Archive | November, 2011

Good to Be Home

November 30, 2011

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We were away for a few days, traveling to the rural outback of Upstate New York (Schoharie County). This county ranks — in my estimation — as one of the most rural areas of Upstate New York. And these folks are not just rural, they are fiercely rural. No fancy, high-falutin’, city slicking city life here. Oh, these folks appreciate progress, just without the urban arrogance and unrealistic reliance on “the grid.”

It was our first time Livvy was alone in her 3.6 years she’s been with us. Well, the dogs and the bird were home, too, but they don’t count. I had the webcam set on surveillance and Livvy mostly sat by the back door and in my desk chair, waiting for us. Nearly broke my heart. I couldn’t bring her with us this time, though. We were staying at a nice hotel and would be strolling through caves during the day. Not exactly a cat vacation.

But Livvy survived and she is all lovey and cuddly now. šŸ™‚ Hey, I could get used to this!

While we traveled through Schoharie County, we saw many, many homes devastated by the flooding from Hurricanes Irene and Lee. These folks were hit the worst– bridges and homes and barns and cows just floated away. This is a rural area where money is always tight and work is always hard. New York’s Upstate economy really shows here, and then the floods came and made bad to worse. I saw some homes that were skeletal, just barely able to stand upright.

Lots of our photos were taken from the moving car, so they didn’t turn out very well. We saw yards filled with garbage bags and strewn tree limbs, boulders and rocks in weird places, and bulldozers everywhere.

schocounty

schocounty2

In one area, I drove past a small group of trees on the bank of the Schoharie River. The trees were literally covered with tons and tons of white feathery strips of what appeared to be toilet paper and paper towels (me being a suburbanite). As we rounded the bend, we saw that the white stuff was not toilet paper. It was the plastic wraps that go around hay bales. Large hay bales were clogging one area of the river bank, and great strips of the shredded white wrapping hung from the TOPS of the 20-foot trees. My heart ached for these folks. Wow.

Yet what makes this area so remarkable is the amazing cheerfulness of the people. EVERY SINGLE PERSON I met was cheerful and generous. Even when they spoke of their losses (some folks lost everything on the first floor), they smiled and said, “Thank God, no one was killed” or “It’s just stuff.” Now that’s an amazing community. No self-pity and wailing for government help. Help is welcome but these people weren’t going to sit on their tears and wait for FEMA. They just sucked it up and are starting again. And wherever we traveled, the folks were so generous. The coffee shop gave us two free coffees. The hotel gave us a free breakfast. The New York Power Authority Visitors Center gave us free coffee travel mugs and light bulbs. I can only admire their generosity, grace, and happiness. I also wonder if Schoharie County has the most churches of all New York’s 62 counties, because it seemed there was a steeple peeping out from the farms and forests every mile or so.

Houses come and go but communities are what make or break a town. It’s good to be home again but I can’t get those folks out of my mind. I understand flooding problems– yes, indeed. But I’ve never had to rebuild EVERYTHING like these folks have. Ya got guts, Schoharie County folks. God bless you all. šŸ™‚

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Plaster vs. Drywall

November 24, 2011

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If you live in a home built before World War II, chances are you have plaster and lathe walls. Plaster goes way back– the the pyramids, even — ever since man got the idea to use crushed limestone or mud and slop it to the walls. Nobody knows for sure when the first plaster and lathe walls were built, but it must have been thousands of years ago.

KitchenGutted

Plaster removed from the kitchen. The lathe is next!

Among the “old house” social circles, keeping your plaster walls has a bit of snob appeal. Old house folks are always saying that plaster is better than drywall because… well, just because. Plaster looks better, they say. It insulates better, it’s more historic, it improves the value of your old house, it’s a “higher end” wall covering, it’s soundproofs!

Every single house I have EVER lived in except for ONE has had plaster walls. And you know what? I think plaster STINKS. I care a lot about history, too. When I bought this house, I spent a few years researching the original builder’s genealogy and local history. But in my experience, I think there’s something good to be said for modern technology. I LOVE DRYWALL.

Drywall is so easy to install. SO EASY. It’s not messy. When you need to patch it, just swipe some joint compound. I love drywall.

I offer my own two cents on the Plaster vs. Drywall debate:

Snob Factor: Plaster insulates and soundproofs better.
Reality Check: Says Who?
I’d sure like to know if there have been any scientific studies on this theory, because I have not found this to be true at all. Old homes with plaster walls are usually uninsulated. Please tell me how uninsulated plaster walls insulate and soundproof better than drywall walls (which are almost always insulated). One of the main reasons I gutted the plaster walls was to insulate (and re-wire the electrical system). My home has never been cozier– and the difference is striking. Of course, the real difference lies in the insulation– insulated drywall obviously insulates and soundproofs better than non-insulated plaster walls. But that’s the WHOLE reason for drywall- to insulate! Today, most building codes require that house walls for new construction are insulated. So in the typical situation common in most homes — non-insulated plaster walls versus insulated drywall walls — drywall wins every time.

When I had plaster walls, I could put food requiring refrigeration on my kitchen floor (such as fresh fruit, like apples). The drafts and cold temperatures kept the fruit fresh. If I do that now, after renovating, the apples get mushy in a couple of days. The difference is just staggering. Sounds from the street do not permeate my living rooms AT ALL like they used to. Upstairs, where I have not renovated and where plaster remains, it’s freezing cold. And a screaming little kid on the street or the rumbling 18-wheeler trucks sound like they are in the room with us. I don’t see how plaster is better in this respect.

Snob Factor: Plaster is more valuable.
Reality Check: Valuable to whom?
If plaster is truly more valuable, this may be the ONLY thing going for plaster, in my estimation. But how much more value does it add to the home? In a historic district, plaster walls may be worth keeping. But I live in a middle-income small town (like 95% of Americans) and plaster walls are a definite deterrent to home buyers. Here in real life where we want to hang our photos or the kids run around the house, plaster is a pain. It cracks, it breaks, it’s messy, it’s dirty. One thing to note about plaster walls– the home insurance policy changes. Some insurance policies have the “complete replacement” or “as is” rider, so you pay through the nose for a higher replacement cost. This means that, in the event of a fire and the house needed to be rebuilt, the estimated replacement cost includes full replacement of the plaster walls and ceilings, even though NOBODY (but wealthy people) rebuilds their house with plaster anymore. It’s so expensive and time-consuming to do so. But we were paying for that in the “as is” policy.

Snob Factor: Plaster is a high-quality wall-covering.
Reality Check: Plaster gets in the way. It inhibits the installation of electric wiring and insulation.
Ever try to fishwire electrical wiring behind plaster walls? One or two times isn’t bad, but try to update an entire house and it’s agonizing. The main reason I ripped out the plaster was for electrical. The whole reason WHY my electrical system was totally obsolete and dangerous (we were still running on knob-and-tube) is because of plaster– the previous owners didn’t want to gut the walls but they also couldn’t fishwire the new electric, either. So they left it, decade after decade, for somebody else to do it (namely, ME). The wiring had deteriorated to such a degree that if you moved the old wires, the copper wiring inside cracked and split into pieces. This kind of wiring prevented me from insulating the walls, too. Knob-and-tube overheats when covered by insulation, and therefore it is against building codes to add insulation! Removing the plaster was a win-win job.

Snob Factor: Plaster is timeless.
Reality Check: Plaster is outdated.
If you have lived in an old home, you know that nothing is ever straight– the walls and ceilings are so crooked. Some folks blame it on old house settling, but I wonder if plaster is to blame. There was really no need to perfectly square a room before drywall. Studs were willy-nilly because lathe was tacked on to them. Lathe was willy-nilly because plaster covered everything. Does the ceiling of the room dip too low? Add more plaster and even it out! Of course, back in the “olden days,” framing wood was rough sawn and not planed like it is today. So plaster was the medium that covered the underlying faults.

Plaster Removal UGH

Removing plaster is a messy job, but it's worth it for the new electric and insulation.

Snob Factor: Plaster is historically accurate.
Reality Check: Save the history for the museums, I have to live in this place (and pay the energy bills).
As I’ve said, plaster walls are fine for historic landmarks or super wealthy homeowners. For the average homeowner, drywall is better. It’s less messy, easier to install and repair, allows for the installation of insulation, electric, and plumbing in an old home, and more. As a renovator, I visit a lot of forums and “how to” communities. When someone pops in to ask if they should replace their plaster with drywall, the snobs take over. A group mentality forms, and everyone nods their heads and all agree that it is “not cool” to remove plaster for drywall. I’ve considered both sides — I’ve been on both sides — and I come to the conclusion that the snob factor is not a good enough reason to keep my plaster walls.

Now, make no mistake- installing drywall in an old home is no task for the faint-hearted. It’s actually the WORST job in home renovation, I think. I’d rather wire my circuit breaker panel or wrestle with fiberglass batts than install drywall. It’s SO HARD, making all these wonky cuts and trying to stuff them into unsquared corners and ceilings. And then there’s the spackling– gah! I hate spackling!

DRcornerceiling1

I'm still pinching myself that this difficult job is done. Whew!

But given the choice of the two? Drywall wins. My home is neater, is insulated, has less dust, and no longer smells like that sour plaster-y smell.

Drywall ROCKS. Ha! šŸ˜€

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Whatever Happened to New and Improved?

November 22, 2011

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Remember the old days when companies in the United States wanted to build things bigger and better? Ever upward! Remember? EVERYTHING was “new” and “improved”!

American companies built products with exceptional quality, just because THEY COULD do it!!

I’m not so old that I can’t remember those days. It seems like a million miles away, now. How on earth did we get to where we are right now?

Stuff just doesn’t last anymore. It seems that companies are now backtracking. Instead of building products with better and better quality, they are making them as cheap as they possibly can and still get paid for it.

Our sump pump died last week. It was only FOUR MONTHS OLD. It’s the third pump we’ve been through in two years, and all those died in a matter of months. These aren’t inexpensive pumps, either– these babies cost hundreds of dollars. But they are made in China and they contain plastic parts. Needless to say, we were grossly disappointed when another pump failed this week and the basement flooded again. It was only a few inches so it’s manageable. But SHEESH.

Because we are in “winter preparation mode,” I’m having to buy expensive things, things beside the regular cheapo pair of $10 Chinese-made sneakers or the $5 cheapo umbrella that fails after one gust of wind. No, I have to buy snow tires! $500 for snow tires, that we use for only half the year! The time my husband got snow tires, they only lasted half a year. The treads wore down very quickly.

So I don’t get it. Why are products more and more expensive and less and less durable? I can only conclude that the companies are skimping on their manufacture. And what can the consumer do? Can we petition the companies, perhaps? Think they will listen? Hmmmm…

Maybe this is a sign of getting older, LOL. I’m remembering the “good old days” when stuff lasted, sheesh, at least a year or two or more…..

I would think that the “green” movement would help with this situation, but it has been strangely silent. You’d think that someone would protest the rising junk dumped into landfills, as Americans clog the land with discarded, broken junk. It would be more productive to pressure companies into making more durable products than forcing Americans to use one toilet paper sheet at a time. Weird.

What do you think? Do you think products are better made today, worse made or no difference? Am I alone in thinking that we CAN manufacture better, more efficient products at affordable prices? We did it once before! Why can’t we do it again?

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Find the Kitty Friday: Peekaboo

November 18, 2011

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Oh we haven’t had such a cute Find the Kitty Friday photo in a long time. My daughter got this shot with her cell phne (which explains the grainy-ness of the photo).

LIvvychairhide

I love it when she makes that “peekaboo” face. CUTE!

She’s been in a “hiding mode” lately. We have to constantly check for her, because sometimes *someone* leaves the basement door open and I’m terrified she’ll go down there and through the hatch that leads to the outside. Gotta get her a chip or something. I’ve had too many close calls.

…Just a thought– why don’t cell phones come with better cameras? Even the slick iPhone 4 has a measly 5 MP camera. Is this some purposeful attempt to keep the digital camera industry in business? You know, if I had the choice between a 10MP cell phone camera and a 10 MP digital camera, I’d go with the cell in a second. I wonder if that’s why they don’t improve cell camera technology?

Anyway, have a great weekend folks. Be sure to hug your kittehs. šŸ™‚

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Find the Kitty Friday: Scrub a Dub

November 10, 2011

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What IS it with cats and laundry? At least, with THIS cat and laundry.

FTK_LaundryLivvy

She’s always skulking around the dirty and clean clothes. She likes to hide behind the mounds surrounding the washer. Then she likes to try to hop in the dryer while I’m pulling them out. Finally, she jumps in the basket of warm unfolded clothing or plops on top of the piles of folded laundry. What a silly girl.

It’s hard to believe she’s 3 1/2 years old now. She’s still such a baby. A big baby. A big laundry-loving, laundry-mooching baby.

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Fixing Poor Shower Water Pressure

November 7, 2011

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Wimpy water pressure at the shower can be frustrating and baffling. At times the pressure may seem adequate but other times the pressure may barely ooze from the shower head. While you cannot adjust the water pressure to the shower directly, you can adjust the water pressure for the entire house, check for impediments in the shower water supply and install an aerator to improve shower water pressure.

Understanding Water Pressure
Water pressure is measured by “pounds per square inch,” or “psi.” For most plumbing systems, optimum pressure is 50 to 80 psi. Pressure lower than 50 will seem too weak for most people, but psi higher than 80 may cause damage to pipe joints, seals and fixtures. Pressure throughout the building waxes and wanes as the plumbing fixtures are used. For example, the shower pressure may seem fine at the moment but may dip to an anemic trickle when the washing machine fills or the toilet is flushed. This happens because other fixtures draw on the supply and water is diverted across the plumbing system. Additionally, a fixture loses one pound of water pressure for every 2.31 vertical feet in the system. A shower on the second floor would thus lose 10 or more pounds.

The Pressure Regulator
The water supply pressure regulator is located in the basement, where the underground water supply pipes enter the basement. Some regulators sport a pressure gauge that measures the psi for the entire water supply system. Adjusting the regulator is a simple task. To reduce pressure, use an adjustable wrench to loosen the locknut, usually located on the top of a small, metal bell-shaped device. Slowly turn the small screw on top of the locknut in a counter-clockwise direction. To raise water pressure, turn the screw in a clockwise direction.

Shower Water Pressure
Water pressure in the shower depends on a combination of things: distance from the main supply, the size of plumbing pipes and plumbing system additions such as a water softener or filtration tank. Generally, if the other fixtures in the building have good water pressure but the shower water pressure is consistently weak, the shower head or shower water supply pipes are clogged. Debris and mineral deposits from the water sometimes form inside the pipes, developing into clots that impede water pressure.

Adjusting Shower Water Pressure
In a case where the pressure to the shower is consistently low, the supply line to the shower should be inspected and impediments removed. The culprit is usually at the shower head. A small screen, called an aerator, may be filled with debris such as rust or small particles of sand …. Soaking the shower head in vinegar removes the mineral deposits. A water-saver shower head often exacerbates low pressure problems; replacement of this type of shower head will boost pressure immediately.

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Is Emergency Preparedness A Pipe Dream?

November 5, 2011

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I’m reading this very old book, Historic Storms of New England. It was written by Sidney Perley and published in 1891. His narratives go back to the first recorded natural disasters of the year 1635, a mere 15 years after the Separatists (English Pilgrims) landed on the shores of Massachusetts in 1620. The book is amazing, it tells of earthquakes, strange appearances in the heavens, blizzards, hurricanes (although they were not called hurricanes back then), meteorites and other strange events and storms. Some of the stories include eyewitness accounts (one family’s devastating shipwreck is heart wrenching). In most cases, such natural catastrophes drew people closer to God.

As I’ve been reading the book, oddly enough, New York and New England have suffered a year of unusual weather and natural disasters. This year alone, we’ve had THREE devastating floods, an earthquake, two hurricanes, innumerable tornadoes and — a mere week ago — a freak October Nor’Easter that dumped 32 inches in Maine. I was shocked to read the blog of one of my friends. who reports that in Connecticut they STILL have no electrical power. Cindi at moomettesmagnificents.com/blog/survival-guide-102-in-connecticut-irene-was-a-dress-rehersal-for-alfred-day-5 has had to throw out all the food in her two refrigerators and freezers. News reports say the storm killed 8 people and cut power for at least 4 million households. Wow. Cindi said she has a generator, but there is no gasoline available, so they are out of power completely. Because of the immense snow and downed trees, travel out of the area is impossible, So they are stuck in the disaster zone. Wow.

Backyard Snow2

It won't be long....

And that got me thinking.

My husband and I have discussed “emergency preparedness” before. We have two sump pumps that work day and night to keep water out of our basement. We’ve experienced numerous floods (so many I can’t count anymore), but only once did we lose power in all our years here. If we lost power — especially during a heavy rainfall or hurricane — we’d be inundated with flood waters. So we discussed getting a generator, thinking this would solve our problem. But after reading Cindi’s situation, I wonder if that’s really the cure-all we originally thought. In a natural catastrophe, the gas stations may not pump gas. Then what?

So I don’t know what to do. I feel rather frustrated because everything in our society is SO reliant and integrated with the electrical grid. It makes me feel uneasy. I like to have a contingency plan, but there really isn’t anything. And I thought, “Well, we could get a wood-burning generator, right?” But our chainsaw needs gas to cut that wood. We have SOME wood in the back, but I don’t think we would have nearly enough. And where would I store it? If another flood rages across my land, all the wood is down the pike.

I’m beginning to think “emergency preparedness” is a pipe dream. There’s only *so much* you can do, because no matter what, you are reliant on other people and groups in the community being prepared, too. Which, as we see with the numerous disasters this year, few communities are. I do wonder about my own community. Are they so busy building sidewalks and shopping centers that they forget the other things, too? Like BOATS, lol.

Hm. What do you think?

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Find the Kitty Friday: Fading Sun

November 4, 2011

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Daylight Saving Time ends tomorrow night. I will miss it terribly. I like winter but one of the worst things is the lack of daylight. Livvy is soaking up as much as she can before the plentiful rays disperse for the winter.

cat in sun

We’ve had a wonderful string of warm weather here. After October’s very chilly, dismal rainy denouement, we’d unpacked all our coats and brought out the hats and gloves. November’s first week has been sunny and *moderately* warm– warm for November, that is. Still, the boots are nearby and ready for action. I think this is indeed autumn’s last hurrah.

Our home stays very warm with our gas heaters. Livvy loves them. She stretches out in front of them, exposing as much fur as possible in soaking up the radiant warmth. I shall be joining her very soon. šŸ™‚

Happy weekend, friends.

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