Home Improvement Projects as of 10/1

Thinking back, this whole brick insanity began maybe 5-6 years ago when I asked Cindy, our neighbor on the south, is she’d mind if I put in a little brick wall down the property line between our houses. She said sure, go for it. So, initially, I was thinking maybe a 40′ long, three brick high little wall, just to tidy up the transition from lawn to her white gravel around little low bushes look.

Then, I got to thinking. This is a bad as one might imagine. What if I put in a second little wall a foot from the first, and made a nice long planter? That would be cute.

Then, the old walnut tree in the front yard needed to be taken out – slowly dying, leaning slightly toward the house, was starting to get worrisome. So, out it went, and the truly hare-brained phase began: what if, instead of a worthless front lawn, we put in a little orchard? Hmmm…

IMG_5267
As of 10/1. Pomegranates in the still a mess front yard. 

Next, I’d long been annoyed with the inevitable tire tracks on the lawn where people pulling into the drive missed the driveway. So, what if I made a little maybe 3′ wide brick path along the driveway, throw a little concrete and steel right along the edge to support the inevitable errant car tires…

We started surfing Craig’s List for free bricks. They come up regularly. Soon, we had maybe a 2,000 bricks stacked in the front yard, most needing some clean up of old mortal. we’ve continued to collect more bricks, at least 4,000 by now. I’ve cleaned the mortar off of well over 2,000 bricks. We have a large unsightly pile of mortar chips that I’ve been using to fill in under concrete whenever we need to.

But we also had a couple little trees seriously outgrowing the barrel halves we’d stuck them in, a dwarf fig and a citrus tree andrew had grown from a seed when he was quite little. Why not build in a couple stylish planters out front, and put those trees there?

IMG_3209
Driveway walk & planters as of 2 years ago. 

THEN, looking at brickwork pictures, saw the adorable brick ovens people make. Well, I’ve got thousands of bricks up front, how hard could it be to build a brick oven? So add that to the list.

IMG_4383
Only took 16 months! 

Next next, looked like grandma was going to come live with us, which she did 2 years ago. The late walnut tree had made a mess out of the walk up to the front door, lifting and cracking it. A ramp would be better for grandma anyway, and I have all these bricks. So older son took a sledge to the walk, and younger son and I poured about 3/4 of a ton of concrete to bring the surface up enough so that the ramp would meet the porch slab…

IMG_3917
With ramp to front porch and little trees! About a year ago. 

And, what the heck, after I saw how nice the planters looked with the two little trees with a bench between them, why not just keep going, build a path and some planters along the front facing the street? Then somebody tsk tsk’d me, saying that the problem with the front yard orchard is that people are just going to steal your fruit. That had never occured to me, but, hey, a wrought iron style fence along the top of the front brick wall of the planters would look great. Of course, I’d need to build some columns on the ends to support the fence…

IMG_5262
Nearly finished north section of the walk, planter and fence along the street, looking south. 
IMG_5265
Little columns came out nice. Need to put a capping row of bricked beneath the fence, will need to layout and mark where the occasional through upright spike goes, and so some careful cutting. Front yard still a wreck. 

So, as we wrap up Year Three of the massive brick home improvement project, the one part I haven’t even started yet? The wall between our house and the neighbor to the south. But it looks OK! Maybe 2 more years, and I’ll wrap it up.

If I live that long.

 

Advertisements

Update: Reading, Writing & The Deathless Home Improvement Project

So, here we are again!

Reading: Reading Lord of the World aloud to the family intermittently. Around 40% of the way through. This will mark the third or maybe fourth time I’ve read it, it keeps getting better, in the sense of more terrifyingly accurate. (my emphasis)

But what was chiefly to be feared was the positive influence of Humanitarianism: it was coming, like the kingdom of God, with power; it was crushing the imaginative and the romantic, it was assuming rather than asserting its own truth;it was smothering with bolsters instead of wounding and stimulating with steel or controversy. It seemed to be forcing its way, almost objectively, into the inner world. Persons who had scarcely heard its name were professing its tenets; priests absorbed it, as they absorbed God in Communion—he mentioned the names of the recent apostates—children drank it in like Christianity itself. The soul “naturally Christian” seemed to be becoming “the soul naturally infidel.”

Persecution, cried the priest, was to be welcomed like salvation, prayed for, and grasped; but he feared that the authorities were too shrewd, and knew the antidote and the poison apart. There might be individual martyrdoms—in fact there would be, and very many—but they would be in spite of secular government, not because of it. Finally, he expected, Humanitarianism would presently put on the dress of liturgy and sacrifice, and when that was done, the Church’s cause, unless God intervened, would be over.

One is not allowed to question the assumptions of modernity; one’s character is up for assassination; if one is important enough, one is shouted down, de-platformed, shadow-banned. For now.

Also for now, we little fish are safe, we are only slandered in general as part of a general mob of untouchables who are not to be heard. We will see what tomorrow will bring. Could go either way, with either enough high profile celebrities defecting from the hate mobs to reveal the emperor’s nakedness, or perhaps those driving the mobs manage to put the hammer down and punish all badthink. We will see.

Also still reading Polanyi’s The Great Transformation. With these Marxists (and, despite protestation to the contrary, he uses utterly Marxist reasoning, so, quacks like a duck) you must read to the end, in my experience. Even the more mainstream Marxists usually can’t resist the call for blood, but follow a standard propaganda method format. Lead with pity and woe at all the injustice, followed by telling us how we get past the current oppressive regimes (spoiler: by radicalizing everything and everyone), how great it will be once we’re in charge, and save the wrong have no rights and will need to be exterminated part for the end.  Polanyi did lead with woe and oppression, and followed with how it’s all the capitalist’s fault – so, again, we’ll see.

Related image
A photograph intended to enhance your blog reading experience. All symbolical and everything.

Writing: Last week was bad. Only got in about 10 hours of writing. The middle of the week was completely unproductive. Wednesday, had a phone job interview. It was also our late son Andrew’s 27th birthday. He died just short of his 21st. Good intentions weren’t enough to get me through.

On the positive side, just sent out the draft of The White Handled Blade to a couple beta readers, and am waiting to hear back from a couple more before shipping it off. Here’s your chance to read a YA Arthurian story set in modern day Wales. If that’s your thing. It really isn’t mine – at least, I thought it wasn’t – but ended having a lot of fun writing it. Mostly because I threw in the small but not light kitchen sink of everything I found out about Arthurian Wales. Lots of hard to pronounce words.

The plan for this week includes:

  • Finishing up It Will Work, a sort of comedy of manners with nanotech, space aliens and explosions. I kid. A little. About 85% done, I reckon.
  • Final pass revisions on Rock, and starting the rejection letter collection process.
  • Working more on either The Measure of Our Days, a story that’s either close to being done or in drastic need of extensive rewrite, I can’t yet tell which, or Line of Sight, a new story from my ideas list I wrote a few hundred words on, or – something else. Questions with Line of Sight is: can I live up to the setup? Can Flannery O’Conner’s basic approach be applied to Military SciFi? Stay tuned!

Finally, the current Home Improvement Project has inched forward. Running into more engineering issues than anticipated attaching a wrought iron (style) fence to a brick wall. But I’ve at least gotten to the point where that’s an issue!

Day 2: The Writing Update

Day 2 of the Plan. Day 1, I did get the hours in on ‘writing’ although what that really entailed was getting everything straightened out on my desk (funny how much crap can accumulate on a flat surface if you don’t use it for its intended purpose for 10 months!). So no actual time spent on the book/stories except in getting the files organized (and located!).

Also got one job application out – heard back in just over 12 hours, setting up a phone interview (the job is in London). So – who knows? I could be an ex-pat writing in old Roman Londinium between doing my part to finance equipment internationally. Maybe. We’ll see.

And am feeling well. What do you know? Praise God through Mary, Joseph and the angels.

Today, cleaning up more old business. You guys are the best. Just finished responding to the beta readers for the story Rock – only 4 months later! In my defense, those were some pretty hairy months. I’m humbled and grateful for the feedback & encouragement. A couple of you did very detailed reading and commenting – wow, just for some schmuck on the internet’s beginner’s story. Very generous of you.

Several themes recurred: the opening is unclear/too slow/not informative enough about what’s going on. Fair enough. Will correct. A couple continuity errors cropped up – thanks.

In general, the plan is to spend the remaining hours today making a couple structural changes and tightening it up a little. Then, scan through the markets and send it off to somebody. Thanks again!

Next up, I think I’ll try to finish the YA Arthurian story The White Handled Blade because it’s close, then impose on the good natures of my current (and any future) beta readers.

And lay some bricks out front. Current status of that misadventure:

IMG_5190
Facing North. Impressive weed there at 5:00 o’clock.
IMG_5189
Facing South.

22 year old son in from TAC for a couple weeks did the excavation along the curb (hard on me ‘ol back!) so now I just need a couple hours on my hands and knees to take the little walk out past this segment of planter. Then can start in on the little columns at the ends which will support the iron fence. Really down to the more or less fun, less back-breaking part of the job. Then do it all again for the identical, symmetrical planter on the south end…

Finally, did finish that book on r/K selection (micro review: Um, not convinced) and made further progress with Polanyi’s Great Transformation (micro: there better be serious time off in Purgatory for reading these Marxist goobers) and do want (and in fact, have started) to write posts/reviews of them.

But for now, I got stuff to do! And I feel good enough to do it! Wheeee!

 

Weekend Update: the Sierra Leaves Me In Stitches

My head is starting to clear enough to at least think about doing some reading and writing. Let’s see if I can get this blog back on track.

A. My dear brother-in-law and his family in San Francisco invited my mother-in-law, who has been living with us over the last 16 months, to spend the weekend. This freed the more ambulatory contingent of the household to do some Nature, in the form of swimming at Clark’s Hole near Auburn, California, near where the American River’s branches conflux (that should be a verb!) on their way out of the Sierra.

IMG_5137
Looking back at the Old Forrest Hill Road from the Lake Clementine Trail. About the last bit of water you can see at the top is the spot where the Middle Fork meets the North Fork of the American River. The South Fork confluxes (It’s a verb, I say!) a little further down in Folsom Lake, a huge reservoir.

About an hour 40 minutes east of Concord, CA, the city of Auburn lies in the Gold Country on the old Gold Rush road called, appropriately, Highway 49. A couple miles south of town, the road descends to near the bottom of the river canyon, where Old Forrest Hill Road splits off. A ranger station sits just west of the bridge pictured above; the Lake Clementine Trail starts on east side.

IMG_5143
Offspring heading down the Lake Clementine Trail (the lake is another reservoir). That bridge, 730′ above the canyon floor, has been seen in many movies when a dramatic car-falling-off-a-bridge scene is called for.

Up the trail, under the impressive bridge, about 3/4 mile in is Clark’s Hole, a deep, slow-moving piece of what is otherwise a white-water river. Who Clark was has been lost to history, but this swimming hole has been in use as such for well over 100 years.

IMG_5147
Looking down at Clark’s Hole from the trail. That little rock cliff overlooks water 25-30′ deep, and is ideal for jumping. A passel of teenagers showed up later, and, after the manner of their kind, spend a couple hours jumping off those rocks. My offspring took a few turns. My beloved and I gave it a pass.
IMG_5148
Down by the water. Clark’s Hole runs quite a ways up the river, but only here near the end are there both easy-ish access and places to sit along the shore.

A good time was had by all, despite the 100F+ temperatures. The water was refreshing, but, thankfully, not the fresh snow melt temperatures these rivers coming out of the Sierra tend to be. About 7 years ago, we camped on the Stanislaus River in July, farther in and higher up, to be sure – the guy at the campsite told us the snow had finally melted off on July 4. The water was COLD. Here at Clark’s Hole, the water has been melted off and held in Lake Clementine for a few months now, so it’s not bad at all.

All would have been near perfect, had I not slipped on some mossy rocks and fallen, ending up with a gashed hand (5 stitches between my ring and middle finger on my left hand) and some very sore ribs. But, hey, I’m alive. It only hurts when I laugh. Or cough. Or reach for something. Or get up. Or sit down…. All it cost in the end was a copay at the emergency room and a couple more hours under the tender ministrations of the medical establishment.

(aside: while I have done my best to avoid the medical establishment – people who do so tend to live a lot longer! It’s science! – I’ve had interactions. This is the first time I’ve ever had a medical professional tell me: ‘this is going to hurt quite a bit’ and ‘keep breathing or you’ll pass out.’ What occasioned these comforting words was having painkillers injected into my hand so that she could stitch me up. And – hell, yea. It’s almost like your hands are a collection of highly sensitive nerves designed to enable mankind’s incredible fine motor skills, such that jabbing a needle in there and pumping in stuff HURTS LIKE HELL. Almost exactly like that.)

B. Got a little farther on the brickwork out front.

IMG_5154
Looking north.
IMG_5153
Looking South.

I one sense, this is an exercise in seeing if I can make use of ugly bricks. The back wall farthest from the street is made of those ugly concrete bricks people mostly use as pavers. The front wall will be made of those extra tall construction bricks. It will be double wide, capped in standard clay bricks, and topped with a 3′ wrought iron fence. There will be a 1′ wide planter between the walls. As we scavenged free bricks off Craig’s List, I ended up with many concrete and construction bricks; by building this wall/planter and its twin to the south, hope to use them up in an aesthetically pleasing way.

In the meantime, the fencing arrived.

IMG_5155

All I have to do is finish the planters to get them off our front porch. Sheesh.

C. We’re reading aloud Lord of the World and Lord of the Rings. Probably should start Lord of the Flies to keep the theme going? JK. While Tolkien is a sure crowd pleaser, I’m happy to report that the kids, age 20 & 14, are digging Lord of the World as well. It’s a very early – 1907 – dystopian apocalyptic novel told almost entirely via the internal lives of the main characters, at least over the first third to half. That you can get and hold young people’s attention with such a thing is remarkable, but Benson is a very good writer telling an remarkable story.

Almost finished that r/K is politics book. Will have stuff to say about it. It’s – something else.

Then, as energy and attention allow, back to the massive to be read stack.

D. Spent much of the first month of my involuntary unemployment dealing with health issues. Boring stuff, nothing life-threatening except in the way that mere health is life threatening if you let it go on long enough. Say, an additional 20-30 years, in my case. If I’m lucky.

My main complaint is tiredness, weakness and muddleheadedness. Adjusting the blood pressure meds did seem to deal with the sleepy part, however I’m still weak and have a very hard time focusing for very long. Been spending inordinate amounts of time on Twitter (I follow a bunch of SciFi writers, Catholics, Catholic SciFi writers, friends of Catholic SciFi writers, and so on) – 240 characters is about the limit of my focus. Match made in Hell.

But according to medical Science! my heart is good, a relief since at my age, my father had already had a massive heart attack resulting in quadruple bypass surgery and early retirement. So thank goodness. (Of course, he then lived to 88. I should be so lucky.)

Anyway, if my head clears up and I’m not feeling so weak all the time, should be able to return to reading and blogging. Let us hope.

2nd of July Update

A. Made a little progress on the 3rd year and running Never-ending Front Yard Brickwork Project of Doom:

IMG_5105
Got the forms removed, added a couple feet of brick walk. I needed to see how it looked before deciding exactly where to position the column that will hold up the fence. Thinking the column should be about 4-6″ in front of the wall, to add a little articulation. Yes, I’m that geeky and obsessive.  
IMG_5104
This gives some idea where we’re going with this. Column on the end where the rebar is sticking up, 8″ (2 bricks wide) wall along the front nearest the street, 12″ planter in the middle, 4″ wide wall in the back. 3′ tall iron fence runs down the middle of the 8″ wide 16″ tall wall, flanked at either end by a brick column. Then, after the gap for the water meter, an identical set up on the other side. Fearful symmetry. 
IMG_5111
Oh look! A row of bricks for the 4″ wall! The Caboose and I threw them down just now. 

It will be extremely cute, with a little orchard behind it and climby plants in the planters, maybe some rosemary hanging down. Hope I live long enough to enjoy it…

B. Speaking of which, still ill. Still think it’s at least partly the blood pressure drugs, but to be honest I’ve gained a frightful amount of weight over the last 25 years, to the point where I need to own that that’s most likely the root of the problems. So, I’ve cut calories by about 1/3. All I need to do is keep that up for a couple years,,,,

It would be good to get some regular exercise, but that’s tricky when I can’t count on feeling up to it at any regular time. Getting long walks in when I can. So I’m logging blood pressure readings several times a day, keeping track of when I take the meds and how I’m feeling. Then when my doctor gets back after the 4th, we need to talk.

No reading, very little writing – mostly just this blog. Concentration is intermittent. More apologies to my beta readers – I am grateful and will get back to you soon, I hope.

C. Finally, got laid off from my job of 21+ years. While not the prime cause, I don’t think, being unable to focus or even stay awake at work helped things. So now I have about 5 months to find another job before I have to start in on my retirement savings. Wish me luck. Say a prayer if you’re into that sort of thing. I’m in much better shape than most people who go through this sort of thing, thank God, and I’m frankly glad to get out of what has long been a deteriorating work situation. But it’s no fun.

Home Improvement: Build That (Little Garden)Wall

Health is variable, but I did get it together enough Friday and Saturday evenings and Sunday morning into the early afternoon to get started on a long-delayed project. Yesterday evening, with the trenches dug and the little forms and rebar laid in, the Caboose and I *finally* got the concrete poured for the first half of the long planned (over three years now!) little brick wall wall and walk along the street in the front of our house.

IMG_5101
Taken from the street. On the far left is the end of the brick walk and planters from 2 summers ago, now with attractive citrus tree!  In the center is the shade cloth for the poor suffering avocado trees. To right in the back are some of the many, many bricks I’ll need to finish this entire project (why yes, I am insane. Why do you ask?). Out of frame right is the water meter access that is the cause of not just pouring one 35′ footing  all the way across the frontage and being done with it. 

 

IMG_5091
The Caboose, 14 and very helpful, adds water. 
IMG_5082
Here I do a little preliminary smoothing. This shot reveals the plan a bit better: 8″ wide by 16″ tall wall in front, 12″ planter in the middle, 4″ by 16′ wall in back. My son stands on what will be a 24″ wide continuation of the brick walk.  Note the in-ground water meter (that gray rectangle) and yet more bricks in the background. 

The plan: after work from now until September, in the cool of the evening and with help of whatever kids are around and want to help, a wall gets built and a path gets paved. Also, an identical section of forms and rebar gets laid in on the other side of the water meter. Not sure what I’ll do about the meter – something like a 6′ diameter semicircle around it to give the meter reader (do those guys still exist?) plenty of room. Maybe I’ll mix it up and use stone? I got stone, too.

On top of the 16″ wall, I’ll put a 3′ wrought iron fence, like this:

fence 1
6 panels ordered from A Rustic Garden in rural Illinois.  Lovely stuff.  Imagine 2  12′ length between 1′ square brick columns at either end atop a 16″ brick wall….

The net effect: about 25′ of 3′ high fence atop a 16″ high brick wall, interrupted in the middle by whatever I do about the meter. At either end on either side, I’ll put in little 4′ towers to tie the ends of the fence into.

Then throw a little rosemary, climbing things and flowers in the planters. The cute meter will be pegged. But the brick work itself is seriously manly, I trust we all can agree.

Planning on Being Stupid?

It seems I’m planning on being stupid. Alas, I am not alone. On a grand cultural and political level, it often seems that stupidity is not always spontaneous, but rather many people plan and then execute being stupid. Examples include borrowing vast sums for degrees that will in no way aide you in making the vast sums you’ll need to pay back the loans. At no point in the process did the thought arise that this might not be a good idea? Politics presents many such examples: this time, the panic-driven government action will result in a solution to whatever (largely ginned up) crisis is being hard-sold today; this time, the various police institutions can/cannot be trusted more than anybody else; this time, our loyalty will be repaid by something other than the claim that the other guys would have done worse.

At some point, after enough repetitions, enough time to think it over, enough examples of the outcomes, one would almost have to conclude that either people are really, actively blind in a truly scary way or that the continued hope that, this time, the results will be different is, effectively, a plan of sorts. Perhaps these options are not mutually exclusive nor exhaustive…

But I digress. This is all about ME! And how stupid I’m planning to be.

At the moment, the plan is as follows: As soon as I get home, throw on some work clothes and head out front to work on prepping the forms for a small concrete pour (maybe 8 cubic feet) that is the next step in the Front Yard Improvement Project that was begun, oh, 3 years ago? If I can get it ready tonight, maybe I can pour this weekend when my teenage son will be available to help. He helped me pour the last somewhat larger stage:

IMG_3892
The concrete underlay for the ramp up to the front door, last year’s May/Junes project. David helped a lot, hefting bags, adding water, just doing stuff. He’s a year older and bigger this year, too. So I’ll get him to help this weekend when he gets back from a week’s camping.

This current step requires a bunch of hands-and-knees work measuring, laying out, hammering in stakes, laying in some rebar, as well as some digging (very little at this point). With luck and not counting the inevitable run(s) to the hardware store, maybe 3 hours of work? I tend to overestimate my efficiency, so – 4?

For many years, I’ve done stuff like this. Today, however:

  • it’s near 100F outside;
  • I’m 60 years old;
  • In possibly related news, my hands, back and knees have about a 2 hr limit on stuff like this. Any more than that, and I’ll pay for the next several days.

Why now, why not put it off? You might prudently ask.

These are the days, for next 2 months, where it is light enough after work to do anything. If I can get the forms & rebar done, I can pour concrete this weekend, then start in laying bricks in the evenings when I come home during the week. This stretch is nice and straight and orderly, so that I can mix a bag of mortar, put in 20-30 bricks in a couple hours, clean up and be in before dark. Do that a couple times a week for a few weeks, and I’m done.

Besides, been putting it off all spring. Truth is, I’ve been not feeling well. This has been going on for months or years, depending on how you want to count it. Think it has something to do with the array of blood pressure meds I’m on, but I’m not sure. Went through the whole stress test/EKG/bloodwork etc. maybe 9 or 10 months ago, and they seem to think I was fine. Yet, here I am, dragging around, falling asleep in the middle of the day, getting woolly-headed (a particularly discouraging thing for a guy who lives in his own head as much as I do), feeling generally weak and tired. Tasks both physical and mental that I used to throw myself at now seem to wear me out promptly or too difficult to even try.

However: Never give up! Never surrender!

So I think I’ll try, again, to muscle through it and see how it goes. Put on a hat, bring a big pitcher of water, and do it. Wish me luck.

It should be more like 90F by the time I get started. Balmy!