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.