Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Gone For the Rest of the Year

As I have done for the previous four years, I am heading down south to spend the rest of this year and the first part of next year down along the gulf coast with my family. We started this tradition when my Florida residing grandparents got to the point where they couldn't travel in their RV up here during the summers. They were just too old to do it safely and thus they sold their RV to younger folks who still could. Not wanting to spend large amounts of time in motel rooms or beds foreign to them, they decided they would just stay home in Florida. The rest of us decided that rather than go without seeing them for years at a time, of which they have only few left on this earth, we would make the journey south to them, or at least closer. They still spend about eight hours driving from their home to the beach house we rent in the panhandle of Florida but it is a nice trade off for them.

So I will be gone from blogging world for a couple weeks until I return next year. I'm sure I will have a few pictures and stories to share from my trip. I hope all my readers have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year and I look forward to catching up on all your blogs when I return. Until then...

Monday, December 22, 2014


As it turned out, I was able to finish my television stand/quilt bookcase project with a week to spare. Here it is with two coats of polyurathane on it and the final project had a third coat on it but I didn't take another picture since it essentially looks the same. I'm very happy with the color of the finish which should match the woodwork in the farmhouse just fine.

The only thing that I really didn't like was that the plywood I got for the carcass appeared to have about an 1/8" veneer surface on it when I was cutting out my pieces. As it turned out it was only a fraction of that and if I left my sander in one spot for a touch through long I would burn through it and then I could see the cross graining of the layer underneath. After that happened three times, I sanded so lightly that after I applied the stain, I could still see lots of scratching in places where I had used the belt sander to make some of the solid wood face pieces flush to the carcass. It's not noticeable until you are within a couple feet but it is still noticeable.

So the lesson I learned from this project and what I would do differently if I were to make a second one is thus: I left the face frame proud of the surface of the plywood faces planning on sanding them flush later and this caused my scratching problem. In the future I will work to just make it exactly flush while glueing which means I must do it when it is warmer so that I have longer work times with the glue.

Come Christmas eve or perhaps a day or two earlier if a strong back appears, I will load it into the van for the trip down to the farm Christmas morning where it will be carried into its new home. I'm not sure yet what my next project will be until warmer weather arrives but I do know I have plenty to choose from.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Moving On Up To the Sky

What you can't see from this photo, is that every part of the house not in this picture has siding. So by extrapolation, what remains unsided in this picture is all that is left. Not much but what is left requires the most ladders to complete. I don't have scaffolding and my tallest ladder is about the same height as the one leading on the chimney in the picture, perhaps just a touch taller. If I could have found a way to suspend myself by the ankles from the top of the chimney, I might have been able to do the entire thing myself. I also could have just bought a lot longer ladder. Instead I hired a couple guys to help me do the siding and requirement one was they provide the required ladders. I made the right choice because as cold and busy as this late fall has been, I would still be working on the front side.

After we get finished siding up to the top of the chimney, then we need to spend a couple days doing some caulking. All the joints need to be caulking along with various areas around trim, windows, doors, outdoor fixturing, etc. We then need to finish reattaching all the stuff that came off like the front storm door, utility boxes, light fixtures, street number, etc. We also need to replace one window pane that accidentally got broke. After all that is said and done, I can call this project done and set my sight on phase two.

I showed in a previous post all the water damage to the sheathing that had occurred due to some flashing errors and grading errors be previous occupants or perhaps even the original builders. Since I really don't want to do all this again, I plan on digging out those landscaping timbers in the lower left side of the photo, removing the mulch that is higher than the house sill plate and try grading it away from the house. Since there isn't that much fall to start with, I may end up just putting in a french drain system combined with grading to fix the problem. However since the ground is frozen and the frozen precipitation isn't the kind causing the problem, I have a few months to contemplate everything first.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Santa's Workshop Update

Well the television/quilt display case has been assembled and not a moment too soon. It is my biggest piece of freestanding furniture I have built thus far and I learned a few things. When temperatures are barely above freezing, glue sets up fast even if the bottle has been inside all night where it was warm. When I glued the main carcass together, one of my clamps slipped while I was applying the others and as a result, one of the middle dividers pulled out from its dado a bit. It really isn't noticeable from the front but it is from the back. Fortunately that side will be against the wall.

Also, glue that sets up quickly is hard to clean up. In a normal project, I take a wet rag and clean up any glue squeeze out that occurs and thus when I go to stain, I don't get splotches. This time I ended up with frozen bits of glue smeared everywhere which means I will have to be meticulous when I do my final sanding or I will end up with splotching everywhere.

I never seem to learn this next fact despite it biting me in the butt from time to time. As I was applying the hardwood trim to the plywood edges, I kept getting gaps like I was making angled cuts. I really only noticed it when I was cutting a board on edge. Finally I grabbed the square and checked my miter saw. It was square to the fence but was not square to the bed. It was off by about one degree. When I carried it downstairs in a wheelbarrow during the garage remodel and then back up, I must have bumped it hard enough to knock it loose. Not really anything that a little wood putty can't hide but it sure caused me some frustrations.

The one disadvantage to using cabinet plywood is that you have to be careful sanding it so you don't sand through the veneer layer. I did in one spot and on the top no less where my hardwood edging ended up below the level of the veneer. It sucks and I'm sure I will notice it every time I will walk by the thing but you know what, it lets people know that it was hand built. Besides, it adds character.

The above picture is one that I took before sanding. As of writing this, I have rough sanded it and did some wood putty work. Hopefully tomorrow I can do the final sanding and perhaps this weekend, apply the stain. I've never stained when it is cold and being that it will probably be in the upper 30's when I do, I'm not sure how it will go. Worst case, I have to open the door to the house and heat the garage for a little bit to get the stain to cure so I can apply the protective polyurethane coats. I still have 13 days until Christmas (as of writing this), so I think I will be able to get it done in time.

Monday, December 15, 2014

School Project Blues

So as good meaning teachers are sometimes want to do, they sent home a school project that requested a significant investment of the parent's time to help their child complete. Basically this project was to create a presentation complete with a handmade artifact, about Christmas in a foreign country. All would have been good if my child had been assigned Chile or Zimbabwe or so country in which we have no earthly knowledge of Christmas practices but our child got the Philippines instead. Mama being Filipino, takes all things relating to her home country personally.

So we have spent several evenings hunting down things to include on the poster board presentation part and I spent several hours out in the garage making a parol which is a shooting star made out of bamboo and tissue paper. Being fresh out of bamboo, I cut thin strips of pine, glued them, steamed them so they could be bent into the proper shape and let everything dry. I thought that would be the extent of my involvement but I forgot about the one line in the directions stating that all pictures on the poster board must be in color.

I gave up on color printers a couple  years ago since I rarely used the color, it was very expensive to replace the cartridges which is why I always had it turned on black and white mode and still it went through the colors cartridges like candy. Instead I bought a nice black and white laser printer which prints fast, neatly and the cartridges last forever. So our options seemed to be to go to the local library and pay money to use their color printer, go to the school during school hours and use theirs, or just to print the pictures at the local same day print shop at the drugstore. We chose the latter option.

Trip one: We pull into a packed parking lot early one evening and make an attempt but the photo department has four or five people standing in line and people using the photo kiosks. We decide to go grab a bit to eat and come back later.

Trip two: A couple hours later we return to the store but the pictures my wife saved onto a thumb drive from the internet are too low of resolution to even print. So it is back home again.

Trip three: Not wanting to wait through long lines, I show up the next morning five minutes before opening and am first in line at the door. When it opens I make a beeline to the kiosk and in five minutes, the five pictures have been ordered. It tells me they will be ready in fifteen minutes. So I do a little bit of stocking stuffer shopping and come back to the counter twenty minutes later. The lady asks if she can help me and I tell her I'm just waiting for my pictures. "Oh honey," she says, "I have 800 pictures to do before yours. It will be several hours still."

As I found out, you can evidently submit orders online overnight for next morning pickup and they take precedent over those submitted in the store and no, they can slip my five pictures in between anywhere. Well hells bells. So I had to drive all the way back across town only to make a fourth trip sometime later today to pick up the pictures. I've probably spent four or five dollars on gas now just to print off five pictures for $1.37. It is no wonder I find myself becoming a hermit and avoiding all this insanity until after the first of the year when everyone returns back to their normal lives.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Santa's Workshop

In between all the other stuff involved with siding the house, I've been in my workshop playing Santa for my parents. I suppose like most adult parents, they are hard to find gifts for. They have plenty of money and buy the things they need. The things they don't need they just don't want. Lately I've been giving them gift certificates to various local dining establishments because everyone needs to eat. However, after mentioning how much she liked my built in bookshelves, my mom hinted a few times over this past year at how nice it would be to have something similar in their living room.

After questioning her over Thanksgiving, similar turned out to be completely different. She wanted a free standing shelf to display quilts instead of books and put their television on top. So after searching here and there over the internet, I found something similar that could be scaled and adjusted to serve her purposes. A load of wood later and I was on my way to building it. 

Just due to the cost of wood these days, I usually start off most furniture projects building a carcass out of cabinet grade plywood. You don't have to worry about joining large panels of solid wood. Of course the edges of plywood aren't the most pleasant thing to look at so I use hardwood to cover everything up and give it a more solid appearance. Below is the middle part of the quilt shelf/television stand after being face in solid wood minus two missing pieces for the vertical dividers. Next I will build a small pedestal assembly to get it up off the ground a little bit and build a top to balance everything out. I'll show more on that in a later post.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

My Ethnicity

Years ago when I started to really dig deep into my genealogy, I took a DNA test which among other things provided you with an ethnicity map showing where your ancestors came from. The map I received looked very much like the one above which was neat, but didn't contain a lot of detail. Since then, the company that administered the test has revamped their results and provided a lot more information to me. Included now is a list showing exact percentages of my DNA that coincides with ethic groups in specific regions of the world. My list is as follows:

Great Britain - 63%
Western Europe (France and Germany region) - 23%
Scandinavia (Norway and Sweden) - 5%
Ireland - 4%
Iberian (Spain) - 2%
Italy/Greece - < 1%
Caucasus (Turkey/Syria/Iran/Iraq region) - < 1%
North Africa - < 1%

In summary, I'm about as white as can be at 98% European. I'm not really surprised but I was hoping for perhaps a little more exotic blood in me from somewhere, perhaps even Native American blood. Alas, it is not to be. Most of the ancestors that I have traced back across the ocean have led me to Great Britain so it really isn't a surprise that almost two-thirds of me goes back there. I also have a number of ancestors from Germany so that too doesn't surprise me. What does surprise me is that my Scandinavian percentage is more than my Ireland percentage. I have traced a handful of ancestors across the ocean to Ireland but have not traced one back to Norway or Sweden.  I also haven't traced any back to Spain, Italy, Greece or the Middle East or northern Africa either but my DNA doesn't lie so they are back there somewhere.

That doesn't surprise me either because of the hundreds of direct ancestors I have traced, I have only traced a couple dozen back overseas. The vast majority of my ancestors simply disappear into the 18th century when paper records were not kept as often or preserved for eternity. They were here before we were the United States of America, possibly as colonists or even descendants from the Mayflower. Perhaps someday I will find more paper trails but to do so, I'm going to have to travel and dig through old archives that probably never will be digitized. Maybe then, I will discover some Scandinavian ancestors to explain that 5% of me that courses with their blood.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Egg Damage

One of my favorite things to do with leftover smoked turkey is to make some smoked turkey salad sandwiches. It is a play off of tuna or ham salad and consists of the smoked turkey, dill pickles, onion, hard boiled eggs and some mayonnaise to bind everything together. As you can probably guess, I ran into some problems this time around.

I put some eggs into a pan with some water and put them on the stove to boil. I decided to run some things down into the basement while I was waiting for the boiling to start and thus I could set the timer for ten minutes to obtain perfectly hard boiled eggs. That was the last I remembered of the eggs until later that evening.

I was sitting in the living room and I heard a pop coming from the front hall/kitchen area. I didn't know what it had been and I didn't hear the noise again so I put it out of my mind. More time passes and this time my wife, who has joined me in the living room hears the pop and goes into the kitchen except she smells something burning. The light bulb went on and I knew what was burning too. As you can see, the water boiled completely away and the eggs sat in the pan until they literally exploded. I put them in some water and let them soak in the refrigerator over night. I did peel one in the morning but a large part of the egg inside had also been singed and the remainder tasted terrible so I ended up throwing them out and starting over. This time I stayed by the stove until the water began to boil so I could set the timer.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Water Damage

For the most part, as we have removed the siding, the sheathing has been in decent shape, especially when you consider that it is blackboard and not made from wood products. As I mentioned before, there was a time when they used blackboard because it was cheap and thought to provide insulation to make up for its short comings. Since that time the short comings have trumped the cost savings and you never see the stuff anymore. Above is one reason why. It doesn't hold up well to moisture damage.

Below the deck seen in my previous post, there is a patio that has been poured, I'm guessing sometime after the original build. Who ever poured it did a terrible job in a number of ways. First they poured the small pad in eight different pours and left their form boards in between each pad to rot away with time and then leave gaps in the surface. It wouldn't be so bad but they then added landscaping on the edge of the pad building it up to a higher level so that these gaps now instead of draining water to daylight act as catch basins. This feeds into the second problem and that they poured the concrete pads about 3 inches higher than the wooden sill plates of the house so the previously mentioned gaps can drain water back towards the house and as you can see in the first picture, it has happened in the past. Somewhere along the way someone figured out what was happening and made little dams at the end so that water didn't drain into the gap next to the house but the damage had already been done. Since we've moved in, I've never seen water inside the basement in that area so I'm guessing the damage is all old damage.

Short term, I'm going to remove all the damaged blackboard and replace it with new plywood. The sill plates though water damaged, appear to be in fairly good shape so that is good news for me. I think for a temporary measure, I'm going to fill the crack up with mortar and then flash over it before putting up the siding. That should keep things dry for now and prevent further damage. Long term, I am going to tear out that pad, dig things down a few inches so that any water collected is under the level of the sill plates. This will require some extensive regrading to get the water flowing away from the house and perhaps putting in some French drains. But the earliest any of that is going to happen now is next summer.

This picture shows some more water damage caused by another building error. We are looking up at the bottom side of my deck. As you can tell, they did add flashing that ran from behind the siding above the deck over the rim joist attached to the outside of the house. This prevents water from running behind the rim joist and attaching the house. It doesn't however, stop water from dripping underneath the rim joist and above where the old siding was. So before we side this area, I will have to loosen the lag bolts holding the deck to the house, slide some flashing in under there and then bend it so any water goes on the outside of the siding instead of between the siding and the sheathing as it has done here in the past. Because water can't stream in, there hasn't been much damage but with time, it could have done more serious damage.

Finally in this picture, you can see some of the wiring changes to the house while the siding is off. When the house was built, they provided for just a single light on the top side of the deck and there were no electrical outlets on this side of the house. Previous occupants didn't like that so strung up conduit on the outside of the house running power from the above light, down through a hole in the deck to another light below the deck. The conduit continued down to an outlet a foot up from the concrete and the whole circuit was run from a light switch in the upstairs living room. Because we sometimes go out on our deck at night to enjoy the night light, we usually keep the light and thus the outlet below switched off. Thus when a need to use that outlet arises, we have to go inside and turn it on upstairs before coming back out and doing what needed to be done. Of course the entire time you used that outlet, the lights then needed to be on.

So with the siding off, I ripped the conduit from the side of the house and fished new wire down inside the stud cavity so you don't have ugly conduit on the outside of the house to look at anymore. Fortunately for me, I was able to access the cavity between floors from a hallway with a removable panel ceiling. The ceiling that was there when we moved in had been of the permanent nature which is probably why they ran the conduit instead of doing what I did. It was also water logged from a leak which is why I tore it out and since there was plumbing above, put removable and replaceable panels in place should another leak every happen.

Both the lights are still controlled by the light switch upstairs in the living room which is fine with me. Because I like having an outlet on the backside of the house, I cut out the outlet in the bedroom on the other side of the wall and drilled a hole through the wall and ran a new wire. That wire is down near the concrete. It will be on the same circuit as the bedroom on the other side of the wall and will now be on continuously which means no more having to run through the house and flipping a switch every time I needed to use it.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Siding the House

Wouldn't you know it, the very day we started siding our house a month ago the temperatures plunged and except for a couple warm weekends where we have also got snow, it has remained cold. It makes siding and all outdoor work slower going for sure. Despite that, we have two sides of the house completed.

The front side seen above was pretty straight forward and to keep my wife happy, it is the side facing the road. All the trim is out of white pvc so it will never rot and never needs to be painted again. That was a no brainer decision. We thought about replacing the windows which are original to the house which was built in 1973 since it would be the easiest time to do it. In the end, we decided cost was the issue. To do the windows would have more than doubled the cost of the project. Also, the windows that are there besides needing another coat of paint aren't in bad shape. They don't have gas filled interiors like modern windows do but they do have two panes separated by an air gap that has seals all the way around it. I figured that even if I drastically reduced my energy bill by 50% by putting in new windows, it would still take about 30 years to pay them off in energy savings. A more realistic estimate would be 25% in energy savings and that would mean 60 years or in other words, out of my life expectancy. Yes it would have been nice to have nice new windows that can be cleaned from inside, but at the end of the day, I just couldn't justify the cost right now. So we trimmed them in metal cladding and pvc and I will paint the remaining exposed would in springtime when the weather is a bit warmer.

The original front stoop was lined with faux cedar beams made from 1" thick material. They hung down from the stoop roof about 14 inches which in turn blocked a lot of light that we might be getting on this side due to the southern exposure. They were also ugly to boot. So after doing some investigating, I found out they weren't load bearing (I thought there might have been a beam inside the faux part bearing the load) but they weren't. The actual load bearing part for the roof structure were two 25 feet long 2 x 12's in the attic. I have never seen ones that long and I'm not even sure they are rated for the load that the roof can see in that section if we had a particularly heavy snow. I could see however that the beam had sagged over time a couple inches and so I ended up putting a beam back on the porch to take some of the load and then covered it with a pvc sleeve to protect it for my lifetime anyway. We extended the soffit all the way back to the house giving us 14 more inches of sunlight coming in all winter. Plus I think it looks nicer that way.

On my part, I took the opportunity to replace the outside outlet and weather cover which was worn out, replaced the outside spigot which also was worn out and also put a new dryer vent on that contains flaps that fall down and block the wind when not in use. I also did a lot of gap filling with foam around windows and doors because back in 1973, doing such things were just not done. I'm hoping with the house wrap that I added between the siding and the sheathing, along with the foam, I will reduce my energy bills quite a bit just making things more air tight.

As of writing this, we have finished the east side where you can just make out a ladder that held the scaffolding and are starting on the north side which is the most difficult side to do. The original picture I took before making an offer on the house is below and as you can see, not only is there a chimney to work around and some siding on the basement, but there is a deck in the way. There is also some water damage issues that I will get into in a future post. (Note the previous owners painted the house but never got around to painting the top part of the chimney.) All in all though, things are going well and I'm hoping we can finish it in another few weeks is the weather permits.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Smoking George

About a month ago, as my daughter and I were walking to the bus stop, we found George, the woolly bear caterpillar you see above. He was crawling along side of the road, very sluggishly. As we stood waiting for the bus, my daughter asked if I would move George off the side of the road so he wouldn't get run over and I did so. I placed him at the foot of a nearby tree in the gravel you see above. The next morning, George was still there but lifeless. I assumed that George had died and gone to woolly bear heaven and that eventually a bird might eat him. But after a month, George was still there and now camouflaged a bit by pieces of blowing debris and a couple snows.

My daughter and I started talking about him again after we found him like what you see above and then it came to my mind, something I had seen a long time ago. I think George actually didn't get enough food to pupate before the cold weather hit and so he is able to allow himself to freeze completely solid over winter and try again next spring. After doing some research, I'm pretty certain that George is alive and well only comatose and frozen solid at the moment. I can't wait to share the good news with my daughter and I'm sure we will probably move George to a safer spot so that we can see if I'm right.

My parents have a couple guys who drive up all the way from Alabama every year to shoot some turkey on their farm. They don't eat the turkey and give them to my parents before heading home. I assume that they probably keep some part of the turkey as a trophy but I've never met them so I can't say for sure. I can say that wild turkey are not like the ones you get in the grocery store on a number of different levels.

The biggest difference is that their anatomy is significantly different. The breast bones on wild turkey are quite a bit larger and more pronounce and their leg bones are about three times larger. When carving up a wild turkey, I feel almost like I am trying to dissect an alien. The other big difference is because they are generally much older when they go to "the platter in the sky", they have much tougher meat. The meat has way more flavor than the domesticated ones you buy in the store but you definitely need a knife to help cut the meat up to eat. This year we tried something a little different. Rather than roast it in the oven in a dry heat, we decided to smoke it which isn't so bad about drying the meat out. This time we also brined it for 24 hours before sticking it in the smoker. While the meat was still a bit tougher than a domestic bird, it was a lot more moist and if you cut the meat across the grain, I don't think you would be able to tell it other than the better flavor.

Not one to waste a smoker full of smoke, we also smoked two other turkey and a farm raised chicken. We'll eat some of them and freeze the rest so that we can enjoy smoked poultry the rest of the year. Fortunately the day I smoked them, we had our first 50 degree day in a month and about 20 degrees warmer than the previous two weeks. The day after, it was back to being 20 degrees colder. I certainly hope this winter doesn't end up as cold as last winter was here.

Friday, November 28, 2014


Tis the season of darkness and I could just as soon do without it. Due to going off of Daylight Savings Time, it seems like all my meetings start and thus end in the dark. For some reason during warm summer months, that never bothers me but when it is cold out, it is just downright depressing.

Most of it is my fault since I could very well be home sitting in front of a cheery fire reading a good book, of which I have many to choose from. Instead, I feel like I have to give back to the community so I am a member of a fraternal organization and more recently, a member of the local school board. Between those two things and an assortment of other odd social engagements, it seems like I'm out on cold winter nights more than I would like to be. On the plus side, it makes me cherish those warm evenings in front of the fire with a good book even more.

I should note that the picture is of one of the Catholic Churches in our town. It is version three according to the history books. The first one was a log cabin replaced by a large stone structure where this one sits. Version two burnt down in the 1880's and this one was built to replace it. As far as buildings go in this country, we have precious few buildings that old still standing and in use. I guess that is why I am always slack jawed when I go to places in England and such with buildings approaching 500 to 1000 years old.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Next Project Please

If you may recall, we started this whole thing this summer by pulling up some half dead shrubbery that was planted way too close to our house. This led to us moving the sidewalk away from the house by three feet to give us so more room and because the sidewalk was in poor condition anyway, which led to pouring the driveway and garage floor while we were doing it. That led to me jacking up the garage and putting a new garage door in to match the now level concrete which got us to evaluating the state of our siding which is in poor condition. We had a friend of mine over one evening to quote helping me put up the siding thinking it would be prohibitively expensive after spending a sum of money on landscaping and concrete. He turned out to be quite reasonable and so since we had the money in our savings account, we said why not get it done all in one go. So we shook hands, paid for the material up front and three weeks later, this pile of siding, soffit, house wrap and other material ended up on our front lawn. Yes a new project has begun.

This is the picture I took of the front of the house hours before we put an offer on it and was excepted. Due to the distance, you can't really tell but all those vertical beams in the front are merely decoration and mostly rotted away. Removing those would leave large gaps in our siding which was masonite and only marginal at best in condition. Masonite siding, unless painted frequently and thoroughly, doesn't hold up to moisture well and the previous occupants rarely painted the house from the looks of things. So our options were to replace all the beams with more beams, which we hate anyway and try to get a few more years out of the masonite by repainting it or residing the house. We decided on the latter. After some research, we decided to go with pre-finished fiber cement boards because they hold up to moisture well even if the paint isn't kept up. It doesn't warp and buckle in the extreme temperatures like vinyl siding. It doesn't blow off like vinyl siding does when we get straight line winds. It also accepts paint very well so when the time comes and color styles change, we can repaint it easily.

Because my wife works long hours and I am just one man with two kids to take care of, we ended up hiring my friend and his friend to do the bulk of the work why I tackle the multitude of odd jobs like outdoor spigots, dryer vents, electrical and gas connections, painting, gutters, etc., while they do the actual siding work. It keeps me busy and them busy. Here we have stripped off those hideous fake wooden beams and siding. As you can see, being a house of the mid 70's, they used a combination of plywood and blackboard to sheath the house. Blackboard doesn't hold up well to moisture which is why they have gone away from it. So we are patching the blackboard where it needs it, adding house wrap to prevent moisture penetration to and just sealing up the house better anyway, and then siding over that. Right now we are working on the soffit and next we will be putting on the wrap, trim and then siding. After that, there are three more sides to go, two of which are the most difficult of all of them. On a side note, we got a little dusting of snow and a very cold snap the night we tore off the siding. The cold snap is forecasted to stay around for the next seven days so it won't be the most pleasant conditions to work in but at least no rain is in the forecast with the blackboard exposed, something I was worried about if I ended up doing everything by myself.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Watching the Michael Brown Train Wreck

It was like watching a slow motion train wreck. I just happened to turn on the television as they were getting ready to announce the grand jury's findings in Ferguson, Missouri. As the cameras were panning the crowd waiting for the verdict, I could see multitudes of black youths with bandannas covering their faces and gas masks on top of their heads. I knew right then that there was going to be a riot.

The fellow reading back the grand jury verdict did a pretty good job of laying everything out. Unlike the commentators in the media, he mentioned the robbery which brought all this to the head. He laid all the forensic evidence showing that Michael Brown attached the police officer in the car and where he was shot first up until he came back towards the officer and met his ultimate face. But as he was reading all this, pan shots of the crowd who were listening only showed people shaking their heads no. Finally the announcement that there would be no indictment.

Michael Brown's family has stressed time and again that they want only peaceful protests but when the hammer came down Michael Brown's stepfather immediately jumped up on a platform and said, "Burn this bitch down" about twenty times at the top of his lungs. The slow motion train wreck started as I watched black youths go down the street breaking out windows in buildings and cars, pouring lighter fluid on them and set them afire. There were bricks, bottles and all sorts of things thrown at the police. Then the crowd started complaining that the police was being heavy handed by using tear gas. Despite that, Michael Brown's stepfather got his wish. I found it ironic that the Rev. Al Sharpton hinted that the Ferguson police allowed the rioters to burn the black part of town down while protecting the white areas.

I just have to shake my head at all this. The black community as they refer to themselves, say this was a racial murder despite all the black witnesses that testified to the grand jury otherwise. The black pundits said that the grand jury didn't have expert witnesses, cross examination, intense pressure put on them like they would get in a trial and thus the grand jury didn't find the truth. They could care less that a grand jury just looks to see if there is enough evidence to warrant a trial and that had they found enough evidence, a trial with all the expert witnesses, cross examinations and intense pressure would have been had.

Yes, there are police officers that get carried away and do criminal acts against innocent blacks. But not every incident is that way and in fact, a slim minority are that way. Yet when the black community decided to riot whenever one is found without merit, it is hard to take their cause seriously. They are doing a grave disservice to themselves. Right now, I'm not sure what the answer is but I would say that the black community is setting themselves back in their fight for racial equality. It seems as if in their eyes, everything isn't equal until it is and then their solution is to riot.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Chazen Museum of Art

Although I do occasionally do artistic things such as painting or drawing and I do consider myself decent at it, I don't consider myself an artist. My wife is much better than I at such things and loves to visit art museums. I have a hard time getting enthused about looking at paintings. The older ones all look similar to me and the modern ones have me thinking I could do something like that. So I was a little hesitant when my wife wanted to visit the Chazen Museum of Art at the end of one day after we had already done lots of miles of walking. But they had lots of sculptures and works of art that weren't two dimensional paintings and that attracts me a lot, probably because I stink at doing sculpture. I could spend days walking through an art gallery full of sculptures and admiring them.

So as my wife wandered off looking at paintings, I wandered off looking at sculptures.

I think these were actually real jellyfish preserved in a solid translucent medium. They were quite stunning.

Due to the limits of kids too young to appreciate such things, we only got about halfway through the museum on the first day but as luck would have it, we had some free time the next day so we went back and finished it. I was pleasantly surprised by an entire area dedicated to 18th century furniture. As close to sculpture as I come it making furniture and I love working with wood. It is my hope that someday when I get caught up on all the projects in life that I can set my sights on building really nice furniture like what is seen in these pictures. "They just don't make them like that anymore" is the understatement of the year.

I love to write in my journals every evening but have never had a dedicated desk where I could store my journals, pens and have a place to write. Any flat surface that I currently have in our house collects artifacts from our daily lives and is not really conducive to writing. So someday, I may build something similar to this.

There was a dresser build with book matched pieces of burl maple that was just exquisite. It has only been recently with my pen making hobby that I have discovered the world of burl and spalted woods. Since then, every tree I see with a large burl on it has me making a mental note of cutting that burl off when it dies in hopes of seeing wood grain like what can be seen above.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Olbrich Botanical Gardens

One of the places we like to visit whenever we go to a new area is the botanical center. Every major urban area seems to have one and our family enjoys them. The kids have plenty of space to run around and burn off energy without risk of damaging something (unlike a museum or art gallery) and I can relax to enjoy the sites around me enough to take some photographs.

Unlike most botanical centers we have been too, this one had quite a bit of natural water features in it and thus quite a few walk bridges over them. All were very picturesque and I found myself drawn to them through my lens.

Classic fall photo in my opinion.

Yet another bridge.

To me, this bench seems more like a work of art than a resting spot. I just loved how the lichen had attached itself all over it.

Because it was in the middle of November when I took these, there wasn't a lot in the vegetation to take pictures of but I did end up with a couple good photos. The sinister garden up above which certainly lives up to its name and the one below of a tree whose name now escapes me but whose bark was beautiful.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014


Generally my vacation of choice involve a road trip to somewhere scenic with some hiking, camping or outdoor activity involved. When my wife and I first got married, we did a lot of just that. However with two young kids, the youngest still in diapers, it really isn't a very attractive option until they get bigger. Instead we have found that going to urban centers is an attractive option. I have spent most of my life avoiding them so they are still new and interesting to me. They have lots of things kids find interesting and yet convenience is always near if necessary. They also are full of cultural things that attract me like museums, art galleries, botanical centers, historical places, etc. Finally, we love to try new foods that just aren't found in rural southeast Iowa but can be found elsewhere.

So with that said, I have been reading the blog of someone on here who lives in Chicago but has spent lots of time in Madison, Wisconsin over the years. We've done Chicago numerous times along St. Louis, Chicago, Minneapolis, St. Paul, Omaha and of course our capital city of Des Moines but in all that time, we've never been to Madison. So we decided to recitify that glaring absence in our travels and head there. So I contacted the blogger, asked for recommendations on where to eat since that is often hard to discern good from bad via the internet and we took off. Our itinerary was to visit their Children's Museum, botanical garden, zoo, farmer's market, capital building, art gallery and to eat at some of the recommended food places. Pretty easy as far as planning goes and it was a pretty relaxing trip.

It turned out to be fairly cold during the trip but nothing we couldn't easily dress for. Due to having young kids and our desire to eat at some restaurants that might not be all that kid friendly, we minimize risk by generally pumping them full of snacks and eating at odd hours to avoid having a kidtastrophe in a crowded restaurant. This generally meant eating lunch or supper, earlier than normal or later than normal to avoid the crowds. When it was earlier, we had to time our visits since we were getting there soon after they opened for the meal. That is why on a cold and overcast last afternoon, we found ourselves in this park overlooking the isthmus where downtown Madison is located between two large lakes waiting for a nearby restaurant to open up for an early supper. I snapped a few pictures to stay warm while the kids played on the playground and then we went in for an early supper that was kidtastrophe free.

Monday, November 17, 2014

House On the Rock

I've been to Wisconsin a few times in my life. A couple times to whitewater kayak and once on a trip to visit my parents who were midway on their third bicycle ride across the continent. All those times had been quite awhile ago so when our daughter's school had two days off before a weekend, we decided to make a long weekend of it and travel up there to see what we could see. Largely we were just heading to the Madison, Wisconsin area but along the way, I saw the signs for House on the Rock.

Now I had thought House on the Rock was a Frank Lloyd Wright house built over rocks and a waterfall but it wasn't. That was nearby. House on the Rock was a house built by one man over the years to specifically be a tourist attraction. Now it is nothing but a tourist trap as I call them, designed to separate money from your wallet while on vacation. But since we were there, we had the place pretty much to ourselves due to it being the middle of the week and cold, we decided to separate some money from my wallet and see it.

It was okay. I found the history of the place, the whys and hows it was built to be dull, but as an eccentric art collection, it was really neat. The man who built the house, also collected stuff and built rooms out of various things that were really quite beautiful. The man, whose name escapes me but really isn't important enough to look up, had enough money coming in from tourism that he was able to employ a large staff dedicated to building artistic things such as the statue seen above.

The only two pictures I have of the actual house that the fellow built that are showable are the one above and below and these are of a room added by more recent owners of the house. They are of a room cantilevered above the valley floor and built so that it kind of resembles that it goes to infinity and thus the name.

Once you got out to the end where it was gates off, you came to a window in the steel girders with a glass window in it so you could see just how high you were in the sky. Being steel and it was a windy day, there was quite a bit of flex in the floor which when combined with the view through the window, was kind of unnerving.

Among the many collections, two of the largest were scrimshaw and guns. This scrimshaw work just blows me away with the intricacy of it.

At one point in the tour, you came to a large room and if you looked up at the ceiling, you saw hundreds of these. It was neat and spooky and downright disturbing all at the same time. I'm not sure what called this man to turn manikins into angels and I'm not sure I want to meet him to find out.

This wasn't art intentionally nor was it displayed but along one of the paths I spied this tree which had grown around a board that had been presumably nailed to it at one point. I view trees largely as inanimate objects but when given a time frame such as this tree growing around a board, it illustrates that they are very much alive and growing.

With the price of admission, we were given some tokens for "music boxes" scattered throughout the place. The first couple of music boxes were simply animatronic type displays but eventually we came to a series of large animatronic displays that pretty much take your breath away. While few parts still functioned in the displays, enough did to give you a sense of how grand they must have been back in the day. Each one played a different song and had anywhere from a couple dozen instruments all played by machine to a few hundred instruments.

Part of the self guided tour referred to a carousel at the end of section 2 and start of section 3. I thought it would be a good place to let the kids blow off some energy before we tackled the last third of the tour. However it turned out to be a display of the largest carousel in the world and we weren't allowed to ride it. So you can see my eight year old standing there lost in amazement and disappointment. It had just shy of 300 animals to choose from and not one of them was a horse.

I took lots of pictures during the tour but few turned out. I think being a tourist trap, they intentionally kept all the rooms barely lit so that without a flash, you couldn't grab a decent picture and with a flash, most things were too far away for the flash to light up. So in order to see the place, you actually have to pay money to see the place, a well thought up plan for a tourist trap.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Hubbard Squash

The first day I spent hauling in corn for my parents was a cold day and the first hard freeze of the fall was scheduled to arrive that evening so during my few spare seconds between loads if my dad hadn't yet got the wagons I was to haul back to the field emptied yet, I picked all the squash from their garden. There was a lot of squash to pick this year and I ended up with a car load of hubbard and butternut squash that I hauled back to my house. Due to our schedule with an impending vacation coming up, I didn't want to start a new project so instead, I processed a dozen squash for canning.

Hubbard squash are very large, the one above was probably close to 40 pounds, and have a thick rind so they aren't the easiest thing to cut down into manageable pieces to bake. (Note the regulation sized fork stuck into it for scale.) The first year I used a hammer and a large chef's knife but destroyed the knife in the process. I've used other things but eventually I found the tool of choice. I use my vibrational mutli-tool that is a must have in the shop these days because it slices through the thick rind like butter. I just clean it up real well before using it on our edible produce. I cut the squash in half and scoop out the seeds and bitter stringy material in the middle as seen above and then cut them into quarters and bake until soft. I then scoop the flesh from the skin and pack into quart jars which I then can in a pressure canner. Then we use it throughout the year to make pumpkin pies, rolls, cakes, cookies, bread and one of my personal favorites, ice cream. It is so good.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Hauling In the Grain

The day I finished up my garage project, I got the call from my parents asking if I could help them for a couple days hauling in the corn from their farthest fields. With so much corn to harvest and the fields being about six miles from the grain bins, it takes a lot of people to keep the operation going so that the combine never has to stop and wait for anyone. So the following morning I was up and on the road before dawn heading towards the farm. I don't often get to see sunrises since they are blocked by trees where I live so it was a treat to watch the sun come up as I drove along.

A lot has changed since my days on the farm. Gone are the days of tiny wagons with regular hitches that required two or three trips out of the cab of the tractor before you got the holes to line up and the hitch pin in place. Back then, extendable tongue were the 'new' technology but you still had to get the hitch holes in a straight line to get the pin in. These days my dad has invested in quick hitch technology which means I can hook and unhook wagons without ever leaving the tractor cab. This frees up time when I reach the fields but with much larger wagons that weight a lot more, it takes a lot more focus to haul the loads down the roads safely.

The first order of business is to 'open up' a field. Farmers plant rows of crops around the perimeter of the field called end rows. It allows the combine to harvest corn there without getting into the fences, trees, or roads around the perimeter and also gives them an area to turn in when harvesting the inside rows of the field. Once the end rows are all harvested, the field is considered open and it makes harvesting it a lot easier and faster. The picture above is of a field that has been opened.

Once opened, I can see the rows going through the middle of the field which makes me want to hop down and take a few pictures. For the most part though, I didn't have time to get out of the tractor much. When I brought the empty wagons to the field, I would place them close to where they were harvesting but not in the way when they were turning around. The combine runs non-stop and a person running a large catch wagon follows the combine around so when it gets full, he pulls underneath the unload auger and they unload the grain from the combine while it is still harvesting. This is called unloading on the go. Once the combine has been emptied, it continues on and the catch wagon will go unload the grain into the wagons that I bring to the field. I then hook onto a full wagon and haul it down the roads to the grain bins where my father unloads them into the proper bins to be dried and stored. I pick up the empty wagons he has ready and haul them back to the field and the process starts all over again.

I did this all day long from sunup to sundown for two days to get the farthest field harvested and brought in. It was a lot of work and I slept well both evenings but it is one of my favorite things to do. For us, it is almost equivalent to watching the balance of your bank account increase like the debt clock in one constant circling of dials. After a year of preparation, the fruits of our labor are finally coming to fruition.