Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Change of Scenery!

This picture above shows the house now that the overgrown arbor vitae that obscured half of the porch has been removed! See photo below for a similar view a week ago.

While I have focused on inside our house on these pages, the yard has a number of issues as well. As Helen's deterioration grew over the years her willingness to have anything done to maintain the outside of the property decreased as well. She took great joy in watching birds from her numerous feeders, and put out cracked corn for the deer (we are in the middle of relatively urban area, but are surrounded by ravine, railroad right of way, and near the University's golf course, so we have a large wildlife population. She also started feeding raccoons by putting out large pans of dog food at night. Coupling these actions with her unwillingness to trim any of the overgrown bushes or trees and you get the idea of what we face outside. There was an extremely large, extremely dead maple tree between the house and driveway that we had removed late last summer. Helen's yard man (mowing and shoveling) quoted me a price of $1100 to remove the tree. He then tried to get me to pay $1600 when the job was complete, saying he had broken two chain saws due to hitting nails in the tree (I had warned him about nails from bird houses)

I knew we needed to get started on cleaning up the outside, Lisa and I had already removed dead and overgrown bushes in the backyard, and dragged out miles of Virginia creeper. I'd also taken out half a dozen volunteer hackberry trees. But the big arbor vitae in front needed to come out before we roof in June. I wasn't optimistic about getting it done quickly or economically. Enter Mick from General Tree Service, he was recommended by a friend that had used him quite a bit. He came last Saturday afternoon, I showed him the front, asked about the huge half-dead mulberry in back, and the broken limbs in the walnut hanging over the garage. (These were my highest priority issues) He agreed these were the worst, and wrote on a pad for about 2 minutes and gave me a quote of $450 total. I almost fell over. He said they would be doing some work on Thursday a street over, and he'd come by then to do these as well. We then talked about the best place to watch the next day's criterium bike races downtown.

Imagine my greater surprise last night to come over after work to find the jobs already finished! Reasonable rates, a pleasant person, and works ahead of schedule! I am unbelievably happy!

Monday, April 25, 2005

House Anniversary/ANZAC Day

Today is the 19th anniversary of my moving into our current house. I moved in on the hottest April 25th ever in Iowa City, 92 degrees. I closed at 8:30 AM and moved 7 pickup loads from my apartment in downtown Iowa City to the house. Every load went down a complete flight of stairs out of the apartment and then up a complete flight in the front of the house shown above. (The house did not look that good then) I had two friends helping me, Dave Marsh and Steve Nicknish. Nick died 6 months later in a fall while camping.

After moving the first thing I did that night was take the storm windows off the porch and sit out and play my banjo and guitar. The first song I played was Eric Bogle's "And the Band Played Waltzing Mathilda." The song is the most powerful anti-war piece I've ever heard. It tells the story of an Aussie WWI soldier, in the Australia-New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) who was part of the assault on Gallipoli, Turkey. The battle began April 25, 1915, and resulted in the needless slaughter of nearly a generation's worth those countries men. ANZAC Day is celebrated today and is Australia's equivalent of our Veteran's Day.

Today's house anniversary is nearly as bittersweet. We accepted an offer to sell on Saturday, and while we are excited to move to Foxcroft, I will be leaving the house in which I've spent nearly half my life. This is where I brought home my bride. This is where she and I brought home our children. This is where we have gathered with friends and family to celebrate holidays and successes. This is where we met to go to Nick's funeral.

I didn't intend to write all this when I sat down, but sometimes that's what happens. I will miss this place...

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

The lay of the land...

Here is a map of our neighborhood. Our lot, is the irregularly shaped gold part in the middle. Our street basically is a dead end, the curve to the left onto Glencrest is really a path to the driveways of the two houses on the street, 7 and 11. The black area is not a road. but is a steep heavily wooded ravine.

As I said our lot is irregular. Here is what the lot was like in 1928 when Bess built. The yellow shaded area is now a part of 26 Prospect. Our house was the first completed on the street, 305 next door was finished shortly after. None of the homes on Prospect were built until approx. 1940. Originally this was wide open land. The yellow leg faces south and was Bess' garden. It was sold in about 1960 for one dollar.

Here's our latest dilemma: The house at 30 Prospect has just gone on the market and it's yard is a giant "T." I was contacted by their realtor about possibly buying the top of the "T" to add to our yard. The total area is roughly 50' by 120'. Their asking price is $100K. Since we would most likely use it as garden space, it would be very expensive vegetables. The owners of 11 Glencrest are interested too, as they would get an even more gigantic yard, plan to knock down the small rental that is on the site and build their huge retirement ranch home.

So as if we didn't have enough to think about with finishing upstairs, a new roof, extensive restoration, we now can obsess about spending a pile we don't have on getting a bigger yard. Hopefully we could buy a small portion of the "T" and take out the scrub trees on it that would allow for sun to come into the area.

The kicker in all of this is that due to our proximity to the University of Iowa football stadium, the current owners of the "T" were able to park about 25 cars back there for home games at, I believe, $20 a car for 7 home games, hence the high price of the lot. The realtor also mentioned that if someone bought 30 Prospect and the entire lot they could run a driveway along the east edge of 30 to allow someone else to build back in there.

Monday, April 18, 2005


I finished varnishing on Friday and now we have one room (the back room with attached sewing room) completed! I moved a carpet we saved from the attic in, and will move bunk beds for the girls in this week. The carpet is big enough that you can't see any of the work I did on the floor, but I'd rather have the rug down for now. Also pictured is the light we moved from our current house. (It was a 5th anniversary present from Lisa in 1996, I put the original light back up)

Thursday, April 14, 2005

5 Deadmen in the basement... not the title of a new horror movie, it's what's happening this week. Our back wall had a slight bow in it, so there are now 5 vertical steel beams (deadmen) with adjustment plates set to hold the wall where it is. The foundation contractors are also building up the window wells and adding dirt to build slope away from the foundation. The big issue to face now is what to do about the groundhog. I have finally seen him after filling 4 burrow holes around the house and the yard. His entrance is under the back porch. The county extension agent suggests the following in order of least to most work:
  • Buy coyote scent at the hunting and fishing place and put it around the hole to scare him away
  • Buy sulphur bomb and put down the hole then cover. (This will kill if he's in the burrow, if he's not there he will abandon it due to smell)
  • Live trap him and take him away (Agent recommended not letting him stay in the trap very long as they will chew through the wires pretty quickly)

Or I could just go rent "Caddyshack" and try to forget about the whole thing...

Sunday, April 10, 2005

"There's a FIRE next door!"

I thought it unusual that my phone would be rining at 10:15 at night. I had already talked to Lisa and told the the girls good night before they went to bed. I had only two more days in Kansas and then I would be back home. So when my cell rang Wednesday night, I knew something was up. The house next door to our current home was on fire, 5 trucks were there, our oldest was sleeping soundly and the youngest (whose room is nearest) was watching. We live two blocks from the central fire station so hearing sirens is not unusual. With a hospital half a block away there are a fair number of false alarms, but Lisa said she suddenly realized that they were right in front of the house, and right after that she started to hear the windows explode. She immediately went out and told the chief that she lived next door, and there were two children. He said that they'd let her know if they needed to evacuate.

The fire started in the attic, which is where the landlord lives. No one was injured thankfully, and the firefighters got it under control quickly. There is about $50,000 in damage. When I got home yesterday, all the dormer windows in the attic were blown out, and you could see the scorch marks outside each dormer. The home is the oldest structure in our quarter section of the block, and was identified as a key property when our neighborhood received National Historic District status. There is a dumpster outside the back now, and burnt objects are scattered around. I haven't seen Ralph (the landlord) to find out how he's doing, but he does have family in the area, so I'm sure he's OK. The tenants are getting their things out too. It's really sad to see all this.

Besides being extremely relieved that there were no injuries, from a completely selfish standpoint it's a lot easier to be selling your own house when the one next to it isn't a smoking pile of ruins...

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

VERY Little House on the Prairie

I just returned from visiting the Ingalls cabin (of "Little House on the Prairie" fame) replica museum located between Coffeyville and Independence, KS. The place is refreshingly non-commercial. There is a grand total of 1 sign marking where to turn to see it. The cabin is on the site of the original and has an old post office and school house moved onto the site as well. The cabin has one room and in stepping it off must be about 18 x 15 feet. To think that two adults, two children, and a third that was born there all lived in that space. It makes you wonder about how much room we really need. It also makes me wonder when figuring out how often the Ingalls moved and how far they went (Wisconsin to Minnesota to Kansas to South Dakota and back to Wisconsin and Iowa) that Ma didn't kill Pa or leave him when he proposed about the third move!

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

On the road...

There are those times when rather than spend every available moment working on your home, you go out and do those things that earn extra income so that you can afford to work on your home. For me, this week is one of those times.

I am in Coffeyville, Kansas, spending a week as an artist in residence sponsored by the local community college. This week consists of me performing once at the community college, spending a day at a local high school, and averaging about three performances a day at local nursing homes. I've been here once before, and thoroughly enjoyed my time. The people are friendly and appreciative, and I rather enjoy being referred to as the "Humanities fella"

One of the serendipitous joys of doing these residencies is that you get to walk around completely unfamiliar neighborhoods. Coffeyville is full of great old victorians and A&C bungalows and craftsman houses. Some are quite grand, and if you could live anywhere, prices are dirt cheap.

My only regret is that two of the most famous homes in the area, the Brown Mansion, a 1905 Georgian with original furnishings, currently a museum, is not open during week days in April; Also closed now is the Laura Ingalls Wilder cabin museum, a replica of the "Little House on the Prairie" in its original location near Independence.

Next month I'll spend a week in Mason City, IA home of the world's only planned Prairie style subdivision, and also the site of the only extant Frank Lloyd Wright hotel, which is currently for sale. I will remember to bring the digital camera then!

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Little Things

Since we can't possibly do all the big things we need to as quickly as we'd like we console ourselves by doing little things. Three that have happened recently: Lisa added a bright vintage table cloth on the nook table in the kitchen, I put our light from the old house's dining room in the back bedroom, and I hung up a swing on the front porch. None of these were critical to do now, but they sure make us feel better.