Birds Are Weird

Kid: “Whatcha doin’ dad?”

Me: “Living the dream kiddo.”

Wife: “C’mon boys, dad’s playing with his birds.”

I walked out the front door on to the front porch this morning to take the trash out when I heard strange noise. Actually it’s the third time I’d heard the noise in the last three days. My first guess was it was some sort of rodent scurrying around, but not sure where. As I crossed the length of the porch I heard it again, it sounded like the gutter.

Was there a mouse in the gutter?

As I stepped onto the drive I heard a lot of chatter. Definitely the gutter. The garage gutter actually, not the porch gutter. That’s weird, I thought to myself. Whatever it was was in the gutter. And it was running back and forth, my eyes following the sounds. Two things in the gutter. Mice not mouse? Rats?

Would you look at those twigs sticking out from the gutter seam. Birds? Why would birds build a nest in a downspout? How did they get in there in the first place? So many thoughts went through my head in such a short period of time. Then I could hear them running to the far end of the gutter, and I figured they must know what they are doing. Sure enough two birds, pretty big ones actually, emerged from the gutter about three quarters of the way down, and flew off. On the plus side they showed me where the hole was, just as I suspected during their scurry along the gutter.

Well that’s no good. Our gutters are a closed system that leads to our water supply, so knowingly having animals inside the system going through the circle of life is not a viable option for this guy’s water quality.

So of course I spent an hour of my Wednesday morning taking the gutter apart to extract the nest, which fortunately was devoid of eggs. Carefully I stuck rags in the openings so my bird friends couldn’t sneak back in during my play time.

I then went and fixed two bird size holes in the system where the debris shield had flopped down. The shield friction-fits up into the roll over on the outside of the gutter. When the ice guards failed a couple years ago they not only damaged the gutters but also the shields, creating those gaps, unbeknownst to me. One gap was above the nest and another was about 20′ away.

Why, how, birds decided a downspout was a good spot to raise a family I’ll never understand. It certainly is an easy spot to defend. But wouldn’t the rain was it out, and clog my water system? In fact this afternoon we had a brief downpour of rain that surely would have wreaked havoc on the nest and any birds inside there.

Well regardless of why, the problem is fixed. I can only hope the rest of the birds stick to the free open accommodations we have on top of the dozen or so porch columns we have provided around the exterior of the house.

I tell you, there’s never a dull moment around here. Can’t wait to see what mother nature has up her sleeve for tomorrow.


Rain and Drain – Pop-Up Overflow Day

This week’s theme is water, sort of. Saturday we had what I hope is our last snow storm of the year. We woke up to about four inches of snow, which is a very depressing thing to wake up to in April when you’re hoping to see leaves and blossoms.

The snow quickly gave way to rains to day, which did a great job of flooding the front meadow and parts of our yard. Basically our land is all wetlands, so when it rains, it gets wet out there. It’s actually interesting to watch the water flow across the land. It feeds off of adjacent properties, channels its way across our land,comes together in the east meadow and it all ends up in a wet weather creek, heading to a pond on a neighbor’s parcel of land. Eventually it all flows into the Cuyahoga River, then to Lake Erie. Generally speaking its all very interesting to watch, and doesn’t cause any great concern to the house or our landscape.

Inside we’re having a tougher time managing where the water is going.

There’s a leak, or leaks rather, coming from beneath the kitchen sink. No idea what’s wrong but it’s leaking from the top of the garbage disposal. With a big PVC drain pipe leading out of the disposal, I have zero desire to try and fix it myself, so the plumber is coming out tomorrow to see what’s going on and hopefully fix it. Also hopefully, we will not have to replace the garbage disposal. Knowing my luck though, we will and I’m sure it won’t be cheap. I’m past the point of thinking I’ll ever catch a break or get ahead money-wise. Life is playing a cruel trick on me for the last five years I believe.

In the master bath we are now on our third set of drains for the sinks. Originally our $800 Kohler faucets both broke: the stop pulls on both, constructed of cheap nylon snapped in half. The only reason I mention the price is because I don’t feel like something that expensive should break or be so poorly designed. Kohler told us to go pound salt basically, from what I recall, as there was no fix or remedy for their poor design. I don’t recall if there was even a replacement part, but now I look on their site and there are replacement parts (see picture below). Presumably they are of the same crappy material and design.

Well my fix to the problem was to replace the drain with a pop-up drain like we have in our vessel sink in the half bath. A pop-up drain is activated by pushing down on the drain head to engage and disengage it, blocking or allowing water to go through the drain. No need to pull on a stopper attached to the faucet like regular sink and faucet set-ups. Pop-ups are primarily for vessel sinks that don’t have overflows and usually have fancy faucets without lever or pull stops attached to them.

Here was our first attempt – which resulted in giant pop-up drains that were more appropriate for a tub, and the second attempt which looked a lot better.

Turns out the second attempt was wrong too. I ordered drains that didn’t have an overflow. At the time I didn’t know I needed to, but apparently they come two ways. For vessel sinks you don’t need an overflow. It’s just a vessel, if you leave the faucet on the sink overflows onto the floor and just like in the cartoons, comedic hilarity ensues as your house is flooded. The other kind of drain has a rectangle cut into it to accept the overflow water, which comes from sinks that have an overflow hole; that little hole below the faucet in the sink that you always wondered what it was for when you were a kid. We were wondering why water was pooling in our overflow holes. After three years we finally decided to ask the plumber when he was our installing something else. That’s when I learned about the rectangular overflow hole and the need to order the right part for the job.

So I ordered new drains for the master bathroom for the….fourth time technically. $16 apiece on Which is cheaper than the $80 I spent last round on the Moen units. At least my mistakes are getting cheaper, right?

We’ll get the new ones installed tomorrow. And hopefully at least that one annoyance will be fixed. One less monkey on my back.

Below are images of the new drain, the exploded view of the faucet (I guess I could keep ordering replacement nylon rods for $3 apiece, and keep breaking them) and a diagram that came with the new chrome pop-up overflow drain assembly.

I’ll have a driveway update later this week as I wrap up my research. Until then, stay dry and well drained my readers.


2015 in review

As the year winds down I want to say “thank you” to everyone who’s taken the time to read my blog in 2015. I know I’ve been busy and haven’t written nearly as much as I have in year’s past. For this I apologize. The frustration and stress of life, coupled with fewer home projects have relegated writing to the back burner, or more like the cupboard actually.

I’m going to think about my new year’s resolutions, which is a concept and phrase I abhor. But regardless of my distain for the concept, it’s worthwhile reflecting at the end of the year on what brings a person happiness.

For me, I need to get back to those things that make me happy. Sounds self serving, which it is, but 1) it’s my life, and I only have one and 2) hopefully most of what makes me happy also makes other people happy or at least has the capacity to make other people happy. At least all the public sharing happy stuff. My eating chicken wings in 2016 will make me happy but you probably couldn’t care less, and that certainly doesn’t make chicken or vegans happy at all.

So let’s focus on the other happiness stuff that is relevant to the handful of people who read what I write. I actually have three blogs: this one, one for work and an experimental one that has pictures my kid takes on it.  I’ve never actually been trained in the craft of writing. I know right? But guess what, I enjoy writing my blogs. It’s an opportunity for me to express myself, share knowledge, and get all the crap bottled up inside of me out into the world. It’s a relatively low cost endeavor, and if someone reads it, all the better. Skilled writing or not, I enjoy it. And the wonders of technology and limitless internet memory allow me to spew my words out into the aether to my heart’s content. I won’t lie, there’s a certain self indulgence in writing as a creative endeavor too. Like putting a scribbled crayon picture on the fridge, I can point to my blog and smile “Look! I made that!”.

Life has a way of side tracking us. Finances, kids, volunteering, trying to eat…they are all important. But there has to be a way to rearrange things so that I’m not on the cosmic human treadmill anymore. I’m 42 years old. At the rate I’m going I’ll never see my 50th birthday. So we need to rearrange things and put happiness above all the other stuff. Get everything working in concert and cooperatively.

I’m not saying I’m selling the house and moving into a van down by the river, as tempting as this sounds to me. I’m not going to shirk responsibilities and commitments. But I am going to make a concerted effort rework my life to work better – more effectively. Commit to those things that enrich my existence and make it rewarding…memorable. Part of that is this whole idea of happiness and what makes me happy. As such I’m going to work hard in the coming year and beyond to write more consistently or at least in greater volume. This goes for both this blog and my work one. By doing so I get to express myself, and hopefully hone my hobby “craft” of writing. On the work front, maybe by osmosis this will snooker people into thinking that after twenty years of designing, I actually know what I’m talking about.

Let’s not get too crazy though.

I’m not promising I’ll get my shit together completely in 2016, but I can at least go after the things that make me happy, or prevent me from being un-happy. Writing is one of those things I’m putting on my list.

As for “Nine Apple Trees”, I may infuse a few more mundane topics into the mix when there just isn’t anything to update regarding the bees, or when home projects are nonexistent. I don’t know. We shall see.

Below is the groovy report WordPress creates annually for bloggers to relish in the glory of their site stats. Hopefully in 2016 I have a lot more posts.

And thanks again to the handful of you that read on the reg. Cheers to you. May you find happiness in 2016 and beyond as well.

Life’s short, and you only get one (as far as I know).

Be happy.


The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 34,000 times in 2015. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 13 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day Present

Most guys would get their sweetheart roses, a card and maybe some chocolates. I bought my wife one-hundred-eight dollars worth of straw bales for Valentine’s Day.

The winter has been everything the Farmer’s Almanac had predicted, and more so. We’ve been snow-covered since Christmas for intents and purposes. And this week the bottom finally fell out of the thermometer; treating northeast Ohio to windchill lows in the -20 to -30 range. As Valentine’s Day dawned we were greeted with winter storm warnings, and cancelled travel plans.

The nagging worry about our bees, that had been omnipresent in the back of our minds, worked its way forward with the arctic weather looming. We decided to put up the burlap wind break that we had neglected to erect before winter. But we wondered if there was more we could do. I’m not sure who thought of what, but I googled “hay” and “beehives” and sure enough found examples of straw bale wind breaks around beehives.

The last thing I wanted to do was go buy a bunch of straw bales and haul them back to the apiary. But it was Valentine’s Day and suppose that’s what you do when you try to be more good, than bad.

With the suspicion that carrying bales of straw out back would be the end of me, visions of a heart attack leaving me face down in a blanket of snow, I reluctantly put on my long underwear, boots, scarf, coat, hat and gloves. Outside I went. I hooked up the trailer and headed down to our local hardware store / lumber yard. Once there, I bought as many bales as I could haul.

Sure enough, back at the ranch, after carrying two bales back I was ready to welcome the relief of a good life-ending cardiac event. That’s when my Valentine came out and had the great idea of using a sled to haul the straw back there. It worked brilliantly with the two of us, and our trusty sled, moving ten more bales back to our beehives.

I stacked the bales as best I could to get as much coverage around the three hives. We also put up the burlap wind break around the southwest corner, which is the corner most exposed to the prevailing wind. I also pushed some snow under the hives; the intent being that it’ll keep the wind our from under the hive. The top of the hives have a decent three inches of the white stuff to help insulate as well.

We’ll see. I’m not even sure if hive No. 1 is still alive. So maybe we could have allocated resources to the other two hives. There’s no way to tell so we just did the best we could do.

With that, I’m writing off the “straw bale for bees” thing as my Valentine’s Day present to my wife this year. And I didn’t even have a heart attack.

Snow Guard Repair

Elsewhere our friends at First Choice Exteriors came out and fixed the snow guard on the garage. They were out on Monday and fixed things right quick at no cost to us. If you have a need for a metal roof or metal roof accessories, these are the guys to call. They are courteous, and do great work; which they stand behind. They service northern Ohio, and I think they even trek out to Indiana, West Virginia and Pennsylvania. Highly recommend them.

Basement Update

I finished farming the basement today! Only took me 6 months. I still have 3 metal studs to install but I’m leaving them out until we get EVERYTHING in to the storage room. Next we’ll get the framing and insulation inspected and the have the electrician come out to do his thing.

Today I completed the framing for a little storage cubicle under the staircase. That area, while good for storing Christmas decorations, it also makes for a good “fort” too.

Here are today’s photos. Stay warm peeps.

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.


I Don’t Even Know What Day It Is

That’s the reality, we don’t keep track of days anymore. We’re regressing into some primitive lifestyle where the day of the week holds no meaning. The kids are out of school so we have no cyclical rhythm other than the sun going up or down.

I suppose today is Friday, and I figured I’d squeeze one post in to share random updates.


It’s rained every day this week, and now it’s really cold. Like tomorrow is supposed to have potential for frost overnight, so I’m glad we’ve been lazy and not planted any veggies. Everything is growing at an alarming pace. The yard needs to be cut again. Weeds are everywhere obscuring any semblance of the walking paths we struggled to put in last year. The front yard has a nice pond in it due to the poor grading job; I’m trying to determine if I should put in a rain garden or cut a “V” across the front yard in an effort to drain it. In the back yard there’s a definitive erosion “V” forming that I think I’m going to put in a dry creek bed, wight #57 gravel, about 2′ wide and 30′ long amongst the boxwoods and garden path. It’s becoming a mess back there.

There's a "V" begin created by the boxwoods as the rains swoosh across the property.

There’s a “V” begin created by the boxwoods as the rains swoosh across the property.

You can see the soil erosion pooling by the blueberry bushes.

You can see the soil erosion pooling by the blueberry bushes.


The blue berry plants look horrible. They flowered already but barely any flowers. No blueberries this year, for the third year in a row. You can see them in the pics above by the wood posts.


I’ve been seeing weird caterpillars around the driveway and now a weird cocoon. I’m hoping it’s some sort of invasive species that will kill off my apple trees and or all the other plants we’ve bought. Maybe they’ll turn into giant moths that will encase the house in silk and then sit on it. With my luck I would live through the entire ordeal.

God if you loved me, you'd let this turn into a giant moth monster that eats me.

God if you loved me, you’d let this turn into a giant moth monster that eats me.


Today we saw our first coyote on the land during daytime. Our son spotted and rightfully identified Canis latrans running past the bees and veggie garden out to the pond dike. So we had a lesson on what to do if you see a coyote while playing: quietly walk at a fast pace directly inside the house while also keeping an eye on, and protecting each other. Too bad we don’t have outdoor cats like this guy (click here). I snapped a blurry photo from my studio door window, of the coyote going over the pond dike (apple orchard in the foreground).

Find the coyote. Hint, he's near the red arrow.

Find the coyote. Hint, he’s near the red arrow.


Speaking of cats, and studio doors. We returned from the school picnic to see the studio door wide open. I forgot to lock it, and without a strike plate (left off during construction and waiting for one to show up from the lumber yard for 6+ months) the door swings open sometimes. I feared the worst because the cats are always looking to get out whenever we open the doors. I walked in and saw Dixon in the studio right away, what a relief; one down, two to go. Of course Daphne, a “runner” back in the day, was sitting in my bedroom as expected. That just left our resident dare-devil, Daisy unaccounted for. I just assumed she was dead and gone.

See, just a few days earlier the boys left the screen door open and Daisy got out. Which is horrific because cats don’t come back. They don’t come when you call. They say “f*ck you, I’m free and wild”. So I employed the wife to go get tuna while I tried to keep “eyes on the target” as her, Daisy’s, furry little brown and white ass mosey-ed around in the thickest thorn laden thicket you could imagine, over by the play-set. Eventually the wife came out but then Daisy bolted inexplicably towards the porch. As the wife looked under the back porch I eyed Miss Daisy sauntering up past the “pond” in the front yard, smell the rose bushes and the nose her face into the open garage side door.

See, leaving the garage door isn’t lazy, it’s good planning. She stepped into the garage with me hot on her furry little heels and I closed the door. Granted catching a cat in the garage is no easy task, at least you know you’ll eventually catch her, which we did.

Fast forward back to today. There was no way of knowing how long the door was open; we had been gone for three hours easily. So we started our search, family style of the whole house, by floor. Well luck turns out, there Miss Daisy sat, down on the basement floor, and I saw her right away. Her and Dixon seemed weird, like they had gone out but came back in to our plush confines.

After lunch the wife wondered if maybe someone broke in and was in the house so I finished up my sub sandwich and did my best to search for maniacs hiding amongst our junk throughout the house. As far as I could tell we were / are fine.

Here are some pics of the front pond by the way:

We should have set the house higher so that the grading could have been better. Now we get a pond in the front yard.

We should have set the house higher so that the grading could have been better. Now we get a pond in the front yard.

The other part of the front yard that floods. Sucky grading job.

The other part of the front yard that floods. Sucky grading job.


I went to Toys R Us. Their sand is toxic – it says “not for sale in California” which tips you off that it contains cancer causing silica. But hey, it says right on the bag that it is “asbestos free” so at least that’s a plus, right? I may go with concrete sand which at least is a larger grain size and may not be inhaled, or we have fine pebbles in the driveway, and the boys enjoy playing with those – can fill the box with those.

Hey, at least there isn't asbestos in the sand. Am I right, or am I right.

Hey, at least there isn’t asbestos in the sand. Am I right, or am I right.


We got a rug from Home Decorators on sale for the porch, it was only like $190. Problem is it looks too blue for our decor so we’ll have to return it. We love the pattern though. It’s a shame. I think we need to goto some place in Columbus that has a ton of outdoor rugs and find one in person.

Trinidad outdoor rug from Home Decorators

8′ x 10′ (nominal) Trinidad outdoor rug from Home Decorators

I guess that’s it for a Friday night. Hopefully the rain stops soon and it warms up again. Luckily we’ve been lazy and haven’t planted our veggies because it might frost over the next night or two.

That’s all I got.