No, it's not an oxymoron. There truly ARE good snakes to have around. Start with the misunderstood "Gopher" or "Bull" snake. A quite amazing species, as they have evolved to sport markings very much like those of a rattlesnake. A very clever defense for a nonpoisonous snake.
Fortunately, we have not had the pleasure of a Rattlesnake encounter here on the property just yet. But, we do see them occasionally squished on the road. Like most life here in the high desert, snakes tend to be a little smaller than in milder climates. There are tales out there about the "Man Eaters". But, thus far we haven't spotted them. In fact, in the 5 years we've lived here, we've only come across 3 snakes total on the property. One garden snake and 2 bull snakes. Not too bad, really.
The garden snake was easy to identify. We had those in Illinois. The bull snake, however, kinda freaked us out. Like most folks around here, we thought it was a rattlesnake. We were a little miffed though. This snake had no rattle, but did vibrate its tail. Baby rattlesnakes don't have rattles. Bull snakes can get a rattle type sound by vibrating their tails in dry leaves.
I was glad to find a couple side-by-side illustrations to compare a bull snake to a rattlesnake. This helps a lot. Bull snakes are smooth and more slender, like garden snakes, except a little bigger. Rattlesnakes are scaly with a relatively large girth. Bull snakes never have rattles. Rattlesnakes have that exaggerated diamond shape to their heads.
Stella, the cat, brought a snake in the house last summer. It was about 14" long and I managed to coax it into a bucket and take it back outside. Stel wasn't too happy about that, but I wasn't up to snake for dinner. In my quest for a positive identification, I went online again and got enough info to feel good about the snake being of the bull variety. I still wasn't 100% sure after the first time we looked into the differences between the two. Their markings are so similar.
Even though snakes still creep me out, I do find them pretty fascinating. One cool thing I read, was that cats can actually, instinctively, tell the difference between vipers (poisonous) and nonpoisonous snakes. They supposedly know which snakes to stay away from. It was even suggested that a cats' hiss is actually a hardwired mimic of a poisonous snake. Could very well be!
So, what is so great about bull snakes? They eat Pack Rats! Make sure to read the Pack Rat story in the YIKES! section. You will understand why we want to encourage the presence of the bull snake.
Absurd:The number of people out here that think bull snakes ARE rattlesnakes. Even folks that have lived here for decades or more. Then, there are those so disturbed by snakes in general. To them, all snakes must go.
Sensible:Learn to tell the difference between Rattlesnakes and Bull snakes. Offer a break to the bull snake!
There always seems to be a prickly little collection of anxieties tucked away in my head that needs a bit of attention now and then. Most relate to unfinished projects or unsavory tasks. This day I was ready to tackle the Florescent Bulb Box.
For over 2 years it sat in storage. The collection of bulbs just kept growing. We buy a value pack of 4, say, use 1 and store the rest. So far makes sense, right? At one point the box was overflowing and it seemed sensible to remove the packaging to make better use of the space. Back in the day, that worked perfectly for incandescent bulbs. Basically, you had 25w, 40w, 60w and 75w. It didn't take much effort to find what you were looking for.
And then came the highly acclaimed fluorescent screw in bulb era. Who can not get excited about the energy efficiency?? We quickly jumped on the bandwagon and switched to the fabulous florescent flavor. Adding thousands of hours of life to the efficiency made the added cost seem reasonable. And let’s not forget the amazing variety - holy moly!! Too much fun. Wattage choices, Kelvin choices. Warm lights, cool lights and everything in between. Am I lighting a room or growing a plant? We were a marketers dream come true. Those akin to this path will likely predict where it is going...
Now comes the reality of the florescent bulb era. First, let's consider the marketing that appeals to our sense of reason. You know, the part where the packaging says the bulb will last thousands of hours. So, you rip open the packaging, install the bulb, and responsibly toss the packaging and the receipt in the recycle container. You paid a premium but that's OK because it will last friggin forever! Even if the bulb lasts only 1/2 the time promised, I'll be good with that. Right? Not really...we've been duped...again.
So, here’s the bottom line. There is far more profit to be realized by selling consumables than their "Last friggin forever" counterparts. A bulb that needs to be replaced is a bulb that will make more money through the magic of clever marketing. So the fluorescent bulb industry promises ridiculously long life, all the while knowing that most of us consumers are suckers. After all, how many of us are saving their receipts and terms of warranty for a light bulb. I can tell you, for the most part, we don't. Investors cash in on this knowledge. When our long life florescent bulbs burn out with only a slightly longer life than incandescent, it's because they are designed that way. Don’t blame it on China. For the most part, China is effectively fulfilling orders prescribing shoddy quality. Investors realize a much larger profit from things that break, or consumables. OK, thanks for bearing with that rant... On with the story.
So, very calmly and with great purpose, I embarked on organizing my box of bulbs by wattage. They all have the wattage marked on the base. Although, there is much more to consider in the case of florescent. One is lumens, or the brightness of a bulb. Unlike incandescent, the wattage of a florescent bulb can have a varying degree of brightness, or lumens. So, 2 bulbs that look the same and have the same wattage can have a noticeably different level of brightness. And it doesn't stop there. Now consider Kelvin. Basically, a scale that ranges from warm to cool temperatures, or colors. So now you have 2 bulbs with the same wattage and lumens, but have a different color.
You see what I'm saying here? It's crazy! All bulbs have wattage printed on the base. A few have lumens. A few have Kelvin. While I may have made the search for a bulb a little easier, we will still be left with the fun of screwing in all bulbs of a certain wattage in order to get the brightness and color we want. Now, find 2 that match! So, here once again, I like to call this a form of on-the-job training. I'm learning. We are now ushering in the era of LED lighting.
I can bring these lessons with me:
Save $... Swap out fluorescent for LED only when the florescent burn out.
Avoid online, unbranded deals. It's a crap shoot. It's a pain in the patooty if you need to make a return. The last batch I bought have all writing in Chinese. Not even sure if I got what I ordered. I purchased them on eBay because they were a US seller. It was strange that I would have to wait nearly a month to get them. The return address was indeed in the US. I suspect that once I placed the order, the seller in turn, placed an order to China. When he received my order, he slapped on a new label and forwarded to me. Tricky, huh?
Start saving receipts and warranty info for the super pricey LED bulbs. Even they are sometimes burning out in a matter of months with only occasional usage. And if you thought florescent were expensive, LEDs are downright obscene.
If you insist on taking bulbs out of the packaging for storage, either note the lumens and Kelvin on the base or on a zip plastic sandwich bag that you store it in.
THE RENTAL HOUSE
Ah...the photos so lovely. The price so right. The location too good! We are indeed so lucky to find this place. A place to stay while the house is being built.
OR...perhaps even more important, a place to experience the consequences, first hand, of a well intentioned, yet sketchy building attempt. In hindsight, the timing could not have been better!
We moved into the rental on December 17th, 2009. It was a super cold day and we stoked up the propane fireplace to get us warmed up with the perk of exceptional rustic ambiance. These are the things of mountain home magazines. What a great chalet style place! A 2-story vaulted, main living area, all wood walls and floor, and an oh so picturesque wall of windows to the peak of the 2nd story above the fireplace style stove. A cozy, open office loft above the kitchen, 3 bedrooms on 2 opposite wings, and 2 bathrooms. At only $600 per month, it might be hard to leave this place, right?
Stella and Liza loved it! Finally, a place where cats can be cats. What could be more invigorating than a daily exercise of stalking and cornering an unfortunate mouse? They don’t eat them, mind you. These two are well fed and would rather play them to death. Yes, the cats are spoiled.
If you have ever experienced mice in your house, you know the first thing you want to do is trap them, then find out how they’re getting in. This was a task, a mission. Paul jumped right in to right this wrong. Watch the cats…they hold the answers. It wasn’t long before we understood that the reason they would stare at a bare floor corner was not self inflicted punishment or idiocy, it was because it was a portal for mice! There were several portals around this house. Places where the flooring missed the mark of the wall by a couple inches. Even the floor trim couldn’t hide it. And what do you see when you look down into these gaps? Daylight! Huh?
Time for a look into the open crawlspace. Thankfully, there is floor insulation. Could have been better, but it was there. The water pipes shared the floor insulation with no additional wrap. The heat ducting ran through the crawlspace too. It was completely uninsulated! That would explain why heat from the forced air furnace never made it to the 2 bedroom wing of the house. OK, that mystery solved.
The owner did tell us that the propane stove was much more effective at heating the house. So we took his suggestion and mainly used that. Although, we did eventually find that the forced air furnace had a clogged air filter. Ya think maybe that added to the problem?
If you have a basic knowledge of the beginnings of 1970s passive solar design, you probably know a large area of windows facing southish, will yield sweltering hot indoor temps on a sunny day. Hey! This was our rental chalet! Doors and windows wide open during the day, in the dead of winter, in Colorado. As an added benefit, every sunny winter day was a fly festival in that big wall of windows. Dozens of them! Don’t put that vacuum away. Every morning yielded a smattering of dead flies on the floor beneath.
At one point I gave up on the vacuuming, letting the bodies accumulate for several days. It was getting kind of gross, so I committed to vacuuming the very next morning. What happened next was miraculous. That following morning, with cup of coffee in hand, I wandered over to the windows to check out the death toll and all the dead flys were gone! OK, that’s pretty weird. Let’s think about this… Where did all the flys go?
Elementary, my dear Watson. It’s part of the circle of life. The mice came in at night and ate the dead flys. That’s the ONLY explanation. There was no evidence the bear hibernating under the porch broke in! Oh Yeah, the bear. Step outside at night to take in the fresh air and incredible silence, and above the ringing in your ears you can hear the bear breathing under you feet. Not your average night in suburbia.
Fresh Air…that reminds me. Let’s talk about propane fireplace/stove venting. DO NOT put a gas stove in your place that burns oxygen from the inside of your house. Make sure it not only vents to the outside, but it also pulls air in from the outside. Ours pulled air from the indoors to burn. If it were not for all the mouse passageways providing ventilation, we could have woken up feeling mighty sick in the mornings. Instead, we were just craving fresh air. On those mornings we would head up to the loft office, even before the coffee was done, and fling open the door to the outside with an undeniable urge to belt out,”The HILLS are alive, bla bla bla bla music!” Yeah…oxygen deprivation and carbon monoxide overkill.
At least we had heat. We were warm. Now, Let's go back to insulation. In the loft area, there were handy, built in storage areas that actually inspired our loft design. A look inside these 2 areas showed absolutely no roof insulation. This was not a good sign, and we suffered the consequences when the first propane bill arrived. 450 bucks for the first month! That is for a night setting of 59 degrees and daytime of 63. It's not like we were being unreasonable.
Here are a handful of other observations worth mentioning. First, what the sun can do to an exposed wood porch at altitude. Let me just say, it's brutal. The expansive porch on the rental house was only 4 years old, but looked like a 50 year old, unmaintained, midwest porch. The original finish was mostly gone and the wood was dry and warped. The nails used in construction had either popped up or were gone, creating a kinda dangerous place to walk. Many board ends were sticking up a good inch or 2. Unless you're willing to do regular maintenance, exposed wood porches up here are a bad idea, at least on the horizontal parts.
Second, and this is about our dryer than average climate. It is NOT OK to put your kitchen dishes away in the cabinet while they are still wet. This is the only possible reason for the rings of mold in the cabinets for dishes and glasses. Mold can grow here given he right circumstances.
And third…remember, the soil here is made from broken down shale and siltstone. Looks like a rock when you make a stone path. 3 years later the stone becomes dirt…very weird. You gotta know which rocks will last and which will break down. Sorry, can’t help you with that yet.
Thank You Rental House for Lessons Learned. Thank You Mice for cleaning up the flies!
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