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?