email: cavebear2118 AT verizon DOT com

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A Snow Blower!

I finally bought one after 3 12+ snowfalls last Winter, I gave up shoveling and paid teenagers to do it at high cost.  I can't do it anymore.  I'm 60...

I researched all the various brands and sizes carefully.   There was a Consumer Reports article last year, and reviews from many owners at various sites.

I was between Troy-Bilt and Craftsman (Sears).  But a lot of people recently complained that the Craftsman  changed from being built by Troy-Bilt, and the new ones had crappy motors from China that the Sears repair people called "junk' .  So I went direct for Troy-Bilt.

I have never had a Troy-Bilt machine that wasn't perfect.  And for the money, their machines are great.  So I have a Troy-Bilt Storm 2620 snow blower on order.  It should arrive in a week fully assembled from the local Lowe's store...

I can't wait for snow this Winter!  Pictures when it arrives...  More when I get to use it...

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Milky Spore Application

Well, I finally did it again.  2 years ago, I spread Milky Spore across all the lawn.  This time, I did it through the woods and field areas.  Milky spore is a bacteria that targets white grubs like Japanese Beetles in the soil.  It is not harmful to beneficial insects or worms.  The bacteria infects the grub, multiplies, kills it, and sends billions of new bacteria into the surrounding soil.  If/when there are no more grubs the spores go dormant until new grubs appear.

It is very effective stuff.  It isn't easy to use though.  The dust can be harmful to people and animals if inhaled.  So you need to wear a respirator (N-95, R-95, P-95, or HE filter).  I had one.  Plus disposable rubber gloves.   Local home store stuff...

You basically have to put down a teaspoon of this microbial powder every 4' in a grid.  The first time, I did it with an actual teaspoon.  That was hard because you can't just drop the stuff onto the ground from a standing position.  So I had to squat and stand up every 4' (that's about 900 times).  Fortunately, this time I found a spreader available cheap.

I used that this time.  It was SO EASY!  Its a 3' tube with a shaker at the bottom.  You tap it on the ground every 4' and it deposits the teaspoon. I chose a calm day with a rainy day to follow.  You don't want exposure to these microbes but rain or watering sends them safely into the soil.  I kept the cats inside today.

Milky Spore should keep down the soil grub population for 20 years.  Grubs attract moles,  voles use mole tunnels, and voles eat plant roots.  Getting rid of the grubs means fewer moles means fewer voles, means fewer plants killed by voles!  It takes a couple of years to really take effect.

The application from 2 years ago is working, because this year I only saw one single mole tunnel in the lawn.  But I still saw a lot of them in the wood and field so that's where this application went

So here is the stuff!

The shaker bottom...

The 3' tube of the shaker...

The N-95 respirator...

The N-95 box that had 20 respirators I thought only had one!  

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Decks and Other Constructions

Previously, I mentioned construction failures.  Today I show successes.

The small rail is now firmly attached to a metal brace...

The corners are seriously attached with pocket hole screws!

The top rails are solidly attached with 3"deck screws...

And I am fighting the warped deck board with a soaking towel. 

My strongest clamps are not sufficient to force the warped board down flat, so I am using water to encourage the board flat...  Water on the top should force the board flat again.  And then I will keep that board there with several 3" deck screws.

I'm close to rebuilding the 20 year old deck, but there are good reasons to maintain it "tolerably" for another year...

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Repairing the Deck

I've been annoyed at these deck failings for a decade.  I thought of attaching splines or Dutchmans to the corners. I didn't like the idea.

Then, a few days ago, it occurred to me that I had bought a Kreg pocket hole jig a few months ago for building a table.  I decided to look and see if it would work on the deck.

It did.  Without any experience at it, just briefly skimming the instructions, it was all obvious.  The one thing they fail to tell you is how to remove the clamp platform (you slide it towards the back and it releases upwards).

I attached the several top rail corners with the pocket holes  I was AMAZED!  Only 2 screws in each top rail connection and the entire top rail was as solid as steel!

Call me stupid for not taking "Before" pictures of the high deck rails.  I too often forget to take "Before" pictures when starting projects.  But here are some "After" pictures.

Here's the "stuff" I was using...

Here is the pocket hole jig...

Here is the nicely joined corner of 2 top rails...

Here are the pocket holes.  They weren't perfect cuz it was my first time and the clamps on it were hard to arrange.  But these pocket holes pulled the joints up tighter than any box or finger joint.  They were SO rigid, that I could not make them shift slightly in ANY way.  WOW!  You HAVE to try this!

Next time, the lower deck with it's own unique problems...

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Decks and other Constructions

I will say straight out that I am a very functional structure-builder.  By that, I mean that nothing ever falls (my friends say I seriously overbuild everything).  But it is never especially pretty.  I don't have the artistic skills to make visitors say "Oh what a lovely deck".

My simple goal is that anything I build be functional and durable.  Artistic comes in last place.  If the deck stands rigid while 20 people are doing a conga line on it, that is a successful deck to me.

I mention this to explain my latest project...

The foundations of the deck are solid.  There are angular braces that make it rock solid; I have more of those than any deck needs, but more is better than less.  The foundation of the deck is is made of exterior glue, 100's of deck screws, 6" lag screws, and 8" carriage bolts.  But the less structural parts are weak.  I had no training at it, and there were errors.

The top rails are wide and flat (the better for leaning on).  For example, I would never use nails again, but deck screws instead.  But I attached the top rails to the posts with simple nails.  20 years ago, I did not realize that heavy boards would move.  I know better know.

Over the years, the toenail connections of the top boards failed, some deck boards warped up, etc.  I decided I needed to either completely rebuild the top or repair it.  I decided to repair it,  The deck itself is a solid as a cement base.  I think I could drop a car on it without damage.  But the top needed repairs.  The side rails and the front rails had completely disconnected.

Corners of the top rails had separated after 20 years and the top rails wobbled a bit.  Some deck boards had warped up pulling the nails loose.  Some deck rail tops were twisted.  Nails were coming loose

Here are examples:

Tomorrow, I decide to get at "Fixing It".  Time to take action...

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


My mother died today of natural causes.  She was 83 years old.  My father was with her at the end.  To my knowledge, they loved each other unreservedly all their years together.

I loved her while a child, I admired her while a teenager, and we were friends all the days of my adult life.   As her first-born child (of 4), I probably received an unfair amount of attention, and I thrived on it.

From the day I left home to attend college to the time about 5 years ago when Parkinsons Disease robbed her of her ability to write, we corresponded regularly.  Her letters were always insightful, humorous, and responsive to mine.  We enjoyed challenging each other to be clever.  If she wrote about a party invitation she had sent out in rhyme, I would respond in kind pretending I was accepting (we lived far apart, so it was only in fun).  We enjoyed each others wit and wisdom.   We wrote about our cats' antics.  She always loved Siamese cats (and here I am now with two).  When she could no longer write letters by hand, she obtained a Brother word processor and typed out letters with great difficulty.  Sadly, she became unable to do that in the last few years.  My lifelong correspondent was gone, and it does not work by telephone.

She gave me her sense of sly humor, a love of the vagaries and frustrations of the English language, an appreciation of classical and broadway music, a love of reading and writing, the impractical beauty of flowers, and a love of cats.

I would not be the person I am today if not for her.

She met my dad the first week at college and they never dated anyone else from that day.  Dad was a year ahead, so she graduated in 3 years to catch up.  She was a promising stage actress in college, being the leading lady in several college plays, but did not attempt a career at it.

She was happy to be a wife and mother.  She was an avid golfer. She told Dad she wouldn't date any guy who didn't play golf, so he learned the game and became an avid golfer himself (getting to a zero handicap at one point).  They played golf constantly for decades.


Learning to cook:  I was chief potato peeler and masher.  I cracked walnuts for her wonderful banana cake (I have never seen a banana cake remotely like hers).  When I left home, I used to ask her for the recipe.  She would laugh and say I would get the recipe when she died.  Fortunately, she sent it to me 10 years ago and I have made one every few months since then.  She also made a Boston Cream Pie (a cake actually) to die for.  But I lost my sweet tooth after college and she stopped making it.  But she sent me off to college with basic cooking skills, and that has done me well ever since.

Classical and Broadway music:  We listened to classical music at dinner most nights.  I came to love it.  But my best memories are of broadway musicals.  We learned all the songs of Camelot, The Sound of Music, Tenderloin, etc.  Her favorite was Tenderloin.  We memorized every song.  To this day, I can pretty much sing all the songs at will.  She loved it so much that before the recorded album was released, we would write down the lyrics as they were played on the radio.  Yes, there WERE stations that played broadway songs back in the 60's.  And just a few days ago, my best friend recalled that I used to sing the Camelot songs to myself while in college (I don't remember that, but friends know things about you that you don't know yourself).

Her endless childhood stories:  Everyone tends to repeat the same stories of their childhood.  The ones that you learn to anticipate word-by-word.  I know how she got her first cat, how one of her brothers accidentally killed his first dog, how she cut her wrist open closing the glass door, the stories of her relatives, etc.  I know them by heart.  But I will never hear her tell them again...

Learning to sew:  Yes, I learned to sew; few guys do.  I was always curious about how things worked.  I must have expressed some curiousity about sewing at some point.  I learned the basics.  She taught me to hem pant cuffs, do a chain stitch, and darn socks.  I'm not very good at it, but I can get by.  That's another thing more guys should learn.  And from what I understand these days, more women, too.  Maybe I should mention that her Dad was a tailor...

Language:  Mom taught me to read before I entered Kindergarten.  That may be common today, but it was rare in the 50s.  Parents read to their children, but she encouraged me to read to her at bedtime.  I recall going to the town library to get my library card.  I had to write my name and address.  I could have written a short essay!  Apparently, I was a surprise to the librarian because of my young age.  I read voraciously.  By the time I was 12, I had exhausted the "teenage" reading library and was allowed to check out adult books.  I thank Mom for that lifetime gift.  I have been a reader all my life.

Humor:  I'll combine creativity and humor here.  Mom taught me to love language, puns, and humor.  She was creative in everything she did.  An example:  The club they belonged to had a "Crazy Hat Party" once.  Dad made her a cardboard hat with a wide brim.  We attached my Ben Hur Chariot Race figurines all around it.  2nd place had some peacock feathers on a regular hat.  Mom won by a landslide.  There was no such thing as "over the top" with her.  I learned to be creative in everything I did, thanks to her.

I mentioned party invitations earlier.  Mom loved to entertain at parties.  She loved themes.  If the theme was "Beach", there would be fishnets on the walls and driftwood tables.  The invitations she sent out would be crafted in beach-theme poetry.  The food and drinks would be beach-oriented.  When they moved away from me to NH, she would always send me a copy of her poem invitations.  I loved that, and replied in poetry as if an invitee (none of her guests ever did).  My best was a rendition of 'The Raven'.  She loved it!  Her party-throwing days ended 20 years ago so there have not been any clever and delightful party invitations since.  I miss that.

Cats:  Mom was one of the best cat-namers I ever knew.  She would research languages to find the right names.  She loved Siamese cats and we had 2 while I was growing up.  Both were named "Pretty Little Girl".  But it was "Kenani" in Hawaiian and "Hai U Phin" in Thai.  I had a series of wonderful gray tabby cats through the years and tried to give them clever names, but it wasn't until 3 years ago that I got Siameses of my own.  My names weren't as fancy, but when I explained to Mom that their names were from a story about Cro-Magnon characters and described the story, she thought they were very good names.  She could never remember the names of my previous cats (she always called Skeeter "Skeezix" and LC "Elsa"), but she remembered Ayla and Iza correctly.

Nature:  When I was a child, Mom took me around the yard putting out bits of yarn for the birds to make nests with.  Then we rejoiced at seeing the yarn in nests in trees later.  It taught me how to notice bird nests in trees to this day.  And there was "Squinty the Squirrel".  Squinty had one eye.  Mom left toast crusts on the kitchen windowsill for it.  Squinty was a regular visitor for several years.  Later, Mom became the official burier of birds that crashed into the house windows.  We had a whole mini graveyard.  She taught us that animals had lives too.  And that lives end.

There is so much more, of course, but I have to stop somewhere.  It's been a sad Summer.  My sister died suddenly last month and now Mom.  They are the first deaths in the immediate family.  I hardly know how to deal with this.  But putting some of it in writing helps.

I'll end with 2 pictures.

Mom and me...

Mom and Dad a few years ago...

Goodbye, Mom.  I'll miss you all the remaining days of my life.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

More on Hummers

I occurred to me today, re-reading my last post about the hummer, that there was more I wanted to say about these delightful little things.  While I have a feeder back by the toolshed (so they won't be disturbed much), I get the most enjoyment from them at the feeder that hangs under the house eave at the deck door.

They visit that one often.  When I can stand still just inside the house for long enough, I am often rewarded with a close-up view of them feeding.  They can see through the glass doors, and if I move, they leave.  They are brave for wild birds, but 2' away is too close.  So I have to remain very still and become part of the furniture background.

I've had a few opportunities to get pictures of them at that feeder. 

I don't try too often, but it is nice to have some close pictures.  Maybe I will get one hovering some day...

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Hummingbird Encounter

Many years ago, when I put out my first hummingbird feeder as an experiment (never having seen a hummingbird around the yard), I was stunned to find a hummingbird attempting to get at the feeder as I stood deciding where to hang it.  That certainly answered any questions I had about whether there were hummers around the yard and whether they adapted to feeders easily.

I have enjoyed my hummers every year since, having between 3 and 5 hummers in the yard.  One year I even found a tiny nest in a 6' cedar sapling I was about to remove.  The cedar remains there to this day, about 15' tall now.  If the hummers like to nest there, I sure won't bother it.

Well, today, I had a replication of the original experience.  I regularly provide new nectar every 2-3 days.   I was carrying a fresh feeder out to the back toolshed and lifting it toward the hanger  when a hummer came by anxious to feed from it!

It whirrred around the feeder and looked at me from 10,000 different directions.  So there I was, standing there like the Statue of Liberty, holding the feeder as motionless as I could.  It finally chickened out and went to the salvias (which they love).  I gratefully hung the feeder up and took the long way around the garden so as not to pass near the salvias. 

It was a rare moment, and one that I will cherish.