Saturday, October 24, 2020

Front Yard part two

It's been a while since my last post, partly because I've been busy making a living, partly because progress with the yard project has been slowed by the heatwaves and by a some other priorities, but mostly due to a severe case of writer's block. This has been a labor intensive project that has not exactly sparked joy, and writing about it has been a low priority...until now! 

So, this is where we got up to last time out: we've installed extended posts at the front of the upper planter and improved the drainage, and we've built the first section of the stairs. 

Ultimately we plan to continue the stairs down to the fence/gate in front of the shed, and construct a third planter. We will be extending the height of both existing planters by six inches (or one board width), improving the drainage, and installing some additional bracing which we hope will stop the planters from bowing. 

We planned to spend most of the Labor Day weekend, the last public holiday before Thanksgiving and traditionally the end of Summer, ploughing on with the project. While typical labor day activities might include barbeques, picnics and pool-based socializing, the there is not much of that going on at the we might as well spend three full days grinding least, that was the plan....

Samuel Sheep was around right at the beginning of this part of the project so he started us off by removing the boards from the front of the lower planter: 

The dirt in the planter was very dry, so we didn't suffer any slippage.

The boards we took off were transplanted onto the other raised bed...

And, after we replaced the original upright posts with new longer ones, the rest of the original boards were added to the sides and rear of the planter they came from.

This is where it gets interesting. There is a statewide lumber shortage right now due to all the production time the sawmills have lost through you-know-what, so we were not able to get the 2"x 6" redwood lumber we needed in twelve foot lengths.....all we could get was a bunch of sixteen foot boards....getting them home from the store was an interesting experience! They only just fitted inside the garage:

We installed the top board on the second planter and started digging out for the cross braces. It was getting very hot by this point, somewhere around 30 C/90 F according to the interwebs, but it felt a lot hotter.

This is a bit later with the second brace installed and the base rock packed behind and below the lower board:

All done! Well, all done with the planter modifications that is. If it looks hot in these photos, that's because it was. It was well above what my father used to call "B. Hot." We actually had to retreat back inside the house at this point, because it was just too hot to to stand around, never mind work...

By about 4:30 pm the temperature was just about bearable in the shade, so we set up riser production on the porch.

By now most of the yard was in the shade, so we moved on to installing the next riser.

The location of the riser also dictates the location of the third raised bad, so the next step was to start laying out the corner posts. This was as far as we got because it was still mega hot and we were tired and dehydrated.

The next morning, after our customary lie-in, Amy Sheep set sail for the grocery store, and I ventured back outside to continue building the third planter. It was even hotter on this day, and I did not get very far before I had to crawl back out of the sun.

I didn't realize it at the time, but that was the last bit of the work I did in direct sunlight - it was just too hot. We we did accomplish was done after the sun passed over. The third bed is mainly complete - we need to acquire some more 2" x 6" redwood to finish it up....whenever that becomes available.

We also did some more work on the steps....

To be continued....

Thursday, September 3, 2020

Front Yard part one

We've received a lot of feedback on our garden tool shed - most of it wondering about when the tools were going to be put to use. Well wonder no longer! 

In February 2019 we built our first two raised beds at the top of our side yard, and approximately eighteen months later we're ready to go back to work on this area - we have plans for another raised bed, a set of stairs between the beds and the gate, and a low retaining wall at the front of this area. 

A couple of weeks ago we picked up a bunch of 4" x 6" PT lumber, the same stuff we used for the base of the tool shed, and set to work on the stairs. Amy Sheep wanted to dig out for the stairs with a spade, but that idea only lasted a couple of shovelfuls...

....before we broke out the jackhammer and fitted the spade attachment - this process works best with one person manning the jackhammer and a second shovelling the loose dirt into a wheelbarrow. This is the situation after about half an hour of excavating and a quick mock up of how the risers will look:

The risers were cut from  4" x 6" PT, and I bored three (3) 1/2 inch diameter holes in each riser.

We bought a bunch of 1/2 inch rebar, which I cut into two foot pieces with the screaming wheel of death - it is much cheaper to do this than to buy the rebar in shorter lengths.

Each riser was installed on top of a level bed of road base, and pinned with three pieces of rebar - whacking the rebar into the ground was the toughest part of the project.

By the end of day one we had five risers installed at the side of the raised beds.

It was a couple of weeks before we got another chance to work on the project. We started out by digging out space to install the side pieces of the stairs - this was done with a combination of the jackhammer, the shovel and the wheelbarrow.

This is the look after the first side piece was installed:

Doing the digging was hard work because it was supper hot at the time, as this photo sort-of shows:

We installed the side pieces with a 2 foot rebar stake at the upper end.....

...and a pair of six inch screws at the other end which are driven into the perpendicular riser. The next side piece goes on top of the previous section which obscures the rebar stake:

It is not obvious in these photos, but the side sections are also installed on top of leveled road base.

As we worked further up the stairs the dirt gave way to rock - fortunately it was no match for the jackhammer, but it did make hammering in the rebar very difficult.

We're going to be modifying the two original raised beds as part of this project - they need to be a little bit more "raised" and we need to improve the structure and the drainage. We started off by removing the front of the upper bed:

We then dug back the dirt back about six inches from the front of the bed, and six inches below, and then re-installed the lowest board onto two new corner posts - the posts are six inches longer than they were originally.

After also replacing the two central posts, we filled the trough below the lower board and the area behind it with crushed stone:

The remaining boards were then re-installed and backfilled with dirt, one at a time.

When this was done then bed looks the same except for the new posts which protrude enough for one more board to be installed. At present there is a state-wide shortage of lumber in California because the saw the mills have lost a lot of production time to the pandemic. We may have to wait a while before we can get hold of the twelve foot lengths of lumber we need.

This is the big picture after two more-or-less full days of work on this area:

We'll be building a low-ish retaining wall at the top of this area in the near future.

The third raised bed will be going in the space where this year's pumpkin crop is located.

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Bikes an' Guitars

If you saw the Escape from Lockdown movie, or failing that, if you read the news anywhere in the world right now, you'll be aware that everyone is, to quote my Grandfather, "out ont' bikes."

You might not realize it, but Sam has only recently started biking - it's something like four months at the time of writing since Amy Sheep decided he had to learn. After getting as far as he could on Quinn's old boneshaker, I had to do my bit, and get him his own machine.

Just getting hold of a new bike is a challenge; luckily for Sam we called a few places before we headed out and he ended up with a very smart TREK hybrid - it even has disc brakes, for Cliff's sake!

Very smart

While we were walking from the car to the bike shop, I asked Sam if he was excited. Turns out he was. I described to Sam how I felt the day my Dad took me to buy my first proper guitar. Not the first guitar I ever owned, but the first professional quality instrument I came by - what became known as the "Blue Strat."  It was quite a memorable day for several reasons, but first a little bit of back story:

As I said, the Blue Strat wasn't my first guitar - that was my Dad's Levin. The photo a bit further down is how this guitar looks today; the spruce top has darkened, but otherwise it looks very similar to the day it was purchased for 62 quid from Kitchens Music Store in Queen Victoria Street, Leeds in around 1962; to put that in context a Fender Stratocaster was 159 guineas at the time.

When I first got my hands on this guitar it was fitted with a bulky pickup which was mounted at the soundhole below the neck and connected to a cumbersome push-button control switch and jack socket located below the bridge. It meant you could plug the guitar into my Dad's 15 watt Selmer valve amp....when no-one else was around that is....but the pickup was never professionally installed, and it rattled a lot. Some time in about 1985 we took it off and filled the holes in the bridge with beeswax.

The Levin was a pretty decent guitar, as a beginner I was very lucky to have access to it. I took it on holiday to the Lake District once. It had an ebony fingerboard, but it also had a very high action and playing barre chords high up the neck was difficult. And it had another serious drawback: without the pickup it couldn't be plugged into an amp.

Both these issues were solved in 1987 when I somehow managed to scrape together 78.50 of ye olde english pound notes, which I took down to RockBottom in Croydon and exchanged for the white Marlin Slammer. This guitar looked like a strat, and was available in either red of white, both of which came with a white scratch plate. I didn't want to look like Hank Marvin, so I got the white one, and that's the only thing I can remember about buying this guitar.

The Marlin was a bit of a plank, well actually it was a TOTAL plank, but I didn't realise that at the time. It really did help me get better on the guitar - the action was much lower and because I mostly played it without a amp, negative feedback from the family was reduced considerably. I played this guitar a lot, and I mean a LOT. After about a year my Dad told me I was due for a proper instrument, so I sold the Marlin to a mate for about half of what I paid for it. The next thing I heard, it was falling to bits...!

And so on to the Blue Strat. This guitar was also purchased from RockBottom in Croydon in 1988. It was (probably) a dull Croydon day when we parked the car. As we were exiting the parking garage Dad informed me that we had to make a quick detour on our way to RockBottom. What? A detour? I wasn't planning on this...

It turned out we had to swing by the department store first, so that my father could return several "items of clothing" that my Mom had previously picked up in error. Or something like that. Personally, I couldn't see the urgency. I was as excited as hell to get my hands on my new Fender, and wanted to get that part of the mission accomplished first. Having voiced this opinion I was informed that Dad had no attention of setting foot inside RockBottom while carrying a "bag full of bras."

So we trundled over to Marks and Spencer's in North End and joined the returns queue in the ladies underwear department. As you do. Eventually we got to the front of the line where the sniffy sales assistant spent an absolute age examining each of the bras; it really did go on for a long time. Finally she pronounced "One of these bras has been worn." Without missing a beat my stony-faced Father informed her that they most certainly had not been worn by him!

With that bit of drama out of the way, it was full steam ahead to the guitar shop, where my Dad exchanged UKP 325 worth of credit card debt for the sparkly-blue Fender Stratocaster. At the time the choice of colors was red (see above), white (just had that), black (meh), sunburst (too Buddy Holly) or blue (had to have it!). This is what the Fender looked like when it was brand new - i.e. before it was covered in stickers, dings, dents, and before it saw a paint brush or fell off a guitar stand...

The Blue Strat in action circa 1990...

Sam putting the Blue Strat through its paces more recently...

Sunday, August 9, 2020

Escape from Lockdown

We were supposed to visit the Sheep homestead in England this Summer, but obviously those plans were canned a while back. Instead, we managed to sneak up to the Tahoe river for a few days of canoeing, kayaking, paddle boarding, and biking. We also stayed at an AirBnB with a decent pool table. Check out the highlights:

(*we didn't get any footage of the water based activities due to not having a waterproof camcorder just yet).

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Garden Shed part six

Welcome to another compilation of progress rather than a single day's work. I could have written this up sooner, but I've been busy with work...yada, I'm not complaining...yada, yada....but a break would be nice....

So.....the Saturday before last Sam and I plodded out to the back yard about mid-morning and got cracking. I started off by tinkering with the doors - I wanted to make some stops that prevent the doors from opening inwards. While I was doing that, Sam fired up the orbital sander and went to work on all the globs of excess wood filler Amy Sheep plastered on the weekend before.

After that we snuck off to the workshop to escape from the sun, and fabricated a sort-of door pocket/tool holder thingy for storing small tools and other tat. This is how it looks installed on the inside of the door. I came up with the concept and Sam did all the cutting and joining. We made one for each door.

We also installed some fine wire mesh between the rafters - the shed should be very well ventilated and inaccessible to all but the smallest critters.

We had a break for lunch, and then we carried the first batch of garden tools out to the backyard...

It would be nice if each tool had it's own bay, but we don't have a shed big enough for that...

The door pockets may need some refinement, but this is the basic concept:

This is later after we transferred the hooks that used to hang in the unfinished part of out basement:

I painted primer on the trim that Sam sanded first thing, and then we called it a day.

The next day was Sunday so we gave the shed a wide berth and headed over to Golden Gate park for a spot of what the locals call quad biking.

Fast forward to the weekend that just passed by, and Amy Sheep and I found ourselves in the backyard with a clear mission: Finish the shed or bust! Amy set things rolling by painting the trim - two (2) coats of white dove semi-gloss if you're keeping score.

I worked on refining our tool storage: 

After lunch we put two (2) coats of exterior-wall-color paint on the bits of the shed that are not trim, and that was it: Finito!

Stay tooned to find out what all these tools are going to be used for.....!