email: cavebear2118 AT verizon DOT com

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

TOMATOES!

I got a dozen all at once.  Brandywine, Cherokee Purple, Pinapple, and Ponderosa Pink.






I ate one at lunch, one at dinner, one the next lunch and another the next dinner...

Heavenly.

They aren't pretty.  But they sure beat anything at the stores and farmers market.  And I already have more this year than all of last year!

The red plastic may have helped (no splashing up of soil-bourne fungals).  The waterbottles may have helped.  Large soda bottles screwed into plastic spikes that delivered water several inches underground slowly.  Into which I dropped slow-release organic fertilizer pellets to dissolve with each filling of the bottles.  And maybe lack of rain so I controlled the watering each week.

But for whatever reason, this is seeming to be a good tomato year here.

Monday, July 17, 2017

A Very Unfortunate Moth

I have really been enjoying my Venus Fly Traps.  In the past, I have tried a few and they didn't live very long.  It is sort of like buying an ant farm; a short-lived novelty.

My understanding of Venus Fly Traps was that they lived in shady bogs in upper Southern States.  So I kept them on East windowsills and caught a few flies to feed them.  They would last a couple months and fade away.

So, this year, when I some some for sale, I researched what they needed.  To my surprise, a site said at least 4 hours direct sun and more was better.  Plus NO tap water.  I knew they didn't want fertilizer (that why they catch insects), but they also didn't want dissolved minerals in the water.  Distilled water was best.

I was so surprised, I checked other sites and even asked about it on a forum discussing carnivorous plants.  I always do some research before asking a question at a specialty site.  Otherwise, you tend to get condescending replies.  But it WAS trustable verification.    So, armed with good information, I have kept the plants in larger pots than they came in, on the sunny deck.

I caught a few flies to feed them at first (I good at that).  But I quickly noticed that there were a lot more closed traps with something in then than the few flies I fed them.  So it really is true they can catch all they need. 

In fact, one plant is healthy enough to be sending up a flower stalk.  The forum recommends cutting the flower stalk to save the plant the energy required.  But given that the plants have doubled in size and have almost all of the dozen or more traps full, I think I will let at least one bloom to see what the flower looks like.

All well and good...

But I'm posting this to show one very unfortunate moth.  It must have landed on a trap with its wings up because they were outside the closed trap.  If the wings had been closed, it probably would have pushed its way out the side.
BTW, the part about them wanting distilled water worried me.  I'm not someone who buys water in bottles.  So I was pleased to discover the stuff costs 88 cents per gallon at Walmart.  I bought 2 gallons.  I used a half gallon just soaking the peat moss mix.  I had to keep preventing myself from soaking the peat moss in regular tap water out of habit, and I had to keep reminding myself not to water the Venus Fly Trap pots "as usual" when I am watering the deck flowerpots.  But it is a habit to skip them now.

One good thing is that rainwater is just fine.  Not rain off the roof, just direct from the sky into clean buckets.  3 well-rinsed kitty litter tubs collect more mater from an inch of rain than you might think, ans we got 2.5 inches here in one storm early this months.  I now have two 1 gallon jugs filled with rainwater now, and it only takes about a cup to keep them wet each morning. 

I still feed each trap with a fresh-caught insect every couple of days just to watch the traps close.  It doesn't seem to be necessary, but that's most of the fun of having the plants, so I do it.  Plus, it seems like sweet revenge to see the traps close on a small caterpillar I pick off a veggie in the garden.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Front Yard Island

Image result for astilbe fanal red

I've mentioned finally setting up a front yard planting island before.  I bought 60 bare-root Astilbes in early Spring.  I thought they would do fine planted in Spring instead of Fall since they were dormant.  I nestled them down into the 3" of 50/50 compost/topsoil mix and expected great result. 

Well, for one thing, a site I visited that listed deer-resistant flowers mentioned Astilbes.  And for perennials, Astilbes bloom a really long time.  Most perennials bloom a couple weeks and are done.  Plus, it is a shaded spot both under a small Saucer Magnolia Tree and shaded in the afternoon by tall trees in the neighbo's yard.  Seemed perfect.

Well, deer have a funny way of eating.  The don't nip leaves off, they just bite and pull.  And, apparently, deer don't mind eating Astilbe at all.  But when they pulled on the new plants, they just came out of the ground.  So I had to keep replanting them every few mornings.  The deer got nothing from them, but they kept trying.  So I draped chicken wire over the plants so the deer couldn't keep pulling them up.

Sadly, the constant air exposure to the roots killed about half of the Astilbes.  But the remaining ones seemed to be surviving.  With that problem solved (until they grow higher), I ignored them while doing other projects.

Weeds are insidious.  They grow just a little each day.  So one day, they are a few small ones and you think "I should pull those weeds" and the next week it looks like overgrown lawn!  And the weeds were suddenly 12" high with 4" tall Astilbes hidden among them.

So I went out to weed then Thursday (I'm a bit behind on the posts).  Naturally, Thursday was the hottest day of the year so far.  96 and a heat index over 105 with 90% humidity.  So I thought, OK, I'll do some today closest to the Astilbe and water the whole areas.

I did 30 minutes and then went inside for 15 (a good habit in hot weather).  Then did another 30 and 15.  Then another.  Well, to my surprise, I had done the entire 30'x15' island! 

Some of the Astilbes are surviving with only a leaf or 2, some had been pulled up and I didn't notice so I planted them again deeper, most of the surviving 30 of the original 60 were healthy and 6" tall.  I will plant new ones in the gaps next Fall, but my focus this Summer is on the survivors. 

Having ridded the entire island of weeds now, I am hoping that the 3" of compost will smother most new ones, BUT I will watch them more carefully the rest of the Summer!

And THEN there are the 30 Astilbes I planted in the back yard!  No deer there, but more sun.  And different weeds too.  The front island weeds were mostly crabgrass that came up easily in the loose compost.  The backyard weeds are some kind of grass that spreads by runners under the soil. 

I let that get away from me earlier, but it was a smaller area.  I went in with a trowel to get the runners out.  I din't expect the sun to be causing a problem, as there were some older Astilbes that do just fine there.  It seems new ones are more sensitive. 

So after digging out the fewer weeds left, I shaded them.  2' metal rods supporting shade cloth (like a loose-weave cheesecloth) attached with twist-ties.  And I'm watering them deeply every few days.  The good news is that some are doing just fine, a few are recovering, and the ones with only a couple weak leaves seem to be starting some new ones.  I only lost about 25% of those.  New planting are always difficult. 

One thing I didn't realize was that the area received more sunlight than it used to.  One reason is an huge mature oak tree I had removed 3 years ago.  It was losing large branches and I became convinced it was dying.  And it being on the west side of the house (from where the stormwinds blew) it might have fallen on the house.  As it turned out the top half of the tree was hollowing, so it was a good decision.

But that meant more sunlight (where I didn't need it).  And when I rebuilt the deck (25 years old and deteriorating) that gave more sunlight to the Astilbe bed.  I may put up a shade fence or move them in Fall, but again my focus is on keeping them alive through Summer.

One project of many, LOL!

And, BTW, the Astilbes in the front only cover 1/3 of the island.  In the Fall, I am going to move most of the several dozen Japanese Painted Ferns I have elsewhere to the island.  Deer DON'T like those at all. 











Saturday, July 15, 2017

An Interesting Person

I visit many odd discussion sites.  One is an atheist forum ( I am an atheist).  But because almost all of us there are atheists, a lot of the discussion is not about atheism.  One of the threads was about games.

I am a game-player.  And I don't mean the latest online game; old across-the-table board games.  This one guy and I started talking about old games.  We knew and had played the same ones.  So I mentioned a few odd ones.  One was a game were you searched for subs in 3D under a cover.  He said OMG, I loved that game but couldn't remember the name and he had been searching for it.  It was Sonar Sub Hunt. 
The green halves lift up and you snapped in plastic rectangles for subs and round ones for mines.  The grey things in the corners were working periscopes so you could watch your opponent move his destroyer around (just under the green covers).  If he brushed a mine, a buzzer sounded and he lost a destroyer (I think you got 3).  If he pressed a button it pushed a spring down and if it hit one of your subs, a light came on above (so no cheating allowed).

It was really quite a complex mechanical game for the 60s.  Sort of a version of 'You Sunk My Battleship'.  It was quite a popular draw for my neighborhood friends, and my Dad and I played it often too. 

Being basically a random-luck game, it was pretty fair for everyone, but it sure was interesting. 

My forum friend was thrilled to have the name so he could search for it on Ebay.  I checked, it is available there, for $100.

So I threw in another odd game I had played and said NO ONE had ever heard of it.  It was called "Feudal".  HE had and loved it, and described some of the strategies he used.  They were my strategies too.

And since MY strategies were not the ones my only opponent (a roommate) used, it was interesting that we thought alike about that..


So we compared more complex games from Avalon Hill.  That company specialized in replicating historical battles in great detail.  Like, in Gettysburg, all the units entered the board at the correct times and by the correct roads, the terrain mattered in attacks and defenses, etc.  He played that for years too as did I.

We also compared playing other games.  We both played the same games and hated the same ones.  We are even almost the same age.  We have both tried to find local game clubs that play such games, without success.  We even like one computer game; Civilization 2 (that is a game where you start as a primitive society and slowly build or fight your way to either world domination of launching a spaceship to Alpha Centauri to establish a new colony.  You can also play the Civ games online against single or multiple players and against bots.

But it turns out that we are on opposite sides of the country and both hate traveling.  We will never meet.

But it is nice to know there is someone out there like me...  There aren't many.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Sister Visit, Not

I live 2 hours away from the town where most of my family lives/lived in MD.  When my sister and hubby decided to move to FL after retiring, she planned to visit me before leaving the area.  Well, moving is stressful and busy, and she couldn't get the free time.  I understood that.  I would have been equally pressed for time.

This April, she emailed that her hubby was returning to the old town to meet old friends and go fishing in Canada with them.  Susie decided to go along as far as the old town and stay with her daughter and visit old friends there.  She said she was going to drive the 2 hours to visit me one day here.

Things happen.  She decided driving 2 hours in a strange rental car (she doesn't like driving) was too uncomfortable.  We considered meeting in the middle, but that would have just been in a restaurant for or hour and that's not a great place to talk.  I considered some outside locations, but the temp is hitting 95+ and the heat index over 100, so that wasn't a good idea.

We decided to just keep talking on the telephone every so often.

I miss her generally.  She is not only a sister but a person I like.  I mean, if she was only a neighbor, I would like her too.

But with 2 months notice, I started fixing the house up.  I'm a single guy set in his ways; I don't worry too much about how the house looks inside.  But I repainted the bathroom, mopped the floors, washed other walls ( the kitchen really needed it), etc.  And I had yard stuff to show.  The new compost bin, the new deck (3 years old but she hasn't seen it), the enclosed garden, flowers everywhere.  Etc.

It would have been nice to show her the things I've done.  And to sit and talk to her.

But at least I have a nice clean house!  That should last about a month, LOL!


Thursday, July 13, 2017

While You Sleep

Have you ever considered what goes on in the world when you are asleep?  I know that when I go to bed, I am totally cut off from the world.  And the first thing I do when I wake up is turn on the radio on the headboard (tuned to a news station) to hear of events.

But what if something really important happened while I was sleeping?  What if the Yellowstone Supervolcano erupted?  What if India and Pakistan exchanged Nuclear weapon attacks?  What if the Sun went dead?  I mean, I would just sleep for days waiting for dawn and get colder and colder and colder.

I say this because I had the strangest dream last night.  Aliens arrived on Earth, and I didn't know about it.  And they were good aliens.  They announced they would take everyone who arrived at any major city by dawn to a newer better Earth2 (since they knew what we needed and had found one), and I slept through it.

I ignore the phone at night, I don't have smart phone with alert apps, and I doubt neighbors would beat on my door to tell me the good news.

Actually, it would be bad enough just to not know that some virus had been dropped in my area by some terrorists...

I suppose this has something to do with a feeling of lack of control over my life while I sleep, but it is still an interesting question.

"What if something really important happens when you are asleep"?

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Batteries

I practically live on batteries here.  Everthing has a battery.  Sure, the oven and refrigerator and TV are AC powered but most things need a battery.  I have recharageable batteries for almost every minor thing in the house though.

I have flashlights, wall clocks, kitchen timers, weather stations, a cordless vacuum, a laptop, a cordless leaf-blower, a cordless hedge-trimmer, cordless tools, and portable stereo radios all over.  So I have rechargeable batteries for almost everything.  I am building a shelf in the basement dedicated to recharging things.

But there are some annoying devices that use those little round batteries.  Kitchen timers mostly, but even a caliper needs one.  I hate that there are not rechargeable versions for them. 

Two kitchen timers and the calipers all went dead last week.  So I set out to get new batteries.  First, I discovered that the 3 stores I went to do not stock the kitchen timer batteries, but they could be ordered at 2.  The batteries cost more than the timers.  I can buy new timers cheaper than the batteries.  That makes no sense. 

So I will buy slightly more expensive timers that have batteries of a type that I can replace with rechargeables. 

The kind that fits my caliper comes only in packs of 3.  The battery lasted 10 years; the shelf life of the replacement battery is 3 years.  I will never need the other 2 batteries!  But the joke is on them.  One of the batteries in the 3-pack wasn't even the right kind.  Same size wrong voltage. 

Yeah, OK, the joke isn't really on them, but the error costs me nothing as the last battery of the 3 would be long-depleted natuarally before I needed it so I could just throw it away and no loss. 

We need rechargeable small round batteries!

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Newspaper Reading

I love newspapers.  And I am lucky that my "local" newspaper is The Washington Post.  So I get local and national news articles.  I love the editorials, science articles, political articles, and comics the best. 

But I got to the point where I wasn't reading the new newspaper every day.  When I got 3 months behind, I cancelled my subscription.  Kept reading the older papers of course. 

It was actually very interesting.  I could completely ignore the sports section as being old and the local news was outdated.  The comics were fine; few of them are topical. 

The editorials became hilarious!  You never realize how silly most columnists and editorials are until you read them after their predictions are made.  I was reading liberal and conservative ideas about what Trump would do in his first 100 days after the first 100 days.  None were right.  Well, some were, and those people were right very often!  It is a good way to decide who to pay attention to.

Looking back, what some of the columnists suggested would happen and knowing what DID happen was great reading.  George Will (conservative) was right about a lot, so was E J Dionne (liberal).  Charles Krauthammer was nearly almost always wrong.

I missed some of the comics that had story arcs.  But they aren't my favorites.  I find it pretty hard to care about those "soap opera" ones like Judge Parker. 

I missed the Style Invitational contest feature.  That suggests weird contests in the Sunday paper like writing haikus about current events, combining Kentucky race horse names together for humor, and creating puns by rearranging letters in Post headlines for anagrams and the like.  I entered the contests in the past and got mentioned twice.

For a first entry printed, you get one of those pine tree air fresheners.  Its your "first ink" (fir stink, get it?)

But reading old papers, I couldn't enter because of the deadlines.  Now I have new papers and can enter again hurray.

"There was a time when
I was gone but now I'm back
Never win again."

LOL!

But now I know which columnists to pay more attention to.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Inside House Work

I got the main bathroom redone yesterday.  Only too a year.  Really!

I had the tub and surrounding tile replaced June 2016.  It left raw plaster around it and all I had to do was repaint that.  But I decided the repaint the whole thing.  And didn't, and didn't and didn't.

I did Monday.  Now, when I repaint, I do it right. Remove all the outlet covers and towel bar and TP holder and mirror.  Sand the raw plaster around the tub and tilework to utter smoothness and use a tack cloth to remove any plaster dust.  Paint the raw plaster with a primer coat.  Wash the walls with TSP (Trisodium phosphate), rinse the walls with clean water 3 times, cover all the edges with tape, cover everything with drop cloths, paint the corners with a good brush, paint the walls with a roller.  I was only covering "golden bamboo" color paint.

I thought "a day".  It took 3.  And several hours yesterday after the paint dried for 2 days to re-install the outlet covers, towel bar, TP holder, etc. The mirror was a real pain.

Part of the problem was that all the screws that fitted the attachments were both rusty and clogged with drywall dust I could brush off.  I have a large assortment of screws, but of course none matched the type, size, and lengths I needed for new plastic anchors into the drywall.

I went around in circles trying to match what I had to what I needed.  No luck.  Then DUH!  Most of the towel bar attachments were wood.  So I just drilled the holes in them a little larger to fit the screws I had.  Sometimes the solution to a problem is right there.

So I got the outlet covers on first.  They were always slightly crooked, so it was easy to correct that.  NOT!  I had to adjust the actual switches and outlets a bit to get them straightened out.  Careful to not touch anything electrical inside the switches, almost.  I reached in too far once and ZZAPP!  A wasp sting, but I was wearing rubber-soled shoes so no grounding connection.  I got more careful after that.

But I got THAT done.  Then it was time for the 3'x3' mirror.  The mirror takes 3 hands to attach and I was just 1 hand short.  I will tell you that it IS possible to use your thighs as a hand to hold a drill in place with one hand holding a mirror upright and another hand to tighten a new drill bit in, but I WON'T say it is easy.

But it got done...

Last was the shower curtain rod.  When the contractor removed it, it came right off after removing 4 screws.  Somehow, it became a bit longer while it sat around for a year.  I attached one collar.  That was a mess itself.  I was expecting to just drill into drywall and tap a plastic anchor in the hole to hold a screw.  Instead, I hit wood.  Wood is good.  Except the hole I drilled for the plastic anchor was bigger than the screw (that is normal).  So I had to get a larger screw to to match the hole sized for the plastic anchor.  Which meant I had to drill a larger hole in the shower curtain collar,

It is ALWAYS something to adjust or resize.  It's maddening sometimes.  So I got that screw to fit the hole and went to the one on the other side.  The drill went right through the drywall.  No wood.  So THAT one needed a plastic anchor.

OK, so at least I know the pattern for the collar on the other side of the tub.  Right?  Wrong!

The other side hit no wood.  So more plastic anchors.  I ALMOST screwed the other collar into the wall, but realized the shower curtain rod had to be in them both first.  At guess what?  The shower curtain rod didn't want to fit.  It seemed a hair too long and threatened to scrape my nice paint job!

I had to play around with the rod a few minuted before I discovered that the wall there is not perfectly straight.  Moving the collar and rod to one side gave me just enough clearance to get it to fit against the plastic anchors I had installed.

Screwing them in was easy.  NOT!  The curtain rod prevented my electric screwdriver from getting a clean fit into the screw slots.  ARGGHH!

I finally found a really long screwdriver and got it attached manually.

It was a real pleasure to finally reattach the outer decorative shower curtain itself onto the rod and attach an inner mildew resistant shower curtain.

2 days work took a lot of 4 days.  But it is done.

You may think I hate doing this kind of stuff.  I don't actually.  Sure, the problems drive me mad sometimes, but if I wanted to avoid that, I would just hire people to do it.  I do it because I want to know *I* did it.

Mom use to laugh as she told friends about how, when I was even a toddler, I would refuse help with tying shoelaces and getting dressed, saying "Mark Do".  And I haven't changed...

Tomorrow, I attack cleaning and repainting the kitchen walls...  After the bathroom, "piece of cake", right?

Thursday, July 6, 2017

The House Next Door

Well, the house next door has been for sale for several months.  I have considered buying it as a rental property.  I don't really want a rental property, but there were reasons for this one.

1.  It is next door.
2.  I would like some control over who my neighbor is.
3.  I want to remove the trees shading my garden.
4.  I don't want a neighbor with dogs.
5.  I want to reclaim my property line.

Background:

The houses behind and on the other side are well separated from me.  This house is really close.  The trees shade my garden 1/3 of the day.  My cats like to wander in that yard, and if the new residents have dogs, that could be dangerous.  There are trees and invasive shrubs and vines I would like to get rid of.

When I built my fence 25 years ago, I set it inside my property line by a foot on the advice of my Dad (he said I needed to do that to assure I had a legal right to get on the other side to repair my fence).  It was bad advice; I essentially gave up that part of my yard through Common Law.  The neighbor at the time immediately built a small side fence that connected to mine, shutting me out.

The junk trees shade my yard, the row of forsythia I originally planted in naive ignorance as a property-divider invade my flowerbeds, and a maple tree planted in the side yard has sent surface roots ruining the lawn and making mowing like driving over railroad ties.  The roots are reaching my foundation.  I lose 3 hours of desperately-needed morning sunlight in my gardens, and I want the gardens.

Last Month:

I hesitated to bid on the property.  I don't think of myself as a "landlord".  I could do without the trouble involved.  My investments are uncomplicated; I have CDs and Index Mutual Funds.  I'm financially secure.  The "For Sale" sign was still on the property.

But I looked up "Buying A Rental Property" online at  few sites.  There are rental management companies that handle everything.  And being next door would be convenient for maintenance and repairs.  It wouldn't be as difficult as I thought, and if there were problems with the renters, I would know easily enough.

It's not for profit.  It's for protection and control.  Zillow suggests the house as a rental would pay for itself in 5-10 years free and clear.

I submitted a back-up bid on the property, but revoked it a week later thinking I had WAY overbid at $185,000.

2 Weeks Ago:

I called the seller ( foreclosure company).  They say the house was auctioned off last week.  DAMN, DAMN, DAMN, DAMN, DAMN!

I waited a week too long after 6 months of dithering about it.  I submitted a backup bid $10,000 above the apparent selling price i(the "earnest money" down payment was 5%, so I could calculate the purchase price) in case the auction sale falls through.    That would be trivial in the long run.  Zillow estimates the house to be $30,000 underpriced in 5 years. and that's not counting the rental income.  I probably couldn't have actually lost money buying it last month if I had tried.

Dear Deceased Dad made me hesitate.  He had a couple rental apartments and complained about them all the time.  But he didn't buy them for the reasons I wanted this property.  I should have realized that sooner... 

I don't want to go into money here too much, but I could just write a check for the house.  I bought stocks at the bottom in 2008.

My dithering has probably cost me decent sunlight, control over who my neighbors are (and some there have been bad - late night parties and constantly barking dogs), the ability to eliminate invasive shrubs and trees, and a decent investment (though I don't need it).

I'm probably going to regret not acting sooner, but I have no one to blame but myself!

Last Week:

I hoped the current sale fell through.  It was certainly bought as a rental.  Maybe I can buy it from the new owner.  Who wouldn't like a quick profit if it is merely an investment to them?  Or maybe I could pay the new owner to let me have those trees cut down at my expense.  I could even agree to replace them with small ornamental trees.

There are still some possibilities...  But I'm sitting here kicking myself for not having acted sooner.

Now

The sale to another went through and it turns out it was just $3,000 less than my backup bid.  I thought the highest bid was $157,500.  If I had left it, they MIGHT have found a way to accept my bid.  But the For Sale sign is gone, and I saw someone walking around the property looking like they owned it. 

Dithering and second-guessing yourself is the worst business decisions you can make.  I may never have another chance at controlling this property.