Archive for July, 2006

Rain garden saves the day!

Posted by Nate in Landscaping.
Monday, July 24th, 2006 at 6:12 pm

The rain garden proved its worth today… (to me, anyway — I think Karen’s requirements have been met already) We’re in the middle of a moderate / severe drought, and it’s been super hot with alternating levels of humidity. Apparently today the jetstream is moving somewhere and it’s causing some ridiculous storms, like the one we had this afternoon. The rain garden, at left, was literally full to the brim with water!! And it looks like we guessed just right with the area and depth because it wasn’t overflowing that I could see, and I really can’t imagine ever getting any more rain over such a short period of time. If it can handle that, it can handle anything.

Why does that make me so happy? Because a few short months ago that water would have been lapping at our foundation and starting to work its way into the basement. As you can see at left – taken at the same time as the above shot – it’s wet but not even halfway up the sidewalk!! I can’t even begin to tell you what a big deal this is.

See, Karen’s all about filtering the runoff and getting it back into the groundwater system cleanly, etc, etc, and I’m very much in support of that, too. But it’s such a cost / benefit winner when it also happens to save so much potential water damage to your house. Sweet.

Kitchen coming together

Posted by Nate in Home Improvements.
Wednesday, July 19th, 2006 at 4:26 pm

I should have bought stock in Ikea and Home Depot. Years ago.

Instead I just get to increase the wealth of their existing stockholders, but it still seems like a good deal when the results turn out this nice: (ignore Karen showing you how well she brushed her teeth)

Two smaller things of note in the bigger picture: in the very back is a new steel wire shelf with a wood top, a perfect space for our toaster, coffee maker, and various stuff underneath. This lets us clean up our main counter space for day-to-day use. Also, left of the sink (detail at left) is a new separate filtered water faucet! It’s so great to have a built-in faucet finally instead of the stupid ones that attach to the end of the existing faucet and always have a bad seal anyway. Total. Crap. This one feels nice and looks nice – it even matches the faucet I put in a while back!

So… I think that about wraps up the kitchen! (for now)


Posted by Nate in Projects.
Monday, July 17th, 2006 at 5:29 pm

New motor: $85

Run capacitor and mounting hardware: $65

Learning enough about air conditioners that you can fix your own (up to a point): Priceless. Or, as the nice guy at Dey Appliance put it, "a new fan will get you through the heat, since nobody’s going to be able to come install a new unit until after you don’t need it." True that. And on the other hand, a new fan plus rock solid 1976 parts could last another 5 years easy. I do wonder about getting the system charged up and making a few other efficiency updates, but we’ll see…

Heat, fans, and AC

Posted by Nate in Projects.
Sunday, July 16th, 2006 at 8:27 pm

Whew. Currently 90 degrees outside, 64% humidity, and it’s 8:30 – when you get up at 5:30, that’s almost bedtime. And it’s way too hot to sleep like that, at least without fans. Or, better yet, air conditioning. Yeah, that would be nice. I can hear our neighbor’s unit kicking on as I write this, pumping delicious cool air into his house…

Not in the cards for us, it seems. Last night, Sierra and Karen and I were sitting on the new deck bench enjoying the breeze when there was a squealing sound from the external AC unit as it tried to turn on. That can’t be good, I said, rising to check on it – yeah, agreed Karen, I heard that before but I thought it was our neighbor’s. Uh oh…

Sure enough the fan wasn’t running. I put my hand on the frame over the fan and it was hot, way too hot to be good. Crap. Went inside and shut the thing down. It was approaching 90 in the house last night as we went to bed but some well placed fans (ceiling fans are amazing, too) and everyone made it through the night.

This morning we woke up to rain – a saving grace, I suppose, since it kept our garden and lawn alive, and probably lowered the temperature for the rest of the day, but we’re currently paying the price in terms of humidity. (Yesterday never got too bad since it was only 30-40% humidity.) The rain also kept me from exploring the AC unit (after of course flipping the breakers both to the unit and the internal blower)… Which in turn kept me from discovering the delightful picture to the left: a blown capacitor. Damn.

The downside to finding the capacitor was now I wanted to replace it – while shut in by the rain I’d been searching for the manual for the unit, no go, and finally spending all my time on this incredibly useful site. I’m fairly confident (barring the actual motor being blown by the strain of trying to run last night) that replacing this capacitor will restore the unit to its cooling glory. But what the hell was the rating on that capacitor?? The oil and gunk inside had fused to the paint on the side when it blew, and unfortunately even carefully cleaning it removed the all-important stamp like you can see on it’s pair above left.

Still, by comparing stamps between the two I’m confident it’s a 3mfd 370 VAC capacitor, probably readily available from a local motor repair shop – I’ll call around tomorrow and see. I also found the schematic at left on the inside of the unit – we are dealing with a 100% rock steady 1976 air conditioner. Whoa. (check the bottom right of the drawing).

Anyway, I figure since the cap is probably only 8 or 9 bucks it’s worth a go. The motor at left is probably a bit under $100, so hopefully that’s not blown too. Once again, having a bit of trouble reading the vital stats, but I guess that’s what you get from an AC unit older than me…

The last bit of bad news is the motor "suspension". It sits upside down, hauling air in through the sides of the box, through the heat exchanger, and blasting it up and out, so it needs to hang level and be supported from above. For whatever reason it’s not bolted to the top of the unit, but instead attached with twisted steel cable – and two of the four are rusted through. My theory / hope is that the motor is ok, the sound we heard was the blades scraping on the housing after the support cable broke, and the resulting current draw blew the capacitor after which everything fell back into place but stopped working. Replacing the cap will cure everything.

At least that’s the hope. For now I’m only investing in a capacitor and some hardware to re-secure the motor… If that fails and it looks like the motor itself is bad, well, maybe time to shop around for a new unit. But in the meantime, if we can get a few more years out of this one, why not? I’ll probably get someone in to test the pressure on the system, make sure it’s as efficient as it can be on that end, but really if an $8 part, some research, and sweat can fix this I’m not going to replace the whole unit yet.

(plus, if you haven’t figured it out, every time something breaks it’s not only a hassle, it’s a freaking personal challenge. :)

Deck bench in action

Posted by Nate in Home Improvements.
Saturday, July 15th, 2006 at 9:23 pm

Day two of the bench construction, first thing was to cut the angles for the corner and finish driving the 8 million screws attaching the seat boards. Power screw gun essential. The screws that came with the brackets are all galvanized for use in pressure-treated wood, overkill for me, but at least they’ll hold up outdoors. I ended up buying some new deck screws while getting the lumber so I could match the color of the wood a little better.

Done! Next on the list is to get something to treat the lumber – I’m not going to seal it yet, but there are a few different products intended for new lumber like this, just to help get it "off on the right foot". Not sure what exactly that means but it sounds important from the reviews I’ve read… Also might replace the two seat boards on the smaller side – one of them is "cupping" a bit (curling up at the edges) and the other has two badly placed knots. I think I have enough left over lumber for those two short pieces, we’ll see.

…and here it is in action! I think they’re both making the sign for "delicious", since they’re eating Princess Torte from Wuollette Bakery. Whoa. Good times. I’m actually writing this on Karen’s laptop while sitting on the bench right now. It’s sweet, but it’s getting dark enough to make me realize we’ll need another lighting solution out here since it’s so darn appealing to hang out on during these hot summer nights… Yay.

Welcome to the world baby!

Posted by Karen in Friends.
Saturday, July 15th, 2006 at 11:26 am

Pedro and Mad-dog had a beautiful baby girl, Frances Ray, on July 5th. She was 6 pounds, 13 ounces, and is very advanced. They tell us she can already say helicopter and count to 5. We would expect nothing less. The whole family is healthy and happy and we’re so excited for them! I see a bright future as a Grim Sweeper for this little bruiser… just look at her. She’s so ready to tackle someone.

Death to Ragweed!

Posted by Karen in Day to Day, Work.
Wednesday, July 12th, 2006 at 8:20 pm

So I thought I would share a little bit about what I’ve been up to at work. For anyone who doesn’t know, I am working at a company that does ecological restoration as a field crew member. We go out to all of the sites and actually do the work that the company has been contracted to do. There are sites in various stages of restoration – some are brand spankin new, so we are tilling, seeding, mulching, planting, etc. Others are established and we are doing maintenance, like mowing, burning, or managing invasive species. And some sites require some kind of repair or improvement, like ravine repair to prevent gully formation or erosion control.

For the last couple of weeks, I’ve worked mostly at a site we call Empire (because it is in Empire Township). It’s a parcel of land that was restored from a farm field to a wet/mesic prairie, wet meadow and wetland as a water quality improvement measure. It is in it’s third year, and it is absolutely gorgeous. There are some amazing plants that are mature and well-established. However, as I’ve come to realize is the case everywhere, even though the plants we have put there are native, site-appropriate, hardy plants, they are fighting a tough battle against the bajillions of invasive species. The list of ones we’ve got out there includes canada thistle, bull thistle, red clover, sweet clover, common vetch, reed canary grass, and – dun dun dun… my own personal enemy – RAGWEED!

On a side note, I’ve known for a few years that I am massively allergic to ragweed pollen. Most people who suffer from allergies during late August are. But I’ve only recently learned what it looks like. And now that I know, I’ve made it my own personal mission to leave a trail of ragweed carnage everywhere I go. But I’ve discovered to my horror that it is really truly EVERYWHERE!!! When I walk Bruno around my very own neighborhood, I have to suppress panic attacks from all of the ragweed I see! And I’m not just talking little guys – we’ve got some knee-high stuff only two blocks away! So, as a service to the suffering masses, if you see either of the following plants, common ragweed or giant ragweed, pull it out, break it off, burn it, just kill it. Do it. 

Now. Moving on. So our tasks at Empire were to mow ragweed (some of which is as tall as me – ahhhhh!!!), cut and remove sweet clover, and herbicide canada thistle, bull thistle and red clover. I’m not big on chemicals in general, so I wasn’t very psyched about that part, but I do get that that is the best control method right now, and that it ensures the success and survival of the native species.

Anyway, when you herbicide you have to wear this attractive get-up: My coworker Andy and I are rocking a Tyvek suit, rubber gloves, rubber boots, and protective eyewear. So fashionable, and so comfortable on a blazing hot 90+ degree day like today. Sweat literally pours out of your gloves when you are done. Pours. Then you strap on a chemical pack that has a wand/gun thingy and go to town, spot spraying the bad guys. Sweet. This work allowed for plenty of quality alone time, during which I sang songs, day-dreamed about the north shore and about ice water, and best of all, learned a ton about plants. Check it out:

Ok, so the picture totally doesn’t do it justice, but there is the wet prairie in all its mid-summer glory. There’s tons of swamp milkweed, false sunflower, cup plants, blue vervain, canada wild rye, black-eyed susans, coneflowers, and a million more things that I still have to learn. I’ve been trying to learn two new plants a day. Oh wait, hold the phone, what’s that big thing front and center next to the pretty swamp milkweed? GIANT RAGWEED! DESTROY!!!

Deck bench part 1

Posted by Nate in Home Improvements.
Tuesday, July 11th, 2006 at 10:00 pm

So about a month ago Karen and I were almost on this reality TV show where they do a bunch of work on your backyard. It sounded really cool and we were excited until she asked us what our budget was… Um, budget? So we respectfully declined – I thought those TV shows did the work for free! Anyway, during the interview in our backyard the producer asked us what sort of work we might want to do, and even suggested a bench on the deck. Say no more!

Karen and I had the same idea for where it should go, on the South side of the deck, and we were both keen on maybe making a nice corner out of it. Only trouble was, a bench from scratch was looking like a fairly complicated project, let alone all the hassle of a corner..

Luckily my internet searching lead me to the promised land – cool plastic bench brackets made just for the edge of a deck: "Just add lumber!" (see the lumber above, the brackets installed left)

Since they’re going to be well off the ground and mostly angled, I opted to not get pressure treated lumber — lots and lots of chemicals, even if they’ve cut out the arsenic since ’04. I also looked briefly at some of the composite wood/plastic blends they have preshaped for decks, and while they ‘re super cool and never need maintenance, they’re also way expensive and didn’t really match our existing deck at all. In the end I went with nice cedar, and it looks great so far.

Of course the "quick afternoon project" started to extend into the evening, pushed further back as I realized I didn’t have the socket I needed to put in the million hex screws and bolts. (On the list of "required tools" they only list a crescent wrench, but I would have shot myself in the head after one bracket if that’s all I had. Much nicer with the socket wrench.)

Alas, night has fallen on an unfished deck bench, but enough is completed to start to convince me it’s going to look super sweet. The deck always seemed a bit "unfinished" to me — nice, and I wouldn’t trade it, but missing something on the edges. I think this might be it.

Stuff ‘n’ Things

Posted by Nate in Day to Day, Garden.
Friday, July 7th, 2006 at 6:15 pm

The rain garden has more blooms! This awesome red "something" flower (Karen knows the name) has been rocking out for a few days, and yesterday I snapped a few pictures. We’re pleasantly surprised to see so much growth and blooming out of these brand new plants, hopefully that means they’re established and healthy for years to come…

Brown Dog found a big stick on his walk yesterday and has been enjoying some quality time with it.

The garden continues its rampage. (compare to this) I took that picture this morning, and unfortunately by this afternoon the combined heat and lack of water (I was trying to hold out for the forecasted rain) wreaked a bit of havoc on the tomatoes – now that their fruit is so big it’s getting really heavy and a few of the taller stems collapsed. I noticed it sagging as soon as I got home and gave it some veggie first aid, I’m confident most of them will pull through.

Sick and tired of the cluttered destructo-zone in our kitchen closet, I rigged up a tiered bag holder for our recycling. It looks super ghetto but I justify it by looking at you, sneering, and saying "It’s for recycling. It’s made out of things I had lying around — and cardboard. Get it??" Then you feel embarrassed for pointing it out and I go get a drink from the kegerator. Best of all, the vacuum fits under the rack, much nicer than hanging out in the office.

I helped nature do its dirty work on this female blossom this morning. I don’t care what you say, we’re getting a pumpkin out of this mess.

Finally, today was the last day on the job for my super awesome co-worker, Eric, who’s off to bigger and better things in NY, NY. Wah. The Walker won’t be the same without him.

Wedding Reconnaissance

Posted by Karen in Bruno, Wedding.
Tuesday, July 4th, 2006 at 6:37 pm

Well, well, well. Look who’s found her way back to blogland. Pardon my mysterious absence. I won’t bore you with details of the hole digging, dump truck driving, and hay slinging that has been keeping me so busy. Instead, I’ll just tell you about the 3 DAYS I HAD OFF – IN A ROW!!!!! YEEEEE HAAAA!!!! After a lovely but too short visit from the Pinolera, some soccer action, a brief reunion with the Caveman and his sweet lady friend (who, by the by, both just moved back to Mpls – yesssssssss), and a bout with some strange stomach demon that briefly possessed Nate, we decided to make for the north shore.

We managed to book a pet-friendly room at the last minute at Caribou Highlands in Lutsen, and we were off. Our mission: to decide where and how to do this whole wedding thing. No small task, to be sure. Particularly for, how do you say, "non-traditional" folks such as ourselves. On our previous visit, we went up and back in a day, which allowed us just enough time to check out one place that we were hoping would be the complete package. Alas, it was not. Though we loved so much about it, it was just too small for the hundreds and thousands of people we wanted to invite.

This time, we had done some more research on the internets, and had several places we wanted to check out. One option was to still do the ceremony at the place we had already looked at and to stay there, but to find another place for the reception. And that led us to Papa Charlie’s. This would be expensive, but ohhhhhh could we ever throw one hell of a party here! Tempting, very tempting. But they won’t let us bring outside food OR alcohol. Since Nate can’t quite figure out how to make the Kegenator a groomsman, we were hoping to at least have a keg or two of homebrew at the reception to represent, you know?

Then we checked out this other pretty sweet idea, getting hitched on top of a mountain (cue the laughter from the Colorado dwellers) overlooking the largest body of freshwater by surface area on the face of the planet. And with views like above, and this:

it was hard to resist. But the place itself had issues and really wasn’t that cool. Everyone would have to ride a gondola to get up the mountain, which we thought would add an extra adventure to the whole deal. But while Nate and Bruiser were having a great time riding the thing, I was trying hard not to vomit, and this led us to think of what it would be like riding that thing down the mountain after having a few drinks at the reception. Blech.

Then an idea was posed to us by a guy at the original place of interest to do a tent thing for the reception, as a couple had just that weekend. But I’ve so been at that wedding like 3 times.

In the end, Bruno and I sat down and talked the whole thing over, and he had some very insightful things to say. He’s so wise for his one and a half years. His advice was to have a much smaller and more private affair on the north shore, and then to throw a bigger, more casual party here at like Town Hall or something, where we could invite the hundreds and thousands of people we want to celebrate with. That way, we don’t inconvenience all the people who don’t know us as well by making them drive 4 hours up north, we just inconvenience those who are closest to us. Perfect. And that way, the original place of interest could work. Well, that dog gave us some good things to think about, and we actually think we’ve got a rough plan worked out. Now to work out the details, make the reservations, drop some cash, etc. etc. And until that’s done, I leave you on the edge of your seat.