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Archive for the ‘Garden’ Category

Love a good sale!

Posted by joeabbott on July 29, 2018

Today’s story is a little different … it’s about my frugal side and yet, you may have good reason to question whether I’m doing it right. The story starts with clearing the property last year!

imageSuzy and I have a goodly assortment of gardening tools: way more than the average lot, I’d imagine. But, we have laid pavers, built our shed and chicken coop, trimmed the sod, and invested a lot of time in all manner of gardening. So when we bought the property up north and decided to clear it by hand, we got a few more rakes and shovels and whatnot.

One of our favorite tools, however, is our 32” Fiskars Bypass Lopper.

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It has the right power to cut through 1.5” branches with ease and can lop bigger stuff with only a little more difficulty. It’s sharp, has smooth cutting action, and doesn’t weigh a ton. Whenever we’d be up clearing brush, if either of us left this on the ground to tend to something else, the other would pick it up to address some tough branch. It just worked well.

So when Suzy and I were walking through Target the other day and spotted a pair of these on clearance, I almost jumped out of my skin seeing they were going for $12.48 … yup, the very same model that Amazon is selling for about $38!!

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I had to giggle to myself as we walked out of the store with them. Great deal!

And so, a week later when Suzy was heading to do a little shopping and asked if I needed anything at Target I replied with a goofy:

Hmmm … things I need:

  • Happy wife … nope, can’t get that at Target
  • Cooler weather … coming middle of next week
  • Fruits … not from Target, please … last batch from there was perfect in terms of size but not a good fruit
  • Nice treats for our picnic … maybe a tube of chips (if they’re on sale)

Can’t think of anything else … unless you can get loppers for $12 again!

Yeah, a week later and I was still excited that we got a good tool and we got it at a great price! And so, when Suzy returned from her shopping trip and sent me text with the below picture and the message “Got mine for $3.74,” I was surprised to say the least:

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Oh, you can’t see that price tag … let me blow it up for you:

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Yeah … we got another pair of loppers, exact same brand and model, FOR LESS THAN FOUR DOLLARS!! Holy smokers!

No, we don’t need a third pair but at four bucks, you’d be insane to leave them on the shelf. Soon enough we’ll have to tend a large 5 acre lot, a barn, shed, and plenty of needs for good quality trimming tools and we’ll always have one of these in easy reach. Suzy mentioned looking at a number of other pairs on the shelf and this was the only one with a clearance sticker on it for this price. I’m not sure what strategy Target is working but this one worked for us!

And so, it may not be frugal to buy something you don’t need, but it’s certainly smart to maximize your buying power and in this case we did pretty good.

Hope you find what you want and find it on clearance at a deep discount! Thanks for dropping by.

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Posted in Garden, Home projects | Tagged: , | 2 Comments »

I stole a picture

Posted by joeabbott on May 5, 2018

Suzanne does a better job with her blog … less blah-blah-blah, more pic-pic-pic. That doesn’t mean I’m not happy with what I’m doing, but I think her style is generally more approachable and digestible by people clicking through the internet on their way to other things. And so, I often visit her site. Sure I know what she’s up to, but in a Kurosawa-esque way, it’s always fun to see the same days through someone else’s eyes.

And so I saw this picture:

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I was there when she took it and even peeked over her shoulder, but I love the shot. The simple flower in the foreground, the sly yet confident cat peering from behind the mossy bole of a tree. I like the casual formality of the path lined with large river stone, the frilly fern here and there, and the mulchy understory in between giving warmth in contrast to the cool grey background. Just a nice, balanced shot. The kind I always try … and typically fail … to achieve. Heck, even glancing back up at it now, I like the repetition of the upright plant stalks, the cat’s erect posture, and the lamp in the background, all echoing a similar form.

You can see the above pic and more out at A Walk in the Yard. Enjoy!

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It’s all in the context

Posted by joeabbott on April 27, 2018

When I hear Suzy utter a “Gah!” and we’re on the streets, I look for an exceptional interaction or individual somewhere in the crowds. When she gives that same “Gah!” at home, I reach for a newspaper or magazine to usher whatever bug, beetle, or critter outside that’s somehow made its way inside.

When I heard “Gah!” earlier today, I replied with, “I’ll go get a cart.” You see, we were at a place that was selling plants and I knew my miss had espied a must-have something or other. When I asked about her current find she proclaimed, “It’s on my list,” then added, “The undersides of its leaves are fuzzy.” Reading my expression she finished with, “That’s all,” all the while sympathizing with an individual who might need more to make a plant special than the fact that it has fuzzy undersides to its leaves.

As a side note, somewhat related, we expanded the plant storage we built a few weeks back. That’s all … thanks for dropping in.

Posted in Garden, Me, Suzy | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

Little project: plant shelves

Posted by joeabbott on March 21, 2018

Suzanne has been busy. Propagating starts, planting bulbs, and saving off some of our favorite plants for when we move and need to make our new house a home. The price (aside from all the work) is a yard full of pots! Dozens of them! We have a reasonable amount of room but when we started running out, we put them on the sloping yard by the fence. This made them tip over and otherwise see more damage than we’d like, so Suzy requested I do something about it.

And, as usual, I said “sure” before I really knew what I was going to do. I believe she worried … or at least hoped this wasn’t another one of my promises made hollow by a busy life … and I postponed until the weekend. Well, the weekend arrived and I made good on the promise: a few bricks and some lumber from Home Depot, a box of screws and a bit of time in my shop with my miter saw and we were in business.

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Essentially I just leveled the ground and used bricks for a level support, made a few long shelving units, and then rested the shelves on the bricks. I won’t show you the pictures proving she was so eager for the project to be done that she was loading the shelves before I’d finished, but she did. And that was nice to see. And, as she has so many pots, we decided to go a second level on part of the shelves so she could fit even more plants!

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Not a bad job for a few hours on an otherwise lazy weekend.

Thanks for dropping by!

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I must be getting handier

Posted by joeabbott on October 28, 2017

When Suzanne and I bought this home over 2 decades ago, I wasn’t much of a handyman. Below-average skills tempered by above-average interest and a sincere desire not to mess up too badly. Over the years my skills have improved and I see messing up as just a path to getting better … it’s not that big of a deal; my interest in being handy hasn’t changed a bit.

This comes to mind as we recently rebuilt the raised planter beds we had in the backyard and, upon completion I realize we didn’t really take any photos, didn’t make a big fanfare of it, and the most concerning question was: is there any lumber from the original project that we could save? There wasn’t, at least not for using in the raised bed project, but I still have them in the garage where I’m considering whether they could be saved for any project.

Sometime last year we noted the raised beds were starting to show some wear and tear. I used some rebar I had in the corner of the shop to help support the walls and ends but earlier this year we realized it wasn’t enough. We used a good quality cedar in their construction back in 2010 … but that was back in 2010. I was mighty proud of that job and detailed it back in this post: Raised Planters. It was a good bit of work and I’m still happy with how that came together, but take a look at what over half a decade of Seattle weather can do to cedar:

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The planking along the sides suffered similarly: edges and ends rotted but the exterior face was OK. Which is why I thought I might be able to save it. No luck.

So, one Saturday afternoon, Suzy and I headed to the local big box store for a shopping trip. She picked up some crushed gravel and sand for this project here (and you really should take a look … it’s a very fine bit of work), and she helped me pick out some 8’ planks and a 8’ 4×4 post: we weren’t repairing, we were replacing!

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After getting them home I decided not to rebuild the planters exactly as I had, but to make a few minor improvements. Because the posts seemed to rot the most and they did where I had cut them, I left the posts outside the planter. I also screwed them to the planks but drove all the screws from the outsides.

Finally, I added a couple of wooden mending plates between the horizontal slats. Looking at the old planter beds, it was obvious the pressure of the soil inside was pushing the boards outward and they were separating. By adding a few mending plates between stacked planks, I hope they hold together better.

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When I started building the replacement beds I didn’t really have a committed plan. I asked people at work what they’d done, used a reference someone recommended, and went from there. I like how they turned out.

In addition to seeing improvement in my skills by not taking pictures of the journey, I built the caps for the top of the posts without even thinking about it. Cut out some square blanks from an extra piece of cedar I had in the garage, angled my table saw 10°, buzzed each piece on all four sides, and screwed them on. The caps took a long time to figure out when I originally built these planters!

To install them I brought the lumber outside, screwed them all together, and, with Suzy’s help, placed the empty raised bed over the dirt mounds left standing after we pulled the rotted wood away from the old beds. I then marked where I’d need to shovel dirt away, moved the empty forms to the side, dug away a couple inches from the scribed line, and then placed them back over the mounded earth. Then we shoveled soil into the gaps, raked the beds and were done!

So, I’m a handier handyman now than I was 17 years ago, but what I’m really looking forward to is how handy I will be seven years from today! Thanks for being with me on this journey.

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Volunteering at Puget Sound Goat Rescue–a job well done

Posted by joeabbott on September 23, 2017

WP_20170915_09_16_34_ProEvery year Microsoft encourages its employees to volunteer a workday in the service of a charitable organization; it’s called the Day of Caring. While they encourage charitable contributions and volunteering any time, this is the one day a year you can look your manager in the eye, say, “I’m going to be at a Day of Caring event”, and there are no questions asked or worries about how your work will get done. Your work will wait as the community benefits from your efforts this day.

To assist in the volunteer efforts on the Day of Caring, Microsoft coordinates staffing at organizations across the Puget Sound and even places employees from other companies at charities in need of help. This year I wanted to volunteer my time at the Puget Sound Goat Rescue (PSGR) and while there wasn’t going to be a Microsoft group helping this not-for-profit business, crews from the local Nordstrom and Amazon companies would be onsite. As this is a place Suzy normally volunteers her time, she would also be on-hand.

Barbara runs the PSGR and setup a few projects for me and promised to send along a couple of helpers. I’ve done some work at the PSGR before and this time she requested I set posts around a garden area she’s building out and, if time allowed, widen a gate to allow wider loads to pass through.

Having seen how innocently destructive goats could be, I asked Barbara if the plan on the left would suffice. We only shared mail but I get the feeling she blanched a bit at seeing the heavy-duty structure, coming back with a polite perhaps not quite so industrial. She didn’t use those words, but I was told the area would only support smaller goats and the biggest load on the posts would be the stretched fencing between them. OK … how about this: the plan on the right:

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The second design was more to her liking. The “double post” on one side of the gate would hold the hinges and ensure the gate (she had a pre-existing gate that would fit here) wouldn’t slump. The others just needed a little extra support to hold up to the fence stretching.

So, last week on Friday, rather than head into Redmond, I drove to Maple Valley with Suzy and my truck loaded with saws, shovels, and all manner of other tools, ready for a day of physical labor.

WP_20170915_11_13_00_ProAt the rescue we started moving materials to the garden patch and, on the way, I pass through the gate she wanted widened. Not only did it need widening, but it had a low beam overhead and a board at the bottom that blocked small animals from crawling\burrowing under, but also posed a tripping hazard. As we had a lot of materials to pass through the gate I was looking down as I passed through … and proceeded in cracking my head so hard I saw stars. I decided then and there that I’d prioritize fixing the gate first … or, at a minimum, removing the old gate structure first.

The gate was located between the legs on a raised deck off the back, upper floor of the house and though well-made, a hammer, power screwdriver, and Sawzall made short work of it. Once I’d removed the gate, and pulled off the upper beam and “tripping plate”, we turned our attention to the garden fence. And at that point I met Kellen and Ryan, both Nordstrom employees.

Kellen had put in posts before and had even worked for the DNR with fire support while in college; Ryan was a bit less experienced but able-bodied. Happily, both were very willing to dig in and get to work.

Over the next four hours or so, we labored on digging holes ~30” deep, into which we dumped some gravel, ensured the installed 4×4 posts were vertical, and then filled the rest of the hole with Sakrete, a dry, bagged concrete product.  For the posts to the left of the gate, I cut the horizontal and diagonal sections and, both happily and unexpectedly, they all fit perfectly on the first try. I’ll downplay the fact that I cut the diagonal brace a quarter inch long so I could “sneak up” on the fit because, well, it fit perfectly on the first try. Admitted Kellen was doing the fitting, so I suspect it was “encouraged” into the space. Kellen is a big boy!

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After placing the posts that are shown in the above (right) diagram, we realized that the spacing on both sides had too long of a span between posts, and so we ended up digging two more holes and installing another couple of posts, one on each side. By that time, however, we ran out of Sakrete, so we opted out of installing the diagonal braces supporting the posts that would hold the fencing. The posts seemed sturdy and probably didn’t need the extra support. Probably.

So, we went to lunch very happy with how things turned out.

After lunch Barbara let the volunteers spend time with the goats, either the adults or the kids, and all of them LOVED that part. It was fun to watch a bunch of people just coo over the little goatlings and take turns feeding and holding them. I participated a little but spent quite a bit of time packing up, cleaning the materials, and generally treating the PSGR property as I would my own. And then I turned my attention to finishing the gate below the deck.

It was easy enough to add a second support beam to the hinge side and then another on the side the gate would latch on, but as I looked over both projects with Barbara, she asked a couple questions that suggested I wasn’t “done”.

On the garden fence area, we hadn’t hung the gate. We hadn’t because the posts were drying in concrete and you shouldn’t put load on the post until it’s cured. But, having the hinge side supported by two posts sunk 30” into the ground and three other horizontal braces suggested it could probably handle the hanging weight of the gate just fine. So I finished that off.

On the gate under the house, she asked if the free space (the part not covered by the gate itself) would be enclosed. I pointed to the fencing I’d removed and said, “someone could use that to block it off”. Well, the “someone” was obviously me, so I put in a little more time making that look good.

While I was very happy with how everything turned out, as Suzy and I drove home, we stopped to look at the garden fencing posts. They looked good but I had a nagging worry that we hadn’t finished the job: those diagonal supports giving the posts some extra hold-power when the fence was stretched weren’t in place. Would it matter? I wasn’t sure.

By the time we got home I was I was sure, so I sent Barbara an email saying that, if she would get another couple buckets of gravel and three more bags of Sakrete, I’d come back and install the four diagonal posts. She agreed and so, yesterday afternoon at 3PM with my manager’s approval, I returned to PSGR.

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We only had two remaining 2×4 boards, so I cut them in half (48” long) and used those for the braces. After halving them I cut a 45° angle in one end and slotted that end into a quarter-inch slot I cut into each of the posts about 23” up from the ground. They’re a bit short and intersect the post well-below the halfway point that I’d like, but with the posts buried deeply they should provide the additional stability and support they’ll need when the fence is stretched against them.

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After placing the chamfered end into the post slot, dug about an 8” deep hole for the free end, added gravel, and covered them with Sakrete. With that done, I screwed the support into the post with three screws, added water to the Sakrete, and made sure everything was set properly. It was a job I’m happy to have returned to complete.

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And that’s it: a little volunteer time from my company, a bit of good company doing a quality job, and the conscious to follow-up and make sure it was done the way I’d do on my own property. Let’s call it a job well done.

Posted in Garden | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

Now that was a heavy rock

Posted by joeabbott on May 21, 2017

I don’t have before pictures, I don’t have “during” pictures … I just have this:

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And that, my friends, is a picture of a very old rosemary plant, surrounded by rocks and chickens. And the rock on the far right … well, that was one heavy beast.

Suzanne’s gardens are a thing of wonder: vibrant greens, amazing textures, and lots and lots of plants. But she’s learned not to be sentimental: if something is working, great; if something isn’t, yank it! Her treatment is far more nuanced than that, but she has developed an attitude that allows plants to hit the compost bin “when it’s time”. And for the rosemary in the picture above, it was time. But I wasn’t ready to let it go.

When we put in our backyard, this was one of the first plants, so I’m happy to see it stay. As I agreed with her that it wasn’t fit for the spot it was in, we moved it to the chicken side of our property. But we know the chickens will revel in soft, turned soil. They love it. Want to keep a bunch of hens happy for a while, just shovel a spade of earth over in your yard and leave them to it … before you know, they’ll have excavated something truly impressive and continue to dig. And so we’ve come up with the “surround it with rocks” strategy. It works in our current yard (looks-wise) and keeps them from uprooting plants, but with our loose soil you really need some big rocks to anchor things.

So, as we readied to move the rosemary, we looked around for a good-size rock. All the stones on our side have been spoken for but the plot next door that has been recently turned and flattened (for development of a home) had a number of large stones just laying about. I eyed one of them and set about to bring it over. It was a challenging project.

The stone had good angles but was heavy as all get out. Picking it up was out of the question and even rolling it proved a greater challenge than I could easily manage. The soft soil didn’t help as any drop tended to lodge it deep into the earth and require a bit of digging to clear. Ultimately the stone sunk into a tractor tread divot and I was unable to push it out. I ran to the garage and rigged up a piece of plywood that I could tether the rock onto using nylon webbing … and then I hauled the plywood, sled-like, across the lot. The plywood kept the rock from lodging into the ground and diffused the load. It was a good plan and worked … until I got it into our yard.

In our yard, the rock had to be dragged up the hill and up steps … which would have been impossible for me to do alone. Suzanne helped by pushing while I pulled, but it was a hard bit of work. We were happy to finally get it into place: a massive, keystone rock that would look great. That is, right up until we buried it well enough to support the plant on the hillside. Enough of it was sunk into the ground that, what remains above looks like a simple rock. For comparison, the largish rock on the left was small enough that I not only got it from the same lot, but I was able to carry it without stopping.

But, this is the sort of thing we do over here: make our lives a bit more challenging by feeling sympathy for plants and seemingly finding the hardest way to accomplish something like transplanting an herb. Good thing it makes us happy. And we are happy … well, once we’re rested, that is! Thanks for coming by.

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Welcome to fall

Posted by joeabbott on November 13, 2016

The below snap was taken less than a month ago; 10/22/2016. Today this scene is markedly different: first, leaves from nearly all our deciduous trees are gone (surprisingly, the white birch are holding on); second, there’s not nearly the amount of golden light streaming in (it’s grey and rainy); and finally, we put some LED lights on our chicken coop. The lights are too bright but wouldn’t show up on a daytime pic … I’ll try to snap one later tonight.

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But I just thought I’d share a little backyard magic from us to you.

Posted in Garden | 1 Comment »

Sorry for the delay … maybe this will tide you over

Posted by joeabbott on October 22, 2016

Hey, all … I have a couple stories going but they need pictures that I don’t have. You see, Suzy and I have a lot of pics but only started to really save our shots when digital photography came on the scenes. Even then, I seemed to have LOTS of shots of mountains I’d climbed and outings I was on, but very few of our home and projects about the house. But, in looking for pictures to go along with some things I’m writing, Suzy sent me a trove of great shots from our early days … I’ll share a few here as I try to find more appropriate shots to go with my other posts.

Let’s talk about our backyard

When we moved in, we didn’t have much of a backyard; it was a field. I fought back a lot of the blackberry plants but, after a time, we brought in a construction crew to put in the bones of the yard. Suzy was just starting to learn gardening (on a large yard scale) yet we didn’t have a master plan. Each part has been added thoughtfully, but we didn’t have an overall vision. It’s come together nicely.

The below is what the entire yard looked like: tall grasses, a crown of blackberry bushes, and no fencing on the sides. And, for the most part, just a long, undulating slope.

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Here’s a shot of our “deck” or patio. Just an 8’x8’ concrete pad that we reached by a broad single step. And, right off it … grassland. We did have a small buffer of yard, but in this shot let that grow when we knew we were going to have work done back here. You can see the flags where construction was going to begin.

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It’s a little abrupt but here’s an “after” shot … after the deck and landscaping structure was in but before Chickenville, the path\bridge, and our raised beds.

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We were pretty happy with our fire pit on the plateau … we’ve spent a lot of evenings up there with a small fire.

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Suzy and I planted the Leyland Cyprus at the top of the hill one died (I ringed the bark with a string trimmer) and it had to be replaced … they’re now about 40’ tall.

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And, let’s stop here. I’ll post another tomorrow but I now have to get going as we prepare to head north for another day of spreading bark chips on the new property perimeters. As always, thanks for dropping by!

Posted in Garden, Home projects | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

Weekend Update

Posted by joeabbott on April 18, 2016

Couple projects in the works to talk about … let’s just get to it.

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P1010022A couple years back, Suzy and I built a stairway up the back of our yard. It traverses the steepest part of the property and we built it with slab stone we picked up at a local quarry. While it was never great, it proved a solid and reliable way up to the small plateau cresting our yard and gives us access to a small growing area and some pretty decent views. Oh, and the chickens love it. While they don’t mind powering up the steep hillside, they’re just as happy to peck about and stroll the path that we built for us.

I said it’s not great because you need a small degree of balance and confidence to negotiate the steps; at the steepest part I placed three posts for handrails. For a while we talked about finishing the project and this weekend we jumped in.

Originally I used a large, heavy pry bar to pound a hole in the ground, and then with a small shovel and a lot of effort, I widened it. This time I used a proper hole-digging tool and it was amazing how easy it was. Yes, I was begging Suzy for a shoulder rub at the end of the day, but it was far easier than I thought. I just hit far fewer rocks than I imagined were hiding in that dirt.

In addition to using a lame process for digging the holes, I also went just 12” deep; with the hole-digging tool, I was able to easily go twice that. But, because we were using 4’ posts, we limited the depth to about 16”-18”.

Once I had the holes, it was time to build the posts.

WP_20160417_08_52_51_Rich_LII remember the initial project taking all day, so I was surprised when I knocked out the four new posts in just a handful of minutes. I started by cutting down an 8’ length of pressure treated 4×4 into two halves; then I ran those along my table saw (tilted at 45°) to cut the corners and make the posts octagonal. I then used my chop saw (power miter saw) to chamfer the ends … putting a 45° angle on each of the top faces.

P1010023The final cut was to put a decorative groove about an inch below the end around the top. Originally I did this on the table saw using a dado blade but today I chose to use a small router. I clamped the post in my vise, used the offset tool for the router with a 1/4” blade, and just zipped along the eight sides. I finished all four in the time it would have taken just to setup the table saw!

After this I set the posts, clamped on a couple stabilizing sticks each to keep them perfectly vertical, and then added Sakrete (a bagged concrete product) around the base in the hole. Oh, and because our soil is fairly sandy and the overall hillside is loose, I drove in some spare rebar that I had through the sides of the hole into the earth around it. My thinking is that, once the concrete sets, it’ll hold tight to the rebar and the surrounding earth will help to provide additional stabilization.

At this point, we added water and are letting it set 24-hours before we remote the stabilization. Tomorrow we’ll decide how to finish things off. We’d like some sort of connecting material … maybe rope, perhaps a chain, or something else … to link the posts and make it a proper handhold up the path.

Water

P1110988We’re just starting this project and not sure we’ll have it completed today, but Suzy’s wanted water up by the coop for a while. I’ve been worried about what pressure we might be able to get running water from the house up to the coop but I gotta stop worrying and just try something out. Suzy wasn’t sure it was worth the effort, but we’ve had several plants up that way die due to lack of water so she’s ready to try something, too.

Our play will be a temporary sort of thing: we picked up a “water station” from Home Depot that we’ll install at the coop, and then just run a hose from the next nearest water source.

The water station is just a hose bib/tap that allows you to screw a source hose end into the backside; it also has a storing arm allowing you to wrap another hose that you can use from that point. We’ll cut a trench into the ground and then bury the source hose. It’s not a great or permanent solution, but we really don’t know if this will work. If it’s worth the time and effort, we’ll find a more permanent solution.

The place we want to run the water from currently doesn’t have a tee or split. So, part of the project will be making one. I think we’ll just cut the current hose that’s there, cap the two splices with ends, and then add another tee. If this sounds vague, well, we don’t have it worked out exactly just yet.

So, a work in progress but this is what things are like for me: get an idea, and let the solution present itself somewhat organically.

imageDark Souls 3

The other thing that’s taking up our time is Dark Souls 3, a game that was released this past Tuesday. I’ve written about Dark Souls before, a notoriously challenging game that’s fantastic. Well, I liked it so much, that Suzy watched me play through the game … it may have been my second or third time through it. Well, now that Dark Souls 3 is out, we’re playing through that.

It’s tough but engaging as ever.

We just finished getting through the introductory levels and now past the second boss. I was thrilled when we managed to kill that second boss on our first attempt! Like most of the challenges in this game, he was big, fast, and hit like a ton of bricks. But, our frail, little hero made it in one go and is starting to explore the dilapidated settlement at the base of the castle.

We play most nights for an hour or so and have many more ahead of us. I don’t imagine we’ll beat many (any?) other bosses in one go, but that’s how it is with this game: lots of crushing defeats and then the unexpected highlight of victory!

Coda

WP_20160415_17_52_27_Rich_LIThat’s about it. We have other minor projects going (Suzy bought a bunch of neat plants at a recent sale, work it keeping me busy) but this weekend is finishing off a few things around the yard here in SeaTac. Hope you have fun projects keeping you busy and thanks for dropping by!

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