Monday, December 20, 2010

New (Old) Car

I'm still playing blog catch up. For anyone following my wife's blog, you'll already know a lot of this. Consider this a first person viewpoint.

I took the Monday after Thanksgiving off for a little extra rest and relaxation. I'd been doing little with the house for most of November. Work had been particularly stressful with a large project culminating on November 13th. I needed the downtime. The Tuesday morning after Thanksgiving was supposed to be back to life as usual. On my way to work though, life decided to try and destroy some of the R & R I had been trying to store up.

It was raining that morning and as I was coming to a busy intersection, the light turned yellow. I could have stopped, if I would have slammed on the brakes. I chose not to, as I was sure that I could clear the intersection before the light turned red. At the same time a woman started turning left. As she drifted towards my lane, it wasn't clear if she was in fact going to complete her turn, or if she was simply creeping forward, waiting for the intersection to clear. Considering that I was going 45 mph, I didn't have a lot of time to decide if I should take the chance that she was only creeping and I should keep going straight, or if I should swerve to avoid her. Just in case, I opted to swerve.

Wet pavement, speed and probably tires that were overdue to get changed all meant that my swerve turned into a skid, and before long, I was pointed the wrong way, trying to thread my way over a sidewalk and between two metal poles on the side of the road. One pole held a solar array, and the other was a traffic management arm, similar to the kind found at railroad crossings.

In my recollection, the whole event took place in three or four iterations of the same swear word. I swerved off the road, clipped the larger of the two poles, sailed over the cat tails in the ditch and thudded into the mud on the other side of the ditch. I took stock of myself, called my wife, work and the police. It was pretty clear that the car (a 2000 Ford Taurus) was probably going to be total loss. I was fine and so was everything else in the car. The metal pole was lying on the side of the road, also a total loss.

My favorite part of the whole experience was when Officer F arrived at the scene. I was in the ditch, on one side of a six foot wide pond of marshy water; he was on the other. After he asked if I was fine, we stared at each other for a few seconds, both looked at the water, then looked up at each other again. Each of us knew what the other was thinking. Then he spoke.

"One of us is getting wet, and I don't have to tell you who it's going to be."

"Well, since I don't fancy spending the rest of the day on this side, I guess I'll come around."

It was just the sort of light-hearted comment I needed to hear at that point. I'd just been in an accident, and I was worrying about getting my dress shoes wet and muddy. That's not so bad. Eventually, I found high ground and the shoes survived intact.

The lady who turned left stopped and gave a statement to police when they arrived. I wasn't there when she gave it to them, which was probably a good thing. "I was waiting to turn left and all of a sudden he just lost control and went in the ditch. I guess it's just slippery." Right. And as I told the officer, "I don't make a habit of making sudden swerves, unless I think someone is going to hit me."

Because the two vehicles didn't collide, the other driver was not at fault. Unfortunately, because our car was so old, we had dropped collision on it within the last year. Insurance would cover the cost of the traffic management arm, but we were on the hook for the car. Assuming no one would have been hurt, I would have been better off hitting her. Then she would have been at fault for failing to yield on a left turn, and our car would have been paid for.

The result of this was a few weeks of stress while we tried to live the life of a two car family (School, dance classes, work, grocery shopping, etc) with only one car. And then of course the joy of finding another car, which is not something my wife and I enjoy or excel at. We did find something, a 2006 Hyundai Sonata, which is really just a car - something to get us from point a to point b. And now plans for some of next year's house projects will need to be re-examined. Depending on a few factors, they may have to wait another year.

At the risk of jinxing myself, I have a week off over Christmas. And this time I'm hoping for some rest and relaxation that ends well.

Friday, December 17, 2010

New (Old) Front Door

Some time ago I found a business that would strip paint and refinish woodwork here in our local community. I started by giving them small jobs; mainly stripping the trim in the dining room, so that I could refinish it and reinstall it. Excluding one batch of picture rail, they did a very good job. Strangely, I kept running into the owner outside of the business. First in a local Woodcraft shop, and then again at a local book sale put on by my company, for company employees only. It turns out that Dave used to work for the same company I currently work for.

As I got to know Dave, I found him to be a genuinely good person and one that I felt I could trust. Like most business owners, if I could get him to do the work, the result would be great. Its when the work is handed off that there is a risk of poor workmanship. So even though I was extremely nervous doing so, I approached Dave about refinishing our front door.

Our front door is the original wooden door. It's 2 1/4" thick and would probably cost several thousand dollars to replace, if I could even find someone to manufacture it. Replacing the whole front door enclosure (door, sidelights, frame, etc) to match the style of the house with a modern door, made of modern materials would probably cost between $5,000 and $10,000. If Dave screwed this up, it was going to be very expensive to fix, and that was definitely not in the budget.

The front door was in very bad shape, with cracked, gray, weathered wood across it's face. The trim on the door had lost all "crispness". Looking closer, Dave noted that the door was not, full, solid planks of oak, but was actually made up of a core of several smaller pieces of wood glued together (possibly pine). Over the top of this, there was a 1/4 inch veneer of quarter-sawn oak. This is actually a good thing. As the smaller pieces of wood expand and contract with the weather, they have a tendency to cancel each other out and the door doesn't swell or shrink as much as a solid wood door. Dave suggested removing the veneer, adding a new veneer and then finishing that.

Dave took the door away one day and we replaced it with the crack house door slab for what felt like forever (in actuality, I think it was about six weeks). During that time, Dave removed the glass and the wood trim. He pulled off as much of the veneer as possible. Planed the door to remove what remained and then glued on new veneer. He also had to fabricate new trim, as the old trim was too rotten to retain. Then when it was time to finish the door, he applied two coats of UV protectant, three applications of stain (to match the existing color on the inside of the door), two coats of sealant and five coats of polyurethane. And then reinstalled the trim and the glass.

How did it turn out? The door looks new again. There are two minor flaws on the door, which I won't point out. One is easily fixed next spring, and the other we're just stuck with. In the end, it's a fantastic improvement for the front entry. Unfortunately, it means I'll have to sand and strip the sidelights next summer. They look terrible next to the front door now. And then every few years we'll need to lightly sand the polyurethane and apply another coat. It's the price we pay for having a real wood door.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Platitude 2

I find humility an easy virtue to practice. Learning it is difficult beyond all measure.

Wordless Wednesday - Xmas Bows

(Photo cross-posted to Musings & Mutterings.)

Thursday, November 18, 2010


It's been a long time since I've written about mice, mostly because the mice have been absent. This isn't to say that we haven't had other animals to deal with. This spring and summer we had problems with squirrels and a bat. These days, we just take these visitors in stride.

One night in September, my wife woke me up at three o'clock in the morning to tell me that I'd best put out the traps. And sure enough, I heard the sounds of a rodent party in the attic above our head. What followed was a bit out of the ordinary. The first night we caught one mouse - fairly normal. The second night we caught two more. And then the fun started.

Over the next six hours, five baby mice found their way out of the attic and proceeded to wander around, presumably looking for mom and dad. It's one thing to set a trap and let "the machine" do the work. It's another to be the actual executioner. Isn't this one of the reasons why the French invented the guillotine? So we carefully caught each one, showed it to the girls and took it out to a timber pile and let it go. I hope they have a long happy life, far away from our house.

So that means since we took possession of our house on August 30, 2007, we have caught 63 mice. What always puzzles me though, is why we never catch them in the basement and why we never see them in the living quarters of the house. They only seem to live in the attic. That's a long way up for a little mouse.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


I keep staring at the 3/4 inch long gash through the tip of my thumb for two reasons. One, it hurts. Two, I have no idea how I got it. Well, that second point is mostly true.

I've been slowly acquiring tools as I complete house projects. One basic set of tools I wanted was a set of new wood chisels. I have an old set of wood chisels that I inherited from my dad, but they are in pretty tough shape. As I child of about 9, I mistook them for stone chisels and carved out the year in a rock by our deck. Surprisingly, my dad never said anything about the rock or the chisels.

These days, I almost always turn to the Internet when buying anything. And did I get an education on chisels. The chisels at the store are not ready for use. They need to be sharpened. And sharpening a chisel can turn into another $150 purchase (or more). So after spending $40 on chisels and another $70 on sharpening stones and a honing guide, I spent several hours getting my chisels razor sharp.

Make no mistake, working with a razor sharp chisel is an absolute joy. Being able to slice off a piece of wood with just a gentle push is a bit of a power rush, especially when dealing with hard woods.

I've been working on winterizing the house and last night I was doing the last little bit on our back door. The latch on the door no longer fits into the strike plate (like many of our doors) thanks to 90 years of settling. I removed the strike plate and some very old spring bronze weatherstripping so that I could move the strike plate down about 3/16 of an inch.

As I said, a razor sharp chisel is a thing of joy. The only problem is that all of a sudden I found blood everywhere. I thought, "Where is that from? Is it mine? Nobody else is here, so it must be mine. Why doesn't it hurt? Oh crap! Blood on my new chisels!" At which point I forgot about finding the cut as I went to find a rag to clean up my new chisels. When I got back to working on the strike plate, my thumb started hurting because I'd succeeded in packing it with 90 years of dirt, coal dust and insect effluence.

I can't be exactly sure that the cut was from the chisels. The spring bronze is also extremely sharp and quite dangerous, so it could have been from that. Either way I can't stop looking at it. Every time I hit the space bar with that thumb, it hurts.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Storm's a coming

Storm windows seem to be the topic du jour these days. I'm writing about them. Stucco House is writing about them. Even our friends in Amsterdam are writing about them. Our storm windows have been off and on my mind for the last three years, especially ever since we had one completely fall apart on us when we took it down in 2008. The corner had completely rotted through. The only thing keeping it together was a bit of paint.

I had hoped that buying replacement storm windows would be as easy as calling the local hardware store or lumber mill. I was wrong. I'm sure there is someone in the area that could make me new storm windows at a reasonable price, but I couldn't find them. The only person I found didn't really want to make them ("It's a waste of money. Just go to Menard's and get an Aluminum storm window."), and he quoted me $400, which did not include the glazing.

So being an independent, self-sufficient minded American, I opted to make my own. I spent the last three years acquiring a table saw, a router table and several router bits. And now I've finally finished the last four storms for the house.

I suspect that most wood workers would have found this a fairly simple project, but it turned out to be a challenge for me, especially figuring out how the mortise and tenons fit together with the routed ogee edge. I'm pleased with how they turned out, and I'm glad the hard part is done now. The windows are currently getting glazed and then they will need two more coats of paint to finish them off. If all goes as planned, I'll have them up by the end of November.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Platitude 1

The human race is fortunate that incompetence is so often paired with laziness.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Front Entry Roof Part 7

The roof is done. Roger worked part of the day Tuesday and Wednesday. Thursday two other guys came out to finish up the seams and to rework some of the blobby soldering work Roger did. The carpenters (as usual) did a top notch job. Last night I put on the new porch light and I'm calling the roof project done.

Of course it isn't really. There's a bit of caulking that needs doing and bit of painting, but as we'll never really be done with the house, I need to draw a line in the sand somewhere. In all, it took about 70 hours of work from the guys, although it should have taken less, considering the roofing debacle.

Here's a shot of the front of the house now.

Here's what the roof looks like.

And here are two shots of the soffit. Notice how carefully Jake mitered the bead board corners. And compare to some of the original shots.

The original bead board needed replacing, and the replacement bead board found in stores today is not of the same pattern as what is found on the house. So I bought a few Freud router bits and made my own bead board to match what was originally on the house. They're not machined as precisely as commercial bead board, but I am pleased all the same with how they turned out.

And now, before winter comes, its on to the next project.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Front Entry Roof Part 6

All weekend Ms. Huis and I fretted and worried, wondering what the result of our displeasure would be. Sunday night we received a mail from Matt indicating that he had forwarded our concerns to Roger and that he would be meeting with Roger early Monday morning.

After several phone calls between Matt and I Monday morning, Matt came back to us to say that while Roger was not admitting to any wrongdoing, he would tear off the roof panels and install them they way we wanted. That was it. No drama, no fuss. Just the way we wanted it to turn out. The only downside for us was the delay in the completion of the project. Roger wouldn't be out until Tuesday. Another day lost.

I did get a chance to test the gutters by filling them with water. There were no leaks and the pitch was sufficient. The weather the last ten days or so has also been unseasonably warm and dry. Here's looking on the bright side.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Front Entry Roof Part 5

Friday was the day they started the gutter and roof install.

I took Friday off, because I wanted to be there when they installed the roof for three reasons. First, I really, really want to know how hard this is to do. Second I want to know how much time it takes. Third I have a history with the metal shop doing this roof and it isn't all sunshine and bubbles.

When we opted to get the front entry done, I went to the historical carpenter that did the carpentry for the main roof project. Of all the contractors we've dealt with - plumbers, electricians, brick layers, roofers and metal workers, he is the only one that has met my expectations every single time. Matt has never, ever let me down. He's expensive and worth every penny.

I told Matt that I was doing everything through him - roof, gutters and carpentry. We talked about options and what I wanted. It was his recommendation that if I was committed to keeping the look of the integrated gutters, a metal roof was going to be the best bet. He said he would get a bid for the roof and gutters from Roger.

Roger owns the company who did the gutters on our main roof. There were (and to a lesser extent still are) some issues with our main roof gutters. They look great. Unfortunately there was too long a list of things that they "forgot" to do. I had to call them back three times after the installation to fix various things. And they were fairly serious items; support brackets missing, seams not soldered and metal folded backwards that needed to be replaced.

When Matt told me he was going with Roger, I made it very clear that Roger had the potential to do good work, but he needed to be watched very closely. If we went with Roger, it was Matt's responsibility to deal with him. Not mine. I wasn't going to chase him up like I did last time. Besides, I figured that Matt would have more leverage with Roger. If Roger screwed up, Matt might stop using him in the future.

Roger's bid came in at about 60% of the only other bid we had, and while Adam did really, really nice work, he was even harder to get a hold of than Roger. If I have to chase a contractor down for a bid, I figure he really doesn't want the work. So we went with Roger. And I was not fully comfortable with it, which is why I took Friday off.

Greg and an apprentice showed up on Friday morning before eight. This was good. I like it when guys show up ready to work. I talked to them off and on in the morning. While they worked on the gutters and the flashing, I worked in the garage on storm windows. When it looked like there was room on the roof, I'd climb up a ladder, watch them for awhile and ask a few questions. I tried not to annoy them and wanted them to know that I was interested in what was going on. The apprentice knew nothing. He was a gopher. Greg was friendly enough, but only bothered to answer my questions. He volunteered nothing.

After a few hours I was comfortable with Greg, he seemed to know his stuff and to my untrained eye, the gutters and the solder joints looked good. I got complacent. I got lazy. And then all hell broke loose.

Once they were done with the flashing and the gutter, they started on the roof panels. To understand what they did, it's necessary to understand the way a flat metal roof is installed. In some ways it's no different than a regular shingle roof. The covering is made of panels, (18" x 24") that are over lapped and crimped together. The upper course goes over the lower course, so that water flows down the roof without obstruction. Courses are staggered, so no seams line up. Here is a great resource about copper flat seam roofs (and other interesting bits about architectural use of copper too).

Initially the two of them were crowded on a corner of the roof and there was little room for me, so once they'd moved to the middle and there was some room, I popped my head up. They were about 40% done and I saw that they had installed the panels backwards. The lower courses of panels were on top of the higher ones. And they hadn't staggered the panels.

I immediately called them out. "Guys, you installed the panels backwards. And aren't the panels supposed to be staggered?" I was told it would be fine. It would all be soldered and be water tight. No worries. And he went back to work.

I wasn't going to fight him. That's why I hired Matt. I went in the house and called Matt. Matt listened and simply said that he wanted to see the roof before he talked to Roger. Considering it was 2:00 on a Friday I could understand this.

After I confronted Greg, the pace of his labors changed considerably. He went faster. By 3:30, he and his apprentice finished up and left, leaving the bottom course remaining, and the other 20 panels installed the wrong way.

I showed it to Ms. Huis after Greg left. She immediately noticed what was wrong (with no prompting). She was furious. I was just depressed, because I knew it meant phone calls and discussions, and uncertainty and conflict. And ultimately, "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me." I crafted a nice long e-mail to Matt on Friday night, along with some pictures, in a professional tone which more or less said, "This isn't going to work. Here's why. We may have to rip off the panels and start over."

And so we waited all weekend, wondering would Matt be able to get Roger to fix this? Would we get our roof put on correctly? Was Roger just going to walk away? Would we need to get a different roofer? How much extra money was this going to cost us?

We didn't get an answer until Monday.

Here are pictures of our roof from Friday. The first is from the top of the roof, looking down. The flat roof on the entry isn't completely flat. It does have a slight patch. Notice that the last course of panels is missing. It's narrower than the other 18" panels and still needs to be fabricated. The last full course sits on top of the next course. During a rain storm, Water would flow towards that hump. The solder job on that seam would have to be perfect. And as soon as it failed for any reason, rain (or melting snow) would sneak in. Even worse, in the winter, the freeze/thaw cycle would force open the seam even more. And notice that the up and down seams are not staggered. Water that enters at one course can easily slip under the next course.

This is a nice shot taken by wife. It's the "water's view". Look at that deliciously large hole I'd like to run into. Again, better hope for a perfect solder joint.

Finally this is the seam between the flashing and the the very first course of panels. Because they started at the top of the roof and worked down, they screwed up from the very beginning. In this case Ms. Huis' hand is the water, straight down into the roof.

I've had better Fridays.

Front Entry Roof Part 4

I'm a bit behind, but that's mostly because I've been waiting to calm down before writing anymore. But I'm getting ahead of myself (even though I'm behind).

This post is about last Thursday. I wish I had pictures to show from Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning, because that's when they fabricated the gutters and roof panels for the entryway. I would have loved to have shown the sheet copper being cut and formed in the brake presses. But I don't have those pictures. I wasn't invited to the shop (nor did I ask), and as I only have so many vacation days, I worked on Thursday anyway.

Two guys showed up on Thursday around 1:00 to dry fit some of the gutters and drop off some material. No installation took place. Here are some pictures of what they dropped off.

Here is the gutter ready to go. It hasn't been fastened in yet.

This is a full cross section of the gutter. I'm a little puzzled as to how they made the two 90 degree bends on the right so tightly.

And here's a picture of the roof panels (and of me too). Two sides have the edges bent towards me. The other two sides have the edges bent away from me. When assembling the roof, the over seam and under seam lock together and then are hammered flat. Finally solder is applied to make the seams water tight.

I'll write about the disaster that was Friday tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Front Entry Roof Part 3

I'm a bit behind on the days, but I will still blog the progress in the order that the work occurred. Wednesday, Matt and Jake finished up the carpentry required to prep for the roofing guys. The roofers came out today and took the final measurements for the roof after Matt and Jake finished up the carpentry and installed the ice and water shield.

I can't say enough good things about Matt and Jake. They are truly masters at what they do. They took the time to pitch the gutters. This was not strictly necessary as the pitch can be done by the roofers, but it's a nice extra touch.

This first picture shows the box gutters framed up.

Here's what it looks like from the bottom. The fascia is in place. The soffit will wait until after the roof is on.

And here's what it looks like so far. The roof line almost looks normal again.

This is the roof, waiting for the copper. Ice and water shield are in place.

Front Entry Roof Part 2

When we replaced our cement/asbestos main roof and gutters a few years ago, I did not take off enough time. Looking back now, I realize that things would have probably gone a lot smoother if I had been around more often to keep an eye on things.

I resolved not to make that mistake again even though this is a (relatively) small project. So when Matt (our contractor) told us that he had us down to start work the week of the 4th, I took vacation for a half day on Monday, all day Tuesday and Wednesday. Foolish, foolish me.

When I arrived at home at 11:00 am Monday, imagine my frustration when no one had shown up to work on the roof. I called Matt and that's when I learned that in contractor speak, "the week of Monday the 4th" means any day during the week that begins October 4th, EXCLUDING the actual day of October 4th.

Matt volunteered the following schedule. He and and Jake were coming out on Tuesday/Wednesday to work on the carpentry. Thursday, Greg (the roofing guy) would fabricate the roof in the shop and Friday/Monday Greg and company would come on site and install the roof. Matt and Jake would be back Tuesday/Wednesday of next week to do final tidy up.

So I rearranged my vactaion schedule and took Wednesday and next Monday off, to be around in case of questions, but also to learn how the were going to build up the roof. I have a side porch and a back porch that need roof work as well, and watching these guys might save me some dollars in the future (although in the end it will cost me a lot of time).

Matt and Jake did tear off Tuesday morning and found pretty much what we suspected - a lot of rot at the edges. The roof decking and framing that were away from the gutter were fine. Here's the corner framing that was under the gutter.

The decking though was still in good shape and nothing needed to be done with it.

Again, more rot, this time at the end of the gutter, where it butted up against the house. This is actually where some of the worst water damage in the house was. Water flowed through the gutter here, along the brick and then down into the dining room window, where it saturated the interior wall and damaged the plaster. When we tuck pointed the house a few years ago, it solved the water intrusion issue, although the water still leaked out of the gutter and along the outside of the house. Now finally, the water issue will be solved at the root cause.

Goodbye old tin gutters.

Here is the front entry denuded. The roof looks little and out of proportion to the entry way.

When I got home from work on Tuesday, this is what I saw. Matt and Jake sistered new framing next to the old, rebuild the rotted corners, pushed insulation into the space above the entryway (there had been none), and put the floor of the new gutter in place. I was thrilled to see that they had even pitched the floor of the new gutter appropriately. Technically this isn't necessary, as the roof guys will do this, but it's a nice touch and will certainly help. As I told them, the extra hour or two they took to get that pitch in place means I (or someone else likely) might get an extra five years out of the gutters and roof.

Here's one more shot of the framing, along with the blue tarp thrown over the top to protect the roof for the night.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Front Entry Roof Part 1

After my last post, you may be forgiven if you think that I had in fact

No such thing. Progress is being made. Windows have been painted and re-assembled. Trim and bead board are painted. The front door has been removed. Storm windows installed. Windows cleaned. Garage cleaned. And there are contractors on site today to start replacing our front entry roof and gutters.

I have been aching to pull down the rotten bead board since we first lined up our contractor Matt. If you've ever felt the need to pick at a scab, or pull at peeling, burnt skin, then you know the feeling. Yesterday I finally succumbed to the urge.

First take a look at this and take a guess as to what it might be.

Ignoring the leaves, this pile represents what is left of the corner framing of my entry roof. And after seeing this, if you are wondering what is left, take a look at this picture.

The red, metal bit in the corner is the underside of the integrated gutter. There is no wood left. It has all turned to mush. Here is one more shot of the framing.

You can see the wooden trough that the gutter sits in, and then the fascia board on the outside. If you didn't understand what an integrated gutter is, then this is a good way to see it.

We also had Dave the furniture refinisher come to take away the front door. The oak veneer on it is de-laminating, so we've opted to have him remove the existing veneer and add new. This means we needed to replace the front door with something. I call it my crack house door.

Lovely ehh? I'm hoping that when he is done, it will look like the interior door.

Check back again soon. I'm hoping (expecting?) that the roof construction will go on all week and I'll post pictures and comments as the work progresses.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Crunch Time

Winter is coming and if ever there was a time when I felt like the little ant, its now. I have double hung dining room windows that need to be painted and re-assembled. I have transom windows that need to be painted, hinged and installed. I have contractors coming to replace my front entry roof and gutters. I have bead board and trim that needs painting for the front entry. I have a furniture refinishing contractor coming to take off my front door and reface it. A lawnmower to winterize. Storm windows to make and install. Lamb bits to bury. Windows to clean. Yard and garden work. Tools to put away. Garage to clean.

I think I'm

Friday, September 10, 2010

Bits and bits

Several weeks ago we had one of the neighbors over for supper. It was a nice evening, so we ate outside on the porch. As we were enjoying the food and the nice weather, Charlie turned to me and said, "So I know this guy who raises lambs for the fair. The fair's over. Interested in lamb chops?" It turns out that Charlie and his family have never had lamb and were looking to us for "expert" advice on how to have it butchered. Since our experience with lamb consisted of going to the butcher in Ireland and asking for lamb chops or leg of lamb, I'd hardly consider us experts. Still, he saw the opportunity and thought of us.

Charlie has taken over all the hassle of this. He asked at least three different butchers before he found one that would butcher the two lambs. He met the farmer at his work one day to pick up the live lambs and then took them to the butcher (in a trailer? his trunk? the back of his truck? I didn't ask.) The one thing that he left us is, well, the bits.

It turns out the butcher contracts with Sanimax to dispose of animal remains. It also turns out that Sanimax won't take lamb remains. I don't know why, but I sure would like to. So in addition to approximately 40 pounds of meat, we'll also be getting about 30 pounds of bits. And we'll need to dispose of them. Depending on our our solution, we may also be getting the bits from Charlie's lambs. That's sixty pounds of bits. That's a lot of bits.

On the upside, its only costing about $3.50 a pound for the processed lamb. If I can reproduce some of the leg of lamb that we had in Ireland, it's well worth it.

We haven't told the girls yet about the lamb. It turns out that Charlie, in a somewhat perverse manner, took pictures of the lambs and named them in the hour or two he had them before delivery to the butcher. I have no desire to traumatize the girls, but they do need to know where their food comes from.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Eat Your Heart Out Mary

We're getting a lamb. There's a story here, but I don't have time to tell it just yet. Check back later.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

California Really is Smarter?

Redoing the windows in the dining room is a time-consuming, multi-step process that just seems to be dragging on and on and on. I've been stripping the existing paint off of them (probably lead based), in hopes that the raw wood and a modern primer will increase the longevity of the paint. I don't relish repainting these. As I was working outside with the paint stripper, I read the back of the can. Among the many, many detailed instructions and dire warnings was a phrase that I've seen often, but never pondered.

"This product contains materials known to the State of California to cause cancer."

How does California know that the material causes cancer? Did they finance their own study with tax payer dollars? what about the other 49 states? Are we dumber? Do our states not know that these materials cause cancer? Did we not finance a study? Does my state not care that these materials cause cancer? Are the other states just taking advantage of the California law?

Are these paint stripper fumes making me high?

Thursday, August 12, 2010


Some time ago I blogged about my musical dilemma. My existential music crisis started developing two years ago when I started listening to an online radio station of a college friend. I quickly realized that I really, really missed music. My wife and I had spent almost ten years getting married, buying houses, having kids, moving and living a fairly busy life. In that time, something had to give. I hadn't realized that I had stopped following the music scene. Last year my MP3 streaming DVD player died and I caught the tail end of an NPR program discussing Pandora. These three things forced me to re-evaluate the place of music in my life and I knew that I wanted (actually needed) to find a way to stream our MP3's around the house. I also started listening to Pandora. I've never claimed to be a music buff, but I realized that it's an important part of my life.

What I ended up finally buying was a Logitech Squeezebox and a year long subscription to Pandora. It's funny how technology changes our lives. I thought I was buying the Squeezebox to listen to our MP3's that we ripped from our CDs. But now I spend 95% of my music listening time on Pandora. I didn't anticipate that.

If you are looking for a means to listen to Internet Radio, I'd highly recommend the Squeezebox.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


Dear mosquitoes,

In case you’ve forgotten the rules, I’ll lay them out for you.

  • You do not like the sun. If I am in the sunshine, you are supposed to leave me alone.
  • You live in woods, tall grass and in shade (see point one above).
  • You do not live on shortly mowed lawns, driveways or any other hardscape.
  • A light breeze is enough to keep you from landing on me and feeding.
  • Regardless of location, the hours between 9:00 pm and 11:00 pm are all yours. Anyone stupid enough to be outside during these times is fair game. They go outside at their own risk.
  • If it is not between 9:00 pm and 11:00 pm or if I am not in the woods, tall grass or shade, then you are not supposed to be feeding on me.

Failure to abide by these rules will result in something drastic on my part.

Thank you.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Camponotus Pennsylvanicus

Last week I woke up, got dressed, went downstairs, opened the cupboard for breakfast and saw something really, really fast, small and black running around. At first I thought it was a small centipede, but as I moved things around to find it, I realized it was an ant, and another, and another, and another.

Usually I don't get too worried about ants. Remove the food, put out some poison, wait a few weeks and they die. But these were carpenter ants. Besides that fact that they are big for ants and offer a higher level of creep factor, they also make their homes in wood. We have a house made of structural terra cotta, faced with brick, but obviously everything inside the house is made of wood - the joists, the floors, the walls, the ceilings, etc. I have no idea how entrenched they are in the house or how much damage they have done. Considering that we've never seen them before, we're hoping that this is the first year they've invaded and that it is related to the record levels of rainfall we've received.

So, we removed the food, put out some poison and now we're waiting a few weeks. I'm also kicking myself because this year, unlike past years, I didn't get around to putting down a good layer of diatomaceous earth around the house. That certainly would have helped.

We also went shopping for blinds for the windows, and I was more than a little surprised at how much money one could spend on blinds. I had once heard that the cost of drapes shouldn't exceed more than 10% of the value of the house. I scoffed at that as ridiculous. I can see now how it would be quite easy to exceed that for those disinclined to frugality.

Monday, July 26, 2010

The End of Forgetting

I'm not on Facebook. I'm not on twitter. I post pseudo-anonymously. I limit my posts to very constrained subject matter.

Why? Read this.

I have enough things in my life to worry about. I don't need "Manage my online persona" added to the list.

Friday, July 23, 2010


The plastering is done. They did a great job on the dining room ceiling and a pretty good job on the guest room. Its a huge improvement over what was there. I don't look up and cringe every time I sit down to eat.

I was fairly certain we had overpaid the plasterers when they started the job, but once the ceiling of the guest room needed to be torn down and redone, I felt better. We got enough hours of work out of them to make the quote about right. In total, it cost us about $4 a square foot. That's a lot more than if I had done it, but I know what my plastering looks like. Oak bark looks smoother.

I also finally finished the screens I started eons ago. That project took entirely too long considering what was involved. Its good to have one more thing checked off.

We've had a lot of rain this July. Average rain fall in July is 3.31 inches. We've had 9.45 inches to date and they are forecasting more rain tonight and tomorrow. There's still one week left to July. The good news is that the basement is mostly dry. Some moisture is coming up through cracks in the slab, and hydrostatic pressure is causing dampness around the corners. The only way to fix that is to put in an interior drain field, and that's many years down the priority list.

I'm still waiting on a quote from our carpenter for the front entry. I think a little pressure is needed there. We also got back a quote for refinishing the front door. It looked really good, but now I have to figure out what to put in place of the front door while they are repairing the original. I don't think I'm keen on having no front door for a week or so.

Of course it might be an opportunity for some interesting stories for the blog.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Misery Loves Company

It's an old platitude, but so very true. Here are two examples. One is not related to the house, but bear with me.

In the IT world, there is one profession so hated, so heinous, so reviled, it will make friends between developers, administrators, and IT evangelists of all types; the auditor. The auditor has the impossible task of interpreting overly vague government laws or industry standards and then validating that current IT practices adhere to them. In addition to that, auditor knowledge of the IT world is often a silk thread's width more than zero. They make demands that can't be accomplished, or ask stupid questions, following the letter of the law, but ignoring the spirit. I've had auditors grill me on who had access to the database, but completely ignore who had access to the server or the data center.

One of the divisions in our parent company came under the scrutiny of these auditors not so long ago. Their IT staff howled and moaned. They came over to us day after day complaining about the idiocy of the auditors; the processes the auditors were forcing them to put in place, the productivity lost, the money and time wasted. But in the end, all of these things were put in place and the auditors left satisfied. (Auditors never leave happy.)

And now it's our turn. The auditors have turned their Eye of Sauron upon our division. We howled and moaned. We went over to our comrades who already suffered through this, expecting some empathy and mercy. What did we find? They were the first to put us to the sword; to show us the error of our ways and the righteous path that the auditors had set them on. And now that we are forced down this road, and they are content knowing that we too have to suffer, their response has been, "See? Aren't their requirements stupid?"

We struggle with a lot of things in the house. It seems like every time we try and improve something, it leads to further repairs, or the part is no longer available, or the repair is significantly more expensive and time consuming than we had first estimated.

We have blogged fairly extensively about calcimine paint and our experiences with it, especially the time consuming process of removing it. We've removed calcimine paint from five of the roughly thirteen rooms in the house, but we have only removed it from one ceiling. My mom, who has done most of the painting in the house, has dealt with it too. In the guest room, she painted the ceiling and was appalled to see a huge bubble form. The probable cause? The water in the latex paint reacted with the calcimine and it started to separate from the ceiling. She left, came back the next day and thankfully, the bubble had disappeared. We left well enough alone.

My wife mentioned calcimine paint to the plasterers when they started work, but they had never heard of it. Little did they know. When my wife called me yesterday to tell me that the ceiling plastering the guys started yesterday was bubbling up, I could only smile. They had to remove all of the previous day's work - the adhesive, the fiberglass mesh tape AND the first coat of plaster. And start over. It also removed a good portion of the old latex paint and calcimine paint, which will allow them to plaster to the original plaster.

Just re-reading this makes me smile. Misery loves company indeed.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Before and during the plastering of the guest room & dining room ceiling

Mr. Kluges taking down the original
lighting fixture in the dining room.
(Don't try this at home.)

These next 3 are from the guest room. See, I told you it looked awful!

(The chimney is the more white part of the wall
to the right in the above picture
and to the left in the one below.)
Close-up of our lovely lathe.

And here's what they looked like after the plaster guys left yesterday.

(Lovely shade of pink, isn't it?!)

(Pictures cross-posted to Musings & Mutterings.)

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Catch Up

Ms. Huis mentioned recently about pulling the trigger here.

It always amazes me how fast things can move when you get professionals to do the work, especially when there are no dependencies between contractors. Up until noon yesterday, I had no idea when our guest room plaster was going to be prepared and ready for painting. Now it looks like it will be done by the end of the week. Getting the guest room done was always higher on Ms. Huis list of things to do than mine, but it definitely needs to be done before winter. Thin as it is, plaster and lathe does offer some insulation against the cold. Gaping one foot by three foot holes in the plaster would have made the guest room unpleasantly cold.

And as long as they are there, we're having them repair the dining room ceiling too. It will be nice to see some non-structural improvements in the house. We've been in the house almost three years now and I'm anxious to start seeing some cosmetic improvements in the house. New gutters, sewers and electrical are great, but they are the kinds of things you take for granted. I don't go into the basement and gaze admiringly at the new breaker box or stare in rapt adoration at the new plastic sewer pipe. But new paint or light fixtures or a refinished floor? Those are the things a person notices.

We're still waiting on a quote for the repairs to the front entry. Our contractor says we'll get it next week. We'll see. He's relying on other contractors for quotes (see my comment above about time lines and dependencies on other contractors). We're also waiting on the quote for the front door. Ironically, when I went back to the Woodcraft store to find router bits, who should I find working there but the furniture refinishing guy. Clearly I'm not giving him enough business. I expect his quote soon.

I've toyed around with making my own beadboard for awhile now. The old stuff is not the same dimensions as the new stuff that you can find around here. For a long time I didn't know how, what the cost was or how much work it would be. After poking around at Woodcraft, I see now that all I need is a router table and $75 in router bits. That just leaves the time involved. The irony of lack of time is never lost on me. If I didn't have to work, I'd have enough time to finish all of these projects. Of course if I didn't work, I wouldn't have any money for all of these projects.

We had a bat in the house again last week. This one was very obliging though. It flew (or fell) into a large tote of blocks in the kids' play room. Ms. Huis heard it and woke me up. I tried to go back to sleep, but her insistence finally got me out of bed. I picked up the tote of blocks, set it outside and went back to bed. She stayed and watched it crawl out and fly away. I never saw a thing. I bet she imagined the whole thing.

I've had mouse traps set out now for several months and caught nothing. Either we're over our mouse invasion, or we've used natural selection with our house mice to remove a predilection for peanut butter.

Thursday, July 1, 2010


Last night I was looking at the sole survivor of the carnival fish (Mister The Conductor), and I noticed he had two little bumps on his nose.

I looked closer, really looked and noticed that he had nostrils.


Why do fish have nostrils?

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Four eyes

June. Gone. *blink* *blink*

At this rate someone will have to politely tap me on the shoulder, "Sorry to bother you sir, but I'm afraid you've died."

"Oh well, I've been so busy, I hadn't noticed. I guess I'll just fall over then and oblige the laws of nature. But before I do, let me just finish up this one last thing..."

These days I'm keeping one eye on the landscaping, one eye on the house, one eye on the bids for work and one eye on our bank account. If anyone has any good tips on integrating spider DNA, I'm open to suggestions. The extra eyes would be handy.

I'm hoping tomorrow to get the bid back for the work on the front entry roof and gutters. I also spoke with our paint stripper about refinishing our front door. His primary business is furniture refinishing, so the door is certainly within his area of expertise. There are several options with the front door, including replacing it (although my bank watching eye starts to get twitchy at that thought). I also have a bid out to level the back porch, put on a new roof and new gutters.

Yesterday I found my way to a Woodcraft store. I was looking for some router bits to make picture rail. It was a fantastic store with enough tools and equipment to make me feel like a kid in a toy store. Of course while I looked at tools, the bank account eye went past twitchy and just rolled backwards into my head. I'll have to head back at some point with the picture rail in hand to get a good match.

It's 70 degrees today (about 20 Celsius), there is a light wind and only two wispy clouds in the sky - I counted both of them. Being at work is actually physically painful today. My eyes feel puffy and scratchy. My chest feels constricted. Maybe I just need my allergy meds.

I lost my access card to our building this morning, which was probably an indication that I should have just skipped work today and spent some time playing with the kids and working on the house. I'll be running for the hills soon...

Friday, June 11, 2010


Chance Card!

Children come home with free goldfish from school Carnival. Pay $100 in new fish supplies.

Didn't see that one coming.

Friday, June 4, 2010

The Circus

Last weekend we went to a circus. It was the first circus for our girls, and my first circus as well. I was struck by several things. First, how young and attractive many of the performers were. What happens to old, fat circus performers? Are they fed to the tigers? Second, by the large number of Hispanics. Probably more than 75% of the performers were Hispanic. I was expecting white guys. Third, by how clean and professional all the performers were. I was expecting carny level staff, with tattoos, greasy hair, gold necklaces and clothes that looked like they were cast offs from an aging auto mechanic. And lastly by the impermanence of such a life. There was a time when I would have really enjoyed the vagabond existence of circus life. One year of working at the Minnesota Renaissance Festival and being around those kinds of people quickly killed off the romance of such a lifestyle for me. Having a house is a big responsibility, and there are times it weighs on me, but I certainly wouldn't trade it for circus life.

We're still focusing on structural issues for the house and I have two outstanding issues that really need addressing. The roof and gutters for the front entry and back porch need replacing. We've been trying to get the carpenter who did our main roof work to give us a bid, but he's torn his bicep and has been off for the last month. I took a few pictures of the existing soffit and roof for the front entry.

The first two pictures show the gutters from the top looking down. The gutters in place are the original 1921 tin plated steel gutters. They have been painted numerous times until finally the previous owner lined them in EPDM rubber. This extended the gutters lifespan a bit, as it covered over the holes in the gutter. Unfortunately, it also doesn't allow the gutters under the membrane to dry out, so it actually increases the rate at which the steel rusts. At this point, they are junk.

The next three pictures show the soffit of the roof. You can see several pieces fo bead board coming loose from the roof framing. This shows just how rotten everything is. It's literally falling apart. The previous owner put up some sheet metal in a few places to cover some of the holes. Some of these are stable. Some are not. My favorite is the single pieced of beadboard hanging over the front entry. Its sagging a good three or four inches. I'm just waiting for it to fall.

We've got several options we can go with for the roof.

  1. Cover over the built in gutters and apply a rubber membrane as roofing. Gutters at this point are optional. We can hang K style gutters or add any kind of gutter we like from the fascia.
  2. Rebuild the built in gutters (they are rotten underneath) and line them with new stainless steel or copper gutters. Apply a rubber membrane as roofing.
  3. Rebuild the built in gutters, line them with copper and put on a copper roof.

In all cases, we'll rebuild the soffit as is, with beadboard. There may be other options for the project, but I believe these are the main ones. As you go down the list, the costs increase. We won't know until we get a hold of Matt and get back some bids.

This weekend we're going to Minnesota for a wedding. It will be a welcome get away from the house and a good opportunity to see family we haven't seen in three years.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Smell That Squirellosaurus

My wife reminded me in one of her comments that just before (potentially) shutting in the squirrel, I had an exchange with my youngest daughter that went something like this.

"Come on honey. Let's go pound on the porch and see if we can scare that squirrel out of the roof."


"I hope he comes running out this time."


"Well, if I close up the hole before he gets out, he'll die in there and stink."

"Yeah. Just like the dinosaurs."

"That's right. He'll go extinct."

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Shifting Priorities

After this weekend, I'm happy to report that there is one less squirrel hole in the house. I hope there is one less squirrel as well, but I'm not sure. I guess if I'm wrong, we'll find out based on the smell.

I know I scared at least two squirrels away before I started repairs, but the third one found it amusing to peek at me through the holes in a junction box while I was repairing the soffit box. I got him back though. I reached through the hole with a needle nose pliers and pulled out some of his hair.

Hopefully he got the hint and left some time over the last four or five days before I shut him in.

I was hoping to put off roofing the back porch for awhile yet, but while repairing the soffit, the amount of rot in the corners became apparent. It doesn't look good. I guess we'll get a bid for the back porch too when we get our bid for the front entry. I hoped we'd have that bid already, but our contractor tore his bicep a few weeks ago and has been out of commission.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Evicted. Homeless. Eaten?

One of the people I went to college with recently described blogs and twitter as "narcissistic banter." If anything, I'd say he's being generous. I'd call it narcissistic drivel. It's one of the reasons why I waffled for a very long time about blogging. What could I possibly say that would be so important or interesting that someone would want to read it? I thought that the initial experiences with the house would provide sufficient humor or interest, but now that we've been in it as long as we have, more and more it feels like the House of 42 Doors is turning into a giant to do list, with some items checked off and others not (see last week's blog to see what I mean).

While I struggle more and more frequently defining topics of interest, I do find a great deal of value with the blog as a historical document. When did the kitchen flood? How old was Pumpkin when she played in the cabog? How many mice have we caught? Does this make the content narcissistic? I suppose so, but so long as I find value in the content, perhaps I can avoid the appellation of drivel.

We've been having problems with a squirrel in the soffit of our back porch. The fix is easy enough - cover up the holes, but in the never ending list of things to do on the house, those holes were never high enough on the priority list. They are now.

Last night I saw said squirrel hanging upside down on the soffit, with its head poking out of the hole. I was able to scare it away and thought that was the end of it, until I heard ANOTHER scritch scritch in the soffit. More thumping on my part caused another squirrel to fall out, only much smaller. My immediate thought was, "Crap. She's got kids." Junior ran around on the ground before he finally found his way to the giant oak tree in our backyard and climbed to the first limb. He sat there yipping and crying for mom.

It turns out that the distress calls of a young squirrel also happen to attract red tail hawks, which we happen to have nesting in a pine tree not more than 100 feet from our house. I spent the next 15 minutes or so watching mother squirrel trying to corral her baby to safety while a red tail hawk sat in branches just above, waiting for its chance to snatch junior. The squirrels chattered and the hawk screeched, knowing it unnerved junior.

I didn't see the end but here's hoping that this is the end of the squirrels in the soffit. I'll pick hawks over poison any day. Regardless, I guess I need to board up the holes this weekend.

Friday, May 7, 2010


Intelligence is knowing the right thing to do. Wisdom is applying it.

My folks came out this weekend to visit and to help with various projects. We opted to have have my mom paint and my dad work on assembling the playground for the girls. We did a lot of work, but somehow it doesn't feel like we got ahead. I sat down after they left and compiled a list of all the things that need to get done.

  • Finish the playground - My dad and I made good progress, but the slide still remains, and until it's done we're paranoid about letting the girls play on it. There's a hole in the side of the playground that ends in a six foot drop. This also includes landscaping around the playground with mulch, grass and a few shrubs, flowers or bushes.
  • Assemble 18 screens - Our house came with only three or four full screens. Last fall I built frames for 18 more screens, so that every room would have at least one screen. The frames are assembled and thanks to my mom, they are now all primed and painted, but the screens still need to be stretched on them and then trim placed around the edges to pretty them up.
  • Mulch our yews - The area where I took out the honeysuckle recently is a large black spot that all the neighborhood weeds and buckthorn are eyeing hungrily. I've had to wake up a few times at two in the morning, just to go out and wave a torch or club at them. "Back, back damn invasives!" It's the only thing keeping them from walking over and transplanting themselves into the fecund soil. A little mulch and grass seed might keep them at bay.
  • Paint the dining room windows - I've refinished the majority of the trim, but the double hung windows are still shockingly off white. They need to be painted a nice shade of brown to match. Unfortunately the current paint on them is in bad shape and needs to be scraped or stripped. I had hoped we could paint them, but after looking at them I now see this is not an option.
  • Repair and reassemble the dining room windows - To make it easier to paint the windows, I took all the dining room windows apart. Now is the time to replace the old cotton sash cords with metal chains and add some spring bronze weather stripping. Two windows above the buffet were nailed in place. We'll be converting these so that they open.
  • Repair or replace the dining room picture rail - I wrote about this one recently. No more to say here other than that I can't make up my mind what to do about the picture rail.
  • Cut, split, haul and stack the various pieces of firewood that has found it's way into my yard - I swear I don't know where it came from or who put it there.
  • Make four storm windows - This has been extremely time consuming. I don't really know what I'm doing so it's a lot of trial and error.
  • Repair the plaster in the guest room and paint the walls - This was meant to be a winter project. Now it's looking like a next winter project.
  • Re-roof the garage - The shingles are getting old and don't match the new house shingles. I ordered extra when we shingled the house. They are sitting in my garage, waiting to be put on. That also includes new gutters and new fascia where it is rotting.
  • Do the spring trimming - Various trees, forsythias and honeysuckle.
  • Put in the garden - It's still too early, but in two weeks or so, it's going to be time. And as an aside, I've been reading Teaming with Microbes. If you are a serious gardener or just like microbes, pick it up. It's a fascinating read and will change the way you look at soil. Although, I'm not sure it's good party conversation - bacteria, fungi, slime molds and protozoa - yum!
  • Start the front entry project - This is the main house project for the year. This is the one project that must get done this year. The roof, gutters and soffit need replacing. We're hiring this one out, so it won't need any work from me - just a lot of oversight.
  • Set up blacksmith forge - My dad put the word out back home and he thinks he found me a portable forge. If so, I should have a forge within a month. That will open up a whole new list of projects for me!

There's an old saying, "When you find yourself in a hole, stop digging." I know this, but every time I look down, I always seem to have a shovel in my hand.

Friday, April 30, 2010

If I Had A Hammer...

I mentioned my William Foster in a previous post and waxed romantic about the possibility that it could have been used by the last blacksmith in our family - my great, great grandfather. Something much more meaningful happened over Palm Sunday.

We went back to Minnesota to see the parents and the in-laws. While we were visiting my parents, my dad went out into the garage and came back with a three pound blacksmithing hammer. "I took this out of the garage at the old farm. It was dad's. It might have been the old man's."

We don't know for sure how old it is. There might be a manufacturer's stamp on it and if so, I might be able to track back the company that made it. But I'm not sure I want to. There are times when facts and truth should be researched and shared. But not always. I smile when I think that somehow the hammer of my great, great grandfather has been handed down to the very last of his male descendants.

My parents are coming to visit us this weekend; I expect them to be at the house in another hour or so. It should be an interesting weekend. Our youngest is turning three, so that should be a fine party. We also bought one of those overly large, assemble it yourself play sets for the girls. Assuming the weather holds, we'll be installing it this weekend.

The possibility of a blog posting coming out of this weekend seems high.

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Heartbreak of Picture Rail

A few months back I found these guys. They have picture rail that almost perfectly matches our existing picture rail. I took down the picture rail in the dining room as part of the paint stripping project. It wasn't in good shape. It was broken in two places, dinged up and warped. So after agonizing about it for months, we opted to replace the picture rail with new. Actually, I'm the one that agonized over it. I'm not sure Ms. Huis lost any sleep over it.

Because our kitchen and entry never had picture rail and the previous owner took the picture rail down in our office, we also decided we might as well get picture rail for those rooms too. I measured up the rooms and called Ashland. They quoted us a price for several different styles of picture rail, and even sent out a few samples. Monday I called them back to officially order what we chose. They got back to me on Wednesday. There was a problem.

Getting the picture rail to us was going to be problematic. It ships in 14 foot lengths, which is great for reducing splicing when installing it. It also makes shipping it here difficult. Sending it to us was going to cost $450. Ironically, this is about the cost for our local milling company to create a custom knife to match our existing picture rail profile. Looks like we might be installing the original back in place.

I guess I'll just have to keep digging.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Ted the Ninja Buckthorn

Wow. What a hiatus. Longest one ever. I'll just reference this and move on.

When we bought our house, it was seriously overgrown. European Buckthorn was the most prevalent species. I pulled it out, cut it down and chopped it up. There was one buckthorn near the property line that was actually quite nice as invasive species go. It was tall and straight, adopting a tree-like form, rather than the bush form. I named him Ted.

In my research of buckthorn, one warning that was frequently expressed was to NOT cut it off at the ground. Buckthorn freely suckers and cutting it off at the ground would just make the issue worse as the plant would turn into a messy bush. While I could appreciate Ted as a tree, he was still a buckthorn, so two years ago I cut him off at five feet and decided that I would wait until out tree guy came to visit. Then Ted would get cut off at the ground and chipped out. So last spring, we had our tree guy come out to chip some stumps. And somehow we missed Ted.

Two weeks ago, we decided to have our tree guy out again to finish off the last of the scrub. My wife and I went over what needed to be done. She went over it with the tree guy again. And we missed Ted again. At this point, I've dubbed Ted the Ninja Buckthorn. He hides in plain sight.

But no more. As part of the honeysuckle clean up, he's succumbed to the shovel. He's been dug out and Ted is now hiding in the backyard, propped against a tree, waiting for the fire ring. We'll see how long it takes for me to find him to burn.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Friday, March 26, 2010

I'm Sorry, I Don't Speak Money

In the majority of cases, does good design, or beauty, by necessity have to be expensive? I could have asked, "Does good design, or beauty, by necessity have to be expensive?", but we don't live in a black and white world. Beauty can be free, but do we usually find it expensive to create?

Last Christmas, Ms. Huis bought a present from some online retailer and shortly thereafter received an e-mail indicating that our purchase had entitled us to a free one year subscription to one of the following magazines. Nothing on the list really caught her eye, but thinking of her husband (bless her soul), she chose a one year subscription of Architectural Digest, which bills itself as The International Magazine of Design.

I'm on my third month of the magazine now. The first month was enjoyable, but mid way through the second magazine, I began to feel a sense of unease. Something I couldn't quite put my finger on. By the third magazine, it became obvious what was bothering me about Architectural Digest.

There was an article about the design of a theater room. The kind that has a big screen, fancy electronics and a few rows of raised seating. A home theater room is something that has become more common over the years. It's the kind of room that you can find in a middle class household. Getting a professional designer to decorate said room is something I would expect ot see from those in the upper middle class or higher. We don't have have a theater room, but it is something I could see. Someday.

What took this article over the top though, was that this was about the interior design applied to a theater room.

On a yacht crewed by nine people.

This isn't upper middle class. This is money the likes of which I will never understand. I don't even know how to relate to it. Having sufficient money to not only own a yacht, but to also employ nine people full time to run it?

And in reviewing the design, I'm not sure if I can sift through the ostentatious glare to find those design elements that I could afford to apply in the first place.

Friday, March 12, 2010

William Foster

Sometime in the early 1860's my great, great grandfather, whose last name I bear, left his homeland. He boarded a ship bound for the United States. His ship's port of origin was likely Liverpool, Belfast or Dublin. He may have embarked in Dublin, which was just a day's journey from his native Wicklow county, or he may have journeyed across Ireland to the port city of Queenstown (now Cobh or Cove). The journey across the Atlantic was probably a long, unpleasant journey. Unlike many of my immigrant ancestors, John had two major advantages; he spoke English and had a skilled profession, blacksmithing.

John sailed across the ocean to work as a farrier for one of the many coal mines in Pennsylvania. This was at a time when mules were used to pull carts full of coal from the mines. The need to keep them shod and their hooves cared for must have been never ending. John probably also performed other blacksmithing duties as required. We have some evidence that at some point in his life he did some ornamental iron work. He didn't stay in Pennsylvania too long before he moved to Minnesota and started farming.

Several generations have gone by and now there is no one left in my family who knows a thing about blacksmithing. But that is going to change. As a teen I would often linger at fairs and festivals with blacksmiths. I remember in particular speaking with one smith and asking him if there was anywhere that someone could go to school to learn smithing as a trade. He responded that there was only one school he knew of in Kansas or Oklahoma, and that focused mainly on shoeing horses.

I realized right then that no matter how great my interest, there was no money to be made as a smith. And I moved on to other things. It never occurred to me that smithing could be a hobby. It seemed too big - too much to learn, too much equipment to buy and too much space needed. I guess I found it intimidating.

Then I met Yeti (not his real name) in college. He was a few years younger than I and had an interest in smithing. As the years have gone by, he's joined the local blacksmithing guild and has even been kind enough to host a few "Forge Weekends" where he invites people, gives them a hammer, an anvil and a forge and lets them try their hand at it. And he's good too. Ten year's ago he forged a massive unity candle stand for Ms. Huis and I for our wedding.

I went to Forge Weekend last year for the first time. I was hooked. Maybe it runs in our blood. Or maybe I'm just overly romantic about the past. In any case, last weekend I picked up this.

It's 103 pounds (roughly) and was made in 1848 by a company called William Foster. I am deeply amused to know that this anvil is old enough that my great, great grandfather could have worked on it. While the odds are a million to one, I can even imagine that this small portable anvil was one he may have used.

I'm still missing a few pieces before I can smith, namely a forge, a hammer and some iron, but I'll get there.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Scope Creep

Most of my blog entries are written over lunch at work. This works great except when work is so busy that I have to skip lunch. Work has been very busy the last few weeks. I try to work regular hours (07:00 to 16:00) and when the workload piles on, it means something has to give.

In February I had mentioned a post about scope creep. If you aren't familiar with scope creep, then you are fortunate enough to have never worked on projects in the corporate world. The meaning will be clear soon enough.

About a year ago I came home and Ms. Huis informed me that she had heard a loud thud from one of the windows in the dining room. It didn't take her long to deduce that the thud had come from a broken rope holding the sash weight for our double hung windows. The rope was likely the original one and after 88 years, it had frayed or rotted to the point that it couldn't hold the twenty pound steel weight on the other end.

This broken weight was like the proverbial flapping of the butterfly’s wings. I could have run down to the hardware store, bought a few dollars worth of cotton rope, reattached it to the window and the weight and been done with it. That would have been the sensible thing to do. If I had done that, I wouldn't be writing this.

It so happens that somewhat coincidentally, about the time this rope broke, I had just ordered and received a copy of Working Windows by Terry Meany. It's a great book for anyone with double hung windows. I won't go into the merits (and drawbacks) of old double hung windows here. That's cause for a whole post in itself and has been exhaustively argued in other places on the net. I will say though, that book does a great job explaining double hung windows and how they are put together.

So one July or August weekend last year, I opted to take apart our window with the broken sash weight. I noticed that both sashes needed to have putty reapplied in places. And they needed paint. So I put on our wooden storm window and took out the top and bottom sash. I put them in the basement, where I forgot about them all summer.

When winter came though, and I was looking for inside projects, these looked like a great project, so after about six hours I removed all the putty from the bottom sash, took out the glazing, lightly sanded the frame, put down a bed of putty, put the glazing back and then re-puttied the glazing. It was not enjoyable. When I looked at the top sash, which had eight panes of glass instead of one, I winced at the thought of re-puttying all those panes. They still need doing.

One of the things that has always bothered my about the dining room is that the original owners bothered to install a quarter-sawn oak floor, but opted to paint the trim. The house was set up to give clues to visitors as to when they were in a formal or informal room. Formal rooms were installed with quarter sawn oak and stained. Informal rooms were installed with birch flooring and the trim was painted white. The fact that the floor in the dining room was oak, but the trim was painted white was inconsistent, especially when there was a stained buffet along the north wall.

So one December weekend, I started ripping the trim off from around the windows. I thought I would strip it and refinish it. Then I noticed that due to the location of the radiator, the only way to get some of the baseboard trim off was if the window trim was off. Before I put the window trim back, I had to remove the baseboard and trim. And if I was going to take that off, I might as well take off the picture rail.

Stripping all of this myself would have taken a long time and probably exposed me and my family to lead paint and chemicals. So I opted to get the wood stripped professionally. I had the trim from around the window stripped first.

Here's a picture of the trim the day we last painted the dining room.

Here's a picture of the window after the trim was off.

And a picture after I stained, varnished and reinstalled the trim.

During all this time, another sash weight rope broke and fell, which means I'm contemplating putting in chains in place of rope for the sash weights. And the sashes should be weather stripped with spring bronze to decrease air infiltration. And of course we don't plan on keeping the sashes white, so those will need to be painted.

The picture rail I pulled down was not in very good shape. It was warped, nicked up and had one break in it that had been clumsily repaired. On top of that, while removing the nails in it, I broke a section of the picture rail (doh!). The picture rail profile matched the more informal picture rail upstairs. The first floor was also missing picture rail in the office, the kitchen and the entry way. So rather than pay to have the old picture rail stripped, we're opting to replace it with new, and install it in all of the above rooms.

When all of this is finished, we'll have a dining room with stained wood, picture rail in every room of the first floor, and double hung windows in the dining room that operate smoothly and are as energy efficient as traditional double hung windows can be. My guess is that it will end up costing just shy of $1000.

I think now that replacing the cotton rope might have been a better choice. Scope creep.