Thursday, March 22, 2018

Everything is Coming Up Green!

Today (March 22,2018), we woke up to a beautiful morning full of spring sunshine and snow! Snow? Yes, we finally had a snow storm that dropped enough snow for us to actually take some pictures before the spring flowers pushed it aside.

You might see the snow outside, but I'm focusing on the ivy...
We are supposed to be in spring mode right now and I have seedlings sprouting up that I will need to plant outside in a few days, but a good shot of snow was fun. Most folks were grounded at home and we didn't sustain any damage from the heavy wet snow.

Mexican marigold seedlings. I will use the leaves as a tarragon substitute.
To keep myself inspired, I have been looking for plants to grow inside or outside while I wait for the weather to warm just a little more. I have transplanted by currant cuttings that rooted nicely to various spots around the yard. During one warm spell, I cut back all my elderberry bushes and then stuck all the cuttings into the ground for new plants. So far they are looking good. I planted a bed of garlic in January (I know it was late, but I think we had the required forty days of cold for bulb formation) and they are up by a good six inches. I have patch of blackberry canes, rose clippings, and fig cuttings that I am rooting for new plants this spring. 

Thornless Blackberry cuttings.

Elderberry cuttings are sprouting out leaf buds!
I am experimenting with hardy kiwi cuttings. I cut six stems and stuck them in water. After about a week they started to push out vigorous growth but no roots. Once the shoots were about six to eight inches long, I cut them off the stem and planted them in their own jiffy pellet. I am hoping to see if they root as the hardy kiwis tend to be hard to root.

My hardy kiwi cuttings are growing like crazy. Hoping for roots.

Fig cuttings are not sure they like being out in the cold.

Inside I have plates of jiffy pellets growing seeds like Mexican mint marigold, German winter thyme, sage, sweet alyssum (for our bees), and lovage. I hope to add these perennials to my herb collection. Most of them have sprouted nicely. I will mention that I try to get my seeds from Johnnys in Maine, as they have a wonderful selection. However, I do have some peppers and tomatoes started from seeds I took from our salad last week. 

I love using sunny windows to grow cuttings in over winter.

Even if the weather seems bad and I know that I am nearing the limit on my patience waiting for spring, I really look forward each day to looking over my plants and seeing progress. I also know that in a matter of weeks, the real heat will kick in and I will be looking for ways to cool off. We are such fickle human beings.

A blue heron and some mallards are enjoying the thaw in our creek.

Rose cuttings are sprouting out.
The first daffodil to open looks a little chilly.
If you look closely you can see the new growth on the red currant stem.

Max just wanted to play.
Even though forsythia are almost the first to bloom, I still am trying to get them to bloom early.
So, that is a little review of what's going on here on the third day of spring. I will have to come back later and show you more of the fun plantings we have around our yard as well as some snapshots of the progress of my cuttings.

Life is a fun process of experiments and learning. I hope you are enjoying yours!

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Braley House Elevation Project: We Are Back In Our Home!

I apologize for taking so long to write about our house lift and some of the final details. Inspections took longer than we expected, way longer! During the process, we were frustrated but now looking back - we can say it wasn't too bad. We did find people within the county government that were so helpful in communicating with us and listening to our frustrations. Without their knowledge of how the county officials worked together we would probably still be waiting for another inspection.

Eric enjoying the new door we installed. Note the glass block windows.

So, now I am sitting here in my living room enjoying a warm fire in our woodstove and writing, but from eight feet up. The view out of our windows is very pleasing. My favorite is from our bedroom where I can see our whole back yard and the stream running through as well as our back driveway. At first, living back in the lifted house was scary. I would hear strange pops and cracks and wonder if the new block walls could hold our old house. I tended to walk gingerly as if the huge new I-beams under our floor joists couldn't hold my weight. I feel more secure now as time has passed. 

Molding our new concrete walkways

To say we are finished is an understatement. There are so many details that we still have to finish. We are still working on installing block steps to our front spiral staircase, and then we will create a walkway to the steps in the back yard as well as the front yard. Our siding needs to be finished at the bottom and we are waiting for warmer weather to paint the block walls with a lime wash paint. Inside, we did have a few cracks in the plaster, mostly in the doorways, so we patched them and have been painting the inside of the house. But now, the holidays are almost on us and we will be resigned to waiting to finish all our projects until later. 

We are very happy that we went through this process. Storms can come and rain can fall and the floodwaters can rise, but we don't have to worry any more. Our house has been saved from the constant dampness of a wet crawlspace. Our new space which we call a basement even though it is aboveground is a huge storage space where we can work on projects out of the weather. We can reach the plumbing and electrical with ease and spent a little extra to insulate with rockwool between the floor joists. 

We chose rockwool to insulate as it is supposed to be good for damp environments.

We still carry flood insurance per our agreement with FEMA after the lift but it is a tiny fraction of what we were paying. Although we had to do a lot of work to get to this point, I would still recommend the process to anyone who thought they thought they had a house worth saving in an area prone to flooding

We bought two I-beams from Wolfe - the House Lift Company we used. Here you can see we also used heat tape to keep our incoming water above freezing during the middle of winter.

So stay tuned, I hope to post more pictures when we have the outside finished. 
Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Braley House Elevation Project : Inspections

My last post focused on taking care of all the details after the actual house lift. We are still realizing that there are a lot of details that we did not foresee.

Our home at the beginning of the lift.
For instance, the inspection process. We figured that once the electrical or plumbing work was finished that an inspector would come out and let us know, yes or no, that we had passed the inspection. Well, although that might be true in theory, the process is a little more complicated. For instance, what if the inspector goes on vacation? Or what if the inspector's staff forgets to forward on the report to the county? Or what if the inspector and the county agencies don't agree?

The foundation is cut away from the house.

One of the strongest recommendations we can make for this whole process of lifting our house and then reconstructing the building on its new framework is patience. Cold, hard unflinching patience that still smiles in the face of delays. Patience will win friends in high places and prevent rushed decisions that might cause regret later. Patience will force you to become creative and find new and sometimes better solutions to problems. 

Our house in the air. (Notice the leaves on the cherry tree)

We are not finished with our house raising project and I suspect we will be at it for another year or more. If this surprises you, remember that we have been working with this project for over three years. We have learned that rushing is just not a good idea when you are dealing with a structure that is already 71 years old and that we are improving to hopefully last another 100 years. So, we have had to live as gypsies for the last three plus months - I don't think that is a very long time considering the radical improvements we made to our home.

Eight feet up!

Thankfully, the main contractors we found to help us rebuild our home after the lift have been an exceptional team of hard-working individuals who care about the quality of their work; Triumph Electrical, H & B Plumbing, and Dean's Construction, These contractors and their teams found ways to bring our outdated and now, 8-foot-in-the-air-home, back into code without charging us our life savings. Their level of expertise, willingness to communicate, and ability to work around our unpredictable timetable was commendable. I think each of them went beyond the contracts we set with them and did extra on their own time to help us. We can easily recommend each of them.

Our new block walls going in very carefully.

The town of North East's government was almost as excited as we were to raise our house. They advised us of local procedures and policies to keep our house lift legal and safe. Their encouragement sometimes was just what we needed to keep the project application process moving forward. We were happy to have their team of professional and kind people working with us over the years.

Block walls are growing as our yard gets greener.

The officials at the county level have worked with us with great patience as we learned how their procedures work. I commend them especially on their communication skills. There is nothing like being frustrated and sending out an email to a government official, only to have a quick response back with almost always a simple solution or at least the effort to help. Since we were the first FEMA financed house lift project in Cecil county, new lines of code were necessary and of course that took time both to be drafted and then to be approved by their legal team. Just figuring out how to process the grant funds through the local government on the county level to give to an individual homeowner was a learning process. I can thank them now, but during the process, I must admit I was not the nicest person to them as we waited for approvals. Again, I will mention the virtue of patience!

Walls are in place ready for supporting steel beams to be removed.

On the state level, from the very first inquiry we sent out as to the feasibility of our project, we only met with a positive and encouraging team of professionals. Over the years that we took to apply and then wait for FEMA funds, the MEMA team kept us updated and encouraged that we were on the right track. When we needed to up our game and improve our application, they advised us how best to improve our chances of getting the approval for funds. 

Fresh clean walls!

So as I write this, we still have inspections to pass and I am sure more details to work out. Our relatives are anxious, concerned that we are moving too slowly and that we should do more pushing, but I remind myself that we are not in a rush. If they persist in asking for a move-back-in date, we smile and say, "two weeks!" in reference to the classic Tom Hanks and Shelley Long movie, The Money Pit.

No more muddy crawlspace!

If you were to ask me why being patient pays off, I will tell you that by slowing a building process down, you have time to be creative. For instance, instead of popping standard, single hung, vinyl clad windows into our new openings, we have decided to go with glass block. After a short search, we found a source of reclaimed vintage glass block from a 1950's school. A store owner collected hundreds of them to use in his own business, but never used them. He was happy to sell them to us for a very reduced price. How fun is that? We have lots of little projects that we hope to be just as creative with in keeping the character of our home.

Our walls are secure and ready for windows and flood vents.

So we are learning, step by step, as we finalize the inspection process that good things usually take time. Stay tuned as we come nearer to completion of this process of lifting our old 1950's block home out of the murky flood waters of the Chesapeake Bay.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Braley House Elevation Project: Finishing the details

So here it is July 4th weekend and we are still living out of our sailboat. We have had a few nights where the heat was too much for sleeping on the boat and instead we found a cool air conditioned hotel room or visited our relatives.

Breakfast on the boat is wonderful when the temperatures are not too hot.

I am happy to say that we are really close to getting our occupancy permit. All of our contractors are paid in full and we are happy with their craftsmanship. That means that we now are responsible for the rest of the work, and there is plenty of that! We will install windows and wall coatings as our finances allow but our yard looks like a construction zone. 

Yes, that's Eric moving dirt around.

Heavy equipment made light work of lifting out house and moving building supplies, but they tore up our soils and now with the sun baking the ground, I don't think we have too many microbes standing by to help new plants grow. But, not to worry. I love a challenge and although I really don't like temperatures much above 75 degrees, I think we can create a new home for lots of interesting plants.

Flood vents will keep flood waters flowing out of the house.

FEMA required a few things of our project - like downspouts that direct the rain water away from the house, as well as away from the stream running next to our house. Our existing downspouts are about eight feet too short, so we will have to attach extra sections. We finished installing flood vents into openings in the block walls that our mason left open for this purpose. The vents were very expensive little gadgets that serve a dual purpose of ventilating and allowing floodwaters to pass through the new area.

Our new sewer line going in.

Fill dirt needs to be leveled up to the house about eight inches below our flood vents. We did find a contact from Craigslist who is bringing in soil from a construction project from State Highway. He is happy to find a place to put the extra dirt from drainage ditches they are installing along a roadway and will give it to us for free. We did buy one dump truck load for a couple hundred dollars thinking that surely that much dirt would be plenty, but we still need lots more. 

Our new spiral stairs being installed.

Under our new deck, we have to install pea gravel to prevent rainwater from splashing up mud. 

Our siding needs to be trimmed to an even level and finished off and we are hoping that with the siding we saved, we can get by without having to buy new sections.

Our new stairs and deck!

Our spiral staircase is over halfway installed and looks just beautiful, but we still need to install the handrail and the central balustrades. Then from the base of the stairs, we need to create steps down to the new ground level.

So yes, our project is almost done but I think we will still be working on the details for another six months. It's a once in a lifetime project and now hopefully this house will last for several more generations.

Stay tuned for more pictures...

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Braley House Elevation Project : Sleeping on a Sailboat

You would be amazed at how many people tell us they would love to be able to sleep on a boat. I guess I might say the same thing but since I actually do sleep on a boat, I thought I would describe the experience.

Our 1969 26' Snapdragon snuggled in to our dock

Sleeping on a boat is really a wonderful experience overall. Once the sun sets and we come into our cabin, I feel like I am at home. We close up the hatch to keep the bugs out. However, we made a slight adjustment to keep us from feeling totally closed in by cutting a plexiglass window for part of our wood door. We plug in our extension cord that goes from our single outlet on the control panel and to our ultra efficient LED flat screen tv. Eric usually pours us a glass of wine and we proceed to fuss about changing our clothes, washing up in the little sink with water warmed in our electric kettle and charging our phones if needed. We have a couple of pop up led battery operated camping lights that we use until we are in bed. We could use our cabin lights, but on this old boat they are still wired to the battery and that only charges while the engine is running - which we are not doing much of right now.

Our ropes add a nice sound as they tighten and loosen with the wind and tides

Our berths are twenty-seven inches wide at their widest and go down to fourteen inches at our feet. The opening is about fourteen inches high on top of our cushions so when we add in blankets, that space becomes even smaller. Instead of a V-berth like a lot of boats, ours has two separate berths that hug the outside of the boat with a walking area between that leads into our bathroom.

We love watching the sun set on clear evenings

We crawl into our berths and situate our pillows to watch a little Netflix, Amazon or YouTube shows on the television that we mounted between us on the bathroom door. For those interested in how we can have television reception, we use my T-mobile phone with unlimited high definition data for our hotspot. Usually within 30 to 40 minutes, we are starting to nod off with the gentle rocking of the boat. I will say when we first started sleeping on the boat, I was very claustrophobic and and to really concentrate on not thinking about the fact that I was in a tiny compartment in a tiny cabin on the water where I could sink or be hit by lightning or float out to sea. Now I am much more comfortable about crawling into my berth where just turning over takes several little micro moves.

My tiny but comfy berth

The sounds. The absence of human noise is quite refreshing, although if the wind comes from the north, we can hear traffic from the highway a few miles away. We do hear the Marc train or sometimes the freight trains as they pass in the night, but they are far enough away that we don't think about them. What we do hear is geese, lots of geese. They fly in at sunset and make quite a racket. Once in a while, they make noise in the middle of the night but we don't mind. Ducks are the second noisiest and it's quite fun to hear them right outside our hull. Then we can hear owls, or the weird and awkward honk of the blue herons. Would you believe we even hear fish?! We have a lot of carp that jump out of the water around the boat and sometimes they will even wack the boat - surprising me out of my sleep. Then there are the early morning fishermen that don't know we are staying on the boat and talk as though they are the only ones around. Sometimes that is irritating; sometimes kind of funny, too. The tree frogs are starting to sing at sunset and we have a couple of bullfrogs that lend their bass notes to the evening calm. Rain is my favorite sound when it is not associated with a storm.

Love seeing the baby ducks

Overall, our boat with its dual keels is very stable and I have a hard time realizing that I am even rocking. Comically, I do notice the movement when I am off the boat and realize the ground is not moving.

This little camp light works perfectly for our little cabin at night

By morning, when the sun rises and lights up the water around us, we are refreshed. I tend to get up first as there is only so much room to walk around. I heat up a kettle of water and while I wait, I brush my teeth in the little sink we have with a manual pump whale faucet. When the water boils, I make two cups of black coffee with our AeroPress and use the rest of the hot water to take my morning sponge bath before I get dressed. Then Eric gets up and does his similar routine while I dry off the outside seats from the morning dew. We sit out there and enjoy our coffee loving the beauty and calm of the water.

Love the old parts on our boat