Archive | June, 2008

Paint– the Miracle Stuff

June 29, 2008

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I love paint! When I first moved to this house, the walls, trim, and even parts of the floors had all been painted white. Talk about ugly! So that was the first thing I did, paint everything and add some color.  I added some bright colors to my walls and trim and spruced up the place very inexpensively (as compared to a gut-and-remodel). I even tried some painting techniques on some walls– lightly sponging diluted white paint onto yellow walls; blotching greens and reds for a different room.

Paint can save a ton of money, and it’s the least expensive decorating activity I know. but it’ll put a dent in the decor budget! So I’m always looking for cute new ideas to tide me over until I can get new walls, lol.

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How to Create a Serfdom

June 28, 2008

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Chief Justice John Marshall once said, “The power to tax is the power to destroy.” I’ll let that sink in for a minute. 😐

I was at the gym a week or two ago and saw the most appalling “infomercial” I have ever seen in my life. It was John Beck’s “Free & Clear Real Estate System.” I’m not going to complain about what bunk the “system” is and how it’s a rip-off– I’m going to bellow at the top of my lungs the absolute tyrannical immorality of the governmental system that John Beck is using. I am still so angry about something like this!

Here’s what happens: a homeowner gets into financial trouble, for whatever reason. The homeowner cannot pay his property taxes. The homeowner may be keeping up with his mortgage payments, but not the property tax payments. In such a case, the government (usually the city or county) can confiscate the ENTIRE property and auction it off for tax default. Any capital the homeowner has gained from paying years and years of mortgage and tax payments disappears. The homeowner is evicted from the home and the government sells it. Usually, the property sells for a very low price, because all the government wants is the back taxes that are due.

This is absolutely unconscionable. I am outraged– apoplectic- that this can happen! What happened to property rights in this country? In all essence, there are NO property rights. If you do not pay your taxes, the government can take your hard-earned property and turn around and sell it to a speculator. (That’s where John Beck’s “system” comes in– he snaps up those properties and resells them at market value.)

The infomercial feeds on the greedy “small-business” American speculator. But no one stops to ask– Is this justice in America? And what old lady or impoverished family is being evicted, so that I can buy my new house real cheap? And a lot of times, it’s the government or banks that snap up the foreclosed property. It happens right here in Utica, NY. The government forecloses, owns the property, and sells it for a hefty profit. Criminal!

This tyrannical confiscation of property is not American. It is socialist/fascist. Let’s not pretend here– it’s the government that really owns all the property. If you don’t pay the “rent” in the form of their high property taxes, then you are thrown out into the streets (or jailed or fined, or both) and you lose EVERYTHING you have built on up to then. What kind of system is this? This is more akin to serfdom- slavery– where the lord is the government and we are the tenant farmer serfs. And the government works hand in hand with the banks and credit card companies to do this. And what’s worse is that the property tax is after the income tax and the sales tax, and all the billions of little taxes on top of that! There are so many taxes in this country that we lost the concept of what it means to be free. We are slaves to the taxation departments, the government, and the banks. What a hateful system.

“If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of their currency, first by inflation and then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around them will deprive the people of all property until their children will wake up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered.” a quote attributed to Thomas Jefferson.

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Hot and Steamy in New York

June 27, 2008

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I hate the humid weather, and Upstate New York seems to be in its clutches this week. :-p These are photos I snapped the other day, as the humidity descended. Moments later, large raindrops burst from the air, as if the atmosphere had been wrung out like a wet rag.
steamy1
steamy2
I love the growing season but I have a hard time tolerating the humidity. Needless to say, we’re not getting much done this week, lol.

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Lego Escapades

June 26, 2008

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Some kids make big pirate castles or monster mansions with their Legos. What do my kids create?

tn_auca-mission4

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Operation: Auca.

It’s a recreation of the Auca Indian village of Ecuador and the five missionaries (including Jim Elliot and Nate Saint) who reached out to them (and were killed). Later, the wives of two of the men (Elisabeth Elliot and Rachel Saint, with Elisabeth’s young daughter) moved into the village to translate the Bible into the Auca language. The Aucas were so stunned by such forgiveness and love that they all became Christians. My kids recently saw the movie “Beyond the Gates of Splendor.”

P.S. Guess who wrote this in his book:

In a voyager to forget these things is base ingratitude; for should he chance to be at the point of shipwreck on some unknown coast, he will most devoutly pray that the lesson of the missionary may have extended thus far.

Charles Darwin. 😀

Here’s the section:
There are many who attack [the missionaries]. They expect the missionaries to effect that which the Apostles themselves failed to do. Inasmuch as the condition of the people falls short of this high standard, blame is attached to the missionary, instead of credit for that which he has effected. They forget, or will not remember, that human sacrifices, and the power of an idolatrous priesthood— a system of profligacy unparalleled in any other part of the world—infanticide a consequence of that system—bloody wars, where the conquerors spared neither women nor children— that all these have been abolished; and that dishonesty, intemperance, and licentiousness have been greatly reduced by the introduction of Christianity. In a voyager to forget these things is base ingratitude; for should he chance to be at the point of shipwreck on some unknown coast, he will most devoutly pray that the lesson of the missionary may have extended thus far. ~Charles Darwin

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Award Winning Blog!

June 23, 2008

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I have an award-winning blog! I just wanted to give a preliminary THANK YOU to the two bloggers who nominated me. 😀 Gee, you like me! I will have more on this exciting event as soon as I can. I have to nominate award-winners to pass it on.

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Treating Iron Chlorosis in Maple Trees

June 19, 2008

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I haven’t exactly had good success planting trees in my yard. It’s not that trees don’t grow well, it’s mostly that the little trees are under constant attack, from every angle. I’ve planted about three dozen trees at various places on this property. Only 10 or 11 have survived. Reasons for their problems have been pests, flooding, severe frost, disease, and the neighbors’ children. The destruction of my trees from flooding and by the children are what have irked me the most, I guess.

Our house used to be a parsonage. The property was “public” for several decades, and was treated like a public park, for better or for worse. When we bought the place, the yard was overgrown and in bad shape, and so was the house. It took a few years before some of the neighbors realized that NO you can’t go tearing around the lawn on your motorcycles anymore; NO you can’t eat your ice cream cones in my front yard and leave your garbage. I started planting trees and building flowerbeds; next thing I know, some of the little kids (4, 5 years old) are tearing around my backyard, sawing my baby Colorado blue spruce trees. I went to the grandmother, who laughed and said she had given her grandsons some saws to play with, and were just playing “lumberjack.” Funny thing is, they played lumberjack on MY trees but not on HER trees. ?!?! She offered to replace them should they die (they did) but has not made good on her “promise.” Oh well.

Flooding is another problem. Flooding has been occurring on and off for several years here. I won’t get into the problems associated with that; let’s just say my town board has some serious fixes ahead of them (over-development, negligence, etc).

There are two certain parts of my yard that flood during any heavy rainfall. It did not used to happen, but changes in the neighbor’s topography altered the water course. (Home-ownership has been quite an effort for us).

I have had to adjust my garden flowers accordingly by finding water-loving plants that don’t mind getting their feet wet. However, there’s a beautiful young Red Maple tree in the bed, and this I cannot move. But the constant water problems have been affecting its health. For three years, it’s been afflicted with iron chlorosis, an iron deficiency that is usually due to alkaline soil. The Maple never had any problems for its first three years, so I strongly suspect that the constant flooding is eroding nutrients.

After some intensive research, I found a way to treat the tree– and this year with its new leaves, I’ve seen that it’s been successful!

Iron chlorosis is a condition where leaves turn yellow but the leaf veins are dark green. With this condition, the plant is slowly starving to death, because it cannot produce chlorophyll. (Iron is necessary to produce chlorophyll). Slowly, affected leaves turn brown and wilt. This was already happening to my tree. This photo is exactly how my tree leaves looked.

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Photo courtesy of Iowa State U.

I found that there are three ways to treat an affected tree:

1) Trunk injection. This is done by a professional. It is costly. It would be better for me to remove the tree and plant another elsewhere, since it would cost me less money.

2) Foliar spray. An iron-rich liquid is sprayed on the leaves for a quick fix. This is temporary and will need to be repeated. Usually it is done for “emergency” situation where the tree is in extreme stress. My tree hadn’t reached that point yet, but was getting there.

3) Soil treatment. This is where an iron-rich liquid (an iron chelate mix) is added directly to the soil.

I opted for #2 and 3. I purchased an iron chelate formula at my local farm supply store (it was about $7). I attached the bottle to my garden hose and sprayed the leaves for about two minutes. The next day, I dug small holes under the tree canopy, about 1 foot deep. The holes did not need to be wide, but they did need to be deep. One foot was as deep as I could get this time (I’ll use a post-hole digger next time). I made these holes all around the perimeter of the tree, about two feet apart. I dumped the rest of my iron chelate solution in each hole, and added water to the holes.

I did not see any results that year. The leaves remained yellow. But this year, all the new growth is beautiful. It’s green and lush!

MapleLeaf2

If the soil remains alkaline (that is, if flooding continues), I will have to continue my iron chelate treatment every other year or so. There really isn’t any “cure” for iron chlorosis if the soil remains alkaline. You have to treat the tree on a continual basis. I’m thankful iron chelate is so inexpensive. I’ve heard “old wives’ tales” about leaving rusty nails and such in the soil… but I’ve dug up rusty nails and it isn’t pleasant. I’d rather use a liquid solution or something less dangerous than punching nails in my soil! I think there’s been enough junk dumped in the yard around here already!

If you’d like more information, see here and here.

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New York Renovator: Our Story

June 16, 2008

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In the comments, some newer readers have expressed interest in our little renovating project. I haven’t really done anything “major” to the house in a year, due to other projects (schooling for the kids, lack of funds). I am hoping that later this summer we will gut the kitchen. But if you are a newer reader, you’ve missed all the excitement from last year! I went through some of the most interesting posts of our projects, and link to them here. Peruse at your own pleasure. Or horror.

02 home sweet home

Each link takes you to an older post I wrote, complete with photos, of how things progressed as we did them. I also included tips and information I learned, so as to help any reader if they are tackling something similar.

Here’s a lengthy history of the home and property. I own the original abstract to the house (it’s not common for a homeowner to own the abstract– usually the mortgage lender keeps it until the mortgage is paid off). The abstract is full of wonderfully historic details and even includes a copy of the Last Will & Testament of the guy who built the house. You can read about the history here, History 101 and History 201. I was also blessed to get a photo of the house that was taken in 1910. You can see the photo here.

Our house is a “balloon frame” home, which was all the fad after the World’s Fair in Chicago in 1833. Balloon frame houses are very unconventional, and they come with their own special problems. You can read more about it here.

We’ve owned our house for almost 11 years now. We’ve repaired lots of little things– the front door, porch replacement, a new roof, building large gardens, etc.

The only room I gutted was the Entry Hall, which was disastrously ugly. We bought the house when the kids were very young, and therefore I was too busy raising them and educating them to gut the big rooms! Now that they are older, they are my handy helpers. Last summer they dug a long, deep trench to help divert the water from the roof away from the foundation of the house. It was a great project! You can read about it here and here and here.

While the kids were digging, I was doing interior gutting. Our chimney has been leaking and mildew had been growing for a while. When I removed a small wall, I found out why. Post is here. I realized I had to remove a wall from the living room to get the mildew out. When I did this, I discovered such ancient and damaged electrical wiring that I realized I had to gut the entire room. We pooled our money together and renovated the entire room. Because I had no money for an expensive electrician, I stayed up nights studying electrical circuits. I wired the living room, the bedroom above it, and a few other areas myself. And all my work was given the stamp of approval by the inspector! I saved about $3,000 by doing this work myself. The worst part was going into the attic.

Attic with Flash

Almost had a nervous breakdown when I saw this here.

Bad Knob Wiring 1

SIGH. Oh, and I had to re-do the furnace ducting in the living room, too, because it was all messed up (not according to code) and filthy. I also installed Category5 ethernet wiring and telephone wiring– read about it here.

Oh yeah, and I had a vegetable garden and multitudes of perennial gardens to keep up with, too. Makes me tired to remember it all! Read about the garden here.

I insulated the living room, and it was actually WARM in this room over the winter! No drafts, either! What a real treat. After the wiring and insulation was completed, I had some handy helpers install the sheetrock walls.

We were going to restore the original pine planks, but when I ripped out the old carpeting, I saw that the wood floor had been painted long ago. With many coats. I did a lead test and the paint came up positive for lead. i was disappointed! Our second choice was carpeting, but I did not have the knowledge or strength to install it, nor could I afford it. So we went with discounted laminate flooring and installed it ourselves. Read about it here and here, and I wrote an update about it here.

The only thing I did not replace in the living room were the windows. The windows are 100-years old, very large, and thus very expensive to replace. I just didn’t have the money to do it. We have 13 windows that need replacing in the house. I’m looking into a grant that will pay for us to do them. We did install a pediment over our French door– this post here and here show the style of the home (Greek Revival) and my decorating tastes.

We’re hoping for a new kitchen soon. The one we have right now was done in 1972 and is literally falling down on our heads. See more horror photos here.
Of course, these posts are just the “mountains” of our work here. If you want to read the “valleys” also, check out the Archives page where you’ll find a breakdown of posts by the month. Thanks for reading! I’m so tired after remembering it all that I’m going to go take a nap! Sheesh!

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Empire Today Flooring

June 16, 2008

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Mr. Mecomber and I installed laminate flooring in our living room last autumn. I’ve been waiting and watching the flooring, seeing how it will hold up to our activities (the living room is our “schoolroom” and therefore sees the most traffic all day). It has held up OK! However, installing it ourselves was a royal pain. I think with flooring, I may stick with the experts and get flooring installed. I’ll install my own electrical wiring, but flooring– especially carpeting– is a bit too much for me! The great thing about the Internet is that the sky is the limit now. I am finding all sorts of opportunities, information, and businesses online.

Should we go with flooring installation, I’m definitely checking out empiretoday.com Empire Today. Ever hear of them? The company (started in 1959 in Chicago, Illinois) has a bit of a “cult” following– they have a very distinctive jingle and spokesman (The Empire Today Man), and one of their TV commercials was in the movie Wayne’s World. The famous Empire Today jingle (“800-588-2300, Em-pire!”) has been featured in a Pearl Jam concert, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, and Extreme Makeover! lol! Empire Today even has a whole YouTube following online. Here are some of their “retro” TV commercials I found.

LOL! I think I almost remember seeing old commercials like that, in the 70s… weird! There are even a slew of spoofs done with these commercials! Wikipedia says:

The Empire Man has been seen internationally in commercials and other media, has spawned a line of collectible bobblehead dolls, is featured each year in the annual McDonald’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and inspired the Chicago Cubs to declare an official “Empire Day” at Wrigley Field in 2007.

But I wouldn’t check them out because of their impressive cultural influence and the handsome be-moustached Empire Today Man, lol. There is no doubt these guys are best of the best when it comes to flooring and customer service. Customer service is hard to come by today, especially from those “big box” stores. We all know what I’m talking about!

And I’ve checked out Empire carpet prices– nice! What’s great is these guys offer at-home service, which means THEY bring their samples to YOU at home. Wow. Not even doctors make house calls anymore! And carpeting, hardwood flooring, and window treatments are installed the NEXT DAY. It’s hard for me to believe that there still exists such a company like this, but there is! Their dedication to quality flooring and quality customer service blows my mind. I haven’t seen a company so zealous about customer service in a long, long time. Their name “Empire” stands for Excellence, Mentoring, Professionalism, Immediacy, Respect, Enthusiasm. I’m extremely impressed!

Empire Today was the 2006 Torch Award Winner for Marketplace Ethics for the Chicago and Northern Illinois Better Business Bureau. In 2007, Empire Today was named the #1 Specialty Flooring Retailer in the U.S.

I have to admit– I may be frugal, but I’m no cheapskate. I WILL pay for excellent customer service and for a reliable company with a great track record. I never used to do that, but I’ve learned my lesson. It’s too risky and wastes money in the long run by going with the “flash in the pan” big box companies. They just don’t seem to care as much, and I usually wind up having to fix their careless errors and sloppy jobs. It saves me nothing.

I think Empire Today rocks! Had you ever heard of them before?

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The Energy Audit

June 15, 2008

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New York State offers a grant to have your home inspected by a contractor from the power company to do an energy audit. They visit your home, look around, and offer suggestions and services needed to make your home more energy efficient. I had been on a waiting list (well, two, actually) since February, and my turn for the first grant rolled around last week. The contractor was here much longer than I anticipated, but I think the audit was informative. The final result?

Our 1855 home is hopelessly inefficient and wastes a ton of energy.

Duh.

This is what an energy audit entails, and this is how the house fared.

1. If your home in not insulated, the company will insulate it for you.

How I WISH I could do this! However, our home has bricks in between the studs (called “noggin”) and therefore the walls cannot be insulated. Also, we have the old knob-and-tube wiring, and it is illegal to insulate with this outdated kind of wiring (fire hazard). Insulating the walls would save us a lot of money toward our very high heating bills, but I cannot insulate until I gut the entire home. *sigh* Below is a photo I took of the living room walls, after I removed the plaster and lathe. The bricks are in the exterior walls all around the house, up to the top of the first floor. The second storey does not have these bricks. This may explain why the upstairs is absolutely FREEZING in the winter. And the lack of furnace registers may contribute, too. lol

2. If you have an old and inefficient furnace, hot water tank, and/or refrigerator, the company will purchase new ones for you.

Because of the flooding we had in 2006, we got a new furnace then. And our water tank is not terribly old (it’s been under a few floods but works well enough). And we bought a fridge about three years ago. So I missed out on the big-ticket replacements. If only they had offered to gut the house or re-wire!

3. The power company will replace all your incandescent light bulbs with the new compact florescent bulbs (we got six replacements, saving us $60 in bulb costs!) These bulbs generally last for up to ten years and reduce energy consumption. This makes me very happy. They are brighter than the bulbs we had, too.

4. The company will seal all air leaks (holes through which plumbing and electrical wires go, from the basement to the attic). Because of our plaster walls, bad plumbing which needs replacement, and 1920s wiring, this is not possible. The contractor did say he would insulate the rim joists in the basement (the wood sills which rest on the foundation walls). These have big gaping holes and I am thankful that they will do this for me.

5. The power company hands out brochures and information on how you can save energy and save money.

This we already do. We live extremely frugal. It’s the house itself that is wasteful. The house was built before electric wiring (even before gas lighting!), before indoor plumbing, before energy efficiency. They did not foresee needing to insulate the walls or making the walls thick enough for vent stacks, etc. Like the contractor said, “Those old guys didn’t make it easy, did they?”

Conclusion: I am doing everything I can to be as energy-efficient as possible, but the house is leaking energy like a sieve. It’s recommended that we renovate.

I repeat: duh!

I’m trying, I’m trying! lol We’ve got one room completely restored, and two rooms with completely new wiring. Two other rooms now have switched lights (see my post about that, here) but share one electrical receptacle. Like I’ve said before, it takes a TON of money to renovate a home these days.

Also: The contractor does check for natural gas leaks, and he found that we had THREE. Old pipe fittings (“old” as in 60 years, maybe) were crumbling. These were fixed in a day. These guys work fast- a sub-contractor came, shut off the gas, replaced the pipes, and was gone in two or three hours. It was amazing!

The energy audit was at no cost to me– it was part of a county-wide grant for eligible homeowners. They will assess your energy needs and help you out. They also give tips on saving energy (hang your clothes on a clothesline, shut off your “vampire” appliances like TVs and computers, etc).

If you are interested, contact your local HEAP office or Community Action group in your county. The second grant, which I hope to participate in soon, will inspect my windows, doors, etc. I am hoping they will replace my windows for me. These windows are 100-years old; some are cracked and many are moldy from age.

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The Money Pit, the Heart Pit

June 13, 2008

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I’ve been pondering if we Westerners put too much time, effort, and money into our homes and yards. I have been reading the latest This Old House magazine, and this month’s stories are celebrating the hundreds of thousands of dollars average homeowners have been dumping into their homes. Don’t get me wrong– the houses are beautiful. But it cost these folks a ton of money to do it all. A few of the showcased homes are in Wisconsin and Indiana. And you know what? Some of those houses are probably underwater now, after the torrential rainfall and flooding that has afflicted that part of the country. And you know what else? If these homeowners didn’t have flood insurance (and many who don’t live in flood plains don’t), then these homeowners lost everything. EVERYTHING. And to top it all off, they are probably in debt to  the hundreds of thousands. Yikes.

The American Indian tribes built temporary homes. The Indians realized how fickle and uncontrollable North American weather patterns can be. Even the Iroquois of New York and Canada, whose homes were of solid tree-limb framing and sided with tree bark, could strip everything down and move quickly. They actually did move very frequently, every twenty years or so.

Now please don’t take this wrong– I’m not saying we should return to bark-sided houses and cook mice over open campfires! And I like my Internet wiring just as much as anyone! But there comes a point when we no longer own our home, but our home owns us. This is true for many other things, these fleeting material things in this world.

I’ve blogged about the Amish before, written how I admire their simple ways. The reason they avoid most “technology” is because they realize that these things complicate our lives and threaten the family and community units. I think they have been correct about this. And yet the Amish are usually the first ones to show up after we “Gentiles” experience a natural disaster. The Amish came out in droves to help New Yorkers whose homes had been ravaged by floods in 2006. The Amish may have rejected modern ways, but they have not abandoned the timeless rule of loving one’s neighbor as oneself.

I am not Amish, but I share a good deal of their values and admire their way of life. Some of you might even consider us as somewhat Amish- we still have no electricity for half the house, the heating system is defunct for the upstairs, and we have no television, dishwasher, or Wii! The difference is that I would love to have electricity and a dishwasher (I’ll skip the tv and Wii, thanks). But stepping back is good. I don’t ever want this house to own ME. I’d like to fix it up, make it work, and be comfortable, but Lord please keep this thing from becoming an idol in my heart. In a fleeting moment, it’ll all be gone.

flooding photo from AssociatedPress.

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