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.
A. Finished one story that’s been rattling about unfinished for years, about a musician who doesn’t know he’s an artist, and an artist who knows he is. In space. With cool tech. And bureaucratic intrigue. And with some literal cliff hanging
I still like it, 3 days later. This is an achievement of sorts, whether of growing confidence or self-delusion, I don’t know. Now need to find some place to submit it, but I think I’ll let it sit a few more days first.
The coolest, most encouraging part of all for me is that this is the first story I’ve *finished* finished in the grand SciFi world that has been rattling around in my head for a decade or two. Have draft-like objects of a couple more stories, some outlines of couple more, and an incomplete outline and many pages of notes to what is looking to be a multi-novel series. (I can’t write one novel, but I can *plan* a series. Pathetic.)
In my head I call this world ‘the Systems’, a lame but functional title. It centers around a trip made by a generational ship to a three star system, where two of the stars are stable little suns, each having nice inhabitable planets and moons. These two orbit each other, and together orbit a third, more distant star, which is not so stable, but somewhere along the path to being a red giant.
The underlying future tech stuff is nothing screamingly original, although I of course try to make it cool; the interest for me is in how one would maintain a sustainable, liveable culture under the mentally and emotionally harsh conditions of the original trip, how people would deal with decades-to-centuries long terraforming exercises after the trip, and how successfully people can transition from epic explorers/conquerors of new worlds to – what? So, you won! Hurrah! Now what? You farm, or just hang out while the bots take care of it for you?
I’m attempting to deal with the central problem Star Trek solves by its most egregious handwavium: in a super cool high tech socialist paradise, what do people *do*? Some tiny percent explore strange new worlds, etc., but most, it is implied, become Trobriand Islanders, only with better toys and manners. They have no hope to better themselves or the world in any objective sense, so they raise yams, figuratively, and screw, trade ‘art’ to reinforce social standing and improve self-esteem , and scheme for enhanced social position.
Talk about Hell. I want to look at this in more detail.
The main challenge for very amatuer and inexperienced me is setting up the overall arc of the stories. It’s fun to fill in once you know where you’re going, but, for me at least, I have to know the destination. I’ve started writing out character arcs for major characters, which can run thousands of words each, but does help me get clear. The plot itself has 4 major incidents, where character is revealed and Rubicons are crossed; I must know how each of about 8 characters deal with them….
One very cool thing: I had a major plot point for which a sympathetic mom had to do something pretty terrible. I’d gotten hung up on that for a long time – why did she do that? Then, months later, I figured out why. Weirdly gratifying.
Another thing: so far, all the most interesting characters are women. Plenty of men, and plenty of derring-do to go around, but so far, it’s the women (and girls – children figure prominently in this) who are most interesting. To me, at least. This will likely change as time goes on.
Anyway, fun and frustrating. At this rate, I’ll be almost done by 2035 or so…
Then made the mistake, maybe, of rereading the last story I finished, a couple months back, which story, in a fit of reckless enthusiasm, I even submitted for an anthology.
Well. I sure can write some trite, awkward stuff, I can. Sheesh. I’m embarrassed by it. Making it better would not have been too difficult, but I seem to have needed some space to see it.
We are assured that humility is a good thing – I’m going with that. And I’m working on cleaning up and finishing some other half-finished stories. See how it goes.
B. As obsessively dedicated readers with long memories here may recall, I lead a religious ed group down at the local parish called Feasts & Faith. Each week, I give a talk/slide show about the week’s feasts, including the saints days. We try to have appropriate snacks, such as foods and drinks from the countries the saints are from. Many big or locally important feast have foods and activities associated with them already, which makes it easy.
The point of all this is that the Church gives us the saints as models and leaders, and the liturgical year lays them out for us in convenient and persistent small doses. There’s really is nothing happening to us today on a personal, political or ecclesiastical level that some, usually large, number of saints have not already gone through. Temptations? Betrayal? Political oppression? Church corruption? Reading the lives of the saints tells us these things are nothing new, they happen in every age, and will be with us until the Second Coming. And, most important, that people did get through them faithfully. I also, you’ll be shocked to hear, digress into long discussions of history, in order to provide some context. Doing the research for these meetings has been very enlightening.
Among the uses of the Catholic (and Orthodox) cult of saints, is the groundwork they provide for the student’s sense of historical time. The saints arrive in succession, some earlier than others. Yet each is a figure who comes from outside time, and leads us, as it were, back where he came from. There is no “progress” from one saint, or generation of saints, to another. Each is sui generis — one of a kind — and each is “perfect,” by which we don’t mean entirely free of sin but complete to a purpose.
In their immense numbers they provide a constellation of light to our dark world, invisible to most but visible to many. The liturgy brings one after another into view, to serve as searchlights of us: thousands or millions of “little Christ lanterns” spread as the stars from horizon to horizon.
The custom of assigning saints to functions, of naming “patron saints” for trades and activities, sufferings and conditions of life, should be self-explanatory. To the faithful, of course, it is more than just custom. The Christian faith was from its origin extremely practical. (“Do this, in memory of me.”) To say, as they teach in our schools today, if they teach anything besides juvenile delinquency and despair, that the cults within our religion are “pagan survivals,” or “old superstitions,” is all very well; so long as we realize that this misses the point entirely, as all acts of malice tend to do.
C. The Endless Front Yard Brick Project is slowly progressing. Did have one of those moments that is both encouraging and discouraging at the same time: Leading down from the front porch, which is already complete as far as brick paving goes, will be a gate and two steps down into the front yard orchard. For some reason, I have been wildly overthinking this. Curved footers on weird radii, lots of holes, steel and concrete, hard-to-stake out forms – every time I thought about it, it got more complicated. Been putting it off for like 2 years now.
The encouraging part: once I stopped making it into the Great Wall in my head, a good and very simple solution presented itself. Just not that complicated. So, on the encouraging side, I think I can knock it off in a couple days with a minimum of digging and concrete pouring; on the discouraging side – why do I work myself up into knots trying to make things hard? If only this were a rare event…
Next steps included putting in part of the forms for the footings under the planter walls, so that I could get the depth correct on the *other* little footings that go under the places where the brick path ends without the support of the planter or the curb. What I mean is, the brick walk is just bricks on sand and a little gravel with a little bit of mortar between them. Where the walk transitions directly to dirt, such as where it ends at the power pole and in front of the water meter, the bricks will likely soon work themselves loose just by people walking on them. So I’m putting in a little 3.5″ deep, 8″ wide strips of concrete with a little rebar in it, so I can mortar those transitional bricks down so they don’t readily come lose.
That make any sense? Here’s what it looks like in front of the water meter:
It’s a little tricky, since the footers under the walk are at a lower level than the footers under the planter walls. I need to have the walk footers in, and maybe even the bricks mortared on to them, before pouring the concrete for the planter. At least, it seems like I should at the moment; I can imagine some workarounds.
Here’s is where it sits as of this morning:
Today or most likely tomorrow I will put in some rebar and pour the curve section. Youngest son will be back from a week of Boy Scout camping on Sunday – I’ll wait for his help and rent a mixer to do the planter footings, so next week, maybe?
Then I’ll be all set to while away many hours on my hands and knees laying bricks. Hope to be more or less done with it by the end of summer. This will satisfy my bricklaying Jones for many years to come, I should think.
First, an overview of the Insane Eternal Brick Project (Eternal here denotes project duration, not assumed useful life). Several years ago, when this project was only a glimmer in my deranged mind, I made a bunch of nice diagrams on graph paper (of course I did) to help visualize, on the one hand, and estimate the number of bricks I’d need (answer: lots. thousands.) so that we’d know how hard to hit Craig’s List for free bricks. We’ve got LOTS of bricks. Enough, I think.
But pencil on graph paper is unlikely to scan or photograph well, and I’d have to look for them, so: here’s something lame I whipped up on Paint:
So: the recent unnecessary update had to do with the yellow In Progress area, as does today’s update to the unnecessary update.
The large root I removed yesterday was to the right of the water meter; today I worked on the trench for the footer on the upper side of the In Progress planter. It only needs to be about 4″ wide, as it only supports a single depth row of bricks (1) .
Guess what? There were more roots:
Trying to pace myself, in the sense of not courting heat stroke or a heart attack too vigorously, so I’ve had enough for today, will try again tomorrow. This is the area right in front of where the tree, a large, old walnut, had stood for 75 years or so, thus it’s hardly surprising there would be some serious roots right here. I’m telling myself that the next phase, the planter on the south border, farther from where the tree stood, will not have any giant roots in it. Right? Please? I’d like to get this done this summer, or at least within my lifetime…
The footer in the front holds up an 8″ double row of bricks; it is tied to the back 4″ footer at either end by the footer for the little towers that hold up the wrought iron style fence, and by little steel-reinforced concrete strips at two places in the middle of the planter. It acts as a whole 24″ wide structure. Don’t want my little walls tipping over en mass.