email: cavebear2118 AT verizon DOT com

Monday, May 30, 2016

Bathtub Area Replacement 3

I was expecting to show the finished bathtub area, but I discovered I had pictures between the start of the tiling and the completion.  So I'll show those today.

I left off with the start of the tiling...
So then they added the towel bar and completed it.  You can see tile spacers and the tape holding the towel bar in place as the adhesive dried.  I made a mistake when asked about the placement of the towel bar.  I reached up to where I would want to grab the face towel and they drew a line on the wall there.  I meant that that was where I wanted the towel to be, not the bar.  I should have had them put the towel bar itself 2 rows higher.  But I agreed with their marked position, so I have to live with it.
Here is the pipe for the tub faucet and the combination on/off  and hot-cold valve.
And the showerhead pipe (It gets covered - or replaced, I'm not sure which they did)...  The tiles are 2 rows higher than before and a row further  sideways.  And they installed bullnose tiles (rounded over edges) along the top and sides.  That helps avoid wall wetness.
The tiles were well-placed.  There are some tiny imperfections at a corner or two...
But grout hides many slight imperfections.   The grout sealant helps too (and waterproofs the grout as well of course).
Next time, I WILL show the finished look!

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Thankful Thursday

1.  The bathroom remodelers completed the work today.  But there are some places where tape is holding trim tight for another whole day, so I will post the "after" pictures next time.

2.  The cats don't have to be locked into the bedroom anymore (well until the next project).

3.  I won't have to set my alarms for 6:30 am tomorrow.  That will be a relief because I kept worrying during the nights that I would sleep through them.  6:30 may not seem early to you,  but I had mine set for 5 am for 35 years, and after 10 years retired, I'm out of the alarm habit.

BTW, I don't actually use alarm clocks anymore.  I use digital kitchen timers.  Since I keep irregular hours these days, I can just push the hour button 9 times, press start, and not worry about what time of day that gets me up.  SO much easier than a real alarm clock.

4.  I have my car back in the garage again (the remodelers were using it for a work area).

5.  With the 6 weeks of nearly constant daily drizzle done, I was able to mow the lawn today.

6.  I felt free to work in the garden again.  I planted my last 4 tomato seedlings, 14' of italian pole beans, 8' of cucumbers, 4 cantaloupe melons, 2 honeydew melons, 2 squash, 6 leeks, 18 corns (10 early and 8 late season).  Harvested my first 6 radishes of the season (wow, even home grown radishes taste better than the grocery store stuff - spicier, firmer).  My snow peas are starting to produce...

7.  To celebrate the remodeling completion, I made a nice dinner.  Delmonico steak, fried potatoes, asparagus with mushrooms, tossed salad, SEVERAL glasses of wine!  And fresh fruit for dessert (plum, peach, apple, grapes, and cantaloupe).

8.  I'm setting the timers tonight for 12 hours.  If I wake up refreshed before that, fine.  If not, well, I have some catching up to do.

9.  After dinner, all the cats were on my chair with me.  They shifted positions a few times, but there was always one on the back and one on each arm.  They were happy to get time outside this afternoon, but they really wanted closeness.  And they got plenty of attention this evening.  And I bet they will almost be surprised not to be locked into the bedroom tomorrow morning!

And, yes, I shared my steak with them...

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Bathtub Area Replacement 2

Well, we've gone through 2 more 6 hour visits from the remodels.  Things are going well.  It it easy to think work should go faster, but I hang around enough to see that there is more involved that I thought (or that I thought I was getting in this project).

I'm a relatively good homeowner to work for.  I stay out of the way (but reachable).  I peek in only when the 2 workers are out of the area doing other stuff elsewhere in the house.  The workers are comfortable enough to complain about "SOME" people they have worked around.  I've even provided a couple of tools they didn't have with them.

When they complain about having worked too many days in a row or have some unexpected problem, I commiserate appropriately with personal experiences in D-I-Y (without comparing those to their professional experiences.  When they want to gripe about something (personal or project-related) I listen well and let them talk.

When they ask where the soap dish or towel rack should go, I ask a couple questions about the options and then give them an answer quickly.

So things are going along well.

Friday was demolition and tub replacement/new plumbing day.   The existing tub was the cheapest the builder would provide (surprise, surprise), the tile backer board was the cheapest available, some of the wall studs were misaligned, and the tiles didn't extend as far as the should have.  And the edge tiles were just regular tiles, not the rounded-over tiles (again, no surprise).

One thing remodelers are notorious for is exposing the studs and subfloor and finding "rot and mold", increasing the work (and cost) of the project.  These guys said that all looked fine.  I felt a LOT better about them after that, because I was prepared to fight about it.  I don't know tiling, but I do know wood.

Monday was the installation of new concrete backer boards for the new tiles, and starting new tiles.  They did 80% of that.   There was an issue about the in-tub towel holder.  The manager said he hadn't installed one of those in 10 years ("no one wants them").  But I did, and pointed out that he was supposed to replace what was there.  So he found one.  He had to drive 30 miles to a supplier, but he did.

The tiler was extending the tiles to an edge of the wall, and discovered the wall was bowed inwards slightly.  Not a functional problem, but something that could be noticed.  So he said he could remove and replace the metal corner former (the technical term escapes me).  I asked him to find out the cost.  I was expecting several hundred dollars, it was $75.  Cool...

And they may have regretted the estimate.  The corner form has ~100 holes for nailing in the form, and (according to the tile guy) "some crazed lunatic used every single one".

Today, they finished the tile.  That last 20% was a lot of detailed tile-cutting work as they installed the towel bar and the couple rows of tiles above it, bullnose (rounded) tiles along the edges, and even down the outside edges of the tub down to the floor.

Tomorrow is the grouting between the tiles.  Thursday is the application of a grout sealer, inspection, and final payment.  I can hardly wait.  The cats will be thrilled, too.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Bathtub Area Replacement

First, getting up at 7 am to be ready for the demolition crew was a novel experience.  Second, getting the cats stashed away into a safe room was only a partial success.  Third, no renovation work ever goes smoothly.

I managed to get up on time, fed the cats, and went to get them into the bedroom.  I called them and Marley and Iza came right in.  Ayla was not so cooperative,  sensing that "something" was up.  I know better than to chase a cat, I just follow slowly.  But she was ducking from room to room and upstairs/downstairs until she was upstairs and I wasn't sure where she was.  I figured she was either in the Mews Room or the Computer Room, so I just closed both doors.  It turned out she had to be hiding in the Living room somewhere.  I swear that cat could hide in a coffee mug!  But since she stayed in hiding and didn't try to run out through the frequently opened front door, all was fine. 

The bathtub area demolition was impressive.  I took a LOT of pictures for possible insurance reasons, but I will only inflict a few of them on you.

The before shot shows the mess.  When the tiles began to come loose, I duct-taped plastic around the front and side, not realizing how bad it was getting behind the plastic.  And under that situation, tub-cleaning seems to have fallen off my schedule.
So, they went in and just started pounding the tiles and backer board into pieces.  Well, the plastic was more waterproof than the tiles were!
Bathroom renovators are notorious for finding "more repairs needed" when the backer boards are removed.  These guys said everything looked mold-free and no rot.  I looked at it and agreed.  I don't know tiles, but I know about wood.  So they vacuumed all the dust and debris.
And started to replace the backer board.  It is a special concrete and laminate product that basically can't rot.  So was the original stuff, but after 30 years, the modern product is better.
Next, they installed the new tub and covered the inside with padding and plastic.  And it was a good thing they did!  Because after that, they constructed and installed the new pipes.  I wasn't thrilled to see them using a plastic pipe, but they assured me that it is better than copper pipe.  "Not one failure in 10 years and it sheds mineral deposits that can collect in copper pipe with hard water".

Well, I have soft water, but if the cemented plastic holds better than soldered copper, OK...   BTW, the first day I moved in here 30 years ago, I tasted the water and decided it was the best municipal water I had ever tasted!
So then we had a few "adventures".  The first was a pipe cap blowout.  You see that copper pipe sticking out over the tub?  There is a temporary pipe cap.  The Senior Repairman said they are called "shark valves" because once on, they never come loose until you want them to come loose".

So guess what came loose?  Right!  The shark valve...  The assistant went running to the door shouting at Senior guy that "the water is on".   Well, yeah, it had been turned back on, but I realized he suddenly didn't WANT it to be on, so I ran into the basement (bad knee and all) and crawled into the access where the whole-house shut off valve was and closed it.

That apparently saved about 50 gallons of water pouring out the open tub into the basement.  And I stuck a bucket under the leak. 

They were very apologetic.  Those caps "never fail".  Well, until they do, of course.  At least I got some credit for fast-action!  The assistant is not the brightest bulb in a room of lamps, he meant "water is flowing and it shouldn't".  I had noticed the senior guy mad jokes about the assistant (his BIL) and I had joined in slightly, but I stopped after that.

But, no harm was done.  The plastic in the tub caught most of it and my bucket caught the rest.  The senior guy was really pissed off, but I joked "that was fun, let's do it again". 

After they vacuumed up the water and replaced the plastic lining with a dry one (and made sure I saw they were using a brand new pipe "shark valve" cap), they proceeded with the job with the water turned back on. 

Then the second little "adventure"...The last backer board to be installed was the one that fits over the tub faucet and shower valve.  That takes very precise cut-outs.  And senior guy cut it wrong!    Oh wow, did the assistant have a relieved turn with that.  I had noticed the the senior guy just wrote the cutting dimensions randomly on a piece of paper.  Well, I suppose when you have been doing something for 38 years (as he said he had), you know where your numbers are. 

Oops, he got the left and right measurements reversed..  No problem for me, it's a fixed price contract (and the senior guy did mention that it comes out of company expenses.

I mentioned to him that when I put wood paneling in the basement, I had been careful to use a huge piece of cardboard from a bookcase box to make sure I cut it right.  Ans then traced that onto the wood paneling so that I COULDN'T get in wrong.  And got it wrong ANYWAY because I put the cardboard on the wrong side of the panel.

True story, but it did lighten up the situation...  The last thing I want are angry embarrassed workers doing work in my house.  I've done enough house work myself to know that when you get mad, you don't do your best work! 

So senior guy cut out another concrete backer board panel and it fit like a glove. 

They return on Monday to install the bathtub fixtures and do the tile installation.

Ayla, Iza, and Marley recovered quickly.  Food helped, attention helped, deck time helped.  quietness helped.  But I bet I will have to get sneakier about getting them shut into the bedroom Monday morning.  At least the final work is quieter...

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Various Thoughts

1.  I emailed the company that repaired my heat pump, complaining about the qualifications of the regular repairman they sent (who was only saved when the Repair Manager came by to actually do the work).  After the Repair Manager left, the regular repairman used my hose to fill a bucket to divert the old coolant into and though I saw him turn the spigot off, he didn't do it completely.  Three mornings later, I saw water spraying out of a broken hose connection.  He hadn't turned it off completely!  The pressure stayed on for 3 days and I have NO idea how much water sprayed out as waste (that I will pay for).  They haven't replied yet.

2.  I have a company coming to remove/redo the entire tub area of a bathroom.  They keep calling to change the arrival time.  I don't consider that a good sign.  Darn good thing I am retired and my time is flexible.  Yesterday, they were coming today; then Monday; now Friday.

3.  I'm cleaning house before the bathroom demolition crew arrives.  Is that stupid or what?  Like they care?  Well, it needed cleaning and I needed the encouragement.  If I had more vistors, I would clean more often.

4.  I came across some odd stories lately.   The first one where some parent had to explain to the grandparents that the son couldn't read their letters because he couldn't read "cursive".  Oh damn, I feel ancient!  Like I've been writing in hieroglyphs...

Then there was the couple who visited Yellowstone Park and decided a baby bison was "too cold".  They "rescued" it into their SUV.  When they turned it in to the Park because they couldn't really feed it, the Mother and herd rejected it.  It had to euthanized.

Which reminds me of the idiot hunter (and I respect most hunters as knowledgeable having being one myself) who reported he had "captured" a deer.  It was a goat...

Which reminds me of the farmer who had had a cow shot by a hunter.  So he spray painted "COW" on all his remaining herd in bright red.  Yeah, some idiot shot one of them too, thinking it was a deer.

5.  I set up several 10-20' circles in the newly leveled parts of the back yard.  In one, I spread several pounds of "wildflower" seeds to create a natural area for pollinator bees and butterfly caterpillars to thrive.  So far, I have one orange flower and the same weeds that are growing in other places around the yards.  I may have to grow plants from seeds indoors and transplant them outside.

6.  I'm making a list of things for a general contractor to do.  There are things I can do myself and things I can't.  And some of the things I can't, I used to be able to do and just won't now.  I did electrical work in the basement when I was 35 and (one and only one time) I made a mistake and if I hadn't been sitting on a wood ladder, I would have electrocuted myself.

I felt "the buzz"...  And that's not the first time.  I once pulled of the spark plug wire on a running car and had the same "shock".  I'm lucky to be alive.

I know wood.  Wood can't normally kill you.  I'll stick to that.  For the other stuff, I'm hiring people!

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Unexpected Benefit

My twisted knee has really been annoying and delayed me doing any serious yardwork (never mind just putting on socks and shoes), but I discovered something beneficial almost immediately.

I have 4 litter boxes for the cats in the basement.  I have always been uncomfortable cleaning them kneeling on the cement floor.  Well, (spurred by the difficulty of kneeling) it occurred to me that my workbench is right next to the litterboxes.  So, I thought "why kneel down there when I can lift the litterboxes up to the workbench"?

Oh wow, that is SO much easier!  Scraping everything loose and scooping it out is easier, it makes it easy to sweep loose litter from around where the boxes sit, and I am more inclined to clean them more often!

And even if you don't have a workbench right there, nothing says you can't put a cheap skinny-leg hall table over it for the same purpose.  Out of any problem, some good thing may result...

Thursday, May 12, 2016

The Heat Pump Pictures

Darn, I forgot I had pictures of the repair.  So for what it's worth...

Jeff, the repair manager called me before the repair and said he had good news.  The supplier (who aparently controls warrantee replacements), had said they didn't have the specific "Thermal eXchange Valve" (TXV) available for my unit, but that he "bitched and complained" and they agreed to provide a whole "coil".

I had no idea what that meant, but if the repair manager was happy, that seemed good.  Well, it was more significant than I thought!  The TXV seems to be that little gold colored thing in the center.  The "coil" is the entire guts of the inside unit!
Really, they took out everything!
And here is the new (for free after 6 year's use) replacement!
The guy on the left is the repair manager.  The guy on the right is the "so-called" repairman.   HE didn't have a clue about what to do.  The repair manager kept teaching him every step of the way!
And if I had not called the repair manager with concerns about repairguy, repairguy would have tried to do all that work and messed up royally!  Note the Repair Manager is doing all the work.  Even the heavy lifting!  

The replacement units are not IDENTICAL to the original ones.  He had to cut away some side sheet metal to make it fit.  But HE knew about that and repairguy didn't...  I can only imagine (with shudders) what repairguy would have struggled to do to make it fit.  Hammerring maybe?
The replacement unit didn't fit to Repair Manager's satisfaction.  Out it came for more shaping....
Then back in and Repair Manager was happy.   And if he's happy, I probably will be happy...
And to my surprise, there was welding involved!  And guess who did it.  Quite frankly, the Repair Manager wasn't letting the repairguy do ANYTHING important.
Welding going on.  I'm surprised the camera could take this pic!
Back outside for replacing the coolant, even THEN Repair Manager was doing all the work while repairguy stood around not paying attention.  I think I could reach repairguy's skill level in a week of training!  Well, for one thing, I would pay careful attention...
And again, repairguy is watching while Repair Manager shows how to do basic stuff.  And I mean that.  Is there anything more basic to heating and cooling systems than loading coolant?  On the other hand, repairguy is the one who overpressured my system by 4x in Feb and caused most of currentthe problems...
So Repair Manager left after the mechanical problems were fixed and there were "only" measurement to be recorded.  I'm not sure repairguy knew how to do THAT right.  He kept calling some other people on his phone asking questions. 

BUT, after 3 days of switching the system from heat to cooling, the system is working better than I recall from the initial installation.  There MAY have been problems from the start.  I dropped the temperature from 72 to 68F in 30 minutes.  That used to take an hour.  Raising the temperature is faster, but it happened faster than usual.

I am glad of this repair.

But I think the success was all because I complained to the company first about problems with the previous repair, and then the Repair Manager when I was not pleased with the repairguy they sent.  And Repair Manager did almost all of the work himself!  Let that be a lesson to you...  Demand the best-qualified person to do the job...

The Heat Pump...

The repairmen came, they went.  In their wake, they SEEM to have left me with a working heat pump.

I was worried when the repairman showed up.  It was the same guy who messed up my system in Feb.  While he started working on the unit, I called the office repair manager.  He called back a few minutes later to assure me that the guy he sent was especially good at replacing parts.  But also would come by in 30 minutes (from another job) to make sure all went smoothly.

And it was a damn good thing he did.  Because the repair manager had to do most of the work himself!  He had promised me a free part and free labor, but I did not know the free "part" was almost the entire inside unit.

It took them 4 hours.  Because of some gradual equipment changes, the replacement coil was not a "pull and replace" unit.  The manager went "hands on" to it, cutting some sheet metal to fit.  I got a kick out of saying to the sent repair guy "This is why I worked to be Manager, so as to not have to do this stuff".

The "sent" guy would not have known to do that shaping work.  If I hadn't called, he might STILL BE HERE 6 hours later botching the job.  And that is a lesson learned.  If a simple repair is done right, great.  If a complicated repair is done well by a talented repairman, great!.. But if a repair is in the middle and they send the simple repairman to fix it, you need a Manager!

And did this guy know his stuff!  It was like watching a surgeon.

And it got better!  A few times when he was waiting for equipment to provide results, I asked a few questions.  Apparently, they were good questions.  Having a Dad as an engineer helps...

So I mentioned understanding gas expansion cooling, and he mentioned that he had taken AP classes in physics, so we had a great discussion about dark matter and dark energy and fun stuff while his equipment measured pressures and temperature changes.

Geez, I hope managing a heat pump repair unit pays well...

Anyway, the high pressure whistling sound is gone inside and out, the screeching sound of the outside fan is gone, the heating and cooling seem to be working, and all I had to pay for was the coolant.

I hope I feel as happy in mid-summer and next winter!  The repair company maybe doesn't have the best basic repairmen, but they sure stand by their promise to make everything right eventually.  That sounds like a back-handed compliment, but I mean better than that.  They COULD have just fought my complaints and said go call someone else if I wasn't happy, but they didn't.

It was 70 degrees outside.  They heated the house up to 80 and cooled it down to 65 in just an hour.  AFAICT, that means it is working.

And BTW, Iza is a Very Brave Cat .  She followed us all around, watching what was going on.  Marley an Ayla hid in the bedroom.  Iza got extra treats after they left.  She is a "Snoopervisor Extraordinary"!

Wednesday, May 11, 2016


The Washington Nationals have been having a fabulous year so far.  They had a winning percentage of over .700 going into a road trip against 3 of the best teams in both leagues.  They went 5 and 1 against the 1st 2 teams.  So they went to play the Chicago Cubs.  Apparently, that was the first time to teams both playing over .700 had met in decades (50 years, 80 years, something like that).

The Nationals lost all 4 games.  Hard-fought games are nice, but splitting them would have been nicer.  Sometimes, a team plays well and just loses.  The Nationals hit slashing line drives - directly to fielders.  They hit long right to the outfield walls - just within jumping reach of the outfielders.  When they hit to the corners of the outfield where no one could catch them, they were a foot foul.

The Cubs were so afraid of Bryce Harper, they walked him 6 times in one game.  It would have been 7 ( a record), but one pitch hit him on the foot.  He got on base 7 of 7 times in one gamne and not a single one counts as an official "at-bat"!  He was walked 18 times in a 4 game series.  The Nationals lead several of the games, but lost in the last inning of each.   Hey, that's what WE normally do to other teams.

Those Cubs are GOOD!  I won't deny that at ALL!  But that's a harsh way to lose a series.  Can you imagine having a 19-12 record and being in 2ND PLACE?  This is going to be one HELL of an exciting season if things keep up like this!

Better news.  One of our pitchers, Max Scherzer, struck out 20 Detroit  Tigers tonight, tying the record...

Monday, May 9, 2016


Well, the good news is that my Heat Pump is scheduled to be fixed tomorrow morning.  The repair company called me this morning.  They got their supplier to provide the part for free, they are doing the labor for free, I will pay for the replacement coolant ($200).

I accepted.  They could have given me a bunch of technical runaround "proving" none of it was their fault, but they didn't.  And I get the 1st appointment of the day, so I won't have to sit around waiting in a 4-hour window.

It will be good to having the heat pump working properly again (possibly for the 1st time ever).  My electric company sends me monthly reports showing that my Winter electrical usage is 3x the average of my neighbors (Summer is close).  And I have been extraordinarily fortunate that the outside temperature has been unusually moderate (highs of 70 and lows of 55 for almost 2 weeks while the system was completely off).  I'm a real warm-bodied person and don't sleep well above 70.

I'm patiently waiting for the bathtub tile replacement.  The entire tile surround and backerboard will be replaced, as well as the faucet and temperature valve, the showerhead, soap dish, towelrack, and the tub itself.  I guess for a cheaply built "starter house",  30 years was long enough before some repairs were needed.

I was encouraged when the remodeler said not to use the tub before the replacement work (2 weeks hence) so that they could better tell if any moisture on the studs behind the walls was just dampness from the leaks or actual damaged.

I know that its routine for bathroom remodelers to go for increases to the work required claiming unseen stud damage or mold.  That the remodeler seems to be trying to make sure any such signs of moisture are real is probably why they have an "A" rating on Angie's List.

The aggravation is that they say the work will take 10 days.  I have a showerstall in a half bath to use, but I don't like it much.  And I'm not thrilled about having to be available for workers here 4 or 5 days (it takes 10 days, but they won't be here every day - some things need time to "set").  But after a year of increasingly worsening tiles problems it will be worth it.

My knee (twisted on April 5th) is still not normal again, but I can walk straight-forward almost as usual.  I still feel it on stairs and getting into bed.  I've missed the whole Spring on yardwork, though and the weeds are taking over.  I'll be busy when I can dig again!

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Other Complaints

Sort of continued from yesterday...

Aside from the heat pump problems, I've had damaged/loose tiles around the bathtub for almost a year.  At first, I couldn't get any highly-rated company on Angie's List to come out.  The job was too small.  Then it gradually got too big.  Them I couldn't get a bathroom remodeler to come out because the job was too small. 

I have a plastic trash bag duct-taped over the loose tiles.  Well, it FINALLY got big enough of a problem for one remodeler to come look Wed.  Quite frankly, I hadn't looked under the plastic covering lately, and it was worse than I thought. 

I expected bad news and I got it!  Now let me mention that this "starter house"  (where I have lived for 30 years) was not the best-built of houses.  The builder took shortcuts all over the place.  Apparently, one of those shortcuts was around the bathtub.  The seal around the tub faucet was leaky, the tile was poorly applied, the grout cracked, and the wall behind the tiles was truly waterproof. 

The remodeler popped one seemingly sound tile right off and pushed an awl right through the wall behind it.  Everything seem rotted...  So he came by yesterday with a basic proposal, subject to change after they remove the tiles and see behind the wall. 

They propose to remove all the tiles, replace the backer board wall, repair some damaged drywall, replace the tub faucet and showerhead (upper tile loosening suggests it is leaking inside the wall), and re-tile higher than it currently is  (which is below the showerhead).  And replace the bathtub itself.

I asked about why to replace the bathtub, and he said that, at 30 years old my cheap one won't last much longer and it would require pulling off the new tiles and some drywall to replace it then at twice the price.

I did some internet research and I know the routine for bathroom remodelers.  They get the initial job, then find all sorts of further problems (replace studs, scrape and spray mold, replace the floor, discover insect damage, etc).   I'm resigned to that.  There are some repairs you just HAVE to have done even when you know you are being taken advantage of.

At least I have some advantages myself.  I know wood, so they won't be able to lie about the condition of the studs.  I know the floor is solid; I can see it from the basement and there is no waterstain.  But also, I chose this company because their Angie's List rating is A+ for price and quality of work.  So they not only have a good rating, they care about their rating.  And if *I'm* not happy, they won't be happy!

At $5700 for the contracted work, they BETTER make me happy.  But it will be 3 weeks before they get to me on their schedule.  And they estimate 10 days of work (not every day, some parts have to sit a couple days to set). 

And then there is my right knee.  It has been a month since I first twisted it.  At first, it was pinful just getting it and out of bed.  And getting up and down stairs was an adventure in caution.  At least now I can walk almost normally.  Stairs are still annoying, but not actually painful.  Putting on my right sock and shoe are still awkward (but just an "err" and not a "GRRRR".  But it all means that I have not been able to do any gardening work in this extended mild temperature we have had all April and early May.  It will heal...

But then there is the weather.   After 3 weeks of drought late March and early April, we have had 10 days of daily off-and-on drizzle.  5" of drizzle and not any heavy rain but 1 hour.  So, good knee or bad, I wasn't going to get to do much work in the flower or vegetable gardens.  The vegetable garden is newly redone, so it doesn't need much work and the early crops were in and the warm weather crops will wait. 

But the flowerbeds are all gone to heck.  Weed grasses and regular weeds are nearly taking over.  This was going to be a Spring of renovation.  Too many of my perennial flowers have slowly died back (perennials don't live forever) and I was planning to dig up everything worth saving and rototill large areas to start over with some perennials that DO seem to live forever and add lots of annuals this year while I decide what to do in the future. 

I went big into perennials 15 years ago, but they are disappointing.  Most only flower a week or two.  Some flower longer, but are shorter-lived (3-5 years).  Some are very special in their short blooms (oriental lilies, tulips, daffodils, etc), and some have great foliage (Hostas, Brunella).  But I like the ones that flower all season or at least all Fall (Coneflowers, Goldenrod, Astilbe, Clatis, Asters).

I'm going back to annuals ( Zinnias, Salvia, Marigolds, Coleus, Impatiens).  More work each Spring to plant under lights inside and transplant, but I have time for that.  And growing seeds from scratch gives my better varieties than the local Walmart sells.

But if my knee doesn't heal soon, I won't be able to get down and scrape the weeds off the soil (and dig out the deep-rooted ones) and plant all those seedlings. 

Mom used to tell me that "getting old isn't for sissies".  I understood that theoretically a decade ago; now I know personally.  I'll turn 66 in 2 weeks.  LOL!

I've stayed young long.  You know how, in high school, there were those who matured fast?  Well, they aged fast too.  I always took some comfort in that.  Well, age is starting to catch up with me...  Small matters to be sure.  But I bet I need a knee transplant in 10 years.  My knees have always been a bit loose.

Most people fidget in some way.  They doodle, they hum, they tap their fingers.  I shake my ankles.  Sound weird?  Put your right ankle up on your left knee.  Now shake your ankle up and down constantly.  That's what I do at the computer.  I'll bet I loosened that knee badly over the decades...

"tempis fugit, momento mori".


Friday, May 6, 2016

Heat Pump Problems

I don't like to be complaining often, and I recognize that my worst complaints are minor compared to many other people's.  But they are what *I* am suffering, if you understand what I mean.  Sort of the "I was sad I had no shoes, til I met a man who had no feet".  Well, I still have no shoes, so I'm not happy.

My heat pump is non-functional.  Brief history is that the heating function barely worked in early Feb and I had to pay $120 for a diagnostic visit, then $745 for a replacement of the outdoors unit "thermal exchange valve" and a coolant recharge.  It worked, but not like it used to.  And there was often a weird high-pressure whistling sound both inside and outside after that.

Then when the weather warmed into the low 80s in mid-April, I turned on the cooling function.  It struggled.  How could it struggle when it's only 80 outside?   So I had to pay $120 for another diagnostic visit.  Naturally, it was only 65 outside that day and the system worked perfectly...

Monday the system simply stopped completely.  No heating, no cooling, not even the fan operated.  Even the thermostat display was dark.  I checked the main circuit breaker panel, the inside unit ciruit breaker, the outside circuit breaker, nothing. 

Wed, another repairman came out.  THIS guy knew what he was doing!  First, he ACTUALLY listened to my description of the recent history of diagnoses and repair, and he listened to my observations of noises and heating/cooling failures.

The 1st thing he did was get into the inside unit where there was yer ANOTHER circuit breaker, and replaced it.  It promptly blew out when he turned the system back on.  So he shut everything off again and checked the coolant because "that high pressure whistle you described is bad news".  Sure enough, he found the coolant recharge done in Feb was 4x too high.  There was some by-passing valve that protects against that but it meant the system wasn't doing much.  He said the previous week's diagnostician didn't measure for long enough to discover that.  And terms like "those clowns" were used...

He suspects the INTERNAL "thermal exchange valve" was damaged by the coolant overpressure and said he needed to speak to the repairs manager because they had screwed up my system and owed me some free work (that he couldn't authorize on his own).  The nice news was that he said I had observed the problems accurately, had been right that the noise was due to high pressure, and that if the previous guys had paid attention to what I was telling them, they might have fixed the problem right to begin with!

And, in fact, I had described the pattern of cooling failure to the last week's diagnostician in detail.  Not 10 minutes later he told me that I should observe the pattern of failure.  Exactly what I had just previously done.  I think that, like doctors, repairmen shut off their hearing when clients speak.  Seriously, how often have you explained symptoms in detail to a doctor only to have him/her ask you about symptoms you just mentioned?  Often, right?

I spoke to the repairs manage this afternoon.  My system is a year out of warranty, but he has gotten authorization to replace the inside thermal exchange valve at no charge and the labor charge will be at 50%.  Plus any other problems found during full repair will be cost-adjusted. 

I mentioned that seemed generally fair, since it was likely the Feb over pressuring caused some of the problems, but I didn't push it further.  I'm not a skilled negotiator (I'm always afraid people will just say "NO" and THEN get mad and unhelpful). 

They expect the part to arrive Monday and will be out to replace it ASAP.  I've been very fortunate that the temperatures have been very stable between highs of 65 and lows of 50.  I can deal with that.  I'm a very warm-bodied person, I have a heated waterbed, and I'm a lot more comfortable at 65 than 75.  And the house stays warmer than the outside.  All that electronic stuff that stays permanently 1/2 on creates heat, as does the refrigerator, water heater, cooking, etc.  And the house got a detailed attic-to-basement spray insulation and blown-in insulation job 18 months ago. 

When it is 50 outside, the house stays at 65.  But that also means that when the outside temperature is 80, the inside will reach 90 even with windows open and I can't sleep in THAT!  And it will get into the 80s Tuesday!  So the repair will be a close call...

It could be much worse.  Heat pumps usually die on the coldest or hottest days.  My previous 2 heat pumps died in mid August and the in-house temperature reached 100!

I have more complaints, but this post is long enough (and my appreciation to all who have read to this point)!  So the rest tomorrow...

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

US Presidential Campaign

Well, with the Indiana Primary results in, it looks like it will be Donald Trump as the Republican nominee and Hillary Clinton as the Democratic nominee.  And I don't see anyone mounting a credible 3rd party campaign.

That's too bad.  I respect Clinton; breadth of experience, thoughtfulness, and a progressive approach suit me.  I would have been OK with Sanders; I like him personally, I completely agree that money has too much influence in politics and sometimes some radical approaches are needed, but I just don't see him as "Manager of The Executive Branch".  Hey, maybe he would have been a genious at it, but we will never know.

But Donald Trump deeply worries me.  I don't mean for this to be a screed, but the man has more holes in his psyche than swiss cheese.  He lies outrageously, he unashamedly repeats proven falsehoods, he makes promises that he could never keep, he detests almost everyone, he wants to start fights with both opposing and friendly nations, and he seems to have little concept of how government works (3 equal branches of government, constitutional restrictions, law in general, etc).  He approves of torture as "effective", he wants MORE nations to have nuclear weapons, and he would expect the military to follow "illegal" orders.

Trump would make an excellent dictator in a small nation.  He has openly admired Vladamir Putin and Benito Mussolini.  Oddly, in a very dysfunctional small nation, he might even do some good.  I don't think he is "evil", he's just sort of nuts.  He wouldn't be vicious like many dictators and would probably forcibly implement some economic improvements.  But that won't work in any developed democracy.

If Trump were elected, the  Congress and Supreme Court would probably just block him out of governance for his single term, but even then he could probably cause enough confusion and chaos to damage the economy, destroy our international influence, and divide the nation domestically for a decade.  Whatever he could effect, he would make worse.

This is not to say that Clinton would be the best President we have ever had.  She would work unbelievably hard, bring in a lot of international good will, appoint qualified but not historic Supreme Court Justices, and improve many continuing domestic problems.  But she isn't going to excite and stimulate the nation, and she isn't going to solve The Big Problems (but she sure won't make any of them worse). 

This Presidential campaign will be best for political commentators and comedians.  I saw one statement that the Republicans had 3 major candidates; the grandson of an immigrant (Trump), the son of immigrants (Rubio), and an actual immigrant (Cruz) all competing to claim to hate immigrants the most!  Ah, c'mon, ya GOTTA laugh about THAT!

Another good one was that Sanders had a good motto ("Feel The Bern") but Clinton's was not as good ("Trudge Uphill"). 

I vote for Clinton without any hesitation.  Experienced/hard-working/good intentions beat a lying/bullying/megalomaniac nutso EVERY time.

But this election may be the best argument against the 2 term limitation.  I would gladly take a 3rd Obama term.  Heck, I'd take a 3rd Bill Clinton term.  But maybe that is just fear of uncertainty.  I'll bet Hillary Clinton is going to be a good President (and I can hope, better).

The most hopeful possibility is that a Clinton victory over Trump is so overwhelming that the Democrats regain control over the Congress.  I think that would be good for the nation in general terms.  But also, that divided government is not working these days (with the "just say no to anything" Republicans) and at least it might be good to get SOMETHING done.

I know that a lot of you out there are Republicans.  I used to be one too.  I don't mean anything negative to Republicans in general.  We need 2 functioning parties, competition of ideas is good, and the times in our history when one party has controlled government for too long have not been good.

This election suggests a blowout.  I've experienced 2 of those.  The Goldwater landslide defeat in 1964 and the McGovern landslide defeat in 1972.  In fact my (50 page OMG it killed me writing it) senior political science paper compared the 2 campaigns.  From opposite sides of the political spectrum, the nomination campaigns were surprisingly similar...

So, prediction:  Clinton will get more Electoral College votes than Obama did, the Republican Party will finally (after 36 years) move toward the center, and the Democrats will stay where they are...