Nickel Tour

For about a week now I’ve been knocked out of commission with what turned out to be a nasty case of poison ivy.  A lot of work on the new house has gotten done but not because of anything I’ve done.

By Tuesday I was unable to goto work, choosing instead to work from home in my shorts and easy access calamine lotion.  I had transplanted two trees from the play area earlier in the week and all the mulch was delivered on Monday but after each long day of work I was too swollen and itchy to continue work on the play area.

We had workers come in this past week and wrap up some loose ends and fix some things around the place.  The guys over at Paul Fike Builders made quick and courteous work of our “to do” list.  They are the same guys who finished the carpentry on our porches.  On the docket this week, all of which are now off my “stressing the holy bejesus out of me” list, included items like moving the fireplace thermostat, installing a plug-in the upstairs hallway, flipping the switches in the front hallway, and lo and behold the garage spotlights now work!  A special shout out to Ken for catching me when I fell off the 6′ ladder trying to get access into the attic.  I caught myself like a cat in the ceiling opening but Ken leapt into action and snagged my legs to provide me with support until he and my wife could get the ladder back underfoot.  He also cleaned up the garage attic window without me asking. Nice guy.  Another note, these guys clean up after themselves, take off their shoes or put shoe covers on…..really quality friendly customer service.  More trades should be like these guys.  I highly recommend them for any of your new home or remodeling needs.

It’s good to have many of our electrical anomalies fixed.  The guys figured out the original electricians never connected the wires for the spot lights out at the garage.  Thank god this was a cheap simple fix.  I had visions of rewiring the lights and drilling holes in the house.  In the front hall they quickly switched a pair of switches that were inexplicably wired opposite to what your intuition would think they’d be wired.  Upstairs we added an outlet outside the bathroom wall so our “Mexico” bureau could have two lamps placed on it.  This outlet is why the electrician had to go into the attic (which was preluded by my deft acrobatics on the 6′ ladder).  He was able to pull power from a junction box in the attic (a pull chain light) and drop it down the wall.  Finally it took some time but they were able to relocate the fireplace thermostat from above the tv to a friendlier spot by some light switches near the kitchen.

Wednesday we had the pleasure of hosting our architect over to the house for dinner and some wine.  This was Joe’s first visit to the house since its (relative) completion.  We had just such a wonderful relaxing evening touring the house and property, talking about home building, sustainability, energy efficiency and life in general.  The house is a great work of art in my opinion and the artist seemed pleased with his work.  One interesting thing we talked about was the location of the orchard.  We’re on the fence as its planned location would potentially degrade one of the more interesting view points of the outside of the structure.  I’m stricken with delight by how different the house looks from various angles.  A walk around the outside of the house from several certain vantage points should be requisite of any tour I give but I think most people don’t care that much.  But I delight in this aspect of the tour every time I find myself wandering our land.  We walked the property at dusk which added to the interest and aesthetic beauty of the home.

We hosted several other tours over the weekend as well.  Mr. James (our little guy) handled the last tour so that was a special treat for all involved.  Our three-year old tour guide took the guests on a joyfully random romp around the house including all the spots that mom and dad usually leave off the tour route – basement filled with a hoarders worth of junk and my garage filled with cardboard waiting to be recycled.  I’ve decided maybe he should lead the tour more often.  Guests probably would enjoy them more with him as guide vs. my predictable, methodic route and routine.

As for the play area, I hired my nephew to relocate the remaining two scrub trees, level out the area and spreading playground mulch.  He did  a great job, and the world is much better served with him breaking his fourteen year old back instead of me breaking my thirty something year old back.  His eight hours of work freed me up to work on my golf game Saturday morning.  I impressed myself with an 89 which for me is pretty good.  Win, win for all involved.

Alas though my “to-do” list is still very long.  I picked up the last cabinet for upstairs so the wife is demanding that I complete her wall of cabinets in her studio.  My goal is to have these installed by the end of this Sunday.  This will free up a ton of space in the garage and organize a ton of junk in the house.  I’m a little timid going into it but if I take my time it should be fine.  I did a nice job in my office so this should be fine.  Outside I may take things into my own hands and start caulking all the porch woodwork that was recently put up.  After that we can maybe paint and ultimately I can get my screens up on the porch just in time for the last month of Summer 2012.  We’ll see.

Okay, I’m done for tonight.  Sorry I’ve been so lax with my blog entries, the poison ivy really knocked me out but now we’re back in business.

Daphne loves her 10″ window sills. All houses should have window sills this deep!

Something dug up our lilac bushes. I have no idea, I suspect a skunk. We replanted and watered and spread that pepper like stuff from the garden center to detour animals.


Here are the cabinet latches they installed on the hall closet doors. They work well and are simple.



Upstairs hall looks a lot different now with the doors installed. The goal here is to have a gallery wall with hidden closet storage behind. I have to pick up some wood knobs for the doors.

Installing A New Laminated Desk Countertop

I have specifically titled this entry “Installing A New Laminated Desk Countertop” on the off-chance it would help someone out there Googling this sort of thing.  For I could not find one worthwhile article out there to tell me how to install a laminate countertop, let alone installing one in the desk configuration I had tasked myself with this morning.  A couple of articles came close but they all basically said after removing old counter top install new one using old screw holes as a guide.  Well #1 – my counter is new, #2 – my counter has only one little cabinet on one end, and #3 my cabinet seemingly had no means by which to secure it to the countertop.  The counter was fabricated by a third-party that Lowes uses.  This particular desk counter was a solid 1-1/2″ of particle board with no apparent means to secure it except screw straight up into it from below.So I went to Lowes after church today and picked up some Stanley “L” brackets as well as, one each of a two foot and four-foot 1×2 poplar boards.  I figured god helps those who help themselves so I’d figure it out on my own.

I made a level line on the wall, even with the top of the cabinet. I also marked out all of the studs.

I leveled out a line where the bottom of the counter would go.  I then took my 1×2’s and mitered the ends where they’d meet.  I also mitered the end of the 18″ one that was to along the wing wall.  The idea is to attach these to the walls and they’d support the counter.  I predrilled everything….both the holes through the boards to attach them to the studs in the walls, and the holes that the screws for the countertop would pass through.

Predrilling and even preinstalling 2″ cabinet screws. through the flat side of the board to attach to wall. Through the skinny side of the board for the screws to attach the counter from below. Bonus points for countersinking.

I then attached the board to the wall.  Next I install some simple “L” brackets into the top rails of the base cabinet.  I’m not sure how else you’d secure the counter without using these “L” brackets.  The rails are thin but the screws that came with the brackets were only about 1/2″ so they didn’t pass through the front rails.  I put two brackets up front and one in the back.  When drilling the pilot holes, I put some tape on the drill bit to indicate how deep I could drill.  This way I drilled far enough to make installing the screws a piece of cake, but not too far that I passed through the cabinet face.

Wood supports in place.







L brackets in place.


Once all the brackets were in place, the wife helped me hoist the 4′ wide countertop in place.  For whatever reason it fit like a charm.  Not sure what I did but the house gods gave me a little love today.  I then secured the cabinet from below using 2-1/2″ screws in the wood support rails and 1″ screws through the cabinet brackets.  The desk is now complete and looks great.  Best of all I have a place for my desktop computer and half of our “office” is complete.  This little nook is the perfect space and saved us money by allowing us to avoid dedicating one single room to being an office.  We can easily drop off mail, send emails, etc. from this one convenient little nook.

Detail of desk countertop secured from below.

completed office nook, I made this all by myself.

In the yard we’ve been busy getting ready for the new swingset.  I’ve spent the last few days clearing out a small area for the playset to go.  Originally the plan was for a 30′ x 30′ play area but this encroached too far into our preservation area so it’ll be more like 30′ wide and 20′ deep.  It will also be angled slightly differently to accommodate the natural terrain.  None the less I’ve had a lot of brush to clear and land to level by hand. In the process of weed whacking I tangled with poison ivy so now my legs are covered in an itchy red rash.  If that wasn’t enough I got it on my arms too.  This sucks.  I’ve put cream and lotions on and they help, but I couldn’t help but scratch it like crazy this morning in the Giant Eagle parking lot and it felt downright orgasmic.  I will not survive a couple more weeks with this rash.  Help me.

Area being cleared for playset.









The playset area had some nice baby trees in it.  The guy from the playset sales office came out and laid out the location with flags so I’d know what to clear and how we could incorporate one of the little trees so I wouldn’t have to cut it down.  Unfortunately four other scrub trees would have to come down.  I decided to take a stab at moving them.  Wow, that’s the hardest I’ve ever worked.  I’ve moved two so far, one of which was a thorny little guy that any normal person would have chopped down.  I’ll get the other two in the coming week.  Random chest pains forced me to quit while I was ahead.

Thorny baby tree I transplanted.

I’m having some playground mulch delivered this week.  I’ll lay down about 5″ of it uniformly throughout the playset area.  The guys will then just build the set right on top of it.  Looking forward to the set.  We didn’t plan on getting it right away but the boys will love sliding and swinging.  Best to get it now while they are still young. And to prove I’m not a complete monster nor completely lazy, I’ll tell you what I woke up to.  Finally I’d gotten fast asleep despite my poison ivy.  The alarm rang too early for a Sunday so I dragged my ass out of bed, put in my contacts and looked out my window as I love to do in the morning.  There was a bird skating along the mesh fence around the raspberry bushes.  Back and forth he’d go.  I was wondering what he was up to….then it dawned on me.

Ugh.  I went and begrudgingly put on my shoes.  Opening the door to the pleasant morning air I walked across the porch, then down and around the corner.  Across the yard I trekked to find myself standing in front of my little feathered friend eyeing me.

“Seriously?” I said aloud.

He looked up at me, batting his glossy black eyes.

Shaking my head I grabbed the top of the appropriately named bird netting and wrestled it from the pronged stakes holding it in place. My friend skated back and forth as he had been for the last twenty minutes.  Eyeing me the whole time, his little feathers tossing this way and that….his disposition bordering half on fear the other half on embarrassment.

“Relax.” I said, slightly put out.

Chrip.  Chrip.  I release a foot more of the net fence.  Chirp.

He skates to the far end not so gracefully, his grey feathers all in a fluff.  All the grace he commands in the air is totally lost; tangled in this net.

“Alright…” I encourage him as the last of the fence is released.

His face is perplexed and he sideways glances at me towering six feet above his small grey body.


Lifting the netting, nearly dumping him on his little bird ass he finally tastes his freedom and hops out.  His wings catch air before his feet ever touch the ground.  In a moment he rockets forward toward the small thorny tree I’d transplanted the day before and finds unlikely relief in its thorny branches before jetting onward; probably too embarrassed to hang out with his friends any time soon.

I saved a bird today.

Okay, okay the last bit is an embellishment, he didn’t fly to my transplant tree, which was twenty feet over my shoulder.   But I did save him and he did fly quite gracefully to a nearby tree. Life’s funny I guess.  If I hadn’t gotten up and looked out my window this morning and watched that bird fly into that fence and observed his futile attempts to get out who knows what would have happened.  I’m too damned busy and too damned itchy to contemplate what this says about our world, but there is something there, I’m sure of it.  And there’s one small grey bird who’s thrilled that I came around at 7:30 on a Sunday morning.

There’s a couple handfuls of things I’ve done that I think are pretty cool….and they are things that most other people wouldn’t even consider noteworthy.  For me though I guess I’m just wired differently.  My bird moment was pretty cool.  Transplanting a thorny “throw away” tree ain’t too bad either.

Here’s to all the truly “cool” stuff you do in your life.

Gang Aft Agley


The older I get the more worry. 

The more I over think. 

The more I annoy the bejesus out of pretty much everyone I encounter. 

I promise to be better.  I’ll start next year (I procrastinate too).  I’ll start as soon as I have a plan in place.  And a contingency plan in case something goes wrong.  Of course the problem lies in that I don’t plan very well or rather I don’t plan that often.  Instead I charge ahead at the front end and deal with everything on the fly as the wheels fall come off.  When I do plan I think of every angle without coming to any real resolution most of the time.  Basically an organizational top spinning around waiting for life to happen.

When building my own house, I’m quickly realizing that a) It probably wouldn’t have hurt me to plan more and b) the reality is nothing goes as planned anyway so I should have golfed more before I started building.

Not that anything is going tragically wrong, rather a lot of little “middle of the road” things kinda go unplanned and then either resolve themselves or result in, you guessed it, a change of plans. Expectations, design, realization, design, expectations, fill out forms.  Pay some money, expectations, realizations, wait two weeks. Do some work, pay some money, expectations, realizations, watch the rain.  And so on and so on, for roughly eight months…..we hope.

We’ll have some budget challenges coming up since we allotted more money to some areas and have run over on the excavation with our blue clay incident.  I suppose a soil core test would have alerted us earlier, but wouldn’t have saved us any money. Based on our research we were not expecting the blue clay.  And I don’t think it would have nixed the project even if we had known.  I guess  lesson learned, do a soil core test just in case.  We were able to save some money (and add a green feature to the project) today by ordering recycled rigid insulation, so not all is bad news.  We can balance the budget too when we get to finishes and delaying some built-ins like bookshelves.

One plan that did work out was we were planning to get the footers inspected today and we passed with flying colors.  Yay for us!  Knock on wood, but anytime we have anything to do with the government, it works out great.  Mother nature, not so much.

All the drain tile (which is really plastic pipe) is laid.  These series of pipes will collect any water on the outside of our foundation and route it away.  The cement thingy (it’s late, and I forget what it’s called) that forms the collection area for the sump pump is in too.  The sump pump and it’s pipes (I think there are pipes) on the interior of the foundation will collect water and pump it out before it can get into my basement.  It’s placed in the lowest point of the basement excavation.

Picture of the approved excavation. All the gravel will be for the floor. The Superior Wall system will rest on the gravel around the perimeter. My studio is the higher portion on the left. the sump pump crock is the little round thing at the opposite corner from this vantage point.

Tomorrow we’re going to lose one more cherry tree I suspect.  It’s the one near the garage that we tried to keep even though it’d make backing out of the drive difficult.  Well, turns out it may make the foundation install go smoother so I’m pretty sure it’s coming down.  I took a picture of it today.  Out of the three cherry trees we saved, it’s the nicest.  There goes that plan.

To the left of the drive in this picture is the cherry tree they'll most likely take down tomorrow. To the right is the garage. The semi and crane coming on Friday will have to thread the needle between the two. That's why they get paid the big bucks.

 Everything looks really spread out and open, but that’s because of the 45 degree walls on the excavation.  Tomorrow after work I’ll lay down some vapor barrier where the walls are going.  Additional vapor barrier will go down after the walls are in, before I go to lay down the rigid vinyl and they pour the basement floor.

My biggest worry right now is getting the semi-tractor trailer and crane back to the job site  on Friday.  That should be interesting as our driveway is pretty crazy and goes across my neighbors property.  I’ll either be really happy or really sad Friday night depending on how it goes.  Also weighing me down is the insulation will be coming in on another semi-tractor trailer next week. When that comes I’ll have to unload it by hand near the street.  I don’t even want to plan for that but I have to.  Not expecting that to be a happy endeavor.

Foundation hole as seen from just outside the screen porch. My studio is the higher ground on the right. With the blue clay, we laid down stabilization fabric just like we did under the driveway.

Well, here’s hoping I’m filled with promised joy on Friday, regardless of whether or not things go as planned.  I guess the real plan is to get the foundation in without destroying anything. 
If that happens then I’ll be happy as a mouse.



Roller coaster day, but turned out to be pretty good and productive.  I woke up at 5:30 and stopped out at the site on my way to work.  Ugh, rain.  Huddled in my Volkswagen (where’s my Jeep?!) using a tape measure I tried to figure out how far up the drive the culvert pipe needed to be placed.  140′??? Jump out into the rain and track my once nice tape measure through the mud and spray paint some dots….Hmmm.  Doesn’t seem right.  Hop in VW, look at different site plan…decide to gauge off pin from surveyor, and I spray paint some lines.  Yeah, definitely spot on, well as spot on as can be expected.  It won’t be in the way and suits the lay of the land nicely.

Wandering around I notice a rogue survey stake and freak out.  No way the corner of the house is here.  Frantically run around in circles in waist-high weeds in my work clothes (i.e. dockers and short sleeve shirt and decent shoes) and ultimately realize no one’s up at 7 in the morning for me to freak out on and or commiserate with.

Battle traffic, work, then off to bank at lunchtime.  Fill out forms then back home.

Christine is gracious enough to make me a PB&J sandwhich. Scarf that down then off to the job site.  “Tick proof” clothes….again….I thought I was done with wearing long sleeves in 80 degree weather.  Throw the chainsaw in the VW (kick ass) and head out to the site.

dumping stone for the driveway, over the culvert

My friend Corky is waiting with his chainsaw and gear.  I’m still freaking out about the fact I didn’t line up my surveyor or anyone else to stake the house and we need it done pronto. If I do it myself I don’t know where to begin.  The ‘Little Red Hen’ route is showing some stress.

Well, I may not know where the house is but there aren’t any big trees in the plans to the left of the drive and there are big trees before us.  Easy enough, we end up cutting down 5 big trees (1 maple, 4 cherry). And by “we” I mean Corky cut them down while I stood there like an idiot.  I’m pretty much useless with a chainsaw.  I may know as much about 18th century Russian history as I know about cutting trees down (i.e. nothing).  Corky proved to be my first savior of the day and felled all 5 trees like a pro in 2 hours flat. Ok in all fairness I dropped one with his moral support and guidance.  I’m pretty much a 2-year-old with a chainsaw.

No he's not taking a leak, he's deftly cutting down that cherry tree.

After saying goodbye to Corky I walked back up and finished cutting up the trunks and branches.  The excavator can then push all that out of the way tomorrow.  After that was done I blankly sat on the ground contemplating where the house was supposed to go and thinking of contingency plans to get the house staked.  Foundation day is in two weeks!  My surveyor hasn’t called back yet.  Yes, I suppose I could chart it myself which is what I was contemplating.  I even have a 300′ measuring tape, all shiny and new from Lowes.  Hmm, maybe iPhone compass and GPS I could locate points….Ugh,  F-me. How far to the Pilot station for a six-pack?  When am I expected home?

And then, out of the blue, like a gift come straight from god, my surveyor rounds the corner of the drive and walks into the house clearing. Wow. I’m guessing in my morning panic I left a message and said I’d be out there and in lieu of calling he just showed up.  Short conversation later, we’re all set.  He’ll stake out most of the corners tomorrow and I can take it from there.  Thank you god (and surveyor of course).

So it was a good day.  I’ll post up some more pics tomorrow hopefully.  Christine and I will check out the stakes tomorrow and take a seat on our “screen porch” or at least where it will be and check out the view.

Foundation’s ordered, just need to dig a big hole in the earth. Tomorrow should be less stressful.  Knock on wood.


P.S. ProjectCam seems to be humming along, something like 26 pics so far.

Day Two


We’re going at a brisk pace.  Hardly time to catch a break.  I bolted out of work, went home, dawned (sp?) my “tick proof” get up grabbed some papers, stake, and camera and headed out to the site.  Today was all about ordering the foundation.  Yeah, sure you can build your foundation block by block but our architect recommended a prefabricated wall system.  We looked into it and that’s what we’re going with.  I’ll tell you more once it’s installed.  Anyway, after looking over the vendor’s plans, comparing them to the architect’s plans I signed off and viola! Foundation ordered.  I’ll get an install date tomorrow.  Should be 2-3 weeks to manufacture.  Then a big kick ass semi truck and crane will bring the panels out and install them in about 8 hours.  In addition to the details of the foundation walls, I discussed the driveway approach to the job site.  There’s a tight chicane that will be interesting to coax a semi through.  Additionally there are some trees overhanging the job site portion of the drive, but those should be ceremoniously taken down tomorrow. 

For now the excavator has the drive roughed in and the house site cleared.  And of course everything looks different now so I’m totally lost.  Like a small child, I should have a site plan pinned to the cuff of my shirt. Incidentally, now that everything’s clear, need for my “tick proof” get up is eliminated unless I want to gallop through the bush, say to wrestle with my ProjectCam for instance.

roughed in driveway with stabilization fabric. house will be at the far end and to the left.
Driveway isn’t as “snakey” as I imagined but I just rushed through today.  I’ll analyze it more tomorrow.  It’s probably fine.  In a way it’s sad to see the land cleared.  Having walked it for a year, through the seasons I got used to it.   Like Christine said, I guess we just imagined a house would magically appear.  I try not to look directly at all the plants we had to clear out.  😦
bulldozer in clearing with “saved” tree.
There are two “bookend” preservation areas on either end of the clearing.  These tall stands of trees will hopefully not be affected by construction.  They will provide some much-needed protection from the elements throughout the year (e.g. harsh east / west sun, wind, etc.).  I may even drop a couple of the felled cherry trees in the preservation area and let them rot and eventually create a natural cherry tree nursery. We fenced the areas off with orange fencing and tape.  Keep out!
picture of preservation area fenced off
ProjectCam is now stabilized a little better and turned on!  It registered at least one pic whilst I was there.
latest project cam set up: stake, tree, cords, straps…..

Tomorrow I’ll stop out before work.  I have a culvert I need to spec the location on.  Every day a new adventure.


Breaking Ground

After months of planning, waiting, laughing, crying, it’s finally here.  In a way it’s happening so fast now it’s anti-climatic.  Or rather there’s no time to stand back and let it sink in.  Literally, in 48 hours, we went from not knowing when we’d get the permit from the county to standing there watching as the excavator started clearing out the driveway.

I frantically left work, picked up the plans, changed into my “anti-tick” get up, threw some tools in the car and made up a plywood sign to staple the permit to (first blood by the way as I jabbed a drill bit into my finger, rushing to put boards together).  Stopped and got an SD card for our ProjectCam at Pilot and met the excavator at the site just as the rain stopped.

The wife brought the boys out and our oldest gleefully got to see his first of what will be plenty of “big trucks”.  In this case a big truck, literally, with a trailer and a big yellow bulldozer.

We quickly went over the game plan for the driveway: contours, elevation changes, and we walked out the proposed path, knee high in rain wetted brush (for the last time in some areas), all while referencing the site plan. For now, not a single big tree is “in the way”.  Fortunately I flagged a bunch of little flowering trees to save.  They proved valuable in marking our location and getting our bearings on the driveway. The excavator then proceeded with his bulldozer to easily plow through the brush that previously hindered my every move out there.  I was not sad to see a new “easy” path open up before me.  My son hung out and watched for a bit, happy to see the dozer topple little baby trees.  A couple of the flagged trees were easily set aside for potential future replanting.  We’ll create a little nursery on site and replant them this fall.

I staked the permit holder and then fiddled with my ProjectCam.  Of course the cam seems like it is set up to mount to a 2′ diameter tree and all I could find in the location I want to shoot from were puny 2″ diameter locust trees.  I set it up for now.  Though not sure I remembered to turn it on.  I’ll go back tomorrow with a better mounting plan of attack.  I’ll write more about the ProjectCam in the future.

Tomorrow I think may be taking a half day vacation and spend it dropping the larger trees that currently live where the house is going.  Sad to have to cut them down, but I’ll make my peace with them.  Try not to think about it too much.  Plus we’ll plant more than we cut down by time the project is done.


Excavator's bulldozer begins cutting the driveway