email: cavebear2118 AT verizon DOT com

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Bathtub Tile Repair

I mentioned recently that my bathroom tub tiles were loose and needed repair.  And since I am a reasonably talented D-I-Yr, I was asked why I couldn't do it myself. 

Well, I've never done any tile work, and this sure isn't the place to start...

Here is the humiliating proof...

I am quite sure that the tile backing is utterly rotted.  It may need studs replaced.  And I know for sure I don't want to mess with grout...

This is one thing I don't feel remotely competent to fix.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Successes and Failures, Part 2

Today some failures WITH Successes...

When I moved here 30 years ago, there were some things lacking.  One of which were towel racks and toilet paper holders in the bathrooms.  So I bought some decent wood ones and installed them myself.  Some have come loose over the years.  I put up with a lot of minor stuff that is not perfect (there are only so many hours in a day for maintenance) but the main bathroom TP holder finally got so loose it demanded attention.

Image my shock when I discovered that (30 years ago) I had simply put screws into drywall!  OK, I know I wasn't "Harry Homemaker" back then.  Dad was a very talented D-I-Yer, but never involved us boys in his projects (well, quite frankly, he couldn't teach worth a damn and had no patience for helpers who didn't already know what to do).  But I didn't remember I was THAT stupid to try to hold things to drywall with regular wood screws!  The wonder is that they held for so long.

So I put in drywall anchors (ribbed plastic cones you pound into a hole and then the screw expands them tightly).  To be extra good about it, I squeezed some glue into the holes first.  The new attachments should outlast me.

The next complete failure is going to take a professional to fix.  There is a reason professionals hate amateurs.  Amateurs do really stupid things that "make sense at the time".  Well, I had some loose bathtub tiles.  And I had this can of spray insulation that hardened to "waterproof".  Seemed like a good thing to use.

The stuff does penetrate deeply while liquid.  What I didn't realize was that the spray foam expands before hardening.  Yeah, I blew out a dozen tiles all around the faucet.  In fact, no tile repairman will touch the job.  And the bathroom restoration people consider it too small a job.  I'm between a rock and a hard place...

I might actually have to damage the tile wall worse to get anyone to fix it.  I've done some really stupid things before (raise your hands if you haven't), but that qualifies as one of the dumbest! * Right now, I have a plastic trash bag taped over the loosened tiles so that shower water doesn't get into the walls.
* The really dumbest was when I had a car towed to a dealership when I was 21 and being broke, I decided to walk home.  I didn't realize I lived 10 miles away.  And then I had to walk BACK to the dealership 2 days later to be shown an engine crankcase full of tar.  "Oh, you need to add oil".  Gee thanks Dad for not teaching me that stuff.  ("Do you know how to fix this? [to me at 15].  "Then don't bother me")...

The engine was completely destroyed.  I spent a year struggling with buses before I could buy a crappy used car. 

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Successes and Failures

Failures first, to get them out of the way! 

My car battery gives me trouble.  The dealership swears it is perfectly OK; that I just dont't drive enough these days.  But I've had times in other cars (and other batteries of course) when I didn't drive much and they stayed charged.  In fact, one time I was away from home for 6 weeks and when I returned, my car started right up.  (I had a roommate who took care of the cat while I was gone)

So when I don't drive for 5 days and the battery is dead, I get pretty PO!  I bought a "battery minder" (a super slow trickle charger that activates only when the charge drops), but hadn't hooked it up (uncertainties about safety of use in an enclosed space). 

But I noticed that the battery was 4 years old AND had a bad rating from Consumer Reports.  So, I decided to replace it even if the dealership wouldn't.  Amazingly, the 2nd rated battery (by a squeek) was from Walmart, of all places.  So I bought one.  Today I set about replacing it. 

Now, replacing a battery is probably one of the easiest things to do in a car.  It's right THERE in easy reach.  You just loosen the terminal clamps, pull them off, lift old the old battery, set in the new, and replace the terminals tightly.

I have no luck sometimes.  There was a hold-down bracket I had to remove.  Removing that was easy.  Retreiving the hooked rod that it was attached to it and dropped down when loosened was annoying.  But I got it.  The other end of the hold-down bracket was just a large metal screw (meaning a screw designed go into metal rather than wood), and I carefully set it aside. 

So, of course, as soon as I removed the battery hold-down bracket, my sleeve brushed the screw and it fell into the bowels of the engine compartment.  15 minutes of searching around with a magnet on a flexible metal rod found nothing.   GRRR!

I went ahead and removed the terminals and pulled the old battery out.  Set in the new one.  That was harder than I thought.  The positive and negative cable insisted on getting under the new battery because they manufacturer doesn't leave 1/4" of extra length AND they have the cables joined with user-unfriendly clamps in several places.  It would have been easy if I had 3 hands...

OK, I got the battery in and the cables unencumbered.  But the cables won't reach the correct + and - terminals.  They are on OPPOSITE sides from the original battery!!!  And yes, it is the correct battery; I double and triple checked! 

Unless I cut off all the cable attachments (and there is some metal involved) I can't use the new battery.  So I undid all my work and put the old battery back in.  At least I can jump the old one when required (not usually needed in warm weather).

However, I DID attach the "battery minder" to the terminals before I reattached them.  That thing is a little weird.  There are cables that you stick out through the front grill so that you don't have to open the hood to attach it.

Here is the surprise:  Before I closed the hood, having spent over an hour to no useful gain, I popped open the tops of the old battery (the one back in the car) where you can see the electrolyt level inside the battery cells.  They were WAY low!

That might be the whole problem!  Sure, I should have checked that first.  But the dealership said the battery was fine just 2 months ago and I assumed they checked that.  But I had just gone through checking my boat batteries and refilling them, and JUST thought I should look in the car battery.

I won't know for a couple days.  I have the battery minder attached and will see what is says about the charge then.

Now, I had intended to write about other things also, but this has gotten long, so I think I will leave the other matters til tomorrow.

In fact, if you read THIS far, I am impressed!  Thank you.  I can get boring sometimes...

Friday, April 22, 2016


Everything I like goes away.  TV shows, beverages, internet discussion forums, clothes, appliances, etc...

Today I discovered my favorite garden discussion site is essentially "gone".  Oh, I never visited every month, mostly just at the start of each year to talk about "new" heirloom tomatoes I was trying, building raised beds, starting seeds under lights.  I was an "irregular" (very active at times, but absent later in the year).

And it just isn't there anymore.  Well, it exists in name but it was bought by some sales site called "Houzz" (a house improvement sales site).  Gardenweb is there in name, as I said, but they trashed it, deleted all the archives, killed all the usernames, and simplified the format to unusability. 

I had a NAME there "yardenman".  I had a history.  There were people I KNEW!  (And argued with or agreed with).  THAT part is just gone.  And I feel stupid that I'm sitting here crying about it and there isn't a damn thing I can do about it.

I put the site name as the post title in case it grabs someone using it in a search...

I tried to keep up with the change and re-register.  Can't have a handle; gotta be a plain boring real name.  Goodbye "yardenman".  You could know stuff about people with handles like TomatoLover! You have to choose housing interests and give TMI.  I even did that.  And only then did I find that there wasn't much there.  No one I recognized.  No sense of community...  I deleted my new account.

Doing some searches, I found the place had changed August last year.  Some people had gone to another site that apparently (from comments I read) is run by a (and please forgive me here) religious fundamentalist.  If he doesn't like your tone or disagrees with you, the next time you sign in you are shunted to a Disney site.  Seriously, you get automatically redirected to "Disney" forever after.

I wish I had the skills (and time) to set up my own discussion site...

BTW, about the other things I miss?  I might as well explain. 

TV - M*A*S*H ended, Babylon 5 ended, MSNBC essentially became a "Breaking News" channel 24/7, The Discovery Channel became a weird medical stuff site, National Geographic became a fake nature reality show site, The Science Channel became a fake reality show site, The History Channel does famous people drama, etc, etc, etc...  I watch baseball and a LOT of science/nature/history DVDs now.

Clothes and Kitchen - Bell-bottom pants?  Forget about it.  I wear a lot of camo now.  Bet those disappear soon.  Faded Glory shirts with ample armpits?  Gone.  I liked soft velcro "Shark Leash" watch straps.  Had to go to eBay to get a new one.  Blue Libbey glasses?  Forget it.  And I dropped a soapy coffee mug this week and broke it and 2 of my remaining 4 short blue Libbey glasses!  My old Rival crock pot of 40 years finally died a few months ago.  The new ones are junk and burn everything.  Found an old one on eBay...  Tried to find canned grapefruit lately?  Don't bother.

Beverages - Remember Tom Collins Mix?  I used to drink the stuff straight.  Its gone.  I used to make Singapore Slings using Pomegranate Brandy; discontinued.  You've seen those no-cal water flavorers?  I liked the pineapple one.  Gone.  Caffeine-Free Coke?  Gone.

It's not like I'm looking for VHS tapes and saspirilla.  I just want some things *I* like to stay available.  Speaking of camo pants, they are all cargo pants these days.  I have a 25" inseam.  When the tailor shortens the 30" ones (shortest I can get) I have pockets around my ankles,  LOL! 

I'm trying to stay in good humor.  But damn I miss that gardening site...

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Random Thoughts

My right knee is still bothering me.  As always, my complete understanding that many people have worse problems temporary or permanent, but this one is mine right now and it has been 3 weeks now.  It's getting better.  Walking straight forward on level ground is almost back to normal.  Any sideways pressure is annoying.  Stairs are hardest.  Hopefully, another week, and I will notice that I am NOT noticing my knee. 

Or not.  Stuff starts to get permanent after 65.  I expect one day soon it will just be normal again.  But that is apparently a weak part of me and someday it won't ever be "normal" again.  In fact, I suppose that if I could channel my 30 year old self, "none" of me would seem "normal".

Speaking of which, a lawn service salesman knocked on my door and (surprisingly) after I made it clear I was a D-I-Yer and we talked about the details of lawn maintenance.  He actually thought my lawn was the best in the neighborhood, and when I detailed my particular weed problems and what I was doing about them, he agreed I really didn't need his services.  But he seemed to want to talk and I wasn't busy so we talked (rare for me, I usually just politely tell door-to-door salesmen to leave).  He was about my age.

His son was a Top Gun pilot, he showed me a newspaper article.  He guessed my age 10 years younger (which wasn't just a sales trick; it's routine - "mature slow, age slow").  But when we compared ailments (it's an age thing), he recommended I drink diluted gelatin.  That seemed odd and I had to think about that for a moment.

Aha, gelatin is made from mammal sinews and tendons, and I had a "tendon" problem.  He is into homeopathy (using small amounts of a substance that causes the symptoms to be treated or using small amounts of supplementals with a similar nature to the problem)!  He suggested a book to read.  I ignored his idea out-of-hand, but I let him go on for a few minutes.  I was vaguely fascinated talking to a homeopathy adherent.  I finally begged off, as my lunch was waiting on the table, but I looked up the book. 

So, drinking gelatin made from tendons to strengthen tendons...  Pure nonsense.  Every respectable study I found in 15 minutes showed no results from it.  People believe the STRANGEST things.

I used my new Fiscar "Stand Up Weeder" today.
Deluxe Stand-up Weeder (4-claw)
It's really cool.   You put the blades over the weed (really good for dandelions), step on the base, and when you lever the handle the blades close together and pull up 3" of roots, the plant comes up, and you slide the orange lever to open the blades and push the plant off the blades.  I bet I got out 100 dandelions in 15 minutes today.  Without bending over.  Not an ad, when *I* recommend a product, the manufacturer doesn't even know.  Think of me as a personal Consumer Reporter...

I watered the tulip/daffodil bed today.  We haven't had rain in 10 days, are forecast for MAYBE 1/4" tomorrow, and then none for another week.  But I mention that to mention that my sprinkler wasn't working right.  It would stick in one position.  So I took it apart a few days ago. 

Granted, that's not like taking apart a clock or a mixer.  But if you take some parts off something that isn't working right and clean and lubricate the parts and put them back together, it is amazing how often the thing starts working again. 

And the sprinkler worked just fine.  Yeah, I could have just bought a new sprinkler, but I really like this one.  It's called a "rain-dancer".  The spray not only moves back and forth, but it hesitates and reverses briefly, but ALSO fluctuates the force of the spray as it goes.  And even having taken it apart and put it back together, I have NO idea how it does it.  But it is working again and that is what really matters.

Not to say that everything went well.  There is a dial that aligns the spray to go full back and forth, only left, only right, and only 30 degrees in the center.  So... I was a bit careless when I turned it on and got a facefull of spray!  LOL!  I wiped off my face OK, but it took a while to get the water out of my ears...

The tulip/daffodil bed got a good hour of watering while I went around using the Fiscar thing to pull up dandelions.

Speaking of the flower bed, I planted 100 hyacinths in cages and not a single one as so much as broken the surface.  Either hyacinths are way fussier about when they are planted than tulips, or something was seriously wrong with the bulbs.  I'll bet that it was MY fault planting them late and that they needed more cold-time.  The bulbs seemed healthy and firm when planted.  Maybe their underground shoots are thicker than the 1/2" wire cages and they were choked.  I'm going to ask the bulb providers.  Or maybe they will just show up next week.  Or next year.

The garden is started outdoors.  Last week, I planted 4 broccoli seedlings, 2 purple cauliflower seedlings, and 2 dwarf cabbage seedlings.  And I planted seeds of radish, shallot, scallions, carrots, beets, kohlrabi, and spinach.  The snow peas are starting to reach the trellis and they will take off when they grab that.  The planted seeds are just starting to emerge.  I water those gently with a mister at first.  Some of those seeds are planted very shallowly (small seed - shallow planting).  When they have some roots developed, I can use the shower setting (which is about like a gentle rain) and that is a LOT faster watering!

It's good to see something planted and growing.

The flats of flowers are outdoors half a day now (to get them used to sunlight after the gentler artificial lights indoors).  Day temperatures are getting above 70F and the nighttime temperatures are at or above 50F, so they are getting  used to changes in temperatures.  A week of careful introduction to outdoor reality can really make a difference!

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Started Planting Veggies

HURRAY!  Got some plants in the ground in the garden, and some seeds too.  The transplants were broccoli/cauliflower/cabbage.  The direct seeds were radishes, spinach, carrots, parsnips, scallions, kohlrabi, and

Finally.  It seems that 1st planting day will never come.   Since this year is the first for the new raised bed garden in full planting (I was late starting last year because the enclosure wasn't complete), I wasn't sure where to plant stuff.  So last week was planning.

Nothing fancy, but I tend to generally use "square foot gardening".  I don't do it precisely, and I have to say that 4' wide beds are a bit awkward to reach into, but I do it as a general rule.  Not being sure how much space I had, I scribbled on paper for a while.

Largest stuff first.  The 22" diameter tomato cages take 4 sq ft and I love heirloom tomatoes above all other garden crops.  I set space for 6 cages (I have a place for 6 other cages outside the enclosure).  And no, 12 tomato plants are not too many for me.  Heirlooms produce fewer fruits (but are worth it).

Then comes the trellises of cucumbers and flat Italian beans, that took 11 sq feet at the ends of the beds.  And a few sq ft each for 2 bush squashes (one green, one yellow).

Then I want space for melons.  I love honeydew and cantaloupe melons, and I have some dwarf watermelons started.  But the space they take is not for them alone.  They like to grow on the ground, so there is some space for upright plants that will die before the melons grow fully.  That means broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower can be inter-planted in 2 beds where the honeydew and cantaloupe melons will grow later.

And then there is the bi-color corn.  I love that stuff (sweet AND "corny").    I'm taking a chance on growing small watermelons and corn in the same bed.  The idea is that the corn will grow high and the watermelons will grow low (and the watermelon won't try to climb the corn stalks).

The American Indians (especially the Iriquois) used to grow The Three Sisters.  Squash on the ground to shade out the weeds, corn to grow high, and pole beans to climb the cornstalks.  I've tried that a couple times and it didn't work.  The bi-color corn I grow has smaller stalks and the beans overwhelm them.  So the beans are separate this year.  The melons want to spread out over my raised beds, but I am going to keeps the vines corralled in the raised bed with tent pegs.  I hope that works.

But what about all the small crops?  Well, after all the space for the stuff above was accounted for , I had about 40 sq ft left.  3 are going to radishes, 3 to carrots, 3 to parsnips, 3 to shallots, 3 to scallions, 8 to spinach, 2 to Chinese cabbage, 2 to leeks, 1 to basil, 2 to kohlrabi, 2 to beets, 5 to bell peppers, and a few flowers to attract pollinators.

And there are some places around the yard where I can plant some herbs.  And some of the crops are "succession" crops, meaning I can reuse the spaces as the season goes on.  Radishes can be harvested and replanted several times a year, for example, and the broccoli/cauliflower/cabbages are harvested in June and a new crop planted in July for Fall harvest.

Hoping for the best!

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Ah, Tax Day

I don't mind Tax Day too much.  There's no avoiding it, my taxes have gotten more complicated over the years, and I procrastinate more, but tax software is SO much better than figuring out everything myself.

It used to be that it was so simple:
A.  How much did you earn last year.
B.  How much do you have left.
C.  Send B.

Ok, old joke, but it used to seem like that.

NOW, I get to fuss with deductions, donations, inheritances, death benefits, explanatory statements, foreign taxes, health benefit forms, energy-efficiency credits, etc.  Only God and H&R Block know what else.  There was probably a trans-fat tax in there somewhere.

Seriously, I just buy the software, answer all the questions, stare at the forms that print out, and hope for the best.  I hope I never get audited.  I try to be scrupulously honest, but sometimes I haven't the slightest idea what the forms are asking for!  The worst is looking at a document sent by some company saying "copy sent to the IRS" and trying to figure out where to enter it in the software.  For example, it took me 15 minutes to figure out that my share of Dad's  Civil Service "Death Benefit" was considered "income".  That is a sad of a way to get "income"!

But it beats the non-software way.  This year it only took 4 hours.  Mostly because I had so much leftover Dad stuff to donate, which lead me to donate a lot of MY unneeded stuff, both of which included new and used items.  The IRS does NOT like mixed categories of donations!

But, for better or worse, its done and the forms mailed...  Next year will be a lot easier; no leftover Dad stuff, no unused "my" stuff, no inherited stuff to declare.

One really cool thing I discovered is that Maryland excludes $29,000 of income when you turn 65!  THAT saved more than a few dollars in taxes...

And then there was the filing options.  I could pay the extra I owed to the Feds by credit card if I filed electronically, but there was an unspecified "convenience fee" to H&R Block for that.  Which apparently I couldn't learn until I went through giving them a lot of information first.  And I had a refund coming from MD, which I could get in a week electronically, but my bank has this weird thing where what is normally the routing number on your check ISN'T and I was worried about getting it wrong. 

So there I was putting everything in envelopes the old-fashioned way and wondering if I put enough stamps on the envelopes for the 6 pages of paper in them.  And I LAUGHED out loud (at myself)!  I was paying X $1000 in taxes in worried about an extra 42 cent stamp.

So I slapped on 2 extra stamps on each envelope and put them in the mailbox... 


Sunday, April 10, 2016

Minor Miseries

I've been feeling rotten the past 10 days for various unrelated reasons.  Now please do understand I'm not comparing that to any serious problems.  No broken bone, no serious illness, no diagnosis of lifelong condition.  Just several surprises.

I've been fortunate to be generally healthy all my life (and I turn 66 next month).  So it is more a matter of what I am unused to.

So when I started violent sneezing fits 10 days ago, I was surprised and concerned.  And I mean SUDDEN and VIOLENT!  I went through an entire box of Kleenex in one day.  I literally could not be out of reach of tissues.  I barely slept for 2 nights. 

Now, I do recall having to take Coricidin-D for allergies to our family cat as a teenager.  And a couple of times, I had a brief sneezing fit when I had a teen job mowing lawns.  But all that went away.  The most I had since teenage years was a couple of sudden sneezes when I first walked into bright sunlight for the day once or twice a year. 

So this sudden constant unending sneezing and nose-blowing really baffled me.  And it was actually debilitating.  And exhausting.  You know how, when you blow your nose, you tighten up your abdominal muscles?  Well, I did that so many times it HURT.  Can you sprain your diaphram?

It lasted 3 full days and then stopped like flipping a light switch.  The only thing I can think is that (which climate change) some new weed as moved into my area.  I saw one unfamiliar plant I think is a wild mustard, but it is still blooming and the sneezing has stopped. 

One odd thing is that I had walked outside through the tall lawn grass just before it started and the cats were all upset by the smells on the cuffs of my pants.  They gave the "flehmen" response where a smell suggests an enemy.  I wonder is some unusual animal came through the yard and maybe peed on the grass I walked through; some thing I reacted to...

Then, as soon as that was over, I twisted my right knee.  I've been limping for a week!  At first, I thought it was an attack of gout (I have had a couple incidences of that in the past 20 years, but the knee wasn't sensitive and swollen like gout.  I must had just strained it too much doing yardwork.  That has happened before.  I push myself too hard sometimes. 

But that usually only lasts a day or two, and this is the 7th day.  It is nearly gone away, so it isn't serious, but it sure made getting around and doing house and yard chores hard!  And there was NO comfortable position in which to sleep. 

And now I'm getting muscle cramps on the sides of my chest.  No, don't worry, not heart attacks.  I get them from twisting around too much while working.  That's been a problem for many years.  I try to be careful, but sometimes the most innocent movements will cause it.  Happens on both sides, but never both at the same time.  Sometimes just cleaning the litter boxes will start it. 

I had a roommate once who got pnuemonia and coughed so hard he actually broke a rib, causing similar problems.  I have a slightly constant cough from smoking (don't bother telling me how stupid that is, I KNOW).  But I wonder if I have done the same damage to some ribs. 

I hope this series of problems is only temporary.  Otherwise, the rest of my life if going to be rather uncomfortable...

My apologies to people with REAL problems.  But what you aren't used to is difficult to GET used to and I sure hope I don't HAVE to get used to these sorts of things.  My dad never had any physical problems in his life until his last year.  If things don't get worse and I live to his age (92), I will be very grateful...  And I suppose I would be grateful at 80 if it doesn't get worse.

Friday, April 1, 2016


I woke up startled this morning.  There was a lot bang and I could tell something hit the house. It was too sudden for a branch hitting the roof and the cats were completely poofed!  I thought maybe someown had shot at the house.

So I got up and looked around (not turning on lights or walking near the windows).  I finally realized there was dust floating in the living room, then that there was a hole in the ceiling, and finally a dent in the floor!

And there, near the bookcase, was a rock the size of a golf ball, and it was WARM... 

My house got hit by a little meteorite!!!

I bet that isn't covered by my insurance policy, but I've read they are valuable.  I'll probably just keep it though and pay for the roof and ceiling repair myself.  Seriously, how many people have a meteorite to show off?