Sunday, December 26, 2010

Christmas Kitchen

Were you expecting more pictures of decorations? Nope, this is more of a state-of-the-kitchen-at-Christmas update.

Troy has begun reinforcing/building up the support beam across the ceiling. It was mentioned in the very first kitchen post. Here is the best picture I could find of it:
It sagged a lot. And it had no support at all on the north end. And it wasn't strong enough.

Troy started by filling in all the openings between each of the wall studs from the second floor. That stopped a lot of cold drafts from falling into the kitchen. He also had to trim off all the studs that were sticking out the bottom and cut the bottom of the boards level.

Once that was done, he could begin to rebuild it. He has started to apply 2x6s to the bottom of the beam with glue and nails. After each layer, the beam is jacked up to a slight arch shape.
I am so glad Isaac is around to help Troy! It would be quite a chore to do this on his own, which of course would mean that I would be helping him (ever the reluctant helper). They have to wait 24 hours between layers so they are progressing at the rate of one board per day.
Having the jacks up where the old wall was has given an insight into just how small and narrow the kitchen was before the addition onto the porch. I actually wonder if the foyer was part of the kitchen at that time because it's hard to believe a farmhouse kitchen would be that small. I sure would be interested in knowing the history of additions and modifications to this house.

Although Troy had already seen that there had been a fire in the kitchen at some point, this work has revealed just how much damage had been done. He thinks they're lucky the whole house didn't go. And it's made him wonder if that was when they decided to build out onto the porch. (If you have to replace part of the wall anyway...)

Who knows!?

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas Has Come

Christmas has arrived!! Thanks again to Peggy who provided me with my first artificial tree. (My first tree in years.)

I managed to pick up Isaac from O'Hare today and Tom and Clures arrived yesterday.
And I have a five day weekend. (That's how to manage your work week!)
Remember the star I knit last year? It's found a place to "shine."
The tree is the most overloaded I've ever had. Tom thinks it needs a few more.
I had a lot of fun hanging each ornament with a comment starting with, "Remember this one..."

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Old house archeology

When working on an old house, it is not uncommon to find clues about how old it is.  Old house archeology if you will.  Based on the types and thicknesses of lumber, and the kind of nails and so on, we already know the house was built in several stages.

We think the most recent stage was the kitchen addition, where the kitchen swallowed the porch.  Since I ran across waferboard, that told me it had to be in the 70's or later.  I'm so old, I remember vividly when wafterboard (aspenite, chipboard, etc) came out.   

While tearing up the floor, I ran across two artifacts.  One was a religious tract dated in the early 70's, titled, "WILL MANKIND DESTROY ITSELF?"  This was a product of the Watchtower publishing house, an arm of the Jehovah's Witnesses.  This, together with the six-pack rings were used to shim up part of the floor.  I found the juxtaposition of a beer product and a cult religious pamphlet to be amusing.

As an interesting side note, the Witnesses have predicted several times about when the last great battle will occur (Armageddon), when Jesus will return, and the resurrection of the dead.  To date, they have been 100% wrong, which looks bad when you are a self proclaimed prophetic organization.  Like many cults, the followers do not seem to be overly alarmed by their abysmal batting average.  

Ultimately, they will probably get it "right" by accident.  If you predict the end of the world long enough...

I prefer my nice conservative orthodox Christian Reformed denomination. 

At any rate, we should all be ready to meet our maker, since we will all end up face to face as it were, in the next hundred years.

Finest regards,


Thursday, November 25, 2010


Happy Thanksgiving! We miss our family today. Although, frankly, mine is not having a big dinner etc, because they did that weeks ago in Canada on their own day. We will be having dinner tonight with a group of friends and as-yet-unknown people. Troy is working on the ham and I am setting to Cook's Country's garlic mashed potatoes later today.

Meanwhile, things I am thankful for:

The little things
-My car door has a handle again (Thank you, Troy) and that the mechanic was able to fix the fan squeak I've lived with for more than a year.
-Yarn, wool, string, tarn, Goodwill sweaters to unravel and sticks to put them all to good use.
-Thrift and second hand stores filled with surprises and "treasures."

The good things
-The fire roaring beside me.
-The improvements made to the house and the potential for so much more.
-A new job with new challenges, in a whole new field, and so close to home!

The great things
-A husband who wants only the best for me.
-Family and friends who meet me where I'm at. (They know me and love me anyway!)
-Christ who died for the cosmos (including me) and still intercedes on our/my behalf.
-A church which provides a home for me, opportunities to grow and is filled with so many passionate people.

Of course, each list is very incomplete; there are so many things! Despite having a Day of Thanksgiving, we can't possibly contain it or limit to one day. Live a thankful life. I try.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Siding Success

Troy promised we would get done the siding today, and we did. (Feel free to cheer--I did.)

As we were beginning:
 Half way there:
We decided to fudge on the lower boards so that they line up with the ones on the west wall. (The north wall is vertical while the west wall has a slope, so they would not match up if we just did the usual 8 inches on each board.) The result is that the lower ones are slightly closer together, but even if you can find it on the picture, I think you'd be hard-pressed to find it in "real life."

We worked until after sunset, (but not after dark) and were back inside in time for me to watch the second half of the [pathetic] Colts game. (Could we have any more starters out injured?)
Troy measuring for the last piece
(Don't let this picture fool you. It was almost dark here, but my steady hand and a half second exposure makes it look like noon!)

So there you have it. Siding on the kitchen done. My part, anyway. Troy has been working on trim and flashing:
But soon we'll be moving to inside work on the kitchen.

We had a little inch worm to help us measure: (Any Anne Murray fans out there?)

Sunday, October 31, 2010

For Halloween, I Dressed up as...

...a construction worker!! Steel-toed boots? Check! Tool belt? Check! Head lamp for working in the dark? Check!

Oh wait. That's my real life.

Troy was pretty serious about getting the siding done this weekend. To make that as likely as possible, we started work on Friday night. Worked a couple hours and got three courses run along the west wall.

Saturday we worked another couple hours in the evening and got the siding up to the window.
This afternoon Troy put the flashing and J mold the window and we got going again.

By 9:00 we had the west side finished and called it a day.

Sadly, we did not get to the north side. (Working until 2:30 in the morning probably would have gotten that done, but we didn't want to do that again.)

Despite not meeting Troy's lofty goal, we did show a good effort and have everything done that is visible from the road. That is a good milestone to reach in any case.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

More on Siding

Yes, work did continue on the following Sunday. (I'm talking about the 10th, a while ago, I know.) We started with it looking like this:
We had spent the night getting the plywood up. Now it was time to put the siding on top of it.

By the end of the day:
we had this much siding up; not quite done the tall section.

Work then abated for a weekend or two. But as my luck would have it, I got a Tuesday off. Tuesdays are days that Troy is home for half the day. He made big plans. Then he got lucky...he had only one or two checks scheduled and no exams. So he had the great plan of rescheduling the checks and working with me all day. Lucky me.

So 13 hours later we finished the siding up the tall stretch and some of the siding on the bump out:
 (The new stuff is on the lower angled part on the right; not the longer wall that still has windows.)

But that's not all. (13 hours for that much siding would make us very slow indeed.) Troy took out the rest of the windows and then my task was to clean up most of the glass.

We had a very lovely open view of the woods with their fall colours:
 Until we were done covering it up with plywood anyway...
That's about where we're at. You can make out the framed opening for the new window.Yes, it's quite a bit less window than what we had. But 1. it'll be warmer (and that seems more and more important as the temperatures drop!) and 2. it'll make more room for cupboards (and that seems more and more important as I have my kitchen "stored" in at least three different rooms).

Tomorrow we may put in the window. Or maybe it'll be more siding. I certainly don't know the plan. Whatever it is, I've been notified I'm on call.

One other job Troy's been working on is to fill the gaping cracks between the walls and the concrete floor. In this pic you can see the sunshine shining through the gap:
He's using foam and sections of 2x4s to seal up the openings and stabilize the wall. The angled studs were flapping in the breeze, so to speak, and the wall literally bounced as Troy tried to screw the plywood and siding to it.
It's not done yet, but it is starting to feel like the kitchen is getting sealed up.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

A Hard Day's Night

Troy and I put in a good day's work today. The problem is that we didn't start until 6:30 or so.

Troy was actually home earlier than usual--they closed early because of the ND game. But I was off visiting my sister. (Really, I was picking up another oil stove for Troy, but it was only 30 minutes from my sister, so I was visiting her "on the side." That was when I put in a 2 mile walk to warm up my calves for standing on a ladder most of the night.)

So late start = late finish. 2:30 a.m., if I may get specific. Troy didn't want to stop, however, until the wall looked white again. Our own special shade of "invisible white." At least that's what he's hoping...

Oh, what were we doing? I guess I haven't said, have I.

We were filling in the gap on the outside of the house beside the kitchen with four layers of foam insulation (7 inches) and covering it up with plywood.

Here you can see the insulation is done, and I took the pic while waiting for Troy to cut the first piece of plywood:
 The bit on the left is the kitchen. The siding there's been covered with plywood and is ready for new siding. The lines you see there are actually chalk, Troy's attempt to make the plywood look like siding so it won't look different from the road. Yes, we're paranoid.
We did manage to get all the plywood up. Kept the deer from eating on the garden too. We could hear them pacing around in the woods but they didn't dare come out.

But finally it was done (that piece of it) and I proved once again that I can be in bed before Troy's finished saying, "You're done, honey. Thanks for your help."

I don't want to think about it, but tomorrow we put up the siding itself...

One thing I keep reminding myself of is how cold and wet it was last year doing the shop roof at this time of year. Today's hot and sunny weather is quite different!! and makes for a much better experience.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Don't Say I'm Not Responsive to my Readers!

So I had a request from a reader, who shall not remain unnamed--that would be Wendy--for some kitchen pictures. I don't really think there's much to show, but in this case, my opinion doesn't matter!

Let's start by putting our "worst foot" forward:
You can see the walls are all down to the studs. You can't see the work on the floor but it's is as far as I described in the previous post.

Here's a view in the other direction:
It's slightly neater on that side of the room. I've outlined the window that was replaced, in case it wasn't completely obvious. (Unfortunately, the outline isn't completely obvious, but anyway...)

Here's the hallway and the place where Troy took out the first window:

The kitchen is pretty chilly these days. Besides the removal of any insulation that was in the walls and the exposure of the cold concrete slab, we also have actual air flow:
See all that sunshine filtering in under the walls? At some point, Troy will be cutting 2x4s to fit between all those angled studs and gluing/sealing them with some foam. Right now the "braces" are actually pinned to the floor at all and flex at any provocation.

No pictures of the work outside, yet...apparently this weekend will be full steam forward on siding. (Julie and Joel, this would be your cue to confirm dinner and save me on Saturday night!! ;-)

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Didn't I say it would be a kitchen saga?

Work has been happening even if we haven't written about it. The interior of the kitchen is pretty much down to the bare studs. Half of the floor has been removed to the concrete slab below.

Two windows have been replaced. Replaced with plywood that is. Last weekend Troy took out the one that was in the little hallway between the kitchen and dining room. That was the first day I lit the woodstove. A 3'x6' hole is quite gaping when the weather has turned to nippy fall. He managed to get the window, sill, trim, etc, out and the hole framed and patched with plywood in one day. That's not the sort of thing you can leave for another day, though.

Last night he took out the south facing window in the kitchen. This was a little more work but he managed it. I spend part of my evening smashing glass and bagging it "safely" for the garbage man. Smashing glass sounds like it should be more fun than it was. It was also a lot tougher to do than I would have guessed. Even with a hammer.

Now the outside of that part of the kitchen is covered with plywood. The cement board siding has been ordered and picked up and is laid out in the shop ready to be pre-painted. Then it will go up over the plywood. That's the plan as far as I know it. I have to say this is going a lot faster than I would have guessed. (For hours worked, that is; it's still slow since most of the work only happens on weekends.) But perhaps this is a mis-perception on my part since Troy is doing most of the work.

I think it's also influenced by the expectations built up from building the shop. It's going to be a lot faster to do a piece of wall that's maybe 5' x 12' than to do a wall that's 14' x 70' (north/south walls) or 21' x 30' (east/west walls). That might have a little to do with it...

Work continues...stay tuned.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Canning Summary for 2010

Summary entry for my own records

2010 Canning Records:

Sep 19: 12 c frozen tomatoes,
     1/2 peck dried apples (Jonathans)
     dried peppers
     1/4 bushel dried peaches
     dried onions
     dried potatoes

Aug 22: 7 qt, 6 pt tomatoes
Aug 14: 14 qt peaches
Aug 7: 14 qt peaches
Aug 7: 7 quarts pickles

Jul 24: 14 qt pickles
Jul 5: 5 qt pickles
Jul 5: 2 qt pickled beets

By product:

Apples: 1/2 peck dried
Onions, dried
Peaches: 28 qt, 1/4 bushel dried
Peppers, dried
Pickled beets: 2qt
Pickles: 26 qt
Potatoes, dried
Tomatoes: 7 qt, 6 pt, 12 c frozen

Monday, September 13, 2010

The king has no clothes, or the Keynesians are about to be proved wickedly wrong.

The Keynesians are running scared, chief among them, President Barak Obama.  The economy is not turning around like it should be.

For those who are unfamiliar with the term, Keynesian Economic theory has been the backbone of the government’s plan to “make things better” in the economy for about a hundred years.  The problem is, the theory has never been especially accurate, or useful at predicting what’s going to happen in the next few years in the economy.  Neither has it been especially useful at designing public policy to “stimulate” the economy when things slow down into a recession or depression.

In fact, if we look with cold, dispassionate logic, it’s been a horrendous failure.  In the past, the Keynesians have explained this away with much hand waving and loud protestations that, we just didn’t spend quite enough tax money to REALLY stimulate the economy “properly”.  Of course, this time, our fearless leaders have spent more money than anyone has ever spent in the history of the universe to "stimulate" the economy.  If it doesn’t work this time, the theory is just wrong.  Here’s a link that shows just how much we have spent in the last 19 months:

By the way, Bush wasn't much better, so don't think I'm just bashing Mr. Obama.

For our purposes, the Keynesians think that if private sector spending goes down for whatever reason, the government can compensate for that by spending tax money or borrowed money, and get the economic engines churning again.

But what if they are just plain old wrong?  Is there some other economic model that does a better job of predicting what the economy will do in the next few years?  Is there some other theory that would give us and our government leaders a more effective toolbox to shorten recessions and stave off depressions?

I’m glad you asked.  There is such a theory.  It is called the Austrian School of Economics, as championed by the Mises Institute.  The genesis of the Austrian School of Economics reads like a thriller novel, including stolen academic papers, hidden by the Nazis because they were so unfavorable to socialism.  Here’s a small quote about two of the founders, Hayek and Mises:

“In the late 1930s, after suffering from the worldwide depression, Austria was threatened by a Nazi takeover. Hayek had already left for London in 1931 at Mises's urging, and in 1934, Mises himself moved to Geneva to teach and write at the International Institute for Graduate Studies, later emigrating to the United States. Knowing Mises as the sworn enemy of national socialism, the Nazis confiscated Mises's papers from his apartment and hid them for the duration of the war. Ironically, it was Mises's ideas, filtered through the work of Roepke and the statesmanship of Ludwig Erhard, that led to Germany's postwar economic reforms and rebuilt the country. Then, in 1992, Austrian archivists discovered Mises's stolen Vienna papers in a reopened archive in Moscow.”

Here’s the link to the full story about how this alternate school of economic theory got its start, with a strong foundation in the followers of St. Thomas Aquinas.

Now fast forward 80 years.  Barak Obama is a dyed-in-the-wool Keynesian.  He has decided to borrow and spend our way out of this recession, no matter what.  He is going to do it like no Keynesian has ever done it before.  Unfortunately, he is dreadfully wrong and will cause almost measureless pain and suffering because of his flawed ideology.  This will affect you and your kids and grandkids, and badly.   Unless you are on the short list of people getting truckloads of free money from the government.  I just thought you’d like to know who is responsible.

Despite being actively suppressed, ignored for decades and scoffed at by the mainstream media, Austrian Economics is making a big come back.  You may even hear about them on the TV box.  But remember, you heard it here first.

If you want to get more educated about how the economy actually works, the Mises Institute has a lot of resources:

I would encourage everyone to become educated in these matters to minimize the future economic hardships in their own households.

Finest regards,


Thursday, September 09, 2010

Happy Anniversary

Wedding day, Sep 9, 2000
I have to say it feels like just yesterday I was posting about the big 9 years on 9-9 of 09, but already it's been another year! I just reread that post, and even though that was a pretty low-key anniversary, I think today's may have hit an all-time low of least romantic. (I'm sorry, I dare say even beating Julie and Joel who celebrated their last one at a small group meeting.)

First, I scheduled a knitting class tonight without realizing the significance of the date. And Troy worked til 8. So that already was not a promising beginning.

When I got done my knitting class, I went out and discovered my car battery was completely dead. I hadn't left anything on and that about exhausted my diagnostic skills so I just called Troy at work and waited. (Of course, having just come from knitting class, I had not one, and not two, but three projects to work on while waiting!)

Troy came about 50 minutes later and diagnosed a dead battery. Like not drained, but completely useless dead. We boosted it twice but it wouldn't support the lights. So we abandoned the car, went and bought a new battery and then came back so Troy could change it out right there in the parking lot. He figures it was the factory battery and the car's a '98. So I guess I shouldn't feel bad about getting 12 years' use out of a factory battery.

We were home by 10:30 and now I'm writing a blog post.

Didn't I tell you it was a romantic anniversary? Hmm...I meant that sarcastically, but read a different way, this is the story of a knight in shining armour rescuing his damsel in distress. Very romantic, actually!

We'll celebrate in a more traditional manner on Saturday with dinner at my favourite restaurant.

Hope your honey takes care of you at least half as well as mine takes care of me!

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Moods of my Sunflowers

Sad and crying


and dancing

It's been fun watching them change as fall is coming on.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Second Floor Layout

Ready yourself for some information overload. If you don't have a lot of time, come back when you do!

I've got four layouts to show you of the second floor. This is the sort of thing that's been clamouring for attention and not letting me sleep at night. And I subscribe to the theory that you may as well start this early because you never get it right the first time. Things take time to percolate and build on each other.

What I'm doing: trying to design a layout for the second floor that includes a master bedroom (sorry for the term, but it's the one going right now), 2 spare bedrooms for guests (by the time we do this even Isaac will be a visitor) and at least one bathroom.

I first wanted a separate half bath for the guests to use, but really couldn’t get that to work out. So as a second option, I’d like the guests to have access to the master bath from a public area. (There’s no need to be walking through my bedroom! And no need to make guests walk all the way downstairs.)

For the bathroom, I'm planning on 2 separate [stock] vanities (his and hers--and I think it’s cheaper than getting a special custom long vanity), and a tub separate from the shower.

In all the plans you will notice that there has been 12" marked off from the outside walls. This is to allow for the extra thick walls that Troy will be putting up. The one exception is along the stairway/hallway where that is impossible. The 12” there will have to be added to the outside (somehow).

How it is now:
Clockwise from the top left, we have the bathroom (with closet), Isaac's room (with 2 closets), master bedroom (with closet) and spare room (with closet) and a small closet accessible from the hall way. The stairs are an L shape with a small hallway area giving access to all rooms.

The north two windows will have to be removed because they're only 3 inches from the wall and won't allow for that 12" of insulation. Good-bye windows! There are more windows in the bottom two rooms but I didn't mark them for some odd reason. I think we will be keeping all of them except the central window on the south wall.

I also failed to mark two chimneys along the central wall which will become significant in a Support walls are highly over-rated.minute. I was thinking I just needed a rough draft of the layout, but of course you always need all the information. Silly me. Good thing I live here and can measure it whenever I want and find the time.

Troy will have to do some exploratory demolition before we know for sure which walls can be eliminated, but for now I am assuming at least the walls which appear to only separate a room from a closet can be taken out. I have a strong belief that those were not original, thinking that this house probably didn’t have closets originally. I think this is a pretty safe assumption; Troy says, “We’ll see.”

(Of course from what we’ve seen so far, 2 of 2 structural elements have been doing nothing to hold up the house for quite some time, and we still seem to be standing. So perhaps support walls are highly over-rated.)

Key to pros and cons list:
* noteworthy but not important
** important
*** very important

Ok, here's plan 1:

Go ahead: take some time. Absorb it.

It’s the most similar to what we have now. Master bedroom is the same; the north bedroom and washroom have swapped.

(Note: one of the chimneys is in the way of the door at A so it would swap with the shower. So the picture's not quite right, but it’s in the ball park.)

gain a lot of closet space ***
bathroom access for one spare room **
minimal rearranging of walls *
I like the privacy half-wall to screen the view of the toilet * (We’ll make it with storage for toilet paper and so-called feminine products and nice sliding doors—how come I’ve never seen this? It’s what every bathroom needs.)

Our bedroom is still on the south side of the house next to the noisy road **
Second spare room doesn't have direct access to the bathroom *

And now plan 2:

Now we’ve got the master bedroom in the north half of the house.

master bedroom gains closet space (not quite as much) **
bathroom has public access **
privacy half-wall toilet screen *
master bdrm in back where it's quieter **
security: two exits from bedroom give you a possible escape route from intruders *

master bdrm is quite small *** we may not have room for our bed and our desks in there. We don’t really want our desks in a spare room.
spare room 2 is quite large—too large? *
It also needs a closet—perhaps somehow in conjunction with a surround for the stove pipe.
You can see I have a wall right into a window in the closet, so we may have to lose that window too? *

Plan 3:
I just noticed there's an error on the design: there should not be an extra door by the shower. (The bathroom already has a door.) It would just be open from the tub area to the rest of the bathroom. Sorry, that's a little confusing.

public access to bathroom **
plenty of closet space for master bdrm **
office space is separate from bedroom *
there's room for an office **
master bedroom in back where it's quieter **
security: two exits from bedroom give you an escape route from intruders *

messy door area by the spare bedrooms and bathroom *
very small master bedroom (will our bed even fit?) *

Then I realized that the master bedroom was so small in the last few plans because the stairway eats up the north part of the house. Why not flip the stairs? Troy wasn't so eager at first because that is some major reconstruction, but it turns out it solves his insulation problem. Flipping the stairs to the south puts them into the front part of the house which is wider. Voila! Room for insulation!

So I give you Plan 4:
We're not sure if the wall at A (running through the middle of the master bedroom can be removed. If not, the south portion would probably become a separate office off of the bedroom. That would make it a "feature" not a drawback. ;-)

public access to bathroom **
security: you can hear people come up the stairs, but are the very farthest from them. It gives you time to react or flee *
bigger master bedroom than previous 2 plans * (even if it is long and skinny)
large master bdrm closet area **
linen closet right in the bathroom (instead of in the hall) *

very small spare room 1 *
very long trip around to master bedroom * (unless a door is put in at B)
small master bedroom ** but after putting the office and clothes storage into other rooms, maybe it's all we need.
security: if no door at B you can be trapped by intruders *

Then Troy had a thought of a Modified Plan 4: he wondered if there would be an advantage to take out the wall separating Room 1 from the Hallway. This would make that room more like a loft. I thought I could hang a curtain across the room for guest privacy, but when we have no guests (which is like 350 days out of 365 at least) we could have it open. We're still thinking about whether that would offer a lot of advantage or not.

Please let us know what you think about this issue and all the other plans. Some say adversity makes you stronger, and I say opposing opinions can do the same with plans and designs. So fire away! (You can let us know what you like too though.)

PS: Troy is really fired up about the kitchen. Every day I come home to a big change. Last night was the floors being taken out (Goodbye horrible nasty linoleum tiles!) and we carried out the counter top. This morning he's taking the lower cabinets to the shop. They are horribly water damaged on the bottom (as was a good portion of the under floor). Troy had figured fixing them up would be cheaper and quicker than buying new ones for the shop. (And we all know that even cheap cabinets are $$$.) Oh no...he just came up and told me they are falling apart. So much for reusing...

Revealing all that nastiness has really let a repulsive odor into the kitchen. It's amazing the house in general didn't smell worse than it did. It's nasty work but it sure is satisfying to take that grossness out!! Thank you, garbage man!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Troy Hurt His Back on the Weekend

So this is what he did today.

I came home expecting to have to clean debris off the kitchen floor from last week's demolition and instead found that Troy had not only done that, but had removed all the upper cupboards as well. He also was stuck with taking a lot of crap off the walls, like a shelf over the stove, towel rack, mandolin, etc. that I hadn't got to. (It turns out it was rather handy to have tools stored in the living room. I find myself reaching for them quite often. When I remember they're in the shop, more often than not the job doesn't get done!)

The counter's loose too so we can haul that off whenever we're ready.
When I questioned him about his back, he said it must be his youthful healing abilities. I think it might have been the use of the nice drugs I had left over from when my back was injured in February. Or maybe it was the prayers of our small group last night.

In any case, work continues.

Monday, August 30, 2010

A little update on the homestead and why the US is short on jobs.

Things have been busy and a little hectic, but that's not news I guess.  We successfully got through my fiftieth birthday, so that was fun.  But I am glad to be past all the extra hubbub and get on with the business of making, improving and running the homestead.

I got the basics up for our grape arbor.  It's not much, just some galvanized cable strung between several steel fence posts, but the grapes are much happier since they are no longer laying around on the ground.  The four peach trees and four apple trees that we planted last year have done well and gained a good bit of height and girth.  The electric fence has kept the deer from eating them down to nothingness. 

Most of the trees and bushes we planted this spring have done well.  One of the pear trees died, and one of the paw paw trees died above the graft.  So the root stock took over and is now doing well.  More than likely, the root stock will not make fruit as tasty and large as the named variety that was grafted on top.  But we could get lucky and get a sport that's even better.  We lost a couple fall red rasberry bushes.  All the blueberry bushes came through nicely.  The hazelnut tree/bushes are all doing well.  Someday, we'll be able to almost feed ourselves.

The garden got away from me again this year, and the weeds have really taken over.  Grasses in particular are tough to break their reproductive cycle.  Despite that, we have plenty of tomatoes, the corn is doing splendidly, we have picked several watermelons (none quite ripe yet, but still tasty and refreshing), plenty of beets, carrots and beans that we're not keeping up with.  The cucumbers have pretty much given up, after being swallowed up by the watermelon vines that are attempting to take over the earth.  But Christina did get quite a few jars pickled.  The Yukon Gold potatoes are wonderfully delicious and produced a good yield.

We cut, split and stacked another year's worth of firewood, and we always stay a year ahead so it's nice and dry and seasoned when we burn it.  Isaac worked like a champ at splitting and stacking.  We broke the log splitter a couple of times, but nothing serious.  30 minutes work with the ancient Lincoln arc welder made it better than new.  I don't know how people can get along in life without a welder.

The shop still wants some finishing work, which I anticipate will get done this winter as I have time.

The big push is get the kitchen renovated, especially the exposed/exterior walls.  They desperately need insulating, so the pipes don't freeze, again.  And the people too.   As you can see from the pictures a few posts back, we have deconstructed a bunch of the kitchen already.  Wow is that tedious.  Tearing drywall and paneling off goes well enough, but then you have to digest the wreckage into garbage bags, suitable for the garbage removal service.  Cheap wood paneling is a pox on humanity.

The kitchen had 4 or 5 layers of stuff on the walls.  From oldest to newest, plaster/lathe, drywall, paneling, more paneling, and drywall again.  There was a token/pretend amount of fiberglass insulation in about 1/3 of the walls.  What were  these people thinking?  I work best under deadline.  Winter is coming.

Now, to change gears completely and talk about the job situation.  About a decade ago, my blinders fell off, and I suddenly became very interested in economic theory and practice. I became aware of some disturbing trends in how the government manipulates our currency and "manages" the Federal Deficit.

Back when we were worried that South and Central America would become politically unstable, and the USSR would fill the political vacuum with communism, I started to watch a certain number or metric if you will.  This number was highly predictive of when any given dictatorship was about to be overthrown, or have a coup, or something equally bad.  This metric was the ratio of government debt to GDP, or gross domestic product.

With rare exception, we could predict with pretty good accuracy,  something BAD was going to happen if this ratio went much above 1.00.  That is to say, if you're a dictator, and the entire economy of your country produces a million dollars worth of goods and services in one year, and if you, the government/dictator owed, in total, much over a million dollars, that was a very bad sign.  If you were smart, you would pack your bags and move to Switzerland before some commie funded fanatic whipped the public up into a frenzy and you get shot in your bed.

The alarming thing is, we are now them.  We as a nation have become enslaved by our debtors, and by the debt itself.  Of course, there is no definite magic line that, once crossed, things blow up politically.  But the bigger the number, the higher the risk.

Japan is one of those rare exceptions, with a debt to GDP ratio of almost 2.  The reason it "works" for them is the government owes most of the money to the Japanese ordinary citizenry.  No currency exchange rates to cause problems.  And, so long as they like to keep the money tied up in savings long term, the government can slowly chip away at it.  I put "works" in quotes because the Japanese economy has experienced trivial to zero growth in the last decade, primarily due to the debt.  This is not something we should strive to attain.

So, as a general rule, we don't like it to be over 1.  Below 1 is much better.  In the US, during WW 2, we piled up historically high levels of debt.

We got away with it then, because the war in europe destroyed a large percentage of the manufacturing base/infrastructure.  The whole world pretty much had to buy manufactured goods from us (mild oversimplification) because we were the only ones left standing.  And US citizens made heroic sacrifices to push the war effort along, like no new cars or hair dryers for the duration of the war to allow this huge surge of resources to flow into the war effort.  All the pent up demand after the war drove manufacturing in the US to unprecedented levels.

For many years after the war, every president/congress reduced the debt/GDP ratio, until we hit Ronald Reagan.  Every administration since then has made it worse.  If you ignore the funny accounting methods, it appears that Bill Clinton reduced the actual deficit, which is technically true.  But if you count all the "off budget" items, he doesn't fare so well after all.

The debt/GDP ratio peaked at about 1.2 during the war, and bottomed out at about 0.35 under Nixon, Ford and Carter.  Here's a nice graph for those visual thinkers:

Debt to GDP ratio over time

Unfortunately, our fearless leaders have borrowed their way into a much larger hole (in absolute terms) and as a percentage of GDP, nearly as bad as during the height of the war.  There are key differences this time around.  We didn't recently bomb europe to pieces, so their manufacturing base is just fine thank you.  And for the last two decades, we have been steadily losing manufacturing jobs and infrastructure to asia.  I also feel that the current crop of citizens in the U.S. will be unlikely to make big sacrifices gracefully.

Depending on who you talk to, our current debt/GDP ratio is now pretty much exactly 1.0.    I can assure you, our economy is not going to perk up in the next 5-10 years.

How are we going to dig ourselves out of the hole this time?  The government's current solution is to raise taxes, which will throw the brakes on the economy.  This will truly be THE jobless "recovery".  Here's a nice article describing the problem facing the small business person (who supplies 2/3 of ALL the jobs in the US):

This is why there are no jobs...

So, whatever your station in life, you should plan on not getting a raise, getting your hours cut, losing more benefits all the time (like health insurance) or losing your job altogether, and your government getting more and more voracious in their appetite for tax revenue, user fees, speeding tickets and other creative ways to squeeze money out of the citizenry.  If this turns out not to be so in your personal case, I am exceedingly happy for you.  Hope for the best, but plan for the worst.  Get out of debt, reduce risk.

Good luck and may the force be with you.

Oh yeah, and fire all of your incumbent congressmen and senators this fall.


Saturday, August 21, 2010

Moving Day

Yes, I know, you thought all the moving was done. We moved into the shop a few weeks ago. (Thanks again, David and Wendy.) We enjoyed all the space in the living room and an empty dining room, entertained some guests in them, and now are filling them up again. :sigh: That's how it goes.

So this moving "day" (because it'll take more than one) refers to moving the kitchen into the dining room. I moved the "food shelf" the other day. Then I dissembled the shelf and set it up in sections under our makeshift counter:
  Doesn't that look handy?

Today I got a good portion of the cupboards empty. Troy is threatening to move them into the shop any day now. I'm going to miss them, crappy as they may be.
The water to the sink was disconnected last night. That is what I'm going to miss the most. Goodbye handy double sink. Goodbye tall faucet that can fill pots. Goodbye separation of bathroom and food prep/cleanup.

Troy discovered that the supply line to the sink has been dripping for a long time, presumably since before we moved here. There's a lot of water damage in the floor and the walls, and in fact there's a nice line of algae on the concrete steps outside too. In short, there's been steady water flow over a long time. It's a good thing we're fixing it up; it really needs it. (Part of me thinks it's a good thing Troy didn't discover this sooner or I might have lost my sink sooner!)

Meanwhile, a lot of the stuff from the cupboards got moved to the closet in the dining room:
I spent a good deal of time and energy moving a bunch of stuff from the closet into Isaac's room. (Remember all that extra room I made in the Great Cleanup of 2010? All being put to use again now.) It was also a chance to get rid of a couple boxes full of VHS tapes.

Other stuff from the cupboards is going to be boxed up and stored. Like, for instance, baking supplies. I don't do much of that normally, and I'm pretty sure I'll be doing even less now. Plus, I'm not even sure I'll have a stove. So that seemed like a no-brainer.

The counter we have set up in the dining room is a few 2x10s on sawhorses. (What else?) It is, of course, sturdy enough to walk on. Isn't that the first criteria for any counter?
Anyway, I did say I would prefer a nicer surface so that I could actually wipe it down and have some hope of it seeming clean. (These boards were used as forms for the shop's foundation, after all. And then they were stored outside for three years. Would you have a problem with that??)

Troy brought home a piece of melamine shelving. He's using it for a desk upstairs and we thought I may work for a counter.
But it's nice and smooth and it meets my criteria: it can be wiped down.

Now that I see how little of my "counter" it covers, however, I'm going to also get a piece of cheery vinyl to cover the whole mess. It will make me feel better.

My plan right now--as soon as we have electricity in the dining room--is to line up all the small appliances along the back of the counter. It's way too wide to use the whole thing, and I think that will use the space nicely.

Even though I don't like change, and am really going to miss having a kitchen sink (or any water close to my counter/work area) I realize that this is a pretty sweet setup for people who are redoing their kitchen. Certainly, a lot of people don't have anywhere to go with their kitchen stuff and end up setting up on the front porch, or the camper.

What does seem a little crazy is that we are, apparently, still trying to can this season. I'm going to run a batch of tomatoes tomorrow before I lose the counter and stove. (I just can't imagine two burners on a hot plate would do it.)

Tonight I washed all the tomatoes and laid them out to dry:
The most logical place seemed to be on the bathroom floor. I told myself that couldn't be right because food doesn't belong on a bathroom floor, but that's all I could come up with. I mean, they were being washed in the sink in the bathroom. It's not a big leap to letting them dry there. But that doesn't make it any more right.

Remember that feeling you got while watching Seinfield and you heard Kramer say, "I prepared all the food for this dinner in the shower."? That's about the feeling I have about my tomatoes in the bathroom. But I will carry on. For as long as I can.

And I'll keep in mind that a good run in the pressure cooker will kill all.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Beginning of the Kitchen Saga (I Assume)

Well, the kitchen is started. And I think I can safely assume it's going to be a saga. Whose kitchen isn't a saga?

Troy and Isaac dismantled the main support beam the other day. There used to be an exterior wall there. At some point, someone took out the wall and bumped out the kitchen onto a porch. I am assuming that's when they put this support beam in.
We don't know when someone nailed on some extra boards to the side to "help" the beam do its job. But the boards didn't span the length, and in fact the interior one turned out to be two shorter pieces nailed to the beam. In short, they did not help the beam but just added more weight to it.

I don't know if you can see in the picture, but it sags quite badly in the middle. And then, as if there needed to be more, the north end (far end in the picture) was not supported by anything. It's hanging off the second floor. That's not how it supposed to work. So there will be some structural improvements to the kitchen.

And we are now thinking we are going to have a beam as part of the look of the ceiling. We don't want to bring the entire ceiling down low enough to hide the beam, so we'll cover it with some nice looking wood and make it a feature. The ceiling to the west of it, over the porch, will probably be a little lower and drywall. The ceiling to the east will be a little higher and suspended.

Then yesterday, more "real" work began. I came home to this:
You can see they are taking apart the exterior wall. That will be the first concern. But the cabinets are next. They'll be moving to the shop to be filled with soap-making supplies, I believe.

When I came home and walked upstairs to say hi to Isaac, he apologized for the mess in the kitchen. They tore out so much he wasn't able to clean it all up by the end of his "work day." When I walked back into the kitchen I noticed this:
...for the first time! When I walked through it on my way upstairs, I didn't even see it. I was focused on the walls and work being done. And I'm pretty good with SEP fields. (That's Someone Else's Problem--read Douglas Adams.) And Isaac apparently thought a mess in the kitchen was a much bigger deal (and more uncommon) than I did. (Bless his heart.)

So who knows how long the kitchen will be out of commission. I'm scared to guess because I know it's always at least twice as long as you think. Meanwhile we'll be setting up in the dining room. We ate our first meal there last night:
And Troy noted that it was the first time ever, actually, that we ate in our dining room. (We had spaghetti in case that's significant.)

We'll be setting up some shelves for the food and dishes that are in the kitchen. The dishwasher and fridge are already in a different room (where they've always been); we have a microwave; a sink in the bathroom off the kitchen; and Troy just bought a hot plate to replace the stove. (Plus there's the barbecue and crockpot for other meals.) We're going to try leaving the stove in for as long as possible, though. It's not on an outside wall so it may not be too much in the way, and it's sitting where the fridge will go so no cabinets need to be installed there. We'll see.

And that's life at Maple Leaf Gardens. Grab your crowbars, boys; we're going in!

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