Sunday, September 30, 2007

Nothing is ever simple...

Mr. Kluges said I could post about the house here, too, so I will! This here post is a big old complaint, so feel free to skip it if you'd like!

File this under: "Nothing with this house is ever simple!"
(There's another example I'm going to have to share soon, but Penguin's decided she's had enough exersaucer time, so that means I've had enough computer time!)

We decided to fix some cracks in Penguin's room before painting it. We're lucky enough to have Mr. Kluges's parents coming next weekend & mine coming the weekend after to help out, so we figured we'd try to get this multi-day process going so it could be done in time for our helpers to paint it. Well... we scraped out the cracks down to good plaster, Mr. Kluges mixed up some goo to put in them, and sprayed the cracks/wall with water as recommended because otherwise the plaster soaks up the water in the goo too quickly and it doesn't cure right. He came back a bit later to find that the paint near the cracks was now wanting to come off in big chunks... It turns out that one of the early layers of paint is calcimine. That's bad. It means that newer paint won't stick to it well. Like, humidity or water (!) affect it differently or something (Mr. Kluges did the research; I'm just glossing over here...) so the layers separate and ... you've got big chunks of paint coming off.

The solution - remove all the paint chunks/scrape the paint all away. Wash the chalky calcimine paint off with 2-4 washes with soapy water. Follow with 1-2 washes of clear water. Follow with a coat of calcimine covering primer. Then you can finally paint the wall - twice.

So we get to add that time-consuming process to the crack-fixing before we can paint. I think Penguin might end up getting moved into the guest room until we're done with hers!

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Humans 14, Mice 1

The House of 42 Doors has been empty of humans for almost two years. I think that the total biomass in the house did not decrease though. With no one living there, all number of spiders, wood lice, centipedes, mice and who knows what else have moved in.

My mother came and stayed with us for a week and cleaned the two main floors from top to bottom (bless her soul!) and that got rid of a majority of the smaller vermin, but the mice continue to live in the house. We started trapping almost immediately and to date we're somewhere around 13 or 14 mice. I've lost track.

Imagine my surprise when I went up to check the traps in the attic and found one missing. I told Ms. Huis that I was going to look around the attic for the trap and that if she heard a scream, to grab the kids, run from the house and never return again.

What I found in a back corner of the attic, about 25 feet from where I put it, was this:

I think the mice are evolving.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Newsflash! Monster carp found in abandoned house basement

When we moved here, I immediately started looking for a house. Since we were new to the area, I asked several of my co-workers about good places to live, places to avoid, interesting things to live next to, etc. Everybody in the office learned pretty quickly that we were looking to buy a house. I also tried to make it clear that I was looking for something a little bit different, something distinctive.

I did not want a typical "new" house. If anyone has built a new house in the Midwest in the last five to ten years, then you know what I mean. Something with an open floor plan blending kitchen and living room into one space, probably with a fireplace at one end. Something that has a powder room downstairs, a full bath upstairs, three bedrooms upstairs and a master suite. There's nothing wrong with those houses. It's just that they are so alike to each other. A house like that would never feel like my home. It would always feel like everybody else's home.

So anyway, I let everyone know that I'd be looking for something distinctive, probably older, with a lot of "character". My co-workers are generally a good lot, and they certainly mean well, so I wasn't surprised when one of my co-workers pulled me aside to talk to me about my search for an older home. The conversation went something like this.

Co-worker: So you're looking for an older home?
Mr K: We are. We'd like to find something with a bit of character.
Co-Worker: Hmmm...Well, you'll want to be careful when buying something like that.

Now at this point, I am of course thinking of all the things that can go wrong in an older home like high heating bills, leaky roofs, dangerous electrical, lead paint, asbestos insulation, drafty windows, rotten wood, etc. I'm very interested to see if the co-worker has some sort of insight that I've missed.

Mr K: Well, I know that older homes certainly can have some issues.
Co-worker: You know that all of those older homes are located near downtown.
Mr K: Yeah, we've seen a few in that area.

We did go around the older areas of the city and in fact, some of the areas were very nice. At this point, I'm just very puzzled about what could be so horrible. So what could it be? Loud traffic noise? Airplane fly overs? Horrible stench from the sewers? Chemical spill? Nuclear testing? Gaping rift to hell? Keep in mind that this particular co-worker lives in the suburbs in one of the new houses mentioned above.

Co-worker: Make sure you check out the neighborhood before you move in.
Mr K: We have been. We make it a point to go for walks in the neighborhood that we're buying into.
Co-worker: Well, there's a lot of Hmong in the downtown area.

Ahhhhh, now I've got it, I think to myself. She's prejudiced. So I decide to play this out and see how it goes.

Mr K: And?
Co-worker (dropping her voice in her best conspiratorial tone): They raise carp in their basement.
(Stunned silence)
Mr K: Carp. In their basement.
Co-worker: Really they do. Talk to (another co-worker). She lives next to Hmong and they are raising carp in their basement.

Still reeling from this revelation, I try to organize my thoughts.

Mr K: How does that work? I mean do they cover up the drain in the floor, turn on the garden hose and flood the basement? What about the water heater and the furnace? What about the electrical?
Co-worker: I don't know, but you should go talk to (other co-worker).

I'm imagining massive 100 pound carp swimming blissfully in 5 feet of water in a flooded basement, and some 100 pound Hmong man trying to wrestle one up the stairs for supper. I know that I'm going to have to cut this conversation short, or I'll start laughing out loud.

Mr K: We'll be sure to check out the neighborhood, but as long as the neighbors are law abiding and friendly, I think we'll be OK.
Co-worker: Just make sure you know your neighbors.

So there you have it. Anybody else know of anyone raising carp in their basement?

Friday, September 21, 2007

It had to be you...

As the inaugural post, let me say that I'm going to try and post weekly. I've seen a lot of blogs die over the years though, so the odds are against me. And to be sure, at some point, some day, hopefully before I die, the topic of the blog, our house, will be mostly renovated and we can relax and enjoy the fruits of our labor. And at that point, when I finally really have time to do something like blog, I won't have my subject matter any more.

I was thinking the other day about the thousands of houses I looked at online and the 50 to 75 that I took my family through to find the "perfect" house. A lot of the houses we looked at were nice, well cared for houses that didn't meet our criteria. Some were absolute holes. The price differences in the housing market amazed me. There were some deals out there and some definite rip offs. Situations where, if two houses were placed right next to one another, you'd just have to laugh at the way they were priced.

I felt bad about not buying some of the houses, especially the "for sale by owner" houses. You could see in some people's eyes that they were desperate to get rid of their house. We ran into one very nice woman who had bought an old Victorian house and decided to remodel it. Some of the things she did were nice, others were not. After a very short time in the house, I could tell that she was in trouble. The electricity in the house was out, so she showed us around the basement with a flashlight. I don't think the water was on. She talked about how she had bought another lot and was building a new house and how she had fired her real estate agent after six months because she wasn't getting anywhere. Now she was cutting the price and trying to sell it herself. Afterwards, I looked up the property on the county tax role records and sure enough, she was delinquent on her taxes. The house didn't suit us.

Then there was the older couple who were offering a gorgeous 1920's colonial style house in a very desirable part of town. They had been there many, many years and were looking to move to a retirement home. The house was very well taken care of with custom counter tops, a beautiful conservatory and great decor. They talked about the house with such enthusiasm, I couldn't believe that they really wanted to move. Unfortunately, their house was on a corner lot and the lot size was only 8000 square feet. Again I felt bad not buying the house.

Finally, there was the 1920's brick four-square located within walking distance to all the major downtown amenities. It is very similar to the House of 42 Doors. It is the town house to our country house, with similar floor plans, but it had been kept up and modernized over the years - modern electrical, good plumbing, a new kitchen and two bathrooms. The owner of that house, really was not coming to terms with his sale of the house. He kept wandering around saying "Oh, I guess I still have to..." and each time it was some major house project that would take a few months or more. He hadn't changed his mindset to "I never got around to...". We really struggled as to whether or not to buy that house.

In the end, we got what we got. But I sure wish I had enough money to buy all the nice houses we saw, so that I could live in each of them for six months or so and then pick one. Maybe someday.