Sunday, August 23, 2009

On Vacation

We're going on vacation and for anyone interested (all two of you), I'll be keeping a travel blog on my other blog, Parenting the Hard Way. Hope you stay tuned and thanks for reading.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Chainsaw Storage and My Second Tree

I cut my second tree down, and it was small but gave me a little bit of challenge because I was sloppy and not careful. I figured it was only about six feet tall, so no big deal. As I started to cut, however, the tree pinched my saw and it stuck. Fortunately the tree was so small that I just pushed it back and the saw came free, but even still, I think it's good practice to employ proper technique at all times. Lesson learned.

Having done that, I poured off the gas, then ran the saw dry. It's now ready for storage. I had originally thought that I'd have all fall to cut more wood, but the problem I keep running into is that gas. It can't sit for too long, and by the time we get back, it will be too old. What a waste, but better to get fresh gas than compromise the equipment.

I'll keep the saw in the basement until I need it again. Until the next time, thanks for reading.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Next Stage of the Deck and Floor Plans

We got a rough floor plan done, much to the amazement of my Mentor, I'm sure, and after talking it over with him, I got a sense that he even approved of some of our ideas. Gotta love that. We will fine tune the plan and then go over it more in detail with him when the time comes. For now, we'll keep pondering.

I can't tell you what a relief it is that the deck has no asbestos, but I'll still inquire to the guy who installed it. Then again, it dawned on me that he might have simply laid the tiles down and SG and MG did all the foundation work. Very possible.

Either way, we are leaning towards using concrete to replace the tiles. You can do some interesting stuff with staining and finishing concrete. It looks beautiful, though the stuff is a little nasty, from what I understand. Might want to avoid that, though my Mentor would not approve of such worrying.

Until the next time, thanks for reading.

Monday, August 17, 2009

What a Relief

Wow, I can't even relay how relieved I am to know that the stuff under the deck is NOT asbestos. Thanks to SG for the info. As I've mentioned, I can't imagine that it would have been, but you just never know. Then again, we knew that SG and MG were very eco-conscious and responsible. I'm just happy because the kids helped me remove the stuff, and that would have really brought me down.

Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to sanja gjenero for the pic.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Found a Planer and Doing My Share

Found in a planer in a good friend, not to mention a source of advice. It's ED, and he lives right down the road. I'm not sure how available he is, and if this whole endeavor is even worth it, but at least I've found someone, and that's a good start. Meanwhile, my Mentor has gotten info about the cement deck, and he's excited about it. Always a good thing.

I still need to contact the cement guys about the work, that's my part. Got to make some calls while awaiting word on the asbestos. I finished painting the windows on the back of the house, however, and now need to finish up with the clapboards, but it's too darn hot. I may wait until the fall, but we shall see. Until the next time, thanks for reading.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Working Out, Electricity, and Our Mentor Coming Through

Though it should come as no surprise, my Mentor has been busy helping us get our lives together, at least in terms of getting home improvement done. If not for him, we'd nowhere, and fast. Actually, that's not true. It would just take ten years to get it done. Apparently he's found an electrician and a plumber, and he's nudging us along to get certain things done. He must think we're total losers (not too far off the bat) for acting so slow. His enthusiasm is appreciated.

I'm still working on finding out what's on the stupid deck, though again, it's hard to imagine that it's asbestos. Even still, if it were, that would suck. Once it's identified and deemed benign, I can rip that stuff off, but I need to know. It's actually beginning to worry me. I can't contact the installer because he's away, and the previous owners are away and I can't get an answer until a couple of days. I could have it analyzed, but am not sure who to contact, though I believe there are companies that are local that could test it. What a drag.

I've been doing my karate drills and practicing for my eventual test, but I'll leave it at that.

This whole ordeal with the light switch is bumming me out, I'm not sure what to do. The problem I face is that I need all my pieces to be lined up perfectly before I feel comfortable to begin, and things never work out that smoothly. I bought a new dimmer switch and it ended up having an extra wire, which I believe is the ground wire, but it's something new. I'll have to investigate, but will attempt to put the thing in this weekend. I don't want to be such a wimp.

We'll see where this all goes. Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to Victor Maltby for the pic.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Deck Saga Continues

So it turns out that according to my mentor, the white stuff underneath the orange stuff which was underneath the tiles has to go. We need to get down to the plywood underneath before we move forward. Simple enough, but once I started to lift off that white stuff, my Mentor said it looked like asbestos. Damn! In all honesty, I can't imagine why they'd put that under a tile deck, but once the seed of doubt was planted, it was all over. We took a sample to Home Depot and surprisingly the guy had no idea, so we're on to our next plan. Talk to the guy that put it in.

I contacted SG about it and he said he did not install it but the name I threw out sounded familiar. Of course MG would know, but calling her could kill me, so I contacted the tile guy, instead, and believe it or not, his wife said he was in Alaska fighting fires. Apparently it's something he's done for the past 20 years, but he'd be back next Wednesday. How crazy is that? So we wait.

In the meantime, some issues that my Mentor brought up. He said the metal trim along the edge of the deck was done wrong. It's supposed to prevent water from going into the house, i.e., stream it onto the deck where it will run onto the ground. Since the deck is sloped into the house, it fails on that count. Also, the water barrier was laid behind it, so water simply run down between it and the house, and where it contacts the tile, it's supposed to angle and bend so that water runs over it and onto the tiles. Instead it is simply flat and channels water into the crack. Poor design. I'll have to rip that out, as well. What else is new?

Talked to Mentor today and it seems as if concrete is the way to go. We can shape it, give it the proper pitch, finish it so it looks beautiful, and then we don't have to worry about laying and cutting tiles. I like all of those qualities. And to add a cherry to top, it would probably end up being cheaper. Enough said.

We're also having issues with the lights in the school room, they don't work. Mentors friend, Home Improvement Dave said it was probably the dimmer, they go out all the time, so I went with that, but Mentor said he didn't think so. So he came over, pulled it out and checked it, and then said it might very well be the dimmer. Hello? So now that it's out, I need to get a new one and then put it in. Mentor said he'd do it, but he's charging us and I'm acutely aware of this, so I'll give it a go myself.

Until the next time, thanks for reading.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Karate Moves On

We had a good class last night, albeit a small one, as usual. D is preparing for his big trip to Japan and Thailand, and we'll miss him. He adds so much to the class in terms of his expertise and his different perspective. Also, he's so dedicated and it's inspiring. Sensei showed up and was sorry for his absence, but we all understand, he's a busy man, and he volunteers his time for the cause. We would never complain, we're just glad to see him.

We talked about endurance, or lack thereof, and Sensei touted the value of jumping rope. Just a little bit every day is all it takes. I agree, and think it's an all around good exercise for getting your footwork together, not to mention your stamina. I think it should be part of theoretical workout to prepare for karate, so I'll get right on it. Right away... yeah, right.

It's on my mind, so I'll get there soon enough. We sparred for the first time in awhile last night, and I have to confess to having mixed feelings on it. On the one hand I love sparring because it gets me pumped and forces me to really think of karate in terms of real life. On the other hand, it gives me a bit of anxiety at the thought of getting my ass kicked. You just can't have it all.

I wish I had a punching bag, that would help out a lot, not to mention practice and conditioning. Things are falling into place, I'm confident of that. Like everything in life, I just have to do.

Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to Edwin PP for the pic.

Next Stage of the Deck and Fresh Cut Grass

I'm not a stickler for details and can live with a little chaos and disorder, but I have to admit, an unkempt yard is a bummer. However, the more I learn about lawns, the more I begin to realize how misguided the whole endeavor is. When you consider the cost, time, and amount of toxic chemicals that go into maintaining a perfectly manicured lawn, you really begin to realize how silly the whole thing is. I like the motto I hear from GS and a lot of people around here - if it's green and you can mow it, then let it be. I'm into that.

Having said that, I will confess that when the lawn is mowed, it sure does look nicer. It improves my state of mind, as well, because when the yard falls to heck, it brings me down. I get a little bummed, I don't deny it. I'm sure glad the lawnmower is fixed. It runs nicely, now, and I've vowed to go to greater lengths to keep it that way. That's the way a real man would do it.

We moved onto the next stage (at a snail's pace, mind you) of the deck by pulling off all that orange plastic stuff. When I look at the work that was done, and it was well done, it seems like they built the front deck when they built the house, and somehow it settled or something, which explains the terrible design. My Mentor came over and said it looked okay in terms of what we needed to do. We may have to remove that white layer underneath the orange plastic stuff, thought it seemed like it was drywall. Under that is the plywood in question. If we can simply build on top of what is there, fabulous. If we have to remove that white plaster layer, it's doable, but more work, and more room to screw things up.

Mentor said he'd come back in the afternoon and we could talk, but he never showed up. And then I had to go to karate. Oh well, until another day. In the meantime, what am I supposed to do with all those tiles? AND, we have to start thinking about what we're going to replace them with.

Until then, thanks for reading.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Just Doing It

Wow, talk about getting it done. I managed to actually do some of the things I'd set out to do, and the very thought of doing them made me not want to do them. Dare I say, I was ready to chicken out and put it off for another day, which basically meant walking away. First off, I managed to get the deck done, with a lot of help from my kids, and then I went and changed the oil on the car. I have to confess, that one wasn't easy, and whenever I venture into new territory and fiddle with something that's as important as a car, it makes me worry, but I went for it. As usual, it wasn't that bad.

The problem with our car is that it's incredibly low to the ground. I can't get under it to drain the oil, so I had to jack it up. First problem, and it embarrasses me to no end to admit this, but I had no idea where the jack was having never used it before. For that matter, I'd never known where the spare tire was, either. They were easy enough to find, and the jack, having never been used for nine years, was a little rusty, but it worked. It may need to be replaced.

Since the oil plug was off to the side and so low, I had to take a two-stage approach. I blocked off the wheels, jacked up the left side and put two logs underneath in case the car fell off the jack, my biggest fear, and crawled under and drained the oil. There was some concern that I might open the wrong drain, but it was the cleanest bolt under there, and it was attached to the main block, so it made sense. The plug is on the right side of the engine, so I had to lift the left side to get the oil to drain completely.

The problem was that the oil filter was on the right side, as well, so if the left side was jacked, it would be hard to reach up on the right side. Because of this, I had to switch the jack over, along with all the safety measures, and jack up the right side to get to the filter. This was, of course, after I'd emptied the engine and replaced the plug. The filter is the hardest part and the one that gave me the most anxiety. The dumb owner's manual tried to instill me with the typical consumer fear that I was incapable of doing this by saying in the manual that I needed a special tool and shouldn't try this at home. What was that all about?

In all fairness, replacing the filter is the hardest part because it's wedged up in there, but it was surprisingly doable. I got it out, greased the seal on the new on, and put it on. This gave me a bit of trouble, but after a few minutes, I managed. I would also like to point out that during this time I was being devoured by mosquitoes.

Also, my fearless helper, N, was by my side the whole time, handing me tools, keeping me company, and inundating me with questions. You gotta love parenthood.

Then I finished. I took the car for a spin to pick up my bike at the park and ride, and it didn't explode. I checked the oil level when I got home, and all was well. So far so good, but I'll still keep my fingers crossed.

Oh yeah, after about two weeks, I finally mowed the lawn. I'm developing a lawn recovery plan, but more on that later.

Thanks to nancynator for the pic, and thanks for reading.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

The Return of Our Lawnmower and Why We Love Joe's

Wow, we finally got our lawnmower back. It took about five days, and it only cost me about $30, which just goes to show you what a great place Joe's Equipment is. I trust those guys, and they carry top quality equipment.

Now, if you can believe this, I can't wait to mow the lawn. Mark this day on your calendar.

And thanks for reading.

With a Little (Lotta) Help From Our Kids

Amazing! That's all I can say about out kids. They wanted to help me remove the tiles from the front porch, and at first I thought it would be quicker and easier if I was alone, but they helped and in the end, I don't think I would finished it yesterday without their help. They were simply amazing.

Not only did they work hard, but they did a great job, and they thought it was fun! I guess when you're a kid, banging things with tools can be fun, but I don't think they realize how cool what they accomplished was. What's also cool is that they tried in earnest to spare the tiles and get them off in one piece, which they succeeded in doing for many of them. For a lot of them, however, it was darn near impossible, and that's what made the job okay. We knew we could break them if we had to.

Either way, these are the moments that warm my heart, when the kids show initiative and work hard at reaching a goal. How cool is that?

Until the next time, thanks for reading.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Lawn Advice and Out on the Tiles

I went to Longacres with samples of our garden in hand, and they told me we have strawberries and Creeping Charlie in our grass. The only way they saw to get rid of them is to pour on the herbicides, which seems crazy to me in an area where everyone gets their drinking water from wells. What are we thinking? Poison ourselves for the sake of having a nice green lawn? Pure idiocy, if you ask me.

Since there is no simple solution, we may very well have to resign ourselves to a lawn of weeds, though this battle is not yet over. As the kind and knowledgeable women of Longacres said, if it's green and can be mowed, no big deal. I'll go with that, for now.

I've got to finish the tiles so that I can move onto other things that I need and want to do, like cutting wood. Until then, thanks for reading.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Learning About Lawns and Cleaning Windows

One of jobs on the barn project is to clean the windows and see if they'll suffice on the finished product. The dilemma we have run into from the beginning is what to do with those darn windows. Sure, they aren't the most beautiful things, and maybe don't let in an optimal amount of light, but they're there, and at this point, will cost us nothing. It seems like window enthusiasts feel that to do the job right, you have spend thousands of dollars on new windows, and to do it before you begin finishing the walls. I understand this, but is it really worth the thousands?

Anyway, my mentor told me to clean the things up and see how they look, and if it's acceptable, to simply stick with them. I like that idea, but now I've got to clean the things. BTW, I've started this process, so I'm on my way.

I'm at work and am planning to head over to Longacres to get some advice about our lawn. This will be a three staged approach. First, identify the problem. Second, learn what needs to be done. Third, do what needs to be done. I think I just might be able to pull of the first one, and the second one may take a bit more legwork, but getting the third one done could take a lifetime. Then again, thousand mile journey begins with the first step, right?

Thanks for reading.

Clearing the Garden and Ready to Mow

I don't know if you've been following the news around these parts, but there is a blight occurring that is destroying tomato and potato plants. It's the same Late Blight that created the Irish Potato Famine, and we now have it in our backyard. What a shame, because the garden was growing so well. It started out as a blackening of the leaves, and as it spread, it became clear that something was wrong. Sure enough, our potatoes and tomatoes were hit, and a few of the tomatoes were showing signs of rot.

The solution? Take all the offending species out. So yesterday I went down there and pulled all the tomato plants and clipped off all the potato plants. R said the potatoes might be salvageable, but the plant portion needed to be removed or else the pathogen will sink into the ground. So sad. It makes you realize how difficult it can be for a farmer who is dependent the weather and then gets his with this stuff. AND, it's been an awfully wet, rainy winter, which is the root of a lot of this.

I'm also awaiting the return of our lawnmower. Not that I love to do it so much, but our lawn looks like crap, and the sight of it brings me down. Makes me feel inadequate and helpless. I know, I'm over-dramatizing things, but humor me. I'm a man.

Until the next time, thanks for reading.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Can't Get to the Lumber Yard, Farmer's Market, and Karate Longing

I haven't been practicing my karate as much as I need to, but I think that the more I stress and torture myself about it, the more likely it will come to fruition. Here's to hoping.

The shelf I made next to the compactor has been working fine, but I realized I sold myself short and could have made it better. With this in mind, I will rework it, but need to get to the lumber yard. Not an easy thing to do when you don't have a car, so I'll have to wait until the weekend, which is kind of a bummer because I have time now. What I want to do is add a third shelf since there seems to be a lot of wasted space, which will in turn help out in our never-ending problem with limited space in our kitchen. Makes me wonder every day what MG was thinking when she designed this house.

Our town has been working towards setting up a farmer's market, and I think it's a great idea. A really great idea. There are a lot of smart, capable people in this town and I think it would be a great opportunity to help them make some dough and do what they do best. Now how can you beat that? It's exciting and I hope it works out. I'd sell bread if they needed it, though I still think it needs some tweaking, and boy is it hard work, but would be way cool if I could pull it off.

Until the next time, thanks for reading.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Chainsaw Wisdom and One Thing Down

I've learned a few things about chainsaws and of course they made me a neurotic mess. First off, one person tells me I can hold onto the gas for two months, then another says no more than one month. I've actually read one month somewhere else, so I'll go with that. The problem is, I have a full two gallon can, but the gas is over two months old. I thought I'd just use it up anyway, but then felt like a fool because I don't want to mess around with my chainsaw. So my plan was as follows: rather than simply empty the saw and store it, I want to put fresh gas in and then run it. After a few runs, with fresh gas in the lines, then I'll run it dry and store it. How's that sound? That way, at least it seems like it's a bit cleaner and hopefully happier. The problem is that I had to get another gas can and put fresh gas in, then wait until September to discard hazardous waste.

Oh well, I did learn this - you can buy small aliquots of gas oil, ones that go with only one gallon of gas, so there's less waste. Good to know, I think that's the way to go for me.

On the home improvement front, I did manage to finish the shelf near the compactor. R liked it, and it was so easy to make. Best of all, the kids could help, so they get a sense of accomplishment out of it all. Of course, I screwed up and should have made three shelves instead of two, but I can fix it. The wood is cheap, and now that I know what to expect, it should be much easier... yeah, right.

Until the next time, thanks for reading.

Sunday, August 2, 2009


I've been doing some preliminary research on grass, and I've learned that there is definitely an art to the stuff. We take it so much for granted, but a lot of thought and effort goes into making a beautiful lawn. Too much, if you ask me, but my neglect has forced me into having to take action. I'm not thrilled about this, but things have gotten too out of hand. My bad, I acknowledge this fact.

There are sections of the grass that are literally without any grass and are instead filled with what I've learned are broad leafed weeds. The problem is that some of them can be deep rooted and they seem to grow low to the ground, making removal a chore. I've got my work cut out for me. First off, I need to get my darn lawnmower fixed and back, which may take a week. Did I mention I flaked out on rebuilding the carb and took it into Joe's? It was for the best, believe me.

Anyway, I may have to do some tilling to remove the weeds, then seed with grass and hope for the best. Actually, I may need to do some lyme or whatever it takes to optimize the pH, but again, I'm still learning. This could be good.

Until the next time, thanks for reading.

Losing Things and Small Projects

In the midst of all that's going on in our lives, I've managed to lose my new gloves. Bummer. I can't find a decent pair of gloves for under $10, and maybe I'm deluding myself. When you work with firewood, gloves really take a beating, and all of mine seem to have holes in assorted fingers. They still work fine, it's just that they have that hole, and whatever caused it hasn't magically disappeared so when I use them, the said source of the hole now has access to my skin. I'd like to find a cheap pair of gloves that has reinforced fingers. Still searching.

I've got a small house project that I wanted to work on yesterday but had to prioritize because the weather is not working our favor, i.e., more rain! I had to maximize our outdoor time so indoor projects had to wait, but today is calling for more rain and I'll have some time. Mind you, I'd prefer more sun and do the hard stuff, but such is life.

Anyway, we are pressed for space in our kitchen. We have pots and pans strewn about the floor and counters because we have a New York City kitchen. Somehow in the master plan for this house, they didn't really leave much space for the kitchen. Not only is it small, but it's an awkward design, with not much in the way for counter space and a little short on cabinet space. So, I'm going to make some shelves and put them next to the compacter, which I think we'll get rid of soon enough. This will not only give us some shelves, but will increase our counter space by at least 12%. How's that for a quick estimate?

Until the next time, thanks for reading.

Squeezing in a Day

I tried to squeeze in as much as I could yesterday, the one day of sunshine that we've been granted, and it wasn't easy. The trim around the roof is in worse shape that I thought, and while I sanded off the paint I found that some of the sections were rotted and I wondered if they needed to be replaced. Not an easy gig. I ended up painting over the sections that were salvageable, but am thinking I might need to go back and either put wood filler on the rotting parts or find a way to replace the wood, which seems like a bear of a job considering the location. I'll have to consult my mentor.

The actual painting was tedious because I had to use the extension ladder and do a section at a time, then move the darn thing. First, I went up and sanded, then let it dry for a few hours, then back up to paint. Meanwhile, I'm balancing precariously at 20 feet while the sun is beating down on my head and the mosquitoes are feasting on my blood. What a drag. Either way, I'm thinking for now that I'll seal the rotting sections from the rain until I learn more about what to do. Unfortunately the weather is calling for more rain, so I'll have to deal with that.

I also managed to get to begin working on that deck, and it wasn't as bad as I first thought. Taking the shingles off was easy, it's the tiles that will be a bit more challenging. Not only are they grouted around the edges, but they are cemented to the floor. I found by chiseling the edge of each tile then forcing a pry bar underneath, I could lift the tile and get it off in one piece. I did break the first one, but it was a learning experience. The hammering and chisel was loud, I think it echoed through the whole valley and rocked my ears, so I'll wear ear protection, but it's been working so far. Granted, it's only a few tiles, and it's going to take some time, but just goes to show you what you can do if you just give it go. It's impressive how much time I waste fretting and worrying about something when it would be finished over the same duration if I just took the first step and did it.
The shingles were a breeze because all it entailed was ripping the things off, and they break like pencils, though what the job lacks in strain is made up for in quanitity-there are a lot of shingles, so it's going to take some time. I'm not sure what to do with the nails in the wall. I thought I'd yank them out for aesthetic considerations, but then realized that would leave holes and thus ways for dreaded moisture to get into the wood. Darn that moisture. So for now my plan is to leave them and eventually hammer them in. Again, I'll consult my mentor.

One thing about doing home improvement projects is that it generates amazing amounts of waste. Not only do you have to collect it and store it, but once you trash it, how the heck am I supposed to get it to the dump with our little Mazda? Yet another plug for owning a truck, but don't get me started.

Until the next time, thanks for reading.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Failure, but Looking Ahead

I've already failed at one of my goals - rather than attempt to dismantle and repair the carb on our lawnmower, I broke down and took the thing into Joe's. I figured that the longer I pondered how to fix the thing, the farther along the lawn would move toward a disaster state, if it isn't already there. Darn! It's not looking pretty, and adds to my already extensive list of home improvement projects. This one could take years, however.

My revised goals for this weekend are to:
prep my chainsaw for winter storage
rip out some shingles in prep for removing the tiles
maybe rip out some tiles
at least look at the trim along the roof
at least look at the car and think about changing the oil

All of them sound simple enough, but I'm incapable of doing anything in a simple manner. Preparing the chainsaw should be simple and straightforward, but I'm taking a more circuitous route. It's got old gas in it, so I want to drain it, put fresh gas, run it with some fresh gas and then store it. Is that too stupid? For some reason I just think this will make the machine a little happier. I did learn that I've been making the gas too rich-the oil is designed for 2.5 gallons, not 2 gallons. What a pain, though I was told by the guys at Joe's that it's better to have it rich than poor, so I erred in the right direction.

Ripping shingles out should be pretty simple, could take me half an hour, and then I'll look at those tiles. The grout is pretty soft, so it shouldn't be too bad, but we shall see. I'll also at least get out my extension ladder and take a good long look at that trim. Gotta do it, it's supposed to be nice this weekend, so it could be my only window in the near future. Besides, just deal with it, right?

As for the car, we'll see how that goes. I got the oil and the filter, and did I mention I changed the air filter? That's worth something, isn't it?

Did I mention I need to go shopping for food and deal with the recycling?

Until the next time, thanks for reading.