January 22, 2005

Thank God for Snow Days

The snowthrower has been idle so far this season. I am not entirely sure the thing is a snowthrower and not a snowblower. It is the more powerful of the two, and I think that is the thrower. It has been a wimpy winter, precipitation-wise, here in Minnesota. This has caused some concern, because the roots of plants tend to freeze when the ground doesn't have a protective layer of snow. Now we finally have one. It began to snow lightly yesterday, but it did not stop. It got heavier as the day turned into evening, and now there is a 9 inch blanket of soft snow outside.

It is a great day to be a child: a Saturday free of care and plenty of snow to play in. I am tempted to take the toboggan we have packed around and stored for a dozen years out on its maiden voyage.

Posted by webs0080 at 7:41 AM

January 5, 2005

The Perfect Little House

In trying times, I am easily distracted by shopping. And, like many men, the bigger the item the better. Thus, real estate becomes a siren calling out to me. Friends are looking at real estate in Montana, giving Roomie and I the opportunity to vicariously experience the thrill of real estate shopping.

While we were shopping for our house in Takoma Park, we came very close to buying the Perfect Little House. It was in our price range, and the neighborhood was ho-hum. The house was a mock-Tudor built in 1949 and had been occupied by the original owners since then. From the entrance foyer, there was a small living room on the left and a small dining room with a built in corner-hutch on the right. At the back of the living room, a tidy screened in porch projected from the house. Behind the dining room, a smallish kitchen with breakfast nook had all its original cabinetry.

Upstairs, there were two bedrooms. The larger of the two had a small additional room with a window coming off of it. The capacious closets had lights and were lined with cedar. The woodwork throughout the house was immaculate. This couple must have made the kids remove their shoes in the house. Or maybe, like us, they didn't have kids.

Downstairs from the kitchen was the rumpus room. It was finished in black and red linoleum tile and had an electric fireplace. I don't think there was a bar there, but there could have been. The water pipes were orginal and copper. The previous owner paid for top quality stuff.

The garage was a stone one-car affair. Cute as a bug, but too small for our needs. Something would have had to remain outside, and it was not going to be the motorcycles. Because the garage was smaller, the yard was decently-sized. Furthermore, it was fenced and well-maintained to boot. The dogs would have loved it.

Alas, the house was one room too small for our needs. But it was a real one-owner cream puff, the single-family residential equivalent of the car that the little old lady drove only on Sundays, when she had it waxed. We went for a larger house with a larger garage and a smaller yard. Compared to the PLH, the place we ended up with was a dump when we took possession. Once the floors were done and the interior was painted, it was nice in its own way. But it was restored, rather than conserved, the latter making even the wallpaper at the PLH tolerable. The thought we could live in such a place filled us with the idea that we could be a couple worthy and deserving of stewarding such a home. I think we are over it now.

Posted by webs0080 at 7:44 AM

December 14, 2004

Baby It's Cold

Often, the first thing that people learn about Minnesota is that it gets cold here. This morning, according to Yahoo! Weather, it is 7 degrees Fahrenheit outside. It was supposed to have gotten down as low as 4 in these parts, but the heat-island effect probably came to our rescue. In anyone's book, 7 degrees is cold. The funny thing is that it felt a lot colder yesterday, when the temperature (according to Biscuits&Gravy's thermometer) was 16 to 18 degrees.

The difference was the wind. Yesterday, the cold front blew in at a steady 20 miles per hour or so. It is unusual when everyone chooses to use the covered section of the Washington Avenue bridge. That is, everyone except the bicycles, who would have had to dodge all the pedestrians.

Today, the wind is calm. Yesterday, my cheeks went numb in the three minutes the dog took to do her morning business. Today, 7 degrees felt positively balmy. Not that I am going to be raking the leaves that blew out of the beds where we had neglected to rake them any time soon.

Posted by webs0080 at 9:03 AM

November 28, 2004

First Snow

991.jpgFriday night, as if on cue for the passing of fall and the onset of winter , it snowed. It looked great at first as it always does, coating the trees and the road. It kept going through touch football on Saturday, though it never accumulated more than an inch or so. Sometime before nightfall, it stopped altogether. Everywhere else I've lived, such a snow would be gone by now. But this is Minnesota, and we might well never again see the grass in the backyard again until spring.

Posted by webs0080 at 7:54 PM

November 27, 2004

Battle for the Feeder

Squirrels are supposed to not like safflower seeds. Would someone tell that to the squirrels perched on the bird feeder all day macking the cardinal food? Squirrels are supposed to eat off the bungee corn thing.

I am beginning to share my accomplice's hostility toward the rodents.

Posted by webs0080 at 4:59 PM

November 25, 2004

The Cutest Garage Ever


Apologies for the pride of ownership, but is this not the cutest garage ever?

Posted by webs0080 at 11:49 AM


gut1smSo the gutter people were unable to finish last Friday on account of the rain, which though mild (understandably) dampened their enthusiasm for working with sharp sheetmetal perched atop metal ladders.

Monday, the foreman (I assume so anyway because he was the fellow who conducted the walkaround with me) was absent on account of a death in the family and he had to go to the funeral. I came home from school/work and walked around front just to see if they were going to finish. They were, sort of. The foreman's absence combined with his failure to mark on the job sheet just where the downspouts were to go led the workers to install two shiny galzanized downspouts directly in front of and attached to the porch columms we had just gone to the trouble of liberating from cheap aluminum windows, rather than to the side of the house as the foreman and I discussed.

gut4smI should confess that I had been warned by our primary contractor that these people have to be watched. Truth is, all people working on your house need to be watched, including the primary contractor. From the installer's point of view, the downspouts go where they work the best. So the front of the house is ideal: there is no basement to flood there, and the fascia slopes naturally to the front.

gut3smWhat the gutter people —and many "specialists"— neglect to consider is that the house can be viewed as a whole project; certainly homeowners are inclined to think of the house this way more than workers who see only drip lines and drainage venues. In this context, having two large downspouts attached to the front of the house works against the purpose of beautifying the house, which led us to hire them in the first place. In other words, to gutter people, houses are all about gutters. To insulation people, they are all about insulation. And so forth.

gut2smThe gutter man who did not go to the funeral was apologetic. "You see, I already cut this hole for the downspout [see picture]. It can be replaced." (I think this is what you get for paying for good contractor's: they are quicker to "make things right" than the losers, who will simply insist that they were right.) We agreed that we would live with the downspouts where they were hung for the time being and that I would call next week if I still thought they needed to be moved. They will, and I will. The problem in this case is with the foreman, who neglected to share his notes (assuming he took them) with the other workers. Singling him out for rebuke seems heartless, given that he had to go to a funeral. Somehow, I think the rest of the crew will take care of that for me and send him out to make the necessary repairs.

Posted by webs0080 at 10:19 AM

November 18, 2004

End of the Construction Season

The gutter people are putting up half-round galvanized gutters on the garage today. They should finish the house tomorrow. The gutters are very shiny. Installation will conclude this year's construction project.

First orders of business next year will be painting the gutters and fixing the bleeding paint where the contractor tried to paint too soon before a thunderstorm. He has promised to fix the spots, but we are not holding our collective breaths.

Posted by webs0080 at 10:47 AM

June 16, 2004

The Littlest Things

Sometimes the littlest things make all the difference. While enduring a particularly slow lunch period, I walked up to the window where the foods we served were painted on

  • Coffee
  • Espresso
  • Cappuccino
  • Sandwiches
  • Desserts
and with a razor blade I scraped the "S" and the "wiches" from "Sandwiches" as well as the bullet next to it. And just like that, we no longer served sandwiches in the cafe.

Recently, I made a decision the same way. Out front of our house there was a black reproduction four-sided carriage lamp. It was undeniably ugly. Moreover, its placement atop a six-foot pole placed it in every view from the porch and the living room. It was hard to say whether it was worse when it was on or off. On, its flame-shaped bulb sort of resembled the gaslight the lamp was supposed to have evoked. This effect was attenuated by the light-sensor base, whose rubber seal crept halfway up the bulb.

We were tempted to remove the whole thing, but I argued that it was convenient to have the outlet there, and that the light did after all throw some lumens on our otherwise dangerously dark front stairs. So we looked for replacements.

ext4.jpgWhen we bought it, the house had many ugly parts that required our attention. Some of the major uglinesses (e.g. the aluminum covering up the eave brackets) are being addressed. Perhaps this is what drove me to finally decapitate the lamp. We had looked in vain online for a post lamp to replace the Ugly One. Reproductions had once been available at Arroyo Craftsman, but they appear to have been discontinued. A further insult was that Rejuvenation had also discontinued the few post lights they once carried. The Rejuvenation people told me that the Arroyo Craftsman website was notoriously incomplete and gave me the number of a rep who could give me the number of a dealer in our area.

We knew the place, Creative Lighting. It is right around the corner from our house, though its dead-end frontage road location and my stubborn refusal to look at a map beforehand required us to drive several miles to get to it. We walked up to the front desk and inquired of the location of the Arroyo Craftsman stuff. We were so directed to the outdoor lighting department. The best they had was the Kichler 9529 AGZ, and we paid too much to bring it home.

newlamp.jpgThe next hour was spent decapitating the old lamp. The bulb, light sensor, and fixture came off easily enough, but I made a messy cut with the hacksaw that required some filing. Just for fun I dragged out the compressor and an air grinder to smooth things out. The new lamp installed quickly and easily and is a great improvement over the old one. The very moment the screws were being tightened, the skies opened up. I rolled the compressor back into the garage's safety as clouds burst overhead.

If we had it to do over again, we would save a bunch of money by ordering it online. This brings up the same dilemma we have with motorcycle accessories: You want to see them in person and so you go to a store to check them out. Then you see the price tag and you KNOW you can find it cheaper on-line. Of course, if everyone does this, as they appear to do lately, then the stores will sooner or later go out of business. So enjoy the roof over your head, well-paid employees of Creative Lighting, while your secure employment lasts.

What became of the eagle-adorned carriage-style lamp and the upper four feet of its pole? It was destined for not so great things, deposited alongside the garbage cans next to the alley. While I was working on Bitty, a pair of junkers in a pickup truck asked if they could take it. I offered them the glass, which was still on the porch. The glass, swaddled in protective cardboard, appeared to momentarily challenge them. Doubtless it would some little value to the little value of the lamp, and yet it demanded that they accommodate its fragility. Thanks for taking it, fellows, and may it make someone happy!

Posted by webs0080 at 8:51 PM

May 24, 2004

That Queasy Old Building Feeling

A couple of weeks ago, I thought I would take the freeway to school/work, but the freeway was choked and so I took the frontage road. Finding myself lost but going in the right direction, I rode past this building. Pretty cool, I thought, and I made a note of its location.

When I got home, I told Mrs. Blog about it and a couple of days later we went over to take some pictures.

P1010019.jpgWe have a thing for old buildings. And we should really know better: the roof leaked like a sieve on our last old commercial building, eventually collapsing on the person who bought the building from us. You could say that Mrs Blog and I are pie-eyed dreamers when it comes to old buildings. Fortunately for us, the Crosby-Block Building is located in St. Paul, and thus is too expensive for us to purchase. If it was located somewhere in the boonies like our old home/business was, we could probably afford to get in over our heads -- again. It is probably not a coincidence that I find major architectural projects important and interesting right at the point when grad school looks more and more like it is incapable of making me happy. "I'm sick of delayed gratification: I want something big and fun to work on NOW!"

The building itself is a delight: big window frames (which all but the third story need to be replaced), our kind of location (not 50 feet from the railroad tracks: part sits above the tracks, and part below), and neither too large to be unwieldy nor too small to be impractical. The ground floor fairly screams for a cafe or bar (with room enough for both!), while the upstairs could house a residence and a studio above. See what I mean about the pie-eyed dreamer?

P1010014.JPG According to articles in the local press, the building was a drug-infested slum a couple of years ago. The slumlord was pretty much forced to sell by the neighbors, who had recruited undercover cops to make arrests there. The first pie-eyed dreamer wanted to convert it to graphic design studios (good idea!), but got ripped off by his contractor and abandoned the project. The current owners planned to convert the apartments to condos, which might work if one could resolve the fire access and egress issues, which I suspect were responsible for condemnation in the first place. At any rate, by June the new owners had already run out of money. They were pie-eyed dreamers once too.

- You could have a studio on the second floor and we could have an AWESOME penthouse on the third!

- We could build a carriage house out back for the bikes. Or have a garden!

- We could almost afford it. Maybe the owners just want to get out from under, like we did in Dunsmuir.

- The city would love to have some preservation-minded artistic types take it over. And besides, without all those units we wouldn't need so many exits!

A public hearing on the building is slated for early June. If you go you might yet see Mrs. Blog there.

Posted by webs0080 at 6:14 AM