Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Merry Christmas to All...


We are grateful for all of the prayers, love, and support we have received this Advent season, and with all of you we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our savior on Christmas.

The Nativity
Franz von Rhoden
Oil on canvas, 1853

Saturday, December 6, 2008

God's Divine Providence

(Brendan and Molly)

We have waited for a period of time after the death of our son, Henry Blaise, to share with you a very special grace that we have received from our Lord, one that is both very personal and very powerful. This grace consists of being allowed by our Lord to have direct understanding that His gathering of our son to Himself is a part of his plan for our family to grow closer to Him in holiness. The personal nature of the means by which we were given this understanding made us wonder whether it should be shared, but at the same time the power of it means we are compelled to share it. We know that sharing this grace will give added comfort and understanding to our family and friends who are mourning Henry's loss with us, and we also know that it will increase the faith of many others who, like all of us, wonder at times whether God is really in control and whether He really does work all things together for the good of those who love Him.

In July of this past summer, while still early in pregnancy, Molly went on a women's three-day silent retreat at the St. Paul Seminary, the major seminary of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. This retreat was an Ignatian retreat, where the retreatants used the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola to reflect on scripture and be guided by a spiritual director (in this case priests from the seminary) in prayer and reflection. During this retreat, each day Molly kept a detailed diary of all of her thoughts. Molly's main prayer during this retreat was that God would show her ways in which our family could grow in holiness. She also brought with her the book Abandonment to Divine Providence to reflect upon during the retreat.

The Holy Spirit moved in Molly in a very special way during this retreat, and the following is a directly transcribed, word-for-word excerpt from Molly's diary.

The first words written in Molly's diary, on Thursday, July 10th, 2008, were:
“The goal of our life is to live with God forever.”
- St. Ignatius

Our only desire should be to choose whatever it is that leads to the deepening of God’s life in me.
After further notes and reflections on talks the priests gave that day, Molly recorded the following thoughts on the next day of her retreat:
Friday, July 11, 2008

Yesterday, during confession, Fr. Laird prayed that my suffering would be fruitful and that I would find healing. Although I noticed his words, I didn’t make much of them at the time, although I did leave feeling that I wasn’t really suffering or in need of healing. At the beginning of my time with Fr. Sirba, he again prayed for healing and while I recognize that I do have some general fears, particularly regarding the souls of my children and the ways my actions may lead them in the wrong direction, I don’t feel as though this particular fear weighs me down heavily. Then I wondered whether there was some other area that needed healing, one that is yet hidden from me. Or perhaps, that soon I would endure a kind of suffering that required healing. I mentioned to Fr. Sirba that I so delve into family matters that I wonder what I would be left with if it were taken away – which is why I need to keep the Lord in clear view and use my vocation to live His will rather than get so caught up in my “mundane” tasks of every day and forget to be with the Lord. (These things also have been clear in my reading time).

So then, during Fr. Laird’s talk this afternoon, I began, without really realizing it, to write the name, Henry Blaise, the name we have chosen if this child is a boy. Just as I wrote this, Father said “God told Abram to sacrifice His son for Him.” (or something to that effect.) It startled me a bit and I began to wonder if perhaps God would be asking the same thing of me. What if something is “wrong” with this baby that will prevent his long life? (I’m not totally convinced as of now that this baby is a boy. I did write Greta Jeanette later during the talk, but all of these things make me wonder…) Then I asked myself if perhaps we’d learn something at the ultrasound (and if we did I became convinced that we should find out the gender of this baby.) All kinds of possibilities came into my mind like stillbirth or heart problems, etc., etc. And also I was convinced in my mind that the baby might need to be baptized immediately. Amazing how a mind can come up with “the worst” – but perhaps was God preparing me for something? I’ve always thought that in case of tragedy, I would be a total wreck, unable to tend to the needs of my children. Or that I would care for them with such a burden that I would feel torn between my grief and my duty and crumble under the pressure. Earlier this morning, I had walked to a statue of Christ with the reference below reading Matthew 28:30 – “Come to me all who weary…” I thought it appropriate for me during this time of spiritual and physical rest. I had wanted to read the surrounding scripture, but forgot the reference, so I walked back out there this afternoon. I came back to my room and began reading what I thought was a few verses before, but later realized I was in the wrong chapter Mt 10:26.

“So, have no fear of them; for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. What I tell you in the dark, utter in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim upon the housetops. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father’s will. But even the hairs on your head are all numbered. Fear not therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven; but whoever denies me before men I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven…”

More to follow. Time for rosary.

Supper has just finished and I can see how it is truly the silence that draws me deeper. For if I were to have an opportunity to socialize, it would be an excuse not to reflect on the things God is revealing to me. The spiritual reading tonight again dealt with abandonment to God’s will. I could never have for myself chosen a more appropriate book to accompany my weekend. The reader, towards the end read something like “would you not sacrifice your child if it be my will?” and then “come to me all who labor and are burdened.” Obviously there is a common thread being woven. I sometimes wonder if it is my own imagination – and I do know I have the ability to imagine the worst. Now these things beg more questions – would I be willing to sacrifice in this way? God could only mean it for good. I suppose I would – but I don’t want to! The thought of losing ANY of my children is unbearable and causes me to wish I had control over what was happening with them even now. Can I let God care for them? Surely He can care for them better than I… and perhaps that is all He is asking (please, let it be so!) I can hand over control. I can put my children in God’s hands. But, please don’t take them away. Please don’t be telling me that perhaps your will is for me to lose one of my children so that through that sacrifice I may be a saint. Am I the only one hearing this specific thread woven together? Surely you have this for me. But I need clarity.

After returning from the retreat, Molly discussed with me her experience and we both hoped that this was simply a test of faith. On December 1st, 2008, at 6:37am, our new baby, a boy, Henry Blaise Koop, was born and found to have passed away, brought by our Lord to be with Him in heaven. I baptized Henry within moments of his birth.

While we continue to mourn this great loss, we pray that the purpose for which the Lord took Henry to be with Him is fulfilled in our family. God has provided us comfort and understanding through this special grace.

All praise, glory, honor, and power be to our Lord and savior Jesus Christ.

Again, thanks...


Henry's funeral was beautiful, and we were overwhelmed with the number of people who attended. The days since have been tough, as we continue to try to process, read all of the cards we've received, look at pictures of Henry, be distracted by our other wonderful children, and just try to be normal. Unfortunately, that won't be possible for a while.

I thought I would include a picture of what our dining room currently looks like...

Thank you again for your continuing prayers.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Thanks so much for your prayers and support...


Both Molly and I are overwhelmed by all of the prayers and support our family has received since the loss of our son, and I just wanted to write a quick note saying that your prayers do matter and have an affect. All of the conversations, phone calls, e-mails, and comments we have received are hard to process now, but know that every one is appreciated. We have felt the increasing consolation of the Holy Spirit with each passing moment, and we know that we will make it through this by the grace of our Lord.

Just to pass on this information for those nearby, the Mass of Christian Burial for our Henry will be 10:00am Thursday, Dec. 4, at the Church of St. Paul in Ham Lake, MN with a reviewal one hour prior at 9:00am.

We continue to trustfully surrender to God's divine providence.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Words can't decribe how difficult it is to write this...

(Brendan and Molly)

Please pray for our family. Early this morning, Molly went into labor to deliver our precious new little one. When we got to the hospital, during delivery they could not find the baby's heartbeat, and after delivery of our new baby boy, Henry Blaise Koop, we found that he had passed away. This loss is nearly unbearable for our family, but we also know God's will has been done and continues to be done in our lives. The shock of this will take so long to wear off, we will need to prayers of our family, friends, and the readers of this blog for many months to come.

Henry is now in the arms of our savior in heaven, and we ask for his prayers for us. He is our most precious intercessor!

Holy Mary, please pray for us, you know our pain!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Nov. 26th is bid day


Tomorrow, Wednesday November 26, is "bid day," one of the important days for our project. It's the day that we finally get to see actual dollar figures for construction costs proposed by general contractors that we've hand-selected to bid... which will be both relieving and scary at the same time. It's a relief to finally get the home cost out of the "theoretical" and into the "practical," and it's also quite scary to see whether the submitted bids are close to our budget. If the bids are a little over our budget, things can be done here and there to bring it back in line without sacrificing the overall vision. If the bids are significantly over budget, then that means something fundamental about the home design will have to change, or be completed in a much longer time-scale than we are intending. We're currently just focusing in prayer on selecting the right contractor and trying to let God take care of the rest.

First, for those interested in the home building process, I can explain how this bidding process works. In reality, one doesn't need to do a bidding process at all, you can select a general contractor right from the beginning and work with them throughout your project. This is "easier" to do because you can ask the contractor all your questions along the way and it makes generating the construction drawings (with the contractor or with an architect) a smoother process because the contractor has input from the beginning. However, this is also more expensive because the contractor has no competition and is only reduced to negotiating with you over price. Another option is to run a bidding process, where you line up contractors who are willing to bid on your project and they compete against each other. I say "willing" because in good economic times it might be hard to find contractors willing to bid because it takes a lot of work to put together a detailed bid (the process typically takes 3-4 weeks). If there are lots of other jobs available they can just skip yours and move to the next one. But, in bad economic times, there's magically lots of contractors willing to bid on your home project! The only catch to making a bid worth your while (and worth the contrators' effort) is that you need to have detailed construction drawings completed and almost every item for the home selected ahead of time so the bids will be accurate and won't require lots of revisions after the bids. This means you need to do this without the contractors' help, and that can be challenging. But in the end, bidding your project gets you a much better price and is worth the effort and organization required.

Conventional wisdom says to have 3-5 general contractors lined up to bid, and to make sure you are comfortable with any of the contractors being the winner. You want to have at least 3 bidders so that you have proper competition and a decent selection at the end, and you also don't want to have more than 5 bidders so that each of the bidders feels like they have a reasonable shot at winning (and will put in the required effort instead of just "throwing a number at it"). We interviewed many contractors and ended up selecting 5 contractors to bid, thinking that one or more would potentially drop out later (and we wanted to ensure we had at least 3). Not surprisingly, with this economic climate, none of the 5 dropped out. So we actually have 5 very qualified contractors bidding on our project. I prepared a USB drive with all of the construction documents and bid paperwork for each of the bidders that they each picked up at our house on Nov. 1, and the bids are due by 4:00 pm on Nov. 26 (tomorrow). I set a date of Friday, Dec. 5 as the day when we will let the bidders know the winner, after we've had a chance to digest the bids.

So here's a look at the bidders on our project, in alphabetical order, so you can see the choice we'll have to make. Not all of the contractors has construction examples posted on their site, but for the ones who do I've posted some example photos of their work.

The Chuba Company (Elk River, MN)

We intentionally tried to pick contractors who are experienced with Structural Insulated Panels (SIP's), and The Chuba Company has over 20 years experience with SIP's and uses these almost exclusively.

Cornerstone Custom Construction (Coon Rapids, MN)

Cornerstone primarily does Insulated Concrete Form (ICF) construction, but has also done homes with SIP's before.

Fine Design Contracting (New Hope, MN)

Fine Design Contracting has won awards for extensive home remodels, such as a 2007 Parade of Homes Remodeler's Showcase "Featured Home," but also does custom construction. There website is screwy and in need of improvement, but they are very qualified contractors. Here's an example of their work.

Mattson Brothers Construction (Cambridge, MN)

Not as experienced in SIP's, but a contractor that builds extremely high-quality homes and has very satisfied customers, Mattson Brothers Construction will be bidding on our home. Here's an example of their work.

Summit Design Build (St. Paul, MN)

Highly recommeded by a co-worker of mine, Summit Design Build constructed her home and it ended up winning the 2008 Parade of Homes "Excellence in Green Building" Award. Here it is...

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Check out this great clip...


This is a very well-done video clip from a story in the St. Paul Pioneer Press of a seminarian that Molly and I know at St. Paul Seminary (the major seminary of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis). Justin was stationed at our parish for some weeks to observe parish life, and he is also a good friend and classmate of my brother Evan, also a seminarian at St. Paul Seminary. Heck, you can even spot my brother a couple times between the 1:34 and 1:37 mark in the video!

Please pray for our seminarians!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Design Updates: Volume 7


Well, we're about 1/3 of the way through the bidding process, with the bids from general contractors due back on Wednesday, November 26th. We're very much looking forward to getting some hard numbers for our project. But while we wait for the completion of the bidding, I thought I'd do a brief post to show you the final chapel design as it's depicted in the construction drawings.

The final chapel design is somewhat different than options that had been previously considered, mostly due to cost concerns. Placing clerestory windows in the roof, in whatever manner proposed, was going to add significant unneeded expense, and so I long had the thought in my mind of simply having windows in the walls themselves. It turns out that my brother had the exact same thought, and on the first re-design try came up with exactly what we were looking for. Here are the exterior elevations...

From the South:

From the East:

From the North:

The design from the exterior is simple and yet clearly communicates that this is a chapel, and a different space from the rest of the home. All of the windows, even the circular window on the East side, are standard-sized Andersen windows (that is, they are offered in these sizes and shapes by Andersen, and are not custom windows, which keeps costs low). The idea with the windows on the North and South sides is that they enhance the feeling of verticality, due to their tall/thin shape, while also providing a rhythm for seating in the chapel, which would align with the gaps between the windows. These windows are also placed up high so that they let light in but don't provide distracting views to the outside. The bottom of each window is set at roughly 6 feet above the chapel floor.

Here is an interior section view looking to the East (click to enlarge):

Here you can see the final design of the "bump-out", or "mini sanctuary", on the East side. The re will eventually be an altar at the base, but the concept was changed from my previous idea so that the entire bump-out is open to the chapel space all the way up to the circular window (and contains the circular window). See this post, near the end, for some previous models I had done that differ from this design. I like this change as it provides another traditional design cue for Catholic sacred architecture.

To give some scale to the diagram above, I mocked up a figure, about 6 feet in height (or a few inches taller) to place in the diagram, along with an example of how such a figure would relate in height to one of the side windows, shown in light blue (click to enlarge):

The interior of the chapel will not be finished at first, to save cost, and also to allow further detailed design to make sure we get everything exactly right. I'll finish the interior myself, and in fact for some things I feel that I need to actually be in the space in order to determine the best approaches (like final placement of lighting).

Sunday, November 2, 2008

All Saints Eve

For weeks the kids have been looking forward to our celebration of All Saints' Day, particularly our parish's All Saints' Party on October 31 (complete with mass in honor of the Feast Day, a "procession of saints" a hot dog dinner (Brendan was in heaven!), games, a hay ride--and a boatload of candy!) Several months ago, while I was on a silent retreat, I read a book about the lives of the children of Fatima (Blesseds Francicso and Jacinta Marto and their older cousin, Lucia dos Santos) and was convinced that it was the perfect story to focus on during October (the month of the Holy Rosary) in preparation for the Feast of All Saints.

I actually had a difficult time finding materials that I considered suitable for our kids because they tend to get scared easily. Although it is important to be honest about the stories of the Christians who have gone before us, I've found it beneficial to tell the stories of the saints in terms that the kids can relate to without too much fear associated. For example, in the movie The Day the Sun Danced there's a line where the mayor of Ourem says in this wicked voice something like "Is the oil good and hot?!" And in the book we read, "We'll fry them like fish!" We skipped that line and explained that some adults thought the children were lying about the apparitions and that they brought them to jail and threatened to let them die if they didn't tell them what the Lady had revealed to them. Our kids were actually really interested in discussing the fact that the Blessed Mother had been appearing to them was real and that the children were willing to die because they knew they were telling the truth and that they could soon be with Jesus in heaven.

Throughout October we read portions of Blesseds Jacinta and Francisco Marto: Shepherds of Fatima during our family prayer time. The kids spent a lot of time pretending to be the children, going to the Cova de Iria to pray the Rosary. They loved that Francisco would play the flute while the girls danced and also that Fransisco once gave all his money to save a poor bird that was being tortured by some village boys. They would pretend to give their lunch to the poor and offer their sufferings for poor sinners. There was also a moment during their playtime when Lucia (Clara) whipped out a cell phone and called her mom in Florida. :)

If I had been organized enough, I probably could have convinced my sister-in-law, Allison, to come up with a sheep costume for Max so that he could be part of the story, too, but it was just too convenient to whip out the old dinosaur costume from a couple of years ago. He was actually quite thrilled to be a part of the big kids' playtime, even though he had no idea what he was participating in. When we were taking pictures outside last Friday, he was actually running around in circles chasing his own tail. What could be more fun?!

I'm always amazed at the depth that children can reach in matters of faith. Once again, it was my children who taught me more than I may have taught them!

Jacinta (Eleanor), Francisco (Aidan), and Lucia (Clara)
Kneeling with their rosaries

The Children of Fatima
(As you can see, the apparition is to the left of the children) :)

Jacinta, Francisco, Lucia, and the Dinosaur
(What? You don't remember the dinosaur in the story?!)

Monday, October 27, 2008

Design Updates: Volume 6


I thought it was time to collate some design updates that have actually impacted the physical structure of the home. Some of these have been completed in the construction documents for some time now, and others are hot off the presses. Work on this stuff has been a flurry lately as my brother is finishing updates to the construction documents (they are 99% complete) and I'm trying to get things together so that the bid package will be sent out to our prospective general contractors on Thursday, October 30th. We'll then be getting the bids back the week of Thanksgiving. Anyway, so here's some updates that have physically impacted the home.

Cricket between garage peaks

No, this is not referring to actually placing a live cricket on the roof of the garage, this is referring to a method of addressing drainage between the garage roof peaks. For those who remember, those peaks above the garage got the attention of every contractor who looked at them, all concerned about water drainage. And, despite me defending these peaks "as is" for months to all contractors, and even displaying how they have been done before in Minnesota (snow included), my brother decided to finally change them after discussing with another architect who is helping on the construction documents. Needless to say, I'm relieved to not have to talk to contractors about this anymore, as they should be well satisfied.

The picture below, from the latest construction documents, shows the new forwards/backwards slope in the roof between the peaks, defined as a "cricket" (click to enlarge).

Alteration of first-floor ceiling in south wing

The first floor of the "south wing", for lack of a better term, contains the family room and library. This area has been planned to have a 10' ceiling all along, while the ceiling in the "north wing" has a 9' height. My brother thought that rather than transitioning from 9' to 10' abruptly at the intersection of the north and south wings, it would be better to continue the 9' ceiling for a few feet into the south wing and then transition to 10' in the center of the room. This then creates a soffit in the ceiling where rope lighting can be placed. I know, it's hard to visualize, so first let's look a a cross-section view of the family room, looking toward the fireplace (click to enlarge).

Hopefully you can see the two areas of lowered ceiling height on either side of the room (my brother lowered the ceiling on the opposite side of the entrance to the room as well for symmetry). The picture above shows the transition from 9' to 10' height in the center of the room as being a "step" on both sides, but in actuality there will be a little lip at the edge which will be able to hold rope lighting. Here's a top view, where the soffits on either side are denoted by a dashed line (there is a call-out note that says "line of soffit above"). Click to enlarge.

There are two dashed lines because of the small lip that will hold the rope lighting. The rope lights in the family room and library will be controlled on separate switches so that you can turn them on and off independently, and will be on dimmers.

I loved this whole concept, as it really brings extra character to the room. There are also so many things that make it fantastic design. Now there will be a lower height ceiling area that will visually lead straight to the chapel door, and the lower ceiling height as one enters the chapel will enhance the drama of the very high ceilings inside the chapel. There is also extra space in these areas to run ducts to the upper floor, which was previously not available.

Rearrangement of the laundry room and boys' bathroom

Upstairs, the laundry room has always bothered me a little because I know how much Molly wanted a larger laundry room (given the amount of laundry that she does) and due to space comprimises we ended up at a room that was only big enough to fit a washer and dryer and some organizational stuff. Molly also wanted a sink in there for soaking any clothes when needed, but there wasn't a good way to fit a sink in the room. We were just going to move on and deal with it, but my brother had to make some changes to the room shape in order to run ducts in the proper places, and this created a whole conversation about how to best design the laundry room and boys' bathroom. Here's the original iteration of the laundry and boys' bathroom:

In order to properly align ducts coming from the first floor, my brother had to rotate the laundry and boys' bathroom 90-degrees, taking a couple feet of space from the boys' bedroom (on the top side of the image). In doing this, he still kept the rooms the original size, and then used the extra space created along the hallway to put in a closet.

At this point, still resigned to a small laundry room, Molly brilliantly saw what my brother and I could not (you know when you spend so much time looking at something you can't see the forest for the trees?). Molly, knowing the new closet wouldn't get used effectively, wondered aloud why we couldn't just get rid of the closet, flip the location of the laundry and boys' bathroom, and use all of the previous closet space for the laundry room? Voila!

I feel so much better about this, as I now know Molly will get one of her primary wishes, some space to move and work in the laundry room without piling tons of clothes in the hallway. And there's now plenty of space for the sink.

"Floor-to- ceiling" windows in family room and library

I wrote some time ago about dividing up the floor-to-ceiling windows on the north side of the family room and library in order to contain cost by using smaller, standard-size windows. Well, here's the result of my brother's changes:

The windows with the dashed triangles are operable casement windows (the side with the "point" of the triangle opens outward, with the opposite side being the hinge) and the blank windows are fixed. The bottom windows will be tempered glass, and all of these are standard-size Andersen windows. Again, we loved this result. The facade will look very cool with all of the windows open at an angle, and the design is certainly nothing crazy while still being distinctive and non-ordinary.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Design Updates: Volume 5


Keeping up a spirit of optimism in these interesting financial times, we continue on with another "Design Updates", well... update. This one consists of a bunch of odds and ends that were not previously selected (at least not in time to show you in a logical sequence). Since I'm pressed for time, here we go:

Master Bedroom Floor

Keeping with the Flor brand carpet tiles for upper rooms, here's what we selected for our bedroom (it's called Next in Line - Sage Gray):

Girls' Bedroom Floor

And for the girls, we selected the Tufted Frond - Bisque carpet tile design. It's shown used in the center of an area rug in the first picture below. It took ordering samples from Flor for us to finally make a selection for the Master Bedroom and Girls' room, and I'm glad we did.

Master Bathroom

Moving randomly along, here's a few things that took forever to pick out for the Master Bathroom (forever because of the variety of options, the desire to maximize value for the lowest cost, and the desire to coordinate items for a consistent design throughout the bathroom).

The interior design all starts with the focal point of the bathroom, the vanity and sinks:
We're getting the set of the above, which will include the sinks, faucets, vanity, coutertop, shelves, and mirrors. This design fit everything we were looking for (wood color, non-ordinary design, dimensional constraints of the space, etc.), for a very reasonable price -- the benefit of buying as a set instead of all the pieces separately.

In order to match the sink faucets above, I found this tub faucet:

And similarly coordinating, while also having a "rain" shower head (which we wanted), we selected this shower head and control (one of the knobs is a flow control, the other an independent temperature control):

Mud Room

You have to have a durable floor for a mud room (vinyl is a good choice) and it should be darker in color to hide dirt. To get a little bit of unexpected color in the mud room, we went with this blue-ish vinyl from Armostrong (ToughGuard Urban Settings - Lapis Twilight):

I designed the following IKEA cabinets for part of the mud room space:
It's a simple laminate gray countertop with the IKEA Nexxus - Birch for the cabinets, with stailess steel round cabinet knobs. That space underneath the left-most upper cabinets? That's space for this puppy:
With coordinating faucet:
I don't honestly know if the sink will be available next year at the current price (just North of $200 right now -- for a commercial stainless steel sink!), but we certainly hope so. It took me quite a while to find this deal, most stainless steel sinks this size are $600-$800. This would definitely fit our large-family, take-no-prisoners motif for certain appliances and fixtures in our home (our kitchen faucet is another).

The other wall areas in the mud room will eventually be filled with individual locker-style cubbies that we've aready spec'ed from IKEA. Ideally these will each have doors that can enclose the coat/boot/mitten chaos inside. At least that's the way Molly envisions it.

Just FYI, our final construction documents are nearly complete; my brother has been hard at work on those for some time now. The final documents are slated for completion October 16th. After that, in late October or early November I'll be running a competitive bidding process, and we have multiple contractors lined up to bid. We're really looking forward to seeing some hard numbers in terms of cost, and also looking forward to finally being able to work directly with a contractor (whomever is the winning bidder).

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The power of a classical education...


This is a great article on a new high school in the Twin Cities that is educating young people in the same way we are educating our own children in our home school. And I love the name of the school, G. K. Chesterton is a fantastic role model. God bless them!

Counter-Cultural Education in a One-Room School

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Doom and gloom abound in the markets


It doesn't matter whether one is talking about the stock markets, credit markets, or housing markets, doom and gloom is everywhere these days. It certainly would give pause to anyone planning to, oh I don't know, sell and build a home next year. It can be mind-boggling trying to keep track of all the bad news, and sometimes good news, that may affect our particular situation in the coming months.

On the bad side, for instance, since only a year ago, the Dow Jones Industrial Average is down over 20%:
Any money invested in stocks as a vehicle for saving for home construction could be taking a serious hit.

But, on the good side, we don't have any exposure to stocks in our savings for the home, with the exception of some stock in the company I work for, which is actually up a couple percentage points for the year to date.

On the bad side, the subprime loan crisis (and even worse, the complete collapse of parts of the mortgage banking sector in recent days) has cause credit markets to tighten considerably, even to the point that people with good credit are finding it much harder to be approved for a loan (or there are much stricter loan terms). As evidence for this disconcerting trend, this article from the Minneapolis Star Tribune: "Get ready for a mortgage maze". The practical affect for us is that it could make getting a construction loan very interesting.

But on the good side, material costs for home construction have come down sharply in a number of areas, making the cost for building our home less with each passing day of this downturn (and thus also the potential size of a construction loan). Evidence for this from CNNMoney.com: "Build your dream house now".
Also on the good side in terms of construction costs, a potential decrease in labor cost. We are putting our home project up for competitive bid, and have lined up 4 (possibly 5) general contractors/builders to bid on our project. This is the way to get the best possible price on construction. And suffice it to say, whether the contractors let on or not, these guys need the work badly and competition for our project will be fierce (driving our cost lower). And the Minneapolis Star Tribune supports this: "Home building activity at a crawl in Twin Cities".

On the bad side, home values across the country have declined in the past few years, and haven't seemed to hit bottom. This means that selling our home could be very difficult, and that our selling price may have to come down significantly to ensure our house does sell in a timely fashion. Once sold, the amount of equity in our current home will be less than we had hoped, meaning less to put towards our next home.

But on the good side, anecdotally I know a number of people that have recently sold homes within weeks (not months) of putting them on the market in the Twin Cities, and another article was just released today that helped validate this trend. From the Minneapolis-St. Paul Business Journal: "Minneapolis-St. Paul home market improves slightly in July". Minneapolis lead the nation during the last month with a modest increase in home price index. A quote:
The Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller home price index, which tracks prices in 20 metro areas around the nation, reported an index level of 143.4 for the Minneapolis area in July, up 1.3 percent from June. (The index is based off of home prices in January 2000, so a rating of 143 translates to a 43 percent appreciation rate since then).

The index value for July is still down 13.1 percent from the prior year (when the value was 164.9). But the Minneapolis market was one of the areas of strength during the most recent period.

The next best market was Denver, where the index value rose 0.8 percent in July, and the survey found that the Minneapolis area, along with Atlanta, Boston, Dallas and Denver, had reported improvements for at least the past three months.
So what does all this mean? It means we don't have a clue how things will play out for our home project in the coming months, but we do know two things:

1) There are so many people out that who have serious problems, involving losing their jobs, or homes, or worse, and our concerns are nothing compared to theirs, and we are so very appreciative of all of the gifts that God has given to us. We pray for all those who are suffering.

2) We want God's will to be done, and we are quite comfortable handing over complete control to Him, knowing that the Lord works all things together for the good of those who love Him.

St. Joseph, pray for us!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Pics of a home chapel sent by a reader...


I thought I'd pass on (after asking her permission) some pictures of a wonderful home chapel sent by Ecclesia Domestica reader Gabrielle. Gabrielle notes that all of the furnishings are from England (she is Anglican, or traditional Episcopal) and everything in the chapel is circa 1880-1900, or a little thereafter. The cross is dated 1879 and the lecturn is 1885. Enjoy!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Worth a view...


This wonderfully produced clip is worth a few minutes of your time as we wind down the presidential campaign. It's a great reminder, even a wake-up call, that there are some issues that transcend all others.

I would only edit the last statement to say, "Inform your conscience with the truth, then vote your conscience." :-)

Friday, September 12, 2008

Design Updates: Volume 4


Again, sorry for the low posting regularity! It's busy as usual, but that does include lots of selecting, selecting, selecting things for the house. This usually involves Molly and I pawning off our wonderful kids on an unsuspecting relative and then furiously driving around to different stores trying to cross some things off our list. So here's a data dump.

One of the materials we've added to our interior "palette" is slate, as there were a lot of suggestions from my brother for "slate gray" color materials. Well, nothing can be more "slate gray" than slate, but the key is cost. Slate is a natural stone, so typically it can cost more than man-made materials, but with our extensive checking we found some good prices. So here's where we are using it:

Kitchen Backsplash:

Tumbled slate wall mosaic blend (Home Depot)
1"x1" tiles mounted on 12"x12" mesh

Master Bath Floor:

Multi Classic Slate (Home Depot) - only $1.49 per square foot!
12"x12" tiles

Master Bath Tub Surround:

Slate mosaic tile blend (Home Depot)
2"x2" tiles mounted on 12"x12" mesh

In the master bathroom, initially the walls will just be painted white to save cost, but the end vision (as suggested by my brother and we loved the idea) is to have a warm beige mosaic tile covering all of the walls (to be installed by me). Mosaic tile is very expensive, so keeping it out of the initial home budget is necessary for such a large scale use. I'll install it later, and the slate will then provide a nice contrast on the floor. In terms of the walls, this is a pic that my brother used when suggesting this idea:

First Level Wood Floor:

For the wood floor on the first level, my brother suggested a dark brown (rather than the lighter wood he initially showed on the rendering of the family room interior) because it has a way of visually grounding the home (plus, lighter wood is so common and widely used, so dark wood is an interesting and different tone). Here were his suggested tones (click to enlarge):
With this suggestion in mind, we're looking at this low-cost engineered wood floor option from Lumber Liquidators ($3.99 per square foot, with a "handscraped" finish that would add a more rustic look). We've gotten samples and like it.

And with the tone of the wood floor selected, this allowed better coordination with kitchen cabinet colors. We ditched the "medium brown" tone cabinets in the kitchen because the tone will be similar to the floor, but almost assuredly just slightly different. So the cabinets and the floor would clash. With a dark floor, my brother suggested a white or blond wood kitchen cabinet tone, such as in these example pics he provided (click to enlarge):
Molly has actually always liked the idea of a white kitchen, and my brother's suggestion gave the go-ahead to make it a reality, so we're going with the Adel White finish in our IKEA kitchen.
Laundry Room:

As we're always looking to contain cost, we've decided to do away with the idea of having built-in cabinets in the laundry room. Instead, Molly is going with this IKEA system that is really cool. If there's one thing IKEA is good at, it's design for organization. An example pic of their laundry system is below.

Upper Floor Bedrooms (Flooring):

Did I mention we're going with carpet tiles in the upstairs bedrooms, that we'll install ourselves? Flor brand carpet tiles are the best and have the most options. The tiles aren't cheap, but the labor cost will be zero, and whenever our kids next spill a can of paint on the carpet (I say "next" because this has already happened in our current house multiple times) we can just take up the affected tiles and replace them. Piece of cake.

Here the floor in the boys' bedroom (shown in this pic being used as an area rug):

And here's the floor in the nursery (a nice, gender-neutral green tone pattern :-). Again, here it is shown being used in an area rug application:

We still are thinking on the girls' room and the Master Bedroom; we've ordered samples from Flor to help us decide.

Well, maybe I'll stop here for now. There's lots more I wish I could show you, but there are not accessible pictures that I could find. For instance, not everything in the Home Depot store is shown on their web site. We've chosen a backsplash and flooring for the girls' bathroom, flooring for the boys' bathroom, flooring for the laundry room, flooring for the first level bathroom, and some other stuff! Sadly, no pics, but you'll see it eventually.

There's lots more to come soon, including my personal favorite: lighting!