Friday, October 31, 2014

Projects In the Bank

Last week I cut down two dead oak trees and then cut up two dead oak and one dying black cherry tree. How does that work? Well when you cut down dead oak tree number one and a fork of it directly hits a spindly black cherry tree which turned out to be half rotten at the base, I got a two-fer. The second dead oak tree came down without a hitch. Since I still have a five year supply of firewood if I get crazy and burn it at twice the rate I have been, I really didn't need the wood. Because these trees were on a very steep slope, I carried what was easy up near the road and gave it away the next day and what was hard I let roll down to the bottom of the hill. A week later, my wife asked if I would make her some more wood block plant stands like I did last fall and this spring so I went down to the bottom of the hill to cut the logs that I will eventually use for that project.

While I was there and my chainsaw blade was still very sharp, I decided I would cut some of the wood for future projects to be determined. It seems a shame to waste such nice wood though it would eventually decay and fertilize the rest of the trees around it. So I cut a stack of disks from the tree and hauled them back up to my garage. While I was doing that, I noticed a couple logs with excellent colonies of fungus growing on the bark. Up until a year ago, this wouldn't have caught my attention but due to my pen making hobby and learning of the beauty of spalted wood, I went over to check it out.

Spalting is where fungus growing on the outside of a log discolors the inside fibers in unique patterns which when made into projects later on, provide beautiful results. Lighter colored woods like maple work well and though I haven't heard of anyone doing oak, I found that the wood had spalted quite nicely. You can see an example in the picture above. So I cut the spalted part of the log into small sections that I can cut into pen blanks or something else at a future date when it dries.

On my previous attempt to make decorative blocks for plant stands, the wood checked pretty good as it dried over the winter. It still looked fine and added character to them but I wanted to see if there was a way to prevent that. I did some research and found a substance online that is said to do quite well for preventing checking though the examples are mostly smaller boards and such. It looks very much like a white latex paint and you apply it to the end grains of the wood for it to be absorbed. It promotes slower drying out the end grains which is supposed to reduce checking. So I applied it to all the end grains of my future projects and blocked them up on my workbench so they can dry out over winter. The last time I harvested some spalted wood in my ditch, I cut it up right away without useing Anchorseal and tried drying it out just with a fan. It checked badly so that I didn't end up with a single usable piece. I hope this way works better though at this point, I don't have much labor or money into it so I won't really be bummed if it doesn't.

I did the same on my two future plant stands. The directions says not to put it on face grain because it might stain it. Since most of the pictures shows them applying it to small pieces of wood or logs with bark still intact, I'm not sure how it will work with these. If it does, well I've learned something. If it doesn't, well I've still learned something and I've got two more plant stands with character. Its a win win kind of deal.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Mickey Mouse Money

Awhile back on this blog I posted some World War II era photos showing the bombing destruction of Manila after the war. These were given to my wife by one of her clients. Well the same client dropped by my wife's office again and this time brought her some World War II era money from the Philippines. I thought there were pretty cool so I scanned the front sides to post here in order from least worth to most worth.

The money issued by the Japanese after they routed the Americans and took over the island was called the fiat peso. They made the previous pesos illegal in an attempt to stop the guerrilla movement. As the title of the post suggests, the locals called it "Mickey Mouse money."

At the time, 75 Mickey Mouse pesos was equivalent to 35 U.S. dollars but due to inflation, locals were often seen carrying huge sacks of money to buy what they needed. Some examples that I found were that 75 pesos were needed to buy 1 duck egg or a box of matches cost about 100 pesos.

The Centavo shown at the top of the post, which is about the same size and quality as Monopoly money, was from the first issue of money in 1942. The 1, 5 and 10 were issued a year later in 1943 and due to rising hyperinflation, the 100 peso note was issued in 1944.

The monument promently displayed on all the fiat pesos is the Rizal monument which is a Filipino hero to many who was executed by a Filipino firing squad in the Spanish army in 1896 for conspiracy.

This final note is a 5 yen note which I'm pretty sure was also issued during the war by the Japanese for use in China and Hong Kong. I'm not sure what they called it there but it certainly is a little bit more complex than the Mickey Mouse money used in the Philippines.

Monday, October 27, 2014


When it comes to my lawn, I'm pretty much live and let live. Back when I had a postage stamp sized lawn, I made an attempt to keep the weeds to a minimum and fill in bare spots with grass seed but with a couple acres, it just isn't feasible or desirable on my part. I did seed down the dirt around our new sidewalk and driveway but that was more to prevent mud from being tracked on them than for beauty reasons.

I tell you this to justify telling you that when it comes to insects in my lawn, I let them live if they don't bother me. However, the local flock of turkeys that call my back yard home don't share the same attitude. In fact, they are down right hard on the local insect population. Twice a day, they traverse my yard from one side to the other pecking up insects as fast as they can move their necks. I've watched them grow from young poults into full grown turkeys indistinguishable from their mothers who have herded them around all this time.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Cloudy Skies

I mentioned in a previous post about sitting out on the deck one evening enjoying life and turning my gaze upwards. In a matter of a half hour, it seemed as if the skies changed three or four times. Because film is cheap these days, especially since my camera doesn't use any, I didn't mind snapping away and committing them to my computer's hard drive. I thought I might throw a few of them in a post to share to the world, or the two dozen people who read my blog for reasons I may never understand.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

An Iowa Harvest

Even though farming in the 80's pushed me to pursue other avenues of livelihood and is why I became an engineer, I still miss it and dream of returning to the farm someday. Fall is my favorite time of the year mostly because the dreams of harvest become a reality. Whether or not the seeds were planted in good shape, whether or not we got adequate moisture, heat and sunshine, whether or not we missed hailstorms and late season winds, all matters not anymore. The cards have been dealt and all that is left to do is harvest the grains and see what hand you've been dealt.

To continue on the card analogy, this year the farmers in this region have been dealt a full house with ace's high. The crops are spectacular which makes harvesting slow. The only problem is that corn is as cheap as it every has been which is like everyone else being dealt nothing in their hands and folding early so there is nothing in the pot. At the end of the day, you rake in what chips you've won and keep on dreaming for that day when you've got the hand and everyone else at the table is thinking the same thing... but are wrong!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Spring Is Now Over

As you can see from the photo of my new driveway, fall is underway here. We had the longest spring ever and summer never came in these parts. We had mild temperatures with moderate rainfall all 'summer' long when we normally get hot and dry conditions. People are harvesting the best corn crop ever seen and some people are cutting an unheard of 5th cutting of hay which is two more than normal. The soybeans also have good yields but because of a late in the 'summer' case of sudden death syndrome, their yields went from the best ever to still pretty good for our area.

All this wouldn't be so bad but unfortunately the moderate rains have continued into fall which is drawing out what is already going to be a long harvest. After getting done with landscaping, I was going to finish up the garage but I just haven't been able to get motivated. Part of it is just decompression from the completion of any huge project but part of it is the cold rainy weather this past week. The good part is that my newly planted landscape is receiving plenty of water without me having to spend quality time at the end of a garden hose.

Tomorrow I think I will work on cutting down a dead tree or two that never leafed out this spring since it is supposed to be sunny and cool, perfect tree cutting weather. Beyond that, the weekend is just a day away (as I write this) so I think I may write off this week and get back to my garage project next week. I never thought I would say this since fall is my favorite season followed closely by spring, but I miss(ed) summer.

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Aspen Dental Scam

Like so many sectors of our economy, there is a business that is taking over the dental frontier. Several years ago I started hearing about a company called Aspen Dental that was building new dental offices in larger cities across the Midwest. The tout that the initial exam and x-rays as being free to get you in the door. Until recently, it didn't matter in our part of rural Iowa because there were no chains open within comfortable travel distances but that changed about a month ago when they opened up an office in our town.

Now I have a private dentist in a town 20 minutes away where I used to live that I like very much and have no intentions of leaving. But then I have dental insurance and my biannual cleanings are covered 100%. My mother-in-law is a recent immigrant and until she receives citizenship status, she had no insurance, especially dental insurance. So when she had a bad tooth ache, we thought we would take her to the new Aspen Dental here in town to get x-rayed and recommendations on what to do.

In order to set up a new appointment, you have to call their corporate office or go online and schedule it. We did the former and could be seen that very afternoon. I drove my mother-in-law to the office and promptly at her scheduled time, they escorted her and four other people all into the five chairs. After about 30 minutes, people started paying and leaving but the hygienists now free, just idly walked around and talked until the top of the hour when they escorted a new batch of people into the chairs. It was certainly different than I was used too but I didn't really have a problem with that. What I did have a problem with happened next.

When my mother-in-law came out and was escorted to the managers office to discuss her 'treatment plan' as the call it, I joined her to act as an interpreter. She has dentures on both upper and lower jaws and the tooth that was causing her problems was on the lower jaw and also the anchor for her dentures. The 'treatment plan' was that her gum around the tooth was infected and that the tooth needed to be pulled, along with the anchor tooth on the upper jaw that wasn't hurting her and then new dentures created for both. The sum for this treatment plan was staggering.

They wanted to schedule her for an appointment in two days to begin her treatment plan. When my mother-in-law asked for something to treat the infection, they gave her a prescription for Tylenol 3 which is a prescription pain killer and would definitely wouldn't do anything for the infection. That should have been my first clue.

The second sign was that they immediately printed off a bill showing the free services that my mother-in-law had just received along with a line item showing the future services and the staggering sum and inquiring how I wanted to pay for the procedures yet to happen. If I didn't have the money, they would be more than happy to sign me up for their own credit card which they would put the balance on for no interest for the next few months. The hairs on the back of my neck went up at all this and I politely said that I would be paying for the procedures AFTER they were completed two days from now. There were several charges that seemed superfluous on the bill that we questioned and each time, the manager immediately took them off when we questioned whether they were necessary and printed out a new bill. On the fourth bill, the sum was still staggering but quite a bit less than the initial bill. It still looked like a bill and like something requiring immediate payment but I just thanked them and we went out the door.

When I got home, I started doing some internet research, something I should have done beforehand, and found literally thousands of bad reviews of Aspen Dental of people having similar experiences. Most of the people said that Aspen Dental wanted to pull teeth that didn't need to be pulled so that they could make new dentures for them which evidently is their bread and butter part of the business. People were charged for unnecessary procedures and asked to pay for future services or sign up for credit cards. If people did the latter and then didn't use those services, they had very hard times getting their money reimbursed and then suffered the problem of having bad credit if they didn't pay their credit card bill. I realized at that point that my relationship with Aspen Dental via my mother-in-law was over. I was going to get her dental records and take her to my private dentist 20 miles away.

I showed up right at nine when their sign said they opened this past Wednesday. There was a young lady already standing outside the door so I surmised that they hadn't unlocked the door. Ten minutes go by and I finally went and checked the door myself just to make sure it was locked. I mentioned about how perhaps the door had been stuck and we didn't realize it but it was most definitely locked. So we waited some more. Fifteen minutes after the posted opening time, I knocked on the door and windows and peered inside but got no response. Twenty minutes into it, a UPS driver showed up trying to deliver packages but couldn't get in either so I decided to take action.

I called the phone number on the door but it leads me to the robotic operator at the corporate offices. All avenues for returning customers led me to the voice mail of the local managers office. So I fibbed and said I was a new customer which eventually led me to customer service at their corporate office. When I at last got a human, I'll call her Cheryl, I asked if she could tell me if the office in my town was still in business because it was now 25 minutes past opening and the door was still locked despite there being lots of cars behind the building. She said it was still open and that she would call them on a private line and see what the problem seemed to be. After ten minutes on hold Cheryl said she couldn't reach anyone which was very odd and that they should be open by now. She took my name and phone number and said she would call me back just as soon as she was able to reach someone and find out the problem.

I had now invested 40 minutes of my time waiting for an open office to unlock their door so I decided I would try one more thing. I walked around to the back of the building where I saw an employee entrance with a security camera above the door and a card swipe pad right next to the handle. I was pretty sure I would find another locked door as I reached out and turned the handle but much to my surprise the door opened right up.

As I opened the door, I could hear laughter on the other side and when I looked in, I saw about a dozen startled people all peering at me from a table in a room on the opposite side of the hallway from the door. A managerial looking fellow jumped up from the table asking me what I was doing and then a second later if he could help me. I told him that yes he could help me. I have been waiting for 40 minutes since their sign said they have been open and yet the door was still locked. When would he actually be open. The managerial guy took on a nasty tone and said that they were in the middle of a meeting and that they would be open when their meeting was done. With that he grabbed the door, closed it and I could hear a lock engage.

I was pretty miffed at this point and my phone range as I was walking around to the front of the building. I answered and it was their corporate office calling back to see if the door was still locked. Cheryl said that they were still trying to reach the office and that they should be open because their computer showed two appointments at nine o'clock. I told Cheryl of my encounter and what I had been told and she got very apologetic and said that she would take immediate action to pass this up the chain of command so that it wouldn't happen again. She took my information down so she could call me back in the future and we hung up.

I told the lady out front what had happened out back and she shook her head. She told me she was just trying to get her records after a bad experience on Friday and she didn't plan on every coming back. I told her I was also in the same boat. Just then after 45 minutes past nine when they advertised that they were open, one of the started people came and unlocked the door. No apologies were issued to either of us. When my turn came and I requested my mother-in-law's records, I wasn't surprised that they wouldn't give them to me even though I signed the form two days priors saying I was authorized to obtain them. My mother-in-law had to physically be present in order for me to obtain the records which I said kind of defeated the purpose of even having said form giving others permission to obtain her records.

So later my mother-in-law showed up and they gave her the records but I didn't go inside that time in case they recognize me and give her a hard time. As I write this she is at my private dentist with my wife and I'm sure probably getting a lot better service and I'm guessing probably some antibiotics for the infected gum and options that don't involve extracting two teeth and building an entire new set of dentures for her. They were also probably open as advertised and not laughing it up in the back while people waited for them to sometime open up the doors.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Putting 10 Pounds of $%&* Into a 5 Pound Bag

Being a Do It Yourself kind of guy, I guess I have a lot of tools. Being someone who likes to take care of things that I spend lots of money on, I also like to park my vehicles inside a garage out of the weather, especially when I have an attached garage. There in lies the problem. How to you fit two vehicles and all your stuff into a garage and have room to access said tools and vehicles easily. This is my fourth or fifth garage that I've done over the years and each time I get a little bit better at organizing and arranging stuff. This time, I ditched some things and tried some new things that I think will work pretty good.

Above is a picture showing my new and improved bicycle system. We don't ride our bicycles very often these days but I imagine when both girls are a bit bigger, they will get more use. Until then, I need a way to store them where they are accessible but out of the way. Two garages ago, I bought some bike hooks that hang single bikes up parallel to the road. It didn't take up much floor space but took up lots of wall space. As we got more bicycles, it became a problem. When I first moved into this house, I bought hooks that allowed you to hook one tire into it and stored the bikes vertical to the wall. This used up less wall space but more floor space. This time around, I looked up to the ceiling. All the bikes can be raised and lowered individually by rope and pulley. The wall behind can still be used to store some tools and the floor underneath is also free. As you can see, I store my snow blower, hose reel, air compressor and numerous kids bikes, scooters and strollers. I really love how much better this area of the garage now functions.

This corner is still a work in process but it too is much improved. Before this was where my workbench and cabinet storage was. My problem with it was that when the vehicle was parked inside the garage like it was when I took this picture, it really limited the amount of space to actually do work at the bench. So I moved the workbench to the other wall and this wall became my work in process area. The table is the one I built and wrote about on this blog last winter. It can be moved out to the middle of the floor when building larger projects and is a nice solid surface that I can walk around and clamp all the way around. When not being used for that, I push it up against the wall and as you can see, it is a horizontal storage system for my current projects. Actually right now it is storing stuff that doesn't yet have a home.

In the corner is my scrap wood storage area. I can store a couple full sheets of plywood, an assortment of two-by material and scraps of hardwood from past projects. It comes in handy though I may move it sometime in the future to a rack built between the open garage door and the ceiling. I did that two garages ago and it worked well though I have to pull the car out to access the rack with a step ladder from time to time.

Finally I decided it was time to get rid of the old screw-a-2x4-to-the-wall-with-a-bunch-of-nails-to-hang-tools method. It wasn't very efficient and hard to change up if necessary. While walking through the home improvement store, I saw that you could buy a sheet of pegboard for $7 and the hooks for about the same price so I switched to the pegboard system. I bought two sheets and put one above this table and the other between my workbench and cabinets. I't still in the process of finding things to hang up on it so they look a bit under utilized right now but I assure you that will change.

Finally this mess is my new workbench. It is about 75% longer than my last work bench and I added two more overhead cabinets to the three I already own. Gone (actually recycled) was my old stand alone workbench that was completely open and didn't have a lot of room underneath to store things. This time around I had several things that I wanted to accomplish with this bench that my last bench didn't do. The first thing is that I wanted to build this bench around my large tools. So if you look closely to the left side of the bench, you can see that I built it around my tablesaw (it slides out when needed) and I built two large bays on the bottom to hold my planer and router table when not in used. The tall center bay hidden behind my chair holds my mortising jig when not in use. The two upper bays on the left side and all four bays on the right side will hold pullout drawers on full extension drawer slides which are whats in the two cardboard boxes on the left side of my bench. The one-by material on the floor is what I'm going to build the drawers with along with the sheet of plywood seen in the corner of the first picture. These drawers will replace the huge metal shelving unit that I nabbed from the scrap heap at work a decade ago. It had many deep bins but I was forever loosing things in the back recesses of them because they didn't pull out and they were always full of sawdust and dirt. One of my goals this time around was to reduce the open areas that can get filled with all the sawdust I create. All the openings underneath the workbench will be fully enclosed when I'm done and all the cabinetry will allow for dust free storage as well. Up above the cabinets I use that for stuff that I occasionally need and want within arms reach (if I stretch) without needing to go get a ladder. Because I had quite a bit of stuff that I use even less often but really don't want to get rid of just yet, I built the long shelf up near the ceiling for those things.

Right now I am doing some finish work on the garage door which we replaced and which I will do a post on later. I rewired it and have to do some touch up painting before I can grab pictures of it. Then I will get started on the workbench drawers next and hopefully get the workbench project wrapped up. Soon I promised to make some built in shelves for my parent's house and I need to get my tool organized before then.

Monday, October 13, 2014

That's the Way the Pie Crumbles

On one of the days that my body was healing, I decided to try something that I don't do often and am terrible at... make a pie. I love pie. Pie is a salve for the soul. I think after eating a piece of pie, anything in life will seem better. The problem is that I'm terrible at pies. I can make a good crust but the filling always ends up a soupy mess or the pie ends up looking thin and anemic. Sometimes the crust tastes good and is flaky on the edges but it it soft and doughy underneath. Other times it is perfect underneath but is burnt on the edges.

Last summer, my parents gave me several bags of apples from the trees we planted on their farm ten years ago the day after we got married. Instead of party favors, we planted fruit trees for an orchard. One of my wife's aunts were visiting at the time and spent a day cutting and slicing the apples into freezer bags along with some flour, sugar and cinnamon. The goal was that someday all I would have to do is to thaw them out, dump them in a crust and bake them into a pie.

One recent Saturday in between my home improvement shows that I watch, I caught a show by Martha Stewart on how to make a crumble topping fruit pie. I normally put pies between an lower and upper crust which might be why they always end up soupy so I thought this might be the cure for that. So I made the crumble to Martha's instructions, the lower crust to my normal recipe, added twice my normal filling to avoid an anemic pie and ended up with the best pie I have ever made. There is hope for me yet.

Friday, October 10, 2014


A couple days after moving the rock and allowing my body to heal, we went to the store to pick up our landscaping plants. Because we did all of the labor ourselves saving a good deal of money, we splurged a bit by getting some good plants. We avoided the big box store plants which we have always found to be stressed and full of disease and instead got them from a gardening/nursery store. They were more expensive but they came with a two year warranty and were beautiful specimens.

I picked up the plants after lunch and my wife and I began planting right away. Five hours later, we finished getting them all into the ground and could barely drag ourselves inside the house and into the shower. I think we both hurt for a couple days afterwards. You wouldn't think after moving 28 tons of rock and dirt that planting would be so hard on the body but it was. I guess it involved a different set of muscles. After the experience we had with our fruit trees, I didn't take any chances and sprayed all the plants down with deer repellent and will probably continue to do so the rest of the year to let them get established. Unlike the trees, I can't fence all this in.

We still need to plant the bulbs and mulch them but for the most part, our landscaping project it now complete. All I need to do is to water the grass that I planted on a daily basis until the ground freezes up and then rest until winter fades away into spring. I won't be sitting down though because I still have a garage to get fixed up, a siding project and possibly a basement remodeling project to keep me busy until spring. The list goes well on beyond that as all home improvement lists seem to but I won't bore you with those details until we get closer.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Rock 'n Roll

In the last post, I had just move 20 tons of dirt. In this post, I moved another 8 tons of river rock around to the hardscape portion of our landscape project. In the areas where you can still see dirt and landscape fabric, we'll cut away the fabric, plant with bulbs, annuals and other things that will probably change on a yearly basis and mulch with woodchips. It will hopefully be more manageable to keep weeded than the entire area.

Moving rocks sucks let me tell you. Because we didn't want to dump a load of rock on our nice dirt areas that we would have to pick out later, I had the guy back up his truck to the area inbetween the two beds, (and also to the area behind me when I was taking this picture) and dump the pile on the sidewalk. I could effectively rake the gravel about five feet out past the edge of the pile but after that, I had to go to shovel and wheelbarrow to get it distributed. It certainly wasn't as easy to scoop and move as loose sifted dirt was and my body was punished. I would scoop half a wheelbarrow full, rest a minute, scoop the other half, dump it, rest a minute, rake it, rest a minute and then go back for more. I ended up spending two half days working at it. I should note that when I took the above picture, all the rocks were covered in rock dust making them a uniform gray color. It has since rained and washed off the dust so that they appear multicolored like river rock does.

My new grass is starting to poke up in the first areas I planted. A lot has changed in the grass seed department of home improvement stores since the last time I was in that area. You could but grass seed in-bedded in mulch, grass seed mixed with mulch, grass seed with mulch and water absorption 'stuff' and grass seed labeled for planting in the spring, summer or fall. I've always just bought a bag of grass seed and sowed it into the ground without any troubles. So I declined to buy any seed with all that other crap and save my money for other things. At the time, the ten day forecast was mild and dry so I didn't have to worry about it washing away either. I sprinkled the fall mix grass seed that I bought, lightly raked it in, watered it once a day and about ten days later it looks like this. The rest of the grass seed I planted about five days later so it still has yet to germinate. I fertilized it all a bit even though it was planted on rich river bottom soil and I'll keep watering it from here until freeze time so that it can get some established roots. Hopefully by spring, it will be looking pretty good.

The nice thing about having two acres of land and being on the edge of city limits to the point that most people assume I don't live in city limits, is that I can get rid of burnable project debris pretty easily. In the bottom of my ravine, I toss all my sticks and yard debris that accumulates during the year. During the wetter spring and early summer months, it slows down the water so it doesn't wash the bottom of the ravine out so badly. In the fall, I burn it and this fall, I took the opportunity to sneak some scrap boards and wood products from my garage reorganization project on top. It doesn't end up in the landfill this way and the ashes fertilize my lawn. It also got the fire hot enough to burn up the old landscape shrubs that we ripped out and were still a bit green. Since everything is still green here, I was able to burn it a lot later than I normally would. I try to get it burned while things are still green so I don't have to worry about setting my lawn or nearby woods on fire. So after moving 28 tons of soil and rocks, it was nice to spend a few hours sitting on an oak stump watching my fire burn. I need to start building some proper fires in my fire pit now that it is starting to get cooler out. There is nothing more relaxing than sitting and watching a fire do its thing to wood.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Dishing the Dirt

As you can now tell once you opened this post, it was more shoveling than dishing. What you are looking at is 20 tons of black river bottom dirt that I shoveled and moved around be wheel barrow. As you can expect, my body is paying the price so I'm taking today off to write about it and to do a few other non-physical errands. The two plots of dirt along the front of the house are slated to be covered in landscape cloth followed by several inches of river rock. In that, we will plant some permanent vegetation for landscaping and also separate out a few areas (which will be mulched instead) where my wife can mix and match annuals and other things as her heart desires. I hate that landscape cloth but it since we only had clay underneath after we got done ripping out the old landscaping, I needed to backfill with some good soil so we can actually get plants to thrive there. The previous owners never did that step planting the plants right in the clay where they looked as tortured as they probably were. With all that soil now for weeds to grow in, I needed a barrier to help control them. The drawbacks for the landscape fabric is that people never put enough mulch on top so that it shows, catches in the wind and otherwise looks ugly. Also it makes it hard for people such as my wife who like to plant new things on a yearly basis. So by making defined areas where she can do that without the landscape fabric and containing it to stuff that will hopefully be planted just once, we found a compromise that will hopefully work out for us.

We opted to have someone who does this for a living quote out designing the layout and since the services were essentially free, we had them throw in quoting doing everything turnkey. (Technically it was $100 to have then do this but since we are buying the plants from them, they are taking that $100 off our purchase price.) The quote came back about what I expected, astronomically high. To back fill the soil into the beds, along the sidewalk and driveway and to see it down with grass would have cost us $2000. I had the soil delivered, spent a day and a half moving it around and seeding it down with grass seed for almost a fourth that price. Although not quite as good a deal, by doing the rest of the landscaping ourselves, we will save about two-thirds of what they wanted to do it. Since I don't really need any specialty tools other than a strong back and a shovel to do most of it, I opted to save the money for another project down the road where I may not have the required tools or ability.

The picture below gives you a good idea of the fill that was built up before they built the house. I'm guessing the corner of my garage that settled three inches, sits on about six feet of fill. I seeded parts of the backfill along the driveway a couple days ago after spreading out 4 tons of the dirt. Now that I got the other 16 tons spread, I need to go back and see the rest but I think I'll wait another day and let my back, arms, legs and shoulders heal just a bit.

Friday, October 3, 2014


I am forever removing wasp nests from the eaves of our house. I start in early summer and make a circuit about once a month with my tools of choice. I use a long eight feet chunk of wood with a putty knife clamped to the end. I then sneak up, scrape it off and run like hell. The wasps will fly around angrily for awhile and then spend the next day or two around the area where their former home was before flying off to someplace else. I can then pick up their old home off the ground and dispose of it. So when my oldest kept telling me there was a 'giant' wasp nest under the window by the corner of the deck, I nodded and said I would take care of it when I had time. About the fourth time she told me this she also asked if I wanted her to show me where it was. I finally said okay and she pointed out the nest seen above which I would classify as a small hornet nest. I'm not an expert on insect nests but I do know that the wasps we have around here generally build open umbrella shaped nests and yellow jackets build closed nests underground. Unfortunately this nest is within feet of my escape path inside so I'm going to leave it alone until hell freezes over for the hornet or as we humans say, winter has arrived.

While removing large rocks and debris from our sidewalk construction project to prepare for backfilling with dirt, I came across this spider. He frantically tried running away from me as I was hammering away the solidified chunks of concrete seen in the bottom left of the photo. Evidently he didn't think he was going to make it so decided to play dead. I didn't know spiders did that. He laid just like that while I hammered and removed the concrete chunks seen in this photo and then after I moved on, he must have moved on too. Again, I'm not a very good insect guy so I don't know what kind of spider it is. I just know that I hate them and this one is darn lucky I didn't squash him while I had the chance. But since he was outside of the house and I found his play dead strategy interesting, he was spared to continue life and hopefully chowing down on harmful landscape insects.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Looking Up

Don't look too closely but you can see that the dreaded popcorn ceiling is now gone and I have applied primer and two coats of ceiling paint. I had to repair a couple of seams and where the walls meet the ceiling in quite a few areas and the mudding job has a lot to be desired. More specifically it is the sanding of the mud that has a lot to be desired. I know my skill level with drywall and it isn't very good and I know for a room the size of this garage I could literally spend the next two weeks applying mud and sanding to get it looking perfect but at the end of the day it was just a garage so I let things slide a bit. I tried a different brand of mud than I normally have used and while it was drastically easier to apply making less sanding necessary, it was also super slow to dry. It took two days to dry compared to about half a day for the stuff I had been using. I think after I finish my bucket of mud, I will go back to the harder to apply stuff because I can start sanding a lot sooner.

I had two large four bulb fluorescent tube fixtures up near the front of the garage prior to rehabbing the garage. I liked them because they provided lots of light but as someone who likes to listen to radio, it was all but impossible with them on. The provided so much noise that if the garage lights were on, I couldn't listen to the radio anywhere in the house. Because the attic above the garage is fairly open and easy to get too, I decided to splurge and put in can lights to replace the fluorescent fixtures. I put in a row of three which you can see above so that it will be over my workbench area. I also put a bank of three heading the other way in front of the cars. They don't provide half the light that the fluorescent lights did but it is more vertical lighting which makes it better. With only two fluorescent fixtures, I was always trying to work in my shadow. The only drawback now is that I can and have left my lights on in the garage and I never know until I go back out there the next day whereas before, I would know as soon as my radio alarm clock went off to only static.