Friday Update

My shortest post ever:

  • work = a lot which is good but I need time to paint to prep for art show next week. The paint is definitely going to be wet during the shows.
  • yard = total disaster after all the rain we got. Weeds EVERYWHERE.
  • garden = radishes EVERYWHERE. OMG we better start eating them. I’m going to start mailing them to random people I don’t know.
  • house = not too bad. I MUST get my studio shelves built, enough is enough. I need organization, even if it means I go on welfare. Rest of house is usual “gravel pit” looking self with toys, clothes and crap everywhere
  • art = did I mention I NEED TIME TO PAINT….painting at 10 o’clock after working 12 hours is not an option.
  • animals = we saw baby deer, and yesterday while I sat working at my drafting table a family of turkeys – mom, dad and 5 babies – visited our garden fence area. I took photos but don’t have time to post tonight.
  • flowers = wildflowers are blooming: sun flowers, cone flowers, black eyed susans and more.  Interesting how different flowers bloom at different times of year. I should draw up a chart next year.  Daisies are on their way out, bloom wise.

Night folks. As usual thank god you are not me – it is NOT fun.

Tuesday Evening Quicky

From my phone: though I don’t have photographic proof I saw the first fawn of the season as I was driving down the driveway today! As soon as I snap a pic I’ll share with you.

Elsewhere it’s a two nutter butter and glass of wine night for the wife. I’m drinking lemonade as we watch the Bachelorette on ABC. I successfully made it into my studio to paint between dinner and tv down time. I’ll be back in there shortly. I’ve got about a week to paint my ass off for my upcoming art show.

Outside is a disaster area – no rain and animals are taking their toll but I raise resilient plants and fertilize them with tough love. You want to be in my garden you better learn to fend for yourself, lest you test what I value in life. Hint: don’t pit yourself against sleep, beer and playing xBox when it comes to vying for my attention.

That’s it for now, catch you all later.

A Summit County Summer Weekend.

Should you find yourself halfway between Cleveland and Akron on a warm summer weekend in the future, here are a couple of things I did this weekend that you may want to check out. I’ve grown up in the area but hadn’t checked out either place until now.

Friday night found me making the not so long drive into “downtown” Peninsula, Ohio and parking at Boston Township hall. Last summer tried to paint a picture of the historic hall during a plein air contest but never finished the piece. It still sits in my studio. But at the time I did read about the John Eisenmann designed building, and found the history of the nondescript old building to be interesting. But no time for history on a warm Friday night. I crossed the road to the equally historic G.A.R. Hall. On Friday nights the Peninsula Foundation hosts “Voices In The Valley”, which is a night of free live music. This particular “Voices” event headlined a friend of friend, renowned local musical artist Brent Kirby.

Entering the historic old hall I was warmly greeted and given the run down regarding where to get a drink (wine and beer available in the back) or a bite to eat (they feature a food truck out front for events). I grabbed a beer, but skipped the food as I had eaten dinner at home already. Seating is open so you pretty much grab a chair at a table wherever you can find one. There was one open table at the foot of the sloped stage, in a corner so I sat. The inside of the hall is covered in greyish robin’s egg blue bead-board that presumably dates back to its construction around 1850.  I’m not sure how old the chandeliers are but they add a nice touch, especially the cast iron on over the stage.

June 21, 2013 Brent Kirby on stage with Chris "Elmer" Hanna, G.A.R. Hall, Peninsula, Ohio

June 21, 2013 Brent Kirby on stage with Chris “Elmer” Hanna, G.A.R. Hall, Peninsula, Ohio

As I sat, a nice young lady was finishing up her opening set.  After catching a song or two she retired to applause. And while I hadn’t really heard Brent  play in person, my friend obviously was a fan of his music and, from what I knew, the mix of rock, folk and country would be right up my alley so to speak. Brent, who played the acoustic guitar, was joined on stage by fellow musician Chris “Elmer” Hanna on keyboard. They rolled right into several songs, none of which I really remember the titles of as they were all new to me; Brent is an extraordinary lyricist who writes most of the songs he sings. So it’s not like some cover band touching on songs you know by heart. Elmer’s keyboard poured a steady foundation of emotionally tangible music, punctuated often times by musical solos by the duo. Upon this canvas Brent’s thoughtful lyrics, guitar play and soulful voice applied the color and texture to make a warm summer Friday night into something memorable. All of this framed perfectly by a venue that would be akin to having these guys swing by your house after work and set up shop in your living room or back porch. You can just imagine any musician would love the chance to sing their heart and soul out on that intimate stage. And anyone in the “audience” would know they were lucky to be hearing it first hand. More so than a bar, or amphitheater or concert hall, a small informal venue such as the G.A.R. Hall invites the listener to be part of the experience without feeling distant or overpowered (by loud speakers and bright lights for example). And the venue allows the artist to perform in a more personal and humanistic way. As if they are singing to themselves, or the person they wrote the song for, or time itself. If anything I would amp up the intimate vibe in the venue, for instance I couldn’t help but notice the old piano with a candelabra on it or the funky little organ next to it. But it’s hard to argue with a nearly 200-year-old building and songs being performed that were just as timeless. Brent finished the night with his unique rendition of “Thunder Road” which was a great way to wrap up a small venue, small town America “concert”. We hung out and visited afterwards, and my friend even bought me a CD copy of Brent’s album ‘Coming Back To Life’. What a great way to kick off the summer.

I spent Saturday and part of Sunday working on work projects and not much else. The yard is a mess but that’ll have to wait. I do not like my new work lifestyle as I’m either stressed out when I don’t have work or feel guilty if I take a break when I do have work. If this is how it’s going to be the rest of my life then here’s hoping I get hit by a train in the next year or two.

Sunday I worked a couple of hours in the morning then decided that we were going for a hike in the afternoon. Work, artwork, house work and yard work be damned. After lunch we headed down to the F.A. Seiberling Nature Center, the main visitor center for the Summit County Metroparks. The center was renovated in the last five years and boasts a phenomenal native species garden walkway between the parking lot and visitors center building. We spotted a mother duck and her ducklings paddling their way through one of the small wetland pot hole ponds just off the walkway.

Duck and ducklings at the nature center.

Duck and ducklings at the nature center.

The gardens feature many of the same plants and wild flowers we have in our yard, but I was jealous by how well-grown in and dimensional the park garden was. And I fell in love with the three little pot hole ponds they had at different elevations in the garden. I later learned from a ranger that these were for filtering rain water from the parking lot, which itself was paved with pervious cement to ease rainwater run off.  You should visit the visitor center to see the garden if nothing else. But we walked on to the front doors, tucked under an earthen roofed, domed structure that looked more natural than out of the ordinary. One cool feature of the entry was the art made from recycled drinking bottles. The brightly colored “flowers” were made from caps and cut bottles. I could even recognize many of the cap types as being ones in our own fridge at home…an idea for a fun project at our house.


Flowers made from recycled drinking bottles.

Flowers made from recycled drinking bottles.

Once inside the cool air conditioned building, and out of the 90 degree heat, we were greeted by a ranger with a live turtle in her hand. The boys got to see and touch the turtle which was so-so on their interest scale. Of more interest was the opportunity to see more turtles, snakes and toads in a wall of terrariums, and the chance to color some pictures in a little kids table near the entrance.  The visitor center boasts a series of really nice educational displays, and a small but comprehensive gift shop. As I wandered through the still new looking space I picked up on a lot of the green building techniques they employed during renovation including LED lighting and solar power.  Sure enough the building had a LEED platinum badge at the entrance, denoting the top-level of green building in the U.S.

Stepping back outside we wandered over to the deck to see a live wood carving demonstration and gaze at the pond behind the center where I spotted a turtle sunning itself in the water. We then embarked on our hike. We chose the “cherry” trail because it was only about a 1/2 mile long. With two little boys in tow, one of which was already complaining about the heat, a short hike was all we’d muster this day. The trail soon dropped us into the cool shade of the forest. Featured along the way were informative plaques highlighting the various trees, once again many of which we have in our own yard at home, so it was interesting to learn more about them as we walked. I spotted several birds including a woodpecker, and the boys enjoyed climbing rocks and running on the path…..”boys, not too far ahead now” we’d call after them.

It was a nice trip to a local jewel that we had not been to before, even though both myself and the wife had grown up in the area.  She liked it because she could get a lot of flower pictures for her art. I liked that we were just able to get out and get away from work and the stress and guilt that comes with work.

Back home she watered her bees and she harvested our first crop of radishes from the garden. I picked some lettuce for our grilled turkey burgers. It was a nice end to a really nice weekend. I’m glad we carved out some time to do some things that typically get put off by busy families such as ours. Hopefully this gives you some ideas for things to do if you’re ever in the area, or just as good – go check out what’s hiding in plain sight in your area.  I bet you’ll be surprised.

Our first radish crop of the year. We sliced them up and put them in our coleslaw.

Our first radish crop of the year. We sliced them up and put them in our coleslaw.

Spring Flowers

Well this week is incredibly busy. After a nice weekend visiting with family here and there, the work week has been out of control. Two straight 10 hour days of work is great for the bottom line though, but there is no rest for the weary. Tomorrow looks to be one more 10 hour day so I’ll keep tonight’s post to mostly photos.

The garden is doing great. I fenced in the tea plants because I think bunnies are getting to them. No photo but the service berry plants are bouncing back. The bees look great, we added our first honey “super” on so we should have honey for ourselves starting in July. And I even snuck out on the 15th to take some wild flower photos and I’ll share some of those with you here.

Not sure when I’ll be back to post. Just assume my yard is going to hell in a hand basket. By the way the reason my old mower died was because it spit out its oil drain plug. I know this because ALL the oil leaked out onto my garage floor. I need to get a new plug and clean up the mess, then that mower is going bye-bye (curbside for free or try and pawn it off for money. It’ll work, just needs some TLC).


Father’s Day

Happy Father’s Day everyone!

The weather isn’t that great here and the boys are off to play at their grandmother’s house so we’ll have a few hours to work on art in the studio. I actually have a pretty busy work schedule coming up this week so the weekends are slowly reverting back to meaning something like they did in the old days: two days to get done everything that was neglected during the week like art and yard work. Though the feeling that every day is the same really never goes away when you “work” from home.  Even a day like Sunday, or Father’s Day is basically just another day. I’m with the kids and wife every day so the idea of doing something “special” on this particular day is kind of unrealistic and impractical. If we want to do something we go out and do it. For example on a typical “work day” while everyone else is slaving away in some office you might find me in the yard explaining first hand what slugs and centipedes are to the boys. I know it sounds strange but that’s the reality of the world our little family now lives in. Trust me, for several reasons, I wish things were like the way it was, where I had some 40 hour a week job to go to (with healthcare and benefits) and then I could try to jam a lifetime with the kids into 7-9pm and weekends. People who have steady work get to do cool things like go on vacation, send their kids to college, and retire.  Life for us is pretty much one continuous grind to survive with our sanity and livers intact. Granted I did just buy myself a new lawn mower, so not all is lost just yet.

Yesterday I freshened up the garden adding new stakes to the tomato plants and re-stringing up the pea plants with wood stakes instead of the little bamboo stakes. I tied fresh twine from stake to stake for the peas to train themselves on as well. I thinned out the radishes. Not having the heart to throw out the little baby radish plants I put them in little pots and will offer them free to whomever wants them. Maybe they won’t survive but it’s worth a shot.

We’ve got a second round of birds making nests on top of our porch columns so we’ll see what comes of that. I was going to clean the front column outside my office window but now I see birds coming and going occasionally so maybe they are making a nest or raiding the old nest for spare parts.

A quick thanks to my dad and all the dads out there.

I’d be completely lost without my dad’s years of guidance and advice. It would have been a lot easier if I would have gotten his gene for financial acumen, but the next best thing has been his never-ending patience for my never-ending list of questions when it comes to money and life matters. He’s saved me from financial, and personal ruin countless times, despite my best efforts to piss away every red cent I’ve ever earned, borrowed or found in the couch cushions. I’m pretty sure that once he wise-s up and stops taking my phone calls, I’ll sink like a stone.

But maybe that’s the funny thing about dads, and the guys in all of our lives that play the role of “dad”. They spend a life time teaching us stuff, and we look up to them in awe (when we’re not too busy thinking we know more than them). Then we get ourselves in some tight situation where “dad” is not around. And after we get past the “holy crap I’m going to a) die, b) get arrested, or c) get arrested and die” stage we realize that, almost by osmosis, dad taught us a lot of really awesome things that generally prevent really bad things from happening to us. Dad taught us to be strong, smart, stylish, and funny. Dad taught us about how to fix stuff with a wrench, or logic, or a kind honest word. Dad taught us how to treat people with respect and kindness.

Most importantly he taught us to believe in ourselves. That when faced with adversity or opportunity we can honestly say “I’ve got this. No problem.” to ourselves and mean it. Courage, persistence, and strength were invented by a father I believe. Dad’s teach us to stand up for what we believe in, even if it’s at odds with what they themselves believe in some of the time. They teach you to lay it out on the line and to take calculated risks, if it’s the right thing to do.  Letting fear keep us from doing something worthwhile isn’t a viable option for Dads. In my opinion stubbornness and challenging of authority is borne of fathers too, much to the ironic chagrin of dad in their children’s teen years.

Being a dad has a lot to do with testing patience. A fathers job lacks the fanfare of being a mother. It’s harder to articulate, and even harder to appreciate. And I suspect that is just the way dads prefer it to be. When you’re a dad you have to leave a lot of the piss and vinegar of your youth behind and replace it with a sense of cool, calm and collected-ness. You bite your lip a lot when you have a kids that are depending on you. His whole means of providing may be in the hands of someone he wouldn’t let bag groceries for fear that they’d screw it up. But fathers take the high road.  They say “Yes ma’am” and “Yes sir“, with no one the wiser for it. There’s no way to say for sure how often this happens, but I ‘m certain it does all the time. We learn about responsibility and sacrifice from our dads; we learn when to speak up and when to keep our mouths shut.

Thanks to all the dads out there. The ones that are around, and the ones that stuck around even when things didn’t always work out the way they were supposed to. Thanks to the dads who fill in throughout our lives…teachers, coaches, friends and family….even the wonderful ladies who fill in when dad’s not around. Thanks to those fathers that went off to make the world a better place for the next generation and never came back. And thanks for the ones we’ve lost back here at home. You’ve taught us well. The all a lot better off because of you. We will pass on your wisdom, humor and love to our children, have no doubt.

Thanks to all the dads in my life. My dad of course for his patience, love and for taking me fishing. Eternal optimism is born of fishing I believe.  Thanks dad for giving me the knowledge and tools to be a provider and loving father in my own right. Also my brothers and brothers-in-law who gave me text-book examples on how to be an awesome dad. These guys make it look easy, each in their own unique way. I’m not that great yet but give me time. To my friends who are fathers and treat my kids with kindness and understanding as if they were their own. And to my father-in-law who shares his passion for life and the game of golf with me; teaching me how much there is to learn about life from chasing a little white ball around a course.

Well back to work for me.  Enjoy your day dads.

Me and dad c.1973.

Me and dad c.1974.

Lawn Mower Review

As promised I’m going to tell you about my Father’s Day present.  Yesterday we picked up a new GreenWorks 40V 19″ cordless electric lawn mower at Lowes. As soon as our old Troy-Bilt mower kind of gave up the ghost, and coinciding with a comparison test in The Family Handyman magazine, I started researching a new mower.  Our old one was gas powered, and was giving me quite a few problems as of late. It would guzzle gas, belch out smoke and had a tough time maneuvering over the rough terrain of our yard.  Even though I’d just changed the oil it sputtered to a slow intermediate death earlier this week.  I could get it fixed up again but thought maybe it was time to rethink the mower situation. After all, I had previously reattached the front wheel axle when it fell off last year, but the axle still flopped around. And just this week I took off the front safety shield so the mower could clear the rough terrain.  Maybe after 9 years it was time for a new mower. Christine was never a fan of the old mower because the “self propelled” feature never even worked very well which meant she couldn’t mow the lawn.

I was intrigued by the idea of an electric mower after reading the comparison in the magazine. So I went online to Lowe’s and Home Depot’s websites to see what they had to offer. Pretty much all the mowers in the article could be bought at one or the other store. I focused in on the 19″ models, as opposed to 14″. This would mean fewer passes back and forth when cutting our 4,200 sq. ft. front lawn. I also keyed in on lithium ion batteries as opposed to lead acid; both are rechargeable. The lithium batteries are like the ones you use in your cordless power equipment.  In fact you can use the lithium ion batteries in the mower and also other power tools. They are interchangeable. The weight savings is 20-40 lbs. by going lithium vs. lead battery.  The lithium batteries also charge in and hour or two vs. 12 hours for a lead acid battery. I’m not sure what the advantage of a lead acid battery is other than it’s tried and true technology.

I was leaning to the GreenWorks 19″ mower from the get go because of it’s size, light weight and battery type. And remember, I was not a fan of the GreenWorks tiller, as the wheels literally fell off when I used it, but since then I’ve come to terms with that unit, and am wiling to give GreenWorks another shot based on my research. When I read the reviews on Lowe’s website (Lowe’s is the only place that sells them locally as far as I could tell, plus we had a $25 coupon), the mower got 4.2 out of 5 stars.  Many of the reviews spoke highly of its performance and I was willing to risk any of the negative reviews which focused on a few minor quality problems with the ignition. The magazine listed the price as $449, but Lowe’s listed it at $349…plus our coupon and it was available at a local store. All and all I was satisfied and went to the store to pick one up. Now the one in the store is model 25223, which includes two batteries, one regular capacity and one half the capacity of the other. Model 25312 includes two regular batteries, but that isn’t offered at Lowes. Based on the reviews I was fine getting the one and a half battery set. I like the idea of two batteries regardless of size so I can charge one while I use the other. I can always buy another battery, especially if I purchase an electric trimmer to replace my gas trimmer someday.

At the store I examined the mower and its construction. I know where all the weak spot are on a lawn  mower – handle where it connects to the body (same on this unit but more on that later), the metal frame which is good and a rarity on electric mowers. I even picked it up to see how much it weighed (not a one hand task but lighter than a gas mower, it’s specs say 49 lbs.).  The height adjustment lever was head and shoulders in terms of ease of operation compared to my gas mower.  One other nice feature is the large back wheel, much better than regular mowers with small back wheels for going over rough terrain, which we have plenty of in our young yard.

So we loaded up the box and took our new friend home with us. It was to late to do anything last night so this mooring was “go time” to test out the new mower. I unpacked the batteries and charger, read the manual briefly and started charging the big battery. An hour or two later I switched and charged the smaller battery. Then it was time to give it a go. I unpacked the mower and lifted it out (it has a handle on top), it was light and new and oh so awesome.  Happiness.  Set up was a breeze, just unfold the handle and slide in the battery and insert the red key to complete the circuit.  With the wife watching and taking photos I depressed the button and pulled back the bail.  With a subtle “whirr” my little green machine came to life. I quickly mowed the tall grass in the walkway eliminating the chances that ticks could hide there while we got in and out of the car. I then pushed the mower to the front yard to finish what my gas mower didn’t.

Several of the reviews online commented that this electric mower actually made mowing “fun” and “enjoyable”.  After ten minutes of back and forth I was beginning to agree. The mower is so lightweight and quiet that it’s essentially like vacuuming your living room in terms of ease. And there is no belching grey smoke or loud noise like a gas lawn mower. The large wheels and light weight also allowed the mower to get over ruts and obstacles easily compared to my lumbering “self-propelled” gas mower. This mower is not self-propelled, but there is no need because it’s so easy to push with very little effort. One cool trick with an electric mower is you can flip it over to inspect the underside. I ran over some bird netting and got it all tangled up. I removed the key, literally flipped it over and extracted the netting, no problem and no worries that gas would come pouring out of the top of the mower or that the heavy mower would flop back onto my foot.

I had mentioned the handle attachment is the same as on other mowers. This area broke multiple times on my old mower. When you go to turn the mower at the end of a pass, so much torque is applied that eventually the handle snaps. I’ll spare you the details but take it from me, it’s a bad design, driven by cost savings. Well, with my new mower it’s so easy to turn because it’s light weight, there isn’t nearly the torque on this part of the handle so it should last for some time. My only complaint on the handle is the length isn’t quite long enough for my 6′-1″ frame, but I would have that issue with almost any mower I suspect.

I always cut in mulching “mode” and this mower mulched very well. It comes with a side chute and bag attachment but I rarely if ever use those.  Both looked easy to install though. The mower starts with a buildup “whir” then settles into it’s cutting rhythm. It will seemingly adjust the power if it starts to get bogged down. I did not get it to bog down so much that it stopped. Though when the battery runs out, it stops automatically, no perceivable wind down of power.

The great thing about the electric mower for our new yard is that is does not pick up rocks or branches. The old mower would just destroy it’s blade on picked up rocks and tree branches that I would “forget” to move. This electric one isn’t powerful enough to lift up the debris and rattle it around, which is actually a good thing. And if you do have to stop, you just release the bail to shut it off, move a stick or whatever and then just press the button and pull the bail back to start it whirring again. No cord to pull, or starter key to turn. This eager mower owned our uneven yard.  It cut even the gnarliest weeds and tall grass. For fun I even blazed a trial to the septic field and back with it; I just didn’t want to stop mowing plants, it was that much fun.  It did leave the occasional grass or weed sticking up but our grass was super long.  The regular mower did the same under these conditions. The damp grass proved no hindrance to our new green mower either. And I could even mow our mulch covered “paths” without throwing mulch everywhere. Awesome.

The sound was amazing. The mower becomes more of an appliance instead of this loud thing you have to fight around the yard. I mowed right around the bee hives (with my suit on just in case) and the bees didn’t bother me one bit. You could run this thing at 7am on Saturday morning and your neighbors wouldn’t mind a bit I bet. Heck you could have guests hanging out in your yard and be like “Hey, I gotta mow this grass real fast, carry on about your business” and you wouldn’t bother them in the least, other than them thinking you were weird for mowing the grass during a party.

I did go through both batteries, and had to take a lunch break to recharge one of them to finish the bee area. No big deal.  I wasn’t nearly as tired as I would have been pushing the gas mower and the forced break was good for my heart health too I suspect.  If I had two large batteries I would be fine. Plus with the gas mower I have to stop at least once to refill it with gas, so changing a battery out midway is no big deal. At the end of the day the handle flips down and you could store this thing on a shelf if you were so inclined.

Overall I can’t get over how much I like my new electric mower. No more messing with gas, and oil changes. It’s light weight provides it with several advantages and makes it perform better than the old mower on our lawn, which I have to say, our lawn is probably a harsher environment than any suburban lawn out there. We have weeds and ruts everywhere and the mower was perfect.  I’m pretty sure my four-year-old or mother could use this mower, it’s so easy to push. I don’t see any viable reason why I would ever go back to a gas mower.  Maintenance wise all I’ll have to do is replace the batteries every few years and sharpen the blade. This is the future of lawn care in my (virtually professional) opinion. It’s already great and only going to get better. I’m really happy with the mower, granted I’ve only used it once.  I’ll keep you posted if I have any issues but so far so good.

(Note: I have a video showing how quiet the mower is but I can’t post it on WordPress without paying $60 to post videos. If I post the video to YouTube (presumably for free) I’ll let you know.)

Deer World

Today was pretty typical around the house…wake up, work, take a break repeat.  The storm never materialized last night and the morning greeted us with overcast skies and a hyper saturated green canvas outside our windows.  The combination of rain, a little sun, and a lot of humidity over the last week or two means the plants are all growing as if on steroids. For example the service berry plants are rebounding, now that I’ve fenced them off from the deer. Little velvety, light green, leaf-lets (my word) are sprouting all over their woody brown branches.  The apple trees are sprouting leaves at an urgent pace as well, staying ahead of their blight. Weeds, clover and tall grass have all but taken over virtually the entire landscape, saturating it in every shade of green imaginable and dotting it with white and yellow flowering punctuation.

It doesn’t take much to conjure the Summers of our youth by simply stepping outside on a dew coated morning. I guess maybe we notice these sort of things more so when we’re young….we have more time to open our eyes. Like a siren, the land beckons one to be enveloped in its beauty and timelessness, tugging at something primitive inside of man, calling to order that fundamental quality that makes us human. The sort of secret landscape that renders poets and painters defenseless. Its calling realization that we are living in a temporary state of awe that precludes us from going about our day’s work of destroying everything as fast as we can. Were I to have the benefit of time and a less jaded early morning outlook, I’d surely be lost in it’s calling embrace I have no doubt.

To balance all the green, mother nature blessed us with an onslaught of white-tailed deer all day long. Their brown bodies could be seen out of every window at one point or another. I think because I haven’t cut the grass in two weeks, they’re enjoying all of the clover growing in the yard and around the garden.  The meadows are all tall grass and wet lands, devoid of tasty clover flowers and leaves.  I counted at least five different bucks today, each growing his own unique set of velvety brownish-grey antlers.  Early June  presides over who the standouts will be in the Fall, large racks start to distance themselves from the also rans. I saw “my” buck in the front yard. You can tell he’s big by his body size but now you can really see his rack is forking off…at least six nodes by now….will be eight or ten by the end of June. I have not seen our fawns yet but I bet that is only a matter of time.  In the back yard we saw a bachelor party of three bucks holding court with a single doe, around the vegetable garden. I also witnessed black birds out smarting my bird netting and taking their share of un-ripened blueberries. The one bird would land right on top of the bush and eat the berries through the netting.  He then hopped to the ground and flew up into the bush, under the netting, snagged some berries and then reversed his way out and away. Suffice to say I put more netting around the bottom of the bush.

One note, I’m amazed by the amount of wildlife we can observe directly from the house. We didn’t necessarily design the house in a weird shape or have wildlife bridges jutting into the woods. Joe just put a wall of large windows up front, for solar gain with the added benefit of great views. I’m amazed by how many times I get up from the couch and see what appears to be a deer in our dining room almost…standing just feet from the windows. It also helps that we have so much natural landscaping, and try not to scare away the deer. But also it’s not like we avoid them either…I was cutting the grass yesterday and a deer calmly crossed the drive 40′ away from me, ignoring me basically. One side effect of living here is I’ve gotten very used to observing deer in the wild so to speak. I used to hunt, spending hours in the woods, watching deer. Then for a decade I haven’t really seen them too much, but now I probably see more deer, acting more naturally than I ever have. I see how they move, how the react, what they eat….given the time I’d venture out in my hunting gear and a camera and probably get some crazy good photos….maybe later this summer. I shudder to think how many ticks I’d get but it’d probably be worth it. Now granted these are deer that will never see the working end of a rifle or shotgun, so they may act differently, but when it comes seeing deer up close I can’t think of a more comfortable and informative observatory than our home.  Add that to the “green” features of the house.  Not to mention the added childhood experience for the boys.  Pretty cool stuff.

Tip: don’t wear a white shirt when shooting photos out the window, you can see white reflections in my pictures.  But when I see a deer I don’t have time to do a wardrobe change.

For now though I’ll leave you with deer pics. Tomorrow is a special day, I’m going to pull out my Father’s Day present and address the front yard, much to the dietary dismay of our deer friends.  Check back here and find out more, I think you’re going to like, even if you’re not a tree hugger.

I Don’t Like My Lawn Mower

I usually don’t admit defeat.  I’m not necessarily competitive, rather I just try to work through problems and try to figure out how to fix them. But tonight I decided not to fight it and I admitted defeat. The lawn mower won, or at the very least I wasn’t going to fight it anymore. Unfortunately in winning the lawn mower kind of lost too.

With a window of dry weather before the storm of the year comes crashing down on us, I ventured out to cut the grass. By now it’s mostly pretty, tall clover but it needed to be cut. So I rolled out our 9-year-old Troy Bilt, filled it up with gas and fired it up. I made it 9″ into the grass before I hit my first obstacle. The front of the mower was diving down into the dirt…and every once in a while the blade bounced of metal, so I raised up the cutting level, but “wow” it was still tough to push and I was hitting a lot of metal. Granted the self-propelled part doesn’t work anymore but still….it should be that difficult.

So I shut it off and looked underneath. There was some sort of protective shield under there that was banged up and diving downward, therefore impeding my forward mobility. Off came the front “safety” guard and lo and behold the mower had a little more “breathing room” to bounce around the front yard.

But alas after cutting the old orchard in front of the garage and part of the front yard the mower had run through an entire tank of gas. I never went through an entire tank at the old house in one cutting let alone 15 mins. worth of mowing. Oh well, I filled it up again, but shortly after the mower gave up the ghost after successfully cutting a landing strip in our front yard. It just sort of putters and puts out some grey and black smoke; unable to turn the dull blade anymore.

I’m not sure what I’m going to do, but the humidity was about 100% out there and I was drenched in sweat. I rolled my first lawn mower I ever bought, back into the garage and called it a night. It’s supposed to rain the next day or two, and everything is already swamped, so I’m sure it will be a while.

Elsewhere we did get the cistern drain unplugged which should help fix the problem I had the other night with the cistern overflowing.  The rose-bush is looking good and growing new leaves. And I put fencing around the other service berry bush, as I think the deer are the issue with those.  We’ve got everything bundled up for the big storm tonight. Fingers crossed it’s just an over reaction.  Then again if the whole place blows away I won’t have to worry about cutting the rest of the grass or battling my old lawn mower anymore.  For now though I stand defeated for now.

Here you can see the landing strip I mowed before my mower died. The mower runs but it just puts out faint black smoke and can't really turn the blade anymore.

Here you can see the landing strip I mowed before my mower died. The mower runs but it just puts out faint black smoke and can’t really turn the blade anymore.

The rose bush with the slugs is coming back slowly but surely.

The rose-bush with the slugs is coming back slowly but surely.

Why I Drink

Now I don’t drink excessively, but I do enjoy the occasional beer or glass of wine. The hard stuff is so, so. And no, I’m not drinking right now at 12:16am on a school night, though I should be. Do you want to know why I drink? It’s not the kids who tear apart my house, throw tantrums and don’t listen to me. No one else listens to me so why should they be the first. And it’s not cause I don’t really have a job and any means to pay my bills, other than the occasional project here and there. It’s not cause the grass ain’t cut or there are religious fundamentalists everywhere, or because the honey bees are going extinct or because Taylor Swift still has a career.

The reason I drink, or at least should be drinking this very minute in bed, is because my hands smell like excrement. And why do they smell like excrement? Well because it’s raining of course. Let’s step back an hour or so….there I was laying in bed minding my own business (trying to get to sleep, you perverts)…and it started raining.  Like raining really hard outside. Well no big deal…yay, more monsoon like rain on top of the forty inches we’ve gotten in the last 24 hours. By the way it was sunny out as the sun set so I don’t know where in the hell this rain storm came from. But there I sat in bed.

Why do I drink?

Because next I could hear running water.

Hmmm…I wonder what the f%ck that is?” I pondered silently to myself and the wall.

Maybe it’s the gutter over the rain barrel, gushing out water.” I countered myself. (Luckily I had been talking to myself in my mind as I went to bed anyway, so I was already warmed up when faced with this perplexing mystery to solve.) Hoping out of bed, and tripping over the laundry basket, pile of clothes, various vacuum cleaner parts and the f%cking cat, I headed out.

Seriously why in the hell is all this crap between my bed and the fire escape?” the thought flashing by in a whirl as deftly avoid breaking my toe, which if that had happened then the whole house would have been woken up out of pure spite. But as such I made it to the hall to confirm my suspicions.

Yep, the damned conduit is flooding my basement again.” I mouthed through gritted teeth. Stepping OVER the cat for like the third time in twenty paces…..”how is that even physically possible? We have only one cat right?” I thought as flipped on the light to the basement, rounded the landing and was met with my suspicion come reality.

Why do I drink?

Because I have a conduit into my house that in addition to bringing electricity to and fro, also brings in….not the word of god, or answers to how cats teleport at midnight…but rather gallons of rain water from the outside of my new home.

I knew it because it’s happened before. In fact I thought I had the problem solved by digging a trench last year to clear water out from the cistern conduit, which is where these evil little grey pipes go to..the cistern. And just last week though we had some leakage, so Christine put various buckets and rags down int he corner of the basement. I didn’t think much about it at the time because there was no standing water outside with last weeks leak.

Holy crap!” I exclaimed to the cat, as she purred at the top of the stairs in anticipation of tripping me so I’d break my neck…at that point we were both hoping that would happen. Except with my luck I would just be in a chair eating from a straw were that to happen. Anyway, I looked at the smaller blue bucket and it was doing a fair job of catching the water. I picked up the big green bucket to replace the blue one but wouldn’t you know it the little blue one is the only one that fits in that corner. My mind flashes and I can envision my wife going through this exact scenario five days prior….ooo ooo…”My wife!” I exclaimed to myself, the cat now ruefully no longer part of my self conversation. I need to see what’s going on outside and she’s gonna help. So eyeing down Ms. Daphne as she purred jokingly on the landing I made my way up to the second floor and instructed the wife, working on her art, that I needed help. Granted I hadn’t devised a plan yet; though I had stopped talking to myself so progress was being groped at, at this point.

I need help.” I pleaded.

With what?” she, surprisingly, obliged me in a positive manner.  Probably happy to get away from her art that she’s been working on for like 15 hours in a row.

The water’s leaking again in the basement. I need a flashlight.” Her indifferent gaze turned to a frown. Which is understandable because our son has hidden, destroyed or ripped the batteries our of every flashlight that has ever been in our house. It would be easier to appoint a vegan homosexual chairman of the Republican National Committee than to find a flashlight in our household.

Like a god damned blood hound the wife darted to the hallway, pried open the back of a small tractor trailer and pulled out a silver LED flashlight and clicked it on, shining in my face so all I could see was the glow of light around her silhouette…I swear she does this shit on purpose for effect. Well I didn’t have time to ponder a higher power.

What do you want me to do?” she asked, eerily eager to help me.

Dunno, just go in the basement and keep the water company.” I said stumbling for my shoes (I had put my shorts and t-shirt on earlier).

I hopped outside to find it still a freaking monsoon out there. I stepped through the tall wet grass and shined my light down to the cistern lid. Sure as shit, the water level was halfway up my conduit boxes. “Son of a puppy.” I mouthed to the clover. I then went and got an umbrella and piece of plywood, figuring the wood might keep the water out of the ditch around the cistern lid and the umbrella would keep me somewhat dry.

Back at the lid I put down the plywood and looked at my drain, it was actually draining water, but not fast enough. So I took my hands and moved a bunch of the rocks to dig out the ditch some more, precariously clinging to my flashlight and umbrella as the cold rain drenched whatever parts weren’t covered.

Do you know why I drink?

Because apparently about a thousand spiders, all female with egg sacks on their backs, live in the ditch by the cistern cover. After audibly screaming like a little 12-year-old girl in the rain, I decided I didn’t care that they were crawling across my forearms and continued digging out stones, increasing the water flow. I picked out leaves and what not. The weird thing is it looked like the cistern itself was overflowing from the lid, filling the ditch more so than the torrential rain. Either way I picked out the rocks and muck. Not much happening though because there was still too much water.

I jumped back onto the deck, extinguished my flashlight and dropped my umbrella. Inside I grabbed a screw driver and went downstairs. The wife was watching guard with her trusty grey sidekick. I had the bright idea to screw down the conduit covers tighter and there you had it…

You made it stop.” She said, genuinely impressed I think.

I explained what was going on and then headed back outside, to the garage for a smaller screwdriver and then back out to my flooded ditch. Praying to god that I wouldn’t get electrocuted, or at least asking him if I did get electrocuted, then make sure it killed me on the spot, I dipped my hands into the water and felt around until I could tighten the bottom screws of the outside conduit box. By then the water at receded and the rains died down.

Something out there smelled bad though, maybe it was the mud or rotting leaves or something.

Back inside disaster was averted, once again. I discharged the wife, and let the cat have the darkened basement all to herself with a purr and a meow…from her, the cat, not me. I don’t purr and I only meow when I drink, which isn’t tonight.

And now I lay in bed sharing my store. My hands smell literally like something crapped on them. I’ve washed them at least two times, up to the elbows and they still smell. Tomorrow I’ll have to call various and assorted trades who will all drag their heels in getting me estimates or fixing the problem because that’s just what tradesmen do. And I’ll have another major catastrophe to add to my “to do” list and erode my wallet. At this point the whole front yard probably needs to be regraded of some type, which will undo pretty much everything I’ve done for the last year up front grass wise.

This is why I drink.

The fact that all I do is drink is amazing.

Most sane people would have the common decency to check themselves into a mental clinic by now, for a vacation and a chance to watch Jeopardy regularly again, if nothing else.

But for now, no drinking. Rather wash my poop-y smelling hands again and try to get some sleep before the next “surprise”.

Is it all worth it, you might ask?

Absolutely not.

Will I stop?

Apparently not.

Everything happens for a reason, bankrupting me or breaking me down may be the only way to get me out of here.  I’d better hide something to drink, I’ll be thirsty on moving day.

Washer and Dryer

We’ve finally gotten some badly needed rain around here the last few days. Everything is growing nicely for the most part. Unfortunately the weeds are taking over and the grass desperately needs cutting. The veggies are growing well, but it’s the same story back there….lots of weeds. The service berry bushes do not look well so add to my “to do” list, look up what might be wrong with those. The rose-bush I sprayed looks horrible as well. And don’t even get me started on the apple trees. Long story short, not working in the yard for several days means everything goes to hell in a hand basket out there. Well there’s nothing I can do about that.

This weekend was consumed with an art show, which was probably Christine’s best ever. But that just means she’s out of commission, in terms of helping with anything other than her boys and art, as she needs to restock her inventory. Meanwhile I’ve been busy with regular work, and I need to get in the studio as well to prepare for an upcoming show too. The yard is just going to have to fend for itself until the weekend, other than maybe cutting the grass one evening if the rain ever stops.

One thing that did happen last week was our new washer and dryer were delivered. We replaced our 14-year-old top load washer, and dryer with a Whirlpool set featuring a high-efficiency front load washing machine and dryer. The old units were showing signs of age, but more importantly the new units are more congruent with the new house’s mechanical systems. The new washer for example uses around 15-18 gallons a load vs. 40 gallons a load in the old unit. The average family does 300 loads a year, so this saves us 6,600-7,500 gallons of water annually. This is great because we’re on a finite water source in between rain storms. Also less water for laundry means less water going in the septic system. Top loading washers can easily overpower a septic system. It’s recommended we only do 1-2 loads a day max with the top loader, which means we’d do laundry every day with our family. Another plus is the front loader, or horizontal axis, washer uses less soap. This is another plus for the septic. On a recent inspection of our septic tank we were reprimanded for the amount of phosphorus that was in our septic tank, much of which was probably coming from laundry detergent. The new high-efficiency (HE) detergent, used in lower quantities should provide some relief to our septic system.

Electricity wise, both of the new units should lower our electric bill every month as well. I have to look but there may even be a rebate from our electric company for buying more energy-efficient models. Other pluses include the fact that the washer squeezes more water out of the clothes which reduces drying times, which in turn saves energy and money. The units are also gentler on clothes so they’ll last longer. The Energy Star website states “It’s estimated that there are 76 million top-loading washers with agitators, 25 million of which are at least 10 years old, still in use across the country. Washers manufactured before 1998 are significantly less efficient than newer models. Together, these inefficient washers cost consumers $2.8 billion each year in energy and water.” One last comment, dryers are all generally the same efficiency and haven’t improved much, where you save energy is through the reduced drying times. We also air dry a lot of our clothes as well.

The guys at Lowes delivered and installed the our shiny new white units, and even hauled our old ones away to the garage. I’m holding on to the old ones and going to try to donate them to charity as they still have some life in them, and something is better than nothing. I had them hook up all the water lines, electrical and the dryer vent. It’s interesting that dryers do not come with electrical cords. We had to buy one and have it installed. Granted installation was free, but if you’re doing it yourself you may want to keep it in mind. Also our dryer required a water line for the steam function, so keep in mind you need to “Y” that off of the cold water line going to the washing machine.

For the dryer I was going to convert it to side vent, myself, but now that the unit is installed, it is actually 33″ from the wall to the front of the unit, which is what my design had planned for. So I could side vent it and try to squish the washer and dryer back 2″-4″ more but I’m not sure it’s worth it. I think I’ll return the Whirlpool 4-way vent conversion kit and leave the vent coming out of the back of the dryer.  This will save me $50 for the vent kit and save the hassle of converting it (either by myself or paying the appliance guy $100). The finished  location of the washer and dryer should suffice for our design, as is.

The wife’s been reading the manuals to figure out how to work her new toys. It’s Monday and we’ve yet to do a load in the new units but that should change tomorrow. Regardless, the yard and cluttered house…and even the laundry will have to wait as best they can as we’re up to our eyeballs in stuff to do.  Never a dull moment.

Yet another deer picture, this time a buck bedded down in our front yard like he owns the place.

Yet another deer picture, this time a buck bedded down in our front yard like he owns the place.

This is the big buck that lives by the VW I think. His antlers are getting big.

This is the big buck that lives by the VW I think. His antlers are getting big.

So many buttons, so little time. Trying to figure out how to work the new washing machine.

So many buttons, so little time. Trying to figure out how to work the new washing machine.

The new Duets patiently waiting to clean all the ticks off our clothes.

The new Duets patiently waiting to clean all the ticks off our clothes.