Archive | January, 2011

The Chimney and the Barn Owl…

January 31, 2011

9 Comments

…not a very good combination. ๐Ÿ™

Do you hear that tinkling sound, the sounds of shards of glass falling to the cold, concrete floor? That’s my heart, busted into little bitty pieces. ๐Ÿ™ A beautiful barn owl died in my chimney’s water tank duct last week.

It started late in the evening. I was upstairs, and the kids were eating dinner downstairs. Suddenly, a huge crash was heard in the first floor, or in the basement. The kids called me down to investigate.

We figured the sound was coming from the basement. This has been ONE heck of a winter, I tell ya. Deer eating everything, possums and raccoons are squirrels nesting in the house walls, the basement… ice dams the size of Goliath dripping down into the garage and inside the walls… *sigh* It’s not a happy year for home ownership.

So I expected the intruder to be a squirrel. We have a lot of squirrels, and they all seem determined to make my life as miserable as possible. They nest in the walls, loudly scratching and squeaking all night…

I had no idea if this squirrel was rabid. I was a little afraid of the what-ever-it-is in the ducting.

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I took a stick and banged on the duct. The thing squirmed and scratched. We wondered if it was a bird or a squirrel. It scratched like a squirrel, but it wasn’t as rough. Those of you lucky folks who have had squirrels nesting in the walls, you know what I mean when I say “sounds like a squirrel.” They have this unmistakable (read: ANNOYING) sound. But if it was a bird, why didn’t it fly back up through the chimney?And it was 10pm, what bird in its right mind would be flapping around the roof this late??

OK, I admit, NO, we DON’T have a chimney cap. Oh I know we should. The previous owners did us the honor of fixing the chimney (complete with lightning rod, the old pastor who lived her was deathly afraid if lightning), but never installed a cap, and never lined the chimney. So it’s a wide-open gaping hole for nasty squirrels and their riffraff.We haven’t had any problems with the chimney (that I know of) until now.

Anyway, the thing wouldn’t come out. I rapped on the duct a few times, but couldn’t drive the critter out. I tried to lift the ducting just a little, and when I did, I felt something furry at the end. EEK!!! I was now too terrified of lifting the ducting and having a live squirrel jumping out at me. I did what any respectable wife would do in such a circumstance: I’d wait for the husband to get home.

By the time he got home from work, it was very late and he was exhausted. I supposed the critter would have to wait until morning. Hopefully, he’d come out by then. The critter. Oh, and the husband, yeah.

Well, we went down next day, and I rapped on the pipe, hoping the scratching would cease. No scratching! The critter must have escaped! But the pipe made a dull *thud*. Oh no. It’s probably dead. Ugh. The Hubs geared up in his special superduperheavtyduty latex gloves (squirrels have sharp teeth, you know), and he lifted the ducting.

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I thought it was a squirrel.

He pulled it out and we both stared for a minute. I didn’t see the little squirrely ears. What happened to its head?!??!!?

Then it hit me. It’s a bird. Oh, Lord. I thought maybe it was an osprey, as we have some around here. The Hubs exclaimed, “It’s an owl!”

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I almost cried. That poor, poor owl. A squirrel would have deserved such a fate, but an owl?! Owls are good, gentle creatures. They don’t bare their sharp little teeth and maniacally chatter at me from the trees. Owls don’t steal the bird seed that I leave for the cardinals. That poor, poor owl! I was crushed. I regretted rapping on the duct. Maybe I killed him!! But then, maybe the fumes from the hot water tank overcame him.Wah!!!

So, a poor owl is dead. Wah. And we have to cap our chimney, pronto.

It will be a busy spring for me. The ice dams in the house are causing terrible leaks. We may need to repair the roof and do some interior repair work. What a winter. I can’t wait til it’s over!

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Home Ownership Down

January 31, 2011

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Home ownership rates continue to plummet. According to CNBC, Americans just aren’t buying homes so much.

America’s home ownership rate, after holding steady for a while, took a pretty big plunge in Q4, from 66.9 percent to 66.5 percent. That’s down from the 2004 peak of 69.2 percent and the lowest level since 1998.

Homeownership is falling at an alarming pace, despite the fact that home prices have fallen, affordability is much improved and inventories of new and existing homes are still running quite high.

Bargains abound, but few are interested or eligible to take advantage.

What’s even more shocking is that 11% of U.S. homes sit empty.

There were 18.4 million vacant homes in the U.S. in Q4 ’10 (11 percent of all housing units vacant all year round), which is actually an improvement of 427,000 from a year ago, but not for the reasons you’d think.

The number of vacant homes for rent fell by 493 thousand, as rental demand rose. 471,000 homes are listed as “Held off Market” about half for temporary use, but the other half are likely foreclosures. And no, the shadow inventory isn’t just 200,000, it’s far higher than that.

Not sure why, but I can guess. For one, Americans are uneasy about the economy. The government is spending like a MANIAC, China is rising almost as fast as our debt and interest rates… and who is earning enough to pay back those loans?

One of our Upstate cities was listed by Zillow.com as the Number One city in America to buy an affordable home. Everyone up here was practically waving flags: We’re Number One! We’re Number One!

But…. we have the “most affordable” homes in the nation– you mean the lowest priced? Isn’t that, like, bad?! And what good is it getting a cheap home for $25,000 in a city that is near bankruptcy and where property taxes are $7,000 a year?! How can that be a cause for celebration?

Economists and politicians alike go on and on, saying that the home construction and home ownership industry is the backbone of the American economy. So why are the banks and politicians selling Americans so short that we cannot afford the homes?

I don’t like this transition into a society that rents their homes. Property ownership is the backbone of the United States, property ownership gives citizens a vested interest in their community. Whatever happened to Life, LIberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness?

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Find the Kitty Friday 1/28

January 28, 2011

3 Comments

She’s up to her old tricks…

FindtheKittyBass

I can’t believe the date when I typed it. Where did January go?! I’m rather happy the winter is passing quickly. I missed last year’s spring and summer (and fall) because of the renovations. While it is tempting to continue with the overhaul of this old house, I don’t think we should do anything major this summer, as much as it needs it. After the sub-zero temperatures last week, the house was stricken with ice dams. ๐Ÿ™ I can, on occasion, hear blocks of ice falling inside the walls. ๐Ÿ™ A very bad thing. The reason for this is because the upstairs is still uninsulated. Downstairs, it is a tight as a drum and VERY warm (too warm, in my opinion). The heat rises to the upstairs, and flows right through the plaster walls into the empty cavities. Once the heated air hits the very chilly air on the wall cavities, condensation and ice forms. Ice dams are very destructive. Not only can persistent damming cause rot in the studs and walls, but it can ruin the roof. *sigh*

BUT. I am not going to think of that today. I have no intention of gutting the upstairs this year. I have GOT to take the kids on vacation. And Livvy will go, too. ๐Ÿ™‚ I am REALLY looking forward to a break. I think we all are.

More to come. And oh boy, I have a riveting story to tell about the squirrel that skittered down the chimney last night, only to get stuck in the water heater duct pipe… *sigh* the fun never ends! Stay tuned….

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The Evil Deer

January 22, 2011

16 Comments

I hate deer. Yep. If you saw Bambi in the theatre as a child, and were shocked to hear someone cheering on the hunter, that was probably me. Me, or some other Upstate New Yorker. Because most Upstaters- no matter their political or religious differences– all seem to be in perfect harmony with our hatred for deer.

Oh SURE, deer are cute, especially the young ones. But heck, even baby alligators are cute. I don’t see any alligator-huggers out there.

Deer eat everything I plant in my yard. EVERYTHING. They have an entire forest up the hill and in the back from which to graze, yet they find my apple trees and red oak and my arbor vitae much more appealing. Look at the damage to my arbor vitae. ๐Ÿ™ I could cry.

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They basically denuded the shrubs of their leaves. ๐Ÿ™ ๐Ÿ™ Those things cost $25 each, and I planted a row of them as a privacy shield from the busy parking lot next door, where they have lots of social gatherings and trucks pulling in and out. Well, so much for the privacy fence. ๐Ÿ™ To give you an idea of the extent of the damage, this is what the shrubs looked like last year before the eating machines with springs got to them:

Dec1Rain

Yeah, we get floods here, too. The water drainage is poor (clay soil), the water table is high, and we’ve had our basement washed out a couple of times for us! We had to do it ourselves).

So I’m a little discouraged sometimes about the yard and gardens. It has been 13 years of hard, hard labor to try to make this small parcel of weedy, overgrown land into something cultivated and livable. But it’s been a vicious upward battle, believe me. Between neighbor kids chopping down my trees, the deer, the flooding, the pest invasions, the other neighbors diverting their runoff into my yard…. it’s been a battle JUST to have a couple of small gardens and trees. I have probably planted about 2 dozen trees on this property, only to have FIVE survive.

The deer have also been eating my new grape vine by the vegetable garden.

Yes, we have tried repellent. I have tried tin pie pans, soap, garlic/egg spray, dried blood, human hair, running outside and screaming at the top of my lungs… I’m seriously considering a 10-foot wooden fence. But then, they just might chew through it, and that’ll be another couple thousand $$ down the hole.

Wah.

Oh well, spring is coming. I’ll be able to see the full extent of the damage and work on it then. Know of any good commercial deer repellents?

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Find the Kitty Friday 1/21

January 21, 2011

4 Comments

I’ve got a tough one for you.

FindtheKittyRenovation

It was taken during the renovation, when the house was a disaster. Oh, she found such wonderful places to hide then!

Although, I can’t say the living room looks much better… it’s a room that’s half-office/school room, half living room. So it’s got a couch crammed in there with a whole bunch of desks and bookshelves, and it looks very disjointed. I am going to be converting our attached garage into a family room (either this year or next), so when that’s done I’ll have the living room entirely made into an office. I have such nice dreams— big bookshelves lined with all my books (many of which are still stored in boxes), furniture in exotic dark woods with lavish paisley prints, a nice deep red carpet… I love the dark hunting lodge look. Something like this:

Photo courtesy of HowStuffWorks.

Isn’t that gorgeous?! Yeah, that’s what I see when I close my eyes. ๐Ÿ˜€

But when I open them again, I’m back in the messy living room. And two leaky bathroom sinks need attention. And I feel the drafts blowing out from the holes in the electric outlets upstairs. But I got the kitchen done! The hardest part is over.

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Those Siamese Blue Eyes

January 20, 2011

6 Comments

The most striking feature of Siamese cats, I think, is their eyes. Such beautiful eyes.

SiamBlue

Livvy’s are light-blue. She is a Tabby Point Siamese (half Siamese, half Tabby cat). And she seems to have inherited the best of both breeds: she’s elegant, spunky, personable, and vivacious. And gorgeous. ๐Ÿ˜€

TheSnowQueen2

She was sitting on my desk the other day (right in front of my computer screen, as USUAL), when her bright eyes caught mine. Her eyes were soaking in all the daylight streaming in from the window. She actually allowed me to take her photo!

SiamBlue2

Her eyes have some white in them. It’s kind of creepy, in a way. lol.

Despite her bright eyes, she’s been out of sorts lately. She’s eating a LOT, probably twice as much as she usually does. She’s a little lethargic, kind of moody, too. I’m not sure what’s up with her. Since the outdoor cat has worms, I am always on the lookout for those, but Livvy doesn’t seem to be afflicted (that I can tell). Maybe she’s just plain ol’ hungry? Do cats go on eating spurts? She hasn’t gained any weight, she might even have lost a little lately. I’d take her to the vet, but what would I tell him? That she’s been moody? Eating a lot? I mean, how do you diagnose something like that?

Well, anyway, if any of you seasoned cat owners have some advice, feel free to leave it. Maybe she’s just going through a stage. Cats are sometimes so mysterious. *sigh*

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They Ain’t Kidding: Toxic Sludge Candy Bar Really IS Toxic

January 18, 2011

4 Comments

Yuk.

I just read a press release regarding a “voluntary” recall by the FDA and Circle City Marketing and Distributing for their Toxic Wasteยฎ brand Nuclear Sludgeยฎ Chew Bars. Apparently, the State of California Department of Public Health discovered “elevated levels of lead (0.24 parts per million; the U.S. FDA tolerance is 0.1 ppm) that potentially could cause health problems, particularly for infants, small children, and pregnant women.” You can read about the recall at the FDA site: fda.gov/Safety/Recalls/ucm240012.htm Candy Dynamics Recalls Toxic Wasteยฎ brand Nuclear Sludgeยฎ Chew Bars.


I guess they weren’t kidding about the “toxic sludge,” huh?

The food is imported from Pakistan. The story does not say if the food is labeled that it is from Pakistan. I have never seen this food, so I don’t know.

You know, it’s REALLY STUPID to have such restrictive laws in the United States about lead and other toxic junk in our food produced here, only to have companies make the food in foreign countries who have little to no protection, and ship it here for U.S. consumers. 100 years ago, a foreign country that took our money and poisoned our food at our expense was a call for war. Today, it’s globalization and “business.”

I’m not a warmonger, nor do I think that we should go to war with Pakistan! (I always have insert these disclaimers because there are knuckleheads out there who troll the Internet looking to inflame). But if globalization means poisoning our own people because the politicians like their pockets lined from Big Business who makes the bucks overseas, then I’d rather go back to isolationism and nativism. Yay, even xenophobia sounds good right about now. :-p

ANYWAY. All I’m saying is that all our big, fancy U.S. laws that are supposed to protect Americans from toxic chemicals in the food mean absolutely nothing if we get our foods from another country!!! Is our country so impoverished that we cannot even provide our OWN food anymore?! That we cannot even set standards for the products coming into our OWN country?!

Anyway, I wouldn’t be very inclined to eat ANYTHING labeled as “toxic sludge,” would you? Plus, these things are touted as “chew bars,” but I think they are just candy bars.

I have been so unhappy with our country removing our manufacturing industry overseas. Now, they are moving even our food industry overseas. We all may as well stamp Americans’ heads “Made in China” as soon as our kids are born…. ๐Ÿ™

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Our Snow Fairy Chimneys

January 18, 2011

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We got more snow. Surprise!

My daughter looked out our kitchen window one morning, and said, “We have fairy chimneys.” I peeked out the window and this is what I saw.

snow fairy chimneys

The snowscape is so lovely and serene, isn’t it? ๐Ÿ˜€

The “fairy chimneys” of which my daughter referred are the Cappadocia Fairy Chimneys of Turkey. We saw them featured on one of Drive Thru History episodes (OMG we love that show!). The show is done by Dave Stotts, who educates history while entertaining your socks off. He is SO hilarious! He is also a little accident prone, too. .

I found this terrific 5 minute video showing how Dave Stotts does it. This is so cool!

Well, this post wasn’t intended to be a promo for Drive Thru History, lol. But I am bonkers about the series. He’s SO COOL. I highly recommend the series. My kids love them all.

So we have snow. Man, after watching that video, my fascinating snow fairy chimneys seem pretty lame. Oh well. LOL

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Review of the Nesco GardenMaster Dehydrator

January 17, 2011

3 Comments

I have wanted a dehydrator FOREVER. We all like to eat dried fruits, but the prices at the grocery store are excruciating. For years, I kept promising myself (and the kids) that we’d get a dehydrator… someday.

Well, I recently got a bonus at work, and shelled out the big bucks for the Nesco GardenMaster Dehydrator. I got it online for a little over $100. I hope the fruit tastes good, at least good enough to make the big expense worthwhile…

Nesco Dehydrator

The dehydrator is huge– I didn’t expect it to be so large– and comes with a nice recipe book and a package of spices for making jerky. I haven’t scrutinized the recipe book; it’s pretty basic, though. I was eager to try dehydrating some fruit (before it rotted away!) so I skipped the recipes to simply try out the dehydration machine.

Dehydrator1

The machine comes with 4 trays and 2 plastic tray liners. The trays are made of plastic, resembling netting. After a lot of use, I could see these becoming brittle and cracking. Nice thing is that replacement trays are available. You can also stack additional trays if you have large loads to process.

Dehydrator2

I decided to dehydrate my rapidly ripening papaya, and a few very over-ripe Anjou pears. The instructions say to avoid under-ripe and over-ripe fruits, but what do they know. (haha)

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The dehydrator has a temperature control (95 to 155 degrees F) and on/off switch. It has no timer or automatic shut off (a real bummer). Since most loads take anywhere from 8-12 hours, you have to get your own timer and make sure you are home (or awake) to turn off the dehydrator. To do four trays of pretty juicy fruits, I set the control for 145 degrees, and ran it for 10 hours.

The dehydrator fan is NOISY. You know how noisy an uninsulated dishwasher can be? It’s about that loud. If yo can, run it at night, or expect to holler through your kitchen duties. It’s noisy.
The fruit turned out pretty good! I think I sliced the papaya a little too thin, but it’s still good. They are crunchy and feel like paper. But stil very edible and they are terrific with mixed nuts and raisins. The pears are magnificent. They are chewy and so sweet, with a slight taste of wine about them.

papayadried

The Nesco Gardenmaster can dry fruits, vegetables, herbs, jerky, granola, etc. I am looking forward to trying the jerky, and experimenting with fruits like bananas and mangoes. For $107, it is pretty pricey. If you don’t use a dehydrator often, a smaller unit would do just as well.
So far, so good. I like this appliance and it works well for me. If anything develops, good or bad, I’ll be back to report. Thanks for reading!

Note: I was not given this product nor compensated in any way for this review. All the opinions are mine and the facts are true to the best of my knowledge.

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Find the Kitty Friday 1/14

January 14, 2011

5 Comments

LivvyBaghide

Yep, she’s STILL playing with the kraft paper! It’s terrific stuff, I’m telling you.

Well, I was tired of seeing all this paper lying around the living room floor (I got another package, and HOH BOY did we have a paper party), so this morning I scooped it all up and tossed it. She wasn’t too sad about it. She now has a mouse toy with wheels (if you scoot the wheels back, the mouse goes zipping across the floor) that she’s been batting around. It’s noisy, too– so she likes to play with it up and down the stairs. ALL. NIGHT. LONG. She’s been a bundle of energy this week. Or maybe she’s sick of being cooped up in the house surrounded by mounds and mounds of snow, like the kids are. haha

Back to the paper, why don’t they make paper bags for groceries anymore? I liked them. I do not like the plastic bags at all. They rip, they tear, they are noisy… I always found so many uses for paper bags, but they are no more to be found.

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