Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Ella Funt

Here's a quilt I've taken far too long too finish. 

I started this a little over a year ago, when we were in the temporary apartment.  I found the pattern in a book from the library.  The book's version was an incredibly complex safari quilt, with multiple elephants, giraffes, lions, turtles...maybe a hippo?  Their version was done in earth tones and for adults.  I'm not so sure about that as a decor choice--but I thought some of the blocks would be adorable scaled up and done in brighter fabrics.  So I doubled the block size, added a border, and got this:

It was easier to piece than it looks.  (Love when that happens!)  What I find challenging in quilting is when I have lots of corners and rows that all need to align--you know, like this postage stamp quilt a woman in my quilt guild made this winter.  I sat there with my mouth agape in awe, while all the women reassured me, "Really, it's not that hard!"  I insisted, "Yes, it is, for me!"

If you look closely, this elephant has very few piece that really need to line up--good for me!  Doubling the sizes of the blocks (without doubling the seam allowances) did take a good bit of extra thought--especially since the book had a few typos in the measurements.  Since the thinking was a lot more work than the doing, this guy actually has a twin sitting in my closet, just waiting for me to finish sewing on his binding.  I finally got this first one done to send to my third cousin who is expecting a boy in June--it's good to have a reason to force me to finish projects!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Camera bag

My last digital camera was super tiny--easy to slip on my purse, pocket, wherever.  My new DSLR...not so much.

P got me a camera bag for my birthday.  You know, one of those standard square black nylon things.  I feigned excitement upon opening it...but I'm really not a good faker. 

P knew it was going to be returned without me having to say anything.  Yet I had to admit that he had a point--I needed some way to travel with the camera, while properly protecting it.  But I thought one of these nice purse style bags would be so much better--I would only need to carry one bag, it wouldn't scream "I'm a tourist with expensive electronics to steal!", plus it was cute.  :-)

But those things are pricy!  Plus they're designed for professional photographers--women who carry around multiple camera bodies and lenses.  I didn't need anything so large or heavy.

So I decided to make my own version.  A $30 purse from JC Penney, $5 in craft foam, a bit of favorite quilting fabric, and I was set to go!

The left side of the bag keeps the camera nice and padded, and the right and side pockets are free for me to fill with all of those essentials of daily life--wallet, keys, Altoids, granola bar, magazine....  Hey, a girl's always got to be prepared for a never-ending trip to Home Depot, right? 

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

One for the life list

Remember that new light fixture I bought for the hall bath?  So I would be able to open the medicine cabinet again?

I finally got the darn thing installed--and without P's help.  Major, major victory for me.  Moving on up the home-improvement capabilities ladder!  Installing an electrical fixture by myself really was on my list of things I dream of doing.

Here she is:

The fixture looks a little crooked in the picture, but trust me and my level, it's not.  And I would know, because I uninstalled and reinstalled the darn thing nearly a dozen times trying to get it right.  None of the electrical boxes in our house are level or plumb--which amazes me, because they must have been installed at so many different times by so many different electricians--and none of them cared to get it right?  There was also a good bit of play in the fixture, so I would line it up, level it, screw it in, and viola! the screws had pushed it off-level.

But I finally got 'er done--except for the bulbs.  I was a little disappointed to discover that the fixture only accepts an obscure variety of halogen bulb--but at least the first two came with the fixture.  But I could not get the little buggers screwed in!  Plus my patience was shot, so I made P do it.  I'm not sure how he managed it--even with my tiny lady-hands, it was tricky trying to maneuver inside the narrow light shades.   I really hope no dead bugs ever fall into this thing, because I already know I never want to have to disassemble it for cleaning! 

The one nice thing about the surprise halogen fittings is that the fixture casts a very pleasing--and bright!--shade of light.  Between the new bulbs and the new paint, my complexion is looking great!

Friday, March 4, 2011

Adventures in a gas furnace

Come November, once it started getting cold, we began thinking about our third heat source: an exterior gas furnace.  Okay, I'd been thinking about it for a while, but only about it's eyesore qualities.  I did some fall gardening, and extended our front foundation beds and planted some bushes in an attempt to camouflage it a little. 

In retrospect, perhaps I should have gone with evergreen shrubs...

Once we started running the furnace, we noticed that we could smell it outside the house.  Specifically, it smelled like our furnace might not be completed combusting all of the gas it was using.  For two energy efficiency/carbon footprint concerned people like us, this was a problem.  1. I don't like paying for gas that's floating off into the air instead of heating my house, and 2. methane is a significantly more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.  From a global warming perspective, it is far better to burn the methane and have the resulting carbon dioxide head off into the air, than to spew out the methane directly.

Since we sometimes try to be responsible adults, we got in touch with a local furnace servicer and scheduled a tune-up, just like all those magazine articles on responsible adulthood recommend you do each year.  My father-in-law darkly hinted about not fixing things that aren't broken, but does he write for a magazine?  No.  (And he would be the first one to yell at me if I used that line to justify not changing the oil in my car.)

The first available appointment was a few weeks out.  Fine.  Then most of the guys got a stomach bug on the day they were supposed to come, so they had to reschedule all of their non-emergency appointments.  Fine. 

By the time they got there, it was the day before we were to leave for Christmas vacation.  I headed off to work, and P stayed home to supervise.  The furnace guy hadn't been there ten minutes before our furnace was condemned.

P called me at work to explain.  "He found holes in the heat exchanger that would allow combustion gases to come into the house.  We could die of carbon monoxide poisoning, so he was legally required to condemn our furnace."  Which meant that he had disconnected and taken some part of our furnace, and it would not run anymore.

My poor coworkers in cubicle-land had to listen to me sputtering through the first three stage of grief over the phone:

Denial: "Can a furnace be condemned?  Who's ever heard of such a thing?"  "Is the furnace really broken?  Is he just some kind of quack who's trying to sell us a new furnace?"  P assured me that the furnace guy had showed him the holes, and it was his professional engineer's opinion that the unit was unsafe.  Damn.  So much for that.

Anger: "He condemned our furnace?  Three days before Christmas?  Does he understand how wrong that is?  What if we had family coming to stay with us?  It's Christmas!  Did he at least apologize for condemning our furnace on Christmas?"  (No, no apology.)

Bargaining: "Did it really need to be condemned?  I mean, we have a carbon monoxide detector.  It hasn't gone off.  What if we buy a few more and use them to make sure we don't die?  You know, just until the new unit arrives.  So we don't die in our sleep of cold."

P, being the good guy he is, remained calm and talked me down off the ranting.

We had two options: 1. Repair the heat exchanger for $1500, or 2. Replace the whole unit for $5000 or $7000.

Well, that one was a no-brainer.  I've been referring to this as our furnace, which it is, but it's also our airconditioning unit.  So even if we repaired the furnace part, who knows how much longer it would be before the A/C broke.  Sooner than later, we imagined.  And when we sell the house, "New HVAC" sounds so much better than "Old HVAC with lots of new parts."  Plus, there was one upside to our furnace being condemned just before Christmas: we could qualify for the government's energy efficiency tax credit, which was set to expire on December 31.  $1500 off a new unit, or a full-price repair?  That was easy.

So P spent the rest of the day researching systems, and calling for estimates.  It was one of those days when I was really happy to be married to a mechanical engineer with a specialization in heat transport. 

And remember that ceilheat I ranted about in the last post?  Well, turns out that I was also really grateful that we had decided not to disconnect it.  It's a stupid and inefficient way to heat a house, but it's a lot better than having no way to heat a house.  We cranked it up, and basked in the glow of our ceilings.

P picked us out a shiny new unit, and we headed off on our planned vacation while waiting for our order to come in.  Turns out, right before leaving on a vacation isn't such a bad time to have your furnace condemned, after all.  As soon as we were back home, the guys came out to put in the new unit.

Which is lovely and wonderful and doesn't smell like the old unit and is quieter and was installed very nicely (my favorite part was when they told me to assure P that they had sealed up everything nice and tight so no varmits could get into our crawlspace)...but it's even more of an eyesore than the last one.  Good thing I already had those bushes in the ground!

But let's think happy thoughts, shall we?  Look in the foreground--the first daffodil of spring, budding out in mid-February!  (This picture is from two weeks ago!) 

Before we even know it, it will be time to test that new A/C!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Did you know the house has three kinds of heat?

That's what the seller of our house turned to us and asked.

We responded with blank looks, so she elaborated: "It has the furnace, the wood stove, and the ceil heat."

Even that explanation didn't really help.  The furnace and wood stove were obvious, but ceil heat?  We had noticed some extra thermostats throughout the house, and a whole bunch of electrical breakers that went with them, but neither we nor our home inspector could figure out what they controlled.  We all surmised that they must have been for some electric baseboards or something of the sort that had been removed long ago.

So when the seller mentioned the ceil heat, we just smiled and nodded.  The poor woman had been legally blind for years.  Clearly her dear departed husband had been taking care of the home maintenance for years, and he had forgotten to tell her--or she had forgotten that she was told--that he had removed the system.

Really, I should know better.

A few months later, P was busy repairing the walls in the guest bedroom and my office, and decided that it was the perfect time to just remove the defunct thermostats and patch up the walls, while he was at it.  But just in case, he decided to do a little research first.

Ah, Google, friend of the older house renovator.  How else would we have learned that ceilheat was radiant electric heat with wiring embedded in the ceiling drywall?  Apparently it was briefly in vogue when our house was built.  In retrospect, it seems kind of obvious that ceilheat would have something to do with the ceiling, but trust me, that thought never crossed my mind before Google explained it to me.

And if you don't mind pausing for me to rant, can anyone think of a worse way to heat a house?  Heat rises--so if you start with a heat source at the ceiling, the top of your head will be nice and toasty, while your feet are still freezing.  Not to mention, I'm fairly certain that the attics of these houses were not insulated when they were first built.  (Or if they were, it was nothing compared to modern standards for insulation.)  So for every bit of heat that oozes into the room, at least as much is vanishing into the neighborhood.  Yeah.  Brilliant.

We turned it on, and sure enough, after all these years, it still works.  Then P discovered yet another maddening problem with the system: it means we have all sorts of live wires running through the ceiling.  And presumably, if you break the wire at any spot, the whole system will go out.  He has to get out our little proximity voltage tester (best tool ever if you live in a house with unpredictable wiring) anytime he wants to put so much as an extra screw into the ceiling.  The wires seem to be about six inches apart--can you imagine trying to install an extra light fixture?

Given our total contempt for the ceilheat system, P was all for pulling it out.  But I got cold feet, and insisted that it stay for the time being.  So we turned off all of the breakers (resistive heating uses a lot of juice--it's about 1/3 of our box!), and forgot about it for the next six months.

Over the summer we destructed another one of our heat sources, and removed our wood stove in the name of aesthetics and nine extra square feet in our dining room.

Stay tuned.  Next time, on SecretCityRanch: Learn more about our third heat source!