Projects Abound

As we move past the first month of Spring our little homestead has started to gather projects. This is a natural thing, I suppose - as the warmer weather emerges the spirit begins to awaken and the desire to do stuff and things begins to take hold.

The need to replace the chapeau on our chateau has significantly limited the budget for any substantive home projects, tho, so efforts are focused on activities which are a little easier to attain.

LB’s been asking for a while now to have a different color for their bedroom walls - the lavender-tinged gray they chose as a tween no longer holds the same appeal, it seems, and so we are moving to a richer blue for that space.

old to new

old to new...

In addition, they’re moving from the studio apartment-style loft bed arrangement to something more traditional. This again is by request.

It mystifies their father a bit - I think having a loft bed is just about the coolest arrangement you can have - makes the bedroom space into something more akin to a studio apartment. Still, I’m not the one who actually has to sleep on it, and I’ve been informed that I might not actually understand what cool is, so...

The bedroom project is actively underway, and mostly in the capable hands of LB and MLW. My role, due in part to work schedule (LB is on spring break, but my work doesn’t seem to get one of those), has primarily been restricted to the lifting of heavy things. This is not unwise, as MLW is more skillful than me by far with a brush and paint. And it provides LB an opportunity to learn skills in this area, skills which will likely see a lifetime of intermittent use. And MLW has proclaimed that the kid seems to have a knack for it...

As we’ve discussed here before, the room that is now LB’s bedroom was largely unused as a bedroom for a span of probably 70 years or more, instead serving the role of storage place for generational cast-offs. The activity in there over the past four years is the most action that space has seen in the form of human habitation for quite some time. For myself, I like to think that the house must appreciate it. After all, what is more sad for a home than simply sitting there, holding on to things that no one wants any more? And we have plenty of those in the region already.

There will be more coming through the spring, I believe. Modest projects, but projects nonetheless.

Aerial View

Aerial View

This past week the roofing project started.

roofing underway

This took a little longer to get to than anticipated, largely owing to product (wrong color shingles came in) and weather issues. Thus far things seem to have gone off without a hitch. As the old shingles have come off, and the new ones gone on, there have been no concerns expressed about the solidity of the roof underneath. I’ve spent my fair share of time in the attic area, and I do look at the roof when I’m up there - seems reasonable to take that opportunity when it presents - and I’ve never found evidence of issues.

And the new shingles look good, so there’s an aesthetic improvement as well as a practical one. And, of course, now we don’t have to worry about the roof for the next 20-30 years or so.

(I’ll add a picture or two of it post-shingles here in the near future. I planned to take them this morning, but the fact that it is snowing in the middle of April has temporarily foiled that plan)

I feel like I should want to say more about it than that - such a costly event feels like it should be something about which considerable commentary could be made. But the reality is that getting a new roof done is like getting socks for Christmas.

However, having the roof done also provided the opportunity to have the old TV antenna taken down.

Aerial View...

I knew the roofing crew wouldn't want to work around it if they didn’t have to, and it’s been on my list to remove for quite some time. Several years ago, when I had to remove the satellite antenna for Wildblue I had planned also to go up and take down the TV aerial. This was a reasonable confluence of events because the height of the house is such that it takes a special extra-long extension ladder - which I had to borrow - to get up there. So, you know, two birds with one stone. However, I’ve never really been a "ladder" guy, and the 10 minutes on an extra-long one, with all the bounciness that entails, while removing the satellite antenna turned out to be more than enough for me. So it waited.

For those old enough to remember working with these old antennas, this was one of those deals with the motor on it to change orientation. I grew up with these out in the country, and it meant that watching your desired shows required you to have some knowledge of the relative geographic locations of the stations you wanted to watch. For example, if you wanted to watch Mr. Mustache you needed to turn the dial for the antenna to north. If you wanted to watch Son of Svengooli, tho, it needed to be oriented to east by northeast.

And, to be clear, saying "turn the dial" really makes it sound all too simple. Because you were activating a electric motor that ratcheted the antenna on an axis set with detents (one assumes to keep it from moving in the wind). This means that you turned the dial and waited, listening to it move:

Me: turns the dial to north

Antenna: rrrr-click-rrrr-click-rrrr-click-rrrr-click

Me: looks at tv, picture still not quite clear. Turns the dial a little more.

Antenna: rrrr-click-rrrr-click

And heaven forbid you turn it too far. Then you have to go all the way back around to the right spot.

That’s right - you really needed to plan ahead and get your antenna oriented before your show started, or you might be plagued with static for the first few minutes of the show. Kids today really don’t understand the struggle of the late 70’s rural childhood...

That antenna has been mounted to the roof literally my entire life, or at least the entire portion of it for which I’ve been aware. It could realistically have been there longer still. But it never looked right. This is not something I would have thought about as a child - it was simply always the way it was, from that perspective. But as an adult, coming back to the house, it looked really out of place - a piece of late 20th century sitting glaringly on top of my mid-19th century home. That might be forgivable if it were useful - I do have an antenna for our internet service on the edge of the roof still - but it wasn’t. The motor is long since gone, and all of our viewing in this day and age is through other means.

So now, at least, the roofline looks a little more like it once did. I don’t have any expectation that it will ever return to its actual 1865 appearance - that would require pulling down one chimney and putting two additional ones back up through the roof:

two chimneys, no waiting

And that seems excessive...

Raising the Roof

It’s been a while, but we are about to embark on the next improvement/maintenance project for our old Homestead - replacing the roof.

Not the whole roof, mind - just the shingles. Or at least, that’s what I’m hoping.

As projects go, this is one of those that falls into the need rather than the want category, and as such it’s a little hard to get terribly enthusiastic about it. I mean, how does that work?

Me: Woohoo! We are getting new shingles on the top of the house! It will be so great to... look at them... from the ground... where it’s hard to see them... I guess...

Still, it’s something that time - and the insurance company - seems to have decided should be tackled. It is a thing that I’ve thought about over the years, realizing that it would be coming along as a need at some point. In my more fantastical modes I’ve fantasized about perhaps doing a set of solar shingles through Solar City - and even suggested that Elon Musk might want to use our home as a real-world durability test.

Of course, that’s because getting Elon to jump at that opportunity is the only way we could afford it. I love the idea of using shingles to generate electricity, but given the cost of solar shingles, I believe we would recuperate our expenses in approximately 750 years. (This may not be an entirely accurate calculation)...

So - you know - not as financially practical as one might hope.

According to my uncle, who installed it, the current shingle job is somewhere around 30 years old, so it’s done it’s job admirably. This is particularly true when one remembers that we do live in a wind farm (hence the durability test - Elon? Hello?). I’ve been in the attic many, many times during our stay here at the Homestead, and I can verify that the roof appears to have remained watertight. Still, every such product has a lifespan, and it’s clear this one is at its end.

I’ve done roofs before, but honestly did not consider doing this one myself (by which I implicitly mean with help from friends and family). Our house is just... tall. I mean really tall. To get to the roof I have to borrow extra-length extension ladders. And let me tell you, if you are not someone who regularly works on a ladder, being at the top of an extra-long one is not a place of confidence. (Yes - those of you who routinely work in construction can count me as a weenie on this one - I can’t argue the point).

So next week we’ll have folks out here stripping away the old and putting on the new. While it really isn’t an exciting project on its own, it does address an area of basic maintenance that, once complete, gets an area of concern out of the way for an extended period of time. With the roof completed we won’t have to think about that for quite a while, and can return focus to other things.

...Whoohoo?

Ice Storm

This past week Old Man Winter saw fit to slap northern Illinois with a truly next-level ice storm. When these things happen - and they do, on occasion - ice gathers on absolutely everything.

Iced over trees

The trees are covered with ice, and branches get weighed down and stretch to the ground or break off. Doors and windows get covered and ice has to be broken away before you can open them. And ice gathers on other things as well, most notably the power lines.

Outages are not uncommon out here, as has been discussed before. But this particular winter event was something special. The power went out Monday night, and remained out until Thursday morning.

The ice gathering on the power lines has a similar effect as it has on the trees, adding weight and pulling downward on them, and gravity is a harsh mistress. This means that lines break, and break in multiple locations.

Along our mile-long stretch of road alone I counted three breaks in the line, and I am by no means a power line expert (which is to say that I could have missed others). In the couple of days that followed I had opportunity to drive along the stretch of line that leads up to our house (there are several miles of it), finding at least two additional break points.

line down

line down illustrated

This meant that, despite the diligent work on the part of the power line workers (and it was diligent - they could be seen, out day and night, in sometimes very unpleasant conditions, struggling to put things aright), it was going to be some time before our spark was rekindled. This was complicated by extreme weather Tuesday evening, resulting in whiteout conditions on the country roads and rural highways. For myself traveling in it the short distance from town to home, there were times where nothing but the foot or so of roadway to the sides of the vehicle were visible, and one would find, in the breaks offered by buildings and trees at homesteads, that one had wandered out into the middle of the roadway. Progress down these roads on the trip home was glacial, with 20mph seeming radical and dangerous. I have lived in northern Illinois my entire life, have been driving here for over 30 years, and I drive a lot; I have never seen anything quite like it. I can only imagine trying to repair a power line in it.

This meant that Tuesday night was another night in the cold, and that, while it would have been nice to retreat to a place of warmth, having made it home through the whiteout, it was clearly safer for everyone to stay there than it was to venture out again. But we learned some important things as a part of this adventure:

  • Blankets work. Implicitly one thinks one knows this, but it’s still surprising just how warm one can be under the right blankets (wool, eiderdown), even in a house that is pretty chilly. MLW and I have always said in the past that there really is no such thing as having too many blankets, and this experience bolsters that.
  • Our ancestors knew what they were doing. At its coldest - after we had finally been able to retreat to a warmer haven - the house never got down below freezing. I’d drained down the pipes anyway, just to be safe (better than sorry). This despite the functional air sieve that is our front doorway.

I have typically been putting insulation in the doorway between the front door and the screen doors as a compromise between nothing and the insulation over everything that I’d done in the past. Between the polar vortex and the power outage that wasn’t enough, so I gave the door it’s own blanket this year.

Door quilt

door quilt poofy

The thing that one realizes, with some thought, is that our ancestors would not have had our modern conveniences such as central heat. Each bedroom would have had a small franklin-style stove in it for heat (the original chimneys for this still in the walls). Still, they understood that the fire they stoked in that stove at bedtime would have long gone out by morning. As such, they would have dressed their beds, and themselves, accordingly. Nightcaps) are inherently easier to understand in this context.

All of this historical realization aside, retreat to warmer options we did, as soon as the weather made it safe to do so. It is, after all, interesting to learn how things were in ancestral times, but one realizes there are reasons why we don’t do it that way any more...

The thaw started early Thursday, with temps rising to above freezing overnight. Out back at the house in the wee hours just prior to sunrise to feed and check on the animals I got to stand and listen to the somewhat eerie sounds of chunks of ice dropping from the trees around me. It’s not quite like anything else.

Those diligent line workers had everything at our homestead back up and running again by sometime later Thursday morning. Astonishingly, aside from a few limbs down, the old girl seems to have weathered through just fine. It’s nice to see that things hold together so well after all of those years.

For the record, however, I don’t believe we need another demonstration of that any time soon. You listening, OMW?

Cat and Mouse

So there I was, yesterday morning, having a private moment in the bathroom. Then I heard a sliding and a clacking of sharp little claws, and a quiet "thud" on the door.

A second later the mouse ran out from under the door.

Under these circumstances one has to make a decision. I was in a compromising position, of course, but the earliness of the hour virtually ensured that I was likely to be unobserved. And I had to think and act quickly. So I did what I think most would under the circumstances:

I opened the door.

The cat came skittering in through the doorway and immediately located the mouse, who (of course) immediately ran behind the decorative storage lockers we have in the bathroom.


This is a scene, the type of which plays itself over and over again across time in our old house. The building is, functionally, a web of open passageways from the perspective of a rodent looking to come in from the winter cold. What looks to you and I like a solid wall made of wood and plaster or brick looks to mousy eyes like a piece of Swiss cheese. So, as the temperature drops, in they come.

Now, our issues with these tiny furry friends has lessened over the years with the help of commercial pest control. Still, the numbers never seem to drop to an absolute zero. And while this is somewhat to the dismay of the human inhabitants of our home, the feline crew seems to prefer the non-zero situation.

The tense and tenuous relationship between cat and mouse is a story as old as time - they say that the ancient Egyptians worshipped cats in part because they kept the rodents from overwhelming their grain stores and protected them from other pests. That relationship has persisted over time, and settlers in the 18th and 19th centuries have also valued feline companionship for the purposes of vermin maintenance.

Within our own home the rodent control team consists of two players - Malcolm and Inara. Malcolm is a largish gray cat with green eyes who would seem to be a Russian Blue but for two tiny bits of white - one on his chest and the other on his tail. He has a delightful, chirping meow. He’s a beefy, strong cat. You can feel the muscle when you pick him up. A natural athelete, he is able to gain the top of our refrigerator with a leap from ground.

Inara is a tortoiseshell with yellow eyes. She is noticeably smaller and more slight than Malcolm, skittish and shy with most members of the family. She has a squeaking meow that is sometimes hard to detect and never pleasant. She is rarely seen to leap, and instead must climb our tall cat tree with claws and effort.

And so of course, who would you expect to have come skittering in to that bathroom? The Adonis, the cat-equivalent of the football player, the track god?

It was Inara.

As is so frequently the case in my experience with cats over the years, it’s the lady who does all the work. Inara parks herself at key points in the home and sits patiently and listens, waiting for the thing she hears behind the wall to peek a whisker out in the open.

Ideally, once that whisker shows, we as the cat owners (owned?) would like to be able to say that the rodent invader is dispatched quickly and efficiently. Those of you with previous cat experience will know this is absolutely not the case. Rather, from the cat’s perspective the catching of the mouse is just the first step in what is about to become an event of extended rodential torture that would make the writers at the Geneva convention add another passage to the rule book if they were to see it.

Apparently the mouse must be made to feel that it has a chance to escape, over and over again, just to discover that there, once again, is a swiping paw to block the way. Periodically one can hear the plaintive squeaks for help that indicate the trial is not yet complete. And apparently there are moments when it has become clear that the current venue is no longer the correct one - that the dining room isn’t the right place any more, and the mouse must be moved to, say, the living room. And so the cat is seen carrying the mouse in that characteristic heads-up position. At these moments the mouse is still and quiet and you think "it’s all over".

Nope - I don’t know why they remain still in that position - if it were me, I’d like to think that I’d be like John McClane surrounded by thieves in Nakatomi Plaza doing everything I could to get free. But no, they hang, still, perhaps hoping that, if they are just quiet enough, the cat will forget they are there... in the cat’s mouth.

This is clear, of course, because once they get to the living room and drop their rodent captive, he starts to move again.

Although he is clearly not in charge of the mousing situation, Malcolm does attempt to cooperate. It would be wrong to describe them as team players - it’s more like rivals working coincidentally towards the same goal. And now might be the right time to mention that we know he can jump to the top of the refrigerator because we feed him up there. We have to because, if we do not, Inara eats all of this big, beautiful athelete’s food.

So you can imagine how well his attempts to participate work most of the time.

There was an event once, several months ago, where he finally got so frustrated that he reached over, picked up the mouse, and simply ate it. If you are picturing the kid who shoves the entire ice cream cone in his mouth so his older brother cannot take it you are right on track.


Yesterday morning, during our bathroom adventure, I was able to move the locker so that Inara could access her prize and scurry with it back out of the bathroom. I’d like to say that I know what happened next, but I had to leave, and so have only the memory of feline and mouse silhouettes against the light of the front hallway to finish that event for me. Sometimes we find the mice later, deposited in delightful locations, once they have lost their interest to the cats due to the no-longer-breathingness they have attained.

Our ancestors valued their feline companions for the perceived assistance in pest control, and understandably so. I’m not certain that, in our situation they truly make much of a difference. The mouse sightings dropped precipitously once we contracted with pest management services. For a while we had a batch of cats outdoors on duty, but honestly our dogs seem to catch more vermin than the cat crew ever did (and the dogs are merciless on that score). But it’s possible that our ancestors also delighted in the joy cats do seem to take in their assigned duties. Setting aside the ultimate outcome, watching a cat diligently at work with a mouse is a little like watching Norm Abrams put together a chair on New Yankee Workshop... in an era absent television and video games a mousing cat would likely be (and indeed, is) quite entertaining.

Timely Decorating...

It’s been about 9 1/2 years since we moved out to the Homestead. While it may still be a bit premature, I decided to start hanging some of my pictures up in the office.

Yes - it’s a little sad, but while the essentials have been in the office since we moved in - desks, chairs, bookshelves - it’s taken me slightly longer to get to niceties like pictures. I’d like to claim that the wait is because I was looking for just the right items to complement the space, but the reality is that these pictures are things that I already had. They had hung in my office space in our old home.

I said some, and by that I mean two. I figured that I would start with the area around my comfy chair, which is the first area you see where you enter the space.

So this is a shot of that area prior to any intervention:

Baseline pic here

The first item I hung up is Watched by Mark Daehlin. This painting was a gift from MLW, and a one I very much enjoy (I’m a long time fan of things wolfy). And it turns out that it’s more enjoyable up on the wall than in a stack sitting along the floor.

Watched on the Wall

Once I got that one up on the wall I was still feeling relatively motivated, and it seemed like the space between the window and the corner on by the comfy chair was a reasonable location for my Mark Twain print.

Before

This one is a gift from my mother, and shows Samuel Clemens is his classic garb, sitting in a comfy chair, reading a book. The caption underneath is a quote by him that reads "The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who cannot read them".

The man who does not read good books...

Seemed a good fit, he in his comfy chair over me in mine. Now if he was just holding an iPad instead of a book...

I don’t want to make it seem that I’ve been terribly industrious in this. There are still at least a half-dozen items that I have yet to hang. I’ve let a couple of things, some more real than others, function as drivers (or perhaps rationalizations) of my procrastination.

The issue that is perhaps less real is the thought that I need to have frames on these items match the woodwork in the home in some way, or at least the era the home represents. You’d think after nearly a decade I’d mostly be past that idea - after all, the home now has other modern conveniences that aren’t original to its era. You know, I’m referring to little things like electricity, indoor plumbing, and central heating. And besides, it’s not like I’m scrawling these posts out on parchment with a fountain pen...

The eclectic nature of some of our items is really in keeping with the presentation of the home itself, which bears the imprint of multiple generations, each consistent with its time. So yeah - I can put up a print with a silver metal frame, dammit.

The other, more realistic issue is one of wall space. While the house is undeniably big, and the office is, in fact, the largest room on the second floor, the amount of unbroken wall space is relatively limited. Because of the layout of the home, with most of it centered around a front hallway and staircase, virtually every room has at least two external walls. Each external wall hosts (or at least hosted - one or two have since been removed) at least one window, and most of the walls have two. The windows are large and, while it’s delightful to have the sunlight they bring it, they do leave relatively little room for pictures - smaller and/or narrower are the rules of thumb for wall hangings.

Which is why the Mark Twain print seemed it would fit in nicely in that spot - between the corner and the window.

New Windmills

Back in the spring of 2016 Leeward Renewable Energy began seeking permission for de-commissioning the Mendota Hills Wind Farm. Mendota Hills has the distinction of being the first of the wind farms in the region.

Growing up out here we always knew it was windy, but that was just a hassle that one dealt with. Our ancestors used wind turbines for a variety of purposes, including pumping water and local electricity generation. This very old picture of the house shows a wind turbine in place as a water pump, standing next to the house atop the original well.

wind pump

People nowadays sometimes complain that the turbines make noise. They are all at least a quarter mile away from any building. Imagine what it would have been like to have this thing spinning right next to the house. But I digress...

That was a thing of the past though, and although one could sometimes see an old wind turbine, or perhaps just its tower, standing at a farmstead, they were only remnants and memories in my childhood.

Between the time I moved away and came back, however, the wind farms sprouted. Mendota Hills was the first, most visible example. It existed alongside route 39 and, despite the name, was a good 12-15 miles north of Mendota, IL. It was visually distinctive because, from the distance of the highway, it gave the impression of what one might classically think of as a wind farm - many turbines sitting in “close” proximity to one another, seeming to turn in sychronicity. Of course, when one got up close to them, it was clear they weren’t nearly as proximate to one another as the distance made it seem. But they were much closer to one another than was the case for the later facilities. The turbines were also smaller and closer to the ground, relatively speaking.

It is that relative age that appears to have precipitated the change, and it was somewhat of a surprise to read that the company was going to be taking down the Mendota Hills turbines. It appears that the turbine technology has advanced sufficiently to make it more cost effective to remove the old giants and replace them with a smaller number of newer, more efficient and, well, giant-er turbines.

What this means for the area is that, for the second time since we’ve moved here, we have new turbines going up. It also means that, for the first time, we’ve been in the broad vicinity of old turbines coming down.

One of the arguments against the wind farms, classically, has been the question of what happens to the structures when the wind company no longer wants them. This spurs on concerns that they will be simply left to rot, huge hulking behemoths on the horizon undergoing the slow, inevitable effect of entropy. Given that this absolutely happens to other unwanted structures in the area - we have old barns, corn cribs, and other derilects aplenty across the countryside, unused, unwanted, but too expensive and time-consuming to take down - one can see the concern. And what is happening to the area around such a structure as it slowly falls apart? Does it one day, finally, unexpectedly topple to the ground? What does the landowner do with it when that happens?

This makes the sequence of events in this example especially interesting. Here, not only are they not being left to rot, but they are being actively removed and replaced. Also interesting and instructive is that this process offers some real-world impression of what would happen if these structures were allowed to topple - because that is exactly how they were taken down.

I regret that I did not have an opportunity to see any of them actually come down - one of the downsides to gainful employment, I suppose - but the evidence was there at each and every site this past summer, many of which could be seen from the road.

Turbine Down If you didn’t know what you were looking at it would be easy to mistake it for a downed aircraft.

As I mentioned above, this is the second round of turbine construction we’ve seen since moving back out to the homestead. It’s an interesting sequence of events, as it has an impact on not just the prairie skyline, but also on the landscape. This is true in multiple ways, as you watch new roadways getting cut into the fields in the area - access drives for the turbines - but also see the modifications made to the public roadways to accommodate the extra-large and unwieldy cargo that the trucks must haul. Each section of the tower, and the turbine blades themselves, come in individually, carried on specialized trailer setups. In many cases, there are special cut-roads that remove the 90° turns that these beasts would be unable to navigate. Signs pop up making drivers aware of overhead powerlines as well, hopefully preventing them from unintentionally clipping them with their outsized cargo.

Of course, anything so very large in its components must also require comparably large equipment to assemble it. And so, as the turbines are assembled, we see the arrival of machines like this crane:

Big Crane

And it’s hard to fully appreciate the size of this thing against the big sky backdrop. But if you look closely at the picture you can suss out the full-size pickup truck by the tread to give a sense of just what a monster that thing is.

Really Big Crane

Opinions on the wind farms vary. THere are absolutely people who hate them, feel they destroy the view, and a few who have some very strange ideas of how they might be harmful. At the Homestead we look at it differently. If the country is going to move away from fossil fuels and nuclear power, there has to be an embrace of alternative technologies. We aren’t helping anyone if we give it lip service but refuse to allow it in our proximity.

And besides - the presence of windfarms around the Homestead virtually guarantees that the land around us will remain open prairie and farmland. Staving off housing developments and otherwise inevitable ultimate suburban sprawl is a benefit from the perspective of this homesteader.

Not that all of that is what goes through my head when I see all of this going on. Rather, during these moments, mostly what is happening is the ascendance of the 12-year old boy inside who loves to watch things get built and knocked down...

Screen Room?

Like a lot of people we have tons of plans for our old house. Some of those plans are on a definite near future timeframe, others in the necessary long term, and some are more aspirational.

One of the things we’ve long discussed is the possibility of putting a screen room on the south side of the house, off of the dining room. This is more more towards the aspirational, longer-term - it would be very nice to have, but it comes behind small niceties like having a second bathroom and updating the 70-year old kitchen...

While it is a reality of life that one can’t always do everything one wants (or at the very least, not now, necessarily), one of the upsides to our old house is the realization, through living in it, that our predecessors had similar thoughts. While the house doesn’t have, and hasn’t ever had, as best I can tell, anything like a screen room, many of the rooms in the come close.

Every room in the house has at least one window, and most have at least two. The front rooms in the house, upstairs and down, each have three. The windows are over five foot tall on the upstairs, and about six foot or so downstairs. While they didn’t have the construction techniques to do a wall or corner of windows ala Frank Lloyd Wright, our ancestors clearly understood the value of having a connection with the out-of-doors.

This leaves a home that is awash with natural light during the day, which makes sense given that it was constructed in the days well prior to electrification. It also means, for the rooms where we’ve had the opportunity to replace the original windows with modern units that include full screens, a cool summer evening or early fall afternoon presents a close equivalent to that screen room.

Living Room screen room?

No - it’s not exactly the same as having open walls on all three sides, but it does get close. On a summer evening you get a delightful cross breeze and (assuming there aren’t too many explosions and gunshots on the televisual entertainment selected) the beautiful night sounds of rural Illinois - crickets and frogs fill the summer night.

It’s a little thing, of course, but it’s a little thing that gives well and reliably, and makes the waiting for those more aspirational items a little easier.

Glazed Over

Our old house has a lot of windows. This is something I’ve written here before, of course, and it continues to be the case. There are somewhat fewer windows than when the house was first built, some of them victims of remodeling (no one wants a six-foot tall window in the middle of their shower stall. Well maybe not no one, but nobody in this house at any rate). Still, there are many.

One of the things that I’ve come to realize is that having this volume of glass around the house seems to also increase the likelihood that one will have broken panes from time to time. These occur for a variety of reasons - wind blown tree debris, rocks thrown from lawn mowers, animal incidents, the possibly unwise decision to have your 12-year old hold a martial arts target for you inside...

As a result, I’ve become somewhat adept at fashioning temporary repairs using cardboard and duct tape (if the women don’t find ya handsome, they should at least find ya handy...). This is an especially attractive repair when the only box in the house large enough to use for a given opening happens to be the ones from the pet food delivery service:

Thanks Chewy!

What one might think, if one is being optimistic, is that this also gives opportunity to learn a new skill. And there is absolutely truth to that. In the course of dealing with this... opportunity, I’ve learned a few things:

  • Stephanich Hardware in Mendota will cut glass to your specification and, if they are not busy, they’ll do it while you wait. Quickly.
  • They also happen to carry the other components you need - glazing putty and glazier’s points - things that one has almost certainly had no awareness of until one has had to do this task.
  • Replacing a pane of glass is conceptually simpler than you think, and involves only a small number of tools.
  • A thing being conceptually simpler than you think does not mean that it doesn’t involve skills that are best honed with years of practice.

The window in question here is a large picture window that was put in to replace the bay window original to the house.

Old House - Bay Window

The replacement was done in my grandparents time because, as I’ve been told, the bay window was "a leaker". My uncle tells me that the picture window was custom made for the opening, which is certainly believable, given that it is huge - over 6 1/2’ tall and nearly 5’ wide.

Tom Silva from this old house recommends that the process of replacing a pane of glass be done with the window taken off of the wall and completed on a flat work surface. I’d done this task once before, on an upstairs window, and I did exactly that: removed the sash from the pane and worked with it on the floor. But there was no way that was going to be feasible with this particular portal. Given its aforementioned hugeness, it would be a two or three person job to lower it out of the wall safely. Even if I wanted to do that, I’m not a fast worker on such projects, and the prospect of having a 6 1/2 x 5 foot hole in the wall in the middle of insect season for any length of time was not an attractive one. What’s more, the overall condition of the window leaves one skeptical about its ability to successfully survive the transition out, and then back in to the opening. So - thanks Tom, but this was going to have to be done in an upright position.

What I realized, as I put the putty in to place (this part is kind of fun - a little like working with silly putty), is that it didn’t have the adhesion (or gription) needed to keep it there for much of any length of time. This wasn’t an issue for the bottom or sides, but it meant that, when I put the pane of glass into the opening, the putty at the top started drooping down like 4th of July bunting. But, you know, not in an attractive way.

But we got past that and got the glazing on around the outside as well, necessary to seal it up against the elements. And here is where I really begin to realize the skill set needed to do this well; a skill set that I simply do not have.

glazed window

(I mean, I could probably have done a more ham-fisted job of it, but that would likely have required considerable drinking while working on it, and handling glass while intoxicated seemed unwise).

With practice I could get better, I suppose, and this window certainly offers the opportunity for additional practice. While the other panes are intact, the glazing is crumbling off around each and every other individual pane - all 19 of them.

Close up of other panes

And, of course, the window frame itself is in need of paint.

This is all a task I’ve been reluctant to undertake because: a) all of the above; and 2) the plan is to eventually replace this window either with a setup that is more energy efficient or, ideally, with French doors that exit to a porch or deck. But at this point you can tell the direction of the wind during a rainstorm based upon how much this window leaks, so...

Whaley House - San Diego

Whaley House from across the street

MLW and I had the opportunity recently to spend a little bit of time exploring San Diego. We honestly knew little to nothing about the city itself before going, aside from the fact that it’s the site of a naval base and of SeaWorld. One of the things we learned about was the area they call Old Town, which includes a state park that maintains a number of restored and/or replicated historical buildings from the early settlement days of the city.

Just outside the boundary of the state park is the Whaley House. This was a place MLW had seen on shows discussing haunted places, and she wanted a closer look.

Whaley House Plaque

Spoiler alert: we didn’t see any ghosts on our tour. But it was a little surprising to see the amount of similarity between this House in California and our own Homestead, despite the 1700 or so miles between them.

The houses were built within just a few years of one another - Whaley in 1857, and our Homestead in 1861 - so some similarities are to be expected, one supposes. Architecturally they are different - Whaley is listed as Greek Revival, while ours is a Georgian Colonial, at least in its basic structure. But the similarities showed up in a general feel of the place, it’s historical usage, and one little decorative component they share in common.

While it’s a different architectural layout, you still enter through a main hallway with rooms off to either side. Though the House is brick on the outside, the inside is wood planks and plaster, the latter complete with the cracks that time insists must present to mark its passage. Ceilings have the large plaster medallions for hanging chandeliers.

The spaces in the Whaley House have seen multiple uses over its existence. The single story section to the left side of the house (when facing it from the front) has variously served as a general store, a courthouse for San Diego, and general storage. While our old place hasn’t ever been a general store or courthouse, it has certainly seen various uses of the different rooms. In particular, the bedrooms in our home have served as corn drying rooms (seriously), and as storage for generations of family. This latter use was still actively in effect throughout my childhood, and sneaking through the stacks of collected stuff remains a fond memory.

A small detail, but perhaps the most surprising component for me, was the faux wood grain finishes on the wood.

front hallway doors

upstairs theatre door

(These pics are taken from a couple of articles from the Save Our Heritage Organization website, the organization that restored and manages the home - I was slow on the uptake for my own photos)

The thing is, this is a feature that we have in our home - efforts made by a prior generation to take wood of a less desirable appearance and make it appear to be something more luxurious by careful application of painting technique.

Office Door

Upper Door Detail

Lower Door Detail

This surprised me somewhat, mostly because our house is the only place I recall seeing it. Now, to be clear, I wouldn't have assumed our house was the only place it had ever been done, and it’s quite possible I’ve seen it elsewhere and simply not recognized it. Still it was a bit of a surprise to see it here, hundreds of miles away from home in a very different landscape.

If you’d like more information about Whaley House, there are a couple of links below.

Whaley House main website:

http://whaleyhouse.org/index.htm

Whaley House pics of faux graining:

http://www.sohosandiego.org/reflections/2003-4/whaley.htm

Closed Concept

Back in November of 2016 House Beautiful published this article on reasons why we (the royal we, one supposes) should stop using open floor plans. And certainly, on many of the home improvement shows moving to an "open concept" is a primary rallying cry. I’d love to see someone do a tally count on the number of times the term "open concept" is uttered - with a Canadian accent, of course, on any given season of The Property Brothers (and I was pretty disappointed to find that no one has, as yet, done a supercut of the brothers saying this on YouTube...).

There’s nothing inherently wrong with this. Certainly if one is looking for a dramatic change to a living space, taking out a wall will do it. For our little family, our prior home was 900-ish square foot, late 1940’s pre-fab home. We chose to take out the wall between the kitchen and the living room, which not only opened up an otherwise cramped space, but added much needed seating in the form of a breakfast bar. It also kept the person in the kitchen from feeling isolated from the rest of home, and allowed more room for multiple people to work in the same space.

The Homestead is a very different story from this, however. Our 1860’s era home was clearly built around the idea of a closed concept. Each and every room is separated from the other, and literally every entryway has a door that can be closed, and which houses a lock (though few of these are functional any longer). To me, this sort of thing is a reminder of how different our modern day lifestyles are compared to those of previous generations. When it’s just yourself and your spouse, and perhaps a child or two, all of whom are away from the home and each other for large chunks of each day, spending time in a large common area of the home, together, can be a much needed opportunity to reconnect.

But for our ancestors, particularly out here in farm country, the story was almost certainly different. The home was also the workplace, of course, and one’s home might well house multiple generations of the same family, as well as extended family and, depending upon one’s resources, possibly unrelated farm hands or other workers. Having a way to separate from others to be alone and have privacy was almost certainly a priority.

And while the lifestyles may be different, the need and relative value is something that one can see after living in it. While we enjoy our time together, it’s clear that each member of our little family enjoys having the option to retreat to a bit of personal space. Certainly our teenager appears to appreciate having a separate room, away from the undoubtedly invasive parental eye; and it allows for the pursuit of personal interests - reading, writing, etc - without intruding upon, or being intruded upon, by others.

Sinking In...

Our old house was built in 1861. The kitchen, however, is considerably newer...

...It was remodeled in the 1940’s.

To be fair, the appliances are not from the 1940’s - the oven and stove are not new, but are certainly of a more recent vintage than the cabinetry and countertop. The refrigerator is a newer item that we purchased when we moved in.

Shortly after we moved in we also installed a new faucet on the old double-basin stainless steel kitchen sink. This was done in an effort to somewhat modernize the equipment we were working with, and we chose a Moen faucet with a pull-out head that had stream and sprayer settings. Moen is a brand we’ve had good luck with in the past, but this particular faucet was a disappointment. The head piece began to leak at the bottom of base intermittently a couple of years into owning the faucet. At first this only happened when the screen filter inside of it needed to be cleaned out, but it ultimately persisted even when the filter was clean, and/or when it was replaced with a new one.

The bigger part of the problem was the process of discovering the faucet to be leaking. The design of the faucet has the base of the head sitting at a downward angle in the base of the faucet, and that base is open to the cabinet below. This meant that wet feet were often the first sign that it was leaking - wet because the water was now trickling out of the cabinet below the sink and onto the floor. Ultimately we ended up leaving the faucet head pulled out all of the time to avoid this problem:

bad faucet

This solution was not a triumph of ergonomic design, to say the least.

We had been reluctant to purchase new items for the kitchen one at a time, hoping instead to wait and do a larger kitchen remodel. That’s still in the long-term plans (1940’s, remember), but it was clear something needed to be done here. MLW and I headed out to Menards to seek out candidates for a new kitchen faucet and ended up coming across an all-in-one sink and faucet combination by Tuscany.

new sink?.jpg

We cook at home frequently, and MLW and I usually cook as a team. When one is doing this in our 1940’s kitchen, one quickly realizes that, like most kitchens of the era, it was designed around the idea that one person would be doing the meal preparation (that one person was specifically my Grandma Marie, who expertly navigated this kitchen despite its limitations). Though the kitchen is, by far, the single largest room in the house, the amount of counter space to work on is limited, and it typically leaves at least one person re-purposing the kitchen table for food preparation.

This setup offered a number of options that looked like would work well for us, and would address some of those space issues, including a colander for cleaning veggies, and a cutting board that sits in the basin. The included faucet was also very consistent with the types of designs we were looking at.

The measurements on the sink were a little bigger than the one it would be replacing, so we made the call to have an installer look at our setup before buying the kit. The folks from Triple Service were very helpful both for this, and when it came time to do the installation (I know how to install a sink in theory, but I’ve learned the value of letting an expert handle this sort of thing over the years - what would take a skilled installer a couple of hours would take me at least an entire weekend of sweating, swearing, and bloody knuckles; An entire weekend during which we would not have use of a kitchen sink...).

We were pleased with the result:

Happy new sink

We did make one modification from the kit. It came with a built-in soap dispenser, but we elected to keep our hard water drinking line. MLW picked up a small gooseneck faucet to go in that spot, which matches nicely with the main faucet.

We got a chance to try it all out last night with one of our Blue Apron deliveries. So far, it seems to be working out very nicely.

Edward’s Church

Edward and Erna lived In a house just down the road from our old house when I was growing up. Most of my memories of them were from when I was very young, but they are all fond. I remember that they had a three legged dog - my recollection is that it had been hit by a lawnmower (poor thing). My memory also records that Edward had a delightful speaking voice - a voice I can best describe as being reminiscent of Paul Lynde.

I had no idea at the time that Edward was my grandmother’s first cousin. It makes sense, of course - her brother, also Edward’s cousin, lived right across the road from Edward, and it’s clear that this was a family stretch of road. But I was frequently unaware of these relations as a child, coming to learn and appreciate them all the more as an adult.

I also came to learn that Edward was a painter. Not a painter of houses or fences and such, though I’m sure he was capable in that regard. Rather, he painted oil on canvas of things around him. One of those paintings hung in my grandmother’s house for the entirety of my recollection, and it is of the old church.

the old church in frame

I realize as I write this that I know very little about the painting beyond its original subject and the artist. For example, I do not know when it was painted, nor how old Edward was when he did so, nor where this fell in his artistic arc - e.g. is this an early work, or something that occurred later?

Assuming that he intended a realistic representation of the subject, some clues can be gathered from the painting itself when compared to current day (photo taken from the seat of my trike, so the vantage point is a little different):

Church photograph

Church painting close up

The differences here suggest some things about the era in which the painting was made. The difference in the roads stands out, of course. In all four directions out of the intersection the road is asphalt in current day (though two of those directions change to gravel after a short distance), while Edward portrayed either gravel or dirt roadways. The road signs are absent, of course, as is any sign of anything resembling a power line.

The fence in the foreground of the painting is gone now, though I remember it within my lifetime. Edward’s Church also does not have lightening rods atop the peak of the roof. You can see that he took pains to try to accurately represent the complex lines of the stained glass window.

Though part of it may be the differences in the days portrayed - Edward’s a bright, partly cloudy summer, mine a steely gray midwinter - as I look at the painting I find that I’d rather be in his picture than in mine much of the time. His is quiet, serene, while mine is harsh and cold. I can see that he is connected to the place and the time, and I find that I very much appreciate the window into that place and time that he has given.

Historical Detritus

Our Homestead is old, but it is not now, and has never been, a museum. Throughout the course of its existence it has either served as a home, or sat empty, unused. This applies to the house itself, as well as to the property and it’s outbuildings.

The old barn on the property is nearly as old as the house itself, and it appears to have originally been built as an animal barn, with stalls for horses that include feeding troughs and the like. As time has gone on, the need for this type of structure has waned, and it has been put to other purposes - grain storage, general storage, and, apparently, raccoon sanctuary.

In these transitions, however, no one has bothered to remove or relocate the remnants of the prior usages. Hanging in the barn have been old bits of horse tack - various leather strappings and mechanisms designed for hitching horses up to wagons and similar devices.

I’d like to say that I know this because I’ve seen such items hanging in the barn and, to a certain degree this is true. However, it turns out that we have another, far more eager group of historical archeologists living on the property:

Our dogs.

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Over the years that we have lived here they have pulled out of the barn more bits of animal tack than I can ever recall seeing in there myself - the experience of finding yet another such item laying in the yard is a little like watching a slow motion clown car performance.

While I’d like to think that they are interested in sharing these historical discoveries with the rest of the family, I should note that most of these items have leather strapping attached to them, and I suspect it is this which actually gains the interest of our canine contingent. Still, they also have buckles and other metal components as well, which inevitably show up elsewhere in the yard (a delightful thing to encounter with a lawn mower, let me tell you).

The supply of these items surely must end at some point, and then we will no longer have these educational encounters with history. Until then, it does lend a reminder of the fact that it really hasn’t been that long since people used animals, rather than tractors, to plow the fields and get their product to market.

Roadside History Lessons

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I suppose it’s a bit of a truism to say that, despite how much you think you know, there is always more to learn. Still, new information insists on presenting itself, and sometimes in unexpected ways.

There is a site a few miles from home that I have ridden by many times, both since moving out here to the Homestead, and back when I lived here as a child. It’s a small plot of land at a very rural intersection that has always been mowed and tended, despite the appearance of there being virtually nothing there.

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Now, nothing is not an entirely accurate description. Part of what made me take notice of the site riding past it in our recent occupation is the fact that something is missing from it. When I was younger, I distinctly remember this site having a storm cellar on it. These, for the uninitiated, are concrete bunkers set low to the ground with the intention that one will get inside when high-wind storm events (think tornados) appear to be imminent. I remember this distinctly because I can remember that, as a child, I desperately wanted to go in to that storm cellar and I was, of course, also terrified to do so.

This is a distinct feeling of childhood, I think, and one that I can recall feeling over and over and over again. It usually involved choosing to do something that was likely inadvisable at best - walking across a railroad trellis, riding the rail system in the hay mount, climbing up the tower at the grain elevator late at night... (how did we not die doing these things?)

The storm cellar was dark, and indeterminately deep when viewed from the outside. And since one could not see in, one could only imagine what might be living inside - might we encounter snakes? Raccoons? A hibernating bear???

I did finally screw up enough resolve, as well as the foresight to bring along a flashlight. The outcome was... disappointing. There were no bears, no raccoons, no snakes. There was, in fact, nothing. Nothing but a muddy floor, and it was far less deep than it seemed it should be, suggesting it had probably been slowly filling in with mud flow over the years.

I always assumed this site was a former home site, with the house no longer present - either torn down or moved. Still, this did not explain why someone was continuing to maintain the site, nor why it also had what looked to me like the remnants of a bit of playground equipment set to one end.

Lilliputian Monkey Bars

So it was the recollection, and the notable absence, of the storm cellar that initially made me take notice of the site as I rode by it. I also noticed that there was a large stone there, with what appeared to be a plaque set in it. I was curious about this, but I’ll admit that I rode by it many times without stopping, always figuring that I would check on another ride, more concerned about getting my miles in.

This summer I did go ahead and stop to look, and thereby to learn the something new:

In honor of Immanuel Ev Lutheran Church

The Immanuel Evangelical Lutheran Church that I know - that I attended throughout my childhood - is a mile to the west of this site. I knew that it was old, and established by settlers to the area, including my ancestors - the stained glass windows at the church still display wording in German, the language those early settlers spoke. But I did not realize that the church was not always at its current site, that it had been first established further down the road. Nor did I realize when. Establishment in 1864 would set it only three years after our own Homestead was built, and place it at a time when the settlers were likely still carving their lives out of the prairie.

And the Lilliputian monkey bars? I wonder if this perhaps wasn’t a hitching bar...

I have no notion at the moment as to who decided to place the stone and the plaque at this site, it being well off the beaten path. However, I do very much appreciate that decision, opening up as it does yet another opportunity for discovery, and demonstrating that there are others about who truly care for the history of this place.

Of Shed Roofs and Holes...

For the past couple of years we’ve had a very large hole in the roof of our shed.

Hole in Roof

It was there for the hole winter

Like most rural residential properties in Illinois, we have outbuildings in addition to the house itself. Like most such properties of similar age to ours - that is to say, 150+ years of age - those buildings vary considerably in terms of condition.

I’ve written before about the old barn, which is slightly younger than the house itself. It was in a state of decay when I wrote that, and it continues to insist on embracing entropy. In addition to the barn, we have two other outbuildings - a small garage, and the aforementioned shed.

The garage is a smallish building - probably technically a car-and-a-half in size - into which we manage to stuff our two, smallish Honda Fits. This is an exercise in automotive yoga, involving parking one of the two cars - mine - so closely to the wall of the building that it is physically impossible for a human being to enter the vehicle from the passenger side. Prospective passengers - my wife and child primarily - must wait outside the building while I back out before they can enter the vehicle. This mostly works out fine - I almost never fail to stop and let them in, virtually never drive off having forgotten them...

Despite its smallishness, the garage also does the heavy lifting of housing most of the things we care about enough to care for them but, you know, not enough to bring them into the house. The cars, the bikes, spare lumber, dog food, and so on.

The shed is a much larger building. It is a pole structure, sided in corrugated steel. Growing up out here we called these "machine sheds" or, sometimes, "Morton Buildings". "Morton" is a brand name, suffering here in the Midwest the same fate as "Xerox" and "Kleenex" have nationwide. There is nothing on the building to indicate that it was manufactured by the Morton company and yet, on multiple occasions I’ve been heard to utter than name in relation to it. More recently, however, I’m sure much to the relief of Morton Buildings, Inc., I’ve just been referring to it as "the f&%king shed".

And this takes us to where we started: there was a hole in the roof of the shed.

While the majority of the building - both sides and roof - is covered in corrugated steel, it did feature skylights made of translucent fiberglass. I wouldn't have actually known they were made of fiberglass, but Mother Nature felt it important to educate me, and so chose to rip one of the panels off in a windstorm, providing me the opportunity for close inspection of pieces of it down on the ground.

Now, I’m all for gaining knowledge, and I don’t want to seem unappreciative, but this lesson had a rather permanent effect upon the weather-tightness of the building. Perhaps Mother Nature could, in future, email me a link to a Wikipedia entry or something...

The process for addressing this took longer than one - particularly if one is me - might have expected. First up was a call to the insurance company in hopes that repairs to the building might be covered. Unfortunately, they pronounced the repair costs to be below our deductible, and drove off with their checkbook secure and unmolested.

Not expensive enough for the insurance company isn’t the same as inexpensive, however. Given this, and given the fact that most of our items of value were already stored in the garage (even with a roof fully sealed against the elements, the dirt floor of the shed is not ideal for longevity of stored items), we moved the few other items in there away from under the roof opening and started to save up.

Once we were ready to get the roof repaired, early exploration of this found a new area of concern. As I mentioned, there is no indication on the building to suggest that it is a Morton Shed and, in fact, no indication on it (that I can find) of its manufacturer at all.

And - not only am I unaware of the make of the building, but I’m also unsure of its age. I know that it was not there when I was little, and that it had appeared at some point between when I moved away and when I returned. The progression of years is such that this seems to encompass but the briefest period of time, but reality insists that it covers a span of at least 15 years, if not closer to twenty.

I am not always a fan of reality.

This wouldn't seem much of an issue to the casual observer, but it turns out that corrugated steel siding comes in multiple, subtlety different shapes and designs. What this means is that matching the pattern on the building becomes a challenge. The pattern on our shed looks like this:

Shed Pattern

When first informed of this issue I thought perhaps of repurposing sections of siding that appeared on the old barn. Two different types of siding had been added there over the years, likely in both cases to better seal it up against the elements and extend its lifespan.

The Barn white siding

The Barn steel siding

However, given the barn’s decaying state and, perhaps more importantly, it’s ongoing engagement in providing aid and comfort to the enemy, I would have been willing to repurpose those sections. And you’d think, being on the same property and all, that they’d perhaps be the same type of siding...

You’d think that, but you’d be wrong. And of course, by "you", here, I mean "me".

Shed again

Barn White up close

Barn steel up close

If you look up close and personal at those pictures you’ll see that the patterns do not match. Whether this reflects a different era of product, different style, different manufacturer, or all three remains a mystery, but they are, in fact, different nonetheless.

And here I was learning so much about the diversity both within the world of corrugated steel siding, and within the bounds of my very property. The nature of these lessons were such that, while I originally thought them visited upon me by a gracious, if heavy handed Mother Nature, I found myself now wondering if they were not perhaps the work of the old gods brought over by my ancestors, perhaps the whim of Loki peeking thru...

Ultimately I was pleased to find at there is a way to cover the opening with a newer roof panel that does not match, exactly, but which will function to keep the elements out regardless. In fact, this could be done using new translucent panels that continued to function as skylights, but were not made of the fiberglass material that tends to become brittle over time, and do things like break off in the wind.

The shed guys came out and repaired the roof this past week, leaving it looking a little different, but now sealed - at least at the top - from the elements.

All sealed up

The... What? Is Leaking?

Around 8:30 last night LB comes up to me and says: "that thing over the stove is leaking".

Me: ”The thing... what?"

LB: "That thing over the stove - you know - the thing."

Me: "The vent hood?"

LB: "... sure".

I followed LB into the kitchen to find, sure enough, it was.

Drip

This would seem somewhat perplexing, given that there is no water run anywhere in the house higher than the kitchen and bathroom sinks, both on the first floor, both lower than the stove vent hood.

But: It started raining at about 11:30 or so yesterday morning, and continued until some time into the wee hours of this morning. There was occasional thunder and lightening, but the real player in yesterday's weather was the wind and rain. The continuous rain paired itself with an unusual East by Northeasterly wind that gusted more or less constantly throughout the day and night, striking the backside of the house where the kitchen sits.

The kitchen itself, as it stands, is not original to the house. Rather, it is relatively modern, a late 1940's remodel initiated by my grandparents, with some updating of appliances since. That 1940's work has held up remarkably well, all things considered, over the last 70 years or so. Still, events like this make one realize that one does not know what one does not know.

The vent hood feeds into a galvanized duct that goes up into the soffit above the cabinets. I believe that it then travels across, thru the soffit, over to the chimney in the wall. And when I investigated the bit of ductwork I can see in the cabinet above the hood, I found that to be the location of the leak.

Galvanized Pipe

The chimney that it goes into is one of four in the house - three original and one added later - and is the only original chimney that still rises above the roof, coming out from the fireplace in the basement (which I suspect was originally used for cooking) and traveling up the back wall of the house. In short, it faced the brunt of last night's wind and rain.

My best guess is that the volume of rain, and gusting of wind, was such that it created an unusual bit of air movement in the chimney, moving some rain back down the chimney and throwing it down the vent. I say best guess because in eight years of living here, and a lifetime of being in and around the house semi-regularly, I have never seen this before.

It's all subsided now. It's still windy this morning, but the rain appears to have mostly let up. Our as-yet still unnamed vernal ponds have returned at greater than usual size, and the wind blew over the garbage can. The dogs discovered this first and thoughtfully addressed it by distributing the contents of the can all over the driveway (there may have been the occasional utterance of foul language as I cleaned that up). But it is another of the periodic reminders that, although we are certainly not pioneers out here, with our electricity and running water and such, the weather continues to have surprises to throw at us.

Derilects

One of the more striking things about rural Illinois is the number of abandoned buildings. This includes buildings on properties that are otherwise clearly in active use - the old, empty barns tumbling down alongside newer, occupied machine sheds and similar types of buildings, to be sure. But also included in that list of unoccupied and unloved structures in the scenery are more personal places, like old schoolhouses and homes.

In some cases a place may just be clearly empty, but otherwise in good repair. It may be a home that you drive by regularly, across multiple times of day and night, and simply never see a vehicle in the drive, never a light on in the window, perhaps the care of the grounds isn't routinely attended to. These places seem to simply be waiting, hoping for new occupants to arrive and reinvigorate them.

In other cases, you will find former homes in various stages of tumbledown, sometimes at its earliest stage, where an enterprising homeowner might have the opportunity to pull it back from the abyss. Other times it's clear the building is beyond all hope.

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In many ways these abandoned places simply reflect changes in the way people live, and in the way we move about. Fewer people live in rural areas now than they used to, and our small towns used to be part of the major thoroughfares for travel. Highways used to wend their way through rural towns, often directly through the downtown business district. The interstates have usurped that role, and often now people from other places recognize a small town by name only if it appears on a highway exit sign. Even then, what they know of the town itself may be limited to the gas stations, restaurants, and hotels that appear around the exit.

But while these decaying structures often just sit and embrace entropy, there are cases where property owners reclaim the space for other things. It might be hard to believe, but this lot, not terribly far from home, used to hold a small house and a couple of outbuildings:

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I remember the house well from growing up out here - the bus went past it every day. It was nothing special - painted white, a story and a half, and perhaps 1000 square feet of floorplan. It was no architectural treasure, and likely no one will mourn its loss, myself included. Since taking the picture the piles of earth have been smoothed out, and the space is indistinguishable from the farmland that used to surround it. It will likely soon host a crop of corn or beans.

Ultimately, it seems likely that this is what will continue to occur out in these parts - this very rural area will become much more so, with homes themselves ever further and fewer between.

Emergency Repairs

Earlier this week we had a pretty severe thunderstorm. Rain, thunder, and lightening, yes, but mostly lots of wind. At times, the blowing was hard enough that we could feel the house tremble even while laying in bed.

Somewhere in there we heard a slam that we assumed was the door in the old barn slamming open (it has a tendency to do that). But when I got up in the morning it was clear that something else had occurred. Out the window of the laundry room I saw the eve vent laying in the yard.

well crap...

What this means, aside from the fact that the wind managed to rip a fairly tightly secured piece of siding material off the side of the house, is that we now had a gaping hole in the north side of the house.

Big Ass Hole

I've had to learn over the years to leave alone - not start - things that I don't have the time to finish around the house. It's key to not letting myself get extremely frustrated about unfinished projects. Still, we had a hole in the side of our home, and spring is approaching. While the landlocked critters probably can't get up that high - it's a tall house - spring approacheth, and the birds have already begun to return.

I had no choice but to leave it for the first day - there was simply no open time in my schedule. This meant that, when I finally did get the stepladder lined up with the scuttle hole and climb my way up into the attic, it was with some trepidation.

In a lot of big, old, Victorian era homes the attic is functionally a third floor. In our homestead there is room to stand up in the attic, and one gets the impression that there may have been a thought, in the original design, that one could have made a small room up there if it was ever needed. In my grandparent's time there was a wooden ladder built-in against the wall and up to the scuttle hole. I don't know who put it there - whether it was part of the original construction, with that thought of using the extra space as an additional worker's bedroom (the scuttle hole is in the back, worker's stairwell), or whether it was just a later addition by someone who was just tired of hauling a stepladder up and down the back stairs. Having done that very task myself multiple times, I can see how one might get to that point.

Scuttle Hole

While it one can see how it could have been a small living space, at the moment it's just a home for insulation and duct work. And, fortunately, it did not appear to become an inopportune home for anything else.

As usual, all my tools are in the basement, so any repair or work in the attic inevitably involves multiple trips up and down two flights of stairs, one stepladder, and pulling oneself up or down through a scuttle hole. I was fortunate to start my repair trip with a bit of daylight outside, but it was still dark enough to require a flashlight. Improbably, the opening in the wall seems to look smaller up close than it does from the ground.

Old Attic

I thought I'd have to patch the hole with a bit of plywood (I don't have a ladder that goes high enough to work from the outside and, besides, the outside is really, you know, high), but I was fortunate enough to be able to fish the old vent out thru the hole from the inside...

...and of course, promptly dropped it.

Out the scuttle hole, down the stepladder, down the steps, out the back door, pick up the vent, back in the door, back up the steps, up the stepladder, through the scuttle hole...

Oh - but I did stop along the way and pick up some string so I could secure the damn thing and refrain from multiple trips. Forty-six years of dropping things can ultimately teach you a thing or two.

A little bit of work with the drill and some wood screws, some careful application of silicon sealant to prevent leaks around the edges, and we have a decent, if temporary, repair.

It all serves as an additional reminder that the wind out here isn't just playing, as well as a testament to the house for continuing to stand against it 150+ years on.

Doorways...

One of the joys and delights of living in a 155-year old house is being able to routinely delight in the craftsmanship of a bygone era.

Of course, one of the struggles is that the very craftsmanship you are delighting in is, in fact, 155 years old and, as such, is prone to breaking.

This can be true on many fronts, of course, but of particular focus over the past couple of weeks has been doorknobs, and one door in particular - the one to LB's bedroom.

Most of the doors in the house have similar hardware - a mortise lock with white porcelain doorknobs and escutcheons). This style of lock means that every door on the main two floors has a door with both a sash lock and a deadbolt in it, the deadbolt operated by an old fashioned skeleton key. Every door - including the closets, the bathroom door, the laundry room door, etc.

Every door has a deadbolt in it, but only a handful of them actually work. In most cases this appears to be due to seizure secondary to age, the overactive paintbrush work of prior generations, or perhaps a combination of both.

LB has one of the two front bedroooms in the house. During my grandparents' occupation of the house, and likely for quite some time before, these rooms were not occupied by people. Rather, they held a vast array of generational cast-off stuff - things that, apparently, were unwanted but considered too nice to be thrown away. By my childhood they were not frequently opened and entered, except by occasional exploring waifs.

One might have expected this relative lack of use to result in the door hardware being less harshly used and, as such, perhaps better suited to withstanding a few years of exposure to the exuberance of youth. Alas, this does not seem to have been the a case. LB's doorknob had worked loose to the point that the jiggling of the handle would prevent the sash lock from catching reliably. I made one attempt, early on, to address this by retightening all of the various and sundry screws and attachments related to the handle (not all of whom seemed to be present and accounted for), but the success of this was short lived. Ultimately it was clear I was going to have to take things apart and effect a more complete repair.

Taking things apart is often a frightening proposition in a house of this age - it has a tendency to open a can of worms well beyond expectation.

In the case of LB's door, disassembling the doorknob revealed a harsher life for this door than I'd originally predicted.

Rough life for the old door

The number of gouges and striations in the area of the iron handle plates suggested that the door handle had been adjusted, and readjusted, multiple times over the past century and a half. It also made it clear why it was so hard to tighten it back down - there was virtually no wood left in which a screw could take purchase.

This wouldn't be a problem with a cylinder latch set - in that case, the two sides of the latching and handle mechanism screw to each other through the door. But the mortise lock is a large rectangular block of metal directly in the door - there's no going through it without potentially destroying the latching mechanism.

My solution, for now, was to head off to the hardware store (they say I "saved big money", but I'm never sure if I should actually believe them) and get dowel and wood filler, as well as additional screws. I used the dowel to fill the deeper, still intact holes, and the wood filler to bring everything back to more or less even with the door surface. Then I let the material dry and cure.

door with filler

The guidelines on the product said to give it at least two hours to properly cure, so to be safe, I gave it a week. Plus, you know, there's nothing more entertaining than listening to your teenager struggle with trying to open and close a door without a handle for several days. Also - it's remotely possible that I got a little busy...

In putting the handle back together, I discovered a couple of additional interesting features about the handle itself. Most of the handles in the house use a system in which backing plates go against the door, are covered by a porcelain escutcheon, which is held on by a threaded brass cylinder that screws into the backing plate. The handle on LB's door looks like this too, but it was hiding a secret. The backing plate on the inside was different - it wasn't threaded like the others, with a smaller inside lip, and the brass cylinder had been cut down so that it would fit into the new opening.

Hidden Differences

The cutting down of the brass cylinder could not be accidental, and one suspects that this is the result of a previous generation needing to replace the backing plate, and being unable to find a part that matched exactly. And, given that the room was virtually never entered, exactly was probably felt to be unimportant.

For our situation, exactly was the thing that was needed. I scavenged the backing plates off of the closet in my office - the door to that is never shut, as it is a pass-thru for electronics cables, and a previous tenant had already scavenged the mortise lock from it anyway. This seemed to do the trick, mostly. However, I found that the porcelain escutcheon would no longer fit on the inside with the scavenged backing plate. I have multiple escutcheons, and tried them all, but to no avail. In deference to the teenager's week of suffering, I deferred painting the wood filler for later, went ahead and put it together without the escutcheon, which is functional, albeit less attractive.

No Escutcheon

It don't fit no more

Shortly after making this decision I noticed that one of my ancestors had made the same decision previously, just across the hall.

it wasn't just me

This makes me feel a bit better, though I'd like it all to go together correctly. Still, at least the offspring now has a functioning door behind which one can pretend there is no one else in the house...

These aren't the first door problems we have had, and they aren't the only door issues that my ancestors have faced. We have doors where the screws in the hinges have worked loose - sometimes to a significant degree (the downside to pine as a building material), and a couple of doorknobs have been replaced by completely different handle sets. The door into the basement was clearly a struggle for someone:

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The set on the inside is loose, as you can see, and will not tighten (I would not be surprised to find a very similar situation inside there as with LB's door). And on the basement side of the door:

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The repairs required an additional wood plate, and it appears that a decision was made to caulk or epoxy the escutcheon against the wood, likely because it would not screw tight.

I haven't gotten to the epoxy point yet, but I can see how one might get there...