September 29, 2016: The arival of autumn always brings us a little time off from work, and it's usually desperately needed. A couple of weeks to set aside deadlines and office politics allows us to recharge for the busy fourth-quarter grind to the holidays and a new year. And even when the vacation plans involve nothing more than getting stuff done around home, any time away from the office is always time well spent.
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This year when people asked if we planned to do anything fun with our time off, knowing that we have taken many a staycation, instead of the usual response — a few day trips, perhaps — we regaled them with our plans for an exotic journey. There would be no plane, train or cruise ship involved with this expedition, although the itinerary included several ladders, brushes and buckets. Our travel destination: the Aisle of Lowe's and its neighbor, the Painted Canyons of Home Depot.
Our journey actually began back in mid-July when Roni became concerned about the state of our front yard. We wrote a little about that in the July newsletter, but just to recap, the city of Oakley recently beefed up its code enforcement department and has been citing properties that have let their landscaping go to pot. There are many homes that fall into that category, thanks to the ongoing drought and water restrictions that have made it costly and in some cases illegal to water lawns and landscaping. The city looked the other way last year, but Oakley, like many other communities, has been getting tougher. There have been many sad tales shared on Facebook and the social media site Nextdoor about homeowners who tried to make things better and were told their efforts weren't good enough. Weeds, dirt and bare sand are out. Rock is in, but in limited quantities. Grass, trees and water-friendly plants are strongly encouraged.
Seeing as our sod lawn died years ago and we now find ourselves in the weeds and bare sand category, Roni wanted us to be proactive and make some changes before the city hit us with a code violation notice. So we started making hasty plans for a front yard overhaul. We were in sharp disagreement over where to begin. For Roni, it was about adding a few plants, decorative rocks and bark for a quick fix while pulling weeds and expanding the driveway like we had talked about doing for a couple of years. For Glenn, it was about repainting the house and repairing the rusted gutters that have been creating an eyesore. Either way, it would be a major task requiring a large investment of time and money.
In the end, we compromised. Sort of.
Late July found us making trips to Home Depot to pick up concrete border "RumbleStones" that we used to form an island around our ornamental plum tree and expand the planter area near the front porch. The footlong stones make it easy to form curves, so we freeformed a wavy border for the planter area with a goal of bringing in more soil to raise its height and perhaps cover the unplanted parts with pavers or large stepping stones. We added a couple of wine barrel halves for flowering plants, then we set about the task of pruning shrubs and pulling weeds from the strip of land that separates our house from the rental unit to the north. That effort alone made the property look a lot better.
The way we curved the border stones created a natural space to add a circular raised garden bed in between the front planter and the plum tree. We used some more of the RumbleStones to build a two-tier garden bed, filled it with potting soil, then made plans to add flowers and some garden art. We took a drive out to Lomelli Gardens in Lodi and picked out a whimsical painted bird bath with a pair of frogs flanking its bowl. They charged us just $49 for it, which was a tremendous bargain for concrete. The raised garden looked very sharp with the flowers and sculpture there, and we probably would have progressed next to ordering some dirt and a couple pallets of pavers for the driveway, except that was about the time Eevee came down with his pancreatitis, and suddenly our budget took a hit.
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ETWEEN REPEATED TRIPS to the vet and our mini vacation in August to Monterey, spending thousands more on yard improvements was less palatable. Still, we had been making slow progress and didn't want to let the wind out of our sails; Glenn's attention span for projects is limited and it's always best to harness his enthusiasm early to keep him on task.
Our focus shifted from the yard to painting. Labor Day weekend was approaching, the perfect time to catch paint sales as homeowners take advantage of the waning days of summer and good weather to spruce up their trim and siding. In our case, it was more like putting lipstick on a pig. We last painted 11 years ago, skimping on the preparations, using cheap paint, and racing through the job with the aid of an airless spray gun. The pale yellow we chose for the body of the house was looking mighty tired. We headed to Home Depot to pick some sample colors and tried them out on the siding near Ben's bedroom window and on the front door. In fact, we repainted the front door that same night in an accent color called "Smokin' Hot.' The color we liked for the body was called "Royal Gold," a shade that runs much browner than our previous color.
We returned to Home Depot on Labor Day and bought 10 gallons on the Royal Gold and a quart of the Smokin' Hot, ready to dive in to the painting project. By midnight we had painted much of the front porch and were fired with enthusiasm for painting the rest of the house — well, its front portion anyway. It took us a week more to settle on a trim color, and we sampled five colors before choosing a light cream called "Spanish Lace." Close up it looks almost white, but step back and it takes on a light peachy hue. It was the perfect complement to the Royal Gold.
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ECAUSE THE BUILDER opted for the cheapest of everything when our house was built nearly 30 years ago, we've always been eager to find simple upgrades that don't cost a lot but improve the general appearance of the place. One thing that has long bothered us is the cavernous entryway to our front door. The walls are 12 feet tall and clad in manufactured wood siding running 18 feet along the garage wall between the front door and the end of the porch. The ceiling consists of rough, half-inch plywood nailed directly to the rafters. It is really flimsy, ugly and doesn't take paint well. It is also a congregating point for flying insects, which in turn attracts spiders that spin their sticky webs on the ceiling and in the corners. When the Delta breezes kick in, sand and dirt blows onto the porch and becomes caught in the webs. Trying to remove the webs with a broom or other device doesn't work, as the webs stick to the rough surface of the plywood ceiling, creating a general mess.
Wanting to change that, we became inspired by the idea of installing a planked ceiling like the type found in some old-fashioned country farmhouses. We could install the thin, lightweight boards directly over the plywood with brad nails. We picked up nine packages of beaded planks from Lowe's and Glenn spent the next several days applying primer to the 54 8-foot boards. Because the plywood was so flimsy, Glenn didn't think it would be a good idea to hammer directly to the ceiling, so we bought some 1x2-inch pine to use as furring strips. He attached a half dozen of them to the ceiling with finishing nails, discovering very quickly that he could only hammer them directly to spots that were beneath the ceiling joists.
Because the planks are just a quarter-inch thick, we bought a manual brad nailer/stapler that we hoped would do the trick. But Glenn immediately discovered its shortcomings. The 5/8-inch brads were too short to grip the furring strips well enough, so it took multiple brads to secure a plank to the ceiling. Additionally, the brad nailer wasn't powerful enough to counter sink the brads, so Glenn had to go back with a nail punch and attempt to set them by hand. This resulted in several misses that marred the wood and invoked choice curse words.
The ultimate solution was a new tool to add to Glenn's ever-expanding arsenal: an air compressor. He spent about a week shopping around and researching the options, finally selecting a Porter Cable 6-gallon pancake-style air compressor and finishing nailer package through Amaon. He ordered it and a project pack of 16-gauge nails at the same time. In the ultimate wisdom of mail order merchandising, Amazon shipped the 1-pound box of nails via UPS and later the same day our poor female postal carrier struggled to lug the 30-pound compressor box off her tiny truck. Lucky for her that Glenn saw her arrive and said, "I'll happily take that off your hands."
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HE AIR COMPRESSOR is a pretty powerful tool. The nail gun operates at between 70 and 100 psi, enough pressure to drive a 2-inch finishing nail deep into whatever wood you've got — pine, in our case. As others have said, once you own one you may never pick up a regular hammer again. With just three quick nails Glenn was able to secure furring strips to the plywood in spots where they wouldn't have worked by hand. He just wanted to test the gun, but before he knew it he'd put up seven rows of planks on the ceiling just before the door.
He might have just kept going on a quiet Sunday afternoon and finished the project if not for a couple of other details — first, there was lots of painting left to do, and second, installing the planks over furring strips instead of directly to the plywood had left us with a new problem. Specifically, the electrical box for the porch light was now recessed an inch below the level of the new ceiling — a code violation. We would have to figure out how to replace the old box or relocate it somehow to be flush with the planks.
After a bit of searching, Glenn found a plastic extension part that inserts into the existing box and brings the opening flush to the ceiling. It is only available online in these parts, so we mail-ordered it and waited a week for it to arrive from Florida. We had already decided to get rid of the old porch light — a plain black tube — and replace it with a hanging lantern in hopes that having the light hang lower in the entryway would distract from the cave syndrome. It was a simple decision to extend the circuit a few feet down the porch and add a second hanging lantern to give us more light. That meant heading back to Lowe's for another electrical box, wire clamps, wire nuts and 10 feet of shielded cable.
On the morning of Wednesday the 28th, Glenn went up to the attic, knocked a new entrance into the junction box, drilled a hole out to the porch, and ran the electrical cable in about five minutes. He added a second light fixture box between studs on the lower porch, then spent the rest of the day planking that section of the ceiling, spackling the nail holes as evening arrived. All that remains is to complete the other half of the porch, give it a final coat of paint and install the molding, which will likely take another couple of days, and attach the new light fixtures. It is already having the desired impact on aesthetics. We'll have pictures of it all finished next month.
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ND NOW BACK to the painting...
Eleven years ago it seems that we finished the front of the house in two or three days, and the entire house in a week. You can work very quickly when you use a spray gun and don't waste time on such details as taping, spackling, caulking or sanding. There's a price to pay for that speed, however, and it comes in the form of a crappy paint job. We wanted to do things better this time around, so we opted to go the old-fashioned brush and roller method — at least for the front yard.
Prep work can't be emphasized enough. It is a total drain of time and energy, but it results in a better finish — as does better paint. We had used Glidden the past couple of times we painted. For our third go of it, we went with Behr Premium Plus Ultra from Home Depot. Yes, it cost a lot more, but with an $80 rebate on the 10 gallons we started with and its improved hiding ability, we haven't regretted the choice.
The gutters, as we mentioned earlier, were in dire straits. The long one over the garage and closest to the porch had been rusting for the past couple of years. We were able to fill buckets of rain water through the holes during the spring. We looked into the idea of replacing it, but ultimately decided to attempt a patch job for now because the roof will need to be replaced soon and we didn't want to risk damaging the shingles by working on the gutter. We invested in three rolls of gutter tape and a quart of FlexSeal to cover up the most rusted spots inside, then Glenn alternated between Bondo, plumber's putty and vinyl spackling paste to patch over the worst rust spots (and there were many.) It probably would have been cheaper and easier to just replace the gutter, but sometimes you do what you have to do for the situation.
With the patches in place and cured, Glenn sanded the gutter and it was ready to paint with the Spanish Lace trim. The transformation was remarkable. Not perfect, as the seams are still visible if you look hard enough, but good enough that the rust and holes are gone and the gutter may actually hold water when it rains this winter. Assuming it rains.
The gutter was a chore, but not nearly as difficult as sanding and priming and repainting the eaves — all of which must be done this time. The eaves have never been sanded and the paint is completely peeled away in some places. It took little effort with 80-grit sandpaper and a detail sander to remove the worst parts, then a quick coat of cheap primer to seal the exposed wood. We painted the eaves in the trim color, which was probably a silly thing to attempt because that meant trying to be extra careful near where they met the siding color — and there's no way to be that careful without masking tape and a good detail brush. We wound up with quite a few sloppy edges that will have to be touched up... if we feel like it... and a job that has taken more than three weeks since we started it just to finish the front of the house, which we did on Monday the 26th.
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AINTING THE ATTIC peaks on the roof brought its own set of challenges. First, our 6-foot folding ladder doesn't reach that high, so we had to unearth the 22-foot extension ladder from the side of the house where it has sat since the last big painting job, long enough that the nylon rope attached to its pulleys had rotted away to dust. Even without the rope, it was still tall enough to rest on the wall near the porch and above Ben's bedroom window to get Glenn up on the roof.
Second, the 20-year-old pine tree that grew from seed in our front planter box cleared the roof line several years ago and has been getting taller ever since. Its lower branches cover much of the roof above the Writing Sanctuary, which is great for keeping that room cool on a hot summer day, but not so great if you need access to the roof. Glenn spent some time pruning off the branches that were in his way and any that were scraping the roof; we discovered several shingles that had been damaged by the wind action from the pine. Coincidentally, our neighbor had their roof replaced as we were starting our painting project, so we observed the process closely knowing that ours is one of the last ones on the block that hasn't been done. Glenn wants to do the job himself, but not until at least next year, so it pays to protect what's there.
It doesn't help matters when raccoons and opossums have been using the roof as their personal restroom facility. We hear them tromping around on the roof every so often, but we weren't prepared for the mountain of poop that had accumulated in the valley near the roof's highest peak. Before picking up paint and a roller, Glenn grabbed a broom and swept the mess down to the gutter. The following day, there was fresh poop to contend with. Yuck.
There was much less attention to detail on the back peak, which is well hidden from the street. Glenn primed the eaves but didn't paint them. The siding received just one coat, and spackling was kept to a minimum. If we didn't tell you the peak was there, you might not have noticed we have two of them.
The front peak over the garage was a different story It is highly visible, so we painted the eaves in the trim color and made sure to touch up the siding spots we missed on the first pass. Once all of that was done, we declared the front mostly finished and collapsed in fatigue. We won't rest long, however, because next up comes a return to the landscaping project and the widening of our driveway.
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THER THINGS HAVE been happening this month besides house painting, believe it or not.
Ben attended the SacAnime convention in Sacramento over Labor Day weekend, going in costume as Link from The Legend of Zelda. As part of the costume we helped make him a shield out of plywood. Glenn cut it out and primed it for him, then Ben painted it with Roni's help. We had a bit of a challenge figuring out how to attach a strap and handle to it the night before the convention, but it seems to have worked out for him, and he had a blast at the convention, as usual.
Ben has been working for more than a year and a half at Grocery Outlet and now has a new title of Customer Care Specialist. It's actually a lot like his old title of Courtesy Clerk, although he has been working more night shifts lately, closing the store with the rest of the night crew at the end of the day.
We had a bit of a scare with Ben during the middle of the month when he had a severe headache for a couple of days, bad enough that we called Kaiser and they had him go to the emergency room on a weeknight. His blood pressure was elevated when he checked in. They gave him some fluids and got his blood pressure down before they sent him home, and he was feeling better the next day, although they gave him a note to stay home from work. We think it may have been a sinus issue, but hopefully we won't do a repeat soon because it is expensive going to the emergency room and we already have one member of our home whose health has been an issue recently.
That would be Eevee, who has been making a strong recovery since being treated for pancreatitis early last month. He has been back to the vet a few times for weight checkups and blood tests that have all shown signs of improvement. He has been eating well on his own and gaining weight and muscle tone. He is still having some diarrhea and barfing occasionally, but the vet isn't alarmed, and his old feisty personality has returned. He is fed up with his regimen of shots and subcutaneous fluids, and who could blame him? Fortunately, we should be able to stop the fluids soon. It's been an expensive odyssey, but hopefully Eevee will be with us for a few more years.
Roni has been busy with her work at Ironhouse Sanitary District and the Delta Science Center, in between trying to squeeze in writing stories for the paper. On Sept. 17, she operated booths for both ISD and the DSC at the Heart of Oakley Festival in our downtown area. Glenn walked from home to meet her and spent some time hanging out in the booth to escape the heat. We met up with Ben for lunch at one of the concession stands while he was on his break from work, which was literally a block away. That's the nice thing about our remodeled downtown — everything is close at hand. Now if they could just do something about the hellacious traffic.
On Sept. 23, a Friday night, the DSC held a Sip and Paint Night at the home of Oakley City Councilman Doug Hardcastle and his wife Linda, a DSC volunteer. The event was a fundraiser for the DSC, with tickets going for $35 a piece, and they were nearly sold out. Participants got to enjoy a pulled pork barbecue, wines, and the chance to paint a picture of a Delta sunset with instruction from a professional artist. Perhaps it was the wine or the general frivolity of the evening, but a few painters got creative with the project and converted their masterpieces into "Happy Halloween" messages, complete with jack o'lanterns. To each his own.
Well, that does it for September. Gotta get back to vacationing, painting and landscaping. We may both need a vacation from our vacation when this is finished.