Gary Digs Tales of the holes I dig, the dirt piles I make, and the holes I fill at the B-Bar-Lazy-B

March 15, 2011

It won’t always be bad news…

Filed under: Animals,Family,General — gary @ 10:38 am

but today it is…

 …as of 3/12/2011, the house is too quiet, the couch is too big, no one in the backyard cares that I’m “goin’ in”, there’s no dancing when we put on our jackets or visit the hall closet, and the worst of the worst is the conspicuous absence of that magnificent head in the living room window when we come home…thank-you dear sweet Huxley the Dog for 5 wonderful years, you are so deeply missed…

 http://www.garydigs.com/cast-of-characters/#huxley

January 17, 2009

Rats, eggs, and escapees…

Filed under: Animals,Repairs,Yard — Tags: , , , , — gary @ 2:41 pm

More to come on this soon… (written 1/17/2009)

Ok, well, soon is a relative term…it is now March 3rd and Maya has seen fit to comment on how terribly out of date this post is (in addition to threatening to blog about the new raised bed, not that I’d mind, but she gave me a deadline, which I may have missed). Let’s wander back to mid-January for a moment and discuss the situtations that were at hand at that point in time (some of which have been resolved, some not so much).

Slowly but surely the rat will certainly cause our shed to collapse...

Slowly but surely the rat will certainly cause our shed to collapse...

Rats, or perhaps just one, nonetheless the evidence provided above (in addition to other evidence not available at the time of this writing in the form of a catacomb of tunnels around and about the chicken coop and compost bins) indicates the presence of a rodent. Back in January I was starting to get worried that he would undermine the foundation of the shed (there are 4 or 5 of these egresses from under the slab). Further, it seems the rat was somehow extracting stuff from the compost cones. An inspection of the exterior base of the cone below ground level revealed no entrance, and yet, there were onion skins and other such tidbits pretty regularlly strewn about the chicken yard (and not by the chickens) in addition to the catacombs. I erected a barrier between the chicken yard and the compost cones and set a load of rat traps to no avail. Keep in mind we have three cats and a dog (kind of, Hemmingway is blind and doesn’t leave the house any more and Bukowski now visits every week and a half or so, perhaps more on that later).  In my opinion we shouldn’t have rodent problems, particularly since the neighbors at our southeastish corner (near the chicken yard) have the biggest most ferocious most terrible cat known to mankind. But alas, a rat we have, and as yet I have not caught and killed him, but his activity seems to have been limited by this fancy new device:

Not exclusively installed to expose the rat to dog urine and cat accessibility, but also to thwart our little escapee...

Not exclusively installed to expose the rat to dog urine and cat accessibility, but also to thwart our little escapee...

The approximately 3.5 foot tall chicken wire enclosure for the chicken yard became useless once the Skyway winds blew away the bird netting that originally covered the area. Blume (the littlest one) can basically fly whether her wing is clipped or not, and with planting season on the horizon we had to restore some modicum of order to the back yard. Coupled with the aforementioned rat issue, the gate was concieved and built (previously we accessed the chicken yard by passing through the two connected sheds at the left hand edge of the above photo, fine for us, but the situation prevented Huxley from patroling, growling, urinating and what not in that corner of the yard even when the chickens are in for the night). Prior to the gate Huxley would get really squierelly each night running around the chicken yard sniffing and barking (we assume he smelled a rat, the very same rat that continues to outwit me to this day).

Another component of the “keep Blume in the chicken yard except when we want her ranging” program was the purchase of a couple of 16ft x 54in cattle panels.  The plan is to use these panels to create dual chicken yards and rotate the chickens seasonally from one yard to the next enabling us to plan stuff for ourselves and the chickens in the area from which the chickens will be excluded while they decimate the area in which they are confined. This will happen in concert with the moving and rebuilding of the chicken coop and the creation of a funky new raised bed from broken concrete and large logs. The cattle panels and the raised bed in progress are shown below:

Still recovering from moving the logs, but they sure made the broken concrete seem light...

Still recovering from moving the logs, but they sure made the broken concrete seem light...

Now really, I mean it, really, ok, so, well, hmmm…the “chicken wire” at 3.5 feet couldn’t contain Blume. So it goes, dust ourselves off and come up with an alternate plan to accomodate the adorable little flier. She’s often picked on by the bigger chickens, so a little extra effort on her behalf isn’t a problem. She is also the most human focused of the three chickens and likes to run out to greet us when we come back to the shed or follow us around the yard when she is ranging. So we spend about $100 on these cool cattle panels. Certainly 54 inches will work, the holes are large enough for her to get through, but the plan was to just cover the bottom 2/3’s with chicken wire and we should be set. No such luck. That little turd…freshly clipped wing and all she floats like a butterfly up to the top of the cattle panel shortly after we get it set up (well, ok, not so much floats and not at all like a butterfly).  So, I tried adding some raspberry can arches to the top of the cattle panel to keep her in thinking the visual deterent might just be enough.

Again, my inadequecies were highlighted when Blume figured out she could pretty much knock them out of the way on her way up. So, after a bit of head scratching and various alternate plans for handling the Blume the flyer situation, I grabbed some of that cheezy green garden border wire arches stuff while walking by it at the hardware store. This sits a little bit precariously atop the chicken wire and addes another foot to the height. The test section I bought doesn’t quite cover the entire from facing length of their existing yard, but on the rare occassion that I remember to close the coop door closest to the cattle panel, the extra height seems to dissuade the littlest one from escaping. I’ll eventually pick up a couple 20ft rolls of that garbage and we’ll put it atop all the cattle panels when we get the new raise bed done and enclosed. I’m hoping to do some sort of funky pvc pipe strapped to cattle panel set ontop of a piece of rebar rammed into the ground fencing strategy for these cattle panels so we can take them down and get them out of the way when we are gardening that area and the girls aren’t ranging in that bed.

More news from way back in January…EGGS! Very shortly after solstace the girls started delivering their gifts again. Dahl was back to a steady egg a day and Blume and Cleary would usually round out the day with a second or third egg. Most of which have been dutifully recorded in our new “egg log” (which actually, has already been usurped by a “permaculture diary” that Maya bought, but way back in January it was just a plain old “egg log”. Unfortunately, the egg train slowed down a bit when Dahl (the red Arucana) decided to get broody on us a few weeks ago. We don’t have a rooster and have no intention of adding a chicken this year, so the poor girl spends most of her time sitting on a bunch of nothing. I miss seeing her in her chicken yard, even if she is an asshole bully to the other two girls on a pretty regular basis. Hopefully she’ll break brood soon and get our egg production back up to an average of around 2 a day.

And, because I just never get sick of this photo (taken by Maya), here is a mug shot of the escapee for ya:

I'm Breakin' Out Of This Joint! You with me or against me?

I'm Breakin' Out Of This Joint!You with me, or against me?

October 25, 2008

The cat came back…

Filed under: Animals — Tags: , , , , , — gary @ 10:58 pm

6 days later???

Strange that right after we finally posted signs that Bukowski waltzed in the house looking for dinner. Perhaps he can read…

Or, he got himself trapped in someone’s shed or garage…

Or, he has been in someone’s house and instead of calling they just let him go…which is disappointing, but we were sure excited to see him stroll in through the cat door and head up stairs to eat. He spent some time napping on the bed, and then he was off again. He came home in pretty good shape with the exception of a fairly gnarly, but in the process of healing, scab on the top of his back that looks like he has repeated sqeezed under something very tight and rough.

He wasn’t out front this morning waiting for some lap time, but that was a fairly recent phenomena anyway. We have grown accustomed to him carousing for a day or two and rolling back in to dine, but 6 days means he must have some other place, or something…I’m kind of baffled actually, so forgive the rambling, I hope we see him sometime today as well.

October 23, 2008

It’s the not knowing…

Filed under: Animals — Tags: , , , , , , — gary @ 9:32 am

a cliché, but “clichés, good ways, to say what you mean, mean what you say…” (Jimmy Buffet, Clichés, Havana Daydreamin’).

It seems we can’t get through a month without a little drama and disaster around here. Bukowski the cat has now gone missing. We last saw him on Sunday night. Historically this has not been unusual for him. I have often suspected he has an alternate home he visits, but as of today (Thursday) this is the longest he has been gone since he first showed up filthy injured stinking intact and feisty in our driveway. And throughout the summer he has been reliably present in the morning and evening for some quality lap time and hard-core cuddling just about every day.

So, today I make signs (we conveniently have lots of plastic slip covers for lost/found pets since we have the good fortune of encountering every stray wondering in the road for which we have to seek an owner), and hopefully our Bukowski cat is curled up in front of someone’s fireplace living it up on tuna and sardines somewhere… of course, as previously mentioned, it’s the not knowing that sets me spinning…

a lover, but a fighter (and a bit of a lap cat)

a lover, but a fighter (and a bit of a lap cat)

October 16, 2008

This just in…

Filed under: Animals — Tags: , , — gary @ 10:42 am

Maya has written about and posted pictures of the spoiled girls of the house…

You must visit here.

October 11, 2008

Concrete buffet and I keep gettin’ a little teary eyed…

Filed under: Animals,Politics — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , — gary @ 5:01 pm

Blume layed what could have possibly been the cutest egg in the history of chickenkind…however, it fell out of my pocket as I was creating the concrete buffet and fractured beyond salvage before anyone but I could see it in all its overwhelming adorableness. The egg was even smaller than usual, quite squat and exceptionally pointy. I wish you could have seen it.

What is the concrete buffet? Well, in one of those rare moments of pure genius that come along every so often, I put several chunks of broken sidewalk and a couple of small logs into the chicken pen. Every couple of weeks (give or a take a week) I expose a bounty of insect and worm deliciousness for the girls to enjoy by moving the objects around in the pen.  The girls now completely comprehend this ritual and follow me around from buffet to buffet to peck up the protrien treats each slab and log keeps hidden until I’m ready to release the next concrete buffet. Now, I just need to remember not to engage in this activity when there is an egg in my shirt pocket…next time I’ll do better, I swear.

Last night and tonight This American Life has been playing their 2 hour pledge drive special, and they keep playing a segment from Fresh Air where Terry Gross interviewed Max Kennedy (the son of Bobby Kennedy who was 3 years old when the last best presidential candidate was shot). I am too young to have any direct experience with the short lives and times of JFK and RFK. I’m realistic enought to know that a decent portion of their lives and the JFK administration have romaticized. I also know that this does not matter much, since in time the romanticization has become the reality when any of us (even generations later) reflect on the very critical moments in our history into which these two brothers were injected. The Terry Gross interview glances up against one such critical moment in our history when Max reads the words his father delivered to a significantly African-American audience in the poor section of Indianapolis on the night Martin Luther King was assassinated. The audience had not yet received the news (this was before text messaging mind you), and so it was thrust upon the young white Bobby Kennedy to notify the crowd of the comission of this awful act that could have easily threatened the very fabric of the nation. Of course, there probably wasn’t any other young white guy in the country better situated tha Bobby given the loss of his brother under similar circumstance and the contributions both of them eventually made to the civil rights movement. In addition to these circumstantial advantages, Bobby Kennedy was just plain smart enough and genuinely concerned enough about the well being of the country (and all of its citizens) to deliver exactly the correct message to a justifiably shocked, hurt, and angry crowd…

and, everytime I hear this speech, my eyes get watery and I tremble a bit, and long for a politics of intelligence and care rather than a politics of fear, deciet, pettiness, and ignorance. I long for leaders that lead and educate as they lead, rather than fear mongering zealots that simply attempt to capitalize on the ignorance and narrow mindedness of their constituents.

This year’s election will be important in so many ways for me. This country has the opportunity to decide in a very clear way what our priorities are for leadership. Suffice it to say American already broke my heart in November of 2004, and if this country continues to choose ignorance over intelligence, and hate over unity, and theocracy over democracy, and war over peace, bombs over diplomacy, and childishness over maturity (which I know sounds odd given the relative ages of the tops of the tickets, but I think we have all seen some genuinely middle schoolish behavior out of the campaign with the eldest statesmen on the ticket), etc…I may be forced to look more closely at land in Costa Rica…because a country without a standing army that clears out its entire government (all branches) every eight years sounds better and better every day.

If you’re reading this and you don’t feel like you know which ticket stands for what, then you really have to look more closely at the underlying principles driving each ticket’s decisions. If you are reading this and you haven’t every really thought about whether you want a secular government or a theocracy, please think about it for a bit, and try to understand that just because your religion feels a certain way about a topic doesn’t nescessarily mean that view should be enforced by the federal government. There are very important decisions to be made this year, and I’m just begging you America, please, please, please don’t force me to view you with simple pity and disdain, because if you choose the path of fear and hate rather than the path of hope and unity, I’ll have no choice but to write you all off as a bunch of petty ignorant beasts. I’m trying desperately one more time to believe in you, but I’m going to have to say three strikes will do it. Faith is for the intellectually lazy in my opinion, so I really need some strong evidence against the assertion that this country has fallen entirely into the hands of idiots…please, please, please give me some shred of evidence this year that there is in fact hope for us a country to work our way back to the secular ideals of freedom our founding fathers originally and idealistically proposed long before they could ever actually be realized in the policy of the day…these ideals have never been closer at hand, and they are under seige today in the rhetoric of divisiveness eminating from particular candidates and their followers…we have far too often strayed very far away from those ideals with internment camps, the house committee on unamerican activities, the anti-sedition acts, the USA Patriot act and oh so many other moments where simple fear took hold over reason and we gave ourselves over to hate…

America, when will you be angelic…

 

*my personal favorite recording of America by Allen Ginsberg is from The Beat Generation. Allen reads a much longer (and notably sillier) version in this discontinued disc set Holy Soul Jelly Roll: Poems & Songs.

**At this exact moment I can’t re-read this, forgive the typos and potentially overly vitriolic tone until I get back to take another look and exact a more precise level of vitriol appropriate to my actual position.

October 5, 2008

Mess ‘o beans, happy chickens, and an update on the old man…

Filed under: Animals,Yard — Tags: , , , , , — gary @ 12:26 pm

No, really, a mess of beans. Yesterday’s gusts up to 40 mph took out our half-ass bean trellis yesterday (not surprising, I suspected the stinking Skyway winds would take their toll on it eventually). As an aside, one of the things I initially loved about Seattle was how infrequently we experienced hellish winds (unlike my home town where children learn ealy how to walk with a lean into the semi-permanent wind). Low and behold, however, once I left downtown, I think I managed to move to one of the absolutely windiest outposts of the city (and we aren’t really in Seattle, though we have a Seattle address, we live in a lawless nether-world known as “unincorporated King County”).

The aftermath of the aftermath of the trellis collapse

The aftermath of the aftermath of the trellis collapse

Since the bean trellis toppled dramatically yesterday (sorry I don’t have pictures, I really suck at running for the camera to document the minutae of daily disasters, I’ll get better…I swear…), we cleared out the vines and made a final harvest of green beans and green bean seeds, and then fenced off the back end of the garden so that the girls could have at that patch of ground. Blume, the littlest of them all, immediately snagged a worm almost as long as she is tall, and the pecking, scratching, and cooing continues at this moment. The girls will do their land clearing dirt turning weed eating magic on this patch of earth and it should be ready for some sort of fall cover crop in no time at all.

The girls at work...clearing land and turning refuse into delicious eggs...

The girls at work...clearing land and turning refuse into delicious eggs...

Also, we took Hemmy to the vet for a followup (see previous entries for details on his trevails), and aside from the blindness he is doing really well and can eat whatever he likes. The vet recommended we have a kitty opthamologist take a gander at his eyes, so we’re looking into that this week. Despite the blindness, he is getting a little bit too bold for his own good. He jumped up ONTO the child/doggy gate we use to keep him in my office. My office has no door and is one wall shy of being a “room”, but sits at the top of the stairs across from our bedroom appropriately isolated from public view. Someday, perhaps, when you and I have developed a close enough relationship, I might let you see the hell hole of boxes, inoperable equipment, and construction supplies in which I spend most my days.

Additionally, we went over to J&X’s place last night for a fantastic dinner of seafood linguini prepared by J from Crab and Halibut he brought back from fishing in Alaska this summer (commercial fishing in Alaska that is, not to be confused with a 3 month vacation to drink beer with buddies while hanging a line over the side, although sometimes J’s stories make it sound strikingly similar to such an endeavor). Unbeknownst to us, our first exposure to “Guitar Hero III” layed in wait for us after dinner, which was entertaining enough, but made my hands hurt after a while. Anyway, the point of this degression is that we came home to find Hemmy had jumped the fence/gate thingy at some point and was relaxing on the bed when Maya came up to give him his half-pill. As blind as he is, he did manage to find his old food dish on top of my dresser (there to keep Huxley out of it) and managed to knock it off the edge and all over the bedroom floor. Ahh, nothing like making a late night a bit later with messes to rectify upon arrival.

So, there you have a fairly pedestrian and likely boring overview of Sunday morning here at the B-Bar-Lazy-B. I have some work to do for the Danes today since they get into the office about midnight our time and I didn’t quite get it done on Friday since we were finally finishing the duct work that afternoon (the odyssey this became will eventually be documented here).

I should probably also go see what Maya is up to, she keeps coming in and out of the house…she’s in land clearing mode today and I had to beg and plead that she let the tomatillos run their course. We had several “volunteer” tomatillos this year (which was a lucky break with the cold spring we couldn’t find starts), and I maintain that the only reason they are there is because of our sluggish and delayed garden clearing of last year (which I’m pretty sure didn’t happen until well into November, and initiated my new “wear long underwear from November through March” policy (for those that know I’m originally from Montana, 3 short years in Honolulu drained me entirely of all tolerance for weather below 50F and now I get grouchy when my toes get cold, and the nasty wet cold we have out here in the soggy lands drills right down to my bones in a much more insidious and painful way than the dry frigid temps of the island of Montana).

October 1, 2008

The old man and the see…

Filed under: Animals — Tags: , , , , , , , — gary @ 12:53 pm

This post is long overdue…

As you might recall, August started off with a bang, and not the bang for which we were hoping. I mentioned the middle of the night trip to the emergency vet with Hemingway in this earlier post. Well, he improved somewhat through August, but never regained vision in his left eye. The diagnosis was that he either suffered a head trauma or had a tumor. We could find out if he had a tumor by seeing a kitty nuerologist and having a kitty MRI which could conclude that he needed kitty brain surgery. We contemplated this deeply, and concluded that all of that misery to marginally extend Hemingway’s time with us would probably be motivated more by selfishness than by a genuine interest in his quality of life…debatable I admit, but this is our conclusion.

Then came September, which openned up with Hemingway disappearing. I had contemplated this possibility as well. Would he run off to die and leave a big gaping hole at the end of his story and many days of fretting in between? Hemingway at one time was an apartment cat, but once he got a taste of the inside/outside life he genuinely loved it. However, he almost never leaves the immediate vicinity of the house, so his disappearance did not bode well. Nin will often disappear for a couple of days if, for example, children are present. But, she doesn’t totally disappear, she sneaks in at night and then makes herself scarce during the day. Hemingway has never been more than a call of his name away, so we worried, and worried early. We took Huxley for a walk and didn’t see any signs of our poor old man. Two days passed…and we were pretty convinced he was curled up dead in shrub somewhere…I tried to hold out hope that someone took him in, or something, the open ended disappearance ached a dull and deep and frustrating ache…

On the second day of his disappearance, we got a call from the animal shelter, but the news wasn’t very good. They had been called to pick up Hemingway, but he was profoundly weak and seriously dehydrated. They were able to contact us because yes, we had microchips implanted in our animals. I have become a strong advocate of this, particularly for cats since keeping a collar on them is nearly impossible (and a bit dangerous). Admittedly, if Huxley had been chipped we wouldn’t have him now, but given his abandonment and the way he acts around the broom, his previous owners probably didn’t care much about (or possibly were even the architects of) his disappearance. Anyway, what I’m saying is, if you give a shit about your animal, get them chipped.

So, another of the many advantages of working for myself from home is that I was able to immediately take off for the animal shelter to transport him to our vet. The King County Animal Shelter is desperately under-funded and over-extended, which just amplifies my great appreciation for the fact that they administered sub-q fluids and drew blood for tests at no charge prior to my arrival to pick up Hemingway. We don’t know what caused him to disappear since aside from the blindness in one eye he had seemed to have recovered from his earlier issue, but it took a week at the vet to get him healthy enough to bring home. Profoundly weak, potassium poor, dehydrated and potentially suffering from both urinary and brain stem infections.

Hemingway is stronger now, but completely blind, after about 2 weeks at home. For the first time ever he is eating wet food (only took a couple of weeks of hand feeding with a syringe to get him accustomed to it). Because Nin decided she was queen of the roost, the stairs are still too dangerous for weakened cat, and don’t exactly know how the other two animals will behave with the blind old man…Hemingway is living primarily in my office. He is a little bit prone to getting trapped in tight spaces if left entirely to his own devices, so for the time being I put him in the very large dog crate at night. He’s not thrilled about the situation, but I wouldn’t be either if I suddenly went blind at about age 70. It would be very, very difficult to euthenize him at this point since aside from the blindness he does of some quality of life. We are still giving him antibiotics for about another week. One half a pill every twelve hours, and each day he gets a little bit better at fighting us and hiding it in his mouth only to spit it out after we are done. His claws are starting to get sharp again. In fact just today he started sharpening them on a cardboard box in my office again. Another sign he is returning to some level of normal. Still, I worry that he seems to be urinating more than he is drinking, but then, so do I…

An old picture of Camus the cat taking a nap on our dear old man...

An old picture of Camus the cat taking a nap on our dear old man...

I think I’m in love…

with flexible insulating ducting…

The splendor of the flexible insulated ducting...so beautiful...so charming

The splendor of the flexible insulated ducting...so beautiful...so charming

This project finally got started, as most do, fairly unintentionally and following lengthy internal debates about the relative merits of the project in contrast to the associated risks and hassles (which, as usual, were underestimated). I paid a routine visit to the crawlspace in the spring following the historic downpours experienced throughout western Washingtion over the winter (the brunt of the rain hit a couple hours south of here in the Centralia area, but the big sog didn’t spare us entirely). Although we suffered no where near the catastrophic rains that hit south of here, our neighbor 2 doors down has a basement and was forced to occupy a hotel for a while after the December storms caused flooding in her home.

During our neighbor’s hotel hiatus we had the pleasure of watching after Tex, her ancient Shitsu (I think he is about 2 or 3 hundred years old). I’ll avoid a lengthy digression into the entertainment value of Tex, but I happened to buy some brand new Car Harts around this time and evidently they were tasty since in the middle of a dinner party Tex decided the best thing in the world was feverishly licking my pant leg (and he would not stop, which our guests found hugely entertaining, where I did not so much after about an half an hour of continuously being licked and changed my trousers which strangely brought the licking to a halt).

Tex, the ancient manic pant licking shitsu

Tex, the ancient manic pant licking shitsu

Anyway, when I got down into the dingy hell hole that is our crawlspace during the aforementioned spring spelunking, I discovered (much to my dismay) a small pondish lake had formed just under the living room coalescing on top of the few solid portions of the mostly shredded vapor barrier.

PANIC!

We have fairly serious water fears around here, and someday I’ll relate the entire story about the household flood that occurred 4 days after we closed on the house (as a result of an overzealous water department ignoring a specific request to NOT turn on the water while we were out of town). Ok, so the question becomes, is this water here because our house sits in a hole and the earth around us is simply saturated OR is this somehow related to the replumbing that we had done back in October??? After calling upon Maya to run around the house and turn on every water fixture one at a time so I could listen and watch intently for any plumbing leaks (thinking the whole time, if this is a plumbing leak why is it under the living room, there is no plumbing here…grrr…hmmm….arggg).

Ok, as best as we could tell there is no plumbing issue, so this is most likely saturated earth acting in concert with the wholly inadequate vapor barrier and poor air circualtion resulting from the wholly inadequate crawlspace venting covered by stinking vinyl siding with silly little air louvres molded into the siding (and perhaps augmented by increased water volumes resulting from the curtailing of the roots of the 50 year old crimson maple that was required for the replacement of the water service from the street to the house). Well, that was my story, and I decided to hope for the best and stick to that assumption about the source of the water. I also decided to remove a significant portion of the remaining vapor barrier to allow the water to soak into the earth since I did not want to belly crawl across the pondish lake to check and clear the crawlspace vent at that exact moment. I also made the decision to return to the crawlspace later in the summer and assess the pondish lake again at that time (and to be fully prepared with some sort of water removal apparatus to clear the pond as needed so as to allow somewhat dry access over to the crawlspace vent if needed). Just another item to add to the list of about 18 things that need to be done in the crawlspace. And so I pulled myself out of that nasty underworld, covered the access with the beautiful hatch cover I had made the previous year to match the flooring (and to replace the piece of 3/4″ ply that didn’t really cover the access entirely anyway), and returned the entire contents of the closet under the stairs to its usual location immediately over and completely obstructing the access to the crawlspace.

Oooo pretty...with handles too...

Oooo pretty...with handles too...

This action (the clearing of the closet), in and of itself, is probably the greatest hinderance to activity in the crawlspace. Not to diminish the generally nastiness of the place, but the fact that in order to get down there we have to move this bevy of bizarre objects and shelving out of the closet under the stairs into the blue room just to get down there presents enough of an initial hassle to make my visits less frequent than perhaps they should be. And thus, summer became fall (or so Maya claims, I’ve been trying to hold out for summer until November, but the past couple of days have dashed my hopes), and I did not find a cheap enough sump pump close enough to home on Craig’s List throughout my summer searches.

The blue room full of crap from the closet...our primary obstacle to crawlspace visits

The blue room full of crap from the closet...our primary obstacle to crawlspace visits

However, a few weeks ago, J (of J&X, a friend of mine since High School that now lives only a few blocks away and fishes for salmon in Alaska during the summer) had come back from Alaska fishing and happened to be heading back up to Bellingham to work on the boat for the week prior to starting their fall fishing here in the Puget Sound. In a minor stroke of genius I remembered to ask if they happened to have a 110v sump I could borrow over the following weekend (which would at long last provide the required force to inspire me back into the crawlspace for the long overdue checkup on the pondish lake). Sweet victory! They did in fact have a 110v sump pump I could borrow (thereby avoiding some freakish car battery jumper cable Rube Goldberg style setup for a 12v marine pump). I spent the following week sizing up tough for the journey under the house…choosing a sacrificial shirt…contemplating the exact pumping strategy…hoping for the best…expecting the worst…and last, but of course not least, on Friday I cleared the closet in preparation for the descent…

Into the abyss...

Into the abyss...

 J. came through with the pump and all the pieces were in place to begin the crawlspace drainage and assessment initiative…I dutifully got the pump ready to go and Maya helped me get the hose strung from the pump at the crawlspace access out to one of the rain barrels by the back door. The pump didn’t have an on/off switch so I tied the cords together to keep the plugs in close proximity to each other to start it up once I got it into position in the center of the pondish lake and then I descended…

The heart of darkness...

The heart of darkness...

Low and behold the summer sunshine had done the job. No standing water at all, although the ground itself under the livingroom was still pretty damp. A plethora of factors converge to explain the semi-permanent dampness in this area. Several of these factors have already been mentioned above. Some other issues include the fact that this is the side of the house where the downspouts from the gutters are located. This side also borders the concrete driveway which sits about a foot above the ground (like I said, our house sits in a hole, I have no idea what they were thinking back in 1944 when they set us and our neighbor to the northeast below the street level). Well, hmmm…the anti-climax drove me into a momentary stupor (of a couple of hours) . What do I do now? We’ve moved all that crap into the blue room, the access is open, I’ve sullied my clothes…I decided to chain smoke for a while and mull over the potential items on the list of 18 or so that needed to be done down there.

More of the same...in the other direction...

More of the same...in the other direction...

First, I decided to inspect and clear (to the best of my ability) the crawlspace vents for improved airflow. I was able to immediately create a breeze by jamming a long screwdriver through the incredibly gappy loose wire mesh on the vent cover and then through the narrow louvre on the vinyl siding. Cleared all the cobwebs, but a lot of the obstruction was actually on the outside between the siding and the vent, so that became a project for another day to be approached from the exterior of the house now that I confirmed each of the louvred areas did in fact have a vent associated with it (I had my doubts since I hadn’t really previously tucked my head through the cobwebs into the space between the joists and above the concrete to see each of the vents). After that, I decided to chain smoke a little bit more and contemplate my next move (still a bit dumbfounded by the anti-climax, I set about putting away all the pumping supplies and coiled up the hose, acknowledging the end of any person powered watering requirements for the season). I started to contemplate the unthinkable, and tried some internet research to support my fretting, worrying, and strategizing…could we, should we…hmmm…better smoke another cigarette in the sun…

As I was soaking up the rays (well, not really, I was in full crawlspace battle regalia and only my face and hands could receive the goodness of the sun), another painful example of the stunning synergy of mind that occassionally happens around here was realized when Maya pre-emptively struck with the question: “Do you think we should try and replace the ducting?” NOTE: I had not mentioned this aspect of my contemplations out loud.

“Damn It!” I exclaimed, “I suppose so…” and so it began, since that is exactly what I was turning over like so much mental compost through all that chain smoking in the sun…I did a little more internet research to find some pricing on the flexible insulated ducting we wanted to use in our replacement efforts since the final 2 square feet of fiberglass that had once graced our metal ducting (and was mostly gone even before the big move in flood of ’04’) was quickly slipping into the earth beneath the house (which makes for an itchy belly crawl). It is pretty much impossible to find anything really useful on most hardware store sites, particularly those smaller locally owned independent or locally owned mini-chain stores, but even the big guys (like the ones that used to be Eagle and the ones with the big orange signs) don’t share much of the nitty gritty of construction supplies on their site. Sure, if you want a ten foot garden hose, or a Weber Gas Grille, or rat poison (stuff we don’t usually shop for), you can find it pretty easily and even pick it up in the store. If you want something like 6″ flexible insulated ducting you have to research the pricing in far off lands at sites that specialize in, well, flexible instulated ducting, and then visit the hardware store to see if they actually have that which you seek…and so we did…

 If at all possible, we try to meet our hardware needs at McLendon’s. They are a chain, but a local one, and good luck finding a small independent hardware store in the south of Seattle (the posh North of the city still has some of the old storefront independents, but then the ultra-hip and wealthy can afford such luxuries). McLendon’s had the ducting, so we loaded up the cart (overloaded I should say), and I grabbed a couple pieces of pipe insulation since I knew the PEX on the far wall near the new on-demand water heater had not been covered by the plumbers (I’m not 100% certain they ran out of insulation so much as they ran out of patience for the crawlspace, the job took longer than they expected as a result of some of the minor peculiarities of our install). Then we grabbed the connectors…all of them…they only had three, but I thought that would do since we only had two runs that needed connectors for certain, and one potential spot where we might need to go beyond the 25ft length of a single piece of ducting. These connectors are a pretty crucial piece of gear for installing flexible insultated ducting, 6 inch diameter aluminum connectors about 6 inches long and crimped on each side for joining two pieces of ducting (since unlike the metal ducting, the flexible insulated isn’t “gendered” such that you can insert one end of the piece you’re installing into the end of the piece that preceded it, etc).

The magic piece of the puzzle...so simple, yet so rare

The magic piece of the puzzle...so simple, yet so rare

Gross error on my part…I failed to realize that at each of the registers we would also need a connector to insert into the existing boot. We discovered this tidbit as I was removing the very first piece of metal ducting from the register boot below the blue room. Ok, that’s alright I thought, we bought McLendon’s out of the stuff, but certainly we could run out the next day and get the 4 additional connectors we needed. Progress, let’s make progress, we decided. So we continued the removal effort to completion (no small task, all told I think it took as long to remove all those sheet metal screws as it did to actually install and hang the new ducting). The plan was to get this part done, perhaps get a start on installing the new ducting with the parts we had on hand. I could get the pipe insulation in place. Maya started the run from the blue room, which we knew would require more than a single length. I could eventually do the very short run from the Kitchen to the plenum. Everything would be ok…the weather was still nice…no worries.

The Horror...The Horror...

The Horror...The Horror...

We spent the better part of Sunday visiting every hardware store and home improvement mega store in our immediate area to no avail. Every single one of these bastards were bursting at the seams with box after box of the flexible insulated ducting, and yet, no connectors. You see, my theory on this goes something like this… somewhere at headquarters the corporate comptroller who doesn’t know ducting from a hole in the ground from their own ass decides what gets stocked on the shelves. Add to that the fact that most mega-stores choose to pay their employees too little to really develop any concern about what is stocked on the shelves, and there certainly isn’t any incentive for knowledgable staff to apply for a job at the big orange sign when they could be making a much better living actually plying their trade. I would also lay odds that there are institutional and systemic structures in place that discourage employees from taking an active role in improving the stocking strategy (this is just a guess, in many ways I’m probably talking out my ass right now, but you get the picture).

 (IMPORTANT NOTE: I do not blame the employees for not giving a shit, neither would I at $9 an hour for the second or third job most people need just to pay the crazy mortgage payment that arises from the tiniest one bedroom on a 16th of an acre being priced right around a quarter of a million dollars).

When at long last we get home from the Odyssey of the 6″ connectors, empty handed and discouraged, there isn’t a lot of vibrance or vim available to us for tackling the task at hand (and not a whole lot we can do at this point since without the parts the labor that can be completed can’t very effectively be carried out as a team due to the cramped spaces involved). In a moment of desperation I decided to check Amazon.com for the Connector. The thought that drove this search ran something like…in the worst case scenario we could just order some and complete the project when they arrived. I almost fell right out of my chair…who supplied Amazon with this mission critical part for our project…you guessed it, McLendon’s. At the McLendon’s in Renton we were told “this item comes from Ace, so we can’t get it from the warehouse” and no other help was offered. I decided to give the McLendon’s in White Center a ring and see if they had any on hand. We could drive over there the next day and get them (they could be had in Maya’s Civic, where getting the ducting itself was a job for my F250), and then we would be well on our way to completing our project. McLendon’s in White Center only had one, uno, ein, single lonely connector…BUT, they offered to see if the other stores had any and could do a store transfer (which would take a couple days, ended up being three), and they were most helpful in securing the promise of connectors to be had in the future. We would get the connectors on Wednesday and finish up the project on Thursday afternoon (Wednesday was Maya’s Mom’s birthday and we were having her parents over for dinner, so crawlspace activity was banned for Wednesday).

We didn’t get the connectors until Thursday. Apparently they had a metric butt load of stuff come in on Wednesday and didn’t find the connectors in the huge stack until late in the afternoon (at which point I was in Auburn, WA loading a cord of wood to help J (of J&X, the aforementioned fisherman with the sump pump) keep his house warm this winter in lieu of getting central heating other than the old wood stove on which they relied last year. ‘Tis the season for heating preparations I suppose.

I had some work to do, and so did Maya, so we didn’t get to McLendon’s in White Center until about 3pm (we wrapped it with a trip to a post office box in the University District that Maya has to visit now and again and which constitutes a lengthy story unto itself that Maya probably won’t tell for some time to come). We didn’t leave McLendon’s in White Center until after 4pm and got home around 4:30pm, or roughly one thousand hours later as I recollect it. This brings us to the one narrow area where the big home improvement outlets kind of have it over the small guy, policies and procedures. Sometimes these little nuggets (policies and procedures) can have an advantage, such as knowing where to put items that came in as a store transfer for a customer so that anyone can find them when said customer (us in this case) arrives to retrieve the items. Now, on the other hand, more often than not, policies and procedures are actually designed to hinder the employee from being too helpful to the customer (and thus increasing the total cost of serving said customer which just might impinge upon the multi-bazillion dollar bonus of the executives of some home improvement chains that just might have a big orange sign). Fortunately, despite having no idea where the items were located, the folks at McLendon’s in White Center were not impeded in their dilligent efforts to find the items, and so, three of the four connectors we needed were found.

DOH! I needed 4, but only needed 3 tranferred from other stores since McLendon’s in White Center had one on hand, BUT the one on hand could not be found (and was not in the box on the shelf where it belonged, so initially everyone presumed it had been purchased). The very helpful man with the unusually pointy hair piece did check the computer to see how many they were supposed to have in stock. ELEVEN! Somewhere in the store we had been scouring at length there hid a box or boxes of ELEVEN FX0225 6″ Flex ducting adapters. So, the search continued. You’ll note that by this time I knew the Manufacturer’s part number by heart and started closely examining the writing on the unpacked boxes at the tops of the shelves and in the aisles (the previous day’s delivery actually did consist of a metric butt load of stuff and much of it remained unpacked). Eventually, I did find a box marked FX0225, and we considered at length whether or not to buy extras. We chose not to with the rationale that there were supposed to be 10 others there somewhere in the store and that perhaps they would be easier to find if we did indeed need to return for an unexpected extra.

By the time we got home, the aggressive vigor to pursue the project deep into the night to completion had completely vanished. The project would have to be completed the following day. I had some work to do on Friday, and so did Maya, but we did get the project started and completed that afternoon with relative ease. This is why, despite all of the above, I have developed a deep emotional bond with flexible insulated ducting. For a few hundred dollars, with duct tape, wire cutters, a hammer and some nails, we were able to replace all the ducting under the house (and hopefully we’ll save a buck or two this winter by not heating the crawlspace as we did with the old broken down crushed in places pouring hot air all over the place galvanized ducting that was down there before). 

Aside from the fiberglass left over from the old ducting that now resides in our lungs and nose and deep beneath the surface of our skin (along with big dirt clods in our nose and lungs), the project left very little permanent damage on our souls. There was the embarassing event at the very end while I attempted to move some of the older abandoned flexible copper piping out of the way of the final join of the flexible insulated ducting and proceded to dump any and all of the remaining water in the pipe directly into my lap, but that also could have been worse (for example, had I chosen to dump said stale old water on my face, up my nose, or in my mouth along with all the dirt that fell out of the joists into these orifices). The closet stuff is still in the blue room, and I really need to go back down there with a big can of Great Stuff to plug up the plumbing and wiring holes (particularly since the crawlspace vents are not keeping rodents out of there, and last year one decided to periodically visit our trash can by coming up through said plumbing and wiring holes…I killed him, and I’m glad I did, we can discuss all the philosophical details of this at some later date). I know I’ll be returning to the heart of darkness again in the future, but ideally not until next spring when I hope to run speaker wire out to the patio (a project for which I’ve had the speakers for about two years). I’ll probably lay new vapor barrier at that time as well, although I’m loathe to do it until I better understand the hydrodynanmics of the crawlspace, and get the vents replaced, since once water is on top of the plastic it seems to go nowhere.

If you’ve actually read this entire entry, then I suppose you deserve a reward of some sort. All I’ve got is this super cute picture of Hemingway and Huxley on the couch together…I hope you feel it is a fitting reward for your diligence in the face of overwhelming domesticity…

Your reward...a single dose of ultra-cute...

Your reward...a single dose of ultra-cute...

 

August 17, 2008

We’re Up! We’re Down! We’re In! We’re Out!

Filed under: Animals — Tags: , , — gary @ 11:04 am

We were so looking forward to August. The hope being that some assemblance of the normal order would be returned, and that a blanket of calm would settle over the B-Bar-Lazy-B. Since I am the crappiest blogger known to the entire cyber-universe, I’ll have to give you some background before we get into the details of how August hasn’t yet delivered on the promise we thought it held back in Mid-July…

From late June through July we were dog-sitting Maya’s parent’s dog while they were on an extended vacation. Before we embarked on this little adventure, my greatest concern was how Jake would climatize to the cats, since he didn’t really have any direct experience with them. Hold on…

Let me introduce Jake…Jake is a yellow lab, I think he is about 8 years old, and has the longest nose in the world…

Miles and Miles of Nose

Miles and Miles of Nose

Well, ok, so maybe it isn’t the longest nose in the world, but if you live with Huxley for a while, most dogs begin to look like their noses are inappropriately long, Witness exhibit B, Huxley’s comparatively truncated snout…

A comfortably proportioned snout

A comfortably proportioned snout

Anyway…Huxley and Jake have played together pretty regularly (although always quite rambunctiously) both at Maya’s folk’s place and here at the house on occassion, so the least of our concerns was how Huxley and Jake would interact (particularly given our good luck at dog sitting other dogs in the past, etc.).

As one should come to expect, my expectations were wholly inaccurate. Jake on the whole couldn’t care less about the cats. He even seemed a bit shy and confused by them. He almost failed to notice the chickens for the entire month and a half. Jake’s sole concerns in the world are food, people, tennis balls, sticks, and of course, water. There is absolutely nothing else going on behind his stare besides a continuous inventory of the presence or absence of these five objects of his desire. His entire being is tied to these five concerns, and he can’t help but excitedly acknowledge the introduction of any one of them with fierce tail waging and some disconcerting bouncing. (Maybe there is one other thing on his mind…his bed…which he humps…which is also disconcerting and not the topic of this post, but worth mentioning nonetheless).

Our problem, surprisingly, throughout the month of July was our own sweet boy, Huxley. And the problem, he was not very sweet. After a few days, the novelty of the visitor wore thin, and the “bad Huxley” traits started to come out. These “bad Huxley” traits are few and far between, but at 104lbs, 98 of which are muscle, and 80 of those are located squarely on the top of his head to operate his jaws, any bad traits are a cause for concern. Huxley is intense. He is intensely protective and on occassion intensely possesive (we know this and prior to Jake’s arrival we removed all of the toys, bones and sticks that usually lay around the yard awaiting Huxley’s whim).

The first incident occurred while Maya was scruffing Huxley’s belly in the yard, and Jake bounded over to get a piece of the action. Maya is central to Huxley’s possessiveness tendencies, and there was an erruption that culminated in trip to the Vet to get a single staple put in a gash in Jake’s long pointy head. Maya suffered some scrapes and torn trousers in her effort to remove Huxley from Jake. Ok, historically, there was one other incident between Jake and Huxley involving a toy, so this second incident gave pause, but not panic. We proceeded by being very mindful of how and when attentions were lavished and just put a lot of effort into keeping everything very mellow around the B-Bar-Lazy-B.

I think we made it about another week, until the evening I decided I should bring the second dog bed out to the living room right before dinner so that we could all settle in for the evening. I thought I could accomplish this fairly smoothly despite both boys being in the living room at the time since Huxley was already settled on the bed that is permanently present in the living room and Jake was pretty well settled on the floor at the outset. I was wrong. Both boys took an immediate co-interest in the newly introduced bed, and our efforts to distract them in opposite directions seemed to incite conflict. Once Huxley has a grip, the only hope is for Maya to shove her hand in his mouth and break his grip whilst I’m pulling and then holding Huxley away from the site of conflict. The unfortunate consequence of Maya being so quick to shove her hand in Huxley’s mouth, is she sustains the injuries, while I generally walk away shaken but unscathed (I can’t even begin to go into how much I hate a dog conflict, but suffice to say this concern was central to my reluctance to get a dog in the first place). Maya suffered several puncture wounds to here index finger and serious bruising under her thumbnail (which now matches the other thumbnail which was bruised some time ago during the aforementioned initial conflict over a toy which occurred before Jake was actually staying with us).

Maya really needs her hands to do her job. Since the definition of insanity is trying the same things over and over again expecting different results, and with part of our livelihood now at stake, we had to take action. For the remainder of July we had to implement emergency dog separation measures. Thankfully the weather favored our efforts throughout the ordeal, and the lay out of our house accommodated keeping one dog upstairs with me while the other roamed free or stayed downstairs in Maya’s office with frequent trade offs throughout the day. If we didn’t both work from home now, this would have been a lot worse, but the continuity of our presence, and a little help from instant messaging technology, enabled us to rapidly develop policies, systems, and procedures appropriate to the task of regular dog rotation. Our strategy hinged heavily on utilization of the Blue Room as a sort of doggie air lock for performing rotations upstairs and down, inside and outside. Communication also plays as an essential component of any effective set of policies, systems and procedures for a management task as daunting as total dog separation. So, for the remainder of July the B-Bar-Lazy-B sounded not unlike a naval vessel from days of old. Aside from IM, we leveraged call and response to coordinate dog movement for locale to locale. Hence the title of this entry. At the completion of each dog movement, the party responsible for the dog in motion would call out to the party responsible for the dog at rest (usually waiting in or near the Blue Room with the dog at rest momentarily sequestered therein) to finalize the pooch transfer activity.

Let me walk you through the process of a relatively simple move, though more complicated moves were enacted in a similar fashion, just to clarify exactly how eagerly we were awaiting August. If Jake needed to move from my office upstairs to outside while Huxley was in a “free roam” period wherein the back door was open and the child gate at the foot of the stairs was closed, initiation of the movement would be either called out (if Maya was in the kitchen for example) or IM’d from upstairs to down (if Maya was in her office for example).

So, maybe I would yell “Should we do a switch?!”

Maya would respond “Sure it has been a while since Jake has been out!”

Then I would yell “Ok! Let’s do it!”

Maya would yell back “Ok! I’m taking Hux into the Blue Room!”

I would respond “Ok!”

As Maya took Hux into the Blue Room, she would call out “Ok, We’re In!”

At that point I would know I could safely open the gate and guide Jake to the out of doors, as I closed the door behind me I would call out “Ok, We’re Out!”

That final call indicated that Maya and Hux could emerge without incident from the Blue Room, and ordinary activities could resume until the next sequence of calls and moves was initiated.

This process dominated the month of July. Jake is an absolutely sweetheart, but when the sun rose on August 5th with the termination of this procedural sequence (Jake had gone home on the night of August 4th after Maya’s folk’s got back in town), a definite sense of relief gracefully settled across the entire eighth of an acre we call home. It did take a while to shake the habit of calling out to each other during each of our movements through the house. On several occassions I had to stop myself from closing the gate at the foot of the stairs and yelling out “We’re up!”

Unfortunately, the obliteration of the promise of a peaceful August came upon us that night with a midnight run to the 24 hour emergency Vet. But, I guess I’ll save that story for the next entry…suffice it to say we are all still here, so that is the good news. Our dear old man Hemingway isn’t seeing out of one eye and might be facing numbered days however, and that lays a thick viel of sorrow over the entire month. And then, just to keep us on our toes, someone decided to run into Maya’s car in the middle of the night sometime and drive off leaving it sans 1 side view mirror with a flat tire, a bent rim, and untold damage to the front end suspension, drive train, and who know what else. The precision with which they had to have scraped by her car to catch the mirror and the front tire without really denting the body is difficult to conceptualize, but alas, somehow they accomplished just such a feat and we still need to figure out how serious the damage is.

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