removing our brick chimney

Marc and I have spent the past few weeks working to remove a brick chimney. The chimney was used to vent an oil burner for heating the house. We switched the house to natural gas when we bought it, so we didn't need the brick chimney any longer. 

Here is a before and after comparison of the house:

If you are thinking about removing a brick chimney, here are some tips. The story of what we did gives the tips a bit more context.
  • A mechanical chisel is a good moral booster because the labour is hard work, but you can do the entire project with a manual chisel and hammer.
  • Focus on breaking the mortar at the corners/ends of the bricks. If we separated the mortar at both brick ends usually the brick just popped off the mortar line in the middle.
  • Remove material from the inside to the outside. We had a layer of normal bricks surrounding a layer of refractory brick. It was basically impossible to remove the regular brick before taking the refractory brick down first.
  • Try using a spray bottle to wet the mortar if you are finding it difficult to break the bricks from it. You don't want lots of water running down the chimney because of soot and dust, but getting the mortar moist seemed to help us break it up.

And this is the story of us taking our brick chimney down:
Our friend (and possible super human disguised as a Danish electrician) Jørgen started the removal process. I was discussing with him how the chimney needed to come down before any other work is done to the back building, but we didn't have the tools or a ladder so I didn't know when we would be able to do it. I was also telling Jørgen how we were planning to borrow safety harness so whoever is taking the chimney down could be secured to it, since the chimney was so high. He thought that was pretty funny. A few days later Jørgen calls me and asks if we had eaten dinner. He said if he and his wife, Jytte, could eat with us then he could help us start taking down the chimney that night. No problem for us! A little while later, Jørgen walked into the yard, put the ladder up and just started working. He took a 45 minute dinner break and continued to work after that. At almost 10pm, I stuck my head out of the bedroom window (where I was level with Jørgen). I said "It's really dark, can you see?" Jørgen said he could not see, and then proceeded to work for another hour! He took two thirds of the height off the chimney in the four hours working with just a hammer and chisel. The next day, Marc and I worked for 2.5 hours and did not even get down half of what was left. So we decided Jørgen had super powers.

I did a lot of internet research on removing brick before we started this project. Marc and I had it a lot harder then I was expecting. Obviously we were not as skilled as Jørgen, but I think the mortar lower down the chimney was also much stronger. After the first few rows on the first day, breaking apart the chimney got a lot more difficult, even after borrowing a mechanical chisel as well. And, for a good section of the bottom, the mortar would not break before the bricks did. Mortar is supposed to be weaker than brick, so that really puzzled us. We were frustrated at the pace of the project.

We started the project trying to save whole bricks so we would be able to clean them and use them again. We stopped doing that. We were always waiting for good weather, but we gave that up eventually also. The last day we worked on the chimney, it rained the entire previous night and there was more rain planned for the afternoon. Marc and I took turns starting early in the morning, one destroying chimney and the other entertaining E. Suddenly the mortar was much easier to break and we were getting whole bricks off again. I really think it was because the mortar was wet, and there is something from my civil engineering education that says this makes sense... but I can't remember the scientific explanation...Something about water weakening the bond between the cement in the mortar and the brick itself because the brick is a smoother surface? maybe? don't quote that! In any case, it was as easy as the internet had made it sound. I have since tried to find internet sources suggesting that wet mortar is easier to break apart and have come up empty. I really think it was the rain, but when we take the chimney down inside the building (we only removed the exterior section so far) I will be doing a wet vs. dry mortar destruction test.

This chimney removal was pretty simple in terms of logistics. The bottom of the chimney is split between the furnace room and a bathroom. Jørgen put a hole in the chimney on the furnace room side the first day so that all the little rocks and rubble could fall down the chimney and into a wheel barrow (the wheel barrow is not in the picture). We also really did not need to worry about covering the hole or keeping rain out during the weeks it took to get the chimney down because the furnace room is unfinished (but not for long!). Water running down the sooty inside of a chimney is usually a problem, but it wasn't for us. Even though it did take us a few weeks to finish, we only actually worked about 8 hours beyond Jørgen's four. Between the rainy Denmark weather, getting really sick and having lots of end of the summer partying to do, finishing the chimney wasn't a big priority and that's why it took weeks, not days.

We still have work to do within the building. Right now it is split into three rooms, a bathroom, laundry room and furnace room. The plan is to make it all one big bathroom/laundry room with the new natural gas burner tucked nicely in a closet. It will probably take a few years to save up the money to realize that dream though. In any case, we are aesthetically pleased by the lack of the chimney on the back of our house. And, we're pretty proud of ourselves for persevering through the hours of hard labour and frustrations. Next, we teach ourselves how to lay brick because the wooden door on the back of that building is totally going to become part of the wall.


innocence of muslims

I don't know very much about Islam. Growing up in the US, I didn't assume everyone was a Christian, but I also didn't think about it much. It's only after moving and living in two different countries that I even got a glimpse of the gigantic nuance that is the modern Arabic world, and that glimpse was mostly in University through the eyes fellow students whose parents had left the middle east when they were young or not even born.

In the last few years, while living in Denmark, I have been exposed to this new teaching in Christianity. It's the idea that Jesus came to the Earth, not just to save humanity from their sins but also, as God on Earth, to show us how to live with each other. I haven't studied the teachings enough to totally understand the origins, but I have heard some great talks about it from people like Shane Claiborne, and lately have been reading essays by N.T. Wright when I get the time. I have also, much to my surprise, experienced backlash from some Christians to the idea. It seems that if your main message focuses on Jesus' love as displayed by his life and is not "you are a sinner that needs salvation" then it is worthy of scoffing at for some people. This shocks me because Jesus' message has always been about loving everyone- it is our interpretations that start secluding people and apparently there are Christians out there that prefer to feel superior. I don't understand it, but I am trying to.

In any case, with people killing other people over an apparently cheap and horrible trailer, made by duping actors with an alternative script and unveiled to the world by a guy who is by entire the definition a fraud. I just thought it may be a good idea to do an internet round up which turns into me pleading for humanity to hold themselves to a higher standard.

The Muslims getting upset about the trailer are a significant minority. Here is a video of a Muslim guy that needs to go viral in the US just to counter balance all the propaganda making Islam seem so extreme. Also, this video is awesome.

The entire mess comes down to pride. All sides are focused mostly on their egos. Here is an article that talks about the struggle Islam has. Maybe the majority of Arabic Islam wants the benefits of a modern, western society but they don't want help to get there. And if I were them I wouldn't want any help either, because history has shown them that, whenever another culture comes and mixes in with their culture, they die. The developed western world is smart enough to know better, we've lived through enlightenment, yet we don't support the people who are trying to break the negative cycles, we just worry about our own egos.

 Actions like blacking out Youtube from the entire country of Pakistan, or requesting the Google take down the video entirely, is not going to do anything but keep people of the world from continuing to misunderstand each other. When you don't understand the other side, you are more easily focused on yourself. It's a choice the the modern western world can more easily make than the modern arabic world; we, at least, have the tools to be able to understand their point of view, if we choose to. 

But we don't even choose to do it on our own soil for our own fellow citizens. Active atheists choosing to advertise their beliefs are shut down with death threats. the group American Atheists wanted to display the following images as billboards at the recent conventions for the Republican and Democratic parties. 

Atheist group removes billboards targeting presidential candidates' religious faith

They were denied space in Tampa and forced to remove the one installed in Charlotte. Instead of having a discussion about why these billboards make simplistic and totally ignorant arguments, they were just removed. 

I think humans are better than this, especially ones granted basic rights and freedoms such that they can be tolerant without fearing for their life. We need to look at each other and find the things we have in common, we need to stop jumping on bandwagons. If you look at another person and think they don't deserve what you have, then fix your heart, it is in the wrong place.


it's a resource, not just a source of pain

If I ever have a dream about any school I have ever attended, I always wake up and feel unbelievably happy that I am all grown up. Then I feel even more happy that I am married to a wonderful man and we have our sweet boy. I never have good dreams about school, even though I did have some good times. I rarely have any dreams about my university days and I have wondered why that is... But, I think I know now it is because being at University was on my terms.

I went to a small, private grade school (age 3-10) where I got limited social development because for the last two years I was the only girl my age at the school. All the boys my age wanted nothing to do with me unless it involved things like lying to get me in trouble. I had a best friend in my grade who moved to Texas when I was 9 and after that my best friends were five or younger. When I dream about my grade school, it's always in the setting of those last two years and I am constantly yelling at the teachers and my mother things like "can you not see that I am unhappy here!" "why don't you help me?!"

Of course, I suffered the effects of that lack of social skill in the public middle school (age 11-13) I attended, but I did have some good friends. There were many two-faced kids as well, but that comes with the age. I think I only had one true mean girl who harassed me, and I still relish shutting her up in grade 8 by calling her a bitch to her face in front of her friends and asking her what she thought she could do to me, really? She had no reply. She picked on me because she thought I would never stand up to her, so after that she just talked about me behind my back. I was also still tormented by boys who thought it was funny to play with my affections, but this time they were at least nice to my face. When I dream about middle school, it's always me on the basketball or volleyball court playing against the girls I used to play with, the tormenting part being that people think I should be back on their team! yikes!

And high school (age 14-17). I had to change high schools because my mom remarried and we moved into my step dad's house on the other side of town. Both my mom and my step dad worked at my high school. After two years at the school, I basically decided to be myself and not what other people wanted me to be. I spent those last two years alienating all the friends I had made in the first two, and I still don't care that I did that. The teachers and staff always treated me like my parents treated me special so they had to make up for that by giving me a hard time. When I dream about my high school, I'm always walking the hallway after the class bell has rung... trying to avoid being caught by a teacher or security guard because I would get in trouble. My torment is less about the people and more about the place. Regularly, I will plant a person from later in life in my high school, and even if we're not students, we can not be caught in the halls!

For every set of school years there are things that consciously bother me now that I am an adult. And they all boil down to why was I there? If I could go back and tell my mom what she should do for me to make school the best for me, I would make a lot of decisions that are basically the opposite of what she made. I've realized that is because my mom made decisions as a parent that were best for her first, and then convinced herself (sometimes) why they were best for me as well. I am not mad at my mom for this, I know she did the best she could. But I realize that this mentality that she had, putting what was best for her in the primary position, it hurt me. I have pain from it, significant pain. I really can't think back on any part of my childhood and not know that this pain was there in some form, building and building as a grew up.

I have realized that every time I make a choice for E over one for myself, I'm healing that hurt inside of me. It is important for me to be at home, not in an office. It is important because I want my child and all of his future siblings to know they can always come home and I will always be there. I want the flexibility to work with my child as he grows up. I want the time to be able to explain to him the complexities behind the decisions that are being made on his behalf. I want to allow myself to answer to my family before a boss or a bank account- I can't do that unless I am working for me. So, the value in what I am trying to do may not be reflected in dollar signs. I'm ok with that if it means I can be the mother that I didn't have.

I cried when I walked home from dropping E off at dagplejer the morning I made this revelation. As we walk along the main road that connects our street with the street E's dagplejer is on, E always has a great time. There are big trucks and tractors to see, there are little stones to pick up and storm drains to look in. Without fail, E starts to cry at some point between when he sees the dagplejer mor's house and when I bring him inside.
This morning E started to get upset a bit sooner. He was clearly anxious about what he knew was coming. I told him it was ok to be sad because it is hard to leave mom and dad during the day. I told him it was hard for mom and dad to leave him too. But, if we didn't leave him, he wouldn't have so much fun with all the other kids. I told him if he ever was not having a good time, he could always come home. These are things I have said to him in some way or another every time I have dropped him off, but today he heard me and he calmed down. He didn't hesitate at the driveway and he knocked on the dagplejer door. He wasn't happy when I was taking his shoes and jacket off, but I was able to get him excited to show off the toy car he brought. For the first time he walked himself into the playroom and left me at the front door. No tears (and he was hysterical the day before). After his dagplejer mor and I exchanged a celebratory face, I said "bye babe, see you later" and left.

I cried on the walk home because it is all I have ever wanted: easing a child's pain with understanding; an understanding that puts them in the important place, an understanding that their best interests are the main focus. I cried because I am better than my mother at this, and that makes what I went through as a child a resource not just a source of pain.


the set up

I have been at home without E for about a month now. This last week Marc and I have been pretty sick. I was the sickest but, by the magical powers of antibiotics, I recovered quickly and now Marc is the sickest. Marc has been home from work for three days, and since I am recovering too we've been mostly sleeping and passively surfing the internet. The problem with all our inactivity, at least for me, is that it feels like we're not earning what we have. I know how false this statement is, but it's the culture I grew up in. I'm reprogramming... working out the bugs from a land where sick days are not appreciated or accepted.

For me, taking sick days off right now is a higher challenge because I feel like everything I do everyday has to be working towards this goal: an insane idea that I can make income on my own terms and do it based on something I only think I can be good at. It's a freedom I shouldn't be entitled to have unless I can back it up with dollar signs. Just thinking that makes me angry at the world. This world that only sees value when it comes as a paycheque. But that is another rant, another idea. This is the set up to a very significant, hopefully life changing revelation I have had.

The fact is I care about making money not because it affects my self worth, but because we want resources to be able to make major improvements to our home so our family functions better; we want resources to be able to bring people to visit us; we want resources so we can put back into our extended family instead of withdraw from it. I have given worrying about it all up to God and his plan. But I like to think about how we are going to do the next project, what we need and how to get it. So, I walk a fine line between caring and not caring if I make money. We are not in need of basic necessities as a one income family, but we have to stretch to have anything extra and make sure we don't over reach. Another fine line walked between want and need, always keeping in mind that there are so many people in the world that can't even get what they need.

So, here I am and I'm not afraid to talk about it. When I try to communicate to other people the border line that we walk- this carefully choreographed dance to an almost zero bank account balance at the end of the month- it is always illustrated with my main concern: People want us to come visit, and we can't afford it. It feels like we're failing our families because we really don't like to make the trip back to North America, and now we have the freedom to save up for it before we go- but that may take a few years at this rate. Maybe it is because visits (the want of them and the timing of the next one) are the number one thing I talk about with my mom and my sister- to the point that I sometimes wonder if we don't have anything else to say to each other... maybe it's because I feel a greater responsibility to return regularly since we have decided to live in Denmark for good. Either way, thinking and caring about how and when to make the next visit consumes my energies. And I know if Marc and I were just living for ourselves, we would not be going back anytime soon; we wouldn't even be thinking about it. I feel like a slave to the ex-pat lifestyle when I would rather just focus on becoming a new Dane.

My conscious considering all that combined with my subconscious tormenting me with dreams about my middle school and high school years brought me to a realization, which will be revealed in my next post :)

happy climbing!
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