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Showing posts with label outdoor. Show all posts
Showing posts with label outdoor. Show all posts

Thursday, November 29, 2018 3 comments

It Don't Mean a Thing

Some cleanup required
I was bonking around in the garage Sunday afternoon, not doing much important, when I ran across Mason’s old porch swing. “Too bad I don’t have anything to hang it on,” I thought. “Charlie might like to swing in it.”

Then I remembered…

Some years back, we had a yard swing. It moved between the front and back yards as the whim struck whoever was sitting in it, until a bored and unsupervised Skylar destroyed the canopy with a stick, along with the sling that kept the upholstery against one’s sitting parts. The frame sat in the back yard, until someone decided to raid it for the hardware. The pieces have been sitting out back ever since.

With Mason looking on, I started to work on the jigsaw puzzle; it clicked after a couple minutes. Next was to find suitable hardware: 3” bolts and nuts. Amazingly, the first drawer I looked in had the bolts, and they were the perfect thickness! Could it really be that easy?

I've been framed!
Anyone who has followed this blog for a while knows the answer: nothing at FAR Manor is that easy. The bolts had two different thread pitches—finding nuts for one pair was easy, the other… not so much. But I refused to believe I had bolts without matching nuts somewhere. Finally, a prolonged scrounging session turned up one, then another, along with a set of bent washers (meant to follow the contour of a pole), so that was useful.

It took far longer, of course, to find the parts than to assemble them. I used a couple disinfectant wipes to clean off the swing bucket, then hung it on the frame. The bottom of the swing was about three inches off the ground, if that. So I pulled the ropes out of the bottom and tied them to raise the swing off the ground.


It works, Granddad!
With that, Charlie tried out the swing and seemed to enjoy it. It’s now sitting next to the gazebo.

I’m not done with the project just yet. My first thought was to hacksaw about 18 inches off the top bar to bring the hooks a little closer together. Wife had another idea… which I hope to show in Part 2.

Monday, September 03, 2018 2 comments

Gazebo life

As spring began to slide into summer, I told the wife, “I want to get one of those screen gazebos to put up down at the patio.”

“That’s a good idea,” she replied, “but let’s put it in the front yard where the grass doesn’t grow anyway.”

I was okay with that—it was more likely to be used if it was near the door. We got a 10' by 12' model, and I spent a weekend putting up the framework. The wife got some of the farm help to put the canopy over the top (it's close to 15' high, almost 5m), then I put up the screens.

Done, yay! Until the first rain, and the shade finished killing off the rest of the grass, and the floor got kind of mucky around the edges and sticky in the middle. I thought about de-commissioning the patio, since it doesn't get much use these days, and using the rubber tiles to put in a floor. Then I remembered when Mason's soccer practice moved to an artificial turf field during a long rainy spell in the spring, and started looking up turf on Amazon. I found a reasonably-priced roll of turf ($45 for 6' by 12') and ordered two. I still put some of the rubber tiles to use, filling in the space between the front sidewalk and the turf.

Play area
With a dry, mostly clean floor surface, I started taking Charlie out there in the evenings. The screens keep the bugs out, and I moved in some patio chairs and a couple of outdoor tables. Back when Mason was about 3, we bought a little slide/pirate ship/castle thing, and its new home became the gazebo. Life was good… except that it started getting hot, and we didn't have any way to run a fan.

For whatever reason, FAR Manor has a major dearth of outdoor outlets. This is something I'd wanted to remedy for a long time, and I finally got to work. I bought a GFI outlet and cover, let them sit for longer than necessary, then gathered tools and pulled an outlet in Mason's room. I drilled through the wall to give me a point of reference, then used my Dremel to carve a GFI-sized hole in the siding. To my surprise, when I ran the power cable from Mason's room up and to the right, I hit the hole on the first try! Soon, I had everything wired up (and pushed some silicone caulk into the drill hole).

Light strings
With an outdoor outlet in place (at last!), I rummaged through the Christmas light stuff and found what I needed: an outdoor power extender. The cord was the perfect length to run from the outlet, under the fake turf, and into the corner of the gazebo. The box has a stake to keep it in place. I grabbed a small fan off the shelf and plugged it in, then went to Five Below and got some LED lantern light strings. Soon after, Amazon ran a sale on a 33' LED light string (with remote) for $10 and change. The lanterns spread out to the corners from the center of the ceiling; the LED string runs around three sides of the gazebo. The combination is just barely adequate for reading, but that has not been an issue until this weekend. The days are definitely growing shorter.

The outdoor office
More importantly, the fan keeps things tolerable during the muggy evenings. (Except last week, when we had a couple of absolutely gorgeous days while I was working at home… I plugged the work laptop into the outlet and enjoyed it while it lasted. Pleasant days in August are rare on Planet Georgia.)

Charlie loves to hear, "Do you want to go out to the gazebo?" I found a tote bag that's perfect for carrying my iPad, a couple of Charlie's books, sippy cups/water bottles, and other incidentals. We can do one trip for both out and back inside. While we're out there, he plays on the slide, pushes cars around on the artifical turf, climbs into my lap to read a book… and hones his misdirection skills. Last week, as we were getting ready to go back in, he put his face up to the fan. While I watched carefully to make sure he didn't try to push fingers through the tight screen, he palmed the remote for the LED string. I had no idea until he came down the hall with a big grin, holding the remote to his ear and pretending it was a phone.

He showed the wife his misdirection skill this evening. While he was in her lap, he pointed to the couch. She looked that way; he swiped the toast off the top of her BLT, and commenced to nomming. Little rat. He's gonna be a stage magician if he keeps this up.

But I digress. I think, once October starts getting close to November, we can hang shower curtains over the screens and use one of those outdoor heaters to extend the season. Mason's old play table (with sand) might be a good addition for the colder times… especially since cold doesn't bother Charlie much. Maybe I can get Mason to show Charlie the play table, and maybe he won't teach Charlie to scatter the sand in all directions?

An outdoor space, especially without bugs, is a welcome addition to FAR Manor. Let's hope it can last for a while. And if you're in the US, I hope your Labor Day weekend was long and pleasant.

Thursday, March 22, 2018 2 comments

Back in the Saddle

Mason got a mountain bike a while back, and lately he’s wanted to… well, go mountain biking. Imagine.

Raleigh M-60… 1998?
Well, gee. I have a mountain bike, too. It has even been featured on this blog in the past, riding exotic routes like the Pinellas Trail or the Silver Comet Trail.

I hadn’t ridden it much in the last few years, and even less so after Charlie and the knee replacement. But it has been in the dry garage, and even moved around from time to time. It was a gorgeous weekend—we were all running around outside with shorts—and Charlie wore himself out riding a push-truck on the driveway. After he went down for a nap, at Mason’s incessant urging, I rolled the Raleigh out into the sunlight along with its air pump, a few tools, and the tires.

Off with the on-road,
On with the off-road!
The tires, you say? Yup. It came with a pair of off-road tires, with an aggressive tread that made it sound like an old pickup truck when riding on pavement. It turned out I rode a lot more on pavement than off, especially when The Boy and Daughter Dearest were old enough to ride on the roads. So I bought a pair of hybrid tires, swapped them on, and hung up the knobbies for later.

Later, it turned out, was last weekend. As Mason watched with great fascination, I pulled the wheels off, swapped the road tires for the knobbies, then hung the road tires up. This was made easier by dint of the tires being quite flat. Fortunately, the inner tubes held air when I pumped them back up. We took a shake-down cruise: down the driveway, across the expanse of yard alongside the road, around the gravel pile, then back to the manor. You know the old saw about “it’s just like riding a bicycle.” Yup, it all came back to me really fast. The tires and tubes were fine, and Mason was ready to start his adventure ride.

There’s a trail that leads from the back yard down to a garden area (a previous owner cleared it, although I wonder why they didn’t clear an area closer to the house… oh well). Mason found the trail on the other side, that runs to the fence between FAR Manor’s grounds and the in-laws’.

“Want to ride down to the pond?" I asked Mason. He was enthusiastic about the idea, so we went through the gate and I led the way.

The pasture was pretty rough, between all the rain we’ve had recently and the cows walking on it, and it jounced us thoroughly. Through a gate on the other side, past the campsite, and down to the pond. There were some poles and tackle left behind by one cousin or another, so Mason decided to do a little fishing:

Just as well they weren’t biting
I’m kind of glad Mason didn’t catch anything, because it would have been rather difficult to bring the catch home.


You may have noticed I said we rode down to the pond. That was a deliberate choice of words: FAR Manor is on a hilltop, and there’s only a dozen yards or so that isn’t downhill between the house and the pond. Now you can guess what that means… yup, uphill all the way home. This was the part Mason hadn’t really considered. Even in low gear, he complained a lot and had to take a few rest breaks. Surprisingly, I only needed a brief rest, and I never went below the middle chainring on my bike.

I hope Mason elects to continue riding around the manor and farm, though. It’ll build up his legs and his stamina, and he’ll be able to hustle harder in his soccer games. As for Charlie, I have a bike seat that clips onto the rack. I bought it for Mason when he was little, but he wanted nothing to do with it. I expect Charlie will have a more positive reaction.

Oh… and I need a new helmet.

Monday, February 20, 2017 1 comment

In-Tents Weekend #2

What’s more fun than a campout?

Camping out near the beach, of course!

The second of two camping trips offered to Mason’s Cub Scout pack this month was on Tybee Island. I’ve always wanted to go there ever since I heard about it back before I got married; as for Mason, he was entranced by the idea of camping out completely surrounded by water.


Backpack on wheels. There’s more room behind
the seats than you might think.
Having made notes about what we needed most on the last trip, I was able to do more with even less this time. It helped that I found my old backpacking stove, which is far more compact than what everyone else had, and a few other things. Seeing as Tybee is a nearly 6-hour drive from FAR Manor, I took Friday off work for the drive down (Mason’s school was out), and figured we had to leave by 11am to have enough light to set up camp. We got moving at 11:05, which goes to show that the fewer people you have involved in a trip, the less late you’ll be.

Last time I had gone to Savannah was when Daughter Dearest was in high school, going to either All-State Choir or GMEA. One thing I’d forgotten from those days: I’m sure Cat Stevens got the idea for his song Miles from Nowhere while traveling on I–16. What a boring drive that is. Fortunately, I’d brought a couple of frapps along, and I consumed them both. Mason used one of the empties when he went from “don’t need to go” to “freaking out” in 10 minutes. I swear, that kid’s bladder is the size of a walnut.

Warmth
But we got to the campsite in good order, and got the tent set up before it got dark. Some of the other families came down on Thursday, and did set up in the dark. Mason immediately took to haring around with the other scouts while the adults got supper together and went over some of the things planned for the weekend. I also kept a close eye on the weather forecast; there had been a 30% chance of rain for Saturday predicted earlier in the week, which dropped to 20% then came back up to 30%. Mason went full-tilt until about 10pm, at which point I told him to curl up in the sleeping bag with the iPad for an hour. I cut him off at 11… he said, “I’m not gonna go to sleep,” and was snoring five minutes later.

Now let me tell you about the campsite. It’s a pretty big RV park, and was far busier than I’d expected for mid-February. The tent area abuts the local cop shop—and the rear entrance is actually inside the campsite. That meant we were treated to diesel motors and backup beepers at 3am, as they brought in an impounded car, and plenty of white noise from the facility’s HVAC units. At least it wasn’t as cold as the Scoutland trip—in fact, the coldest it got was about the same as the warmest at Scoutland. On the other hand, Scoutland didn’t have a problem with bugs. As it turns out, the gnat line has crept up past Savannah, and I’ve added “bug spray” to our must-haves for future trips.

Concentrated joe…
Next morning, I put the backpacking stove on an unused grill, and started making espresso. The other guys were impressed with both the stove and the maker, both of which I bought around 1983 or so. So I played camp barista and helped everyone fortify themselves for the day ahead. Amazing, how a few shots of black espresso go down soooo good when you’re camping out.


Barefoot on the beach. Even if it’s a bit cool.
Because the next event was the whole point of island camping… the beach! If you’ve never been to Tybee, there’s North Beach, pretty highly commercialized and near the lighthouse. But there’s a second beach area that’s a lot quieter, close to the river mouth. The water was about as cold as I expected, which meant I didn’t bring Mason a swimsuit. But that didn’t stop him from kicking off his shoes and plunging in with the other boys anyway. eye roll I figured I had another change of clothes for him, so no biggie. WRONG! I could have sworn I packed some extra pants, but I didn’t. I had an extra shirt, that was it. It required a trip to a Dollar General to find him another pair of pants that only cost $6 and he’ll wear some more anyway. But walking back was pretty miserable for him.

Sleeping was a little tough this trip. Not because it was cold, but Mason was determined to hog the entire air mattress, and I found myself on the verge of falling off several times. No matter what time we went to bed, he woke up at his usual 7am—pretty much before anyone else cared to drag themselves into the world of the living.

So “here comes the rain,” and we all did our personal anti-rain dances—tying down rain flies, moving air mattresses into the middle of the tents, stashing stuff in the tents or cars. I think my own dance steps may have put the final knife in the rain: I got the ponchos and umbrella out of the car, within easy reach, and put the car cover on. 15 minutes later, we had six drops of rain and the sun came out.

Tybee Light in the background
We capped off the weekend with a walk to North Beach on Sunday morning. Mason was mad because he couldn’t jump into the ocean again, but I let him pull up his pant legs and wade. He was okay with that, because the water temperature was (as he put it) “ICE BUCKET CHALLENGE!!!”

Finally, we started back to the manor. Up Boredom Boulevard (a/k/a I–16), more frapps consumed, one more Mason bladder-panic, and returned by six. I got Mason into the bath right away, but I didn’t get my shower until around nine (what I want or need is automatically less important than… well, anything). The tent got a heavy dew fall, and I needed to put it up to air out, and that didn’t happen either. Oh well, I took care of that tonight. The Miata isn’t happy about the garage being occupied, but we’ll all deal. Tomorrow, I’ll pack it up and we’ll be all set for next time.

Speaking of which, I think next time I’ll try using one sleeping bag as a pad on the air mattress, and another as a blanket. And, as Mason pointed out, we need to add pillows to the packing list.

Monday, February 06, 2017 2 comments

In-Tents Weekend

Mason is in Cub Scouts (Tiger) now, and there are a zillion activities happening all the time. We went on his first camping trip over the weekend, over at Scoutland (a Scout Camp on Lake Lanier, near Gainesville).

So I started digging around, looking for all my old camping gear. The Boy had destroyed the big cabin tent, back in his Drunk and Doofus days, and I couldn’t locate anything but my old sleeping bag and my backpacking espresso maker (don’t judge… we’re talking dozens of pre-teen boys running around, wired on s’mores and trail mix, you gotta keep up somehow). Mason didn’t have a bag in any case, so the wife went out and got him a sleeping bag and us a tent.

I found The Boy’s old backpack from his scouting days, and there were a few useful items in it (most useful of all, a drawstring bag for clothes). So we gathered up food and other essentials, and loaded up the Miata—a backpack on wheels—and arrived at the camp as dusk was coming. Scoutland campsites have wooden platforms with metal pipe framework on them for a cabin-style tent, and several people pitched their tents on them. Our “four-person” tent1 was just slightly too large to fit comfortably on the platform, so we cleared the ground of pinecones and pitched it there. I unrolled our foam pads on the tent floor, put the bags atop them, and shoved our gear to the side. There was just enough room. I hung the battery-powered lantern on the loop at the apex of the tent, and that gave us plenty of light to arrange things as it got dark. Several people were impressed by how much stuff we pulled out of the Miata, by the way. Having gone backpacking a few times turns out to be a useful skill. ;-) For some reason, the parents’ signup sheet asked for age, and I’m pretty sure I was the oldest person there. Growing older, but not up.

The forecast low was 27°F, but that wasn’t a big deal. In fact, a couple of Girl Scouts were sleeping in hammocks. (Don’t mess with Girl Scouts!) As for us, Mason’s bag was rated for those temps, and my bag is an Army surplus down mummy bag, probably good to -40° in its prime. But I learned something important that night: when I was 28, even 38, I could toss my bag onto a foam pad and sleep okay. At 58… not so much. My hip drove into the ground, and now I find the mummy bag too confining, so I guess I need to retire it. The wife suggested (after the fact) I swap bags with Mason, which isn't a bad idea. He woke up once from the cold, and was fine after I told him to just burrow down into his bag & pull it over his head. Around 2 a.m., I fished a pool float out of the trunk of the car, blew it up (which warmed me up as well), and slept well until it deflated.

So Saturday morning was cold as you-know-what. Water buckets were iced over, cars covered in frost, etc. As Mason went to sleep at his usual bedtime, he woke up at his usual 7 a.m. The camp was dead quiet, except for him talking to me… but the Girl Scout leader (who was coordinating the campout for the county troops/packs) heard the noise and got a fire going. Soon, we had bacon and eggs going, and the kids filched marshmallows. Then the boys went running all over the large campsite, leaving the adults to wander around or sit by the fire and try to get warm.

Turns out a couple of the dads in Mason’s pack are very much into these clever things called “Hot Hands.” When you expose them to air and shake them, they produce an exothermic chemical reaction. I brought gloves that were more than adequate for 27°F, and my old ski mittens that would have sufficed for much colder temps, but my feet were cold… and I hate for my feet to be cold these days. So they tossed me a packet of “Toe Warmers,” which work the same way as the Hot Hands do. You take them out of the pack, stick them to your socks, and enjoy your day. At least I did. I also zipped into Gainesville to get an air mattress. For their part, they thought my espresso maker was awesome.

Saturday night was cold, but not as cold as before. That was fortunate, because it started raining around 2 a.m. The hammock’ers, not having thought to put up rain flies, bailed for a tent. Indeed, I think I might have been the only person in the camp who expected rain—as a motorcyclist, I know when you’re outdoors, 30% chance of rain means a near-certainty. The other pack dads left everything out, and I mean everything. So when Mason woke up at 7:15 a.m., declaring “I slept great!” I decided to just load up and go home. I always keep a towel in the Miata (highly recommended for any convertible), so I wiped down the tent and the cooler I left outside, then loaded the little car while Mason had one last run-around with the kids who hadn’t gone home Saturday afternoon. Overall, he had a blast and didn’t really want to go home.

Mason ended up with three patches for the weekend: Family Camping, Leave No Trace (for helping pick up trash), and Polar Bear (for camping in below-freezing weather). The latter is on the way, but he brought the other two home…

I left a blank spot for the Polar Bear patch

We’ll sew them onto his backpack.



1Camping equipment manufacturers love to play fast and loose with capacity. A tent measuring 6 feet by 9 feet can only be considered “four-person” if a) the people in question are children; b) they have no gear. In reality, there is barely enough room for two people and the gear you don’t want to leave outside.

Saturday, December 12, 2015 5 comments

Just Add Light

It’s unusually warm for the bottom of the year on Planet Georgia. Our high today was around 72°F, a good 20 degrees above normal. So, when I announced I was heading to the grocery store, Fizzle suggested I grill some fish for supper.

Good idea, thinks I, and added salmon to my list. As it turned out, the wife had a few things she wanted to get, and Christmas presents was part of it. So we got about 90% of the presents this morning.

But we neglected not the grocery run. My feet were well sore by the time we were done, as I just came off a gout flareup (the only one this year that was more than mild) this week. There were a few other things to do this afternoon, and they got done.

This time of year, it’s pretty much dark by grilling time… but I made do.

Bring on the food!

Work lights are really useful for all sorts of things. Oh, and it’s not just Planet Georgia. Not by a long shot:



May your days be merry and warm—even if they’re not bright!

Wednesday, July 15, 2015 3 comments

Brown Hawk Down

There’s an open field between FAR Manor and the in-laws place, with a utility line crossing the road and the field. A hawk has been perching on that line, and I’ve been trying to get a decent picture of it for a long time. Good light and a few seconds is all I need, but mostly I’ve had one or the other.

On Friday, I was heading down to the in-laws after work, and saw the hawk jumping and tumbling on the road. I hit the brakes, and he got off the road and laid in the grass. This was not the way I wanted to get a picture.

Approach with much caution
He was still breathing, so I knew “no touchy” was the way to go. I told the wife about it, and she said, “Mason saw him on the fence post yesterday, and I slowed down. Then he flew in front of me. If I hadn’t slowed down, I would have hit him then.” So I expect someone else must not have missed. She advised me to get the guy who has been helping with the farm work, which was a good idea since he’s had to handle raptors before.

He put on gloves, got in behind, and made the grab on the second attempt. I drove the cart back, with him holding the hawk. As for the hawk, he was in “chomp anything that gets close enough” mode for a minute, but settled down when we didn’t do anything. We popped him into a cage, and it was obvious he had a broken wing.

Take this broken wing, AND this cage…

The farm guy called the DNR to get a rehab specialist to pick him up the next day. That meant he wouldn’t be released back into the wild, but would spend his life making the rounds of state parks and educating people about raptors native to the region.

Unfortunately, he didn’t even get that far, and died overnight. Whoever clobbered him must have left him with internal injuries. Bummer.

The odd thing is, he could have seen the in-laws’ chickens from that perch on the utility line. I always wondered why he didn’t go nail a few of them… maybe he thought chickens were too evil to eat.

Wednesday, July 08, 2015 2 comments

Foraging the Harvest

As yummy as they are big!
Last month saw a return to the typical summer weather we get in Sector 706—we had more 90°F days in June than we did all last summer. Combine the heat with lots of rain, and it made for a few oddities. Usually, the wild blueberries growing around the manor peak around the first week of June, and the blackberries a month later. This year, the blueberries were late and the blackberries were early, so we had lots of both all at once.

And dang, some of them are big! We usually get a few nice plump ones along with the not so plump, but this is the first year I’ve seen them get as big as the domesticated blackberries you get in the store.

Pick, eat, repeat
The weird thing is, in early June, the berries looked pretty small overall. We had a dry (and cool) May here, during the time the vines were setting fruit. So I figured they wouldn’t get much better. Fortunately, I was wrong.

This is Mason’s favorite time of year, because he can go outside and get himself a snack. He loves blackberries, even the tart ones, and it’s a hand-to-mouth situation for him.

One notion I need to disabuse him of: he likes to say, “you pick, I’ll eat.” WRONG. I do tend to pick into a container, while he just eats everything he picks… and then wanders over to snag a few out of the container. (And yes, I’ve been known to pick myself a little snack as well. But the vast majority of them go in the container for later.)

Another one of his oddities is that he’ll move on to the next vine and insist that I should be over there with him—even when I have a ton more berries on the vines that he can’t reach.

Small but sweet
The blueberries always run small (the wife insists they’re actually huckleberries, and I have no reason to doubt her). But, they’re a lot more plentiful than they’ve been in most years. The wife thinks the birds will clean them off immediately, but I’ve not found that to be a problem. We’ve been picking for nearly a month, and getting small handfuls. The good thing is, they’re easily as sweet as commercial ones.

But I think after this week, the berries will pretty much be done. Just in time for the garden to start producing. I leave you with a line from a UNIX fortune cookie:

Faith is what lets you eat blackberry jam on a picnic, without looking to see if the seeds are moving.

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!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012 3 comments

Winter on the Patio

As always, winter on Planet Georgia is confused: it’s warmest out when it’s cloudy. After a couple chilly nights during the week, temperatures recovered to roughly normal for the long weekend. Mrs. Fetched’s mom said she had some play sand a while back, and I finally brought it up to the manor. We put a coat and “boggin” (wooly cap) on Mason, the same on me, and we went out to the patio.

This worked out fairly well, except that Mason wanted to treat the sand the same way he treated the water during warmer weather: something to fling in all directions. I was only partially successful in dissuading him. Otherwise, I sat back and played with my phone — and found that the wifi carried all the way out to the patio… sweeeeet. The sand was much warmer on bare hands than water could be, a major plus.

Then Mrs. Fetched brought Skylar up. Mason was not happy about this at first, but they shortly worked things out and started flinging sand everywhere. sigh I built a fire in the table and kept my feet warm while watching the kids play. Except for one or two brief shouting matches, they played pretty well together.

Naturally, it wasn’t all that long before they decided to explore a little. This was mostly wading through where I’d piled the leaves from the back yard, and they came right back when I told them to (it’s a miracle, I tell you!).

Finally, lunch called and we all went inside. With rain coming tomorrow, I put the covers on things and left the spilled sand where it lie. It’ll likely wash in between the tiles, where it will possibly do some good.

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!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011 2 comments

Wednesday Photo-Wibbles

I took Mason out for a little walk this afternoon and shot up a few things I’ve been meaning to shoot. But first, the weekly shout to the new follower:
  • Jerry Moore (couldn’t find your blog, Jerry — drop a comment and I’ll update)
Spring has come to FAR Manor, and it seems like it just snuck up on us. The dogwood over by the studio opened up its blooms this morning — this is what it looks like (post from 2 springs ago).

Mason was along for the walk. Mrs. Fetched and M.A.E. had him and Moptop outside, blowing bubbles earlier in the afternoon, and he wanted to do some more. There was a pretty good breeze, so I took the lazy way out and held the wand up in the wind. It did quite well that way.


Wild violets run rampant in our lawn this time of year. I’ve decided that monochromatic green is boring, and we’ll get that anyway once the violets go dormant again.



I cleaned up the bank near the road, and this was my reward — a sprinkling of wildflowers I either never had before, or had but never saw for the undergrowth.

One or both of the previous owners of FAR Manor were fond of aggressively invasive plants, judging from what’s been running riot around here. This is some kind of vine-y plant in the corners of a decorative fence in front of the manor — very pretty, but is trying to take over in every direction. After the blooms get done, I’m going to hack this sucker to the ground. It’ll be back next year.


This is FAR Manor in the spring. Pretty stuff all over the place, but it will engulf you if left to its own devices. Kind of like the in-laws.

Saturday, February 19, 2011 2 comments

Saturday in the Park

No way I’d mistake it for the Fourth of July, but it was an awesome day for February. That’s a little ironic, since the upcoming episode of White Pickups is set right at this time of year and deals with a very similar day (weather-wise).

Everyone else ran off to the chicken houses, after lunch, leaving Mason and me alone at the manor. I’d made plans for this contingency, and so we were shortly off to the park.

We started with a stroll around the perimeter path, just over a mile. Mason enjoyed all the stuff going on, especially the kids playing soccer in the practice fields next to the path. I enjoyed the moms jogging or strolling with their kids. We both enjoyed some fresh air and sunshine.

The playground is just off the path, almost all the way around from where we started, and I found a spot to park the stroller and turned him loose. He has no trouble going up stairs, and I found that with the generous handholds offered on the jungle gym, he also had no problem going down them.

I did get a little nervous when he climbed to the next platform and got out of reach. As I was trying to get him to come down the nearby slide, a little black-haired girl poked her head out of the adjacent tunnel and stared at me. I stared back.

“Moptop? Is that you?” I asked after a second.

“Are you FARf?” she responded. Sure enough, that big guy stalking around the edges of the jungle gym was Moptop’s grandpa. We chatted for a minute, me with one eye on Mason, and Moptop slipped off to hit the swing set. Mason and Moptop saw each other, said hi, then went on with their own pursuits.

After a little running, climbing, sliding, a diaper change (atomic), and watching the other kids, Mason got a little overloaded. He stopped, stood and watched the chaos, occasionally stooping to pick up a handful of wood shavings and toss them. Finally, he walked over to the fence and looked at the path. “That!” he said, several times, until I realized he was ready to get in the stroller and continue our walk.

We disposed of the nuclear waste dump he’d left in his diaper in a nearby bathroom, and I got nervous about where the car was until I realized I hadn’t gone quite all the way around, and we returned and headed on back.

He was asleep a few miles before we got home, and barely stirred when I got him out of the car seat. He only napped for 45 minutes, but he’d had a good morning nap so I wasn’t concerned.

Spring #4 is being very good to us on Planet Georgia, and Winter #5 hasn’t shown up in the extended forecast just yet. But hey, there’s still March to get through.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010 2 comments

Fall Colors of FAR Manor

Aha — Picasaweb does have a way to embed a slideshow!

This is what things look like around FAR Manor right now. If it wasn’t for all the crazy stuff going on, it would be my favorite time of year…



Sorry about the Flash trash, but you can click on the pic to see the full-size shots. Oh, and Tumblr has a nice slideshow, but no way to embed it.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010 3 comments

Call the Volunteers! Autumn Edition

Tomato plantSame thing happens every year, at least since we routed the kitchen/laundry drains to the back yard: tomato seeds get washed down the drain, they find their way into the yard, they sprout. This year’s a little different: they got started early enough that we might actually get some tomatoes off them this year. I don’t see any frost in the extended forecast — these days, first frost ends up being in November often as not — so that helps too.

As you can see, I’ve put some cages up for support. What you don’t see is the few shovels of compost I’ve thrown around the roots. Funny how the directions with potted tomatoes say “bury ’em deep!” when they have no trouble at all putting down roots from the surface.

I guess I really need to put a bed out here for next year, and see what happens when drain water gets to work with a planned garden bed for a change.

Friday, September 24, 2010 2 comments

I’m Back!

Did’ja miss me?

Turtles on partly submerged dockWhile you count the turtles on the dock next door to Dad’s place, enjoying one of the last warm days this side of spring, I’ll ask an age-old question: what’s worse than dialup? Obviously: no Internet at all. Or perhaps Internet on a not-iPhone with a tiny screen. I actually picked up a wifi signal from a friend of Mom’s across the lake, but they wisely had it locked. I tried tethering to my new phone, but that didn’t work out either (still working on that for later needs). I was mostly able to keep up with Twitter, but that’s about it.

Anyway, we had a pretty good time visiting with Dad. We went golfing several times, until a tendon in Solar’s arm decided it had enough. I guess that’s the advantage of dealing with a baby; all the lifting kept me in good form (and I actually started getting off the tee fairly well once I slowed down my swing). We had a small party for his 80th birthday… for the things he complains about, I just hope I’m doing as well when I’m 80. We ate out (a LOT) and ate well when we ate in, too. I got more pictures, some of which will end up on Picasaweb and maybe here sooner or later.

I got home last night around 11:30 p.m. and Mason was asleep (whew!). Of course, we were getting rapidly re-acquainted at an earlier hour than I would have liked. Mrs. Fetched and M.A.E. said he called down the hall for me for a couple days after I left. He changed quite a bit in five days: his hair is a little longer and a lot thicker, and he’s gotten tall enough to reach the tabletops from the floor (eep!). He had his one-year checkup last week, and he’s still 20 lbs. — not much weight gain in the last four months, but the doc says it’s not a concern. He just runs off what he eats, and has minimal baby fat. He’s been trying to talk for a while, and hit on saying ahhhh for a drink before I left. Of course, he’s getting into anything he gets a chance to get into, often looking over his shoulder to make sure we him him doing it… then running away and laughing when he grabs something he shouldn’t.

But I digress. My first day home, I get a call from the sheriff’s office, asking me if I can pick up my car. What has The Boy done THIS time??? The dispatcher couldn’t get any info from the state trooper, who was making the bust almost right on her doorstep, but took my number and called me back when she got the info: speeding and suspended license. Turns out the second charge was bogus — he had paperwork showing he’d done what he had to do to avoid that, and the DMV agreed this afternoon — but 64 in a 45 zone is going to leave a mark… on his wallet. The Boy, of course, is in high dudgeon about it, and is ready to sue anyone he can find who’s attached to the situation. (I told him to look up “sovereign immunity” but, like Mrs. Fetched, that wasn’t what he wanted to hear so he dismissed it.)

Vacation in general was pretty nice. The week at the resort is almost like a distant memory, and don’t even ask about work (although I’ve peeked at email a few times). But today’s event was a reminder that I really need to start looking forward to my daily escape from the free-range insane asylum.

Saturday, July 10, 2010 2 comments

Pictures, Food and Fights…

…but not pictures of food fights. We’ll start off with the pictures…

Mom and MasonMom and Mason


Decorated golf cartsGolf carts on parade…


Mason meets his first clownMason meets his first clown. He did quite well.


Mason eats the daisyAfter contemplating the daisy for a few moments, he attempted to eat it (of course).


And, now to the fights. For an evening there, I thought M.A.E. was going to go back to her cheating a-hole of a boyfriend. Well, that now seems to be inoperative. He doesn’t seem to think he’s done anything w0rNg, and thinks that M.A.E. is the one with the problem. But now he’s pulling the control-freak card, threatening to take Moptop (fat chance with a felony drug conviction there, d00d) and making veiled threats (“you’re about to have a very bad week”) and a not-so-veiled threat to get her fired from her job. So she just got her smellphone number changed and who knows what will happen next there? Stay tuned… soap operas aren’t this weird.

Finally, food. Mrs. Fetched said “After I’m done at the chicken houses, I’ll bring some chicken up from Mom’s and we’ll do something with it for lunch.” This is code for, “I’m going to run way overtime, so you might want to fix something if you don’t want everyone here to starve to death.” There were a couple of steaks from last week’s grillin’ in the fridge, and I found some other stuff to make…

Steak Parmesan Pasta Salad

1 16oz box macaroni
8 oz grilled steak, sliced thin
1 cucumber, diced
1 tomato, diced
1 med. onion, sliced thin
1 20oz can corn, drained
1/2 c parmesan cheese (grated)
1/2 c vinaigrette

Prepare macaroni according to package directions. Rinse in cold water and drain well. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Cover and chill for 3 hours (preferred) or serve right away.

Everybody liked it — but they were hungry.

Thursday, June 10, 2010 3 comments

Wood Spill

I finally got serious about cleaning up the wood spill behind the manor.

After dispersing the spill with power and hand tools, there ’s still a couple major plumes of wood…

pile of wood

another pile of wood

Nature is lending a hand at eating the spill, although it would take a long time…

Wood beetle

Some of the smaller wood particles have drifted into the woods, where they won’t cause any problems…

brush pile

Some of the spill has been recovered and stored…

stacked wood

Still lots of work to do, but I’m hoping to have the spill cleaned up in the next week or so. It would go a lot faster if I could get The Boy in on the action.

Friday, May 14, 2010 4 comments

Friday Picture-Rama

If a picture’s worth a thousand words, this would be a looooong blog post.

Blackberry flowersWe keep getting cool snaps, and I keep thinking “this one must be Blackberry Winter,” but they just keep coming. It warms up, then we get a line of thunderstorms, and it cools off, lather rinse repeat. Well, rinse anyway.

The blooms look pretty good this year, and I’ve noticed several stands in a nearby pasture. We still have plenty of jelly and jam though, so I’m sure sure I’ll do much picking come Fourth of July or not.


RoseUpsize the vines, the thorns, and especially the flowers… and this is what you get. The vining roses are really kicking this year — much better than last. We have a dogwood that blooms twice, since there’s one of these vines crawling all through it.

But seriously, I need to get the shears a hold of the rose vines — they’re doing a fair imitation of kudzu, but with teeth!


Big V riding the feed cartI was going to say something like “moving from flowers to weeds,” but Big V isn’t here to defend herself. Oh well, I’m still gonna talk about her, that’s the price she pays for dragging me out of bed last weekend and driving her to Tractor Supply. She has her “permanent” prosthetic, the one that’s custom-fit for her, and she can get around on it reasonably well now. That day, she was still working on her balance, and was doing fine pushing the cart around. That is, until she had them drop about 350 pounds of horse and dog feed on it.

She gave the laden cart a push, and said, “I can’t get that going. You’ll have to push.” Then she climbed on top of it. I was a little worried about the cart’s rated maximum load, but it didn’t come apart on us. Of course, that meant I had to push her and the feed up to the cash registers and then out to the car. She hopped down and got in the seat before I had a chance to tell the guy to throw her in the trunk with the rest of it. ;-)


Mason chewing on the tableOf course, what would one of these photo-posts be without the World’s Cutest Grandkid? This pretty much sums things up for Mason these days. He’s crawling all over the place, pulling himself up on anything that will stand still long enough to support him, trying to free-stand, and chewing on things.

We started giving him teething biscuits this week — they’re a really hard cookie-like thing that is supposed to be hard to bite through. Mason’s beaver-chompers make pretty quick work of them, though; they don’t last more than a few minutes before he’s bit the end off and working on the loose piece. He likes some regular (i.e. not-baby) food, but definitely not fish or guacamole. He made the most hilarious face after Mrs. Fetched gave him a little home-made guacamole last night… then ejected it quick. I think he was expecting peas, which he does like. Next time, I’ll have the camera at hand and on speed-shoot mode.

Stupid gout is running at a low level at the moment. I’ve temporarily stopped drinking… when the foot is good for an entire week, I’ll resume the occasional nip at the rum bottle.

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