An essay on how I spent my July 4 holiday week

Last year, John and I went to Cedar Point, stayed in Breakers Hotel, rode all of the rollercoasters multiple times, and had a wonderful holiday.

This year we painted the house.  The house is a half brick (the first floor) half stucco and timber (the second floor) Tudor style. The stucco and timber portion had started to look increasingly lifeless and ragged and in need of some TLC.  Initially we thought that it might be a good idea to simply replace the stucco and timber with (easy to maintain) vinyl siding.  So we contacted a bunch of different contractors and asked for quotes on that and were knocked flat by the sticker shock of it all.  The quotes averaged around ten thousand dollars (ten thousand dollars!) to put siding up on half of a house.  Ten thousand dollars was not in the budget.  Vinyl siding was out.

Plan B was to keep the stucco and timber (which we honestly like the look of) and simply (simply!) do all of the necessary repainting and repairing ourselves.

This never would have gotten done if we tried to piecemeal it out over weekends only, so we took advantage of the long weekend and took the whole of the 4th of July week off.  To paint.  It also would never have gotten done if we relied on ladders and scaffolding.  (The scaffolding would have been especially problematic given the bushes on two sides of the house, the trees out front, and the vegetable garden out back.)    So we rented a hydraulic bucket lift.

bucket lift

It cost about $500 to rent for the week.  And worth every single penny.  John hauled it around the house with his car and there were only a few places where it couldn’t reach, where we had to use ladders and scaffolding or clamber around on the roof.  We would never have gotten the painting done by ourselves without all of the help from our friend, the hydraulic bucket lift.   Granted, it did tear the lawn up a little bit, but grass seed is cheap.  (Total costs for doing it ourselves… bucket lift + paint + wood + brushes and rollers and paint trays + grass seed = a little over two thousand dollars.  A lot less then ten thousand dollars.)

The bucket lift hard at work

This was Zeno’s project… because the further we got into it, the longer stuff took.  At the beginning, it seemed like everything went very quickly, primarily because we were painting large expanses of stucco, and it was easy to see the progress being made.  Once we got to the more finicky portions, like the trim work, things slowed down.  A lot.

We re-painted all of the stucco, all of the wood trim, and repaired/replaced parts of the trim as needed.  We painted the porch.  We painted the garden shed.

We are actually still not quite done, as there are still a few little bits of the trim work that need to be finished.

And like all good projects, it has spawned additional projects.  Because while the ladders and such are out, we might as well clean and fix the gutters.  And we should really repaint the front and back doors to match the trim.  And maybe do the deck as well.

One of these days we will be able to sit back, say that we are 100% done with this project, toast ourselves… and move on to the next project.  Because as long as you own a house, you never need a hobby.

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July 15th, 2014 at 7:41 am

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Growing

The garden is coming along well. So far the tomatoes and peppers are the early winners. The eggplants just have flowers so far. Actually, the tomatoes started flowering and fruiting so early, that for a while John and I were concerned that the growth of the plants would be stunted.

Yes, those are black tomatoes. The variety is called Indigo Rose.  They start out greenish, turn dark purple-black all over, and when they turn bright red on the bottom, they are ripe.

Every year we have tomato plants that just pop-up… “volunteers” from last year’s tomato crop. This year we had an unusual number of volunteer tomato plants – over 20 – so this past weekend I transplanted the largest 10 into containers on the deck and a secondary plot of land next to the deck, moved some of them into the spaces between the tomato cages, and simply weeded out the rest.  Eventually there will be no need to buy and plant tomato seedlings… we will simply till the soil, and wait to see what starts growing.  Then transplant what we want to keep into the tomato cages and wait to see what varieties we got.

I can’t believe that this used to be a tiny peppermint seedling. Now it is trying to escape from the pot.

Deer and rabbits have always been an issue for us, especially since we live so close to the arboretum.  Deer regularly pass through at dusk and before dawn, moving between the arb and where ever it is that they spend the rest of their time.  And the rabbits are always there.  We put down the stinky deer and rabbit repellent around our garden and grin and bear it and cross our fingers.  Lately, however we have been seeing more deer then usual.

The other day I looked up from weeding (in the middle of the afternoon) and there was a tiny fawn – a really bambi-sized little one – standing about 10 feet away, watching me.  No mama in sight.  He panicked when I stood up, and took off for the back corner of the yard and bounced off of the neighbor’s fence a few times (too tall for him to jump over) before getting turned around and dashing for the street.  I saw him several times over several days… always in the daytime, and always alone.  I figured that mama was out of the picture for some reason, maybe hit by a car, and I hoped that I wouldn’t see the fawn dead on the side of the road one day while driving through the neighborhood.  Turns out that mama is still around… I did see the two of them together finally.  It turns out that she easily jumps the backyard fences that are too high for the fawn to get over.  I bet that they get separated a lot that way.  They sure are cute.  And I do like seeing wildlife in the backyard.

I just hope that they stay out of my vegetable garden.

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June 18th, 2014 at 3:09 pm

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How to Inadvertently Train Your Cat

I made a mistake with Veena. I admit it. The mistake is that I accidentally trained her to not sit on my lap when John is around. I don’t like being the bad guy with her, so I get John to do the things that upset her… like restrain her while he clips her nails, or shoo her off my lap when I need to get up but don’t have the heart to move her off of my lap myself.

So now she hesitates to get up on the couch when both of us are sitting on it (she is fine when it is just me on the couch) and that’s a problem because evenings on the couch with John watching a movie or some TV or otherwise unwinding are when I most want a lap cat.

Oops.

So I know what I did wrong. Now I have to figure out how to undo it.

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May 25th, 2014 at 3:11 pm

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Spring has sprung

I love spring. Everything is blooming. The weather is (finally) getting warmer. The sun stays above the horizon later and later in the spring.

I hate spring. Everything is blooming. My eyes itch and water, and I cannot breathe freely without wheezing and sneezing, and coughing. Damn allergies! However, after extensive experimentation with drug combinations, I think that I have hit on the winning combination. Zyrtech with a double-dose of sudafed layered on top. That about does it for me.

The big accomplishment of the weekend is that we planted the garden.

  • 20 tomatoes (super sweet 100 cherry tomatoes, black krim, black cherry, mr.stripey, lemon boy, yellow pear, black prince, mortgage lifter, beefsteak)
  • 5 sweet peppers (3 green and 2 red)
  • 4 hot peppers (mucho nacho jalapenos)
  • 4 eggplant
  • 4 basil (2 green and 2 purple)
  • sage (leftover from last year)
  • 2 rosemary
  • 2 greek oregano
  • 2 mint (1 sweet and 1 chocolate)
  • 5 lavender

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May 4th, 2014 at 12:52 pm

Posted in daily life

At the end of the road

If you are on the Big Island of Hawaii, you can take highway 130 in Puna down past Keaau, past Pahala, all of the way to where it ends in Kalapana.  In 1990 a lava flow covered most of the town and the Kaimu black sand beach.

Today if you drive out there, you get to a viewing area where you can watch lava pour into the ocean.  You can also walk over the lava flow toward the sea, where coconuts have been planted as part of a land reclamation project and where a new black sand beach is forming.

John and I were in Hawaii toward the end of March. We stayed in a vacation rental up in Volcano near the National Park and spent our days hiking, swimming, and wandering around exploring the Puna region. I have finally started to edit and upload my photos, and they can be found here on flickr.

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April 23rd, 2014 at 9:50 am

Posted in holidays,Photography

One year

Hi Merlin.  It has been a whole year and I still miss you…

Here’s to you.

Merlin

Merlin

Merlin

Merlin

Merlin

Merlin

Merlin

Merlin

Merlin

Merlin

Merlin

Merlin

Merlin

Merlin

Merlin

Merlin

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February 12th, 2014 at 10:07 am

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2013 in retrospect

2013 ended well. The whole end-of-year holiday season was pretty great, starting with Thanksgiving/Hanukkah with John’s folks up in Kalamazoo, winding down with hosting my parents at our house in Dayton for Christmas, and culminating with a quick New Year’s Day visit from John’s Mom and step-Dad on their way back to Kalamazoo from a dance camp in Berea, KY.

2013 may have ended well, but it had a really rough start. In the first couple of months of 2013 we lost both John’s grandfather, and our 18-year-old cat, Merlin. First John’s grandfather had a bad fall, then Merlin had a stroke and we found out that she had advanced cancer, then John’s grandfather got worse and went into hospice care where he died peacefully, finally, less then a week later we lost Merlin as well. (I still miss her.)

In late March we adopted Vena (Ravenna) from a rescue.

John had his 42nd birthday, which we celebrated by spending a long holiday weekend at Cedar Point, and riding all of the roller-coasters as many times as possible.

We went to Pennsic as usual in late July/early August. Every time we go to Pennsic, it gets better and we have more fun then before. So every Pennsic is the best one yet.

At the end of October we took another long holiday weekend and went camping and Hiking in the Smoky Mountain National Park.

And in between all of these events we just lived life… and life was pretty good. Except for the fact that I didn’t do nearly so well on my 2013 goal list as I have on previous years.

1. Finish the project where I photograph, identify and catalog my collection of china and glassware

Well, I am done with the photography, but I am still working on the identification and classification portions.

2. Recode AQalloys. I haven’t done a thing with Brian and Kevin’s company site since I set it up several years ago, and it could really use an overhaul. Not necessarily a design overhaul, but I really should get in and tinker around under the hood a bit. Modernize the code, make it responsive, stuff like that.

Nope. Not even a little bit. I made some content updates, but that’s it.

3. Design and code work on this site. The perpetual project….

Working on it!

4. Garden 5.0. We got the Burpee Seed Catalog in the mail yesterday, and I got all excited about the different varieties of tomatoes, peppers, and everything else that we can plant in the spring. I think that we will put in an order and try to start the garden from seeds again. (Reserving the right to just chuck it all and go to Home Depot and Loews to get seedlings if the whole “starting everything from seeds” plan goes sideways again.)

This one actually turned out well. We started some things from seeds and filled in some things with seedlings from Home Depot/Lowe’s/Meijer. The only thing that we botched was in spacing out the plants properly, and as the plants got older and bigger it got to be more and more difficult to wiggle in between them to weed and to harvest the produce.

5. Get this house in order. We do a pretty good job with maintenance and upkeep, but there are a couple of repair and upgrade projects that I think that we ought to knock out. The downstairs bathroom needs some work, there are a lot of patches of drywall that need to be patched up (mostly on corners that get knocked into), paint that needs to be re-touched, and other little things of that nature. And there are some bigger projects… for instance, I think that this is the summer where we need to do something (replace? clean? repair?) about the siding.

Well, we did some minor repairs, fixed the bits in the downstairs bathroom that needed it, and did some of the paint-touching-up, but still haven’t patched the dings in the corners or touched the siding. We will be doing more of the same in the coming months.

6. Artwork update. I haven’t refreshed the photos that we have hanging in the house in years. I should replace some of the older photos with more recent ones, and I also need to re-frame some of the paintings from my Grandfather. Maybe I should think about getting a digital picture frame?

Nope! This one fell completely off of the radar.

7. Downsize. This goes along with the perpetual project to weed out the library. Really. We have a lot of stuff. We don’t need all of it, and the closets and storage spaces are bursting. We need to get rid of some of it.

Working on it. The most visible progress is in our library where we managed to get the collection down to 2.5 (out of 5) bookcases. We have taken 15+ file boxes of books to Goodwill, as well as several boxes and bags worth of housewares and clothing. And we have thrown out a heck of a lot more then that. But we still haven’t made much of a dent in our possessions. Where the heck did all of this stuff come from!?

8. Get organized. A subset of the downsizing item, actually. If we have less stuff, then it will be easier to organize logically, store, and then find (and use) when we need it. Do we really need two junk drawers in the kitchen alone? I think not. Lets do something about that.

See above…

9. Learn how to cook Indian food, especially curries. John and I both like Indian cuisine, and yet (other then a couple of semi-successful experiments) have not tried making it ourselves. How hard can it be? Other than the really long and intimidating lists of spices that every dish requires, of course…

Well, I did a little bit of Indian cooking, but I did a bit more Asian/Island cooking. So I will call this a draw. In any case, tasty food was cooked and then eaten.

And there you have it.

2013.

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January 12th, 2014 at 12:50 pm

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Lost above the clouds

On the morning that we left the Smoky Mountains, we woke up to, and packed up the campsite in, extremely heavy, dense, fog.

Naturally we had to go all of the way up to Newfound Gap, and then the rest of the way to Clingman’s Dome, to see what we could see.

Driving up, we could see very little. About 20 feet ahead of us and behind us on the road, and almost nothing off to either side. At the top we were deep in a low cloud, and visibility came and went according to how the wind blew. It was beautiful, but not the kind of beauty that could be easily photographed.

It was like the tops of the mountains were islands, and the clouds and fog flowing around and between them were the ocean.

In the clouds at the top of the dome

In the clouds at the top of the dome

It was also bitterly cold, and the dampness ate into my bones. We had the heater in the car all of the way up to try to compensate.

Eventually we headed down the mountain and started on the drive home.

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December 31st, 2013 at 10:15 am

The Vegas of the South

That is how we think of Gatlinburg,TN. That is how we think of the portion of road that starts in Pigeon Forge and goes straight through “downtown” Gatlinburg and into the main entrance of the Smoky Mountain National Park. Even during what you would think of as a slow time of year, it takes forever to drive because there is so much traffic, and there are so many stop signs, and there are so many pedestrians just wandering across the road whenever and where ever they feel like it. And there are so many tourist traps – Ripley’s Believe It Or Not “museums”, knife stores, candy stores, Tshirt stores, the Smokey Mountain Moonshine Distillery (which to our rather bitter disappointment was more of hillbilly-esque shopfront and less of a working distillery… as far as we could tell anyway) and more. Much more.

The traffic pretty much dropped down to nothing once you passed the sign welcoming you to the park. I am willing to bet that most of the people wandering the streets of Gatlinburg never actually made it further into the park then the ranger station, and those that did go further pretty much stayed within about 20 feet of the road at all times.

We actually didn’t spend that much time in Gatlinburg, other then going there for dinner. (The Cherokee Grill & Steakhouse and the Smoky Mountain Brewery were especially tasty.)

On our last evening there, just a day or so before Halloween, we took some time to wander around in Gatlinburg, just a little.

A candy store that had an almost century-old taffy-shaping machine that was still in active use drew us in. We ended up buying a bag of candy. To support the fabulous machine.

Fabulous antique taffy machine

Fabulous antique taffy machine

We also witnessed some interesting reverse trick-or-treating. There was a parade of people in costumes, in their (varying levels of) vintage mini coopers (which were also decorated for the holiday) who kept circling the downtown blocks, tossing handfuls of candy to the folks on the sidewalks. Man, I really wish that I had been able to get some photos of THAT.

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December 31st, 2013 at 9:57 am

Mountain Waterfalls

There are a lot of waterfalls in the Smokies, many of which we have hiked to, and all of which are quite lovely. However, if you want to photograph falling water (and especially if you have a tripod so that you can take long exposure shots of falling water) then the hikes that have waterfalls as the end goal (Grotto Falls, Rainbow Falls, Trillium Falls, Ramsey Cascades, etc…) are not always the best ones, since they tend to be very crowded around the falls… lots of people like to hang out there and it gets tiresome waiting for people to clear out of the way so that you can get a shot in.

Especially at Grotto Falls. Everyone wants to have someone take a photo of them standing behind the falls. (Why else would they hike to the falls if they couldn’t go around and stand behind the rushing water and peer out?)

John at Grotto Falls

John at Grotto Falls

Some parts of the river leading up to Grotto Falls are better then the falls themselves, in my opinion.

On the Grotto Falls trail

On the Grotto Falls trail

On the Grotto Falls trail

Probably my favorite shot from the Grotto Falls trail

You get the best shots when you climb down off of the trail and onto the rocks in the river.

The Chimney Tops trail parallels a good sized river for a while at the lower elevations near the trail-head, and is another really good place to do a lot of long exposure shots of flowing water.

On the Chimney Tops trail

On the Chimney Tops trail

John on the Chimney Tops trail

John held still for this 5 second exposure.

Waterfall right off the road

This waterfall was right off the road… I think that the area is called “The Deeps”

We are always careful

We are always careful, even when we climb around on the rocks to get a good shot

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December 29th, 2013 at 2:24 pm