Sunday, September 27, 2009

Lawncare and Squeezing It In

Yesterday was the continuation of the first stage of the Great Lawn Rescue. As I may or may not have mentioned, we have some disaster areas on our lawn, and some of these areas are substantial. The problem is, the grass has been supplanted by weeds, and in some sections, the weeds have completely taken over. There are plus sides to this. The weeds are green and in essence look like grass when viewed from a satellite, but up close you can really see them. They are the broad leaf variety and flower, which is nice in spring because it helps the bees, and the flowers are kind of pretty. The kids love them, so it's not all bad.

The problem is, the grass is gone, and while there are many who feel that if it's green, let it go, I'd like to at least try to restore the grass. The chemical option is not an option for us. Personally I think it's a waste putting all those herbicides into the ground just to get a golf course on your property, but that's just me. Also, that can't be good for your groundwater, which we drink, not to mention the kids and animals that play on it.

So our approach is to try to encourage the grass and hope it will take over rather than try to destroy the enemy. I've been told come the first frost, the weeds will die, and that Fall is a good time seed and fertilize. With that in mind, and along with my super high-tech, state of the art seed spreader, I did just that. Friday was a beautiful day, and the kids and I prepped the soil and spread the goodies. I prepped by raking over the bad spots, which was essentially the entire front lawn. I think raking helps aerate and loosen the soil, while also removing unsightly weeds. I'll tell you one thing, I ended up with a huge pile of weeds.

The spreader worked okay with the fertilizer, though it got clogged a fair number of times. Enough to discourage A&N from wanting to do it, and they instead played with the large pile of weeds, moving it back and forth and creating mountain ranges. It's amazing what kids can come up with when you just turn off the TV.

Yesterday, we had beautiful weather, as well, though the forecast called for rain for the next week. Bummer! We were slated to go to rollerblading and then to the library, and I had to go to hazardous waste disposal (they only pick up twice a year) in the morning. We were short on time. I jetted over to discard all my leftover gasoline and mineral spirits, then got some watch batteries to fix the kids watches, then home to get ready to go. The kids were in the bath, so I figured I had about an hour to get some stuff done before we left.

I whipped out the lawnmower and told R that I would mow until we left. I managed to mow the side yard and the back, but couldn't get to the hill and down by the garden, which is a complete disaster. After mowing like my Mentor recommended (short-short-short), I spread seeds over the entire area, and I planned on fertilizing the next day or so, or whenever the we get a break in the rain.

By the time I'd finished, cleaned the mower and put away the seeds, the kids were in the car and R was getting her shoes on. I ran upstairs, changed clothes, got in the car, and we were off.

Even though it's raining today, I will attempt to remove boards off the barn. Wish me luck.

Wow, just goes to show you what you can do when you just do it, rather than sit around and fret about how you're going to do it. Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to Fred Fokkelman for the pic.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Showers and Karate

For all it's worth, I graduated up to the next level in karate and got my green belt the other night. I'm finding that as I move up in the ranks, my sensei is no longer as warm and fuzzy with me, and most of the time I get the distinct impression he wants to kick my ass. When you get to the green belt, you are no longer considered a child, and testing involves sparring with two people, which includes the sensei. So not only do I have to defend myself from two sets of hands and feet, but one set is a third degree black belt who is enjoying beating me up. He even said that according to Master Hammond, as soon as you arrive at the green belt, you are required to bleed at every test. Something to look forward to.

By the time I was finished sparring, I was about to pass out. It was crazy trying to defend myself and clarified to me how out of shape I am. Every time I thought he would show me a little mercy, he said to keep going. We must have sparred for five minutes and I was drenched with sweat, but you don't consider these things when you're fearing for your life. When I see the look in sensei's eyes, I can't help but think he's enjoying himself while I bleed.

However, that said, it's satisfying to come out the other end alive, and inspires me to work hard and get in shape. Time to break out that jump rope.

Also, we changed the shower head at home. When I say "we", I mean me and my Mentor. We had an old shower head in the downstairs bath that was a complete pain because it sent spray all over the place and made showering less enjoyable. I'd toyed with the idea of changing it, but it was just another thing to deal with. Enter my Mentor... somehow I can envision him in blue tights with a red cape.

He didn't hesitate and said he'd be right over and we'd go to Home Depot. It's actually nice because the kids enjoy the trip and we get ice cream! So we went over and I did what I always do, which is go with what is cheapest. I know this drives my Mentor crazy, because he is a believer in quality, especially when it comes to tools, whereas the Asian side of me goes for the cheap. I suffer the consequences of this often, but never seem to learn.

However, this sometimes works in my favor. Not by design, mind you, but purely as a result of serendipity. My Mentor is believe in showers on a hose because it increases the range of possibilities, and I agreed. I do think this is more applicable to shower/baths, however, because there is more room to work with and move around. The shower we were working on was just a shower, no bath, so there is limited space. Even still, I went with the hose, and when we got home, my Mentor installed it in minutes, though I think I could have done it myself. It was pretty straightforward.

Anyway, the thing leaked a bit, and in the limited space of our shower, there wasn't much use for the hose, which really got in the way. I decided within half an hour of having it that it was going to be replaced, but didn't really think I could take it back since it was out of the box and installed. This was a case where it was a good thing I went with the cheap, because replacing it was not painful. It only cost about $10. Also, the thing was so cheaply made, with weak plastic attachments and all that good stuff. I know my Mentor disapproved, but he said nothing.

We jetted over to Home Depot and got a shower head, and I came home and replaced it, just to prove that I can do it myself. I learned a couple of things. First off, shower heads alone are a lot cheaper than the ones with the hose. Second, it's pretty darn easy to change a shower head. In fact, the one I bought (I got the second cheapest one) did not even require tools, and it works beautifully. Thirdly, you can really come to regret buying the cheapest thing you can get. As the saying goes, you get what you paid for. And finally, I'm just not a shower hose kind of guy. I need my hands free so I can practice my karate moves. We have the hose and I'm thinking we can install it in the upstairs shower so the kids can play with it, or use it in the barn. I'll have to check with my superior, i.e., my wife.

Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to Kriss Szkurlatowski for the pic.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Electricity, Plumbing, and a New Hatchet

One of the complications of burning lots of wood, besides obtaining the stuff, is getting enough kindling to last you through the winter. I used to scour the wood lots for scrap pine, which works the best, my opinion, because it's cut, dried, and free. You can't beat that. Pine or hemlock branches would work, but they don't store very easily, and I like to have it all squared away before the season begins.

With the economic downturn, I'm finding that there isn't as much scrap to be found. Whenever I go to Britton's they don't have much, so I had to come up with another plan. It dawned on me that I could make my own kindling with an axe and a hatchet. I use the blocks of hardwood that are too small to split and stack and chop them into thin slices, except that at one point, I actually broke the head to my hatchet. When I checked various building and supply stores, none of them carried replacement heads, just hatchets. Oddly enough, they sell the handles, but not the blades. I ended up getting a new hatchet, and I have to confess, the thing works beautifully.

Yesterday my Mentor came over with his buddies who happen to be an electrician and a plumber, as well. Bonus time. They were really cool guys, and after going over the floor plan (did I mention that it all begins with a floor plan?), they had some thoughts and suggestions, and once again, the project moved forward a little more. As I'm finding, and my Mentor indicated this would be the case, every small step forward opens up more issues that need to be dealt with.

The plumbing seems in order, but there are some electrical issues, the biggest of which is the line leading to the barn. He mentioned that it would be adequate for a bare wire to be there, but you really want it protected within an electrical pipe. If that was not the case, then a trench was in order. It fell on my shoulders to find out. I got my trusty Martha Stewart shovel and dug a hole by the side of the barn, and sure enough, the wire was not encased in anything. This complicates things and makes them simpler at the same time. Now we have to deal with the wire, another issue, but at least we know what needs to be done and don't have to waste time trying to figure it out. And, I got to use my shovel and dig in the dirt and feel like a real-man.

One area where I faltered a little in the real-man department is that I didn't end up fixing the light switch like I had planned. Too may choices through me off. I was a little disappointed in myself for not doing it myself. For the record, I was going to try, but he was here and more than happy to do it, so I figured, why not? And, he did it in less than a minute.

What threw me off was that there were too many choices, and not all of them made sense. I figured the black wire on the switch went to the black wire on the wall, but no, it goes to the white wire. The red wire goes to the black wire, and even then, it didn't matter which red wire, there were two of them. This confuse me, and about the only thing I was sure about was where the ground wire (the green wire) went.

Anyway, he did it quickly and could have finished with his eyes closed. What was really interesting was that he didn't want me to shut down the power at first, but when I argued in favor of it, he finally agreed, but not for the sake of his own safety, but for the sake of the dimmer switch. Apparently surges can destroy them. That's what life is like when you deal with real men. Also, when I told him I didn't know what breaker controlled that room and had to shut down the entire house, they all laughed. I was a little embarrassed, but what are you going to do?

One final note, I am preparing to rescue our lawn. I got a seed spreader, and went with the cheap one, which I could and probably will regret. My understanding is the thing to do is spread fertilizer and grass seeds in the Fall, and keep your fingers crossed. I got the spreader at Home Depot, but balked at getting the fertilizer and seeds there. I'm going to Longacres instead, because they seem more local and conscientious. A lot of the commercial stuff is filled with chemicals and herbicides, and we have to consider our shallow well. When I pressed the guy about this issue, his answer was he'd never heard of a problem. Thanks, but no thanks, I'm going natural, and if it doesn't work, at least the weeds are green.

Until the next time, thanks for reading.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

It All Begins With A Floorplan

Wow, we finally got the floor plan together enough to show to my Mentor and he actually seemed pleased. Will wonders never cease? Everything seemed contingent on getting that darn floor plan together, and then the project could really begin. The real problem boiled down to starting from scratch. I don't know if it's just me, but I haven't the faintest idea where to begin. For most people we know, designing a house is fun and exciting, but for me it was like pulling teeth. How am I supposed to know what sort of bathroom I want or where to put the kitchen sink? I've never made these decisions and just took it for granted that they would be where they were supposed to be when I entered a house.

To complicate the matter, it's difficult to envision rooms in 3-D when you're sketching them in 2-D. The translation is not as clear as you'd think.

Either way, R decided that the time had come, and I sat down and drew a rough sketch based on PD's previous measurements, and then R and I sat down and talked about what should go where. In the end, she did most of the hard thinking, I did what I do best, i.e., nod my head and agree. It was the best I could do given the circumstances. One thing nice was that after R had shared her logic, a lot of things began to make perfect sense.

Best of all, when my Mentor came over and had a look, I got the impression that he approved, and he even seemed pleased. Maybe he was just glad that we got our act together. Whatever be the case, I could see that grin that said, "F, you're not such a loser, after all." I guess I fooled him.

We did a quick walk through to hash out some details, and then he went about contacting the relevant people: the plumber and the electrician. I've been told that they are the first people to have come in before we do things like dig the septic.

So we are on our way. The question is, where the heck are we going? Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to Mac-Leod for the pic.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Back in the Fold

Now that we're back from vacation, my real-man training resumes. For starters, I have to prepare for karate class on Monday, and I haven't been in touch with anybody but I believe there is a belt test in my near future. While I would love it if the test was in a week, I must be prepared for it in two days. We shall see.

Things around the house are pretty mellow, just getting ready for the cooler weather. Have to arrange for someone to plow the driveway and also get the septic pumped. I've been cutting up kindling in the barn and it sure does take some time, though I enjoy it. I still need to move a lot of wood, as well.

My Mentor gave me a short list of things to do, the most immediate of which are to get a floor plan together for the barn and then to rip up the front porch and get ready to mix some concrete. We'll see how that goes.

I've got a bunch of writing obligations, as well, with no time to spare. Until then, thanks for reading.