A LOOK AT RETIREMENT

Do you remember the old PBS series “A Year in Provence“?  Lush and beautiful, bursting with eccentric French characters, and featuring a never-ending search for truffles, it was a guide to living life. To renovate an ancient farmhouse and gardens, eat simple food and wine, a couple left their high stress jobs in London and took a year off in Provence.  One review says that it examines “life lived by seasons, not by days”.

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That last statement suits me perfectly.  And did in the late eighties when we were watching the series.  Easy to do, I thought, if one was independently wealthy.  How could you pursue all this elegant living and creating without money?  The series on PBS was based on Peter’s Mayle’s experience,  an erstwhile advertising executive of London who took a year “off”.  Something else nagged at me.  How would they ever go back to London?

From another review:

If Mayle had had his way, the description of A Year in Provence as fiction would have been spot on. “When we first moved to France [in 1987] I had the intention of writing a novel and had shared this great ambition with my agent, Abner Stein,” says Mayle. “But there was a problem: I found myself completely distracted – much more taken up with the curiosities of life in Provence than with getting down to work on the novel. The daily dose of education I was receiving at the hands of the plumber, the farmer next door, the mushroom hunter and the lady with the frustrated donkey was infinitely more fascinating than anything I could invent.”  And so a travel book was born.

It makes me wonder if we (the educated, the observers, the type A personalities) have it at all correct.  Mayle’s book challenges us.

Strangely, minus the exotic location, we are pursuing the same goals (except for the cooking food part) to create, be outdoors, love the simple, enjoy the work.  And, as always, get stuff for free or little money to achieve our goals.  And as Peter Mayle enjoyed his neighbors and substituted simple goals for the more abstract, so have we.

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Yesterday was cinder block day.  We took what we needed from a friend whose job it is to tear down buildings.  The cinder blocks would cost him money to place in the dump.  We needed a floor for our silo, which is ready to be moved to house our pool pump.  Done and done.

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A huge tree had to be removed to facilitate this move for the silo.  Glenn and I took care of most of it, and then a pro, who we have been trading firewood for labor for years, came in to finish the job.  He asked for 75.00 and settled for nothing.  He wanted the fresh oak wood.  Win/win.

Last week it was bricks.  Broken bricks are free, whole bricks at a very good price.

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These bricks we will add to those in front of the barn.  Starting today.

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The longer that we live inside our monthly earnings, the more we have to use for travel.  Like to Provence.

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DETAIL WORK

When my tile guru was here installing the base of the new shower, we looked at a mistake in the shower area.  I laid the tile too close to the wood floor, was in too much of a hurry as always.  What makes a great artisan/craftsperson is attention to detail.  I am too busy creating things and justifying my existence to worry about the small stuff.  It is a  significant personality flaw.

Above is the line in consideration:  the tile is the slightest bit taller than the wood flooring, and if one hits the edge just right coming out of the shower area, the 4″ x 4″ could break.  There are elements that one can install while laying the tile that fit under it and lap over so the tile is protected.  Of course, we could not use that solution here as the work is done.  He said also that the big box stores carry wooden strips that can be installed in this case.  Glenn wants to make his own.  It will be much better, much finer.  And maybe make the mistake not so bad.

We had a similar problem during the construction of the bedroom.  Two of the old doors we saved for the clothes closet were a bit smaller than standard.  If the workers had not cut into the supports on the edge of the closet and sunk the hardware, the doors would have closed nicely.  They did not consider this, dug them in, and our doors lacked about an inch in making a nice closure.  Glenn added a sleek line of contrasting hardwood to one door, and it looks and feels like marquetry.  Good solution.

In my art work, I rarely rip anything out.  Making a mistake, and then altering the plan to integrate the mistake can foster unique solutions that would have never been planned.  I love working this way.

Above is the shower floor waiting for tile and below the walls which need to be taped with grid immersed in thin set.  Then the real fun can begin, although you can see we have already installed antlers on which to hang robes.  They are on each side of the shower opening, and btw, no door is necessary with this shower.

Above is the first shower in this house created with no shower door.  It makes no mess.  I have no idea how shower doors came to be so important.  It may have been a capitalist plot.  All they create is a wonderful environment in which creepy stuff grows.

Above is the second bathroom with no shower door.  All three of these bathrooms have a tile covered four inch by four inch boundary between the shower proper and the floor outside.  Easy.

DUMPSTER DIVING

First time I ever did this was with my friend Betsy;  we were looking for tile in a dumpster outside a commercial tile establishment.  Cannot remember if we asked permission or not.  Maybe it was a Saturday, and they were closed.  As it turns out, much of what was gleaned was very usable and important in my house renovation and to this day is still being used.  Marble that I have used for thresholds, counter tops and window sills came from this source.  In addition, the tile store had ground some of the excess marble from a job into about half inch sized chunks and put it in the beds around the building where they had bushes.  Trying to create a new market, I guess.

Anyway we filled our cars (or my car), it was amazingly hot, and we were amazingly dirty, but it did not stop us from going down the road and having a big lunch at Ruby Tuesday’s.  What the hell.

Yesterday morning my friend Catherine sent me a text saying that there were three old metal lawn chairs in a dumpster in her neighborhood.  She lives about 45 minutes away from here, but we were already at the flea market which is 15 minutes closer.  We decided to skip the cheap stuff and go for the free stuff.  It was so easy, and the new vistas were very refreshing.  She lives in the horse country of SC where the fences and the live oaks are so beautiful.

Glenn hauls himself in.  It is very clean thank goodness and has not rained in the past couple of days, which is unusual for this summer.  Along with the chairs, a waffled mattress pad was in there to be used to transport them!  Love it when that happens.

Gold!  We found three in this dumpster.  They are in average shape, but have been thickly painted over and over.  The paint is peeling off in large dense chunks.  They will not subscribe to my theory that objects should show their history.  These are going to have to be cleaned up as anyone using them would ruin their clothes.

We also picked up some old dinette chairs that the same friend wanted to pitch.  They were in much better shape than imagined.

Spent an hour or so with a toothbrush and improved the chairs mightily.  Will do the same with chrome polish, the kind we used to use on rusty bike wheels, and move further towards perfection!

USING OLD DOORS

The new master bedroom was designed around many accessories we already had:  the urinal which became a sink, old tile, old windows, and finally sets of old doors.  The whole house has a sense of age to it.  It is not shabby chic (hate that term), but the house retains and shows its history.  Good thing this aesthetic is fine with me, one who wants to use only things that have  already been used before, whether for their original purpose or not.


The cracks and peeling paint will be saved with application of a thick coat of something.  In its current position, the old paint is fairly fixed.  The darker doors will also receive a coat to shine them up and protect them.  The minute my husband drug out these doors last year, it was my intention to put the glider below in the new room because of the simpatico texture.  I am not at this point sure there will be room for the glider.  It would be beautiful.

These doors have been in the big house all their lives.  They retain their original colors and open to a big closet in the dressing room.  The bedrooms they protected no longer exist.

Going around the corner from the sets of closet doors, there is a door made by us for the private commode.  Glenn made it from wood he used and acquired for his former homestead.

See those lights on the ceiling?  We bought seven for a dollar apiece at our local flea.  Used all of them in this addition.

Above is the inside of the door with its beautiful patterning.  The old door knob works, and locks!

CONSTRUCTION WORKER INTERFACE

Yesterday I was required to do a short succinct job to keep the other construction workers working on our bedroom addition.   This  is a very big deal if you are the customer of construction workers.  Any wrinkle in any plan can put you way behind.  I am sure these guys love this:  my husband just rips things out and redoes their work on the weekend, and after they leave EARLY on Friday.  I tell him to let me know when they drive up Monday morning because to be elsewhere is my choice for that scene!

First of all, the  workers laid down this cement board on the plywood flooring without using thin set and not using the prescribed amount of screws, which is six inches apart around the perimeter and eight inches apart within.  Knowing they were wrong, I took up the cement board.  I relaid it with thin set and also took care of the seam between the two pieces of cement board with a plastic grid and more thin set under and over it. The wood you see will also be covered with cement board, and it is the boundary for the shower, which is behind it, to the right.

Today they were going to build shelving for the bathroom, and one of those units will rest on this tiled area.  That was the reason for the hurry.  So the above picture shows the area, about four by five that had to be re-boarded, and then tiled yesterday, and grouted this morning before the workers arrived.  Grout is pretty forgiving after about a half hour.

I first thought I would use some fine tiles that a friend had found on the street and presented to me at just the right time, almost as if the universe were offering them.  They proved not to be such a good choice.  Part of the bunch was porcelain and we don’t have a wet saw.  Rummaging around, these remnants from my husband’s former house came to the top of the mix.  They are typical white four by fours almost exclusively used in bathrooms.  When I looked at these, and then at our urinal/basin, they were great together.  Very industrial looking, and the rest of the bathroom will work in concert.

Having the right tools to cut this tile, which is organized in groups of sixteen with latex in between, it was an easy job to  tailor the tiles to fit my space.  After the workers left for the day, I applied another layer of thin set and laid the tile.

Here is the finished job, yet ungrouted.  The darker lines are the only ones that will take the grout.  I didn’t even have to rush this morning to finish the job.  I can grout later after the shelves are finished.

I broke many rules when laying this tile, but sometimes you have to.  It is like making art:  there are rules, and they need to be followed by the inexperienced.  BUT sometimes you have to intelligently create some new rules and follow them for the best outcome.  The dark area in the foreground is our pecan flooring.  The merging of these two surfaces has to be perfect, and perfectly aligned.  Normally, one starts to lay tile in the middle of a floor, and works out to the walls, leaving partial tiles that have to be cut near the walls.  Here, like the perfect middle of a big tiled floor, the perfect part has to be that union of wood and tile.  So I started the laying on that edge.  And since the construction is very square, the edge to the right fell into place as well.  The cut tiles are to the left and the back edges, and they will be covered by shelf and baseboard.  Some time you can get away with stuff!

POOL TODAY

The work going on with the new room addition sucks the day away often, but yesterday there was time to work at the pool.  Do you see the tiny elements which are stuck down into the expansion joints in the cement?  They are waste, and I have used this stuff for various reasons, aesthetic and not,  for years.

When these little man-made elements are tumbled into these shapes, they are worthless.  They start out looking like something else, spend their little lives in a huge tumbler with manufactured tools, helping to remove the unwanted harsh edges, and are dispensed with and thrown away by industry when they look like this.  I often use these shapes in mosaics, and in the pool here, they have been inserted in the joints so that the grout used will not have to cover more space than is recommended.

Years ago, when the big house was first moved here and under renovation, the old windows had to go.  I went to the big box store  to purchase eight windows for part of the house, and stumbled upon a wonderful thing.  Someone had returned seven custom windows and they very nearly fit my needs.  And they were priced at fifty dollars each!  They were not standard sizes.  I snapped them up, and what you see above is how some of the windows were made to fit.  My contractor inserted cement board in this space, and along with marble pieces, little garden pot feet (bought a bunch of these years ago for five cents apiece), and my amazing WASTE, the bargain windows worked fine!

Look closely and you can see another joint filled by these shapes dividing the crescent shape and the acuba plant shape. This area is yesterday’s work.  My grout color is getting to be a deeper and deeper brick color (through mixing grout colors) as the tile becomes redder and redder.

At the top of this picture is the deck area that I am tackling next.  There is papyrus in the garden next to the studio which is pretty much obscured visually by the yucca in the foreground,  and I feel like making lines to reflect it in the composition.

BEFORE AND AFTER

In these dog days, reality around here felt like one of those stress dreams where you cannot get your legs to work, or you keep trying to fit through openings that are too small for you.  Things were moving slowly in construction, my art, and the pool deck.

Painting has been going on, as you can see from the images above.  And I have stuccoed the cinder block foundation wall in the last two days.  One hand is nearing twice as big as the other now.

But two men arrived ten minutes ago, and the interior floor of the new master bedroom is being laid!  We had a short discussion about the threshold, and came to a quick agreement.  Having tons of marble recovered through dumpster diving years ago, we will make a pieced, in sections of eighteen inches, threshold stretching the length of the french doors between the main house and the new master.   This marble has been used in the main house as thresholds between rooms, as fancier windowsills, installed on top of the wooden ones, and (more interested in aesthetics than cooking) as my kitchen counter tops.

Between the great room and the dining room in the 1939 big house,  I needed to piece together marble to fit the vacant space left by removing a wall.  The marble was found in 18 inch lengths.  You can see this length also in my counter top.

A wider eighteen inch length was set up the wall under one of the kitchen windows and three courses around the stove, here to the right.  In the foreground is a fancy hammered aluminum coffee pot with its original cord.  Crazy about those old cords!  Behind that is an old mixer.

Above are the marble lengths used as window sills in the laundry room with part of an old iron collection poised for use.

MOVING FORWARD

Around here, when it rains, we feel like prisoners.  We have had rain all afternoon, and it slows us down.  Hate to say that with all of the Midwest shriveling up like a dry orange peel.  We have to keep busy inside.

Warmer colors are starting to creep into the decking around the pool.  I am thrilled to see space on shelving where tile used to be.

Below is a urinal/sink that Glenn found in a ditch years ago.  We have been using it for pansies and creeping things outside in a garden.  The flowers are elsewhere now as this urinal is going into the master bath as a sink.  The particular hardware for this thing cost six hundred dollars.  Still below our allowance for the cost quotation.

Glenn says these have always had split personalities.  He has run into them as sinks as often as urinals.

Here is the sink waiting for installation.  Glenn has made a shelf to stand behind the top of the sink out of old barn wood, highly polished with polyurethane .  It has to be installed first.    Shelving will be custom made for under the sink.

The aged barn wood is from an old barn on Glenn’s former acreage in Missouri,  knocked down about two years ago.   We brought the wood  here to infuse this place with Glenn’s  history.  Below is a detail of the door he made for the enclosed commode area which will be just to the right of the sink area.   It still retains on the inside patterning from old paint and use.

So the old barn wood will be used in three places, the sink area, the commode area, and a strip will line the perimeter of the shower/commode/sink cluster at the top, at eight feet.  The ceiling is contoured to the design of the outside roof.

Below is another instance of old wood that will be in the new bedroom/bath:  the old pine siding from 1939.  You can also see a part of the contour of the ceiling.  Don’t know yet about paint color (or maybe sanding and poly) for that sided area.   Any opinions?

CODE

The back of our new master bedroom and bath addition is looking Japanese, this addition to our 1939 southern farmhouse.  My guess is that the hipped roof, and the linear windows and posts are doing this.  It doesn’t bother me; I lived in Japan as a child and studied Japanese art history in graduate school, and try to integrate Japanese aesthetics into my work.  Even though, it is surprising that Japan turned up here.

Here is the inside view of the same windows.  These stretch across the bathroom area which takes up the last about one fourth of the room addition.  There is a glass door to the left of these windows.  The windows are old, were free, and are mis-matched.  They are beautifully glazed and it took Glenn about three days to do it.  He is such a perfectionist.

In terms of the international code in effect everywhere now, our builder first thought that the Japanese windows would not pass.    They are too close to the floor, and are too close to the door.  There is not enough wall space in these two areas.  So what the officials tell one to do, is to nail up particle board to the correct dimensions, and then call them.  In this case, because the rest of the windows in the house subscribe to the code, the vast majority, these windows would be ok.  Moot point.
The same kind of “now you see it, now you don’t”  is true for the awful particle board on the deck.  It passed, of course, but who would have a deck like that?  Glenn is making a welded steel banister to replace what you see here.  Neither one of us expected the deck to be anchored by 6″ x 6″ posts.  Glenn is going to take a chainsaw to those posts and trim a lot of that mass away.  But the deck has passed code.  ?????  I don’t get it either.

News flash:  the concrete siding ordered, with a similar texture to the old pine on the house is too wide, and not forgiving enough for us to simply say to overlap it to a greater dimension in order for the new room to have the same parallel lines as the old house.  Now what to do.  We have the weekend to think about it.

These french doors and stained glass window which used to look outside, now look out to the new bedroom.  At the right you can see that there will be old pine siding in the bedroom, which we kept because of its textural interest.  We could strip this away, and use it outside, but there is not enough to do the job.

At least we do have lights!

AGAVE

I bought an agave plant about fifteen years ago at the flea market.  Knowing nothing about it, the striking traces from the edges of an old leaf embedded in the next leaf like old shadows were wonderful.  The plant has had hundreds and hundreds of babies to plant elsewhere and to give away.  The old mother is probably in too much shade and is not as big as she should be.  Many of the babies are catching up as they are in the full sun.

A construction worker once asked, “Is that a century plant?”.  He said that every time I walk by it to give it a swift kick; they love that kind of treatment.  Don’t ever water it, or treat it nice in any way, or it will die.

Agave is called “Century Plant” sometimes, implying that it blooms only once a century.  Not true.  More like once a generation, 15-20 years.  My mother plant has never bloomed.  On my road into nearby Columbia, a big one was placed in a traffic triangle; within a year it bloomed and leaned over like damaged in a  hurricane. The highway workers must have been amazed.  All that work, then the bloom, and gone!  Reading today, I learned that they die after this big bloom, but remain in all the clones of course.  And that big dead spiny thing can be a mess to remove.

They take care of themselves and propagate at a lively pace.  I have over 90 along my pool wall, and they are a little lethal looking when regarding them,  standing in your swim togs.  But then again, so is all my broken tile.

I am covering an ugly cement pool deck with tile fragments, organized to relate to a preexisting tiled wall that has functioned as something of a sketchbook for me.  This is a real challenge: the unification of these two big spaces.   Having figured out how to do this earlier (can I  blink my eyes and have it done?),  one element of continuity not thought about at first are the plants in the gardens BETWEEN the wall and the cement deck.  They are elements in the composition too, and where the work is happening now, the plants are agave.

Although contrast can be nice (think of ST. Patrick’s Cathedral in NYC surrounded by sleek tall mirrored buildings), recording these live plants on the deck will provide unity and serve as a record for the plant’s history.

Realizing this, the next job was to insert the silhouette of a tiny prickly pear plant around the corner from where the work is taking place now.