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26. March 2014 · Comments Off on All the leaves from my street end up in front of my door. Yes, even during the winter. · Categories: foliage, Home

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07. March 2014 · Comments Off on A bit over 60 days · Categories: Home, travel, winter

I took an unscheduled break from blogging over the past two months. So much has been going on at home, and almost nothing outside, but it has completely wrapped it’s arms around my typing and not allowed a single word to be written in 60+ days.

I last wrote that lots of stuff was going on at home. That is still going on, but we’re at least moving forward. Our kids are back in school and Sue has both prepped for and run her company’s annual meeting for their worldwide body of participants. They were in Disney while we were fighting another snow storm, but we both got through the events of the past few months. It has snowed here for five months now, but common in New England. We’ve skipped snow in March so far, but it’s only the 4th of the month so there are still a few more weeks until we’re out of the water.

All I can say is, “come on Spring!”

Last evening, I attended my 35th high school reunion. While I have attended a couple of these in the past, it was 15 years since I’ve seen most of these people in person. Facebook has certainly help close the distance gap through shared photos, stories of our children, news of our divorces, and our jobs. This closed gap made it much easier to recognize those that I hadn’t seen in person in many years. Faces were familiar, stories of kids came easily, and family photos were mostly shown on smartphones. People forgot the normal high school crap, the cliques and the rivalries over members of the opposite sex. Last night, we were all just friends.

As you might expect, some have aged better than others, and some have lived very hard lives. There were divorces, spousal deaths, and restraining orders; there were those with 30-year-old children and those with children of their own under 10 years old and those with grandchildren. There were a few faces that without a name tag, I would have never recognized. There were others that looked like slightly aged versions of my memories from high school. A couple of the girls have grown into elegant women. A couple of men were handsome as well. From what I was able to pick up, I have moved more than anyone else, and several that still live within a mile of their childhood home. I had the usual problem of trying to explain what I do for a living. “I work with computers” seemed to satisfy most, although anyone that knows me professionally, understands that this is a clear understatement of what I actually get paid to do. It didn’t matter – just that I now lived in New England, a seemingly long way from home.

We graduated from high school in 1978 which was somewhere between the drug-fueled Vietnam war protest songs and the demise of disco and “the emergence of pop, dance music and New Wave.” The 80’s on 80 channel on SiriusXM is still probably one of my favorite channels since I really didn’t have time to sit and listen to music in the late 70s. Back then, I had a 10-speed bike and a car that I borrowed from my parents. We listened to albums in our parents’ basements doing things that would have shocked our parents. But we all came out on the other side with a healthy respect for our parent’s work ethics and the need to raise some great kids.

As you might expect, we had a sad corner – where high school photos of those who had died were displayed. I knew about most, but a few photos of others that died were shocking. In a class of almost 450 students, I suppose the number of deaths was in line with statistics. In the center was the one that impacted me the most personally – my best friend Jay who died during our junior year. His family was my second family, his house my second home. I shudder to think how far Jay could have gone if he were alive today, and how much my life may have changed if he had remained a large influence in my life. The months following his fatal crash were the saddest months of my life. But I moved on and quickly grew up, remaining quite close with his family.

Probably the strangest thing last night was talking with several folks that I have known for more than fifty years. Our parents attended the same church so a group of us attended kindergarten in that church before it was mandated by the state. After all, I’m just too young to have known anyone for fifty years, right?

We currently have three vehicles in the house. My wife’s Audi, my Toyota, and an old Chevy Tahoe. We also have four drivers that are all employed and none of those jobs are in town. The Audi is a very fast sports car. My wife lets the kids drive it far more than I like, but that is only because it is easy to go very fast and unknowingly be going way faster than you realize. This car also takes premium fuel, at least 92 octane, so is more expensive to drive than mine.

My car is a Toyota Camry, and is a hybrid. It’s just over five years old and passed 100,000 miles this week. I have tried to keep up with the maintenance but it’s a bit tough with my work schedule. I religiously change the oil every 5,000 miles and have gone to using synthetic oil over the past two oil changes. I plan on driving this car into the ground someday, or until I have to spend $3,800 to replace the batteries according to current costs. My mileage varies, but is never less than 28 miles per gallon (MPG) when I run only highway miles, with air conditioning running full time. Typically, I get a bit over 33 MPG on average, better if I run with no A/C and drive more back roads at 45 than on the highway at 70+. Last May, I was driving and was hit by another driver. Damages were a bit over $11,000; it should have been totalled. The other driver was at fault and her insurance paid the entire claim.

The last vehicle we have is a 2001 Chevy Tahoe. We purchased this in late 2001 from CarMax in Richmond. It has only 6,000 miles on it back then and we now have about 160,000 miles showing on the odometer. It has been in three accidents and a few close scrapes. My wife was driving in the first two accidents, and both times the other driver was at fault. The third accident was very minor and caused the ding in the hood and front bumper, but shook up my youngest quite a bit (first accidents do that). The truck also has a sometimes works, most of the time doesn’t work gas gauge. So, you just count on the odometer to know that if you’ve driven more than 200 miles, you should be thinking about refueling. More than 250 miles, it better be filled soon. Last night, the driver’s side window decided to not go back up. So, it’s currently parked in the garage, awaiting my attacking the window to figure out what is needed to get it back up. Based on what I saw on YouTube, it’s likely a $150 part and a good bit of labor to repair. Since we are selling this as soon as we can, it’s basically money down the drain.

So we are on the hunt for two new vehicles and the quest to sell another. One is for my son and will be his purchase, not mine. When he finally locates the Subaru Imprezza that meets his financial restrictions and is a descent car, he’ll purchase it. The other vehicle has become my task to find and acquire. I will hit a few lots today to see what I can find. Then, we will need to find a buyer for the beat up Tahoe. At least the engine is in excellent shape if people can look past the cosmetic damage.

Time to play mechanic and tear apart the Tahoe’s door. Unlike many guys, I dread tearing into any vehicle.

We met with several contractors this week – a windows’ guy, an electrician, and a handyman. This, was behind work that had already been initiated – tree work and replacement carpet in our living space downstairs. I’m currently on the Acela heading to Washington DC to attend a conference for work. This is so much better than airline travel – and you should try it if your schedule works our.

Manny is the new found handyman that will come to pick up the debris that has collected in the back yard for several years. We’ve lived through two major storms and three hard winters since we’ve cleaned out the pile. All we need is a couple of weeks of dry weather and a spark for it, my shed, my John Deere, and other tools to be up in smoke. It was overdue, and his labor and truck are what will take care of this. Then, we start to collect it again – just not without engaging Manny again!

The electrician was a happenstance. We had an electrician that we worked with for other projects, but he has since closed shop and moved from what our sources tell us. This guy was doing work next door and comes with a great recommendation and excellent prices. We’re having the electric to the shed repaired, the under counter light in the kitchen repaired, and the switch / dimmer repaired in the kitchen. I fully admitted to screwing that one up – the rest were out of my hands!

The big financial move was started with meeting with a windows salesman from Renewal By Anderson. These are, admittedly, about the best, most expensive windows we could buy. When all was said and done, we are out close to $11K, but will have new windows in each of the occupied bedrooms (2+2+2) and the upstairs bath. The purchase allows us to replace any more windows, even one at a time, for the same discount and lifetime parts, labor, and installation warranty. The windows we are replacing are 52 years old, we thought this was the best location for replacements since they are in the air conditioned portion of the home and where we are most affected by loss of heat in the winter. Finally, we’ll be able to see out of our bedroom windows in the winter with no condensation!

Of course, we have the downstairs carpet being installed as well this week, so the women in my life decided to paint the trim in the area above the new carpet before it was installed. A few drips of paint on the old carpet was almost fun to see – certainly better timing than if done after the new carpet was installed.

Finally, we are getting the tree work performed in the next few weeks as well. We’ve paid a hefty deposit already and some of that work is getting paid by our next door neighbor, but the majority of money is still coming our of our savings. I think that we’re done for a long time with projects that cannot be done inexpensively and with our own hands!

This sea of flags was from Somers, Connecticut a few years ago. Each stands for a fallen soldier.

This sea of flags was from Somers, Connecticut a few years ago. Each was placed for a fallen soldier.

First things first. Thank you to everyone who has either served in the military, or supported someone who has served. Countless soldiers, families, and children have sacrificed to allow the freedom we know.

As I relax heading into the long Memorial Day weekend, the rain makes me wonder if I’ll get anything done outside. It’s rained hard for the past few days, and we’ve watched the temps drop into the 40’s today. It hardly seems like late May, but we are in New England where, if you don’t like the weather, just wait because a change always comes quickly. We have embarked on several home projects lately, mostly involving contractors. We’re taking down a few trees, having a large brush pile removed, replacing the carpet in our large basement, and thinking about replacing about a third of our windows. And then there’s the patio.

Working on the exterior of our home and yard has really taken a back seat to life over the past four years. Initially, we went about  things with all the gusto of a new homeowner who had more time than money to keep up the appearances put into the home so the previous owners could sell. In that time, the changes that they made on the surface didn’t last. Since purchasing the home five years ago, we had the house painted, repaved the pothole filled driveway, and, out of necessity, replaced both the roof and the four skylights in the roof of our Florida room. We ignored the landscaping with the exception of occasional focused effort, pruning, and mulch most years.

With each passing season, we know that we need to focus on this 50+ year old house itself. We have been stashing cash away after paying off all of the cars, mostly because we never want to be in the situation we were a year after moving to New England. We had burned through almost all of our available cash just to get by, so we did what we could inexpensively. Inside, we repainted all three bedrooms, the living room, dining room, and hall. We painted both up and down stairways. But, it’s time to step up the game and deal with more than the surface issues. We ignored the gardens except for planting a few new flowering bushes and being very agressive with our pruning tools. This year, our pruning efforts are starting to pay off with plants finally flowering for the first time since we’ve lived here, and trees that look much healthier than they did when we bought the place.

Inside, we have put up with original, 50+ year old windows that leak fog up with every cold winter day, and the underlying windowsills that are now mushy from rot. Energy waste isn’t our primary concern, but the rotting wood from the windows can ruin the walls beneath them and create a huge expense that is bound to follow. We have over thirty windows in all, so replacing all of them at once would come close to $20,000. We’re just not in the position to do at this time as you can imagine. Replacing the worst ones, in some semblance of order, seems like our best course of action. Sue did a rough measurement of each of the worst ones, close enough that a trip to Lowe’s will allow us to ballpark the net window cost. There are additional costs involved such as labor, so experts will tell you to double the window cost to get us close financially. It’s going to be a depressing visit to Lowe’s, I’m afraid.The good news, according to our neighbor, is that we can use new construction windows which are both less expensive and better built than generic replacement ones. Let’s hope he’s right.

And then there’s the patio. Our patio consists of flagstones, sitting on top of what we guess is dirt and stones. There are steps down from the front on the west side, and grass / stones leading down on the east side. Our basement is a walk out, with the south half underground and the north half opening to our Florida room and then the patio and back yard. The patio is contained by railroad ties that are 20+ years old, installed by the original homeowner. The ties have disintegrated as the years have gone by, with the structural support seemingly less and less secure each month. We need a major renovation of the patio – just shoring it up is not smart. No one uses railroad ties anymore for this sort of landscaping due to the deterioration problem.

We have our grill on one corner of the patio and need to come up with a plan to anchor the grill somehow. Our current grill went tumbling off the deck during one of the hurricanes that passed through last fall. The only thing that caught it was the attached gas line hose – and that could have erupted if a spark was present. We had the feeder standpipe from the big gas tank fixed, but only with the contingency that we needed to anchor the grill down within 30 days or they would disconnect the gas. So a temporary anchor needs to be in place after this weekend. The current grill is banged up, broken, but still works a bit until we can replace it. Again, that’s in the plans for this weekend, knowing that a patio replacement will require re-thinking the whole grill situation.

Time to enjoy the rain and relax a bit for the long holiday weekend before working outside if the rain stops.

07. February 2013 · Write a comment · Categories: Home, snow, weather · Tags:

Between tomorrow (Friday) at noon and Saturday at 4 PM, we will be under a blizzard warning. This does not bode well for a commute home and a quiet Saturday. We’re well stocked with the needed goods and have a couple of gas fireplaces hooked to a nearly full 80 gallon propane tank. We’ll be warm, even if we don’t eat well. We have talked about purchasing a generator for several years now, so think that this summer we will complete that, even if it’s just a mid-sized one that will cover the pump for the well, the furnace, and a few lights.

Our neighbors told us when we moved in that they had lost power only a few times in 15 years, never for more than a couple of hours. We’ve gone days since then and had many shorter outages where a generator would have been very handy. This may finally be the impetus needed to spend the money and get the generator purchased and properly connected.

03. February 2013 · Write a comment · Categories: Home · Tags:

I have moved my primary domain (salexander.com) from GoDaddy to 1&1 so also am in the process of moving my blog to this new site. Hopefully, with the mobile publishing apps available, I will be blogging a bit more.

Last night, we got about 10 inches of snow. It came down fairly quickly, but was fluffy and very pretty. This morning, I was finally able to use my snowblower after a year of basic non-use. It has been used previously, just not for anything nearly as deep as today’s snow. After struggling with shoveling for several years and with many feet of snow, using the snowblower was a joy!