Going the extra mile to gain a yard
August 22, 2007
There is something about going away on vacation that seems to inspire us to new bouts of creativity. We had only been back home for a couple of days following our two-week tour of New England and the East Coast before we decided it was time to repaint Ben's bedroom and install the ceiling fan we had purchased for him back at Christmas. While most families would have been content to rest up before returning to work or school, we were lingering in the paint aisle at Lowe's searching for just the right colors for the project.
It had been at least six years since the room had seen a paint brush. So long ago, in fact, that we don't have digital photos of the project when we redid his "train room" in a spring green with yellow trim Ben's choice. That paint job was never really finished, as our energy wilted before the chore was over. We left the door in primer gray, and never ventured into the closet where dark blue paint from the train days remained. This job was to be more complete... in theory.
Because Ben is a big fan of NASCAR driver Jimmie Johnson (and because we had already purchased a ceiling fan with the No. 48 and Jimmie's signature on the blades), we decided to paint the walls in a style that echoes the colors of his race car. Jimmie just happens to have Lowe's as a sponsor, so of course we went to our nearest Lowe's store in search of just the right colors. Roni told the clerk in the paint department what we wanted, and the woman returned shortly with the precise match: Lowe's Blue and Lowe's Gray.
We decided to prime the walls first before applying the final coat. We removed all the furnishings from the room, masked off the windows and floor, and then Glenn blasted everything with his spray gun. Ooops. Did we say we masked the floor first? OK, so we masked the edges near the walls and left the center of the floor uncovered. If you ever wondered how much overspray you get from a paint gun, trust us when we say that it is significant. By the time we were done, the walls were a nice shade of white primer and so was the floor. No biggie, we planned to replace the old vinyl tile floor with black and white vinyl squares that look something like a checkered flag. That is, we would replace the floor if we could find the black and white squares. Apparently they are popular now and hard to find. Sigh.
We commenced the bedroom project by painting the ceiling and top half of each wall in the gray, the bottom half in blue, and the window and door trim and baseboards in yellow, which is an accent color used on Jimmie Johnson's car. Then Roni added a wallpaper border with the NASCAR logo printed on it.
The final piece of the project (excluding the new floor) was to install the ceiling fan. The 52-inch fan is huge in Ben's small room. We had originally planned to install it in the spring, but held off because Glenn wasn't sure of the best way to wire it. Ideally we would have run the wires through the ceiling and connected it with the existing electrical mains in the wall. But we weren't feeling that ambitious. So we did the next best thing: a surface mount. All we needed to do was mount a fan box in the ceiling, attach it firmly to the nearest two joists, then run the wiring from the box down to the nearest plug. We bought a 20-foot cord and some plastic conduit to hide it in, then installed it by attaching the conduit to the ceiling and walls using the double-sided poster adhesive tape supplied.
We tested it out and had everything working fine. There is a light attachment on the base of the fan that gives Ben a ceiling light in the center of the room, which he desperately needed. The light it puts out isn't tremendously bright but then, apparently, neither were we. That first night, Ben was enjoying a peaceful sleep with the new fan twirling silently overhead when suddenly we heard a racket in the bedroom. Ben emerged to inform us that part of the fan had fallen. What the ----? Turns out that the fan was still firmly attached to the ceiling fixture, thank goodness. What wasn't attached was the plastic conduit, which had loosened its grip on the ceiling and fallen into the spinning blades. We couldn't believe it. What a sucky product. Why give you double-stick tape that's only going to fall off the wall after less than 24 hours? We reread the package label and then discovered the fine print (well, fine to our failing eyesight) that said it doesn't stick to "textured" wall surfaces. Ahhhhhh.
We solved the problem by replacing the mangled conduit section and screwing it into the sheetrock, where so far it has remained. The fan still works great, although it developed a slight wobble after its battle with the conduit. Ben is enjoying the cool breeze at night, and now we are seriously considering installing another fan in our bedroom where there is no air circulation most of the hot summer months.
Speaking of hot summer months, late July and August traditionally are the warmest. At least around these parts. So naturally we plan to do all our heavy duty gardening this time of year to provide for maximum sweat factor. It's a great diet aid! OK, so we don't actually plan it, but that always seems to be how things work out. Seeing all those lush, green landscapes of New England and Pennsylvania made us realize how much we miss having a yard that grows things other than thorn-bearing weeds. And so it was one morning after the bedroom painting was finished and we were on to other projects, that we decided it was time to focus our efforts on making the back yard into an enjoyable, inhabitable area once more.
We were particularly inspired by our travels through the Amish country and some of the crafts we saw. Glenn had fallen in love with barn stars, particularly the patriotic ones, and had ideas that we could create some of our own if only we knew where to find the stars. We found them at Bed, Bath & Beyond, amazingly enough. They were a rusty brown color available in several sizes, so we bought four of the 18-inch ones along with some red, white and blue paint that we used to decorate them in various American themes. Two we painted to resemble American flags, one we painted red and labled "Freedom" in white, and the fourth one we painted blue and labeled "Liberty" in white. We finished them off by spraying a clear coat over the paint, with the idea that they would become part of our back yard art display.
Roni wanted to hang the stars along our side fence where we would be able to see them while sitting on our patio swing to enjoy our fountain. That seemed like a good idea, except that the fence had become partially hidden by tall weeds. In fact, the entire back yard was being lost to the weeds. Solution: remove the weeds so that none would interfere with our view of the stars on the fence.
And so began the most intensive back yard cleanup we have done in years. Every morning for a few hours before work and longer on the weekends, Glenn has been rising early to take on one part of the yard or another. With Roni and Ben's help, thus far we have cleared all of the wild sage, tumbleweeds and crab grass growing in the northwest corner of our yard where our two trees are located. For the past three weeks we have filled up our garbage toter to overflowing with weeds, broken toys, trimmings from hedges and pine needles that have fallen like rain from our neighbor's dying tree. We have raked out what little was left of our 10-year-old sod lawn, taking it down to bare sand.
We cleared all the weeds around Summer's Garden circle and placed landscape fabric that we covered with four bags of redwood bark. Then we laid a rectangle of stepping stones to provide a seating area for our lounge chairs for when we want to sit near the fountain. The sprinklers were a mess, so we tackled those next. Glenn spent two days repairing a broken pipe that was nearly inaccessible because of its location under the roots of our chenin grape. The three-quarter-inch PVC pipe was part of the main water line feeding the sprinklers and somehow had been punctured. It had been leaking for at least a couple of years and should have been replaced long before now, but we dreaded the task so much that we put it off. Once we dug out the sand and found the leak, Glenn repaired it and we thought all was well until we heard water running later that night and went outside to find a lake near Summer's Garden. The pipe cement hadn't set properly and the water pressure in the line popped the connection right off. We probably wasted more water that evening than in the couple of years we'd procrastinated the repair work.
With the water line repaired it was time to focus on converting all the pop-up sprinklers to drip lines. We decided that the best way to prevent the yard from becoming saturated with weeds was to stop spraying water in places it isn't needed. So we converted all the heads around the patio to drip hydrants and ran lines to the barrel gardens there. Then we hooked up drippers to the flower pots we hung last fall from our back fence.
All of this brought us back to the barn stars, which were now plenty ready to hang on the side fence. Roni came up with the idea that each 8-foot fence panel could frame a barrel garden with a barn star to either side. We'd plant the barrels with red, white and blue flowers and call it our Patriot Garden. That sounded like a cool idea, except that we needed more barrels.
So it was back to Lowe's, where we found the remnants of this year's wine barrel crop and bought a half barrel that looked least likely to fall apart before we got it home. We installed it and planted it like Roni wanted, and then ran drip lines to it. She used annuals, but our goal is to come up with some perennials that lend themselves to the red, white and blue theme we created.
All this new beauty made us realize how truly awful our mulberry tree was looking. We've written before about the trouble the tree has been having the past two years. We aren't sure whether it was gophers nibbling on the roots or a disease that got to our Independence Tree, but what is clear is that the tree is dying despite our best efforts to save it. It had been reduced to about 75 percent deadwood with a deep split in the trunk before we took the drastic measure this weekend of sawing off most of its limbs. We bought a small chainsaw and spent most of Sunday afternoon cutting branches into neatly bundled piles. There is still more pruning to be accomplished this winter. We'll wait until next year to determine if there is any hope for a comeback. If not, we'll likely have to saw it down to the stump and start from scratch.
Having just loaded up the garbage toter for the third consecutive week, the difference in the yard is becoming clear. We hope to soon finish work on the northwest side and move to the former vegetable garden on the east side.
All the yard work didn't prevent us from working in a little fun. On July 28 we attended the annual employee barbecue hosted by the Ironhouse Sanitary District at Lauritzen Yacht Harbor in Oakley. Roni made her pasta salad that we shared at the potluck. There was so much good food that there were plenty of leftovers to go home with folks at the end of the afternoon. Ben brought along his friend John, and the two of them spent their time playing Nintendo DS and trying their hand at bocce ball. Roni spent her time visiting with acquaintances while Glenn wandered around the place shooting candid photos of the guests. Perhaps they weren't candid enough, as one person inquired who was the stalker with the camera.
The following day, Sunday the 29th, we made our yearly excursion up the Sacramento River to Courtland to enjoy the annual Delta Pear Fair. Despite the fact that the fair's exhibits and attractions have changed very little since we first started attending in 1988, every year seems to offer a slightly different experience. This year it was hot and crowded. Maybe it was because it was the show's 35th anniversary, or the nice weather just brought everyone out. Or perhaps it was because the parade start time was moved back to 1 p.m. instead of noon. Seems like a lot of people filter out after the antique cars and pear princesses make their appearance. Which is sort of funny, because the parade for the past five years or so has been little more than a handful of entries. They follow a course about half a mile long that circles the park where the fair takes place, and despite the few participants they inevitably manage to get backed up on the street for 10 minutes as baton twirlers or dance clubs do their routines in front of the judging stand. By the time the first entry (usually a fire truck) has completed the course and is heading back to the staging area, the last entry is already approaching the judges and the crowd is breaking up behind them.
We feasted on Mexican food for lunch and washed it down with pear ice cream. We also made sure to get in line early at the pear pie booth just in case they ran out before we were ready to head home, like nearly happened last year. You can't beat a slice of one of those juicy pear pies with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on a warm summer night. We could have bought two, but our diets wouldn't have appreciated it.
The Pear Fair was the last hurrah of Ben's summer vacation, which he maintains was squandered on silly activities such as the festival and two-week vacations to the East Coast. Sigh. Maybe that is why he was actually looking forward to the start of eighth grade on Monday, July 30. It sure isn't like the old days when kids got three months off in the summer and didn't start back until the middle or latter part of September. He's already got a rip in his backpack from all the books he has to lug around, his PE shorts were stolen from his gym locker, and he's had a cold that kept him out of class three days and we haven't even been in school a month. Looks like it could be a long year. Good thing he has made some friends in middle school who share his interest in video games and Pokémon.
Ben has been getting together frequently with his friend John, who unfortunately lives on the opposite side of town. We've been taking turns driving Ben to John's house or opening up our home for John's occasional visits. On Aug. 4, Glenn and Ben went with John to see "The Simpsons Movie" at the Regal Cinemas in Antioch. John's dad has taken the boys to see other movies there.
Well, that about wraps it up for this month. We'll undoubtedly have more gardening exploits to share next time; just as we got the sprinklers working again, yesterday we had a power failure that apparently shorted out the transformer on our 18-year-old sprinkler timer. So hi-ho, hi-ho, it's back to Lowe's we go...