Gary Mooneyham/HVAC

At 6:15 this morning, slipping out in my nightgown, I figured I would have 45 minutes to write and think all to myself. Ha. At 6:25 I saw headlights in the dark. Mike and his crew, arriving to finish their foundation work. They brought me the newspaper.

They’ve fired up the concrete mixer and are moving around like hooded wraiths, trowelling cement and stacking blocks.

As the foundation work continues, Buck and I have been meeting around the dining room table with window and door suppliers. The materials list includes 26 windows,  six sliding glass doors, and two exterior doors, so our pencils have to be sharp.

We’ve also been making final decisions on aspects of the heating/air conditioning system. The one we’ll be using is called “Evolution” by Bryant.

Gary Mooneyham

Gary Mooneyham, of Mooneyham Heating and Air and Ken Ford, the Bryant representative, review the system with us.

A couple of days ago, several of the guys working on our project were standing under a narrow eave — what’s left after the screened porch was demolished — trying to get out of the rain late in the afternoon, talking about the project, about bowling, and chuckling together. Most of these fellows have been working together for a long time, and it shows. It’s a prettier sound to me than wind chimes.



I opened our bedroom door about 6:30 this morning to a dim ambient light. It looked like the drizzling rain was set in. There would be no further work on the house foundation this day.

Looking out at the small hills of clay piled up inside the foundation blocks, I did a double take. Each of the three largest hillocks was topped by a sturdy robin, looking for all the world as though they were playing a game of Capture The Flag.

The sharp-eyed birds caught my movement as I reached for a camera. As one, they moved their tiny feet in quicktime down the hills, then flew.

If the weather clears tomorrow, as predicted, these clay hills will be pushed smooth by Jesse Arden and his Kubota tractor, preparing the ground for Larry Pugh, the plumber, and Bob Johnson, the electrician, to do their necessary preliminary work before the slab is poured early next week.

Jesse With Kubota Tractor



Bathtub Shopping

Have you been bathtub shopping lately? Buck and I have to decide what type of bathtubs we want in the new house. One is easy: it’s a tile shower, no tub. The second will be a plain shower/tub fiberglass unit. But the third. Ah, there’s the rub. . . a dub dub.

The third will be in the master bath  — or is it the mistress bath? Well, anyway, the big one, designed for such sybaritic pleasures undreamt of by mere mortals such as I. We planned to splurge on a nice big tub, long enough to stretch out full length with knee caps submerged.

But when I started looking at brochures and on-line sites for Lasco, Kohler, American Standard, and Jacuzzi, among others, I discovered something astonishing. People no longer take baths! What? That’s right. Mere baths may cleanse our physical bodies of the day’s dust and grime, but what about the wear and tear on our psyches? What about our emotional well-being?

How will the nicks and cuts inflicted by the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune be healed?  For that, my friends, one must purchase a bathing experience.

In this rough and tumble world of ours, a basic tub is insufficient and a traditional whirlpool may be too rough on our existential bruises. Not to worry! There is a bathing experience for every need, and if the photo layouts can be believed, a bottle of champagne and at least two glasses come with every tub, er, bathing experience.

Speaking of champagne, Lasco offers the Champagne Bubbler. It’s a bathtub, sort of, where you can experience “what luxury feels like: it’s the sensation of weightless suspension as thousands of warm bubbles from heated air rise from the bottom of our Champagne Bubbler. They refresh your skin, massage your body, and rejuvenate your spirit. They caress, tickle and delight. With the touch of a button, you control the massage options, including constant bubble action, wave mode and pulse mode, each with variable speeds.”  My goodness gracious. That bathing experience sounds like it might be illegal in at least three states, although I must admit it sounds pretty dee-lite-full.

MTI Whirlpools, a manufacturer of luxury bathing experiences, says it best in one of their brochures: “It’s all about you. What you like; what you need. Select the number and position of jets, and the hydrotherapy you want: whirlpool, thermo-air massage, neither or both. Even enhance your experience with soothing chromatherapy provided by underwater LED lighting effects.” Chromotherapy. Far out.

Acryline USA has a clever approach. They tailor their “masseur” systems to the bather’s personality and fitness level. For example, the “Aquamasseur System” is the equivalent of Lasco’s Champagne Bubbler, immersing bathers in a “flood of massaging bubbles.” Sort of like glamorous Scrubbing Bubbles, I guess. This is for bathers who are “stressed and hurried people who need to release the emotional burden of their day and free their spirit.”  For hardier souls, Acryline provides the “Healthmassuer System” with a “free-flowing warm air channel” which “creates a tremendous air velocity that results in an intermediate to highly vigorous massage. Bathers who choose this experience are typically very athletic or involved in an occupation that daily fatigues their body and they need to release the tension within their muscles as they free their spirit.” This one sounds like being Rolfed.

And finally, for the peak bathing experience, there is a unit offered by Jacuzzi that I have nicknamed The Primal Scream Bathing Experience. Instead of champagne on the side, it boasts an elegant sterling silver tray holding a bottle of tranquilizers on a handmade linen napkin. Jacuzzi calls this wonder the “Vizion” — and with good reason. It’s a sight to behold. According to their brochure’s copy, “while being massaged by 10 strategically placed hydrotherapy jets, bathers will be treated to a state-of-the-art entertainment center, complete with a high-definition, 10.4 inch flat screen television, DVD/CD player, AM/FM stereo and four surround-sound speakers. Furthermore, a unique floating remote control offers fingertip control of the jet system, television and underwater lighting.”  Really, you’ve got to check this one out. Click here.

Damnation, that’s great stuff. But the sad truth is, after twenty minutes in hot water, I turn into a wrinkled prune. That tends to affect my mood negatively and I’m afraid I might get all stressed out again. A prune in colored lights is still a prune.


Sanctioned Destruction

I was witness to the jubilation of sanctioned destruction today. The crew of skilled craftsmen who will frame the addition first had to remove the screened porch since it will be the joining spot for the two structures. Industrial strength radio music went through phases, changing stations as the process grew more intense.

Sanctioned Destruction

On Friday, the work was relatively low key, and the guys tossed off shingles to the strains of crossover country. They left early in the afternoon to go hunting. It’s that time of year, and the Alabama season closes on January 31st. During their work session this morning, the radio started out country, moved to soft rock, then medium. But this afternoon, it was all heavy metal, sledge hammers swinging, the wiry guys balanced like gymnasts on the trusses, stomping what was left of the ceiling plywood down through the floor.

Sanctioned Destruction 1

I watched from a few feet away, separated only by ordinary windows. Several times I got edgy and moved back into the living room area or the kitchen. Once a type of light fixture known as a “can” fell right off a beam and came careening toward the window. I was frozen in place, watching. Fortunately, it was attached by a disabled electrical cord and stopped inches away.

sanctioned destruction 2

sanctioned destruction 3

Sometime this afternoon, observing John, Paul and Daniel as they methodically took down the trusses, handling them carefully so they can be reused in building a barn, it finally dawned on me that their skill in taking the porch apart comes from knowing how to build it to begin with. They didn’t come along and knock it down haphazardly, but disassembled it piece by piece quite elegantly.

sanctioned destruction 4

Along the way, there was some whooping, hollering, and edgy laughter, the jubilant dance of sanctioned destruction.


Concrete Wind Chimes

What a strange sound: like the deep musical tones one can coax out of an empty soda bottle, only much louder.

I froze, then leaned into the open window, one leg cocked flamingo style.

There it was again — only this time I could hear a whole range of tones. It sounded like part of a scale. Beautiful, but strange.

It reminded me of space ship music from the movie, E.T.

I looked and listened, listened and looked. What was producing that sound? Finally, I focused on the piles of concrete block stacked all around the construction site. The wind was getting under the block and singing its way out through the holes in the block. Fantastic.

Buck and I sat across from each other to eat our lunch. He ate a bowl of bean soup. I ate half a cheese sandwich and a carrot. Not even in Santa Fe, New Mexico, with its many street musicians who play their hauntingly lovely wood flutes, were we serenaded by concrete wind chimes.

concrete wind chimes






Art in the Everyday World

THE FOUNDATION CREW began this day anonymously. The hoods of their sweatshirts were pulled tight as protection against the morning chill, covering all but a small oval of face, and that unseen as they bent to the task of setting up for the work day ahead.

They arrived on the job shortly after 7:00 a.m., just in time to meet a convoy of cement trucks. The big, blimp-shaped trucks positioned themselves so that a hydraulically connected, telescoping trough-like chute could carry the wet cement fifteen feet more into the waiting two foot by two foot trenches.

Art in the everyday world 1

This is Jerry Campbell, owner of the concrete company. His wife is Celeste, our builder’s aide de camp, the one who quietly works behind the scenes to make things happen seamlessly. Jerry’s no slouch, either.

The trenches are two foot by two foot, rebar and concrete-filled. Code requires they be 16 inches, but these are 24. Jerry said that’s the way he built his house, that it’s much more solid that way. We think he and our builder, Ron, collaborated and decided to go the extra mile for us here. It’s a good feeling to see that wide concrete base knowing it’s built to hold heavy I-beam trusses and the weight of a twenty foot high roof.

Molten Sculpture, A Concrete Artesian Well

Few homeowners are lucky enough to see their home built every step of the way. Hardly anyone sees the footings dug and the foundation prepared. I generally think about art in a simplistic way: nature-made or human-made. But in considering art created by humans, my mind goes to galleries, exhibitions and collections, or the art of music or poetry. But you know what? The work done here with mud, cement, rebar and shovels feels to my heart like artistic achievement The fact that it will be covered over soon only means the exhibition was dynamic; one moment in the life of a moving river.

Art in the everyday world 3

Mike, Eddie, Mario, Leon and Reggie are plein air artists.





Breaking Ground

I UNDERSTAND LIFE IS SHORT, that trees planted today may grow to maturity in some other person’s prime. That I may have moved on to some other plane of existence by then.

We are building a home which will outlast us. Is it vanity to make such a dream reality during our short tenure here?  Ah, well, that is a question for someone wiser, or more philosophical anyway, than I.

Here is what I know: the bulldozer came to Longleaf today, and the kinetic excitement it wrought, with its earthmoving power, its growling tiger paws, made my heart beat faster. I jumped all around, camera in hand, as the operator, Mack Godwin (Harvey’s son), pushed down the damaged pine just in front of the current structure, and pushed down the cluster of three scraggly blackjack trees too close to the future porte cocherre (a lovely French word for car port).

Mack brought the huge blade over to the remaining juniper plants in harm’s way. It glinted darkly silver in the afternoon sun and slid smoothly under the plants, lifting them from their moorings while his assistant, Chuck Jansky, grasped the large prickly plants at their base and tugged them free. Once the juniper bed was cleared, the dozer began clearing and smoothing the house expansion’s footprint. Big Foot.

Breaking Ground

Buck herded the dozer like it was a rogue bull, pointing and shouting when necessary, making sure Mack didn’t accidentally run over any young pines when he pulled forward into the rough to turn around.

Mack and Chuck left about 5:30. In the growing dark, the bulldozer on the flatbed disappeared completely down the dirt road toward the gate, a rumbling chimera.

Buck and I looked at one another and at the smooth dirt surface one step off the screened porch, its sweet fragrance wafting in on the evening breeze. “We’ve done it, now!” Buck said. We laughed and went inside to fix a celebration supper.

Early this morning, I drove into town and picked up some fresh scamp fillets for dinner, plus a special treat of jumbo lump crab meat. and a baguette of warm sourdough bread. Scamp is a type of grouper, really a lovely fish. I baked it in my favorite of the moment Greek-style with onions, tomatoes and oregano. This time I added a garnish of Honey Bell tangelo segments. The crabmeat was warmed carefully with a mixture of butter, lemon juice, Old Bay seasoning, and Worcestershire sauce.

We’re really not champagne fans, but a gift bottle of Dom Perignon from some close friends had been chilling in the fridge for months and we decided to pop the cork. It was remarkably good with the fish and crabmeat. Pretty good with chocolate ice cream, too!

Tomorrow morning a different bunch will come to shoot their angles and pour the footings. We’ll have a pot of coffee and the gate will be open.

Permit (Version 2)

Celeste called first thing yesterday morning to give us the word that she had finally wrested a building permit away from the county. With no further questions or issues forthcoming from the planners, zoners or health department, she packed a lunch and went to the county office early Friday morning and took a number. Hers was #57.

Late in the afternoon Celeste emerged, permit in hand, tired like a person gets from sitting and waiting all day when you have a world of work back at the office. What a woman!

Permit version 2   

Ron came over to our place mid-day with Mr. Harvey Godwin, the bulldozer man. Harvey will be back this morning with his machine to blade off and smooth the area so that footings can be poured on Wednesday.

Buck and I did our dance of joy, and then realized that two rose bushes, a small cedar tree and a world of thriving junipers were right in the path of progress. We spent some time with shovels yesterday afternoon before dark digging up the plants. Buck put the disk on his old Case tractor and made some nice furrows in the rich earth out back where the plants can rest undisturbed for awhile, and we moved them. The ground where he had cut through with the disk was damp, soft and sweet smelling. I didn’t wear gloves, as usual, but just kneeled down in it to cover up  roots as we rested the plants there.

I stood on one foot like a flamingo by the bed last night. It was past midnight and I needed to go to sleep. Tomorrow will be a big day.  Finally, grinning, I told Buck that I know sleep is essential, so we’ll have energy for the tasks ahead, but it seems like a waste of time when there are so many exciting things I could be doing if I didn’t have to sleep!


Sculpting a Home

MIKE WHITEACRE’S BIG BURGUNDY PICK-UP TRUCK eased quietly off the dirt road, parking near his pile of foundation building supplies. It was 7 a.m., a sunny 28 degrees. He kindly dropped off the morning newspaper at our front door, walked around looking at all the ditches cut by his man’s machine the day before, then retreated to the warmth of his truck to await his crew’s arrival.

By the time I had shucked my flannel nightgown, thrown on some jeans and brewed coffee, the sun was bright, the guys were building a good-sized bonfire, and getting their marching orders from Mike. The open tunnels had to be spaded smooth, even and to a uniform depth, before the rebar and rebar chairs could be fitted into the foundation ditches. Watching Eddie Rivers, Mario Perry, Reggie Kennedy and Leon Davis as they worked made me think of a troupe of well-choreographed dancers who have done a particular number together many times. There was a rhythm to their cadence, as they stood in the trenches of the house foundation, spades and metal measuring tape in hand, stepping back to scoop, forward to smooth, bending to measure. They worked together like a multilegged creature, jointed and segmented, but with one mind to accomplish their essential work.

Foundation guys don’t get a lot of respect. Their work gets completely covered up. But we all know what can happen in our lives and in our homes when we try to go out into the world and work without a net. Our foundations give us strength or contribute to our crumbling. Often, through no fault of our own, we have to go all the way back into our own foundations, digging out the rotted weak spots with a dull teaspoon; sometimes we have to become our own parents, our own mentors. Once done, however, that solid foundation gives us wings to fly.

I am grateful to these foundation guys, and I respect them. Their work seems to me the very essence of honest labor.

Sculpting a Home

REBAR is a concrete reinforcing rod. A rebar chair is a device for spacing a rebar from a concrete form. This photo shows part of the future exterior front wall.