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The Chimney and the Barn Owl…

January 31, 2011


…not a very good combination. šŸ™

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. šŸ™ 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.


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.



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!”



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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Basement Window Filled In

December 2, 2010

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I got this done in the nick of time. Winter is fast upon us. If you recall, I had to close up this window because the original 1855 window had finally rotted away, 155 years later.


We have water pipes and some drain pipes in front of this window. It was imperative that I either find a new window or seal up the hole. Since this was such an old window with a unique size, and since I didn’t think I could handle a huge window installation in such a short period of time (and my foundation is cut stone, not cinder block), I opted to close off the window. It’s situated in a horribly soggy section of the yard (the driveway is three feet away, so water from the roof splashes off the driveway and into the window); just close it off.

Basement Window2

Old window removed...


First row of cinder blocks, mortared together...

Basement Windows Filed In

Sealed with mortar. I will parge the surface in the spring...

You’d never know there was once a window here.

Of course, I’m in the long, slow process of parging the basement walls, inside and out. The stones are in good shape, but after 155 years and countless generations of chipmunks (the critters pick at the mortar to create nests in the stone crevices), and high water table to boot, I need to seal the walls. You can read my tutorial about how to parge basement walls. It’s not a difficult job, parging– But it’s very time-consuming. And BORING.

As for this window area, I was only able to parge a small section around the old window, due to winter’s impending approach. In the spring, the kids and I will go on a parging blitz. Huzzah.

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Let It Snow, Let It Snow, PLEASE OH PLEASE Let It Snow

December 1, 2010

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We’ve got rain.


Rain rain rain.


I hate rain. Rain is my enemy. My property lies in a low spot, surrounded by asphalt parking lots. The water table is very high here… so when it rains, all that precipitation usually goes into my basement. I have suffered through some serious flooding here. The years 2004 through 2008 were terrible, where EVERY SINGLE TIME it rained, we got water measurable in feet in my basement. I just can’t handle the flooding. Things have improved since we rigged up a super-duper double sump-pump system with large pipes of PVC dumping water into the town basin.. and the kids and I built a French drain outside, which helped immensely. So PRAISE GOD we haven’t had such severe flooding in a while. But if the pumps are unplugged, the basement fills fast. And if we get torrential rains, like we’re getting now (2+ inches an hour, all day)…. I get nervous.

Everything is sopping wet. Everything rots. I am tired of all this rain! It’s December, for crying out loud! I want snow!


I do like snow. I enjoy the muffled stillness, the white nights, the cozy evenings cuddled in blankets, sipping hot tea and talking with the kids. Now that we have a better heating system, I expect the heating bills to lower, which will increase my ecstasy all the more.

Arbor at Daybreak

But it’s raining. šŸ™ *sigh*

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Conserve Water With Rain Barrels

September 6, 2010

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Rain barrels are DIFFICULT to find!!! Well, they were. I recently discovered a site that has rain barrels for sale. Finally!

Rain barrels collect, well YEAH, rain! Although we have had no scarcity of excessive rain here in Upstate New York for the past ten years or so, I do not like all the rain that falls from my roof and into the ground by my home’s foundation. I had installed a French drain/dry well kind of contraption (the kids dug a trench 4 feet deep by 24 feet long!), and that has helped immensely. But there’s still a lot of water coming down from that roof, and my home cannot support gutters until we re-do the siding.

A rain barrel is predominantly for rain harvesting. It’s great for areas that have little rainfall. The rain barrel has a small spigot at the bottom, so you can hook up your garden hose and utilize the water elsewhere in the garden (say, for watering plants or filling the watering can). It is a TERRIFIC way to conserve water from your municipal water supply or well. Most rain barrels have a slot or hole at the top of them, to receive water from your gutter system and downspout. Me, I’d just place the barrel under one of my roof eaves, where the rain comes shooting down the valley and into my stone foundation.

Anyway, you can find rain water barrels online in a variety of styles and sizes. Some are very elegant! It’s a good idea to conserve water– good for your wallet, good for your neighborhood.

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Is It Illegal to Collect Rainwater?

July 1, 2009


Short answer: YES.

Long answer: Depends on what state you live, and depends on the outcome of new bills coming through the U.S. Congress, as they seem to making up new and stupid ones every day….

From what I have ascertained so far, it is illegal to collect rainwater in the following states:

  • Utah
  • Washington State
  • New Mexico
  • Colorado– although I JUST saw a news story published this week that says this has changed. BUT it appears that city dwellers who rely on municipal water cannot collect rainwater.

I also heard that in 1998 the UN past a resolution that all water on the planet is to be commercial, to be bought or sold like, you know, an XBox or something. GRRR. Now I have not confirmed this, but if anyone has any input, feel free to leave a comment and I’ll check it out. Also, there was a “water war” in Bolivia after the country privatized their water resources, and then a company from the U.S. (Bechtel) won a contract for the resources. Immediately, the company had the collection of rainwater outlawed because they wanted a complete monopoly on the resource. People colecting rainwater cut in to their profits.

Now, some of the water laws, especially for the western states, go way back– back to when the area was owned by Spain. Water is a precious resource over there. BUT, this law is being stretched. The laws state that you can’t divert streams or suck lakes dry for your own use. Sure, I understand that– evil people were crooks and stole the water resources. Bad. OK. But some states are suddenly interpreting this to mean that people can’t collect rain in rain barrels?! That’s dumb. The government does NOT own the rain. It’s ridiculous for the government to PRESUME to be able to CONTROL the rain and it’s diversions, as well. If those old water laws are now being interpreted so as to place more restrictions and heavier burdens on citizens, and line the pockets of Big Business and their Government Buddies, that’s tyranny. That’s all there is to it.

You know, we Americans ARE the government. We abide by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Dare I say that we do not have to obey de facto laws and we have the right to redress the government for grievances. These things are really going waaaay too far in this country.

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Parging The Foundation Walls

June 29, 2009


I have been in the process— oh, for about THREE years now!! — of parging the foundation walls of my home. Most new homes since the 60s and 70s have concrete block or poured concrete foundations. But waaaay back in the olden days (as when my house was built), foundations were built from field stones or cut stones. My home has cut stones. Over the 150 year span that my home has been standing, the field stones are still in excellent condition– it’s just the mortar that stinks.

Stone foundations have limestone mortar. It is water-permeable and over time and rodent-chewing (chipmunks are notorious for chewing away the mortar to build nests between the stones), the mortar begins to fail. In severe cases, this can cause foundation failure. In less severe cases (such as mine) this can mean a pocked, ugly appearance and some water leakage. Parging is the application of a thin coat of sticky cement over the wall surface. I’ve got about half of my interior basement done– what a job! My basement is huge and has 6′ high walls– and about 1/3 of the house’s exterior foundation wall (about 2 feet high).

Dig Down

The mix you use for parging must be special– it has to be sticky (that is, it must stick to a vertical surface without plopping down and off) and must remain stuck to the walls after it is dry. I had one dummy at Lowe’s tell me I needed mortar mix for the job, and me- being the dumb homeowner– listened to him and bought $200 worth of the stuff. Only to find that this is the WRONG stuff and crumbles off over time. :-p What you need to use is something call Sand Mix. It’s a combination of sand and portland cement. It should not crumble off if applied properly. There are even some acrylic additives you can add to the mix to make it even stickier- the additive is a lot like Elmer’s glue and comes in tall bottles. You pour it in to your Sand Mix mix. I didn’t use it. I’m too cheap (the additive is very pricey). I mixed up the Sand Mix and so far, it’s been working well. This is what I did about four years ago, and it’s holding up great:

Older Parging Job

To make the mix, you add water to the Sand Mix. You should only mix up as much Sand Mix as you are going to use in about 30 minutes. Otherwise, it will start to harden and won’t work anymore. Here’s what you will need for parging your walls:

  • Sand Mix
  • a bucket
  • water (hose or watering can)
  • spray bottle filled with water
  • cement trowel
  • cardboard or kneeling pad for your aching knees

It’s important to mix the Sand Mix *just right*– not too soupy or not too crusty. When mixed properly, you’ll be able to make M’s or S’s in the mix and they will stay in shape.
Mix Sand Mix

Before spreading on the stuff, make sure your wall is free from crud, like spiders’ webs, frass, and loose mortar. You will also want to dig down in the dirt a little, so that your parging line will not be seen should the soil shift around your foundation. I usually dig down about 3 to 6″, depending on the soil and the wall itself. Some folks go much deeper down.

Now, get your spray bottle and moisten the wall. This helps the parging mix to stick onto the wall. Don’t saturate your wall with loads of water– just get it wet.

Spray the Wall

Now lay your parging mix with your trowel, in 1/4″ to 1/2″ thickness.

Parge It On

Corners and around windows are the hardest, so take your time. Parging isn’t a difficult job, it’s just tedious. While parging, I found a few areas where moles and/or chipmunks had chipped mortar away. Grrr. I filled these holes in, to keep them out. Parging helps keep out water, too.

Parging Progress

Click to enlarge any photo.

Parge Progress

I am not too fussy about how smooth my mix goes on. Just laying on the mix is a 100% improvement!

Wall Parged

Allow to dry for 36 hours before moving the soil back into your trench. The parging mix will change color as it dries, to a light gray. You can leave it this color, or paint it with some waterlocking paint, or exterior concrete paint. This job is so easy that you can even have the kids do it. You just have to make sure that they are consistent with the thickness and apply it so that everything is covered completely.

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Winter Woes

December 12, 2007

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Grr. I don’t know what it is about winter. Our basement has been flooding again!

All summer long, the sump pump hardly went off, due to our severe shortage of rainfall. I have to say, I was so thankful for the dry summer. My basement was dry!

Now all of a sudden, ever since the first snowfall a few weeks ago, we’re dealing with water in the basement again. I woke up to find 6 inches of water this morning. My poor cat was stranded on top of a box until we rescued him.

We found out that one of our pumps had died. My husband waded in ankle-deep, freezing cold water to pull out the dead pump. Off he went to Home Depot to get a new pump.

I don’t know what it is, or why it is. I’m thinking it has more to do with run-off water than a high water table, because the precipitation hasn’t been heavy enough to warrant a a lot of underground water.

At any rate, my discouragement at seeing water in the basement again was back to an all-time high. I really don’t like living in a house that floods regularly, like this.

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It’s Done!

July 28, 2007


Our drywell project is completed! We sweated it out on one of the hottest days of the summer to finish it. I’ll keep the narrative brief, with photos:

Below: Filling with rocks.

Filling with Rocks 1

We elimated our “rock pile” with this project. Our rock pile was a collection of various rocks, bricks, broken asphalt, and broken cinder blocks, all piled around a crummy Mountain Ash tree. The pile was begun by previous owners before we moved here, and we just continued the tradition. It was quite a large pile. The yard looks so much better without it now.

Below: Filling with dirt.
God made dirt, dirt don’t hurt. šŸ˜‰
Replacing the packed down mounds of dirt to the trench was the hardest part of the job.

Filling with Dirt

Filling with Dirt 2

It’s done! Only needs a cleaning up (and probably a little more dirt around the barrel).

It's Filled

The kids are beaming. They did a really great job.
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A Smashing Job

July 23, 2007

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Today we progressed more on our drywell project. The hardest of the project is behind us!

Last week, I bought a very large plastic garbage barrel (I could not find a regular rain barrel) and drilled a 4-inch hole in the bottom side.

The Rain Barrel

The kids laid about a foot’s depth of rocks at the bottom of our hole. We set the barrel in and they buried it.

Filling the Hole

The youngest likes to test the trench.

Testing the Trench

The kids spent an afternoon filling the barrel with small “river” rocks (smooth stones about the size of their fists). We have quite a collection of rocks on hand, in our “rock pile.” They finished burying the barrel. We are leaving a foot of space at the top for when we fill it with gravel.

Today, we tested out all the pipes and fitted them together. First, we made sure the pipes were sloping the adequate amount.

Checking the Level

We had to cement a total of three pipes together (one short one was solid and the other two are perforated). We did have to use an elbow joint to accomodate for the bend in the trench. After this, we did the arduous task of wrapping landscaping fabric around the perforated pipes, to prevent loose dirt from clogging the perforations. The fabric tore easily so we had to be very careful. I do wonder how long this fabric will endure under all this soil.

Collecting Rocks

In the trench at the end of the final pipe, there is a gap of about a foot. The kids packed large stones in this gap and all around the end of the pipe, to help keep the pipe in place. The ground is due to shift, but hopefully the rocks will keep the pipe from shifting too much.

Adding Rocks to Trench

Boys Pose for Picture

My eldest was foreman of the rocks until a very large one fell into the hole and smashed her thumb. I was concerned it was broken, but it looks like it is just swollen and has a big cut. Thank God it wasn’t anything more serious. Poor girl, she was in agony, so we ended our work session for the day and I went into first aid mode. She is much improved after a cold pack– and is excused from her night to wash dishes, aw!!!

All that is left is to surround the pipes with more river rocks, then cover the entire thing with soil! The kids have done a “smashing” job so far!

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July 14, 2007


We’ve been really pushing ourselves, working all day on our projects (and eating nothing but leftovers, too). We have two teams going: one group is out in the trench for our drywell (the Outside Crew), the other is inside working on the plaster/lathe removal and wall/chimney repair (the Inside Crew). Here’s some great progress we’ve been making!

The Outside Crew has been digging, digging, and digging. At 47 inches below grade, the rocks are smaller, but there are still plenty of them. The bigger kids are having a hard time getting down into the trench to dig, so the smaller guys take turns scooping dirt into a bucket. We hope that next week we will have our materials (rain barrel, PVC pipes) and do a dry run on our drywell system. The crew has done a marvelous job calculating the slope of the trench (1/4 inch per foot for a 23 foot run), and it looks good. Next week, we’ll test it out. If it works, we’ll lay the rocks and gravel, glue the PVC together, and fill in the trench. Yippee!

Here are the kids in the trench for a photo op.

Kids' Ditch

Time for a funny picture:

Trench Line

The Inside Crew has removed all the plaster and lathe now (unless we suddenly decide to rip out more walls). Today, we removed the decrepit old carpeting, pad, and half of the underlayment to see the condition of the original pine flooring. We are not sure if we are going to refinish it so as to keep it exposed, or go with wall-to-wall carpeting. Can’t decide yet.

Pine Floor 1

Pine Floor 2

The floor, for its age (150 years) is in marvelous shape. I just can’t decide what to do yet. We like the warmth of carpet, but I hate to cover this nice wood. I do love wood floors. And keeping it wood would be much less expensive than w-w carpeting. Hmmm….

The Inside Crew has also completed the removal of that ugly half-wall that hung down from the ceiling. The wood and junk has been removed from all around the chimney, too.

Chimney without Half Wall

Lots more to do, but ain’t progress wonderful?

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