Photo of the month

Glenn's dug quite a hole for himself, and the only way out is to finish it so it can hold our old spa liner that is being converted to a pond. All this digging was done by hand, and the volume of sand removed (1,338 shovelfuls!) amounts to just over 7 cubic yards. We've dubbed the pile of dirt behind him "Mount Futility." Photo by Roni.

April 2011

We have had entirely too many pictures of things broken in our yard during March. This is what was left of our side fence following a night of storms March 19. Photo by Glenn.

Ben surveys the damage, which we temporarily repaired by propping some 2x4 braces against the broken posts. This is a lot of unwanted work staring at us. Photo by Glenn.

Roni waits at the front door of a storage shed display at Home Depot on the first day of our vacation, March 19. We got used to seeing that umbrella over the next week. Photo by Glenn.

After more than five months we finally have our patio back. The old spa was relocated with a lot of effort on March 23. This is the first time since moving in 20 years ago that the patio has been this open. Photo by Glenn.

And here is where the spa wound up, tipped against the side of our house where it will wait for its rebirth as a pond. Photo by Glenn.

All this junk in the middle of the garden had to be moved because it was sitting precisely where the pond is planned. We moved it beside the fence until we can rent a Dumpster. Photo by Glenn.

With the debris removed, it is time to start digging. Glenn has outlined the dimensions for the pond on March 31. Photo by Glenn.

On April 3 we can see the gradual progress of Glenn's digging. Photo by Glenn.

April 9 finds the hole deep enough that getting in and out now requires a chair. It is a thing of beauty, but what next? Photo by Glenn.

Here's our dilemma. Somehow we have to get the spa away from the house and into the hole. It's too heavy to lift and will destroy the edge of the hole if we attempt to slide it. Anyone have any brilliant ideas? Now's the time to speak up! Photo by Glenn.

You apparently can have your cake and eat it too. Roni turns 49 with the help of an ice cream cake from Stone Cream Creamery. We ran a little short of candles, so she only got six. Photo by Glenn.

Roni is not laughing at her gift, a decorative metal dragonfly. She is laughing because we are playing with an iPhone app that repeats everything we say in a voice that resembles a squirrel on helium. Photo by Glenn.

The BAP pergola provides lots of space for our established wisteria vine to spread out. It looks best in spring. Photo by Glenn.

Here's a closer look at one of the wisteria blossoms. If only we could package up their delicious scent. Photo by Roni.

We've slowly been adding decorations to the new pergola. These angels and doves areamong the knick-knacks we picked up for a buck each at the local Dollar Tree store. Photo by Glenn.

No, this is not another piece of yard art, but a real live quail that found its way onto our back fence one morning. We don't see these guys around our home too often, and with as noisy as this fellow was, that's perhaps not a bad thing. Photo by Roni.

Rio wouldn't mind playing with that quail one bit — if not for the screen door separating him from the great outdoors. Photo by Glenn.

Glenn uses a steady hand while applying Bondo to Winter's craked neckline and shoulder. Photo by Roni.

The dried Bondo is pretty ugly stuff. It will look better after sanding and painting. Photo by Glenn.

Wearing a streak of color in one's hair is considered highly fashionable in some circles. We've given Winter a wash of terra cotta stain. Believe it or not, this will all blend together well. Photo by Glenn.

Before and after. It's not a perfect repair job, but if you didn't know otherwise you might not notice she had a cracked shoulder. Photo by Glenn.

Winter appears to be checking out the repairs to her right shoulder. They meet with her approval. We asked her. Photo by Glenn.

Katy and Rio both turned a year old during April, Rio on the 8th and Katy on the 14th. Rio may be a cat, but he still cuddles like a kitten. Photo by Roni.

Katy chows down on her birthday "cake," in reality a tub of catfood. Photo by Glenn.

Katy is oblivious to the candle still stuck in her "cake." Ben thinks this whole exercise is just silly. Photo by Glenn.

Our two trouble cats are inseparable. It looks like they're holding paws, but in reality they are renewing their pact to wreak havoc on our happy home. Photo by Roni.

We always enjoy hearing from our visitors. We welcome your comments.

Of Winter, Fall and other seasons

April 26, 2011

The surest way to not accomplish anything is to make a list of all the things you want to accomplish. And the surest way to add items to such a list is to try tackling the items that are already on it. In short order you will have a sufficient list of “rainy day” projects to last you through many rainy days to come.

Such was the theme of our recent vacation, during which we celebrated our wedding anniversary and Roni’s birthday and Glenn’s furlough week off work at the newspaper. Well, we didn’t actually celebrate that last occasion, but it did provide us with additional time to contemplate an ever-expanding list of projects that started very innocently with the goal of repairing our broken Winter Season statue.

You will recall that last month we lost our ailing Independence Tree, a 14-year-old fruitless mulberry that had been leaning precariously in the direction of our retaining wall and back fence. When the roots finally gave out — on a calm, sunny day, no less — the tree fooled us and toppled into Winter’s Garden, smacking into our 4-foot-tall concrete statue and knocking her to the ground, cracking her neck and shoulder in the process. For weeks we agonized over the best way to repair her, fearing that no matter what we did she would never be the same. Should we use concrete patching cement? Epoxy resin? Bondo? The Internet is full of advice on such things, and no one seemed to agree on the best approach. Some places actually suggested making the cracks larger to improve the adhesion qualities of the patching material. Now that sounded like an option we didn’t want to try. And even if we did manage to patch it correctly, how would we repaint the statue to match its lovely stone finish?

Rather than make a mistake that we might wind up regretting for years, we elected to go to the source — A. Silvestri Co. in South San Francisco, who manufactured Winter as well as the other two season statues in our yard. If anyone knew how to properly patch and paint Winter, they would.

We decided to take a little drive over there on Monday, March 28. Yes, we could probably have phoned them to explain our plight, but we hoped that perhaps they could supply us with information about proper application techniques, if not some of the actual paint they used to create the stone finish. We also had another objective, which was to order the fourth and final statue missing from our Four Seasons series: Fall. With luck, they might even have her on display in their showroom, ready to take home.

At Silvestri we were assisted by a woman who provided us with not only small jugs of the two paints we needed, but also detailed instructions on how to apply them: paint on the terra cotta color and let dry a day, then rub on the white wash with a cloth until you achieve the desired color. That’s it? Sounds so simple. What about the huge cracks we needed to mend? For those she recommended Bondo, just like the kind used in auto body repair shops. Apparently the stuff is good for just about everything. Best of all, the paint and the advice were free.

We were not as fortunate with the Fall statue. Although there were several Falls in stock that day, none of them was in the stone finish we wanted. Best we could do was place our order and plan on a return visit to pick her up sometime in the next few weeks. The sales clerk told us two weeks from the factory, but our prior experience ordering Winter (12 weeks) and Spring (six weeks) taught us to be patient. On April 22, Good Friday, we got the good news that the statue had arrived from the factory and is ready to pick up, so it looks like we’ll have her home by next month’s newsletter. We can’t wait.

We picked up a small can of Bondo from Home Depot and Glenn cautiously set about patching Winter’s cracks. The Bondo is a two-part formula that requires one part (the putty) to be mixed with the other part (the hardener) before it can be applied. It has a shorter working time than a preschooler’s attention span, which is to say that it begins to set in less than five minutes, so you don’t want to mix more than you can use quickly, which meant several batches had to be mixed to accomplish Winter’s repair.

Glenn tinted the first batch of gray Bondo with the terra cotta paint, but he opted not to do that with the rest of it. Starting at the back of her head, he patched all around her hair line, around her right shoulder, on the top of her hair, and around the front of her neck and right collarbone. Yeah, she was pretty banged up. He let it dry a day, then used his Dremel tool to sand down the Bondo so that it blended in with the natural contours of the original concrete. Next, he painted on the terra cotta color, then the oil-based white wash. And when it was all done it looked… terrible.

What had gone wrong? Well, the blasted terra cotta paint was so watered down that it barely hid the Bondo. It would take about 50 coats to get it to the right density. Or perhaps a thicker paint. It was while contemplating our options that we discovered the terra cotta color was not a paint at all, but in fact a concrete stain that needed to be mixed more thoroughly. Glenn tried remixing it and then repainted the statue with much improved results. This time the color went on nice and thick, then the white wash tied it all together and blended the repair into the existing paint. It was a credible if not perfect fix.

Glenn gained so much confidence working on restoring Winter that he is now ready to tackle the equally daunting tast of refinishing Summer, the first of our season statues that has been fading to concrete gray in her spot in the yard for nearly five years. To do that will require more than a small jug of paint, so we are currently trying to decide if we want to buy a gallon of the stuff from Silvestri or look around locally for a cheaper and more accessible option. Glenn, meanwhile, has also disassembled the fountain in Summer’s Garden in preparation for refinishing it, so he has his painting projects lined up for the foreseeable future.

* * * * *

One repair we thought we wouldn’t have to make again so soon was to our fences, which were all replaced within the last five to 10 years. Mother Nature apparently was laughing at our overconfidence. On the night of March 19 we got one of our annual giant wind storms that also brought heavy rains. We awoke early Sunday morning to the sound of hammering. Hammers at 7:30 on a rainy morning usually are not a good thing. “Sounds like one of the neighbors had to do some fence repair,” we said to each other. It took a moment to determine which one. Said Glenn: “If this had been six years ago, I would have worried about our fence.” Then he got up and looked out the living room window.

Much to our shock and dismay, six of the posts attached to our north-side panel fence had snapped off at the base, and the fence was now tilting dramatically into our neighbor’s yard. The neighbor had his own problems with his street-side fence, the hammering of which had alerted us to the disaster. We knew one of the posts had weakened, but we had no idea so many were failing. With the neighbor’s help we propped up the panels with 2x4s until we can figure out how to repair the posts. Remembering how they were installed and the 300 pounds of concrete at the base of each post, we are less than enthusiastic about the prospect of having to dig them up.

Getting whipped by wind-driven rain while surveying the wreckage of a lot of costly heavy labor is no fun. But any thought of effecting a repair — or any other outdoor yard work, for that matter — had to go on hold while the storm played out to its soggy conclusion. We had chosen the worst week of the year to start a vacation with outdoor plans, as it rained or threatened to for the first nine days of it. That meant a lot of time spent thinking about yard projects, if not outright moping about not being able to tackle any of them. It also meant that we had no excuses to not straighten up the hazard zone that is our garage. We’d had a visit a few days earlier from a wayward opossum that became stuck in the garage and had made a greater mess tromping over things in a search of food and an exit. If only we had more space to keep things.

So the to-do list began to grow.

We ventured to Home Depot the day after the fence-killing storm to drool over gardening supplies, with the statue and fence repair projects on our minds, and got a bit distracted as we often do. Passing the shed displays set up in the parking lot, we stopped to check them out and thought about how a shed might fit into our yard and provide us with more storage space than our cramped garage currently allows. We looked at the thousand dollar price tag and Glenn said, “Heck, I bet I could build this for half the cost.” The fact that he had never built anything larger than two pergolas and the fences (one of which was collapsing) didn’t faze him. It would be a great project and it would be fun. Or so he thought.

So as the rains continued for the next several days, Glenn parked himself in front of the computer and began researching shed plans and construction tips. It wasn’t long before we began to realize that his under-$500 shed would probably cost closer to $1,500, assuming we had to put in a more pricy concrete slab foundation and install nicer siding and use better lumber stock than the prefab kits at the big box stores. Not to mention that he would need some new tools and we would have to rent a truck to get it all home. But this didn’t deter Glenn from his fantasy shed-building. He took advantage of short breaks in the weather to plot out where the shed would go in our side yard, going so far as to put down white 2x4s to mark the would-be footprint of the foundation.

And with each day the shed plan became more elaborate. It started as an 8x12-square-foot box. Then it grew to 10x14 with room for a porch where we could relax and look out on the nonexistent garden we hope to plant. Then it narrowed down to 8x14 when we realized the other idea would have been too wide to fit in our side yard. An 8x16 would provide an extra 16 square feet of storage space, but it still looked so boxy. So we modified things to an L-shape built at an angle to take advantage of our yard’s triangular features. We considered adding multiple windows for a greenhouse, a skylight, electricity, a workbench for gardening or woodworking or computing — an outdoor office! Heck, we’d make it suitable for use as a guest cottage — just throw a bed or couch in a corner and it could be almost like a cabin in the wilderness, except perhaps for lack of heat and a kitchen and facilities…

After a week of this it became clear that we were nowhere near ready to buy lumber and build. In fact, the more we considered the logistics of constructing a shed — even a simple one — the more daunting the task seemed. Better to concentrate on something we could do something about right away. That something turned out to be removal of the old spa from our patio.

Last October we tore out what remained of our old gazebo and spa to make way for the Big-Ass Pergola (BAP) we built in its place. We had moved the spa out of the way, but all winter it had sat on the patio blocking the view from our bedroom and collecting rainwater that became a mosquito breeding ground. We were waiting for better weather (and ideas) before completing the spa’s move off the patio and around to the garden side of the house. It was March 23, Roni’s birthday, when we finally attempted the move. If this doesn’t sound like much of a birthday gift, consider that she had been eager to get the spa out of the way for more than five months.

The acrylic and fiberglass shell weighs almost a couple hundred pounds, so it took the two of us sliding it into the gargen and tilting it on edge to lean it up against the house. At 8 feet wide, the thing barely fits under the eaves of the roof. The next and more daunting task was to figure out how to get the spa liner into the ground so it could be converted to a pond.

Glenn moved aside the pile of gazebo debris that had been taking space in the middle of the yard and sketched out an 8x8-foot square. Using a hand shovel, he scooped out the hole to a depth of 3 feet over the course of a week. The idea was to position the spa at the edge of the hole, tip it on its side and let it fall in. A simple idea, but unfortunately unworkable. The spa is so heavy that once on its side, it couldn’t be moved that way by two people. We didn’t want to have to enlist an army of movers, so we needed another solution.

The current plan involves constructing a pair of braced sidewalls that will be inserted into the hole to support the lip of the spa. We’ll set it upright and then shimmy it to the edge of the hole where we’ll let it fall in and then use ropes to pull it into place. Will this plan work? We have no idea, but we only get one chance to get it right; once the spa is in the hole there is no way we’ll ever get it out without sawing it into pieces.

* * * * *

With the spa gone from the patio, we’ve been enjoying all the open space the BAP pergola creates. The wisteria bloomed through March and early April, creating a beautiful perfumey purple canopy that had the bees going nuts and provided plenty of incentive to relax out there every chance we got. Roni really wants to buy a patio set so we’ll have something more comfy than the small metal and plastic deck chairs we currently have. Now that the blossoms are gone, the new wisteria vines are snaking along the top of the pergola and getting leafy. They should have us totally shaded in a year or so.

Getting rid of the spa was a great thing, but now there is nothing to hide the cracks and stains in the concrete that was underneath. Having just patched our concrete statue, Glenn now has set his sights on patching up the patio. The patches will be fairly visible, however, so we are also thinking about staining the patio once that project is done. Staining concrete is easy — ours is already covered with them. The hard thing is choosing a color that we want, then power washing the slab, then etching the concrete to accept the stain, then rolling it on. So it might be a while before we get to this project, but we’ve already started looking at colors. We’re thinking something in terra cotta.

And of course painting the patio will change the whole look of the yard, so if we do that we are thinking too about repainting the outside of the house. It has been 14 years since we had brown walls, yet suddenly we find ourselves drawn to earth tones again. Something in a Southwestern flavor…

About the only thing capable of interrupting our home improvement fantasy (besides lack of finances to pull it off) was the end of vacation and a return to normal work routines. While we are moving forward with plans for the pond, everything else has been added to the honey-do list with indefinite dates for completion. Just don’t be surprised if the next few months bring lots of photos of construction work in progress.

* * * * *

The rotten weather aside, the first week of vacation found us with plenty of things to celebrate. Roni’s birthday was Wednesday, March 23, and while we didn’t do an over-the-top party or gifts, we did have a great dinner at Humphrey’s restaurant in Antioch, after which we picked up an ice cream cake from Stone Cold Creamery.

On Saturday the 26th we commemorated 23 years of marriage in simple fashion. Having just gone out to dinner three days earlier, we decided to order out for Mexican fare from Los Charros. Turns out that staying home for one’s anniversary is far more relaxing than battling traffic and crowds. Or perhaps we are truly becoming the epitome of the old married couple.

Our two wonder kittens Rio and Katy are both officially cats now, having turned a year old on April 8 and April 14, respectively. We are going to call them the “trouble cats” from now on, because whenever the two of them get cranked up and going at the same time you never can be quite sure what they’ll get into. Two kittens tearing through the house is cute; two cats doing that leads to a lot of crashing and thrashing of personal belongings. And we won’t even get started with what happens when Eevee joins their antics.

We treated the birthday kitties to “cakes” made from moist food with a candle stuck in the middle. Rio wasn’t too sure what to make of it, but Katy plowed right in and had most of the food finished by herself. She’s getting a bit chubby — not Eevee chubby yet, but she does have a little belly on her.

Ben’s birthday is up next. It’s a good thing Uncle Sam is giving us a little bit of a tax refund this year because Ben’s want list is growing in price along with his age. His top requests this year are the Nintendo 3DS, a new camera, and his own PC netbook or laptop.

It’s time to wrap up this month’s missive. Let’s hope the weather starts to turn more spring-like so we can all get our gardening projects done before summer.

Glenn, Roni and Ben

This page was last updated on Thursday, May 19, 2011 at 01:35 hrs.

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