Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The last detail

Today is our last day here, in St. Charles, for this visit. We fly back to Tucson this evening, and into a whole other home improvement construction zone!

Yesterday, being the last day to work on the house (laundry and packing today), Maj was here and ready to put newly painted windows in place. That took some puzzle solving skills (lots of pieces of trim to go up and hold the sashes in place), but we successfully completed that task without much difficulty. After the windows were up we pulled out something that I had been saving for this house for the past 3 years. Shutters! In case you haven't shopped for indoor, wooden, shutters lately (not custom made) - they just don't exist anymore. Not that they've gone out of fashion, but you just can't find them at the local hardware store anymore! Shutters, in fact, have been known to increase the value of a house (when on the market for sale) drastically. They add a warm and cozy feeling to a room, and provide privacy as well. This house was just screaming for shutters when I moved in - back in February '06! Since I couldn't find them in the stores, and generally they are too expensive when found in garage sales, I turned to eBay for my search! I lucked out on these. I got them for a very reasonable price, the guy selling them lived about 100 miles from here (so I could pick them up and not pay shipping), and he was taking them out of his 100 year old house! These shutters aren't 100 years old, but they are probably a good 40 years old and in decent condition. I picked them up, brought them home, and they have been stored - waiting for the right time to put them up. Completing the new bedroom told me that it was time to put up the sets for that room! After a fair amount of creative engineering, Maj and I were able to find the best way to mount them on our windows - and (as they say) viola! We couldn't have asked for a better match in color to the wood, they fit really well (no trimming involved), and give the room the exact feeling that I was working toward. I'm hoping we can get the flooring down on the next trip so we can then start moving furniture into the room. I'm taking home fabric samples from the two comforter sets that will work in there, a paint chip, and measurements to make valances for the windows while we're in Tucson. While I almost hate to see this project end, it's exciting to think of the next rooms to be done! The possibilities are endless and we are only limited by what we imagine that we can't do.

Monday, September 28, 2009

More Flora and Fauna

The weather has been dull lately - threats of rain have persisted for days, and a cold front passed yesterday with gusts to 40 mph (60kph) today - no chance of new images! So I'm culling out some more from my previous excursions to our local forest preserve.

First up is a critter I've not seen before, even though they are supposed to be common throughout North America - the Red-Banded Leafhopper, Graphocephala coccinea. Probably the reason that you have likely not seen it is that it is small, only about .25" (6mm) long and thus easy to miss. Strolling along the prairie path at Tekakwitha, I somehow managed to spot it on the leaf of a Milkweed (I was looking out for Monarch caterpillars, so was paying close attention to the Milkweeds), and it was quite content to pose proudly while I fiddled to get closer and focused accurately. They feed on plant sap and if threatened, can jump long distances with their hind legs. I only spotted this one example, but got lots of images...

I spotted our friendly black squirrel again - this time he ran up a tree acorn in mouth and was content to feed while safely out of my reach. We had spotted him a few times last year, and even posted him about him then with a picture, again, acorn in mouth. I suspect they are territorial, as I've always spotted him (upwards of a half dozen times now) always within 50 yards or so of the same spot - the SE corner of the Tekakwitha Woods adjoining the parking area. They are a melanistic variety of the eastern grey squirrel, and a black squirrel can be born to grey parents, but the black is certainly striking in it's appearance. It is thought they might have an evolutionary advantage on the northern edge of the grey squirrel range because they have increased cold tolerance (emit less heat than greys), and are harder to spot in denser northern forests.

We are starting to get some nice fall colors, lots of yellows and golds from maples, and reds from the Virginia Creeper vines in the woods. But the most striking reds are right at the trailhead off the parking lot at Tekakwitha of the Staghorn Sumac. My local plant guidebook (Kane County Wild Plants & Natural Areas) says the seeds taste like lemonade if you can get to them before the birds, but I've not been brave enough to eat any... At left is the Sumac, at right a Creeper leaf among the usual yellows of early Fall.

Last up is a family infestation of a single Milkweed plant. I knew it was not a Milkweed Beetle, and when I visited the nature center at Tekakwitha, the woman there IDed my pictures as the Large Milkweed Bug, Oncopeltus fasciatus. Only the adults have wings, the nymphs (immature) bugs show the wing growth at various stages. With the identification, my Internet search indicates there are 5 molts of the nymphs from egg hatching to adulthood, and these images show 3 of the stages, from the barely visible wing stubs of the smallest, to the fully developed adults. Milkweed is their primary food source and they are part of a small group of insects that can tolerate the toxic sap of the Milkweed. They concentrate the toxins in their body, and predators well remember the bad taste that results. Their bright colors then teach the predators to avoid similar colors, saving monarch butterflies from similar fates.

And I almost forgot Bruce, our resident groundhog here at Riverwoods. We've seen him almost daily as he feeds for his Winter hibernation, oftentimes looking like a boulder in the yard as he pauses to watch for danger. Ironically, you can get much closer to him in a car than in person, so this is from a drive-by sequence as he sits near his burrow as I pass. He seems healthy and happy, though we've not seen any buddies or babies around either. At one point he made a run for it under our shed, which is fine by us - I know not everyone here at the camp looks at him kindly, so we'd be glad to host him under our shed if that is what it takes for him to be safe... Its always nice to come home to a friendly, if not shy, face!

Friday, September 25, 2009

98.9% done!

Well, here we are, five days after the start of the real work on our new master bedroom. Each day's end we have marveled at what we have accomplished and today is no exception!

On day 4 (Thursday) we bought, primed, painted (and then some trim was stained) trim for the ceiling, wainscoting, and baseboards. We also bought the ceiling fan/light that we wanted to put in the room. That day also found us sanding, remuding, sanding again, and then priming the new drywall before then applying a coat of satin finish polyurethane to all of the wainscoting. It was a very long day - and in fact longer still when Dean still had trim to put finish coats on last evening. I couldn't let him work alone, so I put the first coat of color on the upper walls. I've been looking forward to this step! Clearly, it would need two coats - but it's great to get that first one on to get things exciting!

Today, day 5 (Friday), we hit the room by 8:30am. While Maj and Dean continued painting trim, I got moving and put the second coat of color on the walls. Giving that a little time to dry, we took breaks and planned our "trim attack"! First up - white ceiling trim. We've done this same style before, when we did the the sunroom renovation project. Dean took charge of the cutting station while we measured and handed the boards to him through the window. Dean is so precise in his mirror lab work, and that carries over into cutting trim. He did a great job! Maj and I did the measuring and nailing in place, and it seemed like we had the ceiling trim (two separate pieces to create a bit of a step in the profile) done in no time. Next up: wainscot trim. The inspiration for that part of the trim came from a house I was in, in Cape Cod, one time. We used three separate boards to create the wall cap, a shelf support, and then a narrow (3.75") shelf that goes around the room. The most difficult part of that was making sure that all was level and even. We love the look of the completed trim though! Granted, we will need to do finish coats of paint on the ceiling trim pieces, touch up the cut ends of wood with stain, polyurethane the wall cap and shelf, fill in little gaps here and there, about a days worth of little chores like that. The biggest part of the job is done though! After finishing with the trim, and getting the cleanup done, and tools put away (thanks Maj!), we opened the box with the new ceiling fan/light! Neither of us had ever installed a fan before, and we don't have a flat ceiling in this room (or any where in the house, for that matter!) don't tell us, we know that the fan is on an angle! The fan went up very easily, however, and we are happy with the result! We have guests coming this weekend, so that means that we need to have an extra bed ready. Dean and I moved the mattress and boxsprings to the extra bed into the new room tonight. He and I will sleep in there on Saturday night, for the first time! The bedding that you see in the picture is the bedding that will remain in this room (I think). I had bought it for this room a couple of years ago, and I think it will still work nicely in there. We will be moving the bed out of the room on Sunday evening, in preparation of working on the little finish up jobs (mentioned before) on Monday. We have been discussing the floor and have made some good decisions about that - but that will have to wait for the next trip. Since we have been working non-stop this week, it will be nice to have a couple of days off to enjoy visiting with David and Joan when they arrive tomorrow! Due to using a wide angle lens to take the picture of the mostly finished bedroom, the size of the room appears distorted, in reality it is very roomy! It occured to me that not everyone would like to have a somewhat 'rustic' looking bedroom. Most of the wood in the wainscoting is old, beat up, stained in areas, and even have a few paint drips (80 year old paint drips) on it! One of the things that I felt strongly about, when moving into this house and planning renovations was that we stay true to the house. Some improvements would have to be made obviously, but to use as much of the old/original wood as possible keeping it true to what it was like when it was built (only stronger and better now). It's amazing the 'jewels' that can be found! The wood in this bedroom was hidden behind very cheap and flimsy paneling that had been put up well over 25 years ago. The side that the paneling had been glued to was ruined by the adhesive, however, when the boards were pulled out my sister noticed that the back side of the boards were in decent enough shape to be reused. Not only did it save us some money (reusing what we already had), but it kept a little bit more of the original cottage alive! No one who owns an old house does so because it's easier or cheaper. Old houses are constantly in need of protecting and pampering, but the pay off is living in a piece of local history!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Home Improvement Progress

The Johnson Sisters and I are working full time on rebuilding the bedroom, and the progress in the last 2 or 3 days is amazing! The ceiling was finished Monday, drywall work was started and finished Tuesday, 2 coats of primer on the ceiling Tuesday, mudding of drywall, finish coat of paint on ceiling, and beadboard staining today. Add to that the ancillary work of window glazing and window trim painting that all got finished, we're pooped! Here are some pics to go with the descriptions.

First up are Maj and Melinda posing proudly in front of their drywall job. Again, they were the power tool wielders, I helped some with measuring and cutting drywall, but the sisters did all the fastening.

With the drywall finished, I got started priming the new beadboard ceiling while Melinda started mudding and taping drywall and Maj moved to window trim painting. Primer work was uneventful and boring, and surprisingly difficult on that second coat when it was tough to see where you were going and where you've been. It continued today with painting. Originally it was supposed to be 2 coats also, but with the great priming job, it looked like a single coat was going to do fine. At least the paint, with it's slightly warmer tone, was easier to keep track of where you were. I was a little sloppy with application - the floor is going to be covered, so a few splatters didn't matter. Maj is definitely in the danger zone in this shot!

After the final ceiling paint today, the girls moved to staining the new beadboard to better match the older aged beadboard. They started with some nasty-looking mystery goop that is actually stain from decades ago that Maj pulls out, diluted down with turpentine, and uses as needed. A little goes a long way - some is brushed or wiped on with a towel, allowed to soak in a little, then wiped down when the desired stain is acquired. They did a really good job matching the original beadboard (from the 30s!), though the odor of turpentine is pretty strong tonight... The stained woodwork gets a coat of polyurethane tomorrow.

Here are a couple images showing the finished ceiling paint job and stain work on the new beadboard. You can compare to the top image to see a view from the same angle before staining. There is still a lot left - windows are glazed, but need cleaning and painting before installation with trim work (storm windows are installed here). We need to find and install a ceiling fan where the center light fixture is located. I mentioned the polyurethane work on the wood, and the drywall gets a coat of "chinese red" after priming. The floor will get covered by luan plywood, at least temporarily, and there is trim work to install around the base and peak of the walls and around the top of the beadboard on the walls. I think that is the plan for the next week, anyway...

And of course, with all the work going on in the bedroom, the rest of the house is like the staging area of an invasion force. A shot of the living room tonight shows window trim with drying paint center, air compressor to the right, tools and compressed air lines to the left. A temporary situation with the questionable damp weather we've been having outside. More work tomorrow!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Happy Hunting Here!

Today was the first day of Fall, but still not a lot of color here in Illinois. The weather has been cool, but humid - temps in the 70s feel pretty good after a Summer in Tucson! The Johnson Sisters have been keeping me busy the last couple days, but over the weekend I got out a couple times to the local bit-o-nature, the Tekakwitha Forest Preserve. Armed with the macro lens Melinda got us for our anniversary, there are a gazillion potential targets, and presented here is part one of my favorites so far.

A walk along the river trail showed that there hasn't been any flooding through the summer. Four months ago, the Fox River was up a bit and the rain made the trail impassible, so it is nice to hike along it, seeing the few leaves that are showing some yellows and reds. With a glance off the trail, this web was literally glowing from a direct shaft of sunlight near the darkened forest floor. A few steps through some brush got this shot, including the spider and its shadow at center, as well as one or two prizes caught in the web. But the precision and light of the web is what got my attention and makes this a cool photo for me.

While I was waiting in the bush to take the above photo (I was waiting for the sun to return from behind a bank of clouds), I noticed just a few inches from my face this Daddy Long-Legs. In checking my facts before posting, I've found that, in fact, it is NOT a spider, but is in the arachnid family. Called a Harvestman, it has a single body segment, while spiders have two. This fellow was cleaning off the tip of one of his legs - note that it is his second leg, which is longer than the others and is also used as an antenna. I'm still learning the use of the macro, but you might notice that I used the camera's built-in flash for this shot. With the flash you can typically use a smaller lens opening and get more depth-of-field, always a premium when doing closeups!

This fellow is as yet unidentified. Found in the deep shade of the Hickory-Oak forest of Tekakwitha, he blended in well with the greenery, and is pretty small, only about 1cm (.5") long at most. He didn't seem too frightened, but seemed to move away in slow motion, as if to not show himself by his movement. Once I took a shot or two and was able to zoom in to examine him, I spotted his red eyes, which are rather unusual. I need to stop into the nature center at the Preserve and see if he is one of the featured insects in their collection.

On the upper reaches of the Forest Preserve, away from the Fox River, there are a good 15 acres or so of open prairie, which this time of year is brimming with Goldenrod, Queen Anne's Lace, Milkweed and Aster. Most of it is 6' (1.8 meters) high or so and would be mostly impassible, but fortunately, the staff run a lawn mower along a path at regular intervals to make a stroll in the prairie a pleasant experience. A lot of the flowers are still thick with various pollinators, and this honeybee was an easy target with so many sources of pollen available. Normally it is difficult to get a quickly moving target in focus, and this was about the only one of many that is near perfect with the bee and flower in reasonable focus, no movement by insect or photographer. You can easily spot the wad of pollen the bee carries on his rear leg.

There are more from a second walk, and I'm hoping to get out a few more times, so stay tuned if you like bugs!

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Johnson Sisters at Work!

After a weekend of socializing with family and friends, it was time to get back to business on the "homework"! Maj (Mary Alice Johnson) has done a huge amount of work in our absence, and with us as her helpers, we got an early start this morning.

The first order of business today was to finish the bedroom ceiling work with the beadboard. With Melinda on miter saw and Maj on nail gun, they were a sight to behold! They finished that task in time for a late lunch, and they are out on a shopping trip now to get some drywall to finish off the walls. I suspect the walls will be mud-ready by the end of the day and we'll be ready to paint before you know it.

And me? What was my job? Well, they didn't let me around the power tools, that is for sure - I got "Tom Sawyered" into finishing the glazing work on the windows. Yes, a necessary job, but not a lot of fun. They claim I do a good job, so I finished that while they handled the macho jobs today!

(Needless to say, Dean needs to post a new entry to show pictures of what we were able to accomplish today!...and he DOES do a great job with the glazing!!)

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Meanwhile...back in Illinois...

Dean and I are back in Illinois for a nice vacation! This will be a 'working' vacation, but it will be fun! We flew in, this time, rather than the extended road trip. Sometimes it's just nice to get where you're going.

When we last were here we finished 'gutting' the soon to be master bedroom. This was, formerly, the guest room. We decided to turn it into our room due to size and proximity to the bathroom. My sister had already done the majority of the work, including having the carpenters come in and reinforce the ceiling joists. We re-wired the room when we were here in July, in preparation of the carpenters coming back to move a wall - giving us a bigger room. That has been done and my sister has been busy working on getting the ceiling and walls done! We will finish this task during this trip, and may even get to sleep in our new bedroom (one night maybe) before returning to Tucson! I'm also including pictures of some of the other rooms, as many of you haven't been to our little nest in the woods. The living room is the only room that hasn't had to be "done". The kitchen was the "just after moving in" project, the sunroom was Fall and Spring of 2007/2008. The new master bedroom and the storage room are the 2009 project. At this rate, we should "finish" the house somewhere around 2011 or 2012! If you are feeling so inclined to come visit while we have construction in progress, come on! Bring your work clothes though! We can always use the extra pair of hands!

We will be here for two weeks, and we'll post 'during' and 'after' pictures of the work in progress! Dean will also be posting wonderful pictures of the flora and fauna of the area. He was out walking in the woods, taking pictures, already this morning. There is so much to love here, and this is the perfect time to be in the midwest. You just can't beat the crisp, clear, early autumn days and cool nights!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

An Electifying Star Party!

About this stage of the summer, the wish for clear, cool evenings comes up against the reality that it is still summer, and monsoon moisture is still around us. The forecast was for clearing skies, so we made plans with friends Mike and Donna to meet at the Astronomy Club's TIMPA site for an evening picnic and some observing. Well someone didn't get the memo because the clouds stubbornly refused to leave, though about 8 photon-starved die-hard members also came out to tempt fate for clear skies. It was a pretty sunset though (Melinda may share some of those she took), and I was taking a timed sequence of a cloudburst that was headed our way.

The downpour is typical of those in the desert southwest this time of year - a thunderhead builds up and literally dumps beneath - perhaps a mile wide, sometimes less. It might rain as hard as you've ever seen, then be over in a few seconds... These pictures, taken 10 seconds apart, also show the lightning associated with these thunderheads. I've heard Tucson ranks second highest in the US for lightning (after Tampa, I believe). This strike didn't reach the ground, but still got our attention (I was shooting from under a shelter). And while waiting for the clouds to dissipate, it was fun to watch the lightning displays around the horizons - it reminded me of the last couple 4ths of July while on the road - scattered fireworks in most all directions, just like the lightning last night. Entertaining, but not something you usually get to enjoy while at a star party!

Before Dean shot the cloudburst sequence, I had pulled out my camera and taken a few shots of the surroundings as well as a long sequence of the beautiful sunset. Funny, the worst weather for astronomy makes for the best sunsets, photographicallly. I need Dean's expertise to get my sunset sequence into a 'flipbook' style of movie, but have chosen this picture to share on the blog tonight. The other picture is of a pretty rickety garage at the gate going back to TIMPA. It particularly caught my eye because of the color. Somehow, even an old garage looks better when painted in turquoise!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

My famous husband!

Yesterday in the mail we received a copy of the October issue of the magazine Cowboys & Indians. It's self described as "The Premier Magazine of the West". While we are not subscribers to this magazine, our sister-in-law sent a copy with a note on the back - "This is so exciting! My famous brother-in-law!" What is this all about, you ask??? Rewind to July, when we were traveling in Texas. While in Dallas, Dean received an email (copied to him from the Tucson astronomy club) that Cowboys & Indians had contacted them, asking to use one of Dean's pictures in their October issue! He quickly responded to the contact from the magazine and things were in the works to get them the picture that they wanted. He also sent other images for their consideration. The final tally being two pictures chosen. While we were not familiar with the magazine, sister-in-law Susan accurately described it as a Town & County for the Rancher set. As mentioned before, yesterday we received a copy in the mail from Susan. It's 178 glossy pages, mostly of fashion, jewelry, expensive home furnishings, and very fancy cowboy boots; but pages 120-125 is dedicated to "Western Stargazing" and features two of Dean's spectacular photos, along with images from other photographers. Interestingly, the picture that they were adamant about using is not the picture that they open the article with. Hmm. At any rate, they do give Dean credit (in little tiny letters) along side the pictures! Also, noted in the online version of the article, they didn't credit the pictures correctly. If you checkout the article, Dean's pictures are the two full sky (with the Grand Canyon Star Party going on below) photos. While Dean is not typically one to "blow his own horn", we'll be saving this magazine for posterity!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Updates On Latest Home Improvement - and a PS from Melinda

Our house in Tucson is in a state of flux. As time permits (and it is always easy to fit in grout sealing or adding a touch of trim into a busy schedule), we continue along the road to progress. Case in point is the tilework Melinda wanted to line the house entrance. The project was small enough that putting down the tile took a few hours, grouting went quickly, as did sealing (with the proper day-or-two wait between steps... Then, as we thought harder about the Mexican talavera tile for the bathroom, she decided to put some accent trim under the security door. Again, a job that was done in an hour or so - yet to be sealed though... We both thought it came out great! Shown at left is Melinda doing the first cleaning after grouting, and at right is the talavera tile under the entrance.

After Dean's post regarding the tiled entry, I though we should include a finished picture. I used Liquid Nails to 'glue' the skinny tile strips (custom cut for me by Sierra Tile) in place. Using Liquid Nails saved me the trouble of mixing a small amount of mortar - but in hindsight, I wish I had used the mortar. The tiles are well adhered, but mortar is easier to work with in this application. The grout that I used was a siliconized sanded grout, recommended by Sierra Tile. It also is applied with a caulk gun, and I just don't have much expertise with those appliances! I chose the grout color based on samples that I had, but it still dried lighter than what was expected. I, also, would not use that product again - unless I was doing the entire area to match it all. The advantage of that grout, of course, is that you don't have to seal it since it contains silicone. It's a coin toss in my opinion. All in all, however, I think we're both pleased with the final result! Now, what to do with those walls of the entry????

Just over a week ago ,when last posting about it, we had realized we were a little over our heads in removing concrete backer board and drywall behind the bathroom tile we were sick of and had removed. So we scheduled a carpenter recommended by a friend to come in yesterday to do the heavy lifting. We had gotten off the tile, but the rest of the wall was pretty impervious to our pounding - we really didn't have the right tools to get it out. But with his daughter as assistant and with a saw and shop vac, they had the walls down to the studs in 2 hours flat, and got to work installing a new vapor barrier, drywall and backer board. That work went on considerably longer, but included cutting to accurate size, installing around the shower outlets and mudding the joints. With cleaning, installing some unexpected stud reinforcements from some termite damage (from long ago), and materials, it is now ready for painting and tiling and for what we thought was a pretty reasonable price. We likely won't make a lot of progress on finishing it out until we return from our coming trip to Illinois, other than reinstalling the toilet, but the fact that it is waiting for us will make us think about it!