description, but which we really like—it looks bright and cheerful. The runner-up, “Air 1” ended up looking much too dark and creamy ones we saw the large paint chip. We picked semi-gloss, since it looks best on wood, and is easier to keep clean.

Compared to most paints, the YOLO paint smelled a lot less, and as a good paint should be, it covered well, and did not get streaky. The only question/complaint is that it made our nails rust and show up, which is something we are going to contact the company about, even though the second coat managed to cover most of them. Over three 10 hour work days, we got it all done. A handful of friends (Amelia, and Matt and Erin, thank you!) helped, which we were very grateful for.

paint! (10)The second necessity (in my opinion) is the pale, plank floor. The white pine is naturally so gorgeous that it seemed like a shame to cover it with any stain. After long research, Sebastienne (she is so good at that…) found OSMO polyx-oil, which is a natural oil stain from Germany. It is a hard wax, which means that it penetrates the wood rather than staying on the surface, and then hardens. Sebastienne also contacted the company to ask which color combination would preserve the raw wood color, and with that information in hand, we ordered a gallon and a quart of clear, matt-silk stain, and a sample of translucent white to help counteract the wet look of the clear.

The OSMO is supposed to not release any toxins, or anything unsavory at all, when dry, but while we put it on it smelled like turpentine, or something in that direction. Good ventilation is a necessity. We bought the special brush, despite that it cost $30, because we had read that it could get sticky if you did not apply it right. It was easy, though, as long as you applied it thin and really brushed it into the wood. If we saw any wet spots, we wiped them off with a rag. Something that also made a difference, is that we had used sticky, tacking cloths to clean the floors with beforehand, which helped get rid of any leftover sawdust. Once the second coat is dry, it gets lightly buffed it, and ta-da!

Once it was all done, we laid on the floor in our bedroom, soaking up the peaceful beauty, never wanting to leave. It gets harder and harder to go “home.” For our anniversary (3 years already!), we will spend our first weekend there, celebrating Midsummer’s Eve, which is second in popularity only to Christmas in Sweden. It will be a new experience to be in the house without working. To learn to love it through leisure. I am sure it will be lovely, we will build a maypole, decorate it and ourselves with flowers, eat pickled herring and salmon, and plenty of berries. I will feel very Swedish. Paradoxically, a label I do not really mind, after all.

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There is no trim for the trim

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It is a year of weddings, we have no fewer than five to attend to, and though large gatherings are not usually our idea of a good time, we are nothing but overjoyed at seeing our friends shiny eyed with love (and a bit of champagne). At two out of the three weddings we attended so far, a certain Kurt Vonnegut quote circled: “I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, ‘If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.’” Your wedding day is hopefully a time for murmuring joyful vignettes, but we have already had two of those, and doubt our friends would indulge us a third. Lucky for us, to sit in the woods after a day of satisfying work with our feet high while evening birds chirp and we eat watermelon that tastes like rain and sunshine is not too bad either. We notice it.

It’s a good thing that we know how to rest within our few minutes of lean-back-time, since we have worked pretty much nonstop during the past month, both at our paying jobs and our housebuilding, sometimes going straight from one to the other. (Which is also why I have not taken the time to write or take pictures.) We finished all the trim work–windows, doors, corners, transitions, bookshelves, the ladder to the loft… We dreaded this part, being well aware of that there is no trim for the trim, meaning that now there would be no cover up in case of mistakes. Now was the time to take the house from only being functional to also looking good. It turned out to be both easier and more fun than we had anticipated, the reward being so addictive that we worked late into the evening with the motto: “Just one more window… I just want to finish this… It would look so much better if I only…” And so on.

We settled for simple square trim in the corners and between the ceiling and the wall, since it spared us all the angle cuts required for rounded trim. For the floorboards and window trim we picked super cheap pine 1x2s that cost less than a dollar for an eight foot board, compared to many of the other trim choices that cost more than that per foot. Our laziness and shortage of money turned out to be a blessing in disguise as we came to realize that the no-trim look is perfect for our house. With the house being so small, and everything from floor to ceiling pine planks in one form or another, bigger trim would have overwhelmed and cheapened the look. As it is now, the trim simply cover transitions, but does not stick out at all. It will all be painted the same white, too, which will enhance the no-trim feeling.

The thresholds were also hurdles we had conveniently avoided, but that turned out to be a fun project. During the past year we have probably bought  and  returned at least five different versions, none of which fit or were to our liking. We now decided to make our own, both for the inside (bedroom and bathroom transitions) and for the two external doors. For Forrest’s door, we used cedar to match the look, and I spent a day chiseling, rasping, and sanding it down, which turned out really well.  For the inside, Sebastienne picked white pine to match the floor, and manged to use the circular saw to cut the angles. The porch door got a pressure treated 1×6, which we later treated with polyurethane.

Finally, we spent a week (still going at it) sanding everything from the unfinished trim to the floor. The hand-sander is easy to use, and we both fight over its satisfying efficiency, even though it is loud and sprays saw dust in all directions. Despite face masks, earplugs, glasses, head-scarves, and gloves, we still get the fine sawdust in every crevice. Ada said that we look like an unflattering mix of a nurse, a bandit, and a bug.

The cleaning will be a full day’s work, but by the end of next week we should be ready to paint. We are excited enough to keep up the pace a little longer. This is the fun part. (Haven’t we said that all along?)

Chiseling the threshold.

Chiseling the threshold.

rasping

rasping

trim, sanding, threshholds (3)

sanding

sanding

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High trim to counter act the wheel well

Tall threshold to counteract the wheel well, which will set the door off to a tall start.

more trim (10)

porch threshold

porch threshold

We painted the new porch boards grey.

We painted the new porch boards grey.

more trim (2) more trim (3) more trim (4) more trim (5)

Ada's loft window with trim.

Ada’s loft window with trim with shelves.

Skylight.

Skylight.

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The trim around and in the hole was by far the most difficult, since it has so many corner and edges.

The trim around and in the hole was by far the most difficult, since it has so many corner and edges.

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more trim (8)

Seb worked on the wheel wells.

Seb worked on the wheel wells.

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Bookshelves.

Bookshelves.

The handsander.

The handsander.

Sanding Ada's floor.

Sanding Ada’s floor.

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Flowers from Bernie.

Flowers from Bernie.

Blackberry bush from Bernie.

Blackberry bush from Bernie.

Spring at Dogwood Getaway (and Sebastienne’s accident)

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The universe wants to be noticed, or at least it seems that way in spring when crispy green leaves roll themselves open as we walk by, wispy wild flowers wink from the side of the road, and from every mossy nest and wobbly branch–tiny, wide-eyed beings demand our instant attention and adoration. It is hard to get anything done when there is so much to look at and admire. As Kenneth Graham described it in “The Wind in the Willows:” Spring was moving in the air above and in the earth below and around him, penetrating even his dark and lowly little house with its spirit of divine discontent and longing.”  No wonder Mole abandoned his spring cleaning to chase the flirtatious wind.

Spring comes slower to our shady Dogwood Getaway than it does in town, but once it finally got warm enough the trees went from winter pale to fluorescent green in less than a week. As the pictures below show, we had jackets and hats on one week, and merely tank tops the next. Like Mole, we had a hard time focusing on inside work when the woods were begging us on its muddy knees to come out and play. Quickly seduced, we did.

While Sebastienne and I spent most of last year hammering away at the house, Ada has been exploring our land, finding clever ways of combining her school work with forest expeditions. Besides the more obviously outdoorsy classes like biology and nature studies, she found inspiration for poetry, art, and adventure stories while roaming the woods. She is now more familiar with the land than we are, and she took us on a nature walk to point out where the creek is the deepest, where the prettiest ferns grow, and where her favorite trees hold court. Violets and Trillium were treasures to discover, and each one elicited a new yelp from whoever was lucky enough to spot it. We also met a baby toad and a baby box turtle, one more shy than the other, but both equally charming to our easily endeared hearts.

Reluctant to go back inside, we decided to take the week to spring clean our woods. When we first got the land, a year and a half ago, we bought a chainsaw, taught ourselves how to use it, and cut just enough trees for the driveway, the house, and a sunny spot for the solar panels. Much of it is already overgrown again, since wet and hot Georgia is a greenhouse gone wild. The speed of growth is spectacular, as is the variety of species. It is with strange pride that we walk around and check on our  favorite giant Pine, Sourwood, dogwood, White Oak, Black Cherry, Maple, and Beech tree, which all have come to feel familial. We love our woods, and want them to stay as natural and native as possible, but we help it along by taking down the excess of teenage pines, dead or overly bushy trees, and cut back a fraction of the muscadine vines whose eerily muscular arms climb the trees and cover the ground.

My wonderfully fun friend and gardener boss Susie is a true connoisseur of plants and all that grows, and she often gives me baby trees and bushes that all come with their family history and nurturing advice. We planted three cedars and three green Japanese Maples of hers, and are excited to follow their growth through the years to come. It does feel a bit funny to cut down some trees and then plant others, as Ada pointed out, which is how I often feel about weeding in general. What is a weed, anyway? I explained it to Ada by comparing it to my take-no-prisoners attitude in regard to decorating–it is not that one color is less beautiful than another, they just do not all look beautiful together. Some “weeding”  and “re-planting” is necessary for them to come to their utmost potential. All in my eyes, of course, since I am the one playing artist with my surroundings. For the woods own sake, we attempt to keep a mix of all varieties and all ages, and enough debris to feed them.

To bind the mud and break up the clay around the house and for our future garden, we planted pounds worth of clover (New Zealand White, Crimson, and Mammoth Red Clover from Johnny’s Selected Seeds at http://www.johnnyseeds.com ) and other cover crops.  Planting required that we lugged buckets of water from home, which was a bit of a pain, and made us even more motivated to finally get up the gutters and water barrels. It is already starting to sprout all around us, but we are still sliding in the mud when it rains, and following Susie’s advice, we got cypress mulch for a path, since it is supposed to stay put. She also recommended that we buy cedar shavings from the pet store to put under the trailer to keep unwanted critters, like termites, at bay. The cedar mulch you buy at the hardware store, like Home Depot, uses the bark of the cedar rather than the center of the tree, which gives it a weaker smell and is therefore less affective. The pet store clerk must have thought we have a hamster farm as we emptied the shelves of litter.

My loveliest spring moment was when I came upon a part of the woods where we rarely walk, which was covered in the darkest, deepest moss and surrounded by ferns. Enchanted, I was careful not to disturb it, but I managed to pick around the edges until I got a bucket full of moss and two delicate and whimsy looking ferns. At that moment, no treasure could have seemed richer. I brought my find back to the house to decorate a stump that is right in our view (in the shade). Here we are, in the midst of house building, and I prettify a stump… It may seem like a frivolous use of time, but I felt like a bird collecting lovely things to decorate my nest. Something eternally feminine (not as in “by female”) called me through the woods, and I felt that I, too, was part of spring.

And now for something completely different… So far we have been getting away with minor scrapes, bumps, and bruises, but spring cleaning  brought with it our first real accident! With enough distance and the relief of knowing the outcome, it does not seem so bad, but it was rather scary at first. We had spent a drizzly afternoon cutting down sad-looking pine trees, and everything was going smoothly. Seb had just said how much easier it felt to handle the chainsaw, when I heard a tree fall, turned around to see my beloved wife clutching her head while the chainsaw laid on the ground. It was on, but the blade was not running, I managed to notice before I ran up to her with a beating heart. She had done everything right, and the tree had fallen as she had planned, but before it fell, it must have knocked down a dead branch from high among the tangle of crowns, which then had fallen straight on her head. (She had honestly forgotten the helmet, which we otherwise always wear.) Besides a bump and a bruise over her right eyebrow, her head was fine, and I breathed out. That was when she noticed her right hand. “I’m pretty sure I broke my thumb,” she said as a matter of fact, and it did look horribly swollen and crooked. “Don’t panic” is rule number 1 in the universe (from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams), and we followed the nerd rule and stayed as calm as cucumbers. I got Sebastienne to sit down and take some ibuprofen while I planted the rose-bush that laid roots in the air where I had dropped it, locked the chainsaw in the shed, and got the dog and the kid to the car. The whole time, Sebastienne chatted on almost happily, giving us a moment to moment update on her experience.

Muddy, wet, and with pine needles in the most inappropriate places, we got to Immediate Care (cheaper than E.R.) right before closing. They couldn’t see much on the X-ray, but they at least established that the break wasn’t at the knuckle joint, as we first had feared. In the end, all she got was something to stabilize the thumb, and the advice to take it easy.

To take it easy, is easier said than done when you are a chef at your day job, and a house builder on your days off. I’ve done my best to keep her still, which is easier said than done, too, but she has been using her left hand very creatively, and so far she seems to heal well. I guess I’ll be doing most of the hammering this week, though, and maybe I can convince her to enjoy the hammock. The spring never lasts long in Georgia, and soon the delicate spring will be taken over by the heavyset summer, which knocks you out rather than seduces. There is still time to take notice.

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The blooming Dogwood

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Pale spring day.

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Decorated stump with moss, ferns, and woodland phlox.

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Ada and the tiny box turtle.

Toad!

Toad!

Mint, Lemon Balm, and Rose of Sharon

Mint, Lemon Balm, and Rose of Sharon

It's sprouting!

It’s sprouting!

Trillium

Trillium

Violet

Violet

spring (7)

spring (8)

 

The elasticity of time, my grandfather, and pine plank flooring.

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This week we installed the white pine plank flooring, and with that, successfully finished the heavy construction part, and started the sock footed phase. I have done this before, 20 years ago, and it both feels like yesterday and an eternity ago, which made me think about time

The infinity rubber band theory.

The infinity rubber band theory.

I do not see time as an arrow flying forward, leaving history in its wake. My experience of time is more elastic and circular—the future touches back on the past and yesterday stumbles over tomorrow. Sebastienne calls it “Maria’s rubber band infinity theory,” which I find adequately unserious.

To start with a basic thought experiment; think of the year as a circle where January resides at noon, April hangs out around 3, and October dawdles at 9. This circle is a rubber band, and as I give it a metaphorical pull and let go, this April day snaps together with October, which is both the previous one in 2013 and the coming one in 2014.

If you look at the circle as a person’s life: birth and death and all the rest are all infinitely close, entangled, and simultaneous. Our experience of time, however, is born in our now-ness, and like a rubber band it occasionally feels stretched out, sometimes all in a jumble or collapsed in a heap, and often it rests in something akin to the infinity symbol. As I stand here, rocking on my heels, today bumps into yesterday and tomorrow.  

rubber 

People often ask if we have any previous building experience, but so far in the construction pretty much everything has been a first. From this point on, though, I have some knowledge in my pocket. As a teenager, I spent close to three years renovating an old cottage on the farm I grew up on. With the help of my parents and my grandfather, and other helpful souls, I dug a cellar, put in new floor beams, insulation, and windows, designed and installed the kitchen and bathroom, scraped and painted the bead board ceiling, and everything else needed to make the 100 years old cottage livable. It was really cool to be able to move into my first “tiny house” when I was eighteen, even though my lust for adventure took me away from it shortly thereafter.

My grandfather,"farfar," Olle Sjoholm, helps me dig the ditch for the waterline. Unfortunately, I don't any pictures of us laying the floor.

My grandfather,”farfar,” Olle Sjoholm, helps me dig the ditch for the waterline. Unfortunately, I don’t have any pictures of us laying the floor.

My grandfather, Olle Sjöholm, is dead, but my memory of him teaching me how to lay a plank floor is present enough for me to see the sweat rings on his red flannel shirt. To me, that time is not gone; it is just not where my now is. My perspective on time does not make me prone to nostalgia, attachments, or sentimentality, since everything and nothing is all there and not there at the same time. Olle, or “farfar” as I called him in Swedish, was not philosophically inclined, but he was a meticulous man, who did whatever he did with utmost care. It is a mystery to me how he always managed to keep his hands clean despite building and working on the farm. I am one to get glue behind my ears and paint in my armpits, not to mention the sad state of my hands, which Sebastienne says is because I throw myself into the work with my whole body and being. Not my farfar, though, he used his engineer mind and surprisingly tanned hands to plan and prepare a job down to the details. He often took as much time getting ready for the job as he took executing it. I often think of his preparation skills and clean hands, but I rarely have the patience to follow his example.

A lesson that stuck with me, though, is how to deal with cracks and gaps in a pine plank floor. I must have been 16, or so, when farfar and I installed the floor in “Kvanstugan” (The Mill Cottage). No matter how meticulously we worked, it was close to impossible to make the tongue and groove planks align and seal perfectly. When cracks inevitably happened, he gave me a conspiratorial nod, meaning that it was time for the “glue and sand technique.” First, squeeze good carpentry glue down into the crack. Second, scrape off excess glue with a spackle. Third, gently sand over the crack until it is full of sawdust. It is easier to get the sawdust in without getting the glue out if you go diagonally over the crack, but be careful not to scratch up the wood.

It took us, farfar and me, and Sebsatienne and me, two days to install the floor and two days to seal the cracks. It looks beautiful. Tack, farfar!

First boot-less day in the house!

First boot-less day in the house!

Vapor barrier.

Vapor barrier.

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First fit the tongue in the groove.

First fit the tongue in the groove.

The whack it a little (using a piece of wood to protect the tongue).

The whack it a little (using a piece of wood to protect the tongue).

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Nail them at a 45 degree (roughly) angle.

Nail them at a 45 degree (roughly) angle.

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We had to protect the circular saw from the Georgia spring rain.

We had to protect the circular saw from the Georgia spring rain.

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last funny board

last funny board

Sawing in the rain.

Sawing in the rain.

Last plank!

Last plank!

The bedroom closet.

The bedroom closet.

Kitchen closet with the dog door.

Kitchen closet with the dog door.

Alma in the bathroom.

Alma in the bathroom.

Kitchen corner.

Kitchen corner.

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Ada sands her loft.

Ada sands her loft.

Hound approved floor.

Hound-approved floor.

 

5000 nails later…

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Roughly calculated, we used almost 5000 1.5” finishing nails to install the beaded board ceiling and the v-groove plank walls, both tongue in groove, throughout the house. Each nail required at least three “whacks” to get in—that is a lot of hammering. I can hardly think of a more meditative job; it is tricky enough that you have to stay focused, but not so difficult that you get frustrated. Each plank leads to the next and the next and next, and so the hours pass. Sebastienne made up a little humming song, Winnie the Pooh style: “Pick it up, slide it in, waggle, waggle, waggle, whack, whack, whack, hammer, hammer, hammer, and again.” (The whacking here refers to gently using the mallet to get the tongue into the groove without damaging it.)

By late Friday afternoon, we had finished our bedroom nook and the closet, and could sit back to enjoy our progress. The spring breeze flowed in through the open Dutch door (Thanks, Forrest!) and the Dogwood trees’ white blossoms lit up the forest. All was good in the world.

We have a tiny bedroom; the emphasis is really on the bed part, rather than the room… The nook itself is 55.5” wide and 84” long, which fits, without much room to spare, a full size bed. Here I feel the need to add something for those of you who might be thinking of downsizing and/or building your own house: Our “tiny house” is almost twice the size of most houses built on wheels because we wanted to have a separate bedroom on the ground floor, plus a closed off sleeping loft for our daughter. Since we also wanted a backdoor to the porch, we did not have the option of turning the bed sideways, which is why all we can fit is a full size mattress without filling up the corridor. We are not particularly big, vertically or horizontally or circumferencely, and we are mighty fond of each other—a full size bed is all we need, but we did think over our sleeping habits and needs carefully before we made this design decision.

Another instance when size and compatibility can make a big difference is the closet. Luckily, we are the same size and have, more or less unintentionally, developed an overlapping clothing style. We do not only wear the overalls and plaid shirts and whatnots we use during construction, but we tend to stay with the basics and share most of our clothes. I have a handful of favorite dresses that Sebastienne would not wear, but mostly, we have one closet instead of two. (Sometimes it is practical to have a same sex partner!) Ada would wear her black tights and grey hoodie every day if they did not have to get washed occasionally—her closet needs are miniscule.

We have been sorting through our closet regularly for the past year, slowly getting rid of everything besides our absolute favorites, those clothes that we fight over and that always seem to be in the laundry.  I gave most of the dresses to my dear friend Jody, and I enjoy seeing them around town, the rest of the discards went to Goodwill or the Salvation Army. As with everything else, the more we get rid of, the more the things we keep shine. To have a closet where everything is a favorite means that our clothes resemble the love worn “Velveteen Rabbit;” threadbare and a little frayed at the edges, but it also means that they feel “real.” Our goal is that all the things and beings around us, from the teapot to the dog, will feel just as loved and appreciated. (If Alma, our hound dog, did not grow new hair, she would be naked by now after all our kisses and cuddles.)

I guess that one of the secrets to a small (large) life is to know what you love, and to love it well. Then the rest is just details.

Last sheep wool insulation to be seen.

Last sheep wool insulation to be seen.

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Closet with cedar v-planks and light.

Closet with cedar v-planks and light.

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Math...

Math…

Installing cedar planks over the "fake" plywood beadbord.

Installing cedar planks over the “fake” plywood beadboard.

Beaded bord ceiling

Beaded board ceiling

Our bedroom nook.

Our bedroom nook.

Our bedroom nook with reading lights from IKEA.

Our bedroom nook with reading lights from IKEA.

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S in the bedroom window.

S in the bedroom window.

Standing by the front door looking toward the back porch.

Standing by the front door looking toward the back porch.

Standing on the porch looking toward the kitchen.

Standing on the porch looking toward the kitchen.

First book on the bookshelf.

First book on the bookshelf.

 

Mini building push – we got hammer hands, ceiling, and walls.

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After five ten hour workdays, we got the ceiling and walls up in the kitchen / living room. As a bonus, we got “hammer hands” (something like carpal tunnel, the hands get inflamed, and the fingers fall asleep) bad enough to keep us up at night. We didn’t have a nail gun, and each and every plank needed two finishing nails every 16 inches (on every stud / rafter), which meant a lot (a lot) of hammering. Still, all we want to do is to keep on going. It is so fun, just plain fun! Most of the time…there were some moments when we squeezed up under the ceiling with aching necks and flattened thumbs that were less joyous. I asked my wifey dear if she was having fun, and the response was a humorous snort: “In the broadest sense.” Sometimes it is hard, as in complicated, difficult, heavy, and physically taxing. It goes to show that hard work and fun are not mutually exclusive. While huffing and puffing, sighing and swearing, we also look at each other with shiny and excited eyes. We are building our own house! Wow. With each and every plank we see our house coming into being, it is as cozy as can be, and we can’t wait to live there. We can feel the space now, and it feels like home.

And that’s it for now, I’m too tired to think, and my hands are too tired to write. But enjoy the pictures!

Bookshelf by sofa (bathroom wall)

Bookshelf by sofa (bathroom wall)

many many angle cuts

many many angle cuts

M on the scaffolding

M on the scaffolding

4 5

The bead board ceiling! (and the scaffolding)

The bead board ceiling! (and the scaffolding)

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the picture window over the sofa-to-be

the picture window over the sofa-to-be

9 10 11

the "hallway" closet

the “hallway” closet

13 14 15 16

the bathroom with cedar paneling

the bathroom with cedar paneling

19

the kitchen

the kitchen

the built in ladder to the loft (in the bathroom wall)

the built in ladder to the loft (in the bathroom wall)

Ada's loft

Ada’s loft

loft 1 loft 2 loft 3 loft 4

the view from Ada's window

the view from Ada’s window

Ada's skylight

Ada’s skylight

push week 034

Ada’s loft – there is always spackle, paint, and “good enough.”

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Hats off to real carpenters who know how to get things straight, square, and smooth. We don’t. We do try our darndest to make things (the house and life in general) as perfect as possible, and pull out the most painfully bent nails and atrociously crooked planks, but we are okay with “good enough.” Throughout the building process, we sing the same old song: “We’ll have trim there.” “There is always spackle and paint.” “It’s good enough.” When things are looking particularly grim, we offer each other the ultimate permission slip: “It will look charming…homemade.” That’s when you know that it is really crooked.

Building the loft was no exception, especially since I was stubborn enough to start putting up the ceiling on my own while Sebastienne installed the solar vent and worked on the short walls. The bead board planks for the ceiling are 8 feet long (I had to cut them to fit the rafters, and make sure to vary the lengths so as not make all the transitions at the same place), very wobbly, and have delicate tongues, which made them quite tricky to install. I had to lay on my back, and use knees, feet, elbows, and whatever I had available to keep the planks in place while I nailed them in. I did think that there must be an easier way…and it was! Once Sebstienne was ready with her project and came to help me, it didn’t only go twice as fast, but ten times. To have a pair of hands in each end made all the difference, and suddenly the planks were much more willing to cooperate. To think that I had spent a day’s worth of work doing something that could have taken a couple of hours with help was a little laughable, but at least the end result looks “good enough.” Actually, it looks beautiful.

Leonard Cohen most certainly wasn’t thinking of house building, or meaning it literally in any way, but we still takes comfort from his words: “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” ;-)

Ada loves her new room, and is already plotting her decorating scheme to be “simple, mostly white, with a little bit of blue.” Yeah, we have indoctrinated her well.

loft 002

Smiles...

Smiles…

...back to business.

…back to business.

preparing the solar vent

preparing the solar vent

what not to do

what not to do

loft 009 loft 014 loft 015

solar powered attic vent (it will get a nice cover)

solar powered attic vent (it will get a nice cover)

bent nails

bent nails

loft 025

Ada hugs her room

Ada hugs her room

the partially finished side

the partially finished side. Observe the functioning light!

loft 034

The value of gumption, generators, and knotty pine

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“Cowardice is the most terrible of vices.” (Mikhail Bulgakov)

“So much was uncertain, but the question wasn’t where to go or what was to be done; rather, to live a life of courage or to not.”  (Andy Farkas)

Two of our most frequently quoted sayings relate to courage—we both agree with Bulgakov that cowardice is, if not the most terrible vice, at least the ruin of all things good and noble. Uncontrolled fear is not only a poor decision maker; it festers behind most hateful deeds, prejudices, resentments, and insincere and petty lives. A life lived large must be one of bravery, not necessarily a fearless or reckless life, but one where fear is ridden rather than running amok.

We borrowed the big delivery van from work to pick up the flooring from a nearby town, and as we maneuvered out of the driveway we looked at each other with excited “uh oh” faces. “It feels like we are kids stealing a car,” I said, and Sebastienne agreed, adding that she often wonders: “Where is the adult?” Maybe it is because we are both girls and of petite stature, or because we play when others trudge, but we frequently feel like children out and about in the world without adult supervision. In our mid-thirties with surprise wrinkles a little bit here and there, with a daughter old enough to hit puberty any day, and with a tea drinking and early to bed lifestyle of two grandmas–one would think that we should feel legit by now. Instead we maintain a giddy sense of liberation, as if we sneaked out the backdoor of our parents’ house and took off on a neck breaking adventure.

That said, we do occasionally get scared, and the exhilarated “uh oh” turns into a worried “uh oh-oh no!” Luckily, when one of us feels like hiding in an armpit, the other has got one (two!) to offer. Yes, it is scary to build your own house without any prior experience, to wire electricity from a manual, and to spend every penny you earn on something pretty much un-insurable that could get lost in a fire or tornado, or be cut in half by a tree. Here is where courage comes in. We are the first ones to acknowledge our imperfections and weaknesses (if not, we remind each other…), but one of the things we respect about each other is that at least we have gumption. That no matter if we get weak-kneed and nauseated by anxiety–we still do whatever it is we want to do, say, or be. Cultivating courage does not guarantee an easy life, but it will almost most certainly inspire a more beautiful one.

So…the electricity worked! We are now proud owners of a propane generator, which we’ll use until we get the solar panels, and later as a backup, and to load our batteries if needed. It felt like magic to plug in the extension cord (cut in one end) from the generator to the breaker box, flip the switch and have light. And to know that we did it!

That we now have electricity also meant that we could bring the out the chop saw and jig saw—both immensely helpful as we are installing the ceiling, walls, and floor.

Starting with the bathroom—Sebastienne cut a hole for the vent and installed the duct, and that was one of those wide-eyed kid moments when we kept waiting for someone to come and scold us for cutting a hole in the wall! I installed a white beaded board behind the stairs to the loft, since it will remain visible, before I stapled and taped a vapor barrier covering the whole bathroom interior: walls, ceiling, and floor. We decided on using v-groove cedar planks for both the walls and ceiling in the bathroom, since cedar is more mildew and pest resistant than the pine we’ll use for the rest of the house. Besides being a pain in the neck, quite literally, since I had to face up the whole time I did the ceiling, the v-groove planks were relatively easy and quick to install.

The cedar smells divine, and it finally conquered the lanolin sheep wool scent that we have come to associate with home. Unfortunately, the cedar smell will most likely subside when we paint it all white—even though we love the wood, bare planks look too much like a sauna for our taste. We will use the most heavy duty water resistant paint we can find, but we still have to be careful with water, and need an all-around shower curtain for the bathtub.

Sebastienne started with the short wall in the kitchen, since she wanted some fun inspiration after weeks of time consuming electrical work that rarely gave any quick results. Once the wall and the bead board under the mini-loft were up, she installed the kitchen lamp (from IKEA), and we could stand back and Oh! and Ah! and dream of  potted herbs and hanging pans.

Yesterday we finally got to pick up our pine planks for the floor from a lumber liquidation warehouse/pick up location close to Atlanta. Besides being lightweight and cheap, we settled for New England White Pine because it is bright and simple, and fits with the classic (Swedish) country look we are going for.  We picked 6’’ wide and 8’ long boards, since they are the most plank-like planks we could think of. As we delivered the floor to the tiny house, we got so excited that we laid the planks out in Ada’s loft to get a sneak peak. The floor oozes summer, it is not as yellow as yellow pine, (which we don’t really like), but it gives off a pale golden white shimmer. A floor to inspire bare feet. One thing to add:  pine is soft and will get dented, stained, and bruised easily. We like the old and worn look, but if you don’t, pine might not be for you.

For the economically and practically interested, here is the budget for the last part:

Floor: 430 sq. ft. (220 main level, 120 for the loft + some extra for spill etc.) New England White Pine, 6”x8’ tongue in groove planks — $1.19 / sq. ft. roughly $480

http://www.lumberliquidators.com/ll/c/New-England-White-Pine-Clover-Lea-WP6-8/10005896

Walls: 400 sq. ft. 1/4″ thick, 4″ wide, 8 ‘ long, knotty pine edge v planks (Home Depot)— $17.45/pack (includes 6 boards) $525 total (link to walls)

Ceiling: 400 sq. ft. knotty pine beaded planks (Home Depot) — $17.86/pack $535 total (link to bead board)

Generator:  Sportsman 4,000 Watt Propane Generator (Amazon) — $360 (link to propane generator)

…and of course the added cost of a whole lot of finishing nails, a hole drill bit here, and some duct tape there. Still, pretty affordable for a whole house!

We hope to be able to take a week off work in the end of March or beginning of April to do another big push—now when we have the material we can’t wait to get to work! I only have to get myself out of bed first, since I’m back horizontal with yet another sinus infection/cold/flu like ailment. How much of humankind is held back by petty colds? I need gumption just to get out of bed.

wood (2)

propane generator

propane generator

Testing the first outlet--it works!

Testing the first outlet–it works!

Gumption galore!

Gumption galore!

hole for the bathroom vent duct

hole for the bathroom vent duct

bathroom light an vent

bathroom light an vent

ceiling, walls,and gutters delivered

ceiling, walls,and gutters delivered

beadboard behind the built-in stairs

beadboard behind the built-in stairs

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M installs cedar planks in the bathroom ceiling

M installs cedar planks in the bathroom ceiling

vapor barrier

vapor barrier

wood (12) wood (13) wood (14) wood (15) wood (16) wood (17) wood (18) wood (19) wood (20)

our floor boards!

our floor boards!

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testing the loft

testing the loft

Beginning to see the light

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“Well, I’m beginning to see the light…woohoo!” (Velvet Underground)

As spring takes one step forward and two steps back (it was under 20 F this morning!), we are beginning to see the end. For the longest time, it made us feel faint even to try to think of finishing the house – it loomed on the other side of an unknown land filled with an impossible amount of dragons to fight, mysteries to solve, and ravines to cross. Luckily, we managed to set one foot in front of the other, and immersed ourselves with the immediate task at hand without letting the distant horizon intimidate us. We got braver with each accomplished task. Now we know that we are able finish the rest, even though we still have months of work ahead of us.

We “only” have to install the bead board ceiling, v-plank walls, and tongue and groove floor planks. Then comes the trim work, painting, cabinet and closet building, the bathroom, plumbing (we’ll have exposed copper pipes, which is why we’ll do it last), water hook-up, back porch…easy…Ha. After soon a year of building, we are well aware of that each task is so much more involved than it first seems, and that it is small detail work that takes the longest.

Take Ada’s loft floor, for example. It could be as easy as putting the planks up…but it isn’t. Since the loft will be right on top of our bedroom, we want to make sure to soundproof it as much as possible – Ada is soon to be a teenager, and though she has good (according to us…) taste in music so far (…playing our old CDs), you never know what’s coming. We started with spraying all the rafters with Concrobium (mold control spray),  which helps kill and prevent mold without any toxins. Once they were dry, we stapled a plastic vapor barrier under the rafters, since Maria’s challenge with allergy and asthma makes us extra aware of dust and mold. Then came the insulation – we used what was left from the walls and roof, a mix of sheep wool and stone wool. We also put foam tape on top of the rafters that will help prevent the wood on wood sound transfer. We are planning to do a “floating floor,” which means we won’t nail the floor to the rafters, only push the tongue in groove planks together. Finally, (before the actual floor), we decided to put another vapor barrier just under Ada’s floor to make sure she doesn’t get to inhale any dust or mold from the rafters and/or insulation. It was a long debate, since we were worried that the double vapor barrier won’t allow any moisture to escape if it does get into the floor.

The balance between water proofing and ventilating, keeping water out and letting it escape, has been one of our recurring challenges throughout the planning and building. Condensation and mold are among our biggest concerns in muggy Georgia, in particular in a small space. We did ventilate the external part of the roof, but put a vapor barrier in the ceiling. The walls are “airier” with an air space under the siding, though we have house wrap to protect the OSB. We chose not to put a vapor barrier on the inside of the insulation, since the sheep wool is supposed to help regulate to moisture. The final result is still left to see, but so far our house seems dry despite all the downpours we’ve had the past year. (No more drought in Georgia, it seems.)

Another long debate was what to put on the walls and ceiling. We knew wanted bead board and v-planks, since drywall or plywood would risk making it look cheaper and more like a trailer house. The planks, we thought, would make it look more like the little cedar cottage we wanted. The issue was the thickness. Maria is allergic (not literally, this time) to flimsy walls, and wanted the thicker 1 x 6 x 12 Tongue & Groove Knotty Whitewood Pattern Board that have bead board on one side and v-plank style on the other, whereas Sebastienne argued for the thinner and lighter Hakwood 8 ft. x 4 in. x 5/16 in. Knotty Pine Beaded Plank Kit (6-Piece) - that come in either bead board or v-plank style. In the end, the worry that our house will be too heavy to pass road inspection won over the worry that the walls would feel a little “flimsy.” We bought a trial pack to test, and because our studs are only 16″ apart on center (instead of 24″), it feels much sturdier than we thought. It looks so beautiful, and now we can barely wait to put up the rest!

We ordered a generator, too, and next week we should have power so that we can use the electric chop saw and jig saw, which will be immensely helpful for the many many cuts that awaits us. In a month or so, our house will surely be worth looking at!

We are truly beginning to see the light, but we are not hanging our hats on any exact finishing date yet (summer-ish). If we have learned anything, it is to take one day at the time, plod along, have fun building, and not to swear too much over re-dos.

M installs the vapor barrier

M installs the vapor barrier

vapor barrier (2) vapor barrier (3)

Vapor barrier in the bathroom ceiling, and the base for the bathroom vent.

Vapor barrier in the bathroom ceiling, and the base for the bathroom vent.

The vapor barrier in the bedroom ceiling

The vapor barrier in the bedroom ceiling

Foam tape on the loft rafters.

Foam tape on the loft rafters.

Foam tape on the rafter will soften the wood on wood sound transfer.

Foam tape on the rafter will soften the wood on wood sound transfer.

Vapor barrier over the insulation, not necessarily to protect it from moisture, more so that we don't have to breathe in the insulation dust.

Vapor barrier over the insulation, not necessarily to protect it from moisture, more so that we don’t have to breathe in the insulation dust.

v-planks for the walls

v-planks for the walls

Installing the first board behind the kitchen-counter-to-be.

Installing the first board behind the kitchen-counter-to-be.

vapor barrier (11) vapor barrier (12) vapor barrier (13)

Getting Warm (insulating the roof)

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Our brains seem to have a connection, which makes us know what the other will say just before she says it, dream what the other dreams. Sure, since we spend most of our time together—we do know each other’s habits and thoughts and use of words, and we get the same visual, sensory, and auditory impressions throughout the day that also affect our dreams. Still, our dreams are similar in surprising ways. Let’s say that M meets a tiger in the jungle, and, at the same time, a tiger randomly pops up in Seb’s (dream-) super market, or Seb has a nostalgic dream of her old friends, and the same friends (unknown to M) make a visit in M’s dream, too. Brain waves jump from little spoon to big spoon.

This connection, this occasionally illuminating and occasionally muddling of brain waves, is our only explanation to why both of us could have thought that all our roof insulation would fit in the Jeep, together with us, the dog, and some groceries. For being such brainy girls, something obviously went wrong with our reasoning. It was a lack of reasoning, more likely. Six giant packs of Roxul Stone Wool insulation and twenty 4×8’ foam boards do not fit in a car. Not even close.

Standing outside Lowes with the helpful loaders, it was hard not to blush when they looked at our car, then at the mountain of insulation, and back at our car again. Oh my. It took us three loads, and it took some good pushing to fit the last wool bags, and it was only with the utmost of stubbornness that the four feet wide and eight feet long foam boards squeaked even half way into the car.

It was 9 pm, and cold, dark, and windy when we finally got the last insulation out to the land. Carrying the giant boards on our heads, M sighed good-humoredly: “We’re crazy…” whereupon Seb replied: “Of course. We have to be to build our own house.” There is probably some truth to that.

But we didn’t feel so crazy when we the next day managed to finish insulating the entire roof! One of the many benefits of building a small house is that each aspect is so very manageable, even if it doesn’t quite fit in a car.

We didn’t use the sheep wool for the roof/ceiling, since we wouldn’t have been able to get a very high R-value. We only had 5.5” space to fill (the 2×6 rafters are in actuality only 5.5”), and we needed to keep 1” air space for the baffles to keep the roof vented, which only left 4.5” for insulation. We used two 0.5” foam boards (they didn’t come in 1”), and 3.5” of the stone wool insulation, which gave us a total 22 R-value. Not much, but the best we could do. We chose the stone wool because it’s non-flammable, non-toxic, and mold resistant. (More info at the bottom of this post.)

What better thing to do on Valentine’s Day than to make our house warm and cozy?!

the 4x8' foam boards just about fit in the Jeep

the 4×8′ foam boards just about fit in the Jeep

Three out of six stone wool insulation packages

Three out of six stone wool insulation packages

The 0.5" foam boards

The 0.5″ foam boards

The tools of the day - the bread knife was by far the best for cutting the stone wool

The tools of the day – the bread knife was by far the best for cutting the stone wool

Seb cuts the foam board to size/

Seb cuts the foam board to size

M cuts the wool with the bread knife

M cuts the wool with the bread knife

the baffles help the keep the 1" air space for our vented cathedral ceiling

the baffles help the keep the 1″ air space for our vented cathedral ceiling

Inserting the first out of two foam boards

Inserting the first out of two foam boards

roof insulation (12)roof insulation (13)

Inserting the stone wool

Inserting the stone wool

The loft is done!

The loft is done!

The main room ceiling

The main room ceiling

Ada made her own bow and arrow.

Ada made her own bow and arrow.

ROXUL Stone Wool In formation (from their site): http://www.roxul.com/

“ROXUL insulation is a rock-based mineral fiber insulation comprised of Basalt rock and Recycled Slag. Basalt is a volcanic rock which is abundant in the earth, and slag is a by-product of the steel and copper industry. The minerals are melted and spun into fibers.

ROXUL products are inorganic which provide no food source for mold to grow. ROXUL products are tested to ASTM C1338 – Standard Test for Determining Fungi Resistance – and pass with zero fungal growth.

A fire rating is determined by testing a complete system, such as a wall with all its components, and not the insulation alone. ROXUL products are non-combustible and have an approximate melting temperature of 2150ºF but cannot hold a fire rating by itself, as is the case with any other insulation.  If you require a specific fire rating, please contact ROXUL at 1-800-265-6878.

No, “off-gassing” is a term that was started when blowing agents were utilized in insulation materials and ROXUL does not incorporate blowing agents in their products.  The organic binders that are used in the manufacturing process are introduced to a high temperature curing phase, virtually eliminating volatile components.”

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