Wednesday, August 22, 2012


Oh boy, there's been some exciting progress!  Framing of the house is nearing completion.  The interior of the house is just about done, and all that's left is the log framing holding up the front and back patio roofs.  Log framing is more tedious than regular wall framing because nothing is dimensional, and every joint requires tedious re-cutting and planing to make solid connections.  We were hung up for a while waiting on two big beams which were being milled.

Those two beams, which span the full lengths of our front and back patios, were milled from one doug fir tree cut from the back of our property a few months ago.  Because of their length, the only guy who could mill it into the 8X10 dimension we needed was the lumberjack who cut it for us.  Most industrial mills are 24' long, and can't be easily adjusted.  He used a portable mill, and had to turn it around twice for each log to accommodate the length.  It was done as a favor, really. and was worth the wait.  The beams are gorgeous and, to use our new vocab word, skookum.

Skookum comes from the Chinook Jargon used by the native tribes from our area.  It has many meanings, but in regards to a log it means "big and strong".  That they are.  Over the last couple of years I've been trying to learn as much as I can about the practices of the cultures native to our area, particularly in their building and harvesting practices.   I figure if we're trying to learn how to develop a copacetic relationship with our surroundings, where better to look than the people who were doing it for centuries before our ancestors interrupted them?  I was pleasantly surprised when I found out that the guy we hired to help us frame our house is a member of the local Suquamish tribe.  Not only that, but his father happens to be a master carver and craftsman, keeping alive the traditions of basket making, cedar clothing and canoe building.  The traditions and skills fascinate me, and I'm looking forward to learning more about them.  

Speaking of wood, I should mention that we've sourced a lot of our materials for finishing the house in the last week.  The local sawmill, Smyths, called me last week to tell me that they had a huge order of 1X4 cedar strips which they could no longer use.  Apparently some large restaurant or hotel or something had ordered the lumber but ended up not being able to use it.  The called us because we had mentioned to them that we'll be needing siding material and, frankly, I think they like us.  At least they get a kick out of us.  They sold it to us at a super discounted rate and we'll be using it to side most of the outside of the house as well as the interior ceiling.  

For flooring, craigslist came through big time.  Christy found several thousand sticks of 1X2 fir, which had been used by a mill as furring strips, layered between slabs of wood as they went through the kiln. 

Here's Christy to tell you more about it:

These great people, Jim and Sabrina,  had nearly 400,000 sticks of 1x2x4 fir on their property when they bought it and have been selling the sticks to people for fences, gardening, flooring, you name it.  I drove out to Leavenworth, Wa ( nearly 3 hours from Kingston) to get it and it was SO worth the trip. The nice couple sent us pictures of some finished floors using this material and they are exactly what we were hoping for. I don't think our floors will have this level of gloss, but you get the idea. I love the patchwork look with the varying level of dark and light. I hope our floors will keep some rustic-ness that the high gloss glosses over.  

 And, they sold us the wood for super super cheap. It will be a labor of love, but so is everything in the house, so why deviate now?  We are going to use the wood for the floor in the bedroom loft and also for the kitchen ceiling, nook ceiling, and entrance way ceiling.  I came away with nearly 2,500 sticks of this 1x2. Basically more than enough to cover the floor and ceiling and maybe have some left over to do a sauna in the back forty! I drove away with a trailer full! 


Friday, August 10, 2012

Appliances for the Modern Homestead

It may be a long time before we're ready to use any appliances in the house, but now is the time that we need to think about what they will be, where they will go and what plumbing and electricity they will need.  This week we went shopping, and feel like we have a pretty good idea of what we're going with.  We've always intended to buy the big appliances new for energy-efficiency's sake.
Here's the rundown:

Deep Freeze

This is a must!  With freezing being the easiest way to preserve food (and healthiest in many respects), we don't want to skimp on the amount of freezer space available.  Our friends Berry and Stacey are getting cows, and some day we may want to buy a quarter of beef at a time, or store a whole pig if we end up raising them.  That's in addition to all of the veggies that we'll be able to eat all winter.  The deep freeze will have to live in the mudroom, near the front door.  It's not ideal, but we may build something around it, so it's not a big white brick of an eyesore.


We'll be totally skimping on fridge space.  I had an epiphany, and sold Christy on it, that we could save a lot of precious floor space in our kitchen by tucking the fridge under the counter.  The drawback is that we would be stuck with only 5.5 cubic feet of fridge space.  This only seems small in comparison to the GIGANTIC refrigerators which seem to be the norm now-a-days.  Really, having a limited space will prevent us from stocking up on generations of lightly used condiments, forgotten-about leftovers and an unnecessary assortment of beverage options.  With a tiny fridge (which uses much less energy as well), we'll cycle through things faster and have less clutter.  Did I mention that a lot of produce doesn't need to be refrigerated?

Dish Washer

Two hands and one sponge.

Washer / Drier

This time is was Christy who had the epiphany and had to sell it to me.  I've stubbornly insisted on relying solely on our bicycle-powered washing machine, rain, sleet or snow.  Don't get me wrong, most of our laundry will still be done by foot, but having another option will occasionally save us.  Not to mention it's hard to line-dry clothes around here between November and June.  She found the perfect solution!  It's a little european-type washer/drier combo in one unit!  We don't need any additional plumbing for it because it's going to nestle beneath the bathroom sink and use the same water source and drain, it's a 110 plug which is all we can accommodate, and it doesn't need a vent!  The reviews we've read say that it takes a little longer than traditional machines, and leaves clothes a little damp and steamy.  Not only will our wood stove finish the job of drying them out, that might add a nice amount of moisture back into the air that the stove has drawn out.  It's a brilliant solution!

Range and Oven

It seems like we found the range and oven for us, but it's kind of expensive.  We've both been trying to convince ourselves that it's worth it, and I think it's worked.  I've always wanted a recycled professional range, like an old Viking or Wolf that I'm used to using as a professional cook.  Turns out that's illegal for various fire-code reasons.  Viking and Wolf both make residential models, but they're mind-blowing expensive.  On the cheap end of the spectrum are ugly condo-looking stoves with spaceship control boards that I hate.  (I will rant in blue for ease of skipping past)  I don't need another blinking, incorrect clock drawing energy 24 hours a day.  I know what broil and bake mean, I can figure out how to switch on a convection fan and am totally capable of timing things.  And why would I want to delay cook time?!  Wouldn't I just cook later?!  A control panel on a stove, in my opinion, is the equivalent of a "popcorn" button on a microwave.  Kind of condescending. It turns out that a lot of people, particularly avid cooks, feel the same way.  This means that it somehow becomes much more expensive for us to buy a mechanic-driven stove without a clock.  Counterintuitive?  I think so.  What we found is a mechanic range and stove, with no controls, designed after those pro ranges I love, for half the cost.  Half the cost is still pretty expensive, but I think it's gonna be worth it.  They're going to throw in the hood fan, at least.  We cook, a lot.  We preserve things, a lot.  If we're gonna splurge on something, a range and oven ought to be it.  Look at this thing.  Tell me you wouldn't hit on this oven at a party if you were kind of buzzed:


Thursday, August 2, 2012

Family Planning

It's a bit surreal seeing the bones of our house go up.  We've been daydreaming of, sketching, revising, and visualizing a home for two years, and up until now it's been imaginary, fluid and ever changing.  Now it's a real thing that we can touch, walk around in and climb on.  The excitement comes with a certain amount of anxiety.  Christy and I have, in turn, had minor freak-outs, worried that we did something wrong which is too late to change.

Frankly, it comes down to size.  It's a small house!  With almost no interior walls!  The slab has been down for a year now, we've had time to walk around on it; we've had the plans for longer, and the scale is clearly stated on it.  Neither of those things can really give you a sense of the space, though, until it starts to be enclosed, until you can lean against one wall and look at it's opposite.

It seems like a funny thing for a couple who've lived in a yurt for the last year to worry about, 1100 square feet being too small.  It will certainly be a luxury by comparison, not even taking into consideration the insulated walls.  What we're worried about is out growing it.  It's great for the two of us, but what about... gasp... three?

No, we don't have anything to announce to you at the moment, but it's the kind of thing you think about as newlyweds building their home for the rest of forever.  How could we share this space with a child? There's no obvious answer, being that the floor plan is so open.  An addition?  A renovated closet?  A hovel beneath the stairs?  We have vague ideas, but it's still hard to tell.  We've assuaged our concerns in different ways:

Christy has made a conscious choice not to put the horse before the wagon.  To tell it the way she told me, she remembered a lesson she learned when we first bought MFW.  She was telling a friend of hers how worried she was about not getting chicks in time to start laying by the next summer.  This is before we even had house plans!  Her friend said something to the effect of "worry about the home first, then you can stress out about the livestock".  Following that logic, we ought to finish and occupy the house before we start worrying about outgrowing it.

I've dealt with my concerns by way of extreme perspective.  Most of our blog readers are probably familiar with the tiny house movement.  Perhaps you've seen the awesome book from Lloyd Kahn.  His book, and others like it, are chock full of stories from people, families, living in borderline-ridiculously small spaces.  The ethos revolves around the liberation from possessions and the closeness of family, two things we firmly believe in.  It may not reflect well on me, but to be honest, I read stories about people living in these tiny places and think "what, are they better than us?"... I'll be damned if I'm about to wimp out of living a responsible and radical lifestyle because I'm afraid of something unconventional, especially if other people can do it!  I generally don't think of myself as competitive (somewhere Christy is snickering at that), but if a family of four can live happily in 600 square feet, we can sure as hell fit a happy trio in 1100!

Christopher Alexander, in what I refer to as "The Building Bible" (but is more commonly referred to as A Pattern Language) writes very eloquently about a child's desire to be a part of the goings-on of the family, requiring only a small space to consider their own.  The last thing we want is a child in a fortress-room with a TV and computer, door locked and outside world shunned.  Added to that point, we've designed our home to be little more than a dry place for sleeping and eating.  We have a huge garden, an orchard, a wood shop and three acres of forest.  That's a five acre living room and playground!

I fear I'm rambling at this point.  Perhaps it's the new perspective created by having an "inside" that's set  my mind to introspection.  I just thought I'd let you in on our inner reactions to the latest progress.

Here, take a look at our kitchen!  The bedroom is above, the bathroom is at left and Christy is heading west.  How's about those logs?