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Saturday, July 18, 2020 3 comments

Butter sauce: Easiest. Recipe. Ever.

A store-brand box of penne suggested tossing its (cooked) insides in butter sauce, so I had to have a look.

I can’t imagine a recipe easier than this, other than “Peel banana. Eat banana.” (That would be one of Charlie’s favorite recipes, anyway.) Charlie also enjoyed this with pasta (he loves him some pasta).


1 stick butter (or plant butter, or margarine, whatever floats your boat)
1 T “Italian Medley” herb blend
dash (or three) garlic powder, or 1 tsp (or more… MORE!) minced garlic
1 box pasta

Do the deed:

Cook pasta according to package directions.

Melt butter in a saucepan or microwave. Stir in herb blend and garlic.

Pour over cooked pasta, toss until pasta is coated.

Serve with meat sauce and mozzarella fresca… or take your cue from Charlie and just EAT IT.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020 No comments

Backyard retreat 2.0 (patio to pool)

Ever since we put the gazebo up in the front yard, the old backyard retreat has languished. The fire bowl in the table rotted out, and I’ve procrastinated on rebuilding it. The cushions on the chairs got kind of grotty, and somehow a table (sans top) made its way down there. The rubber tiles were still mostly in place, although a few got scattered out.

But summer + two boys + a pandemic that will probably last through next year got me thinking. We had a small (6') inflatable pool from last year laying around… it had been put up wet, but it still held air and water. We cleaned it up as best as we could and put it on the sidewalk out front (level spots around Sector 706 in general, and FAR Manor in particular, are hard to come by).

All well and good for the kids, but what about the parents? Some poking around Amazon turned up several candidates. So… where would we put it? We need something mostly level.

Oh. The old retreat. But I didn’t want to just drop the pool on the bare ground… the soil around here grows rocks, and I figure it wouldn’t take long for a sharp rock to punch a hole in the floor. The elder sister in law had an above-ground pool at her old place, and fire ants chewed through the floor when the rocks wouldn’t do the job, so “slap directly on ground” was right out.

My first thought was to build a low deck, but I calculated the pool would weigh about 5 tons. I overengineered a deck at our old place, but I don’t know if even it would have supported that much weight. We then considered pouring several inches of sand into the space, or even concrete, to get a flat surface. Given the location, there would be a lot of grunt work involved with concrete: we would have to either carry 100 bags down there, mix it and pour it, or find a concrete company who could maneuver a truck up the driveway and send the slop down a chute. Seeing as I simultaneously tweaked my back and horked my (supposedly good) knee last week*, ironically while bailing water out of the small pool, paying to have someone else do the grunt work would have been the best idea.

Finally, we decided it would be best to smooth out what we have now, cover the Envirotiles with a tarp to protect the pool from ant attacks, and cover it with a pergola.

Patio area, cleared. (Phase 1)
So I took the boys down to the patio Sunday afternoon, and we got everything moved out. Charlie did his best to help, picking up a plastic chair and dragging tiles over to our stacking area. Mason was less enthusiastic, but did a lot of the work. I raked out remaining debris, and tried to level out high spots. I sprayed the whole area with Roundup to discourage plants from trying to slip between the tiles… but, as it turned out, most of the growth was in composted leaves that hadn’t been swept away in a long time.

Given the pandemic, large pools are going for a premium. We ordered a round 10' pool (with filter) for $300, and the same pool was going for $100 pre-pandemic. But even at COVID prices, the pool itself is the least costly part of this project.

The pergola, at $1600, is actually the priciest component. Wayfair is now telling us it won’t be delivered until August (after saying it was in stock when the wife ordered it), but August is when we'll need it most.

The boys laid tiles.
And did a pretty good job of it.
Next step: smoothing out the dirt. Nine years of rain, frost, erosion, and roots had lifted some spots and sank others (most of the sinking was along the south edge, where things do drop off). Last month, Mason and I replaced the rotten fascia boards across the front of the detached garage. One of the original boards was still good, for most of its 16-foot length, and it’s nice and straight.

We dragged it across the dirt to catch high spots, and I scraped them down with a shovel and tossed the dirt into low spots. It’s not perfect, but more effort won’t be worth the return. I swept dirt off the tiles, handed them to Charlie, and he carried them to Mason, who put them in place. Both of them were a big help—but of course, both of them want the pool going!

With the tiles down, I put the tools back in the garage and got out the leaf blower. There were leaves around the margins, and dirt on the tiles (kicked up when I frisbee’d a few tiles down to Mason).

Just add tarp (and pool… and yes, water). (Phase 2)
At this point, we just need to get a 10x10 foot tarp to lay over the tiles, then we’ll be ready to put the pool in place and start filling it. I estimated we’ll need about 1400 gallons to fill the thing—in other words, we won’t be able to fill it all at once. I’m thinking about tapping the downspout on the rain gutters, running a flex-pipe down to the pool, and catching any debris with screening… or seeing if bulk water delivery is reasonable.

I figure we’ll be able to use it through September this year, and all summer next year. Once the pandemic is over, we’ll still have the option of not driving 15 (or 40) miles to go to a pool.

Stay tuned for the completed project!

Are you restructuring your yard for an extended shelter-in-place? Comments, as always, are open!

*Both back and knee are around 90% of full-function right now, which is a dangerous zone. Just because they’ve subsided to a low-level ache, instead of stabby OUCH pain at random (all too short) intervals, doesn’t mean you can safely hoist 60lb bags of concrete at will… even if you think you can. My back is letting me know I was pushing my luck just cleaning off tiles this evening.

Monday, July 13, 2020 No comments

Oh deer! (redux)

Somehow, we as a family have been fortunate when it comes to deer encounters. This one marks the third occasion that a deer and one of our cars have attempted to occupy the same point in space, without damage to (at least) humans and vehicles.

Last week (Monday, of course), Daughter Dearest was heading back from the church to her house. Just beyond the church driveway, of course… a doe and its fawn decided to play a live-action version of Crossy Road, using DD as an NPC. Unlike non-players in Crossy, DD stood on the brakes, and the doe scooted on by. The fawn… not so much.

There, there…
Fortunately, at this point, she was going slow enough to bonk the fawn and tumble it a few times. For all her ferocity with people, DD has an extremely tender heart when it comes to animals. So she gathered up the four-legged victim (which was unable to get its own act together) and carried it up to the church porch.

From there, she called her mom (totally upset), then the DNR. The latter was busy trying to deal with a bear keeping someone in her car* so the two of them sort of comforted each other while Wildlife Rescue got its act together.

The DNR people got there, and assured DD that the fawn wasn’t severely damaged—no broken back, at least. With any luck, they’ll fatten it up for Thanksgiving dinner reunite it with its mom shortly.

Of course, wife and I were concerned first with DD, and then with her car. Both were fine. Wife opined: “She can hit a deer and not have any damage, but hitting a groundhog tore out half the underside of the car!” Well, this is Sector 706… logic is neither common nor appreciated.

*Probably not the same bear I encountered Friday night. That one has been sneaking up to the manor, on dark nights when we forget to drop the garage door, and gobbling an entire 40lb bin of dog food. I happened to be on a late-night grocery run, and probably startled him off as I pulled up the driveway, since the bin was just outside the garage. Turning on the floodlights, I saw him standing there on all fours in the back yard. After I cussed him out and banged on the plastic garbage bin (empty because of him), he shuffled into the woods. The dogs, who usually lose their shorts when a strange car comes up the driveway, amazingly didn’t say boo about a freeking bear coming up to visit. Then again, as I’m fond of saying, “stupidog” is one word.


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