Thursday, January 28, 2010

YakTrax and Chainsaw Maintenance

With the crazy weather and all, it has been wrecking havoc on our driveway. First the rains come and melt the snow, then the arctic chill turns it to ice. Of course, in typical dad fashion, as I was walking to the car to load up the recycling and, you're going to love this, slipped and fell while standing perfectly still. The car is parked on a slight hill, we're talking inches of vertical climb, but enough to cause me to lose my footing and spill the cans all over the driveway. Thankfully I wasn't hurt too badly. My ego, on the other hand...

In the past, as February arrived, I had to wear my snow shoes to go get wood and do assorted chores around the yard because the ice was so bad. I decided this year to get some attachments for my shoes called Yaktrax. They are basically rubber sole covers with wires looped around them for grip.

Let me tell you, they've changed my life. I can walk with confidence, and they're barely noticeable. No more slipping for me, though I'm sure I'll find another way to injure myself.

Also got out my chainsaw and sharpened the blade. I can feel Spring coming, time to cut some wood. I did realize that as I sharpened my blade, I managed to nick the links a little, which is cause for concern. I may need to replace it and be more careful in the future, because the last thing I want is for that chain to break while I'm using it. I have a replacement chain and will probably switch them and take the old one in for examination.

Until the next time, thanks for reading.

got yaktrax, cleaned and sharpened my chainsaw

Monday, January 25, 2010

Chimney Sweep

I don't know what's going on with our wood, but we did everything we were supposed to and it still seems inordinately wet. It's been curing for at least a year, and it hisses and steams when we put it in the fire. What a bummer. To rub salt in the proverbial wound, I was checking the flue and there seemed to be more buildup than usual. Not a lot, but more than usual, inspiring me to do a little chimney cleanup.

The thing that kills me is that for two years we heated with wood, burning wood that was less than ideally dry, and we never had a problem and there wasn't much creosote buildup. Then we paid some guys to come and clean the chimney, and within the first few months of using it, I'm seeing more buildup than usual. What's that all about?

Either way, it needs to be dealt with, which means that I was going to have to get dirty. Now I'm not ready to climb up on the roof with all that snow and sweep the chimney, but I do think that is in my future, no getting around that. But more on this later. For now, I decided to clean it from the bottom up. There are two openings in the basement for the chimney, one for cleaning out the creosote that falls down, and the other, I'm assuming, for cleaning and checking.

I got the extension rods after realizing they were flexible enough to fit into the hole, as well as a 8" round brush. The flue is square, but the hole is round, so I used a round brush, but obviously a square one would have worked better. My concern was that it wasn't going to fit through a round hole, but in retrospect, I think it would have. Just force the darn thing through and stop being such a wimp. Classic case of worrying about too much.

The rods are a pain to connect, they are finely thread, so they take a bit of time to connect. I fed each rod into the hole, connected the next one, then pushed it farther up. It actually worked okay, but I think I need one more extension, and the round brush is not only round (funny how that works), but it's too small, so the cleaning is not optimal.

Also, I had to wait until the chimney was cool enough to clean. Not an easy thing when you heat with wood. I could have done it in the morning before I built the fire, but I worried about waking up the kids since their room is next to the chimney. Also, it's cold in the AM, and I look forward to some heat. The weather has been weird, however, and it warmed up and we went out for the day. When we returned, the chimney was cool, and it sufficiently warm in the house to go without a fire for an hour or two. You have to seize the moment.

So I managed to get some of the job done. I figure I'll do some minor routine maintenance until Summer and then get up on the roof and do the real cleaning. It wasn't as messy as I anticipated, though there were some chunks of soot that I had to sweep up. Also, when coal falls down a chimney, it gets going pretty fast, and when it hits your arm and hand, which happen to be inside the flue, it hurts! Perils of being a real man in training.

At least I did it and the fearful-paralyzing mystery has been overcome. I feel more confident the next time around. I also got ladder hooks and will eventually use our extension ladder as some sort of staging to climb up the roof. My biggest fear about going up there was getting on and off the ladder that high up. It worries me. I am less fearful of going up the front face, as long as my footing is stable. I'm hoping the ladder will help, but we shall see. It opens up a whole new can of worms.

Until the next time, thanks for reading.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Campaign Trail

I think my vigorous campaign for trustee may have paid off. After emailing all the people I knew in town and asking everyone I ran into to sign the petition, I think it may have paid off, because when I went to the store the other day, the number of signatures on my petition had increased by a whopping 100%. From 1 to 2. Hey, progress is progress. Actually, there were maybe about ten signatures on the sheet, which coupled with the library sheet, just may have put me over the 25 signature minimum. Thus begins my career of public service. The next question is, what exactly does a trustee do, and why me?

Oh well, I guess, like all things in a real-man's life, you learn best by just doing it. Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to sanja gjenero for the pic.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Getting Man's Work Done

One of the small projects that I finally finished was improving the shelf under the small counter near the fridge. It's such a small project, but one I'd put off for months. I finally just did it, and boy am I glad I did. One less reminder of what a slacker I am. But first, a little backstory.

Our kitchen was not designed for normal human use. It's so small and cramped, and there is not enough counter or shelf space for someone who cooks a lot, which I gather was the case when they designed it. We are always scrambling for places to stow pots and pans and assorted bottles. It gets crazy, especially for a klutz like me who tends to plow right through things, knocking over or breaking anything in my path. So I built a shelf. The problem with the original design was that I made it with two shelves, and it was not an efficient use of space.

In order to maximize efficiency, a real man quality if there ever was one, I rebuilt the thing and added a shelf. Et Voila, more storage space. I actually ran out of wood and was about to run to the lumber yard for more, but then just used a shorter piece for the top shelf. I sort of liked the end result, so serendipity was on my side.

Also, in a nice attention to detail that would surely make Bob Vila proud, or at least my Mentor, or maybe even PR, I counter-sank the screw holes and put in little button-like dowels to hide the screws. Clearly I've graduated from being a framer to a bona fide cabinet maker. Just wait until you see the spice rack I'm making.

Until then, thanks for reading.

Youth Performance and Trustee Me

I've lost track of whether or not I've touched on this, but last weekend we went to the Emerging Artist Exhibit at the town hall, sponsored by the local community connections committee headed up by none other than JM, the de facto, unofficial mayor of our town. Then again, there are a few people that fit this role.

The show was fantastic, the kids were amazing. As teens, to get up there and perform like that was truly commendable, but they were also really good. So much talent in his area. Afterwards, there was food and mingling, then a dance, which I think this town needs more of, though the turnout was a little sparse.

We had a blast, the kids, especially A&N and A&I, really had a blast, though they were the only little kids out there. N in particular surprised us with his dancing prowess, and you could tell he and his sister had loads of fun with it. As did we, though I'm not used to dancing without a few cocktails in my system. A vestige of my college days. After a few dances, however, I was warmed up enough to cut loose.

On another community note, I've been asked to be a trustee at the library. Don't ask me why, and for that matter, what a trustee even does. I got a random phone call from the departing trustee and was surprised at the call. They must be desperate for Asian men with long hair, because not only am I not qualified (what exactly are the qualifications), but I didn't even think that I knew enough people to even be considered.

The proof is in the pudding, as the saying goes. Before I can begin my glorious career of public service, I need to be "elected" by the town, which entails obtaining 25 signatures on a petition. They circulated three copies, one in the town hall, one in the library, and one in the local store. As of this writing, the copies in the store and the town hall each had a whopping total of 2 signatures, and the one the store was signed by R, my wife. Talk about rejection!

I have to admit, it kind of hurt my feelings, in a real man kind of way, of course. R tried to comfort me by reminding me that people don't pay attention to those things and you have tell them. I didn't realize I had to campaign for this position, which is not something I really look forward to, but hey, sometimes you have to prostitute yourself. It wouldn't be the first time.

So I got on the horn and called/emailed as many town folks as I knew (all three of them... just kidding) and asked them to sign my petition. I was even given a blessing by the director, MD, who alluded to the fact that the clock was ticking. Yikes!

Either way, if I have to, I'll stand outside the store and beg people on my hands and knees. At the very least, it'll get people's attention.

On the campaign trail in the Green Mountain State. Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to Angel Norris for the pic.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

More Framing/Sheathing and New Windows

In a move that is sure to amuse my Mentor, we are going to get new windows in place of the old ones that were left on the barn. We decided this, at the recommendation of PR and RR, after we had kicked and screamed to keep the old windows. They still seem perfectly functional to me, though after putting the new windows in, I can understand their shortcomings. Even still, I hate to think that they are a complete washout. We'll have to find something to do with them, or at least sell them. And I'm still holding out hope that we'll find a place for them on the barn, but we'll see.

In the meantime, that means more framing/sheathing, as well as getting new windows. Since this is the back of the barn, and now that we're framing pros over here, it should be a piece of cake... yeah, right. I do find it less intimidating, however, though the second story will present some challenges. I was so happy that we were going to leave it be, now I've got to get up on the roof and pull out the windows, after all.

Another bright note is that instead of having to order the windows, I'm going with what Home Depot has in stock. They aren't the perfect fit, which again means I'll have to re-frame, but they're a heck of a lot cheaper (about half the price), and I'm not locked in. I.e., I can return/exchange them since they aren't a special order. Something about not having to commit that appeals to me, maybe it's a guy thing.

With this in mind, I went to HD and got all the windows I'll need for the first floor. We are set, so it's just a question of getting it done. The doors and windows are in the house, they just need to be put in. A minor technical detail. Besides, I can always beg PR to come for a visit and he can do it with his eyes closed.

Until the next time, thanks for reading.

Wood Revelations

We've realized that we might very well use around 5-6 cords of wood, but it's too soon to say. The problem is, it's only January and we've used up almost all of the first stack, which we estimated to be around 4 cords. At the current rate, we'll probably burn about 6 cords, which means that we might have to stack more wood.

Another problem that we're having is that the darn wood isn't dry. I did everything I was told, and the stuff still hisses when it burns. What a bummer. So, now I'm thinking I have to split more right now and give it more time to dry. The bright side of this is that I like to split wood, and that now is a good time because the wood is frozen (makes splitting easier) and it's cool outside.

I have about two cords of blocks in the woods, and about half a cord behind the barn. My plan is to split them over the course of winter, stack it to dry, and then add it to the pile. Hopefully that will be enough time to dry.

One additional note, I think I'm going to tackle sweeping the chimney. This should be interesting.

Until the next time, thanks for reading.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

More Pillars of the Community and Eggs

We've finally found what we consider to be a reliable source for eggs, and you can't beat the convenience. It's our neighbor. I didn't even know they had eggs for sale, I've never actually seen the hens, but I'd heard through the grapevine they had them available. When I inquired, KJ said yes, and if I wanted, I could get the regularly (chick not included). How cool is that? The only problem is, now that we're getting eggs regularly, we've got to eat them. Shouldn't be too hard, though we did run into a surplus situation. Nothing a good frittata can't solve.

Also, community wise, I've been asked, for whatever reason, to help out at the library. Somehow my name must have come up, and I got a phone call from the previous person who said I was being asked to help. Wow, I didn't think anybody even knew my name. My first thought was, why me? My second thought was, who are you? My third thought was, why aren't you doing it anymore? He told me who he was and I realized he was one of those, "I know you but I don't know you" people. We live in the same town and have crossed paths on numerous occasions.

Either way, I'd love to help, but am not sure if I am qualified (I don't even know what is expected of me) and am a little concerned about the time commitment. He assured me that on both counts, it was not rigorous, and I could even bring the kids along. Not sure how that would work out, but makes it more plausible

I talked to R about it and I do want to help, so I'm leaning towards saying yes. Besides, I love our library, they do such a nice job. I think I'll talk to head librarian get more info.

Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to Aleksandra P. for the pic.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Pillars of the Community

Not that we need more things on our table, but we are becoming, if you can believe this one, active in our community. One of the things we love about our town is that there is a huge amount of community involvement, all on a completely volunteer basis. It's the reason so many things happen that are open to the public. Well, being a true Democrat, how can you not take a little without giving a little back? With this in mind, certain things have come our way, and we have jumped in, even in lieu of all the other "stuff" going on, mainly work for R and parenthood for both of us, not to mention the daily rigors of real man chores.

The whole Transition Towns movement is picking up momentum, and it really showed at the latest Community Connection "Pancake Breafast." There was a huge turnout, due in part to TT promoting it, and it was actually a nice affair. CC did a nice job.

R is in charge of a lot of TT stuff. The community and environmental lean strike a chord in her, and in me, as well. She is actually now the head of TT, though a lot gets done via CF, who seems to be in charge, though he won't acknowledge it. The reality is, TT needs the guy, so it works out well. We piled everyone into the car and had a nice breakfast. The spread was more extensive than I'd thought it would be. I figured they'd just crank out pancakes and be done, but there was fresh fruit, and eggs! A feast, though coffee was a little hard to come by. Addiction, you gotta love it.

The kids had fun sitting at the head of the table, next to the CF, and gobbling down the flapjacks. It was cute to watch. There was a lot of discussion about what was planned, including the farmer's market, which is really gaining steam. It's really a vestige of a bygone era of community government open to and run by the public. This scene is played out across the state.

At some point, all the talk about select boards and voting started to bore the kids (can you blame them?), so I had to take them outside. We went to the store and go cat food, then played in the snow, waiting for mom. Because she's in charge, she had to stay till the end, but it was fun just hanging out.

And I think the meeting was a success. Good turnout, good discussion/debate, and things are moving along. People around here are really passionate about a clean environment and a strong community. The big thing is the market, and because we don't have enough to do, we are toying with the idea of opening a booth and selling pizza. The best part of this plan is that we have absolutely no idea what we're doing, which I've found is all the more reason to go for it and jump in head first.

Besides, what a great topic for blogging. You can't make this sort of stuff up. Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to Alicia Solario for the pic.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Maintaining Credibility, If Nothing Else

I haven't done a thing on the barn, and I think it's bumming R out, but it's cold, and I need to get over to HD to order new windows. Plus, I have to haul all my tools back into the barn to revisit the whole framing business. I realize I mentioned how I liked framing, but somehow the idea of re-framing is not as appealing. Whatever be the case, it's on my mind, and that is usually the first step to either getting it done, or doing nothing and having it eat away at you. I often embrace the latter.

I did take care of a few things, however. I finally contacted the excavator to tell him the septic project was on hold until Spring. The guy probably thinks I'm insane because we have pushed this back at least a year, if not more, but such is life. I did mention that we'd cut some trees down and were in the process of clearing them, so that might have given me some credibility... yeah, right.

We've also managed to get the roof project reserved but also delayed until Spring, which will give me a chance to get up there on the roof (am I crazy, or what?) to clean off all that nasty moss. I'm not looking forward to it, but I think I can do it. At least if I fall off, it's only the first floor, and if I'm lucky, one of the cats will be under me to break my fall. Just kidding.

Until the next time, thanks for reading.

Monday, January 4, 2010

The Return of Karate Man

I went to my first karate class two weeks ago post-injury, and it wasn't so bad. I still couldn't spar for fear of re-injuring my foot, but I know that when you're dealing with real men like CH and JH, there's no room for cowards. Broken bones are all part of the program.

Either way, it felt good to be back and active, though I felt rusty. I have this grand notion that I'll work out at home and practice the things I need to know to become a one-man wrecking crew, but whenever I have the time, all I want to do is lay down and close my eyes. Funny how that works. My goal is to look like this guy, flying off into the sunset.

We are preparing for our next belt test, however, and it will require that I get my next kata down, not to mention master using the bo staff. You have to love weapons.

Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to Christopher Bruno for the pic.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Completed Projects

Well, if you can believe it, I finally managed to get that darn skirt around the chimney frame, and I think it may have made a difference. I still need to go up and fill the wire holes with foam, but the big source of heat loss may very well have been addressed. First, a little background.

As I may have mentioned, we were experiencing significant heat loss in our attic, mainly through the frame around the chimney. I could feel the heat rising up, and there were huge problems with ice formation on the roof, a big no-no. I thought that I could simply layer more fiberglass insulation over it, but the gap between the chimney and frame was big enough to let a fairly substantial flow of air through. I tried stuffing the gaps with insulation, something several people at assorted home improvement stores suggested, but I was told that was in violation of fire codes. Then again, who's going to know? It's not as if fire inspectors are checking out our attic.

Either way, after speaking with the resident expert on energy efficiency, KK (how many towns have their own energy committee and chairman?), and he guided me in the ways of the law. From what I could gather, I was allowed to block the flow of air, but I wasn't allowed to stuff anything into the gap. It had to be a cover.

KK suggested a metal skirt, as did KB and PD, so there was finally a consensus on what to do. Using fireproof caulk, I could fill in the gaps and make it air tight. I opted for aluminum flashing and actually pulled it off using one piece and some tin snips. It ain't pretty, but I think it's fairly well sealed. Amazing what a little, or should I say a lot, of caulk can do. That stuff is black, however, and kind of messy. I tore my gloves on the sharp edge of the flashing and ended up getting the caulk all over my fingers. Bummer.

Working in the attic is a chore, as well. Not only do I have to squat the entire time, which is murder on my back, but it's dusty as heck up there, and there are clear signs that assorted critters are living up there. The proof is the profusion of stool samples scattered throughout the insulation. They are mainly near the chimney, where it's nice and toasty. Also, I have to be careful when I stand up or else get roofing nails through my scalp. I've been there, and it ain't pretty. Finally, just to whine a little more, it's dark working near the chimney. The lights are on one side, and don't illuminate the other side, so I have to hold a flashlight while working with my other hand. Meanwhile, I'm squatting on all fours and breathing through a mask that is fogging up my glasses, all the while swimming in fireproof caulk. Geez, should I just kill myself now, or what?

Because the job was so unpleasant, I ended up doing it in two stages. First, I went up there and cut the skirt. The next time I went up and nailed/sealed it to the frame/chimney. I thought it was a pretty good plan.

Now I can't help but think there's less snow melting on the roof. The house feels warmer, too, though now I'm all paranoid that since the chimney shaft can no longer vent all that warm air, it's going to build up to a critical mass and become a fire hazard. Is there no end to the drama?

I did have this brilliant idea that I'll have to bounce off my Mentor to cut a hole in the chimney shaft and install a vent to harness all that heat energy to warm the second floor. It seems like a good idea, which means it will be close to impossible and will end up taking years. This, of course, is right up my alley.

Until the next time, thanks for reading.