Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Dandelion Wine

At family dinner the other day we were talking about when we should introduce the little Sheep to alcohol - the two budding rams are at the age where they will be exposed sooner or later, and it may as well be under adult supervision.* I think I was about twelve when I was started being granted a tiny glass of homemade wine whenever we happened to have Sunday lunch at my Grandma's house. A year later I was drinking at the bar of some pub in Stratford during a Shakespeare-related high school field trip, but at least my family got in first!

Wine at my Grandma's house was always homemade; I don't remember much about it except that it was always sweet and I didn't get much of it. My parents used to make homemade wine and beer when I was super young; they stopped doing it in the 80's, but before that it was game on! 

My Mom used to take my brother Paul Circus (PC) and I on regular trips to the South Downs where we would collect raw materials - she would bring a pair of orange handled sithers, snip the flowers from elder trees, and pack them into carrier bags while PC and myself were enjoying ourselves.

Later in the year we would collect elderberries, at least a couple of bags worth. Back in the kitchen the elderberries would be separated from the twigs with a fork prior to fermentation; elderberry was always my favorite red wine actually, something fifteen years of living next to the Napa Valley has not changed.

The most memorable pickin' trip took place in about 1979 when the three of us went out looking for dandelions. Yeah, they're weeds, but you can also make wine from them. We didn't have to go far on this particular trip: there was a large patch of waste land about ten minutes walk from our house where dandelions and many other weeds were abundant. They built some nice houses on this spot in the mid-80's, but before that it was part community gardens and part dumping ground.

You can pack a couple of carrier bags with elderflowers quite quickly, but dandelion heads....that takes a long time. And you get sticky, foul-tasting sap on your fingers. The other issue was the dandelions were intermingled with tons of stinging nettles.

Paul Circus was on the 2 maybe 3 years old borderline at the time of this event so almost certainly doesn't remember this story, but here goes anyway: We had been pickin' for quite a while and had got about a bag and a half of dandelion heads, so probably 75% of what was needed. PC and myself had lost interest in the quest and were more concerned with poking through the various pieces of trash that had been dumped around us.

One of these items was the passenger seat out of an old car - the foam was escaping and it looked really damp, but PC was ready for a relaxing sit down, and ignored Mom's instructions otherwise. I have to say, it did not look like comfortable seat. Anyway, he sat in it, I think for about two or three seconds before the seat collapsed, and deposited PC into a huge patch of nettles.

This was obviously a major trauma. When my Mom managed to pull him out of the nettles, every bit of exposed skin - arms, legs, face, neck etc., was covered in huge welts. It looked bad. But PC was more concerned with letting my Mom know he'd been pushed off the seat by me! Luckily this charge didn't stick because I was ten feet away and, even more crucially, my Mom was actually watching instead of picking dandelions.

If anything, the passing of this information onto PC made him even more upset. I was gutted too, because our dandelion collecting trip was immediately abandoned and I had to lug one and a half bags full of dandelions back to the house...while my Mom carried a screaming PC over her shoulder. I'm pretty sure I never got to sample the dandelion wine either.

(*wait....maybe they've already been exposed!)

Monday, May 25, 2020

Garage Electrical

It's Memorial Day evening 5.25.20, and finally I have time to write in my blog. The covid-19 slowdown in my business is well and truly over, and the days weeks of dividing my time between the garage and workshop are just a pleasant memory. My particular business has always been a case of making hay while the sun shines, and the last week or two have been blue sky in every direction; a situation which I obviously hope will continue indefinitely.

In the occasional spare moment I have been trying to put the garage back together. The garage was always a bit of a desert as far as power outlets were concerned. I have outlets built into the front of my work bench, but until I emptied the garage they were not-very-safely-connected to an extension cord and plugged in behind the fridge. Something had to be done!

The first step was to convert the outlet at the wall behind the fridge to a box where I could attach some conduit - I don't want to embed the electrical in the walls in the garage and they are mostly masonry in any case. Well, actually, the first step was to shut-off the circuit breaker...

The new conduit begins at the back wall, continues across the ceiling...

...comes down at the side of the bench....

...and continues underneath the shelf, where it connects to the bench outlets.

This is the look about a week later after all the wiring was done:

A few days later my shinny new cover pates showed up in the mail:

By now I have most of my "stuff" back in the garage...

Shirley not the end of the garage project? Stay tooned to find out!

Monday, May 18, 2020

More on the Garage

Apart from my post about the tree that we chopped down on Saturday, it's been a couple of weeks since my last post and in "normal times" it would probably be a couple more before the next one. The last two weeks have been the closest to the old normal since the beginning of the Shelter-In-Place order: traffic is back on the roads again, most of the big box stores are open in an amended form, and my business is back to about 75% percent capacity.

As a result, I haven't had as much DIY time as I have become accustomed to, but I have still been chipping away, and I have plenty more to blog about. I have to say that the garage looked one thousand percent better with it's sparkly new floor....but it made the walls and ceiling look very tired. Having already gone to the trouble of completely emptying the garage, it felt like now was the best time the only time I would ever bother to re-paint.

I used the same Benjamin Moore white dove paint we've used for all the ceilings in the house, but this time I used semi-gloss instead of flat; I'm hoping it will be easier to wipe down, if I ever do any wiping down....The walls came out very nice - I put on a thick layer of paint, and I only needed one coat. I also had help from Amy Sheep and Ruby Sheep with the ceiling.

Now then, now then....the garage door looked awful. You can really see how how awful in the next photo which was taken after I painted the top panel:

A friend from BAMA calls this process "chasing ugly." You fix the worst bit, and then the next bit looks bad, so you just end up chasing the "ugly" all around the car garage. Fortunately, once the door was done, there wasn't anything else to paint...and ugly was no more.

I mentioned earlier on that my work bench was too big to fit through the door between the garage and the basement. I had to take it around the side of the garage and park it in the backyard. This is the same bench that I built in about 2008 - well it's half of it actually, the other half is installed in the workshop.

This bench was originally built with a tool-well at the back which increased the depth by about a foot and made it more difficult to reach across the bench...and became a place for storing crap; I certainly never put any tools in it. I decided I would rather have an extra foot of width in the garage which may be important when I get my next Mustang.

I trimmed the bench down a couple of weeks ago when I had twenty minutes to spare and the sun was out:

Back in the garage, and I had to make some shims in order to level the bench, and then I bolted it to the wall. Now it won't tip over the next time we have an earthquake.

Filled the garage back up....

This is how my over-bench shelf used to look. Obviously it was too ugly to stay like that... I chased it into a confrontation with some black paint:

To be continued....

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Garden Shed part one

Last Spring we built some raised beds in the yard at the side of our house - we put them where they would get the most sun. Over the last few weeks, we've been pulling weeds, digging in manure, tidying up the yard ahead of fire season, and planting our first crops of 2020. 

What we really need is a shed close by where we can store our garden tools and Quinn Sheep's weed wacker. The ideal space for the shed to go is at the bottom of the slope beyond the gates. This is what that section of the yard looked like about three weeks ago when this project was at the "planning" stage.

Moving the wheelbarrow and the compost bins was the easy bit. I also had to get rid of the pile of stone that came from the fireplace remodel - about eight barrows worth actually...

And the some-kind-of-cherry tree. On first glance, this looks like a nice tree, and it does give quite a bit of shade to this part of the yard.

But it is also over-mature - the tree has been savagely pruned a number of times in the past, and most of what is left is trunk - the photo below was taken before I fired up my chainsaw:

This one was taken after about an hours' worth of work trimming off the lower branches and dragging them out of the way:

I've had a lot of teething troubles with the husqvarna chainsaw, but this time around I got it set up properly and it worked very consistently. It is a genuinely nice piece of kit - I spent plenty of $$$ and ended up with a professional tool that I like a lot.

The low-hanging branches were quite easy, but there was still plenty of tree left:

This is the situation after another round of cutting from a couple of rungs up the step ladder. It is worth noting that most of what is left is dead branches; probably less than 25% of the tree had leaves on it. This was where Amy Sheep started to wonder if the tree might not be "a bit too f$%king big" to do ourselves. We still had about twenty-five feet of tree to deal with and we didn't want to bring it down on top of the fence or our neighbor's roof. 

I still thought we could manage it, as long as I could find someone else to climb up the tree and attach the rope....

...and then pull on it while I re-launched my chainsaw-based attack from the top of our wobbly step ladder. Taking pictures during this operation would have been asking for trouble, however it proved successful the first time, so we rinsed and repeated....

Which left us with about ten feet of trunk to deal with:

And that was obviously no match for the husqvarna 450.

Yes, I win!! This was very satisfying because I have never really used a chainsaw before and I've never been project manager when felling a tree before either. I helped my Dad's friend Elvis take out a whole bunch of trees, but he knew what he was doing. I always think where there's a will, there's a way, and it's an attitude that's served me well. Except when I can't be arsed to do something....

Stacked up the bricks out of the way...

Our tool shed will be going in this space soon:

Before that, we have a huge pile of trimmings to deal with...

And a LOT of firewood to chop up!

To be continued....

Monday, May 4, 2020

Garage Floor part two

Well here we are, back in ye olde garage! It's been two weeks since I cleaned up the floor, and I've been waiting for a free weekend to apply the epoxy-based coating. But it has not been all champagne and deckchairs in the meantime, I can tell you that!

This is how the floor looked after drying for a few days. Most of the dark patches are actually moisture rather than stains, but there are a few troublesome patches that still need attention, and the '68 has also left its mark(s) on my clean floor.

The concrete is actually in ok shape -  a home inspector would probably describe it as being in "serviceable condition", but there were a few smallish cracks - mere puppies compared to the ones in the patio - but now was the time to fill them in.

I could have used regular mortar, but instead I picked up some quick drying material with a polymer additive that gives increased flexibility. It actually dried a bit too fast, but came out ok.

Fast forward to this past Friday afternoon and I was back from work and ready to Rock! I started by taking down the shelves at the back of the garage. By now the thin set mortar I poured at the base of the rear wall was well and truly cured.

There was a rough edge at the new material, so I ground it off with a silicon carbide belt on the sander.

After a good sweep up, I worked on the last few stains, including this fresh blob of oil that came from the Mustang...grrr!

When that was done, I cut up a big trash bag....

...and parked the '68 on top of it overnight! I am done with cleaning oil off this floor, hopefully forever....the garage looks huge with just the Mustang in there.

I'm using exactly the same water-based epoxy that I used in my last garage about ten years ago, although this time I went for "beige" instead of "pale gray." There is a very limited choice of light colors, and I definitely don't want anything dark or bright because it would distract from the '68.

First thing Saturday morning, and I had Amy Sheep start applying the base coat - this must be applied to damp but not overly wet concrete.

I was working on the edging and I was in charge of the hose. I didn't want to tire myself out right at the start of the weekend.

It took Amy Sheep about an hour to apply the base coat. We had to work towards the driveway because of the gentle slope of the floor and the need to keep the concrete damp but not too wet.

After that it was back upstairs for eggs benedict, English muffins with apricot preserves and a pot of PG tips. We had to while away six (6) hours of drying time before we could apply the top coat, so Amy Sheep got stuck in to her full day of tasks and I watched a couple of Formula One races from 2008 on youtube.

Late afternoon and we were back at it rolling on the top coat...

We worked front-to-back this time...

The epoxy coating takes twelve (12) hours to dry and twenty-four (24) hours to be fit for vehicle access, so I had to reluctantly leave the '68 on the driveway overnight. This is the first night since I brought the car back to Oakland in 2008 that it has been outside overnight. This is how the floor looked the next morning:

 On Sunday evening, I laid down some plastic sheeting on my new floor....

...and parked the '68 on top. The floor really needs 7-10 days to fully cure, so I plan on giving it that before I roll the car over the floor directly.

While this was going on, we also dealt with a patch of the floor in the workshop that was unfinished - this area used to be covered by a cabinet/countertop, and I guess the previous owner just painted round it.

Once I scuff this area up, it will match the rest of the workshop floor just fine!