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.
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:
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:
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.
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:
As of today, we’re here:
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:
1 I still need a job. Been a year now. About 1/2 through my contingency savings, so we could (theoretically) skate another year. But that would be bad.
2 We’re having the volunteers from the local Birthright over this afternoon for pizza and other good things the board, of which I’m a member, are providing. Most of the volunteers are retired or empty-nest women, who show up at our little center for a few hours a week to council women in crisis pregnancies. They tend to get attached to the women and their babies, and often form longer-term relationships. Good people. Should be fun. Lot of prep yet to do.
3 This upcoming pizza party occasioned another little Home Improvement Project! If you spend far too much time on this blog and have a scary-good memory, you may recall this pizza oven door I built a couple years ago:
It was cute. Well, a year or so ago, a houseguest wanted to help out, and, since he had worked as a fireman, I told him he could get a nice fire going in the pizza oven, so we could make some pizzas when I got back. Gave him instructions about how one builds a fire toward the front, then, once it’s going, shove it to the back and starts another fire in the front, then, once both are going, you can put the door in front loosely to trap some of the heat, so that the whole oven heats evenly.
Set up for a sit-com moment? You bet!
I come home, and flames are coming out of the pizza oven’s chimney; branches of the nearby privet are smoldering. And my nice little door is on fire. The door had two thin sheets of galvanized steel sandwiching an inch of high-temp mineral wool on the side facing in. The wood was not directly exposed to the fire. I’d used it a dozen times without catching it on fire. A little singe, here and there, but that’s about it. It took some, um, enthusiasm to set it on fire.
So, finally got around to building a replacement door:
This was a surprisingly frustrating project, took hours longer than it should have. End result looks OK, but man…. Sloppy glue-up required quite a bit of shaping; both the chop saw and the jig saw were having difficulties I could not identify and correct; cracked the board when I got a little too enthusiastic about attaching the insulation… just a bunch of stuff went wrong. Oh, well, it’s done.
4 Finally, and this is harder to write about: I’ve been having empty nester symptoms. True, our 15 year old still lives with us, but he’s been on 3 1-week Boy Scout adventures this summer already. So, it’s me, my wife, MIL and the cat. The older kids scattered to the winds for (Newman List! Don’t leave home without it!) colleges, so they’ve been gone for four or more years already. So, yea.
On the selfish plus side, Older Daughter has moved to Napa, only a 45 minute drive away. So we see more of her, and it is a blessing. She also has a lovely boyfriend there. This is all very good.
Now something my wife and I long suspected may be coming to pass: younger daughter has had this thing about going to Africa as a missionary for years now. Prior to graduation, she looked into a bunch of options, and hooked up with the Salesians. She’s training with them now in New York state. In a couple months, she’s heading off to South Sudan for a year.
She was thanking us for not trying to talk her out of it, but it wasn’t easy keeping my mouth shut. She’ll be with a bunch of other people at a well-established mission, with folks who have been doing this for years, so it’s about as safe as could be hoped. But this is my little girl here!
And – this is the part we’ve suspected – she is loving the Salesian community. She’s not talking about becoming a religious sister (yet), but loves the work and the people.
Well, she’s God’s, not ours, and has always been His. Thy will be done.
It’s been nearly 2 weeks since the last update on the Eternal Infernal Brick Project of Doom. My, time flies.
When we last checked in, the steps into the front yard mini orchard were in this state:
Finished up the steps proper:
Came out well. The hole on the right and the bare concrete on the left will be the sites of two little brick towers upon which will be mounted a gate.
Meanwhile, out against the street, we left the brick planter/wrought iron style fence, southern section, in this state:
We’ve reached this critical juncture:
So, now I get to hammer-drill a few holes into the concrete, epoxy in some rebar off of which will hang some hardware from which the wrought iron style fence will be supported on either end, build the little brick towers, fill them with concrete, install the fence, add capping bricks to the front double-brick wall (can’t do it until the fence is fitted, as some of the bricks will need cutting or notches for the iron fence uprights to pass through). Similar process for the porch, for the gate hardware.
Then fill the planter in the front and puts some, I dunno, plants in it. THEN build the southern border wall – I hear such things are all the rage – which is similar planter concept, but without an iron fence, thinking more wooden lattice.
Got a month and a half of summer. Will he make it? Stay tuned!
Also, I mentioned earlier that my avocado tree project had failed, and, rather than let prime garden spots lie fallow, I threw in a some tomatoes and peppers – and 4 pumpkins. Which is between 2 and 4 pumpkins too many.
Prime spot. Hot, sunny days. Plenty of water. These suckers are going to take over the yard, the house, and it not stopped somehow, THE WORLD. OK, maybe not, but they are growing like crazy. On the plus side, as they crawl out of the bed and onto the surrounding ground, I’m motivated to clean up and weed, to make room. Two sugar pumpkins for eating, two of some giant variety for fun. Here’s the current status on the Great Pumpkin Conquest of Concord:
Vermin have discovered my garden and orchard. We have a fair array of furry little bastards – pardon my Urdu – from moles, mice, rats and gophers through possums, racoons and potentially deer (seen plenty a few blocks from here, never seen any this far up our street. The threat is there, however). Damage so far suggests squirrels or rats. In a just world, it would be perfectly acceptable for me to spend a few nights out front with a pellet gun, nail some of whatever they are, and leave their carcasses to rot upon little pike-equivalents as a warning to their vermin kin.
But I think that’s frowned upon.
I do have some commercial-level vermin poison, stuff farmers use, which I of course never use anywhere anything other than vermin can get it, which kind of rules out the front yard. Sigh. So – we’ll see. Will check out various traps. Don’t know what the local policy, if any, is regarding offing squirrels – there are certainly plenty around here, many of whom die trying to outsmart cars. A few garden-fattened vermin would not be missed…
How about a raptor eyre? Probably not viable short term. Seen all sorts of hawks and owls around these parts…
Stay tuned for more exciting old-guy home improvement news!
It’s been almost 10 days since the last Home Improvement Project Update! How have all you, my many, well-into-double-digits number of readers contained yourselves?
When we last checked in, the front looked a little like this:
Made a little progress:
Trying to keep it moving, so we don’t have another 2-year delay. Mostly, I worked on finishing the front porch, specifically, the steps down into the front yard mini-orchard. Background: the concrete path and steps leading up to the front stoop had become cracked and raised up in several places by the roots of the very large walnut tree in the front yard. Once that tree was removed, my strapping sons sledge-hammered the concrete out. While appreciated, it left the front door easily accessible – for mountain goats. A little uneven and now featuring one large step.
So I put in a ramp as part of the Deathless Front Yard Brick project. I was rushed, as my mother in law was coming to live with us (that was 2 years ago) so I finished the basic ramp, but did not finish the hand rail and steps down into the yard from the ramp. Finished the hand rail back in April. Here’s where I stand on the steps:
Finished digging, put in minimal forms and a little rebar to tie it all together (you can perhaps see three pieces of rebar sticking out of the footing in the first picture of the non-step above), which required hammer-drilling a couple holes and epoxying in the rebar, then bending it to match the general contour of the steps. Anyway, got here:
Did the footings in two steps: first, did the ground level work seen above. Then, added two rows of bricks, the bottom step and the beginnings of the next step level with the ramp. That way, I could pour the next level, even with the current slab showing above, without having to build complicated curved forms. Not too worried about adhesion between the pours, as it’s just holding up some bricks and has no where to go.
Started adding the bricks:
Stopped here because 1) I was tired and it was getting late; and 2) I’m going to need to cut a lot of bricks to fill in all the odd spots, and the angle grinder is loud. I’ll shoot for tomorrow afternoon, when most people are gone at work.
Couple more hours, and I’ll have this finished. What then remains for the porch: Mailbox atop one of the brick columns holding up the handrail, and two brick columns on either side of the step (you can see the rebar sticking up on the left for one of the columns) to hang an iron gate from.
Get this checked off, then the planter/fence, then the final simple but large planter on the south side – and I’m sorta kinda done!
Continuing the gripping tale of Home Improvement Insanity. Some old guys fill their need for order and beauty by, say, collecting stamps or taking up the banjo, civilized and largely sweat-free activities. Me? I sling bricks. (1)
Micro back story: about 20 years ago, there was a small, ugly front yard in the building we rented for the school. The root system of a large, unruly tree had created a very uneven surface. I thought that we could maybe put in a foot high retaining wall following the contour of the existing uneven portion, backfill a little behind it, and have a somewhat more useful and much less ugly area. Someone suggested we could get free (2) bricks for this project off of Craig’s List, which we did.
It came out really cute, and it was fun! Ever since, I’d been looking for opportunities to do more brick work. Found some more brick work! A couple orders of magnitude more! Whee!
This week, finished the forms and added some rebar for the footers for the next section of fence planter. The Caboose, our 15 year old, helped me pour the concrete Friday:
Saturday, got to work on finishing the brick walk. Didn’t grab any in progress, ‘fat old man on his hands and knees putting down gravel, sand and bricks’ photos, but snapped a couple ‘sweeping dry mortar into the spaces’:
Cleaned up, sprayed it down with the hose, and voila! A mere 8 hours of work later, looks pretty good:
So, assuming I can hold up physically (so far, so good, and way, way better than the last 2-3 years) I will try to at least get the planter/fence finished. Then, what remains is the step down from the porch to the orchard, and the south planter/fence combo. The first is a little complicated but not too huge a project; the second is vary simple but a lot of work. Think I have enough bricks.
My daughter and her boyfriend dropped by while I was working, and I asked her if I’d started this project before she left for college or after. We determined that she’d left already, so it could not be more than 7 years running. We settled on 5. I’ve been at this for 5 years. Sheesh.
In related news, as this whole project started when we had to take out an old walnut tree in the front year and I decided I wanted to put in a mini orchard, as front lawns are definitionally useless, at least in the California suburbs, here’s how the little trees are doing:
This is a dwarf fig tree that’s about 15 years old. It spent the first dozen years in a half wine barrel, and was , you know, a dwarf tree. Well, it clearly likes being in the ground, where we planted it about 3 years ago: even though I trimmed it back severely this past winter (3), it’s now threatening to take over the porch. Next winter, it’s going to have to be cut back to about 4 sticks 3′ high, given its growth rate.
On the bright side, up until this year, the figs it produced were also small, and a little bland. This year, for the last couple weeks, I pick about half a dozen nice plump large figs every day. When the tree broke dormancy, it immediately put out a bunch of figs. Then, when the new growth kicked in, it started putting out more, many more, on the new branches. The first round is ripening now, the next round has got a few weeks to go. Last summer we had three rounds of figs ripening throughout the summer, with a fourth round forming that didn’t make it before winter. Let’s see how it goes.
Wish I liked figs more. Need to figure out more uses for them. Got some fig jam cooking on the stove now. I hear there’s a fig jam on toasted brie thing, but that’s not going keep up with the supply no matter how tasty.
Sadly, the avocado trees didn’t make it. While the other trees thrive (if I let the cherry go instead of trimming it relentlessly, I could probably harvest it for lumber in a decade or two), the avocados were stunted pathetic little sticks. So I yanked them – root balle the size of my hand, after 3 years. May try again, but with much larger trees planted a little later in the year, on the theory that bigger trees with 9 months to get established might tolerate the winter better. There are plenty of avocado tress in out neighborhood, so it is possible to grow them here.
The avocados were in a choice spot, and I couldn’t let it just lay fallow, so:
Way more than enough for now. Further bulletins when I feel like it, far beyond what events warrant.
And play piano, read, and write. But the brick slinging is more colorful, shall we say. The language I use when I screw up is, at least.
“Free” for the price of going to get them and cleaning mortar off them. I’ve cleaned mortar off several thousand bricks by this point. You get to be a connoisseur: mortar more than, I dunno, 50 years old? come right off with the proper application of leverage; the new stuff, especially refractory cement, is harder than the bricks themselves – if you hit the mortar hard enough to break it, the bricks break as well. You want bricks that were either pavers with little or no mortar on them, or from somebody’s old chimney. You do not want bricks from some suburban barbecue pit project that didn’t fit with the new homeowner’s lifestyle choices. The sad part: in another 50 years, there won’t be enough chimneys coming down for this whole ‘free brick’ thing to work. (In case you’re curious: professional urban recyclers seem to get the big project, like demolitions of old brick building and especially pulling up old brick-paved streets. For us amateur bargain hunters, it has to be small-fry projects.)
Fig trees bleed quite a lot of sap if you trim them when they are growing, I’ve read they can be damaged and even die. Thus, I’m not going to trim this thing for another 6 months, until dormant this coming winter.