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DayCreek Journal

April 13 , 2003

What Season is this Anyway?

I had planned on driving up on Monday, but was delayed due to a late-season snow that plagued both the La Crosse and Chicago areas. It was a quite a wet snow and travel conditions were marginal at best, so I stayed home and shoveled. (This seemed to be a good move considering there were the remnants of three jackknifed trucks on my return trip.)

Tuesday found me on the road to Minnesota and as I got past Madison, the sun shone brightly and every day since has been sunny. Within two days, the snow was a distant memory and temperatures began to climb. Today it reached the low 70's and tomorrow they are predicting 85° to 90° (F). There's nothing like going from a snowstorm to record heat in one week.

With the rapid changes in the weather, I have had to make rapid changes to the heating system. I have shunted the heat to the outdoor heating loop and covered four of the collectors to keep the system running a bit cooler (140° to 150° (F)). Somewhere down on the list of things to do, plans are to use the collectors during the summer months to preheat domestic hot water. If this was not the case, I would probably cover all the collectors and mothball the system until September.

The temperature has never gotten above 78°(F) in the house (yet), but with a forecast calling for very warm weather over the next couple of days I don't want to be caught off guard. We'll see what tomorrow may bring. I'll probably keep the windows open until 10 a.m. or so, and then shut the house and see what happens. Until I get the inside cordwood walls built, the amount of thermal mass is somewhat limited. How this plays out is anyone's guess.

Preparing for Next Winter
Tom came out this past week to lend a hand and did a fine job of cutting up a bunch of logs from the ash tree that was felled a few weeks ago. (Tom likes chainsaw work, and I don't know if I should be concerned about that or not.) Although it appears one tree will not be enough, I don't think it will take that much more wood. I only went through one face cord of wood this last winter. (Only a portion of the entire heating required. Don't forget about the solar heating system and the backup electric heat. I'll be writing about the total heating expense in an upcoming journal.)

One thing is for sure, I am glad I made the investment in a log splitter. It really makes splitting wood a pleasure and the splitter has come in handy for building the walls and now to keep me warm too.

Square Foot Gardening
I have had good success with square foot gardening at our home in Illinois, so I figured I would give it a try up here and see how it works. Over the years, I have built a number of add-ons to the beds including trellises and even a small green house. So, when I built the frames today I made sure to keep the same dimensions so that I can reuse some of the add-ons.

I've been scaling back the garden in Illinois over the past few years. It's been more work than I can handle and most homeowners in the suburbs of Chicago really don't want gardens—they would rather have perfect lawns! When it comes time to sell our house, it's probably best that I get rid of my compost piles and framed-in gardens.

(If you are interested in finding out more about square foot gardening, here's Mel Bartholomew's web site:

Bathroom Vanity
Besides all of the other things going on this week, I decided to build the bathroom vanity from scratch. I seriously thought about not building it, but the alternative of a store bought one weren't quite attractive—either they were cheaply made, or quite expensive.

Now a cabinet maker I am not, but I did my best. Thanks to leftover cedar from the ceiling, I wrapped the outside of a plywood frame with cedar paneling. I even made the doors out of cedar.

For the top, I used a rather decorative piece of 1" thick pine board. The board kind of looks like a butcher block. Jo and I had some discussions about whether a wood top would hold up to bathroom use. Sealing the wood, would not be enough to keep moisture from penetrating the wood.

The solution to the problem ended up being a polymer product that puts on 15 coats at once and looks like glass. I've seen this on restaurant tables and a few bars. (Not that I am a frequent visitor of bars.) Before you pour it on, a resin and hardener have to be thoroughly mixed for two minutes. It has no odor and pours on like honey. After about 12 hours, it's pretty much tack-free and takes up to 72 hours to fully cure. The trick is to keep the dust off of it for the first 12 hours. (This kept me out of the house, splitting wood.)

Mouse in the House
About a month ago I made a startling discovery when I decided to have some red wine with dinner. (Who says you have to rough it?) The bottle stopper that I had put on the bottle had been chewed! I knew right away that there was at least one mouse in the house.

Last fall, once the house was sealed up I got rid of a bunch of mice and didn't see any all throughout the winter. But somehow, someway at least one mouse found out a new route. Out came the traps again and when I returned three weeks ago, there were two mice that went up to the "Big Cheese" in the sky. I assumed that they got in through the vent pipe under the stove and I screened-in the vent pipe to prevent future surprises. After two weeks of no traps being sprung, I figured I got them all—wrong!

At three in the morning I woke to sounds of something gnawing. Sure enough it was a mouse gnawing on a hickory nut. I chased the mouse from second floor to first and back to the second floor, all the while the mouse wouldn't let go of that darn hickory nut. Finally it ran down from the second floor, dropped the hickory nut and disappeared. I have no idea if it's still in the house or not. I haven't caught any in the traps, but I did finally find out where the mice were coming from.

When I built the cordwood walls, I inserted a few 3" PVC pipes for easy access to the exterior. One of these pipes has the solar heating pipes running through it. I had packed the space around the pipes with fiberglass insulation, but at some point during the winter the mice pushed the insulation out. A big wad of insulation was just hanging there on the wall. Since then I have foamed-over the pipe and so far so good. Hopefully this will be the last time that I write about the "mouse in the house".

In honor of our furry friend, I wrote a poem. (The real reason is couldn't get back to sleep after chasing a mouse at three in the morning, so I figured writing a poem would put me to sleep.)

A Mouse in the House

I was all comfy in my bed
Dreams of cordwood in my head.
But around the hour of three
Came a sound—what could it be?
I had this awful hunch
Someone was having their lunch.
Should I climb the ladder if I dare?
The sound was coming from up there.
Dressed in battle gear of sweats and flip-flop
I climbed the ladder to the top.
Chomp, chomp, chomp came the sound
Sooner or later the source will be found.
Moving a few boards is all it took,
Now I see those beady eyes of a crook!
With wealth rivaling King Tut,
Away he ran with a hickory nut.
I chased him up and down
But all I caught was a frown.
Where did he go?
I guess I'll never know.
It's times like that
I wish I had a cat in the hat.

Our friend the Pileated Woodpecker appears to be building (or is it chiseling?) a nest in an old birch tree in back of the house.