Post #3140: Sewing down to the season

Now that the days are really short, it’s become difficult to get good photos for my social and blog posts – particularly as the last two days have been darkly overcast and rainy.  Perhaps 2019 will be the year I invest in a photo set-up with some lighting – I keep thinking about it but then I’m not sure if I care all that much. 

I’m in the midst of Christmas-gift sewing at the moment – for Brian and my Mom mostly. I’m also knitting something for Mica which should be done by the time she arrives here just ahead of her birthday (next week). As much as I feel overwhelmed by everything I’d like to get done in the next two weeks, I do enjoy going into the studio and knowing exactly what I have to work on next. I have two sewing projects on the go at the moment, with a third and fourth to be added in the next few days. Photos will have to wait until after the holidays of course.

In the meantime I’ll show off the shirt I finished last week for Brian. It’s a pattern I hadn’t used before (M6044) so it was a test to see if I got the fit right – and huzzah! On first try it fit him like a dream:

This shirt is 100% stash busting – fabric (bought on sale years ago for $5 per metre), buttons, and pattern – which makes it feel like a freebie. It came together so easily that I would make it again without question. M6044 is a great all-round pattern which many options (pockets, long sleeves, yoke etc). I’ve gotten a lot of shirt inspiration from Male Pattern Boldness who is worth checking out if you are sewing male clothing styles.

On Friday I discovered that the Fabricland in Nanaimo has closed – a drag in the moment because I had planned to purchase a few fabric odds and ends for the gifts I am making. Instead, I have been forced to get creative with what I have in my stash which has turned out to be excellent for emptying my overflowing fabric drawers. As far as stashes go – I’m not excessive, but I do tend to purchase garment amounts of yardage, so it does take up space.

Through the holidays and into the new year I have plans to sort supplies in the studio so I can declutter a bit. In our house we do the January cure every year, and I think I’ll do a parallel process in my studio. It’s not that I’m so much into new year’s resolutions, but I do find a thorough cleaning and sorting process sets the year off in the right direction. Besides, I haven’t washed the floors in here since we moved in. It’s about time for a top to bottom cleaning. 

Post #3139: Snapshot of a house for sale

Brian and I went to look at a house yesterday afternoon – a bit of a lark really, because we wanted to see what 4000 square foot home was selling for $600,000 that had wrap around decks and a great room with a view of Nanaimo harbour.

What we discovered was in fact, the house where dreams (and marriages) go to die. 

No photos because I didn’t take any and the real estate pics are from some other time. Short version: what we walked into was someone’s passion project that didn’t go well, and a story about how the sale of the house was part of a contentious divorce. 

But for more details: this thing is built on a straight up/down vertical interface (a 25% grade) with a sheer rock to its back and 1500 linear feet of retaining walls holding up the foundation of the home. It’s pretty apparent that someone did most of the work themselves, finished none of it to completion, and then the house (and likely marriage) started to fall apart before substantial finishing was done. For example, the ensuite bathroom off the master bedroom has no bathtub. Closets have no doors. Electrical switches and outlets have no plates. Dramatic and architectural posts in the vaulted ceiling of the great room, don’t quite meet up at right angles. The floor with radiant heating installed seems to have some warped spots in the underlying structure as though it wasn’t laid correctly. And so on.

Damage immediately evident upon entering the house was pooling water (coming from a leak in the ceiling) in the hot tub room, warped doors, and  broken appliances. And although there *is* a spectacular view from the upper wrap-around deck, there is so much water damage (and rot), that we and the realtor didn’t feel very safe standing on it. Oh, and as we left we noted that the retaining walls appear to be bulging outward in two places likely due to a drainage problem. 

What little property exists around the house (it’s half an acre, but all vertical), is home to an abandoned outhouse with no door, a play structure with the roof ripped off, and piles of garbage everywhere. 

While our realtor didn’t know much about the owners or the history of the place, it wasn’t hard to surmise that the house itself was a likely culprit in the end of the marriage. For one thing, building on that lot would have been a stressful and expensive undertaking from the get go. I’m not sure why one would buy a steeply vertical lot at the bottom of a sheer rock face, but I do know that it takes a hell of a lot of money to build in a spot like that. And while it’s clear that someone had a big vision for a showpiece home, so much money was spent in engineering the build, than nothing was left for inside finishing and so countertops, fixtures, and cabinetry are all of the cheapest home depot quality. Paperwork on file also indicates that the owners were living in the build as it was going up – for perhaps as long as 15 years (the septic was approved in 1996, but the occupancy wasn’t legal until 2005, and it still wasn’t finished).  You couldn’t design a building situation that would put more strain on a marriage than this. 

The house has now been unoccupied for a couple of years, probably more – so in addition to the many inborn defects, it also feels like its people have fled, leaving plant pots to rot on the balconies, and a stripped down marital bed in the unfinished master bedroom. As I told Brian on our way home – everything about the place made me sad, like it was hard to envision that the house had ever seen a happier time. Although the house is advertised as “built for entertaining” it’s unlikely that many guests were ever invited into the never-ending process tinged with family despair. (The house is also advertised as “ready for your finishing touches” when in fact it needs structural repair and a new geotechnical review.) 

Someone bought that lot in the throes of a new marriage and a dream, and appears to have left with neither. It’s not an unfamiliar story on these islands. At first glance on a B&B holiday they seem like magical enclaves, and it’s easy to get swept up in the romance of it all. But then there are the realities of rural living, groundwater limitations, geological aspects of living on a rock rising out of the sea, the fact that no bylaw enforcement exists to make your neighbours clean up their derelict vehicles, a shortage of available builders, and so on. It is certainly not uncommon to find new-ish places for sale which have occupancy permits, but have never been occupied or even full finished. Which I suppose just goes to show how the best laid plans….. But in this case, there weren’t even well laid plans and it shows from top to bottom, leaving me with a deeply unsettled feeling about how many people are running around in this world with such poor judgement. It also made me profoundly grateful that I am not partnered to someone prone to flights of grandiosity or throwing money away on hopeless projects.

Curiosity satisfied, though I’m still trying to shake off the bad house vibes.        

Post #3138: Sitting upright again

I think today is the first time in ten days or so that I have had energy to do anything beyond sit at this keyboard and half-heartedly respond to work emails. Of course – I have done more than that – but I’ve had a cold with a bad cough and as a result was taking a lot of nyquil and neocitron (and still waking up all night long) – so the net effect has been *no* getupandgo.

And that really bottomed me out because right before that, I was feeling really excited and fertile with new projects – and there is nothing worse than having a head full of ideas with a body unwilling to get off the couch and execute them.

But even though I haven’t been 100%, I did manage to host two sittings of a new zen-meditation group on Gabriola which coincided with the end of the fall practice period and I have done some work and consulted with a good friend on a new project I am launching in January. Both of these things are coming into the new year with me – and you will hear more about the latter soon (hint: it involves more content from me!)

 My studio has been pretty quiet since returning a couple of weeks ago – though I did start work on a silk kimono-style jacket that I have run into some hitches with. It’s in time-out at the moment. I also finished this poncho mid-month and I’ve been wearing it every other day since: 

Pattern: Indigo Frost by Isabell Kraemer | Yarn: Cascade 220

One thing I plan to do leading up to the new year is set my studio up for taking a photos a bit more easily. As it stands now things are disorganized and every time I go to take a photo of a garment or anything else, it requires cleaning up first. Partly this is because I’ve rearranged some other spots in the studio and some of the items (like my full length mirror) never quite got settled again. A little declutter of the studio would also help! This has become really noticeable with the shorter days and rainy weather – outdoor photos being ruled out for the moment. 

It all brings to mind the fact that I am always thinking – if I just make this adjustment, I’ll be happy with my workspace – when really, all tweaks only add up to more tweaks. There’s a zen koan in there, and I’m pretty sure it has to do with leaving well enough alone. 

Post #3137: Cabin retreat

I feel it’s awfully important that I be able to spend time alone. I’m not sure why that feels imperative, but it does. So this week I’m at the cabin by myself for five days – though I will have a couple of days with the electrician here, so not totally alone. It’s a bit of a test I guess. I’ve co-owned this property for five years, and yet never spent a night on it by myself.

As I’m writing, darkness is falling on my first night here. It’s only 4:40, but as we’ve just reverted from daylight savings it feels later to me. In a little bit I will make dinner, but I gorged myself on potato chips when I came in from my walk earlier so I’m not particularly hungry.

I was surprised to see snow when I arrived. Not that it’s unusual for this time of year, but down below in Princeton, the ground is dry as a bone. I forget that our higher altitude and the fact we’re situated in a watershed makes a big difference during the swing seasons of spring and fall. The ice is much earlier in covering the lakes, and later in receding. Though Link Lake is not yet frozen, ice has formed around its edges and so the process has clearly begun. The wind this afternoon carried the frozen taste of winter giving me an ice-cream headache when I stood too long at the head of the lake in its purview. While I brought my warmest jacket and scarves, I failed to bring a toque or pair of mittens with me. It’s still so warm on the coast this year.

Coming here to find snow gladdened me somewhat, as I’ve been worried about the fact temperatures elsewhere aren’t dropping as they “should”. It’s hard not to be infected by fear these days – I’m working hard at inoculation against the worst of it by rooting myself in as much present enjoyment as I can muster. During a phone call on Saturday my mother asked me what I wanted to do about a piece of property in ten years time (when I possibly retire) – which even at the best of times would be an impossible thing to forecast. In this particular climate of change though, it seems downright ludicrous.

As much as I want to write about the sticky demands of my family, I’m going to leave that aside for a moment and note that I have a couple of projects while I am here that I plan to devote my time to. The first is helping the electrician who is coming to figure out why we have shorts in our system post drywalling. The second is to write a post (and to my cabin co-owners) my thoughts on toilet and greywater systems. And the third is to collect a series of blog posts and essays into a single document along with a number of quotations and other bits and pieces – in order to see what kind of mass (mess?) it compiles into.

While I’ve felt the need to focus on writing essays recently and I have a couple more in the hopper right now, I also want to figure out what I’ve got in terms of semi-finished material already. Even if I don’t have a publishable book in me, I do feel the need to collect this material together to see what it is exactly. I suspect at the very least it’s a coherent philosophy of how to get by in the world right now. 

I am writing at the moment to loosen my fingers and keep myself company. I have come here because there are fewer distractions than at home or in the city. As much as I don’t like being separated from Brian or the rest of my life – it’s exactly what I need in order to get down to it – to hear myself think outloud on the page for a few sustained days and see what comes of that.

Post #3136: On heat pumps and home systems

Last weekend I went to workshop on composting toilets and alternative water systems at our local community hall, where Gordon Baird of Eco-sense gave a pretty comprehensive run down of various options. In four hours he managed to cover the basics of composting toilets, greywater, rainwater harvesting, and alternatives to water use (permaculture principles basically) and I came away with a lot of new information (including the tidbit that hostas are edible – which I was surprised to discover).

I’ve been thinking about house systems a lot lately – both at our residence and the cabin – and as I’ve learned more about each component (water, septic, home heating), my opinions have really shifted. (Note: if you come here for the sewing – the rest of this might be a bit boring).

First of all, I decided this summer that it was time to get a working heating solution for our home on Gabriola. The electric forced air furnace was broken when we moved in and we’ve been heating with wood as a result. At first I thought we would stick with wood heat but a number of factors have become apparent during our two year trial:

  • our wood stove insert isn’t an efficient way to heat our house
  • wood is now selling for $300-$350 a cord on our island, making it more expensive per kj than electric heat
  • we are lucky if the guys selling wood ever return our calls
  • we don’t have enough sustainable wood resource on our property to use that and there are no appreciable crown land resources to get wood from (which is what I did when I lived on the Sunshine Coast)
  • there are downdrafts/inversions on this island pretty often which push woodsmoke down and create a pollution hazard (literally, blue air)
  • it’s a lot of work to haul wood all the time, and when slippery and freezing out it’s dangerous

So, I thought – we’ll investigate fixing the furnace – probably straight forward. It took me three months to find someone who would come and take a look (the local guys only work for the rich in the summertime). Finally, a retired electrician came and scoped it out in September – he told me that all four elements were fried and that the furnace wasn’t worth saving. He did this in exchange for a bottle of wine – so at least we didn’t have to pay for that bad news.

My next thought was – okay, we’ll probably look at going down the road towards a heat pump. People on this island are heat pump *crazy* – you cannot go to someone’s house without hearing about the virtues of the heat pump. (For those of you in colder climates – this is a form of heating very specific to temperate climates that rarely get below zero). I started calling around to see who would even service Gabriola Island or give me a quote. During that time I spoke with a great many people about heat pumps and this is what I learned:

  • not everyone loves them – people who formerly heated with baseboard heaters do because they are cheaper to operate, but other people told me they are noisy and not as cheap to operate as advertised
  • below four degrees, they no longer function as heat pumps, but as glorified space heaters – so the electricity cost is no different during those times than if you were using an efficient electric furnace
  • everyone I know who uses one for heating, also copped to using them to cool their homes during the summer – that means that any energy savings on heat is negated by air conditioning use
  • the average heat pump lasts 15 years compared to the 25 years a standard electric furnace lasts – a furnace is also much easier to repair
  • the price of putting a ducted heat pump system into my house – with the required electrical upgrade? $18,000 (versus $2300 for a replacement forced air furnace)

So. While BCHydro would have given me an $800 rebate for switching to a heat pump – I was still looking at a close to $20,000 price tag to “do the right thing”. But this “right thing” it turns out – often doesn’t result in overall reduced energy costs because instead of turning their heating system off from May-October, people often just switch it over to a cooling system and run it year round for optimal temperatures. BCHydro even includes this in their online info – it’s not something I just made up. 

Additionally – the annual savings with a heat pump over 15-20 years come nowhere near the $15,000 difference between the heat pump cost and the furnace cost. 

So in the end, I did what I didn’t expect to do – but instead went ahead with an electric furnace (after much calling around because first I had to find a company who was willing to work on our island – and also one who installs electric furnaces which very few companies will do anymore because there is way more money for them in heat pumps). 

The whole experience left me frustrated and confused. So confused – that I kept thinking I must be missing something. There is a clear imperative to reduce energy usage and relieve pressure on the dams in our province – not to mention the need for carbon offsets around the LNG plants (which are baloney – but that’s a post for a different day) plus climate change – so why:

  • are heat pumps not better subsidized, particularly in retrofit situations where additional costs such as electrical upgrades might exist?
  • is there no consumer campaign to emphasize that there will be little energy savings if the heat pump is run year round for heating, cooling, and overall conditioning (filtering) of the air?
  • is there no program for lower-income people to get additional rebates on heat pump technology – particularly as industry is re-tooling to only offer this option in the future?

Upshot is – I spent a month learning about heating systems and in the end came away with the old tech rather than the new (greener) tech – and that makes me all kinds of unhappy. On the other hand, we have central heat and that feels pretty fantastic right about now (since the wood delivery guy has not called me back despite repeated calls for the past two months). Also – I bought a system I could afford which means we aren’t incurring interest on a $15,000 loan which is what a heat pump system would have meant for us. 

If we were doing a new build, or had a smaller home (that could handle a single wall unit) – then I would consider a heat pump more strongly – and might even discount the initial installation price in making my calculations. What’s another $10k when you’re already spending $300k? But as a homeowner trying to fix a problem, an electric furnace was our best option. 

This post has really ballooned so I’m going to save my thoughts on toilet technology and rainwater harvesting for another post – because hell, it turns out I’ve got a lot to say on this stuff. 

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