Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Getting There

 Yesterday I put up the wall that will divide the halves of the building but needed to devote my attention to getting new brakes and rotors on my vehicle. Although I suppose I probably could do that myself, it is one of those things I am comfortable paying someone else to do with the right tools and where they can put it up on a lift to work on things easier... at least until I saw the bill. Getting brakes was a lot more expensive than I remembered but then, I have sold three different vehicles between then and now and so it has been a long time since the last brake job I paid for. 

Today was a grunt, pure and simple. Because the greenhouse side will have lots of windows, I opted to put in some headers to carry the load of the roof structure and not transfer said load to the windows where it can cause problems. On the first side, I decided to leave the header out to save weight when I swung the wall into place and then put it in place afterwards. That turned out to be a big mistake for a couple reasons. The lumber of course, is crooked as a river bottom road and getting it into place has required me to use an arsenal of clamps to persuade it. The other reason is that trying to lift a heavy header up and pound it into place from a step ladder isn't the easiest. But after much sweat and toil, I persevered. On the opposing side, I fastened the header in while the wall was laying on the floor and just hefted it up with the wall. Heavy, but much much easier.

Whipped and getting hot in the sun, I called it a day. I have the end wall left to do with the doorway into the greenhouse portion of the building and anchor everything to the concrete permanently before lots of detail work to wrap up. Then I can begin sheathing and cutting rafters out while waiting on the ridge beam and roofing materials.

Notice my wheelbarrow full of tools. It gets old walking the 50 yards back uphill every time I need a tool so I stick it in the wheelbarrow. As time has gone by, my wheelbarrow has filled up but my trips to get another tool have been reduced to only rare occasions. Now I just wheel it down first thing in the morning and wheel it back up to the garage when I quit.

Monday, September 27, 2021

Construction Underway

The very next day, I kick off the construction phase of this project. Because I'll be waiting on my ridge beams for two weeks, there really isn't a killing hurry but I would like to get it up, stabilized and anchored to the concrete before a big blow comes through and pushes it all down.

My process is pretty simple. I assemble a section of the wall while laying on the nice flat concrete slab and then make sure it is perfectly square. I then screw a diagonal board across the back which prevents the entire thing from racking. Because I assemble everything with the outside face facing up, the brace has to go on the outside of the building where it will eventually be in the way of the siding. At some point, I will move the diagonal board onto the inside where it will be out of the way. With everything squared up and braced, I then staple some foam to the bottom side of the sill plate to fill that gap so insects and such can't enter. Then I stand it up.

The first one I stood up, I made sure to pound in a stake and screw in a board near ground level that I could use as a brace to keep the entire section from falling over. I plumbed up the wall and screwed the upper end of the brace in place. Then it was just rinse and repeat for the next two sections of wall. Below you can see the doorway for the storage section of the building and some more temporary bracing. I hope to get the rest of the walls installed in the next two days, get everything trued up and then permanently fasten things down to the slab where it can't go anywhere. Just in case anyone notices and calls it out, the cripples above the doorway header have been cut but I hadn't put them in place before this picture was taken. For those that don't know what a cripple is, at least in construction parlance, it is a short board that fills the gap between the top plate and the header to transfer any loads to the header which is the structural element for the doorway area.


Friday, September 24, 2021


 As you can see, I got the lion's share of my order delivered. The blocks on the left are for a future landscaping project and the lumber on the right for the greenhouse project. As you can see from the picture, the lumber has a ways to go down the hill but I'm planning to build the walls in seven sections and will just carry enough down for one section at a time so it isn't such a burden to carry. I still am missing the lumber for the ridge beam, roofing panels and doors but I think I should have most of what I need. My hope is that what I don't have, I can easily fit in my minivan and obtain it within 30 minutes or less. 

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

A Little Tour


It's been awhile since I've been to Maharishiville. Maharishiville is a name given to a place near where I used to live where John Lennon's yogi from India claimed it was the center of the universe and bought up a local community college. The college is still a college but teaches mandatory transcendental meditation (TM) along with any curriculum. Many of the followers of TM got fed up with living in a town with us heathen non-TM followers so started their own town, the first in nearly 100 years in our state, and I refer to it lovingly as Maharishiville after their founder.

Whenever we have guests who are looking for a little bit of flavor from our part of the land, we often take them a tour of Maharishiville to see such sights as the "Tower of Invincibility" and the "Twin World Peace Capital" buildings. Since my last visit, the latter seems to have been converted into office space but the Tower of Invincibility still stands strong near the his and her meditation domes. Another site we go to is the World Global Observatory though since my last visit it has been downgraded by name to the Maharishi Vedic Observatory. Though downgraded in name, it has increased dramatically in stature as there were a lot more concrete "instruments" that I didn't remember from my last visit.

I'm not sure how the massive center peace relates to the "total expression of Natural Law" but many of the smaller periphery ones I could decipher their use in determining the azimuth, meridian, time or other more common cosmic things. The center one with it's Indian words though is a mystery to me anyway.

Along with stops at the farm garden and the American Gothic House, we took our guests to last Symphony Orchestra performance of the 2020/2021 season which is always the Big Band portion of the symphony called No Strings Attached. It was a Latin music theme and we were all able to socially distance ourselves on a nice grassy hillside and enjoy beverages and a picnic supper while listening. It was a great evening and a nice cap to a relaxing day. The next day we got our guests back onto the road for their journeys home and are now resting up for the start of the 2021/2022 symphony orchestra season which begins in about four short weeks.

Monday, September 20, 2021

Delivery Clarification

 The day of the delivery for my supplies came and went without any notification. In a way I wasn't too upset as we had a house full of guests at the time and it would have been inconvenient for the delivery. But I dropped the last one off at the airport and when I got home I got loaded up for bear and called the big box store and after wading through the menu options, finally spoke with a young man in their delivery department. This time, I got much different results.

When I asked why my three original orders got broken up into 17 sub orders, he said the hurricane down south really threw a wrench into things and they broke out hard to get items into special orders so it wouldn't slow the rest of the things down. Okay, I said, so where are the rest of the things. Well they were just waiting so they could deliver everything at once. Okay I said, so one, special ordering to separate does nothing and two, I broke my order into three separate orders when I placed it and paid for two separate shipping charges (one order I picked up from the store) so I could get things delivered sooner than other things. 

At this point he does a lot of mumbling and figuring out what is here and what isn't and after awhile I break in and ask, is there any reason you can't go ahead and deliver what you have right now (which includes the lumber I need next) and then put all the remaining items on the second delivery? He assured me he could but I would have to pay a second delivery charge. So I reiterated that I had already paid for two delivery charges so it shouldn't cost me a cent more than I have already paid for them to do so. More mumbling and typing and finally he said yes, they absolutely could do that and would tomorrow work for the first delivery. 

Absolutely I said.

So hopefully tomorrow is the day and I can get started framing instead of watching beautiful fall day after beautiful fall day pass me by with nothing but watching the concrete cure. 

Meanwhile, I'm marking out stud locations on the sill plate so I can get off to a quick start. The sill plate is made from my recycled concrete forms. C stands for cripple stud, X for a full length stud and J for a jack stud. They all have their specific purpose. I also marked out the location of the sill plate so I wouldn't put them in the wrong location and wrote down the rough opening dimensions for easy reference. The only thing left is to predrill holes for where I plan to screw them down to the concrete slab.

Friday, September 17, 2021

Waiting On Wood


When in the planning stages for this project, I was deciding how to get materials on site. I haul a lot of stuff in our minivan but it can't haul a lot and using it as a work horse of sorts is hard on the interior of it. I figured I probably could have hauled everything I needed in it but it would have taken a dozen or more trips and even then, some of the larger stuff wouldn't have fit inside and I would have to figure out how to get them home. So I made the decision to just order it all at once from our local big box store and have it delivered.

I placed a large order which was immediately broken into 17 suborders of which I get notifications on a nearly daily basis that one component or the other is ready for pickup, even though I chose and paid for delivery. I even stopped by once to verify everything but the person running their software seemed to know very little about anything and didn't leave me with much confidence. But the soonest I could get the bulk of the framing materials is still a few days away and so I wait for that day before I decide what the next move is.

Until then, I stripped the forms off the concrete and piled it up next to the slab to hopefully be reused here or there. I also moved my step into place which was a bit of a miscalculation on my part. When coming up with an extra form for overflow concrete, I just cut some boards thinking that would make a nice sized step. I wasn't wrong on that aspect. But I neglected to understand the weight of said step and how I was going to get it from point A to point B. Fortunately the concrete guy talked me into moving it from near the driveway where I had it initially to much closer to the greenhouse. Only later when I did a back of the envelope calculation did I realize that it probably weighed somewhere in the neighborhood of 350 lbs! 

Fortunately I had laid a sheet of plastic underneath it so it wasn't adhered to the grass and dirt below it and I was able to muscle it up on end and then sort of shift it and crab walk it towards the slab where it fell into place. With a few more pries with a long rod, I was able to slide it the rest of the way into place. I had great ideas of creating a nice level bed for it using some of the extra form sand I have but it fell in such a way it has no wiggle what so ever and is only slightly off kilter to one side. Not really noticeable unless you see the form lines on the concrete. But I sure didn't feel like trying to get it upright again and hold it with one hand while making things more level and risking getting squished in the process.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021


About once a month, my wife and I try to have a date night which is usually a date lunch and more often than not, we end up at the local sushi joint. As we walked into the place, they had crab puffs on special and so we ordered a plate and they arrived as seen above along with a couple other sushi rolls. I have never had crab puffs before but they were outstanding. 

While the rest of our squash was decimated earlier by squash bugs, we were able to save the trellis squash and they have been starting to produce. The one on the right, upo, is a filipino squash that really has no distinct flavor but is used in a variety of dishes as sort of an extender. We picked over a dozen of them on this trip and sold all but one at the asian grocery store on our way back into town.

I had dreams of plants growing clear across the top of the  trellis but due to the cold wet spring that delayed things, I don't think it will happen this year. But perhaps next year.

Our first couple crops of beans died in the cold wet spring and we had an okay third crop. For the first time in my life, we tried our hand at a fall crop and they seem to be doing well though we had some germination issues.

Above was our haul on our most recent trip. The amish paste tomatoes are at long last starting to ripen along with a forgotten large round variety. Our okra has been growing like gangbusters but the tomatillos are finally starting to slow down. The upo are the large green gourd looking things at the lower left. The string beans are also growing on our arched trellis but weren't really prolific this year either. We have a huge apple crop which we started picking. The vines on the left are the ends of the sweet potato vines which my wife picks to force the potato plants to put more energy into growing sweet potatoes. She will pick the tender ends of those vines and include it in some of her filipino dishes as a green.

 We had oodles of tomatoes last year so I experimented and made some pizza sauce for the first time. It was a big hit and went pretty fast so this year I made another batch with the tomatoes seen above. It allows me to have homemade pizza ready in about 45 minutes from the first suggestion to hot on your plate, including crust, so it is a quick meal for us. 

Monday, September 13, 2021

Mud Day

Two weeks later...

Finally the stars aligned and the day concrete was available to be delivered and my concrete guy had a few hours of free time arrived. Unfortunately, the rock hard nature of my lawn due to several weeks of no rain had been interrupted by several different rains and so it was not so firm anymore. Above is a picture showing the concrete truck up on the street and I'm standing in my backyard about 20 feet away from the concrete slab being poured and this is the gradual slope where they intended to haul the concrete loader full at a time. On the other side of my house, while a much more direct route, is the very steep hill that we were trying to avoid.

The loader did tear up the lawn a bit and left some ruts but all things considered, it isn't bad. The lawnmower guys might not like it but their days are numbered anyway once I get the lawnmower half of the shed built and a lawnmower obtained. The loader could hold approximately 1/4 cubic yards of concrete at a time and we ordered 4-1/4 cubic yards total. I had figured up we needed 3.6 cubic yards just for the greenhouse slab alone and 3.75 for it and the compost slab. One thing I have learned over the years is it is much cheaper to order too much than to order too little and 4 cubic yards was the minimum amount without another surcharge being tacked onto the bill. My concrete guy says there is always 1/4 cubic yards left in the truck and so we settled on the 4-1/4 cubic yard number.

An hour later, the greenhouse forms were full and leveled out, the compost slab was full and leveled out and an extra form I had thrown together at the last moment just in case was full and leveled out. That form above will eventually be a step into the greenhouse side of the building so I poured it on a sheet of plastic so hopefully I can move it into place when it is cured.

 Above shows the slab I am pouring for our compost bins also shown, around the corner of the house so not visible from the street. We toss all our compost in those bins and then when full, haul them down the hill behind where the greenhouse will be to a pile there. Eventually we hope to use that composted soil in the greenhouse. After all the forms were full and troweled smooth, we had perhaps two or three round point shovel full of cement left over so our order ended up being as close to perfect as possible. I am relieved to have this part done. The large majority of materials are slated to arrive in a week and a half and then all things out of my control should be past and I can proceed at my own pace for a change instead of someone else. Until then, I will let the concrete cure overnight, start removing the forms, level out the dirt around the slab, get it scored to prevent cracking and perhaps get the step heaved into place.

Friday, September 10, 2021

It's About Time China!

 As I write this, China has just come out with a ban on all online gaming by minors during the school week and limits them to only 3 hours a day on weekends. The horror! Our girls have never known a life where they are allowed to play video games of any kind during the week and they are only limited to 2 hours of electronics on weekend days. Instead, we encourage them to read and as a result, they both have turned into book worms which pleases my soul to no end. I guess because they have never known any different, there has been no protest of these rules or even discussions to abandon them. 

At one point, we didn't have those rules in place but our oldest was too young to remember those heady days. We started noticing a direct correlation between the time spent watching the television/ipad and behavior. When long hours were spent in front of electronics, it almost guaranteed grouchiness and temper issues later on. If we restricted usage and forced them to read, do some craft, or play with their physical toys, she was always in much better moods at the end of the day. So we just adopted it and it has stuck with us. I have never regretted that decision and I think our children are better for it.

While I don't necessarily agree that it is the government's place to parent our children, I do think China's children will be better as a result of this new ban. It will be interesting to watch what happens next over there.

Wednesday, September 8, 2021


 Somewhere in the depths of Manila, down a street crowded with building, parked tricycles and people making their way to their day job, is a small non descript little cafe/store that we always stop by. It may have a name but I've never heard it and everyone I have seen stop by have always looked like a regular customer. They always know what they want and what there is to choose from.

The owners of the cafe cook up several pots of ulam which is a tagalog word for something that refers to a main dish eaten with rice. Of course there are a couple large pots of freshly steamed rice too. Workers come up in the early morning hours and after inspecting the pots, choose their ulam for their noon lunch. Scoops of rice are put in a plastic sack along with a scoop of the chosen ulam and the top tied shut. It is tucked into a pocket or a bag to be eaten hours later. Some will bring their own rice hoping to save a few pesos. Others will eat breakfast too. Occasionally someone will purchase one of the many items clips to wires overhead, mostly those necessities like laundry soap or a package of spices.

The owners of the establishment live next door in a cramped building accessed by an extremely narrow alley that I must turn a bit to prevent my shoulders from rubbing both sides simultaneously. Their residence is tiny and sparsely furnished but has the necessities of life and is immaculately clean. I stopped in there only once nearly two decades ago to give the owner a bottle of fine bourbon and haven't been inside again. But I do stop at the store whenever I am around.

Since I often stop on my way to the airport in the early hours of the morning, the owners will usually whip up a quick breakfast for my family to share. It is usually some sort of meat, a few fried eggs and a pile of white rice. We chat in the early morning hours catching up, only interrupted once in awhile by a customer needing lunch for later that day. Sometime if one of their many grandkids are around, I will sneak them a shiny U.S. dollar coin which will be a prized possession and a reminder of my presence on that day.

The last time I saw Julio was in December 2018 before all this Covid mess and though his mind was still as sharp as ever, his body was starting to fail. Years of diabetes that was never fully managed was taking it's toll. He was using a walker at the time but still in good spirits and happy to see us. Like always, his wife fixed us breakfast and I slipped dollar coins to grandkids. 

Yesterday we received word that Julio had been short of breath and an ambulance was summoned to take him to the hospital. He never made it and died on route. Most likely, it was a case of Covid since the Philippines is still largely unvaccinated compared to most countries. He was my wife's paternal uncle. I will miss his presence. I'm not sure about the status of their little cafe on that non descript crowded street in Manila but if it is still there when I return, I still plan on stopping and slipping kids some more dollar coins while eating breakfast. 

Monday, September 6, 2021

When It Rains, It Pours

 As I write this, I'm still waiting on the concrete to be poured. My concrete guy has stopped by to inspect things and assure me that it would get poured that week. Today the week is half over. To complicate things in my mind, I have gotten up in the wee hours of the morning because I can't sleep to the deluge of rain falling outside. All I can think of is sand and dirt being washed into my rat barriers and that I am going to now be spending hours digging it all out by hand (around lots of rebar) and repairing things before the concrete can be poured. I just know that I will get a notice later this morning that THIS will be the day and my lawn will be turned into a holy muddy mess as they truck the concrete back to the forms from the road. After five weeks of perfect dry conditions for pouring concrete, the day after a huge dump of rain always is the way these things work.

To make matters worse, I just checked my phone and was notified (during the middle of the night) of fraudulent activity on my ATM debit card. I only use my ATM debit card for rare cash withdrawals at the bank ATM machine in their lobby so I am a bit surprised by this. I'm not sure how the thief even used it unless it was just a flat out lucky guess of numbers somehow. I have never used my ATM debit card to purchase something by phone or internet so don't even know what the burden of proof that is required for those methods beyond the 16 digit number. I don't use my ATM debit card at all for anything other than cash withdrawals because I don't like using a card with direct access to my bank account in an age of easy cell phone pictures, fake card readers, etc. The bank flagged the sixth transaction but approved a couple hundred dollars of other transactions before everything was brought to a halt. All charges were still pending and I was able to flag them as fraudulent so hopefully I can get my money back. I hope everything runs as well oiled as disputing fraudulent credit card charges which has happened a few times over the years. 

So until I get a replacement card, this time an ATM non-debit card, I have no way to get any cash short of going to a bank whose lobby has been closed for the last year and a half due to Covid. Fortunately, I rarely use cash anyway.

Friday, September 3, 2021

Ready To Pour

Despite the unceasing heat and humidity, I finally got everything ready to pour. Because my concrete guy said he was booked through next summer, I always intended to get it to this stage myself. However, after I posted the picture of the big sand pile in the middle of the form, I got a call from him saying he had some free time the very next day if I was ready. I wasn't nor could I expect to be ready but he was willing to have his crew finish up the rest and pour it in the same day. I couldn't say no to getting it done much sooner than expected. So for the rest of the day, I busted my hump trying to get as much as I could done so I wouldn't have to pay the labor for someone else to do it. I got about half the sand leveled, much of that trying to figure out a way to hold the sand in place with temporary supports that I will move after the concrete is in place to hold the sand in place. 

Unfortunately, Covid struck the concrete crew and so I got another text late that afternoon saying that it wasn't going to happen the following day. So I puttered around over the next several days (it was also a weekend now) and got the rest of the sand leveled out, picked up rerod for reinforcing the slab and got it installed and ready for the pour. So now, all that is left is for the actual pour to happen but before then, the concrete crew needs to be over Covid and they have to have a few hours of free time coming up. I'm not sure when all this will align but I'm ready so I can move onto other things until then.

One thing I have learned in the past, is that you never want to under estimate how much concrete you need, especially on a small job such as this one. Just the delivery charge alone for a small amount to make up any shortfall would really increase the costs significantly. One should order enough and a little bit extra, just in case. But then I need a place to put that extra if indeed it is extra. So I quickly built a rough form around the corner of our garage where we store our compost barrels. We fill them up gradually from our daily scraps and then when full, I use a cart to haul them down to the base of our lawn next to the trees, where they can do their decomposing thing. Eventually, we will be able to use some of that for our greenhouse. At least that is the plan. If I don't have enough extra concrete to fill the form completely, I will just fill what I can and finish the rest with sacked concrete mixed in my wheelbarrow.


Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Sand a Day Early

In my last post I said the sand was going to be delivered in a couple days. I called on Tuesday and they had wanted to deliver it the next day but I had a visit planned with my grandmother that I didn't want to cancel so we agreed upon Thursday. The receptionist recapped saying they would deliver 4 ton of sand on Wednesday. I said no, I am not going to be there so you mean Thursday. She agreed and hung up.

Wednesday mid morning, right in the middle of a nice conversation with my grandmother, I get a call from my daughter saying a stranger is ringing our doorbell. I told her just to ignore it. A minute later I get a call from the receptionist asking if I was home because they had my sand in my driveway. I told her I wasn't home as we discussed yesterday and that it needed to be delivered tomorrow. She said but he already has it loaded up on a truck in your driveway.

I didn't want to wheelbarrow four tons of sand from my driveway to the forms down the hill but I wasn't sure if the truck would be able to back down the hill. I do so all the time in my minivan and dad's pickup but I didn't know what kind of truck they had brought which is why I wanted to be there. So I relayed to the receptionist that I wanted them to back down the hill behind my house and dump it into the forms and hoped for the best 240 miles away. 

When I got home it was as you see above and there was no truck tipped over or stuck partway up the hill to my driveway. I call that a success. The only thing I would have done differently is order three instead of four tons. I had calculated volume and multiplied by the weight of sand I found on the internet and game to 5.4 tons. I had planned to order six tons but their truck only held four so I was going to wait and see how that looked and ordered the rest. I'm glad they couldn't haul six tons in one go or I would have a nice big sand pile as big as the one above to find a home for.

Two days later, it looks like below. I had to make some temporary plywood bracing and some props to hold all the sand up around the edges so it didn't slump into the sides. I will have them fill those with concrete first and then remove them before pouring the main slab. The purpose of the sand is just to take up space so you don't have to use so much expensive and unnecessary concrete. I just want a nice four inch slab with slightly thicker edges that extend down into the ground a foot or so to discourage animals from digging underneath. 

Next step, obtaining reinforcement for the slab.