Saturday, August 30, 2008

Cat on a hot asphalt roof

A few weeks back we witnessed our oldest cat, Mr. Bingley, as he walked along the rail on the deck behind the house and leaped from there into the attic (which was open because the soffit was removed). We were a little concerned, but mainly amused that he would be curious enough to leap into that area. Yesterday, he entertained the girls by making his way on to the roof.

Not content to merely wander the boring roof, Mr. Bingley found the one item of interest: the chimney. If you look carefully at the middle space in the chimney, you'll see a black cat with some white fur on his face and neck. (If you click on the photo, it should enlarge).

Here he has made his way around to the other side of the middle space and seems content to be indifferent to his adoring fans below.

Finally done with his performance he takes a gander in the gutters to see if there are any treats to be had.... I certainly hope he doesn't fall into the chimney on subsequent trips as it would be very difficult to get him out, and he would smell pretty bad after a few weeks, not to mention the mournful meowing we would have to endure. Perish the thought, we may have to take drastic measures if the poor cat ever does fall in.

Construction update #6

Here's the overview of the site on Wednesday night. Gene and Sam have been busy mixing cement and laying block, and as you can see, the first course is almost all the way done, while the second course is complete on the west wall. Conspicuously absent is the excavator. Its owner came and retrieved it today. We are very thankful for the full week of use we got out of the machine.

After a rain-shortened day on Thursday the 28th, we see that Gene and Sam still made good progress on the second course in the three short dry hours they had. The crenallated look on the east wall is not an intended design feature, we just wanted to keep the last batch of blocks out of the mud.
On Thursday, we only received one or two tenths of an inch of rain during the day, but overnight Thursday night we collected 1.8" in our rain gauge. It's a good thing the first course was complete before that heavier rain arrived, as some of the mud around the foundation was washed on to the footing. On Friday the guys were able to complete the blockwork and Gene found a couple of gravel trucks just itching to deliver some gravel yet that afternoon.

Here's a view inside the block on the edge of one of the vehicle doors. You can see a steel rod in the block that runs down into the footing. Once the block is filled with concrete, the rod will make the foundation stronger at that point.

Here's a view looking southeast showing the block work ready for a bit of grading in the middle, followed by a nice layer of gravel and then some styrofoam and the heating lines before the floor can be poured.

Finally, here's a shot of the north wall where the water line enters the building (foreground), and the electrical conduits in the background.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch...

Since our contractor (Karen's dad, Gene) doesn't keep us busy every waking moment with the garage project, we figured we may as well tear the house apart before winter! Actually, our gutters have been a problem even before we bought the house. They leak where they shouldn't, don't flow toward the downspouts, and are pretty mangled in some places. They really need to be replaced. But, as long as you're replacing gutters, you may as well pick a color that looks more attractive against the other features of the house (i.e. brick and stone). And as long as you're replacing gutters, you may as well replace the fascia. And as long as you're replacing fascia, you may as well replace the soffit (which was also in sad shape).

Consequently, since we knew we didn't have a block of time big enough to do everything at once, I figured we could do the soffit by itself and leave the fascia and gutter part for later. So here's what I found when I started removing the old aluminum soffit: 3/8" plywood underneath. It appears that the plywood was the original soffit material 50 years ago, and the aluminum came along later (maybe 30 years ago?) and was applied over the top (or underneath as the case may be).

I actually knew about the plywood from removing the soffit in a few places for various other projects over the past year. What I didn't realize was the water damage that had occurred over the past who-knows-how-many decades as water would get trapped above the plywood and between the plywood and aluminum.

Here's the culprit. You're looking up at the bottom of the roof from where the plywood soffit used to be. The white board at the bottom of the photo is the painted bottom edge of the fascia; the dark grey wood above that is also the fascia board; and the yellow 2 x 4 on the right is the end of a rafter. The light-colored strip just above the fascia board is the bottom side of an aluminum drip edge for the roof. You're not supposed to be able to see that from the bottom. You can see that the roof planks don't go all the way to the edge of the roof, nor is there any kind of barrier under the drip edge. As a result, rain water seeps up under the shingles and runs over the top of the drip edge and into the soffit area.

In case you haven't put it all together yet, that means one more project before everything works the way it should. The tally now: (1) tear out and replace soffit, (2) tear out and replace fascia and gutters, and (3) fix roof and drip edge.

The good news is: this is what the new soffit looks like after the plywood and old aluminum are removed, and the new J-channel and soffit panels are installed. Sometimes I like to just sit and admire how beautiful it is ... until I notice the old fascia and gutter. We are not done with all the soffit demolition and replacement yet, so we won't be tearing into the gutter just yet.

One other blessing is the pile of aluminum we are accumulating. Add all this soffit, fascia and gutter aluminum to the old aluminum window frames we tore out last year, and we could have a sizable scrap payment one of these days!

I wanted to include a photo of this observer. This praying mantis sat on this piece of soffit for three days before I got concerned that it may lay some eggs on the soffit and give me one more project to take care of....

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Construction update #5

This is how the garage project looked at dusk on Monday, August 25th. Cement has been poured in the footing trench and some concrete blocks have been procured for the two rows of block that will sit on top of the footing. Samuel Evans put in his first day on the project today, acting as Gene's assistant. I haven't witnessed Samuel on the job, but I'm told he's a good worker.

You can see the tracks of the cement truck between the house and the cherry tree. Judging by the tracks, I think the truck traversed the entire yard in order to get around all our obstacles to reach the west side of the construction site. One obstacle was removed to make room for the truck -- can you tell what was removed?

Tuesday, August 26th saw some of the block laid as evidenced in the photo above. This is the west wall looking north. Did I tell you that Karen's dad once worked as a bricklayer? Consequently, I have a lot of confidence in his ability to lay a firm foundation for the building. Hmmm... maybe we should cover the entire building in brick...

Finally, here's the big view of the project at the end of the day Tuesday. Looks like more block laying tomorrow and probably more grading as long as the tractor is still available. Thanks for reading...

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Garage construction #4 and beautiful (and unusual) sunset #6

On Gene's second day of digging with the tractor he was able to dig the trench for the water line from the house to the garage site, and begin digging the footings for the garage foundation.
Here he's digging the footing under what will be the west wall. The 8" bucket allows us to dig a trench at the correct grade and simply fill the trench with cement to produce the footing.

Here's the trench for the water line with the spool of extra tubing sitting at the garage end. The line has been stubbed through the house basement wall at this time and the tubing laid into the trench.

This is why the excavator has that little dozer blade on the front end of the undercarriage: to push dirt back into the trench you just made! Even though Gene looks very serious in these tractor operation photos, it was clear he really enjoyed running the machine and moving dirt. What a perfect gift for the man that seems to have everything: his own tractor! Maybe Stan will buy him one someday....

This was as far as we got on Friday night. The footing trench is a little over halfway done, and the water line is laid in its own trench. This is starting to look like a construction site!

At the end of the day Friday, the Lord blessed us with a beautiful and unusual sunset. Can anyone explain why the dark streaks appear in the sky? They aren't clouds....

Saturday saw more progress with the tractor including digging the trench to the electrical service. We got rained out about the time we were going to set the conduit in the trench, so that will have to wait until next week. The wire running out of conduit on the back side of the meter pole is the telephone line that we had to carefully avoid during our digging. The electrical service could be a bit undersized for both the house and the garage, so we have an appointment with our electricity cooperative, Corn Belt, to assess the situation.

After a pretty good (and humid) day's effort on Saturday, August 23, this is how the site looks. The footing trench is complete, the electric trench is dug, and the water line is laid in its trench and buried almost all the way back to the house. Once the concrete patch around the water pipe on the house foundation is dried we'll close the water line trench in completely. You may have also noticed the pile of clay dirt in the foreground has been spread around on the driveway on the east side of the garage since that end will need more fill before the project is done.

Point of trivia: the difference in elevation between the high northwest corner (on right) and the low southeast corner (on left) is 13 inches! Who would have thought our yard sloped that much?

Next steps: set rebar in the footing trench to prepare for the concrete pour, and prepare for laying a couple of rows of concrete blocks on top of the footing. Thanks for reading; Lord willing, we'll be back with more details in the days to come....

Corn in the backyard, week 13

August 24
There are a couple of subtle things to notice in this image. The first is that the corn stalks are just beginning to dry and turn brown at the bottom. This process should proceed pretty rapidly over the next few weeks. Second, is the shadow from our hackberry tree. I've taken most of the corn photos at 9 AM on Sunday morning, and if you compare the shadow in this image to some of the earlier ones, you'll observe that the sun is much lower in the sky in late August than it was in June. By comparing all the photos, you can see the steady progression of the position of the sun at this time of the morning.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Groundbreaking Ceremony

We officially broke ground on the garage project on Wednesday the 20th. My father-in-law had arranged to borrow an excavator from a friend in town, and we decided to dive right in as soon as the machine was delivered. We plan to use the tractor to dig trenches for the water line from the house; for the electric service from the meter to the garage site; and for the footings around the perimeter of the garage.
The ground breaking began back at the house where we plan to connect the water. Due to the location of the new garage, we knew it would be a pretty long run, but we were pleasantly surprised to find a waterline over 4 feet underground that wasn't being used. I'm sure you're wondering what that line was doing there. My neighbor (house in the background) has lived in his house since he built it about 50 years ago, and at the time our house was owned by his uncle. Our neighbor had a shallow well that would go dry in times of drought, so the uncle offered to connect both houses to the well on our property. The neighbor's well was drilled deeper several decades ago, but the water line remains. Hence we have a line plumbed through the basement wall complete with a shut off valve near the pressure tank. We will replace the pipe outside, and reconnect the new line with the old in the basement.
We used the wider bucket on the excavator since we need to get into the hole to work, but will use the narrow 8" bucket for most of the other work.
Here's a look down into the hole once I had the loose dirt cleared away from the pipe. That black plastic line about an inch in diameter is the blessing God bestowed on us for this part of the project. We would love to see God show similar grace in other stages of the project, but we'll be content with what he gives us.

A point of clarification: even though the hole is almost five feet deep, the black dirt doesn't really go all the way to the bottom -- there's only about four feet of the black stuff before you get into clay. Has God blessed the soil in this area or what?

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Beautiful sunrises #4 & #5

August 14, 5:52 AM

August 6, 5:46 AM

Beautiful sunrise #3

July 28, 5:31 AM
(sorry about forgetting to turn the flash off)

Beautiful sunrise #2

June 24, 5:33 AM

Corn in the backyard, week 12

August 17
Special thanks to my wife for standing next to the corn in the blinding 9 AM sunlight to illustrate how tall the corn stalks really are. Special honors to the person that comes closest to guessing the height of the tall tassel directly over Karen's left shoulder. Answers will be accepted in most common units of length.

The Site, part 2

The burn pile has been moved, Round Up has helped define the border, and we're all anxiously awaiting the real action. More details soon....

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Beautiful sunset #3

July 12, 8:31PM

Shakespeare Festival

Saturday, July 12th we ventured to the Illinois Shakespeare Festival in Bloomington for a matinee performance of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" (abridged version). As you can tell, the costume budget was pretty small, and they performed on the set for a different play, but the acting was very good and the entire experience entertaining. The Sanford family was also there as well as a few other families we recognized.

Ewing Manor was donated to Illinois State University in 1969, and has since become the home of the Illinois Shakespeare Festival. The house provides plenty of interesting architectural features.

The open air theatre is on the grounds of the manor and approximates the style of the house.

The Sanfords are ready for the show to begin.

The rest of the crowd is ready for the show to begin.

The set is ready for the show to begin.

The show has begun! This play includes a play within the play, and in this scene the actors of the play within the play claim their characters and their lines. The hats help you identify which play is going on at the moment.

Back to the real play where Shakespeare resorts to spells and magic potions to carry out the plot.

More confused behavior until all is set right by applying a reversing potion, and everyone lives happily ever after (or something like that).

The backyard view of the manor. Maybe we could build something like that someday....

Eric Ross using his sons as an arm rest while the Sanfords look on. Like I said, a pretty entertaining experience even if I thought the play itself was a bit contrived.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Corn in the backyard, weeks 6-10

July 6 - week 6

July 13 - week 7

July 27 - week 9

What a difference two weeks makes! We were out of town on the 20th so I didn't get a photo, but look at the tassels and ears that exploded while we were gone. I've included a close-up shot of a couple ears below, so you can watch the growth until harvest time.July 27 close up

August 3 - week 10

We had a pretty strong storm due to hit our house about 9 AM, so I took this shot at 8:09.