Friday, January 17th, 2020

Our little house is becoming red again!

new siding for our little red house

This is the most completed part of the project so far. I wish they had started on the front of the house instead of the back so the part of the house that was done was a little more appealing. It’s vinyl siding and I’m not especially keen on vinyl; it makes the house look like a big plastic play house. The original cedar siding looked much nicer where it wasn’t rotten and the paint wasn’t peeling away, but it was in fact rotten in several key areas and it needed painting, which was going to cost as much as new siding. Vinyl doesn’t have to be painted; just pressure-wash it every so often and it looks like new. In the end, that’s why we went with vinyl. We’re probably going to live here until the kids ship us off to assisted living, so the biggest plus is we won’t have to get the paint brushes out to get it ready for sale.

reddening | 6:24 am CST
Category: ch-ch-changes, Our Humble O'Bode | Tags:
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Sunday, January 12th, 2020

our little naked houseOur little red house is not so red right now! It’s been mostly white for the better part of a week, but was briefly a color best described as cow patty brown, and thank goodness that’s been covered over. I much prefer the industrial look of the plasticized vapor barrier they wrapped it with.

A crew came by first thing last week to tear all the old siding off the house; took them all day Monday and part of the day Tuesday. Tearing off the siding resulted in a plumbing emergency that was a little scary but quickly taken care of. They wrapped almost the entire house in an impermeable plastic that helps insulate the house; now it looks like we live in a box of toilet paper or some other mass-market product.

There’s no plastic wrap on the north wall yet because they found a bunch of rotten wall framing where water got in behind a window frame. They’ll tear out the rot next week and replace it with fresh new framing; that ought to make for an interesting day or two.

Meanwhile, they’ve already begun to put up vinyl siding in the back, so it’s starting to look like a real house again but only if you’re in the back yard and only if you cover half the house with your outstretched hand.

siding update 1 | 9:38 am CST
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Thursday, January 9th, 2020

We have three cats. The oldest one, Boo, is about 16 years old and couldn’t give much of a shit about what’s going on around her if it doesn’t involved a warm, comfortable place to sleep or, occasionally, food. The one in the middle, Scooter, is six or seven and, just like his age, he’s middle of the road when it comes to attitude. He’s very friendly to most people and attentive to what’s going on around him, by which I mean he sticks his nose into everything, even things he shouldn’t be. Especially things he shouldn’t be.

Then there’s Sparky, the kid of the crew. Sparky’s probably the nicest of the bunch, personality-wise, but he’s kinda jumpy. Might have something to do with him being a feral before we adopted him as a kitten. He’s been in our house for going on three years now, but he still jumps at every creak and clunk and sometimes hunkers down under the sofa until he gets the idea it’s safe to come out again.

When we came home from work on Monday night, after taking care of the broken water pipe and things began to settle down a bit, My Darling B fed the cats while I cleaned up some of the mess, and as I was mopping up the mud around the table in the dining room I noticed Sparky wasn’t in his usual spot, gobbling down the kibble B put out for him.

I looked around the room. No Sparky. Didn’t see him in the living room, either. “Have you seen Sparky since we’ve been home?” I asked B, and that’s when she got the puzzled look on her face, too. “No, I haven’t,” she answered, so we went looking for Sparky. I checked all the rooms, the basement, and then started on round two upstairs again. B wandered around calling his name and shaking a bag of treats, but he didn’t emerge. When she wandered into the hallway, though, she froze. “I heard him,” she said, shaking the bag of treats again and calling his name. “Mew,” he called, distantly. He was hiding in the hall closet behind the vacuum cleaner.

Same thing when we came home on Tuesday night: no Sparky. We went through the same routine of calling to him and shaking the bag of treats, and after five or ten minutes of that he came slinking out from behind the refrigerator, trembling. The contractors must have made a lot of noise tearing off the old siding that day. Wednesday night he was behind the fridge again but came out almost right away when we called his name, and he wasn’t quite so scared. I’m not sure, but I don’t believe the contractors were here all day Wednesday because I didn’t see much work done and frankly didn’t expect it: the high temperature that day was twelve degrees.

in a state | 8:24 am CST
Category: Our Humble O'Bode | Tags: ,
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Tuesday, January 7th, 2020

The house was naked when we got home last night. All the siding had been ripped off it. That was expected. There are no roving gangs of vandals stripping the siding from houses in our neighborhood; we actually hired a contractor to pull all the old siding off, then put new siding on. Nothing to worry about here.

What was worrisome, though, was the sound of running water we heard after we entered the house. It seemed to be coming from the kitchen, so My Darling B went straight to it. She opened the dish washer, thinking maybe I had loaded it up in the morning and it had somehow gotten stuck in the rinse cycle, but she could quickly see that it wasn’t running, so she checked under the sink. No sign of anything amiss under there.

We shared a significant look just then, and I could tell she was thinking of the deluge, too. We had a little accident a couple years back when an overflowing toilet flooded the basement so catastrophically that we had to call in a small army of people to clean it up, and damned if that “running water” sound didn’t sound a lot like this.

As I ran down the stairs to the basement, I could hear the sound of water splashing, gushing, cascading and otherwise doing what would be described using words that would generally denote a more cheerful activity than the one that was happening in our house. It didn’t take long for me to find where the water was coming from, but the leak was behind a panel I would have to tear out to get to it, so I ran back upstairs, changed into grubby clothes, and got to work.

And while I was racing around, I was making several phone calls to the contractors who had ripped the siding off my house, because what had happened apparently was this: There’s a faucet for the garden hose out back of the house. A pipe from the house runs out through a hole in the siding. From what I could tell, when they tore off the siding, they pulled the faucet off, too. Weirdly, they put the faucet back by stuffing the broken pipe back into the hole, as if that would somehow fix things. I conveyed all this information to the contractors, who called a plumber, who arrived at our humble o-bode later that evening, by which time I had shut off the water main and cleaned things up a bit.

The plumber examined the broken pipe, made two quick cuts with a nifty powered tool that removed a two-inch length of pipe so he could get in there with his hand, then fished a small brass cap out of his pocket which he fit over the end of the pipe and pounded it home with the heel of his hand. “You want to turn the water back on?”

“Don’t you at least want to hit that with a hammer?” I asked, because I believed he would at the very least have to solder the cap in place. He insisted it would hold, so I opened the main water valve, expecting to hear the sound of water spraying gaily all over the plumber as he yelled for me to turn it off again. No such thing happened. I stared in wonder at the little brass cap and asked him what the hell it was, because I wanted a couple of them on hand for the next plumbing emergency.

Monday flood | 5:58 am CST
Category: adventures in plumbing, Our Humble O'Bode, random idiocy
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Friday, January 3rd, 2020

We had a somewhat unexpectedly big day here at our little red house: a small crew of men arrived in the early morning hours to knock the picture window out of the front of the house and replace it with a newer picture window. This was only somewhat unexpected because I actually contracted with a local business to do exactly what they did, but that was months ago, and it has taken so long to finalize the deal and get them to commit to a schedule that I frankly began to wonder if it was ever going to happen in my lifetime. Until yesterday morning.

I noticed I got a call from the contractor when I took my phone out of my pocket after I got to the office yesterday. I called them back right away — this was at about seven-thirty in the morning — and the guy who answered said something like, “I just want to make sure we’re still on for today.” And I answered, “On for today?” in the tone of voice of a person who isn’t sure exactly what he’s being asked to commit to, for the good reason that I wasn’t.

“Didn’t you get my voicemail yesterday?” he asked. “A couple of guys are going to replace your windows this morning.” When I asked what time we could expect a couple of random guys to show up at our house, he said probably between eight-thirty or nine o’clock.

“I wonder if you could hold off until I can make sure my wife is awake?” I asked, this time using the tone of voice of a person who was warning him not to wake my wife if he had any idea what was good for him.

By lucky chance, My Darling B was home from the office yesterday. Lucky, because one of us would have to be at home to let the workmen in so they could knock the old window out and install the new one. Unluckily, however, B took the day off from work so she could relax; you know, hang out in her pajamas with a hot mug of coffee and a book, which was very unlikely now that I knew big burly men were going to be hammering and drilling and tromping around in our living room. Also in our kitchen. They were going to replace the kitchen window, too.

I called B immediately after I got off the phone with the contractor, but she didn’t answer because it was seven-thirty in the morning and she would never be awake that early on a day when she does not have to get out of bed before she just naturally awakens, which normally happens any time after, say, nine o’clock, and sometimes much later. I called her again about ten minutes later and at ten-minute intervals after that until, at about twenty past eight, she finally answered. Before I could tell her much at all, she sleepily informed me a truck just dumped a pile of construction materials in our front yard. She even sent a photo of the pile to me via text message.

I quickly explained to her that several strange men would shortly ring our doorbell and ask to be let in so they could bash out the windows, and that she should probably think about gathering up the cats and sequestering them behind a closed door of one of the rooms in the house, or maybe I suggested that she put on some clothes first and then round up the cats. It’s hard to remember exactly how I conveyed to a very sleepy woman who had anticipated spending the day drinking hot coffee in the cozy comfort of her home would now have to look forward to a day of loud construction in the very rooms where she had hoped to lounge.

She was a little on the grumpy side of unhappy about this change of plans, as she had every right to be, but she managed to corral the cats and pull on some blue jeans and a sweatshirt in the few minutes she had left before the construction crew showed up. She spent most of the day barricaded in one of the bedrooms trying to stay our of their way and keep warm in a house that suddenly had a very large hole in it in the middle of winter. The hole was filled with a new window in just a few short hours, but the construction crew wasn’t done hammering and drilling until about three o’clock in the afternoon, so almost the entirety of B’s day off went down the tubes and she was still a tad grumpy by the time I returned home at five o’clock.

windowless | 6:36 am CST
Category: ch-ch-changes, daily drivel, Our Humble O'Bode
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Tuesday, December 24th, 2019

melted coffee pot“Do you smell something burning?” My Darling B asked me the other night as I was watching something on television.

I put the program I was watching on pause, because that’s how you smell things better, and sniffed the air.

“No,” I answered, “but then I can’t smell much at all right now.” We’re both getting over headcolds that were so bad they would, in the middle ages, have been characterized as some version of the plague, or at least a witch’s curse.

B went back to doinking around on Facebook and didn’t appear to be too concerned, so I continued watching television for exactly one and a half minutes, stopping when B looked up again, sniffed the air and said, “Something *is* burning.”

I paused the video again and sniffed the air. Nothing. I looked around for signs of smoke, but didn’t see anything like that, either. B waited about ten seconds for me to get up and look around, but my feeling was that if she wasn’t concerned enough about the smell of something burning to get up herself, then I wasn’t too worried, either, particularly when I didn’t smell anything at all.

She went through the dining room into the kitchen. “Oh, SHIT!”

Well. That’s probably not good.

After finally levering my butt off the sofa and joining B in the kitchen, I found that the coffee pot I set on the stove top when cleaning up after dinner was leaning at an angle toward the small burner in the front corner which was, coincidentally, still switched on at a very low setting but still hot enough, evidently, to melt the plastic base of the coffee pot. We have a stove with one of those flat black ceramic tops that heats up pots and pans by way of magic. We frequently use it as extra counter space because our kitchen is so small, even though we know that’s probably not a good idea, for obvious reasons. I rescued what was left of the coffee pot, then fetched a putty knife from the garage and scraped as much of the melted plastic as I could off the stove top.

We were still going to need the coffee pot in the morning, so I whittled down a cork from a wine bottle and hot-glued it into the gap melted out of the bottom of the pot, giving it a pirate’s peg-leg so it could stand upright on the countertop in the morning. It’ll serve until its replacement arrives in the mail sometime after the holidays.

And for the foreseeable future I guess I’ll have to jump whenever B asks if I smell something burning.

sniffing the air | 10:47 am CST
Category: fun with electricity, housekeeping, random idiocy
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Sunday, November 24th, 2019

I think a shower couldn’t possibly feel better than right after I’ve been cleaning the toilet, unless it’s after cleaning the toilet and dredging great big greasy blobs of hair out of the drain in the bathtub.

Our Little Red House is sixty-four years old, which means I’ve been through some pretty gnarly adventures in plumbing because sixty-five-year-old plumbing gives a house a lot of personality. The bathtub, for instance, drains into a drum trap, which means it tends to fill up with hair spiders and gobbets of grease. A drum trap has a lid you can remove to clean it out, but I’m not doing that because yuck, and also because the trap is above a finished ceiling I’m not going to cut a hole in just because some hair balled up in the bathtub drain. What I do instead is run water down the tub’s vent while I use a toilet plunger to plunge the drain. The scary-looking crap that come up out of the drain after I vigorously plunge it a dozen or so times would make you scream for your mama.

Compared to the grunginess I feel after plunging out the tub’s drain, cleaning the toilet is relatively benign, but it’s still a toilet and the brush still sprays my arms and sometimes my face as I scrub out the bowl. I would pay so much money for a toilet brush that didn’t spray, but what I’d really like to spend so much money on (and I know I’m sounding like a broken record about this subject) is a toilet that cleans itself. Landing on the moon is cool and all, but a self-cleaning toilet is what I would consider the epitome of technological advancement.

So after covering myself in the grunge from the bathtub drain and getting sprayed with toilet water, I took an almost indecently long, scalding hot shower and enjoyed every second of it like I’ve enjoyed only a handful of showers in my life.

most enjoyable shower | 2:36 pm CST
Category: adventures in plumbing, housekeeping, Our Humble O'Bode, random idiocy, scrub-a-dub-dub, yet another rant
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Saturday, July 27th, 2019

We got a letter in the mail last week, an actual hand-written letter which My Darling B opened because who even writes letters any more? The only handwritten mail we get now is the occasional birthday card from close family. We get a lot of letters soliciting donations that appear to be handwritten but at second glance are obviously printed using a font that looks like handwriting. Not the case with this letter we got last week: The handwriting was cramped and our last name was crunched up against the edge of the envelope.

The letter itself was written on blue card paper and read in its entirety:

Hello – our names are Mike & Rose – We really like the location of your house on (name of street). If you have any interest in selling please give us a call. Thanks!

It’s not unusual for us to get offers from realtors who want to buy our house. We probably get one a month. The housing market in Madison seems pretty hot and many of houses in our neighborhood have new owners. What’s unusual is that this particular letter was addressed by hand instead of printed and the envelope was affixed with a real first-class postage stamp, not one of those fake-looking bulk rate stamps.

My Darling B and I talked it over and decided the best possible reply to this letter would be:

We accept your kind offer on the following conditions:
1. We will vacate the house in 1 week.
2. You take possession of the house & everything in it.
3. Price of the house is not negotiable: $500,000.00 cash, paid in twenties.
4. By accepting this deal you waive all rights of rescission.
5. No questions asked.

If you accept these conditions, leave the cash in a green canvas duffel bag on our doorstep Monday morning at 6:00 am. We will vacate the house by the next Monday & leave the keys on the kitchen counter.

If you attempt to contact us in any way other than leaving the cash in the duffel bag, the deal is off.

It was so much fun to come up with this offer that, if we weren’t fairly certain we’d have the police at our door, we’d answer them just to see what else might happen.

offer accepted with conditions | 11:07 am CST
Category: entertainment, Our Humble O'Bode, random idiocy, this modern world
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Saturday, January 19th, 2019

And just like that, I shoveled the driveway. Well, I pushed the machine that shovels the driveway. And I didn’t really have to push it all that much. It sort of pulls itself along as it digs its way through the snow. All I have to do is guide it, really, and turn it around when it gets to the end of the drive, and occasionally give it a shove when it catches on a dead weed that grew through a crack in the concrete. Other than that, the snow blower does all the work. I don’t even break a sweat any more. Best three hundred dollars I ever spent.

I do have to shovel the walk, and the steps, and the front stoop, partly because I’d feel silly using a big, noisy machine to clear off such a little patch of snow, but mostly because the snow blower won’t go over the step up to the walk, and it sure won’t go up the steps to the front stoop. If the snow blower could climb steps, yeah, I’d probably do that. I mean, I spent all that money. Hate to let it go to waste.

Just FYI, we got a bit more snow than I thought last night, at least four inches, maybe five or six.

snow blows | 8:31 am CST
Category: housekeeping, weather, yard work | Tags: ,
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Friday, January 11th, 2019

And on the eighth day they awoke, and the morning from the dawn unto noon they spent amidst the harvest of their home, threshing the grain from the chaff, and the woman of the house did ask unto the man:

“How much for the novelty candles, d’you think?”

And the man answereth:

“I dunno. A nickel.”

She gaveth a moment’s consideration to his council, and then she queried him, “What did they cost? A buck and a half?”

And he rolleth his eyes unto her, and deeply heaveth a great sigh, great as the winds that roil the seas. “It’s a yard sale,” saith he. “We’re trying to get people to take away our junk. Put a nickel on it, for Pete’s sake.”

And her reply was like unto his with her own eyes, and she narrowed them, tightly. “It’s not just junk. We can make some money if we price it right.”

“We oughtta price it to sell,” saith he once again.

“How about a quarter?” she queried unto him.

“Who’s gonna buy novelty birthday candles for a quarter?” he hastily spake.

“They cost a buck and a half at the store,” saith she.

“It’s a yard sale,” he spake, and testily. “You buy things for nickels and dimes at a yard sale.”

Lo, tho she seeketh his council, she did write that the cost of the candle should be two score cents and five.

And then she openeth a box of video tapes and asketh:

“How much for the tapes, d’you think?”

“Twenty-seven fifty each,” answereth he, and like a wise-ass spake.

And lo, she pretendeth not to hear him, and marked them a nickel apiece, three for a dime.

And so on, and so on, ad infinitum, glory be, hallelujah.

a yard sale | 6:00 am CST
Category: housekeeping, story time
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Thursday, April 19th, 2018

I was raking cat turds out of one of the three litter boxes in the basement when My Darling B called down the stairs to me, “Would you come up and look at the shower?”  That’s not the kind of question she asks unless she’s hollaring it, but I didn’t notice the slightest hint of panic in her voice. Her tone was more like, “Well, lookee here…,” so I didn’t immediately dash up the stairs, but I was a tad worried as I made my way to the bathroom.

When I got there, B was in her bathrobe just inside the door, waiting for me, and in her hand she held the handle that turned the shower on and off. It’s made to come off, but not without unscrewing a tiny screw in the middle of it, and anyway it didn’t come off the way it was supposed to.  It came off because B somehow torqued it hard enough to break off the brass stump that sticks out from the valve, and because she broke off the stump, there was nothing to grab hold of to close the valve. The shower was running wide-open, all hot water. I had to shut off the water to the house.  It was either that, or leave the hot water running full-blast until the plumber showed up.

Lucky for us, the plumber could pull the broken valve out and slip a new one in without too much fuss, and he didn’t even charge us too much, for a plumber.  I was expecting he’d have to tear out the wall, saw the pipes off to remove the valve, sweat new pipes on and add a new valve, and I would have been happy to pay him for that because I’ve done that before, when I was crazy enough to want to do it instead of calling a plumber.  Now that I know I never want to do that again, I don’t have any trouble handing many, many dollars over to a professional.

plumbed | 3:28 pm CST
Category: adventures in plumbing, Our Humble O'Bode
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Monday, April 9th, 2018

B noticed yesterday that the thermometer in the fridge was indicating sixty degrees and the food wasn’t cold, which is sort of the opposite of what you want in a refrigerator.  I’d noticed the night before that the beer I grabbed from the door wasn’t as cold as the one I’d drunk the day before that, so I’d adjusted the setting but apparently that hadn’t worked.  We’d had this problem before and I’d fixed it by using the vacuum cleaner to suck great big wads of dust out of the radiator that some genius designer wedged into the inch of space under the fridge where all the dust bunnies in the world go to die instead of on the back where all other fridges have their radiators.  That’s where it’s easier to clean them, that’s where they get more air. It’s where the radiator should be, dammit. I’d really like just one minute alone with the guy who stuck it underneath our fridge. No, three. Three minutes, coz I wouldn’t be able to strangle him in just one minute.

So once again I had to spend an hour or so flat on my front, cheek to the floor so I could see into the cramped space under the fridge as I wiggled a little extension hose attached to the vacuum, trying to suck bits of dust out from between the coils of the radiator.  When I was done, I couldn’t tell whether I’d gotten all the dust out or most of it or hardly any at all because I couldn’t really see much from where I had my head cranked around as far to the left as it would go, but I had to stop because if I spent five minutes more in that position it was going to get stuck like that, and I couldn’t go through the rest of my life explaining to everyone why I was perpetually looking over my shoulder.  

The temperature settings on the fridge go from one to seven, with seven being the coldest, so before I went to bed last night I turned them all the way down until the digital indicators showed a dash, which I took to mean that the compressor was off and it wouldn’t cool at all, but it did.  There was still frost on the cooling fins when I got up this morning to feed the whiniest cat in our bunch. I unleashed a broadside of my most powerful cusses but that alone didn’t fix the problem, so I wrestled the fridge out of its niche far enough to reach the plug, still cussing the cussiest cuss words I could think of, until I finally wiggled the plug out of the wall and the fridge went silent and dark.  Then I brewed a pot of coffee because there’s no going back to bed after my heart rate has been elevated by that much cussing.

While the coffee brewed I rigged up B’s blow dryer so it blew a steady stream of hot air into the fridge to melt the accumulated frost off the cooling fins.  I knew it was working when I had to sop up a big pool of water off the floor. I left the fridge off for about an hour after that, then plugged it back in and walked away.  Either it would work or I would be shopping for a fridge today. It worked. I get to watch movies today.

frosty | 9:28 am CST
Category: daily drivel, housekeeping, Our Humble O'Bode
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Monday, January 1st, 2018

I dropped something down the drain of the bathroom sink yesterday, so I had to take the trap off the drain to get it out and when I did, the pipe broke, spewing grease and hair and greyish chunks of minerals from the hard water  all over my hands and arms.  I’ve never had a drain pipe vomit on me quite so disgustingly before.  Not only did it puke sewage all over me, there was a great, big greasy hairball dangling from the tail pipe that I had to dig out with my fingers.  There isn’t enough money in the world to make me want to be a plumber.

The only thing to do at that point was take it all apart and figure out what had to be replaced, and that’s when I found out I couldn’t get a wrench around the nut that held the trap on the tail pipe.  It’s one of those bathroom sinks that sits on a pedestal.  The tail pipe – the pipe that runs straight down from the drain hole in the bottom of the sink – is surrounded on three sides by the pedestal, a column of porcelain with a narrow opening up the back.  I couldn’t even see the tail pipe.  I could get one hand on the pipe, but I couldn’t get a wrench in there, and I tried two kinds of channel locks and three kinds of monkey wrenches.  I have a lot of wrenches.  There’s no way a plumber put that trap in without a couple of mirrors and a special wrench made for just this purpose that probably costs a couple hundred dollars.

The good news is, I only had to make one trip to the store to buy a new trap and whatever the pipe that connects the trap to the wall is called.  These adventures in plumbing almost always require at least two trips to the store after I get home and discover I guessed wrong on the size of the pipe or bought the nut but forgot to get the bolt, something like that.  I felt pretty good about getting it right on the first try.

Cleaning all the spew off the wall and the floor was not fun.  On the other hand, standing under a hot shower for an indecently long time felt great.

bent pipe | 9:28 am CST
Category: adventures in plumbing, Our Humble O'Bode
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Tuesday, November 28th, 2017

We’ve run into a slight hitch here at Our Humble O’Bode: We are temporarily without lights in our dining room and kitchen. At least I hope it’s temporary.

I was all geared up to do a little home improvement last weekend: I wanted to install some track lights in the kitchen. The fixture in there was just okay, sort of an artsy-fartsy-looking low-watt cluster of spotlights that we’ve muddled along with for twelve years. If the bulbs didn’t blow out so often, I might be inclined to keep muddling along, but the track lights I hung in the dining room threw so much light – a little too much, really – that I thought they’d work a treat in the kitchen.

Then I unscrewed the artsy-fartsy light fixture from the ceiling and discovered the wiring was so old the insulation crumbled to pieces, leaving bare wires.

I know just enough about electricity to replace a switch or a light fixture. And I know that bare wires can start a fire. I do not know enough to replace bare wires.

So until we get an electrician to fix this mess, the circuit is off and we don’t have lights in the kitchen or the dining room. The fridge is on another circuit, thank goodness. In fact, we lucked out with all the appliances: the clothes washer, the dish washer, the kettle to boil water for coffee – even the garbage disposal! Only the lights are affected.

I plugged a shop lamp in the wall and hung it from the ceiling in the dining room so we could go get our dinner out of the fridge, or stack the dirty dishes in the dish washer, without groping around in the darkness. I didn’t think of that right away; I did the dishes by candle light the first night. It wasn’t until the next morning when I was boiling water for coffee, that I realized I could plug a light into the wall socket that was still working.

fiat lux | 6:45 pm CST
Category: fun with electricity, Our Humble O'Bode
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Thursday, November 16th, 2017

Our clothes drier went on the fritz. It spun and spun and it blew a lot of air through the part where the clothes tumbled around, but it didn’t get hot any more so the clothes took hours and hours to dry.

I asked teh Google why this might be. The thermostat or the heating element, said teh Google. You should check them first, it said, so I did. I know just enough about electricity to endanger myself and others, which I have done, many times. This was not one of those times. With the plug pulled out of the wall, the clothes drier is just a big inert piece of steel. I could poke around inside it all night, and I did. My pokings revealed that it was most likely the heating element that was broken.

So once I knew that, what could I do about it? Turns out, plenty! I easily found a heating element for my cheap-o clothes drier in just a few clicks, and FedEx delivered it to my doorstep in just two days. The internets is a cesspool of bad stuff most of the time, but it’s also occasionally helpful, too.

I fixed that clothes drier for about fifty-five bucks and maybe a hour and a half of my time, and all I needed to do it was a screwdriver, a crescent wrench and all the smarts that a twelve-year-old boy with an interest in electronics would have. Computers are far beyond my ken, but give me a broken clothes drier and I can fix the hell out of it.

Fritz | 8:29 pm CST
Category: daily drivel, fun with electricity, random idiocy
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Monday, October 30th, 2017

I put the storm windows on last weekend. It’s finally too late in the year to put it off any longer. Luckily, it’s not especially hard to do. Most of the windows of Our Humble O’Bode were updated many moons ago, except for the window in the dining room, the windows around the back door, and the big picture window in the front, which is flanked by a couple of double-hung sash windows. I replaced the old windows in the dining room and around the back door years ago, so the two storm windows hung over the sash windows flanking the picture window are the only ones left. They’re part of the picture window; I don’t believe they can be replaced without replacing the picture window, too, and I never had the moxie to believe I could replace such a large window, even if I asked for help, so the picture window and its accompanying sash windows remain the last original windows in the house.

The house has settled enough over the years that the sash window on the left doesn’t fit squarely in its frame any longer. There’s a big enough gap around the window that a pretty noticeable breeze can blow through it when the storm window is not in place. Our one recliner sits in front of it and when the wind is up, whoever is seated in that chair can count on the breeze to turn pages in their book if they’re not holding on to them.

When I put the storm windows on, I tape plenty of weatherstripping around the left window, which helps a bit, but the window is so out of true now that the only solution that’s going to keep the winter winds from seeping in is a total replacement of the whole window. I’m really not looking forward to that, partly because it’s going to cost a lot of money and partly because I’m not sure we’ll be able to afford another picture window. I really like that picture window and I’d really miss it if we had to replace it with something like a row of casement windows.

storm windows | 6:30 am CST
Category: ch-ch-changes, Our Humble O'Bode
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Saturday, December 31st, 2016

I was downstairs the other night boxing up all the beer glasses that I’d put on display on a couple of shelves in the corner of the basement that I rather grandly refer to as the brewery, because the new kitten has the run of the house now and every ounce of him is dedicated to finding and climbing up to every shelf and knocking over all the stuff on them. If I’d left the glasses where they were, it would only be a matter of time before an otherwise peaceful evening with a book was literally shattered by the sound of a dozen or so beer glasses clattering against each other before they exploded across the concrete basement floor.

As I took each glass down off the shelf, I had to upend it over the sink to get the dessicated corpses of centipedes out of them. A few of the glasses held just one dead bug, but most of them held three or four. Why the bugs felt compelled to crawl into the glasses is a mystery, but now you know: If you have centipedes in your house and want to get rid of them, line up a row of twelve-ounce beer glasses on a shelf, then wait. The centipedes will dutifully climb into the glasses and expire of thirst. No insecticide needed.

centipedicide | 7:36 am CST
Category: daily drivel, housekeeping, Our Humble O'Bode | Tags:
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Sunday, June 12th, 2016

We hired a house cleaner to come visit Our Humble O’Bode yesterday. This is a first for us. Before this, we cleaned house every two or three weeks, because we hate doing it, and because we wanted the weekends to do whatever we wanted, instead of spending hours on Saturday or Sunday cleaning. So B booked a visit with a service right here in Monona, and a house cleaner came by at nine.

With nothing to do for a couple of hours, we lounged like lords on the sofa while we finished our coffee, then got dressed and drove down the road to the local Kohl’s store to buy some new sheets for the bed. Wandering through the housewares section of the store reminded us that we should replace our tatty bath towels, so we picked out a few of those, too, as well as a new shower curtain. We were back home with the swag about an hour and a half later.

When we came through the door, the first thing I noticed was the sound of running water. It sounded a lot like the wash machine was filling up, and I wondered if the house cleaner was getting ready to wash cleaning rags, but as I stepped further into the house I could tell that the splash I heard wasn’t coming from the wash machine. It seemed to be coming from the other end of the house. Why was she filling the tub? I headed toward the bathroom, just to take a look, and then, when I was in the living room, I realized what was going on and stayed to run, as much as you can run through a room full of furniture.

The toilet was overflowing. It gets plugged easily and when it does, the water keeps running. When it did this a couple months ago, the water ran down into the vent cut into the floor, and from there into the basement. It was one hell of a mess to clean up then, and that time we shut off the water almost as soon as it overflowed. I had no idea how long water had been running into the vent this time, but when I got down the stairs to the basement, where I could see water running like a river pay the bar of the stairs, I could guess the toilet had probably been overflowing since we left about an hour earlier.

One of the previous owners had done a pretty good job of finishing part of the basement into a room. He framed a wall to divide a corner from the rest of the basement, then put in a drop ceiling, finishing it off with sheet rock. I’d added overhead florescent lights, book cases, a desk, and in the back half of the room I’d started to build the model train set of my dreams.

The water from the bathroom had run down onto the sheet rock ceiling, then spread across the length and breadth of the room. It came raining down through every hole I’d drilled in the ceiling to hang overhead lamps, or attach book shelves. Water ran from an overhead vent as if it were a spigot cranked wide open.

How do you even begin to clean up a mess like that? Well, if you have home owner’s insurance, which we had the foresight to get, then you don’t have to clean it up. You just call the hot line and your insurance company will send people to clean it up for you. Not only will they clean it up, they’ll also set up six industrial fans and two oven-sized dehumidifiers to dry everything out.

All credit for thinking of calling the insurance company goes to My Darling B, by the way. While I was slogging through the mess in the basement, wondering what to do and how to do it, she got in the phone to find out what the insurance would cover, and was soon advising me to cease and desist because the cavalry was on the way. An hour later, two young and very capable people were at our door to survey the situation, clean up the mess, and install the fans and dehumidifiers.

They even managed to save a lot of the books and record albums that got wet. And mercifully few of then got wet, as it turned out. I was sure they were all goners, but the damaged books were all in the one book shelf over the record album collection. The water missed all the other books, and there were lots of them. How lucky was that?

So that was my weekend. How was yours?

Make it RAIN | 5:47 pm CST
Category: adventures in plumbing, daily drivel
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Monday, May 23rd, 2016

If America should decide to elect me to the presidency instead of Trump (I’m not saying it’s likely, but it’s not impossible), I promise to eliminate lawn mowers from every state in the Union. And leaf blowers. Especially leaf blowers. The mere possession of an operable leaf blower for anything other than display purposes would be a class A felony. Those things pack more evil than the atomic bomb, weaponized smallpox, solitary confinement, and Stalin all rolled together.

On my first day in office, I will create a Department of Yards and Lawns whose mandate will be: 1) round up all the lawn mowers, and 2) mow every lawn. The ultimate goal will be to free Americans everywhere from the drudgery of yard work, giving them more time to read their Facebook posts or whatever they consider fun. If they consider yard work fun, they will be given a lobotomy because that kind of mental illness just can’t be dealt with in a way that’s less drastic.

In the first weeks of my presidency, teams of DOY&L personnel would fan out across neighborhoods all across America, knocking on doors and offering tens of thousands of dollars to every household that gives up every lawn mower, leaf blower, weed eater, lawn edger, hedge clipper, in fact every implement of lawn care and yard work.

The DOY&L would use these tools (except for the leaf blowers, which would be packed onto container ships and sent to America’s worst enemies) when they come to your house once a week to cut your lawn. Every other day if you’re retired. Retired people seem to need to have their lawns look newly-mowed all the time. The DOY&L will also trim your shrubs and hedges and remove dead limbs from trees, throwing the branches into those awesome wood chippers that go MEOOWWW as they shoot sawdust into the back of a truck.

Gardens are cool. You can plant all the veggies you want.

department of lawns | 5:31 am CST
Category: daily drivel, yard work
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Saturday, March 12th, 2016

I have a funny story, sort of.

I was eating breakfast day before yesterday. Sitting alone at the table, I heard My Darling B rouse herself from bed and make her way to the bathroom. I usually wake up long before she does, partly because it’s my nature, and partly because that way I can take a shower and be done in the bathroom before she gets up. I like to have the solitary quiet of the house to myself for a little while, too.

B was in the bathroom for only a couple minutes before I heard her muttering to herself, “Where is it? Dammit! Where is it?” Then she came out of the bathroom and started searching through the hall closet. “Where is it? Dammit!” I waited, probably a little too long, to decide whether she was angry or desperate. The tone in her voice might have gone either way, and I didn’t want to rush to help while she was angry. There are times when people just want to cuss at something stupid. I certainly don’t expect people to come rushing in every time I start cussing. Sometimes, I just want to vent.

But it quickly became apparent that B wasn’t just venting, she was distraught. It took a little too long for me to twig to that. And then I heard the sound of water spilling.

I shot out of my seat and trotted across the living room to the hall as quickly as I could get around all the furniture in my way. B was in the bathroom again, dancing through a spreading pool of water as she threw every towel in arm’s reach on the floor. The toilet was overflowing, and for whatever reason the water would not stop running.

“Where’s the plunger?” B cried desperately. “I can’t find it!”

I should have pushed her out of the way and shut the water off at that point, but I wasn’t thinking entirely rationally, just reacting. I bolted from the room and ran downstairs where I knew I could find another plunger, grabbed it, and ran back upstairs with it. B was still standing over the toilet helplessly. I handed her the plunger; she gave the toilet a single plunge that unblocked it, and the water stopped flowing over the lip of the bowl onto the floor.

After that it was just a matter of sopping up the water off the bathroom floor, or so I thought. I gathered up the sodden towels, throwing them into the tub one by one, then wringing as much of the water out of the last one as possible before throwing it back into the puddle on the floor. On my hands and knees, I mopped up the water around the toilet when my eyes fell on the heating grate in the wall.

The bathroom was updated just before we moved in. It was either a do-it-yourself job by the owner, or it was done by a low-bid handyman. Cheap wainscoting wrapped around two walls, covered in a single coat of thin white paint. The heating grate had once been a more durable fixture, replaced by a diffuser made of stamped metal that they’d never fixed to the floor or wall. It rattled when the heat came on, and when I bumped it while cleaning, it skittered away from the hole left in the wall. The ductwork inside the hole ended in a jagged stump, and I could see into the basement through the hole.

I paused with the sopping wet towel in my hands and looked down into the hole. “I wonder how much water ran down there?” I said aloud. It was a rhetorical question, but B was standing just behind me, looking over my shoulder. “Probably a lot,” she said.

I knew just the spot in the basement where the water would have fallen: The hole was in a corner between two bookshelves that were stacked full of our most prized books. Luckily, most of the water ran down the wall to pool on the floor, where a cheap rug from Shopko was soaking most of it up.

But then I noticed a slow drip from a tiny hole I’d made to screw a lamp into the finished ceiling. A very slow drip, but still significant. The hole was about three feet from the wall. If the water made it as far as that hole, there might be more water up there. I found a hand drill on my hobby bench, just an arm’s length away, fitted it with a bit and drilled an experimental hole. Water ran steadily from the hole when I pulled the drill bit out. Not good. I drilled another hole about an inch to one side. More steadily running water. I put a bucket under the streaming water, then went to find a bigger drill bit.

Using a quarter-inch bit, I enlarged the first two holes. Water streamed as steadily from them as it would from an open faucet. I drilled a third hole another inch away but no more. The streams were as wide apart as the bucket would catch. When the stream slowed to a drip, there was about a gallon of water in the bucket.

And thus ended our most recent plumbing adventure, which has morphed into a post-disaster cleanup. I have to get my head up above the finished ceiling to see how much damage was done, for instance, and if I find that it’s all ruined, I’ll have to tear it out before it gets moldy. Then I’ll have to fix that heating grate so it won’t be an open drain to the basement. The fun starts today! And how’s your weekend?

plunging water | 9:13 am CST
Category: adventures in plumbing, Our Humble O'Bode
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Monday, January 25th, 2016

No weekend would be complete without a home improvement project, and no home improvement project would be complete until there was blood.

The spigot in the kitchen sink has been dripping for weeks. Okay, more like months, but it was a drip we could put up with when it started because it would drip for a little while, then stop. Then it would drip for a while longer, but it would still stop. Then we would have to jiggle the handle to get it to stop. And then finally, about a week ago, it wouldn’t stop dripping no matter what we did to it.

And it didn’t just drip from the end of the spigot. Somewhere in the innards of the valve, water leaked out the back and down through the bottom. I had to put a bucket in the cabinet under the sink to catch it. When you have buckets in your house to catch falling water, it’s time for a home improvement project.

So yesterday morning, after I’d had my coffee, I drove to the local Menard’s to save big money on a kitchen faucet. There is a long, long aisle for kitchen faucets, but they were arranged so that the most expensive were at one end and the cheapest were at the other end. I went to the other end. They had a pretty good replacement for our kitchen faucet that wasn’t the cheapest plastic spigot ever made.

To swap out the faucet, I had to dismount the garbage disposal, then twist myself into a pretzel to climb into the cabinet and wedge my head between the back of the sink and the wall, so all the yoga I’ve been doing finally came in handy.

Taking out old, leaky plumbing is just about the grossest thing a grown man will ever have to do. The joints are all crusted over with minerals, mold and corrosion, and when it’s above your head like this one was, all that crap runs down your hands and arms into your armpits, thanks to the leak. Changing diapers isn’t this bad. At least baby poop stays in the diaper. Well, most of the time it does.

Then there’s the blood. The gods of home improvement require a blood offering, else the repair won’t hold. I usually try to keep it to skinned knuckles, but for this job I guess the gods wanted more, so I sliced the end of my thumb open with a screwdriver. The pain was blinding and the blood ran in rivers, so this repair should last for decades.

there will be blood | 7:00 am CST
Category: adventures in plumbing, Our Humble O'Bode, yoga
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Tuesday, December 22nd, 2015

We’ve had a mouse problem for a long time. When Bonkers The Cat was around and was still full of piss and vinegar, he did his part to keep the mouse population under control. Boo would play with the mice that Bonkers chased out of the corners, but I don’t think she ever went looking for mice and hasn’t lifted a finger (or toe, whatever) to catch any since the Bonkers left the scene more than a year ago.

So the mice have had free run of the place for months, and have staked their claim to every part of the house that they can colonize. Most recently, their efforts to take over the house have reached as far as the kitchen, where they are now into the many drawers under the kitchen counter, for reasons that are a little hard to explain. They were in the space under the sink before, because that’s where the kitchen trash can is and they could filch all sorts of goodies from it, but now they’re not satisfied with just grabbing the food and going.

It seems that now they’re wandering around in the drawers where My Darling B keeps the various implements of kitchen magic, and it causes her no small amount of distress when she reaches for a knife or a skewer and finds those disgusting little calling cards that mice leave behind wherever they go. She’s had to clean out two of the drawers at least twice in the past six months, and last night we took everything out of all the drawers so I could set out traps and start the chore of running every single one of the magical kitchen implements through the dishwasher to give them a two-hour-long power wash followed by twenty minutes of intense sterilizing heat.

Now I have to figure out how to mouse-proof as much of the kitchen as possible, as well as how to delete the mice. I’ve already got traps under the sink and I set out traps in the drawers overnight, but no luck so far. I think I can block off easy access to the space under the sink, but mice can be determined little buggers so I’ll have to keep setting traps for the foreseeable future.

As for long-term measures to rid our little red house of the infestation, I’ve proposed getting a more dedicated mouser to patrol the darkest corners. I swear I heard B say no to that proposal before, but when I brought it up last night she said that she thought I was opposed to getting another cat. I suppose I might have and don’t remember it, but if so, I don’t know why. If we’re going to have furry animals padding around the house, a kitten or two sounds better than allowing the mice to take over.

How Boo will react to the introduction of a kitten or two is more or less a foregone conclusion. She’s not whatever the cat equivalent of a people-person is. I think she tolerated Bonkers only because he was already established as the house cat when we adopted her as a kitten. When he eventuallyl grew so old and feeble that he couldn’t hold her back if she wanted to swat him off the top of the hill, she didn’t even bother pretending to tolerate him after that. Any other cat who wanders near our door gets hissed at, and she prowls back and forth growling with her puffed-up tail in the air for a half-hour afterwards. She’s not going to take it lightly if we introduce some young whipper-snapper to the house.

Luckily, I don’t care all that much about hurting Boo’s feelings because the way I see it, she’s falling down on the job. There are mice to be caught and the only cat on the premesis is totally unmotivated about catching them. More than a dereliction of duty, that seems like a betrayal of her species. And if Boo’s feelings get hurt, well, I’m not even her person. She comes to me when she wants to show somebody how she can claw the rug by the front door into a big jumbled ball, but when she wants to sit in a lap for hours, she goes to My Darling B, the woman who picked her out at the shelter and brought her to our home.

overrun | 7:00 am CST
Category: Our Humble O'Bode | Tags:
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Tuesday, October 27th, 2015

On a beautiful day like today, nothing makes me quite as happy as realizing, as l stroll through the neighborhood and run out of fingers counting the number of people who are raking leaves, that I am never going to do that. I was going to add, not until they make it illegal, but when that day comes, I’m just going to pay the fine.

Raking the leaves off your lawn makes no sense in so many ways, the first and most obvious being that everybody I saw raking leaves today wore a look of absolute misery on their faces, as if they would rather be doing literally anything else, like picking fleas off their neighbors or sucking sewer water through a hose, than raking leaves. Another way it makes no sense is that every one of those lawn care fanatics will spend a small fortune next spring spreading fertilizer on their lawns, which is what the leaves on my lawn will compost into by the time I have to get the mower out of the shed for the first cut of the year.

Fertile | 9:51 am CST
Category: daily drivel, yard work
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Saturday, August 29th, 2015

I went to the laundry basket with dripping hands and started pawing through it.

“What are you looking for?” B asked.

“Hand towel,” I answered, pulling out what I thought was a hand towel.

“Don’t use that,” she admonished me. “That’s a rag. Just look at how dirty it is.” She held up a neatly folded hand towel. “We’ll put this one out, because we’re having guests tonight.”

I held out my hand for the towel.

“You can’t use it now,” she said with a verbal eye-roll. “I’ll put it out before the guests arrive, so it’s clean. You can use that dirty thing now.”

It’s like we speak two completely different languages sometimes.

hand towel | 10:45 am CST
Category: daily drivel, housekeeping, My Darling B, Our Humble O'Bode
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Saturday, June 20th, 2015

I pruned one of the lilac bushes in the back yard two weeks ago but I didn’t do anything with the branches I pruned off the bush because I didn’t have the time then. They’ve been sitting in the back yard for two weeks until today when I finally ran them through the wood chipper. Is it procrastination if I put it off until I had time to do it? I wonder.

What I really went out in the yard to do today was prune another one of the lilac bushes, but I knew that I should take care of those other branches first or I’d have an even bigger pile of branches in the yard reminding me what a slacker I am, so I got the wood chipper out of the shed, cranked it up and tried running the first branch through it. The chipper’s got a pair of blades on a spinning plate that chews up any stick you shove in there. Normally it’ll chip branches as fast as I can feed them in, but this time the stick went in and stopped against the plate. I leaned into it a bit but it still wouldn’t go, so I leaned against it with nearly all my weight. Nothing. Not one single wood chip came out of the chute.

I took the chipper apart to see if I could figure out what the matter was. The problem turned out to be pretty simple: The blades were dull as a butter knife. Really, most butter knives that I’ve used were sharper than those blades were. They weren’t just blunt, they were obtuse. The branches weren’t getting chipped because the worst those blades could do was slap them in a rather limp-wristed way. So I had to break out the tools to unscrew the blades, which always results in skinned knuckles, and then take them downstairs to grind them on a wheel until they were sharp again. At least that part’s fun. Lots of noise and sparks. After they were sharp again, I took them back outside, screwed them back in place and put the chipper back together. Twenty minutes after I wheeled the wood chipper out of the shed, I was finally getting around to chipping some wood. Hally-fucken-looyah.

As I started chipping the pile of branches from the lilac bush, My Darling B happened by with a couple baskets filled with leaves, twigs and dried-out raspberry canes and asked me to mulch those, too. I said sure, leave them here, I’ll take care of them, because what else was I going to say?

It was a lot warmer outside than I thought it was when I first started. My shirt was drenched in sweat by the time I finished chipping and mulching and otherwise demolishing the pile of branches, twigs and leaves that were heaped up around me. I’d been standing outside in the heat and sun for about an hour and a half, which is more standing than I normally ever do at any time during a typical day, so I thought it might be a good idea to hydrate. I went inside where it was cool, filled a big glass with cold water and sucked it down while I flipped through messages on Twitter. Nothing like reading public texts from the general public to make me feel better about my boring life.

Then it was back outside to start pruning branches off one of the lilac bushes in the front yard — the thing I went into the yard to do in the first place! I cut about a half-dozen thickly-leafed branches, dragged them to the back yard and cut each branch up into bits that would easily fit into the chipper. The directions that came with the chipper tell me that I’m not supposed to stick branches into it that are much more than a half-inch thick, but I’ve successfully chipped branches twice that big. I figure if I can get it into the chute, which is about an inch and a quarter wide, then it’s fair game. I chipped just about all but the thickest butt-ends of the branches I trimmed off the lilac bush, and finished just in time to beat the downpour that soaked My Darling B as she was hurrying to plant her sweet potatoes.

chip off the old block | 6:25 pm CST
Category: Our Humble O'Bode, yard work
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Monday, April 20th, 2015

The lawn mower didn’t start when I pulled the trigger on it yesterday. The blades were very hard to turn by hand, so I thought that maybe the bearings on the motor could use a touch of oil, and that meant I would have to take the engine cover off. I had wanted to do that last year, because somewhere under that engine cover there was a mouse generator. Every time I used the lawn mower last summer, mice would erupt from the openings where the handle connected to the deck. Sometimes they would run up the handle straight at me. I would finally get to see what a mouse generator looked like. Well, I’ve seen one now and I never want to see one again.

There’s a lot of room under the engine cover. The motor itself is about the size of a soup can. I thought it would be a lot bigger. All of the deck space that wasn’t taken up by the motor was filled with bits of trash, fur, lots of mouse turds and two mummified mice. Yuck. And it was all glued in there somehow. I don’t even want to know what glued it all together. None of it fell out by simply upending the lawn mower. I had to dig it out with a stick, then use the shop vac to get it all out of the cracks and crevices. When I was done, I washed my hands in scalding water, twice.

mummy | 7:38 am CST
Category: Life & Death, yard work | Tags:
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Saturday, April 18th, 2015

Phrases about working in the garden that sound normal when My Darling B says them but sound dirty when I say them:

  • pruning the sage
  • plowing the potato bed
  • weeding the patch
  • sowing the sweet peas
  • is that a dibble in your pocket?
is that a dibble in your pocket? | 11:06 am CST
Category: garden, random idiocy, yard work
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Friday, April 17th, 2015

Well, I thought I was ready to do a little yard work today, but I didn’t realize how literally true that would turn out to be. A little was all I could handle after blobbing out on the recliner all winter.

My Darling B wanted the leaves from the front yard to turn them into mulch for her garden, so I thought I’d be a gent and rake them up for her. Turns out raking is hard work. I don’t know how other people make it look so easy. I was popping a sweat in five minutes, but kept at it for another fifteen before I had to take a break to catch my breath and drink a tall glass of cold water. Then I went back out to collect all the leaves I’d raked into a bushel basket and transfer them to the back yard. That was about all I was good for today. Got the leaves from almost half the front yard raked up. Also got a blister on my thumb. Boo-hoo.

blister | 3:15 pm CST
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Wednesday, December 31st, 2014

Re-hung a door in the basement. This didn’t end well when I tried it once before. It didn’t end entirely well this time, either.

I know, in theory, how to hang a door. I don’t have much in the way of practical experience, though. If I’d kept track of the number of doors I’ve hung, I could probably count them on both hands.

And, as it turns out, the hinge at the top of door I was trying to hang is not attached the way it should be, so the door hangs just cockeyed enough that it grinds against the jamb opposite the hinges when I close it. I’ll have to take the door down again, remove the top hinge, rev up the router and grind down the spot where the hinge goes, so it won’t stick the way it does now.

But not today. Today, I hung the door. I’m done.

hanging offense | 2:16 pm CST
Category: carpentry, housekeeping, Our Humble O'Bode
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Our little red house was cold as a tomb when we got home last night, which was not really so unusual given that the temperature outside the house was fourteen degrees and we’ve got a thermostat that I set so that the temperature inside will slide to sixty-five degrees when we’re at work. It’s supposed to start jacking the temp back up to sixty-nine at five o’clock, normally about a half-hour before we get home, so the place is toasty warm again when we walk in the door.

We ate dinner in town last night, so we didn’t get home until seven, and that should have been my first red flag. I changed into sweat pants and a long-sleeve thermal shirt, and My Darling B put on her flannel jammies and curled up on the sofa with a quilt gathered up around her. Bundled up like that, and with the furnace running more or less constantly for over a half-hour, both of us managed to get blue moons under our fingernails.

Finally, I got up to check the temp on the thermostat. Sixty-seven! What the hell! Even if we lived at the North Pole, the furnace should be able to roast us alive if it runs for an hour and a half!

I went downstairs to look at it, because that’s what guys like me do. We pull the panels off things like furnaces and frown very seriously at the gadgets inside, as if this will suddenly give us the ability to understand what’s going on in there. I saw lots of pipes and wires and dust. I puffed the dust away with my mouth, then frowned at it some more. The fan was running but other than that, not much else was going on.

Then suddenly, flames. That should be a good sign, right? Four bright blue jets of flame went blasting into a row of four steel pipes. I could feel the heat on my face even from a distance and, believe me, I was standing back at what I thought was a respectable distance, even while my brain was dredging up newspaper photographs of houses blasted to splinters by natural gas explosions.

But if there were flames, then why was the house still cold? Ah! The flames went out! They’d been on for maybe a minute, then poof! Done. That could be part of the problem right there. While I waited to see if they would come back, I pulled a few more panels off the furnace, one of which was the cover to the fan. That one was pretty difficult to get off while the fan was turning because it created one hell of a suction. I had to give it a pretty solid couple of yanks before it opened far enough to let in plenty of air, and that was my second red flag.

When I got the door to the fan open, the furnace voraciously sucked in so much air that it mussed my hair. Almost immediately after that, the flame jets roared to life again. I stepped back again – they make one hell of a noise, you can’t not step back – and waited to see if they would stop the way they did before, but they kept on roaring. That made me lean against the wall and ponder: If the furnace wasn’t getting enough air, it would overheat, and there’s probably a safety gadget that shuts the flames off when it overheats. That could have been why the fan was running constantly even though the flames weren’t burning constantly. When I opened the door to the fan, the furnace started getting all the air it needed, the igniters kicked in, the flames started burning, and the HEAT! The heat was impressive now! I went upstairs and it was already starting to feel warmer up there, too. Fifteen minutes later, the thermostat said the temp was up to sixty-nine.

Back downstairs again, I yanked the filter out of the fan compartment and damn me if it wasn’t filled with so much dust that quite a lot came sifting down out of it all over the floor. It’s elementary, my dear Watson: A clogged filter doesn’t let enough air pass through, the furnace overheats, the flames go out and the fan keeps turning, trying to cool off the furnace while giving the impression that the furnace is constantly running, even while the house feels frigid.

Setting the filter aside, I put all the panels back on the furnace before heading upstairs where it was a toasty seventy degrees and My Darling B was slowly beginning to thaw. Happiness reigned once again in our little red house.

clogged | 10:12 am CST
Category: Our Humble O'Bode
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Sunday, December 7th, 2014

Using a hydrostatic tool of my own invention, I unplugged the bathroom drain this morning and then, feeling suddenly productive, I stripped to my skivvies and cleaned the tub surround, sink and toilet, because that’s how easily I get distracted.

(The thing about stripping to my skivvies – was that inappropriate? I’m never sure how much you want to know. It seemed germane to the cleaning part of the story, and I’ve read in the paper that some people get naked to clean their house, so I thought maybe it’d be okay here.)

The tool (I can see you’re wondering) is a vinyl hose reinforced with nylon webbing, to one end of which I’ve attached a threaded hose barb so I could screw on the clog-busting black rubber bladder that inflates when you run water through it. The practical use of such a device is that, if you stuff one down the pipe in of your clogged bathroom tub, it will swell until it completely seals off the pipe and the water coming out of the tiny hole in the end of the bladder will shoot down the pipe and bust the clog, or the buildup of pressure in the pipe will, or a combination of both will. Either way, it’s a tool that every wannabe plumber should have in his arsenal.

The thing is, though, that you’ve got to be able to screw it to the end of a garden hose, and unless you’ve got a garden spigot in your bathroom, you have to run a hose in through the window, not a really practical arrangement in the winter months. Hence, the vinyl hose, the other end of which attaches to the shower hose, after I remove the shower head of course. After just a couple of deft twists and a little wrestling to get the black rubber bladder down the pipe, I can turn on the water and BLAM! Clog busted. If you need one of these, give me a call. I can whip one up in a weekend and pop it in the mail to you. Gonna cost you a sixer of my favorite beer, though, and I don’t have cheap taste in beer, so start saving up your pocket change now.

clogbuster | 3:38 pm CST
Category: adventures in plumbing, housekeeping, Our Humble O'Bode
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Monday, November 17th, 2014

I spent the better part of Saturday afternoon exploring the depths of our sewer system with a steel snake, and I think I can say that I’ve had better days.

Our sewer gets clogged up with lint and whatever else comes out of the wash machine so often that I’ve rigged a cap on top of the sewer stack that I can easily pop off whenever I notice that water is slow to drain out of the basement sink where the wash water collects. I’m not sure why it gets clogged as often as it does. I imagine some day I’ll find out. It’ll probably be the same day we have to hand a couple thousand dollars over to a plumbing contractor.

But in the meantime, I’ve been able to bust the clog pretty reliably with a sewer snake, a fifty-foot-long stainless steel hand tool powered only by gritty determination and lubricated with plenty of good old elbow grease. Like many a classic hand tool, I bust a sweat inside of ten minutes using it, so it’s not only a tool to fix things, it’s a way to keep in shape. Trying to look at the silver lining here.

The snake slides directly down the stack and into the sewer. The first ten or twelve feet slide in easily enough until they meet a bend in the pipe. Then I have to start playing a game of tamping it down until it meets resistance, tugging it back a couple inches and tamping it down again until I finally manage to sneak the head of the snake around the corner. Once I get it past that first corner it’s fairly easy to get moving again, although that corner does make it noticeably harder.

About twenty or twenty-five feet in, the head butts up against something. I’m not exactly sure what, but I’ve got an idea that it’s the joint where the basement toilet or the floor drain, maybe both, meets the main sewer line, and it’s a bitch to get past. The head doesn’t seem to want to go on from here. I don’t know if it’s trying to go up one of the branch lines or what, but it sometimes takes me as much as an hour of shoving, tugging and cursing to get the snake past that point. This is one of the few home improvement projects that doesn’t benefit from a lot of loud and repeated cussing. I do it anyway.

When the snake finally gets moving again, it’s only because I keep at it forever and ever and ever. Suddenly it just pops free of whatever obstacle is down there and moves on. And holy shit, what a relief that is. Especially when I’ve been at it for any more than twenty minutes and/or I’ve worked my blood pressure up to head asploding levels.

I don’t have to go much further from that second obstacle to bust whatever’s clogging the pipe. Just another foot or two and the standing water in the floor drain starts to drop. Unfortunately, after the snake gets past that joint or turn or whatever it is, getting the rest of it down there becomes a game of inches. Half the snake is writhing around down there in the godawful muck of the sewer, bent around at least one corner, maybe two. We’re talking major friction.

When I tamp it down, I have to make sure it’s perfectly straight. If it’s even slightly out of line, it goes sproing (not getting too technical for you, am I?) and twists around the inside of the pipe like a classroom model of DNA. I can tamp it down three or four times before my concentration wanders and the snake goes sproing. Much cussing follows, but only the first hundred times it goes sproing. I’m pretty tired by the hundredth time and change strategy to trying to save my breath when the cussing dwindles until the only sounds I can make are inarticulate grunts.

I’ve toyed with the idea of buying a motorized snake, because power tools are hella awesome and this particular one might possibly save me a lot of time and aching muscles. The ones I’ve seen in the store, though, look a lot like cheap knockoffs of the heavy-duty version that a professional would bring to the job. I figure I could get maybe one or two uses before a crucial but irreplaceable plastic part would break, so I’m not gonna go there. If it ever comes to the point that I can’t bust a clog manually, that’s when I’ll call the professionals to come in with the big artillery for a full-out assault.

sproing | 8:51 pm CST
Category: adventures in plumbing, Our Humble O'Bode
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Friday, October 24th, 2014

B and I have declared unrestricted warfare on mice. All mice, wherever they are, but particularly here in our little red house.

Before our declaration was submitted to the order rodentia, we were trying to expunge only the mice from our house by live-trapping them, then releasing them into the wild, where they could rejoin the circle of life. This was all B’s idea. She was opposed to killing them because, I guess, it would make her feel guilty, or she thought that karma would come around to get her, or something. I don’t feel all that much guilt about killing mice, and when I released the ones we caught in the house, it was always in the hope that they would quickly become breakfast for a snake. But I’m all about keeping B happy, so I went along with the no-kill traps, for as long as that lasted.

The best live traps, I love to point out, are little grey plastic boxes with a hatch that closes behind the mouse after it’s lured inside by a dab of jelly or peanut butter or whatever you stick in there. I say they’re the best only because I trapped one hell of a lot of mice with them. They’re also the absolutely worst kind of trap, because right after the mouse realizes it can’t get out, it almost immediately pisses itself, then shits all over, then scrabbles around in the shitty puddle of piss until it’s fur is a pasty, matted coat of shit and piss. And then, if you’re a husband who’s trying to keep her gentle soul of a wife happy, you have to deal with a shit-covered mouse that reeks of scared piss. Yuck.

But that time has passed, now that we do not live-trap mice. The moral shift occurred when B was cleaning out her gardening shed at the end of the season and learned that about forty-two gojillion mice had made their collective home in there. The one moment in particular that turned her to the Dark Side was when she pulled a roll of chicken wire down off a shelf and not only did dozens of mice scatter into the corners, raising a cloud of the mouse shit that had been deposited on the shelf over the course of the summer, but a couple dozen more mice leaped out of the roll of chicken wire and ran for cover, scaring her half to death. As B usually live-blogs most of her gardening, she immediately updated her Facebook status to, “I officially hate mice now.”

After that, she wanted me to kill ALL the mice I could catch. Inside or outside, it didn’t matter. If I had told her that I could speak a secret word that would cause all the mice in the world to drop dead, I think she would have begged me to utter it. Since that day she has never quite as bloodthirsty about killing mice, but she still wants me to get rid of them by whatever means necessary, and to that end I have laid traps all over the basement. Two or three times a week, I tramp up the stairs and out the front door with the corner of a trap pinched between two fingers to drop the tiny carcass in the garbage can. If B is anywhere within eyeshot of my path, she makes an ewww face, but she also asks what the score is now. I keep a running tally on the blackboard in the stairway. We’re up to seven since the tenth of the month.

And Boo is still doing her part. She will sit at the base of the stairs every night after lights out and wait there until a mouse skitters past, then give chase. Unfortunately, when she manages to catch one she’ll bring it upstairs to play with it, and if it’s an especially fun mouse with lots of get up and go, she’ll bring it to our bed, apparently so we can share in the fun. This usually happens at about three or four o’clock in the morning. If I could teach her just one thing, it would be that she’s welcome to catch all the mice she wants, but to keep them in the basement, or at the very least out of our bed, thank you very much.

death to mousey | 5:25 am CST
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Tuesday, August 19th, 2014

As I was saying, the biggest thrill of the weekend was the mouse that came up the stairs into the kitchen on Sunday night. I’m not kidding. Don’t judge us. We don’t get out much.

The little booger literally came up the stairs. I’m almost one-hundred percent certain of this because when I turned on the lights to go downstairs Friday night, there on the second-to-the-top step was a mouse, frozen in mid-step. Hm? Where was I going? Me? I was, ah, just going to the bathroom! Yeah! That’s the ticket! The toilet downstairs is backed up, so I was going to use the one upstairs, if you don’t mind! Yeah! What? You do mind? Well, then, heh-heh-heh, I guess I’ll just go back downstairs and piss in the corner again. See yah!

When I spot a mouse in the house, my reaction is just a little manic. I hope nobody ever records it, because I don’t want it to be immortalized on YouTube for the rest of recorded human history. But here’s what it sounds like in print: “I SEE YOU! I SEE YOU, YOU LITTLE BASTARD! I’M GONNA STOMP YOU! YOU CAN RUN, BUT I’M GONNA GET YOU!” It goes on like that for pages as I scramble around, huffing and puffing until I have to stop to catch my breath. I’ve never caught a mouse this way. Really, there’s probably nobody who spends more energy on not catching mice than I do.

But if I have a cat as my wing man, then I can get things done. Boo spotted the little invader Sunday night after it tried to sneak under the stairway door into the dining room. She happened to be ambling by, headed for a bite of kibble from her bowl, which was probably what the mouse was thinking of doing, too. Boo let us know what she’d found by leaping into the air, scrambling back and forth across the floor, and finally sticking her face in the crack between the base of the oven and the linoleum, snorfling up more air than a Hoover vacuum cleaner. Subtlety is not Boo’s way.

When we went looking for the mouse to see if it was, indeed, trapped, My Darling B spotted it between the oven and the fridge before it scurried to relative safety behind the oven. So we worked out a way to catch the little vermin: I would sweep under the oven with a stick while B made sure that Boo wouldn’t wander away. Her attention span can be a little short sometimes.

But it didn’t take long to flush out the mouse. One or two quick sweeps with the stick and the mouse popped out from under the oven like it was shot, straight past Boo and through B’s feet. That’s when she squealed like a girl and jumped back three feet. I thought that was something that happened only in cartoons. Her reaction wouldn’t have surprised me more if she’d lifted the hem of her petticoat, jumped up on a chair and squeaked, Eeeek! A mouse!

The mouse made a hairpin turn to the right and I thought at first that it headed for the stairway door and the safety of the basement, but for some reason it went instead into the living room where Boo chased it back and forth across the floor like two of the Three Stooges. Whoo-woo-woo-woo! and Why I Oughta! would’ve been the perfect caption to the photo I didn’t get a chance to take, because I chased after them, making sure that the mouse couldn’t find another hiding spot. I had to move one piece of furniture away from the wall so Boo could get behind it, and twice I had to play goalie, slapping the mouse back into play with my foot when it tried to run for the hallway, but Boo did most of the work, finally pinning it down by the front door, the perfect place for me to slap a plastic tub over it. It was late and I didn’t want to keep it overnight, so I suspended our usual no-kill policy and that particular mouse went on permanent sabbatical.

Boo can move pretty fast for such a tubby cat. She’s usually the epitome of a princess-like cat, mincing across the floor in carefully measured steps, but when she saw that mouse, she went batshit crazy, and she scrambled across the living room like a maniac. It was hard not to be impressed.

yelp 2 | 6:07 am CST
Category: Boo, entertainment, housekeeping, Life & Death, O'Folks | Tags:
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Friday, July 11th, 2014

So no mouse this morning, or yesterday morning, or Wednesday morning. One mouse Tuesday morning, none Monday. I guess the mouse problem in the basement is not nearly as bad as I thought it was. Either that, or I caught all the dumb ones, and the smart ones have figured out how to take the bait without springing the only traps that have, up until now, always caught the mice. Wait, I’m gonna go check …

counting | 6:46 pm CST
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Sunday, July 6th, 2014

I’m trying to find the best way to dispose of mice. We have what seems to be an entire legion of mice in our basement. I forget how many Roman centurions that is; let’s say, for the sake of argument, that it’s a hundred. I have no trouble at all believing there are a hundred mice in our basement. Their turds are everywhere. I see them scurrying along the edges of the rooms. I put out four mousetraps just before the lunch hour this morning, and when I went down to my basement lair in the early afternoon, I noticed that two of the traps were sprung. So in just five or six hours, I caught two mice without hardly trying.

By the way, don’t waste your time buying those old-fashioned mouse traps with the blocky wooden base and the spring-loaded wire that snaps your thumbs at least once while you’re trying to set it. Likewise, don’t bother with the modern update that you squeeze open like a spring-loaded clothespin. I tried those and they’re not mousetraps; they’re mouse feeders. I bought a couple of each kind of mouse trap, just to see which ones would work best, and slathered the triggers with peanut butter. Mice love peanut butter. They can’t get enough of it. Our mice licked the triggers clean on all those traps without tripping them. Houdini would be proud of them.

But there’s one kind of trap that’s like a gray plastic box open at one end with a little hood that drops down over the opening when a mouse goes in. I’ve caught more mice with those traps and I would recommend them over anything else I’ve tried, except for one thing: When a mouse gets caught in them, the first thing the little bastard does is piss himself. Then he shits all over the inside of the box and pisses some more. It’s like he’s trying to make the biggest, most disgusting mess he can possibly manage, and he does a pretty good job for such a tiny little mammal. If I didn’t have to clean up that mess every time I caught a mouse, I would whole-heartedly recommend them to anybody who asked. Not that anybody has ever asked.

Anyway, back to the problem of disposal: These are live traps. Forget about suggesting poison. I’m not using poison. It’s not that I’m opposed to killing mice. I would have used the spring-loaded traps that snap them in two but, as I’ve already pointed out, they’re shit at catching mice. But poison isn’t an option. We have two cats. And besides, I just plain don’t like poison. I don’t like handling it, I don’t like it laying around, I don’t even like the smell of it, but most of all, I don’t like the thought of dozens of little rodent corpses decaying in the farthest corners of our basement. Yuck.

So until somebody comes up with a killing trap that our mice won’t visit like a smorgasbord, waddling away fat and happy after stuffing themselves with peanut butter, I’m using live traps, which means I have to dispose of live mice. Right now, what I’m doing is taking them down to the marsh and setting them loose, where they’ll make a nice meal for a snake or a salamander or something. But that’s not something I want to keep on doing. The marsh is a ways down the road and besides, sometimes I just don’t wanna. Doubly don’t wanna after the snow flies.

My Darling B suggested that I leave them in an open container in the yard for the neighborhood cats to finish off, but it turns out that mice are seriously athletic. You would not believe how surprisingly high a tiny little mouse can jump. An open container would have to be at least three feet deep, maybe deeper, I’m just guessing here, to hold them for more than a minute or two. So that idea, as good as it is, is out until we can find an aquarium half as tall as I am.

I wonder if a pet store would take them, to feed to the snakes or whatever else eats mice?

mousey | 4:43 pm CST
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Saturday, May 24th, 2014

Behold, the true owners of the back yard of our little red house:

field of dreams

If it’s true that possession is nine-tenths of the law, then the dandelions have it.

That is not our little red house in the background, by the way. I know you were thinking it.

field of dreams | 10:38 am CST
Category: Our Humble O'Bode, yard work
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Sunday, April 27th, 2014

wall buildersMan, Tim’s going to town with that shovel, isn’t he? I’ll tell you something, the guy really knows how to dig a ditch. Okay, maybe not the most ringing endorsement of a man’s skills, but still nothing to sneeze at. If we’d had to do this all by ourselves yesterday, I wouldn’t have been able to get out of bed this morning. (It remains to be seen whether or not My Darling B will be getting out of bed, and how she will be feeling following our afternoon stint of rebuilding the garden wall.)

We originally built that wall about five years ago to border a space where B could plant an herb garden. She put in chives and mind, sage and I don’t know what-all. It’s mostly chives and sage now, and the mint is growing everywhere, both inside and outside the garden. And it’s not so much a garden, because we don’t have the time to tend it much, but the flowers are pretty and the bees like it a lot, so it’s definitely worth whatever effort we can spare on it.

Then, about two years ago, the wall began to show signs that the yearly freeze-thaw cycle was pushing it way out of shape. The blocks didn’t stand in a straight line and there were what could only charitably be called bulges. Grass and weeds were also doing their work to knock the wall out of place by growing between the blocks. My Darling B kept looking at it and saying, “We’ve got to do something about that wall.” And I would take a deep breath and answer, “Yeah, okay.”

Last year, a couple of blocks along the top row fell, and they wouldn’t stay when I put them back. This year about half of the wall tumbled down. My Darling B finally rallied the troops by calling Tim up and asking him to come over at one on Saturday. With a firm date and time set, we committed to finally do something about fixing the wall.

We started the job by dismantling most of the wall, leaving about half of the bottom row in place where the blocks were still level and firmly planted in the ground. Then Tim cut into the dirt bank behind the wall so we could step the blocks back as we rebuilt it, the idea being that if the blocks were leaning back against the dirt, maybe they wouldn’t get pushed into the garden as easily this winter. But they probably will. If the wall lasts another five years, though, we’ll call it good enough.

Then we built the wall up again. Tim worked on the end where he had to tamp the dirt down so he could set the bottom row of blocks straight and level. B and I stacked blocks up from the other end, filling in the dirt behind them as we worked our way down. The ground was wet from all the rain we’ve had in the past week, but not muddy, so the work went quickly. A lot more quickly than I thought it would; we finished the job by three-thirty. Plenty of time left over for me to rest my eyes just a bit while Tim went home to wash up and B drove into town to fetch some pulled pork from That BBQ Joint for our weekend feast.

rebuilding | 7:05 am CST
Category: Our Humble O'Bode, yard work
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Saturday, April 12th, 2014

I can just barely bend at the waist after spending an afternoon working in the yard yesterday. I certainly can’t touch my knees. That’s how out of shape I am.

This happened last year, too, and after groaning and shuffling our way through last spring, My Darling  B and I vowed to enroll at a gym where we would at least do a light workout twice a week through the winter, or take yoga, or something. 

But guess what? We didn’t. Big surprise.

All I did was get the lawn chairs down from the garage attic, wash them off and put them on the deck in the sun to dry. While I was washing them off I kept getting distracted by the windows that have been propped up against the side of the house since I replaced them, ah, two, three, maybe five years ago. Mean to do something with those last summer. I tend to procrastinate a tiny little bit. [Added: It was five.]

So when I finished with the lawn chairs, I got some tools from my basement lair that I used to carefully knock the frames apart because I didn’t want broken glass all over the yard. And what do you know, it worked! So I’ve got a pile of scrap wood to get rid of and two panes of glass to convert to cold frames, or use in windows, or something. Or probably just throw away if that procrastination thing kicks in again.

While I was taking trash to the garbage can I got distracted by the paving stones the cans stand on. They’re not actually garbage cans in the sense of those galvanized steel cans everybody used to have back in the day. Does anybody still have those? We have the plastic wheelie bins that the city bought for everyone in town because the city has a contract with a certain sanitation service that uses one of those trucks with a robot arm, so all the bins have to be a certain size and shape. I laid paving stones in the corner where the garage joins the house and parked the wheelie bins on it, which worked great during the winter. The paving stones conduct heat from the house and stay clear of snow and ice all winter long, and they’re a nice, level surface. If you’ve ever tried to park wheelie bins in the snow, you know how quickly that can get you pissed off.

And that’s probably more than you ever wanted to know about my trash cans. Anyway. We have lots of paving stones stacked in a heap in a corner of the back yard. One of the previous owners apparently collected them. Not in a heap; I did that when I dug them up from various places around the back yard. That was when my back was a little stronger and I was in better shape. Now I have to load them up on a wheelbarrow to move them around the yard, and even that was too much for my hollow back to handle, I guess. I won’t be moving any of them today. Probably not until after next week.

But while I was wheelbarrowing the paving stones around the yard I bumped into one of the stumps left behind after I cut down a stand of lilacs a few years ago, just before we put in the garden. The stump was so rotten and the ground was so loose that I could easily kick it out of the ground, so when I was done moving paving stones I got the pickaxe out of the shed and dug up the rest of the stumps. All but one of them came out very easily. Now I’ve got a big pile of stumps to burn after they dry out. Bonfire!

And that was all the yard work I did yesterday, honest: washed chairs, broke down the windows, moved the paving stones, and pulled stumps. The way my back is throbbing today, you’d think I’d moved the pyramids.

B was the workhorse, cleaning out the garden shed all day. She says she’s not sore much at all, but I think she’s putting on a good face. 

immobile | 9:54 am CST
Category: Our Humble O'Bode, yard work
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Friday, April 11th, 2014

My Darling B has a whole new attitude about mice since she opened her garden shed and discovered they’d pooped and peed on just about everything in there. Before she was on Mother Nature’s side, making me trap them live so we could release them in a nearby city park, but now that she has to hose down everything that was in the shed and throw out all her gardening gloves, her ideology has gone from bunny-hugger to “Kill Every Stinking One Of Those Little Poop-Machines!”

I knew she’d come around eventually.

changeup | 1:59 pm CST
Category: garden, hobby, housekeeping, My Darling B, O'Folks, Our Humble O'Bode, play, yard work, yet another rant | Tags:
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Tuesday, December 31st, 2013

I’m not 100% sure, but I think the furnace has been running all day. It doesn’t run non-stop: It starts with a sound like a jet engine winding up, some kind of a ventilation fan, I think, that’s supposed to keep gas from building up in the flue. The burners kick in after a minute or two and the furnace fan starts cranking out the heat almost immediately after. It runs like that for maybe five to ten minutes. Then the burners shut down while the fan milks every last little BTU it can from the heating elements and, when there isn’t any more heat to be wrung out of the system, the fan winds down and there’s a moment of silence until the cycle starts all over again.

I heard it running every time I woke up in the night, which didn’t seem at all unusual. Temps were below zero last night and are supposed to be below zero again tonight, so I expect I’ll hear the furnace fan again every time I wake up to turn over. Today, though, when temps climbed to a balmy twelve degrees, I thought the furnace might pause for a breather now and then, but so far I haven’t noticed a pause in the cycle.

I don’t think it’s going to catch a break any time soon, either. The forecast for our neck of the woods calls for sub-freezing temps over the next three days. I guess I’d better get used to the sound of the furnace running incessantly.

heating cycle | 3:46 pm CST
Category: daily drivel, Our Humble O'Bode
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Friday, November 29th, 2013

While pouring gallons of coffee down my neck this morning, I ran through the long list of frivolous things I could do with my day off, but kept coming back to one non-frivolous thing that’s been crying for my attention since the end of summer: clean up the basement.

In particular, the corner of the basement where I keep all the tools, powered and otherwise. It’s become all but unusable because of the clutter:

basement workshop

I totally suck at putting things away when I’m done with them. Also, a lot of things doing have an “away” where I can put them. A lot of my power tools, for instance. I just set them down wherever I used them last, resulting in a lot of cussing the next time I go looking for them. Lately, I’ve been setting them on a stack of black steel shelves I dragged out of another corner of the basement and that’s been working out pretty well for me.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have any place to put the steel shelves, so it’s been standing in what used to be a walkway, which kept me from getting to the shop vac, so sawdust started to drift on the floor and cobwebs gathered along the walls. It was getting pretty nasty.

So instead of friveling away the day, I put on some work clothes and tromped into the basement to do battle with the mess. First job: move the heavy walnut table I use as a work bench over to the left wall, but before I could do that, I had to take down the pegboard and replace it. I don’t like pegboard much. It’s one of those things that seems like a good idea until you have to use it. Those little hangers pop out and go skittering across the floor about half the time I grab a tool, so I replaced it with a sheet of three-eights inch plywood. I’ll make my own hangers out of the scrap wood I keep tripping over and screw them tightly to the plywood.

Then I cleaned up the mess on the floor before dragging the walnut table across the room. And there was quite a mess, mostly sawdust but plenty of other odds & ends: bits of wire, torn packaging, stray nuts and bolts, splinters of wood and plenty of other stuff I couldn’t identify. If it looked like it might be useful, I saved it; everything else went into the garbage.

With the walnut table finally moved, I could work on sweeping and vacuuming the other half of the room. More sawdust, more bits of who knows what. I had to empty the dust can once already and will have to empty it again before the day’s done. Ten gallons. That’s a lot of dust.

After almost four hours of sweeping, vacuuming and shuffling stuff around, it looked a little better, but I’ve still got a ways to go.

basement work shop

frivolity | 1:52 pm CST
Category: daily drivel, housekeeping, Our Humble O'Bode
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Thursday, November 28th, 2013

For my final trick today, I’ll make this box spring disappear.

mattress

Abra kadabra …

mattress

… ala kaZAM!

mattress

Nothing left but the mattress. Am I good or what?

kaZAM | 9:31 pm CST
Category: daily drivel, housekeeping, Our Humble O'Bode
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There are just three things I have to do this morning, according to She Who Must Be Obeyed.

  1. Make more coffee
  2. Put away the clean dishes and load the dirty dishes in the dishwasher
  3. Get the storage tub with the holiday tablecloth up from the basement

“It should only take you a couple of minutes,” she figures. I don’t know if she’s being sarcastic or what.

I understand why she wants me to make more coffee first. You can never have too much coffee. Medical professionals say you can, but I’m pretty sure they’re wrong about that. I don’t have any clinical data to back that up. It’s just a hunch. But still.

But the coffee doesn’t come first. It can’t. In order to make the coffee, I have to clean out the coffee pot. In order to clean out the coffee pot, I have to get the dirty dishes out of the sink. The dirty dishes go in the dishwasher, but that’s full of clean dishes. So, the second item on my list is actually the first thing I have to do.

I can put the dishes away in ten, fifteen minutes tops. Loading the dishwasher with dirty dishes takes about the same, except when the mixing bowl is filled with kitchen scraps that have to be taken out to the composter. All forty-two of our composters (last count; there could be more now; they seem to be self-replicating) are so full there isn’t any more room for kitchen scraps and besides, there won’t be any actual composting going on until the outdoor temps climb back up above freezing. Our solution to this dilemma has been to park a galvanized garbage can beside the back door that we can tip our kitchen scraps into until spring. So, I have to put on some shoes, trudge through the snow to the garden shed and drag the garbage can out.

Thirty minutes later, I can wash out the coffee pot. Technically, it took only minutes to this point. Now, about that storage tub.

honeydew | 11:12 am CST
Category: daily drivel, housekeeping, Our Humble O'Bode
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Sunday, September 22nd, 2013

20130922_170555Today’s project was: PLUMBING! Because who doesn’t want to work with sewer pipes on a sunny Sunday afternoon? Stupid people, that’s who.

The basement sink has always drained slowly. So has the utility sink I installed in the corner of the basement I rather grandly refer to as the brewery. In fact, when the basement sink is full of water, the utility sink makes a funny bloop bloop bloop sound and stinks to high heaven. So I asked The Google why it would do that, and I found out that for drains to work properly, each one of them must have a vent so trapped air can escape. Neither the basement sink nor the utility sink had a vent.

So today I decided to install one. I figured this little project would take maybe an hour, maybe two at the most, with a break for lunch, to finish. FIVE HOURS LATER I was still cutting and gluing pipes together.

And speaking of which, have you ever tried to glue PVC pipe together? If so, is there some kind of trick to gluing it so it all ends up going in a straight line? Because I don’t seem to know how to do that. All my pipes lean to one side and I can almost never get them to line up, resulting in much cursing and gnashing of teeth. There’s got to be a way.

Five hours was enough plumbing for one day. Time to pop open a beer, put a DVD in the machine and fold clothes.

fun with plumbing | 5:22 pm CST
Category: adventures in plumbing, Our Humble O'Bode
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Sunday, July 28th, 2013

new smart phoneAs I mention earlier, we replaced our dumb phones with smart phones. We made up a lot of reasons that sounded good for doing this but the real reason we did it is that SMART PHONES ARE AWESOME!

The dumb phones we had were the pay-as-you-go type, which were fine for making phone calls. In fact, they were better than the land line we still have but will soon be getting rid of because the only phone calls we ever get on the land line are from telemarketers and political action committees. I’d put up with daily in-home harassment if the land line was amazingly cheap, like five bucks a year. Or, I’d be happy to continue to pay them whatever overinflated price they wanted for their very dependable service if they would guarantee that I would never receive another call from a telemarketer. I’m pretty sure that neither of those options are going to materialize in the near future, though, so we’re going to drop the land line.

We already stopped paying for the dumb phones. They were good, as I said, for making phone calls but obviously they don’t do any more than that and besides, we weren’t ever completely sure how much we were paying each month for our dumb phones. As it was somewhat inconvenient to find out too late that I couldn’t make a call because I’d forgotten to top off my account, I gave them my credit card number and said, “Here, take out ten bucks whenever I’m running a little low.” Like running a tab at the bar, I didn’t think about how much I was paying because I didn’t have to. My Darling B did the same thing. When we reviewed the costs of keeping a land line and topping up the dumb phones, though, it seemed a little silly to keep on paying that when, for a bit more, we could have SMART PHONES!

They were delivered last week Wednesday, if memory serves, and I use the word “delivered” very loosely here. The FedEx guy was supposed to drop them off after seven, which would have given us more than enough time to get home after our dinner at The Wise if he had, in fact, stuck to the plan. When we got home, though, there was a note from the FedEx guy on our door that said (paraphrasing): “I gots here at 3:30 – Where Was You?” We jumped back into the O-Mobile and burned rubber to get to the FedEx facility on the north side of town just ten minutes before they closed.

When we had dumb phones, My Darling B put a happy face sticker on hers because otherwise they looked exactly alike. Remembering this, when B ordered the smart phones she got a white phone for herself and a black phone for me. That girl’s always thinking. I don’t know how her brain doesn’t get musclebound from all the thinking she does. In case you care, she ordered the latest model, Samsung S4. All that means to me is that they’ll be obsolete in about six months, if they’re not already. That, and they’re not real. They’re science fiction, completely make-believe. Or, as Arthur C. Clarke, one of the greatest science fiction authors who ever lived, put it, they’re magic, as in “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Even Captain Kirk would have thought so. All he could do with his communicator was make phone calls. It was a dumb phone, really. He couldn’t use it to look at a map or search the ship’s computer. Spock would have killed for a smart phone. The one I’ve got beats his tricorder all to hell. It’s smaller but it’s got a bigger screen and I can tuck it in a pocket. It doesn’t hang from my neck on a leather strap. Way more handy than that boat anchor he had to carry around.

And it’s one hell of a lot smarter than Spock’s tricorder, too. Thirty seconds after I turned it on and told it my e-mail address, it knew way more about me than probably my own mother does. Our phones use the Android operating system so they’re connected to The Google, and The Google, as everybody knows, is more powerful than all the nimrod politicians in the world and probably more powerful than every branch of the military. Man, are those guys going to be surprised when they figure that out. If The Google lets them figure it out.

So probably because I have a gmail account and because I’ve been using The Google’s browser, Chrome, for a while now, my smart phone autoloaded everything The Google knew about me. My list of contacts – everyone I might call on the phone or send e-mail to – was imported from my various on-line e-mail accounts. My photo gallery – the folder of photographs in my camera-ready smartphone – was suddenly filled with all the photos I’d ever uploaded to the net. And so on and so on. This thing called “privacy” that you think you have? You can forget about it. The Google knows all about you. If you have never in your life sent an e-mail message, placed an order on-line, or used a cell phone, then I suppose it’s possible that you might have managed to evade The Google’s all-seeing gaze, but if you have ever experimentally dipped a toe into even the shallowest of social media, you are in for a shock when you activate your first smart phone.

And do you want to talk about distraction? A smart phone is literally all the distraction in the world gathered together in a package that you can hold in one hand. It has these things called “apps” that are hot buttons of one kind of distraction or another. All you have to do to be distracted is tap one. If and when the distraction of that app runs out, you can tap the next one. And you will tap the next one. You will keep on tapping the next one until you fall asleep sitting up, and when your head hits the table, waking you up, you will tap the next app to be distracted some more, because going to sleep is boring but a distraction is, well, distracting. You will not notice you’re tired. You would not notice conquering armies invading your city. Not that I’m suggesting smart phones could be part of an elaborate conspiracy to keep tabs on us while distracting us from the coming subjugation of an invading army. In fact, I’d like to go on record as saying that even if this were a thing, I for one welcome subjugation as long as I get to keep my apps. How bad could that be?

smartphone | 11:58 am CST
Category: ch-ch-changes, current events, daily drivel, damn kids!, Life & Death, Our Humble O'Bode
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Saturday, July 13th, 2013

We bought a sofa sleeper yesterday evening from a salesperson who wouldn’t take “yes” for an answer.

We already knew what we wanted because we’d stopped by the same store the day before, talked to a different salesperson, looked at catalogs, sat on a couple of display models, then went home and, after measuring the space where the sofa sleeper would go to make sure we weren’t buying something that was one inch too wide, narrowed our choices down to two models and drove back to the store the next day to put in an order.

Some salespersons can tell when your mind’s already made up. The smart ones will just whip out the papers, show you where to sign and let you go because they know better than to spoil an easy sale.

Then there are the salespersons who can see that your mind’s made up but feel they’re not doing their job if they don’t whip out their little song and dance routine anyway. Weirdest episode with a salesperson I’ve experienced: We were shopping for cars, decided that the Ford Escort LX station wagon was the car for us, even knew the size of the engine and the color we wanted. Went to a dealership and told the first salesman who pounced on us exactly what we were looking for. He wanted us to take a test drive. Informing him that we’d already taken several test drives and repeating exactly what we wanted, color and all, he listened with some impatience before insisting that we should take one on a test drive. In a friendly yet firm tone we said yet again that we’d already been on a test drive. We were there to buy one. Now. That’s when he turned and, saying something like, “Well, if you don’t want to take a test drive, then I don’t know why I’m even talking to you,” he walked away from us. I swear on my mother’s life I am not making that up.

Finally, there are salespeople who cannot tell that your mind is made up and plow ahead with their sales pitch no matter how bluntly you tell them to just sell us the damned thing already. That was the salesperson we got last night. When we showed her the sofa we wanted to buy, she couldn’t stop talking about some other customer who loved that sofa so much, the styles the other customer looked at before settling on one, the fabrics the other customer looked at and what she finally ordered, blah blah blah etc etc etc oh my effing god she just wouldn’t shut up about that other customer. And when she ran off once to see if the other customer’s sofa had arrived in the warehouse, I very nearly asked for the manager.

So it took a little while to drag her over to the customer service counter where we could look at fabrics. That went on for about twice as long as it should have, too, because she had to trot out a bunch of the color swatches that the other customer looked over, and the salesperson had to throw in her own suggestions to boot. My Darling B played along for a bit. I’m boring, or have no imagination at all when it comes to furniture. Sofas, to me, should be one overall color, preferably dark to hide the popcorn butter stains that we’ll inevitably leave in the middle of it. I pointed at a neutral gray swatch and stood by my choice throughout the fabric selection ordeal. Oddly, that’s what we ended up getting.

And that was it. We were done. The salesperson seemed to want to talk about it a little bit more, but we didn’t, so she got out a ticket and wrote it up, pausing occasionally to point out that we could get the feet stained a different color, for instance. Nope. The standard dark stain on the feet will do just fine, thank you. When we got to that point, we got out of there without too much more trouble, even though she tried to sell us something else on the way out. We finally escaped by gnawing our own legs off.

sleeper | 12:14 pm CST
Category: daily drivel, Our Humble O'Bode, story time
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Sunday, June 16th, 2013

I had to destroy our lawn mower to save it.

The handle of our lawn mower broke off. I don’t know whether or not you’ve ever tried to use a lawn mower after the handle breaks off. If not, I can tell you it ain’t easy to do. Damn near impossible, would be my best estimation. If you have been in this situation, you already know this so what am I telling you for?

The handle was attached to the deck of the lawn mower in the very loosest sense of the word “attached.” The handle is like a wishbone, and at the forked ends there are pins about as thick as my pinky pointing inward, or there were before one of the pins broke off. The pins fit into holes drilled through a couple of brackets on the deck of the mower. The idea, I suppose, was to make it easy to put together after unpacking it from the box. The reality is, without either one of those pins the handle flops around uselessly, making the lawn mower useful only as a boat anchor.

I probably broke the pin off by being stupid. Grass clippings tend to get matted against the underside of the deck and when the mat gets thick enough, it starts to fall out in clumps. Whenever that happened, I would help it along by pumping the handle up and down as quickly and roughly as I could to make the deck jump up and down. I would be surprised if that kind of treatment didn’t put a teeny-tiny bit of stress on the pins.

Anyway, one of them broke off and there was no way for me to put it back on. It was welded in place, not screwed or bolted, and I don’t have a welder or know how to weld. I tried to solder it, but that was a disaster. Solder doesn’t stick to just any kind of metal and apparently the steel that the handle is made of is one kind of metal that makes solder ball up in a puddle. It wouldn’t even make a cold joint.

So then I tried bolting the handle back on, and here’s where I found out that the people who designed our lawn mower were sadistic, or idiots. I could easily shove a bolt through the hole at the end of the handle, but bolting it to the bracket on the deck of the lawn mower was a problem because it was sandwiched between the engine cover and the thick plastic hood that covers the deck. There wasn’t enough room to squeeze the bolt in there once it was stuck through the handle. There wasn’t enough room to sneak the bolt down there on its own, either. There was barely enough room to hook a finger down there when the bolt slipped from my grasp and I had to fish it out.

This kind of engineering pisses me off no end. What kind of asshole makes it all but impossible for a do-it-yourselfer to fix a broken lawnmower? Or nearly impossible. That asshole must have figured that the possibility that I would have a sawzall would be pretty slim. That asshole figured wrong.

They say that, when it comes right down to it, the only tools you need in your toolbox are a hammer and duct tape. It’s a clever sentiment, but wrong. For a start, I don’t use duct tape nearly as much as other guys seem to. Hardly ever, really. And your minimalist toolbox had better include two kinds of screw driver, a flathead and a Phillips head, or you’re never going to get anything fixed around the house. But after a hammer, the most important tool in your tool box is undoubtedly a saw of one kind or another, and if you’re not a woodworker but you will be fixing things around the house, you could do worse than to get yourself a sawzall.

Vaguely shaped like a bazooka, the tail end of a sawzall is a pistol grip with a trigger. That right there makes it one of the most awesome power tools in your kit. At the other end, a piston sticks out of the nose of the sawzall. You can stick all kinds of cutting things into this piston and clamp them down. A powerful electric motor shakes the cutting edge back and forth at high speed when you pull the trigger, making it possible for you to demolish just about anything. Except maybe zombie hordes. But anything short of that would be a walk in the park. I would feel confident about taking down a wall, or even a whole house if I had a sawzall in hand.

And because the blade sticks straight out of the nose of a sawzall, it’s perfect for jobs that no other power tool can do, such as sawing holes in the plastic cover on a lawn mower. After fitting a sawzall with a fine-toothed blade, I easily cut away the parts of the hood that prevented me from sneaking a bolt down through the narrow gap between the handle and the bracket. That done, I needed only a minimum of cussing to put things back together the way they were supposed to go. There was a short hitch while I figured out how to get a wrench down in there to turn the nut, but I was back to mowing grass not too long after that.

TL,DR: Don’t buy the Black & Decker lawn mower with the handle that breaks off. Get yourself a sawzall. Not instead of the lawn mower. You’ll have to read the whole thing to find out why.

lawnmower hack | 7:53 am CST
Category: Our Humble O'Bode, yard work
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Sunday, May 19th, 2013

I spent two and a half hours slaughtering dandelions this morning, and I’m bushed.

I was going to say “doing battle with dandelions” instead of “slaughtering” but, unless you count their ability to reproduce faster than rabbits, they can’t really fight back much, which makes it kind of a stupid metaphor.

“Slaughtering” is totally accurate, however. I waded into our knee-high crop of dandelion flowers with a weed eater, swinging it back and forth like a scythe as I advanced, and where they were so densely packed together that they formed a supercolony as thick as my thigh, I turned the head of the weed eater until the floss was cutting perpendicular to the ground so I could effectively mow them all the way down to the dirt. It was a bloodbath, or whatever the vegetative equivalent would be. A sap-bath? Doesn’t sound nearly as gruesome and awful as it should.

This is the third time in eight days I’ve mowed the lawn, the first two times with a lawn mower, this time with the weed eater because at this point I was just cutting down dandelion stalks. The grass wasn’t growing nearly fast enough to need mowing already and the mower isn’t effective at all in cutting down dandelions. The stalks get pushed to the ground by the front edge of the lawnmower’s deck, helpfully holding them down as the blades pass harmlessly over the majority of them, so that the next day the yard is a forest of dandelion stalks once again. Hence, my unconventional use of the weed eater.

Seriously, some of those dandelions have grown so old and thick that they should’ve evolved arms and legs so they can scramble away when I come at them with certain death. Life would certainly be a lot easier for me if they had. I’ve been reading about ways to control dandelions, not because I don’t want them in my yard, I do. I think they have pretty flowers and I don’t particularly care that other people don’t. I only wish there weren’t so many of them. Our front yard is practically nothing but dandelions. We could do with fewer.

As far as I can tell, though, there are just two ways to keep dandelions down: Poison them or pull them. Both methods have their problems. We don’t want to use poison in our yard, even though all our neighbors do, so that option is out. Pulling them is not really an option, either, because there are too goddamn many of them. If I had the leisure and/or the mental instability to commit eight hours every day to pulling dandelions, I’m pretty sure it would still take years to bring them under control.

So at this point it’s possible that the only way we’re going to make our yard presentable again is to cover it in black plastic, kill off every living thing and start over next year, a project I’m more than a little daunted by. I’ll need to think about this a while. If you need me, I’ll be in a lawn chair on the back deck, thinking.

slaughter | 2:02 pm CST
Category: Our Humble O'Bode, yard work
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Saturday, May 11th, 2013

If you were driving down Sylvan Lane in Monona this morning, you would have seen yard after yard of neatly-tended, uniformly green lawns, and then you would have seen a yard where Chemlawn had obviously not been welcome for many years.
imgage of more dandelions than you've ever seen in once place before


I finally mowed our field of dandelions this morning because, even though I think they’re pretty, I can obviously tell that the rest of the neighbors do not share my sentiment, and I have some sense of shame, so out came the lawn mower and, after the devastation, our yard looked normal once again, if you think looking like everybody else is normal. It’s not, but that is again only my opinion.
image of field of slaughtered dandelions


I left the patches of uncut grass around the base of the tree because a rabbit has made her nest in a hole there, so I wanted to leave her some cover.

after the devastation | 2:33 pm CST
Category: Our Humble O'Bode, yard work
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