Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Christmas In the South

Merry Christmas
Three years ago, our family started a little tradition of sorts of going south for Christmas. Normally we would spend Christmas on the farm or down at the family cabin in the mountains of northwest Arkansas but my grandparents are getting up there in age and only have a small finite number of Christmas' left to celebrate. So in the interest of maximizing their remaining years, we travel down south to Florida where they live (now year round for the first time this year) and rent a place along the Gulf for some rest and relaxation with them.

Last year I spent a couple days with my grandfather mining shells in the beach, which I blogged about here. I also spent several afternoons playing cards with my grandmother who taught me all I know about card gambling.  My brother and his wife and two kids show up along with my parents and we all have a good time. We all savor them thinking that this year might be the last time.

Fortunately for me and my grandparents, last year wasn't the last time and in a few days, I'm heading south to the Gulf. From experience, I know that I won't even pick up a computer the entire time I am down there so I will see you all when I get back after the first of the year. I can catch up on your blogs then. Because my wife is on maternity leave and as a Child Behavioral Modification Therapist (aka stay at home dad), my vacation time off is pretty good so we may dwaddle a bit on the way down and back. Stop and smell the roses so to speak.

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Day Our House Shook

Two dead black cherries on the east side of the house, one already reduced to pieces
Back when the dust settled after we moved in this summer, I noticed something. In our wooded two acre lot, there were LOTS of dead trees among the living ones. Since we had perhaps one of the driest summers which resulted in the worst crops raised by farmers since 1983, nearly 30 years ago, it wasn't too surprising that we lost quite a few trees.

I roped my brother into helping me cut down 16 of the dead trees in early fall but there were three that we didn't touch. They were all much larger than we had cut down and were all within ten feet of the house. I thought the last thing I wanted to do was to send a large tree through our new house so I called someone who was insured and did this sort of thing for a living. Since all the trees were recently dead, I wasn't worried about them falling down on their own yet but we get freezing rain up here quite regularly during winter and that is really hard on dead trees. Not only do the large branches shower down on your yard, but I've seen many a fellow patching up a hole in his roof after a freezing rain shower sent a dead wood spear through it. So four and a half months ago, I called someone recommended to me by several people and got on their waiting list.

This past Friday morning they showed up. One man drove a cherry picker truck, another a enclosed truck and industrial shredder and a third drove a truck with a skid steer on tracks on a trailer. They worked most of the day cutting down those three dead trees plus two small hackberry trees that were live but were poor specimens and leaning way over our house.

When they got to the largest tree of them all, the dead oak, they quickly limbed all the smaller limbs off and were working on limbs 18 inches in diameter still forty feet up in the air! They would lop of five foot sections which then fell forty feet down smacking the ground with a thud that would shake the floors and windows of our house. The last twenty foot section was cut down in one piece and it shook our house so hard that I heard a couple windows creak with stress. Fortunately nothing broke.

The men hauled off the large stuff, shredded the small stuff and left for the day. Today as you read this, they are supposed to be back to finish up by grinding out all the stumps and raking the lawn. Since they left a cooler and a pile of rakes, I'm quite certain that they will come back and finish it up in good order. They were well recommended as the company of choice because they do excellent work which must be true since their waiting list was nearly four and a half months long.

What remained of the second black cherry

Starting on the once mighty oak
The once mighty oak now on the ground.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Sneak Peak

What you see above is a closeup of the doors above the microwave before I started my kitchen painting project. They are still there and they still look the same. However, the doors above the wall oven below which looked just like the ones above, now look much different. I like the stainless hardware compared to the antique brass on the old doors. It gives it a much brighter more modern appearance.

Because I only have so much workbench space, I can only paint a handful of doors at a time. The first batch are painted and hung and I am pleased with the results. I am now on day three of a four day process to paint the second batch. I probably have three more batches left to go.

After I get all the old hardware off, my next project will be to try and sell it. I suspect all those antique brass handles might be worth some money. If not, I'll probably just drop them off at some home recycling store to hopefully make some lucky person very happy. Perhaps even make them as happy as my wife is now with her new looking kitchen.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Silly Season

'Tis the silly season and it seems like the social obligations keep piling up. We had a funeral two days ago, yesterday we had to make a shopping trip for things we need before our upcoming trip, today is the odd day free from obligations but Little Abbey only has a half day of school so it really doesn't count to me. Tomorrow and Friday I HAVE to volunteer on some fundraisers for Little Abbey's school not to mention that tomorrow night she has a school concert and Friday I have an eye doctor appointment since it has been a few years since the last one. Saturday something is going on I'm sure but not sure what and Sunday we have been invited out to meet the Filipino community in the town we now live in. That is just this week and there is still another one yet to go. I can't wait to the too cold to do social things months immediately after the festivities associated with the new year.

Fortunately for me I am lucky enough to get to spend my days working on painting kitchen cabinet doors which isn't too challenging mentally and gives me a chance to recuperate. Because I only have limited space to paint cabinet doors, I find myself putting on a coat of paint, spending some time with Baby Abbey or eating a leisurely lunch with Mrs. Abbey and going back down to put another coat of paint on. I get two coats done per day and then flip the door over and repeat. Then I put two coats of finish paint on both sides so all told, it takes me four days to get one set of doors done. It is a nice relaxing pace for sure but doesn't get the kitchen done all that quickly. At this pace, I'm guessing it will probably taken me another four or five weeks. Fortunately, I am blessed with the time.

Besides nursing a hungry baby every two to three hours, my wife is spending her recouperating time painting that big canvas I made her and blogged about a couple months ago along with another slightly smaller one that I made to her in between painting cabinet doors. It takes a few days for the paint to dry so while she waits, she works on the other one. They are coming along nice and when she is done and I get them hung, I will get a picture to post. All my painting and her painting though has started to reawaken a desire in me to take up painting again. I used to paint acrylics on small five by seven cards and have made a chalk drawing or two. I'm thinking of perhaps trying it on a larger canvas though much smaller than those my wife is working on. Fortunately I got a small stack of canvas at an auction I went to this past weekend but that is for another blog post.

Monday, December 10, 2012


Though our kitchen is smaller than the one at our old house and has a lot fewer cabinets to store things, this house has what realtors refer to as a breakfast nook. I'm not sure what the purpose of the breakfast nook is but I suspect that those that do use them probably drink coffee there while reading the morning paper. In this house, the breakfast nook faces the street while just five feet away is the dining room table facing two acres of grass and trees, a much more relaxing view if you ask me. I guess I'm telling you this to explain that if I want to drink coffee while reading the morning paper, I'm more likely to do that in the dining room or the living room. So for me, the breakfast nook is wasted space and a place to expand our kitchen in the future since it is right next to it.

When we closed out our apartment in the urban jungle, we brought home a small Ikea table that had been given to us by a neighbor who moved out just as we were moving in. Unlike most people, I am not a fan of Ikea because most of their stuff is disposable in nature and this table hasn't held up well over the three years we've owned it. Despite that, we put it in the breakfast nook with the two chairs that came with it since we had nothing else to put there and it seemed easier than carrying it downstairs.

That is the way things stayed until last week. A small table that never got used except as a catch all place for setting stuff when you came inside from the garage. Now we got a china hutch in the breakfast nook (and a nifty red cedar Christmas tree) and the Ikea table is down in the basement. We ended up getting a good deal on a solid oak hutch hand built on a farm about twenty miles south of here. We put our order in soon after moving into this place and it finally was delivered after months of anticipation. I must say it looks good.

So the very next day, I carried up several boxes of china, pottery, glassware, etc. that we had been storing in boxes down in the basement because we had no other place to put them. My wife carefully unpacked most of them and put the things in the hutch. I did the last box which as it turned out, was not the best box. Everything we have unpacked to this day has survived the move and numerous shufflings no worse for the wear. The last box however suffered numerous casualties. Unfortunately those casualties were mostly our pottery stuff given to us as wedding gifts and some really old teacups that came with two tea sets that my wife picked up at an auction years ago.

Fortunately none of the broken stuff were family heirlooms but still, it is a pretty sick feeling to unwrapped your favorite pottery that you have carefully cared for the last eight and a half years and find it in a million pieces. Fortunately I am blessed to have a pretty good relationship with a potter not to far from here, one down in northern Arkansas and even one down in Alabama whose blog is linked in my sidebar. I'm guessing at one of those places I can get those pieces replaced someday.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Kitchen Cabinets

I finally bit the bullet and started in on the kitchen cabinet project. The cabinets are hand built cabinets that are original to the house. They are solid but very dated without a lot of those features I have grown to love from our last kitchen. The corner cabinets don't have lazy suzans built into them meaning there is a lot of dead space in the corners. The drawers are small. The shelves are built of an old type of particle board that I've never seen before.

But the kitchen has some things going for it that I like. First of all, it is there and they are solidly built. It is well arranged for a small kitchen and I like the fact that I can do things quickly without walking long distances back and forth. Our last modern kitchen wasn't laid out nearly as well and I felt as if I was constantly running back and forth in it. The picture above shows the kitchen before we made an offer on the house and gives you a pretty good idea of what we have.

Long term we had planned on expanding the kitchen a bit but short term, we decided that maybe a fresh coat of paint might be the ticket. The cabinets are all dark stained wood which gives the kitchen a dingy appearance. Lightening up the colors and putting on some new hardware might give it a more modern appearance and perhaps persuade us to move our long term remodel off even further.

At the beginning of the week, we went out and purchased some good quality primer and paint to hold up to constant touching with dirty hands. I removed about a third of the doors, degrimed them and puttied up the holes left by the old hardware. I have then spent the rest of the week priming and painting doors, cabinet face frames and a few odd side panels that were visible. I still probably have another week left of painting but I'm already very happy we are doing this. Already the kitchen feels much lighter and more cheery not to mention new again. Once I get the project finished, I will post some pictures for everyone.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012


Last week after explaining for the umpteenth time how we hadn't counted on still having so many boxes in our basement yet unpacked to someone seeing our house for their first time, we finally got motivated to do something about it. So in a day of marathon dedication, we shuffled our boxes around.

Yes we still have boxes, lots of boxes, but at least they make sense now for at least us. My mother-in-law and an aunt and uncle of my wife packed a lot of boxes and though they labeled them, they didn't label everything on the box. So we found a lot of random things we have been looking for tossed in boxes you wouldn't suspect. We got everything found and labeled a bit better so that when we come looking for it we hopefully can find it this time around.

My biggest regret is that before we moved, we didn't rent a dumpster and get rid of a lot of things. (Or at least sort it out and dispose of it in an environmental manner ahead of time) It is not that I have a lot of possessions that I feel the need to just throw/give away but as I have aged, a lot of things in my life have reduced in their value to me. That pool cue I had as a single guy was used a lot and meant a lot to me but I have not used it in over eight years. So we have a large pile in the center of our basement slated for a future garage sale or to be given away when appropriate, probably this spring.

A lot of the boxes of stuff remaining are things we want to keep but just don't yet have a place for. For example, I have around ten boxes of books that just need bookshelves, some extra dishes that just need another cupboard we don't have, a few bottles of wine and scotch that just need a hutch to be placed in. All these things are future projects that just haven't happened yet.

But by far the largest share of our remaining boxes belonged to Little Abbey as toys, supplies and clothes. They now belong to Baby Abbey when she reaches the appropriate age. (Have I said how glad I am to have a second girl instead of a boy who would require a completely different set of cloths and toys?) Once Baby Abbey outgrows those things, they are headed out the door never to return. Perhaps six years from now, I will have everything out of boxes and our remaining but necessary things neatly arranged on the three long shelves that I built earlier.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Hodge Podge Post

Having children six and a half years apart in age isn't as bad as I thought it would be. I was afraid that I would have forgotten all that I learned with the first one. Although I did forget a lot, it all comes back quickly once I experience it for the second time. What I didn't forget, or rather the wisdom I still retain allows me to not get so easily worked up when Baby Abbey cries. At this age, it is one of about three things, dirty diaper, hungry or gas.

Spending a holiday season for the first time in decades without a job has definitely been a change for me. Before, even though I had a nine to five job, I was still out and about town on my way to and from work and that was enough to make me want to go home, lock the doors and say bah humbug. This year, I am at home on the very edge of town (the city limits passes through my neighbor's living room) and pretty much insulated from all the hubbub. I still have no desire to go out and frolic among all the holiday insanity but I am certainly a lot more relaxed about it when I do need to go out there.

For the most part, I have finished the main parts of the main floor of our new house. I just finished installing closet doors on our two remodeled closets that I posted about some time ago. I ended up going with bi-fold doors to give more space and because I just couldn't justify the cost of putting French doors on them. I used my longest level that I hadn't used since moving, to reinstall the jams and trim before putting on the doors and have discovered that the move must have unleveled my level. Everything fits and works but the anal side of me may yank the doors and redo the jam with a proper level just so it looks right.

I still haven't touched either bathroom but neither are two bad. One has a medicine cabinet with doors that sag and both could use some paint but I'm probably not going to do much else to them. I'm thinking that my next project might be painting the kitchen cabinets. They were handbuilt with the rest of the house 40 years ago and are in okay shape though are dated are their dark wood finish really makes the kitchen feel small.... which it is.  But by lightening the color, I think the kitchen will seem a bit bigger. Long term, I want to gut the place and start over expanding it a bit. Both of us being cooks, we just can't fit inside the kitchen at the same time.

Despite my earlier post that might have suggested something to the contrary, I am not wealthy beyond imagination if you only consider green paper money. I did go out and buy a lottery ticket during the latest hubbub for probably only the fifth or sixth time in my life. Unlike my previous attempts, this time I did have two matching numbers though neither were the powerball so I didn't get my money back. That's okay, I'm not sure I would know what to do with half a billion dollars besides give the large majority to the government in the form of taxes so they can frivolously spend it on yet even more social programs.

Friday, November 30, 2012

I'm Wealthy Beyond Imagination

I've looked at this picture in my computer folder of things to blog about a dozen times and each time I passed it by thinking I've already blogged about this. But after feeling like that wasn't correct and doing a search of old posts, I'm fairly certain that this pictured fell through the cracks and so this post aims to correct that situation. I suspect that when I took that picture I had a blog post laid out in my head in such a convincing fashion that I began to believe I've already written it. Does anyone else have that problem?

Before moving, we quit going to auctions a year in advance. I suppose when one is planning on paying someone to move all your stuff, it seems prudent to not add more stuff to move until afterwards. After we moved, we were so busy with settling in and getting things arranged (and still have a basement with lots of boxes not yet unpacked) that we couldn't justify adding more things to it. But sometimes you need a break from life and my wife and I enjoy going to auctions and finding gems in other peoples cast off belongings.

About a month ago, we hit up an auction just down the road from us as a spur of the moment deal. We were driving by and it was going on. We stopped to check things out and saw a few things that we might bid on if the price was right. However, there were yards of trinkets on folding tables that had to be sold first and anyone familiar with auctions know that means there is a lot of time waiting for that to happen.

While waiting, they came to two long tables full of books. On that table was the box full of piano music seen in the picture above. Little Abbey is starting to play the piano and that box would keep her engaged in that endeavor for some time to come. I bought the box of music for $7 and was in the process of setting it aside when they started selling the books.

The books were sold buyer's choice meaning the highest bid could pick the book(s) they wanting paying their bid times the number of books they took. Generally this goes around a few times while people snap of old school annuals, rare cookbooks and some classic books. Then the auctioneer would proceed to portion off a good part of the books and sell them all together. As I walked back to the table after moving the piano music away from the crowd, they were doing this latter part and the auctioneer was trying to get a dollar from the crowd. On instinct alone, I raised my hand and ended up with a huge pile of books for $1. As I was debating what to do with all of them since they weren't boxed and my car was a long ways away, I heard that the rest of the books were bought in two lots for $2.50 each. Then I heard my auction number and realized my wife had bought the rest of the books. Great minds think alike.

We immediately sold someone a book they wanted for a dollar meaning our total outlay of cash was $5 for the pile of books which I then had the pleasure of carting off. I ended up dumping the box of music in the car and using that box and numerous trips to cart off all the books. A guy who paid for another table of books prior to ours decided he didn't want his books so he told me we could take them too. Since I already had the back of our vehicle stuffed full of books, I sorted through them and took maybe a third of them.

Back home we dumped them in the pile seen above which doesn't look nearly as impressive as it was since I took the picture above the pile. We sorted through the books putting the books each of us wanted in a pile. In the end, we had only four shopping bags of books that we had either read before or had no interest in reading. Those we will try selling at a yard sale next spring or give them away to a local goodwill store. Those that we plan on reading have been squirreled away like nuts before a hard winter and will be metered out gradually over the next several years I suppose. I feel very wealthy indeed. Now I just need to get cracking on those bookshelves to hold all of my wealth on display.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Please Think Twice About Using Wells Fargo Mortgage Services

I've written about this subject a few times in the last five months which since when I write about a company and my dealing with them normally means bad things have happened. Here is a quick summary of what they have done:

1. Botched up the purchase of my new home by not sending the paperwork in to the underwriters until the week of the closing date despite having it all completed for 12 weeks prior.

2. Botched up the purchase of my old home by screwing up the loan of the guy buying it not once but twice. Never once would they communicate with us saying that there was a delay. We always had to call them to find out that the loan was being rewritten yet again.

3. Messed up my escrowed insurance and told me I wasn't insured. After jumping through all the hoops, they said I was insured and things were being fixed.

4. Messed up my escrowed insurance by refunding me all the money that I placed into it for insurance. When I questioned them as to the reason for refunding it to me, they said they shouldn't have because I was insured but their national office hadn't yet fixed it for some reason. They assured me they would fix it... again.

So now here we are three and a half months later and I get a letter in the mail from Wells Fargo that looks very suspicious to me as being from their insurance department. (Note I have refrained from using their name up until today to give them the benefit of the doubt.) When I opened the letter is basically stated that they have repeatedly notified me that I have no insurance on my house and because of this, they have automatically insured my property and that they will be forcing me to pay the premiums! Like hell they aren't!

So I have repeatedly called my insurance company and they have repeatedly assured me that I was insured and indeed the paperwork they normally sent me states that fact. I have also repeatedly called the mortgage broker in my local branch of the bank but she doesn't seem to know what is going on which isn't surprising since she single handedly botched both mortgage transactions. She always throws blame on my insurance company, corporate office, the people who bought our old house or me for doing something wrong. It has got me nowhere.

This time I'd had enough so I called the corporate office for insurance directly and spoke with a lady listened patiently as I explained how screwed up this whole process had been. She asked the proper questions and put me on hold a few times as she called the local bank and also my insurance company. Finally after a half hour, she had fixed the problem... again. She said that when I had cancelled the insurance on the house that I had sold and no longer owned nor wanted to pay insurance for, the bank had written in their records that I had cancelled the insurance on my current house. According to the lady, my insurance company had faxed them the proper insurance information showing that I hadn't cancelled the insurance for my current address to them not once but twice. She had them right there before her eyes. Yet despite having evidence to the contrary, someone somewhere had decided it was just easier to let the situation slide.

So now I wait to see if my insurance has truly been fixed... again. I somehow doubt it because they refunded me all my hazard insurance money that I paid into the system and I dutifully deposited into my savings account. So when my next insurance payment comes due in December, there will be no money in my escrow account to pay for it. I have questioned the bank on this a couple times but they don't seem to know how to deal with that situation. I will not ever do business with Wells Fargo again.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Shattered Bulbs and Cedar Trees

In our family during the Thanksgiving holiday, we do something different. Some go shopping, others watch football, and we go Christmas tree hunting... in the wild. For some reason, probably due to being thrifty, our family has always used red cedar trees as Christmas trees. They are native to our area and grow in abundance in old pastures and draws. They are free for the taking and is a renewable resource because for every one we picked, ten more lived to see another day and often more because the following year they got too big to be used.

After years of picking red cedars at one farm, we will generally switch to another farm to find more smallish trees to pick. This was probably the last year we will pick a red cedar at the current farm because we were literally down to only three choices that had any shape and would fit inside an average house.  Since we only have one daughter of voting age, there was a unanimous decision by her in which tree to choose. Back in my youth with a younger brother, we often had to resort to flipping a glove (thumbs up or down) to decide. But since it was unanimous, my daughter pointed and I 'liberated the cedar from its earthly toil' as Pablo over at Roundrock Journal would say.

Back home we set it up in our stand and give it lots of water to drink. We always pour a good amount of green food coloring in the water which after a days time, greens up the tree considerable from its generally brownish green state we found it in. Then we let it stand for a day to absorb enough water so that the needles aren't so prickly.

By Friday evening or Saturday evening, our tradition is to then decorate the tree. Little Abbey was chomping at the bit to help with the decorating this year and pulled her most prized decoration from the boxes that I hauled up from the basement. She pulled out a gold colored bulb that she had painted when she was in preschool with some words. Excitedly she walked over to the tree and hung the bulb only to have it fall to the tile and shatter into a thousand small pieces. She retired into her bedroom to cry it out while I swept up the debris and then went to give her a pep talk. Eventually she regained her Christmas spirit and rejoined the tree decorating.

I've never understood why people pay hundreds of dollars for trees imported from other parts of the country. Although I understand why people go the artificial route, it has never been that way for my family as I continue the tradition that my father started when I was young. My oldest daughter enjoys it so much and perhaps my newest daughter will too, that they will carry it on with their future families. Perhaps in a few generations, there will be a run on red cedar trees in this neck of the woods.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout

... wouldn't take the garbage out. Or so goes the classic Shel Silverstein poem. Though the poem really didn't specify why she wouldn't take the garbage out, I suspect that in today's well packaged world of products, it was simply because she couldn't fit everything she had in the garbage can.

If you have ever moved, you know that you generate quite a bit of refuse that needs to be thrown away, namely packaging materials and things that you really don't have any reason to hang onto anymore. With the size of my city provided garbage and recycling can, I figured it would take me a year of putting what I could with my normal weekly fare to get rid of it all. So I loaded up the van and took a load to the recycling center and paid to dump the rest at the county dump. I was caught up in one fell swoop.

Then two things happened and I haven't yet recovered. First, I bought a jointer which arrived in a crate nestled in layers of thick custom molded Styrofoam layers. It took me nearly an hour to bust the Styrofoam into small enough pieces to fit into a garbage bag efficiently and in the end, I had eight of them not to mention enough cardboard to fill up my recycling bin for the next three weeks if I didn't recycling anything else in the meantime. So I dedicated a corner of my garage to storing that refuse until I could get rid of it in our once a week pickup.

Several weeks went by and I got rid of most of the Styrofoam (I think I still have one bag left) and all of the cardboard. The cardboard is the hardest to get rid of because our recycling container is about three cubic feet in size. I had gotten rid of perhaps a third of the jointer cardboard when the closet system I recently installed arrived in fifteen different cardboard boxes. Every box was full of a myriad of different cardboard layers and crush zones. I'm back to having the next six or seven weeks to recycling planned out just to rid myself of cardboard assuming I don't add any more to it of my own. I may have to just load up the van and make another special trip out to the recycling center to get rid of it all. At least it is free minus the gas, time and effort of doing it.

All of this is just a long way of saying it seems like society has gone mad with packaging. We don't eat a lot of prepacked foods so we produce less garbage than many of our peers but anytime I purchase something non-grocery related, it seems excessively packaged. I often get a cardboard box full of smaller cardboard boxes, Styrofoam and multitudes of individually packed pieces in plastic pouches. I end up with three cubic feet of refuse to recycle or throw away for some small item that took up a fraction of that space. I guess it is the selling companies insurance against vindictive Fed-Ex drivers videoed on Youtube doing the shot putt with packages.

Back on the farm, we burnt what we could which reduced the load that needed to be taken to the landfill but at the cost of adding to our environmental woes by sending who knows what chemicals up with the smoke. Here in the city, I'm restricted as to what I can do and burning trash is not an option. So in the end, I make due the best I can and try to reduce my load by recycling all that I can, three cubic feet at a time.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Heating and Air Conditioning

One of the things I always look at when buying a house, something I have had the pleasure of doing twice, is the heating and air conditioning units to see what their condition is like. So when I looked at this house, I noticed that the air conditioner looked to be ancient and the heater looked to have been replaced but still a couple decades old. Of course the owner said both worked in tip top shape and had no problems heating or cooling the house.

We moved in on the hottest day of the entire year as it turned out and turned the thermostat down to try and keep the place reasonably cool despite the open doors. The temperature inside immediately started climbing. When the moving trucks were gone, the air conditioner kept on running through the night and into the next day only bringing the temperature down 5 degrees in that time. Since all our stuff had been sitting in a hot moving truck all day and was a large heat sink, I figured it might take some time but on the second day, the air conditioner was still running.

Thinking it was low on freon, I called in a guy to check that which he did and said was fine but in the course of that, we found that the coils were completely plugged with several inches of grass clippings. I cleaned those off and the air conditioner functioned fine the rest of the summer. But while the heating and air conditioning guy was there, I had him inspect the rest of my system and learned some bad news. The heater was indeed over 20 years old and worse, when it had been replaced, the coils which should have been replaced at the same time hadn't been due to whomever cutting corners. So the new heater was trying to use 40 years old inefficient coils to exchange the heat. Overall, my system was found to be about 75% efficient.

Not wanting to spend lots of money on a heating system on the hottest day of the year, I let things ride for awhile. But when fall came and I kicked on the heat for the first time, the fan started up and sounded like a jet engine of a place that was taking off a runway. The system runs pretty well and has easily kept our house warm despite the 40 year old coils in the heat exchanger largely due to it being twice the size it needed to be. I could see it in my bills as they were almost as high as I normally saw in my old house in the dead of winter. To top it all off, the whole house humidifier on the side of the plenums didn't work. I found the wire controlling it cut and fixed that but it still didn't work. I traced it to the valve, the most expensive part of it, being bad. Not only that, it was ancient and didn't work well judging from all the rust I saw inside the plenums where water had run. I finally made the call and said the system needed to be replaced.

After doing some figuring, it was really a no brainer. A brand new two stage burner heating system 98% efficient would pay for itself in energy savings in about 16 months. (Note: This is after tax rebates from the government and refunds from the energy company.) A new air conditioner could pay for itself in about the same time frame. This would also include the cost of a new whole house humidifier, something my skin, throat and sinuses crave during winter. The guy said he could have the new equipment by the following week and it would take two days to complete. I said go for it.

Four weeks later, the day we ended up heading to the hospital, they showed up ready to work. I left the door unlocked and said have at it. They did their thing and did a beautiful job of the installation of both the air conditioner and the heater along with the whole house humidifier though I am still waiting on the promised new thermostat which is much better quality than my box store special and can run a two stage heater efficiently. My current thermostat can run one stage of the burners but not both. As turns out to be the norm for this outfit, they promised me they would be out on Monday to install the thermostat and here it is Wednesday before Thanksgiving and still no word of them. Fortunately I haven't paid them a cent yet so I have the upper hand. The new system works great, doesn't sound like a jet engine taking off. My throat and sinuses are whispering sweet I-love-you's to me as I speak. The only thing that remains is to see the effect on my heating bills to verify that the payback will happen as quickly as calculated.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Baby Abbey - Celebrations

I'm not sure why we didn't suspect it. A few of you may recall that six and a half years ago, Little Abbey came into this world early and due to the earliness, we ended up spending ten days in the hospital before coming home. All is good now but back then.... I still shudder when I think about the whole experience. Also, my wife looked exactly like she did back then before going into labor, like a over stuffed ball that was about ready to pop. Not to mention that last weekend she began to 'nest' by getting everything in the nursery ready to go. Still, when last Thursday morning rolled around and my wife popped her 'plug' after breakfast, we still weren't ready.

I got Little Abbey ready and put on the school bus while my wife called the hospital and took a quick shower. We went up to the maternity ward to get checked and found that she was already dilated 3 centimeters and thinning. One way or another, we were having a baby again, about three weeks early. Calls were made, things organized and three hours later, Baby Abbey made her presence into this world.

Because my wife ended up having a C-section the first time around after 20 hours of labor, a small birth canal and too big of a baby, this time was a mandatory C-section at least at our local hospital. It was nice because my wife didn't have to wear herself out completely before giving birth. I think that was a huge difference because this time around, Baby Abbey, a girl by the way, came out screaming her lungs off and was a very healthy baby. Saturday afternoon, everyone came home.

I suppose I should say a little bit about the picture above. It is one taken right before we left the hospital. When Little Abbey was born, we were given a large bag full of freebee items. The hospital decided in the ensuing years to change things up and get rid of that large bag and instead fix up a 'Celebration Dinner.' We could choose between chicken kiev and steak, salad, potato and desert, topped off with a bottle of sparkling white grape juice. As you can expect, the steak ordered medium rare was well done and rubbery. the green beans needed a spoon to get up off the place and the mashed potatoes, well they could have been used as stucco. The desert wasn't half bad though. But that item in the foreground, Baby Abbey, made it one of the best meals I've ever had.

Little Abbey is happy as a clam being a big sister, Mrs. Abbey is doing well despite having just been gutted for a second time in six and a half years and me, Ed, well I'm happy that my family is doing well. I'm also making plans to fix up the bathroom in the basement as the MAN bathroom since I will soon be competing with three girls.

Baby Abbey
Born 15 Nov 2012
Weight 6 lbs 13 oz.
Length 19 inches

Friday, November 16, 2012

Burnt Out

I'm beginning to think that the reason the people sold this house to us was because they didn't want to replace all the burnt out light bulbs. Both times we looked at the property before buying it was during the middle of the day which is why I suspect I never noticed the burnt out light bulbs but I have certainly noticed since.

After moving in, the first ones I replaced were all the can lights which were sunk in the ceiling and had the old style incandescent 60W bulbs in them. Because they weren't designed for those bulbs, the light was more like that of a dim flashlight than one meant for home illumination. So I bought some fluorescent bulbs to replace them in areas that didn't need immediate bright light and LED's for those that did.

Then I went around the house replacing burnt out incandescent bulbs on all the other fixtures and replaced the few that worked with CFL's just so I don't have to replace a lightbulb every other week. This also included buying some specialty bulbs to replace those in some appliances that were also burnt out.  About the time I got the interior of the house lit, I noticed that the light out in front of our house didn't work. While replacing that one I noticed that there was one of the motion activated security lights over the garage door. It wasn't working so I had to replace it completely.

So I thought I had got everything replaced and a couple months went by of complete lighted bliss. My only complaint was that on the back side of the house, it was completely dark except for one light on the deck that only worked part of the time. But since I had other bigger fish to fry, I forgot about those things. But one day I was up on a ladder on the backside of the house pulling the remnants of some vines from the eaves where they were firmly attached to the wood and collecting leaves that happened to fly by when I noticed something else. I had another security light on that side of the house that I hadn't seen before.

Suspecting that the bulbs were burnt out like anything else, I put an interior bulb in one of the sockets and went around flipping on every switch that I could think of that might control it. No dice. But in doing so, I discovered yet another security light on the other corner of the house. I put a new bulb in that but still couldn't find the switch. I suspected that I had the right switch, somewhere, but that the motion activation part of both lights were fried like the one I had replaced over the garage. So I bought a couple more security light replacements and replaced them. I put the new outdoor flood light bulbs in that I had bought but still couldn't find the switch.

I finally chalked the non-performance up as something not wired up in the attic and decided I would fix that when I got to my growing list of attic projects to do this winter. I turned my attention to the one light I had in the back that only worked part of the time. While inspecting it, I saw that it was actually a motion activated sconce light, something I didn't know even existed. I adjusted the controls on it and I was back in business with a fully functional light.

While flipping the switch on the outdoor sconce light off and on, I suddenly realized that there was another switch beside it that I had completely forgotten about. It was one of two switches in the living room that I had flipped on after we had moved in (and replaced the interior lightbulbs) and had not seen any apparent reaction. One I had later determined controlled some switched outlets, and the one I had just rediscovered, I had simply forgot about. Without a drum roll or any fanfare, I flipped that switch and found that it indeed controlled my two recently replaced outdoor security flood lights.

So now I am sitting here thinking I have finally got every light in this house up and functioning as intended. But if three months later I find yet another burnt out lightbulb, I won't be surprised.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Celebrating Obama's Victory With Bangladeshi Food

This past weekend, my wife and I were invited over to some acquaintances of ours who live down the street a ways. They are originally from Bangladesh and promised us that there would be plenty of authentic Bangladeshi food on hand. I was game. It was only after we had been there for awhile that we learned that it was actually a celebration party on Obama's victory. Though I would have preferred that he not be elected another four years, he did win and did deserve due credit so I joined in on the party.

Most of the people there were from Bangladesh and perhaps a few from India. My wife being a native of the Philippines made me pretty much the token Caucasian guy for most of the party. But food knows no boundaries and so I dug right in with everyone else.

When put in an opportunity to eat authentic regional food that I don't get everyday, I opted for the try a little bit of everything strategy. There were several types of fried things ranging from the sweet to the spicy. There was chicken, curried and roasted, lamb, goat, beef and perhaps even another dish of chicken. There was a spicy salad, some sort of sweetened flour and milk balls, some sort of gelatin like desert and puffy pastries. I tried a little bit of each and I must say, it was all very good. I think it was the beef that was a bit salty more like corned beef but still it was wonderfully tender. Best of all, rice from that region of the world is unlike rice found anywhere else. It is very granular in nature and not clumpy like east Asian rice and is spiced up.

We ate and tried talking though with at least three different languages floating around, it was hard to decipher at time. All the people from Bangladesh were dressed up in traditional attire so it was interesting to do some people watch when I found myself surrounded in a non-English conversation. All in all it was a good party and though I didn't come out on top this election, I can think of few better ways to celebrate a victory of the majority. May the next four years be much better than the last!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Done With Closets

When we went back for our second look with fresh eyes and to make an offer on the house we ended up buying, I took along my camera to take a picture of the way 'it was.' I didn't start doing that practice at first when we bought our first house but when I did, it always made me feel better looking back at how things were and see how much sweat equity in your house can do. With that said, the above picture was how 'it was' when I looked at it with fresh eyes. What I saw were sliding doors with worn out tracks and rollers that were always falling off and required super human strength to push open.

Normally I would have just fixed the roller and/or track to get them working once again but other factors that presented itself after we moved in swayed me to redoing them. You see, my wife's clothes, purses and shoes took up one whole closet and half of mine. The stuff of hers that was in 'my' closet were things that she accessed all the time requiring me to first close her door and then open mine several times a day. Also, it wasn't that she owns a lot of stuff (though it is many times what I own) but that it just wasn't well organized. The pictures below show what I mean.

This was her closet shown above, a basic two rod system. My closet looked exactly the same except two thirds of it was taken up by a prefab bookshelf that the previous owners had left behind probably out of embarrassment. I say embarrassment because they hadn't been bothered to move it when recarpeting the room and had carpeted around it leaving a square of much lighter colored carpet in its place. I think you can see that in one of the finished pictures. When I put hardwood flooring down, that will go away.  My wife used the bookshelf for her purse, shoes and jewelry storage.

I'm actually surprised that the rods held up the weight of our clothes over the last three months. Every support looked just like what you see above and below. The one above had two scabbed in pieces of woods to act as shims and a bracket attached but only the bottom screw into the stud behind. In fact, since it wasn't even touching the rod, it wasn't support anything.

This one was still in place but had only one screw (in the stud fortunately) at the bottom and an air gap at the top. The shelf above was 40 year old particle board which was about as straight as a partially cooked lasagna noodle.

The supports at the end held all the weight of the clothes and looked as you see above. Evidently they cut the rods short or couldn't get them long enough so they used the old extra screw as a shim trick and put a couple more screws in for good measure.

In the other two bedrooms, I had replaced similar closet stuff with off the shelf wire mesh closet rack that you can get at your local box store. It does a good job but lacks the flexibility to make other arrangements and also just isn't as solid as I would like it. So I set out to build my own custom made closet system. Unfortunately other projects took my time and I was looking at a month before the new baby was to arrive which will certainly cut down on project time. Also, by the time I started sourcing out what I wanted to do, I was about three quarters of the way to buying a custom designed closet system. So I ended up going the latter route and I must say I am extremely pleased. It had the flexibility to do exactly what I want and change in the future if needed, looks the way I wanted it too, and was made out of the same materials that I was going to make it out of. The closet above was my old closet, (notice the mismatched carpet) that is now my wife's closet. She needed shelving for her shoes, purses and sweaters as well as places for her jewelry. It is hard to see but I got her two belt racks that slide out on a track that come with plenty of hooks for hanging necklaces and other stuff off of it. Also there is a valet pole for hanging her stuff that she can't dry with electric heat.

This one is now my closet. Since I don't do dresses, I have four compartments to store my shirts which technically means that I have two compartments and my wife has two overflow compartments. Since I don't own many pairs of shoes or any purses, I got drawers which means I can now vacate the two drawers I do have in our dresser and it is now all my wife's drawers. I also got a belt rack and a tie rack along with a valet pole for my wife's wet clothes since every stitch of clothing I own can go through the dryer. Up above both closets is the usual head space for other miscellaneous things not needed on a daily basis such as a shotgun, journals, camera tripod, etc.

I still have yet to do the doors and I'm not sure what I want to do. Right now I am thinking of some solid panel french doors on each but I may go to the more traditional bifold doors to save on space. One thing is for certain though, the sliding doors are gone and the struggle for me to hold onto my measly two shirt rods and drawers begins. I'm pretty sure my wife is ultimately trying to get me to store my clothes in the garage with the rest of my things.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Photos From My Daughter

I was retrieving photos from my camera for blogging purposes and discovered a series of six photos all of the same subjects but taken from different angles. Nothing makes me happier than finding one of these series of pictures on my camera though if we were not living in the digital age where I can take thousands of pictures without worrying about 'developing the film' instead of only a couple dozen pictures. It lets me know what is important in her life and in these pictures, it is obvious she treasures her odd collection of 'dolls'. How they ended up grouped together in her bed, I'll probably never know.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

And the Saints Go Marching... In My Family Tree?

I was researching my for now, theorized 4th great grandfather Joseph Chicken Sr. in hopes of finding some illusive clue on why I think my 3rd great grandfather Joseph Chicken Jr. changed his name to Joseph Baker. Well other than the obvious that nobody in their right mind would want to be called Chicken Jr because that sounds like some sandwich from a fast food joint.

Part of that research led me to a write up on the ship that Joseph Chicken Sr. sailed from Liverpool to New Orleans in 1849. I copied the words into a word document and saved it onto my computer for later reading since it was quite long and now, several weeks later, just read it. The writings are from a half dozen journals of people along on the ride and what amazed me more than anything, they describe everyone on board, except for the crew as being members of the Church of Latter Day Saints and they were on their way to Salt Lake City.

Since Joseph Chicken Sr. obviously didn't make it out to Salt Lake City, I don't know if he was actually a Saint or one for convenience to get passage to America. Whatever the case, the voyage was pretty interesting. The ship Hartley set sail from Liverpool on the 5th of March 1849 after being dragged out into the harbor by a steamship. She made good time though had to stop in the Bahamas for a few days to wait for favorable winds. I'm guessing perhaps drink a few Mai Thai's down on the beach too. Other than almost everyone getting sea sick on the first three days out of port, most described it as a pleasure cruise. The pulled into New Orleans on the 28th of April with the same number of people as they started with. However this was just a sleight of hand since they had one birth and one death along the way.

After a couple days in port, they set sail on a steamer called the Mameluck up the Mississippi bound for St. Louis. Unfortunately, their pleasure cruise turned into a modern day cruise ship story and somewhere between 30 and 60, depending on who wrote the account, Saints died of cholera before they reached port. Fortunately for me, Joseph Chicken Sr. was not one of those people.

From that point, most of the stories go different directions. Some of those who lost large parts of their families settled in St. Louis. Others made their way to Salt Lake City where their ancestors would save the Olympics with the help of some guy named Mitt. Still others made their way up to the lead mines of Lafayette county, Wisconsin where they would raise a family, fight in the Civil War, change their name from Chicken Jr. and whose descendants would go on to create a terribly incredible blogger named Ed. I love it when a story has a happy ending.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Finally here!

I haven't been keeping track but it seems like we are getting at least a half dozen fliers in the mail every day telling us to vote early, perhaps a call or two an evening saying the same thing, and at least one person thus far making sure that we plan to vote come election day if not sooner. I have seen lots of effort before to push the get out and vote effort on election day but this is the first election when the push has been to vote early.

In our county, we already passed the number of early votes in the last presidential election several weeks ago! If you go back thirty years ago, the numbers are staggering on how much emphasis is placed on voting early. It is almost up 1000%! I won't be one of those voting early.

For me, one of the most patriotic things one can do in the country they love is to vote. Sure it isn't always convenient on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November but hey, hundreds of thousand have died so I can vote so why should I let a little inconvenience get in my way? There is something about walking through the cool darkness to the polling place (thanks to Daylight Savings Time) and standing in line with my neighbors to do that one civic duty. I just don't get that same feeling when going down to the courthouse to vote early or by mailing in a ballot. Granted I am new to this area and won't know most of my neighbors but I won't meet them if we never see each other face to face.

Then of course comes the after party so to speak where I get home, flip on the television and watch the results come in. Sometimes it is good news like the last election cycle when we the people voted out four of Iowa's bum Supreme Court Justices because they were legislating from the bench by overturning a law that was passed by the majority of people in the state. But mostly I just like to listen to the talking heads talk about which state much go which way for the party in question to have a chance. So many times I've heard that a few votes don't matter and yet in my short lifetime, a few votes has been all the difference more than once.

So tomorrow, I will wait for my wife to get home and we will go down to our local voting place to cast our ballots and then return home to watch the results on television. Unlike eight years ago, I think we won't have long to wait to get the results but then I could be wrong. All these early ballots are considered provisional and only counted if the number of them is more than the difference in the election night votes and since the emphasis has been on voting early, well it might be days... again.

Happy election day everyone and make sure you get out and vote so that you can legitimately gripe about the choice later on!

Friday, November 2, 2012

Funeral Wrap Up

I made it back from the funeral late Monday evening but was glad that I was able to attend it. For a day, I spent in close proximity to a score of friends who came to his funeral that had nothing but positive things to say about him. It was refreshing. 

My uncle married his wife in 1956 though no one present at the funeral knew just how they met. She suffered from some force of scoliosis that crippled her severely but my Uncle fell in love with her just the same. Unfortunately, she died from her ailments five years later which everyone agrees is what caused my Uncle to dip into depression at times. He never remarried and instead focused the rest of his life to his church. 

I learned a few things about him at the funeral which I thought I would share on here. Though my Uncle always told me he served on the U.S.S. Iowa, and I suppose that was the truth, he actually served on several ships of the same class including the U.S.S. Washington seen at the head of this post. He evidently thrived in the military and worked his way up quickly to become an aid to the navy admiral which mean that where ever the admiral went, so did my uncle and hence, why he served on more than one ship. One young lady who had befriended him and interviewed him about his war stories, told how he had to transfer between ships in a basket suspended on a cable between them. She also said that she had many more stories that she had transcribed and has promised me she would email them to me as soon as she was able. I look forward to them and perhaps I'll share some of them on here. One more thing to note on my Uncle's military career is that at some point he crossed the equator for the first time and received the below certificate. Unfortunately a camera phone and poor lighting of the funeral settings made it not turn out the best.

We held visitation which allowed our family to meet the family of his wife whom none of us had ever met. Even after his wife died, he loved her so much that he stayed in close contact with her family, including nieces and nephews for the rest of his days. I got a kick over the fact that everyone related to him referred to him as Uncle Keith. The funeral was nice and then after a soup and sandwich lunch, we drove to the cemetery where his wife had been buried fifty one years earlier. Unfortunately, hurricane Sandy was whipping stiff chilly winds so the funeral was short and sweet before we retreated back to our cars. Two navy officers were there to perform their ceremony and I am most impressed with them. Despite the fifty mile and hour winds, they were able to still fold the flag right smartly. 

As the family genealogist, I am now sorting through all the things that I learned, photographed or trying to answer questions asked that nobody knew the answers. It has been a labor of love and I wouldn't have it any other way. So my uncle is now home with his beloved wife and everything is right in this world again. Where I was saddened this weekend, I am happy for him now. I'm glad that I had nearly four decades to spend with him before he left. I am also thankful that of those four decades, the closest person to me in my family to pass has been a great uncle. Not many can say that.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Monday, October 29, 2012

Uncle Keith

Uncle Keith was actually my great uncle, brother to my maternal grandfather. He was always the cool uncle who would show up and want nothing more than to play board or card games with my brother and I all day while my parents did their thing. For years, those were my only impressions of him and I savor them.

As I got older though, I began to learn about other parts of Uncle Keith, mostly the darker sides to his life. He lost his wife only a couple years after they were married and sunk into depression which evidently came back off an on the rest of his life and even required electro-shock therapy (way back in the day) at one point though I never saw him that way. He was always happy and full of laughter when in my presence. He was the complete opposite of his brother, my grandfather, and that caused a lot of tension in the family. My grandfather is a very talented mechanical oriented guy who I think of as a Jack of all Trades. Keith on the other hand was the opposite. He was into plays and musicals most of his life and had not a lick of common sense for going about the world. I have written stories about this lack of common sense on this blog in the past and our family lore is full of many many more. He also was a hoarder according to those who had been to his house, a concept that I couldn't even imagine.

Soon after I was married, I volunteered to meet Keith who was on his 'last hurrah' tour of Iowa and show him around his old stomping grounds. I spent the day with him and learned a lot about his past that I didn't know, particularly his military experience in World War II. The picture at the head of the post is the one I now think of when I think of Keith in the military. He served on the U.S.S. Iowa for a time and was some sort of assistant to a general and was on a ship in the bay when the treaty ending the war was signed. But during the time we spent that day, I could also see signs of dementia starting to make itself known and he would become confused at times.

Shortly after that visit, my wife and I were heading towards Pennsylvania on a route that took up by his hometown in Indiana so we decided to drop by and visit Uncle Keith at his home. I blogged about the experience on here but in summary, I learned what a hoarder was. Since that time, they came out with a television show on the subject and I have yet to be able to watch even one full episode because seeing those people remind me of Keith and how he lived and it just brought horrible sadness.

Keith was getting pretty frail at that point and a few years later moved to a nursing home. Last Christmas time I sent my normal card and letter to him at an address that I didn't know since he had always lived at the same address my entire life. That was also the first Christmas in my life that I never got a card back from him or the two dollar bill he would always send on my birthday. Dementia had reared its ugly head and his moments of clarity were few and far between. I still have every single one of those two dollar bills.

Last Wednesday, my Uncle Keith passed on at age of 90. All the imperfections that I have come to know in adulthood made me happy that he would now be in a better place without them. He is at peace at last. However the old memories of those long afternoons spent playing games with my cool uncle have come back from the back recesses of my brain and I am saddened at his passing. Today I am out of state saying my goodbyes.

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Beginnings of My Workbench

What you see above is my 'shop' in its present state. At our previous house we had a two car garage that wasn't much wider than our two cars but was about four feet longer. It allowed me enough room to put the workbench in the above photo beneath the black cabinets up against the wall of the garage. The problem with that was for the same reason you see in this picture, I stack all my tools on it and it robs me of any place to actually work on a flat surface.

Our current garage is about the same depth as our last one but fortunately has eight extra feet to one side. Because I no longer have a garden shack, a third of it is taken up with the lawnmower, tiller and snow blower along with other odds and ends and the remaining two thirds is pictured above. Since I now have the room, I am setting out to remedy my flat work surface problem by making an old fashioned wooden workbench reminiscent of the ones I had in high school shop. You could assemble a tank on top of those, could drive a steel square pin into a steel round hole and not cause it to shake in the slightest and every other year or so spend some time sanding the surface to get it to look like new again.

The douglas fir that you see stacked up on the left side of the picture is my new workbench in raw format. It is stacked on my current workbench which is a hollow core sliding closet door on two aluminum saw horses. It is a flimsy affair that is a disaster waiting to happen. After getting the previously mentioned butcher blocks done, I started in on making the legs which required me to laminate several pieces of douglas fir together. I'm currently working on making the numerous mortises and other details in them before moving onto the stretchers.

Woodworking is really calming for me and something I enjoy immensely. Wood can be made into about anything with enough patience and thought. I love taking a stack of raw lumber and building something that could still be around in my grandkids time if so desired by my future generations. None of my ancestors were woodworkers that I can tell but I've seen numerous antiques over the year built out of wood and lovingly cared for over the decades fetch high prices at auctions. I hope to eventually replace most of the cheap laminated plywood furniture in my house with real wood furniture as time permits. Fortunately for me, time is in a bigger supply now than it has been in previous years.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Butcher Blocks Galore

As I mentioned in my last post, our last house had a rolling island with a butcher block top. Although we never used the island for an island since the kitchen wasn't big enough, we did use the butcher block top all the time. We used it chopping all our vegetables, home made pizza making and other assorted baking. It was great. So when we moved to this house and it didn't have any butcher block surfaces, I knew I would have to remedy that.

The kitchen at our new place is horribly old and decrepit looking. It doesn't have any of the more modern features that make better use of space like lazy susan corner cabinets, pull out drawers, etc. It also has old laminate counter tops full of scorch marks, chips and tears. There is a peninsula on one side of the kitchen where we do most of our prep work and I thought about tearing up a chunk of laminate counter top and replacing it with a butcher block one but that seemed like a lot of work to a kitchen that I plan on redoing sometime in the near future. So I decided that I would be better served making a thinner butcher block service that I could sit on one end of the counter top that wouldn't be too high to use and would cover one of the worst burn marks.

I searched around and got a good deal on some Goncalo Alves hardwood that is sometimes called tigerwood or zebrawood. It looks really awesome with a natural finish which I want for anything I'm eating off. I jointed up the strips, glued it together in sections, planed the sections, jointed the sections, glued the sections together and after some decorative routing and lots of sanding, applied a coat of mineral oil and beeswax over it. I can't believe how much trouble it is to find mineral oil. The local box store showed me mineral spirits which aren't the same thing and tried to tell me it was. I finally went to a small drug store and they had it in the colon lubrication section. I wasn't aware that was what it was used for besides protecting butch block tops.

The final result looks awesome and I can't wait to have our first stir fry where I can chop up all the veggies on the same board which out using our small plastic ones and doing a lot of transferring to various dishes to find room to get everything chopped. I had some leftover pieces that were quite a bit more uniformly darker than all the rest of the pieces and I made a small cutting board out of it when it isn't lifting our dish strainer up so the water drains over the sink lip instead of all over the counter. My next project is to take up my butcher block making skills and make a huge butcher block wooden bench like of days gone by where I can do some assembly projects that require a large flat space up off the floor not currently found in my garage. I hope to take a few more pictures of it in process than I did for this project.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Keeping My Back In Joint

I swear that just a week or two ago I had a couple weeks worth of blogs all written up in my backlog waiting to be published and now, I have nary a one. Time has a way of going by so fast.

My jointer finally arrived but not without its own worries. I ordered it off the internet with delivery but I got a call from the company telling me that the delivery company they go with provides me three options. I can find a way to get the pallet with 280 lbs of jointer off the semi by myself since the driver is obligated to not help, pick the jointer up at their nearest distribution center where they will load it in my vehicle or pay an additional $34 for liftgate service.

The first option was pretty much off the table since I can't lift 280 lbs from five feet in the air to the ground without severe hurt or perhaps death. I called to see their nearest distribution center but found out it was in our capital city and would cost me much more than $34 in gas not to mention time to go get it. So I pretty much had to pony up the $34 for the lift gate service.

I wasn't completely unaware of this since I had been reading the reviews and many people griped about the extra money. I had no problem with the money since it was a bargain delivered to my door. What worried me was that lots of people complained that the driver simply dropped the crate in the middle of their driveway and left leaving them with a 280 lb obstruction to drive around until they found a way to move it inside. I figured that if this happened I would try hauling it on my two wheel dolly and if that didn't work, simply open up the crate and haul the pieces up to my garage one piece at a time.

Unfortunately, the driver was running late and it was twilight when he finally dropped off my package but fortunately, he wheeled it inside for me on his two wheel dolly. All I had to do was sign for it and wait until the following day to open up and assembly it. Assembly wasn't too bad and took me half a day. The only problem I had was that the cast iron table and cutter assembly was still about a hernia worth of lifting for one person. It has threaded studs on the bottom that dropped into holes in the base so even if I got it up there by myself, there was a good chance I would strip the threads on the studs to where they wouldn't work and that was just no good.

So I called up Dan, my colleague at the Child Behavioral Modification Therapy Institute and he was all too happy to give me a hand, well two hands and his back. Together we had the table assembly set in place and spent the rest of the time until lunch talking. I soon had the jointer up and adjusted and started on the first project I had lined up to justify its purchase. I am building a butcher block for our kitchen countertop. We had one at our last house and loved it and since we have a lot more counter place at this house but no butcher block, I'm making one that will just sit on top. More details on that later.

Friday, October 19, 2012

The Hazards of Hazard Insurance Escrows

I'm not sure if I have caught the hint yet or not but I think I am beginning too. Let me explain. When we bought this house, the bank screwed up the loan causing but stress and delays in the process. When we sold our previous house, the same bank screwed up the loan causing much stress and much much longer delays in the process. Now it appears as if the bank has screwed up yet again with our insurance. I think they are hinting that they don't want me as a customer.

When we signed up for our loan, we also set up an escrow account to automatically pay our insurance and property taxes. We have done that in the past (with the same bank) and it works slick since I don't have to think about it. It just happens. So we set it up this time too.

After I received the third refund in the mail from my bank and a letter stating that I was required by the terms of the mortgage loan to have hazard insurance on our home, I began to suspect something was up. I called my insurance company first and they said that I was indeed insured but that the bank can't seem to get it entered into their system correctly. They have been going back and forth for a month and just the previous week had faxed the bank our entire policy over again.

The bank on the other hand first told me that I was insured until I asked them to pull up my account and see if my policy expired on September 24th as their letter stated. They did and said oops, their fault. Then they went right into a blame game against our insurance company stating that they keep switching policies. In order to drop one house and add another, we did have to switch policies but only ONCE. So I kindly asked the bank to get their act together and find out what was wrong.

The bank returned my request the following day, the first time they have ever returned a call in this entire affair, and said that I wasn't getting refunds from them. Huh? I read them the check which was issued by the bank and said hazard insurance refund right on it. The bank again back tracked and said it was the fault of the insurance company and that they needed to send them the policy again. And so the fight goes on and I'm here in between hoping that the insurance company is right, and all the paperwork which shows that they are, the I have hazard insurance. I will never be doing another loan from this bank again.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012


When we bought this property, my eyes were focused on the house since that was obviously the reason we were there. As the shock of writing a big check to purchase said property, my eyes gradually widened there scope of vision and noticed other things. One thing that soon jumped into vision were the number of dead trees scattered throughout the property. They seemed to be everywhere.

Now granted we are not far removed from one of the harshest droughts that we have seen in the last forty or fifty years, but many of the trees had been dead for some time judging by their lack of branches. Chalk it up as just one in a long line of things that the previous owners neglected. Some were probably casualties of the recent drought but whatever the case, I decided that since the weather was classic fall weather, they should be dealt with why the getting was good. As it turned out, my timing was perfect because the following day was the start of a two day rainstorm that softened the ground and would have made moving this wood a muddy affair.

My brother is a certified chainsaw instructor and regularly wields one from high up in trees hanging from ropes. Best of all, he was in the area so I invited him over to 'see' our house for the first time and to perhaps cut down a few trees. Bless his heart but six hours later, he finally cut the final and sixteenth dead tree down on our property and cut it up into pieces. I played swamp boy cleaning up all the debris and chucking it down in the timber as well as loading up the rounds and hauling them to the fire pit behind my house. I'm a bit sore but it is nice to have that project crossed off my list. Well almost anyway. I have a massive oak and two black cherry trees within feet of my house and all also dead. But I'm going to pay someone with a cherry picker and most importantly insurance to remove those.

Now all I have to do is split the wood and I'll have roaring fires all winter long in our wood fireplace. Or so I thought. The next day I pulled the electric insert off to one side and found out that who ever had inserted the insert had butchered up the bricks in the fireplace. So the only way I am going to be having fires in it is to rebuild the fireplace or to add a woodburning insert and still perhaps end up doing some masonry work. I haven't decided yet. For now, I've got some garage projects that I want to get done first.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Raindrops Falling Between My Walls

We were getting the beginning of what turned out to be a nice two day rain, the first such long event since sometime in early spring, and I found myself lying in bed early in the morning listening to it. Having just spent the night laying in that bed, I thought I should get up and go into the living room where the windows on three sides would give me good views of the passing storm. As it turned out, I didn't get much time to do that.

When I got into the living room, I heard a drip sound that sounded eerily like water dripping onto tile. I looked around but couldn't find any water puddles however, I did narrow down the sound and it sound like it was coming from the wall behind my easy chair. I went into our bedroom bathroom which shares that wall and could hear the same sound. So with no signs of water on either side of the wall, my stomach sunk at the thought that water was indeed running down within the wall.

I went downstairs to the basement and quickly located where the water was coming out. It was dripping off the vent pipe for the plumbing system onto the remaining piece of drywall that I hadn't yet torn out. I had torn out lots of drywall underneath the upstairs bathrooms which was stained and had mold growing on it. At the time I thought it was from leaks in the plumbing which actually did have leaks when I first moved into this place. Now I realized that it was coming from a leak int he roof and running down the vent pipe to where it had a bend in it right above a two foot square piece of drywall remaining in the downstairs bathroom closet ceiling.

Since it was still raining hard, I went up into the attic to confirm my suspicions were correct and they were. I was fortunate because the pipe basically went straight down to the basement and the water running down it wasn't touching any other wood or drywall along the journey. In fact, there was only a small chunk of insulation in the attic that was touching the pipe that was wet.

I made a quick trip to the local hardware store and in-between down pours, I went up onto the roof and immediately found the problem. The rubber boot around the vent stack had been torn and inverted so that it actually funneled rain along the pipe instead of shedding it away from the pipe. Not wanting to be shingling in the rain, I cut one of those cut to size rubber boots, put it in place and slathered the whole thing with roofing sealant which cured my leak problem. Next spring when the weather is a little bit better for fiddling with shingles, I'll add that to my list of things to do for a more permanent fix.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Plumbing From the Outside

Back when we first moved into our new place, I set up my daughters swimming pool and went to fill it from the outside spigot by the walkout doors of our basement. I heard the water running but nothing was coming out the end of the hose and investigation showed that instead it was pouring out the side of my house about a foot off the ground. I had a busted spigot.

Normally replacing an outdoor spigot is a easy affair and I have done it a couple times over the course of my life but this one was much harder. Instead of the extension running through the wall into the interior of the house where the heat keeps it from freezing, it runs parallel between the siding and the fireplace brick on the inside of the wall. The only way to access the spigot was to rip off the siding of the house, the sheathing and any insulation in the way.

I have put the project off for nearly two months because I knew what it would involve. It would involve several trips to the hardware store because I wouldn't get everything I needed the first time along with dozens of trips up and around the house to the garage to ferry needed tools back and forth. Plus since I have copper piping, I was going to have to learn how to solder, something I had never done before.

With the recent bout of cold weather, I decided that I needed to get the spigot replaced before winter because I suspected that the water that had wetted the inside of the wall cavity had destroyed the insulation and leaving the copper pipe behind the valve joint vulnerable to rupturing. When the latter ruptures, the water to the house would have to be shut off until the problem was fixed and that is not something I wanted to do when the weather was below freezing.

So on Tuesday, I started right in on the project by removing the bottom two courses of the masonite siding which was pretty easy since it was rotted out from the water damage. Behind that was old felt board which is about the most useless stuff ever designed in my opinion. It too was rotted out from previous water damage. I didn't have to worry about any insulation because the water had caused it to disintegrate into a pile of dust at the bottom of the cavity. The spigot has split the pipe about two inches ahead of the valve seat.

I went to the local hardware store and got everything I thought I needed to complete the project. As it turned out, I turned in a stellar performance because I didn't have to make any other trips to finish. With my newly purchased compact copper tube cutter, I soon had the old ruptured spigot removed and the new one in place with fluxed copper tubing and fittings in place. Soldering copper tubing turned out to be remarkably easy and I soon had the joints soldered and the water turned back on. No leaks.

I had about two feet of three different stud bays exposed and put new insulation in the two bays that didn't contain the spigot. I wasn't sure what to do about the bay with the spigot. I could see by the numerous splices to the copper tubing and the patch in the sheathing that it had been repaired at least twice before. Obviously the installation wasn't ideal which makes keeping it warm enough to prevent freezing a challenge. The actual spigot was only about an inch behind the sheathing meaning any fiberglass bat insulation would be compressed or very thin at best. So I decided to try something else. I put on the sheathing and then filled up the cavity with expanding foam. I hope that it surrounds the pipe better providing better insulation.

Since I don't plan to leave any hoses hooked up to the spigot through the winter which is the most common cause of spigots splitting, I don't think it would freeze. Never the less, once I find where the pipe enters into the house, I plan on adding a valve someplace handy so that I can shut off the water to the spigot and drain the line completely every winter. My only problem is that most of the basement ceiling where the pipe is located is dry walled. I've already removed quite a bit of it that had sustained water damage over the years from leaks, some of which had black mold on it. I plan to replace it with removable ceiling tiles in the future so if a leak should occur, I can replace the damaged tile with a new one and prevent any new mold from growing. But what I have removed has not contained a pipe. I need to do some more exploring yet to find it.

Since I plan on replacing the siding in the next couple years, I didn't add any wrap since there wasn't any wrap on the rest of the house anyway. I resided the area with primed hardboard since they don't make masonite anymore and caulked the whole works well. The next warmish sunny day I get, I need to go get some paint to cover my patch and probably to repaint the garage door which I patched up a couple weeks ago too.  All told, I made my dozen trips around the house to the garage to get various tools and to cut sheathing and siding to size but I only made one trip to the store. It wasn't quite as bad a chore as I thought it might be and it done for the year.

My list of outside work needing done before the snow flies is now down to the before mentioned painting and the removal of about a dozen dead trees on our property. I have helped lined up for Thursday to tackle the latter job so by the time you read this post, I will probably be ready for the snow to fly!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Child Behavioral Modification Therapist... Or Trophy Husband

The hospital where my wife works had a meet and greet for all the new doctors over some drinks and appetizers. When we showed up, there was only a handful of people standing in a group chatting so we got something to drink and went to an open high table. We had been there for only a few seconds when another younger couple walked in the door and walked right up to our table to introduce themselves.

The wife introduced herself as a doctor and the husband introduced himself as a child behavioral modification therapist. I was taking all that in and about to respond with something about his title being a mouthful when I must have taken a bit too long. He chuckled and said that he actually was just a trophy husband.

I have been conflicted on how to respond to people these days when they ask what 'I do'. My most common response has been that I'm an engineer in-between jobs. I have also tried telling people I'm retired but my wife doesn't really seem like she likes that when I say it. 'Stay at home dad' just doesn't seem quite right when I only have one daughter and she is at school all day. So when I heard this guy use two pretty good lines in one go, my attention was captured.

This fellow had been a stay at home dad for over 14 years for three kids, the youngest I believe a freshman in high school. While our wives chatted doctor stuff, we two dads chatted about our lives, him as a veteran stay at home dad and me a rank amateur. We ended up having a lot in common. We both liked the out doors. I was spending lots of time while the kid was at school fixing up our house. He had his house completely gutted down to the studs at the moment. We swapped house fixing tips and promised to help each other out when needed which might work well for me since he had an old truck that I can borrow from time to time. He also gave me the helpful tip of staging thing so that when his wife got home he was sweeping up the last little bit of carpet or washing the last dish. Shhhhh! Don't let my wife know this one.

Unfortunately other people kept stopping by and we were parted but not before swapping phone numbers. I did try out the trophy husband line later on in the evening and got a nice laugh out of several people but I still fell back on the engineer between jobs line after the laughter died down. Still, it just doesn't seem to cut it among a room full of doctors whose eyes glaze over immediately upon hearing the word engineer. Perhaps I just need to go with child behavioral modification therapist. Whatever I choose though, I am not alone anymore.