The Straw House Blog


From the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree file

Gil sands the door.


What a July….

I’m stuck sitting here just trying to come up with words to describe the roller coaster ride that was July 2004. Really stuck. What a month.

The month starts off well enough, work’s starting to pick up after a slow start to the summer, and then my laptop dies. The screen turns grey and that’s the end of it. Fortunately I bought AppleCare (Apple’s extended warranty) and so I place the call.

“The screen is dead.”

“OK sir, please reboot.”

“OK, it’s rebooted.”

“Good, now what do you see?”

“Nothing, the screen is dead.”

Repeat with subtle variations for half an hour.

“Well sir, it sounds like your screen is dead.”


There are a thousand stories like this on the web, now I’m one of them. So off it goes to Apple Canada with a note that this is my main machine, please rush, can’t work without it, etc. I call all my clients and explain that I’m down for a week or so, hang in there, I’ll be back up soon, Apple said I should have it back in a week.

I take the opportunity to drag in Pete, Tina and Stephen and we stucco the front of the house. The time is not wasted the house looks great!

While we stucco Gator suddenly gets very sick, he can’t keep anything down, he’s shivering convulsively. Off to the vet he goes. Gator has swallowed a stone. It is lodged in the juncture where his large and small intestines meet. They cut Gator open and remove the stone. With all the diagnostic x-rays and such it’s a $1200 procedure.

While all this is going we learn that Joanne’s grandmother, her last surviving grandparent, has been admitted to hospital with pneumonia, she is 94 and she is not expected to live through the night. She does, she’s a fighter to the end but passes away early the next morning. We take the dogs to my parents and head off to Burlington for the funeral.

We return and I still don’t have a computer, “Maybe early next week.” They said that last week to so I decide that I’m going to need to buy a new computer. My clients have been very patient but it’s been three weeks of no work and that’s three weeks of no billing. I buy a new computer that I really can’t afford. Of course I get my laptop back three days later.

During the no-computer hiatus I get an email from the editor of MocoLoco saying that they’d like to show our house on their site, could I please send pictures? I really like MocoLoco, I read it everyday, I’m thrilled and send off pictures.

A couple of days after the MocoLoco posting I’m reading WorldChanging another site I like and a group of people that I really respect, and I start yelling, “Joanne! Worldchanging! Linked! Worldchanging!” I could play it cool, but I’m just way too excited, first MocoLoco and then Worldchanging, I am chuffed.

By late July the site has long since passed the most vistors that we’ve ever received in a month and I’m reading the stats every night wondering how high it will go. The house is starting to get mentioned on a whole variety of sites. On July 28th we get picked as a Hot Site of the Day by USA Today’s online edition. All told almost 19,000 people visit the site in July, and we serve over 64,000 pages. That means that a fair number of people that visit the site stick around and read more than just the home page.

While all this is going on Gil learns to sit up, crawl and then stand up on his own (while hanging on to something). Suddenly we have to pay very very close attention to him, because man, he can move FAST when he wants too. The dogs seem slightly alarmed that the noisy little attention hog is suddenly mobile. The safety plugs go into the outlets, the floor lamps get moved away, and the glass end-tables and coffee-table in the living room are packed for temporary storage.

Then, on the 30th of July, Gator starts throwing up again. He starts shivering and quivering. I take him into the vet, he’s x-rayed and there doesn’t seem to be anything inside him, we figure he’s just really sick, they advise me to give him some Pepto-Bismol and bring him in the next day if he throws up again. He pukes several times during the night. Back to the vet. This time they do a barium series: they feed him barium and then x-ray him to see how it moves through his system. There’s a blockage, same place as the last one. It’s the 31st of July, the date of the annual Hunter family picnic, I’ve spent most of my day at the vet clinic, talking to the vet on the phone or waiting for her to call, I walk onto my parents back-deck three hours late and announce, “They’re cutting him open again.”


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Pre-Spring Thaw

We’ve had our first hit of warm weather and the driveway is a mess. If you do not have 4-wheel drive you cannot come and visit. The propane guys tried to come in yesterday, unannounced, I’d have warned them off, and judging by the gouges in the driveway he’s lucky he got back out. I don’t even know how he got in as far as he did, which was only about 100 metres. The benefit is that the worst has passed, most of the snow is off the fields and it can only get better.

On that note I’m also pleased to report that we managed to get in another two equalizes last week due to a full day of both wind and sun. So over the last six months we’ve equalized four times, which from what I can gather is pretty darn good.

Fixing the driveway has now jumped right up to the top of the list, since we don’t want to relive this mess every year. The only way that I can see doing it is to ditch the north (uphill) side of the drive and drop in two or three culverts. That way the melting snow will pass harmlessly under the driveway rather than over it. Then we need to build up the weak spots with another 6-10 inches of gravel. It’s times like these that I’m glad we have our own pit.

Of course none of this can happen until the frost leaves the ground and it is thoroughly dry, which won’t be for another couple of months. Another benefit to the ditching strategy is that the top soil removed by ditching can be spread around the house to build up the landscaping, which also needs to be done this year. Don’t think we’ll be doing any gardening anyway.


Extreme Cold

With temperatures dipping down to -30C (-22F) at night (colder with the windchill), we’ve had a pretty frigid couple of weeks. It’s cold enough that the dog’s paws hurt when we go for walks, cold enough that the oil froze in the pipe between my neighbour’s oil tank and his furnace, and cold enough that one of the hoses in our generator froze solid; one of eight the shop had seen that week with the same problem.

So how does the house behave when it’s his cold? Pretty well I’m pleased to report. If the sun is out the front part of the house will get up to 25C (77F) during the day and will hold most of that heat until we go to bed. Of course with the quantity of glass we have across the front of the house we do bleed heat, and the colder it is the faster that heat goes.

If there is no sun though the floor works pretty well. It can hold the house comfortably around 20C-21C (68F-70F), trying to go any higher seems a waste of propane, we just wear sweaters. Because the way radiant floor systems work it’s a ‘slow heat’. The slab is heated to a certain temperature and from there it just radiates (obviously). But we have a huge interior volume of air, much greater than most houses of the same size because we have such high ceilings. At its lowest point our ceiling is over ten feet high, at it’s highest it’s around seventeen. The floor just cannot react fast enough to compensate when the sun goes down. As a result we’ve moved a fireplace up to near top spot on the wish-list. We built a re-enforced pad into the floor to carry the weight of a masonry fireplace but have decided that what we need is actually just an airtight insert or a good woodstove. We need something that can heat the air quickly, but can also stop relatively quickly. The last thing we want is to light a fire on a cloudy morning in a masonry heater, than have the sun come out and have the stove radiating heat all day long. We’d cook ourselves out of the house!

I’ve been running around with the caulking gun sealing cracks and hunting for drafts, and there have been lots. At this point I have gone through more than three dozen tubes of caulking and I have one piece of advice for those building a house: the expensive caulk is worth it! Buy the best stuff you can find, we’ve used various grades around the house and we’ve had all sorts of failures wherever we used cheaper caulk. It might cost more up front but it’s worth it to save the aggravation and cost of having to do the same job twice.


State of the World

Bruce Sterling’s annual ‘State of the World’ address/dialogue is up on the Well right now. As always, it makes for great reading.

Since we’re talking about Bruce Sterling I highly recommend that anybody interested in Green Building/Sustainable Living check out the Veridian Design Movement.

And no, I haven’t yet posted that list, and I wouldn’t count on seeing it soon. I do have a working dining room light though, that I will post pictures of real soon, and some other lighting news.


Living in the Country

We’ve been here six months now, we’ve gone through our first summer and are headed into our first winter. I was thinking last week, as I walked across the fields to get my mail, how much I’m really enjoying living in the country. Joanne and I have a knack for choosing good locations, our first house was on a really fantastic street in downtown Toronto, with amazing neighbours, and all that downtown has to offer. Good and bad. It looks like we’ve lucked into a great neighbourhood once again.

Last Saturday was the neighbourhood Christmas party. Every year everybody on the Line gets together at one house to celebrate the season. Everyone brings a little something to add to the table, some booze, and this year, a sealed envelope with a contribution for a young boy on the line who has cancer and is going through chemo.

This is an adult affair, though an exception was made for Gil, since he’s so young. As soon as we walked in the door Gil had been wisked out of my arms and I hardly saw him for two hours, though you could follow his progress around the room by all the cooing of the women. He slept through the whole thing. Midway through the night my next door neighbour and I slipped out and went to play hockey in Millbrook. When we came back two hours later the party was still going on.

Hockey in Millbrook is a quintessentially Canadian affair. Pick-up hockey, played on a small-town rink with a bunch of guys of various skill levels in various levels of equipment, with either classic rock or country playing at ear-splitting levels over the PA system. I step on the ice and I feel like singing Oh Canada. We rarely have enough players (or goalies), there are no lines, no positions, and nobody seems to keep score, it really is hockey played for the sheer joy of it.

I’ve been composing a list of things I love and ... er ... like less about the country. I’ll post it soon. Right now there’s about 6 inches of snow on the ground, it’s minus 10C, and the whole countryside looks like a Christmas card. I love winter in the country - that’s number one!



The Obligatory Baby Picture

Here you go, Gil Hunter, age <24 hours.


The Obligatory Birth Announcement

He’s a week early, but Gil Hunter was born October 18, 2003 at 6:20pm. He’s 7lbs 4oz, 21” long. Everyone is healthy and happy.



Massive Update Part One: The BBQ

The house is officially broken in, we have had our first party. Friends and family, city and country, everyone came out for an evening of house tours and BBQ. Special thanks go out to my Mom and Dad who helped us paint and clean to get ready, and to Phil who ably handled the BBQ.

Here are some pictures from the night.