Sunday, November 30, 2008

Snow kidding

Today we received a bit of snow.

It was wet and sticky and is not going to last. Maybe this is a sign of things to come; I would like to have four inches a week, for cross country skiing purposes.

I put up another bird feeder.

My first attempt failed and the thing fell down, scattering safflower seed all over. I tried again, but so far no takers.

Friday, November 28, 2008


The sun was shining, so I spent most of the day in the new room, knitting and napping and birdwatching out of the wind. Among the usual feathered visitors was a goldfinch on the thistle sock. Hopefully, he will tell his buds that food is available.

Mr. Squirrel paid us a visit, too. I watched him cross the neighbor's yard via the telephone wire. He could not crawl under my chain link fence because that particular stretch was bunny proofed with chicken wire, so he climbed over. Then he shinnied up the shepherd's hook. He did not even bother to try the mesh feeder, presumably because he had tried it before and found it too confounding to his mooching powers. He sampled some cracked corn, but that wasn't what he wanted. For sunflower seeds he had to resort to ground feeding. Then off he went, back over the fence and presumably on his way to other bird feeders in the nabe.

I tried to take pix from inside, but my camera does not zoom enough. It almost makes me want a new camera or a lens or something. Almost.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Well, I'll Be

I did not think they could do it, but the heating guys actually made the new room TOO HOT. That's okay, I can always close a register or two. The rest of the house feels a little unbalanced temperature-wise, but that is okay too, because the heating guys are willing to come back and do some adjusting. I still have to call the flooring people about the flawed board, but right now I am just going to enjoy a long holiday weekend. Happy T-Day!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Parsley, (No) Sage, Rosemary and Thyme

I have colonnade apple trees growing in big pots on the patio. I read somewhere that thyme planted under fruit trees will help attract pollinators, so there is thyme growing there as well. Some of it still looks green, so I potted a bit of it. It looks even more pathetic than the chives and oregano, but we'll see how it does.

There are heating guys crawling around under the house as I type. They came out in force, including one of the bigwigs, so I am feeling mollified and somewhat optimistic that something they do will at least improve the temps in the new room. I don't expect perfection, but it would be nice if it stayed above 60 out there.

Yesterday I did a bit of yard work and discovered that yoga muscles are not the same as raking muscles.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

They Like Me! They Really Like Me!

Yesterday I stopped at the pet food store and came out not only with dog and rabbit vittles but also bird seed and several new feeders. Usually, I try to wait until xmas to feed the birds, but baby, it's cold outside!

The old thistle feeder kept losing its perches, so I decided to try one of these socks.

And I put the oil sunflower seeds in the mesh feeder on the left, to see if it discourages squirrel raids.

The feeder on the right has cracked corn. I also hung some suet blocks near the bluebird house that housed no bluebirds this summer.

This morning my SO and I were reading the Sunday paper in the new room when, lo and behold, we had birds! Not only a pair of cardinals and a couple of sparrows and some juncos, but bluebirds! They were checking out the bluebird house. I think bluebirds migrate south in the winter, so I'm guessing these were either looking for temporary shelter or were planning ahead for next year.

Later I also saw Mr. Squirrel checking out the new buffet. I plan to grease the poles with Vaseline, to discourage him and his buddies.

So, one of my goals for the new room has been realized: wildlife viewing.

The temps at night have been down in the teens, so I was surprised to find some of my herbs were still green. A few days ago, I dug up this two-foot-tall rosemary.

It's too tall for my plant shelves, so it is gracing the coffee table in the new room.

Yesterday, since I was outside anyway, I dug up a clump of chives and a bit of Hot and Spicy oregano.

They aren't in very good shape, but I am hoping they will come around. They fit on the plant shelves.

So, another of my goals for the new room is being achieved: winter herbs.

The heat, though, is still an ongoing problem. Friday I called the heating contractor that installed my furnace and AC. After describing the whole situation to them, they did not think the dampers would help (or hurt), but they recommended a separate convection heater for the new room.

While looking up their phone number, I saw an ad in the Yellow Pages for a company that (among other things) installs radiant heat. The idea of warm floors really appeals to me. I talked them into giving me a ballpark estimate over the phone: $1600 to $1800. Hmmm. And I would still need to cool the room. I asked them about "mini-splits," small heat pumps for room additions, but that is even more expensive.

In the meantime, I fired up this baby:

If I am out there in the morning or on a cloudy day, I can add a little heat. On a sunny afternoon, like I am anticipating today, the room should be comfy without it.

The sub-contractor is installing the dampers Monday afternoon. I will let them give it a try, but I don't have my hopes up.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Muddy Season

My backyard is still a mess from the construction. I can't wait for the ground to freeze so I don't have to resort to this every time I let the dog out:

The easiest way to clean her feet when mud is embedded in her claws and between her toes is to hoist her into the kitchen sink. Naturally, she hates it.

The continuing saga of the new room:

My SO crawled under the house and scooted through the crawl space on his back and satisfied my curiosity about what is under the new room. It is dry and properly insulated and not icy cold, so now I feel the room is not being cooled from below. I have seen the insulation in the walls and attic myself. It must be all those windows; they are supposed to be energy efficient (low E, whatever that means), but they are still glass.

The plan to increase the fan speed on the furnace is not going to happen because it turns out that the fan speeds are set at the factory and cannot be changed after installation. And the room is comfortable when the furnace is on high, so the furnace capacity must be okay. The heating company still wants to put dampers in the ducts, but I fail to see how this will help unless they are thermostatically controlled. I'm going to call them tomorrow and give them the opportunity to convince me.

I have closed the register in the dining room, where the thermostat is, to see if that helps. Then I may reverse the direction of the ceiling fan in the new room and run it on low. And then I will get some window treatments soon. And an area rug. And I can move a space heater out there. I'm thinking that, like the floor, the temperature in that room is just going to be one of those things that didn't turn out quite like I had hoped. Too bad.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Check Is NOT in the Mail

Warning: This is a long story that repeats some previously blogged info, so feel free to jump ship right now!

Last year I replaced my furnace and AC with a two-stage Carrier system (including humidifier) that I absolutely love. My house is so comfortable now, winter and summer, that I cannot believe the difference. But I had some problems with the contractor on that job. During new room construction, I complained about the furnace contractor to the heating guy, and K said that his company services Carrier systems. I said, You do? That is good to know. He said, Oh, yeah, a furnace is a furnace.

To heat/cool the new room, the heating guy ran a new duct from the furnace to the new room and installed four registers under the windows. Four seemed like overkill, but K pointed out that if the room was too hot in winter or too cold in summer, registers could be closed, whereas the opposite would not be correctable. Made sense to me.

Now that the weather is turning wintry, the heat, or lack of it, in the new room is a problem. I bought a weather system thingy that includes a remote thermometer. The base unit is on the mantle in the family room, the remote is in the new room. When the furnace is running on high, the new room is nice and toasty. Otherwise, it is not unusual for the temperature at the thermostat in the dining room to be 70, while the family room temp is 67 and the new room temp is 62. The other morning, the new room temp was in the 50's. Not acceptable.

So I called the contractor and he called the heating company who called me. M, presumably the heating company owner, wanted to increase the low speed on my furnace. Won't that heat up the rest of my house faster and cause the furnace to turn off sooner? I asked. No, said M, because we will adjust the dampers in the ducts under the house, forcing more air to the new room. I said, Maybe I should just close some registers? No, M insisted, we can balance the system so you don't have to do that. OK.

I scheduled a time on Tuesday (yesterday) morning for the work to be done. I was told the heating guy would be there at 8:30 but he would call before arriving. Meanwhile, my boss scheduled a team meeting Tuesday morning at 10:00. In light of the recent job eliminations, it seemed imperative that I be at that meeting. If the heating guy comes at 8:30, he should be done by 9:30, and I can get to work by 10:00, I reasoned.

Monday I received a "certificate of completion" from the contractor's office. I confidently signed it and wrote out a check for the balance due on my new room, intending to mail them the next day.

Tuesday morning K called at 8:25. Yes, I said, I am ready for you. THIRTY MINUTES LATER he finally showed up. Will this take long? I asked, letting K in the front door. No, not too long, K answered. Because they told me you would be here by 8:30 and I need to leave for work soon. I tried not to sound whiny. They told me Tuesday AM, K responded. Hmmm.

So K went back to the furnace room. First, he could not figure out how to get the cover off the furnace, determined he needed tools, and made a trip out to his truck. Then his flashlight died, so I fetched one of mine. Then he couldn't figure out how to change the fan speed. The manuals are in an aluminum pocket on the wall by the furnace, so K started leafing through them. TEN MINUTES LATER he was still leafing through the manuals.

By now it was 9:20 and I was getting anxious about leaving for work, plus I was convinced this guy, the same one who said a furnace is a furnace, DID NOT HAVE A CLUE. I decided I did not want him screwing up my wonderful system and said, I gotta go to work, so we'll have to continue this some other time. I mentioned the dampers, and K said, I don't think you have dampers on your ducts. He should know since he has been under the house. As he was leaving, he suggested I try closing some of the other registers and run the fan all the time. WTF?!?

When I arrived home that evening, there was a message from the contractor, all chirpy and how did it go this morning and when can we get together for the final payment? I called him back and let him know exactly how it went and how unhappy I was and did he have a relationship with the company that installed the system because these people obviously DO NOT KNOW WHAT THEY ARE DOING!!! Oh, and by the way, I have your check but you are not getting it yet. (But I was nicer than I sound here.) So he called the heating company who called while I was at yoga, leaving a message that they would come back Wednesday morning at 8:30 (HA!) to install dampers on my duct work.

I called back the heating company to let them know I would NOT be home Wednesday morning because I had morning meetings to attend. Of course, no one was there at 8:00pm, so I left a message, which obviously did not get relayed to K because he called me at work at 8:30, wondering when he could come by and install the dampers. Not this week, I have morning meetings everyday and evening commitments. So he said the office would have to contact me about scheduling for next week. It is almost noon and I still have not heard from them.

Meanwhile, it occurred to me that one reason the room, especially the floor, is so cold is the vents in the foundation that are supposed to open and close automatically. I do not have these on the rest of my house's foundation; they are a new addition to the building code, to help eliminate problems with mold. I checked them this morning and they are closed, but it seems that covering them with some insulation board would be a good idea. My SO has some he is going to bring over tonight. I also asked him to crawl under the house and survey just what I have there. I'm wondering if there is any insulation under the floor or around the heat ducts, etc. I'm also wondering if it is dry, because a final grading of the construction site was not included in my construction package (my bad), which makes me uncomfortable because the yard immediately surrounding the room does not slope away from the house.

Last night I was crying because I spent all that money on the new room, only to have something that is actually less usable that the Florida room I had demolished. The Florida room was like a 3.5 season room, with a cement floor and two heating vents. In the dead of winter, I added a space heater and it was quite inhabitable. In fact, the rabbit lived out there and the cat had her litter box out there, so I left the patio door open enough for her to come and go, without compromising the comfort in the rest of the house. Now, the chill from the new room seeps into the kitchen and spreads to the family room. It's very discouraging.

The room construction, which was supposed to be over in October, is turning into a continuing saga. Wah!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Light at the End of the Tunnel

Yesterday the electrician came and installed the light kit for the ceiling fan. I even had light bulbs for it. I am no longer in the dark. (Sorry - couldn't resist!)

I called the contractor to let him know the light kit was done, discussed what I still owe him, then I asked him to talk to the heating guy because that room is COLD. The furnace has a two-speed fan, and when it is on high, the room is nice and toasty. But if the fan is on low, not only is the room cold, the cold seeps into the kitchen and family room. So it can be 70 in the dining room where the thermostat is, 67 in the family room, and 62 in the new room. That is a bit brisk. And it is only November; what will happen in January?

The heating guy called while I was on my way home and left a message on my answering machine (remember when answering machines were new? I used to hate them), suggesting he could fix the problem by increasing the low speed on the fan. I don't know much about HVAC, but it seems like that might warm up the new room some, but it would also warm up the rest of the house and the fan would go off. He will have to convince me because I really don't want him making the rest of my house uncomfortable.

I plan on adding window treatments of some sort (insulated Roman shades?) and an area rug (why do we put down wood or wood-like flooring only to cover it up?) and eventually foundation plantings and trees outside, someday when I have money again. And I could put a space heater out there, because the room needs to be comfortable only when occupied. In the meantime, we'll see what the heating guy can do.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Fresh Parsley

One idea for my new room is to grow fresh herbs out there over the winter. There were some in the garden I planned to dig up, but I didn't get a round tuit, except for the parsley.

I'd like to include some basils as well, but I think I will start them from seed.

Friday I got the flooring bill straightened out. No word from the electrician about the light kit installation.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The Walls Will Not Be Tumbling Down

Last night the electrician called. The outlets in the new room were supposed to be wired into a wall switch, but somehow that had not been communicated by the contractor. Silly me, I had assumed a work order or something had transpired between them. Now that everything else is done, putting those outlets on a wall switch is virtually impossible. He offered some alternatives, but none of them sounded like they were worth the effort.

Today I called the contractor, who apologized profusely over this lapse. He offered to pull down the drywall in order to make things right, but I said NO! To me, it is not that big a deal. If the electrician would come out and install the light kit for the ceiling fan, which is on a wall switch, that would be good enough.

This morning the weather stripping in the new patio door was fixed. Now all I need to do is call the flooring people about the bill and the flawed board. *sigh*

Monday, November 03, 2008

Feels Like September

The weather has turned downright balmy this week - highs in the 70's. But once the sun goes down, the air definitely chills.

Tonight I tackled the garage. During construction of the new room, half of the garage was full of displaced furniture and homeless canning equipment and refugee tools. The other half served as a workshop for carpenters, Spanish lacers, painters, and such. In the past month, I reclaimed enough of the garage to get my car in, but there was more to do.

I'm still not done, but at least the paint cans are in their place and the leftover insulation is here and the fireplace logs are over there. Some things even wound up in the trash. More stuff is up against the walls instead of in the middle of the floor, and some of the floor was swept clean by my new broom. A good start.

I called the contractor today to see what was happening regarding the final few things, but did not get a definitive answer. I still owe a third of the cost, so I'm sure my concerns will be addressed. Haven't called the flooring people yet. One thing at a time.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Still Outstanding

The new room still is not quite done. The building inspector needs the building permit, the electrician needs to correct one thing (outlets on wall switch) and finish another (light kit for ceiling fan), and I still haven't called the flooring people about that one flawed board.

There is another reason to call the flooring people. I received a bill from the them, but it was incorrect. I had Durastone tile leftover from my kitchen, and thinking I had enough, I said I would supply it for the laundry room. Well, I did not have enough, so the flooring people ordered extra. The bill, however, includes the expense of the subflooring and labor for installing the laundry room floor. My understanding is that was all part of the big package.

I don't spend much time in the new room yet. I'm too accustomed to the couch in my livingroom. Also, looking out on the backyard reminds me of all the outdoor stuff I should be taking care of now, before the weather turns. And then there is the old furniture and lack of area rugs and general echo-iness of the room. I need to make it more inhabitable.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

I Vant To Be Alone

That sinus thing I have just won't go away. At least, that is my excuse for not working out in the yard today. That and I just did not feel like interfacing with any of my neighbors.

At work, I consider it part of my job to get along with my co-workers. Ditto at home. Even when my neighbors are being kind of inconsiderate or downright rude, I play dumb and pretend I still like them. I don't want to generate ill will because, gosh, someday I may need to use their phone or borrow their truck or ask them to snowblow my driveway.

But. Lately it has been hard. The McCain/Palin bumper stickers. The five dogs barking non-stop 10-11pm. The junk vehicles in driveways. The stump grinder at 8:30am on a Saturday morning. The dog shit in my front yard. The burning of yard waste. The loud motorcycles and car radios. The speeders. The lawn mowers and leaf blowers and chainsaws. Gah!

Actually, I like my neighborhood most of the time. We have large lots and most homes are kept up and most pay their association dues and most mind their own business and/or give each other the benefit of the doubt. But sometimes I really, really, really wish I still lived in the country, so I could step outside my backdoor and not say "Hi!"

Those arborvitae can't grow fast enough.