Monday, Aug. 25, 2008
Dear Diary:

This spring the spousal unit and I had a heart to heart. We've had seven years of unremitting hard work around here. Everything from putting on a new roof to adding porches to interior renovations to massive landscaping projects.

We don't have much money so if we don't do it ourselves, it can't be done. By ourselves, I would mostly be speaking of the spousal unit since he's the carpenter. My carpentry skills are of the "Time For Another Trip To The Emergency Room" persuasion.

As we talked this spring, it became clear to me that the spousal unit was burned out. It's exhausting to work stupidly hard and then come home and work stupidly hard at the same stuff. So we declared this summer a moratorium. No new big projects. Just the clean up on the existing to do list.

That was the plan.

And, well, we stuck to it until just a few weeks ago.

The big mistake was allowing me anywhere near a back hoe. Give me command of a piece of heavy equipment that's capable of major earth moving, and I will not be able to help myself. In my defense, I want to state for the record that the spousal unit was there the whole time. Frankly, he is an enabler.

A few weeks ago a neighbour's son appeared with his back hoe. The plan was that he would pull out the cement cores that had held up our former woodshed so we could tidy the area. The spousal unit and I both thought that spot would be a great place for a reflecting pool, a waterfall and perhaps some fish, but no formal plans had been made.

The thing I've always regretted about our big pond is that it's just too far from the house to hear water sounds. A small reflecting pond by the house would give me that.

The night before Chris was set to arrive, the spousal unit decided it was crazy not to have him dig the hole for the reflecting pond. So we sketched something small and kidney shaped on a scrap of paper.

Oh, and then there was the matter of the piece of art we've been given.

People like the spousal unit and I don't get to own art, but we do get to see a lot of it. The place where we live is very beautiful and for a long time it was a very cheap place to buy a home, so many artistic types have settled here. There's a glass artist on our road. One day last summer, when I was driving by his home, I stopped and admired a beautiful window he was putting in.

He pshawed it, said it was the cast-offs for a large art commission, the bits of glass that had tiny bubbles in it, or flaws in the colour or thickness of the glass. Would I like a window just like his, he asked? He certainly had enough seconds from his castings, if I wanted it ...

I am surprised that my jaw didn't shatter, it hit the ground so hard.

That's how we came to own what I think of as my water wall. It's meant to go together as a long rectangle, about 4' wide and 7' long. The spousal unit and I fought long and hard about it, because I desperately wanted it in the house and he desperately did not.

Round one went to the spousal unit. Outside it would go. But where outside?

Well, we made a cardboard mock-up and experimented with it, because it's kind of hard to visualize how something that powerful will look in the landscape. (The original weighs over 300 pounds, so it's not something that you just, ah, cart around.)

It became clear that if we mounted it as one long, tall rectangle it was going to look odd and monolithic. So I came up with the idea to split it, and put the two bits side-by-side. It suddenly took on a whole new character and got a wonderful liquid feeling.

As we were sketching out the reflecting pond, it became clear that we would have space right near it to put the water wall. You can't jam a few posts in the ground and put up something like the water wall. You need a proper foundation that goes below frost lines and has footings.

So we decided that since Chris was coming anyhow, we would also have him dig the foundation hole for the water wall.

For those of you keeping score, what was supposed to be the simple removal of four cement cores, had now morphed into a small reflecting pond and a foundation hole.

It gets worse.

It always gets worse.

Big Ass Rocks So Chris came and the rough holes got dug and the obligatory big ass rocks were removed. The spousal unit had him dig the small, tasteful pond we both agreed would be a reasonable project.

We looked at it and agreed that the pond looked puny and needed more levels, so we had Chris enlarge it and create a deep end. When he was done, it looked like this:

Rough Hole

Then the spousal unit and I spent days and days with hoes, rakes, a tamper and wheelbarrows removing more dirt and rocks than I want to think about, creating a smooth bowl. What had once been a tiny reflecting pond has morphed into something considerably more substantial.

Last weekend we hand mixed cement and poured a footing for the foundation wall for the water wall. I like to think of myself as being strong and fit. I can tell you that after six hours of working with cement that I am not the woman I think I am. Despite all those hours I log in the gym, I did not own a pretty gym muscle that did not hurt.

We don't have the money to have a cement truck come in and pour a proper foundation. Never fear, Mr. Packrat has saved our butts. Years ago the spousal unit scrounged a buttload of used cement blocks from a job site.

This week I've been chipping off cement and scrubbing them. We'll mix cement, lay up the foundation wall with these bricks. We'll interlace metal mesh between the layers, set re-bar into the holes of the blocks, and when the foundation is laid up, we'll pour cement grout into the holes.

It will be exhausting, but it will be strong and will only cost us about 10% of a poured foundation. Plus the spousal unit has the added bonus of continually pointing out that his packratting skillz have yet again saved us some serious coin. The man is going to be unbearable to live with. Unbearable.

Next spring we'll build a pretty wall of antique brick (also scrounged years ago by Mr. Packrat) on top of the foundation, to be the visible support for the glass wall. That is the current plan. We'll see what happens.

I have my fingers crossed that this works out to be right, that we haven't made an enormous landscaping error. It's one thing to screw up the shape of a flower bed or walkway. That you can fix easily with a shovel. Seven foot plus, stupidly heavy glass walls on eight foot foundations? Uh, considerably more permanent.

I am really sweating this.

In the meantime, we are, of course, far from done with the backbreaking labour. The foundation wall is just a warm up.

The next step with the pond is to pack a 2" layer of sand all around it. Although we've spent eons digging out every rock we can find, rock is a fact of life here. We have to put in the sand to protect a pond liner. The sand we will dig from the sand pit on the home farm. One shovel full at a time.

We'll haul it up here by tractor and pack it into the pond. One shovel full at a time. I find it's best not to think about the big picture in cases such as this. It's just too overwhelming.

I don't even want to think about what's involved in installing a liner in a pond this size. I'm going to pretend that it's something far, far off in the future.

Next spring and summer will be the final push. We'll put in the pond liner, pump, filter, plants and fish. We have to buy special marine silicone to assemble the glass wall and that will have to wait until next year, too, because we have busted the piggybank to get this far.

So much for the spousal unit's kickback summer, eh?

Oh well, as he himself admitted, it wouldn't be summer if we didn't launch some insane landscaping or house improvement scheme. Some people collect stamps, birdwatch, or cruise malls for bargains. Me, I like to play in the dirt.

To each his own, right?

--Marn

Mileage on the Marnometer: 269.61 miles.

Going Nowhere Collaboration

Goal for 2008: 500 miles


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