Friday, June 27, 2008

Roofs, Arborists and Hawks

When I don't write for a long time, I end up having a lot to say, with posts that ramble all over the place. This one will be like that.

The roof project moves along in fits and starts. Monday I sent an e-mail to our roofer, Jon, laying out the project scope. It was meant to give him exactly what he needed for a final bid. Yesterday we received a letter in the mail with all the specifications and a final price. It was a little bit higher than I expected, but as part of my final specifications, I instructed Jon to purchase enough shingles for the garage. The garage shingles still have a few years left on them, but I know they'll need replacement in the next five years.

I still need to provide the gutter guy, Roger, with the final gutter specifications so that I can get a final bid from him, and there will be some carpentry expenses involved too. The sides of the attic dormers are covered with a cedar shingle and the bottom few rows are rotten. They need to be replaced, as well as some parts of the fascia.

One of the items in the roof bid is to increase the amount of venting on the roof. They will be adding eight roof vents along the back side of the roof. This serves two purposes that I can see. First is to let out any moisture that may get into the attic, either from the rest of the house or through leaks.

Second is to try and keep the attic cooler in the summer so that the shingles don't bake and curl. Fair enough, but when I asked Jon about heat loss in the winter, he acknowledged there would be more heat loss. Just what I need. More heat loss in the winter.

Insulation in the House of 42 Doors is a topic I haven't mentioned much yet. There is about five inches of fiberglass in some parts of the attic. That equates to maybe R-15. In other parts of the attic there is none. The recommendation for this state is R-49. We're a bit deficient. The attic is a full walk up attic with a small finished room (the maid's room), but there's enough space up there to squeeze out another 500 to 600 square feet, which would be perfect for an office or just an "away" space. It's on my list of someday projects (behind oh so many other things).

When I asked the roofer about options, he came up with two. First was to apply a "Michigan" style vented roof, which I'd never heard of, but evidently lays insulation on the exterior of the roof and then shingles over that. Second was to lose a lot of head room in the attic, and insulate . A ballpark cost for the Michigan style roof was ten thousand. We won't be going that route. It looks like I'll be taking a week off this fall to try and tighten up the attic insulation as much as I can on a small budget. The rest of it will have to wait until we're ready to finish off the attic.

We had our tree guy come last Friday and grind out the last of the buckthorn in the backyard, including the buckthorn I erroneously cut down. Dan is great. He's a simple guy who works hard, is attentive to detail, follows direction well and is really careful at what he does. But he's not an arborist. When we had him take down trees last fall, he couldn't identify one of the trees that I wanted taken down.

Our conversation went something like this.

Dan: And that big tree over by the garage? You want that down? I couldn't tell what kind of tree it was. I took a few leaves and put them in my truck to see if I could tell what kind they are.

Me: It's a basswood tree.

Dan: Oh. Well, I'm not much on identifying trees. I just like the physics of cutting them down. Where they will fall, how heavy a branch is. Most guys don't know just how a tree is going to fall. I'm good at that.

When I was getting bids last fall, I asked Dan for a few references. He gave me a few. And then the conversation went like this:

Dan: Say...Are you a Christian?

Me (not knowing where this was going):

Dan: Ahhhh...well, you know then.

And then he gave me a large conspiratorial wink. At this point I was wondering if he was going to give me the secret handshake too. Maybe all these years nobody had taught me the secret Christian handshake?

If you want to take down a tree or grind up a few stumps, Dan is your man. If you want to trim up a tree or shape it, find an arborist. And Dan is consistently 30% cheaper than other people I've talked to. I like Dan. He makes me smile.

This morning when I went upstairs to brush my teeth before work, I came across my wife skulking in the hallway with a camera. [MHH - I wasn't skulking! I was trying not to spook 'em.] The nesting pair of red tail hawks in the lot to the south of us were perched in our big oak tree in the backyard. I'm hoping that she got some good pictures and will post them (hint, hint). Because we were on the second story we probably weren't more than 50' from one of them. Very cool.

Edited by Ms. Huis Herself as requested to add photos. Click on them to see them bigger.

Through the screen door to the back balcony

Both hawks as seen from the bathroom window.

Mr. Kluges suggested I try to take some photos from the attic window... I think the hawk knows I'm here!

Action shot of the getaway

Monday, June 16, 2008

May Need That Hedge Sooner

Ms. Huis has taken on an outside landscaping project. There was an abandoned rock garden at the front of the house with one sad fern, one sad, small hosta and some unidentified plant that I could have sworn was mint. I now know that it is not mint and that in doses of one leaf or less, it is not poisonous.

The abandoned rock garden didn't bother me. I always was looking at other stuff that needed attention, but evidently, it was something that Ms. Huis saw all the time and she took umbrage to its neglect. So she pulled out all the rocks and let loose with the tiller. She had planned to save the unidentified plant, the fern and the hosta, but tillers can be unforgiving mistresses. The hosta didn't make it.

We were just trying to wrap our heads around what to put there, when the neighbor yelled across the fence that she had hostas she was taking out. If we wanted any, we just had to come over with a wagon. So, Ms. Huis transplanted the new hostas and we moved some of our day lilies and ferns into the formerly abandoned rock garden. It really is a huge improvement. I'd like to put a low yew hedge there someday, but we might not get to it for a few years.

Naturally the new plants needed water, and since water and children are like the peanut butter side of falling toast and a kitchen floor, Pumpkin grabbed the hose and immediately got herself wet. As soon as she was wet, she complained and I suggested that she sit out in the sun to dry off. Meanwhile I was trimming up the honeysuckle hedge.

I looked over my shoulder now and again and saw her put down the hose and head to the front lawn. Before long, she was sitting in the middle of the front lawn basking in the sun. Have I ever mentioned that we have not taught our daughter much in the way of modesty or shame yet?

She stayed on the front lawn for quite awhile and I kept peeking over my shoulder every few minutes, until I was mortified to see that she was standing up, with her pants around her ankles. Her underwear was around her knees, soon to be taken off as well. I went walking over as fast as I could, trying not to do anything that would draw the attention of the neighbors.

"Honey! What are you doing? Pull your pants up right now!"

"Why?" (Curiosity as to what was causing Daddy to look so distressed.)

"It's not polite to take your pants off in public!"

"But daddy, I...I has something to tell you." (Realizing she might be in trouble, but not knowing why.)

"Pull your pants up! What are you doing? Do you have to go potty?"

"No, Daddy...I'm hot. It's too hot." (Pants finally in place.)

"Honey, you need to go sit in the shade, with your pants on."

That was my Father's Day.

Friday, June 13, 2008

And Yet More Good News

In complete opposition to it being Friday the 13th, I had even more good news waiting for me when I got home. The first bit was that we got our state tax refund mailed to us. We had forgotten all about it, so there was a little bonus for us.

The second bit was that our project to replace the roof and tuck point the masonry has been approved by the historical society, provided that we do a test patch for the masonry repair. I just mailed the paper work off on Monday, so getting a response back within the week is astounding. This means that Monday I can call the roofer, the carpenter, the gutter man and the mason and start scheduling.

And last, there was an old Eclipse reel mower downstairs in the basement that I've been trying to get working. The wheels were rusty and seized up. I greased it up good on Wednesday, and when I tried it today, the wheels freed up! It still needs more work, and in the end, I may just junk it, but it gave me an odd sense of perspective to be mowing my 1921 four square with a vintage reel mower.

Now, to end this almost perfect day, I'll put the kids to bed and enjoy a nice Vouvray.

Where's The Cheese?

My parents visited last weekend. The excuse they used to visit (as if they really needed one) was that one of the local small towns was having a "cheese" festival. As festivals go, it was good. As cheese festivals go, it was lacking. We went to the festival on Friday and Saturday to mixed weather. While we were there, the weather was good, but there were torrential rains Saturday evening and Sunday. They had carnival rides, a beer tent, a petting zoo (with fawns!), live music, craft booths, a juggler and other local entertainment. What they didn't have was a plethora of cheese.

They had three events that were based around cheese. They had a cheese tasting tent (which we didn't get to this year and was only open for a short time on Saturday), a cheesecake contest and a cheese carver. Evidently the cheese carver, Troy Landwehr, is world renowned, even having been on the David Letterman show. He's been doing this for years and was carving a Harley Davidson when we were there. I'd love to know if that's how he makes his living, or if he has a day job too. I'm thinking maybe I could be a world champion carver of food too. I just have to find the right medium - radishes? rutabaga? ice cream? The possibilities are endless.

The only cheese for sale that we found was deep fried cheese curds at the concession stands. And that was it. No purveyors of local cheese. No purveyors of foreign cheese. No educational information about cheese. No "cheese head" souvenirs. No cheese making seminars. No cheese cloth. No cheese mascots. No cheese dip.

The concept of cheese in this state boggles my mind a bit. There is a new cheese shop opening up just a few miles from our house in a few weeks and when the local newspaper interviewed them they responded that they were going to focus on freshness. Because cheese was at its best when it was fresh. It would be on sale the same day that the manufacturer made it.


I'm sorry, but the best cheeses I ever had were not made in one day. They were aged, hard cheeses*. And I certainly did not measure the quality of a cheese by how squeaky it was against my teeth. To be fair, the fresh, squeaky cheese curds in this state are really, really good. And I did try some goat cheese curds here once, also very good. But I wish that people around here would actually realize that living in the dairy state and being a cheese head could be much more enjoyable than talking about squeaky cheese curds and wearing some stupid yellow triangle on your head.

Anyway, the eldest child had a great time riding the rides. I enjoyed watching the cheese carver and listening to the local bands. The youngest child enjoyed looking at the animals in the petting zoo and saying "cat," which is what she calls all four-legged mammals. It was good fun.

Sunday my mom painted the back entry way the same cheery yellow as the living room and painted the ceiling white. My dad fixed a door or two that needed planing, and I started scraping paint off the foyer walls. The foyer walls and ceiling had started to peel, so they need the full calcimine removal treatment. once the rain broke and my dad was done planing the door, we went outside and consolidated almost all of the firewood into one place and stacked it. I thought we were done, but Wednesday I found another pile that I had forgotten about.

Monday, I was back to work, but the parents stuck around to work (bless their souls). Mom scraped about two thirds of the foyer (which is a messy, miserable job) while my dad went around and fixed more doors, fixed our built-in ironing board, put in a hardwood door sill, and moved part of one of my three dirt piles. Tuesday the parents got up and headed out to Mackinac Island, which sounds like a great place to visit. Maybe we'll get there someday when the girls are older.

Thursday we got notification from the State Historical Society (already!) that they have approved the tax deduction for the electrical and sewer work. Now we can claim the money back on our taxes. We also got another two inches of rain, which means in one week we've gotten almost five inches of rain. That's nowhere near as much as the southern parts of the state, but we've got a lot of puddles around.

As if that wasn't enough, we also got our first box from our local CSA with mushrooms, chives, oregano, basil, mint, baby bok choy, baby garlic, rhubarb and popcorn. [Ms. Huis Herself says: Picture here!] If you don't know what a CSA is, spend some time looking into it. There are a lot of benefits to them. The link I've included offers the option to put in a zip code and it will find a CSA near you, if one exists. It might be too late to get a share in your local CSA. It depends on their policies.

*For the record the best cheeses I ever had were purchased at the English Market in Cork, Ireland. Hegarty's Cheddar, Coolea and Osaba Peio all come immediately to mind.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Goodbye Project 1, Hello Project 2

This week marks the end of one project and the beginning of another. Today I'll mail off the paperwork to the Historical Society to close out our project for the electrical and the sewer work we did. I'm not anticipating any issues in closing out this project. We did little to change the look of the house, except to add some light switches and electrical outlets. And we re-used some of the existing lights that were in the attic.

Some time ago, I asked if folks thought it was tacky to list the cost of things on the blog and answers tended towards "It might be, but we're curious anyway". So if your sensibilities are going to be offended then navigate away now. To rewire 90% of a 2,100 square foot house, add numerous outlets, increase service to 200 amp, bury the overhead electrical and to just generally bring it up to modern code, was just under $13,000. The sewer project, which included replacing all of the existing cast iron pipe in the basement, installing two new drains, installing a laundry sink and replacing about 30 feet of exterior lateral pipe to the main sewer line was just under $7,000. The total for all of it was $19,600. I originally estimated $16,000, so I wasn't too far off, only 20%.

The cool part is that once the project is approved, we'll get a tax credit of $4,900 that we can apply against our state taxes. I don't expect to be paying much in state taxes for a few years.

I'll be mailing off an application for the next project tomorrow. It's a request for approval to redo the roof and gutters on the main roof and to tuckpoint the brick. I'm a little anxious about this one. I think I can make a good case that the work needs to be done. What I'm concerned about is whether or not they'll accept my shingle choice. It's a diamond shaped asphalt shingle I found out on the west coast. Even if they don't approve the re-roofing job, I think they would still approve the gutter and tuckpointing portion. We'll just have to wait and see.

We also had a bit of good news a few weeks ago. We've always been concerned about lead paint in the house, so when our youngest daughter had the option of getting a lead test at her one year checkup, we opted for it. Her lead levels came back fine. I'd be surprised if there was no lead paint in the house, but I think that the majority of the walls in the house were painted with calcimine paint right up until it changed hands in 1979. If so, that would be great news for us. I know that as I've been slowly peeling the paint off the bathroom walls, there are only three layers of paint in there - blue calcimine, pink latex from the late 70's or early 80's and then white.

Work on the house has now shifted to outside work with the advent of summer. I've been trimming buckthorn left, right and center. Every week there is a pile of buckthorn on our curb for the street department to chip and take away. While our neighbors to the south don't seem to find buckthorn a problem, our neighbors to the north seem thrilled that somebody is finally cleaning it up. One of our neighbors even came over on Tuesday and helped me cut some of it down and haul it to the curb. And he's willing to take out some box elder trees that are leaning over our lot, right where I want to put a garden. Last weekend we planted six tomato plants; a Brandywine, a Mr. Stripey, a Beefy Boy, two cherry tomatoes and one other that escapes my memory. So far they seem to be doing well.

My parents are coming this weekend for a local, small town festival, and we always seem to get a lot done when they are here, so I'm looking forward to another productive weekend. It will be fun too, as we check out the local festival. If there's anything extra cool there, I'm sure that Ms. Huis will blog about it.