Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Modern Photography Class Minnesota Arboretum July 2019

I have not taken my camera out of its case since we moved to Minnesota, over a year ago. Why? I love playing with my camera, but its just a hobby, and my life hasn't had a lot of time for hobbies this year. And I have a new iPhone that takes amazing pictures in its own right, and my phone is always right there ready to capture another darling moment with Leo, or the latest update to our house.

But I missed my camera. And I had a deadline coming up. We're going on an Alaskan cruise in a couple of weeks and I want to take my camera a long. But it has been so long since I've used it. What if I've forgotten how?

So I signed up for a photography class at the Minnesota Arboretum. The class was on modern photography. I wasn't exactly sure what this was but it sounded interesting.

The teacher,  Frank Meuschke, was great. We spent the first part of the class talking about the history of photography as art, and its rise as part of the modern movement in painting, architecture and design. Modern photography had some of its origins in the late 19th century, when land surveyors headed out west in the United States to take pictures of the wilderness. They were learning and experimenting with their equipment as they recorded the scenery around them.

Modern photography isn't necessarily concerned with just representing what the photographer sees. It is interested is color, design, shapes, patterns.

In the last half of the class we went outside and tried our hand at our own idea of what modern photography might mean. This was lots of fun, and I remembered how to use my camera after all!

I took pictures of plants that looked circular:

And plants that went every which way:

I played with depth of field and made the foreground blurry and the background sharp:

I focused on the side of an old log:

I found these red stems beautiful:

And this dragonfly creepy:

Then we went over to the grasses exhibit at the Arboretum and shot some more.

There were blue-grey grasses:

Wispy grass heads against the blue sky:

Spiky brown grasses:

Flowing red grasses:



And shadows:

It was a sunny, hot day and by the end I was tired and sweaty, but I had a great time. I got my photography confidence back and I'm looking forward to taking pictures in Alaska. But if I get carried away and take some "modern" photos up there please don't make fun of me if things get a little arty! I just can't help myself sometimes.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Our Builder and Why We Didn't Like Them

Once upon a time, back in the 1990’s, we built a house in Missouri. We had things go wrong and had problems with our builder. We loved the house, but the process itself, not so much.

When we started thinking about moving to Minnesota the idea of building a house again came up. We thought we had learned so much last time, we knew how to avoid the mistakes that were made.

Once we found our lot we had to find a builder. We interviewed a lot of different people. There were a couple of problems. First of all, building in Minnesota is EXPENSIVE, way more expensive than we expected. Secondly Lee wanted to do a lot of the work himself and a lot of builders didn’t want anything to do with that. 

One of the contractors we thought of using were the company that did Sarah and Erik’s master bath and bedroom reno. They had done very nice finish work, AND they had seen Lee’s work, so they were willing to work with him. But they were really expensive. 

We hemmed and hawed about using A Squared, but finally decided they would be worth it. Attention to detail, quality work. Or so we thought.

Lets just say things went wrong. Now nobody builds a house without having things go wrong, but we had A LOT of things go haywire. and it wasn’t just that we had problems. Nope, for the most part they eventually made things right, as much as they could. But  they never apologized, never admitted they had screwed up. It was always someone else’s fault, there was always a new excuse. That got pretty old after awhile.

Here is a list of the most grievous errors that were made:

  1. The slab was not square. This was just stupid. The concrete subs didn’t use metal forms, they used wood forms and the lines and angles shifted. They had to fix this.
  2. The slab insulation wasn’t done properly. Metal flashing was used to protect the rigid foam insulation that goes around the outside of the slab and holds it in place. That’s okay, but ours sticks out beyond the edge of the foundation and it should not.
  3. The trusses in the great room were modified by the truss company without checking back with A2 or the engineers.  They made them 1 foot higher than the design.  That cascaded into other modifications to the rest of the house to tie into the great room properly.  They also had errors on the trusses over the garage including some that were an incorrect slope. The framers had to scab on lumber to correct the slope. Eventually it was fixed, but what they did actually changed the look of the front of the house. We’re the only ones that will ever know, but. What’s even worse, when they discovered the mistake the builder told the framers to NOT TELL LEE. This infuriates me every time I think about it. WE ARE THE OWNERS. My husband is one smart cookie AND an engineer. He had already noticed that something wasn’t right. It wasn’t the sort of thing you could hide from him.
  4. The framers framed the entry closet and pantry wrong initially. Thank God Lee found this one before the drywall went up because if it hadn’t been corrected the credenza would not have fit.
  5. The insulation company missed spots. They were supposed to use foam insulation everywhere except for the flat part of the great room roof, but they used blown insulation in the sloped part of the great room roof as well. Their carelessness caused two problems. First, we had a massive ice dam during the winter. We had to argue with the builder about going into the attic space and finding the problem and fixing it. At first the builder actually sent Lee pictures of old houses with ice dams and told him it was a cold winter and not to worry! Uh no, that didn’t cut it. Secondly, they should have done a blower test after the insulation was in and before the drywall was put up, but they didn’t. It would have saved them a lot of grief when it came time to pass the blower test. 
  6. The drywall subs made a huge mess, of course. That’s to be expected, but they did a CRUMMY job of cleaning it up, damaged the windows as they put it up, got drywall dust into the window mechanisms. This makes me sad every time I think about it. I love our windows; they are one of my favorite parts of the house, and to see them be less than they should be is just not right. 
  7. God knows what the HVAC guys were doing, but their initial installation in the mechanical room was a huge mess. This really irked Lee. They eventually fixed it, but they kept having to punch holes in the wall to do so, again, and again, and again.

So I have some advice for any contractors or would be contractors reading this. First of all, you need to supervise the work being done in your name. That doesn’t mean showing up, telling the subs what to do and leaving for the day. That means checking their work every step of the way. If you have to leave you need to come back that day and see how things are going. You are the one that is responsible. It’s your company and your work. If a sub makes a mistake it’s on your head.

Secondly, if a mistake is made own up! It’s so much better when you admit to a mistake than if you try to hide it. Building a house is a complex business and mistakes are going to happen. Admit it, make it right, and move on.

Third, please oh please, keep your construction site clean and tidy. Pick up your trash and scraps every day. Don’t let gravel and rock and miscellaneous building materials lie scattered all over the lot. Please.

Finally, is your supervisor in charge of the building site, or not? How much responsibility does he truly have? Is he authorized to make decisions on his own, or does he need to check with you before making a decision? This needs to be clearly spelled out. While Andrew, the owner of A Squared, was on vacation, we realized we had a problem with the slope of the land next to the house on the east side. The in-ground guttering system has a 5 foot wide and 2 feet deep perimeter around the house. The land next to the house falls away steeply on the east side and the guttering system needed to be supported. Lee and the supervisor decided that a retaining wall on that side would be the best way to accomplish that. But when Andrew came back he didn’t like that decision and he would NOT let it rest. For the rest of the build he would always manage to bring it up and complain about the money that it cost him. We tried over and over to tell him that Nick, the supervisor, had given his okay, but that was never enough. 

We think A Squared misrepresented themselves. We think they haven’t built nearly as many houses as they said they had, never a house as complex as ours, and never a slab on grade house. It just was very disappointing. I don’t like bad-mouthing anyone, but in this case I feel an obligation to be honest about our experience with them. They did a great job on Sarah and Erik’s renovation, but our experience was quite different. I would not recommend them if you’re looking for someone to build you a custom home in Minneapolis.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

House Update - June

The Front Door, and a Couple of Tomato Plants!

We’re in!

We moved out of the rental in Waconia at the end of May, and moved into the RV. We thought (or hoped anyway) that we would only be in the RV for a week to 10 days, but it didn’t quite work out that way. Yes Lee needed to finish the siding outside and the stair rail inside, but there was another wrinkle in our plan. We had to pass the “blower test”. (link) I’ve mentioned this test before…when our builder failed the test for the second time in May they tried talking to the inspectors and seeing if they would let us slide….of course not. As we soon found out, this wasn’t just Shorewood being picky. This was Minnesota building CODE. It wouldn’t stop us from moving in, but it HAD to be fixed, and we wanted them to fix it before we moved in. Living in clouds of drywall dust is no fun!

So they went back to scratching their heads. They tried tearing out all the drywall in-between the house and the garage and putting foam insulation in there. It made things better, but not better enough. Finally we’d had enough. I started searching online to see what kind of consumer advocacy there was in Minnesota. I ended up talking to someone at the Minnesota Board of Labor Enforcement. We found out what we would have to do if we ended up having to file a complaint, but really didn’t want to go that route. The person I talked to placed a phone call to our builder for us instead.

The next day they had everyone and God out at the house to try to figure out what else we needed to do to pass the test. They finally found another leak, in an area in the attic close to where we had had discovered a different leak that caused ice dams to form last winter. Go figure! They blocked that leak and we passed the test. Thank God.

For most of the month of June our routine was as follows: wake up in the RV at the Jordon, Minnesota KOA, around 20 minutes from the house. Lee would walk the dogs and then take off for the house. I would go for a run (in circles around the KOA campground, which got pretty old) and then head to the house as well. I spent my time unpacking, cleaning, watching the dogs, while Lee finished siding and focused on anything that needed to be finished so we could live here in relative comfort. Around 4 or 5 we’d head back to the RV for the night. Then the next morning we’d wake up and do it again.

Last Thursday we had our occupancy inspection. Lee was worried about the siding, but the inspector didn’t say a word about it (really it looks wonderful). The inspector measured various things like the stair risers to make sure they were up to code. He criticized the safety release mechanism on one of the windows. He admonished us for moving our furniture in before we had occupancy (too bad!). But we passed. We spent our first night here on Saturday, June  22nd, our 39th anniversary. Yay!!

The Stairs and the Stair Rail

Lee is really making time now. Every day more interior doors go up, more window trim, more baseboards. Yesterday the door to the pantry and to the powder room suddenly appeared. Its astonishing how much more finished a room looks with doors and trim!

The outdoors is bugging me, but there’s nothing to be done, I just have to be patient. Its a jungle out there, though! The concrete for the driveway, the front walk, and the screened porch go in sometime in the first week of July. The screened porch will be built sometime in July as well. Both of those things have to be done before we close on the mortgage. As soon as the porch is done we can make a little yard for the dogs with sod and a temporary fence. The landscaper can’t get to us until the beginning of September, so the rest of the yard will remain a wilderness until then.

Its a Jungle Out There, Unfortunately

We are very happy with the house. Its not perfect, but there are a lot of nice things about it. We took the best of what we liked about the house in New Hampshire and brought those things to this house. Its bright, its quiet (even though one side faces a busy street), most of it is on one level. Its near a very nice park, a cute little town, a beautiful rail trail, a bunch of lakes. And its close to Leo and family.

I have another blog post to write, an evaluation of what it was like to work with the builder we chose. Its not going to be much fun to write, but it needs to be done. Stay tuned!

Addendum, July 7th. This blog post has been sitting around, and while it sat around even more wonderful things have happened to the house. We have some flooring upstairs, and will have even more in the coming weeks.

My Future Workout / Crafts Room

The lintels, which are the pieces of wood that go above the doors and windows, have all been installed downstairs. Lee did them in a little factory setup so we went from almost none to done in a day! They are beautiful. We took one day and hung some pictures in the great room. That got rid of some clutter, and made this room look more finished. But since flooring is going in upstairs my computer and printer are sitting on the dining room table. Oh well! 

The butcher block counter tops for the shelf in the pantry and for the credenza have been installed.

Credenza Countertop

Yesterday I reorganized the pantry to take advantage of the extra shelf. And Lee bought us a wine refrigerator too!

Pantry Countertop and Wine Fridge!

Today he has been working on the mud room. A bunch of hooks for coats and stuff have appeared, and the storage bench is almost finished. All of a sudden that room is a LOT bigger.

Storage Bench

A Place to Hang Stuff!

Still no concrete, sigh. It won’t stop raining long enough to dry out enough to do it. Maybe next week? Fingers crossed!


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