Labor Day 2014

I have some form of undiagnosed obsessive compulsive disorder that requires me to get monkeys off my back. So I’ll throw out my “Happy Labor Day” post before I get back to working on a Sunday. (You’ll be reading on Monday (Labor Day in the U.S.) and suffice to say I’ll be working on Labor Day as well.)

My Exterior Doors Hate Me

Speaking of obsessive compulsive, I interrupted my work Friday with an hour fit of wanting to get my Therma-Tru doors fixed again. This saga has been ongoing since January and every time I see the air gap in my doors, and missing hinge screws it fills me with rage.

I bet most people who go postal had someone mis-install three grand worth of exterior doors in their house; only to find there is absolutely zero customer service after your doors are installed. I can’t go after the installer because we’re related, and it would make holiday parties difficult. I call the place every four weeks where we bought the doors from but they never call back. I send emails and check out the manufacturer website out – hoping I can order replacement parts but they say I have to contact the distributor.

See the problem is Therma-Tru makes the door slabs and then a distributor puts on the frames. You need to contact a distributor, but it has to be the one you got the doors from. I don’t know what you do if you buy the house new.

It’s a good example of how pathetic customer service is in this country. Specifically customer service in the building industry. It is horrific. From manufacturers, to sellers, to installers; my impression is they just want to take your money and never deal with you again. In this day and age I should be able to have an expert look at my door, order the parts, install them / fix the problem, and then give me a bill to pay.

I did have a distributor rep come out in January but he never followed through and I don’t have his contact info. The whole process defies logic and common sense.

I did purchase some long #12 screws for the hinges, where they neglected to install screws. They’re zinc plated which I don’t know if I like that from a corrosion perspective – I may still go out and find stainless screws just to suit my anal retentive nature.

The lack of air tightness isn’t the only door problem I’m having, the front door lock won’t accept the key all the way. So I called up Emtek and they’re going to send me a “tool” I can use to try to fix it. I suspect it’ll either do the trick or turn into another complete cluster. We shall see.

Air Show

We went to the air show this weekend. I had been wanting to go for the last 15 years but never found the time. It comes to Cleveland every Labor Day weekend, except last which was cancelled due to the government shutdown.

The best part of the show for us as a Harrier flying right over top of us as we got out of the car. It scared the entire family because we didn’t see it coming.

It was awesome!

The day was hot but the we had a really nice time. The kids got toy airplanes, and got to stand next to the actual planes to get their photos taken. We had some lemonade and settled down on our blanket to watch the Blue Angels. They were really awesome!

I know a lot of people who live in the USA hate the country, military and whatnot but I love going to the air show and seeing the jets. I’m no war monger by any means, unless maybe it has to do with my ill-fitting doors, but I’m really glad I live in the United States of America. We enjoy more freedom and opportunity than any other nation in my opinion and we have really awesome people protecting us. And those people get to use the best equipment available. Watching those planes and how powerful they are makes me glad I will never have to be on the business end of one of them.

Go off on your political rants all you want; but I really love this country and don’t mind one bit that we’ve got good people wielding capable weapons in defense of freedom across the globe. It’s a shame that the advent of drones and a changing world likely mean the need for jets will wane soon. I’m glad I grew up in an age where we could see them.

One environmental note, to me an air show is a great use of fossil fuels – it was great entertainment and made treasured memories for our family. And I don’t mind buying the foreign made plastic toy planes as  a token of the day – though it’d be nice if they were more eco-friendly and made here, it’s not a big deal.

Abstinence isn’t a viable option for this tree-hugger when it comes to the air show.

Apologies to my green loving, dove friends.

This B-25 is the last one that still flys and saw actual combat. It flew sorties into Italy during WW2. It's a beautiful machine. Hopefully it will be flying for generations to come.

This B-25 is the last one that still flys and saw actual combat. It flew sorties into Italy during WW2. It’s a beautiful machine. Hopefully it will be flying for generations to come.

Watching the Blue Angels is a Cleveland tradition. It makes me really happy to share the experience with my kids.

Watching the Blue Angels is a Cleveland tradition. It makes me really happy to share the experience with my kids.

F/A-18's from the Blue Angels naval air team.

F/A-18’s from the Blue Angels naval air team. I think flying a jet would be awesome.  These guys are lucky to get to do it as their job.

Grey Day Photos

I’ll leave you this Labor Day (and get back to work before I get in trouble) with some photos from our wild yard.

Peace everyone. Stay safe, love each other and find time to laugh today.

Rain barrel with black eyed susans

Rain barrel with black eyed susans

Front planting bed with wildflowers. A nice view of our rain water collection network and natural flowers managing rain water.

Front planting bed with wildflowers. A nice view of our rain water collection network and natural flowers managing rain water.

The bees working on Labor Day weekend too.

The bees working on Labor Day weekend too.

 

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Summer Flowers

I think today may be the day I get out and work in the yard. Meanwhile I did take a break yesterday and took flower photos for you to enjoy. A little inspiration to take you into the long holiday weekend. Stay safe peeps.

Farm Day

Farm

I have not found the time or spirit to write much since mid-month. Summer finds us busy trying to scrape by. For me at least I haven’t been in the mood to do much writing or anything for that matter. The work necessary to keep the homestead means we, or at least I, have little time or desire to enjoy the place. The irony is not lost on me.

Outside the world’s reverting back pre-house wilderness. My lack of time and desire means that the clover ridden yard hasn’t been cut in weeks. The planting beds we fought for so much last year are overgrown and mostly in-distinguishable. The garden is holding its own for now, though I can afford it not much more than a cursory glance here and there.

Part of me yearns for the day when the bank takes over the place and I can go back to living in some soulless suburb waiting for death to come rescue me.

What I really need to do is set aside a “farm day” each week to work outside. Six days of work and then one day to tend to the yard, beds, garden and bees. The property is blossoming into a full-blown micro farm (my word), but like any farm it requires attention. We’ve started harvesting herbs and vegetables on a regular basis. Judging by how well the bees are pollinating everything, we’ll have more crops than we could ever dream of, yielded from just a small little plot of ground. We need to start figuring out what to do with it all; look for people to barter or trade with. We’ve taken to freezing herbs such as parsley, cilantro and basil for future use. And I’ve got catnip, oregano and rosemary strung up in my studio drying by the north window. By summer’s end we’ll have enough we could start selling the stuff.

Also, I have my first batch of poison ivy all over my body. I will never, ever learn.

Bees

We did check the bees last week. Hive No. 1 has re-queened itself and she has been busy. The hive is full of eggs, larvae and capped brood. We pulled a total of ten frames of honey, about 40-80 lbs. before processing, as far as I can tell. I told Christine to go ahead and buy the equipment we need to process it. I’ve also got plans to build a homemade bees-wax solar melting box thing. Once that is built I can melt bees-wax into flat cookie sheet size slabs, cut them and store them for future use or sale. As for the other hives, aggressive hive No. 2 is doing well. Christine spotted their queen during last inspection, and the hive is growing at an alarming rate as well. I suspect my laziness in the yard is resulting in three of the happiest bee hives in the county. We have abundant clover and flowers; our little yellow friends don’t have far to fly. Hive No. 3 is not doing all too well though. They apparently have lost their queen and show no sign of making another. Hopefully things will change by time we check them next.

Snake

We found a Northern Ring-Neck snake behind our art show booth when picking up after the show. For more info click here. They’re cool looking snakes, though I didn’t want to pick it up without putting a baggy on my hand first. I dumped it in a bag and let it go by a creek across the way from our booth. Also, reptile / amphibian related: we have a new batch of tadpoles in the driveway pond. Nature hates me.

Rabbits

This past Saturday I awoke and decided to check on the veggie garden before we departed for our day of work at a local art show. As I got ready I could hear the boys yelling out that there were bunnies in my veggie garden. (It’s mine really, as I’m the only one who works the tick laden soil and plants).

See we have several bunnies who call our land their home. They live under our porch. Each morning they explore the property, eating clover, tea bushes and the occasional pepper plant. And every evening finds them playing in the yard, chasing each other endlessly, jumping in the air, landing in witch hazel.

Our youngest has even named them all…

Snacky

Bunny Paws

Fluffy

Woofy

Rupert

Vroom Vroom…

Like the skunks, deer, turkeys, crows, bats, hawks, woodpeckers, snakes….the rabbits are family. They are an integral part of the experience of living with this magical slice of heaven on earth.

So Saturday morning I stepped out to check on things. I figured I could scare the bunnies out of the garden and maybe they’d think twice about coming back, at least for a little while.

Turns out I would scare the living piss out of them.

The garden is surrounded by a fence delineated into 2×4 inch mesh. The double garden gate has a gap below it that allows the rabbits in. Something on my list to fix some day. On this particular misty morning I walked past all the overgrown planting beds, past the berry bushes and could see a rabbit in the veggie garden.

In my mind’s eye I imagined the rabbits would bolt when I approached and be gone from the garden. Turns out there were three rabbits, and as I opened the gate, sure enough the bolted faster than the blink of an eye.

The problem is since I was at the gate they ran away from me. And the fence openings aren’t big enough to allow a rabbit to pass through.

In a flash I had three rabbits, Rupert to the left, Bunny Paws in the middle and Vroom Vroom to the right, presumably stuck in my garden fence; their fuzzy little asses point back at me, their unlucky rabbit’s feet strumming the ground in a frantic manner.

I guess I imagined they’d jump the fence like a deer, not try to go through it.

What in the hell am I supposed to do now?

Strum, strum strum.

One at a time. I step towards Rupert. I look down at his furry little butt, plain as day. Cock my head a little. Scratch the whiskers on my chin.

Strum, strum, strum.

He looks back at me, and then he works himself free, taking off around the corner past the septic tank back to the porch.

One down, two to go.

Far off at the other end of the garden, Vroom Vroom has grown silent, under a blanket of tomato and zucchini plants. But in the center, Bunny Paws is flipping out. I can’t see him because of the large bush I left growing in the center of the garden. Every time he strums the bush shakes. I pull the bush back, hoping he’ll free himself as Rupert had done moments ago, and all I see is his legs furiously strumming.  I watched as he emptied his bladder, strummed some more and then listened as he cried out with the most god awful bleat. (click “distressed” HERE and turn your volume way up)

I turned tail and ran back to the house, grabbing the wife for moral support, and two wire cutters for technical support.

Oh and I grabbed my camera. You know. Blog.

Bunny Paws was still frantically trying to extract himself from the wire fence. I reached down with gloved hand and grabbed his skinny little butt. Felt just like a cat really.

BLEAT, BLEAT, BLEAT….

Strum, stum, strum.

Nothing.

I thought of going around and pulling. What I didn’t want to do was cut my perfectly good fence. But he was seemingly too fat to get through. So I grabbed my wire cutters.

Carefully I selected which wires to cut. The last thing I needed was Bunny Paws running around the yard with a 2×4 inch mesh fence belt.  I cut the top two wires above his hips.

BLEAT, BLEAT, BLEAT…

Strum, strum, strum.

“What the hell?” I thought out loud.

I grabbed a leg.

BLEAT, BLEAT, BLEAT…

Strum, strum, strum.

Crap. His legs are all intertwined in the fence, no wonder he can’t just scoot out. With every strum more fur came off, more likely he was to slit his tendons into useless rubber bands.

Visions of ‘Watership Down’ (the part where the bunny is trapped in the snare) dancing in my head I started cutting more wires. I grab both legs to stop them strumming. They’re so strong I can’t work them back out through the wires. I can only cut.

BLEAT, BLEAT, BLEAT…

In a flash Bunny Paws is gone, running through the brush. In my hand is a square of fence decorated with tufts of rabbit fur. The whole ordeal kind of weirded me out. Standing back up the corner where Vroom Vroom was is silent so I decide to leave him to his own devices. Presumably he either made it through the fence or lie in wait for us to depart. So we departed forthwith.

Now I have a hole in my fence, about the size of a rabbit. At least now they have one new escape route I guess.

A Note About The Blog

We keep having to pull levers to try to make this all work. The spousal unit and I are thinking of something new that would allow us to whore out what’s going on outside with the bees, garden, our knowledge and whatnot. We need another endeavor like a hole in the head, but at the end of the day it’s about amassing enough cash annually to pay for everything (and our tack isn’t working). And it will be an opportunity to pursue a shared dream. Plus I can’t store beeswax and oregano forever…

As such I’m taking a look at this blog (and everything else online) and may be calling it quits. Fret not my four (4) regular readers – we’d migrate to a new blog (or transform this one maybe). Regardless something’s gotta change. Stay tuned.

 

 

Fence Around My Peach Trees

Last evening I put fencing around the peach trees. And I sprayed some sort of deer and rabbit stuff…for keeping them away. It smelled like bloody cat vomit.

Peach tree fencing.

Peach tree fencing.

The "last" peach, hidden amongst the leaves. It's about the size of a walnut.

The “last” peach, hidden amongst the leaves. It’s about the size of a walnut.

Yard Work

There’s a definitive lull in work this week (and last week). I’ve spent part of the last two days working in the yard: cutting grass, trimming, attending to plants in need and working on the sandbox.

Last things first, the sandbox is done. Turns out one of the posts I set is off by a good inch, so the box perimeter is out of whack. Nothing a strategically places bush can’t fix, but when I put the “cover” panels on, something seems amiss.  Well I’m not going to fuss over it. It is what it is, as the cliché goes. Now I just need sand and gravel to fill the various bays and the box will be ready for bulldozers and excavators.

In the front yard I worked diligently trying to save a couple of our gum trees. We have five. One looks great. Two look okay. And two look near death. I think it’s all the rain water that flows through where they live. I took the brush cutter and cleared out around each tree. I rubbed some Tree-tone fertilizer into the earth around the base of each tree. And then I capped a few of them off with some mulch. I hope they make it.

I also used the brush cutter to freshen up the nature trail. The trail is still pretty muddy and wet, since the deer now use it as a main thoroughfare. One happy occurrence on the trail and elsewhere is, we’ve got sensitive ferns popping up everywhere. It’s a banner year.

Lastly the east meadow has a sparse blanket of yellow flowers. They punctuate the green canvas. The east meadow is by far the most picturesque I’d say. The last two or three years we’ve gotten these great yellow flowers over there.

Lavender Honey Beer

We’ve got a cookout coming up for Memorial Day. I laid claim to Memorial Day weekend for a friend / family cookout because I’m always jones-ing for a cookout after the long winter, plus it’s the unofficial kick off of nice weather in Northeast Ohio, and it reminds me that I have to buy my wife an anniversary present.

My friend brews beer as a hobby so I put in a special request to have a beer made specifically for the cookout. I like the idea of creating special beers – coming up with a name, creating cool labels, perfecting the recipe year after. Well I know nothing about brewing and have enough hobbies as it is, so best to let the pro take care of the technical beer stuff, and I can glam onto the arty bits.

The thought I have is to come up with four seasonal beers and try to use ingredients that we grow here on the “farm”. We have so many potentially great flavors to choose from: honey, apple, peach, blueberry, raspberry, black berry, choke and service berries, even lavender, sunflower and peppers, just to name a few. Unfortunately nothing other than honey is growing on the farm any time soon. My blueberry, raspberry and blackberry bushes took a huge hit this winter. The peaches won’t be read til Fall, if at all. And I’m not even sure we’ll get apple blossoms this year. The honey is ready but we won’t extract any until late May or June.

So for this first batch of Memorial Day beer I selected two flavors that we at least could have in theory, someday: lavender and honey. They sell these ingredients in stores so we just went that route. I’m calling our Spring beer ‘Lavender Honey Spring Ale. Here is my sketch for the label (full disclosure, I traced the lady for my first sketch from another artist, but will try my hand at drawing my own for the final).

My preliminary sketch for the "Lavender Honey Spring Ale" label

My preliminary sketch for the “Lavender Honey Spring Ale” label

So you get the idea. I’ll steal some mat board from the wife and pull out my pen and ink for the final. It’s actually a fun art project; will be nice to get into the studio for a change.

Tonight was bottling night so I trekked (i.e. drove) on over to my buddy’s house and got to help bottle our first beer (well “my” first beer).

We started out by counting out 50 bottles. The batch was about 5 gallons almost.

bottles and caps waiting to be cleaned. My OCD in action.

bottles and caps waiting to be cleaned. My OCD in action.

We cleaned all the bottle in some sort of fancy solution in the sink and let them dry and a cool drying rack. We reused beer bottles by the way though I suppose you could buy new ones.

Bottles drying, ready to be filled up.

Bottles drying, ready to be filled up.

Then we emptied the bucket that the beer was brewing in, into another bucket, leaving behind all the nasty yeasty bits.

The gunk left behind as the bucket drains out into another.

The gunk left behind as the bucket drains out into another.

Transferring beer from one bucket to another.

Transferring beer from one bucket to another.

From there my friend tossed the bucket up on the fridge to let gravity help us fill all the bottles. There’s a cool pipet thingy that allows you to fill up the bottles 12 oz. at a time. I then capped each bottle.  He let me fill a few too. It was a pretty cool experience.

Finished beer, just needs a week to carbonate.

Finished beer, just needs a week to carbonate.

The flat beer will now carbonate for a week. Then we can open one and see how it tastes, carbonated. We actually tasted it tonight and it did not taste like soap, which is good. You can definitely smell the lavender. The beer has a nice color to it as well. It’s just that right now it’s warm and flat so you don’t want to drink a lot of it.

The beer looks good and tastes good.

The beer looks good and tastes good.

I’ll have to find some me time this week to ink the label by hand. Like I said it should be fun.

I’ll have to come up with a few more ideas for Summer, Autumn and Winter.

Beyond the beer, I worked on the sandbox this afternoon. I was playing Mr. Mom watching the boys. It was a nice afternoon outside so we went out, they played and I worked. Soon they were back inside though so I didn’t get much done. I’m trying to get the box done by Memorial Day if possible, which shouldn’t be a problem.

I got exactly 20 mins. in today on the sandbox.

I got exactly 20 mins. in today on the sandbox. I used my favorite screws to mount 2×10’s to my posts. Everything is fairly level.

The only issue I have with the box is, the sand. Normal sand you buy in the store, like at Home Depot or Lowes is silicate made from crushed quartz which causes cancer. So I’m looking for natural safe sand, like you’d find at the beach (presumably made from limestone sea shell like material). The only place I found so far is in California and the cost is astronomical to have it shipped to Ohio. I could make my own, but I need like 2,000 lbs. There is a “natural” sand made by Sakrete that they claim is safe, but really it’s not. I think that’s the route I’ll go and just make sure the sand is “wet” whenever the kids play with it and make sure their hands are clean after. Or the kids may just get dirt and rocks to play in the sand box.

I don’t understand how these companies can market this stuff to kids with a cancer warning label on it.

Anyway, there always seems to be something to worry about. Most people would say “Oh you worry too much”, but then how many people do each of us know who have gotten cancer inexplicably in their lifetime? And it’s not like it’s a mystery, the labels tell you right out of the gate: this causes cancer.

Right now the boys are playing in the mud I created in the sandbox area and are happy enough. Maybe we over think things.

Maybe everyone who comes to the cookout could bring 80 lbs of beach sand as an offering.

Do you have any ideas for what to do with the sand box? Or where to find safe sand?

 

Peaches

Red Haven Semi-Dwarf Peach tree blossoms.

Red Haven Semi-Dwarf Peach tree blossoms.

I’m pretty sure we have an addiction that may be borderline unhealthy. Well I know I have several of those, but what I’m specifically speaking about is our addiction to plants, namely trees. Okay, I swear we’re done….for now. It’s just that a certain little blond kid wanted a peach tree when we were at Lowe’s getting the Red Oak tree for Earth Day. Well we rushed out without getting one. Friday was Arbor Day, so what a perfect time to go plant some more trees. Except the weather was crappy. Today we ran out after my Saturday work meetings; took the trailer up to Lowe’s and selected three peach trees.

Now we have an unplanned peach orchard in our back yard.

In theory we’ve got a lot going on self-sustaining-wise. Bees = honey and wax, apples, black berries, raspberries, blue berries, choke berries, various herbs and vegetables, and now peaches.

In reality we haven’t had anything “grow” enough to harvest anything of note. Other than the cucumbers and zucchini last year; and maybe a few herbs.

 

The new peach orchard. Three trees if you're counting; next to the raspberry bushes and garden.

The new peach orchard. Three trees if you’re counting; next to the raspberry bushes and garden.

 

I planted two varieties of peaches: Red Haven and Belle of Georgia. Here’s some Georgia peach history (click here). Both are semi-dwarf varieties which means they should be about 10′-20′ in each direction. Home growers should stick to dwarf or semi-dwarf trees because they are easier to manage and produce fruit earlier in the lifespan of the tree. Peach trees hate wind. Don’t we all? We determined that there’s an alcove between the playground and veggie garden that gets lots of sun and the wind isn’t as strong as everywhere else. The land slopes in the area too, so cold air should pool elsewhere. See, cold frosty air runs over land much like water does, pooling in the low-lying areas. Keep your orchard trees out of the low-lying areas, in the sun and out of the wind and you should be fine.

I spaced our peach trees about 10′-11′ apart in a triangle. According to the cards that came with the trees, they are hardy to -10 to -20 degrees which should be fine. Unlike our apples, the peach trees are self-pollinating, but having two varieties should increase our yield. I will say it may be a moot point because it looks like the Red Haven’s are blossoming earlier than the Belle. I guess we’ll see. Regardless, the flowers are ready for the bees. We just need a little less wind, and the bees to discover the new trees. Then we should have peaches as early as this August if all goes exceedingly well.

Only other things of note: we took a box of junk to the e-recycling event in the park this morning. Of course they wouldn’t take our broken blender which kind of irritated me quite frankly. I took it home and it was easier to take apart than any other electronic device I’ve encountered lately. And voila it had a motor and circuit board – things I would think could be recycled. But “no” big bad e-recycler people don’t want blenders. Whatever. I took it apart, my kid will play with the part and then I’ll dump it all in the next e-recycling box. Except the housing and motor – those will go in a landfill and we all can blame the recycling guys who hate the planet.

Also I fixed the drawer on the wife’s Kohler bathroom cabinet. For whatever reason the wheel started falling out of the track. I bent the track back into place, cleaned the construction debris throughout the track areas and lubricated the wheels on the drawer with some WD-40. Seems better.

And as inspired by my fellow blogger at ’40 Is Like The New 30′, I will share a song to go with this post: none other than ‘Peaches’ by The Presidents of the United States of America.