May 25, 2011

Skeeto Update

To follow up on my plea for mosquito advice here are the updates:

- a bat house is no beauno. Pete has put the ix-nay on that considering we back to woods with "natural" bat houses. It is true, we see plenty of bats playing in the evening air around our properties so no real need to attract more.

- fabric softener sheets= may help a bit. Last night I went out to work on my garden at dusk after work, and besides wearing leggings and high boots, I coated myself in Off and stuck fabric softener sheet around my person. One at the top of each boot and another in my ponytail. All bites received last night were on my lower back and upper thighs. I witnessed the bugs wanting (I could just tell they wanted to) to bite my knees and shins but ultimately steering clear of that area. No telling in how many sheets of fabric softener are needed for full body protection.

I'm wary of eating the raw garlic clove at day trick. Supposedly it makes you smell bad to mosquitoes, but I've tried it before for other health reasons and consuming raw garlic daily makes you smell bad in general. Garlic smell wafting outta your pores on the regular does not make you any friends. Unless you don't want friends. Then I highly recommend you swallow crushed raw garlic cloves with honey everyday before breakfast. Everyone will steer very clear, humans and bugs alike.

May 23, 2011

tiny little nest...

Isn't this just the funniest little thing? Any ideas as to what it could be?

If you guessed a wee hornet nest you'd be right. This 1" mini city in the clouds was inside my (quite rusty) wheelbarrow. Sucks for the hornets, but I had to destroy the tiny nest being as how I a) hate hornets b) I had to use the wheelbarrow for an actual purpose and c) am not in the business of hornet farming.

Quite a difference in size when you compare this to the bee hive I found inside the Wee house while tearing out walls...

May 19, 2011

Dead Snake. Live Tree Planting.

Problem: You have a mondo sized pile of dirt in your yard.

Issue: That dirt needs to level out a lot of yard square footage.

Final pickle: The task would break your back and cause a certain wife named me to stop talking to her husband after about hour 10 if done by hand with shovels and wheelbarrows. Potential for quite from jabber mouth wife- almost worth the sore muscles.

Solution: Ask brother in law if he would mind lending you his tractor for the job.


This all how we ended up with a kick ass tractor for a week to help us with getting the fill dirt spread to grade the land around the garage. All in all, the tractor was heavenly! It was such a workhorse and I think I'm in love. Not even kidding, I broached the topic of starting our search for one about two hours into using the borrow tractor. The thing just rocks. Buying one is not in the cards now, but maybe in the future, once we actually live in the Wee house, we'll be parking a tractor in our ginormous garage.

We also took advantage of the tractor by using to help us plant our long talked about willow tree. One of our long term landscaping goals was also to grow a weeping willow tree in the back of the back yard by the stream. The area is the perfect spot for planting a willow, they love being near a water source, lots of sun and should be kept father from structures with foundations since the root system can be extensive.

So why did we decide to go for the willow tree now? Time! Simply put, time is on our side with the house. When we do move into the house, in about a decade..., the tree will have had the necessary time to get established a little bit. In our personal experience with planting trees it takes about two years for the tree to get over the shock of transplanting and start to flourish. We did splurge for one older bigger tree at a nursery, and then trimmed the budget a bit by grabbing the glorified twig version from a big box store for much cheaper.

The older tree weighed a damn ton! Never under estimate how much a balled tree weighs people! It may look manageable, but I can assure they are quite the load. We learned that the hard way with our first married Christmas tree, a balled blue spruce that now is thriving in the Wee house yard. It just about killed our arm muscles to make that happen for a not quite four foot tree.

Using the tractor we were about to get the two willow trees and all of the necessary tree planting equipment- plus my super pale self - into the back yard with ease. Other tree planting equipment is a rake, shovel and brick of peat moss.

Funny thing about pictures is that while I look calm and smiley, the inside of me was gagging and trying not to look at the dead snake that Pete just beheaded which is just outside the frame of the shot.

As we rode the tractor to the backyard I had to hop off to grab my camera, right after I dismounted I saw the snake slithering away from the old shed. holymolyomg. I don't do slithery things. Screaming, and you better believe this former teeny bopper from jersey has a set of lungs on her, I ran back to the tractor and stood on top of it while freaking out. I grabbed the shovel, thrust it towards Pete screaming KILL IT. Poor guy didn't really have much choice in the matter what with his wife acting like a lunatic and all, he went ahead with beheading the snake.

Could we have let the snake live, yes. It wasn't going to do much to me besides give me a few (more) gray hairs if I ran into it again but I was freaked out and I don't respond well in situations like that andplusalso I flipping hate snakes. Afterwards I kept calling Pete Neville, which he didn't get at all because Deathly Hallows Pt.2 hasn't gotten released yet and he's never read the books. (Anyone else super excited for that scene? It's one of my favorites)

After the snake was dead we went on to the back yard to plant the trees. Planting trees in our yard is super easy since we don't have any bedrock laying just under our top soil. First you dig a big ass hole. We always aim for a hole twice the size of the root ball, and for the bigger tree the tractor did most of the digging. Then, you back fill the hole with a bit of the dirt and add some peat moss. Eyeball the amount to be even and enough that when you put the tree in the hole, it won't be completely buried. Trees are not tomatoes and should not be deeply buried when planting. We aim to get the root ball even or just above the ground.

Once the tree is in at the right level, put the rest of the leftover soil back. Water the crap out of the tree for a long time and don't be surprised if you don't see any growth or improvement right away. Trees take time to get established and over the shock of transplanting. At this point you stand back and admire the tree.

May 13, 2011

Plea for skeeter advice!

This weekend I told Pete that I'm pretty sure mosquitoes subscribe to a newsletter that clues them in on my location, if there is one lonely bug in a zip code then it will find me. Or if there are 50 million, they will all find me for feasting on. Just me. I can be right next a group of people and no one else will walk away with bites. Something about my A+ blood makes their tiny little insect hearts sing with happiness.

The bites cause a major reaction on me as well, they get all puffy and itch like hell for days. Especially compared to Pete, who usually gets a bump that is gone in two days. I also don't usually stop scratching until I start bleeding and a teeny bit beyond that point. Which all makes for some (not very)attractive legs in the summer...

Part of me really wants to include a picture of my legs just so you can all see I'm not being a drama queen. My legs get tore up in the summer because of bugs. the other part of me doesn't want to gross out my readers with legs that look like they've laid down in an ants nest covered in honey.

I digress.

The point of all this is to ask for help. I would like to spend my 28th summer not looking like I bug bitten mess. For once I don't want to have to wear pants in august because the bites look like my lower legs have been attacked by some ravenous beast, and I don't want to have to go through a box of band-aids a week trying to make the bites heal without scars.

Please, give me any tricks you know of to get the skeeters away. I'll do and try them all. Anything from skin so soft to pure deet to eat three cloves of garlic a day is welcome advice. Has anyone had luck with lawn treatments? I currently coat myself in Off before leaving the house and multiple times a day when working outside. But I still get bites. Lots of bites. Including one under my eye that makes me look like I've been rumbling in alleys with dancing gang members that carry switch-blades.

Thank you.

May 11, 2011

Clearing the yard...

Here is where I could go on and on and on about cleaning up the rest of the yard. But endless talking about yard work is really boring when I get down into the writing out the details. There isn't much of a method to clearing a yard either, so don't let anyone fool you into thinking there is. Pick a starting point and just work until it looks better. That method works for both big and small efforts.

Side yard waiting for clean -up.

We tackled the side yard, which was a mess of overgrown trees, creeping vines, cinder block and tree parts like roots and limbs. Since I'm a little bit more than scared of snakes I had this genius idea to beat the piss out of the piles/ground with a branch before going in to grab stuff. Smart eh? Scare any potential slithery things away! I'm pretty sure it worked since I didn't see any...on Saturday..

As the sun beat down on us, we worked on clearning everything up and piling it on the patio holding area. Cement in one pile, organic in another and random construction lumber in the final pile. There wasn't enough time to get to the dump, so everything sits waiting for this weekend when we're going to be taking at least one trip over to the county dump.

Our patio looks like it belongs with a crack house. I can't wait to tear that slab up and the lean-to down.

May 10, 2011

Cleaning up Concrete

Right after the dirt got delivered, we hit the Wawa for breakfast and my coffee. The call for the dirt delivery came much earlier than we anticipated, so getting out of the door fast was in order for us to get over to the Wee house with a certain amount of quickness. That speedy exit meant that I didn't get a chance to brew my needed morning coffee at home.

I love that about South Jersey, you're never far from a Wawa :)

After chowing down and caffeinating in the back yard we got down to the second order of business for the morning, cleaning up all our random concrete piles around the yard. Some from the removal of the old "garage" foundation, others from the construction of our new garage and then the odd ball piles of cement that where littered about the yard. We had a little less than two hours to get the trailer loaded and hustle our butts over to the recycle center. In theory 120 minutes sounds like a decent amount of time, but when it is reference to unearthing and moving concrete- it is not nearly enough time.

We worked out a pretty great method of attack of the topsoil and concrete pile. I took one side with a bevy of buckets and one of my crowbars for poking into the dirt and pulling out the big slabs. Pete hit up the other side with a metal rake and the tractor cart to help us move the larger bits and full buckets up to the front yard.

The pile afterward the massive pick through, see the post from yesterday for the before shot.

Being mindful of the clock and how much weight our poor SUV can handle towing, we had to call it quits on loading the concrete around 11 and hightail it outta there to get the recycle center before they close the gates for the day. We got there 5 minutes prior to last call and 35 minutes before closing time.

Once again, and certainly not for the last time, we found ourselves under the high tension wires unceremoniously chucking cement and cinder blocks into a giant pile of rubble. To avoid hitting the other with an errant throw to the pile we work on different sides of the trailer.

It took us 13 minutes to clear the trailer. Boom. Done.

The best part, all the disposal is freeeeeeeee and gets recycled. At the county dump we would have had to pay and everything would have ended up in the landfills. I love this place, I just wish they would take my wallpapered plaster walls.

May 9, 2011

Fun fact: Dirt is not cheap

I have sunburn on my back, bug bites on my neck, blisters on my palms, several broken fingernails and a bruised forearm. All that adds up to one really long weekend working outside on the Wee house. It really felt good to get back to business on the house, and busting out these long weekends of hard work. There is much to talk about, including the story of how Pete killed snake with a shovel. But that and other stories will come at a later time.

Despite the fact that the house is half gutted and the garage isn't completed, we decided to spend this weekend focusing on improving the yard a bit. No massive landscape effort to turn it into paradise, but we really needed to clean up the yard like woah. There were pockets of really overgrown jungle vines, random bits of the old garage's cement foundation piled up and cinder blocks scattered about. It just wasn't pretty and if we let everything to continue to grow with wild abandon over the summer it would be much harder to handle in the fall.

A major part of the weekend for us was going to be getting some fill dirt delivered and then working on grading the land around the garage/our driveway and side yard areas. The "natural" flow that our yard had before was disturbed by the new garage, and we really needed to boost the dirt up around the building. At first we started getting quotes on how much a load of topsoil would be, thinking that it better to just use that because of it's ability to grow grass and fill in low spots of land. However, the prices we were getting just put top soil out of our budget- it was about $22- 27$ per yard, we needed 18 yards and every single place was charging extra high delivery fees thanks to the current hefty price of diesel fuel. Then we found the price sheet for Winzingers, our trusty free concrete recycling center, and topsoil there was only $15 a yard, BUT fill dirt was only $5 a yard. Plus the insanely high cost to get it delivered, which was more than the actual dirt.

Our poor neighbors had to deal with this as their wake-up call on Saturday morning. I felt like a jerk for disturbing the neighbor calm with a dump load of dirt at that early hour.

The total still ended up being freakishly high for just dirt, but the final bill was a lot easier on our wallets with the fill option. Although, these prices really help to change the old adage of "cheaper than dirt", cause dirt is not cheap anymore.

We'll get a small load of topsoil in the fall and use that as a thin frosting layer for the grass seed something to grab onto. So what if we had to pick part of a curb and asphalt out of the pile, the fill dirt was going to serve it's purpose of filling in the low spots...

The dirt delivery was just the kick off of our hard working weekend! Anyone else accomplish a ton during this past weekend? Or did you get to enjoy fabulous weather without having cheap dirt stuck to the sweat that was all over your body?

May 3, 2011

no go on plaster disposal plans

When we took our leftover cement and cinder block to the recycle center we also brought along a bucket of plaster with us. The point was to ask the center if they would accept the plaster for recycling for free. If they did take it, that would save us bundle of cash on the county dump fees where you are charged by weight. Plaster is heavy y'all.

Good news: They'll take it.

Bad news: They won't take it if it has wallpaper attached.

Dream Killing News: Every inch of our house has wallpaper on top of the plaster.

For about five minutes I debated how practical it would be to scrape off a century's worth of wallpaper from all remaining plaster surfaces of our house before demoing the plaster for recycling. Then I remembered- our old wallpaper seemed to be put up with a permanent sticking charm. No amount of warm vinegar/fabric softener water will loosen the wallpaper's death grip on our walls and this delusional plan of mine shouldn't even be attempted.

So we're back to square one when it comes time demo the rest of our walls. Buckets and paying for the county dump. Fun times.

May 2, 2011

Saving money to lose it

This year Pete and I have been focusing on lowering our financial output. Which is a fancy pants way of saying we've busy been searching out ways to save our dollars. You always read advice in how to save that has you watching the nickles and dimes, but we decided to attack with the big guns and go after a few ginormous bills that where making our checkbooks weep.

Besides, I already brew my morning cup of coffee at home and forgo the fancy afternoon lattes.

First up was the home insurance on the Wee house. Do you have any idea how much coverage on a vacant property that is in the midst renovation costs? It is mind-blowingly expensive. When when we got the coverage it was hard to find someone who would even write the policy for us.

What? You don't want to insure this hot mess of a house that is sitting empty and gutted? I can't even imagine why...

A few months ago, Pete's parents found themselves with an empty house that they needed to insure. They got refered to a company that writes vacant property policies and the quote came in way less than what we were paying. Call us flabbergasted. We raced to the phone and inquired about a policy for ourselves. Turns out, we could get the same coverage we have now ( we have a few riders on our policy for injury because of the reno's ) through them for about $1,500 less than our current payment. Yeah...That is comma in our savings amount.

Needless to say, we switched insurance and are super happy to put that money into the garage and renovations instead.

Next up was our Wtown taxes. New Jersey has notoriously high property taxes. It is a fact of life for living in the Garden State and the price we all pay for being with a 30 minute drive to mall or Target at any location in the state. Way back in 2007, when the market was still *hot*, our entire town got reassessed on the home values and after that reassessment our property taxes doubled. Which was not so awesome.

Last year we failed to sell our house for something very close to the assessed value. (Also not awesome). Which led us to believe something along the lines of " Hey. The town is wrong. We can't sell our house for this much, so it can't be worth X amount." So this tax year, we filed for the lowering of our property assessment, which would lower our property taxes.

The whole petitioning process cost us $5 and about an hours worth of time in filling out forms. We asked for an insanely low amount, but it was also the price that we honestly think that our house could possibly sell for if we needed to unload it asap. So there was some justification in our minds for the price point we choose. The adjuster called us, and basically was like " um, how are you asking for this price? There is no way you're house could be worth this little when compared to the comps."

Ahhh we beg to differ...

None of those other comps have a train running next to their house. And despite all the appraisers, property assessors, real estate agents and mortgage lenders we've had out to the house- not one person can give us a nailed down price on how much the train hurts the value of our home.

We met with the lovely lady who came by to inspect the digs, there was home tour conducted of casa and property. She sat down with us and agreed with our appeal. Not quite for the rock bottom price we proposed, but that was a long shot anyway. We reached a happy middle number and signed off on the OK. The new taxable assessment is about 12.5k lower than the previous amount and brings our taxes down a sweet couple hundred a year.

Despite the fact that it means our house has lost value (uh-duh) I'm still filing this whole tax appeal process as #winning.

Did I mention that we got notice that our college rental property taxes are going up? Oh, I haven't? Well that is long story for another time, but in the shortest summary: Taxes are going up the exact amount we just saved between the insurance and appeal.