October 31, 2008

This Weeks Update

The construction work behind the house is progressing at a rapid pace. Fortunately the jackhammer work only went on for a day or two, and they move rapidly to laying the foundation and pouring the walls. In little over a week the transformation has been dramatic, and each day brings dramatic changes. I am going to continue to document the progress in photos, and I suppose I will drop a word or two in this blog as well.

Here is 3 days progress on the unit nearest to us; they started pouring the foundation for the adjacent structure this morning. They are not wasting time.

Foundation forms.
Foundation done

It has been a pretty quiet week at work, I have had a chance to catch up on paper work and get ahead on a few things. That has been a relief. There is just one event this week in the theatre, although a big one I think it is covered well in terms of staff, and the presenting organization has done this for a few years and are organized and ready for the crowds.

Stress items this week. My iMac suddenly boofed the other day. It had been doing a little self shut down thing and then starting up by itself a few weeks back. I did a little maintenance on it and it seemed to be fine. Then suddenly Wednesday morning it did it again but this time didn’t start back up. It tried to but would shut off half way thru the procedure would shut off again. We are blessed (or cursed) with several computers in the house so I was able to go on line to the Apple site and through their help pages determine that it is most likely a bad power supply. I brought it into the shop Thursday morning and they said ‘$225, we will call you when it is done.’ In the mean time I have been using an aging (1997) Mac that I have on my desk but is mostly best thought of as a boat anchor. It is barely usable; most of the current technology has left it in the dust. I have kept it on my desk mostly when I am testing IM or chat applications. I think it is time to relegate it to the recycle heap when the iMac comes back.

The failure of the iMac also was a signal that we need to seriously look at back-up scenarios when it returns too. When you only had a couple hundred Megs to back up. It was easy, but now that hard drives hold hundred of gigs, it is a more complicated procedure, and one at which we have been lax.

Stress item #2; we have been trying to refinance our home for months now. We made the mistake of getting one of those ARMS with a home equity line of credit 5 years ago, and the ARM is schedule to reset here any time. It made a lot of sense at the time, rates were low, housing prices were going up, and we needed cash to improve the house. Who would have ever thought things would get as bad as they are now. Can you think of a worse time to try to refinance? It has been a very frustrating process. And we have not been getting answers that we like. This week one lender with whom we have been working since August told us that it was a ‘no go’. I have been loosing a little sleep over this issue, and my stomach has not settled in days. We are not in danger of foreclosing when the rates go up, but our monthly budget is going to take serious hit. I am not sure what our next step is here.. I’ll be thinking about it.

Last weeks update part 2

(As usual I am running days behind schedule, this time complicated by computer failure-- my iMac blew it's power supply and is in the shop.)

I woke to the sounds of construction out back Thursday morning. The actual work had not begun, but the heavy trucks and machinery were lining up preparing for the days work. Promptly at 7:00am the sound of massive jackhammer mounted on the business end of a power shovel broke the morning calm. I was afraid that might happen. When they were building the house across the street that jack hammering went of got weeks before any real construction began. The part of Boston in which we live is called Roxbury, named for the fact that there is a layer aggregate rock that underlies the area. Known as Roxbury puddingstone, it is a conglomerate rock filled with smaller stones that makes it look like an old fashioned pudding with bits of fruit or raisins in it. (It also happens to b the state stone of Massachusetts.)


Needless to say it underlies everything here and any time there is a construction project a fair amount of time and effort is spent removing it. The lot out back at one time had houses on it, and much of the earth that they are removing is old bring and building debris from when ever the house were demolished. I guess that they need to go even deeper than the foundation of those structures. The pounding of the jackhammer, shakes the whole house, it comes up through the foundation and rattles the walls. I can see the cups on the shelves shaking from the vibration, and the cats are entirely confused by it.

I am not sure how much the house or we can take if it continues for any length of time. It may be a long winter.

Thing are picking up at work. As the term progresses, more and more events are coming up on the calendar. Over the last couple weeks I have been hiring and training new staff to replace those I lost last year due to them graduating from the university. The hiring process has been going well, and I have half dozen good candidates. They came in handy this week. Wednesday night was the event of the term I think: a speech on foreign by Massachusetts senator and former presidential candidate John Kerry. It was a late addition to the calendar, the event having been confirmed only the week before. Sponsored by a department on campus, they were ill equipped and undermanned to handle an event of this scale. It was clear by 4:30 when students began filling the lobby for a 6pm event.

Events that are free with no tickets and open general public are my least favorite. There is no way to predict how many people might be attending. We have 600 seats in the theatre and this one was going to be one of those when 800 people want to get in. in addition to that, the presenting organization had a list of 180 ‘guests’ for whom they had reserved seats, but it was not clear how many of those people would actually attend the event. The crush in the lobby got worse, and the presenting departments ushers arrived and were dismissed by them because they were undergrads and not graduate students. They were sent away, and then recalled again when the presenters realized that they needed them. Just a little disorganized? Eventually with the help of the campus police and my three untrained house manager we were able to sort thing out and get the audience in the space in an orderly fashion.

The rest of the evening went well, the speech and lively was interesting and the audience reacted well. I was happy when it was over

The next night was a total yang to the previous nights yin. Intended as a variety show and fundraiser for a campus charity, the organizers missed the boat on marketing, and had a total attendance of 35. It was sad to see, especially since they had worked very hard on the evening and were well organized, other than marketing.

Friday was the Halloween Dance at the boy’s school. I raced home for work and his mother and I teamed up to get him into costume and makeup. The hardest part was getting all his hair under the cheap wig. The latex gills I had made a few days earlier looked pretty well and once he was in full makeup he was pretty frightening looking. We dropped him at the school about 7:15 and them went out to dinner, as is our tradition when he has a night out. We stopped in at our favorite watering hole Doyle’s CafĂ©, for burgers and beer. I dropped Mrs. back home picking up the boy at 10pm. he was exhausted but glowing at least as much as one can tell under all the make up. He won 3rd place in the costume contest, loosing out to a blue berry and a Telletubbie but was very pleased nonetheless. I don’t think that he really planned on winning anything. He said that the best part was that no one recognized him at first. That is a sign of a successful Halloween costume. We will make a few adjustments before suiting him up to go out on Halloween night.

A Wraith in the making.

The finished product

October 27, 2008

$25 for Obama

A quick entry here.

As seen on the fence of a house near the boys school.

I had to smile.

October 26, 2008

The Week in Review, Part 1

I managed to get the pantry reassembled; final reconstruction took place Sunday, the paint job followed on Monday and selves were refilled Tuesday after the paint had dried. I ended up painting it the same light olive green that we used for the hallway. I happen to have a spare gallon of the color in semi-gloss, which I had accidentally purchased instead of eggshell. (No returns on specially mixed paints you know) It is a little dark for a closet/ cupboard, but I figure it won’t show dirt as would a light color and I had the paint. Hopefully in the process of rebuilding the pantry I blocked all the mouse entry points, so I wont have them nibbling on the instant oatmeal anymore. Time will tell.

Saturday afternoon we took a field trip over to Cambridge to visit the Boston Costume / the Garment District to shop for Halloween stuff for the boy. It is more of a warehouse than a store that houses both businesses, and it is hard to tell one from the other once you are inside. It is located about 5 blocks from the T-stop, and while there were no signs directing one to the store, it was easy to tell which direction it was from all the shoppers heading back to the T carrying the distinctive pink shopping bags from the store. As one might guess, the place was packed on a Saturday afternoon a couple weeks before Halloween. Never the less, we had a pretty clear idea of what we were looking for, so in spite of a certain amount of browsing we were able to zero in on the important things. The boy decided that he wants to go as a Wraith as featured on Stargate Atlantis. The Wraith is an alien species that feed on humans by sucking the life out of them via a special organ on their hands. Easily identified by their long white/gray hair, pale greenish skin and ancillary nostrils. Their wardrobe usually consists of long coats, usually in black.. Easy ……
A Wraith

In the makeup department we found a cheap silver gray wig and the appropriate makeup colors along with a bottle of liquid latex to build some face appliances from. Both the Mrs. and I have a fair amount of theatrical makeup experience so it really isn’t an issue, and might be a lot of fun. It turns out that the Garment district portion of the store in part a huge vintage clothing store. The 3 of us spread out with a mission in mind and before too long had found some pieces that would work for the boys costume. I admit to getting sidetracked in the men’s 1950’s rayon shirt section for a little while, and Mrs. found a raincoat for herself. Somehow we managed to escape the store in a little over an hour having spent about $100 including the coat for Mrs. you can be sure that I will post some pictures of the final product.

A bit of a surprise this week, construction has started on the long vacant lot behind our house. The lot is about 100-foot square, and has for a couple years been slated as a site for 2- 2 family homes. The project has been floating around for a couple of years, and given the economic situation and the housing glut, I thought the project might have died, but I was wrong, I first noticed spray paint markings on the street and sidewalks last week, and then Monday stakes had been driven in the ground at certain point marking the corners of the structures, by the next day, a power shovel was parked in the lot and on Wednesday they were turning the earth. Then by this morning all the trees had been taken down and foundations dug. I was ambivalent about the trees that were mostly volunteer maples that I would thin every year so that we would get a little sun in the postage stamp back yard. Now with them all gone it feels really exposed.

I am not looking forward to a winter of construction going on next to us. I for you have followed the earlier version of this blog on Yahoo 360, you know that we Endured almost 18 months of construction while 3 - 3 family homes were built across the street, which was followed by 3 months of work while all the utilities buried in the street were replaced.

Some construction photos: Before the digging began.

The first bites.

A view of the back of the house.

October 18, 2008

Being 13

The boy was planning to attend his first all-school dance at a neighboring independent school last night. He had been talking about for a couple of days. So there we were last night about 7:00 pulling up to the school, and suddenly he was getting cold feet saying he didn’t want to go after all. And we were telling him that he should take a chance, that he would have a good time. His mother compared it to riding a roller coaster (which we all love), there is that first big hill, that is frightening as you go up it, but it is very exciting when you crest the top of the hill. He wasn’t buying it. His protest grew louder and more strained and we pulled in the parking and saw the unfamiliar kids streaming in. “Turn around. Go home. I am not going. Mom, please lets just go home, I can’t do this!” We were just about to do just that; there is no point in torturing the boy if he really was that frightened. Just at that moment we arrived at the drop off point, and his mother said, “look in front of us, its Tyler and Arie.” Sure enough, two of his best friends from school were getting out of the car in front of us. From the back seat came, “Stop the car. Unlock the doors, hurry!” And he was out on the sidewalk in a flash.

I have never seen as an abrupt a turn-around in emotions in my life. It must be a part of being 13. His mother and I had a good laugh about and drove off to have a nice dinner at a little Thai-Cambodian restaurant that we like.

We picked him up at 9:30 when the dance was over, and he claims to have had a good time, but he didn’t go into much more detail than that.

Did I mention that he has the Lead in the school musical? he will be playing the Baker in their production of Into the Woods. More on that later, this is a big challenge for him, and he has only had small parts in the past.

October 17, 2008

Back to the ramble

I have been feeling a little sluggish the last few days, not sure if it is the change of season, all the bad financial news or the huge amount of work that needs to be done around the house after the plumbing repair, or a combination of all three. I haven’t even had the urge to do my work outs for a while. I just have had an urge to sit and read and do little else. My favorite time of the day is riding the subway where I can bury myself in my current reading, which happens to be ‘White Night’ by Jim Bucher. High toned stuff huh? It is a fun read, totally escapist stuff.

Not to say that I have been sitting on my butt all week, just that that I feel like I want to.

I was up early Saturday morning to pick up the car after the second repair session of the week, as I was too busy on Friday to pick it up before shop closed. The mechanic is just a short distance from the house, and it was a sunny warm morning so rather than take the T I walked over. It turns out that the lighting was great for a little picture taking. Here are a few shots I took.

Morning over the ball field

Sunlight through the fence

Steps to nowhere

Saturday was taken up with the usual routine items. The adult karate class is fun. It isn’t geared towards gaining rank, so there are no belts. It is more an overview, giving the grown ups a flavor of what the martial art is about. That doesn’t mean that we are sitting around listening to lectures, we are working on moves and stances and practicing punches kicks and blocks and we all manage to work up a sweat. I continue to feel totally uncoordinated. I was never very good in dance classes in college; I couldn’t remember al the steps, and the same thing haunts me here. Fortunately some of the others are in the same boat so I don’t feel so bad. I just wish that the boy wouldn’t sit in the corner of the dojo and laugh at us.

The weather has been beautiful for the better part of two weeks, Saturday we got out and worked with neighbors on cleaning up the triangle across the street. Everyone has been pretty busy of late and the place had gotten over grown. I am the designated mower, which is fine. One of our neighbors jack and a nice Toro mower that he keeps gassed and available, which make the job pretty easy even when the grass is as tall as it had grown. It only took a couple house of work to transform the plot from the vacant lot look to a nice community space again. Speaking of community plot, we got one step closer to taking actually taking possession of it for the community, as it is in fact a vacant lot. The city is requiring that we get the space surveyed and actually get specific about the improvements that we would make. We have a small grant that we got a year or more ago that we can use for that and there is a organization that has landscape architects who do pro-bono work, so this actually may come to fruition.

I spent a good portion of the weekend rebuilding the pantry closet following the previous weekends plumbing repair. I kept a fan running in it for the week and everything was dried well enough to enclose the chase again. I put some fresh insulation along the exterior wall, and rather than use sheet rock, I replaced the wall I demolished with plywood. Figuring that it is not beyond the pale that I may have to get back inside again. It will be a lot easier to remove the plywood, than demolish the wall once more. All that remains to do is paint the pantry closet. We have a large selection of leftover paint from other paint projects so the only issue is choosing a color from among the choices.

The small bathroom on the other side of the chase is another issue all together. That was where the wall was wet from the leaking pipes. Not only was the wall stained and cracked from the leaks, but I also had to cut a hole in it to get access to the pipe where I joined the old pipe to the new. That wall will need to be replaced with sheetrock. The trick will be mating it to the lower part of the wall, which is tiled, and keeping a clean transition with the adjoining walls. That is next after the pantry ..

Speaking of unfinished projects, I can’t seem to get rid of the old cracked pipe. I broke it up into small pieces about 2 to 3 feet long and left it on the curb on garbage day. When I got home from work the garbage and the recycling was gone but the pieces of pipe were still there. Now you have to understand that the garbage trucks pick up everything here. Furniture, box springs, mattresses, old refrigerators, you name it. If you put it out on the curb on garbage day, it will be gone by evening. What is wrong with my little pieces of cast iron pipe? I think I am going to try to fake them out next week and put a chunk in the garbage can rather than laying it on the street. Wish me luck.

October 10, 2008

Peace! Justice ?

I was up way too early today. Wife had a ‘Women’s Breakfast’ that her office was hosting at a local hotel and she had to be there at 5:30am. I found myself driving through the streets of Boston at 5am. (It is surprisingly easy to get around town at that hour.) It was a warm morning for this time of the year, and as I stepped out of the house the scent and calmness of the morning air enveloped me and brought me to age 13 when I had a morning paper route in Seattle. It would be about the same time of the day that I was out then. There is something special about smell of the air in the predawn hour. It is sweet and clean with just a hint of the sea. I just stood still for a moment, taking in that scent and the memories,

It was just a moment though and sweet though it was, the rest of the day proceeded apace. When I pulled the car out to take Mrs. to the hotel, I noticed a pool of engine coolant on the street. After dropping the boy at school it was back to the mechanic with a WTF look on my face having just spent $900 on Monday to have the radiator and adjacent hoses and fittings replaced. Verdict: Water pump, (I had been hearing a funny noise under the hood the last couple days.) Cost $321.

I am a water sign, (cancer), is someone trying to send me a message?

Someone is watching you.

October 6, 2008

How much fun is one person allowed to have ?

I have been having some issues with water lately. Call it karma or call it kozmic, it has been giving me grief on several fronts lately. There is the occasional little leak that appears in the bathroom once a year, and then there are the blocked downspouts that cause the gutters to overflow creating a wall of water along the house during a heavy rain. The gutters are over 20 feet off the ground, and my tallest ladder is 14 feet….

The latest and biggest water problem began to manifest itself a couple of weeks ago in the form of a wet spot appearing on the wall of the little half bathroom off the living room. At first I thought it might be a roof leak, as we had been having a lot of rain the result of a couple of nearly spent hurricane that passed over New England. In a few days the rain stopped, however, the wet spot was increasing in size. The wall in question is an inside wall that backs up to the pipe chase that runs between the basement and the top floor. This is not a good sign! I had my suspicions that something serious was leaking inside the wall, but when I would go to the basement and check at the bottom of the chase, there was no sign of water dripping.

Very strange.

The busy schedule of the last couple weeks, (as chronicled in two blog entries that were never finished and never published), prevented me from doing a deeper exploration. In the meantime, the wet spot was getting larger and wetter.
Finally this past Saturday other than karate in the morning we no other engagements scheduled, and I set myself the task of finding out what the was causing the wet spot and hopefully repairing the problem. Rather than tearing out the wall in the bathroom to get to the chase, I chose instead to go through the end wall of pantry closet in the dining room. This of course meant emptying and disassembling the pantry. This was not a bad thing in itself; there were more than a few discoveries of long forgotten items in the darkest reaches. ‘This expired when?’ The pantry contents were packed in boxes and stacked about the dining room and kitchen. I then proceeded to tear out the end wall of the pantry. The pantry being only 15” deep made the task awkward at best, it seems that I am about 14-1/2” wide. It was obvious that this was not the first time that wall had been breached, while the rest of the walls in the house are lath and plaster, this section was made up of thin planks nailed between the studs that showed evidence of having once had lath attached to them.

Upon opening the wall, I discovered why there had been no dripping water evident downstairs. The chase was filled with blown in cellulose insulation, something we had done shortly after we moved into the house. The insulation was acting like a sponge and was saturated with water. I filled several plastic garbage bags with the soggy insulation and hauled them out of the house.Finally the culprit of the wet wall was revealed. The 110 year old cast iron waste pipe (or stack) that brings the waste water from the bathroom upstairs was heavily rusted and cracked nearly the it’s entire length and a steady stream of water. What a frigging mess!! I always say that when you live in an old house you never know what you are going to find behind the walls.
As found at the bottom of the pipe chase..

A trip to the local Home Depot followed shortly. The supplies, 20 feet of 4” PVC pipe, assorted coupling and joints, PVC cement, plywood for replacing the wall, a roll of insulation, and an assortment of sawsall blades for cutting the old pipe. Total cost just under $120.

The first task back at home was to cut the old pipe out and dispose of it. There was roughly 13 feet of pipe to remove. The pipe consisted of numerous sections that were forever joined as one. I decided that I could take it out in two pieces, cutting it first about midway, and then at the top, removing that section first then disconnecting the lower section in the basement where it joined to modern PVC, and then pulling the lower section up, because it had 3 joints in it in the chase that would not fit through the hole in the floor. Cast iron is difficult to cut at best, and wedged into the end of a narrow closet trying to work around water pipes and heat ducts that shared the chase only made the task harder but eventually the pipe gave way. Because of the arrangement of other pipes and ducts in the chase to make the top cut I had to cut a hole in the wall near the ceiling in the bathroom. That cut made while standing at the top of a ladder no less awkward as the one in the closet. Though heavy, wet and rusty the top section came out with little trouble, the bottom section was another thing all together. Wet and rusty and even heavier that the upper section because of the flanges where the sections of pipe were joined, I found it impossible to dead-lift it up through the floor the 2 feet I would need to in order to remove it. With a little head scratching and a piece of rope, I came up with a plan. Tying the rope to the pipe I tossed the other end through the hole I had sawed in the wall. Mrs. and the boy where positioned in the bathroom pulling on the rope while I in the closet grunted, pulled, and cursed as we eventually coaxed the pipe out of the floor. I had scrapes on the insides of my arms from muscling the pipe around, but we had succeeded.

Replacing the pipe was anticlimactic compared to the removal. It was a matter of measuring, cutting and fitting the new pipe in place. PVC pipe cuts 1000 times easier than cast iron, and I think weighs 1000th of what equivalent cast iron does. It took maybe an hour to actual cut, fit and attach the new pipe in place. It all went smoothly except for one small detail. I had neglected to turn the water off to the upstairs bathroom. In itself, that is not a big problem as long as no one runs any water of flushed a toilet. Except the upstairs toilet tends to ‘run’ a bit sending a small but steady dribble of water down the waste pipe. I stuffed a sponge in the end of the cut off pipe, and turning the water off to the toilet. Problem solved. Or so I thought. A short time later while walking through the dining room I felt a drip on the top of my head, looking up I saw a wet spot on the ceiling at the site of a patch where a previous pipe leak had been. I raced upstairs and turned off the water to the entire bathroom. (Big sigh.) The dripping stopped after few minutes.

With help from both the boy and the wife I finished installing the new pipe. Testing showed all the joints to be watertight. (I tested by pouring a few buckets of water down the tub drain, afraid to turn the water on again to the upstairs bathroom.)

I think the clean up took almost as much time at the project itself, having trashed two bathrooms (the living room and the basement one where the pipe terminated), and tracked soggy cellulose insulation thru the whole house. The old pipe now lays on the sidewalk in the back yard; I have to figure out how to dispose of it. The pantry will remain open for some time with a fan blowing into the chase to speed the drying of the walls.

Still confused about what caused the leak in the dining room ceiling, I decided to turn on the water back on to the upstairs bathroom and toilet. Nothing, no leak, nada. It is another head scratcher. In the back of my mind that leak is a time bomb waiting to go off at some inconvenient time in the future.

Dirty, scraped and tired, Mrs. and I celebrated the completion of the project with a long hot shower at near midnight, knowing that we would not be saturating the walls any further.

I have to admit that I felt pretty good when I finished the job, grated there is still a lot of repair work to be done on the walls and pantry, but from beginning to end the whole thing too about 8 hours, there were no insurmountable problems, and only one trip to the hardware store!

I’d like to think that I saved a bundle of money by doing the job the boy, and myself, with help of course from Mrs.. I can only guess what a plumber might have charged for a job like this. The last time I had a plumber in to solder a leaking pipe for me (recall that hole in the dining room ceiling) it cost me $250. This could have easily been a $1500 to $2000 job by comparison.

Job well done.
The dead pipe. The piece on the left shattered when I dropped it on the ground.

Dateline Monday morning: While taking the boy to school I notice steam coming from under the hood of the car, accompanied by the smell of hot water and engine coolant. I swing into my mechanic who happens to be on route between school and home. Verdict: blown radiator, thermostat, et al. Cost for repairs $938.00

I tell you; water has it out for me…