Friday, May 30, 2008

No Innuendos In This Title

I've gained something of a reputation for being an expert at getting rid of mice at work. I suppose that it's due to my numerous stories concerning the 45 mice that we've caught in the house. There have been some memorable ones. Of the 45, three were catch and release. The other 42 hopefully felt very little pain.

My preferred method of mouse removal is the good, old-fashioned snap trap, with a bit of peanut butter on it. It works most of the time and I think it's almost always quick, although I know it's not painless. I'm not a big fan of poison. It has a tendency to get around and before you know it, you're poisoning something you didn't mean to. I tried poisoning moles once at our last house and within a week found a few dead squirrels. I didn't like that, especially since we had a cat at the time.

Last week one of my co-workers complained to me that he had mice under his garage or front step (I forget which). He didn't want them there. Last time this happened he waited some time outside with a bat waiting for them to come out so he could club them. Evidently it worked in the past. Not so this time.

There was some great office talk about how to get rid of the mice that included poisoning, flooding, gassing (with car exhaust) and trapping. I of course described my disapproval of poison.

So this week my coworker comes to my desk and starts his story with "Some expert you are." It seems he took sticky traps (not really a favorite of mine either) and put them down in front of the hole. He weighted them down with bricks. Then on the other side of the sticky traps, he put an old fashioned snap trap with peanut butter.

He was not successful in catching his mouse (or mice). To get to the peanut butter, the mice put rocks on the sticky trap, allowing them to walk across and then they ever so delicately licked the peanut butter off the trap, leaving an empty trap and a useless sticky trap. Those are smart mice. I told him, that if it keeps up, they might just be smart enough to hire a lawyer to serve him eviction papers.

We also continue to make progress on things. I finished a firewood shed for the wood I split over the winter. It holds just over one cord of wood (4' by 4' by 8').

We have a lot of wood on the property. By my reckoning we have three or four cords scattered about. Most of it is hardwood too, oak, mulberry and buckthorn. There's also some spruce, pine and basswood. I had hoped that a good deal more would fit in the pseudo shed. I'll maybe build one more and the rest will have to stay out in the rain.

Three or four cords of wood is probably what it would take to heat the house for one winter, so if we only use it for supplemental heat, that's a lot of wood, and I'm looking to cut down at least two more mulberries in the next few years. If they don't fruit, they're going to be on the list.

I was also excited to finally identify the last major bit of greenery on the property. The horribly overgrown "hedge" on the south side of the property needs something done with it. It is ugly and growing over onto my property by about twenty or thirty feet. Unfortunately the plants start on the neighbor's side, so I can't just rip them out. The best I can do is cut them back to the line and I didn't want to do so until I knew if they would regrow from old wood. Someday I'd like to put a yew hedge along the entire south side, but that's not in the budget for awhile yet.

Turns out that the bushes are Tartarian Honeysuckle, which is great because it means I can cut them back to within an inch of their life. It also means that they can be invasive, although they don't seem to be a problem here - maybe the buckthorn has kept them in check.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

And The Winner Is...

Well, it's time to close the poll. I have to say that I got many more guesses than I expected and they spanned a much wider...variety than I expected. I'll go through the garage and see if I can find some piece of house history to send on to the winner (because there was one). Something not too valuable or too crummy, but something worthwhile. No guarantees though.

As I said, we found out what it was because Ms. Huis talked to the neighbors about it. Now, it didn't come up in conversation because my wife said, "My husband has this crazy fixation with a stupid picture. What's this round thing?" The conversation came up because our oldest daughter was playing on the round thing that got moved to the neighbors' yard.

Yup, it was a trampoline. When the renters lived here, they had it, and when they decided to move on, they didn't want to move the trampoline, so they sold it to the neighbors.

Congratulations to Pusher for the correct guess. Also, second place clearly goes to NoNick. And I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed the guesses.

Hope everyone has a warm, sunny, fun and safe Memorial Day weekend (if you live in the U.S.).

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Keeping It On the Level

Early in the spring we went to a local home show. We were given tickets by our roofer, who had a booth there. It was your typical home show with all kinds of contractors who could build you a patio, replace your roof, do your landscaping, repair your gutters, etc.

We walked away with two contacts that I thought would be very useful. The first was for somebody who does energy audits. We haven't followed up with him yet. The second contact was with a company called Raise-Rite.

This winter we had some freak thunderstorms and these caused a lot of water to leak into the basement. One of the many things we can do to help stop the leaking is to pitch the ground away from the house.

Yesterday, Raise-Rite came out, raised, leveled and pitched our sidewalk on the north and west side of the house. They raised the sidewalk an inch or two. There were only two very minor issues. First was that one cracked section of sidewalk cracked more. The second is that we need to raise our gate on our fence to the backyard as it drags on the sidewalk now. Overall, I'm very pleased with the results and if this keeps the water flowing away from the house, it was $400 well spent.

I'm taking Friday off for a long, glorious, four day weekend. The in-laws will be here, so it will be good fun. I'm looking forward to time outside and getting a few loose ends tied up. I started a firewood shed over the weekend and it just needs a few more boards nailed on before it's done.

Finally, as I was sifting through all the satellite pictures of our place, I came across this one.

Which has bothered me. The building to the north is the garage and extending east of that is the driveway. The long white line in the middle is the sidewalk to the front door. The gray bit on the west side is our roof, obscured by tree cover. What the heck is that round thing on the front lawn, south of the sidewalk? There are no marks on our yard right now, so whatever it was either didn't kill the grass, or it's grown back. And there's definitely no round thing there now. I found out this weekend what it was from Ms. Huis, who talked to the neighbors. Anyone else care to take a guess? I'll post the answer in a few days.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Tree Pictures

I know that marriage is all about sharing, but I do so dearly wish that Ms. Huis would not share her cold with me. I was doing well avoiding it, but I've had a dearth of sleep the last week and after repeated exposure, I've been infected. Here's hoping it will be short and painless.

I had a meeting last week with a contractor who specializes in historical restoration and he confirmed what I already knew but was trying to wriggle out of. We need to replace the main roof first. The shingles are asbestos cement mineral board, which is not nearly as bad as it sounds. I know this because when I say "asbestos cement mineral board shingles" to my three year old, she does not jump out of her skin in fright. She just looks at me for a minute and then asks "why?" and then I have to figure out what in the world SHE is talking about.

The roof sheds rain extremely well, with no leaks evident, but it fails in several other areas. Every year, some of the nails holding the shingles in place fail and the shingles come loose. That means I need to push them back into place with a hokey fifteen foot long pole with a board nailed on the end, while standing on a twenty-two foot extension ladder. Once in place, the weight of the shingles above the loose one keeps it in place. It doesn't take a genius to see that this solution can only last so long.

Whatever felt or tar paper under the shingles is 87 years old and has likely turned to dust. This means during the winter, any hint of an ice dam backs up underneath the shingles and gets the attic wet. On a bright note though, the attic leaks so much heat that generally within three to five days, the roof is clear of snow anyway.

The shingles have gotten a bit delicate and walking on them causes more nails to break and shingles to loosen, or even worse, it breaks the shingles themselves. It is possible to get replacement shingles, but they are "antiques" and difficult (but not impossible) to track down.

I was hoping to put off replacing the main roof for a few years, and I probably could have, but the gutters just are not doing the job they are supposed to. To replace the gutters properly we need to take off the roof. So, really to prevent any further structurally damage, it's time to rip it all off and start over. It's going to be expensive (which is why I was trying to put it off).

When it comes to the asbestos shingles, I have two options. First is to have an abatement company remove the shingles. They monitor the air, remove the asbestos in accordance with all state and local regulations, and dispose of it. The second option is to do the work myself. Because the house is a single unit, residential building, the owner (me) can remove the asbestos without following any of the state or local regulations. In effect there are none.

I have one quote for a roofer to remove the asbestos and, at the recommendation of the restoration contractor, contacted another asbestos abatement company to give us another quote. He was supposed to come out today to see the place and work up the quote. We ran into a slight wrinkle though.

Ryan called this morning to say that his abatement company no longer does work in this area. It seems that the Department of Natural Resources (who regulates the removal and disposal of asbestos) has an officer in the area that has tangled with this company in the past. From the conversation I had with Ryan, it sounds like the officer was in the wrong. The company filed an injunction against the DNR employee to keep him off of their work sites. Since the last tussle between the two of them, said company no longer does work in our area. It's always something with this house.

Anyway, Ryan did say that they get about $5 a square foot to remediate asbestos, which is about the same as the roofing estimate.

Also, Ms. Huis went over yesterday to make nice with the neighbors and give them a gift certificate to a nursery. The point was to try and get them to use the money to buy some real trees to replace the junk we cut down. They declined and wouldn't take it.** The best thing that came out of all of this is that when we were at the nursery on Sunday, we walked by some beautiful topiary of dogs, cats and boars, to which my three year old shouted, "Look, look Daddy! It's...tree pictures!"

** Footnote from Ms. Huis Herself - The neighbors declined the gift card, but were really nice, said it wasn't necessary, just a mistake, don't worry about it, we should get together and grill out sometime, talk together about what we want to do in that corner, etc. So I think everything is going to be ok there, which is good. Especially since we're planning on being here a while, we share a long border with them, and they've got two girls of an age to play with ours.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Sorry About Those Toes

Many, many things were accomplished over the weekend with the help of the parents. Ms. Huis watched the girls all weekend, which allowed three grown adults to focus on house projects. Great stuff.

So first, some background on the house and the neighbors. The family who used to own the house had a greenhouse business adjacent to the house. In the late 70's, the greenhouses were knocked flat and the land was subdivided into smaller lots on the north side. On the south side, a son of the house's original owners built a cute brick house in the 30's or 40's.

On the north side, the land has been surveyed and fences have been erected. There's little doubt where the lot lines are. On the south side, things are not so very clear, especially with our front yard. There is a strip of land about forty or fifty feet wide that is full of some kind of unidentified hedge plant gone wild and scrub trees. The neighbors to the south call it "woods." I call it something else.

Shortly after purchasing the house, the neighbors came over and made it very clear that they liked the "woods" and that the unidentified hedge plant that grows 30 feet onto our land actually starts a good five or ten feet on their side of the lot. This made me a bit uneasy from the very beginning that the neighbors were not going to like any change in the "woods," regardless of the fact that some of those woods are on my land.

The previous owner did a lot of good towards repairing and restoring the house, but he left the landscaping rather...wild. The original inhabitants of the place back in the 20's used a fast-growing, thorny, dense, well-shearing plant. And they had a lot of it, with several hundred feet of hedge along the driveway. Unfortunately it was buckthorn.

If you don't know anything about buckthorn, I'll sum up by just saying that several states have declared it a non-native, invasive species and it is VERY prolific. Read up on it and you'll see why I don't want any of it on my property. My dad brought his chainsaw and Monday we went after a group of large buckthorn towards the front of the property in the "woods." The majority of the woods is buckthorn. Some of them were 50 years old.

About midway through cutting and brush clearing, the neighbor came over to see what we were doing. He asked a few questions about what we were cutting and if we knew where the lot line was. I had eyeballed the lot line earlier and thought I knew where it was. There were five cedars planted at the front of the place when it was originally built, and the one that was furthest south looked to be about where the lot line was. Going on the assumption that people usually put trees on significant points (lot lines and corners), I took that tree as the line. He listened and left.

Last night (Wednesday), the neighbor showed up at the front door with a 100' measuring tape on his arm. He was cordial, but a bit forceful. He had contacted the town hall and gotten the measurements for the properties (100' wide for mine and 120' wide for his). He had asked the town to come out to find the lot marker, but they hadn't come that day. He asked them where the lot lines start (the very inside edge of the sidewalk). And he measured out where he thought the line was. And he wanted us to measure it together so we knew where it was.

And we did. We measured it twice, once from one side of the block, and again from the other side of the block. And it appears he was right. I was over by about five feet (give or take a foot). We cut down some of his buckthorn in error. We agreed to the approximate location of the lot line (give or take a foot). I apologized, told him I'd be curtailing my activities to our side (obviously). We shook hands and went our merry way.

Now this whole thing has got me absolutely cranky. First I'm cranky that I was wrong. Just plain wrong. I could have measured. I could have called the town to verify where the line was. I could have talked to the neighbor. And I didn't. It was sloppy and presumptive, especially when I knew that it might become a touchy subject. It also has not helped our relationship with our neighbors.

It makes me cranky because the measuring we did shows either that the lots are not square with the street, or one of my northern neighbors is encroaching my property by about three feet. And I didn't care until my southern neighbor decided that the lot line (give or take a foot) is an absolute uncrossable boundary. Which means either I can confront my northern neighbor, or just let it go (which is probably what I'll do).

It makes me cranky because I am doing something I hold to be very important and responsible - removing a non-native, invasive species. And my neighbor doesn't understand or care. I tried to explain to him on several occasions why I find buckthorn so offensive. We'll see if my explanations stick and he starts cleaning it out.

It makes me cranky, in a petty way, because my southern neighbor has an extra twenty feet of land. The extra twenty feet technically belongs to the city, but they have told him that they won't put a sidewalk along the street there, meaning his 120' land is actually 140' of usable space. And yet, he's uptight about five feet of land (give or take a foot), that he never uses and that is full of buckthorn.

And mostly it makes me cranky because I feel that they are watching my every move, just waiting for me to screw up, so that they can swoop in and correct me. I think I see a very tall hedge in the future landscaping.

On a brighter note, my mom also painted a few rooms while they were here. I took before and after pictures of the living room. Ms. Huis was kind enough to upload them and color correct them (although I think she lightened them a bit too much). The living room was white and we opted instead for Hubbard Squash with an accent color of Rembrandt Ruby on the fireplace. It's much more bold than either of us would normally choose, but I have to say, we like it.

From the northwest corner before

And after

From the northeast corner before

And after

From the southeast corner before

And after

From the southwest corner before

And after

Friday, May 2, 2008

Everything is Growing

Another Friday goes slowly drifting by...Spring is here at the House of 42 Doors. Trees are budding out, tulips are flowering, day lilies and ferns are growing everywhere and the strange little blue flowers in the backyard are happily growing, sending nutrients into their bulbs for next year. Hopefully they will spread and cover the scars in the backyard from the sewer and electrical work we did.

We've been doing a lot of grilling lately as the days have warmed up. My folks were kind enough to give us a nice gas grill over Christmas. Personally, I'm a charcoal man, but I won't deny that I love being able to turn on the grill and cook. There's no 30 minute or hour lead time before cooking. If we only had a charcoal grill, we probably still wouldn't have grilled yet.

As I write this, my parents are on their way here, driving on the long drive across two states to get here. It'll be a working visit, and I'll try to remember to capture some before and after photos of whatever we're doing for posting. I'm terrible with pictures though. It just never seems to occur to me until after we're done that I should have taken pictures.

The big projects for the weekend include painting the kitchen, painting the living room, taking off the storm windows, cleaning and painting the windows, starting to level the living room floor, and building a firewood rack. I reckon there should be more than enough to do there for four adults and two small children, even if two of those adults are my parents. If we get all of that done, I'm sure we'll find something else that needs doing.

On a completely unrelated note, yesterday was our youngest's birthday so I need to wish her a Happy Birthday. We'll be having cake and a celebration tonight with Grandma and Grandpa. It's just as well we're a day late. She had a fever yesterday, but seems much better today. Happy Birthday Penguin!