Thursday, January 29, 2009

Christmas pic of our kids, and more...


A number of people have said to us how much they liked our Christmas picture of our kids, so I thought I'd post it here. We didn't have time after Henry's funeral to do anything formal, so we took this in haste right around Christmas and used it in our yearly Christmas letter. From the left are Aidan (4), Maximilian (20 mo.), Eleanor (3), and Clara (6).

Eleanor's smile got caught in a weird pose, but you never can get them all smiling perfectly at the same time, can you?

Now, due to Max's cuteness in this picture, I had to follow up by doing some further graphical editing. I'm sure you've all seen this iconic poster used by the Obama campaign, below.

It's kind of a graphical propaganda classic now, and a website has sprung up that allows you to put your own photo and message in a similar graphic ( Max clearly needs his own piece of propaganda in order launch his nefarious plan to become the leader of the free-world (in the year 2060).

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A gift for our new home...


Mourning the loss of our Henry is still very difficult (and will always be), though we recently received a wonderful gift that will help us always keep him in our thoughts in our new home. We received the gift from my brother, Evan, and my cousin, Katherine, both the Godparents of Henry. For Christmas they purchased a beautiful framed print of this painting by William Bouguereau, one of my favorite classical realist painters (and objectively one of the best painters of all time). It's a reminder that Henry is in the arms of Mary in heaven, serenaded by the angels.

Song of the Angels
William Bouguereau
Oil on canvas, 1881
84 x 60"

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Anybody want to buy a house?


Our home is officially on the market. If anyone knows a great family out there that is interested in moving to the northern suburbs of the Twin Cities, and would like an impeccably maintained home, please send them our way!

Here's the official listing site on Re/Max.

And here's a listing on with more pictures and information.

Finally, here's a flyer I designed for people to take during showings and open houses. What do you think? (click to enlarge)

Anyway, please keep us in your prayers that our home sells quickly!

Friday, January 16, 2009

It's nice and "crisp" out there...


We Minnesotans pride ourselves on our ability to shrug off extreme cold; it comes with the territory. We laugh when we hear of a mere 1 inch of snow shutting down an entire city down south, or guffaw when we travel elsewhere and hear a temperature like 12 degrees F being described on the local news in the most apocalyptic terms possible. In the Twin Cities we are now going on almost 90 straight hours of being below zero, air temperature. An air temperature of -46 degrees F was reached in Glenwood, MN in the past 24 hours, with windchill readings in northern Minnesota reaching near -65 degrees F. I would only note, as any good engineer would, that this means if you go into your kitchen and stick your head in your refrigerator you would be 100 degrees warmer.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Mosaic tile backsplash


We're in the final phases of getting ready to put our house on the market (this Friday), and as part of this effort I thought I'd spruce up our kitchen by installing a mosaic tile backsplash. I've never installed tile before, and it definitely was a learning experience, but it wasn't overly difficult (it was definitely messy though). One of the reasons I was interested in doing this is that I'll be installing all of the mosaic tile backsplashes in our new house (to save on cost) and this was a good opportunity to get some practice!

I wish I had a "before" picture, but I don't, so the "after" pics will have to suffice. I used a tile blend from Bisazza Mosaico (special ordered from Home Depot -- which they messed up at least three times) with a white grout. I think it looks really sharp, and we kind of wish we had done this a while ago.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

A concert I am definitely looking forward to...


For all those English nuts out there (including my wife) I am aware that one is not supposed to end a sentence or title with a preposition, but I did it anyway. I tried "A concert to which I am definitely looking forward..." but it just sounds out of place (and like I'm trying too hard). So there you have it.

Anyway, I am very excited because today I purchased tickets for us to see one of my favorite choral groups in concert, the all-male chorus, Chanticleer. The next time they are in the Twin Cities is for a one-night-only performance on April 23rd at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts in St. Paul. They are an amazing group, and I've appreciated their music for many years, though I just recently bought three of their albums on iTunes.

Anyway, Chanticleer always reminds me of the importance of beauty in our human existence. Multiple times I have heard a piece from Chanticleer on our local classical music radio station and at the end was only left with, "Wow." When one encounters something that is truly, objectively beautiful, we can experience a taste of the source from which all beauty comes: God. Whether we realize it or not, this is why true beauty can evoke universal reactions of awe in human beings (and is why art is so important as a human pursuit). To inject your day with some beauty, here's Chanticleer singing a very, well... beautiful arrangement of the Ave Maria.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

A novena to St. Joseph...


We are officially putting our house on the market on January 16th, and given the state of things out there we definitely need all the prayers we can get that our house sells quickly. Since it is nine days before the 16th of January, today Molly and I are starting a novena to St. Joseph to ask his prayers for us in a special way. St. Joseph has been designated by the Church as the patron saint of the family, and among other things also the home. We ask his intercession to pray for our home to sell quickly, and if you are so disposed it would be great to have others join us in this novena. For those who haven't heard of a novena, it's a prayer done on nine consecutive days to emulate the nine days that the Virgin Mary and the Apostles prayed in the upper room in the Book of Acts, concluding on Pentecost. Here is a link to a novena to St. Joseph.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Update on home project


Happy new year to everyone out there. As tough as it's been the past month, we have had to still make some decisions regarding our home project in order to keep it moving. For many days it just didn't seem worth it to bother with the home, we would much prefer to just crawl under a rock and close everything out. But everything we've done in the past two years has been leading up to starting construction in 2009, and to change that would bring just as many complications as it alleviated. For instance, the term for our land loan ends in December of 2009 and we would have to refinance this loan in order to hold on to the land we have. Also, interest rates for 30-year mortgages are likely to be going down to all-time lows some time in 2009, and we'd like to take advantage of that for the mortgage for our new home. So, given all of this, work on our new home hasn't really stopped and it's a good time to give an update on where we are at.

Bids for our home project

In late November we received the bids back from the five contractors who were bidding our project, and got a reality check on cost. Here's a plot I put together that doesn't have any numbers but hopefully will be descriptive:

Now, that said, there were some very expensive things that we left in the home design strictly to get an idea of the cost but without realistically thinking we'd be able to afford it. For instance, the siding was specified as cedar, though we knew from a few contractors' comments that cedar costs have gone way up in the last few years. Also, the gutters were still specified as being inset into the roof (even though we thought these wouldn't be affordable) and the gutter material was specified as copper, which really isn't necessary. These things and a few others could have been taken out ahead of the bids and the black dots in the chart above would have been somewhat closer to our budget. But despite these known expensive items, they alone cannot account for even the majority of cost overrun. There were going to have to be some significant reductions to the project to bring the project close to our budget. LOTS of reductions.

Let me just say, for anyone considering building a home in the future, this bidding process was extremely important to go through. You do this so that you can be informed of potential cost overruns with your wallet closed, and then make adjustments ahead of time. You also do this so that you can select a contractor with a low bid, who is also committed to helping you reach your budget with suggestions to reduce cost.

Selected Contractor

Despite the bids being way over our budget, we needed to select a contractor to finally start working with one-on-one and utilize his expertise. In a previous post I reviewed the contractors who were bidding. So, the contractor we selected is...

Duane Kozitka from The Chuba Company

We are really excited about working with Duane and have already met with him twice since the end of the bidding process, most recently a couple days ago with my brother as he is in town for Christmas. Duane was not the lowest bidder, but was very close to the lowest number and brings 20 years of experience working with SIP's and has built architecturally designed homes (and is currently doing one in Golden Valley, MN). We couldn't pass up the experience level he brings, and also were happy with his willingness to pull out all the stops to get our project back within budget.

For those interested, Summit Design Build was the highest bidder.

Cost Saving Measures

It's clear that beyond the more expensive items that we left in for the bids, the project has some fundamental issues that cause its cost to be higher than our budget. One of the biggest is the amount of external surface area of the home (which includes extra siding, extra wall construction and SIP's, etc.). We knew this going in and we want to preserve the unique design and character of the home going forward. But, in order to do so we had to make some tough choices. Here are the biggest cost saving measures that we know we are implementing:

1. Do not build chapel, leave for later addition
2. Do not build a basement (add in more above-ground storage)
3. Change cedar siding to fiber cement siding
4. Stick with asphalt shingle roof instead of standing seam metal roof
5. Eliminate all exterior brick walls (and possibly add later)
6. Change inset gutters to more standard gutters, and change material from copper to painted aluminum
7. Don't lay any sod or do any landscaping, leave for later

Without question the biggest "ouch" for me in this list is leaving the chapel to add later. In the end, the chapel was not going to be finished on the inside right away anyway, and it may end up being a good thing. The chapel design is about as small as it can be right now, and leaving it for a later addition will allow us to enlarge the chapel by a few feet in width to give it some breathing room. The chapel is one of the biggest reasons we are building this home, so you can be sure it will be the first thing we do in the next few years (before anything else we plan on adding, like the patio and outer balcony, or landscaping, or anything).

There are many more items on our cost-saving list that are smaller but add up to big savings, and I won't bore you by discussing all those. Some are changes we are making in interior finishes, some are work that I plan on doing myself instead of paying for labor.

I think the integrity of the project will still be in tact after all of our cost-saving efforts, and it's a good thing to always be reminded that, as the Rolling Stones said, "You can't always get what you want." What we truly desire is to follow God's will, and that's all that matters.

Please pray for us as well, as we are currently getting our house ready to be put on the market some time the week of January 12th!