Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Filler Material

I'm still gone and this blog is on auto pilot but while uploading post pictures from my phone before I left, I came across this photo I took at our local nursery store and thought it would perfect for filler material. All year long, the store hands out 'store bucks' which works out to one dollar for every ten dollars spent. These bucks can only be spent during the month of December which is their way of getting people into the door during their slowest time of the year. While my wife was off planning on how to spend all her store bucks that we got during our recent landscape projects, I happened to notice the rack of seeds along the wall. From afar, I was amazed at how many seeds they had on display but when I got closer, I noticed they were out of stock on many of them. Then I noticed the cardboard filler blocks that they stick in the display cases that makes it look like there is a stack of seed packets behind the actual seed packets when there isn't. It seems like a lot of work but then, I guess from a distance I fell for it so perhaps it does work psychologically.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Missing In Action

Dear Reader,

As has become a family tradition of sorts, I have slipped down south to the Gulf Coast for a week with my family. My aging grandparents have given up traveling north during the summers to visit with us so now we travel down south to visit with them and catch a handful of relaxing days sitting on the beach watching the waves. As such, I tend to forgo blogging and reading blogs while concentrating on watching sunsets and sipping cold beer. Rest assured I will catch up on everyone's blog upon my return.

I wish all my blogger readers and friends a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!


Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Drywalled... Well Sort of

I've made it known several times before that drywalling is my least favorite part of home remodeling projects. But as I hung the sheet rock up onto the walls, I thought that I should clarify it a bit. Mudding and sanding the drywall which is the next step in my project, is my least favorite job. The actual hanging of the drywall is a fairly straightforward and easy one person job (for walls) and I don't mind doing it. Pretty much all I need is a 4 feet straightedge, a tape measure, pencil and a utility knife. For cutting out around electrical boxes and such, a jab saw is effective and I have one but I also have an oscillating tool that makes quick work too. Since I am doing a false ceiling that will cover up about 7/8 of a inch of the top edge of the drywall, I started with the bottom layer. Once it is attached to the wall, it gives me a 1/2 inch lip to set the top sheet in place and help hold it until I get a screw in place. If you are drywalling the ceiling which should be done first, the joint between the ceiling and the wall becomes more critical and then the top sheet should be hung first which is harder to do with one person but is doable.

Now that I got it all up, I have to put on the corner beads on the inside corners around the room. This helps strengthen that joint and prevent future cracking. I will also be putting an outside corner bead on the overhead bulkhead to prevent damage from hitting it with objects in the future. After that, it is just taping and mudding all the seams and mudding over all the screws. Then comes the dreaded sanding.

Since my incoming internet connection is in this room and I need to maintain an office of sorts to get work done, dealing with the dust is a huge issue. I end up shutting everything down so that dust isn't pulled into the electronics and then covering everything with plastic while I'm working. After the dust has been cleaned up, I then have to undo everything to use the computer or to have a phone or internet connection. I'm just glad it isn't everyday that I have to do this.

Once the sanding has been complete, it is paint time followed by the finish carpentry which will include a custom built desk, murphy bed, closet and shelving. Enough to keep me busy for awhile. I also have to install the ceiling and trim work. But progress has been ahead of schedule at least in my mind and not that of my wife, so I'm happy even if she wishes it would be done sooner.

Monday, December 21, 2015


It took me a couple days but I finally finished rewiring the office/exercise room/spare bedroom. It wasn't without it's challenges. Recapping the problems, there weren't enough outlets of of the three that I had, only one of them worked. None of the three outlets appeared to be screwed to a stud so when you pushed a plug into the receptacle, you had to be careful not to dislodge the entire works. After rewiring everything, I now have three double outlets underneath what will be my custom built desk and four other single gang outlets around the room, all working and all firmly attached to studs.

The two that weren't working was due to a shorted wire because someone pushing a plug into a loose receptacle had pushed too hard and the contact had hit the side of the metal box. That particular wire led to the other two receptacles. Now I have plastic boxes so that should never happen again and as I stated, they are firmly attached so one doesn't have to worry about pushing too hard.

Being thrifty, when I put in the new can lights, I salvaged the wire from the old lights to reuse. I noticed it was 14 gauge wire which is good for 15 amp service to the room which is fairly common in older homes. So I reused it in a number of places wiring up the outlets. However, when I went to hook my new outlets to the incoming power, I noticed that the incoming wire was 12 gauge which is rated for 20 amp service and is common to most newer homes. You can use 12 gauge wire with 15 amp service but you cannot use 14 gauge wire with 20 amp service. Confused, I went to check my service panel and saw that all my breakers were 20 amps which means I had to use only 12 gauge wire. This meant that whomever wired up the house initially didn't follow code and it meant that I had to rewire half the room using the correct gauge wire which I did.

Being that this room is a working office, I have my internet connections and phone connections to also deal with. Up until now, they have just came from cords fed through a hole in the ceiling which doesn't look very professional. So I added a couple junction boxes that will sit above the surface of the desk which I can just plug into and all the wires will be hidden behind the wall. The phone caused me a bit of panic when I wired it up and initially got no dial tone. I undid it and redid it back the way it had been and still had no dial tone. Thoughts of having to contact my phone provider and set up an appointment for some day weeks away and between the hours of 8 and 12 or 1 and 5 were dancing in my head when it occurred to me that I got my phone service through my internet provider which came to a box on my old desk. I plugged the phone line from that box into my wall jack (from where I had left it unplugged on the floor when moving the line to the other side of the room) and suddenly my phones came to life once again. The only drawback is that I only have a single jack so I now have no place to plug in my office phone. So it is one more trip to the hardware store to get a double phone jack so I can have both.

Although we don't have a television in our office, I am wiring it up for one in the future since it would be nice to have while riding an exercise bike or lifting weights on those blustery winter days when it isn't fit to go outside. I'm planning for a wall mount television so before I put up drywall, I am wiring an inset outlet on the wall for power and HDMI cable so that I can put a flat mount screen over it and there won't be a single visible cable. The box that trims all that out doesn't attached to studs and just clamps onto the drywall so until I get it up and wired, I capped the electrical wires so I didn't accidentally shock myself.

The drywall has been ordered and I'm getting it delivered to save me three trips to the hardware store trying to load the stuff myself. Until then, I will be adding insulation to the concrete walls, a vapor barrier and of course, wiring up a double phone jack. Then it will be doing the thing I hate most about home remodeling, drywalling, specifically the mudding and sanding part.

Friday, December 18, 2015


Four years ago, I had never soldered a pipe in my life. My previous house had PVC which is pretty easy to work with as far as plumbing goes. This one had copper and in the years since we purchased it, I've gotten fairly adept at soldering, mostly because of things like what you see above that makes me scratch my head.

The pipe above leads out to a water spigot in our garage. I never used it much until I bought a pressure washer to use around the cars and the house and now I use it quite often. However it had two problems. The first problem was that after I tore out the garage floor (along with driveway and sidewalks) and got them repoured so that they sloped the correct ways, the spigot ended up close to the floor. This meant that I had to really force a good quality (and thus stiff) hose to get it screwed onto the spigot. The second problem was that the screws attaching the spigot to the garage wall apparently had nothing to bite into to hold it in place. I couldn't figure out why until I removed the ceiling in our office and saw the above. Harder to see but because there were no screws holding the spigot in place, it was bent downwards which angled the spout part close to the wall in the garage making it even more difficult to attach a hose to it.

Apparently from the evidence at hand, someone didn't have a drill bit big enough for 1/2" copper piping so they did the old drill four holes and connect the holes with a jigsaw trick. The only problem is that there wasn't anything left to screw too to hold the spigot firmly in place. So they put a scrap piece of fiber sheathing which is like compressed insulation over the hole and screwed into that which of course didn't hold for more than a couple uses.

Above are the tools of the trade, probably about $75 worth of stuff if you include the several bags of copper fittings I have out in the garage. These tools have saved me probably 10 times that amount by allowing me to fix things myself instead of having to hire something done. The copper pipe assembly is something I soldered up ahead of time so I didn't have to spend much time doing so in the narrow confines of the half stud bay where the pipe was located.

Since I had to move the spigot anyway to a new location where there was some wood left to screw into, I moved it closer to the center of the garage where it would be more useful. It also allowed me to salvage about four feet of copper pipe to use on a later project so technically, I saved money by fixing this if you don't count my labor. Above is the new solidly mounted pipe.

Finally here is a picture of a messy garage floor and baseboard showing the old spigot on the right and the new spigot on the left. After taking this picture I removed the old spigot completely and after screwing a piece of scrap across the hole on the inside, foamed the hole on the outside. Sometime in the spring, I will trim the foam flush, spackle over it and nobody will be the wiser, unless they happen to remove the ceiling and look up in the joist bay of the office.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Doing It Right the Second Time

I fully understand that someday someone might look at some of my work and wonder why in the heck I did it that way. I know I often ponder why a previous occupant to my homes have done things the way there were done. Case in point is the light switch above in the office remodel project I am working on.

Since I have lived here, I have had to reach around a corner and feel for the light switch where it had been previously located in the metal box on the right. I always assumed that perhaps there was a support post in the stud cavity right beside the door that prevented them from putting it in the 'normal' spot. However when I removed the drywall, there was nothing in that cavity but insulation. The other thing I pondered about the old light switch is that they installed the box so that it protruded beyond the drywall a half inch. So when you were feeling for the switch, you inevitably got your fingers caught behind the cover and the drywall first.

So I decided to fix both of those problems by installing a new switch and rerouting the wires. However they were too short to reach the new switch and didn't have enough slack in the line to stretch them so I ended up having to put in a junction box and splicing some extra wire to reach. Someday in the future when I've moved on, someone will pull off the drywall and see my junction box and wonder why I just didn't make the wire long enough to begin with!

Below is a picture showing the lighting situation. Since there are no windows in this room, it needs good lighting so that you don't feel like you are living in a cave. Whomever did it the first time only put in three can lights which weren't adequate due to the low ceilings. You end up with three cones of light with darkness inbetween. So I installed nine smaller can lights that are more equally spaced throughout the room. The three unlit large can lights will be removed and probably repurposed in some way. The new ones all use LED bulbs and will use less wattage in total than one of the old much larger lights.

Since I'm putting removable ceiling tiles on the ceiling of this room, I had to do some head scratching to figure out where to put all my new lights so that they end up more or less in the center of a whole ceiling tile and not in the middle of the track supporting them. I will see if my head scratching paid off but not for awhile down the road. They are adjustable in one direction and I can always pull the nails and move them in the other direction if I have too because unlike others before me, I left some slack in the wire just in case.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Happiness Is a Warm Gun

Nail gun with left to right an unfired nail, one that has been fired into the concrete and a single charge.

I'm not a gun fanatic by any stretch of the imagination but I did find happiness with the still warm gun you see above. Let me explain. I have done lots of remodeling over the years and that has involved anchoring walls on top of freshly poured concrete that had j-bolts in place to hold the wall to the concrete. However, I have never had to attach a new wall to existing concrete. But when I was contemplating adding two new stud walls to the bare concrete walls of my office/exercise room/spare bedroom, I wasn't sure how I was going to anchor the base of those walls to the concrete. I thought about using concrete anchor bolts that I would have to drill but I would have to beg/borrow/steal/rent a drill capable of doing that and the concrete bolts are fairly pricey and overkill since this wall will see absolutely no shear loading what so ever. Or I could get a ramset gun you see above which essentially harnesses the energy of a specially made bullet to 'fire' a spike into the concrete. I've never used one before so there was the unknown factor.

After reading many reviews and videos on the subject, I opted to go the latter route and with my walls studded and plumbed, the time had come to crap or get off the pot - so to speak. It was pretty straightforward to use and I must say I was expecting a sound similar to firing a real gun in an enclosed space so I made sure to have hearing and vision protection on. You stick the nail up into the end of the barrel and load a single powder cartridge into the chamber. With it loaded, I just pressed it against the treated bottom plate to depress the safety and pulled the trigger. Although definitely loud enough to warrant ear protection, it wasn't nearly as loud as a real gun would have been. The recoil was first and I definitely wanted to use my body weight to hold it down especially since I had to use the highest charged cartridge to seat the nails in 40+ year old concrete. Five minutes later, the job was completed and I'm ready to start digging into the electrical work. But as I held the still warm gun and contemplated the alternatives, I was happy to have firmly anchored walls and couldn't help but think that I knew what John Lennon was thinking.

Friday, December 11, 2015


This past weekend, I was gathering up a few things for our small trip. Among them was a sheet a plastic, some rope and a pair of leather gloves. After I tossed them into the back of our very dirty van, I felt somewhat conspicuous with the items I needed and wondered what a police officer might think if he searched us for some reason. Would he believe we were just going to find a Christmas tree.

We've always had real trees as our Christmas tree every year and thus far in my life, I have paid exactly zero dollars for all of them added together. I am fortunate in that I have a couple thousand acres to hunt for a tree that might be used for our Christmas tree and even though we spend time cutting them down to prevent them from encroaching on farm-able land, they are renewing at a faster pace than our usage of them.

In over four decades of doing this, I have always chosen a red cedar tree though most people might frown on them as being a trash tree. They are often brown this time of the year but if you dump a bottle of green food coloring in the first water you give it after cutting, it greens up nicely. It also smells absolutely fantastic in the house. This year, we didn't get a red cedar for the first time.

The first place we stopped to look for them had several red cedar trees but all but one were unsuitable for Christmas trees and the one that was, was too big for the location we place it in our house. My parents opted to take that one which left us with the decision of going to someplace else to look for one or to take a perfectly shaped and sized white pine growing three feet away. It had sprung up from seeds from some nearby larger white pine trees that I helped plant 26 years ago. Compared to the red cedar, it is not as thickly branched in the middle but it still made a nice tree. Best of all, we could start decorating it right away instead of waiting a day like we do with the red cedars so that their needles soften up after we water them.

Officer, I was just planning on killing it in a ditch and then putting the body on display in my front window!

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Back In the Remodeling Saddle

If you recall, one of the last cold days we had this year, my wife asked if we could start tearing apart the office. I had wanted to just wait until this winter to start but because I love my wife, I said sure and we dug in. We got about three fourths of it gutted and then it was warm enough to devote our energy elsewhere, namely outside. It is amazing what you can get used to but getting used to a mostly demo'd room was pretty easy.

Time waits for no man and with my brother-in-law and family arriving for an extended stay in just six months and colder weather arriving, it was time to start in again on the project. I finally finished the rest of the gut job on the part drywall/part wood paneled walls along with the carpet and linoleum tile on the floor. What you see above is me standing in the doorway to this room and using the panorama feature on my phone to see most of all four walls. My least favorite part of home remodeling has been completed and now it is time to start putting things back together.

On my immediate list to do is to replumb a garden spigot that leads out to my garage which is the right wall in the above picture. The garden spigot is too close to my new garage floor to attach a garden hose without kinking it. Also, the line going to it hangs down below the joist bay since the old ceiling hung six inches below it. My new ceiling will be attached directly to the joist bay so I have to move the water line up a few inches.

The entire room had three can lights. The old can lights were six inch versions so the effect was having three high power beams pointing downward and yet didn't really adequately light the room. Since it is going to be an office as well as a winter exercise room besides an overflow bedroom, I want to improve the lighting a bit. I'm opting for smaller can lights but more of them.

There are three outlets in the entire room and only two of them worked. The third which I just recently uncovered, had no wire to it for reasons I don't know. By modern standards, it isn't enough for a bedroom much less a working office so I need to install lots more outlets.

The two concrete walls are essentially outside walls though the one on the right is below my garage floor. I initially thought I would install closed cell foam panels up for insulation and with some wood lathe, make some runs so I could install some electrical outlets on those two sides which currently have none. However, my plan calls for a Murphy Bed that folds up out of the way 99% of the time when we don't need it and I thought it needed more to anchor it than just construction adhesive. So in the end, though I'm giving up some precious space, I think I am going to stud both walls floor to ceiling. I can add some insulation and a vapor barrier to make the room warmer this way as well.

Above is how it looked before. This area which coincides with the left side of the top photo will be a built in office desk and storage cabinets.

This picture is how it looked on the other half of the room and coincides with the right side of the top photo. Gone are the horrible looking closets. Where the left closet was will be the new Murphy bed and where the right closet was will be some shelving and perhaps a really small closet for guests.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Steel Creek

There is only so much turkey you can look at when in a tiny cabin with ten people so despite the rain falling on the day after Thanksgiving, we drove down the mountain to do a hike in the rain. Along the way, we saw the local elk population making a presence. When I first started going down here, there were no elk. However, about fifteen or twenty years ago, elk were reintroduced to this part of the world and they have thrived to the point that there is now a small limited hunting season on them. Although there is a fence seen above, they aren't fenced in and are allowed to freely roam the Buffalo River valley. I think the fence was just put there to prevent people from driving out into the grassy area and destroying things.

I walked up to the fence for this picture but by then, they had moved about halfway across the open area to keep some distance between us. I can't blame them but that is the reason for the poor quality of the photo since the only 'camera' I had with me was my phone.

Due to the rain falling, we had the whole trail all to ourselves and the fungi above.

The trail we were hiking was a short trail from the low water bridge mentioned in a previous post to a drainage two miles away called Steel Creek that runs into the Buffalo River seen above. The bluffs this high on the river aren't nearly as tall as the ones further down closer to Big Bluff also mentioned in a previous post. Despite their diminutive size, the bluffs and the river are still very beautiful making this a classic hike.

Along the way, we cross many little side creeks that have worn the rock into a series of steps all the way down to the river. I have paddled on the river before after a rain and it is quite beautiful seeing all these streams of water cascading off the cliffs into the river.

I found this a nice example of how trees can grow in literal cracks of the cliff face. This one grew quite large in the crack before its weight peeled the rock above it allowing it to fall backwards.

Anther fungi loving the wet atmosphere. Our youngest daughter is only three and it really isn't financially prudent to invest a lot in hiking clothes for all contingencies of weather and so she didn't have any rain gear on for this hike. Since we were carrying her with a backpack most of the way, we thought she would be okay for awhile. However after a mile, she was getting wet to her core (though she never complained) so my wife, mother-in-law and I turned back and hiked back to the car while the rest continued on to Steel Creek before turning back. By the time we did get back, my littlest was starting to shiver so I'm glad we did head back when we did. The rest of the day, we all crammed into the cabin playing games and eating leftovers. The following day we headed back to civilization a day early since it was forecasted (and did) rain all day and we didn't think we could hack another full day in a small cabin. As has previously been the case, my two daughters are able to enjoy our outdoor pursuits more and more as they get older and we can start doing these things more often again. I definitely don't want to let another eleven years slip by before going back here again.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Walking a Goat Trail

Thanksgiving day dawned with a light mist falling for awhile and then pausing while a thick bank of fog moved in. Later in the evening, the rain began falling and would continue for the rest of our stay non-stop. In fact, it was forecasted to be raining three days after we left for home. But since there was a pause, we took advantage and hiked down the mountain to what if referred to as Big Bluff. The Buffalo River seen below has carved out a sheer bluff of rock with a small indentation about 2/3rds up the face or about 300 vertical feet above the river. This small indentation seen above is called the Goat Trail I assume because only goats would feel comfortable walking across it. In most places, there are some scrub pine trees clinging to the edge that would in theory stop someone falling from the trail but in other areas, there is nothing but air between you and the river 300 feet below.

Over the years I have written lots of blog posts on this place and how special it is to me. Every time I always take pictures trying to get a unique view that I haven't photographed before. This time was more challenging since the scrub pines that were only a foot tall when I first walked the goat trail more than 30 years ago are now quite tall and somewhat blocking the view. I'm not sure what caused them to be so short 30 years ago but the only two theories we could come up with was that they were wipes out by a giant rock slide years earlier or that the cedars have just invaded the area in recent decades after being introduced somehow.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Indian Creek Descent

Indian Creek flows into the Buffalo river and is an extremely steep side canyon that is beautiful to those able to hike it. Most of the traffic is sees is from the bottom end of it near the river where people hike up from a nearby primitive campground. It is for tent camping only not because you are prohibited from bring your pull behind camper, but because it is perhaps suicidal to try pulling one down the steep switch backed narrow dirt road down the mountainside. We prefer to leave a vehicle in the campground and drive another one back to the top of the mountain and start from the top, thus making our hike one way, down. Although you can hike it all the way to the top from the bottom, it is much much harder physically and there are a few spots where you have to free climb some small cliffs where we simply rope down going the other way.

The first part of the descent down into Indian Creek involves hiking down the side of the canyon trying to find ways around areas where a waterfall has formed. Eventually, we end up right in the creek bed itself hopping from one boulder to another which sounds easy but can be quite difficult when they are the size of large SUVs. Although not half way, we always stop for lunch at the rock formation seen above and known as the Eye of the Needle. It is a spot where the creek has burrowed through a solid rock wall leaving a large eye. If one had the time and the gear, you could descend through the eye but we usually go the up and over route, stopping to eat lunch and enjoy the view on the top of the 'needle.' The picture above makes it look impossible to get up but in reality, it is a steep scramble but doable without fear of falling 50 feet to a nasty death.

Here is a picture of a witch hazel tree growing on top of the 'needle' to enjoy with our lunch. Although the ground in the background looks fairly close, it is across a chasm that can't be jumped and is a long ways down should you not quite make it.

This is a view of the Eye of the Needle from the backside or downstream side. You can see that there is a bit more real estate up on top than it looked from the previous picture.

Downstream, the next feature to see is the horseshoe bat cave. I have hiked in this entrance and come out another entrance downstream once before but will never do that again. The hike through the cave is only about 150 yards long but involves a lot of boulder hopping to stay out of moving water. The time I made the traverse through the cave, three of our four flashlights failed and the fourth was failing by the time we made it to the downstream exit. We then had to descend out of the mouth 40 feet up the face of a cliff on wet moss covered rocks without climbing gear. It was extremely sketchy but we all survived intact. It is really a moot point anyway these days as the cave is close all year round to protect the bats who are now on the endangered species list due to white nose disease.

It you don't traverse through the bat cave, or repel over a 50 foot vertical waterfall, your only option for continuing on downstream it to hike up and through another cave on the opposite side of the canyon. Unlike the other one which is 150 yards long through narrow tunnels, this one is just a few yards through a narrow tunnel and then opens up into a large opening seen above. My brother seen in this photo has just exited the narrow portion and has to follow the path towards me to get down to the cave floor and a steep descent down to the creek. Right at the edge of the creek there is a ten foot cliff that must be navigated. Since my daughter and two nieces were attempting this for their first time and most of the other women folk with us are short in stature, we rigged up some climbing gear to get them down safely. My brother and I are tall enough that we can lower ourselves onto a ledge halfway down by holding onto a tree and then using the roots of the same tree, lower ourselves down the rest of the way.

Once below that there is a section of the creek where we must stay above a band of cliffs to descend further. It is quite heart pounding because one must literally walk within inches of a vertical 50 to 80 feet drop for a distance of about 40 feet at one point. However, the whole trip above the cliff is within a good stumble of a free fall for about an eighth of a mile. Once down to the creek from that, we follow the creek bed for the last mile (of the two mile long entire journey) which looks like this but turns into a more defined trail the closer we get to the Buffalo River. I have done this descent probably a dozen times and I enjoy it tremendously every time though I did notice that I just don't feel nearly as flexible as I used to be when going down the creek. The last time I went down was on my honeymoon with my wife eleven years ago. But my parents are getting up there in age and though they are models of human fitness, they still can make it so there is hope for me to make some more journeys down before my time on this earth ends.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Beaver Jim's

Buffalo River above the low water bridge near Ponca

Long time readers will remember that my parents own land adjacent to the Buffalo River National Park in NW Arkansas and I've spent a significant portion of my life down there over the last 35 plus years. We started out boating the magnificent river but soon expanded to mountain biking and my favorite, hiking. The million plus acres of land has hundreds of miles of trails and I can easily lose myself in the beauty.

So when my wife found out that this year she could have Thanksgiving week off, we decided to spend the week hiking in the park with my brother and his family and our parents. Due to obligations, we couldn't leave until Tuesday morning and were leaving knowing that a significant rain storm was approaching the area. So when we arrived late in the afternoon on Tuesday and the sun which was forecasted to disappear the rest of our trip was still shining brightly, we opted to drive straight down to the river for a couple hours to stretch our legs before heading back up the mountain to the cabin.

Buffalo River above the low water bridge near Ponca

As you can probably guess, the river level at the low water bridge was shallow and not easily float-able. The Buffalo is definitely float-able during periods of high water which is mostly limited to spring runoff. I have often set off in a canoe or kayak at the low water bridge and spent the day floating the river beneath huge sheer mountain bluffs.

Beaver Jim Villines barn

Across the river and up on high ground is the old homestead of Beaver Jim Villines. He is one of the first settlers to this area and his relatives, judging from the number of Villines names on mailboxes, still hold much of the surrounding area not in the park. The park itself was formed around the Buffalo River in 1972 and was the first river declared Wild and Scenic in the United States. It is also one of the few deep canyon rivers in the lower 48 without a dam. After the park was formed, current inhabitants were allowed to live there until dying but then their land was reverted to park land. As a result, many old structures of the previous inhabitants are found throughout the park though they are disappearing rapidly to nature and only those preserved by the park have signs of remaining behind for a significant amount of time.

Barn siding

The chinking in the barn logs has long since disappeared and walking around the barn, it was obvious that they used the best logs for the house construction.

House of Beaver Jim Villine
I'm sure this house was occupied in 1972 when the park was formed but it was built much earlier in the century if not the century before. Life in these remote parts of the world were much tougher.

Beaver Jim's kitchen
The forecast before we came down said that the following day would be cloudy with rain moving in on Thanksgiving day and sticking around until after we left to go home on Saturday. With that in mind, we soaked up the sun and let the kids burn off excess energy from the eight hour car ride before driving back up the mountain to the cabin that we would call home the rest of the week.

View back towards the Buffalo River from Beaver Jim's house

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Murphy's Law Applies To Smoking Turkeys

 Anything that can go wrong will go wrong. I proved it as we were preparing for our trip by smoking a couple turkeys in advance. It just seemed much easier than hauling a smoker all the way down to the Ozark Mountains and wasting an entire day that could be spent hiking or boating keeping the smoker going. So on the morning I had set aside to smoke the turkeys, I opened my eyes and noticed that the light coming in the bedroom window was much too bright. It was reflecting off something bright. A look out the window confirmed that there was six inches of snow on the ground.

So I cleared the driveway and smoking area on the deck to prepare for my day. I knew I had not enough propane to completely smoke the turkeys but wanting to get all the goodie out of my propane tank, I was just going to run the smoker until the propane ran out, drive to the grocery store to exchange the tank and continue on with the process. I hooked the nearly empty propane tank up but due to the cold weather and little volume left, I couldn't get the smoker to light. So I decided I would sacrifice some gas and go get the refill right then and there.

At the store, I paid for the exchange along with a few Thankgivingish groceries and went outside to exchange my tank. The clerk struggled for 15 minutes with the lock and finally gave up saying they would have to refund my money and I would have to get it somewhere else. He was working with an extremely heavy set of wool gloves on his hands and didn't really seem to know what he was doing so I asked if I could try. I certainly didn't want to drive clear across town to the big box store no doubt packed with weekend before Thanksgiving shoppers to make an exchange. I breathed some hot breath onto the lock and found that the slot he was trying to insert his key was actually a groove for a protective slide that covered the actual lock. Less than a minute after I took a stab at the lock, I had it unlocked and was carrying my now full tank back to my car.

Back home I hooked up the tank and lit the smoker. I could hear gas leaking out from around the coupling you see above at the top of this post. I gave it a slight twist to tighten it and that is when it shattered into a dozen fine cracks with gas now hissing out at a good clip. I may have said a few words not of good cheer at this point. I gave up and went into tell my wife that there would be no smoked turkey this year but she asked if I could get a replacement. I told her definitely not. But then I wondered and went out and looked at the issue again. I found that I could get a socket and twist off the metal part of the coupling to free the broken plastic part. Now all I had to do was find a replacement broken plastic part which I thought would be impossible short of the internet and some time which I didn't have.

Never the less, I drove down to the local mom and pop hardware store which I figured was my best chance over the big box stores which probably only sold entire smokers. The mom and pop hardware store had the whole assembly including regulator and hose which I didn't need and it was $20, but the coupling was there and would work. When I got my purchase home, now $40 in the hole for a new tank of gas and new coupling, I tried to get the metal part off the new one using a socket like I had used on my old one but it was some sort of specialty fitting which I didn't have anything to fit on. Again, some more non cheer filled words followed by some head scratching and then I got the hacksaw and just cut the fitting right off at the threads next to the regulator rendering it completely useless for the rest of its life. But I was able to get the coupler off and a few moments later it was installed and my smoker was at last working without leaks.

As you read this, I'm off hiking in the mountains somewhere but write after I wrote this before leaving on our vacation, I made a mental note to make sure I have batteries for my flashlight because after taking all this time to get the smoker up and running, it is going to be a late night. I hope you all had a happy Thanksgiving and I hope it was full of cheerful words!

Monday, November 23, 2015


We spent a Saturday afternoon recently down on the farm celebrating the birthday of my dad and my youngest daughter who were both born on the same day. On the way back home, it was overcast and cooling off due to a front moving in but we decided to pull over at a local park and walk off some of the cake and ice cream. This is my second time to the park and like the first, everywhere I looked felt like a photo opportunity. Perhaps it is just being out in nature that makes me feel that way. I definitely know that I tend to shy away from taking (or being in) pictures with people in them. I am always more interested in a picture of the landscape sans people.

Speaking of landscapes, we decided to head south for Thanksgiving this year and spend it hiking, boating and perhaps a little turkey eating in the Ozark Mountains of Northwest Arkansas. I'm sure I will have some stories to tell everyone when I get back. Until then, hope you all have a great day on Thursday with friends and family.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Building a Flatware Chest

Well I finished my project which as you can see is a flatware chest. As a brief recap for those of you new to my blog, a few months ago my wife and I were invited to a formal dinning group where about once a year, we entertain four other couples in our home and fix a formal meal. My wife and I being fiscally conservative people, have been eating off the same chipped and well used plates we got when we were first married and our flatware were all garage sale/auctions specials that we have picked up over the years. Definitely not up to snuff for such an occasion not to mention, I don't even think we had enough to set a ten place setting without resorting to plastic.

Now it is easy to shell out a lot of money of flatware, especially if you get the real silver kind but it made no sense to us. So we picked out a economical stainless set that looks nice but didn't break the bank. Unfortunately we didn't have any place to store them except in the cardboard box they came in. I got to thinking that I could make a box to store them in and make them look much finer than they actually are all in one go. So I built a flatware chest. There weren't any plans for flatware chests that I could find online but I did find a nice looking humidor/jewelry chest plans that I thought I could scale up and refine for my needs. It was also a different style of building small boxes than I have done in the past. Most of mine have been using dovetail or rabbit joinery. This one involved using mitered corners and splines along with veneer for the top surface which I have never used before. Although the process for building the box took a lot more time, I think it ended up nice and it is definitely a style I will attempt again someday when a need for a box arises.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Fall Potpourri

Fall is definitely leaving for more southern reaches and though I am sad to see it go, we've had a good run this year. It seemed as if we are well into our third month of cool night time temperatures and pleasant daytime temperatures. We had a dry start to fall which put a damper on the leaf color which wasn't as good this year as it can be. It was still nice.

My old cellphone was disappointingly wearing out. For some reason, it didn't last as long as the one I had before it. The buttons were not functioning properly some of the time, there were large dead spots on the touch screen and the battery life was a matter of hours with light use instead of the days long with heavy use that it was in the beginning. All those I was able to live with but it got to wear it was extremely hard to charge. The plug would go in and as long as I pushed it to apply some pressure it would charge but when I let go, it would stop charging. Not wanting to stand there for several hours holding the cable while my phone charged, I would futz with it for several minutes until I got it to charge without me holding it. However, anyone who walked by and bumped the table where we charge our gadgets would disrupt my charging zen and I would come back a couple hours later to get my fully charged phone only to find it with less charge than when I started. So I cringed and bought a new phone. The above picture is the first one I took to check the new and improved camera functionality of it.

It was fairly breezy that day so all the leaves are a bit blurry but it did a good job for being a panoramic photo. As you can see, I'm not big on raking my yard. For starters, I like the free fertilizer and try to mulch them in as much as possible. Secondly, I have a lot of oak trees which hang onto their leaves well into winter and even on into spring so it is a never winning project. Finally, since we live in southern Iowa, are major snow periods are January and February. In November and December, we typically don't get much snow but do get winter winds. Just a few nights ago, we got some 50 and 60 mph winter winds whipping through the area so all my leaves were replaced by those from somewhere upwind of me. It couldn't help but snicker at those that have been out raking leaves for the last two weeks to make their lawns look immaculate. Not only is it time consuming, but they have to pay to buy bags to put their leaves in to get hauled to the recycling center where it is turned into mulch. Now after the wind, they have to pay and redo all that labor to do it again, all so their lawn looks "clean" until it is covered in snow... or the next wind storm undoes it again.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Wrapping up the Details

It's been busy month and if the past is any indication, it's only going to get busier from here until next year. Still I manage to find some time here and there to fuss over the details of my box project that I'm building. Although it is probably pretty obvious with this post what it will be for, the glue is still drying and I need a post, so I will show you pictures of it before I put the contents into it. Once that happens, I can do one final post.

The above picture shows the finish on the outside which I chose to go with a darker color even though it doesn't make the accent inlays stand out as much. I think it just gives it or more antique feeling that I seem to like in most of my projects.

Below shows the inside of the project. This was by far the most time consuming part of the project. I made an inside liner for the box that was rabbited to hold a tray that can slide back and forth or be removed completely along with with some customized pieces in each part for the end function of the box. I used some new type of hardware that I haven't used before to keep the outside of the box completely barren of accessories. The hinges are concealed barrel hinges, one of which you can see on the right side of the box. When they came, their diminutive size had me worried but after installing them, they see big enough though I wouldn't make a box any bigger and still use them. I also used an inset lid stop to keep the lid from falling over backwards.

I lined everything in black felt which was actually harder than I thought to find. After stopping in at the local fabric store, I was unable to locate any and the only other possibility was a trip to the urban jungle or the local super Walmart, neither very appealing to me so I took a gamble and ordered some from online. I ended up selecting some that was labeled as black velvet upholstery hoping that it would be fairly heavy in weight and it was which made it perfect.

I still have to attach the leather bottom to the project and then fill it with the intended items and it will be done. Next up I need to get cracking on the office/spare bedroom remodeling project because June and my brother-in-law will be here before I know it.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Meeting of the Bogleheads

I became a Boglehead about five years ago when I read the book Boglehead Guide to Investing. It was definitely an epiphany kind of experience. I had always known that there was something more to investing that I was missing. After all, stories of Wallstreet managers getting rich are numerous and stories of suburb investors aren't. The Boglehead Guide to Investing explained why Wallstreet was getting rich and also showed that we as investors didn't have to help them if we wanted to keep the money ourselves. I did want to keep the money myself and so I have over these last five years.

For those who haven't read my past posts on this subject, a brief recap is as follows. I began my investing career as most do by investing in my companies 401k plans. They always did okay during great times and spectacularly bad during bad times. They never seemed to do as well as the market. Then I realized that the big factor was the limiting number of funds that I had to choose from, many of which were heavily weighted in very volatile categories like Real Estate or Technology. I then hired a financial adviser whom I had to pay extra money off the top to manage my retirement accounts. He balanced my funds so that they weren't so volatile during volatile times but as before, they just never seemed to grow as fast as the market was growing in good times but kept pace with the market when it was plunging. This just didn't seem right to me.

That is why I started searching for the answer which I found in John Bogles argument. There are two main reasons why my retirement investments didn't go up as much as the market. The biggest reason was because I was relying on fund managers and financial advisers to predict the future of the market and that is statistically impossible. In any given year, 80% of them do worse than the market. But what about the 20% that do? Bogle then laid out the second reason which is that hidden and non-hidden management fees eat up the investment return making those Wallstreet cats rich. Of those 20% who beat the market in returns, 75% of them don't if you deduct out all the management fees. So of the original 100% he studied, only 5% of all investment managers beat the market that year. Now if you compare the 5% who did year to year for performance, exactly 0% of all investment managers beat the market over the long term. So if the numbers are completely stacked against you and you are definitely going to lose, what do you do?

John Bogle's solution is to invest in unmanaged total market index funds that mirror the market performance. By doing so, I no longer pay some 3.5 to 5% of all my investment money to manage it using financial advisers or 401k plan managers. These people are not cut from the loop but mutual funds still have managers in Wallstreet (the fellows getting rich) that take up to another 5% in what are referred to as "hidden" fees to actively manage those funds. Index funds don't require active management since they just follow the market so the hidden fees can be reduced from that 5% down to ,05%.

So by investing my money by myself into unmanaged index funds, I went from paying 3.5% of all my retirement funds to have someone invest them plus another .75% to 1.5% on a yearly basis of everything I make to just investing them myself and paying 0.05% of everything I make on a yearly basis to pay someone in Wallstreet to keep the funds mirroring the market.

For the last five years, the investments I have been doing myself have mirrored the market exactly in returns and have beaten my financial adviser by 2 to 3% every year. At that rate, by the time I plan on using those funds, they will be double what they would have been if I had continued to stay with my financial adviser. That's a lot of money that I'm not leaving on the table for someone else.

All this is a prelude to a meeting that took place a week ago when I drove to a nearby urban center to meet with other like minded individuals who refer to themselves as Bogleheads. Thanks to some publicity of late on PBS and NPR about all the stuff above, the movement is starting to catch fire. The turnout at the event I drove to was the largest in their history. Although I find lots of information online and in books on the subject, it is still nice to meet other people face to face who have seen the light and realized that they can make themselves rich instead of Wallstreet. Besides being Bogleheads, all of us wished that we had followed this idea back when we first started investing for our retirements so that we would be that much further ahead. It cracked me up when a college student there said the same thing!

We had a fine lunch and a lot of fun talking about investing for our retirements. Since my "local" chapter (two hour drive) holds a meeting twice a year, I will most likely try to attend more of those meetings to connect with others who are like me. Perhaps though what I would really like to do is try to start up a truly local chapter here in my own town and start passing on what I have learned to others. I think it would be a lot of fun.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Trail's End

Across the street from the park, is an old hotel built in the late 1890's to mimic the steamboats that used to come up the river this far before turning around. It was falling apart at one point until someone bought it, fixed it up and turned it into a bed and breakfast. I brought my wife here once for a weekend away and nine months later our first daughter was born. It may be a coincidence but the old hotel will always have me convinced that it played a part. This visit however, the old hotel looks like it has slipped back into non-usage and it is such a shame. But for a poor rural community like this, there just isn't the money to maintain such a place just for posterity.

The one thing that has remained over the years is the rocket ship seen below that I played on as a child. All the other pieces of playground equipment have long been deemed unsafe to play on by modern kids and have been replaced by plastic versions with rounded corners and no sharp edges. I'm not sure how this one escaped the wrecking ball but it warms my heart to see my kids playing on it thinking it is the coolest thing in the park. Perhaps one day, God willing, I will be able to see my grandkids play there as well.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Wood Art

I am captivated by trees in the woods and some of the many shapes they take. Here in the U.S. though I pass by them and occasionally take a picture. In the Philippines, someone would have take the root ball of that tree, polished it out and turned it into a work of art. If I had the ambition and the strength to carry that tree over a mile of rugged trail back to the car, perhaps I might have done something similar.

There had been a lot of wind damage along the trail from a storm earlier this summer as evidenced by all the downed trees with dead leaves on them. I found this stump in an area with several downed trees, including one blocking the trail that we had to walk under. This one had exploded at the base of its trunk and fell over with someone coming along afterwards to cut the top part of the tree away. Looking at this, I felt I was looking at a giant wooden flower.

Just a picture I was trying to be artsy fartsy with a yellow leaf and some sort of nest that had fallen beside it in the leaf litter.

I've been hiking this trail for well over three decades so I'm sure I knew this tree in its glory days but they have long passed by. I've never seen a tree decay in quite this way and found it neat enough to take a picture.

When I arrived at the city park to pick up the kids after my walk back to the vehicle, I was putting the off road stroller back into the vehicle when I noticed a stick in it. Thinking it was just another stick that my kids are always picking up, I tossed it into the leaf litter on the ground, put the stroller away and thought nothing more about it. We decided to eat dinner at a local cafe a couple blocks away and as we were sitting down to order, my asked about the stick which I told her I had thrown away. She was upset and I couldn't convince her otherwise because she said it had been a special stick. So while waiting for our food, she and my wife walked back to the park and found the stick again. When they came back and showed it to me, I understood why it was special. Other than the the new wood visible where I cut off about a foot of the branch that was 'extra', it is as they found it. It is also the first initial of my youngest daughter.