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Archive for the ‘Home’ Category

Templeton bites the dust

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2008

I know it’s hard to believe, but Templeton has been springing 2 - 3 traps every night for the past two weeks.  That’s, at minimum, 28 brushes with death for the intrepid rodent.  I’m happy to report that last night death brushed too closely for Templeton to avoid.  Although, I’m pretty sure that if you catch one Templeton, it means there are lots more - like cockroaches.  We’ll see.  I’m continuing to set traps, but in the meantime I feel pretty good about increasing the score from 28 - zip to 28 - 1.

Windows Madness II

Tuesday, August 12th, 2008

Last weekend we replaced more windows.  This project was even bigger than the first.  Thankfully, I had lots of help.  My neighbor and pastor Jim Pool, my brother Seth, and my Dad all plugged away cheerfully at an insane project.  Once again, we had to reframe a part of the opening since the house had sagged out of square over the years.  But the biggest part of the project by far was the demolition.  The house has gradually accumulated layers of siding over the years, and so, in a fit of “do-it-right-edness” I decided to strip all the layers of siding off, wrap the house, install new windows, and re-apply the vinyl siding.  We were only working on the front of the house, but still had to remove:

- Vinyl siding

- Layer of foam insulation

- Cement board siding

- Tar-coated cardboard

- Original wood siding

- Tar paper

Once all those layers were off, we wrapped the house in tyvek, installed the windows, and now the siding is 75% re-applied.    Pictures of the whole project can be seen here.  Talk about windows madness.  The sequel was at least as good as the original.  They brought back the original cast, had a bigger budget, and the special effects were state of the art.

Window Madness

Friday, July 11th, 2008

I know it’s been quite a while since my last post.  I’ve been working non-stop replacing windows in our house.  It’s a relatively straightforward procedure, as long as your measurements are right.  Most of mine were right on.  The ones that weren’t ended up being both a blessing and a curse.  I had to replace the three windows in our front dormer.  The opening was placed something like this:


Only problem was, that once we had the opening totally clear, I realized two things:  First, I had measured the rough opening wrong, and the windows were the wrong size.  Second, I realized that the window opening went right down to the roofline, leaving no room for any sort of window trim, flashing, or waterproofing.  Just enough room to put out a sign that said, “Hey leaks - here’s an opening.  Please destroy our living room ceiling.”  This is where the mismeasure turned in to a blessing.  Since I had measured the windows too narrow, we could (theoretically) scoot them together and up, to create the room at the bottom of the dormer we needed.  Like so:

Reframed windows

My dad and I spent the full fourth of July weekend reframing the opening, but we got it done.  The rain this week resulted in no leaks.  At least not on the work we did.  There’s another leak or two back in the attic that I will have to address at another time.  Awesome.  Here are some photos of the whole procedure.

Removing the old windows

Removing the old windows.   We found 20 or 30 wasps nests in the framing of the dormer.  Some abandoned, some not.

Rough opening

Here you can see how the rough opening is right at the roof line.  We framed the opening higher (both top and bottom) and narrower. 

Re-framed opening

Here is the re-framed opening.  It’s about six inches higher and six inches narrower on each side.  Time for windows.

Installing new windows

Here are the new windows going in.  I’ve since trimmed the out, re-sided the dormer, and iced my legs from the trips up and down ladders all weekend.

You don’t know what you’ve got ’till it’s gone

Monday, May 5th, 2008

When we moved last fall, we left in the manner of the children of Israel fleeing Egypt.  We got the hell out of there as fast as we could.  Unlike the Hebrews, however, we left with the promise that we would return in spring to clean up all the crap we left behind.  So this past weekend we headed back to the old house for some spring clean-up.  We also transplanted our two fruit trees, an apple and a pear.  They are both in full bloom - so if they survive the transplant, we should have fresh fruit this summer and fall.

We lived at that house for 5 years - and each year we spent a great deal of time preparing the garden beds.  We added compost by the wheelbarrow-full every year.  We mulched and weeded and watered and turned over every year.  In contrast, the new MCH is built on clay.  Rocky clay.  I know because I spent all last week digging post-holes by hand.  Eventually there was so much clay piled around the yard that the kids started making sculptures to sell.

I remember complaining about the soil at the old MCH - with it’s rocks and bricks and sand.   But now, looking back, we had it pretty good.  I know in five years our gardens at the new MCH will be just as nice - with rich black soil that grows anything and everything.  But right now, I wish I’d spent more time enjoying the garden I had instead of complaining about how I wish it would be.  Thankfully, I don’t have that problem in any other area of my life.  Just with garden soil.

More videos coming soon

Thursday, May 1st, 2008

We busted out the video camera this weekend and shot some updates of the MCH.  Seth (my brother) is working on them and hopefully we’ll have them posted soon.  In the meantime, here’s a great link on tanning rabbit hides with rock salt and battery acid.  We’re going to try it.

My wife is a saint

Sunday, April 20th, 2008

We had a second litter of bunnies on Thursday, and here at day three they are doing great.  That brings our total rabbit count up to 12, along with 6 hens, 2 dogs, and 4 kids.  See title.

The Cadet 3

Friday, April 11th, 2008

It’s 3 AM.  I hear the soft thump of footy pajamas coming down the stairs.  Moments later, the bathroom light clicks on, flooding our bedroom across the hall.  There’s a zip, a flush, and then the padding of feet through the living room, up the stairs, and back into bed.  So begins another  day in the life our our toilet, the Cadet 3.  From that moment on, it’s go, go, go, for our little toilet.  A rough calculation puts our A.H.F.P.D. (Average Household Flushes Per Day) in the low 20s - and depending on how much juice is consumed at breakfast, it rapidly climbs higher.

Our old toilets were the 1950s monsters with gigantic tanks and 3.5 gallon flushes to match.  The Cadet 3 has a miniscule tank by comparison - only 1.5 gallons.  And, unless you hold the lever down during the flush, it only sends out about half of that in an average flush.  We probably save 50 gallons of water PER DAY with this awesome toilet.  I can’t take too much credit for this modern marvel.  The reason we settled on the Cadet 3 was because it was the only model that would fit in our impossibly tiny bathrooms.  And even then, I had to notch out the door so that it would clear the bowl when it swings open and closed.  Here’s a fancy schmancy diagram.


Still, I’m thrilled with the toilet.  And it all came together when we got our water bill last week.  We averaged $57 per month on water for the first quarter.  We averaged about $90 per month at our last house.  So, combining efficient fixtures like low flow toilets and showerheads with our new PEX plumbing system, we’re saving about $30 per month.  At that rate, we’ll have paid for the whole plumbing system (not fixtures) in 12 months.  I’m stoked, to say the least.

 EDIT:  The toilet diagram isn’t very clear.  I’ll make a better one and post it soon.

EDIT2:  Diagram is fixed.  It’s so life-like, it feels like you could reach out and flush it.

Site news and Winter Adventures

Sunday, March 30th, 2008

Hey everybody.  After months of wondering why no-one ever posts comments, I realized that I have to view and approve them before they show up.  So for everyone who has commented in the past six months, I’m so sorry.  I’ll do a better job from here on out.  For everyone who hasn’t posted comments . . . Hey - check out all the comments on the blog.  There’s a ton of them.

 In other news, we lit what is probably our final fire for the season today.  We’re pretty much out of wood, and the days are in the 40s or 50s - not quite cold enough to really enjoy a fire.  I know fireplaces are notoriously inefficient and wasteful, but my family enjoys them more than almost any other group activity.  The first words I heard when coming home from work all winter long were, “Daddy, can you make us a fire?”  We were curled up in front of our hideously painted fireplace this afternoon, and I remembered an adventure that we took pictures of, but never posted. 

This January we decided to cook a meal in the fireplace.  It was supposed to be simple, just hot dogs and s’mores, but I had an idea I wanted to try.  I’ve seen several bread recipes that call for baking in a cast-iron dutch oven, and I’ve always wanted to try it out.  Without time for the traditional rise and knead, I whipped up a quick soda bread to cook in our dutch oven in the fireplace.  I let the fire get really hot, and once we had lots of coals, I raked the flames over to one side, and left the coal bed on the other side of the fireplace.  It looks quite little-house-on-the-prairie-ish if I do say so myself.

Cast Iron on fire

Everything was going smashingly, until I opened up the pot.  Lots of smoke came out - which isn’t a good sign.  As you can see, the top of the bread looks lovely, but gets progressively worse as you head down.  First, there’s a big pocket of raw dough in the middle . . . .

Dough pocket - yum

And the bottom was burnt to a crisp.  Surprisingly, the kids wouldn’t touch it. 

Burnt bread - delish

We had a great time regardless, and ended up just eating hot dogs in front of the fire.

In front of the fire

And ended with s’mores.  Can’t go wrong there.


So, the moral of the story is to keep cooking fires really low, because no-one likes second hand smoke, especially if it’s a part of dinner.

Beginnings of an orchard

Friday, March 28th, 2008

Yesterday I got a call from Amy while I was at work.  I’m not exaggerating when I say she was breathless with excitement.  Apparently Sam’s Club had just gotten their shipment of fruit trees in for spring.  There were tons of different types, and they were only $17 a piece.  That’s cheap - like end of the season 50% off cheap.  But there they were - fresh off the truck, many with blooms and buds. 

Our track record with fruit trees isn’t the greatest.  Two years ago we bought a tiny Fuji apple tree that not only bloomed, but started growing apples.  Real, live, organic apples.   That little stick of a tree had 18 apples growing on it by the end of summer.  I could almost taste the apple pie.  Then, one morning, I came out to find only 17 apples on the tree.  I figured one probably fell off, or the kids grabbed one, etc.  On the morning of day two, only 16 apples remained.  That continued for two weeks until not a single apple was left.  I even stayed out late at night trying to spot the thief, with no luck.  The next year, we had lots of foliage, but no blooms, and no apples.  Apparently, the second year after transplanting, a tree will work very hard at extending it’s root system, and not so hard at making fruit.  So we’ve gone through two years with no fruit.  I have high hopes for this year, though.

Our original yard plan has 4 fruit trees.  We have the apple tree from two years ago, and a peach tree from last year - so I figured Amy would buy two more to fill out the yard.  I should have known better.  When I came home there were six young trees lined up neatly in our side yard.  Adding the two we already own, that makes a total of eight.  That’s a lot of trees. 

The story doesn’t end there, though.  It’s late March in Michigan.  March is supposed to come in like a lion and go out like a lamb.  But this March came in like a lion, and is going out like a slightly smaller, far wetter lion.  We had 3 inches of snow and low in the 20s last night.  Not good for delicate buds and flowers.  Here’s our solution.

Trees in mudroom 

Our orchard of two pear trees, two cherry trees, and two plum trees is now growing in the mudroom until the weather gets a little bit warmer.  Ironically, I had to stroll through a forest to let the dogs outside this morning.

True Urban Homesteading

Monday, March 17th, 2008

This past weekend, Amy and I visited my brother and his family in Chicago.  They are true urban homesteaders - way more urban, way more homesteading than we do.  They’ve had chickens for a year now, and it was his email that convinced me we could pull it off.  Their latest adventure bears retelling. 

I looked out the window on Saturday and said, “Hey bro, what the heck are all those milk jugs hanging on the trees out front?” 

 Milk jugs in Chi-town

In case you haven’t figured it out, those are maple trees in front of his house, and he tapped them to make maple syrup.  The craziest part of the whole endeavor is that it actually worked!!  He said that on days when the nights were freezing and the days warmer, the trees would drip out literally gallons and gallons of sap.  That’s a good thing, because it takes 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup.

If you go online, you’ll find all sorts of detailed instructions on how to tap a tree.  You might get so freaked out by the equipment and expertise needed that you’ll never actually try it.  But rest easy, urban homesteaders, the maple syrup I had on my pancakes Sunday morning was the result of one drill bit, 3 old milk jugs, and some old plumbing parts.  My brother just drilled a hole, tapped in an old piece of copper tubing, and hung a bucket.  Then he boiled and boiled ’till it tasted right.


Tapped tree closeup

Sure, he got some crazy looks, but he also got maple syrup - and that seems like a worthwhile trade off to me.