Tuesday, January 27, 2009
<...performing further research...>
Good news! I ran my hands all over the window. The gasket is working. However, the top sash needs more caulk, and I need to nail a strip of gasket to the top of the bottom sash, at the seam where it meets the top sash. In addition, the D-profile weatherstrip on the underside of the bottom sash doesn't appear to be accomplishing all that might be desired. I'll have to nail another strip of the vinyl gasket to the sill, flush with the bottom sash, to compensate for the D-profile's underperformance.
I am reminded as I ponder all of this that the wood of this particular window was more than normally tough, and most of the little finishing nails that I was using buckled instead of going straight into the wood. (Which is one of the reasons I won't be taking pictures of the window--it's best to keep my handiwork decently out of sight behind the blinds.) What fun to get to spend more quality time with this window! Once again: if I had just had the sense to buy an air compressor back when we began the bamboo project, I'd no doubt have a power nailer by now and this whole problem would be non-existent. Moral of the story: always buy the air compressor.
On a happier note, I also ran my hands over the windows in the study, and they are doing a much better job keeping out the cold. So success is possible, if I just apply myself.
Perfection has also eluded us in the area of the doors. Somehow, I failed to get the vinyl bulb stripping perfectly flush with one side of the study door, so it will have to be reinstalled; the spontaneously new kitchen door needs some refinement in terms of its fit; and the front door has to be slammed in order for the knob to catch, so we'll have to adjust the tongue holes (or whatever the proper word is). Also, the kitchen and study door sills still have leaks at the bottom corners.
This project consumed an entire weekend, and it looks like it's going to chew its way into another. But I guess if it will prevent the tip of my nose from turning into an ice cube, it's worthwhile.
Update on the Recession Garden
I've got several sprouting artichokes, one tiny, hesitant guajillo pepper, as well as the basil, radishes, and Lolla Rossa lettuce I mentioned before. I also sowed some eggplants 2 weekends ago, along with another batch of D'Avignon radishes and some Harmony butterhead lettuce.
In a similar spirit of frugality, I have discovered (and begun to use) the cutting swap feature of a rose site called (weirdly) helpmefind.com. They set up a system to allow users to post the roses they're looking for in order to swap for cuttings of roses they're growing. Brilliant! I've arranged for a 10-rose swap with a lady from Georgia (I think). Since her Fortune's Double Yellow won't be big enough till spring, I'm going ahead and rooting the roses my correspondent wants from my garden. By spring, they should have a nice root system and be ready to mail.
Do you know what would make a really kick-ass accesory for a Recession Garden? One of these. A residential wind turbine. There are a number of issues (it's only recommended for properties larger than 1/2 acre--ours is .48 acres--and it needs to be hoisted on top of a 50-foot tower), but it's way, way cheaper than solar panels (PBS says that even after California's generous incentives, Bill Nye the Science Guy still paid something like $32,000 for his solar panels. Which he apparently has to mop regularly.) In general, one small turbine won't let you live a comfortable, first-world lifestyle "off the grid," but it will--apparently--reduce your power bill to the double or even single digits. Sweet! Still pondering whether to add this to my I-really-want-this-for-real list, or tack it on to my well-it'd-be-nice-if-I-could list, where it can keep the solar panels company.
Saturday, January 17, 2009
However, now that the temperature's been repeatedly dipping into the 20s, our feeling is, to heck with fresh air. We want the toasty, hot canned air, and we want it stuffy and hermetic. Last year, our power bill was between $100 and $250 dollars higher in the winter than in the cheap months of April and November. And we would still wake up to a bedroom whose temperature was in the 50s. I gather that most people's entire electric bill is less than $250, plus they get to wake up to a bedroom in the 70s.
So we took the first step in January 08 and had insulation blown into the attic. The insulation helped a little, I guess, but it's still been frigid, especially in the living room, which quickly descends to the 60s or lower in cold weather.
So this weekend we finally embarked on a quest for weatherization. We spent about $215 in supplies and prepared to fill every gap we could find, caulk anything standing still, and stick insulating foam strips on every orifice.
It went fairly well. We got a lot done. I kind of broke the kitchen door in the middle of operations, though. That wasn't really part of the weatherization plan.
See, one of our big problems is that our doors had these big gaps underneath. Partly because the doors don't quite fit right, and partly because there is no threshold on the inside of our doors to bridge the gap between the flooring and the door frame. And we can't solve the problem by installing a sweep on the underneath of the door because our newly tiled and bamboo'd floors are too high for the doors as it is: we wouldn't be able to open them if we added any thickness underneath. Anyway, I thought the solution was to install a new threshold for the kitchen door, throwing out the shattered old rubber one that was too narrow to cover all the gaps. And, of course, caulking the whole area like mad.
So I did. And then I pushed the door closed. It was a little tight. No problem--I pushed harder. Uf--there it goes! No gaps there! Now let's just open it back up-- wait a minute. It won't-- the door's stuck. The door's stuck on the new threshold. Babe, can you--?
WHAM! WHAM! WHAM!
I'm not sure he enjoyed it at the time, but how many men actually get to experience the action-movie thrill of kicking a door in? And he did it very effectively, but of course the bottom of the metal door got all torn to hell in the process. So technically, Matt broke the door. But I set this particular train in motion, I'm afraid.
But here's the funny thing. We had a spare door just kicking around.
On Friday, Matt was given some used building supplies, including this rather nice metal door with a big window.
So we moved the hinges, replaced the knob, and hung that sucker. (It wasn't that easy. Aligning the door was what the project managers at work like to call an iterative process. Interestingly, their workflow models aren't embroidered with all the colorful language that was required to iterate this mother.)
SIDE NOTE: We needed to remove the doorknob from the destroyed door, and we couldn't figure out how to uninstall the darn thing. We eventually called the manufacturer, Kwikset--on a weekend, mind you--and after a not-horrific wait, got a human here in the States who asked 3 or 4 easy questions to figure out what model we had and then talked us through the un-installation. Just. Like. That. Who gives you help like that anymore? Nobody. If only Kwikset had built my laptop.
Other weatherizing tasks completed
- We also installed the kind of weatherstripping that has a metal strip on one side and a hollow rubber tube on the other ("tubular gasket", AKA "vinyl bulb with metal flange") on the outside of our front and study doors.
- We installed puffy "Kerf Fit" weatherstripping on our new & improved kitchen.
- We caulked two vertical pieces of firring in the gap between the front door frame and the bamboo flooring (it's almost the color of bamboo, so it looks surprisingly reasonable. Nevertheless, we will ultimately cover it with a piece of 1/4-round).
- We nailed this round rubber tube with a flat piece of rubber on one side ("Vinyl Gasket Weatherstrip") in our window frames flush with the sash.
- We put flat, adhesive, double-celled stripping ("D-profile weatherstrip") on the bottoms of the sashed where they meet the frame.
- We caulked the tops and edges of the top sash.
- We caulked the corners of the door frames where all the pieces of weatherstripping meet.
- We caulked the line where the door frames meet the stone facade of the house.
- I used that Easy Cheese puffy foam-in-a-can stuff to fill in a random hole in our bedroom wall.
- And--very big deal--Matt liberated 4 of the old wooden windows that had been painted shut (which is how I was able to put weatherstripping on their bottoms.) Now we can have all the fresh air we want, but only when we want it. (My, I'm feeling italic this evening. A result of all the emotional highs and lows of the day, I think.)
- We Easy-Cheesed many (all?) of the holes where water pipes come in through the walls.
- Caulk the junction of baseboards and hard flooring
- Finish insulating windows
- Finish unsticking 4 remaining stuck windows
- Install latches on all functional windows
- Replace broken/ugly/missing faceplates for switches and outlets
- Caulk around outlet boxes
- Install storm windows on the 8 antique windows
- Finish installing baseboards in hall, mbed, and study
- Hire HVAC person to examine heater, ducts
- Perform an energy audit (Ecorate)
- Replace solid hall door with with one made from wooden screen
- Replace cracked window panes
HydroOne--whoever they are--offers these numbers, which I pie-charted for your/my edification:
And, one final thought for the day, courtesy of the Louisiana Dept of Natural Resources:
Maybe. But smearing messy beads of caulking over everything is a pretty darn good place to start.
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
The Recession Radishes ('D'Avignon') have sprouted, as has one variety of lettuce ('Lolla Rossa'). I feel more solvent just looking at them. Still no action from the poppies, larkspur, peppers, lemon grass, artichokes, or basil.
All in good time.
Also, my final batch of seeds came in, so I'll be starting another variety of lettuce soon. The radishes have been so obliging that I'm thinking of looking for another variety, called 'Watermelon' (right) to add to the garden. Isn't it funky and interesting?
Meanwhile, I find myself wondering, why does everything bad happen in central
The happy news is that my system hasn't completely made up its mind to embrace cedar allergies. I'm a little stuffy, but nothing to write home about. I suppose my body's storing up its mucous for oak season in April.
The other happy news is that we were able to have a quick grill out this evening. It's supposed to drop down to the twenties tonight, but presently it's a balmy 42, and as there is no wind to speak of (maximum gust in the past hour: 0.0 mph--thank you Oregon Scientific!), I was able to stay pretty comfortable huddled by the grill. Grilled food on a cold, clear night--one of the most satisfying things in the world.
Despite repeated freezes, some of our plants are blooming with grim determination. Take, for example, 'Ducher.' It's covered in buds, nevermind that those buds are covered in pink frost-damage lesions.
Frost-damaged 'Ducher' buds
Burgundy Iceberg, after a long lull this summer, has decided to repeat--in the middle of January. While most roses develop more dark pink pigmentation in the cold, the normally dark pinky-purple BI gets less color. The purple fades and the flowers turn a lighter, mottled pinky-lilac.
'Burgundy Iceberg's lighter, pinker January flowers
I'm also rather proud of one of our Lacey oaks, which, in its first full year in the ground has put on a modest flush of tiny, nearly unphotographable acorns.
Quercus laceyi, with tiny acorns
But the best blooming news is our variegated Meyer lemon, which is filling the greenhouse with the sweet fragrance from its blossoms. As you can see, it's already got some minute little lemons forming.
Meyer lemon flower and baby fruit
And look at all those buds! I'm hoping for a bumper crop. I've been doing a little informal pollination with my index finger every time I'm in the greenhouse. I'm afraid that there otherwise won't be enough insects to get the job done.
Saturday, January 10, 2009
This is your Christmas money at work.
Isn't it perky and adorable?
It's the Oregon Scientific WMR200.
It's wireless, has a hygrothermometer, an anemometer and wind direction sensor, and a solar panel (though it also uses batteries, so it's not completely solar).
The system also has a separate rain gauge.
There was a lot of assembly, though it was not, for the most part, difficult assembly--mostly of the insert-pole-A-into-slot-B-and-tighten-screws variety. Contrary to some of the reviews on Amazon, the instruction book was more or less adequate. I'm guessing OS has re-written it in response to customer complaints.
The difficult part, for me, has been the software. See, I've got a weather station--the components report wirelessly back to the control panel, which lives in the study, where it also measures indoor temp, humidity, and pressure.
Then the control panel is connected via USB to the hub, which connect via DLS cable to our internet router. The weather hub is actually a re-purposed Linksys web-server thingummy that's been retrofitted specifically to send out my weather data to a web application called "MeteoHub" as well as to any online weather databases I choose (like wunderground.com).
MeteoHub gives me a kind of primative, non-customizable view of my data, but it doesn't have a lot of options, and I can't access it outside of Matt's and my little intranet. So I need to get MeteoHub to pipe the data to my laptop in order to see all of my readings my way (for example, in F instead of C). The app on my laptop that receives the data is a piece of freeware that came with my system called Weather Display. It solves half of my problem--seeing the data in a richer environment--but to view the data remotely (other than through the wunderground, which doesn't show all of the data) you need another program, called Weather Display Live.
Then, just to mix things up, the system also came with an application called "Weather Exchange," which is a way of viewing wunderground data on your desktop--not through a browser. (I don't really get the point of that, frankly.)
As you might imagine, getting all these components to talk to each other is no walk in the park.
- First, MeteoHub wouldn't pick up all of my sensors. (I think they needed a full day's sun to charge up.)
- Then I couldn't get wunderground.com to read the data. (I was using my account name instead of my station name in the settings.)
- Then I couldn't figure out how to get the data from MeteoHub to Weather Display (you have to select "stationless" as the type of weather station and provide Meteohub's URL in the TCP/IP VP tab of COM Port. Which requires downloaded the standard--not-free--version of WD).
- Then I realized that to view my data remotely, I'd need to download Weather Display Live (and pay for it later).
- Then I realized that I'd have to forward the data to my own website somehow, and kept getting the FTP settings wrong.
- Then WD Live wouldn't display the data because it was pointing to the wrong URLs (had to dink with the index.html code and enter "www" in the browser address bar)
- Then I realized that I'd have to create a separate subdirectly in my website for the weather data.
- Then I had to muck about in the xml of the wdconfig.xml file to change the display settings.
- Then I had to do dubious things to the html and css to get my branding and design elements to work with their setting for the Flash elements.
I'm sure you don't mean to be rude but couldn't help wondering how the hell I navigated all of this techspeak. It turns out, weather nerds are a pretty darn helpful and friendly group. Every time I've emailed Ambient Weather--the folks who sold me the system--they've emailed me back--after work hours--within the hour. Both the MeteoHub & Weather Display folks run forums, and since yesterday evening, I've submitted and received solutions--that work!--for 4 separate problems.
And now--voilà!--our weather underground data and our very own weather page (which has a big annoying banner across it until I fork up the dough for the non-trial version. Given how much the weather station/hub cost me, that's going to be a while. Still, you can admire how I worked in the branding for Abundiflora Plants.) Now, whenever you want to find out what our weather's doing here in Elgin--you can.
You may wonder (and Matt often has) what we need a weather station for. We're not Heathrow airport, fer cripes' sake. In fact, there are several reasons:
- We don't have a local weather information source. When we wake up and the grass is damp, we have no way of telling (short of digging a hole) how much water the plants got (if any).
- We have no way of knowing whether or not our little patch of earth actually reached freezing--did we just stumble on the world's only cold-hardy basil variety, or was it just that we stayed 0.01 degrees above freezing?
- We have no way of knowing how much water we've received across a whole season, and evaluating a plant's performance against that data.
- When equipment (like greenhouses) is knocked over or broken in a wind storm, it would useful to know the wind speed and how frequently we can expect to experience similar speeds in the future.
- If the temperature drops faster and farther than predicted, we don't have any warning that we need to turn on the greenhouse heater, seal up the doors, etc.
- Matt has no way of monitoring and logging the temperature in the greenhouse--information he could use both in preventing freezes and in accommodating plants that need either constant or widely varied temperatures. (We'll be buying an additional sensor for the greenhouse shortly.)
- He has no way of monitoring humidity in the greenhouse, which is especially important with cuttings.
- He can't track greenhouse conditions remotely--from the study on a chilly night or from work during the day.
- I've become a weather-obsessive. I see rain clouds form--did they actually fall on our property? They were predicting 80% chance of rain--did any of that come my way, or did it all go to Coupland? It's up to 80F today at work--but what's happening back at home, where we left the door to the misthouse closed?
- It's a (modest) way to drive traffic to Matt's website, once his web business is up and running. The wunderground page includes a link to the homepage of our choice, and the Weather Display Live data is (a) hosted on Matt's business domain and (b) branded with his logo. Later, when he's ready for it, I'll be adding more links to and from the weather page, so that it will be part of a large set of plant information pages for Central Texas that will lead back to his home page.
But let's end on a happy thought. Here's another picture of our lovely new weather station:
Sunday, January 4, 2009
My superego makes several solid points. It observes, (1) less than half of the things you plant will actually produce more then 4 ounces of harvest--drought, birds, and bugs will get the rest. (2) You'll forget to harvest half of the potentially harvestable produce, and it will bolt/rot/dessicate. (3) Of the remainder you do harvest, half will go bad before you buy the other necessary ingredients to make something with them, half will go bad because they'll look weird, mushy, and misshapen and you just won't be able to bring yourself to eat them, and half (the third half) will go bad because Matt cordially hates almost all vegetables and you won't want to eat them by yourself. However, you will harvest 2 undersized tomatillos, roast and puree them, and put them in the freezer to use later in a salsa. They will remain in the freezer for the next four years, slowing turning into astronaut food.
My superego frequently indulges in sage observations like these, and I just as frequently sing loudly while stuffing my fingers in my ears. In the case of my Recession Garden, though, I can't help it: it's the zeitgeist. Prudence and frugality and Puritan self-reliance are in the air. They aren't really qualities I possess, but I can't help going through the motions, all the same.
So, telling my superego to stuff it, I, Goody Melanie, planted half a large pot of D'Avignon radish seeds and half another pot of Lolla Rossa lettuce in our greenhouse. In a couple of weeks, I'll plant the other half of the pots, theoretically extending my harvest. I have intoxicating visions of salads comprised entirely of home-grown goodness. Of breakfasting on freshly dug radishes dipped in butter and fleur-de-sel. Of lowering my grocery bill by the whopping $4 I spend on lettuce and radishes every couple of weeks. We're in the money, baby.
I also planted some lemon grass (I'll be lucky if I use that even once in a bowl of Tom Yum soup--for which I would have to also buy Asian mushrooms, coconut milk, and galangal root), some Mrs. Burns lemon basil (delicious in marinara sauce... which I usually buy in a jar), and Violetto artichokes (a variety I have to remember to harvest punctually when young and tiny or they will turn woody and nasty).
Yup. This is going to save us a ton of money.
I suspect that for this enterprise to have any validity whatsoever, I'm going to need to institute Garden Days--maybe Wed and Sun. Take a basket with me into the garden, harvest everything that's close to ready, and make valiant efforts to work the results into a meal. I'll have to have failsafe recipes standing by for those occasions when my harvest consists of 1 baby artichoke, 2 cherry tomatoes, 5 leaves of lettuce, and 30 pasilla peppers. And I'll need to make strategic grocery purchases ahead of time (always keep lemons on hand for the artichokes; cream and pie crusts for the pumpkins; and breadcrumbs and parmesan for frying eggplants) so that whatever I harvest can be turned into something edible right away. And it would be helpful if I made a practice of trolling through the cherry tomatoes on the way to work to grab some for lunch.
This, I think, is not an aspect of vegetable gardening that is emphasized in the seed catalogs. You imagine yourself reclining at your ease in your garden, jewel-toned fruits and vegetables hanging fat and plentiful on the vine, while your harvest magically coalesces into a bounty of salad niçoise, artichoke and salsify bisque, swordfish provençal, and strawberries romanoff. But making use of your harvest requires at least as much planning and strategy and effort as growing the darn thing in the first place. It requires, in fact, a lifestyle change.
But this here would be the winter of our discontent. To be made glorious summer by rigorous applications of fish emulsion, mulch, and implacable personal discipline.
Friday, January 2, 2009
The highlight this year was installing pegboard. Oh, yeah. Our hand tools have moved out of their bins and into their own custom-designed individualized little condos. Look how pretty:
We have such richness of screwdrivers that we're going to have to go back to Lowe's and buy two more screwdriver racks to accommodate the entire collection. And now that we have more bin space, perhaps we will buy some of those cunning little plastic chests of drawers to sort out our massive nail and bolt collections.
Also, now that we've cleaned there's plenty of space to park the new Pony and our two bikes, reproachful in their deflated tires and spiderwebby spokes. Perhaps this year we will actually start riding them again?
The garage, you may recollect, is actually in 3 parts because sheds kept accumulating on top of sheds during the garage's lifespan--kind of like coral. Corrugated, lopsided, dilapidated metal coral. So on New Year's we cleaned up the large main storage room. Remaining are the workshop, chaotic with shadecloth rolls, partially stripped doors, and barbecue implements, and the mildew-infested central section, which can't be really be reclaimed until we finish tarring the roof. We hope to make some progress on these two sections this weekend. This means that our New Year's Resolution has taken on a chronic sort of quality that I distinctly disapprove of. I don't want the damn thing hanging over my head till Valentine's Day--we'll have to get an early and merciless start tomorrow morning and kick that thing violently into shape.
Meanwhile--and I stress that these are not Resolutions, but merely a list of suggested activities--here is a list of some stuff that we should probably tackle this year:
(1) Gutters. Gutters, gutters, gutters, gutters, gutters. And the prerequisite replacing of the fascia.
(2) Do Something about the home's energy inefficiency: install storm windows, call out an HVAC dude to check the heater and ductwork, and fill in all cracks, crannies, and crevices.
(3) Complete the walkway to the wee pond. This may necessitate first replacing the pond liner, possibly with a larger one.
(4) Add a 6th Mutabilis and finish the edging around the Mutabilis bed.
(5) Replace hideous and disfunctional tub fixtures in both bathrooms. This includes repositioning the shower head to a height comfortable for individuals larger than hobbits.
(6) Stain adirondack chair given to me by Matt for my birthday and buy a companion chair, ottoman or 2, and small table.
(7) Obtain effity-effing bay laurel and chitalpa. I've been meaning to do it for months and it keeps not happening. WHY? Absolutely necessary to give any semblance of coherence to rose bed and blue-and-purple bed.
(8) Fix upstairs toilet, which clogged, then started leaking.
(9) Finish irrigation system
(10) Get Javier to hang doors. Then stain and varnish them.
(11) Work on door between kitchen and hall.
(12) Finish baseboards.
(13) Make & hang curtains in study.
(14) Buy blinds for guest room.
(15) Start on curtains for dining room & living room.
(16) Get handyperson to open windows currently painted shut. Buy latches for newly liberated windows. Replace cracked panes.
(17) Install Archduke Charles hedge at end of kitchen patio.
(18) Finish paving kitchen patio (edge area, put down paving sand, replace stones, fill in with crushed granite.)
(19) Make a start on creating a permanent structure for the Orangery.
(20) Create shade garden around new shade patio
(21) Create walkway from drive to front sidewalk.
(22) Touch up exterior paint, expecially doors.
(23) Replace warped shutters
(24) Wiring work to eliminate exterior refrigerator's dependency on garage light being on in order to operate.
(25) Possibly replace outdoor fridge with chest freezer.
(26) Install Asko dishwasher
(27) Install ventless gas fireplace/stove in living room and small gas bathroom heater in mbath
(28) Get HVAC guy to install vent in mbath
(29) Install buffalograss in front yard
So that's daunting.
Let's stop and appreciate what we've accomplished in 2008.
(1) Acquired roses necessary for gazebo, Mutabilis hedge, and new trellis
(2) Built new trellis
(3) Completed shade patio
(4) Finished (at long last) refurbishment of porch glider
(5) Electrical work including elimination of inexplicable and dysfunctional breaker box under house, addition of outdoor outlets, addition of outdoor ceiling fan, and installation of (rather horrible) doorbell.
(6) Permanently fixed master bath toilet after finally securing competent plumber
(7) Replaced venerable but hideous 1974 sofa with New Hotness.
(8) Created walkway from study door to shade patio
(9) Laid a vast and almost-all-inclusive irrigation system
(10) Planted 7 trees, including 'Little Gem' magnolia. Most survived the 4th droughtiest summer on record.
(11) Acquired riding lawn mower
(12) Installed blown attic insulation
(13) Began Hill Country xeriscapic bed along fence
(14) Began patching leaky garage roof--about half done
(15) Acquired new built-in bookshelves and file drawers.
(16) Stained and varnished same.
(17) Built (admittedly underutilized) compost bin
(18) Cut opening in back of gazebo
(19) Had antique doors dipped and stripped
(20) Acquired, through Ladonna's good graces, valences for kitchen, mbath, and gbed.
(21) Sprouted Crinum macowanni seedlings
(22) Installed new vanity in gbath
(23) Removed gutters
(24) Finished light pole bed
(25) Matt built hoophouse (greenhouse)
(26) Matt tore down remaining hurricane fence