Friday, November 21, 2008


Last week I did a survey for a marketing company. They paid me $75 for an hour of listening to my opinions. I'm not allowed to discuss the contents of the survey. I had to sign a non-disclosure agreement.

I took some of the $75 and bought new casual shoes last week. They are brown. I like them a lot. They remind me of shoes I saw in Europe. They are replacing my hiking boots I used to wear on Fridays to work. Somehow, in the last few months my hiking boots have gotten covered in paint.

I desperately need a hair cut. I started growing a beard awhile back and now my whole head looks round. My daughter and I are still fighting over whether or not I have a beard. I maintain that I have a beard. She thinks that I still just have whiskers.

We still have bats in our office walls. Every night around ten o'clock they wake up and I can hear them crawling in the walls. I don't understand how something so small can hibernate all winter and live. I caulked where I thought they were getting in. If I caulked them in, they're going to die and smell.

After being exhausted from our roof project, and swearing I was going to relax for awhile, I've already started planning and building an attic hatch door.

There are 40 days between now and the end of the year. Of those, 12 are weekends. I get 4.5 days off from holidays. I also have 8.5 days of vacation to use up. That means I only have to work 15 more days this year.

I estimate that the size of our compost pile is about 125 cubic feet (ten foot diameter and four feet high). I'd like to spread it onto our lawn to even out the bumpy bits and to provide more organic matter to the grass. I have no idea what's at the bottom of it as we inherited it. I'm a little bit afraid of what I'll find at the bottom.

Our current dining room chairs we got for free on Craig's List. I'm always afraid I'm going to break one. We didn't have a dining room set and we don't want to spend the money on a nice one until the girls are a bit older.

After hearing stories of our house and me roughly describing where it is, a coworker spent one afternoon driving around until he found it. I tease him about stalking me.

I have two four foot by four foot pallets of shingles outside of our garage right now. I hate looking at them. It looks messy, but there is no room in our garage for them.

For her birthday, my wife asked to be able to park her car in the garage. Its a three stall garage and there still isn't room for a car.

Some days I sit on the little bench in our front yard and look at our house and smile. Some days I wish one of the big oak trees in our backyard would fall on it.

The first time I saw a picture of our house online, I thought it looked like an old schoolhouse.

Whenever I trim the Tartarian Honeysuckle hedge, I think it smells like cucumbers.

One day when I was in the backyard, the neighbor's cleaning lady started talking to me. She is an older woman who told me all about the days when our house and the neighbor's house were owned by the original family. She also told me that when she was a teenager, she and a boy snuck into the shed that she was currently cleaning. She said that it was the first place she had sex. I changed the subject.

Early in the year, I asked the magic eight ball at work if I would regret replacing the roof. It replied, "It is certain". The next day I asked it if I should replace the roof. It replied, "Without a doubt". The magic eight ball at work hates me.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Peer Pressure

Last night I found myself pondering the lesson of the weekend, which seems to have been adult peer pressure.

The church we attend and the one that my wife is a member of has been growing by leaps and bounds. At the sermon on Sunday, the pastor joked that they were no longer accepting any more members with children. He was tired of tripping over them. Being a member of a young, growing church has its pros and cons. There is energy and excitement, but there is also cost. The church is looking to expand its facilities, so of course they want financial commitments from the members.

After the sermon the ushers passed out cards to the congregation and everyone was asked to fill in their financial commitment and then walk to the front of the church where they could place the card into a basket in front of the altar, "as a public sign of their ongoing support to the church." I really like the new church, but this was just not cool. The whole scene was designed to pressure people. Immediately my dander came up and I did nothing. It could have been worse of course. The pastor could have asked for money right then, instead of a commitment, but I still did not appreciate the scene.

Around the neighborhood, everybody (and I mean everybody) has blown their leaves to the curb. Our city offers leaf pickup as a free service. A giant vacuum truck comes around and sucks up the leaves from the curb. Its another perk of our high property taxes. I was the only holdout. There is one other neighbor who has a bigger lot than us, but he is Joe, owner of the equipment rental place and he has the coolest gadget for blowing leaves. It's a wheeled leaf blower that makes blowing leaves little more work than mowing the yard.

In any case, I had no desire to rake my leaves. I figured it provides good fertilizer for the lawn and I have more important things to do with my time. But then on the way to church, I saw that the neighbor's grandson was itching to use grandpa's leaf blower, so he and grandpa were kindly clearing our twenty foot wide section of land between our driveway and his property line. He had already cleared his leaves out the week before. I gave him the thumbs up, so he knew I wasn't bent out of shape about him "trespassing".

But when we got home, some of the lawn was free of leaves but most of it was not. It looked half done, so Ms. Huis and I took out the girls and finished raking the worst parts of the lawn. Which goes to show that I'm certainly susceptible to the more subtle forms of peer pressure.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Finally Done

The roofing/gutter/masonry project is done. There are still a few minor items that need tidying up, but there are no more contractors coming around. The scaffolding is down. There are no bits and pieces of equipment laying around the house. The bills have started coming in and money has started going out. I've been thinking about this project off and on now for almost a year. I had always hoped that we could put off repairing the roof for a few years. As a matter of fact, I clearly recall saying to my wife, "If it looks like we have to replace the roof in the first year or two, we're not buying the place." Boy, do I feel like a fool now.

The roof could have probably waited a few more years. The asbestos tiles weren't friable and I think that with proper maintenance and care, the roof had a few years left in it. The biggest downside was that twice a year, I had to climb up a ladder, take a twenty foot stick and gently push tiles back in place. The fasteners that connected them to the roof decking were rusted through in a lot of places and they would occasionally slide down. For the most part friction kept my roof together.

The gutters were a different story though. They needed to be replaced. The leaking water was rotting out the fascia and parts of the soffit. And as soon as I decided that the gutters needed replacement, the roof had to be done as well.

I learned a lot from this project. First, I learned that I'm majorly uptight about things. Not a single contractor that worked for us did a job that I couldn't complain about in some fashion. The roofers were far too rough in removing the tile. The masons chipped some of the brick with their grinders. The gutters do not drain as I'd like. The carpenter put a cedar shingle on wrong. I probably could have paid for this remodel with all the diamonds I was crapping out.

Second I learned that I'm still pretty good at ballparking costs. People always say that renovation/remodel jobs cost a lot more than expected. I always factor that in. The only surprise on this job was that the carpenter's bid came in high. Because of the slow down in the economy though, Matt was willing to work for less and I was able to get all the work down for about $2,000 less than he bid. When I ballparked this job in my head, I was only off by about 10%.
(MHH adds: Plus Mr. Kluges did some of the work himself that we'd originally had Matt bid to do.)

Third, I learned that nobody will do as good a job as yourself, assuming you are willing to take the time and acquire the tools.

Fourth, I learned that even an exterior job like this causes a lot of stress. I have not enjoyed the last month or so. Work has been a killer lately. I had an upgrade project to deliver in record time and on top of it, I was handed responsibility to help complete a three month project in the timeframe of three weeks. I didn't realize it, but the election was stressing me out too. I'm looking forward to a lot of time off soon. I have 7.5 days of vacation to use up before the end of the year.

I'll be more inclined to work on the house myself in the future. It's not because I'm trying to save money, but because I don't see the level of craftsmanship and pride in most of the contractors that I'd like. Our mason was very thorough, but he only had three or four years of experience under his belt. Someday he'll be outstanding, if he sticks with it, but he's not there yet. Our carpenter was the only one that impressed me. Everyone else was a bit of a let down.

Driving by the house now, it doesn't really appear that we did anything. This is both edifying and frustrating. When you spend money, it's nice to see something. With this you can't. I tried to remain true to the original character of the house, and in that respect I'm pretty happy.

There are still a lot of things that need fixing in the house, but I'm not going to list them here and now. Instead, below are a few before and after images of the house.

The house before...

And after...

The gutters before...

And after...

The shingles before...

And after - you can see that while the shingles are the right shape, they are a lot smaller.

And finally, the new cedar shake siding on the dormers.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Moral Degradation

Last week I went to the local grocery store to pick up some lunch. While looking for food there, I was appalled at what I saw.

We live in a fairly conservative area of the country. It's a Christian community where I NEVER expected to see this. To be fair, there are a few strip clubs in the area and at least one sex shop, but what I saw in the grocery store was completely uncalled for. After all, this is the grocery store, where mothers and children shop. It is grossly unfair to put mothers in a position where they have to explain certain things to their children.

I was looking for a peanut/raisin/granola mix while wandering up and down the aisles and looking at the signs hanging at the front of each aisle. It was about the sixth aisle where I saw the entry on the sign. I was so appalled, I didn't even go down the aisle. Doing so would have given the sort of tacit approval that the grocery store definitely does NOT need.

The second item on the hanging placard, right after "cereal" was "Adult Cereal". I can only hope that the boxes were on the top shelf and had brown paper sleeves over them.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Thanks W

Love him or hate him, George W. Bush has done something good for this country that no other president has done in over 40 years. He's gotten out the vote. Some will ascribe the high voter turnout this year to the inclusion of an African-American and a woman on the party tickets. That may be a factor, but I believe the high voter turnout is due to the concern people are feeling with the direction of the country. And I lay that directly at the feet of the current administration.

Generally speaking, the U.S. has a terrible voter turnout rate compared to most other democracies, but with all the actions the current administration has taken, it's caused a lot of people to wake up and realize that their vote does make a difference. A president and his staff do make policy changes that affect our lives.

I don't care if you are a Republican, Democrat, Constitutionalist, Green, Socialist, Libertarian or Independent, if you are a U.S. citizen, and 18 years or older, go out and vote today.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Roof Project Progress

I've been silent about the house for weeks now. Initial progress seemed lightning fast with the roof tear off in just two days. And then Roger and his crew got involved. It took them two weeks to install the gutter. It turns out they lost a week to sickness and the need to order more material. Then there was an actual week for gutter fabrication and installation. The the roofers came by and in two days they installed the roof. While all of this was going on, the masons were happily tuckpointing and caulking away.

Then we hit a bit of a slow spot. We're waiting for downspouts from Roger. The masons went away to work on another project (I think the roofers scared them away). Matt the carpenter was busy with other projects. Things started moving again last week, but we're still not done. I had really hoped to have everything buttoned down by the end of October. I'm getting tired of driving up to the house and seeing scaffolding out front. It's looking now that we'll be done by the end of this week. Really.

So here is the status check.

Gutters - Roger is telling me that he'll have the downspouts in his hands on Tuesday and should have everything wrapped up by the end of the week. This weekend though I found a section of gutter that is not secured by gutter hangers, so he's got more work to do, that he doesn't know about it. I also have to go around and double check he soldered all the seams. The first day he thought he was down, I looked at the gutters and found two unsoldered seams. Roger seems to have a problem with details.

Masonry - Howie seems to think he'll be done on Tuesday. That's assuming that I don't find anything he missed or anything he did wrong. I'll be going over the house with a fine tooth comb tonight. Howie does pretty good work. There's a few spots he's missed and some of his caulking is a bit wide, but I'm comparing his work to the work done by his boss Larry, who happens to have 30 more years of experience than Howie.

Roof - The roof is almost done. The roofers put on the wrong color flashing around the chimneys. They are supposed to be coming to replace it this week. Other than that, shingles, underlay and roof vents are all installed. I was up on the roof this weekend and it looks good.

Carpentry - Matt finished his work last Friday. He put up new fascia board, new pine cove molding underneath the gutters and re-sided the dormer walls with cedar shake. He made only one minor mistake, that no one is going to notice. He also had to put up two unpainted fascia boards, which is not ideal, but not the end of the world. All the other trim and boards I back primed, primed and painted on the ground (with help from various friends and family) so that they would be extremely water resistant. Those two boards won't have the backsides painted, as I can't reach them now that they are nailed on.

Painting - As mentioned, all new wood was painted on the ground, by myself, the in laws, Pusher and Puck. Many thanks to all for your help! What remains is to paint the fascia on the north and south sides of the house, to paint the dormer window trim on the west side, and to caulk around the base of the gutters. I'm hoping to finish this in the next two or three days with the unseasonably warm weather we're having. The soffits are still a mess, but that will have to wait for the future.

With the sole exception of the scaffolding at the front of the house, the front is done. I'm waiting for the scaffolding to come down before I post a picture. I'm getting tired of this project. It's taken longer than I wanted, cost more than I wanted and not turned out exactly as I wanted. The end product looks good. I just hope it will last the thirty to fifty years I want it to.