Friday, June 28, 2013

Suburbatory


As I mentioned earlier on this blog, we took a vacation a few weeks ago out to Indiana to visit some friends of ours that moved out there several years ago. About a year ago, the bought the house where they now live out in the suburbs of Indianapolis. When they bought the place, there existed only a street and weedy lots. Their house was the first house to be built and everything you see has been built within the last year. In fact during our stay, those two houses in the picture above were being built along with four more houses further down the street that I didn't take a picture. They were about ten models of houses to choose from evidently and they were all very similar looking like the ones in the next picture.


Something about these new suburbs that just doesn't sit well with my nature. I feel like I'm living in an animal factory with the rest of the animals. Perhaps a better analogy would be that living in the suburbs is like working in cubicles. I've lived in cities for the last couple decades but I always seem to go for the more mature neighborhoods where the houses and surroundings have character. I like the big trees, the varied architecture and the larger lot sizes among other things.

Another thing I noticed is that they just don't make things like they used too. Everything is so cheaply done. In this particular neighborhood that didn't exist a year ago, every house had vinyl siding and every house had siding that was already bowing, cupping, twisting, bulging or what not. It is like disposable siding I guess. It is so cheap you can't afford not to use it but it is so cheap that you end up throwing it away after two or three decades... or less.

I'm guessing some of that has to do with workmanship since every light or fixture that was attached to the outside of these houses was attached to a plastic block that had been tacked to the side of the sheathing and the vinyl just notched around it. There was no water prevention at all. In fact, some of them looked like they funneled water behind the siding so that it runs down the sheathing to the drip edge. Every house I saw had this problem. I tried to tactfully bring it up to our friend but he assured me that the builder said that was what was supposed to happen. I'm guessing there is a thick layer of mold thriving behind his siding. Being a good guest, I just dropped the subject.

I don't know what my friends paid for their house but I would tell you this, I wouldn't have paid it. Even if it was the same price as my house though I know it wasn't since they live in a higher priced area and the house is more than twice the size of ours, I wouldn't trade. Our house has its problems but they were due from lack of maintenance and not because it was badly built.

I could go on and on about the cheap windows, unreinforced concrete everywhere, etc but I won't. The entire time we stayed in that area I felt it was like some sort of suburbatory for people like me who know the difference. I'm just glad I escaped.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Wildlife In the Backyard


Just a picture of a nest up in the top of one of my dead oak trees. I haven't seen any birds in it but it is quite a  large nest. It is probably a couple feet in diameter. I don't think anything used it this spring that I can see so it is probably raised its last brood. This fall if things go right, this tree will be made into firewood for this winter.

On a side but related note, I saw the fox again in my yard but only as it was running away from me. This is the third time so it must have a den nearby. I suspect the time for kits has already occurred so if there are some, perhaps I will see them when they are older. I don't think I have ever seen a kit outside of a picture book.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Turning Seven


I can't believe seven years has gone by after making the announcement here on this blog that my first daughter was now kicking and screaming in this world. It seemed like I had been blogging forever before that announcement and now seven more years have passed.

My wife the cake baker extraordinaire made the above cake for my daughter's seventh birthday earlier this month. It required my daughter giving up one of her barbies to temporarily be stuck in a cake but after the reviews from ten of her peers who showed up to eat it, it was well worth it.

Ten kids showed up for three hours and made me feel like a train wreck of a parent. I'm glad I only have two which I can decently manage. With eleven kids running around, you have to just rely on fate to keep them safe because I certainly couldn't. I put a stop to the sword playing with metal skewers that two of them found god knows where outside but I failed to save the one kid who slid off the railing of our deck and fell over eight feet to the ground. Fortunately kids, especially young boys at that age are practically indestructible and he was back up and running around in a couple minutes. He did not attempt another run down the railing though.

All children survived and my daughter ended up receiving several more barbies for her collection. I took some aspirin and hid out downstairs for the rest of the day trying to regain my sanity. Having a large birthday party for your daughter is probably the best form of birth control on the market today!

Friday, June 21, 2013

One Third of the Mother-In-Law Suite


What you see above and below is the downstairs bathroom that comprised what I call the mother-in-law suite when she is here and the man cave when she isn't. The picture doesn't do it justice but it needs a lot of work and I got started on it with just four weeks before the mother-in-law arrives.


The following two pictures are what it looks like right now.


I removed two layers of linoleum from the floor, removed the vanity top and fixtures and patched numerous holes in the wall. Previous last fall I had pulled down the ceiling which had lots of water damage from a leaking sink upstairs and was covered in nasty mold. Scrolling back to the top pictures and you can see the beginnings of the damage back when we were touring the house with the realtor.


On deck is some sanding and painting the walls a less offensive color, tiling the floor, new vanity top and fixtures and new ceiling. All in four weeks or less while juggling a 7 month old. It is either than or sharing a bath upstairs with my mother-in-law!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Daddy I'm Bored


That's the phrase I hear a lot from my oldest daughter despite having a room full of toys, games and books to play with. I suspect the picture above was taken while she was bored and after she ate some chocolate and didn't quite clean up her mouth. Notice the missing tooth which the tooth fair confiscated a couple weeks ago and left behind a buck in quarters.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Gone and Back Again

You would think that without the normal nine to five job, life would be on easy street but it isn't. It was so hectic in the couple weeks leading up to our scheduled vacation, that I forgot to prep the blog. Normally I put up some post letting people know that I'm away in case they miss my witty/stupid comments that I occasionally leave behind and then I pull the plug on automatic posting. But this time I forgot both things and while I was gone, my blog continued to auto-fire blogs at you until my stock pile was exhausted and hitting on blanks. Perhaps I will remember next time.

Due to my daughter's school being a little free on announcing days off due to a slight dusting of snow, they had 11 snow days to make up this year, about three times higher than average and making my daughter's school, the last school in session in the entire state of Iowa. Because of that, she was in school during the first part of our scheduled time off leaving us scrambling to make other plans. In the end, we decided on a trip out to Indiana to see some friends we hadn't seen in a few years.

The trip went well though it had its flaws. Our friends live in cookie cutter suburbialand and it amazed me how people actually want to live like that. More on that though in a future post. The only other setback actually occurred on the way back home.

We were about 4 hours into our 6 hour drive and stopped for gas. While pulling into the station, I heard my wife ask the oldest daughter if she needed the restroom and the daughter said no. I pulled up to the pump, got out, and did my thing. Since I paid at the pump, when everything was done, I hopped in the van and headed on down the road. I could hear our youngest daughter in the back playing with one of her toys and thought all was well. But after two miles, something about the quietness made me look behind me and gasp in shock. My wife and oldest daughter were no where to be found.

I got turned around and drove the two miles back to the gas station where my laughing wife and oldest daughter in tears were waiting for me. My oldest daughter thought I had just had enough and decided to leave them at the gas station forever. That was a first for me and I felt fortunate that I only went 2 miles. Sometimes when I'm in the zone and everyone is napping in the van behind me, I can put a couple hundred miles behind me without even blinking. We had a good laugh about it and I thought I would share it with you.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Projects

With a mother-in-law arriving in a month with two of her sisters who are also going to stay for a couple months, I am going to need to start thinking of a project list that can keep me busy and sane. I've just about got the mother-in-law bedroom downstairs completed. I have a little bit of trim painting to do, move some furniture around, a general cleaning out and sprucing up of the small walk-in closet and that project can be scratched off my list.

The hallway leading to that bedroom and adjoining bathroom, needs painting and a new ceiling. It had a drywall ceiling but thanks to a leaking pvc boot on the vent stack up on the roof when we moved in to the house, it got wet and removed along with the drywall ceiling in the bathroom. Since it is below lots of plumbing and electrical stuff, I'm planning on redoing the ceiling with a drop ceiling and panels that can easily be removed and replaced should another leak occur. But I'm going to do that after the bathroom remodel has been completed.

The bathroom downstairs needs a major overhaul. Whoever painted it last evidently had a special on purple paint and loaded up on it. Because they had so much, there are runs on just about every surface including the floor, shower, toilet and vanity. Due to the aforementioned leak, I think I want to take some of the drywall off the walls anyway to make sure no mold is growing in the stud cavity. The floor is shod with 40 year old linoleum that has seen better days. That needs to come up as well. I'm up in the air right now on the shower. I can probably get the purple paint off the surfaces and clean it up if the rest of it is in good shape. However, part of me wants to take this opportunity to take it out and put a walk-in tile shower for the experience of doing so. Also, my master plan is for that to be the man shower when the mother-in-law is not in town. Originally I thought about making the shower with a different footprint but then it hit me that the drain plumbing is set in the concrete and isn't going to move unless I do some concrete work which I am not inclined to do.

Also on my list of things to try to get done this year while avoiding a house full of females, is to get my fireplace up and working. Right now the original stone fireplace was hacked open and stuffed with an electric insert with no remote control to even see if it works. I would like to either get it back to a working stone fireplace or put a wood burning insert in it so that I can burn wood for pleasure and also during power outages in winter. Since all my plumbing is nearby in the basement, I can stave off any frozen pipes for an extended period of time.

Other projects are to repaint the family room downstairs and build a set of custom built-in bookcases at the base of the stairs. Off the family room is our laundry room slash storage room. I'm not planning on big things for it but it could always use a few more shelves, some better lighting and some tidying up. The final room down there is the non-conforming bedroom that we currently use as our office. It suffered water damage thanks to the previous owners who evidently just tolerated the slow water leak from the upstairs faucet in the kitchen. It rotted the bottom out of the cabinet upstairs and dripped down onto the office drop ceiling and most likely into the nearby stud cavity of the wall built up next to the house foundation. I fixed the leak and removed the ceiling tile but there is still a funky odor that I take care of by running a de-ionizer full time in there. Long term I need to gut the wall there too and take care of any problems.

Outside the house, there is a huge laundry list of things I want to do. The attached garage floor was evidently poured over uncompacted soil with no reinforcement. As a result, the garage floor is a horrible jumble of heaved slabs of concrete that has even kicked out a small section of wall by the garage door. The garage door itself has 2" gaps on either end of its 17' span that I have temporarily filled in with strips of wood and a rubber door seal to keep rodents at bay. Long term I want to fix that problem. I also want to convert some of that space to creating a mudroom, upstairs laundry room and expanding the kitchen and dining room area a bit. I would also like to add onto the house to create a little bit more cold storage place for outdoor equipment such as lawnmowers, snowblowers, chainsaws and a bit of a shop that I can work in without having to shuffle equipment, bikes and cars around.

The siding on the house is 40 year old Masonite that has seen its better days. It has numerous spots that suffers from water rot as Masonite is prone to do especially on the edges. It is wavey, cupped, coming loose, etc. Underneath it, there is no house wrap and the sheathing is that black fiberboard sheathing that soaks up humidity like a sponge without house wrap and is literally falling apart. So I'm basically looking at tearing the siding down to the studs, re-sheathing and residing. Up in the air is whether or not I do anything about the insulation. It is 40 year old bat insulation in fairly good shape, at least what of it I have seen, but I'm kind of wondering if it isn't better to redo that too why I am all in at that point and gain some energy efficiency which this house lacks.

Landscaping wise, I have four more oak and black cherry trees that didn't survive into this summer. They need to come down. I need to spiff up around the perimeter of the house but won't do that until I take care of the siding thing. I also have a gully down the middle of the property that is washing out with every rain and in a couple years, will be washing out my driveway if I don't do something about that. I would like to plant a small orchard and a garden.

So that's the list of projects off the top of my head. Right now it sounds like a lifetime of of work but I don't think it is too bad since it will be my full time job especially when my mother-in-law and her sisters are around. Most of them are projects I can easily do by myself with the exception of the whole siding, sheathing, insulation deal. I need to grab a tablet of paper and start making plans so that when the time comes, I have my thoughts in order. But I thought I would take a page from Ron's notebook and create a list of sorts on here first.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

After a winters worth of research, I'm fairly certain that there are betters ways to invest my stock options as they are gradually cashed out over the next five years. Last year they increased in value by 42% so I'm not in any hurry to cash them out but by law, they must start cashing them out 20% per year until no more. The way most of the people before me have gone is to hire a financial consultant to invest the money for them. I don't think I will go this route.

I already have a financial adviser and have had one for well over a decade. Compared to my previous attempts to pick funds to invest in through my employer's 401k plans, he was and still is well worth the money I pay him. He works on a flat percentage of any money that I give him and will manage that money for life. In his hands, my portfolio has grown faster than it did in the previous decade with my attempts at picking funds out of the handful offered in our 401k plan.

So the obvious thing would be for me to let him take the reigns of my stock options but things have changed. When I gave him small sums of money before, his percentage take off the top seemed small and insignificant. Now that I have a very large sum to give, his percentage take seems obscene for the effort he has to put forth to invest this money. Secondly, I discovered Jack Bogle and his philosophy about investing. Namely that the deck is stacked against you because 80% of financial advisers or investors do worse than the stock index average. Of those 20% who manage to do better, by the time you figure in the investor management fees and the fund management fees, only a handful still do better than what I could do by putting my money in a low fund management fee index mirror fund. There is just no way I can convince myself that I'm better than those handful of people and I won't try to beat them but when I can easily beat 95% of the people by sticking my money in an index fund and waiting, they got my attention.

So my financial adviser called a meeting last week to discuss various things but I knew that he was itching to talk about my stock options which I begin receiving in just under two months from now. He rolled out his various plans that he had for my money and because he is a very nice guy, I'm sure he had my best interest in heart. But he is confined to offer funds that his company offers and of course, he needs to earn a living.

He was pretty deflated when I told him that he wasn't going to be investing my stock options but he took it professionally. I left him a little slack by telling him that if it doesn't work out the first couple years that I receive my options and invest them myself, I will certainly keep him in mind for the later distributions. He did tried to change my mind by whipping out a chart showing two decades of averages. The stock market index over that time grew nearly 8% a year, the average investor only 3.2%, inflation 4% and his company nearly 6%. It was obvious that he was saying that I would fall in the 3.2% category that wouldn't match inflation or his company. But then I told him that he just proved my point. I could invest in an index fund that would match that 8% per year growth and I didn't even have any of the fees that probably weren't included in that chart's calculations. He responded that I was absolutely right and switched subjects.

I felt bad breaking up with my financial adviser. He still has money of mine and I plan on keeping it with him since I've already paid all the fees for the rest of that money's life with his company. But I've outgrown the relationship we've had and it is time to strike out on my own. It is my money after all and I deserve to use every penny of it. So my journey into self investing in my retirement begins. I'm excited and nervous at the same time. But whatever the outcome, I won't regret it. It was time for a change.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Woodpecker


I think this is a Red Headed Woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus). He has been flying around our place the last couple weeks though I haven't heard him pecking on trees. Perhaps because all the nicely dead trees have been cut down, split and stacked. I've been trying to get a picture of him for awhile but the timing hasn't worked out. Either he is gone by the time I get my camera or he sits still when I am unable to get outside to photograph him. Finally though I got this picture of him one evening.

On another wildlife note, I saw the red fox again that I posted about on my blog last week. It was running across my neighbor's lawn across the street which gives me hope that it has a residence somewhere nearby. I just wish that fox ate small yipping dogs like the one my other neighbor has and lets wander around aimlessly in the evenings barking at nothing and everything.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Storm Clouds Rising


These pictures were all from the storm about this time last week that left behind more than a month's worth of rain in two days. They certainly were ugly looking clouds but fortunately passed by just to the north of our house. The same storm left baseball sized hail to the west of us a ways.




Monday, June 3, 2013

The Squeaky Floor Gets Screwed

Like many 40 years old houses, the one we bought last summer has floors that squeak when you walk on them. Back then, when they but the floor sheathing down, they nailed it and with time as the sheathing cups and warps, it pulls the nails out just a slight amount. Then when you walk across that spot, the wood slides up and down on the shank of the nail making a squeak. 

For the most part it didn't bother me for the longest time but when I started trying to sneak around while Baby Abbey was asleep, I found myself avoiding those spots because they would startle her awake. However, some spots were so large that I couldn't sneak past. While this is good for detecting a burglar, it is not so good for letting sleeping babies sleep. 

I tried just sinking a wood screw into the squeaky spots but it was a very time consuming affair. I had to first probe to find the floor joist and once found, sink a screw in the same spot. Then I had to repeat the entire process 16 inches along on the next joist. So I did some internet searching and found a pretty nifty kit for fixing floor squeaks under carpet. It worked so well, I thought I would pass on the word. 


Squeeeeek No More as it is called can be found on Amazon and comes in a kit. The first part seen above is the probe to easily find a floor joist. I would take a hammer and hit the floor to get the approximate position of a floor joist and use the probe in my drill to get a precise position. You can tell when you drill into a joist by reversing the drill. If the probe comes back out, you're in a joist. If it just sits and spin, you are in a cavity. Before this I used a nail and sometimes that was hard to tell if you were in a joist or not.


The next item in the kit was this three legged spacer. You used a special bit shown later to screw down into the joist. The offset allowed the screw head to remain sticking above the carpet for reasons discussed below.


Above is the special screws that came with the kit. They have two different thread pitches which pull the plywood sheathing down to the joist as you are screwing into the wood. Also, above the last thread, the screw is necked down to allow you to break off the head of the screw. The spacer above is the proper height so that the screw breaks off just below the surface of the sheathing so you don't get anything poking you in the soles of your feet.


Finally, above is the special bit with the square drive on the end that is spaced to get everything just right.


This picture shows you the portion of the screw remaining above the carpet before being broke off. In the picture of the spacer above, there was one arm that had a recess that was supposed to slip over the head of the screw to give you leverage to break it off. While it did work, I only did it a couple of times because I could tell if I did it too many times, I would end up breaking the plastic spacer. This was the only fault I had with the entire system. But a whack with a hammer sideways on the screw head was all I needed to break off the screws and it was probably faster that way anyway.


Finally, I ended up locating the joists on each side of the squeaking area I was trying to silence and leaving the screw heads sticking up. I then used string to show me the joist locations so I could run down the line sinking a screw every eight inches or so. Once the area was complete, I knocked the heads of the screws off and rolled up the string. It worked great. Now my floors feel and sound solid once again. The kit came with two of the joist probes and only one of the square drivers. If I were doing a lot area, I would probably order another driver because the nature of the process rounds it off gradually until it is useless. Also note that there is a different attachment included for fixing squeaky hardwood floors which I didn't use.

Long term, we plan to install hardwood throughout the entire upstairs and before doing that, I plan to properly screw down all the sheathing once the carpet and furniture is removed from the rooms. But before we do the hardwood, we may complete an addition to the house in the next couple years and I didn't want to rip up the carpet until we were ready to do it all in one shot. So this was a temporary fix to preserve our sanity while we plan and complete the addition.