Of Cement Board and the Isle of Spice!

“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” Gandalf the Grey.

Time, my friends. ‘Tis the very essence of our dilema is it not? Either not making use of it wisely or not having enough of it. I suppose we all wrestle with this problem in one way, shape or form from time to time…..and so I missed my second post last week. I was actually going to put something in there quick but decided against it because I really didn’t feel it was right. It would have been akin to looking up the answer in the back of my Sudoku number game book. Once you go there you really didn’t play the game honestly, so what’s the point?

My excuse? I was on vacation last week! We got back home from the Isle of Spice around midnight Saturday night. Energy levels were not high on Sunday….or maybe I was still in that Island Time living sort of thing; where nothing really matters all that much in the scheme of things. Hmmm. Island time. You gotta love it.

So welcome back fans of Middle Earth!!! It’s a pleasure as always, and I hope missing a post didn’t upset anyone too much. It’s been a wonderful summer in New York this year so far, and I’ve really been enjoying the heat especially after that miserably cold winter we had. Burrr.

Well, we do have quite a bit to catch up on so I’m going to try and keep my ramblings to a minimum. (Key word here is try).

As I said, we returned from Grenada (aka the Spice Island) late last weekend. We had a terrific time. One thing I wanted to show you is the volcanic lake at the top of this mountain called Mount Que Que on the island. It was really cool. We picked up a rental car at the place we were staying and took a drive through the rain forest to the top of the mountain. So cool. The roads are ridiculous getting up there though. I thought it was a lot of fun. The Editor was having a heart attack though and doing an incredible amount of back seat driving (slightly annoying when you’re driving in a place that you’ve never been before). It was incredibly steep and windy and narrow. An exciting journey if ever there was one.

The downside of this journey was my lack of vision at breakfast. You know when you’re on vacation you throw caution into the wind, in a sense? Hmmm. Or maybe it’s an attitude or entitlement issue. Needless to say, I had three cups of coffee at breakfast before we left. Oh yeah I forgot to mention… there’s no such thing as a road sign in Grenada, so you’re never really 100% sure of where you are going. Anyhoo, about a half hour into this drive up to this volcanic lake, the three cups of coffee reared their ugly head and I had to go. I mean really go, and we’re in the middle of a rain forest. Short version here Jim. They had rest rooms at the top of this mountain so I think we set the time record for getting up Mount Que Que. I actually jumped out of the car as it was moving and had Jude take the wheel at the very top and ran to the bathroom. That was a close call people. Really close. Moral of the story: throw an extra pair of underwears in the backpack. Hey, you never know.

Just show them the pictures will ya.

The Traveling Company going through the rain forest.
The Traveling Company going through the rain forest.

There are wild monkeys here but we didn’t see any. Parts of this trail were covered with the husks of nutmeg shells. It was really cool.

Volcanic crater lake on top of the mountain.
Volcanic crater lake on top of the mountain.

We didn’t take the hike to the lake, but there are fish in there so they say.

Lizard on a strangely growing tree.
Lizard on a strangely growing tree.

This tree grew horizontally and then went vertical. Darwinism? I actually noticed the tree before I saw the lizard. There is also bamboo in this forest which I have never seen before. They say bamboo is a grass. I don’t get it, but maybe Sally H. will have to comment on that for us. That would be nice.


Thanks for putting up with my ramblings. Let’s move on shall we and get to the house we’ve been trying to build.

So Jude and Terence have been working at the house and they have done quite a bit since our last post. Unfortunately, I didn’t take pictures of everything they worked on, so we’ll just stick to what I got on the camera.

They finished the styrofoam detail on the roof for the most part. The only thing that is really left is putting the styrofoam around the skylights. That is going to be a challenge for sure. But after they finished the 6th layer of styrofoam (That’s R-60 for those of you keeping score.) I had them tape up all the seam and sort of water seal the whole assembly. I didn’t do this to water seal it though; I had them do it so that the styrofoam doesn’t shift and move while we are working on the next portion of the house (especially at the steeper parts of the roof).

Flashing tape all seams on the last layer of styrofoam.
Flashing tape all seams on the last layer of styrofoam.

The other reason I did this was to prevent insects from crawling into the seams of the styro and setting up camp in there. The styro is treated with borate so ants and termites won’t eat it, but I think this will help with insect control. At least while we have an open roof and before we put the dirt on top, that is. If you look at the skylight you’ll see that I had them flash up the sidewall as well. This should be a fairly good water barrier. Just an added bonus.

So one day I was traveling down the yellow brick road….. Oh. I’m sorry. Wrong movie.

I don’t know where that came from but I thought I would throw it in there.


So the problem, if you will, is what happens to all this if some fine furry critter decides to dig a hole in the ground and call my 12 inches of styrofoam home? I’m talking moles, voles, woodchucks, groundhogs, and the like….and what about very old friends? Huh?

At least I got the right movie that time.

So this issue arrived in my brain one day way back when and heckled me for a time. So I finally came up with the cement backer board idea. Use the 1/4 inch x 3’x5′ Hardi backer cement board as a barricade against rodent infestations. Infestations?  Is that even a word? The backer board arrived the other day and the boys started putting it down. In the open areas it goes down pretty quickly. We haven’t started cutting around the skylights as of yet, but I think we’re going to have to get a blade to make these cuts with. You can score the stuff with a sheetrock knife and break it, but when you have to cut a piece that’s L shaped, this won’t work.

So Saturday, Georgia and Terence worked on putting down the backer board. Here are a few pictures.

Terence and Jude's first foray into backer board installation.
Terence and Jude’s first foray into backer board installation.

I think this is going to do the trick. The only thing I’m not sure of is a 1/4 inch thick enough? I bought 160 sheets of this stuff so it’s not cheap. I could put another layer down but I’m not sure it’s necessary. Maybe I’ll call a rodent control guy.

Georgia and Terence getting started on the South side.
Georgia and Terence getting started on the South side.

So the next order of business is the skylights, which involve a substantial amount of work. The way I detailed this is sort of hard to explain. Needless to say, there are a bunch of steps we have to go through to get everything ready to receive the skylights. This week’s step: Skylight extension and pitch angle.

So when we poured the skylight curbs we just used a 4 foot piece of plywood to make the box. A skylight has to be at a certain pitch to shed water. If you don’t have the right pitch it gets complicated and expensive. So like I was saying, we had to extend the skylight box for reasons we won’t go into here and make sure that the pitch is correct. The minimum pitch is 3 in 12. I went 4 in 12 though just so there’s a little extra wiggle room for safety’s sake. Two of the skylights were already at a 4 in 12 pitch so they were easy. The other two were at 3 in 12 and 1 in 12, so we had to treat them special. Let’s see.

All the skylight extensions started out the same way. Mark 4 inches down from the top of the skylight and square that mark around the inside. After this we nailed a cleat at each corner to hold the extension in place while we secured it. Check it out.

Cleat nailed to line to hold up the extension.
Cleat nailed to line to hold up the extension.

So for the two skylights that were at the right pitch it was just a matter of nailing the 18 inch plywood in place. Like so.

First extension done.
First extension done.

The other two I calculated the additional plywood I would need to get the right pitch, and then held the plywood in place while I used a level to draw the proper pitch.

Pitch angle drawn in place.
Pitch angle drawn in place

I drew a horizontal line with the level over 12 inches, drew a vertical line, marked 4 inches and then connected the two marks. Done.

Skylight extensions completed.
Skylight extensions completed.

It may not seem like it, but all these skylights are now at the same pitch and are ready for skylight prep phase two.

We are getting there people. We will get there. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us!

Oh yeah, one more thing before I go. Mother in Law took care of the house while we were away. We have a cat problem. 3 cats and they need a referee. We don’t use A/C but the Queen’s deal was no A/C, no cat watching. Okay, so I had to install two small A/C units. No big deal. At least there won’t be cat fur all over the house when we get back, or maybe even a cat homicide. Anyway we get home and there’s icicles hanging off the kitchen lighting fixtures. It’s like an ice box in this place. Okay we defrost and then I get my electric bill this week. I’ve been here for 19 years and I’ve never seen anything close to this number. I mean it would have been cheaper to stay in Grenada another week. Cats be damned!

…..and one more thing. She was supposed to be taking care of our hanging plants! Look what happened to this poor fella!

A Mother-in-Law,s touch!
A Mother-in-Law,s touch!

I tell ya it’s not easy.

Enjoy your week!


4 thoughts on “Of Cement Board and the Isle of Spice!”

  1. Well, once-upon-time ago I did — I volunteered at the Virginia Living Museum where they specialize in the native flora and fauna of this great commonwealth. Put in more than 1000 hrs. Loved every minute of it. But I was an animal nut way before then.

    Yep, blade between the thumbs. But did you look at the grass plant after you pulled that leaf? You left an empty round stem behind.

    I’ll look forward to pictures of skylight building 🙂

    • Sally. Isn’t it unfortunate that we can’t make a living doing what we love? Every once in a while on a walk I’ll pull a blade of long grass out of it’s stem. I usually stick it in my mouth like I’m a hillbilly. It’s kind of relaxing as you walk along….but yes I have noticed the roundness of the stem. Corn is more of a stalk though isn’t it? I don’t remember it being hollow? I’ll have to check that out over the weekend.

      So long for now,

  2. Bamboo IS a grass. Didn’t you know that? So is corn. Think about when you were a kid and pulling grass blades to make whistles – don’t you remember that when you pulled the blades out the stems were round and hollow? So are corn stalks and bamboo. (Is that any more strange than that otters and skunks are both weasels, or that mice and beavers are both rodents, but rabbits are not?) Consider if/where to plant bamboo _very_ carefully because many species are invasive.

    [Pandas eat many, but not all, species of bamboo. The Smithsonian zoo in DC has a network of individuals who let them cut bamboo from their yard/gardens, and that’s what/how they feed their pandas.]

    That tree is probably growing that way because, it its youth, when it was tall but small in diameter, a bigger tree fell and pinned its top down. So it made the best of a bad situation and continued to grow even though it was horizontal. In time it will have branches going strait up from what is now the sun-side of the trunk. I see it in my woods regularly. I have a cedar, at least 10 inches in diameter, that forms an arch. At 10 inches it would have broken instead of bent, so it had to have been bent as a sapling.

    I think the cement board is a good idea. There is something about styrofoam that my chickens absolutely love. They will peck at it obsessively. I haven’t seen wild birds do that, but better safe than sorry.

    So you are putting 14″ of dirt on top of the roof? The glass part of the skylight attaches where? Are you planning any smoothing of the pockmarks in the skylight well cement?

    • Radagast the Brown how are you? Boy, you really are learned in the ways of the forest. You probably should be working at some sort of nature conservancy or the like.

      Okay getting back to the grass and the whistle stuff. We made the whistle sound by holding the blade between the thumbs. I’ve never heard of anyone making a whistle sound blowing through the stem? (If I’m understanding you correctly anyway.) I had heard about bamboo being a grass way back when but never corn. Very interesting. Somehow I don’t think the wife is going to go for a corn planting in the front yard.

      I was thinking about the cement board the other day. I’m going to double up on it. Make it a full 1/2 thick. I’ve only got one shot at this so I might as well make it count.

      The skylights, like I said are a bit hard to describe. We’ll be finishing up the details in the next two weeks I hope. I did smooth out the pockmarks though. You’ll see it a little clearer in the next post.

      Thanks so much for writing! I hope all is well!

      Take care,

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