27November, 2022

This week they cut a hole in the roof.

November 27th, 2022|Construction|1 Comment

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What a couple of weeks it’s been! Once they got all of the asbestos, old insulation, walls and all of the rest out of the way, it was time to start creating the new space. This wasn’t without a few hiccups. First they needed to cut open the floor to install some new joists in the floor to hold up the new dormer. Our house was built in 1927 so nothing was what you would do if you were constructing it new today. Things have different sizes and spacing. And for some of the spaces, we weren’t sure where the supporting or load bearing walls were exactly or how they were constructed because all of that is hidden. So there was at least a day of investigating and measuring.

Once they had done some preliminary work to make sure the roof and walls could support it, it was time to cut open the roof. And then it snowed. Sigh. We knew that the snow was going to be a problem at some point during this project. So they delayed a day, but meanwhile the crane showed up to deliver two steel beams that are now helping to hold up the new roof.

They lifted the beams with a crane up and through the window in the front of the upstairs to get them up into the space. Steel is very heavy so it wasn’t practical to try and carry it up a flight of stairs. We didn’t know it at the time, but when they delivered the steel, they basically dumped the beams off a flatbed truck into our front yard and the brackets to secure them got bent. We’ll discover that a few days later.

Once the steel was in place, it was time to cut open the roof for the new dormer. Yikes! In order to have enough room to put a bathroom, we needed to take the sloped part of the roof and make it taller, so they cut out a huge piece of the roof and built a new section and new outside walls. Here’s me standing in the opening. If I took a big step forward, I would be just about in the doorway to the new bathroom. Up over my right shoulder you can see a reddish beam in the rafters on the other side; that’s one piece of the steel. If it looks like it’s a little wonky that’s because it is. And yes we are looking at the outdoors. You can see the roof of my garage and the big tree in the backyard.

Next they started putting in the new roof and walls. You can see the beginning of that here. Unfortunately things went a little sideways here. Our contractor, who is completely awesome, had to be out of town for a couple of days and the crew that was working on this part of the project were a little underqualified for the job. Things progressed really slowly for a couple of days and things like the bent brackets on the steel and some other major details got missed. I won’t go in to the details of that, but let’s just say that it was all completely fixable and because our contractor is awesome, it’s fixed now.

Meanwhile, the plumber was also here getting the plumbing set up to add that bathroom upstairs. He had to join in to the plumbing stack in the basement and snake it all the way up through the first floor to get it up here. They had to move some wiring so our first floor bathroom lightswitch is in the hallway for the next little while. Here’s a photo of the wall they cut open, but before they got the new plumbing in place. The new electrical will run through this same space. This was one of the major unknowns: figuring out if there was enough space to get everything up through this wall without having to tear out part of the downstairs bathroom too. So far so good! He’s got everything now connected from the basement all the way to the upstairs floor and you can see where the shower and toilet will be.

Next comes Thanksgiving, so we get a couple of days off from construction chaos. Hah! We had Thanksgiving brunch because my husband had to work in the afternoon and there’s a giant hole in our house so we weren’t going to go anywhere. For those of you that don’t know, Mr. Becka has a little side job working as a replay tech for the NFL for Vikings home games. So there was a Thanksgiving day game and he was off on the football field for most of the day. I was just settling in to watch a movie and work on some holiday gifts when the dishwasher started making an unhealthy sounding racket. Stanley was barking at the noise and suddenly there was water pouring out the front of it. I turned it off, I threw its circuit breaker. Still water flooding the kitchen floor and running through the floor into the basement. And not just into the basement but pouring down a pipe directly into the electrical breaker box. The shutoff valve for the water to the dishwasher was completely corroded and stuck. After a frantic couple of minutes, I managed to get the main water shut off and throw the main electrical breaker to the house. And then when the water was *still* pouring down the wall, realized it was siphoning the hot water out of the water heater. I called my dad to help me figure out where the shutoff valve was for that.

I was drenched. Every towel in the house was wet. And I spend the rest of Thanksgiving day in the house with no power, no water and no heat (since the power was off, the furnace couldn’t run.) I called 2 emergency plumbers and 8 electricians trying to get help on whether it was ok to turn the power back on. No one could help me until the next day. So Stanley and I curled up on the couch with a book on my iPad and a down comforter. That whole saga had absolutely nothing to do with the construction at all. We figured out the next morning, when there was enough light to see, that the water pump for the dishwasher had broken. So we Black Friday shopped for a new dishwasher and we are hoping that the plumber (who will be back this week) can install it while he is here. Except for the dishwasher everything else was fine and we were able to get it dried out and turned back on. Please think us calm and unchaotic thoughts for next week! It’s supposed to snow on Tuesday again and we are scheduled to get the new roof done, so I am hoping the weather gods cooperate with us!

11November, 2022

What it’s like to have asbestos abatement

November 11th, 2022|Construction|1 Comment

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I imagine that most of you have never had an asbestos abatement sign posted in your dining room. This was the first full week of the construction at my house. As I am typing this, one of our crew is upstairs with a shop-vac getting rid of the rest of the 80 year old insulation in the attic. I don’t think he was looking forward to today; it was messy.

We started the week with the asbestos crew setting up. It took an entire day for them to seal the upstairs with plastic and wide yellow tape on every surface. Then they had to construct a 3-part decontamination area at the bottom of the stairs. That’s what you can see in the photo up at the top of the post. They explained to me that they had to have three separate chambers, including a shower, right there in my dining room. On top of the middle section you can see a portable water heater and we turned on our outside faucet for them so they could run a garden hose in through the window. We had all of that set up over night, so we ate dinner at my desk. Stanley was very suspicious of this new construction in his space. We pulled out every rug in the house to put over the plastic on the floor because it was slippery and we didn’t want dog toe nails to compromise the area.

Once they got all the set up done, it really only took an hour to take out the asbestos, which was all in the floor tile. I understand that the tiles get double wrapped in plastic and then they can be disposed of. So we are no longer the proud owners of any asbestos. Yay!

The way our house is arranged, there is just one door that connects the left and right side. Our offices are one on either side of that doorway, so Stanley and my husband were kind of trapped on one side and I was stuck on the other. We made jokes about having to boost the 90lb labrador out the guestroom window to go potty, but happily we didn’t have to resort to that.

While all of that was going on inside, there was also a big project outside. Since the staircase to upstairs is narrow with a sharp corner at the top, and they need to haul huge sheets of plywood and 2x4s up there, they spent the day building an outside staircase to our second floor. So they will have an easier way to move all of the materials without everything needing to go through my living room. I’m really happy about that.

Once the asbestos was gone, demolition started! It looks so different already! We are keeping a little bit of that pine panelling in place around the stairs, but it was really too old and brittle to salvage most of it. Those yucky looking dirt piles are the disintegrated paper insulation. That’s what he has been working on most of the day today and I told him that I was really glad that was *his* job and not mine. There’s no insulation at all up there now and it’s COLD. Fortunately they will have that fixed in just a couple of weeks.

1November, 2022

Three Camera Tries: The Making of Our Halloween Love Note

November 1st, 2022|Everything Else|Comments Off on Three Camera Tries: The Making of Our Halloween Love Note

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If it’s too much of a spoiler to know how our Halloween photo is made, I don’t want to ruin the magic for you. This is your warning to skip this post. But shooting our photo this year was an interesting creative challenge and I thought it would be fun to talk about how we made it work and what we learned about our cameras.

We have an unfinished basement (which is awesome) and as an artist I have to take a LOT of photos of my work. So we have a corner that is the dedicated photo studio. It has a large roll of white paper and big lights and a tripod set up most of the time. I’ve learned just what I need to do to get great photos in that space. It’s where we usually do our Halloween photos. The previous owners of our house had built a little workbench under the basement stairs full of drawers that we affectionately call our “Prop Shop” which is where we store all of the Halloween props and costume bits as well as all of the backdrops and props to photograph things for my Etsy shop and dress forms for photographing garments. It’s a great setup. In my last blog post I talked about how we are starting construction on a house project this week. That means that everything that used to be on the second floor of our house had to move elsewhere. The furniture, our bed, our collection of board games, the exercise bike, boxes and bins all are now living in what was my photo studio. There is no way to take a photo there.

So instead of building a set, we decided that the Halloween photo needed to be something that was just our faces because that was going to be easier to do in some other part of our house. We had a couple of ideas, but we knew that the light was going to be the most challenging so we decided to go with spooky skeletons and deliberately make the light cast dark shadows on our faces.

Our rule about Halloween photos is that it should be about 80% “real” and 20% Photoshop, where we use Photoshop to just put in those details that make it awesome. This photo is a great example of that.

We took two photos. Photoshop helped make my hair blonde and change the tan windbreaker I found for Andy’s costume into flight suit orange. And we put the two photos together.

So we started this skeleton photo with two photos also. We wanted to use just our faces, so I bought a black spandex hood that we could put over our hair and we put on black shirts to make it easy to “erase” the rest of us from the photo.

Then I built a “set” out of two pieces of foam core and a black tablecloth and put it on the desk. Andy’s office has a nice big north facing window and on the Saturday morning we took these photos it had great light reflected off the house next door. So that was our light source. We wanted the light to cast some kind of dark shadows but it was too dark, so we each held up a big piece of white foam core to reflect the light back on the other side of our faces. We each took the photo of the other and because the light was exactly the same, they look like we are sitting side by side. We agreed on “dead” expressions and big wide open eyes.

Here’s where it got interesting: it took three cameras to get the shot. We started with a little Canon point-and-shoot that we got just a few months back. It’s a pretty good camera although I am still learning its quirks and we thought it would be the easiest. But when we pulled the photos off the camera they were terrible. Blurry and grainy. (I realized this morning I can’t show you because we deleted them all.) That dark “moody” lighting we were trying to get was not something this camera knew how to do.

Next we thought we’d try my iPhone. It’s a pretty new phone with a great camera too and again, we were going for easy. The photo on the left is the one from my phone. It has so many “make your photos look amazing” algorithms built into it that it basically took exactly the opposite photo from what we were going for. It took out all of the shadows and made everything bright and “perfect”.

So finally we pulled out our big old Canon DSLR. It’s more than 15 years old, but it’s the camera we usually use for Halloween. That’s the photo on the right. Although it is overall pretty dark because we were working with very little light, just look at those beautiful shadows and the sparkle in his eye. That one was a keeper. Both of these photos are straight off the cameras without any tweaking. What a difference, huh?

Now you might be wondering, where are the skeletons? That was our cheat. Someone on Facebook asked me how much was masks and how much was makeup and the answer is none of it. I bought a skeleton vector graphic on Etsy and we Photoshopped it. We layered the graphic over our faces and carefully tweaked and warped it so it fit our faces exactly, matching noses and eye brows and chins. The layer is transparent and uses some color blending to make it look like it’s painted onto our faces. We erased our eyes from the graphic so you could see them just a tiny bit brighter. I drew the hands (referring to another graphic I found) and then layered a grungy paint texture over top of them to make them match the faces.

Although we had newer and “better” tools, it turns out that when we went back to the one we knew the best we took the photos we needed on the first try. It was very satisfying, after a frustrating hour of photos that were just plain wrong, to go down and dig out the other camera and say “there it is” when we got it right.

Hi, I’m Becka.

Talking about fabric design, Spoonflower, teaching, and the life and business of being an artist.

Teaching online and in person classes in embroidery, handcrafts, technology, fabric design and artist business skills.

Making wearable art and fiber art geekery.


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