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The Year of No Summer

July 1, 2013

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Wait a minute… didn’t I name another blog post with this same title last year? And the year before, too? And the year before that?

Oh, it’s been a long decade. :S

Upstate New York has been plagued with rain. And over-development has created massive flooding problems for communities that, before, were well able to manage extremely wet weather.

Not no more.

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This is a real miracle– we only got 12 inches of water this time! Photo taken after waters had subsided. In the past, we’ve had 3 feet. And we were somewhat prepared, so loss of property was minimal. It’s taken us several days to clean out the muck, however.

Basement F1

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All this was from the June 28 flood. Communities like Herkimer, Fort Plain, and others were literally, completely under water. Some folks were carried off and we’re still looking for them.

I drove by a neighbor’s the other day and found this gem.

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It’s getting crazy. We’ve had over 10 inches for June. July looks to be as soggy, too. Many of us have not been able to plant our vegetable gardens, as we had a late May hard frost and then the rains came and haven’t stopped. Now that it’s July, our summer is nearly over.

It’s another year for the history books.

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What Weird Bug Is This?!

June 15, 2012

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I heard this muted buzzing sound while at my desk today. I looked over to my window and spotted this bee or beetle or something buzzing around. What the heck is this?!

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Anybody know? It looks like a cross between a bee and a box alder beetle. ?? I’ve never seen anything like it. My son through it was a beetle, but when I flipped the bug upside down, it “played dead,” curled up its body, and ejected a stinger. A yellow bubble of venom oozed out.

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What is this thing? I’ve never seen anything remotely like it. Is it a mutant honeybee?

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Please leave a comment if you know what it is. My curiosity is bursting!

Identification:
Head: Black and shiny. Jaws like an ant.
Thorax: Yellow fuzz, like a honey bee. The underbelly has a thin ring of yellow fuzz, too.
Abdomen: Black and smooth covered by two black wings with red stripes, like a beetle.
Legs: black and smooth. Front legs have feathery ends.

The bug is about 3/4-inch long, 1/8-inch wide. Moved somewhat slow. Could not fly, although wings lifted and buzzed a bit.
Has a stinger from which it ejects venom.

He was somewhat aggressive and distressed. When threatened, did not run away but instead stuck out his stinger.

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Bambi Meets Godzilla

April 21, 2012

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Now that’s it’s spring and I’m surveying the massive damage to my vegetation and gardens, it’s time for my annual “I Hate Deer” post! Yay!

To start off this year’s festivities, I present to you a marvelous short film, Bambi Meets Godzilla.

I first saw this video more than 30 years ago! I was flabbergasted to see it on YouTube. We kids were around the television set when this little film came on sometime in the late 70s? I think it was done by a university student, as a school project? Can’t remember. It was on TV one fine Saturday afternoon. My brothers and I and my very little sister were watching it. Oh the sweet, lilting music! The adorable and soft sylvan setting! The innocent little fawn munching on my future hostas forest foliage!

All of sudden, HERE COMES GODZILLA! Impending doom.

The boys and I (quite the tomboy) rolled on the floor, laughing. My young sister, however, was aghast and shouted out in distress. For some reason, we all thought her angst was hilarious, too, and laughed even harder. It was tough being a girl in our family.

I never forgot that video. I even told my kids about it. Imagine my surprise to find it on YouTube!! I gathered them around the computer like a mother hen with her chicks, pressed the “Full Screen” key and turned up the volume. With swelling anticipation, I awaited their hilarious laughter.

The video ended.

Silence.

“Oh Mom’s so sadistic,” a daughter rolled her eyes. The other kids were quiet.

WHAT?!?! I think it’s cool.

Deer eat my gardens, they eat my trees, they poop in my lawn, they wreck all my hard work!!! Cheers to Godzilla. šŸ™‚ Muahahahhaaha.

So who are you rooting for?

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Brrrrr

March 26, 2012

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Has everyone been experiencing an unusually warm and early spring, or is it just us here in the Northeast? Spring is about 5 to 6 weeks early here, “unprecedented,” say the weather gurus.

My daffodils are blooming and the lilacs are budding, but it’s the weeds that are really thriving. After all the years of flooding we’ve had, my yard is filled with weeds. I used to have such a nice lawn, nice gardens. There’s no way I can manage all these weeds. So if you can’t beat them, join them, right? Weeds can be very decorative…. well, kinda. I think there’s no redeeming burdock, except that the roots are edible.

Anyway, the heat was climbing into the 80s so I unpacked my summer clothes and wore shorts for a time. I even unpacked the box fan to run in the window! But then, all of a sudden– WHAM. Winter is making a comeback! It’s freezing today, with the thermometer barely getting above freezing. And looks like a bit of snow is on the way, too. No worries, though. Even though I unpacked my shorts, I didn’t pack up my warm winter clothes. This IS the Northeast, after all.

So the weather gurus are in their glory. They don’t usually get this excited about weather except when there’s a huge lake effect snowstorm on the way. And as if we just CAN’T get enough of the weather, they bring up the “drought” index.

Seriously?! Drought in New York State?! It appears that the word “drought” has different meanings across the country. I always through a drought was a long time (years) with very little or no rainfall– you know, The Dust Bowl and Grapes of Wrath and all. But here in NYS, “drought” means more like “a few weeks without our usual deluges of rain.” So we haven’t had our usual 5 inches of rain this month— who’s worried about a drought?

Yes, yes, I know local farmers rely on rain. But if there’s one thing New York State does not lack, it’s rainfall. How I wish we could import it, we’d be rich! I remember a few years ago we had a very dry summer with very little rainfall (for about 2 whopping months). Our garden and lawn thrived, though. We’d redirected our sump pump pipes to the gardens, and poked holes in the pipes. Drought or not, that sump pump runs ALL THE TIME. So we had plenty of water and the plants grew enormously. I’m never worried about drought. I welcome it, actually. But that’s just my own little world so I still hope for rain for the farmers’ sakes.

How is your weather in your area? Is it another crazy year of unpredictable events and weird patterns?

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Old House Blues

February 9, 2012

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Whenever I have had a professional carpenter, plumber, electrician, or whoever over to the house, every one of them inevitably says, “Oh, new homes have problems, too!” That always surprised me because I assumed that new construction was more durable, cleaner, better built with better technology. According to many professionals out there, this is not true. I am appalled, because newer homes *should* be built better. With newer homes, you don’t have to hack into support beams to retrofit plumbing pipes or electric wiring. New homes are insulated and already have coaxial cable and new windows and bright, shiny roof decking with no mold. What makes new homes so shabby? Poor craftsmanship?

Old homes are built well, I’ll give you that. 150-year old houses were built at a time before the spotted owl goons could shut down entire forests, when home builders could carve 12-inch beams out of home grown oak and walnut woods.

But when it comes to “modern” comforts (like central heating!), old homes are woefully lacking. If you have always loved in a newly built home, you don’t have any idea of the drafts that blow your napkins off the table, of the icicles that form on the INSIDE of the house… here are a couple typical Old House problems. I also offer my opinions and/or advice, for kicks. šŸ™‚

1. Critters
Old homes almost always have critters– bats, squirrels, mice, chinch bugs, ants, carpenter bees. We have pretty much seen it all. An owl in the hot water exhaust pipe, possums in the basement, raccoons in the garage, bats in the house, mice and honeybees in the walls…. yep. How i wish I had been blogging when we discovered bees in the wall! One day, I looked out my window and saw a tornado-like swarm of bees swirling around an upstairs window. All of a sudden, the wall was covered in bees, all squirming to enter a rather large hole in the siding. I found out later that some brilliant National Grid guy had replaced my power cable anchor, screwing in the new anchor to a new area on the siding but NEVER CLOSING UP THE ORIGINAL HOLE. It became a nesting place for all sorts of creatures.

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Barn owl in the water tank pipe.

 

We had no idea how to get rid of the bees…. when we pounded the wall in the bedroom, 20,000 bees erupted in angry buzzes. We eventually had to rip open the walls on a frosty autumn day (the bees were stupid in the cold). We vacuumed them up and tore out the honeycomb. A lot of the comb was still good, so we ate it. šŸ˜€

2. Mold
Old homes have mold. I HATE mold. Mold comes from leaks, and old homes have lots of leaks. We’ve had our share of mold from chimney leaks, ice dams, holes in the walls, etc. Mold is tough to remove. I quit trying to clean it when it invaded the wall cavities– instead, I gutted the living room and replaced everything. Sometimes, I still smell the faint odor of mold…

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Ice dam damage. These leaks create mold inside wall cavities.

 

3. Plaster dust
As long as there’s 1 square foot of plaster in an old house, the place will be dusty. Eep, I dislike plaster very much. I dislike dusting, too…

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Attic cellulose insualtion also creates a ton of dust.

 

4. Crooked walls, crooked floors
This doesn’t bother me as much, unless I am renovating and I need to somehow wedge a perfect 90 degree section of drywall into a 85 degree corner! I don’t mind that all my pictures tilt a little. I do not like my bookshelves tilting so noticeably, though!

5. Bouncy floors
Bouncy floors make me nervous. There’s something very creepy about bopping up and down in my desk chair when one of the kids walks by. So far, the floor seems none of the worse for wear, but I have detected some cracks in the joists below. If I ever get another house, maybe I’ll choose one that has solid concrete floors. ANYTHING that doesn’t feel like you’re walking on a waterbed as you cross the room, lol.

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Support posts help alleviate bouncy floors.

 

What could you add to the list? I’m sure there are more quaint little things about old homes that I have missed here. Feel free to add your own two cents.

In the next post or so, I’ll talk about the benefits of living in an old house!

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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.

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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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Chimney Flashing Roof Repair

September 30, 2011

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It’s all Hurricane Irene’s fault. And Hurricane Lee’s fault.

During the torrential rains, my son reported dirty brown dripping water coming from the attic hatch located in his room.

GRRRREEEEEAAAATTTT.

I hate roof leaks. It means going into The Attic (insert creepy organ music) and scuffling around the giant fluffs of dirty cellulose insulation and suffocating bat dung. *groan*

Well, we didn’t have to go far into The Attic (insert creepy organ music). As soon as we popped the hatch, we saw that the chimney was crying wet. Most likely, the flashing. Which meant that the husband would have to go clambering atop the roof to see what was up.

Our roof is scary. It’s steeply pitched and it’s a long drop down. I always freak out when he goes up there. What I want to do is run away to the store or the movies where I can not think about him being up there. What I wind up doing is balancing the ladder and biting my nails as he skitters across the shingles. He’s never fallen– never even slipped (as far as I know), but he did lose grip of a Shop Vac one time…. oh, that was an event to remember. We laid that poor thing to rest.

Anyway, yesterday, he went up to see what’s up with the flashing. Our roof is 15 years old so I can’t say we were very optimistic. The shingles are, surprisingly, in very good shape for their age. The flashing…. not. The husband reported that it appears that the roofers had “cobbed” together bits and pieces of aluminum, stuffed them beside the chimney and slathered them with caulk (which has since eroded). That probably explains the water damage in the son’s bedroom closet….

So he came down and we did a little investigation online about chimney flashing. I’ve done roofing jobs as a kid and installing a roof is actually not too difficult. But the flashing requires a lot of skill. You can’t just slather caulk on the seams and expect it to last very long. After a half-hour of slogging through boring chimney repair websites and unhelpful videos, we found this video about elastomeric paste. This stuff looks good!

I think this may solve our problem, at least until we eventually get the roof redone and the chimney removed (We no longer need the chimney since getting direct vent appliances). The husband went to the Big Box retail stores and guess what— SOLD OUT! Everywhere! Looks like everyone is slopping this goop onto their Irene-stricken and Hurricane Lee-battered chimneys.

So he wrapped the chimney in a tarp. Did a good job. I’m thankful he used the green tarp instead of the fluorescent blue one.

If I ever get the chance to take a little break from my job and build my own house– NO CHIMNEYS! I’m sure in their heyday they were a marvel of modern Stone Age technology. But in a rainy (constantly rainy) climate, they really stink. The era of the chimney is over, as far as I’m concerned.

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Collective Groanings from Central NY

September 8, 2011

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What is it with our region lately? We’re being targeted with rain. Stupid hurricanes.

Yeah, we got more rain, more flooding. We only just swept Hurricane Irene out of our homes and basements and roads. Tropical Storm Lee decided to take the highway straight up from the south. Look at that line. Crazy! In case you didn’t know, I’m smack dab in the center of Upstate NY, right where that yellow-glob is.

That is a satellite photo taken at around 10pm last night.

I’m not sure how much rain we’ve had. It’s been raining straight– fishhooks and hammer handles– since early Wednesday morning. The weathermen said yesterday that we’d probably see upwards of 4 inches. But when I checked a rain barrel last night, when we were only halfway through the storm, it was 4 inches.

This is the new satellite photo, taken at about 8am today. I can’t believe this thing, it’s a monster with more energy than a 2-year old. It just keeps churning and churning.

Sorry if I am a bit incoherent. We were up a good portion of the night. One of our 3 sump pumps gave up the ghost, and the husband had to run to Home Depot (who stayed open all night on account of the emergencies) and re-pipe a new pump. Unfortunately, it’s a smaller horsepower pump, so the water in the basement isn’t going down as quickly as we’d like. At least the yard flooding has slowed.According to the satellite, though, we’ve got another day of this, probably.

My neighbors just 15 miles north of me have it bad. Neighborhoods have been evacuated– emergency teams have had to call in hovercrafts and boats. Schools are closed on their second day of school today. And the fire sirens just keep sounding. It’s unreal.

In the county next to me, reports are “flooding” in of schools filled with water. Cobleskill college had a foot of water in the dorms, with muddy waterfalls flowing down the stairs. Another neighbor had 4 feet of water in his basement. And of course, some folks’ homes have been inundated.

I know these things happen all over the world, and Louisiana is suffering from massive flooding, too. But here in Central NY, the biggest weather events we get is snow. We don’t get constant streams of hurricanes and tornadoes and earthquakes (all of which we have had in the past 3 weeks). Our infrastructure isn’t prepared for it. We’ve had five “100-year floods” in 5 years. That’s just….. nutty. Yeah, I’m frustrated. What’s worse is that states like Texas need all this rain much more than we do. I wish I could send it over, I really do. Oh well. It’s the weather. Thank God we’re still doing OK even though the losses are bad. And I’ve seen God make lemonade out of lemons with stuff like this. I just need to keep reminding myself of that while I watch the waters rise.

I will be getting a canoe, though. Seriously.

When I was a girl, we suffered a lot of rain one year. That year was actually a record-breaker for Central NY, our year of the most rainfall in 12 months. I canoed in my front yard during that time. Boy, it was fun!

Well, I think we have surpassed that old record of rainfall. And I realized that my kids don’t know how to operate a canoe. They need to learn. No time like the present. LOL.

I seem to be talking about the weather a lot on this blog lately. Sorry. I wish I could talk about my latest renovation project or something. But yikes, we can’t seem to get a hammer in edgewise with all this rain. ALL YEAR LONG.

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Hurricane Irene Eve

August 27, 2011

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Our sunset tonight. Nice pretty colors but she is TOTALLY unwelcome.

Hurricane Irene Eve

This week alone, Upstate New York has had a tornado, an earthquake and a hurricane. ONE WEEK. Insane!

The weather guys are forecasting upwards of 5 inches for my area. Please keep us in your prayers. Five inches means bad flash flooding. Irene needs to move out to sea.

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An Ounce of Prevention…

August 26, 2011

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… is worth a pound of cure, as the saying goes.

We spent part of our afternoon in hurricane preparedness today. See that green area in central New York State? That’s me.

We pulled in the patio furniture (oh my word, we have a TON of chairs, did you know that?!, the tractor, the tables, the stuff that’s been hanging on the line for a few days (oopsie, hee hee), the trash barrels… and stuffed it all into the garage. We can barely squeeze through the narrow walkway in there, but we did it!!! Well, actually, the kids did all the work. They did an amazing job. šŸ™‚

We have to get a third sump pump installed yet. We are going to get a battery backup kind in case the power goes out.

I’m not worried or anything. No need to stock up on water, canned food, dried beans, and cat food or anything! And after the last major flood we had, we pretty much cleaned out the entire basement. So the only thing that would get wrecked if we have several feet of water down there is the water heater. It would NOT be fun if it got ruined, but at least that’s all there is. Some weather guys are saying we may get 4 to 6 inches of rain in 24 hours…. yikes. It’s already so soggy here (been that way for 10 years now) that we’d have flooding should that much rain hit us. I’m hoping we get less than 2 inches.

How about you? Are you on the hurricane map? You going to have a “hurricane party” or get outta there?

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