Happy Easter!

Saturday was a gorgeous day here in Northeast Ohio.  We took advantage of pristine skies and reasonable warm temperatures and spent most of the day outdoors.  We spread 8 yards of playground mulch throughout the property.  It was rewarding a job as I’ve done in a long time.

I started the day by running up to Lowes to get about $25 in supplies, namely some 12″ square cement pavers and bags of river rocks.  My first chore was to establish our apiary. I fired up the gas trimmer, which was reluctant to awake from its winter slumber, and cleared about a 14′ x 10′ area of the north meadow.  It was soggy but I managed to rough up the ground a little and flatten two areas, about 4′ x 4′ each.  I then laid down a couple of pieces of tar paper, cut from rolls leftover after construction of the house.  The paper will hopefully cut down on plant growth under the hives. I knifed some holes in the paper though, just to keep water from pooling on top of the paper. Upon the pieces of tar paper I laid four of the cement pavers, as level as I could see.  I test fit the hive stands that I had made a couple of weeks ago, to see if they fit nicely and didn’t rock or roll.  Around the pavers I deposited two bags each of river rock, if for no other reason than to cover the tar paper and look nice.

Once all of the above was done I started spreading playground mulch all over the place.  I started with the apiary, covering the rectangle of real estate I had cleared previously with the trimmer.  Next I laid down mulch, 2″-3″ thick, on all the pathways.  Pathways we had laid out with orange spray paint nights before, adhering to our landscape plan.  Towards the end of my afternoon I had a some mulch left over so I even started a mulch path from the vegetable garden to the apiary as well, cutting through a couple wet areas.

My wife, who apparently can be a professional mulch spreader, then lovingly raked out all the piles up mulch into pristine new walkways.  We are tickled at how great our new pathways look, and the fact that we no longer have to tread through mud to get from point A to point B in the backyard.  Long term the mulch will weather and turn grey, which should look good with the grey house, but for now the paths are a welcoming warm brown color and spongy underfoot.  And now with the playground mulch gone, I have room for our top soil delivery on Monday.  Some times things don’t hang around for very long around our micro farm after all.

I feel the land’s magnetic attraction almost instantly; being holed up inside all winter has something to do with it too.  I could barely tear myself away from a water break on the porch as I listed to woodpeckers and other birds in the yard.  Looking across the driveway I could see my deer crossing lackadaisically in the distant, mid afternoon.  I am amazed by the subtle contours of the property. They were all but hidden when we bought the land, and didn’t look like much during construction, but now as we add definition to the yard, and looking at the drive one can’t help but stare at the order that permeates from presumed chaos.

This Easter afternoon we walked the land with the boys and just love that they have a place to run around with out worry, assuming we can keep one or two of them in sight for longer than a minute.  And while the sky attempted to drizzle and little boys need naps, we shunned reality for an hour and kept on walking, discussing, planning and exploring….I think we made a monumental decision on where the apple trees will go, if and when they show up.  We admired our paths and the new home for our bees, who will be here before we know it.  We also checked on many of the baby trees I planted last year.  Many if not most didn’t make it but we found plenty that are looking forward to Spring as much as we are.  Two of the four hazelnut trees have buds on them, as well as the red maple by the veggie garden.   We even found several pine trees still around, though they are but sprouts.

I will leave you with my Easter thoughts and wish you all a happy holiday.

As I sat and listened to the gospel today (I forget by whose account it was), to the obligatory story of the disciples discovering Jesus was no longer hanging out in his tomb I got to thinking.  John’s account goes like this:

So she ran and went to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and told them, “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they put him.” So Peter and the other disciple went out and came to the tomb. They both ran, but the other disciple ran faster than Peter and arrived at the tomb first.

So I mused silently, quite amusingly to myself at least, man Peter must be in heaven going “What the?  Again?  Every Easter they have to bring that up…. ‘But the other disciple ran faster than Peter’.  What the hell. Had I known it was a foot race and every year for two thousand years we’d remind everyone that I came in second I would’ve tried a little harder.  It was Sunday morning for Pete’s sake.  Who in the heck gets up and runs first thing Sunday morning.  And don’t even get me started on the whole ‘disciple whom Jesus loved’ bit. Yeah I get it, I wasn’t the favorite AND I’m slow.”

Reflecting back on the actual events twenty plus centuries ago I have visions of a slightly overweight man in robes, hands on knees, having just run down a dusty path trying to keep up with his compadre.  The other guy eagerly awaits, asking if they can go into the tomb, darting to and fro.  “Hold on.” Peter says in between gasps. “Hold on….my calf muscle seized up on me….and I might puke a little bit.

Happy Easter everyone!


Ok it’s random Friday post day.  My brain and mental condition is fried so the result is a big pile of randomness.  Without further ado here are my ramblings for a Friday night, whilst I sip my (first) Bud Light Lime of the night.

Four year old kids, or at least my four-year old kid, pretty much talk every waking minute.  I can sit in my office and he’ll rattle on for a good ten minutes before I realize he’s actually talking to me.  It may be bad parenting but there’s no way I can humanly process the steady stream of information spewing from his cute toothy grin.  They say sharks have to keep swimming to survive. The same apparently goes for kids and talking.  And no, closing the pocket door on my home office has no apparent effect.

Crappy photo but you get the idea.  This is the view from my office everyday.  I look up from my drawing board and see deer walking by.  In this particular photo the deer on the right is about to poop in my garden.  And no, I did not look away.

Crappy photo but you get the idea. This is the view from my office everyday. I look up from my drawing board and see deer walking by. In this particular photo the deer on the right is about to poop in my garden. And no, I did not look away.

We spent some time after dinner spray painting the paths in the back yard.  We’re pretty happy with the game plan and it’s fairly close to Charles’ original landscape plan.  I’m proud of myself because I kept my OCD at bay and basically eyeballed the plan and created a decent facsimile in with orange paint.

They delivered two truckloads of mulch today, one is playground mulch for the paths, and one is regular eco mulch for the beds.  Plan is to spread all of the playground mulch tomorrow, establishing all of the backyard paths.  The way to do the paths is with stone and whatnot but the mulch is cheap and I can spread it myself without hiring a landscaper.  Long term we can put nice paths in.  For now this will control erosion and allow guests and home occupants alike to move about without getting muddy.

Mmmm black and tan.  The tan pile should be all spread tomorrow.  The dark stuff is for the plant beds...spread that some other time.

Mmmm black and tan. The tan pile should be all spread tomorrow. The dark stuff is for the plant beds…spread that some other time.

We also scoped out the place for the bee hives.  I’ll goto Lowes tomorrow and get some pavers, and maybe some gravel.  I’ll use those on top of an area I’ll clear out and then I can set my bee hive stands.

I discovered various paw prints in the back yard including some sort of dog prints.  I should buy a book or look on the internet and learn to identify them.  Or just drink beer and look at swimsuit models on Pinterest.

I was hungry during my work day this week so I went to the pantry.  With great anticipation I grabbed the graham cracker box only to find, not surprisingly considering my house mates, that we were just storing an empty box in the pantry. You know, just in case.  So distraught I sat down at the dining table and lo and behold a half eaten graham cracker.  Once the wife and kids returned home from yet another shopping adventure I inquired about said cracker and apparently it was my youngest’s.  Hmmm.  Not sure why we were storing a half eaten cracker on the table but who am I to judge.  Long story short I ate the cracker three days later. I figured the statute of limitations was up and it was fair game.

This graham cracker sat on the table for four days....

This graham cracker sat on the table for four days….

....just four days until I said enough was enough.

….just four days until I said enough was enough.

I was driving the Rabbit the other day and for what ever reason looked at the mirror adjustment switch.  Wouldn’t you know it, I have heated mirrors!  Yeah, you can switch them on and off even, say as you’re warming up the car in the winter.  For six years I’ve been scraping ice off the jellybean shaped mirrors and curing German engineering.  See kids, you’re never too old to learn new tricks.  Part of me wishes it was winter again.

After 80,000 miles I finally realize the Rabbit has switch activated heated mirrors

After 80,000 miles I finally realize the Rabbit has switch activated heated mirrors

After nearly a year, the cat finally realized she can sit on our 10" deep window sills in the sunshine.

After nearly a year, the cat finally realized she can sit on our 10″ deep window sills in the sunshine.

My blog has been around for like two years now almost, and it’s always fun to look at the stats.  It’s not popular by any scope of the imagination.  I get like twenty guests a day.  Big blogs get like two hundred thousand, so it’s obviously a labor of love and sanity maintenance.  I have reached people in 104 different countries which is really cool.  And I have like twenty or thirty regular followers, thank you all for tuning in.

I get to see the stats showing what phrase people “googled” or searched for in order to ultimately land on my blog.  It’s usually mundane or expected topics like my most popular: screen porch design, wooden storage shelves, and my snazzy “L”-shaped shower rod install.  Each of these landed like 100 search results apiece. Then there are some more unique searches, that garner just a handful of results but help provide me with a cross-section of who I am helping out there.  Now the stats no longer show the single and “two” result inquiries so I lost a LOT of really funny searches, but here are some highlights from what I was able to see:

bucket of water – 6 results – what can I say.  I’m not sure why you’re searching the internet for a bucket of water but I’m glad you found my blog.

snake with yellow line down its back red eyelids – 4 results – what the hell?  I mean I saw a couple of snakes when we were building, but I sure as hell didn’t get close enough to see what color eyelids they had…..wait, do snakes even have eyelids?

I don’t want gutters on my metal roof what else can I do – 3 results – well, you can let all the water run off and onto the ground.  Did you really need the internet to figure that out?

diy dog proof litter box – 3 results – seriously?  Are you bummed because your dog goes to the bathroom in a litter box instead of you waking up at 6 am to walk it outside during a blizzard?  I’m not sure how I can help other than saying you should probably just have a cat.

enclosing a porch for a cat – 3 results – awe, more power to you.  We should all have cats, and all cats should have a porch.  Visit my blog anytime.  Better yet send me pictures of your cats enjoying their porches.  We plan on finishing our porch this spring for our aging kitty.

ants in the attic – 8 results – I feel your pain. There are at least eight other dudes out there who’s wives convinced them that the ants that are “everywhere inside the f*cking house” are seemingly coming from the attic.  Hopefully they didn’t fall off the ladder and nearly break their neck going up there like I did.  I can’t imagine much else worse than ants in the attic.  Well maybe…

bats in the attic – 2 results – Eeeek.  I envision some woman in her pj’s at four in the morning frantically tapping away at a keyboard while her husband or boyfriend smacks the ceiling of their bedroom with a broom…”What the f*ck, I searched the internet and all I came up with is this blog where this f*cking a**hole is talking about his feelings and recycled insulation……oh wait, I love the color of their bedroom though….what is that, lemon grass?“.

Ok, my beer is empty and my kid is finally wearing down in the background (tonight he invented a song and sang it at the top of his lungs for at least twenty minutes).  Stay good people, and if not don’t call me to bail you out, at least not until Monday.

Spring Snow

old-and-newI awoke this morning to a pristine white dream outside my window.  Even before my contacts were in I could tell our hollow had been turned into a wonderland. There is a unique freedom I enjoy during this transitional part of my life’s journey, in that I am no slave to desk or master; a walk outside my only calling on this cold Monday. So it was with great haste I showered and dressed. Not towards car and highway I would go, rather I would dart to my door and out to my land, camera in hand.

I had a nice walk, minute rainy flakes still falling from the sky, as everyone else slept soundly inside.  Before me was a once in every dozen or so snowfalls where all the snow clung to leafless branches as if painted on overnight.  The chalk colored sky blending seamlessly into the background, providing a measured dose of morning light to make the snow radiate just so, its moist flakes contrasting with charcoal branches and trunks.  It was a dawn for taking large photographs.  For capturing symmetry, contrast, balance and texture.  No need for black and white photography, the world before me was rendered as such by its own hand whilst I slumbered.  Like one final protest of winter before spring comes to saturate ground to sky \with imagination to last well through summer’s waning days.

As I slowly deposited meandering footprints I took in the scene, for this beauty, like most in life would soon be betrayed by time.  I believe it is in brevity that the wonder of such snow falls truly rests, for deep down inside we know that it will not last.  Being that it is a spring snowfall, the normal solitude of such a jaunt was not to be, for many a bird filled the air with chirp and song.  A morning of contrast indeed.

Snapping away at the camera, I circled the plot and came upon many a glorious subject, all dressed in their best black and whites.  My friends who I have never really seen before in such a way, it was as if we met for the first time.  A thorny bush…our holiday tree from year prior….three sister trees, defined as such by the snowfall….a lone maple…and, not realizing it until I really looked at the photographs later in the evening, two trees standing proud side by side; a rather unremarkable photo telling a profound story.

On the right stands an old tree trunk, weathered and branch-less   To the left stands a tall tree, probably an oak or maple.  It towers over the former shell of a tree.  But as you examine the photo, look at how the tree on the left grew.  Look at the branches.  There are no lower branches on the side where the old tree is.  At one time the old tree towered over its younger companion.  Shading it. But they lived in harmony, for obviously the younger tree survived.  And they lived along side each other for some time, just by virtue of the girth of their trunks.  The younger tree has several large branches, and they all stem from the opposite side of the older tree.  The elder companion forever shaped and ultimately helped define, what was once just a sapling growing at its base.  A sapling grown of the nutrients cast off from a once towering tree.  A sapling that has now grown into as tall a tree as one would cast gaze upon in this clearing.  Grown to be a tree that now protects its old friend from the prevailing winds.  I have borne witness to many a splendid old tree trunk standing like monuments on our property.  I have seen the wind send many of them to their final resting place.  Were it not for this relationship these two pillars have for each other, the ground would know the taste of older tree by this day.  There is wonder, lesson and humility out there if we open ourselves to receive it.

With cold and obligation setting in I reluctantly treaded back inside.  Settling in at my drafting table I marvel at the scene outside my window and quietly say thanks for my lot in life.  Spring snow can be wonderful.  It need not be a habit though, for in rarity is treasure.

pond-in-snow snow-day spring-snow tree-in-snow trees-in-snow

Winter Storm Watch

With our bees and apple trees on the way, I made the decision to order some raw materials for the back yard.  I called my friends over at Kurtz Brothers and ordered several yards of playground mulch, Eco mulch, and Professional Blend top soil.

We need the top soil for the vegetable garden and our apple trees.  I have some left over from construction of the house, but to assure our fruits and veggies get off to the best possible start, I’m buying fresh nutrient rich top soil.  The write-up on pro blend states it is: A premium sandy loam blend, rich with organics, Professional Blend soil is the perfect choice for establishing lawns, landscape beds and general landscape construction projects. The additional sand content in this blend helps increase the workability and water drainage of the soil for stronger, healthier plants and lawns. I like that it comes with a pH level around 6 – 8 which should be perfect for my apple trees.  I’m no expert, but this should give us a good start.  I have plenty of uses for the left over topsoil I had from construction, namely I have several other beds to put in, in the back yard. Plus we have a lot of wild flower seeds to sow.

One note before I get into the other materials we ordered.  I like that we have a lot of space near the house and driveway for raw materials.  I have two piles, the aforementioned top soil from construction and we have a wood pile of logs and branches from clearing the land.  I also figure I have room for the three piles of mulch and soil on order.  Granted most of these piles will all be distributed this Spring, but it’s nice to have them all on hand at the same time, and not take up driveway space, and be able to spread the materials out at our leisure.  With questionable weather, who knows when I’ll get to some of the materials.  They can wait in storage (I’ll put some plastic, leftover from construction, over them) until I and the weather are ready.  The soil is the most important though because regardless I need to get the apple trees in as soon as they show up.

Now, back to the materials I’ve ordered.  I ordered a  bunch of the same playground mulch we used around the swing set last year.  We are going to use this mulch for our pathways in the backyard.  Even at the end of last summer, with all the plant growth, the back yard was a big muddy mess.  Someday the paths can be fancy gravel and well manicured beds but for now we just need to be able to navigate without getting completely muddy and tearing everything up.  The paths will lead from the driveway, to the veggie garden, the swing set and ultimately the bee hives.  Figure paths are about 3′ wide and I’ll lay down at least 2″….that’s about 400′ worth of pathways in one truckload.

Last but not least of our loads on order is the Eco mulch, which will be for the plant beds, primarily to clean up the existing beds, and maybe for a couple of the new ones. I can use the mulch around the apple trees and even the veggies if I’m so inclined.  I think we’ll need to order more of both kinds of mulch but we can wait till later in the spring.  A truck load of each should start us off fine.

Getting back to that pile of wood, once the weather gets warm, I’ll start picking through it. I’m not sure if anything is living in there, so I’ll be careful in case it’s some furry animal’s home.  I’ll be looking for straight lengths of wood, about 4″ in diameter that I can use as fence posts for the veggie garden.  I’ll cut six to eight foot lengths of branches.  Then I will bury them about two to three feet into the ground.  I could use pressure treated 4×4’s but pulling branches out of the pile 1) uses materials found on site which is free and eco-friendly 2) looks more rustic and farmy and 3) keeps pressure treated wood away from our veggies.

As I write all this though we’re under a Winter Storm Watch, expecting up to five inches of snow here, on the fourth day of spring.  We’ve been able to get out and enjoy the sun and clear weather the last couple days, but presumably tomorrow we’ll wake to snow.  I’m over it all really but alas I’m not in charge of the weather.  I can only keep my fingers crossed that the snow will come and go quickly so I can get rolling in the yard.  I set up my drafting table in my studio and it looks out over the back yard.  I find myself day dreaming and imagining being out there working in the sun and soil.  Soon enough.  Just as well it snow, I have had

a little luck and landed a few jobs that require my attention indoors.  I know once spring really gets here, it’ll be a struggle to stay out of the yard.


Here's the backyard color coded illustrating the paths in yellow, and the areas that we could use some top soil.  In the front yard you can see the apple trees, though not all nine will fit in front of the garage; we'll have to locate some of them creatively in the back yard...maybe by the veggie garden (the large green rectangle).

Here’s the backyard color coded illustrating the paths in yellow, and the areas that we could use some top soil. In the front yard you can see the apple trees, though not all nine will fit in front of the garage; we’ll have to locate some of them creatively in the back yard…maybe by the veggie garden (the large green rectangle).


I went shopping in the basement and found this drafting table.  It was too short so I took some wood from the leftover wood pile and made a stand to raise it up.  I designed it on the fly and it took about 45 mins. to make.

I went shopping in the basement and found this drafting table. It was too short so I took some wood from the leftover wood pile and made a stand to raise it up. I designed it on the fly and it took about 45 mins. to make.

We were bored the other night so we made a lego tower that was nine feet tall and touched the ceiling.

We were bored the other night so we made a lego tower that was nine feet tall and touched the ceiling.

The wife went shopping in the basement and found this old metal table.  It had an old power outlet attached that I took off.  I also knocked off the old caster wheels.  The wife will clean it up, I'll install new modern casters and we'll spray paint it - ready for craft room duty after that.

The wife went shopping in the basement and found this old metal table. It had an old power outlet attached that I took off. I also knocked off the old caster wheels. The wife will clean it up, I’ll install new modern casters and we’ll spray paint it – ready for craft room duty after that.

Old hardened rubber casters need replacing.

Old hardened rubber casters need replacing.


Apple Trees Ordered

Alright, I pulled the trigger and ordered our apple trees.  After some Sunday, all day, fretting I made some phone calls on Monday and came to a resolution by that afternoon.  I was looking for semi-dwarf trees in three varieties (gala, fuji, and yellow delicious; three each).  One option was to drive down to the Columbus area this week and pick up three of each at a garden center.  Cost would have been about $50 apiece for trees in 5 gallon pots, figure about 5′-6′ tall trees.  Online I found several sites, and two that peaked my interest because of their offering in terms of available sizes and “species”.  I could have ordered trees that were up to 9′-10′ tall (before pruning for shipping), but those cost in the $175 range apiece.  Being on a budget I found a good compromise at $50 each for trees in the 5′-7′ range that may even produce fruit this year if all goes well.  Yay!

The trees I ordered are all bare root trees, which like the bushes we got last year, and the baby trees we got last year, there is no soil around the base of the tree, rather some sort of nutrient jelly material.  This is fairly typical for fruit trees or ordering trees and bushes from out-of-state.  Our trees are coming from down south, but I do not believe this will cause any issues – us being in Ohio – because all the trees are “rated” for growing in our planting zone (zone 6 I believe).  The trees I could have gotten down in Columbus probably came from out-of-state anyway so no advantage there.  I did find one reputable dealer in Pennsylvania but they had a ton of specialized varieties and grafting (size) options that just confused the heck out of me.  I’ve learned a lot about apple trees in a short period but right now I just want to stick to the basics: semi-dwarf trees (15′ tall, 12′ wide) in a simple fuji, gala and yellow delicious variety.  Actually there are several varieties of the first two, and the latter I found to more likely be called golden delicious, which I think is synonymous. The nursery I ordered from had simple nomenclature and after a phone call I was able to confirm their trees were semi-dwarf.  One note though, here we are mid-March and nurseries are already sold out of many types of apple trees for 2013, so it’s important to order well in advance.

With my information at hand I decided I’d save time and just order the trees and have them delivered.  In the three varieties, I ordered one each with the description “EZ pick” which means they’ll grow up to have lower branches allowing short people to pick apples from my trees.  I live in a household with three short people so by doing this I have increase my odds of having help come fall harvest time.  These trees were about $40 apiece and should be 5′-6′ tall, and supposedly fruit this year (though maybe with planting shock or depending on how well I take care of them, I wouldn’t be surprised if they took a year off).

In addition to my “EZ pick” trees I ordered two “heavy branched” regular semi-dwarf trees in each variety.  These ran about $50 apiece and should measure 6′-7′ tall, though they might be pruned for shipping.  The caliper on a tree like that is about 1″ I believe.  On Sunday we went to our local nursery and I think I measured the trunk on the three nice yellow delicious trees to be 3/4″ or 1-1/4″ (I can’t remember).  So my trees that I ordered should be decent size.  We’ll have to wait and see.  Fingers crossed they show up alright, I get them planted and they flower this spring.  If that happens I’ll consider it a success even if we don’t get any apples this year.  By the way I did get golden delicious trees and not the yellow delicious that were specified on our landscape plan. Generally speaking I think they are synonymous like I said, and the blossom at the same time, mid Spring so they should help pollinate our fuji and gala trees nicely.

Beyond that I’m busy working.  We’ve got several things going on in the studio, and I even have my first consulting job that should pay me some money so that’s always a good thing, in light of the fact that we are broke.  Here are some pics of the animal habitat boxes I saw at the garden center on Sunday.  They’re all on my wish list.

Bat houses...I'd have to look but I think you mount these to a really tall freestanding pole (A tree might attract raccoon).

Bat houses…I’d have to look but I think you mount these to a really tall freestanding pole (A tree might attract raccoon).

Butterfly and bird houses.  Off to the left at the bottom is a cool squirrel house.

Butterfly and bird houses. Off to the left at the bottom is a cool squirrel house.

Garden Planning

This weekend we did a few things to mentally get ready for spring.  Saturday we attended a beginner bee keeping class conducted by the Stark County Bee Keepers Association.  Christine’s been reading her bee keeping books but it was good to hear first hand from experienced bee keepers and learn many of the ins and outs of how to take care of our winged little friends. One exciting tid bit I heard was that with our bees our garden, and the gardens of our neighbors, should really take off in the coming years.  With about 20,000 – 80,000 bees per hive we’ll have plenty of pollinators for the neighborhood.  Bees travel an area of about 2-3 miles in any one direction.  I’m becoming more excited with every passing week.

So with all the bee business in order I’ve turned my attention to my outdoor endeavor this year: my apple trees.  We’ll be getting approximately 3 of each of these varieties: Fuji, Gala and Yellow Delicious, based on our landscape plan.  I picked up a book called ‘Grow Fruit‘ to give me a cursory overview of what I need to know.  I know apple trees come in generally three types or sizes.  Regular apple trees grow to be 20′ tall, take a while to grow and are difficult to harvest apples from.  Semi-dwarf apple trees grow between 10′-15′ tall, and may not need to be supported after the first three years.  They’re easier to harvest from and can be planted 15′ apart, just like our landscape plan shows.  Dwarf apple trees grow upto 10′ tall (I believe), and need supporting, sometimes with a trellis or arbor.  I’m looking for semi-dwarf trees.  I found some sites, and a local nursery that list trees with a caliper of up to 2″ and 10′ tall but I can’t determine if those are semi-dwarf or full size trees.  I really want the biggest trees I can get so I don’t have to wait for fruit – hopefully get some this year or next.  Trees take so long to grow, I don’t want to be gone before they finally grow up.  What I believe I’m going to do is get some trees that I know are definitely semi-dwarf even if they are smaller and I have to wait a few years.  One plus is the price on the smaller trees is in the $50 range for a 5 gallon / 5′ tree vs. $175+ for an 8′ tree (that may or may not be a regular apple tree).  Tomorrow is Monday, I’ll make some calls.

Soil wise I’ll have some work to do when I go plant my trees but with some manure or compost (store-bought this year) we should be okay.  And I think the tree planting areas drain well enough, or as best as can be expected.  I do have to figure out a way to test my pH levels in the soil but I’m sure my garden center has the tools to do that job.

So our bees will be super happy when they see apple trees at their new house this spring. In addition hopefully our blueberries, raspberries and blackberries come back from last year too.  And don’t forget the kiwi plants.  Reading my book it turns out many of these, including the kiwi, like support in the form of wires or lattice-work. When we get a warm weekend day I’ll go out back and plan out the veggie garden and around that I’ll insert some posts to define the area. I may also post around the raspberry bushes since they like something to crawl around on.  My plan is to make the posts out of the timber we felled to clear the house site a couple of years ago.  I’m thinking 6’ posts, buried 2-3 feet in the ground. I’m pretty sure from our local lumber supply or Tractor Supply store I can pick up some deer wire to act as support and to keep the deer out of the veggies.

Raw material wise I plan on ordering about (I think) 10 yards (a truck full) of natural organic mulch from our supplier for the existing beds and new plant beds that I want to form this year.  In addition to that I’ll get a truck load of that playground mulch and we’ll use that to create pathways in the back yard and up to the bee hives.  This will make it easier for friends, family and guests to get around out back.  The back yard is basically all mud so paths will be helpful.  I’m on the fence whether to get top soil, as my reserve pile still has a fair amount of the stuff we scraped off when building the house.  I may get a few yards just to have for the apple trees, veggie garden and new beds.  We’ll see.  I’m using the wine garden area, just off the driveway as my raw material storage area, and I’ve got the room.

One of the reasons we’re doing everything we’re doing is to share what we’re learning with other people.  The bees and garden will be a great, full circle, demonstration of how food is created (it’s Sunday night, I can’t describe it any better than that right now).  Bees are so critical to everything we eat.  Without bees we’d all starve in short order.  All the chemicals we’re using are decimating bee populations, as well as other insects.  Soon we’ll find we’ve committed mass suicide if we’re not careful.

On site education wise we also have the man-made systems demonstrating energy efficiency, all of which have been talked about at length on the website.  And we have our water system that I’m particularly proud of.  Beyond all that I also have my eyes on animal habitat projects on the property.  I’d like to pick up at least one bat box (bats are endangered and they help with mosquitoes).  Some bird and butterfly boxes would be nice too.  We’ll see.  Point is the place should become a great place to spend time, learn, relax, meditate, create art and whatnot.  As restorative a location as one could conjure.

Lot’s to do but it’s all do-able.   And shouldn’t cost too much.  I just need to get my ducks in a row, get some things ordered and get some warm dry weather out there.

Cut Man

Okay so I was going to write something profound and enlightening today, but I can’t really put together anything of value in my head, let alone on “paper”.  Life is full of really awesome moments or periods of time that when you reflect upon them, to others they may seem ordinary but to you they are extraordinary for they helped define who you are.  For various reasons, I won’t get into now, I’ve never been good at remembering things that happened long ago.  Rather I can remember how those memories shaped me, but not necessarily the specifics.  I make for a dreadful campfire companion for I can never really share a good story but I can conjure the emotion, color, and even the smell in my mind.  I’m wound pretty tight and a very emotional person, which is awesome for creativity, vision and optimism (at times) but boy not everything can be a monumental read on life; sometimes cooking dinner is just cooking dinner so to speak. 

One of the biggest challenges in life, I feel, is both living life, and realizing those moments that really shape you are happening right there and then.  It’s not always possible, at least for me, because to do both at the same time degrades the former to the perceived benefit of the latter.  And too often we don’t find the time to think back upon those moments, or maybe we grow apart from those memories and the people in them, or any number of scenarios that “regular” life gets in the way.  I’m not here to debate the nuances of all of that, I’m sure one could write a book on the topic.  The point is each of us has a unique story that is shaped by the people around us as well as both our individual and collective narrative.  And I believe at times we forget, or get too busy, to think about it, instead telling ourselves we’ll look back at those photographs, or memories, or look up that old friend, or call a sibling or parent, next week….or next month…or next year.  I’m not going to pretend it’s easy or even possible given all that life deals us, but at the very least it’s worth reflecting on and even if just one box gets checked off that list it’s worth it.  I’m not that great at talking, so I try to write.  It works for me.  Everyone’s different I suppose. At times I try to check off boxes with written words.

My family lost a dear friend (and extended family member) in the past week. Beyond both of our families being close for nearly forty years, I had the honor of working along side him for several years while I was in high school and college.  We worked for my brothers as part of a rough framing crew building new homes.  Back then I always thought that job was the best incentive for getting a cushy job in a cubicle.  I can tell you now that in reality that job was probably the best I ever had.  Don’t get me wrong though, I’m not going back to doing that anytime soon.  The winter’s were brutally cold (I’d work during my school breaks) and the summer’s were brutally hot.  The pay was decent, but in hindsight I’d have done it for free given all I got out of it (or given the chance to go back in time and relive those days). When you work on a crew like that everyone does everything, but usually there’s a set of guys who go up on the roof and a set of guys who keep their feet firmly planted on the ground.  My friend and I were definitively members of the latter group.  He taught me to be a “cut man” which means we would cut the lumber based on the measurements the guys up top yelled down to us.  Most of the time I was basically handing up material and helping him out, but eventually I learned enough to be a cut man in my own right, or at least I like to think so.  There’s a camaraderie born of working in that environment that I am thankful for having experienced first hand.  The lessons I learned by working side by side with him, and all the guys, are ones that have served me well in life: artistry, humor, hard work and a zest for life.  Given time I could probably come up with a few stories, but no need for that now.  Just know that the color of a clear sky against freshly nailed rafters is the most intense blue hue I’ve ever seen.  When I close my eyes I can smell the sawdust and hear the crack of a hammer against plywood.  If I’m very quiet I can hear their laughter in my mind. We were young men in our teens, twenties and thirties who had the world in the palm of our hands, even if it didn’t seem that way at the time.  If you could look back I swear you’d see us glowing. I can’t recreate that, not anymore at least. That’s the irony of life. All that can be done is remember fondly those days, and thank god that they were real and cherish their memory forever.  And, for me, appreciate that I am the man I am today in many ways because of it. 

I still have my tool belt from those days.  And on warm summer evenings (fireflies thick in the air dancing beyond the open garage door) or sunny weekend days (with my kids playing in the yard), when I’m working on some project on my home, I put the belt back on. It’s a little bit tighter now. No one else is around, it’s not like the old days, I’m on my own now. But there isn’t a piece of wood that I’ve cut since those days that I don’t think about my friend or our crew or those days.  

This is but one story.  I am but one random guy.  Our collective history is filled with a nearly infinite number of these stories, each as precious as the other. There is beauty in the mundane aspects of life as much as the spectacular moments.  And they all shape us.  Enjoy them, share them, treasure them. If you have something you’ve been meaning to do, then go out and do it.  If you have something you’ve been meaning to say, then by all means say it.  Telling yourself you’ll get to it later, or it’s too difficult really isn’t an option if it’s something important.



Home Made Bee Hive Stand

Ok, what’s been going on at the ranch lately?  Well actually a fair amount, though I did try to enjoy the weekend a little bit.  Our coat rack finally showed up from Pottery Barn; it was on back order and its delivery date was all over the place every time I called them.  It was easy to mount, I used the hardware included (3 screws and 3 metal drywall anchors).  One note, we have a big ass air vent between the studs where the center screw needed to go.  I could feel it when I was drilling my pilot hole and I seem to remember it from when we were building.  I used a small drill bit to pierce its thin foamy shell (I don’t think it was a sheet metal duct), then a larger bit to accommodate the wall anchor.  I then squeezed some caulk into the wall before drilling the wall anchor into place, presumably to close up the hole I just created in the duck.  Another note, I had taken photos and videos of this area when we built, but I didn’t look to see exactly was going on behind the drywall…I’ll go back and examine the video and photos later to make sure my assumptions are correct.  It’s a phenomenal idea to take photos and video before the drywall is hung on your new or remodeled home. If you learn nothing else from my awesome blog, learn that.  Here are the coat rack install pics:

Since we don’t have a front hall closet we had to go with this coat rack and shelf approach.  One thing I like about it is it sends a signal to guests that the house isn’t necessarily that formal.   It says that a family lives here and the house is loved and used, not some museum piece…we have coats and boots and all the ugly life stuff.  We try to keep it organized but it’s a home at the end of the day.  Or at least this is what I tell myself.

We bought another bee hive yesterday for a total of two.  Today was such a beautiful day the boys went out and rode their bikes and we put up the swings to play on.  I decided to build two hive stands for our bee hives.  Using scrap treated lumber and screws I had lying around, leftover from construction of the house, I built the stands in about two hours time.  I designed them as I built them.  I might change a couple of things, including tucking the legs under the frame, but all in all I think they will work out just fine.  These are more complicated than some of the more simple frames one could have built.  The bee expert we talked to suggested just taking four 2×12 and arrange them in a pin wheel.  I didn’t have any lumber that size lying around so I did my own thing and it didn’t cost me a dime.  Another option would have been cinder blocks but I’d have had to buy those, and the same expert I talked to wasn’t a big fan of putting bees on blocks.  Here is the gallery walk through of my home-made hive stand construction:

Finally a couple of items on my wish list are below.  One thing I finally did get though was a warm spring like day which I had been wanting for a long time.  It was so nice to bee……ugh….be outside today.  I can’t wait for more and more days like this.  We even have little buds on our bushes and the bulbs are coming up in the front yard I heard the wife say today.

I really want  a greenhouse.  Lowes has these inexpensive ones...it's an option...I could add this to a shed.

I really want a greenhouse. Lowes has these inexpensive ones…it’s an option…I could add this to a shed.

saw this at Lowes too.  Really want this book - it looked like it had some good info for growing our apples.

saw this at Lowes too. Really want this book – it looked like it had some good info for growing our apples.

Cool book I saw at Barnes & Noble.  I might think of asking for this for my birthday.

Cool book I saw at Barnes
& Noble. I might think of asking for this for my birthday.

Bees Are Ordered

Our bees are ordered.  We ordered one package and we are on the wait list for a “nuc” (a swam of bees already established on frames).  It will be a few weeks until they arrive but we’ve got plenty to do in the meantime.  We’ll pick up a second hive and some additional supplies.  I have to go out back and clear the hive area but will wait for a warmer weekend to do that.  Moving the bees into their new home should be pretty cool, a spectator worthy event. I’m really looking forward to bringing our girls home (basically all the bees are female, in case you were wondering).

House wise I’ve been spending some of my working day in the loft and have found it to be a most agreeable spot to think, read and create.  My office area is nice downstairs but it can’t compare to looking out the giant window as snowflakes meander their way earthbound.  I went “shopping” in our cluttered basement and found a little table upon which my coffee and note pad can rest in the loft next to my chair.  The boys were up there yesterday with me and they enjoy jumping off the deep window sills and rolling around on the carpet.  Surprisingly the loft doesn’t get as warm as one would expect but it’s still warmer than my transitional office area. 

I’ve been working in my studio as well, on a large 6′ stripe painting.  Looking forward to getting that framed and out of the way.  I have about a dozen blank canvases I need to work on for our summer art show schedule too.  

Outside the house has weathered winter fairly well.  The gutters have some grey streaks from roof runoff but I think I can clean those in the spring off of a tall ladder.  I also have a downspout to fix and a drooping valance panel that should be an easy fix.

We’ll spend some time planning the garden in the coming weeks.  One thing I’d love to do is build a small shed and greenhouse but I don’t think that will be in the cards this year.  The shed would be good for processing honey, but I can clear out some studio space to do that this year.  At the very least I may design the shed, for my portfolio if nothing else.

Working from home has been interesting and taken some adjustment but it’s going well.  I have another interview today so we’ll see how that goes.  The bees and other homesteading projects really keep me upbeat and excited.  Regardless though I really can’t wait for spring to arrive.  We’ve been holed up for too long. 

Nerd Day – Let’s Talk Subscriptions

Today is day two of my new gig as a design consultant / job seeker.  Mind you I have not consulted on anything yet.  I’m working on getting things organized and working on some promotional items this week. I applied to another position today so we’ll see how that goes.

I really like the new iMac computer, but there are aspects of the experience that are maddening.  I’ve been battling setting up my email for almost a day now.  Thankfully all my non-email files are migrated over to the new machine, but getting the various email accounts to fire on all cylinders has been a challenge.  If you’re into this sort of thing, here’s kind of where I’m at.  The stock Mail software that came with the iMac works okay, but it oscillates functioning between my home and our fine are business email accounts….sometimes one works, none work or they all do.  So I thought the answer would be to abandon Mail and go with Microsoft Outlook.  At work I used Outlook on my Mac and it was fine, so why not here.  I downloaded the Microsoft Office Suite to my Mac and tried to set up my three email accounts on it.  Well I never successfully got the fine art accounts to work…I could send but not receive (or vice versa, I forget).  At this point I’m back to using Mail, since 2 of the 3 accounts work (for now) on there.  I’ve got a friend who can look at the situation for me and maybe resolve it.

One major trend I’m seeing right now (or maybe I’m late…”major” means my backwoods self finally noticed ) is subscription based software licensing.  In the old days you bought the software and loaded it with a disk onto your computer.  Now you can save a few bucks by essentially “renting” the software.  This is perfect for me because I don’t know what my future holds, but for me to work my magic from home I need some pretty heavy-duty software that costs a lot. The aforementioned Microsoft Office software is available a few ways.  Normally it runs about $170 for a suite of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint   For $70 more you can add Outlook (email).  At that price you get to download the software onto one computer.  The other option is to rent the Office software for $10 a month and get all those programs, and some more for up to 5 computers.  At first blush this sounded good to me so I signed up for a 1 month free trial today.  But now I can’t get Outlook to process the art business email mailboxes so….   Now I’m thinking maybe scuttle the MS Office rental and just buy the base software for $170.  Word, Excel and PowerPoint are the only three programs I need, especially if Outlook won’t process my art business emails properly (by the way the reason may be operator error…I am no computer expert, by any stretch of the imagination).   And I don’t need the suite on 5 computers.  While we actually have six computers, I don’t want to mess with the ones that are working now by switching out the Office suite.  I love the new versions of the software, but I’ll really only use it on the iMac.  If I purchase the software, I’m not too concerned about updating it anytime soon.  For $170 there isn’t much risk here, I’ll likely buy.

From a design perspective I use Adobe creative products like Photoshop, Illustrator, and In-Design as well as Acrobat Pro.  Adobe offers a rental program as well.  If I buy it costs $1,200 for the aforementioned products only.  To rent it’s just $60 a month, with a one year contract.  Plus the subscription gets me ALL of Adobe’s creative products and instant updates to the software. As an aside, that’s the nice thing about subscriptions is that the subscriber always has the latest version of the software.  I can use the product on multiple computers but only one user at a time.  In this case I’m going to sign up for the subscription.  It will be easier for me to pony up $60 a month (I spend more on beer and pistachios currently) than it will be to jack up my credit card another $1,200.  With access to all of the web design tools also, who knows maybe I’ll pick some of them up and teach myself some web design tidbits.  It couldn’t hurt.

Unintentionally this leads me to my soap box.  I really like the idea of this subscription based software business model.  I read a good article today that said from their perspective the software companies like it because it flattens out their earnings reports.  No more spikes in sales when new product is updated and released.  Anyone can join at any time, no more waiting for the next release.  No more troughs in revenue between releases.  They also save on making discs and packaging; actually I think they do that regardless because most software is just downloaded these days with higher speed internet connections everywhere.  It also broadens the number of customers the product appeals to because the cost of entry is so much less, at least the short-term cost.  Take me for example, sure I can buy an Adobe suite at $1,200 but boy it’s a hell of a lot easier paying just $60 a month.  I also gain access to all kinds of other Adobe products.  Next thing you know I’m hooked, and my growing business is hooked and we’re buying up, or renting software, in between picking out drapes for the new office.  A little far-fetched but you get the idea.  It’s innovative thinking and an example of a company challenging traditional business models to stay viable in the marketplace.

Beyond that what if more companies migrated to a subscription model.  Car companies already do it with their leasing options.  Why not other durable consumer goods.  I believe this was a hallmark of Cradle to Cradle thinking (one of the best books of all time by the way).  Design products to live eternally so consumers can have their cake and eat it too.

I love buying stuff.  I love selling stuff.  I love just walking through a good old brick and mortar store or perusing online shops.  But then there’s the guilt of all this crap in our house when in reality there are just a handful of durable goods we need.  The marketplace would be better off if consumers demanded new business models and embraced subscription based goods.

A good example is any computer.  They’re obsolete in as little as 3 years, so they should design them for disassembly and upgrading.  Personally I don’t need to own a computer other than making sure my information is secure.  If I could trade out a part, or components then the case can last me for a decade for all I care.  Same goes for my television.  Wouldn’t it be cool if Sony sent me a new television every other year and I sent the old one back in the box the new one came in?  Then Sony could harvest all the bits and reuse them, re-mold them, do whatever the hell they want with them.  And they could control their supply chain more effectively….no longer having to dig up mountains or drilling wells for raw materials.  They’d have a steady predictable stream of material from me…you…your neighbor, friends…everyone.

This type of thinking isn’t new by any means but I think its time has come.  And it’s not meant for everything.  I like my Jeep, I need to own my Jeep.  Our bee hive, yeah we need to own that (I’ll rent it out to you though).  Washer and dryer though…we could work something out, especially as efficiency improves.

I didn’t really plan on talking about this tonight but did anyway.  Think about it and remember as a consumer you have more power than anyone to decide what kind of world we live in and our children grow up in.  Being a consumer is not a sin or bad thing, but there are smarter ways we can buy, and brands can be brought to change their business models if the market insists.  Insist with you penny or dollar that goods and services are designed, built, distributed and disposed up in a responsible nurturing manner.

I’ll leave you with today’s pics.

My home office feel cold so this is my favorite window sill to warm myself up on around lunch time or break time.  The south facing passive solar windows allow a ton of heat in during the winter.

My home office feels cold so this is my favorite window sill to warm myself up on around lunch time or break time. The south facing passive solar windows allow a ton of heat in during the winter.

View from my window sill while I wait for the cafeteria worker (my wife) to finish my lunch at my new job.

View from my window sill while I wait for the cafeteria worker (my wife) to finish my lunch at my new job.

The noon sun comes in about six feet (2 meters) into the kitchen.  The Silestone soaks up the heat where it's hit by sunlight.  The light wood floor relects the light upward eliminating the need for lights during much of the day.

The noon sun comes in about six feet (2 meters) into the kitchen. The Silestone soaks up the heat where it’s hit by sunlight. The light wood floor reflects the light upward eliminating the need for lights during much of the day.