Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Our green walls

Yesterday they poured the concrete for the walls. The walls are one of the really "green" things about our house. The ICFs we are using are about 60 percent recycled content, and the concrete contains fly ash to replace some of the cement. The fly ash is a common industrial waste product, and its use reduces landfill waste, saves energy, and reduces CO2 emissions.
Other reasons we chose ICFs for our exterior walls:
  • Energy Efficiency - the 11-inch walls (concrete core with insulating foam exterior) keep cold and hot outside and keeps the heated or cooled air inside We hope for pretty significant savings on our energy consumption.
  • Durability -- the idea of walls that don't settle, crack, mildew, rot or even shake when doors are slammed is pretty appealing. And with ICFs there is nothing for insects like termites to eat.Strength - ICF wall systems are rated to withstand extreme weather conditions, including tornados and hurricanes. While we should get very few of the former and none of the latter, it's nice to feel secure (especially since we won't have a basement). They can endure winds in excess of 140 miles per hour. And though we've moved away from the high earthquake risk, they are pretty shake-resistant as well.
  • Quiet - ICF wall systems decrease the amount of sound that comes in from the outside by over half. It is the quietest building material on the market. Have I mentioned how much we are looking forward to the quiet?
  • Solidity -- after living in a prewar coop in New York (with concrete block walls and floors between us and our neighbors) and our older stucco home in California, most tract homes just feel flimsy. The ICFs will do more than mimic that feeling we've come to love -- they should exceed it.
  • Cleaner Air - ICF systems prevent draft and air infiltration, meaning less dust (less to clean!) and fewer allergens in the house. Perhaps our daughter's pre-asthma and allergy tendencies will lessen away from the smog and with our cleaner, greener home.
  • Environmentally-Friendly - Aside from reducing energy consumption, our walls also reduce construction waste. The forms stay in place instead of ending up in the landfill. And as noted earlier, the ICFs and concrete we are using contain a good bit of recycled content.
  • Fire Retardant - ICF systems can resist fires for up to four hours. If our house ever does burn, the smoke is less toxic than burning wood. Again, while we've moved away from the highest fire danger, our years in California make us look at all the trees around as potential fire fodder.
  • Bullet Proof - Yeah - this one isn't really a big deal for us. But it's fun to tell the kids that the house makes a pretty good fort.
Plus -- the pouring was cool. Three big cement trucks were on-site, with the active truck outfitted with a big crane and chute to pour the concrete. One guy stands on the ground with a little remote box to guide the chute while another person holds the chute in place for the pour. JD, our builder, got a faceful of concrete yesterday - giving the mud facial a whole new slant. The footers and the lower level of the walls are poured then allowed to settle. In all I think they went around the house three or four times, allowing the concrete to settle between each successive pour.

And yes, the sky really was that blue. The weather has been gorgeous almost every day since we arrived. My fears about too much rain for these former Californians have been set aside at least for the present.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Worms in the fridge and my new shoes

We've just tucked the kids in bed after their first real weekend in NC. Though we spent a good bit of time continuing the unpacking, we managed a little exploring. It was hot, so Saturday afternoon we headed out to a few highlights of the nearby Pisgah National Forest -- Looking Glass Falls and Sliding Rock. If the kids hadn't already heard about Sliding Rock, they would have thought the falls -- much bigger than anything we've seen on our California hikes -- were cool. But they had one thing in mind.

Sliding Rock. Just like the name, this is a natural 60-foot water slide down a big rock slab ending with a dunk in a refreshingly-cool (48 degree!) pool. For a $1 (Bella was free) you can slide as many times as you can handle, which in our case was just three before the icy water dampened our enthusiasm for the slide. It's a true hoot though. Everyone queues up in a long line that slowly crosses the river (your first feel of the water) and snakes up to the top of the slide. Along the way you can watch as others make their way down. There are all types of sliders. The barely controlled panicked ones. The cool dudes sliding down on their backs, arms folded behind their heads. The gray-haired granny, a crowd-favorite, eliciting cheers from all as she hit the water.

Today we checked out a local fishing hole. We rented a paddle boat for $5 and headed off. Though more time was spent untangling the lines than actually casting in, the kids had fun. We had fish for dinner, but the better part of candor requires me to admit it came from the market, not the lake.

Which brings me to the worms. At the lake they had a vending machine. Not for Snickers, this one. Live bait. Put your money in and out pops a little Styrofoam tub of worms. So where do the worms go when you finish fishing? I don't think I've ever had worms in my fridge before. Leftovers anyone?

And my new shoes. For my California friends - these are far from Manolas. I've worn them almost every day so far. They're perfect for tromping around the property and traipsing through rivers. And they'll be great when we put the kayak in the river. They even look pretty cute (at least before I spilled catsup on them).

Fear not my friends. I promise not to wear them in LA.

Friday, June 26, 2009

The Best Cookout Ever

We had a cookout tonight. Not just any cookout, but "the Best Cookout Ever". As declared by Bella.

It wasn't fancy. We had hotdogs and S'mores. Cooked on sticks gathered on our property, over a fire built by Kirk and the kids. I forgot the plates and plasticware at home. Not sure what we would have done with them anyway.

Dexter (9 1/2 years old) says he has never roasted a hotdog before. Yup. Bad parenting. We clearly have done better with Bella. She's only 4 1/2 and she has now roasted hotdogs. And S'mores.

We also caught fireflies again. I'm not sure why, but the fireflies on our property more docile than the fireflies at our rental house. You can pretty much stand in their midst while they land on you. In our rental house, you actually have to chase them!

I think we'll spend most of our Friday nights on our property this summer. As we meet people we'll invite them to join us. Once we have a real house, I might forget how great a simple cookout is. I'll start thinking of all the stuff I need...potato salad, fruit salad, a "real" dessert. But really -- hotdogs and s'mores. What more could you possibly need?

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Firefly Magic

Last night we stopped by our property to check the progress on the house. The kids were tired, a bit crabby, and not all that interested. "Do we have to get out of the car?" Whatever kids. Mom wants to see the house. So we go.

It's dusk. A beautiful evening, post-rain. The walls of the house are starting to go up and we spend a few minutes checking the view from various doors and windows. Then the show begins.

All across the pasture the fireflies are blinking on, off, on, off, luring the kids into the grass and out of their city kid reluctance. When it's time to go, it's as hard to get them back in the car as it was to drag them out in the first place.

"Can we come back tomorrow?"

Yeah. Twist my arm.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Home Coming

After two years of scheming, eight months of planning, and some 2000 miles on Route 40, we finally arrived in Arden NC. We're "camping" in our rental house (moving truck is not here yet) and we've visited our new home site. Footers are dug, site is leveled and covered with gravel to keep it from becoming a muddy mess, and the ICFs are going up. It looks like we are crazy - building a house with styrofoam and plastic. But when complete - our flimsy house will be as solid as a bunker -- crazy-well-insulated, termite-proof, mold-proof, and quiet. We especially like the quiet. Since I never plan to move again (famous last words), I think it will make a great mausoleum. When I die, just seal up the windows and doors and let me rest in peace. I can join the ghosts on our site - we're allegedly building on or near a family cemetery site from years back. My builder imagines scary ghosts - I prefer Casper as my haunting reference.

The office is almost completely framed. It sits like a tree-house in the woods. No more conference calls interrupted by the mow and blow of the gardeners and the howling of the friendly neighborhood dogs.

Now that we're here, I realize how much of my energy has been consumed by the process of getting to this point. I haven't thought much about what we'll do now that we're here.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

A Traveling Menagerie

We're starting the 3rd day of our trip from Pasadena to Arden. About one hour into the trip, we hit Route 40 and we take it all the way there. We intersect Route 66 along the way, so bits and pieces of the old tune fill my head. Don't forget Winona? Not much there I could see.

We're traveling with our dog Boz, all 85 pounds of him, the cat, and the guinea pig. We're all packed in one car, towing the other behind. Boz, 11 years old and completely exhausted from his days of pacing and worrying about all the activity preceding the trip, spent the first two days snoring. The cat meowed nonstop for the first six hours at least, and probably another six hours periodically since. The guinea pig just wonders what all the fuss is about.

When we unload at our nightly stopping point, it's a comical unloading of crates and bags and cat on leash. The dog won't get out of the car; he insists on being lifted up and down. The royal treatment.

At least they don't ask "are we there yet?"

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Carpe Diem

It is finally moving day. The kids traveled safely to visit grandparents and cousins, the moving truck took off at midnight last night, and we are sitting in our cute little courtyard, enjoying a cup of coffee and a final fire in the chiminea. We are sitting here because there is no where else to sit in the house, but it is something we should have done more often. June gloom persists but the clouds create a quietude I welcome. A moment of peace after many days packed with activity and emotions.

Our neighbor brought us a little going away gift last Saturday -a bottle of wine named "Carpe Diem." "It's what you're doing," she explained. We needed the reminder. In the midst of packing, too many good-byes, and some tears, our daughter was the only one who retained a complete and unadultered excitement of the move. Anyone who would listen to her near-constant stream of conversation knows all about our plans. For weeks, her babies (as she calls her dolls) have flown countless trips to Iowa to visit grandparents and cousins, and then on to "Norf Carolina" where they live in a rental house and have picnics on 12 acres of land. They build treehouses and swings and sleep in hammocks and watch their new house being built. They have a wonderful life.

So here we go. Carpe Diem. We are seizing the opportunity we created. We're incredibly lucky to have this choice, but it is an opportunity we imagined and pursued. We'll see how it goes. I'm excited.

Monday, June 1, 2009

A little more bitter than expected

We're almost to the 10-day count-down. I've made a lot of progress on packing, our rental house is completely set, we've applied for our construction loan, we have building permits, and site prep will start Wednesday. It all continues to fall into place so easily it still seems slightly unreal.

We've started the good-bye process. We've had one official party, a lovely little dinner, tea at the Huntington Garden with Bella's lovely little friends and a great day at Universal Studios with our son Dexter's good friends. Next week will be a little harder, with a final day of school and last good-byes to childhood buddies. I've expected this part to be bitter-sweet, and for my children it is. For Bella, mostly sweet. For Dexter, a little more bitter, but still tempered by the excitement of a week with fun cousins and doting grandparents and the lure of nearly 12 acres of land to explore. We're still in the world of Hershey here - Special Dark anyone?

For me, it's taken a truly unanticipated bitter turn. My dear friend went in for an optometrist appointment to see why her vision was blurry in one eye. She went in expecting a callous on her cornea at worst, or a new prescription perhaps. She walked out with a brain tumor. A f---ing brain tumor! Allegedly slow-growing and likely benign. But there isn't much benign about a tumor that attaches itself to the lining of your brain, encroaches on your optic nerve, and is perhaps sending roots into your pituitary gland.

Her surgery is scheduled for June 16th - a date when my husband and I will be cruising along Route 40 somewhere in the vicinity of Oklahoma -- dog, cat, and guinea pig ensconced amid whatever leftovers don't make it on the truck. A difficult surgery with a difficult recovery and a few more risks than any of us really want to discuss. And I won't be here to help her in any way.

So while she works through anger and the legitimate question of "why me" -- I wonder with her. Why her? Why not me? Why are we gliding through while so many people we know are facing job losses, health problems, or just big uncertainties in their lives?

Or looking more globally - why are we born here, to enchanted lives, while others are born to proverty and struggle?

I wish I had answers.