Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Waconda: Happy Anniversary!


The first week of June is a landmark for us. So many milestones have occurred lately!



  • It’s the one year anniversary of the date we signed a contract with Crest Homes to build our dream house. Based on current progress, this means it takes about 15 months to build a 1500-sq-ft rectangle. 
  • It marks the date that our construction loan matures. Based on current progress, this means we get to start paying a mortgage on a house in which we can’t live. 
  • It's the deadline to file for a principal residence tax exemption. Based on current progress, this means we get to pay a higher vacation home tax rate on a property on which we can’t vacation. 
So, obviously a celebration is in order. We plan to do something that evokes the proper level of merriment and joy, like getting root canals and then shaving the dog. 

And no celebration is complete without a guest book on site for all the creepers who think it's perfectly acceptable to walk around the house after the construction crew has gone home, even though No Trespassing signs are clearly posted. What really hacks me off is that at least two of the looky-loos have contacted our builder asking for quotes so he can build them a house just like ours. I really hope they ask us for a reference so we can encourage them to copy our over-budget, behind-schedule Castle in the Air.

To say I’m discouraged is an understatement. Our preciously short Michigan summers are slipping away, one lovely day after another, and yet the status quo is two-steps-forward, one-step-back. We are still only in the rough finish stage and very few of the mistakes have been corrected to our satisfaction. I'm to the point where I don’t even want to drive by the site because I can’t take any more bad news or disappointment. 

I am worried about the stress this places on Senior. He's resorted to the Squeaky Wheel strategy of making daily phone calls and emails, scrutinizing punch lists and cost sheets and asking countless questions to offset the whole team's lackadaisical attitudes and frustrating lack of urgency. He tries to balance the universe by also pointing out things done well, but it’s getting harder and harder to focus on the positive. 



We launched our boat a couple weeks ago. There is no place to relax on our shore, but we can float away for a while and imagine the future. It's just one way to make the best of the situation. One other way for me to cope is to take a hiatus from my Waconda blogs until we've finished the project. My attempts at wit and satire keep taking a sharp turn into bitter territory. I'll post a final update when the project is done and we've moved in.  Until then, some memories are better left… unremembered. 

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Waconda: The windows

When George Fuller originally built the cottage that we are renovating, he named it Waconda after a Native American story. It means "Great Spirit of the Water". I'm pretty sure that Spirit is just messing with us now.

The house is coming along. It took a while for them to finish the roof, allowing the spring rains several opportunities to marinate the interior, but it's done now and the shingles look great. We did an initial walk through with the electrician and mapped out where our outlets and canned lights should go. Rough plumbing is underway, the basement floor will be poured this week, and the windows were installed.

Ah the windows. They're beautiful. They offer stunning views of the lake. And they are totally wrong. You see, the windows are supposed to match. What we wanted was double hung windows with mullions (those little slats that divide the window into squares) in the top half. Even though the windows differ in size, the mullions should be the same proportion from window to window. And the dining room and the master bedroom each would also have a large picture window to allow for unobstructed views of the lake. What we got was a mish-mash of mullions. Some are big, some are little, some are in-between. A few cover the full length of the window and some reach three-quarters of the way down. The bedrooms each have casement windows instead of double-hung, which we learned were required to meet local building codes for egress (apparently the average Michigander is too fat to fit through the bottom half of a double-hung window in an emergency). And in our half bath, the window is off center, so the trim disappears into the corner of the house.




Our builder said the window company made the mistakes, and contacted the representative. They've assured us that we will personally meet with the rep to review each window before ordering the correct replacements.

I'm not sure how long it will take to get the problem fixed, but at least it doesn't hold up any of the other work on the house. Someday we'll laugh about this whole process. For now, I just hope George's Great Spirit has had his fill of practical jokes.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Waconda: Tomorrow, Tomorrow

So blogging about Waconda isn't fun anymore. It's just too depressing. It's been about a month since my last update, and we're only about a week ahead of where we were then. Our builder's mantra has been "tomorrow".  

  "When will the modifications to the trusses be finished?"
     "Tomorrow."
  "When will they be delivered?" 
     "Tomorrow."
  "No trusses yet. When will they be delivered?"
     "Tomorrow."
  "Still no trusses! When will they be delivered?"
     "Tomorrow."
  "Where are the trusses!? Seriously, when will they get their act together???"
     "Tom--" Well, you get the idea.


This went on for a couple-three weeks, until finally we had trusses! Which then lay on the ground for another week or so, because it was too cold / wet / windy / dark / swarming with locusts to finish prepping them and put them on the house. Then they told us the crane broke. So they fixed it. And it broke again. 

But just like Broadway promised, sure enough the sun finally came out. The crane showed up, the trusses went up, and progress was made. We stopped by to watch for a little while and it was pretty cool. And then the crew actually worked again yesterday -on a Saturday!- to begin putting the plywood on the roof.


In the meantime, we HAVE been having some fun picking out finishes. We looked at flooring samples, deciding on an engineered hardwood in hickory. We are still getting quotes to keep that under budget. We also spent a great afternoon wandering around a huge warehouse looking at slabs of granite, marble and other stones. Toby had suggested a couple for us to focus on, and we fell in love with a beautiful soapstone that will look fantastic in the kitchen. Now we can start looking for the kitchen backsplash and bathroom tile, while the framing crew finishes up. Their next big steps on the job are to finish the roof and install the windows. I figure they'll be done tomorrow.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Waconda: Back on track (or not)

Ok, that's better.  Still not exactly what we envisioned, but an improvement over the giant appliance box that we had before: 

And just to remind us of why this is all worth it, here's today's view from the upper window:

* * * * * * *

UPDATE 4/13/14: Oh hey, did I say things were back on track?  Well that lasted about 45 minutes. Shortly after I posted that update, a freak spring hailstorm blew in with violent winds.  

And that was when this:


Turned into this:


So where is the back wall?


Ohhh, there it is!


Sunday, March 30, 2014

Waconda: Déjà vu

I keep talking about our plans to build a small house on a big lake. Our design intention has always been to keep the "cottage-y" spirit of the original house. We planned a second floor, more of a half-story than a full one, for ascetic purposes. It will balance the front porch roof without overwhelming the rest of the house. We aren't even going to finish it off right away. Eventually we will convert it into extra living space, with windows at each end and storage space under the eaves. Maybe it will be a meditation room overlooking the lake, or (if we're lucky) a bedroom for future grandchildren. We even joke about using it as a shuffleboard court since the space is long and narrow.  

It's huuuge!
But as we've come to realize (over and over again), things rarely go as planned. Somehow this design got lost in transition from drawing to reality. As the walls were raised in preparation for the trusses, it became obvious that they were twice as tall as we wanted. The house is headed to butt ugly territory; a massive box that overpowers the landscape and alienates our cottage dreams.

So once again we find ourselves facing a setback. We do not like the mistake and don't want to change our design. The walls have to be cut down, and new trusses have to be ordered to fit the intended design. We're not sure how long it will be before the corrections are made and we're back on track. 

Like Yogi Berra says, it's Déjà vu all over again.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Waconda: The 2x4 Jungle

We're finally to the point where it's easy to see the progress on the house. The main floor is all framed in and the layout is taking shape. I would explain what you're looking at in this picture, but if you envision things anything like me, it won't make sense.  Floor plans are a lot easier to understand when they are drawn out and all the rooms are labeled, with tiny little furniture pieces tastefully drawn in and no dog hair is showing on the floor.

Our living area kept shrinking in our imagination, to the point where we were sure we'd feel like Alice after she found the Eat Me Cake. But now that we can really feel the size of the rooms, we are reassured.  I mean, we are literally sighing in relief. Have you ever seen that Tamiflu small house commercial? The one where the guy has to hunchback his way down the hall to the kitchen, and when he gets there his knees are in the living room? By the time he scrunches himself through his bathroom door, we're dying. But happily, thanks to the high ceilings that our builder recommended and the thoughtful design, the only room that feels kind of 'snug' is the guest bedroom. And that is actually part of our evil master plan to keep visitors from getting too comfortable and overstaying their welcome.

I've been out of town a few days, so I'm anxious to wander around the site after work tomorrow. The weather is still relentless, giving us a day or two of 40-ish temperatures that melts the snow into a muddy bog, then sinking back down below freezing and spewing out icy snowflakes. Tomorrow's forecast is 43°F with an 80% chance of precipitation. Sounds like a perfect day to build a house!

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Waconda: We have WALLS!!

I am doing the happy dance today. Good things are happening. The polar vortex appears to have finally finished its brutal assault.  The snow is starting to melt.  A broken water main on the street across the bay was diverted before it got to our house. But most importantly, there are signs of progress on our job site. And even better, there were humans doing work on the job site! (Well, actually they're all just standing around and one guy is scratching himself, but who cares!  We have walls!!)

Waconda is going to be a tall skinny little house, pretty typical for a lake lot. It's sort of a shotgun style, similar to the wonderful old house we lived in back in New York. After the work crew was done for the weekend (because they never, ever work at our job on a Saturday) we went in for a closer look and to get a feel of the layout.


This is me standing in the kitchen. If I stick my right hand out, I'll be in the dining room.  And if I take half a dozen steps backwards, I'll be in the living room (sprawled on the deck, because I will have tripped over that wall-in-progress). If I go through the door at the back of the structure, I'll be on the front porch looking over the lake. We walked out there too, but the wind was really whipping in from the lake and I didn't want to take my hands out of my pocket long enough to take pics.


That lump in the far right corner of the house is Senior, who is demonstrating how it will look when he is curled up in bed in the master bedroom. The bed is a little hard, but the view is out of this world. It feels like you can touch the sky. In fact, the whole room feels very grand since there aren't any boundaries. Showering and getting dressed may be a little tricky though. A guest bedroom and the bathrooms still need to be roughed in. Ultimately there will be another floor above, which will remain unfinished for now. 

I'm cautiously optimistic that the work will continue to roll along. The weather forecast for next week is promising, with temps reaching into the 40's a couple of the days. We're making some final choices on the cabinet package and trim pieces. It feels like things are finally coming together. But just to be safe, as you read this, knock on wood!

Friday, February 28, 2014

Waconda: Old Man Winter

According to this Associated Press article on Time's website, Detroit is the city hit the hardest by the awful winter most of the country has been experiencing this year. While this is better news than the usual top 10 lists featuring Detroit (yeah Forbes, I'm talking to you), it's especially frustrating for, say, people trying to build a small house on a big lake in the middle of said winter.

We have had a little progress. The carpenters have been framing some of the garden level and have roughed in a set of stairs up to the main level. We were feeling pretty good about the work until Senior noticed the foundation is cracking. Frost settled in below the footer and gave a bit of a heave-ho. It can be repaired, but it's just one more thankyousirmaywehaveanother moment.

The lack of progress continues to frustrate us. But, even though little has changed on the worksite, there is another steadfast constant that brings it in to balance. We can still stand on the shoreline and look out over the peaceful beauty of the frozen lake. Even during the worst winter on record, it serves as a reminder of why we chose this spot, and hints at all the future will hold long after the build is behind us.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Waconda: Don't Even Ask

Every couple of days someone asks us how the house project is going. And the answer we give is always the same: “Don’t even ask.”

According to the project timeline we got from our builder before we signed our contract, they have competed 5 weeks of work in the last seven months. The only change since my last post a month ago is that they tore down the remaining corner of the house and threw it in that red dumpster that is frozen to the ground in front of the property.


I guess Murphy cursed us with his Law, because just about everything that can go wrong, has. To summarize:

We started the project off on the wrong foot when our builder thought his silver tongue would prevent us from needing a variance, but instead we had to appear before the zoning board, who only meet during a blood moon. 

The excavation process took a lot longer than expected, primarily due to the bedrock under our house that would have impressed Fred Flintstone himself, and because our builder proved to be a lot better at talking about paying his subcontractors than actually paying them. 

We thought the lengthy delay in moving the gas line would be our only problem with a utility provider. We dealt with the realization that Consumer's Energy must measure time in a parallel universe because it took three weeks to complete a service that should have been done in three days. But DTE got the last laugh by requiring ten business days to disconnect the electrical lines from the house. On the ninth day our area was hit with the first of several ice storms that tied up every available crew for the next month. (And don't even get me started on why our builder waited until the last minute to put in the demolition order with the utility companies, or why he didn't do them in tandem.)   

And speaking of the weather, we knew that the warm winters we’ve been experiencing the last few years were atypical, but this Polar Vortex is getting really old. According to the carpenters, their nail guns won’t work in sub-zero weather. And apparently using a hammer is out of the question…

     …But that point is moot anyway, since the crew is down and out with the flu.

We’ve explored the option of firing this builder and hiring another. This isn’t our preference – for one thing it’s tricky due to the confines of our construction loan; and as the old adage goes, we could be trading the devil we know for the devil we don’t know. But the main reason to stick it out is that we love the architect who has been working with us to design the house inside and out. He is the builder’s son-in-law and part of a package deal. However, in the interest of our sanity, we met with another builder to see if he would like to take over the project. He said he was interested and he’d send us the quote in 4 days. 

That was over a week ago. <<sigh>> 

Damn you, Murphy!


Monday, December 23, 2013

Waconda: The Holidays

When we closed on our house last June, we planned a 4-6 month timeline for our rebuild. We were looking forward to celebrating Christmas in our new home.

Well, Christmas is in 2 days. And the house isn't quite ready.




Here's hoping for Valentine's Day.