Thursday, January 27, 2011

Making Progress

I had an idea that I was going to write a blog post this week in honor of my number two brother, Dan, who reached that fabulous life milestone this week.  He turned fifty years old.  However, he reached this milestone on a day that I was so busy with everything else, that by the time I sat down to catch my breath and consider a post, it was nearly 3 AM.  And since work (the one that pays the bills and finances all this fun) starts again at 7 AM, I decided I'd have to wait to write my "Dan Reaches 50" post.  One day soon, I will gather those thoughts properly together and post.  Until then, I will simply wish him a very happy (belated) birthday.

The past few days have been busy here, the focus being bi-focal, so to speak.  The first, of course, is the old farm house which WILL be repaired - the foundation repaired, the house raised and the tired floor made level again.  We have (preliminarily) made the deal with the licensed, bonded, certified, credentialed, AND, well-priced contractor.  The expected start date is mid February, with a completion date of this phase (through sub-flooring) of mid March.  Now, if only the weather decides to cooperate, I will be most grateful.

To prepare for the leveling, re-beaming, re-joisting, etc., we have to get the old, rotted, broken joists out, and prepare the "underneath" of the house.  This includes a lot of "clean-up" type work and the creation of a sump-pump solution to deal with the water that wants to make its way under the house when it rains, snows, floods, etc. (We are at 13 ft above sea level here and literally surrounded by water.)

Last Summer After Floor Was Removed (Kitchen Area)

Walkways Across Failed Beams and Joists

Living Room?

The second focus is finishing the insulating and wall-covering in the garage.  We also installed three ceiling fans which we got from our demolition work at the old Hallieford house a year ago.  None of them match, but they are all good ceiling fans and will make a big difference in the summer. We have been pretty satisfied with the work of the two young, out of work, guys we have employed to help us complete this part.  They are also to help with the prep work for the old farm house, but we must wait until the rains subside.....

This week we have completed about half of the interior of the garage, and this weekend we will tackle more.  One thing I can definitely say is EVERYTHING takes longer, is more work and costs more than we plan...BUT.... we ARE getting there!

Installing Ceiling Fan #1

Installing Fan #2

Bringing Plywood From Shed

Installing Plywood over Insulation

Garage Walls Halfway Completed

Unfortunately, today it was pouring rain and Joe spent most of the day in emergency water diversion mode....  we must have five hundred feet of black 4 inch flexible pipe carrying water away from places it naturally wants to flow....  I am SOOOOOO ready for Spring!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Black Stove Pipe

We've had an interesting week here in our remodeling endeavor.

After using the wood stove in the garage for about two months, we decided we did not like the idea of the galvanized stove pipe the installer used.  Yes, it was up to code.  Yes, it was made for the purpose, but we were both feeling the effects of the fumes the heated galvanized pipe was emitting.

Galvanized Pipe
Not So Pretty
and Toxic Fumes

So, though we certainly did not need another project, we decided it was in our best interest to replace the galvanized pipe with the black stove pipe.  Let's just say that while the original project took the professional installer about 30 minutes to complete, our rework of the the job took us ummmm.... four hours?

Well, OK, we did have to take down the original pipe.

We had to clean the double-wall pipe that carries the smoke out through the roof.

And we had to connect those bloomin' pipes together.... let me tell you, that was no easy task.

Oh, and just BECAUSE they are BRILLIANT, Lowes firmly applies price stickers to each piece of stove pipe, so.... we had to take those off

Then we were finally able to actually assemble and install our new stove pipe.

Still, we managed to get the job done without any bloodshed or broken bones.  We like the way it looks, and it is completely functional.... the pipe we used is a heavier gauge than the original, which I consider a plus.

Tomorrow the latest of the contractors is supposed to come over after church to give us his bid on the "big project" (the raising and leveling of the old farm house).  We are hoping this one will be the right one, because it would be very nice to get this project underway.

Meanwhile, we continue to plug along on the smaller projects -- indoors, where possible.  Tomorrow we hope to get started on completing the insulation in the garage and installing the plywood we intend to use for the wall covering.

Of course, our projects have to be squeezed in between work (the kind that pays the bills), chores (the stuff that keeps the place functioning) and CraigsList.....  Yes, I continue to scour CraigsList, looking for those items, odd or common, but useful to us in our farm creation project.  This week we finally found a local guy selling a flatbed trailer with the capacity to carry the tractor.  We've seen many such trailers offered, but everyone wanted too much money for them.  When I saw the listing, I was pretty certain it would not last, because, quite frankly, the price was right -- less than half of what most are asking.

Van - CraigsList (CA),
Semi-trailer - CraigsList (VA),
Trailer - CraigsList (VA)

And this afternoon we finally managed to get over to pick up the fence pieces we'd secured from another seller on CraigsList.  We made the deal in December, but weather and schedules interfered with the pick up until today.  Naturally, it was FREEZING today -- still, we persevered. Murphy's Law prevailing, the task included:
  • the van getting stuck in the soft ground when trying get to the trailer for initial hook-up
  • walking the trailer out to meet the van, since the van couldn't make it to the trailer
  • getting a flat tire on the trailer AFTER loading the fencing -- thankfully, the seller had a portable air compressor
Loading Fence Into Trailer
Fix a Flat
We did manage to make it home safely, but decided not to tackle any more projects tonight.  Tomorrow is another day, and perhaps Murphy will be hanging out somewhere else!

Home Sweet Home

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Some Satisfaction

In December I received the notification of the new assessment of the old farm house and the properties on which she sits.  I was, to say the least, not pleased with what I read on the "experts'" assessments of this place.  The value, so they claimed, had doubled in the five years between assessments, never mind the fact that on every corner, there is an abandoned structure, or a property undergoing foreclosure, or a house for sale, one that has been "on the market" for a year or more.  Never mind the fact that there simply is NOT a huge demand for property in this county, tucked neatly away from almost all modern conveniences.  And certainly never mind the fact that the folks performing the reassessment are not "from here" and so perceive property through the eyes of those in metropolitan areas, complete with competition for space and water location.

The fact of the matter is that here, in this county, there is waterfront and then there is under water.  The waterfront owners are just as much up in arms about the reassessment because they do not want to pay taxes on the REAL value of there homes, but DEFINITELY want to get the real value when selling. The rest of us are in a constant battle to keep our properties from sinking into the moist wet ground that defines this county.  Still, they DID provide us a venue to appeal the reassessment numbers.

We went armed with plats and pictures, and, dressed in our "normal" attire (that means I was in overalls, and we were both bundled up against the cold, including our knit caps), we arrived for our appointment. As we waited our turn, I overheard the conversations of others.  I had to admire some of creativity of those property owners who had multiple, desirable properties.....
Dressed and Ready to Fight City Hall! 
Our turn came and I was surprised by some of the answers we received to our questions.  For instance, though these folks had never actually been ON the property, they had concluded that the old farm house was not only of historical value (I agree) but was in decent shape HAH!  The response I found most disturbing, to be honest, was the response to why the undeveloped land had supposedly appreciated four-fold in the five year interval.  The first part of the answer I was expecting.... "oh, well, the land has always been UNDERVALUED." Really?  Is THAT why this place is so darned congested, with everyone clamoring for an opportunity to purchase this horrifically undervalued land?  Ummm... yeah, right!  However, it was the second part of his response that bothered me more.

It seems that the land is valued at twice the value of the timbered trees.  Yes, you read that correctly.  Wooded lots are considered for their timber value. Why?  Because, according to this qualified land assessor, when times get tough, land owners timber their trees to pay the bills.  OK, so, let me get this straight.  This county WANTS/EXPECTS land owners to timber their trees, which will result in even less value to the land as it becomes even more underwater.  So, since our wooded land falls into the category of, "timbered within the past 10 years," meaning it will not be ready for timbering again for another 10 years, we had to request that they reconsider the value of our wooded property.

When we left the assessor's office, I was hopeful they would, as they promised, take another look at how we were assessed on the three parcels that combine to make the 10 acres on which this old farm house sits, and reassess the reassessment accordingly.  That was December 6, 2010.  Last week I received the good news that our reassessments indeed had been performed and the numbers were now lower across the board.  Rather than the 100% increase over the five year period, we only now supposedly have appreciated 50%, so my property values are now 1 1/2 times what they were in 2005.

I still disagree with this valuation of the property, but I suppose I will "live with it."  One day, when all the struggling land owners in the county, timber their trees and use up the proceeds, and then find themselves unable to sell the land, ending up in foreclosure.... I imagine those with the valuable waterfront property will snap up the stripped land for pennies on the dollar.... because, seriously, that IS what it is worth.  Nevertheless, in the meanwhile, we will be working hard to get this property into a condition which meets the assessed value of the place. It will probably take us five years, but we will eventually get there!

Some satisfaction, I suppose, is better than nothing!

Timber .... Let me COUNT the $$$$!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Let It Be

The camper was ready to be delivered on Wednesday afternoon.  Joe and I were to meet the seller back at his place, some 25 miles from here, where he'd lined up a couple of friends to help with the delivery.  We were to lead them to our place.  In sharp contrast to Tuesday, which had been nasty, freezing with "icy drizzle," Wednesday was brilliant blue skies, though ice still clung to the tree branches, no warm up predicted until the weekend.

Going over the bridge -- Glorious Sky

When we arrived at the seller's place, he and his friends were waiting for us.  We all introduced ourselves and both Joe and I had a good feeling about these guys.  They just seemed very down to earth and decent folks. Within a few minutes, the caravan was on the way to the old farm house.  We led the way, followed by the guy in the minivan pulling the purchased camper, followed by the seller and his friend in the little Honda. When we turned on the radio in the Amigo we were treated to the Beatles' "Let It Be," and I decided that was a really good omen.  First stop was the gas station to put air in the camper's tires....they were pretty flat.

Starting out with pretty flat tires...

Getting a little air

With tires filled, we proceeded to the old farm house.  The day was glorious and the two rivers we had to cross were quite beautiful, with the sun's rays glimmering off the water's ripples.  I took pictures of the day as we drove, and took pictures of the camper behind us, in the side view mirror.  We collected quite a little caravan behind us, so, when we had to opportunity, we pulled into another gas station, to let the other cars by.

Draw Bridge
Camper in side view mirror

Caravan in side view mirror

Awesome sky

Once back at the old farmhouse, Joe directed the parking of the camper in an out of the way place, where it will undergo its repairs and transformation into its next life.  And then, for the next two hours, we chatted with the three men, one 46, one 36 and one 28 years old, all in need of work, and all possessing skills we could use.  We showed them the projects on which we were seeking bids -- both small projects and huge projects.  They promised to get back with us with bids.

Camper with last remnants of snow
Camper in her temporary spot
This afternoon, the two who were bidding on the small projects, and whose bids we accepted, started the first of these projects.  While I worked away up in my office in the garage apartment, they, under Joe's supervision, worked to install new hot and cold water PEX pipe delivery to allow us to install a washing machine and a kitchen sink in garage. Then it was on to the electrical work.  They installed a couple of breakers,  6/3 wire and receptacle for the installation of a range, and 10/3 wire and receptacle for the installation of a clothes dryer.

More Electric
Everything went well, and, by the time I came downstairs at the end of my work day, they were just finishing up.  We chatted awhile about the next little projects for which they will return next week, and we chatted about a little bit of everything under the sun.  When we paid them for this first day of work, they seemed genuinely pleased, and eager to do the next projects.  They are hoping that guy number three's bid on the BIG project (raising the farmhouse, installing the new beams and joists, and installing the new floor) will be the winning bid, and that they will be able to work with him to complete that project.
Chatting after the work is done
From my perspective, our innocent little answering of a Craigslist ad for an ancient "canned ham" camper, has resulted in our acquisition of a very inexpensive storage shed, contacts with three capable tradesmen, AND, within two days of making the deal to buy the camper, has resulted in our being one step closer to being able to do laundry in the garage, and to cook with an oven for the first time since we moved into this garage apartment nearly a year ago. And, the best part about this whole deal, is that the guys doing the work are really nice and very happy to have the work, meager as it is.

Let it be, Let it be, Let it be, yeah, Let it be,
There will be an answer, Let it be.............
Let it be....

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Lucky This Time

The threatened bad weather -- snow, ice, mixed horror -- ended up mostly passing us by this time.  I am so very thankful and do not, in the least, regret taking a couple of days to secure more firewood for the possibility of getting snowed in without power.  With any luck, our hard work and the nasty weather's considerate avoidance of our neck of the woods this time will mean we will have sufficient supplies to see us through the end of January???  We'll see.  We'll be cutting and splitting more during any decent weather, I'm sure, but the pressure is definitely off.
Wood Splitting on Cute and Efficient
Electric Log Splitter

Split Wood Stacked -- Time to Take a Break

As those of you who read my posts regularly will know, I have a habit of perusing Craig's List to see if anything being offered is something we could use around here at the old farm house.  Things I find that are of interest to us are not necessarily used as the seller would imagine when he makes the listing, but they work for us.  Examples of excellent finds are:

  • Construction trailer: remodeled and used now for my eBay operation
  • Older Minivan:  Perfect for "beater" van purposes of schlepping boxes from one house to the other, temporary green house, etc.
  • 48' Semi Trailer: In the process of being converted to multiple storage "rooms" and office, after installing house style front door ... windows will be installed as weather permits...(managed to swing a deal on this one that included having the floor in the old farmhouse completely taken up so we could get to the beams and joists that need replacing....)
  • Kubota Tractor: I cannot even BEGIN to count how useful this has been!
  • Ancient U-Haul Box Truck: Immediate storage space AND mobile workshop with deck atop for tree-limb pruning!
  • Linda's Wood Stove:  Yes, one of the best finds, to be certain!

So the list goes on.

Monday, I took a quick look at the current listings and found one for an ancient camper -- looked to be in pretty bad repair, but the price was very low.  Yesterday we drove out in the nasty icy drizzle to take a look.  It looked worse "in person" than it did in photos, and we almost bailed on it.  BUT.... Joe looked at it and looked at it and his brain tallied the useful value of the "the parts."  He offered the seller less than half of what he originally wanted, and that price included delivery to our place.  The seller did not hesitate when accepting the offer.  He will deliver it sometime in the next few days.
Ummmm.. A REAL Beauty, Yes?

Seriously, Delightful, Huh???

Once we have it, Joe will make the final determination of whether the 7 X 14 interior space will be used for storage (a tool shed or the likes) or whether he will strip the sheet metal off and use it elsewhere, and convert the unit to a flatbed trailer for moving such large items as the tractor.  Regardless, the price was right and the contact MAY result in some more progress being made here...before the warm-up of Spring.

As it turns out, the seller is a currently-out-of-work-electrician-and-general-contractor.  He is willing to take a look and make bids on some of our small projects.  If his prices are good, and we like his work, he might also be hired to tackle some of bigger projects.  Mostly, I like the idea of being able to help someone who needs the work, and he, in turn, seems eager to get the opportunity.  We shall see........... he first has to deliver the ancient "canned ham" trailer, look at the work for which we are soliciting his services, and submit his bids....

Nevertheless, we will, no doubt, continue to work on the other 1.1 million projects (yes, the number keeps growing) and before we know it, it will be Spring............ RIGHT?

Icy Tree Tops In Glorious Sun 10 AM

Icy Tipped Needles on Pine Trees

Not Yet Out of the 20's Outside

Wood Store Cranking out the Heat

Looks Pretty too!

Garage Temp - 66

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Egg Rolls -- Lazy Sunday

Over the years I, like most people I know, have picked up favorite recipes from friends and family.  For instance, there will never, in my humble opinion, be a better recipe for zucchini bread than the one with which my stepmother introduced me to this delicious bread.  I recall being iffy about tasting something so "odd" sounding, but, not wanting to be rude, I accepted the loaf of bread from her as I was heading out the door, returning to school.  However, when I took the plunge and tasted the moist, sweet, "bread" I was hooked for life.  Now summer is simply not complete without baking at least one such loaf using her recipe.

Another fond culinary memory I have is of my friend teaching me how to make egg rolls.  I honestly have no idea WHY we were making these, and I'll bet he doesn't even recall teaching me, but I certainly recall the ingredients, the process, and the delicious taste of the fresh-from-the-wok egg rolls.

When I moved to Virginia in November, 1988, I lived alone in the house we were in the process of buying, while my then-husband wrapped up our lives in Tallahassee, FL and then joined me with the children in Virginia. Before they arrived, since the house was completely empty, I had arranged for new carpet to be installed.  The carpet installers arrived to do the job one day before my family was to arrive from Florida.  As they installed the carpet, I was busy cooking up a batch of egg rolls for the following day.

Suffice to say, I had to go out and buy more ingredients after the carpet installation was complete.  As they worked, with Christmas carols from their "boom-box" filling the air, the aromas from the egg rolls made them hungry, and they eventually asked if they might try one.  I had made a full batch of twenty and there were only a few left when they had finished eating.  When they finished the installation, I wrapped the remaining egg rolls and gave them "carry-out."  The carpet installation was perfect, and I had plenty of time to make a fresh batch for the family.

It had been a VERY long time since I'd made egg rolls, but today I decided I was in the mood to have some of those yummy treats.  So, after church, while I was stocking up on the staples at the grocery store, I added to my basket the ingredients for the egg rolls.  Today was to be a lazy day, so I would be able to enjoy the afternoon cooking.

When I arrived home, Joe informed me that the weather people were predicting more snow and freezing weather in the immediate future, so, rather than simply kicking back and lounging around the place today, we'd really better secure more firewood for the wood stove.  And so we spent the afternoon cutting and stacking firewood.  We still have a fair amount of wood to split, but we should be able to get that done tomorrow, before the predicted snow and nastiness materializes.

Long Lengths to be Cut
First of 11 Shovels of Wood Cut
Judy Loading Shovel with Cut Wood
Don't Even Ask... I have NO Idea What I was doing!

Tonight, though I was pretty tired from stacking wood (Joe did all the hard work while I manned the camera and stacked the wood), I was determined to make those egg rolls. Now, there are some  constraints to my cooking in the garage apartment we have called "home" for nearly a year.  One such constraint is that I have no wok.  Another is that most of my cooking utensils are still packed in boxes, awaiting room to "spread out" in a real kitchen one day.  I have no stove or oven, and cook everything on a two burner electric hot plate, an electric griddle, a crock pot or an electric frying pan.  I opted for the electric frying pan for tonight's fare.

The egg rolls were NOT as good as usual, but they were still pretty great.  Joe, who, it turns out, is not a huge egg roll fan (perhaps I should have asked BEFORE I started cooking) declared they were really good, and proceeded to eat SEVEN of them.  I ate three, which is WAY more than I needed to eat, but they just tasted so good!  And, for another day, I put the remaining nine egg rolls into the freezer.

Sycamore and Blue Sky on a COLD Winter's Day
Talice, Eager to Play!
Happy Dog!
Buzzards.... are they trying to tell me something?

Buzzard...Many of them hanging around today
Today was a really nice day.  Despite the very cold temperatures (yes, I think teens and twenties are very cold), the sky was blue and the sun was shining.  Talice was excited to have us out there spending time in her presence, and she was eager to play.  The buzzards were circling as if they had an idea there would be something they could devour sometime soon, but we survived yet another day of wood stacking and cutting and defied those buzzards!  We are ready for the next wave of snow, if it should fall and, with that, another weekend has slipped away.  Mondays ALWAYS come too quickly!