Sunday, April 14, 2013

Break on through

I don't know what it is about guys, but they can hardly contain their excitement when they're about to break through a 2-foot stone wall. No concerns that they are standing over 20-feet high balancing on rickety scaffolding in the pouring rain each flailing sledge hammers and chisels. All they wanna do is break on through to the other side no matter the danger and I really think this urge is almost primal and gets stronger the older they get. It's like they've had to be responsible adults for 35 years, not able to break things just for the hell of it like like when they were kids, so when an opportunity presents itself later in live it's as if they revert to their 10-year old selves with mischievous grins and all. Oh, well, at least I'm going to hopefully get a new window out of the deal or at the very least, cash in on Hank's insurance policy.

Oh really, how old are you Hank?

After somehow learning to live with all the recent gaps and holes in our walls still needing patching as well as drywall dust from the radiators installation and new bathroom downstairs I thought, "how much worse can it get by putting a huge hole in the north facing wall of our home?" Well, actually it shouldn't be too huge I hope as the window we have is small, but  I can only hope that the entire wall doesn't come  crumbling down while I'm writing this. Fingers crossed. Anyway, I've always dreamt of a window in this room (Chambres des Lavandes) to create a little more light, enhanced view as well as provide a little cross ventilation, but I knew it wasn't yet a priority so when the guys told me they could do it right NOW or never, I signed on for even more dust, rubble and chaos in our already warn torn home and a agreed to a continuing deviation from all the finishing we needed to do in order to be ready for family visiting next month, not to mention opening our doors for summer in June. Yikes, does anyone have an Xanax?

This latest project on the exterior of the house has been sort of surreal and unplanned from the start. Our friend and neighbor Mickey dropped by out of the blue a week ago and said he finally had some time to help us out since he had been given his own set of challenges earlier in the year when his house burned down last December. Anyway, his specialty just happens to to masonry.

"So how about we remove the crepi from the house?" he asked one recent afternoon. For those of you who don't know what crepi is, it's closest equivalent would be a sort of sand-lime-cement based stucco that was used to cover many of the stone houses and buildings after WWII. Only this stuff can age terribly and I felt ours created an Adams Family-esque look to the outside of our house and we had recently had another mason come out to give us an estimate which ended up being so cost-prohibitive that we had to take this project off our to-do list for the time being.

But then Mick shows up with his availability so once again the bathroom, patching, painting, etc. are are back on hold as you have to strike while the iron's hot. Side note: This is extremely difficult for me as I am not only a neat freak, but a list maker on steroids so it goes against everything in me to switch gears until all the other things have been crossed off the list. Throw in the additional unplanned financial implications and I'm pretty mush teetoring on a mental meltdown.

So the boys get going the next day and have been moving at an incredible pace. I do not think I know anyone who works harder than Mickey, with the exception of Hank of course. He just doesn't seem to have a slow speed dialed into his genetics and although it's great for us, I can only hope he does not burn himself out. Maybe it has something to do with his prior life in the British Navy or more likely from all the 'training' he received as Chippendale's dancer back in the day. 

However he acquired his energizer bunny powers, we have been the fortunate recipients of them at the moment and after just over one week, the crepi has been removed from the entire house (well, nearly, because they had to stop to break in the hole in the wall today for the window) and the re pointing begun. All for a fraction of the cost we were originally quoted. Oh, that reminds me. We had that awkward moment when the other mason stopped by the house after the work had begun. I had previously called him to thank him for his estimate but explained that we just could not afford to do it this year (all absolutely true). He then quickly rambled away in French even though our mutual french friends have explained to him many times that he needs to speak very slowly to the Americans in order for them to understand. But the jist of our conversation was leaning toward negotiating his quote and that he said that he would have a bilingual client help out the process. Only thing is, he did not follow through. Mickey showed up the following week with mile-high scaffolding and we went for it. The guy was pleasant enough, but when he stopped by although he could not help himself from being critical of the products we were using so we've struck a small compromise and agreed to take some bags of sand/chaud/cement off his hands at cost which helps us all out.

Then, there's been our pool fiasco. Yep, the one we just had installed last year. The British contractor we hired did a real shoddy job and we've had problems with it since day one. First, we noticed that we were spending an exorbitant amount of time cleaning it. At times I felt like a mad scientist constantly checking the ph, chlorine and salt levels because I just couldn't figure out why it filled up with algae after a just a few days cleaning. Yes, we put in some that anti-algae stuff,  yes we added a little "Plus" here and a little "Minus" there to balance everything out and still, by the end of the week, a nice layer of algae sticking to the sides.

Every time I contacted the contractor to get some advise, he'd respond almost dismissively as if I was making this stuff up. After some persistence (he actually called me a 'bully'), he would finally grumble out a possible solution which we would immediately try only to find that nothing seemed to work so we just constantly cleaned the pool last summer and is why Hank looked so buffed so it wasn't all bad news exactly. 
Anyway, then the tiles around the pool began to crack apart. 
"Oh, it's just settling," our contractor would say. "Probably because there was not enough concrete poured around the pool." 
"But, you recommended that we do it this way and have our grass grow right up to the coping to save costs.You even sent pictures of other beautiful pools like this and said you wished you'd installed your very own pool this way," we replied to which he had never answered.
The same thing happened with the pool alarm he recommended we purchase in lieu of putting a fence around the pool. 
"Great" we thought because we loved the idea of this big expansive views of the beautiful countryside from the pool rather than an enclosure. Except that the slightest breeze set the damn thing off. Hank tried everything and after we found ourselves constantly racing behind the house to turn it off - couldn't even think of leaving the house unattended. So, again, we asked the contractor, "What's up with the alarm?"
To which he replied, "Oh, those things are just pieces of crap." 
"Oh thank you kind sir for selling us on the idea of purchasing an expensive piece of crap," we muttered under our breath.

So, it went like that and I was getting into stress overload as winter was approaching and we could no longer 'maintain' our beast and I was so afraid that this year's investment would be totally ruined by the following Spring. Again, we asked our 'guy' about it - okay now we really do come off as gluttons for punishment I know. He says, "just lower the water level below the skimmers, throw in some winterization chemicals, turn off everything, cover the whole damn lot et, voila! everything will be just fine."

Except of course it was not. When we uncovered the pool last month. Algae and dead stuff all over the place, more coping tiles popped apart, cracked and broken skimmer so we cannot even clean the damn thing. Even the pool itself seemed to have settled as the water levels vary up to 4cm. And although I did send the contractor photographs and detailed descriptions so that he had the opportunity to make everything right  (which he did not of course, although he did kindly offer to replace the 50 euro skimmer), we also contacted a real, legitimate, certified french pool person who has been out a few times to assess the damage and save the day in time for our first visitors. Unfortunately, it won't come cheap, but it will be done correctly and be guaranteed for 10 years. Surprising, but true fact: our pool was installed incorrectly and not exactly to code and our new pool guy has asked if he could use pictures of our less than one-year-old pool to show potential customers the dangers of hiring a less-than-qualified pool person. Our contractor didn't order enough aggregate, so it's hollow under our steps so they could have easily broken. It also may explain why it's 'settling' so bizarrely. Many, many other illegal things done but it remains to be seen whether we go after the guy to recoup some costs. That just sounds so stressful and time consuming and as Hank says, maybe we just cut our loses and move on. We'll see. I'm still kind a pissed.

So, two steps forward, two steps back and hell, the first floor bathroom still isn't finished. Damn, I better get back to work!