Tiny House Build Week 6 – A Little of This, A Little of That

Last Thursday I set out on a sunny afternoon before work to look for a bathtub, a door and a small window for the sleeping loft.  Just before heading to Skagit Building Salvage, I checked my instagram feed and saw that Guemes Island Tiny House was working on a door they’d gotten at the same salvage yard for their remodel.  Turns out they were about to post some of the salvage from the remodel for sale, and they have exactly the size and style of door I was looking for.  Also small windows for the loft and a gorgeous stained glass hanging lamp for a porch light.  Score! I took a few turns around Skagit Salvage anyway, and then went to Coastal Farm and Ranch and picked out a stock tank for my tub.

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$84. 24″H24″W36″L

This will also serve as the kitchen sink and will be the only plumbing in the house.  I’m going to write a post on plumbing/water tomorrow.

Saturday morning I had a long list of small projects to work on; finishing drilling the bolts through the sill plates and trailer flange, adding a few more pieces into the walls for loft support and nailing surfaces for sheathing, cutting down and staining the joists for the lofts, leveling the walls and adding the second top plate.  Drilling the bolts in was a b%$^# and I have deep gratitude for my stepdad who did most of them last weekend.  My arms and abs are sore today from having to bear down on top of the stainless steel (?) 7/16th drill bit to get it through the metal.  But they got through and everything is bolted, washered and nutted down along with a metal bracket for extra stability.  I forgot to take pictures of this.

I took the loft joists out for staining, and cut down a few 2x4s to the exact width of the trailer and then screwed these in place of the loft joists to suck the walls in to the width that they should be.  Mom had to come help yank on the wall at one point.  We yelled at each other a little and I was reminded of the one day she tried to teach me how to drive before we both got so frustrated that we gave up and I had a friend take over.  But we got the piece screwed in place eventually.

My brother came over around noon to talk about electrical, and not long after guess who showed up?  Jake and Kiva from Tiny Nest!  If you’ve been reading this blog you might remember that I’ve been using their Youtube series to assist my build and it has been so helpful.  They had gone down to Portland from B.C. for the Tiny House Conference, or at least for the UNConference the day before.  They want to do a series of tiny house tours for their website, and when I emailed and said I have a house in progress along the I5 corridor they said they’d stop by and film a tour for a before and after series.  It was fun.  I think I talked a lot.  My house is my entire life right now and it was nice to have other tiny housers to geek out with.

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Jake and my brother Kyle are both electricians and there was a lot of electrical geeking out too.  Yay builders!

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After Jake and Kiva headed homeward, Kyle and I made a detailed plan for my electrical.  He had previously quoted me something like $2k for my electric, but once I explained how little electric I’ll be using I think he realized that I don’t need to hire anyone and can do it myself with his guidance.  I’ll have something like 14 outlets, 4 separate strips of LED lights, a small chest freezer-turned-fridge with a temp controller, a tankless hot water heater (maybe) and a wall vent above the cooking and bathing area.  Pretty simple.  The panel will be on the kitchen wall (right behind where I’m standing in the above picture) and on the other side of that wall will be a utility closet on the tongue of the trailer.  We’re going to leave an access panel in the wall so we can go in and wire for solar later.  I won’t have the money for a PV system for a few years yet but I want the option.

We went to Lowe’s and priced everything and including the LED strips, it’ll be something like $500 for my electric, not counting eventual solar.  Yes!

I picked up some wood stain at Lowe’s and tried it out on a small piece of 2×6.  It came out way darker than the color on the can.  I’ll have to get a different sample of something much much lighter.

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Sunday I tried to work on leveling the walls, but got really frustrated and hangry (hungry leading to angry) and was sick of the damn house for the day so I got a meatball sub and some kombucha and spent 7 hours watching SVU and scanning the rest of the hard copy photos I have into digital.  A really, really time consuming part of the downsizing phase.  I think I’m 30 hours in so far and still have to go into the files and cut each individual picture out into its own file (I scanned 4 or 5 at a time) and then upload them somewhere so I can share with the people in the pictures.  It will be worth it when its done, just like the rest of the incredibly time consuming work of building a house.

looking through old pictures was fun. 2002, first summer in Portland
looking through old pictures was fun. with Santos in 2002, first summer in Portland

Monday morning I finished adding joist support studs for the small storage loft and tried again to get the walls level but couldn’t quite do it without someone to push and bang on the wall while I screwed or nailed it in place.  I tried a rope and pulley system using my hard-earned deckhand skillz (I can tie a [shitty] clove hitch in my sleep) and got so so close but time ran out and I gave up with the walls just barely not plumb and square on one corner.

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so close
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so close!!!

This weekend was really rewarding, even though the house doesn’t actually look any different right now than it did Saturday morning when I got there.  Having other tiny house people over and getting their feedback which was super positive, getting the electric plan and budget worked out and hanging out with my brother, finishing the scanning project, getting to use my deckhand skills, all in the warm sunshine… it was fun.  I love building, even with the frustrating, infuriating, smashed fingers unlevel walls yelling swearing throwing things hangry moments.

Bear had a good time lazing in the sun
Bear had a good time lazing in the sun
Gonna have to have a special line item in my budget for kombucha
Gonna have to have a special line item in my budget for kombucha
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new-to-me boots from Dumpster Values in Olympia, $13 and my feet were so warm and dry!

Oh!  Last thing, I climbed up on the ladder and temporarily screwed in piece of scrap 2×4 to estimate the height of my roof and length of the roof rafters.  I wanted to know if the little window I replaced with the tulip stained glass will fit up there.  It looks really close and I’m not sure.  But cool to see basically how high my house will be.

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Now it’s back to work delivering pizzas for the week.  I’m going to Guemes Island to pick up the door, light and window on Thursday, and I brought the loft joists home with me so I can stain them in the mornings before work.  The house is really coming along and every time I look at it I feel a mixture of shock and surprise (whoa, where’d THAT come from?!) and also a sense of total rightness and inevitability.  Like, oh hello, you’re finally here.

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Tiny House Build Week 5 – Walls

My hope for framing the walls was that Dad would be there the entire weekend.  When I checked in with him early in the week to make plans, he said he could be there for some of Saturday, but his new job (as an inspector with the ‘Airplane on the Ground’ program of Boeing) was sending him to Brunei late Saturday night.  Brunei.  Figures, right?  So as to not waste precious time of my 6 hours with him, I drove down to Monroe Thursday morning and loaded up on lumber.  I thought this would be quick.  It wasn’t.  I bought 85 2x6x92 5/8 studs, 14 2x6x10, 6 2x4x10 and 8 2x6x8.  That’s a lot of wood to move from shelf to cart, cart to truck, truck to carport.  Have I mentioned yet how everything in the house takes 3 times as long and costs twice as much as planned?

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I used 2x6s instead of 2x4s because when I bought my salvaged windows, I didn’t realize I needed to take into account not only the width and height, but the depth.  Half of them were 4.5-6″ thick.  Too thick for 3 1/2″ walls.  I couldn’t shave them down either as many people suggested, one is a casement window and another is my arched stained glass centerpiece.  It was either 2×6 walls or get different windows.  Since I might/maybe/hopefully move the house to Alaska someday, I opted for thicker walls which would allow for more insulation.  This is what I tell myself, anyway.  It added some weight but the studs are 24″ on center instead of 16″ and I’m not doing a dormer in the loft as originally planned, so hopefully the weight evens itself out.  I also got framing brackets and bolts to secure the walls to the subfloor/trailer, and a 1/2″ metal drillbit.

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I went with the smaller bracket, on the right

Then I drove the hour home and went to work delivering pizzas, then I delivered pizzas all evening Friday and then drove the hour to Monroe at 11 p.m.  I’m really looking forward to getting to Alaska in June if only to take a break from driving so much.

Saturday morning Dad and I got started bright and early framing the walls.  I’d drawn up a nicely color-coded framing plan which, to my surprise, we used almost without alteration.

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blue for 24″ oc red for windows orange for loft joist supports #virgomars

There’s not a lot to tell about framing.  It’s simple in concept and easy to do once you get the hang of it.  The hardest part for me was getting the drawing done and making sure everything was going to fit.  It did.

We had 6 separate sections to frame; each short end, and the two long sides split in half.  We split the long walls at the end of the wheel wells, where there was a sill to top plate stud to hold the header for the wheel well.  We laid out the sill and top plates for each section next to each other, held together with clamps, and marked out each of the 24″ oc studs.  Then we separated the sill and top plates on the subfloor and nailed in each stud that wouldn’t be cut by a window or door opening.  Then we built each window within the framing, stood it up, and attached it to the floor with clamps.

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This was mostly simple and fast, except that since we couldn’t lay the nail gun flush with the floor, we kept shooting the lowermost line of nails at too sharp of an angle and attaching the studs to the floor.  Derf.

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The back ends of the long walls were more complicated; the sill plate in these walls ends at the wheel well, where we then built a header just as you would over a window.  The top plate ran the full 10+ feet to meet the top plate of the front portion.  I’m a little fuzzy on how these portions of the wall actually got built; Dad and I sped through one side to get it finished before he had to fly to Brunei and he just directed me and I shot nails, and my uncle and stepdad built the other side while I worked on a different section.  I think we basically attached the end stud and the one 24″ oc stud that would go sill to top plate, stood the wall up and then built the window and wheel well headers within the standing frame.  We couldn’t build it all out on the floor because the wheel well got in the way.  I worked on the window and wheel well alone after Dad left and was in tears of frustration before he’d even been gone 15 minutes.  It is incredibly frustrating, though not impossible, to do this stuff with only one pair of hands.  I didn’t get much done but did get most of the cripple pieces cut for underneath the big living room window.

My dear friend Melissa came up from Seattle in the evening.  We had dinner and drinks with another dear friend, Sarah, in town and then Melissa spent the night in Mom’s bunkhouse with me, where we giggled like teenagers at a sleepover and made plans to celebrate our 17 year anniversary as friends, along with Sarah, in 2016.  We met when we were 17 so it is a kind of ‘I’ve been friends with you longer than I haven’t’ celebration.  Here we are being 17:

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In the morning I realized Dad and I, in our haste, had counted 24″ from the end of the sill plate on the long wall; this wouldn’t work because the short end walls go edge to edge on the trailer and the long walls butt up against them.  The 24″ measurements should have been from the end of the trailer.  Since my big living room window sits with one edge on a 24″ stud, this would have pushed my window 5.5″ forward in the trailer, which would have cut off 5.5″ from my woodstove area, which would have cut 5.5″ from my kitchen… I panicked but Melissa, veteran home renovator that she is, calmly explained that we could use a sawzall to cut through the nails and move the two 24″ studs back to their proper position.  Since I’d been too tired and frustrated the night before to nail down any of the pieces for the window, this was easy and took 10 minutes.

Cap’n Fingers came out again and he, Melissa and I worked on finishing the window framing and attaching the bolts through the sill plates, subfloor and metal flange of the trailer.

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In the afternoon a bunch of family members came out and we got the walls finished with little hassle and great cooperation.  Hurrah!

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Uncle Jack
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Cousin Maddie and Stepdad Jerry drilling the bolts throught the floor
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Auntie Mary being my favorite weirdo
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Teamwork makes the dream work!

And then it was 7 p.m. and my house had walls.  What!

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The door frame and the bathroom window. There will be a wall in between. Tiny door, tiny bathroom, tiny house!
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ginormous living room window and the header over the wheel well
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tiny doorframe

The door is only going to be something like 6′ tall.  I really wanted it to open into the kitchen under the loft, rather than into the living space as most people do.  I wanted a sense of comfy closeness in the living area without a big door opening to take up floor space and break the walls.  I also wanted more headspace in the sleeping loft, and the loft joists to sit on the header of the door and windows… so 6′ door it is. I was already going to get an old wooden door and make it into a Dutch door, so now I’ll just cut 6 inches or so off the bottom too.  DIY baby!  The kitchen ‘ceiling’ will be at 6’6″, with an additional 5.5″ between the rafters which I’m hoping to use for dry goods and dish storage.  I’m 5’7″ so this ceiling height will suit me just fine.

As the sun went down, I tidied up the workspace, listened to music, wandered around touching the windowsills and imagining what it will look like when it’s finished, and finally swept the floor of the house.

See what I did there?  It’s not a trailer anymore.  It’s a house.

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Tiny House Build Week 4 – Downsizing my stuff, foundation altar, subfloor

I have always been fortunate, in my mind and view of the world anyway, to be fairly unattached to material possessions.  I’ve moved on average of once a year since I was 17 and tried to stay unencumbered enough to do this without a moving van every time.  A few pieces of furniture, clothes, probably more books than I need, knick knacks and decorations.  Last spring I moved everything into an 8×10 storage unit in Portland before I left for Alaska. When I moved all of that up to Washington in September, I got rid of over half of it, going through each box and saying to myself, will I need this in a tiny house? I won’t have an apartment to fill with furniture and kitchen appliances and wall hangings.  This was actually before I had any sort of concrete plan on how, where or when I was going to build a house, but I knew.  Or maybe it was an attempt at manifestation. It felt good to get rid of it all.

I did this once before, 4 years ago when my marriage ended.  I’d been depressed for awhile and my version of retail therapy was going to thrift stores and buying… crap.  When we moved out of our rental house into separate apartments, my ex-husband and I were packing up and I was overwhelmed by it all, what to do with each thing, sell it keep it store it trash it.  I finally just started putting some things in the driveway with a sign that said ‘Free’, and then Paul started putting stuff out too, and then we started putting the stuff from the ‘Sell’ pile, and then I was carrying box after box out there and people were walking by and asking us, with incredulity in their voices, ‘Is this really free?  Can I really just have this?’.  We didn’t have ‘nice’ things, but we certainly could have gotten money for a lot of it… the dining room table, the TV, the DVDs, clothes and shoes and who knows what else.  We gave it all away.  I didn’t want to exchange it for money or other things.  I wanted the weight of it all off my shoulders and it felt amazing.

Now, I’m living in my grandparent’s spare room.  I have a few boxes in my aunt’s garage and camping equipment in the garage here, but otherwise I fit into a large bedroom.  Good practice for the tiny house, and I know the stuff in this room will be all I’ll have in the house as well.  I went through the boxes at my aunt’s this week, thinking it would be a simple task, not much there right?  Forgetting how sentimental I am and how I am still an adult American middle-class-bred human who has a hard time letting go of shit.  It’s weird, going through boxes filled with your past.  How do you know when it is time to get rid of something, when it has stopped serving it’s purpose as a tangible marker of your changes and your growth and just become dead weight?  I like going through old things.  I like holding something in my hand that encapsulates a whole different life.  I wanted to be an archaeologist all of my childhood.  I appreciate relics.  So I kept the things that still make me smile.

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It took a few more hours than I anticipated but I got it all organized, filled a box for Goodwill, took out a big bag of trash.  I’m holding onto a box of fabric to furnish the tiny house with cushions, curtains and blankets and will get rid of what I don’t use later.  I took a gigantic, heavy box of photo albums and spent an entire afternoon removing them from the albums, organizing them by year, trashing pictures of people I don’t remember or don’t want to remember, and placing them into nicely labeled manila envelopes.  I’m going to scan them all into a Flickr account.  I have pictures of everyone, from every phase of my life.  I was always the photographer.  Maybe I’ll trash the hard copies later, but I like going through them randomly, in big piles.  We did this at Easter with the ‘Family’ envelope, my little cousin asking ‘Who’s that? who’s that?’ as we all picked through them and laughed and told stories.

Besides going through all my old crap, I put some things into the floor joists as a sort of blessing/intention setting of the house. A pen.  An agate from the Naknek River.  A pentacle carving from witch camp.  A peacock feather.  A picture of myself dressed as a witch as a child.  A picture of my friends and I at the lake in Naknek.  I taped pictures of the places I’ve been onto the tops of some of the insulation.  Taped some of my favorite poems there too.  I want the house to be a place of creativity, travel, magic, writing, freedom, and love.

golden gate bridge from baker beach
golden gate bridge from baker beach
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wild horses on unalaska island

bukowski

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“Thank you for the peace here.  It is the whole animal that worships, not the soul and body splintered.  Until I know you, I will carry you inside until I am you.” Janine Pommy Vega

“You who would love me now, beware.  I am all fire and blood.  I have no time for those who cannot feel their way through flesh to soul.” Patricia Monaghan

And then Mom and Jerry helped lay out the plywood and hook up the nail gun, I nailed down the subfloor and then did a little dance on it.  I still have to add the 4″ strips at the end of each piece, under the walls.  Next week, wall raising!

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Tiny House Build: Week 3

When we last left the house, the front floor box was just slightly too big on one corner to fit into the recessed area of the trailer.  I really wanted to have the floor boxes finished before starting Saturday morning, so Fingers and I met up at the property on a Thursday morning.  It’s an hour drive each way and I had to work at 4, but it was worth the extra driving and gas to try to keep ahead of my schedule.  It’s a race I’m going to lose but one can only try and keep running.

We pulled the box out partway and Fingers used his sawzall to slice right through the nails and get the front joist loose.

Then we cut down the joists and reattached the front piece and the flashing on the underside.  The sill gasket had gotten pulled down when we tried to force the box in, so we had the genius idea to tape the edges up with duct tape.

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One of my oldest and dearest friends was heading up to help out for the day and when she arrived with a staple gun and an extra pair of hands, Fingers and I rejoiced.  The box went in perfectly this time.

Next task was to bring the joists up to the level of the outside flange of the trailer.  The recessed area is 6″ deep and the joists are only 5 1/2″.  Fingers ripped a piece of 1/2″ plywood down to 1 1/2″ wide furring strips, and we attached these to the tops of all the joists with the same small-ish nails we used to the flashing.

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While he did that, I started to staple the 6 mil. plastic vapor barrier inside each bay.  This was a pain in the ass.

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It was difficult to climb around on the skinny joists.  We couldn’t walk inside the bays since the aluminum flashing was only supported every few feet.  I hated this part.  It took about 4 hours total.  If I was to do this over again, I would probably lay the plastic down between the joists and the flashing all the way across the bottom of the trailer, and not run it up the sides of each bay.  With all the stapling, adding blocking (later), and jamming insulation into the bays, the plastic didn’t stay up 100% anyway. Live and learn.

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staple gun, why won’t you work

I also started to add “Great Stuff” foam spray in every single crack I could find in the joists.  The instructions say, only fill cavity 50%.

should have read the instructions first
should have read the instructions first

It’s easy to cut down once it’s dried but what a waste.

Friday night I drove down to the property after work and woke up bright and early Saturday to get started stapling the rest of the plastic.

Bear observing
Bear observing

Dad showed up around 10:30 with gifts of tea from England where he had just been working, a nail gun and air compressor, 2 huge boxes of nails, and glory glory hallelujah, a roofing stapler- a magical device which you just smack onto the surface you are trying to staple, instead of contorting your entire torso and arms sideways into the bay and then having to hold one end of the other stapler down and pull the handle with enough pressure.  We spent awhile talking about plans, subfloor plywood, windows, and framing.  We decided to run the subfloor perpendicular to the joists (as you are supposed to).  The trailer is 8’4″ wide, so that leaves a 4″ strip on one end.  We decided to alternate which side the plywood starts from and therefore which end has the small strip under the walls.  Fingers and I didn’t think about the subfloor when we put the short pieces of blocking crosswise into the joists; if we had, we could have put them where each sheet of plywood needs to be nailed down.  Since we didn’t, Dad went in with pieces of 2×4 and added crosspieces for nailing, while I kept stapling.

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When that was done, we went shopping at Lowe’s and I dropped $300 on plywood for the subfloor, 6 cans of foam spray, enough sill gasket for the edges of the trailer, more glue, 4″ carriage bolts with lock washers, regular washers and nuts to bolt the floor into the side of the trailer and a 5/8″ drill bit.

Of course the bolts were too small so I had to go back and get 6″ (Lowe’s didn’t carry any in between sizes.  4 1/2″ would have been perfect).  The trailer has 7 pre-drilled 5/8″ holes on each side for the bolts.

drilling through the floor joists
drilling through the floor joists

While I ran to exchange the bolts, Dad started cutting the 4″ rigid foam insulation to fit into the bays.  I’d told him, don’t forget to leave the side bays empty so we can attach the bolts.  When I got back, he gave me a sheepish look and pointed to where he’d stuffed the 4″ foam into 2 of the side bays.  They weren’t coming back out, so he cut a channel in the foam to get down to the level of the bolt-hole, and then we filled the channel in with foam spray.

whoops
whoops

I went along and attached the rest of the bolts as he kept on with insulation, and then on the last one I came upon him just stuffing another sheet of insulation into the bay over the empty hole.  So we cut and filled another channel.  It is immensely comforting to me to see these experienced builders do the same kind of dumb shit that I do.  Silly Dad!

The floor is insulated with a piece of 4″ rigid foam insulation underneath a 1 1/2″ piece.  This leaves 1/2″ between the top of the insulation and the subfloor.  Apparently, this air channel is important.  I got the insulation on Craigslist, used.  The skinnier sheets were very well used, but they’ll do the trick.  I put the 4″ piece in first, and then the 1 1/2″ piece on top with the intact side of foil facing up.  This is supposed to be a radiant barrier but I’m not sure it’s very useful in the floor.  Anyway, it’ll do to keep me and the house warm.  Dad and I got the first 4 bays filled so we could lay down the first piece of 3/4″ subfloor, just to see what it will look like with a floor.

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blessed, blessed nail gun
floor!
floor!
this is where my couch will go
this is where my couch will go

We also measured and cut the second and third pieces of plywood to fit over the wheel wells.  We were tired and hungry and kept messing up the cuts, luckily without ruining any of the $30 pieces of plywood.  Mom and stepdad Jerry were at the beach so I spent the night at the property alone, had a bonfire with a friend and drank wine and listened to the coyotes singing until I was so tired my eyes were crossing.

Sunday morning I had the house to myself.  I really, really enjoy my solitude, so this was fun.  I cut insulation and listened to 90s riot grrrl punk music and danced with Bear.  Auntie Mary and Uncle Jack came over in the afternoon and we powered through the insulation, cutting the 4″ pieces with a handsaw and the 1 1/2″ pieces with a small blade that was one of the tools gifted to me by a writer buddy.

It took all damn day, but by 5 p.m. all but one of the bays were full of insulation and every conceivable nook, cranny, gap and hole filled in with five cans of spray foam.

Auntie M and Uncle Jack got down and dirty with that old insulation
Auntie M and Uncle Jack got down and dirty with that old insulation
Aunt Mary got creative with her alphabetic labeling of the bays.  I hope everything is ok with her psyche
Aunt Mary got creative with her alphabetic labeling of the bays. I hope everything is ok with her psyche

I left one bay open and will be setting some personal objects inside what is the foundation of my house before I fill it in.

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It was a good, productive week with lots of help from friends and family.  I feel blessed, for sure.

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I’m mostly out of money until next payday, and Dad can’t come out again until April 11th to frame the walls, so this weekend I will have my little foundation ritual and put a permanent altar in the floor, fill in the last bay with insulation, nail down the plywood floor and attach the washers and nuts to the 5/8″ bolts.  I might also take care of some small projects like painting the vinyl windows, figuring out the size of my roof so I can order metal sheeting, calling the State Patrol to set up an inspection date, drafting an electrical plan to send to my brother, deciding on a water system, etc… and maybe even take a day off to relax.  I need it.