Squeak, squeak, clatter, clatter.

And so we find ourselves back on the Caledonian Sleeper, the battered and tired old coaches creeping their way back to London. It’s with rather a lot of sadness that we do this, we both fell somewhat in love with the Scottish small isles and would happily have stayed.

Something about a life with less drive to consume. With less of a need to be connected. All very romantic in the sunshine and no doubt bloody hard in the winter. Tempting none the less.

Having made it across on the ferry which was very long because, with only the exception of the first ferry journey, we’d somehow picked an inordinately long route that stopped in other places. Then down (well, across) on the train to Banavie, we popped out to grab food and ended up looking around the castle there.

We noodled around Banavie yesterday, mainly doing laundry but also checking out the local distillery. Sadly, whether or not it’s good whisky, the people seemed meh, and while the tour was interesting, by the end of it neither of us felt like they truly cared deeply about the drink they’re making. It more felt like ‘this is the way we have been doing it for years, so why change’.

Today we hopped on the bus and headed for Fort William where we (unsurprisingly) spent an inordinate amount of time in a book shop, and also took some time checking out the museum… And the whiskey shop (and yes, I’m more than aware of the inconsistency of thinking about a life that is based on less consumption, then promptly going and consuming. Who ever said it would be easy?).

We picked up some thought provoking reading matter and are headed down on the train to London… Where we were meant to be renting an EV. But… That fell though… So sadly we’ll be in a Prius. The best we could manage on our limited budget and without trekking hours out of our way (to the other side of London) to hire. Ask me why rental companies don’t hire EVs… I have no answer but it’s bloody irritating.

Feh.

Eigg-entually it is time to head back to the real world.

So our island hopping time comes to an end today. I’m currently sat in a shepherds hut on the Isle of Eigg, which is a stunningly beautiful little island, a mixture of glacial and volcanic land formations. The weather has been remarkably kind to us, unlike the midges and the flying ants, which have been less forgiving.

Due to a failure to read the ferry timetable, we didn’t realise that the ferry actually takes about 5 hours calling at Canna and Mallaig on its way from Rum to here. That meant our first day was rather brief, being a run to the shop and then a wander out along what turned out to be the path we were taking the next day.What was quite stunning though was watching the mist descending on the glen and looking at the hills and moorland disappearing into it.Amusingly for almost our entire walk we were joined by a small dog that jogged alongside us, peeing on every large shrub and being terrified and run-off by a very fierce lamb.

The next day dawned clearish and we headed for the opposite coat of the island, where there’s an arts and crafts church, a crofting museum and a little teashop. We followed an increasingly invisible path that led us to…a patch of bracken, then turned back and found the right route. One of the exciting things about this place is there are few enough visitors that many of the paths are barely discernable.Eventually, with the help of the map and a mixture of faith and luck we made it to the path down the steep cliff to the beach where we perched for lunch and watched the tan coloured sand washing over and across the volcanic black sands. It’s amazing to watch and quite mesmerizing.

Eventually we made our way up to the church, which has apparently been restored from ruins, and then to the fascinating little crofting museum. It’s more about the life of the people than the process of crofting and is in what was once a blackhouse (the crofting houses originally had no windows and the small, low, thatched buildings were heated (and probably kept midge free) by a continuously burning peat fire that left the walls and the roof blackened with soot). The house the museum’s in was a blackhouse that in the early 20th century was improved with the use of a loan – adding a bit of height to the walls and a gable roof made from galvanised steel.It turned it from a one room house to one with a kitchen / best room and a couple of bedrooms. The museum really tells the story of the lives of the generations of the family that lived there…

We pootled from there down to our next stop, the cafe… Which disappointingly turned out to be closed for a few days. Understandable as the owner’s daughter is apparently graduating (congratulations! :) ) So instead started wending our way back up the steep climb out of Cleadale and back over to Galmisdale where the shepherd’s hut lurks.Despite extremely soggy, and in my case malodorous and somewhat sore feet(thanks to the shoe rubbing on a bite), the isle worked it’s magic, making us both find of the idea of living there. It seems that many of the islands occupants are understandably very aware of the impact of climate change, the island is dependent on the Gulf Stream for it’s weather patterns and sea level rise would destroy a lot of the existing infrastructure. So it’s not entirely surprising that the island’s population, who teamed up to buy the island from a lackadaisical landlord in the midst of an investigation, have made the island 100% renewable powered. Although waste does still seem to be burned, as there’s no rubbish collection, just metal and glass recycling.

On the ferry, we have trundled to Muck, and are now making our way to Mallaig, Where we’ll be going on a train to our next destination. We managed to cram in a visit to the Massacre Caves in which apparently, the entire population of the island was, at one point in history, murdered in one go, presumably to clear the island.It’s a weirdly beautiful place, the island has a whole bunch of natural cave formations around the coast, and the volcanic rock has eroded in an incredible way, whatever the horror of its history.

So we head back to the mainland for the much more sociable but of our trip. We have a couple of days near Fort William, then a sleeper (ha!) train to catch, before heading to see friends and family. For that we have hired an EV. Specifically a Kona EV. I hope we don’t like it more than Raven (our Niro EV).

Busy busy

It’s been a somewhat chaotic and stressful month at chez us. Our new car arrived and we had to go pick it up. Despite all the promises of “It won’t be a problem that you’re away, we can work around that”, when the car we’d ordered arrived they wanted money immediately or threatened to sell it to someone else with no likelihood of another one with that trim/colour option being obtainable.

This is because we wanted a Kia Niro EV which, as we know, is made of unobtainium. Apparently people called from Texas offering to buy it when it appeared on the stock list.

And if we are paying a frankly terrifying amount of money for a car, it damn well better be the colour/option list we want.

Mind you, it was a little unclear exactly what we were getting because the dealer had no clue exactly what the spec would be on the “launch edition”, but at any rate, it arrived and is very shiny.

The down side of that is that, of course, we had to sell our much loved Rav4EV. We’d both become weirdly attached to Ravtastic, with the excellent reliability, comfort and somehow personable and friendly nature of the car. Part of it is no doubt, as Kathryn pointed out, that she (Ravtastic) had been around through a bunch of hyperstressful experiences.

She’d taken us out to our house building project where we failed to get a permit and had to do battle with Thurston county. She’s carried us through 2 years of crazy busy stuff in building the house; ferrying tons of tools and bits. She’s been our car through my burnout and depression when teaching. And let’s be honest, she was our first big purchase in this country.

At any rate, I’ve never been so sad to sell a car. We both thanked her for being so good to us, then sent her on her way to Michigan!

Of course getting through the selling process has been a mare, the person buying her wanted to finance her and – well, although it went fine it has taken us right up to vacation time. Basically everything we said needs to happen before our vacation has. But by a matter of days. Ravtastic left yesterday, our plasters got shifted by a week, meaning that the first coat of plaster only went up on our house this week too.

That was cool, though. Our plasterer teaches plastering and since this was the scratch coat (and so while the thickness needs to be fairly consistent, the final finish on this coat is rough), we got to do some of the application. We can still point to the walls and say it’s us.

Interestingly, to help with bonding to the drywall/plasterboard, they added thinset (tile adhesive) to the scratch coat. That won’t be the case for the top coats, so I’m curious to see how that differs. I’m also hoping that we can get good enough that we can apply some of the topcoat. I have done a little with regular old plaster (over lath and on brick) but not with lime and definitely not quickly.

The amount of water in the house is bloody terrifying though. We checked in and our plasterer confirmed that we could keep our (borrowed) dehumidifier running. But at the end of the first coat it was saying 80% relative humidity and the floors had water soaking in. Since the only direction of exit is up, in this case, the dehumidifier is working overtime.

Then we have the ceilings. We could’t afford to get the ceilings lime plastered, so they are coming around to spray them with gypsum based drywall stuff and then go for a smooth finish. That’s all arranged, but it’s pretty much antithetical to our policies to let people work on the house when we aren’t here. It’s the only way it can happen in a reasonable timeframe though, because all the builders around here are crazily busy. Our job is small enough that they can just ‘fit it in’, but finding someone with a gap that works has been tough.

Of course, because it’s us, our holiday also falls when we have a bunch of bills and payments due, and because we’ve been cramming on the housework (it needed a coat of paint over the entire inside before the plaster could go up), we’ve neglected our adulting meaning this week while we’ve been getting the car sold, and plastering the house, and I’m working a lot, and Kathryn has a lot of work stuff on, is the one where we need to get adulting done. It does mean some things have got left, somewhat, to the lat minute. Neither of us are packed for the holiday. There’s a long list of payments and bills to sort before we go.

I’m just hoping we can forget about then when we leave enough to really enjoy being nicely isolated.

The unlaid plans of mice and women.

So, let’s start with the way things were ‘meant’ to work out. We had a plan that looked like this:

  • Knock down high spots on filling
  • Rough coat of plaster (with mesh embedded)
  • Skim coat plaster (walls and ceilings)

Simultaneously:

  • Pour foundation for garage
  • Arrange for garage to go up shortly after plaster is dry
  • Move contents of house (Wood for battens, offcuts of drywall and stuff etc) into garage
  • Start laying floor.

Of course, it’s not quite worked like that. So, first up, it worked out that we couldn’t reasonably justify the cost of plastering our ceiling (despite it’s unevenness), so we’re looking at getting regular joint compound and a “level 4” finish (filling the joints) and imperfections, then sanding back to smoothness, then coating in paint. Hopefully we can justify the cost of our plasterer’s recommended drywall person. I’m not sure about the carbon footprint of a much smaller volume of joint compound and a coat of paint VS clay or lime, but I’m going to try not to think about it.

Then our plasterer talked to his plaster-guru type person (who will also be working on the project) who said that while you don’t end up with dips if you don’t fill the screw-holes, you can get colour differences (because of the black screwheads on the light grey board). So he recommends filling the screw heads. Also, to cut costs further, we’re looking at a thinner skim coat which means the mudding has to be sanded back.

Cue what we’re doing at the moment – frantic filling and sanding.

We’ve filled 4000 holes* (Or there abouts). We have also sanded them. Well, most of them. We still have the laundry and the little pantry to do (which is a task for tomorrow, because 6pm rolled around quickly today).

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We did take a brief break at the weekend to run and grab a free tablesaw. Our lovely friend has a lovely workshop with a very nice saw, but to save us carting the many sheets of ply over to his house (and ruining a blade) on a job that is, frankly, not one that requires fine work(wo)manship, we have been on the lookout for a tablesaw so we can just rip the ply into the strips required for the underfloor heating. Ideally, we wanted a jobsite saw, but those do not get given away free.

Not yet, anyway.

But up popped this tablesaw, which allowed us to christen our new EV with a goodly coating of sawdust.

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There’s nothing like spending a terrifying amount of money on a car, then filling it with dust. Incidentally, don’t, in future, put an extremely dusty object in the car then open the sunroof. It’s a very bad plan.

Anyhow, so we tidied the house, we checked and set screws to a better depth for filling (not all our screws (by any means) were perfectly set. That was fine with a mesh and 1/8″ skim over it, but not fine with a 1/16″ skim…), we filled, we sanded, we cursed. After pushing solidly for a week we reached today when it was almost…almost done.

And then…

And then…….

Yeah, so I called Tuff-Shed today and found out that our shed plans have been delayed… possibly 4 weeks delayed (which is impressive since they were only meant to take 3 weeks to arrive and that was 2 and a half weeks ago). That means that our carefully scheduled concrete pour is not going ahead. So I cancelled that. Which means that we’re going to have stuff sat in the house… for a while. Because…no garage.

Then, we got a message today from our plasterer saying one of the team he was getting in for our job isn’t available for another week… which potentially runs into a period when we’re not available.

Which means another delay :(

Balls.

*In drywall, plastershire.
And though the holes were rather small
They had to fill them all
Now they know how many holes it takes to make them hate drywall,

A Job is Complete!

It’s taken nearly 2 years of (intermittent) work. Every single piece has been planed by us, cut to length, drilled and hand nailed with stainless steel nails.

But it is done.

The cedar is on the house.

And it looks fucking awesome.

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Now we just need to cut, paint and put up the battens. Then paint all the green on the outside with another coat of paint. Trim around the back door…

Oh, and then there’s the inside too.

Still, at this point I’ll take my small victories where I can :)

Well, it’s been a weird month

So, part of the long silence is that I went over to the UK with my Transport Evolved hat on, to attend Fully Charged Live. Which was very cool; and I got to see lots of fun things, which were made somewhat less fun by having a manky cold. Which reached it’s zenith right in the middle of FCL.

I can’t say I was the greatest presenter on earth (possibly I was the most terrible), but I did meet lots of lovely Transport Evolved fans, some of whom reminded me of why what Nikki does with TE (and what I get to do sometimes with TE) is important. I also did a lot of holding the boom pole / mic, which is a useful thing to do.

But, during that month we’ve been waiting for plasterers to quote for plastering. Which we waited for…and finally got yesterday. And fuck.

So, we had two plasterers come around and visit. And while their labour quotes are within a few hundred miles of each other, so that bit is fine. It’s the materials. The materials costs differ by around $8000. Now, given our lack of success with going with the cheapest quote (and the fact that the cheaper of the quotes did not fill us with confidence as to the level of experience with lime-on-drywall); we’re a little bit concerned. Because there’s no way in hell we can afford OVER $30k for some f’kin plastering.

So we’re now waiting until Wednesday when we get to talk to someone with somewhat less skin in the game, and more general knowledge (he trained both the folks we have plastering quotes from), and try and work out what the hell is going on and why we have this vast difference. And also what to do about it.

In the meantime today we attacked our meadow garden (not that the grass had got out of hand), and made it more gardeny again. We also arranged for the groundworks person to come and lay the concrete foundation for our garage. That can’t happen until the plans arrive; and so we’ve booked him in for when we think the plans will arrive (giving ourselves a few days leeway).

Then we spent the remainder of the afternoon tackling the window surrounds. Given that we had to do shopping today there wasn’t a lot of time left for working on the house…. but we’re starting to put trim up around the windows which, it turns out, does make the house look more finished. So that’s nice. It is, however, a non-zero quantity of complexity, given that we’ve gone with picture-framing the windows.

Despite the imperfect corners, with a bit of filler they’re okay. And they look nice once they’re up. It does, however, add to the “oh yes, we need to put another coat of paint on the entire house” thing. Feh.

It’s really tough at the moment. It felt like we were getting closer. Like we might even be in by the end of summer. And now – well – the cost of the plastering is insane (and we have no idea how we’ll afford it), and it feels like that end-of-summer possibility has vaporized. It wasn’t like we thought it’d be finished. But livable. And each month we’re not in is another couple of grand disappearing.

We both are fully aware that we brought this on ourselves, and some of this is just us being willful (much of this). But trying to drag this project to the finish line is proving to be incredibly difficult.

As a special bonus, the garage that have had my car for 2 years rather abruptly turned around and said I’ll need to remove it. They haven’t said when. It is not driveable. And I’m pissed off because they faffed around without making a decision for ages, then when I finally said “I’ll take the bit and get it fixed” they said it’s taken too long and they can’t keep it there anymore. Augh. So I need to work out where she’s going to go :(

Sort of a weekend off

So, we’re waiting to talk to…[drum roll please]…a possible plasterer. We got put in contact with a local person who works with lime plaster (and got a local source for a premixed product). We’re going to talk on the phone tomorrow (he’s in a low-signal area now). And then – assuming the price isn’t terrifying – we’ve got a planning visit set up.

Which left us with a slightly odd weekend where, while there is stuff to do, we really want to talk to the plasterer first. And the cedar on the outside isn’t really easily a 2 person job, since we’d both need the same drill bit.

So instead we popped around to our friend to meet her new chickens (and dubbed one with her new title) and also to admire her new chicken run (which is quite the chicken palace, and definitely a suitable home for a chicken-lady).

Then we headed over to the house to weed. So many brambles. So much morning glory. So many dandelions.

We have pulled a lot of weeds and strimmed to tidy up the grass and such. It’s looking fairly respectable – and we seem to be keeping things under control much better than last year. Kathryn spent a chunk of time lopping down the brambles that we continue to do battle with between us and our rearward neighbour. I also spent some time tackling the rainwater capture. It had become apparent the channel the pipe sat in wasn’t correctly sloped. I’d not really checked it, except by eye (which is tricky because our garden slopes), and I knew there was a little bit of a hump, but putting the level on it it became obvious that after about half-way, that hump had put it high enough that there was no way the water coming from the roof would make it.

I broke out the little gardening trowel and spent some time making it a more consistent and gradual slope. Unfortunately, the tank is sat marginally higher than would be ideal, but I think now rain water should flow into it. We’ll find out after the next rain…

In fence news…we’ve not had a quote yet. So, that’s not ideal.

And back to the wall of a thousand nails.

So while we wait, optimistically, for someone from an eco-plaster place to contact us*, I’ve moved back outside. Well, for the most part. Inside we’ve given the main bathroom a coat (or three) of waterproofing. It is, of course, hideous and probably environment destroying (although the safety data sheet basically says it’s not really terrible for anything, and is water soluble, but it stinks and our little organic vapour respirators don’t cope well with it). It’s meant to be two coats, but then you’re meant to go over and cover ‘pinholes’, and having seen the coverage I assumed it would essentially need three. Which it did.

Painting the bathroom involved opening the windows at the north and south end, and directing air into the bathroom in the hope it would stay bearable for the amount of time for the final coat. Each one’s seemed worse than the last. Part of this is that we’ve failed to keep our respirators in sealed boxes when not in use (although I only discovered that yesterday). Hopefully there won’t be too many pinholes to fix after this round.

Anyhow, before going in and subjecting myself to the fumes for the final coat (which went on this afternoon), I spent the day making a billion L-pieces. This is an extension to yesterday (and will be continuing for the forseeable) – where I spent some of the day routing the LED strip on the right hand side of the door. There’s the left side of the door still to route for the LED strip. Anyhow, back to the L-pieces.

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Each of these is made using a little frame that I made up – and they’re glued and nailed together, then the short leg of the L is trimmed to length.

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Then each one is positioned, glued and nailed in place – each one takes 5 nails that have to be carefully pre-drilled and then hand driven in. I didn’t bother predrilling on the long, straight ones. But we’re so short of the cedar, and these are so finicky, that I’m predrilling each one… Of which there are 48 per side. Plus one extra one that’s long and runs across the bottom.

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I continue to be pleased about the way it’s coming together. The cedar strips do give me great pleasure when I’m looking at the house – that ‘job well done’ feeling. There are many small imperfections, but it does feel like it has been worth the effort. At least, so far. We’ll see when it’s done.

We also, after much effort, finally got another quote for a fence. This labour of calling has been tedious in the extreme, and I had to chase the people today (because they’d forgotten they were meant to be coming). Well, they came and measured. We’ll wait and see if we get an actual quote.

We also ordered our garage a couple of days ago. After endless battles, we ended up going with ‘Tuff Shed’. The quality’s nothing to write home about, but it’ll do the job and the price is reasonable.

Hopefully we’ll get the designs soon enough, because that’d be handy for painting the battens, and getting the myriad of crap out of the house.

* Which we can’t wait much longer for. I’ve dug out the eco-building-trainer person’s number, and may give him a call tomorrow and ask him if he can give me the numbers for the people so I can find out if it’s worth waiting.

Plumbing depths while we wait.

We’re still waiting on quotes. More accurately, we’re still waiting on finding a plasterer who’ll even consider us. We want smooth, natural plaster. Although we’ve tried to get quotes for regular smooth plaster, we’d prefer lime. Finally today we actually got a possible step forward, with a local guy who trains lime plasterers who’s passing on our name and some details to a couple of plasterers he’s trained. That is the level we’re at, that this is considered forward progress.

He also has a lime plaster that he imports that’s a prebagged mix so it’s much simpler than other plasters – which he’s keen for us to use. So that’s progress, of a sort.

We have also got a quote for the garage. We’ve given in and gone with TuffShed – having had such endless fights trying to get a contractor – and they have people they recommend for foundations.

It’s really much less (design and intent wise) than we were hoping for, but it’s functional and it’ll keep Rebecca out of the elements and give me a place for us to work on her… there’s still rather a lot of debate about roofing materials, but the guilt of using any kind of asphalt is getting to us both, so it may well be metal of some sort.

We’re also looking at building a little studio building at the back of the property for Kathryn’s art – replacing what was going to be the shed. It means the garage will have to hold the garden tools, which isn’t ideal, but it’s a fair tradeoff.

We’ve also got someone coming to quote for solar – which we really should have got put on as soon as the roof went on. Frankly, at this point, with the benefit of hindsight, we’d have built the garage much earlier. We’d not have bothered saving the trusses. We’d have got solar put on as soon as the wiring was done. Why? Because we’ve had a full year of the house sitting empty, and it could have been generating power – and reducing the depressing costs of having an incomplete house sit empty.

While we’re creeping towards getting a plasterer we’ve done some working on the garden. Well, sort of. We’ve got the rain water capture tank in the ground. Which is probably why we’re both completely exhausted. Digging through the hard-pack stone and clay was a nightmare. The revolting water sitting in the bottom of the pit turned out to be useful; once you’ve dug a bit into the clay it sort of turns into a slurry which allowed us to pull out the bigger stones. Then, eventually, we bailed out the sludgy water which gained us a bit more depth. And then finally we scraped and pick’d and dug and finally managed to get the hole deep enough to put the tank in the ground.

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After quite a lot of poking around and the making of some scary big holes in the side of the tank we’d just put in the ground, we’ve got a floating water outlet (using this guide), and an intake for the water running from the guttering at the back of the house, so it should run into the tank. We actually have the stuff to add in the water from the front of the house, but I’m pretty sure the tank isn’t big enough; nor is there enough soak-away capacity in our rain-garden. So I think that’ll be left to run out into the street, which is what it does now.

The garage will also need some kind of thing – I’m hoping that we can knock up a rain-water capture thing which might feed the toilets. We designed the house such that the toilets could be fed from a separate supply. It’s a possibility, but we’ll see how that goes.

We also did some more joint compound yesterday – it’s almost done. The office needs a third coat on the ceiling which, for some reason, seems to be very uneven at the seams. Also, the tiny tiny pantry still needs some of the corners doing and really needs another coat.

It feels sort of endless, but also very close. I’m thinking that Wednesday I might start on cedar… and there’s also the application of a crack isolation and waterproofing membrane in the bathroom. So lots to do, but nothing that feels on the scale of what we need to do.

On being quietly exhausted

Every day, pretty much, for the past year and a half I or We have gone to the house to work on it for some, or all of the day. If we don’t, it’s because we’re at work at our jobs. Or because we’re trying to keep our apartment fairly pleasant (and broadly succeeding, although the gradual accumulation of cruft, and the fact we keep thinking we’ll be moving, and thus failure to deal with said cruft is gradually filling the apartment with more books, music and creative resources than it can reasonably contain).

And it’s beginning to show.

We’re both beat.

Just tired and scraping along.

It’s tricky, because we’re at a point where a big chunk of the work is done. It’s that kinda 3/4 of the way there point which is always tough, it’s always a challenge. But because this is such a big project, 3/4 there is not liveable. In Slough and Bristol it was liveable at 3/4 done. Giving us a chance to rest and recuperate.

We can’t do that here. We need to find the energy for a final push.

We have, however, decided to get quotes in for finish plastering. Having discovered that there are some people around here who’ll do finish plastering with a smooth finish – and considered that it may take us actually months to finish it ourselves (it may, frankly, take us months to work out what materials we need to plaster)… Of course, this does actually require contractors calling us back, which is somewhat of a rarity.

Feh.