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.