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a home owner’s tough decision: taking down an old oak tree

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In the four year’s since we’ve been living in the suburbs of New Jersey, we’ve seen the damage falling trees can do. During Super Storm Sandy, one neighbor’s house was whalloped by two trees, one on each side. Neither of them were theirs, but that didn’t make the holes they created any less big. We’ve seen mere limbs fall and smash cars, decks and playgrounds. Just the other afternoon, after a few rainy days in a row, we heard a crackling in the distance followed by a thud. Turns out a tree fell in a backyard a few houses down, hitting a playground that was occupied by children less than a half an hour earlier.

All this destruction has had made us look at the large oak tree in the corner of our front yard in a whole new way. Actually, we learned after consulting several arborists, that it was two trees competing for the same place. One went straight up, the other leaned precariously towards the corner of our house — the corner of the house that happens to house our daughter’s room. But the tree was by no means dead. In fact, it was teaming with life. Acorns littered our yard, delighting the generations of squirrels that called it home. In the summer, it kept the front yard shaded, allowing for hours of sidewalk drawing with little fear of sunburn. The leaves would hang on tight until late October or even November, before falling like a blanket overnight. For the past four years, we have spent hundreds each summer pruning branches and attempting to strengthen the two trees by tying them together with metal chords. Every storm that came through town caused a smattering of limbs to tumble down. One large one was caught on a powerline above and had to be removed by truck. But so far, nothing terrible had happened.

As I mentioned, we called in several arborists. Each gave an extremely vague assessment of the trees and their life span potential. The space they were in is too small for their competing roots. If one fell down it would take the other one with it. But it could be fine. No one was willing to lay their reputation on the line and say not to worry. So… we worried.

Last summer, after the tree specialists said they couldn’t say that the tree was safe, we applied for a town permit to have it removed. They turned us down and I was secretly relieved. Someone else had made a decision for us! We can’t cut it down. This spring rolled around and my diligent husband reapplied for the permit, just to see what would happen. Perhaps the town is worried about the upcoming storm season, or the unusually wet spring we had — because to our surprise they approved the removal. I was hoping we could wait to the end of summer to decide what to do, but it turns out that the tree removal business is booming. Our preferred local vendor told us he was booked through July and August but had a window to do the job if we did it soon. Was he giving us a line? Perhaps, but we went for it. (Note – cutting down a large tree is expensive! Ours cost thousands of dollars and we went with the lowest quote.)

Last week, the tree came down. We set up a web cam so I could watch from my office in New York City. It took two days due to rain, which seemed like cruel torture. I came home one night and the tree was still there, but stripped down of all its mighty branches. The remaining trunks came down fast the next morning. I cried as I watched. We managed to save two stumps that I hope we can dry out and turn into side tables. I was hoping for more, but having the removal company’s price would have been much higher if we needed them to cut us firewood as well. They take the tree and resell its mulch and wood, and that factor is worked into the quote they give you.

The day after our tree was removed, a wild storm hit our area. As usual, I stood listening after each loud clap of lightening, wondering what damage it may have caused. I definitely enjoyed the relief of knowing that at least our house and our family was safe from immediate tree-falling damage.

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Now, in the place of our tree, we have a huge pile of mulch. We spread as much as we could around our yard, and neighbors have been coming by wheelbarrows to help themselves as well. A landscaper will come soon to smooth out the area, reseed it with grass, and give us ideas about what to plant next. I cannot wait to plant another tree! I know until we do there will be a hole in our yard, in more ways than one. What kind of tree will we plant? The jury’s out. If you have suggestions and recommendations, please send them my way.

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not so safe: nest recalls hundreds of thousands of smoke alarms

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Last fall we gushed about a brand new smoke alarm that aimed to reinvent the way we protect our homes from fire. Nest — which also makes supremely smart, mobile controlled thermostats – had introduced Nest Protect. Rather than blasting out a terrifying, high pitched siren every time you burn a roast, this aesthetically pleasing alarm would alert you in a calm voice and tell you specifically what’s wrong. (“There’s a fire in the bedroom!”) Best of all — we thought! — it could be shut off with a wave of your arm, rather than a frantic fanning of newspapers or the removal of batteries to get the thing to shut up (our current M.O.). Well….

It turns out that the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) discovered a glitch that shuts down the device accidentally. I guess the “waving of the arm” technique is open to interpretation! Tony Fadell, CEO of Nest Labs, wrote a note on the company’s website back in April saying that Nest Wave will be automatically shut down. If you own one, make sure that your device is connected to a wireless network and properly linked to your account so your unit gets the software update. He says:

Once we have a solution that ensures Nest Wave works as intended, we will update our software to turn this feature back on. This will only happen after extensive testing and once we have received approval from safety agencies in the US, Canada and UK. We expect this to take at least two or three months and we’ll continue to update you as we have more information.

According to TechCrunch, this is not a physical recall but rather a software update — and Nest expects to have things up and running and back on the market in a few weeks.

Still, considering that each alarm costs over $100, and the typical home needs at least six, we expect better from Nest (which, in case you forgot, was acquired by Google early in the year for over 3 billion dollars).

Are you a Nest owner? If so we’d love to hear about your experiences here!

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a modern prefab house that has us dreaming: blu homes

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We have a second house that is in need of some TLC. It is a small little cottage we bought seven years or so ago, after falling in love with its storybook-like charms, seasonal river views and seemingly perfect condition. It was our first home, and we have learned a lot about houses and they way they are built. Fixing up old houses and making them sing is a shelter-lovers biggest fantasy — but these days we find ourselves dreaming more and more about building our own home. One that is built with our lives in mind and is clean and efficient. During a recent daydream surf, we stumbled upon Blu Homes, a California based kit home company that creates modern prefab houses for families. It takes six months from conception to finish to have your home built. It arrives on your land and is assembled in one to two days. Not only are they the stuff that Dwell magazine fans love, but they are environmentally smart. Energy efficient with a gentle footprint, they make a ton of sense. Want to share our fantasy? Click on over the Blu Homes site and take a gander at some of their designs.

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need to spruce up your deck before summer? see how we did it

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This post was originally published early last summer. Things are finally starting to look green here and we can’t wait to start entertaining on our deck. The paint held up well over the long harsh winter. We’ll be getting to work on our front porch soon!

The straw-that-broke-the-camel’s-back was when Isadora’s BFF Sophie got a splinter in her foot. This has become a common event in our home due delicate bare little feet and a back yard deck that is past its prime. When it is our own girl, we just grab the tweezers and muscle through the splinter extraction … but with Sophie, that was not an option. The girl wouldn’t sit still to save her life, so we sent her home early, teary-eyed and limping. The next week, Chad started investigating our deck options. At first he thought merely flipping the boards would do the trick. After testing a few, we sadly discovered the underside of the wood was not much smoother than the top surface. Our current budget and life-improvement-plans do not allocate for a brand new deck, so we went for plan B: Lets paint it. We debated using a traditional stain, but wanted something that would literally change the texture of the deck under our feet. After much debate, we went with a product called Behr Deckover. (We considered something called Rust-Oleum Restore but that seemed a bit more heavy duty than we needed.) Soon we began to embrace the fact that our deck would no longer look like wood, and instead decided to embrace its colorful future. We chose a slate grey for the floor and a pale grey for the railing. The resulting effect reminds me of a traditional Cape Cod feel. Chad also mixed in some sand with the paint, which gave it a bit of grit. That way the texture is not slippery, even when wet.

To complete this project, our deck had to be sanded, and then three coats of Behr Deckover were liberally applied. With all the rainy days we had recently, this took about a two weeks to complete. At $35 a gallon, the total project cost us about $280.

We finished it off with a new, vintage-inspired table and chairs from OnWayFurniture.com that we got on sale for $350.

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could you live in a macrohouse? new documentary “Tiny” asks and answers

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We often ponder what it would be like to live in a tiny house, dreaming about having a nice self-sustaining plot of land, a sturdy shelter and no mortgage. Call it our escape plan. Could we really do it? Christopher Smith and his girlfriend Merete ask themselves this same question and document the building of their own itsy dwelling in the new documentary, Tiny: A Story About Living Small. The website offers a bundle of advice and links to sites that sell plans and will help you build your own compact dream home. Check it ou!

TINY: A Story About Living Small (Teaser Trailer) from TINY on Vimeo.

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