Sunday, October 18, 2009

Miscellaneous Fall Stuff

Irony: Raking your lawn so you can mow it without shredding leaves everywhere, all so that you can later use the leaf blower the next time you need to rake.

Tragic irony: Doing the raking the day before it rains and gusts all day.

Fall's here in New England and I think golf may be done for the year. We actually got snow Thursday night. I'm trying to figure out what to do with my lawn; it's not horrible but I definitely haven't mowed it in a month and it could stand one more before the year's out, if anything so that the leaf blower doesn't just turn long grass over the leaves. Of course, I need a clear weekend when I'm now sick or traveling for that, which hasn't happened in quite a while.

On top of all that, we're trying desperately to get the attic in line for a project. We had a National Grid energy assessment a number of months ago, and one of the big things he highlighted was having them come in, airseal the attic, and lay another layer of insulation on top. To do that, though, I need to pull up all the plywood the previous owners slapped down all over the place. In addition, we still want some storage usage so once that's done I need to put in some 2x6s to frame a storage area that rises above the top of the new layer of insulation. I've made some progress but it's downright painful. There's a central A/C unit up there with all the ducting, and climbing over and under all that crap makes it even harder to work in a dark, dusty, hot attic. All the plywood is actually particle board that's twice the weight of plywood and nailed down with 4" nails, so I've spent two Saturdays now up there with a prybar on my knees, hauling boards around and down.

Not sure what to do around the main A/C unit, though, as it has some pieces -- such as the end of the whole-house fan and some very heavy conductor unit or somesuch thing -- that are mounted on some of the wood I need to pull up or, in the case of the latter, mounted between two beams and resting on a wedge of wood that rests on...a door. Yes, a door. Some jackass hauled a door up into the attic and slid it under one of the major ducts. COME ON. At least that one's not nailed down; it just has what seems to be a 100-pound unit resting on it.

But wait, there's more! We also need to replace our two bathroom fans, which have been just venting into the attic. Once we do that, the crew that does the airsealing will also punch those up and out the roof for us. Which is good, as I don't wish to punch holes in my roof no matter how successful it seems to have been for my friends Chris and Hillary. We figured out what we needed for CFM and picked up two fans at Lowe's, and in one of my forays up there I located the two fans. One was easy, I could see it. The other was not so easy, and unfortunate. They'd rolled a layer of insulation over it. I was pulling up random rolls and found it. However, it and the immediate area are covered with a thick layer of white powder. I left it uncovered but later realized that that may well be some kind of dry mold, which is just lovely. I have a call in to a mold remediation place, but from what I've heard I may be best off just dealing with it myself using a respirator, trash bag, dust pan, and bleach. Whee!

Oh, and some other news -- we have a baby coming in early March. Guess I should have mentioned that one earlier, eh? We've read a bunch, have painted the baby room, and finally ordered furniture yesterday. I guess I haven't posted to this blog since then, for which I have no excuse. Except for all that stuff with which I've been busy. There's a bunch of baby posts coming, though, so fear not.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

That Vast Expanse of Green Crap

Carrion flies are God's way of saying, "Don't run over this with the lawnmower. Everyone loses."

It's that time of year again, when I spend months at a stretch feeling bad about how I haven't mowed my lawn in N days. Let's jump back, though. As we talked about buying a house, and looked for houses, and finally settled on one, and jumped feet-first, I proudly proclaimed that I couldn't wait to mow my lawn. I couldn't wait for lazy Saturday afternoons, cutting the grass and trimming around the edges and then coming inside for a cold beer. It genuinely seemed like a great afternoon: some exercise, pride of homeownership, and chilled libation all rolled into one activity.

Screw that!

We moved in August of 2007, in the dead of summer. The previous owners were getting on in years and had a lawn service, but I was a strapping 30-year-old guy who wouldn't (a) be caught dead paying someone five years younger than me to mow my lawn, or (b) obtain a riding mower for two-thirds of an acre. My parents were just transitioning to their house in Maine after a couple of years living (albeit financially uncomfortably) between their Massachusetts and Maine homes. As such they had two of a lot of things, which included two lawnmowers and two snow blowers. My timing was impeccable and I inherited an excellent snow blower as well as the lawnmower with which I'd mowed my parents' lawn a dozen years earlier. Both were in good shape, though, so while it has no bells & whistles I couldn't (and still can't) bring myself to replace the mower. It did change its own oil all over the garage floor this past winter, though, so perhaps we're nearing its end.

Not to say that the mower is why I'm averse to mowing, of course. It just sucks. My front lawn is a bit of a hill, and in full sun, and my back lawn is encroached by tangler vines, blackberry runners, and ticks. Honestly, though, I'm just far busier than I'd expected. OK, I'm lazier, too. I somehow anticipated having nothing better to do on the weekend than yard work. Well, there's yard work but there's also painting, or junk removal, or gardening, or furniture shopping, or visiting my parents, or playing golf, or grocery shopping, or, OK, playing Rock Band 2.

My neighbors don't help in the matter, either. On one side I have very nice people who take regular care of their lawn, which is fine, but we share a strip of grass between our driveways and my side of the strip rises in stark contrast over his neatly trimmed side. On the other side, I have a guy who seems to mow every other day and whose dog, I think, craps in my front yard on a frequent basis. I've dealt with dog crap having grown up with labs so it's at best a minor annoyance, but I can't help but wonder if my lack of lawn etiquette leads them to at least pretend not to notice their dog in my yard – never mind refuse to smile and wave when I pass them on the street, smiling and waving like a good suburbanite. They definitely seem to not like us, and we're not loud and no longer living in sin, so it's got to be the lawn.

To be fair, it's gotten bad a few times. Our first fall here, we went to Thailand for two weeks. I didn't manage to get to mowing for at least a couple of weeks before we left, so by the time we got back it was pretty crazy. Likewise last May, when I'd done it perhaps once that year but was overdue and then got Lyme Disease. In a delirious fever, I had to send Mo out with instructions for starting it (the rip cord will yank you right into the handlebar, teeth-first, if you're not particular with it) and mowing (don't blow clippings into a neighbor's side, etc) at which point parts of the back were knee-high. It was a bit damp, too, so she got halfway through the back and it clogged up and died.

I'm proud to say I'm getting better as the years move on, though. This is the third mowing season here and so far it's been pretty OK, at least relative to previous egregious fall-offs. It starts to look crappy to me earlier in length, I've been better about being proactive about it, etc.

I still secretly love it when it rains all weekend, though.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

I have a whole bunch of domain names, some goofy and some serious, but now I'm wondering if another wouldn't be appropriate.

Last year, from pretty much June through September, we had earwigs living in our mailbox. Well, maybe earwigs. Possibly silverfish or something like that. You know, the crawly things you occasionally find in your house and never ever want to see anywhere near anything you're touching, never mind reaching your arm into. I scraped them out, I threw bucket after bucket of hot water into the mailbox – which, I can say with some certainty, looks certifiably insane – I looked up eco-friendly solutions (none of which panned out, of course, or even involved ingredients I could readily find). I even left the poor mailman a note as it must've sucked dealing with that every day. I went nuts with the weedwacker and cut down all the greenery around the mailbox, including some flowers, which of course thrilled my wife.

I did some Googling and it sounded like it wasn't an uncommon malady. Sometimes they just like mailboxes.

Finally, October came and almost overnight they disappeared. I was ecstatic. No more opening the mailbox with a stick and stepping back! No more slapping the mail on the ground to make sure there were no bugs inside the newspaper or hiding between bills! It was a crappy winter but at least I didn't have bugs living in my mailbox.

Fast forward to spring, maybe a week ago. We got home from work and stopped at the mailbox to grab the mail. I popped open the door, grabbed the mail, and was about to shut it when I almost had a heart attack. There were two wasps (or hornets, or yellowjackets, I don't know) BUILDING A NEST just inside the door on the top right. If you know me at all, you know I have an unnatural, unhealthy fear of bees. I have been known to "scream and run" in my time. I reasonably kept my cool this time, but what the hell? I ended up grabbing a 1x2 from the garage, about 3' long, and beat the hell out of them inside the mailbox until they and the nest were gone. I'm sure that looked perfectly sane to the neighbors, too.

The next day there was a single one in there, right by the door, and it felt out when I opened it. No nest that time, though.

Since then it's been clean, but now I'm back to slowly creeping up on the mailbox and opening it with a stick, waiting for what's going to take up residence next. But seriously, I want to know. WHAT THE HELL.

Monday, April 27, 2009

The Age Flip-Flop

For some reason, it occurred to me early on that the older I get the faster I rush headlong into being "comparatively older." That is to say, as each year goes by my comparisons for age distance themselves from me by two years. Of course, I need to not sound like Wooderson when talking about this ("that's what I love about high school girls, man – I keep gettin' older and they stay the saaaaaame aaaaage").

Let's take a look at the more-awesome-by-the-minute Boston Bruins on their championship run. I've loved the Bs since I was a kid, when they were all old guys. In this year's playoff roster, I'm older than everyone but PJ Axelsson, Manny Fernandez, Shane Hnidy, Mark Recchi (well, duh), Tim Thomas, Aaron Ward, and Stephane Yelle. That's 28% of the roster. More than I'd thought, actually. Milan Lucic, the baby of the team, is 11 years younger than me.

I'm not saying I'm old, either – I'm a ripe 32. That's the crazy thing, too. And it's not just sports heroes. I realized that eventually instead of seeing that Bea Arthur died (bless her soul, of course), I'm eventually going to see people like Trent Reznor and Kim Deal pass on. David Bowie and Stevie Nicks. I'm going to see the rest of Skinny Puppy leave this place.

I don't mean to focus on death. God knows we've had enough of that around here lately. It's not just that, anyway. As I get used to seeing my doctor every year (instead of just when I was sick every three years in my 20s), I realize that he's going to retire before I'm done seeing a doctor. Come on, he's awesome. I don't want to have to find another one.

Point being that I'm rapidly approaching the age where I'm older than my sports heroes, my favorite musicians, my doctor, my dentist, etc. Of course, this is going to sound ridiculous to anyone older than me. But hey, we all learn some time. It's just going to take some getting used to.

np: Tegan and Sara - Where Does The Good Go?

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Downstairs Flooring Project: Moved In

This is the last one, I promise. I assured myself I'd write about something other than our downstairs before we settled in and moved things down and started living there, which of course would come with pictures and the like. Partially because I'm lazy and partially because we ended up doing a whole lot today, this was not meant to be. And hey, these entries are easier!

Above: What was passing as the family room upstairs.

Long story short, we spent today cleaning the rest of everything – damp-sponging the walls, scrubbing the wide shelf around the whole area and the shelves on one wall, vacuuming, and getting rid of crap – and then moving the chaise, the couch, the TV (which proved to be hardest of all), all of the electronics and video games, plus all of our books, DVDs, and video games down and set up shop.

Above: I've been dreaming of filling those shelves with books and DVDs for
a year and a half. It was terribly satisfying to finally put crap on them.

We ended up fulcruming the chaise over the railing to get it down, which is probably the smartest idea I had all day. We thought that would be heaviest and hardest, but it turned out to be rather easy. The love seat afterwards was slightly more difficult, and the TV, left for the end, of course turned out to be the worst – it's a 42" plasma; you'd think it'd be easy to move but even with handles on the back it's heavy, front-weighted, and awkward. We got the speakers off the sides and it got a lot easier to manage. Everything else was batches of small stuff – DVDs, books (OK, a lot of books), video games, etc.

Above: It's not perfect, but we're getting there. Then again, it may
not ever look "professional" to me when I'm the one setting it up.

Of course, re-wiring a TV, cable box, and three video game systems is always more fun than it looks. It's a bunch of crap back there, but it's all hooked up. I wish there was some sort of cable-tangle-coverup, though I suppose the solution is a media cabinet, which is in the cards eventually. Step one, move down. Step two, get some real furniture.

Above: Who'd have thought that the biggest piece of furniture was the easiest to move?

In the meantime, I think it's about time for a housewarming party.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Downstairs Flooring Project done!

OK, we've gotten the obligatory depressing post out of the way. Let's hope we don't have to go there again.

In better news, the downstairs floor is done. It's been done for a couple of weeks but, as the back of my mind predicted, the idea of keeping a blog current is much easier than actually doing it in real life.

I said a ways back that I'd talk about the choices we made, so here goes. We wanted to keep this project as green as possible, so as we looked to materials and contractors we kept that at the forefront.

Above: A close-up of the carpet plus a look at our sloppy paint job.

For contractors, it was a pretty easy decision. We do most of our materials shopping at Green Depot so we asked them for some recommended contractors and they said that whenever possible they go with Boston Green Building. We gave them a call and they said their flooring guy, Ray Bumpus, is certified in Marmoleum installation (we were originally thinking Marmoleum for the hallway) and likes to work off-hours which was fine with us. We met with him and went over our ideas and concerns, all of which he listened to and lent his expertise where needed.

Above: Another close-up, carpet on the left and cork
on the right with a nice transition.

At this point, we got serious about materials. We visited Harry's Carpet One in Quincy, in part on Ray's recommendation and in part because Green Depot's selection wasn't terribly big. We spent quite a while there and came down to some finalists, though in doing so realized that Green Depot's selection isn't terribly big because, when you get right down to it, green flooring materials is still not too big a business. There are options, but when you're going green you're definitely limiting yourself to certain styles, colors, and materials. It's still important to us, though, so we found it easy to make certain concessions. We wanted natural wool carpet – I leave out the word "organic" because we learned that it's incredibly hard to actually certify wool as organic; much like corn it can pick up non-organic contaminents on the wind in the growing process – and while looking at options for hallway tile we started to consider natural cork instead of Marmoleum. Both are quite eco- and health-friendly, but cork ends up a much more earthy look and it started growing on us.

Above: He even joined it to the crappy old carpet in
the storage room so we can take our time with
whatever we end up doing in there.

With some finalists, with notes and photos, in mind, we returned to Green Depot to compare what we'd originally looked at. In the end, we both realized The One was there after all and ended up ordering Jamaica Bay in "Night Owl" by DMI, one of the leaders in natural wool carpet. We also ended up with Coreia by expanko for the cork.

We had to do a moisture test to be able to put the cork down, so Ray set up a kit that essentially places an uncovered canister of calcium chloride salts on the bare concrete, sealed under a plastic dome. It sits for something like 60-72 hours, after which you pull up the dome, seal the container, and weigh it on a scale accurate to 0.10g. This turned out to be rather difficult to find, and we ended up taking it to our local pharmacy to weigh. We had to take that weight and do calculations with that, the original weight, and the number of hours the test was run to determine how many pounds of water per 1,000 square feet it absorbed. expanko doesn't recommend installing at anything 3.3 or above, which would also be a problem for the carpet, and we came in at a perfect 2.015.

Above: Denali inspects the finished cork installation.
And yes, we need to add a door sweep on that door.

From there the install went pretty quickly. As with any renovation job, it's always the demo that takes so much longer and this was no different. After pulling up the carpets and working on the old, dessicated pad and adhesive with scrapers and buffers, it was finally determined via group decision that we had to get into some sort of chemical solution. Ray had a product he'd used before that is about as gentle as one can get while still being effective, so we OKed that and things got easier. Once they started laying tile and carpet, they were done in a total of 6 hours or so (spread over two days as they were working nights and weekends).

Above: The finished carpet install. Homeowner-tested, Murphy approved.

All told, we love it. We still have some cleanup to do from our sloppy paint job and some residual dust from the buffer work, but we're getting there. Coming soon: housewarming party!

Friday, April 10, 2009


Sorry for the drag.

It's easy to feel invincible. ...Until X. Until someone gets sick. Until you hit NN years old. Until someone has a baby and you start to understand that there could possibly be someone more important than you, or your wife, or your parents, or your brothers. Until whatever.

Then it happens. And this is an ABC after-school special. You're in a young company, been there forever; suddenly everyone's getting married, then everyone's having kids, everyone's buying a house. Life is good. Might not be great, but life is good. Hell, life could be fantastic. Future post, perhaps.

How do you, collectively and individually, deal with what has to be the absolutely ultimate tragedy? I don't even know the extent of this. And I'm serious. I pretend to understand -- by which I mean I dread to understand -- the feeling. I'm operating on the inability to process. In absence of the ability to process it, I have to pretend I can process it. That leads to all sorts of thoughts ranging from expected to "what the hell."

I don't want to admit it, but I generally don't know how to act, or react, when I get bad news. It goes way back to the fact that I need to play a role, be a protector, than anything else. Of course, the fact that I'm disturbed by that fact only serves to disturb me more. Why aren't I crying? And I've only gotten bad news twice in my "adult" life beyond grandparents when I was 13 or younger or a buddy that we lost in the military a number of years ago. Aside from those, though, it's been twice in the last week. And it's been a hell of a week to grow older, actually. We all grow older, we form bonds, we make babies, we lose babies, we gain friends, we lose friends, we gain life, and we lose life.

That right there is too introspective to dwell upon.