August 31, 2009

A New Window

Emboldened by the new doorway we built in, and countless niches, we decide to add a window in the main shower room of our project house. The stone wall is about two feet thick, and built in the standard practice of building two parallel walls and filling the middle in with rubble.
The window we wanted to add in was small so there was little threat of collapse and no great need for interim support. We built the window at eye level and in the form of an arrow slit for defending a medieval castle. The window is about 30" tall and about 6" wide at the exterior opening while being about 20" wide on the interior.

The process, which seems easy and obvious by now, is first to choose a location that makes use of the existing stones. Locate a large stone already in the wall to be the header and another for a sill, that sort of thing. Then with a large diamond blade, cut the inward tapering vertical lines to a depth of about 4".

With a hammer and a chisel (pneumatic in this image), you carefully remove stones cutting and chiseling deeper and deeper until you reach the exterior.

Here, the top stones are supported temporarily with wood, while the sides are cut and chiseled clean and straight.

Oscar, always ready to work, but quickly bored with the slow pace, got the glory job of removing the last stones and "creating" the window. I wonder if this kind of stuff will pay off when he's a famous architect?

I then lightly braced the two sides with plumb boards and cemented the edges and sides. I could have made these side stones perfect and left them exposed, but that would have turned a 1 day project into a 1 week project, and besides now I can plaster the sides in a white luminous plaster and reflect much more light inward than the stones ever would have allowed. These boards came down the next morning.This is the finished window, awaiting a tile wall on the interior and plaster on the insides of the opening....or maybe mirrored tiles...hmmm?

Here is the window from the exterior, hardly noticable from the street, yet a profound effect on the forming shower.

August 6, 2009


Our minds are in motion and are tending to stay that way.

Momentum is an interesting thing. I can change my mind like the wind, but put it in motion and I’m too often lost down that rabbit hole.

I ponder momentum as I start a renovation, searching for a straight line to measure off of. I have found I can spend as much time trying to find a worthy starting point as doing the job itself. The art of renovating a centuries old stone building is curious, the momentum of a half a centimeter can cause a drain to run backwards or a stair riser to become a trip hazard, and once a bad decision is made it can in fact be “cast in stone”. Spirit levels (the tool with the air bubble in a glass chamber) are relatively modern and levelity was not a great concern in the middle ages. Town planning was rare and buildings were built until they ran into an obstacle and were rarely square or plumb. I’m sure that ancient builders used plumb bobs or pendulums, but it didn’t seem to mater much that stuff was square. It all adds up to a conundrum of consequence. It helps that this latest project doesn’t even pretend to be square, it is an obvious trapezoid. The rez de chausse (street level) has a dirt floor and I suppose the animals that lived there never complained about the lack of right angles. Once you climb up to the etage (second level) the walls appear straight and the ceiling even appeared level, until I put my new laser level on the high corner and thought for certain I hadn’t set it incorrectly until I verified the degree of slope….8”! Once I had jacked up the beams so that the ends were all back in the same plane, I realized that century old oak beams develop a decent sag just from their own weight, so there was still more shimming to do. All along I’m questioning the value of “level”??? These buildings never had rolling office chairs to think about. So I am changing the momentum, and creating another of my own invention. But this is momentum with a small “m”.

An object at rest stays at rest…

Oscar selling his old books, boxes and bikes at the town flea market

Momentum is more important as we grope for a healthy trajectory in parenting. Once that line in the sand is drawn, it’s a difficult enterprise to cross it. I mean Oscar is smarter than I am in so many ways, but he’s looking to us for lessons and limits (even though he would never admit it). When those lessons dissolve between us, it’s a shift that sees the seawall eroded a measure. The problem is when the momentum of a poorly established limit is stronger than the lesson, and it’s a downhill slope. I often hear the echo of a yes or a no long into the cold dark night of a bad decision, and the puzzlement over changing one’s mind rings louder and louder as the decision moves further away. I favor the nurture argument over the nature, and that makes me even more anxious about the trajectory we are “responsible” for. There is plenty of momentum in the mind of a 47 year old parent, and it is often necessary to reverse a bit and find the flexibility of an 11 year old. It takes a lot longer to re-route a person going 47 than one going 11. Oscar can get over an over-zealous parent much quicker than we can let the same conflict pass.
Every relationship has it’s own momentum. I carry pieces of my parents and grandparents with me everywhere, little change, but a lot of inertia. I watch the patterns being established between Oscar and his parentals and wonder how far they will carry him?

An object in motion stays in motion…

Another momentum.

We are often given credit for our decision to move from our comfortable lives in California to an unknown life in France, but that decision came easy, made like most of our big decisions, on the back of a napkin. The difficult part was the inertia of that life, it was like pulling a plant out of the sand, some of the roots went deep, drinking and sustaining, and others were already growing on the surface noticing the sunlight and searching for soil. The fact that our lives were “at rest” was something we could bluff our way around, by telling ourselves it was a five year “temporary” plan, we cheated Newton’s law and before we noticed it we were here and setting roots all over again, storing passive energy into inertia for another day, another move. We spend a lot of idle time talking about where our future is heading, we think we can direct it a little, and we are trying to define the issues. So far, trying to prove Newton wrong has worked well for us, we’ll see where that takes us!

Oscar’s wearing jewelry (a chain)
Daniel’s wearing glasses (reading)
And Pat’s wearing French fashion.
Summer is all around us, tourists, houseguests and open windows…

Good momentum!
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