Saturday, June 27, 2009

The internet is for corn!

(or: Knee high by the 25th of June!)

knee high before the 4th of July

Given our very late start, I was quite surprised that the corn reached knee high by the 23rd or so of June. Especially given that my knees are rather higher than average.

Photo by A.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Our Garden

Our garden

Our garden is doing incredibly well this year, especially considering how late we (read: A.) planted everything. The corn was knee high by the 23rd of June. This translates to waist high for most other people.

Squashes and melons

We've got melons and squashes.


There are beans, okra, and onions in the foreground, as well as horseradish, rhubarb, and two varieties of peppers that don't seem to be doing anything. In the midground are four varieties of tomatoes. The back patch includes two types of corn and beans. It also has what I strongly suspect to be garlic.

Lettuce, carrots, potatoes

In this patch are lettuce, carrots, and potatoes. Off to the left, one can see the multi-grafted fruit tree, which seems to finally be doing well.

Most surprising about all this is how late we were in planting - most of the seeds have only been in the ground 30 days, and none of them (except for the two watermelons) were transplants.

Finally, an update!

Day lillies and the neighbor's garage

Day lillies and our neighbor's garage, at sunset.

Monday, June 15, 2009


Ev and Chris at Gali's tree hunting

Yesterday, A, E, and I went out, looking for a weeping cherry tree to plant in the memory of my late grandfather.

I wanted one with pink flowers, until I found one with white flowers that had very small cherries on it. The pink-flowered trees cost at least 50% more than the white flowered weeping cherries, so the combination of the fruits, the price, and the quality of the foliage sold me on the white weeping cherry.

Ev and our chosen Weeping Cherry in the van

E seemed to appreciate it too.

multi-grafted fruit tree

Yesterday I also planted the multi-grafted fruit tree I purchased on eBay. It should produce two varieties of peaches, two of plums and a nectarine. The tree is planted on the location of our former tree, which was ground out earlier in the week. I hauled about 400 gallons of mulch from the stump grinding to the community garden site that I'm working on at work. Once the mulch was cleared, I was able to plant the tree.

I also ordered some blackberries, raspberries, and blueberries from an eBay seller - they offered seven of each plant for a total of $16, shipped. I'm starting to doubt that I'll ever get them. While they had excellent feedback, their account is no longer registered with eBay and they haven't responded to any of my emails. The plan was to take the one or two best plants of each berry and use them as replacements for the Home Depot berries, which haven't grown at all. The rest of the berries would go in the community garden.

Now both trees have been planted, close to the location of the two dead trees that have since been removed.

All photographs, of course, were taken by A.

I should mention that our garden is also doing very well. Four varieties of tomatoes, two of corn and beans, melons, squashes, and more. I've never had everything sprout so nicely. The only thing that doesn't seem to be doing well are the potatoes. I credit the garden doing so well to the fact that A planted everything.

Cleveland Craigslist alert - ribcage shower!


I found this marble enclosed ribcage shower on the Cleveand craigslist. They're looking for offers. You know it's exactly what you want for your house!

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Great Yard Waste Debate

This week, as in the past, I left my yard waste on the tree lawn, in two large brown paper bags designed for that purpose. However, unlike in times past, the city did not remove them. Instead, a notice was stapled to one of the bags, stating that they were not taken because yard waste must be in city bags, available at many local hardware stores. A and I were quite annoyed about this - for all intents and purposes, the bags are identical - the only difference is the printing on them.

This monring, on my break, I called up the Shaker Heights Department of Public Works to enquire as to why one must use the city bags. I was told that the additional cost was to help defray the cost of the additional pickup, separate from regular waste collection.

This makes some sense. I like that, unlike many user fees, it does not tend to disportionally affect those with lower incomes. People with less money tend to live in houses with smaller yards and correspondingly less yard waste. In a city where large lots were available at more reasonable prices, I might feel differently.

I also like that it incentivizes people to compost more and generate less waste.

However, I have not heard of another municipality in the area that charges to remove standard yard waste. The cost is minimal, for sure, but given that we already pay such high taxes, one might think that this would be included. As the cost of the bags is nominally to cover the cost of pickup, I might feel differently if it was possible to drop off yard waste at some central location.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Our dream farm

"Our" farm

"Our" farm

At about milemarker 37, on the north side of Interstate 70, in Maryland, sits this gorgeous farmhouse. A. and I noticed it each time we drove by. We decided that it was absolutely perfect, the place that if we could own, we would, thus the captions on some of the photographs referring to it as ""Our" farmhouse".

"Our" farm

"Our" farm

The curb appeal is truly impressive, even from a moving car on the interstate, as shown in the two photographs above.

"Our" farm, Washington County, Maryland

By itself, the house is a nice, solid example of early 19th century western Maryland architecture. Like most of the buildings in the area, it makes use of the local stone.

"Our" farm, Washington County, Maryland

The outbuildings - the smokehouse, the springhouse, the barn, and associated buildings - are what make this site so visually pleasing. This farm and its associated property, some more than 110 acres, are the embodiment of the western Maryland farm. They are perfect.

Of course, with Maryland real estate prices what they are, this farm and the associated land would probably fetch a couple million dollars. If the current owners ever decide that they'd rather have a nice, spacious house in Shaker Heights, we'd be more than happy to make an even trade.

Books! or: How I Spent My Lunch Break

Two Dollar Rare Book Store

I only recently learned that on the days I work the later shift (12:30-8), I get a 45 minute lunch break. (On the days that I work 9:30-5:30, I get a half hour). Today, I took advantage of this and went over to the best used bookstore in the greater Cleveland area, the Two Dollar Rare Book Store.

This establishement, located at East 69th and Euclid, near the Dunham Tavern, seems unassuming at best. Inside, however, is located the most incredible selection of books, including some that people might even actually want to buy. There's a lot of junk, for sure, but there's also a lot of great stuff, usually in condition that other bookstores, even antiquarian ones, wouldn't be caught dead with. I recall once seeing first editions of all five volumes of Jowett's translation of Plato's works, at $2 a volume. They were lacking their covers, and I felt it was better to let some other idiot purchase them.

Today, I purchased five books or book-shaped objects, for a grand total of $3.

Two are books on Shaker Heights history, published by the Shaker Heights Landmark Commission: The Van Sweringen Influence: Shaker Heights (3rd edition, 1983, 56 pages) and Shaker Heights Fences: a guide to fence styles and regulations for residential architecture (1984, 15 pages). Both are interesting titles. I don't know how much use I have for Shaker Heights Fences but it's a welcome addition to my Shaker Heights bibliography. There are many more copies of both of these titles in the store.

I also purchased First Aid for the Ailing House by Roger B. Whitman (3rd edition, 1942). It includes a considerable wealth of information about the repair of houses like my own.

Finally, I obtained the April and October 2007 issues of Traditional Building magazine. I'd heard of this publication, for building professionals, but I hadn't been able to find it at a local library and I couldn't justify the cost of a subscription. It seems worthwhile for the advertisments alone - I don't know where else I'd find such a comprehensive list of suppliers of so many of these materials.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Multi-grafted fruit tree

I just purchased a multi-grafted fruit tree from the eBay seller mgmg9495. I chose them over a couple of other eBay vendors because they were the only one actually able to name all the varieties of fruits on the tree. I looked at the websites of some nurseries as well, but they lacked the variety I was looking for - most of them offered two or three varieties of a single fruit, and many of them didn't offer shipping.

This tree has, according to the seller, the following varieties:
Peach: Harvester; Contender
Nectarine: Red Gold
Plum: Red Bruce; AU Producer Purple

It was advertised that the tree will grow to 12-15 feet tall. It was further stated that it was suitable for zones 4b-8b - I'd like to believe that we're in 6A, but we're probably borderline between 6a and 5b.

The tree arrived in excellent condition with good roots. I had planned to plant it on the site of the old elm tree, but have since decided not to do that just yet. For now, it is planted in a very large pot, awaiting the removal of the stump of the old tree. Once the stump has been ground out, we will plant the tree in that spot.

Conversation with one of the original residents

This afternoon, I had the pleasure of talking with Nancy Tuleikis, whose parents had our house built and who lived in it from the age of 4-9. She lived in the house with her parents and two sisters. He father, John Garbison, was a general manager at the William Taylor Son & Co. department store.

The third floor was finished at the time the house was built, as was the bathroom up there, which I'd been a bit unsure of. She also told me that the house had originally been heated with an oil powered boiler, the tank for which sat under the driveway. At some point, there was a spill, which caused a fire that blackened some of the basement walls.

The construction of the house is primarily brick and masonry on steel, as I'd long suspected but hadn't fully investigated.

All of the downstairs was carpeted at the time the house was built, much to my surprise, with the exception of the kitchen and breakfast room.


The wall seen above used to go all the way to the ceiling, separating the breakfast nook from the rest of the kitchen. The stove was on the wall opposite where it is now. The wall had cabinets all the way to the ceiling. There was, however, a pass-through between the kitchen and the breakfast noon.


The above photograph is of the breakfast nook, which is directly to the right of the space in the image that precedes this one.

She recalls the tile being not yellow, as was present in the small area under the bar sink, but light green. Perhaps there was a combination of the two.


The icebox was in a separate, unheated room, in the space shown here. It had been converted to run on electricity.

There was an electric dishwasher, which spun the dishes around inside. Nancy said that while her father thought this was a wonderful gadget, her mother feared it would break the china, and as a result, it was rarely used.

The floor in the breakfast noon was hardwood. The floor in the kitchen was inlaid cork linoleum.

She described the built in vacuum system as being water-powered and noiseless, which was especially useful given that the entire first floor was carpeted.

John Garbison eventually moved to Fort Wayne, IN, for employment in a department store there. He travelled back and forth to Cleveland once a month.

I promised her that I'd send some photographs of the house as it is today, and she said she'd send some copies of those of the house, if she could find them in the attic. She said she was pretty sure that there were some of the house while it was under construction, which would be especially interesting, I think.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Now, with more paint!

view from landing

The following are some photos of the second floor hallway and part of the stairs, illustrating the lovely new paint. I'm so glad to finally have this project done. Mostly. There's still a bit of touch-up work to do - the little blue specks in the last photograph are bits of masking tape I left on the wall so I could see where I needed to touch up. The photographs were all taken by Audrey.

I haven't been able to figure out how to take apart the globe light fixture. The bulb hasn't burned out, but I know it will some day. I may finally have to contact the previous owner about that.

half of the yellow hallway

Someday, I'd like to get rid of the spikey plaster on the ceiling. It has never been painted, and comes off with relative ease. The little bit of green showing at the top is an area that I accidentially scrubbed off when I was scrubbing the walls of their wallpaper glue.

landing w-porch doors

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

My taxes are higher than your taxes

In Ohio, property (real estate) taxes are administered at the county level. The residents of the individual cities and towns vote on levies that specify the rates of taxation, but the valuation of the properties is done by the county. Further, the tax valuation of a property is based not upon the sale price, but upon the values of comparables in the neighborhood. Thus, if a house sells for considerably below neighborhood comparables, the property owner's taxes will not be reduced accordingly. The property owner can appeal the valuation and likely get a reduction, though probably not to the full amount of the difference.

Shaker Heights was developed with relatively few commercial properties. As a result, the burden of taxation falls on the homeowners. This works well enough for me - we, as the residents, are not beholden to large commercial interests and their threats to leave the municipality for another with lower taxes, the way some cities are. The residents of Shaker Heights have, over time, voted for taxes that support our schools, which are among the best in the area, and the rest of the city government. The schools get 70% of the tax revenue, the city, 10%, the county, 16%, and the library, 4%.

Our annual tax, as a percent of market value comes to a whopping 3.12%. This is the highest rate in the state of Ohio*, and probably one of the highest in the country. While these numbers may seem insane to residents of the east or west coasts, one must keep in mind that the property values are much lower here, and that the high property taxes are simply a part of the cost of buying a house here. The total cost of home ownership is still quite reasonable, I think.

In February or March, I submitted an appeal of my property valuation to the Cuyahoga County Board of Revision, the body responsible for such things. The Board accepts appeals during a three month window each year. This year, with the state of the economy, home values are down, so many more people are appealing their valuation than in the past.

I'm only asking that my valuation be adjusted to reflect the price that I paid for the house. The house was on the market for an extended period of time, and changed hands in an arm's length transaction. Further, I've included several comparable sales that the appraiser for the mortgage came up with. (How he managed to think that those houses are comparables, I do not know, but that's beside the point.) The property is currently valued at an amount that is 50% more than we paid for it. To get even half of the difference back would be significant for our budget.

The backlog at the Board of Revisions seems to stretch on forever. Of the properties in Shaker Heights that filed an appeal through the end of March, a mere 3.3% have had hearings or had them scheduled. For comparison, 41.3% of the same group have had or had hearings scheduled for appeals regarding the 2007 tax year, and 60% for the 2006 tax year. At this rate, it's going to be ages before our hearing.

* There is a small part of the city of Cleveland that falls in the Shaker Heights School District. The residents of this area pay even higher taxes, 3.20% of market value, because they pay taxes for the city of Cleveland, and also for the Shaker schools.

Finally, a buyer!

Copper lantern Purple and green tile bathroom
Pink and green tile bathroom Vent hood over stove

I'm pleased to report that a certain house that I was rather smitten with is finally under contract. This is the house that I've referred to previously as "the house with the great tile".

It's an unassuming little French Colonial, brick, with ugly awnings and bushes that take up half the yard. However, subtract these elements and it's really a great house. The wood casment windows are in great shape and still have their original storms and screens. The interior is beautifully detailed, with bright, bold tile in the kitchen and bathrooms. I love it.

Once they get rid of the ugly wallpaper, the worn out carpet, and add a few light fixtures, it's going to be a truly stunning house.

Would it be too strange for me to go over and introduce myself to the new owners of the house, once they are settled in? I have to be sure that they don't get any ideas about, say, ripping out all that tile.

In unrelated news, it secretly pleases me that another house, the one our agent swore would sell really quickly at the price they were asking, is still on the market.

Monday, June 1, 2009



green stairway w/view of mud room

The front hallway is finally painted. I began this project in, um, November. These two photos showing the completed painting courtesy of the always lovely Audrey.

green foyer w/view of dining room and air lock

Stripping the wallpaper glue was a pain in the neck. We managed to complete the removal of the glue in the second floor hallway and about halfway down the stairs before I got completely discouraged. I recalled a suggestion that we could put a coat of Killz over the glue, a skimcoat, and another coat of Killz. What I failed to remember was that this would only work if the glue has relatively little texture.

Skimcoating took forever, as did sanding it. The entry hallway, however, is finally done. Last night, I painted the second floor hallway with the roller. I also did some brushwork - enough to finish up the paint I had in the tray. Tonight, I'll finish the second floor hallway and hopefully clean up this mess, too. Ugh.

In unrelated news, the trap on the paint sink started leaking last night. From the looks of the corrosion on it, this has been an issue for quite some time. Ugh. We'll put a bucket under it for now and add it to the list.