Déjà vu Complements of “Superstorm Sandy”

You may have heard that the eastern part of North America was subjected to a huge storm called Hurricane Sandy. The first thing I need to say is how grateful I am that we were safe, dry and warm throughout the storm. So many people were left in the dark without gas, water or electricity, were rendered homeless by wind, flood or fire, or, worst of all, lost loved ones.  In comparison, our problems are trivial and I wondered whether or not it was appropriate to blog about our experience given that others have suffered so much more. In the end I decided that this blog is about our “Lake House Adventures” and this has certainly qualified as an adventure.

On Saturday Oct 27th, weather forecasters in our area started warning us that we should be prepared for high winds, rain and flooding. It seemed a bit dramatic, given that the storm was predicted to make landfall somewhere in NJ (500+ miles and several states away).  I’m really glad that over the weekend we brought in the lighter patio furniture and moved pots and plants off the deck because the forecasters were right. We’ve had some pretty high winds that I’ve documented in previous posts so we thought we knew what to expect.  We didn’t.

On Monday Oct 29th, Hurricane Sandy was headed for Atlantic City NJ.  Sandy was so huge, over 800 miles across, that long before it made landfall we were feeling the effects.  From about 2pm on Monday until well into Wednesday evening, our house was subject to extreme winds coming directly off the lake from the north and directly into the back of our house.  Around 5pm Monday I heard the first flapping of shingles and I tried to go outside to check out what was happening. Exact wind speeds I don’t know, but it was impossible to walk to the back of the house. The wind was so strong it would knock you over. I did find a couple shingles in the driveway so my suspicion that the wind was tearing off the shingles was confirmed.  Late in the afternoon, the rain was driving horizontally into the back of the house and water began seeping in around the living room windows. I didn’t know at the time but it would be a couple of days before I could stop sopping up the window ledges and floor. I developed quite the system of replacing, wringing out, hanging to dry about a dozen towels to minimize the water damage. I also noticed that a giant evergreen tree had fallen in our neighbors yard, ending up with the top of the tree just a few feet from their back door.

We barely slept Monday night. First we discovered that water was leaking from our bedroom ceiling and directly onto the bed.  We quickly moved the mattress out, got buckets and plastic sheets to catch water and protect the furniture as best we could. We decided to sleep in the guest room over the garage (the one that put the most house between us and the winds). I kept jumping up during the night to investigate the thumps and bangs that were coming from other parts of the house.  The wind made the whole house vibrate and make moaning noises I’ve never heard before. The windows and doors facing the lake were flexing and moving from the force of the wind.  I was actually afraid that something was going to give; a window would blow, a tree would fall on the house, or some other “breach” would let the storm inside. As I lay in bed I just kept wishing that the wind would stop – but it just kept howling and howling.

One of our trees fell at about 2am. It was a huge healthy ash, about 40′ tall. It was located about 20′ from the road and when it fell it completely blocked the road. The wind was so loud that we didn’t hear the tree fall but we saw the flashing lights of the emergency vehicles that stopped traffic until a road crew could come with chain saws and a bulldozer to cut off the tree and shove it back into our yard.  Our power went on and off (mostly off) during the night but was back on in the morning.  Again we were lucky, our neighbors were without power for 3 days and others just down the road for almost a week.  Our phone was erratic and our cable went out for much of Tuesday but by the time we went to bed, we were pretty much back to normal. It wasn’t until Wednesday that the wind really started to die down and I could walk around and take some pictures.

Here’s the damage to the roof over our master bedroom. Notice how the wind tore the shingles off and even bent up the flashing around the skylight.

There’s similar damage to the roof of the living room with the addition of the siding that was peeled off the side of the house. The shingles and siding were strewn all over ours and  our neighbors’ yards. It was like there had been a giant throwing shingle frisbees from our roof at our neighbors house. There were black scratches on their cars and was even a shingle impaled on a root of an uprooted tree in our neighbor’s yard.

Even the BBQ took a beating with the doors being torn right out of the wood and metal framing.

Sandy helped rearrange some of our new landscaping.

The remnants of the tree after being cut and shoved off the road.

So finally I get to the déjà vu part. Our bedroom furniture is stacked up in the dining room and the bedroom is being stripped (no carpet, drywall coming down).  There are contractor trucks and trailers in our driveway daily and all day today there were compressors running and nail guns thumping. And dust – so much dust. We’re under construction again, but it’s all repairs and nothing really new or exciting to share.

We’ll soon be back together and I can’t say enough how grateful I am that it’s just damage to the house – houses can be fixed. We’re fine and we have the help we need to get everything fixed.  There are so many others who weren’t so lucky and if you’re looking for a way to help, consider making a donation to the Red Cross or other charity organizations that are taking care of those who are in need.

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Picking up where we left off….

This is not a famous blog but I know I have a few avid followers that want to know how the new patio plantings have turned out.

Being relatively new to gardening in this area I let the landscape designer pick the plants (with my instructions that they should be low maintenance and hardy). The patio planting includes: 4 fushia coloured “knockout” rose buses along the deck,  Angelina Sedum, Bronze Beauty Bugleweed, and Lemon Thyme distributed through the rock garden and Elfin Thyme between the flagstones. I had them plant relatively more of the lemon thyme lower on the slopes so it is within easy reach of the sitting areas.  I like the lemony herb smell on my fingers and once they get a little bigger I’m sure to snip at it as I can’t resist adding fresh herbs to my cooking.

The other main planting was to add vegetation to the slope above the breakwall. They seeded the slope with both rye grass and Crown Vetch. The rye grass was planted to have something that would come up right away. Crown vetch was selected because it’s a very good ground cover for high erosion slopes (like roadsides) and is very aggressive. Although considered by some to be an invasive weed, for us its the perfect ground cover for a slope that gets consistently pounded by weather.  To protect the seeds and to give a little stability, a straw blanket was laid down and several hundred long yard staples were put in to hold it in place.  (For insight into the kind of weather we experience I refer you back to my earlier blog on the subject). Thanks to my diligent watering and the timely arrival of a couple good all day rains, the green rye grass has started to grow through the yellow straw.

With that, we’re considering the back yard done….. at least for this year.  I’ll indulge myself with a before and after pair. This is the picture I took exactly one year ago today, August 14, 2011 when we came to see the house while house hunting.

Exactly one year to the day later, it’s raining again. Here’s the picture I ran outside and took between downpours.

With a little time the grass will get greener as the new seed grows up through the straw, the hydrangeas will bloom and the little rose and lilac bushes will fill out. We’ve done more and spent more than I imagined when I first had my “vision” of what the house could be. Seeing the “before and after” and loving the “after” makes it all worthwhile.

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You know what would be good here? A patio for the firepit….

It started innocently enough. Hypothetically, sometime in the future, this would be a good spot to put the firepit.  The area beside the deck was basically a pile of concrete rubble and fill that we added to when they dug the foundation for the addition to the house. A few thistles and some crab grass were the only plants. It wasn’t pretty, just a big pile of dirt with bits of brick and concrete sticking out.

Enter landscape designer with quote at the ready.

First they dug out and reshaped the area, covering the chunks of concrete with fill. Next they brought in a couple truckloads of giant boulders and flagstone to rebuild with. About a week and a half, a significant ding in the savings account, and the patio was ready for us to move the firepit to its new home.

The final result looks great…. but you know what would look good here….. some ground cover to protect the bank and some nice perennials?

Enter landscape designer.

To be continued…..

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We’ve got mail.

It wasn’t a harsh winter but that didn’t keep our local road crew from zealously clearing the snow from our roads.

A little too zealously in the case of our mailbox. The poor defenseless mailbox had its pole snapped off at the base and was left hanging by a sliver.  The sliver didn’t hold up for long and shortly after this picture was taken our mailbox looked like it was napping.  Justin (one of the contractors) helped us out by digging a new hole and propping up the mailbox with some bricks so that we would still get mail. We had been considering replacing the mailbox with something more substantial, but that wasn’t in our list of “must have” renovations.  It was added to the list after the snowplow incident.

We decided to take advantage of having the stone masons on site for the fireplace and exterior stone installation.  The new mailbox was constructed from concrete blocks and then finished with the same stone on the exterior of the house.  Unfortunately our mailbox construction was stalled waiting for the final visit from the stone masons (waiting for the BBQ be built which was the other item they needed to complete).  So for several months we had a strange mushroom looking sentry at the end of our driveway and the mail continued to be delivered to our now much shorter “temporary” mailbox.

Our little mailbox has now been retired or, more accurately, recycled. We love our new mailbox. The only thing that would make it better is if it could make our bills disappear!

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The man’s gotta grill.

We were really spoiled living in Arizona with great outdoor living space including a custom built in BBQ.

It’s been really hard for the family “grill master” to go back to using  a garden variety BBQ. So it won’t come as a big surprise to anyone that adding a built in grill was high on the priority list.  There’s still some siding to be installed, but the new grill area is compete and we’ve been grilling out almost every night since the gas was hooked up.

The top and front of the grill area is granite and the side has the same stone as the wall. There is storage under the grill for accessories and an outlet to plug in the rotisserie motor. The grill is connected to the house natural gas supply so there will be no tanks running out half way through cooking. We extended the roof line as much as we could to provide a little shelter for the grill island, but as we’ve discovered, when there’s a storm blowing in off the lake, the “griller” still gets very wet. We’re not afraid of the snow, rain, cold, wind so we plan on using our new grill all year long. Dinner’s ready…..

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Batten down the hatches…. a storm is coming!

The storms of the Great Lakes are infamous, immortalized in folk songs and art. I guess it was naive not to take the weather more seriously.

Case #1 – Hot Tub Cover Restraining Order

Just days after our hot tub was delivered we had a storm roll in from the west.  Big wind and sideways rain pounded the back of the house as it is fully exposed to the lake.  Fortunately it was early evening and we were at home.  We noticed that the wind was lifting the cover of the hot tub and it was hovering over the tub held only by the small corner straps. It looked as if the cover would be torn completely off so we ran out into the rain and found whatever heavy objects we could to weigh down the cover (a couple scrap boards and a cement block did the trick).

We replaced the construction debris with two 50 pound bags of play sand, but it was obvious that we needed a more elegant and permanent solution.  A quick internet search revealed we weren’t the first to have this kind of problem and there was such a thing as “Hurricane Straps” for hot tubs. I ordered them immediately.  They were easy to install; just screw the clips onto the side of the hot tub and feed the strap through.

The bags of sand now sit on our deck box; which brings us to the next example.
Case #2 – Migratory Patio Furniture

This is our patio furniture doing it’s best “Abbey Road” impression as it appears to be walking across our neighbours’ yard. These are not all small pieces of furniture. I suspected the wicker furniture might move around in the wind, but the aforementioned deck box weighs about 100 lbs and I never expected it to take off.  The permanent solution is probably  replacing the furniture with VERY heavy patio furniture but for the time being, we move the wicker to the side of the house when it’s not in use.  This is a bit of a pain and certainly less entertaining for our neighbours as I’m not out chasing down stray chairs in their yard in the pouring rain.

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A cook gardens.

We’re still formulating a plan for landscaping the backyard but there is one thing I just can’t wait for – the kitchen garden.  I’m afraid I don’t have a great deal of patience for landscaping that I can’t eat. By the time next year rolls around, we will have figured out where to put a little veggie garden but in the meantime I can’t wait to have fresh herbs available for the clipping.

The immediate solution was to start herbs in a collection of pretty pots that can later be incorporated into the landscaping. From a cooking perspective I now have everything that I routinely use: parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, oregano, chives, mint, cilantro, tarragon.

The pots functional with lots of room for the herbs to grow (assuming that I don’t eat them faster than they grow which is a distinct possibility). For herbs like basil that I use in large quantities, I’ve planted multiple plants in the larger pots. An added benefit is that they are quite pretty. I particularly like the look of the pot with 3 different varieties of sage.

Although it’s been hard, I’ve resisted plucking leaves off of my baby plants. I love being able to grab a leaf and crush it between my fingers so I can smell the wonderful scents.  I’m not sure how much longer I can hold out….maybe just one leaf….

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Duct Tape or Duck Tape?

The answer is BOTH.  Nearby Avon, OH is home to ShurTech Brands’ Duck Brand duct tape and also the Avon Heritage Duct Tape Festival.  I was very curious when I heard there was an entire weekend-long event dedicated to duct tape. The festival was last weekend and included a parade, midway, crafts, food, entertainment and lots and lots of duct tape.

I just HAD to see the parade so Saturday morning we headed out at secured a viewing spot along the parade route. The festival had a “safari” theme this year. There were floats with duct tape elephants, zebras, lions, monkeys and lots of palm trees. 

My favourite duct tape animal was the giant toucan. I had lots of time to photograph it because the truck carrying it stalled right in front of us. I took pictures while Mike helped push the truck to the side of the road.

In addition to the floats, there were fire trucks, police cars, marching bands, festival queens from around the area (Basket Festival Queen, Grape Festival Queen, International Festival Princesses and so on), politicians and of course a couple of Shriners with a tiny car. Last but not least, there were the duct tape outfits. I didn’t know it was possible to make a prom dress from duct tape. Not only is it possible, there’s a competition for the BEST outfit with a $5000 scholarship as the prize.  You can see some of this year’s entries at “Stuck at Prom“. There were duct tape outfits for everyone from beauty queens to donkeys…. okay… they were ponies but you get the picture.  It seems the possibilities for duct tape really are endless!

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No more excuses!

The house is a mess…..

There’s no gym nearby……

It’s raining / snowing / cold / hot….

None of these excuses are any good now because yesterday I set up our new exercise area.

The original master bedroom has been transformed into a fitness / lounge area.  The room was a bit strange as a master bedroom because it was open on one end to the front hall below. We opened the other end of the room when we removed the windows creating an open loft feel. There is still a great view of the lake through the high windows at the back of the house. The space has two adjoining bedrooms and a bathroom making this an ideal 2 bedroom suite with the lounge / fitness room between them.

The new treadmill, weight bench, heavy bag and dumbbells  were delivered yesterday. I got my workout lugging 200lbs of sand upstairs to the room to fill the base of the punching bag.  This morning I used the treadmill. I’ve also set up a TV/DVD player to play workout videos and I’ve collected all my various fitness gear from around the house (jump rope, medicine ball, kettlebells, rubber bands, yoga mat, hand weights, bosu ball etc). I wish Lynn, my personal trainer from Phoenix, was nearby. I’m sure she’ll agree, I’ve no more excuses!

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Ironing can be improved with a view.

I’m not a big fan of domestic chores with the exception of cooking.  Laundry isn’t at the bottom of the list, bathrooms would hold that position, but ironing can be tedious. I find don’t mind it as much these days as our new laundry room has a view of the lake.

The real estate listing described the room as a “TV room”.  This is the picture from the real estate listing of how the room was when we toured the house. I’m not a fan of the designated “TV room”.  Most of my TV watching takes place while I’m doing something else, cooking, surfing the web or even writing this blog.


It is the first room you enter as you come into the house from the garage. We wanted to enter the garage into a laundry room / mud room rather than into a carpeted sitting room.  In order to accommodate the washer / dryer and cabinets we added a wall creating a hallway the leads to the powder room and guest room over the garage.

The new laundry room also has a little extra storage, which is a really good thing for us pack rats!

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