In My Own Backyard

It’s often true that people don’t discover their nearby attractions until relatives or friends visit from out of town and they become the tour guide. People travel all over seeking out the new and interesting, when sometimes the best places are in their own backyard.

Today I realized that literally, one of the best places is in my backyard.

Williams Creek, a small tributary to the Salt River, runs through the back portion of our yard. Our property extends a bit on the other side of the creek, but for all intents and purposes, the creek defines the back border of our property.

The creek has also become one of the features of our yard that has me hating our property at times. Because the Salt River is no longer a real river, Williams Creek often floods our property and each time it does, it brings in a new crop of weeds and deposits another layer of silt across our yard.

Willows line the banks of the creek, and below the prodigious branches of the willows grows an increasing tangle of berry vines, stinging nettle and horsetails. I used to be able to mow much of the backyard, but with everything that’s gone on the last few years the willows and brambles took over.

Two weeks ago a large willow fell over during a light summer rain, and so I’ve been sawing and hacking my way through the mess it caused. This afternoon I made it to the old wire fence that runs the length of the property in the back. It had always annoyed me because you can’t weed whack along a wire fence. So I spent most of the day clearing the brush off of the fence and started pulling the wire and stakes.

This opened a path to the creek, something we hadn’t had in quite some time. Being an unusually warm day in Ferndale, I was ready to quit my yard work at that point. Lori had been busy in the front yard pulling horsetails and I knew she’d be ready to quit soon too.

We had talked about setting up our foldable settee and sitting out in the back yard since it was such a nice treat to have a real summer day in Ferndale. But I had an even better idea.

I took our settee down to the creek bed, which required getting out the extension ladder as the banks are pretty steep now from all the erosion. Then I got a couple glasses of lemonade and put them in the cup holders of the chair.

Lori loved my surprise. We spent about an hour and a half just sitting with our toes in the cool water, enjoying the slight breeze that made its way through the trees. There were little birds and tiny water bugs to entertain us, and we dreamed of finding gold in “our” creek.

I had brought her iPhone down with us to take pictures, and while we were down there enjoying the splendor of our own backyard Lori suggested we could listen to some music on her phone. I decided to try Pandora, and it struck me as very odd to be sitting in the middle of a creek and still be connected to the Internet. I pulled up a George Winston station which seemed very appropriate for the locale. The third song that played was a track by David Lanz which was so nice we ended up purchasing the album on iTunes.

At that point I was starting to lose the feeling in my feet from the cool water, so we ventured back to the house to listen to the rest of the album on the stereo.

During the 90 minutes we spent sitting in our creek, I fell in love with our house again. So often it is just a source of endless chores, and we never take the time to just sit and enjoy it. But looking at the scenery in our creek, I realized that people drive long distances to enjoy scenery like this. We’re very lucky to have this little paradise in our own backyard.

Next week I’m going to try and find time to smell the roses we’re growing.

The Kitchenaid Bank

This afternoon I finally got around to tackling the biggest project on my honey-do list. I had to. I was running out of clothes to wear.

For the last few months our clothes dryer has been making an increasingly loud squealing noise that didn’t go well with our quiet living in the country lifestyle. At first it only did it with large loads so Lori simply started doing smaller loads. That’s the beauty of being an intelligent creature, you adapt.

But then it got to the point where the dryer was bitching about having to dry more than one sock at a time. This got to be impractical. I kept putting off looking at it because I’ve been busy painting and working on the fence, fixing the truck’s bumper, doing a valve job on the KLR650 and a host of other things around the house. I thought about just calling a repairman, but that’s such a sissy way out. I at least wanted to have a crack at it and see just how far I could get in over my head before calling for professional help. Besides, just a few days ago I was staring at the inside of the motor of my KLR. If that doesn’t make you do the Mr. Tool Time grunt, then it’s time to just get rid of your tools. All of them.

So this afternoon I decided to take a look at our 10 year old Kitchenaid. First I pulled the back panel off. That was easy. Only problem was that it doesn’t get you anywhere. There had to be another way in, only I couldn’t find any other external screws to take off.

A quick Google of “Kitchenaid Superba Dryer Troubleshooting” got me the info I needed. (When you pronounce it super-ba, it sounds like a really dumb name for anything except possibly a loud sheep.) A couple of screws come out in the lint screen, and then the whole top just flips up like the hood of a car. Except the Kitchenaid engineers aren’t kind enough to provide the little pole to keep it propped up and it’s connected by way too many wires to easily disconnect it and get it out of your way.

But once you get that off then you can also remove a couple more screws that allow you to remove the front panel. And that’s when I got a big surprise. I never realized that our dryer had become our piggy bank. A large pile of coins spilled out on the floor, and after counting it all up, I was $20.62 richer. Enough for a night out at the movies.

With the front off, you can then disconnect the drum belt and lift the drum out. Underneath the drum I found my target, two drum rollers that needed some oil. I then put everything back together and it works and there are no screws left over. So not only did I not have to pay for a repairman, or wait for him to show up, I also have a pocketful of change to go have fun with.

While I had it all apart, I searched carefully, but all those missing socks were nowhere to be found. That part is still a mystery.

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

One of the problems of having a camera that you can tuck just about anywhere, is that it can get tucked just about anywhere. So for a couple of months I’ve been without my take it with me camera, my little Pentax Optio. But it recently resurfaced at the bottom of a bag of stuff I brought back from the studio, and with it, a few long forgotten pictures. So here’s a brief recap of progress on the house.

I started off the summer finishing the top of the fence. The Cecille Brunner roses we transplanted are doing great and the one over the gate even bloomed, providing a nicely scented welcome to our front yard. I can’t wait until we get the whole front covered in roses.

After finishing the top of the fence it was time to start working on pickets. I figure I need over 300 pickets. Here’s the first batch that I finished cutting, waiting to get painted.

I’ll be glad to get those up on the fence so people can finally see what the whole thing is going to look like. But that project got interupted by the fair, and now it’s into prime painting season so they’re on hold for awhile since I can paint them indoors. Can’t waste the precious fall weather on indoor projects.

After last fall’s heat gun incident, I needed to find a safer way to strip the paint on the exterior. After reading lots of reviews online, I finally decided to try out a Paint Shaver Pro. It arrived last week and I got to try it out for the first time yesterday. Right away I love it. In one afternoon I stripped the rest of the south side of the house. With the heat gun it would have taken me about a week or more. Plus I didn’t have to call the fire department, which is a huge bonus. It does scar the wood a bit, but most of the marks will sand out, and it’s a lot easier sanding the bare wood than it is sanding through layers and layers of paint.

Today’s project was to work on the top molding and the window trim. A lot of the window trim needed to be replaced as it was rotted, plus it allows me to prime and reattach the siding behind the trim. Redwood has a way of dissolving nails over a hundred years so it’s good to get everything re-nailed. I’m getting pretty used to finding wacky things done to this house by previous owners, but what I found today made me chuckle. Behind the window trim, insulating the space where the window weights used to hang, was a pair of workman’s coverups. I don’t know the R-Value for used clothing, but it has me wondering did the workman save these for just such a purpose? Or did he just blow out a knee and decide right there to recycle them. If I find a pair of jeans and a shirt in the next window, I’m really going to be wondering.

The Front is Finally Done!

In May of 2008 I started the long process of painting the house. I decided to tackle the front first, because it is of course the most interesting side of the house, but also the porch was new construction and really needed to get some paint on it.

Lori and I chose a color scheme that included the four colors on the barn, with some more added to the mix. In the end I applied 9 colors plus some gold leaf on the gables.

Because of the amount of prep and restoration needed to the gables and bays, plus the short painting season and being out of town so much for Lori’s cochlear implant surgery, it took me until today to finally finish the work on the front.

It feels really good to get that accomplished, but the scaffolding is already set up on the south side to start the work there. My plan was to finish the front and then enjoy the rest of the summer, but it’s starting to look like I might not get much painting done next year so I figure I better make use of some of the late summer and early fall where we typically get some of our best painting weather.

At least now when I get depressed with our yard, I can go sit in front of the house and pretend it all looks that nice.

Repairing an Antique Rim Lock

Since we’re going to be hosting some out of town guests this weekend for the Bionic Woman Variety Show, Lori’s been hard at work cleaning the guest bathroom. Calling it the guest bathroom is a bit of a misnomer. It’s mostly seen duty as the Knowlesville Recycling Transfer Station, where we keep our plastic, metal and glass until we take it to the dump. 

This room, like just about every other room in our house, has a door that does not latch. We don’t throw deadbolts for security, we throw them so our doors don’t blow open in the wind. This is part of what you deal with when you decide to live in a house that is 120 years old. We’re used to it, but I got to thinking it might be a bit too rustic for our guests so I thought I’d investigate this lock and see what the problem was.

One of the great things I look back fondly about my dad was that he was a great Mr. Fixit. I remember him doing all kinds of repairs around the house, and more often than not dad was able to get things operating again without having to call the repairman. Probably because like most men his age, growing up during the depression stressed the importance of repairing rather than replacing.

I like to think that not only did I inherit his desire to fix things, but maybe also the toys I played with at an early age like Legos and my Erector Set taught me how to problem solve mechanical devices. So before any broken device gets tossed in the dumper, I feel it’s my responsibility to do a thorough post mortem to see if the patient can be revived. Sometimes it’s just an artery that clogged, like Lori’s sewing machine the other day that was filled with so much lint parts were refusing to move. Other times I need to resort to transplant surgery, ordering new parts and installing them. Then there are times where the parts have gone missing, and I have to create artificial replacement parts. This ended up being the case with the bathroom door lock.

I like the way old things are put together. Back in the good old days they used screws. This allows you to disassemble them without breaking them, and to be able to put them back together again. Nothing stops Mr. Fixit quicker than modern cases that have either been snapped together with one way snaps, or worse with glue. So very quickly I got the lock apart and looked inside. Ah, here we go, there’s a broken spring. I just need to replace that and we’ll be done.

Thing was, I couldn’t figure out where the broken end would have been attached. So I figured out there on the Internet surely I could find the answer. First I had to figure out what this type of lock was called as it was escaping me. So I went to one of my favorite old house hardware sites Crown City, and looked at their lock section. Rim lock was what I was looking for. So I did various searches for repairing rim locks but came up empty.

I figured springs were cheap so I went down to Nielsen’s and bought a couple of springs that were close to what I found in the lock. I then tried to make these springs work but something just didn’t seem right because there wasn’t anything to attach the spring to on one side, and the other side provided a dubious connection at best. I kludged it the best I could and assembled everything and tried it out. It worked! The first time. Then I could tell that something came loose inside.

So I tried it again, this time with a bit of oil, and it worked a bit better, but after about three turns it stopped working again. So I opened it up once again and just stared at it.

That’s when I realized that the broken spring had been a red herring all along. It wasn’t supposed to be coil spring that made the bolt extend, it was supposed to have a leaf spring, just like the spring on the bottom for the dead bolt. I doubted that I could just go back to Nielsen’s and find the appropriate leaf spring so I hunted around to find something that was straight and strong but springy. Thankfully we had a pile of coat hangers waiting to be thrown away and the brass wire proved to be just the right ticket.


Coat hanger fix

Coat hanger fix

Cut to the right length it fit perfectly, and the lock is back in order. So a small scrap of wire coat hanger saved me from having to replace the lock, which of course Crown City would have been happy to sell me a new one at $70. So thanks dad, you taught me well.

Honey Do List From Hell

This weekend Lori and I didn’t have to go anywhere, and the weather was really nice. I was very tempted to take one of the motorcycles out for a spin, especially since this is one of my favorite times to ride around here with the poppies and lupine in bloom.

But since we’ve been out of town so much lately there’s lots of catching up to do, and I feel real guilty when I don’t make use of the rare good painting days that we get in Ferndale.

So I attacked the chore list with gusto.

Saturday it was mostly just the stuff that has to be done, like mowing the lawn. Sunday though was a little more interesting as I juggled several projects at once. 

Fence Slats

Fence Slats

For several months now I’ve been working on making the slats for the arbor in front. I bought the wood for this project during our Thanksgiving trip to Melody’s so you can see it’s taking awhile. 75 slats had to be cut with the tail design on both ends, sanded, primed and painted with two coats of latex. I’ve felt like I’ve been working on an assembly line the last few months. This is what happens when you pick a house so you can’t hear your neighbors.  I am so looking forward to making the 350 or so pickets.

In between coats drying I also put a couple of more colors up on the gable. Now it just needs the blue half balls attached and the gold leaf center. The balls are in the garage getting coated in epoxy before they get painted. The gold leaf will wait for a day without too much wind.

Front Gate

Front Gate

I also finally got our front gate hung. It was made with leftover parts from our front porch restoration. I would like to thank Steve Courtemanche for building it. I designed it, and bought the most expensive piece of wood I’ve ever bought for the frame, an $80 piece of old growth redwood. But I just couldn’t seem to get around to actually assembling it with the amount of other projects I have going on. So thanks Steve!

After I finished with the gate hanging, I noticed that our boxwood hedges were long overdue for a haircut. They were all halfway into that 70s afro look. So I decided to tackle one more project. When I got the wheelbarrow out to pick up the clippings, I picked a few nearby weeds. I’m not sure why, but picking weeds is like eating potato chips. You can’t just pick one. So I kept at it until three wheelbarrow loads later my back was sending me urgent warning signals that unless I wanted to spend the next few days lying on the floor, I should stop. Right now!

At 7:30pm I finally gave up and went inside to have dinner. After dinner I called mom since it was Mother’s Day after all. I missed that she was too far away to visit. She’s been very good to Lori and I this year, and it would have been nice to thank her in person. Plus, even though she always has a Sonny Do list for me when we visit, it’s never as long as my own list.

Painting Season Has Arrived

Growing up with San Jose’s dry weather presented some challenges when it came time to adapt to the humid coastal climate of Ferndale. Many of them emotional, but some practical as well, such as painting one’s house.

Our house in San Jose had been neglected when we purchased it and by doing a thorough job prepping it, that paint job has lasted 16 years. Last time I drove by it it was looking a little tired, but it was still holding together.

Here in Ferndale, a good paint job lasts about 5 years, and if you’re really lucky it might hold together for 10. The combination of humidity and the salt air really does a number on these old houses. It’s a bit daunting to think that I’m going to have to repaint this house every 8 years or so. Especially when the chances to paint in Ferndale are so limited.

Ferndale has two painting seasons. In spring right after the rains stop but before the inland areas warm up. Once the heat of summer arrives Ferndale turns into a foggy mess and you only get occasional days where the drizzle lets up so you can paint. Then in fall we get a few more weeks where the inland heat subsides enough so that Ferndale enjoys the best weather it sees all year.

So given the small window of opportunity to paint in Ferndale, I was only able to get half the front of my house painted last year. While that sounds discouraging, I’m bolstered by the fact that only the front of our house has extensive gingerbreading and the other three sides should go a lot quicker. I use to wish the south side had more gingerbread since it is very visible, but now I’m glad it relatively plain.

Yesterday, with the sun out, I couldn’t stand working indoors at the computer, so I made my way up the scaffolding to start painting the second gable. Even with just the monochromatic coat of primer, it looks fresh and renewed. I can’t wait until the whole front is finished. Then I can stand in front of the house and fool myself for a short time at least.