Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Three Phases of Steve AND The Intrepid Journey

Well, it finally happened.  My flimsy right ankle, which I have named "Steve" because I can, went under the knife on November 21 and no less than five repairs were made.

We're talking tendons, ligaments and cartilage, here, there and some where.  Or no where.  After surgery I couldn't put weight on Steve for the first two weeks, and let me tell you, that's a helpless feeling.  One footin it is neither easy or fun.  Thank goodness my lovely wife still loves me, otherwise it would have been near impossible.

                                                                               The Three Phases of Steve


I am now in the above walking boot until January 8th, which is a heck of a lot better than that cast.  Trust me on this.  I was in a similar boot last year for my Achilles problem.  But after looking at the MRI the Doc said my swollen and tender Achilles was the least of my concerns.  Tendons and ligaments.  Boy do I ever know how to screw them up.

I have been thinking of taking up knitting.  But after thinking of that for oh, say, a moment, I decided that would be silly.  My fingers would be best served cascading across this keyboard, espousing wit and witticisms to any that might pass this way.  And so here I am.

Since it will be another few weeks before I can continue with my next home improvement projects (and subsequent posts), I have decided to tell you the Christmas story of the Intrepid Journey.

Back in December, 2008, my lovely wife and I were living up in Portland, Oregon after living on the central coast of California for a couple years.  Both our children lived in San Diego, our daughter then married with a two year old son.  Our single son had recently graduated San Diego State, and all were planning on coming up to our house for Christmas.

Our son, as a matter of fact, was coming up to live with us.  He was getting tired of the party scene in San Diego, plus he wanted to put his degree in forestry to use.  You know, he figured it might be better to go some place that had a few trees.

We had already made plans for the majority of his stuff to be shipped, then I was going to fly down, help him pack and then drive back up in his Honda Accord, which we shall call the Eagle.  Our daughter and her family were going to make the drive up as well in their car, a Honda Fit, which we shall call the Falcon.

As Christmas and the time for me to fly down for the rendevous came close, so was a massive winter storm.
As a matter of fact, one of the coldest and biggest Portland had seen in years.

I flew down with a back pack and another small pack that contained cable chains for our son's car, which used to belong to my lovely wife.  As luck would happen, they were still hanging around in our garage.  Our son, apparently, found little use for them in San Diego.

Once in San Diego, I helped my son pack the remnants of his stuff into the Honda.  Then we went to a few holiday and going away parties and finally hit the sack about midnight.   Five AM came too quick for this old man, and way too quick for the boy who was still out of sorts.  I took wheel, met up with the Falcon and off we went.

Our Grandson was a champ, and we hauled ass Northward.  Six AM on a Saturday is as good as you're gonna get to get though LA, and we breezed right on through.  Nothing really worth mentioning on this part of the journey, up through the belly of California.  The Central Valley is a vital yet rather un-picturesque portion of our usually lovely state.  Especially along the I5.  We stopped in Stockton so that the Falcon could get chains.  We also got a bite to eat and then were off again.

We kept moving with just one more stop all the way to Yreka, arriving around dusk.  As I mentioned, our two year Grandson was a rock star.  It was a twelve hour ride, but we essentially traversed the length of the state, a good 760 miles.  We moteled up, got some Chinese take out and readied ourselves for the next, storm filled leg of the journey.  At only 316 miles, it was less than half the mileage of our first day, but the going would be ever so much tougher.

The day dawned ominous, snow flurries were already falling in our motel parking lot when we awoke.  We snagged some light breakfast food and launched about eight AM.  Our first chain up to get over the Siskiyou Mountain pass that lies between the California and Oregon border was a snap.  We chained up, rode the thirty minutes over the pass without incident and dechained on the other side.

Once we were over the Siskiyou pass, we essentially had clear sailing until we were about twenty miles south of Salem.  We even had a few patches of blue sky along the way, almost lulling me into thinking this leg of the journey was going to be no where near as bad as I thought.  Until we got to Salem. 

And then it started to snow.  Big wet flakes started to rain down upon us like monkeys on a chimpanzee.     There were also a few more cars on the interstate, which happened every time we passed by a big town, like Medford, Grants Pass, Eugene and now Salem.  And all of us on that highway pretty much had to deal with the monkeys on our own.  We rapidly discovered the belly of Interstate 5 in Oregon doesn't get a lot of support in the snow plow realm.  I'm not sure if they even knew what one looks like.

I'm used to traveling in the Sierras, traveling in and around and all over Interstate 80, a main artery in East-West nationwide commerce. We have snow plows here in the Sierras.  There is always at least one clear lane going over the Donner Summit, many times there are two.  The guys here in the Sierra don't let a lot of snow accumulate on the road before they get it shoveled off with their big machines.

Conversely, Oregon did not seem to have any kind of interstate snow removal system.  Either that or they all went on vacation in the Bahamas as soon as they heard this storm was approaching.

We  pulled over, possibly a bit prematurely, to chain up and then we were off again.  As we approached Salem, it was getting near blizzard conditions.  My son was behind the wheel of the Eagle, and we slowly ended up getting a little ahead of the Falcon.  Then, as we went under an overpass, the cell phone rang and the real fun began.

It was my daughter.  The Falcon had a flat.  Apparently one of the chain links broke and punctured the tire.  My son-in-law was outside, in the blizzard, changing the tire.

I had my son pull off on the shrinking shoulder, exited and started walking back to help them.  Traffic was slow, but there was pretty much an endless line of vehicles trudging up the highway.  I slopped about a half mile back to the Falcon and helped exchange the flat for the little doughnut they now supply as a spare.  Fortunately the flat was on the passenger side, so we weren't working out in the traffic.  And fortunately, the Falcon was only about a hundred yards from a highway exit that contained a Costco, of which they are members.  The plan was for them to drive to Costco and exchange the doughnut for a new tire.  I trudged back to the Eagle, we moseyed about a mile up the road to an exit, flipped around and met them back at Costco.  It was now early afternoon and still snowing like crazy.

As it happened, the Falcon's tire was an odd size and Costco did not have one in stock.  At this point, the Falcon's crew was almost ready to throw in the towel, get a motel room and ride out the storm in Salem.  I couldn't let this happen.  I had promised my lovely wife I would have everybody home by evening.  Holy Cow!  What was I thinking?

The Costco fellas were pretty good.  Between their efforts and little decent luck they found the right sized tire at an independent tire dealer in the middle of Salem.  Or on the outskirts.  It was somewhere around Salem.   Or middle Oregon.  It was a real bitch to find.

There is nothing like driving around a non-grid laid out town with which you are not familiar with.  Especially in a howling blizzard that severely limits visibility.  But we were on a mission, I had to get the kids home for Christmas.   As the crow flies, it was probably only three miles away.  But because Salem is laid out in a rectangular semi-circle and nobody in the area could give us explicit directions, it took us about an hour to locate the place.  Then it took almost another hour to get the tire exchanged because the place was a zoo.  That happens at tire outlets when it snows where it never snows.

It only took about thirty minutes to find our way back, arriving just as dusk was approaching.  When we got back to Costco, the fellas there actually put the tire on for us.  With chain repaired and tire intact we headed out into the fury, the last 45 miles of our journey.  It was almost 5 PM.  It was over a four hour pit stop.  In the meantime, it never stopped snowing 

The storm was not kind to the highway while we were out on our extended tour of Salem.  There wasn't a single lane plowed on the interstate, a main north-south artery for three states.  None.  The highway looked like an arctic war zone, foot deep icy ruts marred whatever the left lane used to look like, maybe six inch deep ruts in the more heavily traveled right lane.  Piles of snow and ice hither and yon, on the highway.  Keep in mind, the Falcon and Eagle were Hondas, with about a six inch bottom clearance.  For all intents and purposes, we were acting as mini snow plows for those behind us.

The oncoming snow was relentless.  The only thing going for us and our 25 MPH was that traffic had lessened while we were learning the intricacies of Salem's where am I now grid.  Who lays out a town in a rectangular semi-circle, with a number of isosceles triangles tossed in?  Maybe they laid it out according to voting districts a hundred years in advance.

Going was slow, but we were heading in the right direction, north.  And then the Falcon called and had to stop.  Apparently another link broke and started in on their plastic wheel housing.  Part of it was torn and the chain was causing continuing grief. A whack whack whack whack whack.  There's not a stereo alive that can stifle that thumping rhythm.

Ordinarily I always carry a pocket knife, which would have solved the problem straight away.  I always carry a pocket knife.  Always.  Except of course when I fly.  So there we were, once again on the side of a war torn snowed up interestate, with no way to slice off a fifteen inch section on plastic wheel housing.

There was a Phillips screw driver in one of the cars, and I started jabbing a line of holes in the housing with the point.  I was about eight holes in when my son remembered.  He had packed his ornamental Samurai swords in the trunk of the Eagle.  Bam!  He got out the short one and we were back on the road within minutes.  Wheelhouse Hari Cari.

Traffic had thinned, yet there was still a steady stream of cars heading up the highway.  The road was incredible.  Deep ice filled ruts were our only path.  Bouncing along, we felt like we were in a covered wagon on the prairie rather than in an automobile on a US Interstate.  My son was doing an excellent job driving, when quite suddenly we went into a lateral slide over two lanes towards the center of the highway.  As we slid , bounced and spun, my side of the car was turned to face the oncoming traffic.  Fortunately, the cars had immediately slowed when we started across the highway.  I was imagining a semi in a skid turning us into Liverwurst, but the nearest headlights were halted about a hundred yards down the highway.

Once we stopped, my son got the Eagle advancing again and we made it over the humps and bumps to the safety of our light, right lane ruts.  Unbeknownst to us at the time, we totally blew off a chain on that little escapade and were now running with only one chain on the front left tire!  Holy shit!

At this time, we were still about ten miles south of our Tigard turnoff.  My next big concern was a long sloping overpass off the interstate onto the highway which led to our surface street exit.  I thought it might be iced over, and, at a slope, difficult to traverse.  However, that one overpass was pretty darn clear.  It looked like Portland might of had a plow or two working in their direct vicinity.  Hallelulah!

With that behind us, it was another mile to our exit, and then another 1.5 miles on a surface street.  I thought that might be bad too, and though rutted, it was still not quite as bad as the interstate.  Go figure.  There were another quick two lefts, and then I had the Falcon and  Eagle slide right into the three foot snow embankment that sat upon the curb in front of our house.  Home. 

The lights were on.  It was 8:30 PM.  Twelve and a half hours, about the same amount of time as the previous day only traveling half the distance.  My lovely wife was ecstatic.  We were tired, but very happy.  And dinner was waiting.

       Here's the fellas the day after the intrepid journey, December 24, 2008.

Homestead Update

I don't know where ya'll live, but here in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California we have recently been experiencing a bitter cold.  We're at about the 2200 foot elevation, and will generally get a dusting of snow a couple times a year.  Well, with temps in the 20's and a nice four inch dumping of snow a few days back, we still have a nice white blanket out yonder.

First snow of the season

The chicken house is quite secure.  There's the rough planks the previous owner had up, then I put up a layer of  Tyvec.  Then there is new siding.  All cracks and corners have been caulked, and with the big "man" door closed it's as sound as it can get.  Once the night time temps fell below freezing, I turned on an incandescent light in there.  That generates enough heat to take the chill off.

Our rooster, Goldie, has actually spent at least a night or two perched up in their outside secure area.  He is usually flanked by a couple of the hens, but not recently.  They all said the hell with this, we're going indoors!

I mean, he is a Buff Orpington, a heavy breed, and he is less susceptible to cold than other breeds.  But come on, when the temps drop into the 20's I would think he could put his erstwhile stud badge away for a night or two.  I'm just saying.

Prior to press: We just experienced another hawk attack!  Fortunately I was home, convalescing, and was close enough inside to hear the chickens distressed clucks.  And yes, there are certain tones to a chickens clucking.  Animal sounds.  There is a quite content cluck, like when they are grazing the lawn eating  bugs.  There is a loud, painful cluck like when they are having difficulty laying an egg or when Goldie is having difficulty laying them.  And there is a loud, frantic "Help! Help! Help! Holy Sh*t! What The Fu*k!" cluck.

Since the last hawk attack, I have kept them "confined" to Chicken Fantasia Land, which, of course, is paradise a plenty for a flock of 9.  I have also placed a 9x12 tarp over a large area of the enclosed space, providing shelter and shade in the summer.  The tarp broke up another two 12x15 spaces that were open to the sky.  With that small of open space and a Rooster in the Hen House, I thought they would be safe from raptors.  However, when I quickly looked out the window I witnessed a large Red Tail Hawk swoop from the top of the fence and land on one of the girls, inside their pen.

I freaked.  As quickly as a gimp in a walking cast can, I bounced out the door and threw a snow ball in the fights direction.  A snowball?  What was I thinking?  That bird's got armor, it's at the top of the food chain, like us.  A snowball???  That was like throwing a daisy at a dog.

So, my painful right ankle is in it's "indoor" walking boot.  I actually still have my old walking boot from Achilles days.  I usually wear that if I'm going to be outside, especially working with the chickens, so, you know, I'm not dragging chicken poop onto the wall to wall carpet.  Yeah, I can wash the boot, or the carpet, but trust me, this is easier.  But it takes about 5 minutes to swap boots and there wasn't that much time.  That hawk was on one of my girls!

My left foot was in a sock and there was snow and ice on the uphill fifty foot run to the coop.  Shit.  I bounced to the garage as ever a gimp could and put on the standard rubber boot on my left foot.  Then I grabbed a canvas cover I flip over the cast if I'm just going on a short, quick run, like take the garbage out.  Or in case I'm in a freaking real big hurry.  I wrapped the canvas with a bungee cord, grabbed a pellet rifle and skedaddled towards the fracas, Festus style.  Fifty seconds!

I have 2 pellet rifles.  There's varmints in these here hills.  I don't want to kill them, but I want to be able to shoo them away.  One is C02 powered and has a 12 shot clip.  This is handy since I am a terrible shot.  Since active C02 eventually breaks the seals, I leave an unopened cylinder in the chute so all I have to do is tighten it down with a couple twists and the cartridge is punctured and ready to go.  The clip is always loaded.  The rifle will shoot roughly 600 FPS, or feet per second.

The other is cock style, a one shot deal.  But it has a scope, which is handy since I am a terrible shot.  It shoots at roughly 1200 FPS.

I grabbed the one with the scope and dashed.  Hollering, gyrating and gimping all the way, as soon as I got within 15 feet the bastard took flight to the back fence of the coop.  Cocked and ready, I fired off a bad shot, but it was close enough to make the hawk move to a tree 40 feet away.  Another bad shot moved him back to about 60 feet, and another made him leave.  For the moment.

Once the threat was gone, I ventured towards the scene of the crime.  I had seen the results of a hawk attack before, it wasn't pretty.  There was no head that time.  See Stalked by a Hawk. 

As I approached I was quite dismayed.  It was Myrna, one of our Black Sex Links, or Black Stars, our dominant female and my lovely wife's favorite.  She was on her side, spent feathers were all about and she was quite dirty.  However, when I got closer I noticed she was breathing.  Not only that but her head was intact.  And as I approached she looked up at me quite frightened but relieved, kind of like saying, "Is it freaking over?"

I gently picked her up and was amazed.  There was no bleeding, no lacerations, her eyes were both intact as were the rest of her extremities.  Since she is one of our Roosters favorites, her back is usually bereft of some feathers.  He tends to be a little bit rough around the edges.  The featherless areas looked like they had suffered a road rash, no doubt due to some thrashing around in the dirt.  I have a poultry spray bandage for these occasions, and she was quite amenable this time to being held and sprayed.  After that I let her go and she gingerly walked into the secure area.  Shaken, but not stirred.

If I was not hobbled, I could have broken things up within fifteen seconds.  But due to my infirmary that hawk had to be messing with my girl for at least a minute.  I'm amazed there were not more serious wounds,  she must have put up quite a fight!

The rest of the girls were in the secure hen house.  Secure, but flipping out.  Goldie, our big, bad ass Rooster was back in the companion cage, agitated but also freaking out.  WTF?  He let Myrna take on the hawk rather than himself.  I'm a little perturbed about this.

When I first looked out and saw the hawk coming in, there were a couple chickens in jeopardy.  Our main girl Myrna apparently stood and took the heat!  Or she was the target all the time.  But I like the latter better.  Makes a better story.  Here's our survivor:

The morning after she was perched up inside the hen house, still a little shaken.  However, the next day she  ventured out in their yard and now, almost completely healed, she is back to being the boss.

The girls had to stay in their secure area for a couple days until I could come up with a solution for aerial attacks.  I wasn't going to let that happen again.

I could have added two more 10x12 tarps, but tarps can get quite costly, especially if you burn through one a year.  I just can't get out there to disassemble before every whipping wind session, and add two more on the list?

There's bird netting, but that wouldn't work because of my leaf situation.  I'd be constantly cleaning them.

And then, aha!   Somewhere in the recess of my mind I thought of a web.  With clothesline.  A little zig.  A little zag.  And wallah:  Effective and inexpensive!

Yes, a raptor (Hawk, owl, etc.) could conceivably get in but there's no way they can get out.  Not with a two foot wingspan.  Now the girls can once again roam freely and safe in their yard. 

      Winter sunsets on the veranda
                                                        Wishing you and yours a healthy and splendid Holiday Season.                                                                             
                                                                         Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

                                                          Oh yeah, the kittens are just fine.                                                                   

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Blue Birds and Bat Habitats

 Blue Birds and Bat Habitats
              and Lollipops and Roses.

OK, so you probably gotta be pushing at least 60 to even remotely catch a whiff of a little sing song inference there.  Then you probably gotta have at least a little bit of a Jack Jones fetish, and maybe a moldy library of unabashed sentimental parental type pop tunes from the '60s.  Maybe then you might get it.  But then the way the trajectory of thought shoots through my cranium sometimes I don't even get it.

It's just that blue birds and bat boxes and bat boxes and blue birds has a sing song sort of rhythm, similar to lollipops and roses, or mustard and mayo.  Or lizards and mayhem.  

My son and I made the bat box (shown below) when we were on our walkabout up in Oregon.  We had a little time on our hands one non-sunny weekend and wallah, what we done:

By the way, that fancy rolling chair bottom it is sitting up against, shown in all it's shining glory below, has a story.  It's story began before we met, back when it had a back and was brand spanking new.

With ample foam cush and nice fabric covering, it was no doubt stationed underneath some executive's or assistant's nicely fashioned posterior when it first rolled out.  Witness the fancy wooden legs the wheels are on.  I'm sure it rolled out on reasonably plush carpet.

I came across it in it's second life, when it was in a back room satellite sales office.  It was sat upon by many, and most were not wearing fashionable apparel.  At that time it rolled on coffee stained indoor outdoor carpet.

When the back finally broke, I brought the rolling base home to utilize in the garage when working on projects.  A third life. 

When a house move came up in 1999 I was going to throw the it away.  But my son intervened, essentially saying I used the thing all the time.  Why toss it?  And he was right.  That base has been from here to Monterey to Portland and back.  It's a comfortable seat and the wheels work fine.  I still use it all the time, some 14 years later.  Now it rolls on asphalt and concrete.

The bat box is as solid as a sound, a loud sound for that matter.  It would take more than the sound of dynamite, Led Zeppelin or a clarinet to shake and shatter that bat box to it's seams.  And that's important for bats.  They like a good, solid, sound structure.

How did we get attached to bats?  Well, of course, their pest control prowess is legendary.  An adult bat will eat up to 1,000 mosquito sized insects per hour, and they usually feed from 3-6 hours every night.  Who wouldn't want some of that action flitting about their acreage at night?   

There is a ton of information out there on the internet regarding bats.  Most of it good.  One notable site is run by the OBC, or Organization for Bat Conservation.  You can buy ready made bat boxes, bat box kits and/or bat box plans from those guys.  If you have a mind to attract some bats.  You can definitely go bat shit crazy with all the information regarding these interesting little mammals.

Our bat box has been taking up a bit of room in the garage since 2008.  Now that we have finally arrived at home, it is finally time to see if we can attract some bats.  Hence, I have given the box a little face as well as linear lift.

Yes, that's a very thin opening.  There's also metal screen, like what you'd find on a window, tacked inside.  That way they have an easy way to attach their little bat claws as they sleep upside down during the day. 

We made the box to specific specs as per plans from Mother Earth News, and it needs to be hung at a minimum height of ten feet.  It has to face from Southwest to Southeast and receive a minimum of 7 hours of direct sun per day.  Those bats like it warm!  The box also should not be more than a quarter mile from a water source.

Well, we've got all these things going for us.  Plus, I see bats all the time around here at dusk.  Why not try to get some to move in?

Naturally, it is much more preferable for you to provide your bat habitat for them outdoors rather than indoors.  Generally speaking, having bats in your own belfry is not considered a pleasurable experience.  Unless you're a witch.  Or Batman.

Usually someone in the house panics, and instead of opening a window or door and try to usher the poor frightened critter out, some folks try to shoot it with a shotgun.  And that usually sprays the walls with holes and knocks down the chandelier instead.

Tennis rackets can be used, but if you hit the little guy square you're sure to have a bat souffle on the racket.  Or a real mess on some expensive lamp shade.  On the other hand, it might help dimensions if the bat smashed into the weird, abstract painting your Aunt Mabel did when she was on pain killers after breaking her hip.  You know, the one she gave you last Christmas.

An interior bat attack happened to my lovely wife and I once.  We were living in a log cabin, and somehow the little guy crept in through a teeny little bat crevasse between logs.  I awoke to this whirring noise as the frightened little attack bat ran circles above our bed, no doubt scrutinizing the best place for a guano drop.  Or trying to figure a way out.

Rising in a panic, buck naked, I grabbed my bathrobe.  (I didn't have a shotgun or tennis racket handy.)  I then opened the sliding glass door, stood next to it and every time the little rascal made a whirring pass I attempted to alter his course out the slider by waving my cape, er bathrobe.   Being ever so mindful so as not to get bitten on the tip of the other thing that was flapping around in the still midnight air.  Toro!  Toro!

After several minutes of semi-frantic bath robe waving, looking much like a Spanish toreador, in my mind anyway, I finally managed to usher the winged phantom out the slider.  Another round of spray insulation began the following weekend.  By the way.
The bat box is now located on the lower 40, utilizing one of the posts from the Old Garden Fence.  (Those other posts will be removed once we get a little rain and the ground gets saturated.)  The location is perfect, on the edge of a meadow but also close to cover so that they can get in and out safely.  This spring I also plan on planting a row of Crape Myrtles down that fence line to start bringing in a little color.  That will also help provide some more cover from Owls and some hawks, which are the primary night time predators of our friendly little bat buddies.  Once those predators discover a bat nest, they'll hang out nearby and try to nab an eerie, hairy, tasty little morsel.  It's a bird eat bat world out there.
The 2x4 bat house post was attached to the treated round post with 2-6 inch lag bolts.  I also added some wire around the 2x4 to hopefully discourage any cats or weasels who may try to sneak in there and catch some napping bats.  Hopefully come spring we'll have some bat neighbors.  I'll keep you apprised.

This last spring some neighbors allowed me to take one of their blue bird boxes home so I could copy its design.  Blue Birds, in case you didn't know, are a species in decline.  Due to more and more encroachment into their native nesting type areas, they and other "cavity" nesting birds are having a heck of a time trying to find places to live.  Besides being a gorgeous bird, Bluebirds are also voracious insect eaters.  Who wouldn't want a family or two of them hanging around the old homestead?  Form AND function!

It is with these thoughts in mind that I wanted to build and deploy a blue bird house.  Plus, blue bird is really fun to say. 

I took measurements of our neighbor's box and built a template.  Once again, it is quite specific as to dimensions.  Then, since I have plenty of scrap wood around and nothing but time on my hands, I simply had to cut and put together two blue bird house kits for the grand kits.

With the wood all cut to fit and holes drilled in appropriate places away we went on a crafty day.  I did help Sophia quite a bit with hers, but our Grandson is getting pretty good with a hammer.  I started the nails for him, but he hit them all home.

Once they were put together, then it was time for the paint job.  And here is where our young mind's creativity flourished with some brightly colored avant garde bird abodes.  I call it "Disco Camo."

My darling Sophia.

After the paint job, I was really reluctant to deploy them without a little extra effort on the roof.  Without this intervention, they might have lasted a year in the elements.  Now they can last a decade or more.

Both boxes are now up and installed per expert's instructions.  I can only hope there are a couple blue bird families out there that like a lively colored home.

The Disco Camo Bluebird houses deployed.
These are both deployed about 5 feet high on single trees, facing SSE.  One is on the lower 40, the other the upper, thus allowing the minimum 100 yard spacing required between the houses.

Animal Update

Our hens and Goldie, the rooster, are all fine.  They seem to be enjoying our warm, mild autumn weather this year.  Our old man cat Joe is doing fine too, he actually seems to be accepting of our new kittens.  He has actually behaved like a cat recently, joining us on the sofa for a little pet time instead of running furtively from shadow to shadow.  I welcome the possibility that he becomes a bit more affectionate in his old age.  We'll see.

The two newcomers, Daisy and Lily, pretty much own the house.  Lily is a bit more adventurous than Daisy, and Daisy seems to be a little more social with humans than Lily.  They are both a delight and have already added a tremendous amount of joy to the house.  Happy Thanksgiving!

 Tubbin it!

Saturday, November 2, 2013

What the L?

I had wanted to post this here article about a week or so ago, but I have recently discovered,

"It's hard to be funny when you have the flu,
It's hard to be sunny when you feel like the sole of a shoe,
Been laid up for a week now, it's all I can do,
It's hard to be funny when you have the flu."

It's been a long rollickin spring and summer around here, it seems there's never a dull moment.  Buy a little ground.  Do a little dance.  Get down for life.  I think I'll have a spare five seconds in another ten years.

Sometimes I wonder if we've got too much of a geriatric whiplash by the what the hell tale goin on.  We'll be 60 next year.  Starting a homestead on the side of a hill in our late 50's turning 60?  What were we thinking?

On the other hand, it's a wonderful location and home.  And we are finally home.  And I do enjoy home improvement and improving the landscape.  Selectively clearing the land, being a prudent steward of this teeny little slice of dirt.  Getting some food producing plants and trees in the ground.  A splash of color here and there.  Pretty things up.  In a linear sort of fashion.

And it's my gym.  I think all these projects are keeping me in shape.  At least my heart's in great shape, it's the rest of my body that is apparently falling apart.  I never break bones though, I just do enormous damage to tendons and ligaments.  Stretch, tear, sever, that sort of thing.  But I digress. 
Part of my spring/summer work schedule around here always includes winter preparation.  That includes firewood and most other outside attractions.  It is no fun doing outside chores in the rain, that's why they get done when the sun is shining.  I now feel fabulous and fortunate, the wood is up and this "L"acious project was my last to get done before the rain come to complete.

The first step of this project actually began back in May, when I created The Garbage Depot.  I needed a place to put all the recycle and garbage so that I could continue with my simple homey dream, to be able to walk around this house barefoot, without looking like I am walking on hot coals half of the time. 

Now all that crap is comfortably contained below, away from the house and open guest windows.

The depot will eventually be adorned with some sort of growing, glowing, fragrant greenery.  You know, plants.

I definitely wanted this concrete L done before winter set in.  When it rains hard, this little corner where the ends meet is like the confluence of the Columbia and Williamette rivers in Portland at rip tide.  Boats sink.  Cargo is lost.  Ballads are sung.  It turns into my Lake Stupid every winter, but there is a plan.

The first thing I did was remove all the brick that had served as a walk way of sorts, or at least a base for all our garbage cans.  Then I made a few steps over to the depot, which lasted about six days, or until the Grandchildren were visiting.  Then I think forts or castles ensued.

After moving the brick, I was naturally waylaid  by umpteen other things until I got back to the issue at hand.

The actual walk excavation began the morning of July 24, 2013.  The day before, July 23, I rented a carpet cleaning machine at a nearby Raley's and cleaned all the carpets.  I generally do that when my lovely spouse is away because the entire house goes into complete disarray.  It's much easier for one to navigate in than two.

My lovely wife was off with her lovely sisters on a Sisters vacation that week, all four of them together in Capitola for the first time in ages.  I have elaborated on some of those Sister escapades in The Drunk Rooster.

Since the ground here is dead pan hard to begin with, especially in the middle of summer, I dumped the dirty carpet water in the area I would be digging in the following morning.  Soften it up a little bit.  Big physical plans for one who is nursing a painful right ankle.


The carpet cleaning went well.  I think I do a better job than most commercial cleaners and it's about a third of the cost or less.  Especially since I make my own carpet cleaning solution.  Add a cup of ammonia to a couple gallons of hot water.  Simple. Cheap.  Easy.  The aroma fades away when dry.  But do it with the windows open, otherwise you'll look like you've been huffing spray paint again.  Ammonia is just as effective but a fraction of the cost of any commercial carpet cleaning product out there.

BTW, I also clean bathrooms and glass almost exclusively with distilled white vinegar diluted with a little bit of water.  You want a true no streak mirror?  Use vinegar and water.  About half and half or 2/3 vinegar 1/3 water in a spray bottle.  You'll never buy Windex again.  Oh yeah, besides the ease, there's a massive financial savings as well.

So, then, moving on to the project at hand, you may be asking the question, why on earth would I want to move some earth in the middle of summer?  Well, as I mentioned earlier, I really want this walk done before the rains come.  I am trying to redirect a substantial flow of water out and around the parking area instead of over it and down the embankment.  Water flow is incredibly important when you live on a hill.

Besides being regular dead pan dirt, half this walk was gravel and had been driven on for decades.  The other part was used to store our garbage cans, until the garbage depot was built.  And then, aided by dirty water dumped the day before, the actual games began.  Armed only with a pick and shovel, and without the assistance of a dozer or C-4, I began to toil.  It was like trying to pull up Sepulvada Blvd in LA with a teaspoon.  But eventually it did give way to my persistent huffing and puffing.

Dig it.

Where did all this dirt and gravel go, pray tell, you may be asking yourself?  Well, there was a plan.  There's always a plan.  There has to be a plan.  Otherwise people like me go crazy.

I wheel barrowed a plenty, a few more than twenty, across the drive to this little location right yonder here.


That's a little dirt turnout right off the asphalt parking area that actually gets put into use from time to time.  We've had a couple family events with about eight cars up here, and though the asphalt area seemingly is quite large, it gets full real quick.  I am leveling this area out and then will be bolstering the supporting hillside with native plants and a whole lot of Rosemary.

Rosemary develops extensive root systems quickly, is fragrant, attracts bees, is deer resistant and can be used in a lot of recipes and home spun health remedies.  Plus I already have a dozen starts ready to go.  Half those were taken from an established Rosemary plant here I tried to transplant.  Unfortunately the transplant didn't take, but a half dozen of her babies will be thriving in the ground soon.  The other half were taken from a Rosemary plant I have had in a pot for years.  That Rosemary plant finally made it into the ground once we moved here.  We should have a happy, festive Rosemary hillside come spring, 2014.

After about twelve hours over three days of hand excavation, I had the ground level down to where I wanted it.  Then I built a frame with 2x4's and adjusted the height.  Once the concrete is poured, water will flow from that top landing down to the corner at the bottom and away to the left.  Water from the down spout will also flow down towards the corner and away.  Then that flows around the parking area, down the side of the drive and into a gully.  That's a substantial amount of water that will no longer saturate the face of our hillside.

Then water will flow along the section below down and across the drive.  That will be a fraction of what was previously going across the drive.  Prior to making these adjustments, most all the water from the downspout all flowed along the front of the house.  The corner was a lake that Canadian Geese had on their migration trail.  I love them geese, but when you have 400 of 'em landing in one small area right next to the house they can create quite a mess.  Plus, all that water I believe has been impacting some slippage on our landings hillside.  This is step one in mitigating that, step two, as mentioned, is Phil and Rosemary, which will both be addressed in another post.

I had to do a little razzle dazzle to get the frame level along one of the existing concrete pylons.  In order for the frame to fit I had to make a concrete cut and chisel out a little extra existing concrete.  I have sliced bricks and concrete like this before with a basic trusty skill saw, of course inserting a masonry blade first.  And thus:

That dropped the base enough so that my frame could run at the slope I desired.

I have a good buddy whose previous occupation involved being level amongst many other things.  Back in my drinking hey days we leveled ourselves quite a few times.  One memorable occasion we crisscrossed the state, heading to SF for a Giants game from here in the morning, then ending up at South Shore Tahoe that evening because we missed our turn north off the freeway.  Now that's gettin leveled.  Or hammered.  Mostly both.  Anyway, my Bud's still got a good eye for level things, and he came over and we made a number of adjustments on the frame based on his observations.

I then made two PVC channels.  One will allow me to add a drip system to the front planter box, the other is a just in case extra avenue into the electric breaker panel.  Just in case.  I tossed in a little rebar, and then did some math.


LxWxH.  And this site: The Concrete Calculator.  Based on their figures I figured I would need about two yards of concrete.  Or around 134 sixty pound bags.  Are you kidding?  134 Bags?  That was NOT an option.

It's hard to find a professional around here to come out and deliver mixed concrete for less than 5-6 yards, but I eventually did find a guy.  He calls his company "Short Load", and he will mix and deliver from 1-6 yards of concrete at a very reasonable price.

My good buddy tossed his hat in the ring to help this concrete novice out, and he brought along another good bud.  I had set up delivery for 10/14, but Short Loaf hadn't been out to do a pre-inspect.  He was very concerned about our steep Lombard Street drive.  He figured since he had a full load for a project to be poured after me, he didn't want to have to try and go back down our drive with too much weight.  He could end up on the other side of the valley at the end of a long, freshly mowed tree strewn boulevard.

We rescheduled for 10/21, and fortunately my buds were still free.  Short Cake arrived with his truck, and the real fun began.  Mud, as it is called in construction terms, went a flying.  Unfortunately, I just have a couple before shots and then the afters.  I was real busy when the mud was flowing out the chute, there was no time to take shots.



Thank goodness my very experienced friends were along for the ride.  I could not have done it without them.  As a matter of fact, they really didn't let me do much but the grunt work, which is probably as it must have been. 

BTW, these guys aren't for hire anymore.  But if you are lucky enough to lure them out of retirement, their price is lunch and a 12-Pack of Pacifico.

Once the mud was in and relatively level, then it was time to smooth it all out and get the "cream" to the top.  As you may or may not know, there's a lot of little rocks in concrete.  When it's first leveled out with a large float, it' still a little lumpy at the surface.  Then my bud went over the surface with a wooden hand float, dialing in the level which also brings smoother concrete, or "cream" to the surface.

With a project this size, there was no need to hurry after the initial delivery and leveling.  There were a couple extra hours spent waiting until it set up enough to put the final broom finish on.  That was lunch and a little extra cerveza time. 

It is also important to put some stress joints in when it gets a little bit firmer.  We put one in about every six feet or so, with an extra special one at the corner.  This helps relieve any pressure from expanding or contracting and will help mitigate any cracking.

The final finish was a little wavy broom action across the surface, done with finesse and ethereal artistic whimsy by my other bud.  Without this minor intervention that surface would be as slick as elephant snot when it's wet. 

That little space between the walk and asphalt will become a brick planter box this next spring/summer.  That will help with a little definition (as well as some color) between the drive and the house.  

Stay tuned, now that the concrete is complete a vast array of adept, inept and ballet performance projects shall ensue.  Over the winter I hope to get irrigation infrastructure run throughout the area so that I can eventually get a lawn in next spring. 

However, as always, there's a number of steps before that reality happens.  But the first step of this stage, which was preceded by several other steps, is done.  Let Winter come.


Our famed feline Tom Kitten took his last walk to forever this last summer.  We miss him still.  We allowed several months time for his younger brother Joey, now 18, to become the Lion King of the house.  Joey lived his entire life under Tom Cat's alpha shadow.

But Joe did not rise to the occasion.  He is still the paranoid schizoid cat he's always been.  While Tom listened to a wide variety of tunes in his cat cranium, from pop to rock to reggae to jazz, maybe even a little Elvis now and then, Joey only seems to listen to Megadeath.  Loud and apparently all the time.  Pounding away in his paranoid cat cranium.  He has never been affectionate either, probably because he spends all his time running for cover.  My lovely wife has really missed cat affection.

A couple weeks ago we went out to a local animal shelter, and just look at what we have to put up with now!

They are sisters, and the one on the left is named Daisy.  The one on the right, who seems to be establishing a little alpha dominance, is tentatively named Lily.  They are happy, they are loving, and they are as fresh as little flowers.  We are spending hours just enjoying and laughing at their little kitten antics.  They have pretty much taken over the entire house and we, of course, are at their beckon call.