Friday, February 27, 2009

Five Seasons

We got seven more inches of snow last night.

That means we have officially changed seasons from Winter to "I Can't Believe It's STILL Winter."


Saturday, February 21, 2009


Much to report this week, including the oubliette, which I'll get to at the end of the post.

After a very long time, probably close to a year, we finally finished painting the bathroom. This started while giving my daughters a bath. They would play in the tub and I would get bored. This is a dangerous thing, because I start looking around for things to "fix".

The calcimine paint in the bathroom, combined with constant humidity and heat caused the paint to peel in some areas of the bathroom, so I took the closest thing to a paint scraper in the bathroom (a nail file) and started picking at the paint on the bathroom walls.

Every few nights for the last year I'd peel a little more until finally, we had about 80% of it done. Then last weekend and this week, we decided to just get it done. Honestly, the upcoming rush of visitors had something to do this.

Ms. Huis took the steamer and the scraper and finished the job. She also primed and painted the bathroom. As always, it's nice to have it done.

Here are some before shots, along with pictures of Ms. Huis hard at work.

And the after shots.

In the after shots you'll notice a white grate behind the toilet. This was one of our four tuberculosis vents that were put in place to allow air to circulate in the house. The grates are in the basement work room, the basement bathroom, the kitchen and the upstairs bathroom. The ran up into the attic where the eventually led to the outside.

These vents were still functional when we bought the house, but we had to use the main vent as a wire chase when we rewired the house. Sadly, it is no longer functional. It actually helped cool the house in the summer as the cool basement air circulated through the house.

We had to take the grate off to paint the bathroom and from now on, I'll be referring to the bathroom grate as the oubliette. At the bottom of the venting, I found a desiccated bird that must have flown in and been unable to find it's way out. There was also several inches of other material as well, source completely unknown.

It's cleaned out now.

Lastly, the mouse count also went up one more this week. We're up to 48.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Book Recommendation

As children and teens, most of us have had at least one conversation with our parents where we try to convince them that our argument is valid by comparing the situation with someone else.

"John's parents let him stay up until 11 and he isn't tired the next day at school."

"John's been to concerts and he's never gotten into trouble."

"Everybody else in school already has a VCR. Why don't we have one yet?"

Sometimes this works. Sometimes it doesn't. In the end its the parents who give or take, allow or deny. Then we reach adulthood. We're free to stay up as late as we want, drink as much as we want, eat whatever we want and generally do whatever we want (and naturally suffer the consequences).

I've found, now that I'm an adult, that when I've done something rash, something that people might even term as foolish, I still fall into this old pattern of comparison to prove that what I've done is acceptable and normal behavior. In fact, what I've done might even be laudable.

For all those people who think that we went off the deep end when we bought this house (and I know that many of you were just too polite to say so), I'd suggest reading “All the Way Home: Building a Family in a Falling-Down House" by David Giffels. I stumbled across the book when I first saw this article Don’t Hate Me Because I’m Solvent in relation to the ongoing economic doom in the housing market. This led me to the book, which my wife got at the library and gave me on Friday. I finished it on Sunday.

Comparing our two situations is like comparing a cold to terminal pneumonia. This guy embodies the American "can do" spirit and is willing to take on any project with a megalomaniacal glee. And based on the photos I saw, he's doing a darn good job. But I can't imagine starting with what he started.

He's an interesting fellow and a very good writer with a respectable vocabulary, which is all the more amusing when you learn he's written for Beavis and Butthead.

I highly recommend this book, and it should be a requirement for anyone who thinks they want to own a "fixer-upper". I don't know the last time I read a book that I could so clearly empathize with.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Spring? Already?

Spring is here. And boy, is it early. I haven't done my housecleaning yet. I don't have my garden all planned out. I just barely got my gardening order in. My snow blower isn't put away. The grill is still under wraps.

Don't believe me that it's Spring? Remember on Monday I said there was a big thaw? Here's a picture of the house one week ago.

And here is a picture from yesterday afternoon. Notice the missing snow on the roof? The shrinkage of snow next to the pillars and the driveway?

And as if that weren't proof enough, Ms. Huis saw this the other day.

It's the first Siberian Squill poking its head out. The backyard will be blue soon.

And the Easter Bunny? Well we happen to have a pair of owls in the backyard, and I've got some bad news. Best not show the kids...

Monday, February 9, 2009

Big Thaw

For the first time this year, the temperature was above freezing. Saturday hit 46 degrees (8 degrees Celsius) and Sunday was only marginally cooler. It was a massive melting session and most of the roofs are now free of snow. The new gutters handled the melt very well, with only one small drip that I need to go up and examine. The hardest event on the gutters and roof is the spring thaw/freeze cycle. The sooner the snow is off the roof and the gutters are free of ice, the happier I'll be. The rest of the week is forecast to be above freezing every day, with temperatures on Tuesday predicted to be 50 degrees (10 Celsius).

The rapid thaw is great for the roof, but it's a disaster for our basement. We're watching it carefully in hopes that the mudjacking we did last spring to tilt the sidewalk away from the house is working. Even worse than the rapid thaw though is the forecast for rain this week. The ground is frozen so all that rain pools up on the ground before whooshing to the lowest spot. If that lowest spot happens to be next to the house, we'll have another incident of Mannekin Pis.

There are worse things in life though. I just found out today that my previous boss, the one who was willing to take a chance on an American who wanted to live in Ireland and hire me, has terminal pancreatic cancer. Doctors are telling him he only has a few more weeks. The last time I saw him was a year ago when I had a business trip to Ireland. As far we knew he was fine then. He's in his mid-forties, so it is completely unexpected. It really puts things in perspective, leaky basement and all.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Tax Time

When I first saw that the House of 42 Doors was on the National Registry of Historic Places, I was a bit uncertain if it was a good idea to buy it. After all, who hasn't heard a horror story about an historic property that couldn’t be updated without first attaining approval from an autocratic board of pedantic scholars? Owning an historic property appealed more to my ego than my common sense, so I did more research to figure out the pros and cons.

Now that it’s tax time, it’s finally time to take advantage of one of those pros. In 2007 and 2008 we had contractors replace the sewer and electricians rewire the entire house. The total cost of all that work was $19,600. It broke down to around $13,000 for the electrical and $6,600 for the sewer. The great state of Wisconsin offers a tax credit for certain types of work done on historic properties. The sewer and electrical work we did was certified and approved. Now it’s time to get back our money.

The program allows for 25% of the money spent to be credited back. In our case, that’s a tax credit of $4900. It turns out though that Wisconsin has an Alternative Minimum Tax, which means that even though our tax credits are sufficient enough that we wouldn’t have to pay any state tax this year, the Wisconsin AMT kicks in, meaning we still have to pay in. It also means that we’re only going to be able to recoup about $2300 this year. It’s going to take us three years to get back all of our money. I’m thrilled to be getting back any money. I just wish I could get it back sooner.

Another bit of good news is that we’ve had no more rodents in the traps, and short of our long-term resident in the office, no more noises in the walls.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Casa de la Rodentia

Ok, so I don't speak Spanish, Italian or Latin, which means that any of you who do, will recognize the title as a language mish mosh. But doesn't it sound cool?

Thursday I was sitting at the dining room table, going through some papers for taxes when I heard something loud behind me. And it was big. I turned around and looked outside to see if the thing scrabbling around was actually outside on the brick. It sounded at least as big as a squirrel, and maybe even a raccoon. I saw nothing, so putting my ear to the wall, I was just in time to hear something skitter and then slide to the floor inside the wall. It may have been my imagination but I thought there was a bit of panic in that sliding sound.

This is not the first time that we've heard noises in the walls of the house. In fact we have a permanent "guest" on the west wall of the office who wakes up every night around 9:00 pm and skitters around a bit. And then he's back to sleep. We haven't named him yet, but we probably should. He's been with us all winter, maybe longer. We suspect he's a bat, based on previous sightings outside.

Thursday's skittering was different. It had an ominous tone to it (Perhaps I need to stop reading so much Lovecraft). So Friday, I dusted off the six traps we have and reset them. I put three in the basement, two in the attic and the live trap in the attic as well.

Saturday I checked the traps not expecting to find anything. I was shocked to see two large brown mice in two of the attic traps. That means guests 46 and 47 have checked out of Casa de la Rodentia. I made sure to show them to our eldest daughter, who is four and a half. We were able to have a conversation about vermin, health issues and the food chain. All of our mice are kindly "escorted" to the back woods where something disposes of the bodies. As we don't use poison, I feel pretty good about this.

I checked the traps on Sunday too, but found nothing. We'll see what's waiting for me when I get home tonight.