Thursday, November 29, 2007

Why am I not surprised?

To quote from an email we just received...


The 2-conductor 20-gauge GOLD twisted RAYON wire - by the spool is on backorder. Would you like to wait, get a refund, or substitute something else?

We’re very sorry for the delay,

Isn't that just the way it goes around here?!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Making Progress

We've finally started to push through the log jam. I accomplished two things last night that will help in reducing our current work load.

In a previous post, I commented on the tile situation of the shower. Repair to the tile and plaster in the shower has meant that our one shower/tub has been unavailable pretty much since we bought the house at the end of August. This has meant that since we moved into the House of 42 doors a week and a half ago, we've had to go back to the house we're renting for showers and baths. By the time we bundle up the kids, drive over to the rental, take baths and showers, drive back and unbundle the kids, I figure we're losing about 45 minutes to an hour every night. That doesn't include bath time, since we'd lose that anyway.

Another time drainer for us has been no Internet at the house. The severing of the phone line set us back a good 30 to 45 minutes a night as Ms. Huis has taken part in NaBoPoMo. No Internet has meant trips to the library in the evening so that she can post. If it weren't so darn close to the end of November, I think she would have given up by now.

Add into all of this the inefficiencies of moving ("Have you seen my socks?", "Where does this dish go?", "Do we still have a finger nail clipper?", etc.), and you have chaos and lack of productivity possibly not seen since the Fall of the Roman Empire and the Dark Ages (maybe a little hyperbole there).

But last night was a stellar night. Not only was the tub caulked, and now available for use at the House of 42 Doors, but I also hooked up the phone and therefore, the Internet. It isn't pretty. A phone wire connects to the Network Interface outside, runs along the side of the house and under three doors before terminating in a hacked on RJ-14 phone plug. I'll do it properly later on, when the basement isn't a disaster.

We're still holding steady at 40 mice. We haven't seen hide nor hair (literally) in weeks.

The plumbers finished plumbing in the basement. They replaced the existing soil pipe, toilet drain and floor drain. They added another floor drain (for the boiler), a sink drain (for the new laundry sink and the original, 1920's pedestal kitchen sink, which may end up being used for making beer) and another soil pipe (for the someday future bathroom on the first floor).

I have several channels of mud in my basement. The plumbers did a reasonably good job of hosing everything down and scraping off bits of mud, but I'll still have to clean up when they are done. There's still mud on the walls and in some cases the windows.

I'm not happy with the way the exterior work was done, but after a conversation with the plumber coordinating all of this, he said he'd take care of it, once I figure out what I'd like done. Actions speak louder than words. We'll see.

Tomorrow they'll be in to finish up concreting the floor and connecting the two sinks. All the existing plumbing is working though!

The work definitely needed to be done. At one point in replacing the soil pipe, the pipe from the kitchen sink literally fell to the ground. We knew that one was bad though. It had stalactites.

The electrician is still working away. He's been concentrating on the second floor and the attic with all the mess in the basement, although he's not working today. He's saying maybe another two weeks to finish the job (if you've seen The Money Pit, you know how funny that is).

We tried to use modern lamp wire to rewire the original light fixtures, but it was a no go. Not only is it ugly brown plastic, put it's too thick to fit through the light fixtures. I did some digging and found gold colored, rayon covered light fixture wire. I ordered some today, so hopefully it will work and arrive soon.

Now that we have Internet, I'll see if I can get pictures posted soon.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

House Colectomy

Replacing the entire sewer line is no small task. Sitting around talking about it, thinking about it, even drawing it out seems like a nice Sunday afternoon exercise. Doing it is messy and hard. I'm glad I hired all of it out.

On the other hand, giving my house the equivalent of a colectomy is not making me happy. My basement is muddy with clay and concrete dust. My backyard is destroyed. My basement windows and back entryway are filthy. My brick patio is mostly removed. My limestone path is somewhere under several inches of dirt. My house stinks like a combination of diesel exhaust (used to power the concrete saw) and spray paint (used to mark the concrete for where it was cut). **sigh**

When we got home last night, I had to see what had been accomplished in 8 hours. In that time the concrete cutters cut five channels throughout the house, all interconnected, and removed the concrete to be carted to who-knows-where.

(The floor ended up being six to eight inches thick, rather than the standard two to three. I wasn't surprised. Everything else in the house seems to have been over-engineered too. The concrete guys had to call in two extra guys just to help them haul out the concrete.)

A really much-too-large-for-my-tastes digger dug out 50 feet of the existing exterior sewer line to a depth of five or six feet. The old clay tile was replaced with PVC plastic. Fortunately, the plumbers were able to slip the PVC pipe into the last 20 or so feet of the clay tile, so there was no need to dig up the entire 75' length.

(Digging out the old sewer line next to the house had to have taken quite a level of finesse. Its impressive that someone is able to maneuver a large bucket that easily.)

The pipe was fed under the house foundation and reconnected to the old pipe within the house, allowing us to use the toilet for the night. In my book that's a fair amount of work.

Today they will finish plumbing all interior drain work. Wednesday is cementing over the trenches. Thursday is connecting all the sinks and securing any loose plumbing lines.

There are a lot of things that I'm not happy about at the moment, but until I speak to the plumber today who is coordinating all of this, I won't elaborate about them. After all, if he fixes all the problems, then it just proves that I'm being up tight. And if he doesn't, it'll be here, in writing.

And thank you to Ms. Huis who as been very understanding around her grumpy husband.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Diggers, Plumbers and Electricians, Oh My!

Those of you who know me, know that I work in IT. Change in IT is almost always bad. It leads to downtime, unexpected outcomes and can have ripple effects that have the potential to cost lots of money.

I recognized that change is required to make improvements. I recognize that change is required to stay competitive and I recognize that change is required to meet the challenges of uncontrollable external events. But in my job, I don't like it.

Sometimes this philosophy spills over into my personal life. Like when there is a several ton digging machine trying to dig a six foot deep trench against my foundation. Or when there is a concrete saw cutting out large chunks of my basement floor. Or when an electrician takes a jack hammer to my walls.

Tuesday, the subcontracted excavating firm came out and dug a trench for the new electrical line. The existing electrical feeding the house is 100 amp overhead service. We knew we wanted to upgrade to 200 amp and decided to bury the line as well. Burying the line and upgrading turned out to be very cheap. The electric company wanted to get rid of the liability of another power pole. It also gives us more yard space and is much safer when it comes time to clean out the gutters - no need to watch out where I put that metal ladder.

Digging an electrical trench definitely qualifies as change. And of course unintended consequences occurred. The excavators dug up our phone line, at almost exactly the same time the the phone company switched service over from our old house to our new one. The excavators were "kind" enough to lay new wire in the trench to replace what they had severed. Unfortunately, where the electric enters the house is not where the original phone entered the house.

A call to the phone company had them out the same day (unbelievably good service I must say), where they informed me that since the entry point of the phone wire had changed, they couldn't restore full service. Internal wiring was not their problem, unless extra dollars were paid. I can't fault them. It makes sense, but it does mean that now I need to rewire the phone from the external network interface to the internal phone jack. And soon. No phone means no Internet, and no Internet is likely to make my poor wife go a bit off her rocker, especially with it being NaBoPoMo.

Today is the day that the sewer guys are coming to put in all new sewer under the house and then out the back yard to the main sewer line. The amount of change involved in this is huge (from my perspective) and it makes me nervous. I watched the digger in the backyard for about five minutes before I couldn't take it anymore. Everybody showed up on time and seems very professional, but it still makes me nervous.

Monday, November 19, 2007

A (Semi) Planned Holiday

The next few days will go something like this:

Monday - Moving things from the crummy rental place to the new house.
Tuesday - Moving things from the crummy rental place to the new house.
Wednesday - Drive back to Minnesota to see in-laws.
Thursday - Thanksgiving with the in-laws (for those of you who are not American, just take a few minutes and think about something you are thankful for).
Friday - Drive from in-laws to my parents.
Saturday - Thanksgiving with my parents.
Sunday - Drive back to the House of 42 Doors.
Monday - Back to work and then hopefully that night hook up the Internet connection.

So things could be a bit chaotic over the week and posting may be non-existent. Apologies to all. I'll try and slip one or two in, but no promises.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

7 Random Things Meme

(Cross-posted from my main blog, Musings & Mutterings.)

I got tagged by Mary Beth over at Cats...Books...Life is Good for this "Seven Random Things About Yourself" meme. Since she's been enjoying reading about the House of 42 Doors, she suggested I maybe do the 7 random things about our house. And since I just did the 5 Things You Didn't Know About Me meme - about, obviously, myself - I thought that'd be a great idea.

(P.S. Thanks, Mary Beth, for the NaBloPoMo fodder! And since we are home most/all of the day today, I can just keep plugging away at it until I think of all 7. Yay!)


1- Link to the person that tagged you and post the rules on your blog.

2- Share 7 random and or weird things about yourself.

3- Tag 7 random people at the end of your post and include links to their blogs.

4- Let each person know that they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.

Seven weird or random things about the House of 42 Doors...

1. We are the first people to own this house who are not members of the family who built it. I think I will refer to them as the G__ns.

2. When Gramma Yori originally came to visit and clean, she had a dream the first night in which all the G__ns were coming to the house while she was cleaning it. If I remember correctly (and feel free to correct me in the comments or send me an email and I'll fix it, Gramma Yori), there was a Grandma or Grandpa G__n who was welcoming them all back home. In the dream, she was getting a bit frustrated because they were all in the way of her cleaning, but she could tell they were pleased to have somebody living in their house again. So, due to that and to another dream she had while painting (ok, not while actually painting, but when she was visiting us to do the painting), in which she asked one of the elder Mr. G__ns to help keep the paint on the walls, and then a large bubbly spot where she repainted the ceiling dried back up overnight and fixed itself, I don't really worry about (the/any) ghosts.

3. We probably could have called it the House of 1001 Cans between all the old cans of paint, stain, and coffee cans full of nails, etc. (pretty much exclusively Hills Brothers) that we took out of the basement.

4. Some of the cans of paint are a custom-made color from a local paint store. They're labeled "G__n Ivory." Because there aren't enough shades of white and off-white to choose from, you know. *eye roll*

5. There are a few vents in the walls - the workroom downstairs, the basement toilet, the kitchen, the upstairs bathroom - of a sort that our inspector said he'd only seen once before. Apparently, they were put in the house to aid airflow to help prevent TB.

6. Red blinky lights that look like eyes look AWESOME in the attic window on Halloween.

7. The roofline of our house, the way it goes down and has trim and all, is apparently "Tuscan Entablature." Yeah, I'd never heard of it, either, but it definitely qualifies as a random fact. Thanks, Mr. Kluges, for the help with that.

Ok, time to tag 7 random people. Well, I guess I'll use to help me choose random people from my blog roll over on the right sidebar. (Because I don't think, say, choosing 7 random people from the phone book would do much good... so I guess it's random within a very limited sample.)

...consider yourselves tagged.

(And if I didn't tag you, and you still want to do this meme, I certainly won't stand in your way!)

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

What Did You Say?

Our electrician warrants a few words. Steve is close to retirement and is a licensed master electrician. By his count he's rewired 150 to 200 old houses. He's a no-nonsense kind of guy who speaks his mind. Fortunately he also listens. So far, he's done really good work, but sometimes he says things that make me a bit nervous.

Before we'd agreed to give him the bid, one conversation went like this:

Steve: You know there's going to be some damage to the plaster. I like to see plaster at least a half inch thick, otherwise it's pretty fragile. One house I did, I was pounding a box into the kitchen wall and I heard 'Crash'. All the plaster fell off on the other side.

Me:(looking pale) Oh. Don't tell me that. That couldn't have been good.

Steve: Oh no, it was fine. The farmer said he was looking to have that wall redone anyway.

Then last week.

Me: Did you have a good weekend Steve?

Steve: I'm a little stiff, but it was great.

Me: What did you do?

Steve: We went and put a second story on the clubhouse for (some local boys and girls social club). It went great except when we tried to line up the last two walls and found out one was two inches too short. But I guess that's why we call ourselves "The Rough Carpenters." We've got shirts that say it on the back, with our names on the front.

And then Monday's conversation went something like this.

Me: So Steve, how'd today's work go? Did the house rear its ugly head?

Steve: Yup. So I got mad. I got out the jackhammer.

Me: (looking even paler) Did you. Ummm, whatever for?

Steve: I got tired of dealing with those walls, so I took the jackhammer and busted out the wall block.

Me: What?! Where?

Steve: There behind you.

I turned around to see a perfectly good light switch box in an external wall. Like I said, he does good work, but the way he talks makes me nervous sometimes.

Oh, and I almost forgot. We've finally gotten through most of the mice. We've been sitting at mouse 40 for quite some time now. I think that means we've only caught one mouse in the last two weeks.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

A Pictoral Survey of the Inherited Lights and Electricity

Since Mr. Kluges was talking about our light fixtures and electricity in the last post, I thought I'd share with you some photos of the electrical situation we inherited.

Here is some of the knob and tube wiring. This is in the attic where it's easily seen.

This is one of the cool toggle switches we have. They make the neatest click, too.

Here's one of the outlets in our baseboard in the living room.

This is one of the four lights in the beams in the living room.
(This is pre-cleaning, so ignore the big ol' ring of dust, ok?)

Of course, we also have non-pretty, merely functional lights like this closet light that will be replaced with something also functional, also not stunning, but more modern.

And this is my FAVORITE light fixture. It's the dining room light, and I think it's gorgeous.

Isn't it cool?!

Friday, November 9, 2007

The Wrong Size

Thanks to those who weighed in with comments on the white oak. It's good to know that I'm not crazy, or that there are at least a few people out there who are just as crazy as I am.

When we had our house inspection done, one of the things noted was that the bottom course or two of tiles in the bathroom shower needed to be re-grouted. This was certainly something we felt we were comfortable doing. So about two months ago, just after taking possession, I took a grout saw and started sawing away, thinking this would be a short one or two weekend project. Hah! Fool that I am. It turned out that water had seeped behind the tiles. They didn’t have green, waterproof sheetrock back in 1921, and when water reaches calcimine paint that is painted over plaster, it turns into a crumbly, mushy mess. The only thing that keeps this mess together is an outside covering of tile held in place by grout. Remove the grout, and the whole thing comes apart in your hands. What I ended up with was about eight inches (three courses) of tile that had to be completely removed, along with the plaster, all the way back to the lathe. During a short moment of insanity, I considered taking off all of the tile, and the plaster and then putting up green, waterproof sheetrock. Common sense prevailed though and I decided to limit my "repairs" only to what was necessary. This is our only shower/bathtub in the house, and we can't afford to be without it.

The tiles I took off were simple, square, white tiles. I saved all of them, but I figured it would be so much easier to get new sheets of tile, attached to a backing, so that they are properly spaced. Otherwise, I'd have to clean the adhesive and plaster off the backs of the old tiles and carefully place them (with spacers). This sounds like a tedious job requiring a high level of precision and attentiveness.

Last weekend, we went around to several tile shops. Ms. Huis and I really enjoy tile and mosaics. Going to the tile stores was a bit like a child going into a candy store with no money. We saw a lot of beautiful tile, but we were only going to see if we could find matches for our tile. We figured it shouldn't be hard; after all, these were square, white, porcelain tiles. Hah! Hah! Bigger fool that I am.

Turns out that the tile in our bathroom is 2.25 inches by 2.25 inches, which is no longer standard size (if it ever was). The only tile shop who was willing to look for such tile (and it got a lot of head scratching) would have to "make some calls". Estimates for a cost were $15 to $25 per square foot, versus $5 per square foot for normal two inch by two inch tile. And it was possible it might be more, since the tile shop owner thought she might have to "import the tiles from italy".

Let's be clear here. There is nothing special about these tiles if you look at them. They are plain, white tiles. They do not warrant special orders and I do not think that they are original to the house. So, we took our tiles back home and I am now engaged in using a utility knife to scrape, poke and pry the original adhesive off the backs of the tiles. Fortunately the tiles are blood proof. I slip a lot when using the utility knife.

On the electrical front, things are moving forward. The electrician was in Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of this week. The first floor is about 40% done, although there's no juice to the new outlets. The electrician is waiting for the new underground, 200 amp service. There’s no firm install date for that yet, other than prior to December 1st.

One downside to the new house is the way in which the exterior walls are constructed. The house is constructed of structural, terracotta clay tile with a facade of a brick. A narrow strip of wood is applied to the interior of the clay tile and the lathe is applied to that, which leaves only an inch and a half gap between the exterior wall and the lathe (or so the electrician says). That's plenty of room for old style knob and tube wiring, but it's a little bit tight for modern wiring and junction boxes. We might not be able to put any electrical (lights, switches or receptacles) on the outside walls. It's not the end of the world, but it would have been nice.

The attic had most (maybe all) of the original light fixtures in it. They need to be rewired, so I'll be taking them into a lamp shop today to see what they can do. At some point, we'll post pictures.

Unfortunately I'm supposed to work this weekend, so projects will be severely curtailed. The plan is to put the last coat of plaster on the bathroom wall so that when I finally get done cleaning off the tiles, I can glue them on next weekend and then finally grout. We'll be pushing to have a functional tub by Thanksgiving weekend.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Quercus Alba

I'm looking for some advice or suggestions.

The back of our house looks out over a small grove of oak trees owned by the local water department. There are Two oak trees in our backyard and one is possibly the largest oak tree I have ever seen. Each of the trees is at least 200 years old, but it's hard to say. If they are that old, then they would have struggled for nutrients and light in their early years and wouldn't have grown much initially before breaking through the canopy. Two hundred years ago the area was not settled by whites, although whites certainly would have traded there. It was still Native American land.

When we bought the house, the area around it was severly overgrown and in the first two weeks, we took down seven trees and trimmed up one of the oak trees whose branches where rubbing on our cement asbestos shingles. When we had the tree guys cut down the oak, we asked them to leave the large limbs as intact as possible, so now I have four white oak logs, each between five and seven feet in length and ten to sixteen inches in diameter.

There is a sawmill in town and for about $100 I can get them to cut the oak into boards and kiln them. Is it worth it? Am I saving any money by doing this? Anyone know what size lumber I should have it cut into? Anyone have any suggestions what I could turn it into? I'd rather not just turn this into firewood. It would be very cool to point to a piece of furniture and tell someone that it is built from a limb from the oak in back.

The limb alone is at least 125 years old. It would be a shame to send 125 years of growth up into smoke in just one evening.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Marsupials and Halloween

My wife loves Halloween. I think that it is her favorite holiday and the House of 42 Doors makes a great Halloween house. It looks old and big and is set way back from the road in the middle of old trees.

She decorated the house this year with window decorations several weeks ago and last night she added the final touches. A strobe light in an upstairs bedroom, blinking eyes in the window in the attic, three jack o' lanterns, and a rat, a bat and a skull in the dining and living room windows.

She already started talking about next year and how to improve on our rushed decorations. It should keep her busy most of October.

She and Penguin stayed behind at the house to deal with trick or treaters while Pumpkin and I headed out to tour the neighborhood. We hit ten to fifteen houses and scored more than enough candy for a little girl. The only crisis was at the end of the night when pumpkin lost her kitty ears. Fortunately, we backtracked and found them again.

Several of our neighbors stopped by early in the night, before Pumpkin and I went out and we had three separate instances of people asking about ghosts in the house. One mentioned lights in the attic, another mentioned strange noises at night and the last guy (a young teen) didn't mention anything specific. He just mentioned he'd heard it was haunted.

In our neighborhood there is a "Haunted Woods" that some of the residents put on. We didn't go through it this year, but it looks like good fun where a bunch of people dress up in scary costumes, create a path through the woods and then try to scare kids and adults. All through the evening we could hear the shrieks and moans coming from the woods.

It's dark at the House. There is no yard light and the way the property is laid out, it is a good distance to the nearest street light. On top of that, there are tall trees that line the property, blocking out any additional light.

At the end of the night, I was outside cleaning up, gathering up the pumpkins and blowing out the candles. It was dark, I had ghost stories on my mind, and I could hear the screams coming from the Haunted Woods. Very eerie.

Facing the house, there is an open air porch on the left side. The ground falls away a bit so that it's about three or four feet below the porch floor. As I was cleaning up, I heard somebody walking in the leaves at the side of the House, walking from the back of the house to the front, along that open porch wall. I expected to see young kids trespassing (which would have been fine on Halloween). But the noise kept getting closer and closer until whoever it was should have been visible. I could feel the hair on the back of my neck starting to stand up.

Keeping in mind the dark, the ghost stories and the screams, I was really freaked out. So grabbing the pumpkin in my hand (after all, what better weapon could there be on Halloween), I resolved to peek over the wall of the porch to see who was walking in the leaves.

This was not to be my first paranormal experience. Waddling through the leaves was an opossum. I was shocked. I think it was the first time I've ever seen a "wild" opossum. I put the pumpkin down, tore into the house, scooped up Pumpkin (our daughter) and ran out to show her the opossum. We watched it waddle into a tree and settle there. After a bit we went back inside, cleaned up and went home.

All in all, a very memorable Halloween. Oh and lest I forget, the current mouse count is 39 and the electrician starts Monday.