Home Improvement Project: Music Desk

Youngest son, who plays the fiddle, sings, and enjoys goofing around on the guitar, drums, and whatever else is lying about, got a little Akai mpk keyboard for his birthday a while back. He wanted to create And record music.

So do I.

Way back when hair bands ruled the earth, I was in some bands, and I, too, wanted to record some music. It was a little more complicated and expensive back then. Garage Band on your phone wasn’t a thing. So I have some seriously outdated experience, and, perhaps more important, some somewhat outdated equipment.

I had converted part of the garage into a recording studio 20+ years ago. Long story.

Anyway, space being an issue, cleared out a corner by my piano to set ups more modern, and much cheaper, DAW work area for the Caboose and me. Threw together a desk to maximize the available space. Like this:

The KRK V-8s I knew where they were, so I grabbed them (they’re sweet. Followed the advice I’d read somewhere: only spend real money on mikes, monitors, and instruments, because they don’t go obsolete every year. After the long obsolete Mac tower, the only real investment I made). Need to track down my little Mackie board and a bunch of cables and mics, download some software, hook it up, and we should be good to go.

The desk itself is oak veneer 1 1/4” particle board pieces I’d rescued from some old cubicles getting thrown out many years ago.

Anyway, could be fun. Let’s see if it gets used.

Home “Improvement” Micro-update

Remember my recent follies with garden hose repair? Which resulted in this?

Rube Goldberg and Heath Robinson are appalled….

…which failed within seconds of trying it? Good times.

So I did eventually run down to Ace and pick up hose repair items. There was another hose to repair that I didn’t show the first time around, where I assessed the problem, got the right size/wrong direction (needed the female, got the male), BUT! after that small diversion & an exchange, patched it up in 2 minutes, back in use, no problem since. So, I can, in fact, do this, evidence to the contrary notwithstanding.

No, really.

So: the abomination up above had no such easy solution. Ace didn’t carry the exact kit I needed – this funky spiral hose is smaller than the standard sizes, so I had to get one just a *tiny* bit too large. This meant I couldn’t get the hose to slide cleanly on, so had to try a number of things…

Eventually, maybe 3rd? fourth? try, I used a lighter to heat up the hose, softening and expanding it, and was thus able to wrestle it onto the little nub, and, well:

There you go. What I should have done the first time. Except for that whole “is this cheap old hose even worth repairing?” question, with the implied “it will only break somewhere else if I fix it here” niggling concern….

It seems like it was only yesterday – because it was only yesterday – that I got the initial problem solved satisfactorily, after giving the tangled hose a pull and popping the hose off the repair shown above. Heated it more, wrestled it farther on, clamped it down good, looked/worked good.

Watering the plant on and around the patio this morning, the hose started leaking audibly from the connection to the faucet. In keeping with this comedy of errors, the picture I took of the problem also failed somehow – a first for this phone camera.

Sooooo – I’d need probably a little tiny pipe clamp to fix this. Or I could, you know, get another hose.

But that would be too easy….

Home ‘Improvement’ Update: Hosed

When we last checked in, like, yesterday, I had tried to MacGyver (for values of ‘MacGyver’ where he’s suffered debilitating brain aneurysms) a leaky hose. For reasons lost to the mists of History – yes, capital ‘H’ – (and shall remain so enmisted). I deployed a plastic sleeve, about a gallon of Shoe Goo, a few feet of nylon cord, thus:

After allowing the Shoe Goo to cure overnight, I applied some electrical tapea. A LOT of electrical tape:

I’m sure you all are dying to hear how it worked.

Time to failure: about 10 seconds. Slow drip. Then, over the next few minutes as I watered the patio plants, we reached this appalling state:

That would be a fail. A big fat dramatic fail mocking my insane yet evidently pathetic repair efforts. Geysers and puddles level fail. When I start getting cocky, y’all can remind me of this.

It isn’t stupid if it works. This is stupid. I sense a trip to Ace in my immediate future.

Rube Goldberg & Home ‘Improvement’

And now for something completely different….

From my farm boy entrepreneur father, I inherited the can-do attitude of simply thinking an awful lot of problems can be solved if you just go at it. In general, this has served me well. For example, I am generally willing to pay people to work on our cars or plumbing – I can do, sure, but lacking the expertise (and all those nice tools!) it’s better to have the pros do it. *How* I came to realize this involves, not some abstract considerations, but rather, flooding a bathroom and lying on my back outside on the asphalt in the dead of winter under a VW bug pulling on an accelerator cable. Among other equally, um, memorable, experiences. So, unless it’s pretty straight-forward, I’ll call the plumber or electrician (don’t ask) and take my cars in for service.

Plus I’m cheap. I don’t like throwing broken things out, and do like jury-rigging solutions out of stuff lying around. This leads to thing like the compost box that took several *days* to build out of an old oak futon frame, leftover wainscoting boards, and wire mesh scraps, among other things. On the plus side, works OK and it’s still there 3 years later; on the down side, I’m never getting that time back and could have made something at least as functional out of a couple sheets of plywood and some 2 x 4s in about 2 hours – which I will need to do in the near future anyway, as the needlessly complicated present one is falling predictably apart. .

So, got up early today, and was watering plants on the patio. The hose for the patio is one of those spiral stretchy ones that’s quite a few years old. A while back, it sprung a leak near the middle.

Do I say: old cheap hose, we’ve got our money’s worth, toss it, as the first leak is generally a sign of more leaks to come? Or: I’ll see if they have the appropriate hose patch kit at Ace?

OR: do I grab some electrical tape and have at it?

So the tape held for a short while, then started leaking, then spraying. Next, I tried slathering on some Shoe Goo and covering with duct tape. That was – not good. So, this morning, I decide to give it one more go. Because I’m kinda stupid that way.

I’m thinking the Shoe Goo wasn’t a bad idea, I just needed more and a longer cure time. And that the rapid failure of the duct tape effort might have something to do with goopy, lumpy terrain due to the previous attempts…

So, I cut out the bad section entirely, find a plastic sleeve thing that fits over the hose, slather on the Shoe Goo in a manner intended to cause the sleeve to spread it out when I shove it over the ends. And I stick it together…

Then I start worrying that there’s not enough strength along the length of the hose, that this patch will pull out when I drag the hose around. Soooo – looking around for something handy, I spy some nylon cord. Hmmm. Cut a few lengths longer than the patch job, and Shoe Goo them on. That doesn’t look right…

So I wrap the length of the repair in the cord, and Shoe Goo *that* on. Then decide that, after it dries, I’ll wrap the whole thing in electical tsape, extending a good 6″ on either side of the repair…

Did I mention that, while fiddling around with all this, I pulled the hose out of the sleeve at least 3 times, and, ramming back in means I’m also putting Shoe Goo on the *inside* of the hose, where it will not help and may very well clog the hose.

So, instead of throwing an old hose away, instead of looking for a repair kit next time I’m at Ace, I wasted spent a half hour doing this:

I wish I were confident that this is the most ridiculous repair job I’ve ever attempted, but I can’t actually be sure. Which is a little scary…

And then I’m going to waste a hundred feet of electrical tape to cover this monstrosity up. Any bets on how fast it springs a leak somewhere else, in the unlikely event this doesn’t just fail out of the chute or that I ended up clogging it up with Shoe Goo, or both?

Sheesh.

Update: Bricks

When we last checked our endless brick project, I was working on some short walls to allow access to the water meter. Looked like this:

Finished it today. This is a milestone: all the walls and planters along the street are done, except for finials on the four little towers. The fam is pitching hard for pineapples, after the English tradition. That’s getting alarmingly close to the house in My Big Fat Greek Wedding level of kitsch, kinda pushing back…

The English build and then live in houses like this. I don’t know it the the English get enough credit for straight up wierdness.

Ya know? Although it may already be too late…

So here’s what we got:

From the curb.
From the street, complete with tools and a neighbor’s car. Frames the pomegranate tree, flanked by the cherry to the left and pear to the right.
Looking north. Stuck some stray rocks and dichondra in there, just because.
Looking south. Had some salvaged refractory bricks lying around, no use for them, so used them to cap the center section.
Getting cute on the tower caps.
Had a few 2″ Mexican tiles lying around.

So, the plan is to put a potted plant on each of the little towers, and wooden planter boxes on the three wall sections, to complete the visual barrier.

Anyway, some clean-up, then on to the south wall – simpler, but still a lot of work. Last, there’s a gate at the top of the steps. And that’ll be it for this project, a mere 5 years later.

Update: April – the Month That Was (bricks, flowers, a certain minor disease)

A: A happy, holy and blessed Feast of St. Joseph the Worker. True story: When I went to Italy as part of an art program in the 1980s, we we visited a number of smaller towns around Florence. Can’t remember exactly which one we visited on May Day (Lucca? Somewhere…), but we found ourselves in the middle of a somber little parade in the medieval town plaza. We watched mostly middle-aged men in their Sunday finest go by, each wearing a red carnation.

Duomo di Lucca, Cattedrale di San Martino. Maybe here?

Communists. It was a little, um, odd. Then we went into the duomo, in front of which this parade had taken place. As I looked around and prayed a little, one after another of the men from the parade came in, took off their red carnation, and laid it at the foot of a statue of Our Lady. A nice pile of carnations was formed over the next half hour.

Someone, it seemed to me, was very unclear on the concept: Communism, the Catholic Church – pick one? They don’t really go together. But it seems Italians – and I love Italians – are not as troubled by niceties of consistency as I am. Or perhaps they see some consistency on a level that escapes me. Or – one can never rule this out – they’re basically crazy?

As a 20-something punk, this little moment has stuck with me ever since, and helped form my take on the world . People – hard to figure, sometimes.

B. Due to Sarah Hoyt linking to this post on Instapundit, I saw basically a year’s worth of blog traffic and a couple year’s worth of visitors over the course of a couple days. (Not saying all that much – my beloved regular readers are treasured, but few). Perhaps this kicked me up a little in Google’s algorithms, or maybe – I flatter myself – the blog picked up some more readers – In April, most days got over 100 views, even after the 5-figure spike was well past.

So, if you are a new reader, welcome! If the skewering of bad Science!, the history of schooling, curmudgeonly commentary on current events, reviews of SF&F and other books, and the occasional home improvement project and Catholic shout-out are your cup of tea, you belong to a very, um, select group – and this here’s a blog for you!

C: Bricks. We left it here:

That tub up top I use when I want to soak bricks in water so that I have longer to move them around before they suck enough water out of the mortar to make it stiff. This morning, I noticed what looked like a stick floating in it – a lizard had fallen in! poor thing! I dumped him out – he was alive, seemed OK.

Today, I’m hoping to finish this little piece up. Here’s how it stands now:

Once I cap the little towers in the corners, we will put potted plants on top of them, and long wooden planters in between. Something from this selection:

Nasturtiums, self-seeded from last year, on the back patio.
Those two wooden boxes in the middle are sized to fit atop the sides of the project. Wildflowers have been planted in them.

Should look nice. I wanted pots and wooden planters so that, come Christmas, I can move them and set up the Nativity scene there. Then on to the south wall/planter.

D: Planted a little herb garden in a wine barrel half. It’s sitting off the patio a couple steps from the pizza oven and the back door out from the kitchen. Previously grew herbs on the south side of the house, not handy if you’re in the middle of cooking. (Huge batch of oregano is still there. Will see if I can transplant some closer.)

Basil in the back. The skewers are to remind me of the divisions until the plants come up: Thyme, sage, chives, cilantro, green onions.

E: Big stress here at the casa: our older daughter is to be married on May 30. Our unctuous, reptilian governor has continued the lockdown in the face of all objective evidence. This means the church and the venue for the reception are closed. On the off chance we do get to hold something (the marriage is going to take place on the 30th no matter what, even if it’s just bride, groom, priest and witnesses) have cleaned up the back yard, trying to make it look spiffy-ish:

Have a lot to do in the front yard, where my brick obsession has made quite the mess, but at least the plants are coming in strong:

Rosemary, nasturtiums, honeysuckle along the street. Fruit trees in the background.
Tomatoes, between the fig to the right and the cherry behind.
Apricots.
Figs.

In a month, maybe we’ll have some flowers or at least plants in all those pots and planters, to be distributed around. If we can do anything.

If you are the praying kind, prayers for our poor, stressed daughter would be appreciated. Thanks.

F: Don’t think I’ve ever posted on food per se – too much of that out there already – but this is maybe odd enough to be interesting. Somebody gave us a turkey months ago, don’t remember why, and it sat there tying up freezer space. Saw this guy on Youtube do something interesting, and thought – I should try that, get rid of that turkey:

Deboned and stuffed turkey:

Yes, it is time-consuming and not all that pleasant to debone a turkey, but, then again, carving a regular turkey can be some work as well. I did a poor job: the trick is to not cut the skin, which, when you roll it, is what keeps it all together. I tried to use a very cheap filleting knife that we’ve had forever, but it wasn’t up to the task, you need a very sharp tip to the knife, and this one just wouldn’t keep an edge. Got my eye on a Victorinox boning knife, if I ever do this again.

And I just might. However much trouble I had up front, it was very nice to simply cut slices without having to worry about bones and with a nice dollop of sausage stuffing right there in the middle. And it cooks a lot faster, too. FWIW.

G: Something proposed in a com box discussion here with Darwin Catholic, a man whose analytic abilities I respect: will COVID 19 result in more deaths in 2020 than would have otherwise occurred? I say: no. He says: yes, at least 75K. Now, even 75K is a tiny number on a population of 330M, but it should be noticable: the UN predicted around 2,930,400 deaths in the US from all causes before the current kefluffle. So: an additional 75K puts us a little over 3M. (Darwin wants to do a lot more math, with weighted average mortality over 5 years – OK by me, although I’m not sure what the gain in accuracy would be).

More important, and more obvious: the minimum number of dead with a continued lockdown was estimated at 100-240K just weeks ago. As the lockdown is eased or eliminated in more sane states, they theory goes, those numbers should get higher. So, anything short of about 3.03M lillion dead should be seen as an obvious fail, as far as any predictions go, and, realistically, anything less than 3.2M or so should lay a thick coat of egg on the face of the panic mongers. Not that they don’t already have lies in place to cover this.

The trouble here, as Dr. Briggs discusses here, is that the mitigation steps themselves have begun to kill people. First off, if biopsies and follow-ups for serious diseases, and the usual rounds of check-ups and screenings during which problems are routinely uncovered, are delayed, and thus problems are not discovered and treated promptly, prospects for those people are worsened. Some people will die. Same goes for some elective or non-critical treatments – something that looks non-critical today can get critical if pushed off enough.

But, by far, the major risk of death from COVID 19 is quickly becoming the psychological stress of lockdown and subsequent job losses. Suicide, taking stupid risks, drug abuse, domestic violence – these are real, and really kill people.

Is it enough to offset the ‘savings’ we might get from retarding the spread of *ALL* communicable diseases for a few months (insofar as that works. Not always and everywhere, that’s for sure, but some)? The longer the insanity of the lockdown drags on, affecting 330M people, not just the 1M cases of COVID 19, even a slight uptick in lockdown-related deaths could offset all gains. What a disaster, in terms of lives and morals. We want to believe we are not killing people with the lockdown, and so we do believe it. But we are, and it means nothing to us.

Someone somewhere should be putting together very targeted lawsuits against the people responsible for the government’s suspension of of our constitutionally guaranteed right to free assembly and, effectively, unlawful seizure of our wealth without any due process or review whatsoever. I’m saddened so many people accept this without a hiccup. Does it not occur to them that the patriotic need to be brave and face our enemies and risk death to defend our freedoms is still required, even if the enemy is a *&^% virus?

How About Some BRICKS?

Long time, no bricks. When we last left our Eternal Insane Home Improvement Project, back at the end of last August, things looked about like this:

Once Daylight Saving Time kicks in and the weather get a little warmer, I am able (and motivated) to get back to work. Here’s where we stand today, after a couple weeks of getting in a few hours on most days:

As you can see, everything is at least in progress. Redesigned the brickwork around the water meter – the curve idea was looking weird when I tried to work out how to actually do it on the ground. The square shape is both easier and more aesthetically consistent. We’ll know in another week or two. Also have dug out around 8-10 wheelbarrows of dirt and screened out the the larger rocks as I attempt to prepare to pour the footings for the south planters/wall – the last walls to build!

Pictures! Cars parked on the curb prevented a good angle on this part:

Footer. In the background are wood chips from a neighbor who took out a tree. 8 wheelbarrow’s worth, moved one at a time from about a block away. Will use to cover all paths/bare dirt in the mini-orchard.
Notice how the water meter box isn’t square to the path/street? I’m fighting off the urge to spend hours digging it up and straightening it out….

Over on the south property line, we got some digging to do:

Looking east. Forms are so far just the outside edges of the footers; there will be 2×4 rectangles marking the inside edges. The end of the forms marks about where a Marian shrine will go; then more planters where I’m standing to take this picture. Got several wheelbarrow loads more removed since this was taken.
From the street looking in.
Catty corner, so you can see how this all ties together.

Rained Saturday through Monday, so had to mostly lay off. Did get a little more digging in before it got too wet. So, if it dries out enough, will work on this some more this evening.

My Beloved planted irises in one of the front planters:

They are very beautiful, a lovely deep blue with yellow highlights. They brought to mind Don at zoopraxiscope, who grows and takes beautiful pictures of flowers. So, if you want to see good pictures of beautiful flowers by a guy who knows his way around a camera and can tell one kind of flower from another (I’m always getting my jasmine and honeysuckle mixed up. Among others.) check his site out. Me, I’m more a tomato and fruit guy.

Future bulletins as events warrant, or when I fell like it and remember to take some pictures. Maybe at the end of the summer, if all progresses well, I’ll do a video walkthrough?

Reification in Real Life: Home Improvement Update

Numerical descriptions of reality, however useful, are not reality. While science has a whole set of its own issues with practitioners wanting math to be reality, rather than, at best, to provide a useful description of reality, in mundane life, the risk of reification can perhaps be summed up in the old adage: measure twice, cut once. Don’t imagine your first measurement tells you too much about the thing-in-itself. Mistakes happen, best give yourself a second shot at avoiding them. While measurements will never be the thing, they’re certainly more useful when they’re accurate.

What brings this all to mind is my skipping a step when laying out the bricks to be cut to allow the metal rods that support the wrought-iron style fence to pass through. I did indeed measure several times, but what I failed to do was take the fence and position it atop the marked up bricks, to verify that the rods were more or less centered within the chalk rectangles I’d drawn for cutting before I started in with the mortar. I’d carefully measured the locations, checked them a couple times, but, the fence being awkward and kind of heavy (for an old guy, at least), I just sort of skipped that step.

Spent an hour or two cutting the bricks, then a couple hours setting up and mortaring them in. Then, and only then, did I put the fence in place and drop the rods through.

Thus:

And:

The map is not the territory. Have a couple theories about what I did wrong, but no matter. With misgivings, got out a masonry bit and drilled into the bricks to widen the holes – I’d feared drilling would loosen the bricks, but it worked like a charm. Which suggests that all this falderal I’d gotten into cutting the bricks was a waste of time: should have just put ’em in, set the fence up, marked where to drill, and drilled holes. Would have been much tidier and a lot less work.

Oh, well. With that slight detour, finished it up:

Looking south.
Looking north, with the twin of this fence/planter in the background.

Updating the Insane Eternal Brick project diagram from a few months back, this is where we’re at:

Next up, apart from the little towers for the gate across the steps into the mini-orchard, is a the crescent wall above the water meter. It will go a little something like this:

Sloppy even by my low standards. The idea is 4-5 courses of bricks with river rocks worked in, then some brackets along the top upon which might be fastened some wooden posts for a fence/trellis. Or something, still working it through.

Maybe plant some ground cover around the meter?

I find myself obsessing about getting this done. Hanging over my head too long now. Hampered by my inability to do more than a couple hours work per day for more than one day. If I do any more, need to take a day or two off. The knees, back and general muscles won’t put up with much more than that. That said, you can get pretty far with a couple hours a day 2-3 times a week.

Three weeks of summer to go. Would be so nice to get this project done. Then get a job.

Brief Home Improvement Update

Probably should wait a couple days to post an update, when I have the fence installed, but, hey.

Ten days ago, when we last checked in, the Endless Brick Project looked like this:

Tower stubs, rebar, cap bricks positioned & marked for cutting so that the fence rods can pass the through and get epoxied to the bricks.

As of today, we’re here:

Cap bricks cut for fence rods and mortared in; towers completed; wrought iron style fence staged.

Also spent an afternoon making some hardware: four pieces of angle iron cut and drilled so that the rebar can pass through it and the fence can be bolted on, as well as two rods bent and cut to make simple hinges for the gate off the front porch, and some little angle iron brackets that will allow (I hope) for the concrete to better grip the hinges. Had fun, after a fashion, wishing I had hotter heat (used a propane torch, not clear it heated the rod enough to make any difference, didn’t get red hot, at least not in daylight) and an anvil, so that bending the rod could have been a little quicker and tidier. Ended up clamping 4 5lbs weights together as an anvil and hammering the rod while trying to not to break anything or burn myself. It kind worked. Anyway:

One of the two hinges at the top. All this stuff gets epoxied into position and then set in concrete. I’ll show pictures when done.

Further updates as events warrant.

Home Improvement Update 08/18/19

Got lots of little essays percolating, but writing those takes time and and thought and quickly begins to resemble actual work. Therefore,

BRICKS!

When we last checked in, way back on July 23, the front planter project looked like this:

Some progress has been made:

The capping bricks along the front are not yet mortared in. I first needed to lay out where the holes go for the upright spikes on the fence. This requires carefully laying out the bricks, numbering them, marking the seams, then marking where the uprights go, so that I can then take the bricks that need cutting, cut them, check them, then stack all the bricks on the ground so that I can mortar them in in the right spots one by one. Only then can I epoxy in the little pieces of angle iron to which the bottom horizontal runner of the fence will be attached, fill the square towers with concrete up to that point, add another 7 rows, add another couple little pieces of angle iron for the top runner – THEN I can attach the fence.

I’ve done this once already, worked out fine. Lot of little detail tasks.

Marks and numbers:

May be a few days before I get to this. Our lovely and beloved younger daughter, Anna Kate, is home for a few days before heading off to South Sudan for a year of missionary work with the Salesians. 22 years old. Kids these days.

Meanwhile, a little progress on the front steps. We left them here:

Doesn’t look like much, and it isn’t really, but today we’re here:

Got the rebar epoxied in; cut and shaped a piece of round stock for the bottom hinge – a very simple post through a hole style; got a corner piece for the rain spout, which will help guide exactly where I put the bricks. This little square tower is critical, as the gate will hang on it – must be sturdy and exact. There will be, again, little pieces of angle iron with holes for the hinge rod and the rebar, to tie it all together so little kids won’t destroy the gate when they (inevitably) swing on it.

I’m holding off a bit on epoxying stuff until I’ve got a bunch to do, so I’m not opening and closing the tube of industrial epoxy mix (works like a caulking gun, only with two internal tubes that must be mixed) and thereby wasting the stuff. I’ll do the brackets on the front planter and the hinge on this tower at one time.

For your possible amusement: we had 3 old coolers, each with various issues: the hinges on the big one broke off, and the little drain plug went missing; a handle broke on another, and a crack developed in a third. After pricing replacements, decided to throw the cracked one away and repair the other two so they are at least useable.

Have I mentioned I tend strongly to overthink and over do things? I replaced the handle on the smaller one with a piece of broomstick with a hole drilled through it lengthwise (1) tied to the cooler with a length of heavy nylon cord – well and good. Then came replacing the little plug on the larger one.

The lost original was a plastic cap that screwed on. Now, you may be thinking, as I was after 5 minutes of trying other solutions: how about getting a piece of cork, shoving it in there, and calling it a day? I have in my shed a little drawer full of various sized corks. Entire process would take maybe 60 seconds, if I sauntered my way through it. I eventually did just that:

But no. The above fix took place maybe 20 minutes after I had started trying other solutions, and 15 minutes after the smarter part of my brain started whispering, then yelling: just get a cork, you schmuck!

We’re talking washers, expansion bolts, butterfly nuts, plumber’s tape, futzing with pliers and power drills and looking through a couple dozen little drawers with bits and pieces of plumbing hardware and nuts and bolts, none of which worked even a little…

And then I put a cork in it.

On the garden front, God is maybe trying to tell me something. Might be something simple like: plant in good soil with plenty of sun and water and far from any walnut roots. But I’m thinking it might be more complicated. For this year, a number of surprising things happened in the garden.

A little background: I grew up in Southern California, land of the long, perfect growing season, son of a man who grew up on a farm. When I was 12, we moved to a house with enough land attached that Dad cleared a nice area, had a truckload of manure delivered, and we put in a vegetable garden.

My childhood memories of gardening are that you plant stuff, make sure you don’t forget to water it, and you get more vegetables than you can use. And tomato worms.(2) Easy-peasy.

About 27 years ago, we rented a house with an overgrown dump of a backyard. I thought: garden! and put in a ton of work clearing and tilling a nice chunk of it. Beneath the dead grass and weeds, the soil was iffy – closer to the house, it showed signs of having been worked at some point in the not too distant past; the farther out you got, the harder the clay.

Thus began 27 years of gardening frustration. In Northern California, while the weather is still very good, nothing from my childhood seemed to work. I added manure. I watered and watered. I fertilized (which we never did when I was a kid). We’d get some stuff some years, but never anything like what we got when I was a kid. Our house where we’ve lived now for 23 years has rock-hard clay soil and a couple huge walnut trees in the back. The only way we get anything is planting in planters, and that only sort of works.

Until this year:

Two of 4 cantaloupes on a volunteer vine in the front planter, along with one of 8 nice butternut squash on another volunteer vine.
A few of the couple dozen large tomatoes on one of two plant in the front.
One of 5 and counting sugar pumpkins.
Scale is hard to get here, but that’s a large and growing giant pumpkin, heading toward 100+ lbs (we hope)

And there’s some peppers and sweet potatoes, along with a lot of fruit from the fruit trees. The backyard stuff in planters is disappointing as usual (although we’re getting a few melons and some nice peppers) but the front yard in-the-ground stuff is a flashback to childhood! Woohoo!

So: I lost my job 14 months ago; my wife quit her (modestly salaried) school job in June. We’re both trying to get some home stuff taken care of before hitting the job hunting trail. Yet this is the year of the fairly epic garden and orchard. Like I said, not sure what if anything this means.

  1. If you’re wondering, I drilled a hole freehand the length of the handle, coming at it from both ends and meeting in the middle. Got lucky – the holes met up exactly. I mention this because if the Universe wants me to stop doing stupid things like this, which had probably under a 20% chance of working, I need to fail the *first* time I try. Otherwise, flush with success, I’ll keep doing stupid things, thinking they’ll work. Ya know?
  2. My little brothers and I were greatly amused when we showed the dog the tomato worms. They’d spit at him, he’d eat them. He’d have green whiskers the rest of the day.