Friday, August 02, 2013

Home Improvement

Well, it's Friday, August 2--which means I only have about ten days left before all the meetings and the mad preparations for fall semester begin. Time to take some stock about what I've been doing for the past two and a half months. Clearly, the big theme this summer for the Fox family has been the dumping of time and effort--and money--into our home. Some of this was the result of events outside of our control, some was stuff that we just couldn't wait on any longer, and some of it was the execution of some plans long in the making. So, to run down the list chronologically:

1) Ever since we lost our flowering pear in the front yard to a windstorm two years ago, we've been intending to build a strawberry and flower patch in its place. Early this summer, after finally being able to budget for the bricks, after finally trucking in the dirt and laying the foundation, we spent an afternoon getting it all set up. Front yard, check.

2) Not long after that, as the first wave's of Kansas's usual summer heat it, our home's ancient air conditioner went kaput. The last time this had happened, a friend of ours from church had managed to score us some R-22 freon, which at that time was already becoming rare, so as to nurse the old machine along, along with repairing various leaks. This year, though, the same friend said it was hopeless; with R-22 being fazed out in place of R-410, repairing the old unit would both be ridiculously expensive, and wouldn't last long anyway. The result? A brand new air conditioner, which works splendidly--and began our summer-long retreat from our brief, glorious positive credit card balance.

3) Perhaps ironically (or is it, actually? English majors or Alanis Morissette, help me out here), this summer has been a great deal cooler and wetter than the last couple. This has had some interesting consequences for choices we'd made for around the house. Example number one: we had some ideas about low-impact gardening this year: no tilling, minimal weeding, etc. The idea, in part, was to accommodate our expectations to what we assumed would be a typical hot, dry Kansas summer. It started out exactly as I hoped, and then...well, the rain started in earnest. I'm not complaining about the results, mind you; the cucumbers have done crazy. And Kristen and I have had some fun mornings out weeding, trying to keep things at least somewhat under control. But laying down grass clippings and other ground cover haven't kept the garden nearly as "low-impact" as I thought might be the case.

Example number two: we'd been talking for years about how we need to install at least a couple of rain barrels at corners of our house, as a water-saving measure. And this year, we finally got those barrels installed--taking advantage of, it must be admitted, a city rebate program to try to encourage Wichitans to conserve water. Which is a great idea, and the barrels look great....though, thanks to all the rain, we actually haven't used their water storage for irrigation purposes even once.

4) While it wasn't an outside improvement, which is what this post is focusing on, I suppose I should mention that both our dishwasher and laptops went kaput this summer as well. The cost of replacing the latter was just an outright loss, but as for the former, at least we could still make use of the aforementioned rebate....

5) The story of this summer's--still incomplete!--tale of home improvements wouldn't be finished without mentioning the wind storm which took out our power for three days and did all sorts of damage to our property. For the first time, after seven years in this house, we took out an insurance claim. The roof suffered enough damage that it needed replacing (actually, both the house and the shed roof were included in the claim, but as we're someday just going to knock the whole shed down and build another, we've not bothering with using any insurance money there), and we've got that set up to be taken care of in a couple of weeks. But what about our fence? Well, it was just wood panels, and once you factor in the depreciation, our insurance policy wasn't offering us nearly enough to replace all of it, as we'd hoped. So what did we do? Hire some students of mine, of course!

Josh Hicks, Jake Allan, and Karl Watson had, between the three of them, more than enough muscle-power and know-how and tools to get it all done (even though it involved Josh taking time off from finish his summer course, Jake taking time off from work, and Karl hobbling around our muddy yard with a broken foot in a cast). We did try to make it worth their while by providing them with food....

...and the younger kids insisting on helping me and my students out some of the time...

...but the result was pretty sweet, if I say so myself.

So, overall, an expensive but productive summer around the house. Now, to just figure out a way to pay for it all....

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