Spring is here!

The trees and grass have declared that spring is officially here. Don’t take my word for it, here’s what my pear tree has to say.


How secure are your doors?

I recently learned a few things about home security. Some of the highlights are

* most doors can be busted open with one solid kick
* deadbolts offer little additional protection against kick ins
* 99% of deadbolts can be drilled through in under 2 minutes
* most deadbolts can be sawed through in a couple minutes
* a blunt instrument (hammer) and a screwdriver can quickly defeat cheap deadbolts
* most deadbolts can be picked in less than 2 minutes
* average time to break into a house is under two minutes
* two categories of burglars: skilled w/tools, and opportunists

If the burglar is skilled and has tools, he will get into the majority of houses within two minutes. Short of spending thousands of dollars on security, there is little you can do to prevent it. However, what you can do is make sure your house is secure enough to keep out the opportunists for at least two minutes. By doing so, they’ll continue down the street looking for an easier target.

According to Consumer Reports, “Nearly two thirds of all burglaries involve forced entry, and they succeed partly because of flimsy door locks and mounting hardware.” In doing tests that involved kicking, drilling, sawing, hammering, and other attempts to defeat locks, they found that simply replacing the screws provided with cheap door locks with 3″ screws “significantly” strengthened them. I suggest also replacing the screws in your door hinges with longer screws that will penetrate at least 1″ into the door framing.

It makes good sense that you should use screws long enough to go through the prehung door frame and into the framing. However, if you really want to raise the bar, then spend $10 for a M.A.G. Security Strike-3 Deadbolt Frame Reinforcer (747-B). Next to using longer screws, this delivers more security for your dollar than anything else. I bought them for all three of my entry doors. It takes a bit of drilling and chiseling to install but I am considerably more confident in my doors now.

I had embarked on my journey of door security because our existing locks were rude, inconvenient, and annoying. Upon insertion of a key, they were loathe to return it. I was also suspicious of their integrity. Last, they were not keyed alike. I’d often be unable to get in the nearest door because I didn’t have the right key. Those combined to inspire me to replace them all. Unable to find a decent set at nearby retailers, I went online and started searching.

I found useful information from a couple homeowners insurance companies, Consumers Reports, and The National Locksmith. Both CR and TNL had nice pictures of busting down doors and how they fail. After replacing my deadbolt latches with strike boxes, the next weakest link was my locks and deadbolts. Thankfully, CR tested enough locks to make that choice easy; pay $160 each per deadbolt for the top of the line stuff, or $25 for second best. Second best is good enough for me. The only challenge was finding them. The better lockset makers only sell through locksmiths.

Replacing the deadbolts is quite an easy job, easily within the grasp of anyone with a screwdriver and the ability to read. However, what can be a bit more challenging is adding a deadbolt to doors that don’t have them. In my case, the entry door between the garage and house did not have a deadbolt. I chose to add one because I had noticed that someone attempted to break into my garage while we were at the hospital for Lucas’ birth. A few days later, I was chatting with my neighbor who was repairing his garage door after an attempt had been made on it as well. Both our garage doors were good enough to dissuade an opportunist.

I learned that a significant portion of burglaries that are not forced entries are the result of entering through unlocked garage doors. If someone does get past my garage door, I want to stop them there. I used my drill and Rotozip to cut a round hole through the steel door and installed a deadbolt on that door as well. Now we actually use the lock on that door since it has a matching key. This is a very important aspect of home security. If using the locks is a pain, they won’t get used. If they aren’t used regularly, they are no better than not having them. Now we have three doors, with five locks and 1 key.

I also looked into keyless locks as well, using a variety of mechanisms. All the keyless locks CR tested were lacking in basic security. The more I read, the it appears that there is not a good residential grade keyless lock available. Even the best offer less security than a good $25 deadbolt. The Mythbusters guys did a nice set of experiments on the best of the biometric locks and were able to defeat every one of them quickly and reliably. While they are convenient and appear high tech, they offer less security than the basic keyed lock at a much higher cost.

The last product I learned about is the door wrap plates. They are C shaped brass plates with pre-drilled holes for your deadbolt and lockset. The plates wrap around your door and you mount the locks through the holes in it. The plates are a reinforcement for the door itself. They add security by making it significantly more difficult to bust the door and thereby defeat the locks. They only cost $15 each, the challenge was finding a place to buy them. I’ve had them on order for three weeks now. Should they ever arrive, I’ll take a few photos of the results.


A cornucopia of things

We are in Seattle (Lake City) at least until mid-July. We fled Texas to escape the heat. Jen found us a housesitting job.

Weather in Seattle is wonderful! It’s cold in the morning (60s) and warms up into the 70s during the day. There are no mosquitoes. The doors and windows of the house are open all day (and night). I can be out in the sun for hours and not get burnt. I burn in less than 40 minutes of Texas sun.

Honda Odyssey
We drove our new minivan up to Seattle. It is a 2004 Honda Odyssey. We got it last month with 26,000 miles. It is like new. It is so anti-Jetta. The Jetta is small, the Odyssey is not. The Jetta is frugal (35mph), the Odyssey is not (24). The Jetta begs to race down the backside of mountains at 120mph, the Odyssey says, “grow up, speed racer.” The Jetta is cute, the Odyssey is…is…practical. 534

The Jetta: Let’s DRIVE!
Odyssey: Let’s ride.

The Jetta: Go, Go, Go! Faster, faster, I can do it!
Odyssey: Hey, look at the pretty mountains and the cool morning air that I have conditioned to exactly 72° for your riding comfort. Would you like a massage with your soft cushy seats?

After driving 400 miles:
The Jetta: Stop? Why? I can go for 200 more miles on this tank!
Odyssey: I’m thirsty. Don’t you have to pee or something?

After looking at the pile of stuff to take for 6 weeks:
The Jetta: Where?
Odyssey: Is that it?

Things that would not have fit in the Jetta: 20″ iMac, crate full of rock climbing and camping gear, portable office (phones, routers, power adapters, etc), a really big bag of Kayla toys. It really was quite dramatic. We filled up the Odyssey with everything we wanted to bring and was still below the bottom of the windows.

Contrast that with our two weeks in Michigan over new years. The Jetta was packed to the gills with the roof rack on top and not an inch to spare anywhere.

Junior 2.0
We had Junior’s big ultrasound yesterday. Junior appears to be very healthy. In fact, Junior is quite vigorous, refusing to hold still for the ultrasound technician. She claimed never to have seen such an active fetus. There were a couple images she simply could not get because Junior refused to hold still. After 15 minutes trying to get a particular shot, in frustration she held the probe still and said, “Look at this, I’m holding this still and he is just going and going!”

Junior’s mommy was not the least bit surprised. Kayla was an active baby and we had nicknamed her “Dances in Womb.” Junior is hyperactive and seldom pauses. Junior is more like “Spastic Bounces Off Walls.” His activity level is almost constant. Many things about this pregnancy are different than the last, but of course, every pregnancy is different. The nausea that abated in the second trimester last time has not. Other little things are different. We had our suspicions.

As the technician probed, daddy and Kayla watched. I asked, “Did I just see what I thought I saw?” The technician slid a knowing grin and continued. She paused, and froze the screen. There it was again, and this time she caught it before Junior swam away. Junior is sporting the goods.

Workin’ for the man
The day after we arrived in Seattle, I got the phones set up and then they rang. A certain mega-sized monopolistic computer software corporation (MSMCSC) based in Redmond, Washington wanted my assistance. Oddly, they had no idea I was only a few miles away. So, I am finishing up a one week consulting project with, guess who?

two chicks

Last week we saw a hot new chick in the neighborhood and I’ve been trying to get a photo of her ever since. We’ve seen her fly by a few times but yesterday was the first time she held still long enough for us to get a good look, and did we ever. Jen ran for the binoculars and I grabbed the camera and the 400mm telephoto lens.

Lucky for ya’ll, she held still long enough for me to snap a couple candid shots. In addition to the shot above, I also got one of her dropping her drawers to take care of some business. In the interests of moral sensibility, we’re not publishing that one. Today we saw her again, and she was at the top of her game. She was with some guy, and she had her claws sunk deep into him.

And the two were becoming one flesh, literally. We watched for 10 minutes trying to see exactly she had laid her claws into. Unfortunately, she was outside the range of my 400mm lens and our binoculars. Our best guess is: a cat.

And here is the other hot little chick in the neighborhood.

The shirt off my back.

Yesterday, a cold front settled across Texas. Unlike more tolerable climates, a cold front here means that it dropped into the 70s. There is now hope for the masses who come innocently looking for a Kayla photo and are subjected to the spectacle of my shyly clad body.

What you can’t see from so far away is just how hot it has been here. Until yesterday, it was in the 90’s, and frequently above 100, every single day. The weather people say this was the hottest September on record. I’ll take their word for it. We’ve survived by setting the thermostat down to 81°F, and wearing very little.

This has practical consequences, like fewer publishable photos. Another is that our electricity bill for the last month was “only” $280. While that is a 700% increase over our summer electric bill in Michigan, it would have been more if we cooled down to a pleasant 78°. This is (tongue in cheek) offset by doing less laundry. I talked to a couple home efficiency experts here and have been told that is normal and it will decrease significantly when winter finally arrives.

A few of you asked about Kayla’s exercise plan. She was a bit jealous that I would go to a gym to work out instead of spending every possible minute with her. We struck a compromise that lets me go to the gym on school mornings (Tu,Th) while she is still sleeping. Every other day we stretch together.

Settled In

Although we’ll be adjusting (to) things for some time to come, we are now “settled in.”

The hardest thing to get used to is the heat. It’s been over 100 every day of the last week, and it doesn’t cool off to the mid eighties until early morning (5-9 AM). Thankfully, the humidity stays right around 70% so the heat is only mildly intolerable. To help get used to it, we keep the thermostat in the house set to 82°F, which is barely below misery for a northern boy like me.

Kayla’s latest kick is standing up. Forget about crawling, this little chic wants to stand. If we fail to oblige her, she’ll remind us. She really enjoys being upright, and it’s a fine digestive aid. It helps her relieve unwanted pressure from both ends.

Simerson Housing & Moving

Wow. So much has happened in the last few weeks. The biggest news is that our house in Michigan is SOLD! That happened on July 23rd, days before we lit out of town for Marco’s wedding in Nashville. This blessing came as a big surprise. For starters, there’s an excess of houses on the market in Cadillac, almost a years worth. Our listing price was $25k higher than the next most expensive house on our street. Our neighborhood isn’t the cities finest.

Because of those considerations, we expected to sit on the house for at least a year or two. We expected it so much that we had a renter all lined up and ready to move in as soon as we moved out. Then, as divine providence would have it, we got two excellent offers, a day apart. We had only to pick the best offer (cash, no contingencies) and just like that, our house was sold. Yesterday we signed all the closing documents and overnighted them back to Michigan. The closing will be completed next week.

In previous posts I made note of the moving out party and the blessing our friends were. I’ll pick up the story on Friday evening, the day before the truck arrived with all our stuff.

Because Jen didn’t want me to unload the entire truck by myself (again, as I did in our Atlanta to Cadillac move) we made arrangements to get Jordan (1st cousin, once removed) from the Air Force base in Wichita Falls. On Saturday AM, we discovered it was a 3 hour drive to get him and booked him tickets on a greyhound. The plan was to have the truck unloaded by Sunday evening, in time to take him back to the base.

The truck arrived at 9:20AM and Jordan would be arriving around 2PM, so I set to getting a head start on the unloading. As I was working, Omega, my neighbor across the street saw me working away. He inquired, and then changed his clothes and set to work helping me. Omega is about my size but with an apparent muscular build, hardy work ethic, and is acclimated to the heat. That man worked non-stop with me, all morning long. By 2:30PM when Jen and Jordan arrived, we were hauling in the last big piece of furniture.

For the rest of Saturday and Sunday, we 3 kings of unpacking were. We worked from one room to the next, tearing into boxes and dispersing their contents. Excepting the living room (due to a lack of bookshelves), there are no boxes left in the house. We have the following rooms in order: master bedroom, Kayla’s room, master & guest bath, and kitchen. It’s taken two days to arrange the office.

The office is complex due to sawing and installation of the rack in the guest room closet, stringing Ethernet cables through the attic from room to room, and setting up all the computers in their new environment. The file server is all set up in the server closet (instead of on Jen’s desk) and Jen’s primary computer is now the PowerBook (connected to the 20″ display and external keyboard/mouse).

Texas or bust!

5:41PM – Garland, TX (home)
11:00AM – Springfield, MO
8:00AM – St. Louis, MO (depart)

Simerson’s are playing leapfrog while driving to Texas. Our stuff was packed into a commercial truck and left Cadillac on Monday. We left Cadillac this morning in our very full Jetta. After passing Bloomington, IL we checked in via the internet to see where our truck was. It’s due to be in Springfield, IL tonight so that means we passed it sometime earlier today. We are approximately 3 hours ahead of it.

5:15PM – Bloomington, IL
3:15PM – Chicago Construction
2:35PM – Indiana
12:05 – Grand Rapids (gas)
11:05 – Depart Cadilac

We’re on our way!

Moving update

Today was a big day, but it’s been a ride getting here. An immense amount of effort has been expended by us, and by our cherished friends on our behalf. Last Wednesday, Jen and I had packed up a goodly portion of the house into boxes. That evening, Matt, Jeff & Jen, Leif & Amedee, and Eric & Jen came over. Matt used his resourcefulness to fetch a stack of boxes and everybody pitched in and filled ’em.

On Thursday morning, our truck arrived. Six phone calls later, I got permission from the City of Cadillac to park the tractor trailer (that was already there) on the street in front of my house. I worked all afternoon to pack about 3 feet of the truck. That evening, Eric and Matt showed up and hauled all of the packed stuff out to the truck, as fast I as could find places for it. More was accomplished in a few hours than I had all day.

My best friend, Michael Surls came up from Marshall on Friday. That afternoon we fetched all the building supplies we’d need to give the patio a face lift and trim out the upstairs. By Saturday evening I had the entire upstairs all trimmed out while Michael & Daniel demolished the patio and prepared it for it’s new skin. Deb & Jen continued packing, caring for Kayla, and keeping the men nourished.

On Sunday, work on the patio resumed. We disassembled the DS3 rack and removed it (a sad day). Amedee came over and did a fantastic job of cleaning the basement. I’ll simply say that her standards are higher than mine, and it shows. Later, Jeff & Jen and Eric & Jen came by and helped some more. Eric and I went to town on the patio while everyone else packed. Eric worked like a man on a mission and by 11 we had the patio done and started loading the truck.

We weren’t certain when the trailer would be picked up (scheduled for mid-morning) so I planned to work through the night to get it all loaded. Fortunately, Jeff & Eric helped out and around 2AM, the truck was loaded. The question of the day was Jeff’s: “So Matt, how’s it feel to pack 30 years of your life into 19 feet?”

After we were “done”, I found several other items to load. I set them aside for the morning. At 7:30 Jen woke me. I loaded the other items onto the truck and then prepared to fetch Kevin’s truck to haul all the construction debris to the dump. Martha & Greg intervened. I went and re-wired their newly renovated store and tomorrow, a fellow will come and haul away all my trash.

Jeff & Jen came by again and caulked the trim I had installed. What a difference a $2 tube of painters caulk makes when used by a pro. I cleaned out the garage, piled up all the debris for the trailer, carpeted the stairs & landing, and other little things. Finally, at 9PM, we stopped and went out to watch a movie. It was my first real “break” of the day and two hours sitting down felt wonderful. That would not have been possible without the help of our friends.

Tuesday, we have a few more loose ends to tie up, a few construction projects to finish, and then spending time with friends during the evening. Then, we’re on the road for two days, arriving in Texas late on Thursday evening.

It’s late, I must sleep now. I hope I haven’t slighted anyone’s contribution. I’m tired and short of time, but I wanted to vocalize our friends have been an incredible blessing to us. By far, the hardest part of leaving is those we leave behind. We will miss you all very much.