Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Attic - Nearing Completion

Another bevy of pictures of the attic-in-progress. Things are starting to look downright homey up there.

A built-in bookcase at the top of the stairs, right by what will be the reading nook. Yes, there will be shelves there.
It is not quite as awesome as the gear room I envision someday having, but this is awfully nice storage. Our carpenter tells me that the height of each vertical riser is different, and the width of the plank on the slope varies as well. Old houses!
With shelves and light! We haven't decided if the left side of the aisle will have more shelving (e.g., adjustable wire shelving units), or a long clothes hanging rod.
Here are the build-in drawers for under-the-eave storage. At the moment, they only have a primer coat, and no hardware.
But they are huge! And numerous! Plenty of space for all manner of things.
The bathroom floor. There wasn't room in the budget for tile, alas, but this linoleum second does a nice job.
Linen closet!
The finest lighting fixture available at the local big box store, purchased about 12 hours before the electrician installed it. A large framed mirror will also be there, eventually.
In the dormers on either side are a pair of reading downlights. These are self-contained PAR20 LED fixtures. Soft white, 60-W equivalent, but use only 8 watts. With a rated life measured in tens of thousands of hours, these are likely to be the last "bulbs" anyone will need to put here for the next decade at least. Not exactly cheap - $30 after utility rebate - but will certainly pay for themselves over their lifespan. These have a much more pleasant quality of light than CFLs, and come on to full brightness instantly.
For some reason, the electrician spurned the cans and PAR30 CFLs I left upstairs for him to install. These I had leftover after converting all the fixtures in the kitchen to LED. Instead, these are 60-W incandescents. Those won't last long. The red piece is the smoke detector, covered with a shower cap.
The kitchenette has plain, but elegant, clear pine cabinets. There is still the microwave and countertop to go in. The flooring is another linoleum second.

Monday, August 27, 2012


We originally planted ten raspberry canes, now going on three years ago. Several of them died over the ensuring year. One flourished and expanded, and turned out to produce black raspberries.

The remaining canes have survived, but not exactly flourished. This year there are hopeful signs that some of them, at least, will proliferate. And just this past week, unbidden, came this happy harvest:

The very finest from our farmer's market could hardly be better!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Fence Update

You would think that, after racing for 2-1/2 hours on Saturday and traveling halfway across New England, I would make Sunday a day of complete rest. That would have been a smart idea, but the endless task list beckoned. Up next: more work on the fence.

It started off with a simple goal: get the fifth and final post into place. I had been holding back on this one, because I knew it was in the vicinity of a natural gas line. About a month after the old fence flopped over, National Grid decided that it would be a good time to update some of the natural gas lines in the neighborhood, and move everyone's gas meter to the outside of the building. No problem with that, but I didn't know exactly where it was. After a call, the DigSafe people came out and marked, and I thankfully had a bit more room than I'd thought at first. Still, between the gas line and the foundation, there wasn't a whole lot of space for digging.
And as it turned out, I had less and less space as I went down. Below grade the foundation is made of a very large and rough-hewn granite blocks (yay New Hampshire!). It appears that the blocks inch their way outwards the further down you go. So after digging down a foot, I would hit the edge of a block, then have to shift a little further from the house and closer to the gas line.
Eventually I did get down deep enough to set the post properly. I was on a roll by then, having caught my fourth or fifth wind, and decided that it was be positively easy to start hanging the fence sections.
It took a little doing to manhandle them into place, wedge them to the right height, level them left-to-right, then predrill the holes and set the screws. It's probably a job better suited to a crew of two or three. It got faster as I went along.
I call that a pretty good result.
It's not a perfectly straight line, but I'll call it pretty good for a first attempt.
The scalloping is a decent look. But there are still those unsightly metal posts to cover up.
Another board does a pretty good job of covering them over, except when viewed from an angle. Six-inch boards would have done better, but would have looked pretty chunky for this low decorative fence.
The fence section closest to the house ended up being too long. Or, put differently, the post ended up too far from the house. So I hacked off a bit of it and cantilevered that extra section off the side. Not the sturdiest, but should hold up. At the very least, it'll keep Jasper from wandering.
I had to improvise how to tie the old fence into the new post. Here's my solution rigged together with a 2x4 and some screws. I'm hoping that this will only be necessary for a year or two, by which point I'll have the rest of the fence replaced. Considering how tired my arms and hands are today, it may well be longer!
More of the tie-in to the old fence.
Here is some of the treatment around the gate post. After five hours of work, I'd decided I had definitely had enough, and so left hanging the gate for another day.

Sunday, August 19, 2012


Although we haven't been able to get our peppers to do a damn thing, it's been a pretty good year so far for tomatoes. Behold:

I think we've got so many splits in these because we had a lot of heat and a lot of rain in the week prior to these being picked. We have also been getting upwards of a pint of sungold cherry tomatoes each week. These are truly awesome to eat straight from the garden.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

USAT Nationals - Race Report

The full report will come later. For now I'll just say that I competed on Saturday, had a great race, and had an excellent time (for myself). More to follow when my legs can work again.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012


This was a good year for the garlic. These pictures are from when I yanked it out, back in early July. They've been spending the weeks since then hanging up in the garage, curing, so that they now have papery husks and should keep for at least a couple of months.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Going to Nationals

I did very well at the King Pine Tri this past June. It is partly due to my increased training this year and zippy new bike, and partly due to who showed up that day. No matter, I did well enough to qualify for the USAT National Championships happening this coming weekend in Burlington VT. If it were on the other side of the country, and not just a 3-hr drive, I probably would not have bothered. But being so close, and considering how unlikely I am to be in this position again anytime soon, I have taken the plunge, plunked down a whopper of an entry fee ($150!), and will be racing this Saturday.

Sunday is when they hold the Sprint-distance competition, which is my usual distance. Saturday is the international (a.k.a., Olympic) distance, which I have yet to do in competition. How does finishing well in a sprint distance qualify me for the international? I don't know. I don't really care, either. I have been gearing up for an international-distance race this season, and am genuinely looking forward to it.

To say that I am looking forward to a 1-mile swim, 25-mile bike, and 10-k run may put my sanity into question, but I'll be good company with the 1000+ others who will be there. Based on my recent training, I know I can do the distance. On paper, I estimate this will take me around 2:30:00 - 2:45:00. While that sounds impressive, and any finish will automatically be a personal best, it actually will put me in the bottom half, and possible the bottom quarter, of my age group. For comparison, the Olympic men's triathlon even, just last week, was completed in a well under two hours.

Really, I am OK with how poor (relatively) my performance will be. I am blessed with neither the natural ability nor the abundant training time nor the deeeeeep pockets that would be necessary to really be competitive at this level. My goal is to finish, and finish in a time and manner that I can respect. In other words: racing for myself, rather than competing.

Because I qualified late, and got off the wait list just two weeks ago, there is not a single hotel room anywhere in the vicinity for me to use. I have heard some competitors are shacking up in Plattsburg, NY, clear on the other side of Lake Champlain! There are, however, campgrounds nearby, which are a whole lot cheaper. Really, all I need is a comfortable place to sleep Friday night and a place to shower Saturday afternoon. I am undecided about staying over Saturday night. I won't finish my race until almost noon (first wave starts the swim at 7:30 am; my wave not until nearly 9:00!). Burlington is supposed to be a great town to hang around. The campground option makes staying over pretty easy and inexpensive.

Monday, August 13, 2012


I purchased my first nalgene sometime around 1995. I don't still have it - I accidentally left it behind at a water stop on a trek in New Mexico years ago. However, I've had this nalgene nearly as long. It has been through many adventures, and alas is not likely to see any more.

What trauma caused this decapitation? A drop from the hands of my 4-year old. She stands all of about three feet off the ground, so it can't have fallen all that far. It was empty at the time, too. I guess it's time had come.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Progress in the Attic

When last I mentioned the attic renovations, the place was gutted to the studs and waiting to be built up new. Well, now, after some months of on-again, off-again work, things are pretty far along and looking rather presentable. Here I provide a whole slew of pictures, with captions, because relating the whole project in narrative form would take forever.

The plumbers came along and started roughing in the new drains for the bathroom and kitchenette. You can see the existing vent stack against the wall - the massive black pipe. The new vent/drain parallels it.
This hole goes all the way to the basement, where it meets the main drain to the sewer.
The grey fluffy stuff between the floor joists is cellulose insulation that was recovered from the ceiling during the demolition. Some went to the 2nd floor exterior walls (yay, balloon construction?), which have essentially zero insulation. The rest went into the floor.
The water lines are PEX, and color coded!
Brynna was so impressed the day they came to deliver the framing timbers!
You can see here the framing for the new bathroom. The wall on the right (not yet fully framed) will be a wet wall between the bathroom and kitchenette. On the bathroom side will be a linen closet, vanity, and sinky. The kitchenette side will have cabinets, microwave, sink, etc. Immediately to the left of doorway into the bathroom will be the shower. The toilet will be next to the (south-facing) window.
Sizeable step-in shower. No bathtub, but this leaves plenty of space next to it for the toilet. This is in contrast to the other bathrooms in the house, where the tub takes up so much space that sitting on the toilet is like backing into a closet.
vent pipes for the bathroom and kitchenette tying into the main house vent.
Rough-in for the water and drain for the bathroom vanity and kitchenette sink.
This massive pile of 2x4s frame the linen closet. It isn't that the closet is meant to be especially robust and load-bearing. I think it is just how things worked out with framing the surrounding walls. This closet will be the perfect place to store my free weights!
Under the eaves on the western wall will be a large set of pull-out drawers. Unlike the pieces of shit that used to be here, these will have proper construction by our general contractor, who is a finish carpenter by training. There will be three rows of drawers, with the lower drawers being deeper than the uppers.
The dormer got a little bit of new framing - much cleaner than what used to be there. Good thing they brought along a compound mitre saw.
The exterior studs each received an additional two inches of new lumber. I am not sure if this was necessary to bring it up to code, or to provide more space for insulation. In either case, I am pleased with the result.
What you see framed here is a new walk-in storage closet. This will have floor-to-ceiling shelves, a hanger post, and lots of boxes stored to the eaves.
The new plumbing and electrical runs couldn't easily be squeezed into the existing structure of the house without opening up a lot of walls. Instead, they just made a new run alongside the existing vent stack. A logical solution, I suppose, but it has intruded into the already cramped space beside the toilet of the other bathrooms.

The plumbing for the shower.
The plumbing for the vanity and kitchenette sinks is coming along

On the whole I have been impressed at how tidy the plumber and electrician have made their runs. I probably took a few hundred shots of the runs when everything was still exposed, because eventually it will all be covered with foam insulation and drywall.
Each dormer gets two PAR20 recessed lights. These were put in on the assumption that these would be reading nooks, sitting areas, or desk spaces.
The living and bedroom area get PAR30 recessed lights.
A dedicated 12-gage run was made to the west dormer, with the GFCI outlet, specific for powering an air conditioner. We considered some sort of permanently installed AC unit, perhaps tucked up in the north gable. But it would have been a serious line item in the budget (several thousand dollars, installed), and it turns out to be hard to find such units sized small enough for this space. A decent window unit, or a roll-around, should be plenty for cooling the attic once the insulation is in place.
The electric code hates, hates extension cords. As a result, you need to have an outlet every six feet or so along all the walls. I'm not complaining.
The bathroom vent and plumbing vent stack, as seen from up in the rafters.
Also up in the rafters: a dedicated outlet and coaxial run, in case someone ever puts in an antenna or dish.
It is well that I took a lot of pictures of all the wires and pipes, because that is all completely covered now. Six inches of spray foam provides an impressive R-value, something that has been sorely lacking in this house. I look forward to seeing the difference come winter. The flat of the ceiling will receive 15" of blown cellulose, which can be easily raked aside to access some of the wiring and the recessed lights.

I did not know exactly which day the insulators were going to be coming. I just came home one day and found the attic completely sheathed! Whatever formulation they are using seems pretty good - no offgassing that my nose could detect.
When I was in my teens, I spent part of a summer doing the drywall in half of my parent's attic. Wielding drywall single-handed is not particularly easy. It is especially difficult to haul 4x8 sheets up two flights of stairs. These guys brought a lift truck, and delivered this load of 4x12s in about an hour through the third-floor window.
I consider myself handy, drywall is one of those things I have decided is best left to professionals. It isn't that I can't do it, it's just that these guys are so damn fast! It would take Hilary and I a month of nights and weekends doing what this two-man crew did in two days (i.e., the whole attic).
And that does not count the taping and mud, which was finished in another two days. The whole place the primed a day or two later. It's a lot more echo-y than it was before, but the results are pleasing to the eye; it is beginning to look like living space.
Next up: flooring. For the not-wet areas, I chose this bamboo composite.
Look at that: a laminate floor that has real wood underneath! The bamboo is prefinished and really tough: it ought to hold up to the expected foot traffic for a loooong time.
And it looks rather pleasant in sunlight.
With the flooring in place, the baseboard heaters (hydronic) can be reinstalled. In its previous condition, the attic had baseboard radiators along almost the entire perimeter of the floor. This was a good signal as how abysmal the insulation was. With the insulation that is in there now, I expect that very little actual heating will be required to keep this floor at a comfortable temperature. Plus, by sealing up the top of the home's envelope, I expect that we'll use a lot less energy heating the rest of the house going forward.
Several of the older windows had broken seals. This was evidenced by a dusty cloudy appearance between the layers of glass. Aside from the cosmetics, this means that their R-value is almost nonexistent. May as well replace them now.
Each of the four windows received new trim, as well.
The kitchen cabinets!
These were made by a local company in a fairly simple style out of a lovely clear pine.
The bathroom vanity is done in the same style.
We were very concerned that framing in the bathroom would block the light from the south-facing window. However, it appears that good light will still shine through when the door is open.
The framing for the under-the-eave drawers. The face frame is done in poplar. The drawer fronts will be done in a fairly simple style, too, to match the other cabinets.
The door leads into the storage area. The large hole in the wall will be filled in by a set of built-in bookshelves. The hope is that this dormer at the top of the stairs will become a reading area.

That's a gist of what's been happening over the last two months. Flooring for the kitchenette and bathroom is forthcoming. Other next steps include painting, lighting, and completing the electrical.