Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Why I am not getting a kitchen redo November 30, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 8:19 AM
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The south side of the house roof, reshingled.

FOR TWO DAYS I LISTENED to the scritch-scratch scrape of shovel against roof and workmen tromping and pounding and thudding above.

This should not be.

Thirteen unlucky years ago my husband shingled our home and garage with shingles that were supposed to last for 30 years or more.

Defective shingles torn from the roof and tossed into a trailer at the front of our house.

But within less than 10 years, the shingles were curling, lifting, cracking, breaking off and basically falling apart. In recent years, every time heavy rain fell, bits of shingle grit (or whatever it’s called) washed off the roof.

Shingles and equipment stacked on the garage roof.

Our contractor, Jerry Voegele of Voegele Builders, LLC, told me Tuesday morning, when he and his crew began the reshingling process in 17-degree temps, that the shingles should have come off five years ago. That means these shingles lasted only eight years. Eight short years.

Rolls of roofing nails await roofers. I snapped all of these photos while the roofers were away on break so as not to bother them.

Am I angry? You bet.

First, the local lumberyard where we purchased these shingles did not stand behind the product they sold. I won’t name the lumberyard, but suffice to say I will never do business there again.

I buy local because I expect excellent customer service, and usually get it, not because I will save money. I do not expect to be directed to the manufacturer (even if “that’s the way it’s done”) and a lengthy claims submission process that involved my husband climbing onto the roof to pull off defective shingles and to photograph the roof. At least the shingle company reimbursed us $100 for our trouble and expenses.

Then, when we were offered only a minor prorated certificate for costly replacement shingles from the same manufacturer, I’d really had it. Why would I buy shingles from a company I did not feel worthy of my trust? Besides, labor is the major portion of the cost in shingling, not the product.

So here we are today, paying a contractor $x,000 (materials and labor) to shingle our roofs because a manufacturer produced defective shingles.

The north and west side of the house before reshingling began there.

Given the steep pitch of our roof and its many angles and the husband’s aging body and lack of time to re-roof, we had no choice this time but to hire professionals who re-roofed the house and garage in two days with shingles that should last a life time.

If not for this $x,000 expense, I could be remodeling my 1970s vintage kitchen right about now.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Where is Tom Sawyer when you need him? May 26, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 7:29 AM
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Three of the seven panels yet to be stained.

LAST WEEK I STARTED re-staining the fence that borders our backyard. Progress has been frustratingly slow and tedious.

With rain falling daily or every other day, or so it seems, sunny, stain-applying days have been sparse.

Even when it’s not raining, I must wait until the wood dries, and then the rain is falling again. At this rate, I should finish by, maybe, Labor Day.

Pretty to look at, challenging to stain.

The other issue is the fence itself. Take a good look at this fence with the lattice work top border that nicely dresses up the panels. That decorative touch sure looks pretty. But it’s difficult and time-consuming to stain. We’re talking tiny foam brushes here to apply stain to that lattice.

Do you know how quickly foam disintegrates when brushed against rough wood? Or how easily foam brush handles snap?  Yeah, that quickly and that easily.

But, hey, at least we have a pretty lattice-topped fence that keeps our property from looking like a fortified stockade.

As careful as I was, I trampled several ferns growing next to the fence. I also broke off several iris buds.

Under ideal circumstances, I would have completed this project a month or more ago, before my ferns, hostas, irises and bleeding heart erupted through the soil. But given the less than ideal spring in Minnesota, that did not happen.

Therefore I am forced to sidestep plants as I stain. Sometimes I fail to sidestep plants as evidenced by trampled foliage.

In a hurry to finish this project, I am constantly checking the weather forecast, or asking my husband, “Is it going to rain tomorrow? Can I stain the fence?”

If the wood is dry and the sky cloud-free, I stain. And then, if rain is predicted within 24 hours, I drape the newly-stained panel in plastic

A sheet of plastic protects a newly-stained fence panel from yet another day of rain.

weighted with rocks and clipped in place with clothespins. Twice I’ve had to protect the panels.

And I’ve stained just three panels. Only seven more to go.

OK. OK. You are probably thinking, “Why doesn’t she spray the stain onto the fence?” Number one—the first two panels are too close to the house for spraying. Number two—plants. Number three—I don’t think spraying will work, although my spouse thinks it will. He intends to try spraying, but has not had time or a dry evening to attempt this application.

So for now this project is mine, solely mine, as I do not seem to possess the persuasive powers of Tom Sawyer. Tom, as you may recall, manipulated his friends into whitewashing Aunt Polly’s fence by making a game of the chore.

Could I possibly convince any of you that staining my fence would be fun? I’d even throw in a cold beer. Or two.

I've used nearly a gallon of stain on three panels thus far.

HAVE ANY OF YOUR SPRING projects been delayed by cold and rain? I’d like to hear. (I know. I know. Really nothing to complain about compared to cleaning up and rebuilding after a tornado.)

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


The Andersen Window Guy earns five stars March 2, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 9:04 AM
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This is one of two window latches that needed repair.

FOR MORE THAN A WEEK, I’d dreaded the arrival of The Andersen Window Guy.

I had resigned myself to the fact that he would likely gouge/wreck/scrape/ruin the wood on two newly-installed Andersen windows while repairing two broken latches. That would be wood that I had laboriously stained and varnished. I had no desire to stain and varnish more window trim.

So…, when The Andersen Window Guy pulled up with his pick-up truck and trailer Tuesday morning, I took a deep breath and steeled myself for the inevitable.

I should preface this by saying he scored brownie points by arriving several minutes before our 8 a.m. appointment, by removing his shoes upon entering my kitchen and by shaking my hand in a professional greeting. We were off to a good start. I always appreciate respectful workmen who show up when they say they’ll be here.

Then I led him to the windows, hesitated and asked, “Can you fix the windows without wrecking the wood?”

“I’m going to try,” he said.

That gave me hope. But just to emphasize my point, I told him that I had worked long and hard staining and varnishing. Then I walked away.

I feared the wood trim that I stained and then varnished three times would be damaged during the repair.

I, oh, so wanted to see how his work was progressing. But I let him be and settled into my writing projects for the day.

In less time than I could write a blog post, he had finished his work—without damaging or removing a single piece of wood trim.

I told him exactly how happy he had made me. Very, very happy.

He then offered to install the window hardware on all five windows. I accepted since that would be one less task for my husband.

And when I asked for advice on how to remove silicone from my new picture window (inadvertently smudged on by a carpenter), he offered to stop by the next time he’s in town and complete that task too.

Honestly, I could not have asked for a more courteous, helpful, respectful window rep.

He even took the new, but slashed, Andersen window screen leaning against my kitchen counter. My husband discovered the torn screen on Sunday when he was putting the new screens in place.

Unfortunately, I failed to ask The Andersen Window Guy about quality issues with the company’s window treatments. OK, you caught me. As far as I know, Andersen does not manufacture shades, blinds or drapes. But for the past several weeks, while we’ve shopped for window treatments, we’ve placed Andersen window cardboard over our windows. On several occasions, however, we’ve experienced product failure—cardboard thudding onto the living room floor in the middle of the night and cardboard nearly hitting my head as I slept.

A temporary Andersen cardboard treatment on our bedroom window.

I guess I can’t expect The Andersen Window Guy to fix everything. But he did a superb job of fixing what he could fix, and the newly-installed window latch covers now hold our bedroom window treatments in place.

I give him ***** for great customer service.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Mice in the fish bowl February 17, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 8:56 AM
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PEOPLE WERE STARTING to talk. So it was time, high time, we did something about the problem.

It wasn’t like we didn’t want to solve the problem, but we couldn’t, not until this past Saturday when the Rice County Landfill was open on a weekend we were free.

We needed to clear the debris—wood siding, old windows, an old door and more—from the side of our driveway. It had been there for weeks, underneath layers of snow. Because we live in a fish bowl, aka a busy street, people know exactly what we are doing and they feel free to comment.


Just a portion of the demolition debris piled under the snow along our driveway.

“When are you going to get rid of that junk along your driveway?” they would remark.

We would explain that we couldn’t until the second Saturday of the month, when the landfill was open for several hours. My husband couldn’t take time off work during the week to do this job.

So this past Saturday was the day, the day we would finally tidy up our property.

Friday evening my husband and son bundled up and loaded half of the demolition debris from our home improvement project into the back of a company pick-up truck. I would have helped, except for one minor situation. Only days earlier, while shoveling snow from the driveway, I heard the tell-tale scritch-scratch of feet, mice feet, in the debris pile.

That was my conclusion, based only on the memory of mice scritch-scratching in the walls of my childhood home. At that very moment I knew I could not, would not, disturb their temporary shelter. Deeply engrained in my memory is my dad’s story of a mouse skittering up his pant leg.


I heard scratching from within this debris pile. My family told me I likely just heard a candy bar wrapper blowing in the wind. I told them I likely knew what I was hearing and it wasn't a candy bar wrapper blowing in the wind.

So I stayed clear, tucked safely inside the house, as the guys hoisted old windows and wood into the back of the pick-up Friday evening. They claimed they did not see a mouse, not a single one, but I was uncertain whether to believe them. Sometimes, they have learned, it is better not to tell me the truth about topics like…mice.

Saturday morning, while the teenage son slept, his dad and I rose early to haul the first truck full of debris to the landfill.

When we arrived back home and I realized I would now have to dip into that snow-covered demo stash and possibly stir up a mouse, I stepped back. Literally. My brave, brave spouse forged ahead. When no mice, not even one, appeared, I pitched in, lifting and tossing.

So to those of you who’ve wondered when we were going to clean up that junk along the end of the driveway, look, it’s gone. Gone. All gone.

And so too are the mice. I wonder where they’ve gone. Could they possibly have…? Nah. Better to not even think that, let alone write it.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Great customer service at Sherwin Williams February 7, 2011

THE MANAGER OF SHERWIN WILLIAMS in Faribault just called.

He was curious about issues we had with the Cashmere paint we purchased this weekend at his store. (See my February 6 “Paint problems” post.)

Josh explained to me that, in the darker shades, like the “Whole Wheat” we chose, the colors don’t mix as well into the thinner Cashmere paint. Flecks of color were floating on the surface of the paint, even after a return trip to the paint store for extensive shaking.

Had we poured the paint into the paint tray and begun rolling it on the walls, it should have been just fine, Josh said. He knows from experience. But no one at the store (Josh was not there on Saturday) told us that and no one apparently knew.

So we ended up substituting SuperPaint for Cashmere and the color easily incorporated into that thicker paint.

While I love the new paint color, I don’t like the chalky feel of the SuperPaint, preferring instead the gliding Cashmere.

Josh asked how the whole situation was handled. My husband dealt with the paint issue and, I said, didn’t have any complaints. However, I told the manager I had expected a partial refund or store credit for our hassle.

He wanted to make things right. He wants a happy customer. He stands behind his paint. So Josh offered us a full refund on our two gallons of paint or future credit. I accepted the refund. He thanked me for bringing the issue to the store’s attention, adding that he hopes we will be back. We will.

This, folks, is an example of excellent, hometown customer service. Hats off to Sherwin Williams in Faribault.