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Showing posts with label home maintenance. Show all posts
Showing posts with label home maintenance. Show all posts

Friday, November 03, 2017 No comments

Chairman of the Whiteboard

Already doing math
Ever since they painted some of the walls at work with it, I’ve wanted to get some of that dry-erase paint and cover a couple of Mason’s walls with it. The problem is, his walls (and most of the walls in FAR Manor, for that matter) are paneling… aka Norwegian Wood.

My second thought was “hey, I think we have a piece of sheetrock in the garage. I could mount that and paint it.” As it turned out, I didn’t have any sheetrock in the garage… but there was this piece of shower stall board, about 4' x 4'. I scribbled a corner with a dry-erase marker, left it overnight, and found it erased just fine the next day. I wanted to find some framing boards, with a notch cut into one side, but had no luck. I ended up buying four 6' pieces of 1x4, figuring I could rabbit out a notch with the table saw.

This was back in the spring. Then I had knee surgery, and was pretty much sidelined for the summer. But old surgical wounds heal, given time, and the whiteboard-to-be was taking up space in the garage. As were the boards.

With a little time, I got on it last weekend. First step was to notch the boards. The table saw did the job, once the fence was in the right place. I cut the groove into each board, then flipped them sideways and cut off the strip of wood. A nearby chisel got drafted to finish out the notches.

Next up, the whiteboard had to be trimmed. I had planned for 48" square exactly, but somehow ended up with 48"x47¾". No problem, I hadn't trimmed the boards yet. I use the miter saw to cut 45° angles.

With all the parts ready, I grabbed the drill battery out of the charger and got to work. It went fairly quickly; I put up the bottom board, using a level to get it straight. Then I slid the whiteboard into the notch, added the side and top framing (bonking things straight with the hammer), and screwed it all up down. The final touch was a piece of angle-aluminum, once used as a hanger for 1/2" videotape cases (old pro stuff), now a place for his markers.

Mason was pleased, but… “What can I use it for?”

“Anything,” I replied. “Draw pictures, write down stuff you want to get done, do math problems—”

“Yeah!” he exclaimed, and proceeded to cover it with multiplication tables.

I still need to get him a set of colored markers and an eraser. He’s making do with the one marker we have an a paper towel for now.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017 No comments

Fireworks, a Day Late

It was bound to happen sooner or later. June and July (so far) have featured thunderstorms pretty much every day. It finally happened Wednesday evening, between 4 and 6 pm, while nobody was home but the dogs. While we were out shopping, Daughter Dearest texted me a picture of the light switches in the foyer, next to the front door:

Blew the ends right off the plate!

She followed up with The DSL box got fried. Or it's not on at all. I had her check the computers and all was well there. Mine’s on a UPS, so is the TV and the DSL box. The phone line, though, doesn't have a surge protector. So… after thanking God the manor didn’t burn down1 and the computers were OK, the wife and I discussed what else we needed to check before calling the insurance company.

Insurance was pretty copacetic about the situation… probably because we have a $1000 deductible. They said my idea of having the wiring inspected was a good one, and said to just keep a list of our expenses. Besides the exploding switches, we checked things out and discovered:

  • Everything connected to a phone line, including the lines themselves, got clobbered (more on that shortly)
  • The TV signal amp was fried
  • We thought the Wii had lost video, but it turned out to be the VCR it was connected through
  • One of the garage door electric eyes is blinded, so we can’t close the garage

The funny thing was, the clock-radio in our bedroom was still keeping time—that means the power didn’t go down for even a fraction of a second. Considering the damage could have been a lot more extensive, I’d say we got off pretty light. Mason (and me, to a lesser extent) was jonesing for Internet access, so I turned on my phone’s personal hotspot and started making a dent in our rollover data.

Thursday morning, I grabbed tools (and an old landline phone I keep for testing) and went out to the network interface box (aka the NID). We had no dialtone inside, as I rather expected, and didn’t have dialtone at the test jack, either. BUT, we had dialtone at the second test jack. I promptly moved all the connections down, but that didn’t help. Armed with some data, I called Windstream (aka Windbeans) and gave them my findings. They promised to have someone out here before a week from Friday. Um… this is a business line, guys? We kind of need this connection to function? “It should be earlier than that.” I’m going to ask them for a 25% reduction on the bill for the month, since they can’t be bothered to get anyone out here for a freekin’ week. If they balk, I’ll see what the PSC has to say. I measured along the walls and came up with an estimate of 14 feet from the NID to my window… meaning a 20-foot phone cord would reach my desk.

We got through the weekend. I continually reminded Mason, no Youtube, no Netflix, and he complained but complied. Still, between us, we chewed through 1GB pretty much daily. I turned off automatic updates to prevent surprises. But I kept thinking about that second line that was giving dialtone…

Monday finally arrived. I took Charlie to daycare, then learned that Mal*Wart no longer carries anything having to do with landlines (you would think, with so much of their clientele coming from the edges of civilization, they would try to help out). Fortunately, Home Depot seems to understand, and I happily bought a 25-foot phone cord from them. This I ran from the NID’s test jack, into the window in front of my computer, and onto my desk. I plugged in the phone and got dialtone, yay! Then, just out of curiosity, I called my cellphone. I don’t recognize this number. I called it back, just to see if anyone out there would answer. My test phone rang, but nobody else answered. Something obviously melted in a pedestal upstream.

Still, desperate times call for desperate measures. I scrounged up the old DSL modem we used before Windbeans gave us one with built-in Wi-Fi, plugged it in, and it connected. Then I found the Linksys router Mom gave me a while ago, and hooked it up. With my computer next to the router, I used Ethernet cables. Let the tablet users share the Wi-Fi, right?

With a temporary DSL lashup in place by Monday afternoon, the electrician showed up Monday evening. Two of the switches had exploded. The third, amazingly, still worked, but he replaced them all. The insulation on one wire was melted, but barely enough to expose the wire, so he wrapped it up. Three new switches and a plate, I wiped up the soot, and he pronounced the wiring otherwise OK.

We still have a few things to fix to get back to completely normal here, but we’re good to go otherwise. I just want to be here to see the look on the phone tech’s face when (s)he realizes we have access to a phone line we shouldn’t. On the other hand, they really need to get people out here sooner, and take care of their plant a little better.

1I don’t want FAR Manor to burn down… just the mortgage.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016 2 comments

Troubleshooting 101 (Tech Tuesday)

Back at the manor for a couple of days, but I’ll be heading out this morning.

While I was at Mom’s the last couple of weeks, we kept in touch using both the phone and FaceTime. One day, the wife said, “The dryer’s stopped working. It runs, but it doesn’t get the clothes dry. I think the heating element is fried.”

I might be a slow learner, but I can learn. As I said once, there’s no wasted time like time wasted unnecessarily in a chicken house. After replacing a furnace that was actually a thermostat problem, and checking a motor when it was really a switch, I have learned to be extremely wary of her “go directly to the most expensive and/or complicated fix” methodology.

“Have you checked the dryer vent and the ducts?” I asked.

“No, but that’s not the problem, the clothes aren’t getting hot.”

Whatever, I thought, but agreed to have a look when I got home. I didn’t actually get to it until yesterday, but that’s pretty typical. I pulled the dryer back, got the vacuum, and got up an inch of dust behind and under the dryer, then checked the exhaust. It was clear, as was the duct, and I started thinking the wife might have gotten one right.

But as often happens around here, I got yanked off that project to take care of something she wanted done―namely, replacing the furnace filters up in the attic. We have washable filters, so I pulled them out and she agreed to hose them off while I got a nut driver and took the back of the dryer off. But before I found the nut driver, I got interrupted again: “I need a pair of needle-nose pliers,” she called. Figuring she found something in the filter that she couldn’t get hold of, I started looking for them. But before I found them, she called again: “put a Phillips bit on the drill and bring it!”

I couldn’t find the drill, because Daughter Dearest has it down at her place. I grabbed a regular old hand-powered screwdriver and went to her. Turned out she looked up at the dryer vent while hosing off the filter, and took a peek inside. There was about six inches (15cm) of fiber & lint clogging up the vent. We pulled that out, I threw a load in the dryer, and it’s working again.

Troubleshooting 101: check the easy stuff first. Even if it doesn’t fix the problem right away, it doesn’t take long to check. You might not need a new computer, just clean up the old one. Word might not be the problem―strike that, it usually is, the easy fix is using something else. The noise on the phone line might be fixable by tightening the screws at the network interface box. Save yourself a lot of grief and expense, and check the easy stuff first. You can bet a professional repair person will.

Monday, June 08, 2015 7 comments

Planter… planted

I started this project last fall, but only now have I finished it.

As you may recall, there was a steep slope between the driveway and the back yard. A couple summers ago, I dug out the eroded pathway and replaced it with concrete-block steps (hosing my left shoulder in the process). I haven’t quite gotten around to filling in the holes just yet, but now I’m a step (pun intended) closer.

Between the steps and the garage was a steep bank about four feet high. It was clay and gravelly rock, supporting nothing but weeds and debris. I long fantasized about digging it out and putting in a planter, and decided to dedicate it to strawberries because Mason does love to pick himself a snack. So last fall, I dug out the bank, throwing the dirt into large (20 gallon?) buckets that once held mineral lick for the in-laws’ cattle and covering them. I poured a concrete footing and built up the sidewalls with concrete blocks. And that’s pretty much where it remained through winter and early spring, because cold weather and mortar mix don’t play well together.

The top really isn’t that uneven… the driveway slopes.

But the weather finally warmed up, and it stopped raining for a little while, and I tackled what I thought was the final step: building the front wall with all the rocks I’d picked up and saved for the job. Trowel, bucket, mortar mix, water, rocks… I spent a pleasant afternoon finding stones that fit the next mark, slathering them with mortar, trying to remember why I thought it fit that way, repeat. I used some shale I’d dug up to make the top a little flatter. I used some old bricks to cover the tops of the concrete blocks. Ta-daaaa!

Now we have a hole!

Done! Or so I thought. The Boy pulled up just as I finished. “Looks nice,” he said, which was good because he’s been doing similar work lately. “But you need to put some bricks behind the rock wall with some rebar so the dirt doesn’t push the wall out.” Fortunately, I had some extra concrete blocks handy, and two 8-foot lengths of rebar laying around. I stacked the bricks, drove the rebar through the holes to hold them in place, and left it all there so the mortar could finish setting up.

The rebar that sticks up gets pounded down…

After a week of warm weather (and rain on the back end), I figured it was time to fill it in. I dragged the buckets over and started shoveling until they were light enough to lift, then dumped the rest in. To my surprise, I had just enough dirt to fill the thing about 6 inches below the top—I thought I’d have plenty of dirt left over. I left it this way for another week to allow the incoming rains to settle the dirt.

Just before dumping the garden soil in. Plants ho!

Another surprise: the dirt didn’t settle all that much. Three huge bags of garden soil topped it off nicely. It’s ready for the strawberry plants!

Sunday, March 15, 2015 3 comments

Spring #3 Cleaning Up

Spring #3 has been pretty wet so far. All the rain melted the snow in a hurry, and it’s supposed to be sunny and 70°F Sunday and Monday. If we’re going to get a Winter #4, it had better hurry up because the calendar’s running out.

As you may recall, Winter #3 left us with a rather large mess on our hands. I was glad to put the generator away, though I do need to dump some Sta-Bil in the tank and run it long enough to get into the carb. But the first order of business last weekend was to deal with the downed trees above the mailbox:

Snap, crackle, pop

I had planned to get outside with a chainsaw as soon as I could on Saturday. I was stuck inside with Mason, but The Boy pretty much took over.

Let the cleanup begin…

The process was fairly simple, but rather physical: trim branches off the fallen ends, toss them on the truck, then cut lengths for the fire pit and load them separately. Finally, cut down the trunks and cut them up. He finished the job up Sunday morning while I was at church.

Lookin’ good!

The only downside is, now you can see the manor from the road. I guess I’ll have to plant some holly or boxwoods along that edge. The big upside is, the persimmon tree (to the left behind the holly bush) is no longer shaded by the pines. Maybe Mason will have some more fruit to munch on this fall.

Sunday, May 25, 2014 7 comments

Taking a Dive

I was working at home Thursday morning, minding my own business, when:


My first thought was, “OMG, +E.J Hobbs just had something fall on him!” and was out of my seat and halfway up the stairs in a heartbeat.

“I’m OK,” he said. “I was just in here shaving…”

Mirror, mirror, on the floor,
Why’d you have to fall down for?
“It just came off the wall,” he said. If you look at the picture, you’ll see five black spots where the mirror was. They’re some kind of caulk, dried up and hard and not sticky at all. A line of silicone caulk at the bottom of the mirror, where it contacted the vanity, was the only thing holding it in place. No clips or anything else. Just another example of why FAR Manor was a bad idea.

“Oh well,” the wife said. “We” (that is, she and Daughter Dearest) “were talking about repainting the bathroom anyway. We also need to do something about the lighting.”

She had bought Daughter Dearest a mirror with a white frame a while back, that she isn’t using, and it’s just big enough to cover the black spots (the wallpaper underneath is dissolved, so chipping it off won’t solve anything). I found a cardboard box in the garage, and EJ used that to collect the shards. Since it’s a 3-day weekend in the US, maybe I’ll be able to hang the mirror today or tomorrow.

Sunday, August 04, 2013 4 comments

Weekend Roundup

It’s been a busy week…

Awake and ready to go!
The few minor issues with my new-to-me Miata are electrical. The driver-side power window isn’t working, and Solar installed a manual crank. This is a common workaround among Miata enthusiasts, as the replacement parts for the power windows can run several hundred smackers. Since the passenger-side power window works, this is something I can live with for a while.

What I can’t abide is the lousy stereo. It’s original equipment (1992), an AM/FM radio with a cassette player. Just for grins, I stuck a tape in it earlier this week, and now it won’t come out. Worse, the left channel was gone. I put it down to a blown speaker in the driver-side door, especially since I wired a spare (home) stereo speaker box into the connector and got sound. So, it was off to Best Buy for a pair of Pioneer speakers. One of the “fun” parts of this replacement was that the Miata’s speaker mount uses three screws, and the new speakers came with four slots. With a workbench clear enough to use (yay!), I used one of the existing holes and marked the places for the other two. A few minutes with a Dremel, and I had the slots I needed.

Since the Miata uses a plug connector for the speakers, I drilled the rivet out of the old speakers and clipped enough wire to insert in the holes that the new speakers provided. A little quality time with a soldering gun, then a screwdriver, and I was done. Except that I still didn’t have a left channel. What…ever. A day or two later, I pulled the left-side speaker, and found that I hadn’t done a good job with one of the wires. More soldering, put it back in, and now both sides have sound! I’m still going to replace that head-unit, though. I’ve wanted a stereo with aux-in (or better yet, USB-in) for some time now. All it takes is money, right?

The Boy will have a hard time
borrowing this one
One of the drawbacks of the ceiling fan in Mason’s room has always been that it had no light. I looked at attaching a light once, some time back, but it didn’t work out. So earlier this week, Daughter Dearest bought a ceiling fan with an attached light. I got on it last night. It wasn’t exactly a “no problem” swap, but it wasn’t all that difficult once I got all the tools together. I’m (re)learning that keeping at one of these projects will let me finish it sooner than I might think. I put the old fan (with detached blades) in the box and sat it in the living room.

So today, the wife says, “you need to get that fan out of the living room.” It took me two seconds to decide where I wanted it, and about 20 minutes to put it up. (Mason helped by carrying the detached blades out to the garage for me.) I nailed a 2x4 across two rafters, used four screws to attach the hanger, and it doesn’t get much easier. I didn’t feel like dorking with splicing into one of the nearby light fixtures, so I got a 3-wire cord I’d clipped off some dead appliance in the past, and spliced it in. Run to an extension cord, plug it in, and away it goes. There was an initial blast of heat, as it flushed out what was up in the rafters, but it was soon moving ambient air around. So… if you’re ever wondering how to dispose of a working ceiling fan, putting it up in the garage seems to be a pretty good idea. Yes, it clears one of the light fixtures by about 3 inches.

And I leave you with a Mason pic (that is, a pic by Mason). He asked to take some pictures yesterday morning, and got a good one of EJ snoozing (or pretending to) on the futon.

Kids take the darndest pix.

Monday, July 01, 2013 5 comments

Scratchy Weekend

FAR Manor has an attached two-car garage, and a detached three-car garage. With all that garage space, we are able to park: one minivan and two motorcycles.

How the fiber hath fallen…
To add to the “fun,” the detached garage (or “Carriage House” in FAR Future) has insulation in the ceiling… or rather, had. It pretty much all fell down over the last year or so. With all the junk in there, including stuff that Jam asked us to store and has pretty much forgotten about, there hasn't been room to maneuver ladders around as needed to put it back up.

But… if I have to replace my Civic soon, I’ll want some garage space. And so, once more unto the breach! The detached garage has a single-car door, and a two-car door. The Boy has his band stuff in the two-car section, so I figured it would be easier to clear the other side. I removed: a riding lawn mower, The Boy’s 1970-vintage dirt bike, a chipper-shredder, a go-kart, a Mantis tiller, boxes, junk, more junk, and more junk. We about filled a pickup truck (red, not white) with trash… including some of the un-repairable insulation.

Lifting up the fallen…
With the battlefield mostly clear, I got to work. Up the stepladder to tack up the insulation near the wall and the middle, then up the ladder to tack it at the peak. Some of the paper had gone bad, and I had these little metal rods to hold them up… until I ran out.

But, up in the attic/crawlspace (which was intolerably hot until I put a small fan up there to circulate the air), is a veritable lumber yard of stuff left by the previous owners and their own projects. The most helpful thing I found was long strips of wood, about 2" wide, and I tacked them up about halfway to support the insulation. This helped a lot, and I managed to finish the back half before supper. I tacked up another long strip on the front half to get a head start on that.

Let's hope it stays now.
So… this afternoon, after a couple false starts, I was off and running. I was hoping that I could tack up the bottom half all the way across, then climb into the crawlspace to finish the top half, but it didn’t quite work out that way.

But, with much upping and downing on the ladders, and another strip near the top of the front half to hold up some of the rattier insulation, I managed to get it done.

And now, it’s time to take my itchy self to bed. I get to rest at the office all week!

Tuesday, April 02, 2013 4 comments

It Grows On (or all over) You

My God… it's full of pines!
As I’ve mentioned before, the landscaping around FAR Manor is largely invasive, and aggressively so. But it’s not limited to the plants that were planted by former occupants; the native flora is pretty enthusiastic as well.

So, native or exotic, the plants start springing up in places where they’re not wanted. Left alone long enough, they’ll take over completely. Since Saturday was the first really nice weekend day in a long time, I spent the morning cutting firewood from a big deadfall. Then, I spent a pleasant afternoon outside, laying waste to holly and pine trees that were growing where they didn’t need to grow. Those about as big around as my thumb (or smaller), I yanked out of the ground. Up to quarter-size or so, the loppers did for them. Beyond that, it was up to the handsaw. (The chainsaw I reserved for trees roughly 3 inches across or more. A handsaw is actually more convenient for smaller stuff.)

The photo shows a partially-cleared stand near the back corner of the house. I laid waste to all the little pines here, then moved along the side of the house and cleared the path from the driveway to the propane tank. There was also much activity on the opposite corner, where trees were growing right up next to the detached garage, and there are several very tall trees (two cypresses and a holly) that needed lower branches trimmed back. And pines. Pines everywhere. After a timber company cleared them out about six years ago, they tried to spring right back up. Actually, they have, everywhere we haven’t kept them cleared out.

I can hope that next weekend will be equally pleasant. I’m actually taking today off, but only because Daughter Dearest is going in for gall bladder removal. Someone has to watch Mason.

Speaking of Mason, I need to post more of his ad hoc photography soon.

Sunday, March 17, 2013 3 comments

A Rotten Deal

Once more unto the breach, my friends, once more
— Shakespeare, Henry V

Shooting straight up…
and it’s shot, all right!
I always thought FAR Manor was a rotten deal from the get-go. Of course, my opinion means nothing; I’m just the one paying the mortgage. But when I saw the rotten soffit and trim above the back porch, I knew I couldn’t ignore it anymore. This was above a little decklet off the back porch, so I could do half the work on a stepladder on the deck itself, and the extension ladder off to the side let me reach the other half. It had been there for a while, but a warm and dry spring weekend meant I had the opportunity to do something about it.

So, after taking certain measurements yesterday morning, I scrounged around and found a sheet of 1/4" plywood (amazing!). The 1x8 trim boards needed a trip to Home Despot when we went that way for lunch, anyway. Now, I embarked on my favorite part of these repairs: taking implements of destruction to FAR Manor. The white trim board was only rotten on the end, but I found it was split in the middle, and my enthusiastic crowbar work finished it off. Thinking the plywood would also be rotten only on the end, I figured to cut it off halfway back… but when I misjudged the length, and cut too much, I found it was rotten along the edge almost all the way up, anyway. So more crowbar work was applied, and down it came.

During the up-and-down that goes with measuring, getting tools, running back to grab the thing I forgot, that loose step finally… got really loose. This was an annoying distraction, one I hoped I’d have time to deal with after the main event. I’ve always been one to take steps two at a time when I can, so I just stepped over it.

So… the rotten wood was ended, but the nails lingered. More crowbar work, hooray! Fortunately, the underlying wood was okay; it was the just the outer layer that needed replacing.

Then the fun begins: measure twice, cut once, curse when it doesn’t fit, and cut again. Hoping to avoid doing this again in a few years, I found some primer and slapped a coat on the backsides and edges of the replacement pieces. This took me to “it’s getting dark” time, so I knocked off for the day.

All you need is paint…
After church, lunch, and Mason’s nap, I was able to finish the job this afternoon. I drove in the last nails, and went to get the paint. Now one of the cosmic rules of FAR Manor is: things are supposed to be in one place, but they’re usually in three. And that was the case here. The paint is supposed to be in the basement—and some of it was (including the primer coat from yesterday). The ones I needed were in both the attached garage and the detached garage. But I found the paint, found a roller (I used a brush for the primer), and had at it. The new paint doesn’t quite match the existing surrounding pieces, but I figure that’s because it was still wet. I’ll have a look tomorrow.

My enthusiastic crowbar work had split trim up above the replacement, and I had to climb onto the roof to address that part. Using the stepladder, I put the tools up on the roof, then took the extension ladder around to the garage where it’s easier to climb up. I cleaned off the screen over the chimney while I was up there, then sawed off the broken parts and pieced them together. It’s ugly, but it’ll do until I can carve up a proper replacement.

Finally, with all that taken care of, I got the drill and some screws, and took care of the step. I do need to pressure-wash and repaint them, and if it’s nice next weekend, I might get to it.

The wife then recruited me to help with feeding the cows (and other things that somehow never get mentioned until I’m in the truck), and that took us to dusk. So that was a weekend at FAR Manor—at least it was shot to hell in the way I wanted it shot to hell for a change.

Sunday, December 23, 2012 3 comments

Changin', Arrangin'

The wife asked me to clean off the computer desk in Mason’s room, because she wants to move her video editing system in there. Then the old office will become a guest bedroom. So in I went, with trash bags, vacuum cleaner, and a rag with a can of Pledge. The dust bunnies were large under there, but not overly aggressive. I think I bagged about a pound of them, along with a half-ton of trash and a new (and unused) power strip.

With that done, I hung the DSL box on the wall next to the router, and neatened up the UPS position. Then it was time to unhook everything in the office and drag the computer stuff over. That went as well as could be expected, dusting each item as I brought it in. There are plenty of dust bunnies in that room, too, but the pile of papers on that desk is close to approaching critical mass and creating a black hole like the one we had in our college dorm room. She knows what the papers are for, so I’ll let her deal with them. :-)

So after I got Mason down for a nap, and the girlies took off, I finally got to relax. Then I got a text from Daughter Dearest: Go ahead and clean off your desk, so we can move the one upstairs downstairs. So there were more oversized dust bunnies, more trash, and then I hauled the old desk into the living room. With that space open, I cleaned out behind the dresser before moving the new desk into position.

Then… I started loading it up. The new desk has both more and less space, both due to the shelf. The laptop and monitor couldn't both be up there, so I moved it as shown here. But there’s room for the microphone, and (with a little more arranging and dust bunny eradication) I managed to get the laser printer in place. The printer was displaced by the wife’s DV deck.

I got smart and zip-tied the power strip to the framework on the back of the desk—now, it’s out of the way but reachable. The UPS is on the bottom shelf, and the desk is on rollers, so cleaning behind it won’t be an ordeal. Maybe the dust bunnies won’t have a chance to proliferate this time.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012 10 comments

Opening Hosta-ilities

Pulling a few things together into one post…

One corner of the back yard, directly behind the downstairs bathroom(s), is one of those spots that none of us have figured out what to do with. Beneath the master bedroom is a very utilitarian cellar space; there’s about 10 feet of sidewalk in front of the door, and a low rock wall on the left (facing the door). In previous years, when I haven’t ignored this space entirely, I’ve gone in with the lawn mower and took no prisoners. But last year, I realized that there was something other than grass and weeds along the top of the rock wall. This spring, I pulled up some of the grass around the hostas planted there, and one of them rewarded me with some flower stalks. Well played, hostas. It probably helped that the tree (now the stump on the left side of the above photo) was removed, giving them a little more sunshine to play with. The lawn back here is as much wild strawberry as grass, but that’s fine with me. Mason might find some forage-snacks in late April, and they don’t need as much mowing.

Around the front of the manor, we had a handyman replace some rotted wood around the door frame. He used some kind of (I think) PVC-based composite material, which should last until the house collapses. The wife & I got around to painting it yesterday afternoon. She ever so helpfully left the paint bucket at the bottom of the ladder, whereupon I stuck my foot in it and knocked it over onto the brick stoop. Well, the window frames on either side of the door needed some fresh paint too, so I dipped brushes in the spillage and took care of it. The rest of the spilled paint I scraped into a paint tray. I figure we’ll use the pressure washer to clean off the stoop once we put the screen door back up.

After some weed-pulling outside this evening, in which Daughter Dearest threatened a rabbit who got too close to the flowers, she went upstairs for a shower. Shortly after, I heard a scream and my name being called.

“You need to come up here and kill this spider in the shower!” she yelled. Oh yeah, like I’m really comfortable with spiders? Well, I came upstairs and saw this monster in the shower. Now there are places (especially Australia and Indonesia) with much larger spiders than this, but this SOB was the biggest I’d ever seen outside an enclosure on Planet Georgia. And it was IN MY HOUSE. And its eyes reflected the flash on my phone camera. (What was even scarier was that Daughter Dearest was wearing only a towel, and it was barely adequate to keep the important stuff covered. She used this as evidence of how urgent this was to her.)

I decided I needed long-range artillery to deal with this thing, so I went back downstairs and got a shoe. Mason, meanwhile, was attracted by all the noise surrounding the situation and had to come up to get a look at it himself. Fortunately, it stood still until I opened fire; it only took two or three attempts to get the shoe angled where it could compensate for the rounded shower corners.

I reached in with the toilet brush, planning to knock the corpse into the trash can, and it stuck to the brush. It was then I realized that it had webbed the bottom of the shower stall. And the web was all over my hand. I made sure Mason didn’t hear what I really felt about that—I hate spider webs more than spiders themselves, when it comes right down to it—as I boarded the spider for his one-way trip on the Septic Express. Then I got the webbery off me as best as I could, while Daughter Dearest laughed.

With that in hand, I rejoined Mason downstairs and gladly went into his room to watch him play with his blocks, while Daughter Dearest finally got her shower.

There may be three of us having nightmares tonight. I’m self-medicating in advance.

Monday, October 10, 2011 6 comments

Let There Be Light

Tonya HardingYou know I wouldn’t pass up a chance to re-use this picture, right?

Tuesday evening, I was playing with Mason under his bed for a few minutes. When I went to get up, I put my left knee down on the register grate… then put my entire weight on that knee. HURT I limped around for a few minutes until the pain went away and didn’t think much of it.

Until that night, when it hurt enough to wake me up. Ibuprofen was my friend then and for the next two nights. It never got to the point where I couldn’t walk on it, or needed my friend Reality the crutch, but I didn’t like it much. From then until Friday afternoon, when the pain subsided, I didn’t do much tweeting, blogging, or writing. I’d planned to post yesterday’s October Horror Spotlight on Thursday, but it was one of the casualties of the week.

So when I got home from work on Friday, I got crackin’ on my #FridayFlash and got it posted.

But Saturday brought new issues to the fore. Ever since the fluorescent fixture in our bathroom crapped out again last winter, we’ve been getting by with a lamp on the vanity. It hasn’t been a wonderful workaround — it gave just enough light to be useful, but took up space and we kept trying to flip the switch. We finally decided to do something about it and picked up a new fixture at Home Despot.

As with any project, I realized I needed more parts once I actually got started, not to mention getting the wrong parts for the next thing, so back I went. With everything I needed, the actual job took less time than the round trips needed to get the stuff. (I took the picture with auto-exposure set to −2 so the light wouldn’t blow out the whole picture.)

A less annoying, but still necessary project, completed the electrical work at FAR Manor. One of the dimmers in the living room wasn’t working right, and I decided to get something that didn’t have a large protruding knob that Mason or Skylar could put a lot of sideways force on. What I really wanted were the new touch-plate dimmers, but they didn’t have any rated to work with dimmable CFL or LED bulbs. So I settled on sliders with rocker switches.

One of the things I got on my second trip was a wall plate and a 3-way switch. It turns out that they don’t have a wall plate with two big rectangular cutouts (slider size) and one small (regular switch size). So I replaced the working switch with a rocker so I could get a plate to fit them all.

Unlike the bathroom light, where I just had to turn off a switch to have safe working conditions, we had to find the breakers for the dimmers. Once that was accomplished, I got to work… OH $#¡+ the 3-way switch was on another circuit we hadn’t shut off! Mrs. Fetched fixed that by hitting the main breaker, and I got that job finished without any further tingly zappage.

So I have a good dimmer and a good 3-way switch in the parts drawer now. I think I know where I want to put the dimmer…

Tuesday, August 16, 2011 6 comments

Moving Furniture

With M.A.E. out of the manor, Mrs. Fetched decided it was time to bring in the bed she bought for Mason at a yard sale last year. There were many cobwebs to clean out of various corners, and I ended up vacuuming then wiping down each part with a towel, and that got it pretty clean.

Whoever designed this bed knows little boys. It’s up off the ground, giving room for a matching dresser and cubby along one side. The door on the footboard turns the rest of the under-bed into either storage or a kid’s fortress of solitude.

Mason said, “Cheeeeeese!” as I took the picture. Where did he learn that from?
Mason watched and “helped” as I assembled everything, then put the slats, pad, and mattress on top. He was suddenly less pleased with the door, but I showed him that he could come out the back side and around and that mollified him a bit.

The cubby is a tight squeeze for a kid, even one as small as Mason, but I told him he could throw toys in there. He opened it, tossed whatever gadget he was holding at the moment, then closed it. Now if we can get him to do that consistently…

He’s still in the crib for now, and this will be the guest bed until he’s old enough to sleep in it himself.

Sunday, May 15, 2011 No comments


Friday the 13th was pretty long, what with Blogger “routine maintenance” turning into an brownout lasting over 36 hours. All the posts were there for the reading, we just couldn’t add new ones and you couldn’t comment on the ones that were there. That made it a little difficult to post my Friday Flash, but it was more than a little weird anyway. They finally got it fixed late Friday afternoon, but tending a drunk brother-in-law meant I wasn’t able to get to the computer anyway.

Thursday evening I spent out at the Backyard Retreat, straightening up the sides of the excavated area, then stacking the rocks to make a little retaining wall (shown here). Amazingly enough, I ran out of rocks before I ran out of excavation. Oh well, lots of things grow well on Planet Georgia, but rocks grow best of all. I’ll find more. I also smoothed out the surrounding dirt and built up the corner that needed it.

With the work done, I took my Kindle and a flashlight, gathered up some of the scrap wood around, and got a little fire going. It was a warm enough night that the fire wasn’t strictly necessary, but it was nice all the same. I smeared myself up with lemon balm and had very little trouble with bugs. Turns out the floodlights out back give enough light to read a Kindle by, so I didn’t even need the flashlight. We all went out there last night; even though it rained in the morning the chairs were already dry. Mrs. Fetched had a long list of things she would have done different (i.e. that I did wrong) but still liked it. It will be shaded all afternoon through the summer, which will make it pretty nice for evening chill-sessions. It was cool enough that a fire was welcome this time, and we sat out there until sprinkles sent us inside — naturally, after we went in, it cleared up and the moon was bright enough to make the surrounding sky blue.

I’m getting ever closer to the day when I just tell everyone who isn’t Mason, Mrs. Fetched, or Daughter Dearest to find different lodgings — immediately. It appears that The Boy is possibly getting back together with Snippet — AAAAARRRRGHHHH. The Boy had a bunch of friends over, and then blew us off when I relayed commandments from Mrs. Fetched about everyone leaving by 11:30, then… oh, this is good.

I have a view of the driveway from where I sit at the computer, and this one car would pull in, then back out again — then did it again about half an hour later, then again. Around 11p.m., I saw another car pull in — with cop lights. Forgive me, but my first thought was Drug bust time! and I went out to see who was going to win a free trip to the Cinder Block Hilton. Turned out she was here because Snippet parked her car in the middle of the road. Someone called, the cops checked things out and found check stubs with this address on it, and Snippet hustled away to move her car… to Big V’s. She parked it there then walked back to the house. I told The Boy again to get everyone out, and he left with Lobster and Snippet — leaving at least one friend in the garage to sleep there all night. Idiot.

Meanwhile, Lobster is smoking pot (I smelled it one evening) and is still having sleepovers with the not-exactly-divorced woman, both of which could bring trouble to FAR Manor, and he never seems to have money to pay the room and board he agreed to. M.A.E. is just becoming useless, spending all her time on Facebook or on her smellphone and not doing anything to help out around the manor. Enough with the leeching, already.

Mason had a stomach virus that made life for all concerned rather miserable (I had to change clothes twice last week after he barfed all over me), but seems to be getting over it. He’s learning new words all the time, and getting more aggressive with his insistence on doing things himself. He can feed himself pretty well now, gets mad if we don’t let him buckle the strap on his booster (and he has to re-buckle it several times after we unbuckle him when he’s done eating). As always, he loves going outside. He’ll ask to blow bubbles (“Bubboosh?” which is just too cute) but once outside he gets distracted by rocks and plants.

Speaking of plants, a weed called prickly lettuce has gone berserk around the manor this year. Seeing as it’s edible, and has some medicinal qualities (although there’s some dispute about its soporific attributes), I’m inclined to let it go where we don’t want something else. I’m going to have to make a salad of some of it and the wild garlic that grows along the roadsides. Too bad the wild carrots (aka Queen Anne’s Lace) come around later in the summer, or I’d add some of it too. The blackberries are looking pretty plentiful this year; I might be able to get a gallon or two within 100 yards of the manor this year.

Tomorrow… TFM turns 6. That’s a ripe old age for a blog.

Sunday, May 08, 2011 2 comments

Backyard Retreat: Part 2, the Big Dig

I was amazingly allowed all day yesterday to deal with what I wanted to deal with, and I decided this would be a good time to tackle the patio project.

There is no level spot in the back yard, so I had to make one. I selected a place near the woods, partly for shade and mainly because it was the least steep. I placed corner markers then borrowed a tractor with a front-end loader bucket from the in-laws. I should point out I’ve never done any grading before, so I kind of made it up as I went along. There are no pictures of me in action here, because no one was there to wield the camera. I started by scooping out the high end and dumping the dirt in the low end — I didn’t have to dig more than a foot. The scooped-out end was tilted, because the tractor itself wasn’t level, so I dragged some of the dirt backwards and that helped.

In the end, I decided I’d gone as far as I could with the power tools and got out the shovel. This is when I started hitting some large rocks, some nearly two feet long. I had to use a crowbar to loosen up two of them that were together. You can see some of the rocks along the right side of the photo below; I’ll use them to face the banks.

With the area smoothed out, I jumped on the tractor once more and carried the rubber tiles over. The bucket wasn’t quite big enough to hold them all, but a little overstacking and some care in driving back kept them all on the tractor until I actually got back. Then three slipped off, no problem.

I thought the surface looked pretty smooth, but when I started laying the tiles I realized it wasn’t exactly optically flat. It might have been less obvious had I used rock, but there would have been a lot more heavy lifting and I probably would have worn out before I finished. As it was, I smoothed out the dirt, put clips on tiles, laid them out, and made myself keep going until I had as many down as I could get. In retrospect, I should have dug out a little farther to the right, but I was already hitting roots from a tree just outside the frame in the above shot. Fortunately, the tree to the left was getting its roots covered more rather than dug out. You can see at bottom left where I have to fill in a little more dirt; I had planned for one more row of tiles but the length ran short. I can always fill it in later.

With a nice rubbery surface on the ground, I opened the first big box of furniture and got the chairs out. To prevent scratching, they were wrapped pretty well around just about every surface; I cut and pulled and pulled and cut and finally had four iron frames. I strapped the cushions in (they use Velcro™ or some substitute), and The Boy and Lobster hiked them down to the patio. And immediately started smoking there, not five minutes after I told them “no smoking.” Grrrr. At this point, I’d run out of daylight and decided the table could wait.

This afternoon, I attacked the table. Somewhere along the line, someone cut into the blister pack holding the hardware and took two nuts/bolts out of it. Fortunately, I had some hardware with the proper thread and (in the case of the bolts) length, so I got the job done.

Then I sat down in one of the chairs, put one foot on the table, and called Mom for Mother’s Day.

There’s plenty more to do: lay the rocks along the dug-out sides, get up all the big wood chips from when I had the tree-cutting party out there and toss them in the firepit (built into the table), then run the lawn mower over the weeds. Oh, and fill in that corner. Sheesh.

Sunday, April 24, 2011 3 comments

Backyard Retreat: Part 1, the Gathering

Our tax refund was pretty large… and so begins a new project at FAR Manor. Like many projects, this is one I had in mind for a good long while, but only now is it beginning to take root. With Mason loving to get outside and play, this is another good incentive.

I’ve been wanting a patio for a while. Actually, what I want is a complete outdoor kitchen, so we can cook through the summer without heating up the house, but it can start with the patio. Mrs. Fetched is somewhat leery of being outside much, because the bugs eat her — which is odd, because she grew up on a farm. You’d think she would be used to the great outdoors, huh? To make life easier on her, I have a screened-in gazebo thing (actually a permanent screen tent) as part of the project.

But first comes the patio. I had planned at first to go with the traditional paving stone, but then I saw these Envirotile things. They’re made of recycled tires, but compared to stone they’re relatively soft. If Mason (or anyone else) were to faceplant on this, it would hurt a lot less than a faceplant on stone. They clip together, which makes installation fairly simple, and then they dropped in price by a couple bucks between the time I found them and when I was ready to buy them. WIN!

We also need a place to sit, and this is what we settled on. Both of us wanted a firepit table, and this one has a cover so we can use the entire surface when we don’t have a fire. It should extend the “hanging out on the patio” season well into the fall.

OK, we have the rubber “stones,” we have something to park our butts in, now we just have to level out a spot for the patio. I think we’re going to put it behind the shrub at left center, next to the bird bath. That end of the house has a small flight of steps coming out of Sprite’s porch down to the ground. Very few plants are fond of that area, so we won’t have to worry about weeds too much.

Stay tuned for Part 2, which will likely get us near completion!

Friday, November 12, 2010 No comments

Weekend To-do List

There’s some stuff I want to accomplish this weekend. Check back on occasion; I might add a picture or two as I cross stuff off (or add more stuff to) the list.

  • Put up insulation in the shower area

  • Sand the shower area ceiling Need to do another layer of putty though

  • Knock down the stump out back

  • Get the winter garden plot started

  • Blow some leaves off the yard (excuse to crank up the generator)

Snippet is still not at the manor. I’d forgotten The Boy’s visitation was this evening, and she got a ride to the jail and planned to ride back to the manor with me — but she’d left her smellphone charger at her friend’s place, so I got a reprieve. She might get a ride out here tomorrow… which is the only way she’ll get back. I’m sure Mrs. Fetched will “round out” my day with plenty of other items.

Oh, and let me start with a photo. Mason, being a boy, likes big jugs… and I have photographic proof:

Mason with a milk jug

It’s pretty difficult to get a cellphone shot of him these days, as he’s almost constantly in motion. I got lucky this morning.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010 No comments


With M.A.E. and Moptop being at the manor for a while, and Daughter Dearest at college, Mrs. Fetched thought it would be OK to let them stay in DD's room. Now DD is home on break and livid about the state of her room. She's growling about the disarray, including "trying on my clothes and shoes without being asked." Maybe it's better that M.A.E. is elsewhere this evening.

Me? I got sent up on the roof to nail down a few shingles, which turned out to be loose flashing under said shingles. There's a couple shingles that have come off, but not leaking. Yet. I knew the roof was going to be a trouble spot the first time I looked at the place. Naturally, Mrs. Fetched ignored me.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010 4 comments

Showers of Projects

Things happen on their own time at FAR Manor, even maintenance projects. I have to gather my motivation, gather tools and materials, then find time to actually get the work done. So it is with the hole above the shower.

When we last left this particular project, it was January and DoubleRed had given me the key to making the water leak go away. Mrs. Fetched had carefully stowed away the insulation pulled out of the ceiling (i.e. tossed in the garage where it wouldn’t be bothered), so it was just a matter of getting a piece of sheetrock and putting it in the hole. The sheetrock came home about a month ago, and it was a couple of weeks waiting for Mrs. Fetched to retrieve the utility knife that we usually keep here but was (of course) at the chicken houses.

Hole above showerIt would have been nice to just cut a piece of sheetrock and patch it in, but as you can see there's too much mold and water stain to make that a reasonable fix. Fortunately, the boundary is not too far beyond the hole (going toward the left), but goes all the way across the ceiling the other way (about 7 feet).

Now comes the very best part of any of these projects: the part where I get to take implements of destruction to FAR Manor, and even rip out chunks of it with my bare hands. First, the crown molding comes out. Where I couldn’t get the pry bar under it, I just rammed it through the ceiling then pulled it down.

Next step, the grungy sheetrock itself. By taking some care with my happy trashing, I was able to not rip out any hunks of the sheetrock that shouldn’t get ripped. I used the utility knife to finish things off along the edge. Here’s what I ended up with:

widened hole

I measured the hole, measured it again, sketched out the dimensions on the back of an old business card, measured everything again and made sure I didn’t have it backwards. With everything in hand, I took a chalk line and tape measure and cut the replacement piece. Then I went back inside, stuffed the insulation back into the ceiling, and chiseled off the glue on the rafters that the original builders used to hold up the sheetrock while nailing it into place.

Sheetrock in placeI decided the glue was a good idea, and Mrs. Fetched had a $25 gift card from Home Despot, so we went to pick up that and a few other things.

Of course, I had to check the fit before gluing anything. Amazingly, I only had to make a 1/8" cut along the shortest edge to make it fit! Knowing it was going to work, I applied the glue, slapped the sheetrock up, and nailed it into place.

There was more of a gap above the door than I would have liked, but I didn’t realize that wall bowed out just a little bit. Oh well, I’ll just putty it up and the crown molding will cover it. I’ll have to put a thin coat of plaster over the replacement sheetrock, as it’s not quite as thick as the original piece. Big deal.

Wallpaper partly removedOf course, projects at FAR Manor never stop at just one thing. Since the wallpaper was peeling, Mrs. Fetched decided we should replace it while we already had the shower room half-shredded, and Daughter Dearest took care of business a few days before I attacked the ceiling. Of course, there was a second layer of wallpaper underneath, and (as you can see) it’s peeling too. We’ll have to tackle that next. Let’s hope it’s soon…


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