Monday, May 29, 2017

Kitchen Remodel: Part One

I thought I would kick off this series of posts that I will eventually be making on this subject unless other circumstances intervene. Above is our current kitchen layout that I drew using some software I bought online several years ago. Back then I was mulling the possibilities and wanted to put it out on paper. I'll walk you through what you are viewing. The rectangular somewhat outlined in purple is the outside walls of our house though the roof line continues over that area creating a porch. The porch has a poured concrete surface that I assume is anchored on the front by a footing. Our basement foundation walls follow the purple line. (Please forgive my colorblindness if it is actually blue.)

Problem one we have with the layout is the entryway shown on the right. It is very narrow requiring one to squeeze tightly against the wall to allow a guest to enter so that you can graciously shut the door behind them. Instead we usually walk backwards to the kitchen entryway and then go back and shut the door behind guests if they haven't already closed the door. It also faces a T-intersection in the street out front which according to my wife is just bad feng shui.

Although adequate in size, our kitchen in the center has a serious flaw and that is the entry points. The refrigerator on the right when open, blocks off one entry point and the double wall oven labeled U302490 above equally closes down the left entryway. Both points are narrow enough that when we had to replace our refrigerator, we had to special order it just to fit through the wider doorway on the right.

Other issues that are serious flaws but which we hope to correct is the pantry space. Currently, the only pantry space is a small floor to ceiling cabinet on the right side of the refrigerator. Most of our dry good occupy that space and most of our canned goods are in the basement, a long ways away. The microwave (not shown) is situated right above the cooktop on the right. Because the door opens from the right, it means that someone can't use the microwave while someone else is using the cooktop. It also means that when using large canning vessels which I do a lot of in the summer months, I have to put the jars into the canner and then slide it under the microwave to process and similar when emptying it. I need more vertical space between the stove top and the bottom of the microwave or better yet, move the microwave to an entirely different location.

Finally, By the time we have our can opener, spice rack, toaster, food processor, rice dispenser, coffee pot, container of stirring utensils, salt and pepper grinder and a few other things I'm probably forgetting sitting on the counter top, there is very limited room for anything else such as making pie crusts or sitting a warm pot while cooking something else.

So how to fix all these things? My first thought was to look over at the space to the left which is what one would call a breakfast nook these days. It would be cozy for two people to breakfast there but with two kids and a live-in mother-in-law, it would be cozy in more ways than one! The simple plan would just eliminate the breakfast nook and expand into that space. Currently it houses our china hutch and a catchall buffet table that we bought at an auction years ago. It also houses our shoes, my daughter's backpacks and sometimes stray coats because not shown is an entry door from the garage which is past the wall on the left.

If we expanded that way, we would get a decent sized kitchen, but would gain just a little counter space since one wall is still occupied by our china hutch and it wouldn't solve the narrow entryway or bad feng shui problems. It also wouldn't allow for a kitchen island which is probably one of the bigger selling points for remodeled kitchens and a place where we are guaranteed to have room to work on food that isn't cluttered up by kitchen accessories.

So I started looking about expanding out to the bottom of the above drawing. That presented it's own challenges to me. First, any plumbing expansion in that direction would end up outside our foundation walls and insulated envelope meaning I would at minimum have to create some sort of crawlspace to access and insulate that space. To get that deep, one would already be pouring 2/3rds of a basement so going ahead and expanding the basement footprint as well is probably going to be the best solution however, digging all that out, attaching it to the existing structure and making sure the loads are distributed were all things I wasn't sure I could handle. That is when we decided that if we were going to get serious, we needed to hire someone to help us out on that aspect. Stay tuned on the next post for the first draft of that.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Shedding Weight

At our previous house, we held the occasional garage sale but not very often just because of the work involved. We did take advantage of a program where once a year, residents were allowed to pile just about anything they wanted to rid themselves along the curb and the city would come, pick it up and dispose of it free of charge. The best part is that you had a week grace period from when you could start piling it up before the city came to haul it away. This allowed people to wander the street and cart off some of your "trash" before it made to the landfill. Most times, our modest pile of stuff would be 90% gone before the city ever came to haul the few remaining items away. It was one of those win-win situations.

Our current town doesn't do this so we have to either hold more garage sales or haul it to the dump and pay tipping fees. Fortunately, our neighbors across the street and down a ways love to hold an annual garage sale every spring and we all combine our resources from labor, advertising fees to household stuff we are wishing to remove from our houses. We took full advantage of that this year.

We spent a week combing through our basement and sorting through all our storage shelves for items which we will probably never use again due to aging, changing desires, or most recently inheritances from grandparents downsizing to fit in a one bedroom apartment. Believe it or not, we still had boxes full of stuff from our move into this house five years ago! This past year, several major retail players in our community have closed up shop leaving only one major household player left. So unfortunately in an effort to organize our lives, I had to go to Walmart and buy a van load of clear plastic storage totes. We're still in the process of getting everything organized into those totes but we are rid of the last of the moving boxes which means we can see what we have left.

Between all the stuff we've been saving up for a couple years and all the stuff "gifted" me by others, I had a van load of stuff to haul across the street to the garage sale. I ended up working around 10 hours over two days manning the booth and wheeling and dealing with people to offload everything and in the end, I only had to haul back two garbage bags of clothes and a brass/glass fireplace door set given to me by my parents to sale. The clothes we kept simply because most of them were gently used kids clothes that we will gift to others who want them. The fireplace door I would have sold cheaply to anyone who had an interest but not one person expressed interest. Years ago I won one in an auction while just bidding on a fire poker set and sold it later on Ebay for over $300 profit so I'm guessing I will do something similar with this one.

We got a sizable check for all our stuff but more importantly to me, I can now walk through our storage room without walking around a pile of stuff destined for a garage sale and soon what remains will be organized in clear plastic totes (thanks to whomever Walmart bullied to make so cheap) on the shelves with some room to spare. It's hard to put a price on empty space in a home.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Johnny Mixed Hardwood Seed

I love trees. I've probably planted somewhere in the order of several thousand of them in my career thus far thanks in large part to helping my parents plant them on odd parcels of land in their holdings. When I bought my first house, I didn't consider my ability to plant trees before we had an accepted offer and suffered for many years because that house had electrical wires running along two of the property lines and a road for a third. With only a quarter acre of land and a huge mature maple and pin oak trees, there just wasn't much for options. I planted a sour cherry tree and that was it.

Our next house I made sure to consider if I could plant trees before we made an offer and ended up with a house that sits on a couple acres of land. Up until a half dozen years before we had bought it, most of it had been timber but a previous occupant had pushed out most of the undergrowth on top of the knobs leaving behind only the mature trees. The problem with this was that they were mature and nearing the end of their life cycle. I've had to remove nearly 40 of them during the five years we have lived here and there are probably a dozen more that are in various stages of decline that I will have to remove in the next five years.

However, I'm thrilled because it has allowed me to plant some more diverse trees than just the oaks, maples and black cherries that I have. I took advantage of the arbor day society to get a dozen trees sent to me along with four old fashioned lilac bushes like those that we used to have on the old farm. I grew those twigs in pots on my deck for six months and then planted them in the fall and I had thought all but one had survived over the course of the two years they've been in the ground. One down in the ditch had been eaten by a rabbit or some such creature and had been missing a couple years. The remaining trees finally grew a little bit last summer and this year have been really making progress. Even the lilacs which have looked like twigs with a few leaves for two years have now started growing upwards and to my delight this spring, multiplying!

Despite several trees being of the colorful flowering variety, my wife has wanted some more color among them and somewhere found a couple of pretty pathetic looking red Japanese maples that she bought. I would much rather plant native trees but a happy wife is a happy life so this morning I got them planted. It isn't as simple as just digging a hole and sticking them in here in deer-thick-as-thieves country. I planted them, fertilized them, mulched them, pounded steel fence posts around them and caged them in with heavy gauge chicken wire to keep the deer at bay until they are old enough to fend for themselves. Unfortunately, this means that our house is surrounded by nearly twenty trees fenced in individual cages. Kind of like a maximum security prison for trees!

When I started planting those two Japanese maples, I only had three fence posts but thought I would go down and rob the posts and wire of the tree that I planted two years ago that got eaten off. However when I got down to the bottom of the ditch between our two knobs where I planted it, I found that it had grown up from the stump and was starting to look pretty healthy. So I ended up making another trip to the hardware store for a few more fence posts to finish the job. Now I have two Japanese immigrants added to my collection of prisoners. If only I wasn't red/green colorblind to see them turn colors this fall. (Teaser Alert: More about this last sentence in a future post.)

Monday, May 22, 2017

Slightly Broken

For those following this ongoing story, my mom had another MRI last week and I'm happy to report there are no changes. It isn't classified as remission, nor will it ever be, but it isn't growing and I'll take that any day of the week. My mom has been under tremendous stress these past couple weeks with spring planting season in full swing and knowing her life might be turned completely upside down the next MRI. I think this stress causes issues in the damaged parts of her brain and as a result, I see my mom as slightly broken.

It took me a long time to fully understand. When the brain cancer was first diagnosed and subsequently removed, it was described as being done in a way to minimal disturb nearby healthy living brain tissue. This leads you to believe that nothing inside will really be affected. But in reality, that tumor invaded and killed healthy cells well before it was detected and removed. The removal was in affect, removing past healthy brain tissue that is now dead along with some still healthy tissue as they removed as much of the tumor as they could.

After surgery and radiation, I still saw my old mom I have always known. I still see that mom the majority of the time. But as time goes by, I start seeing what was broken. Some sort of filter was removed that allows my mom to be much more aggressive than normal at times. Sometimes it also manifests as delayed decision making. Yet other times it leads to some confusion. I'm not positive since I don't see these manifest every time I'm around or even all that often, but I suspect they happen when she is feeling stressed. Something about her brain dealing with stress is causing her to do or not do things that she normally would.

Even before this diagnosis, my brother and I have been subtly suggesting that our parents should retire and enjoy life while the farming empire they have built continues to support them. After the diagnosis, we stepped it up a notch encouraging them and helping them to understand that if they cash rent out their land, they will have more money to support themselves than they will know what to do with. My dad is already under Medicare and my mom will be eligible in two and a half years so medical bills shouldn't be the issue. They have slowed down some, hiring out some of the spraying, fertilizing and even some of the fall harvest. But it isn't enough to prevent stress. My brother has been up helping with the spring planting for the last couple weeks and finally my parents have admitted that they probably shouldn't have even attempted farming this year and that they do think full retirement is going to happen after the fall harvest. My brother and I are thrilled.

I'm hoping that without the stress, my mom will live a healthier remainder of her life and perhaps even make a serious attempt at crossing off some items on her bucket list at a more rapid pace. I think it will do my dad a world of good as well. They have worked hard for this day and my father will hopefully be the first in a long line of "Abbey's" to retire and not just work until he dies. But first there is still slightly more than half of spring planting season left and another harvest to get through this fall. I plan on enjoying it since it might be my last.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Obamacare vs. Trumpcare

A highly political title for this post and I promise I will tread lightly so not to offend people who are sensitive on this topic. But please read on.

When my mother-in-law was in the process of moving to our country to live with us, we were shopping for health insurance to cover her while visiting. It was expensive but readily available at dozens of insurance companies that did business in our state. However, at the same time, Obamacare was passed which I felt was a good thing for us personally but that it wasn't going to solve the problem of high healthcare costs. So instead of buying insurance privately, which wasn't allowed anymore in her case, we were forced to go through Obamacare which I again stress, was a good thing for us personally. We had problems along with millions of others during the initial rollout but that was to be expected and eventually we got to select between over a dozen plans. My mother-in-law was fully insured for a little over $400/month, about half what we were going to have to pay had Obamacare not been passed. Because we were footing the bill and she was working, there were no government subsidies and we had to pay every penny. I wasn't surprised.

The following year the number of insurance plans to choose from decreased from a dozen to about six and the premiums went up to $600/month. Year number three the premiums went up to $800/month and we only had a single plan to choose the only company that sold insurance for our county. The state still had two other insurers but they each only covered certain regions. This year is year four and the premiums are now over $1000+/month and there is only one insurer for the entire state (the other two quit after last year) and the remaining insurer has announced that they probably won't be offering health insurance next year. The local news says that there won't be a single health insurer in our state next year to provide health insurance for those privately buying it. We will be in an "insurance blackout." I have yet found an answer to what an insurance blackout is or what it will mean to my mother-in-law this fall when it is time to re-enroll her into an insurance plan.

On a daily basis I'm inundated with stories of people whose lives have been saved by Obamacare. I rarely hear stories of people being priced out of the market and haven't heard a single story about what happens when all the insurance companies stop selling insurance because they can't afford to follow the rules of Obamacare.

Now they are designing Trumpcare.

The first go around sounded like a disaster waiting to happen and I for one was extremely glad it didn't get support enough to pass. Anything this broken, and yes Obamacare is broken, can't be fixed overnight. It takes lots of careful though and analysis and frankly, I don't think either political party is capable of either of those things these days. Lately with the passage of a bill in the house and as I write this, 13 men working on a bill in the senate, I'm not hopeful. None of the proposed legislation that I have seen specifically addresses the issue of insurance companies refusing to sell insurance privately because it isn't profitable, and yes I think they need to earn a profit just like any other business. The only glimmer of light that I can see is that any plan that replaces or fixes Obamacare will change the business model enough insurance companies will once again be able to sell insurance and make some sort of profit while those of us buying can afford it. Still nobody has attempted to fix the initial problem.

The initial problem was the skyrocketing cost of healthcare. Obamacare didn't address it, only shift who pays for it. Trumpcare hasn't addressed it that I've seen, only shift the burden of who pays for it back closer to the way it was before Obamacare.

I think that we are going to have to accept that we can't insure everybody exactly the same because we all are different and have different needs. I for example, don't need pregnancy coverage but would probably elect to have prostate coverage. Some of us are going to have to pay more than others because some of us have different health needs than others. I would fully expect my mom with brain cancer would have to pay more for insurance than a recent college graduate track star. It makes sense. To force both to pay the same only insures that the track star is paying for something they will never need for years to come and that my mom will probably get substandard care because she makes insurance companies lose money. The one idea for reducing the initial problem of skyrocketing healthcare by eliminating borders and thus forcing insurance companies to compete on a national scale doesn't ever seem to gain traction.

I'm extremely frustrated right now because I'm caught in the middle. One side won't admit their plan is broken and the other side is trying to replace it with something that has less thought put in it than your typical elementary science project. My Facebook newsfeed is full of posts that are nothing more than fear mongering (on both sides) and have little truth if any in them. I just wish we could all be honest with ourselves for awhile, put party pride aside and have a real discussion on how we can fix healthcare which has been broken for my entire lifetime and only made worse as the years have gone by.