the other theo

There is no dark side of the moon really… as a matter of fact, it's all dark.

Category: The House

The $250 Rubber Band

Summer is a season of unexpected repair bills this year.   Our gas clothes dryer suddenly burned out a coil and a relay in June.  One of our cars started accumulating water in the driver’s foot well in July.  Our dishwasher stopped working at some point on Sunday night or Monday morning.   The incident with the dryer took about a week to resolve (parts were ordered and a follow up appointment required for installation) and the car was about three weeks (two separate visits to the garage, plus most of a week for parts to arrive.)   We resolved the dishwasher incident in less than 36 hours.  I’m happy for that, but I wish that it didn’t cost so much.

The story of the dishwasher began yesterday at around 4am, when the Peanut came down the hall and woke me up.   After two HOT days (almost as Neil Simon would say “Africa hot”), the two air conditioners in two bedrooms of our house were running all night.   In the case of the one in the Peanut’s bedroom, it was doing too good a job because he was actually cold.   I led him back to his bed, turned off the A/C, and covered him up a little.   Since I generally wake up around 5am these days to go to the gym, I had trouble going back to sleep and decided to watch a little TV.   When I got to the living room, I immediately detected an off odor in the house.   It wasn’t exactly a burning smell, but it seemed related.   My first thought was that the air conditioners were over taxing the wiring of the house… but that could not be.   The wiring of our house runs through the attic, which is full of wood, fiber glass batting, and paper-backed wall board dried by decades of hot summers.   Nothing up there would smolder.   It’s too dry and crispy for that.  If something was failing and could burn, it would be burning… and quickly.    So, I put it down to smoke from forest fires elsewhere in the state (which made the air hazy and smokey over the weekend,) tried to air the house out while it was still cool outside, and thought nothing of it.

Fast forward to around 7am, and I returned from the gym and started to get breakfast ready.   I figured I would use clean dishes from the dishwasher instead of using something else.   I opened the dishwasher door to discover 1-2″ of murky water in the bottom.   After two hours of siphoning dirty water (with occasional and unwelcome help from the Peanut — he loves transferring water from one container to another) and another of cleaning still dirty dishes, plus half an hour of inspecting the dishwasher, I decided that this was one nut I didn’t want to crack myself.   Thankfully, our experience with the dryer back in June brought us to a trustworthy appliance repair company.

That brings me to today, where I had to spend $250 because of a rubber band.


A rubber band fell into the dishwasher and got tangled in the blue impeller of the drain pump.   It eventually wrapped itself around the spindle behind the impeller and was pulled behind the white plastic plate you see above.   There, it acted like a rubber friction brake and burned the motor out.    That was the smell in the air yesterday morning.

So, it was a flat $80 fee for the repairman to show up, an additional $70 flat fee for any repair requiring parts, $90 for a new OEM motor, and $10 tax on the part.   The repairman had the necessary part on the truck, so total repair time was less than one hour.


It’s Easier With The Right Incantation

We have a garden shed in our back yard.   It holds various hand tools, the lawn mower, the string trimmer, fertilizers and pesticides, paint for the interior and exterior of the house, and some lawn toys that we want out of the weather.

I’ve done some work on the shed over the 7+ years we’ve owned the house.   Somewhere in the past, previous owners of the house thought it would be a good idea to stick the shed to the concrete slab underneath with spray foam.  I guess that the idea was to keep the water out and preserve the floor.  This effectively did the opposite: any water that leaked in instead stayed there and rotted out the floor.  So, I took a day around Memorial Day weekend in 2012 to re-frame the floor.  At the same time, I also raised the shed an inch or two off the ground to get wood away from water and allow water to evaporate.

The one remaining problem with the shed was there since we bought the house: you couldn’t lock it.  There was a handle on the door, and the handle had a lock.    Unfortunately, that lock had no key… and the handle was locked in the open position.   Again, previous owners attempted to solve this problem by installing a hook-and-eye latch near the top of the door.

It was an imperfect solution to the problem, at best.   The hook occasionally came free from the latch, causing the door to swing open.   It’s position at the top of the door also meant that door didn’t close particularly well at the bottom.    My bandage on a bandage for these problems was to latch the door at the top and then put a small ceramic planter against the bottom.

The Missus and I both wanted a better solution ever since the Peanut was born.  With sharp tools and chemicals inside, we wanted to firmly lock that door.   Sharp edges, chemicals, and toddlers don’t mix well… unless you want Nancy Grace inventing a nickname for you during Court TV coverage of your negligent homicide trial.

I new there had to be way to replace the handle on the door.  It looked like a relatively common piece of hardware… and there was an id stamped onto the lock to identify the key required to open it.   Yet, in order to ask for a replace something, you need to name it or otherwise describe its function.   Other than “shed door handle”, I really didn’t know exactly how to do either.

That changed a few weeks ago.  Throwing “shed door handle lock” into the image section of Google finally got me a picture of a “T-handle door lock”.   Throwing that term into Google Web got me pages that had such a lock with its common sibling, the “L-handle door lock”, and that was exactly what I was looking for.

I ended up paying about $25 for a universal replacement L-handle lock, commonly used to lock residential garage doors.   That took about 3 days to arrive, and now it looks like it’s always been there:


With the power of the lamp, which turns night into day…

I never was much of a fan of the 1990’s show Seinfeld.  While I recognized the show’s frequent embrace of utter silliness, I also felt that the show sought truths that didn’t particularly interest me.  So I think I can count the number of episodes I’ve seen most or all of on one hand… or maybe two.

That said, our house lately resembles Kramer’s apartment in The Kenny Roaster episode — one of the few I do know:

We live near the end of a cul-de-sac with a street light at the turn around.  The bulb in that light died sometime in late 2013 or early 2014, and despite multiple attempts on our part to alert the Public Works Department to the problem, nothing was done for a long time.

Last week, the reason for the delay became clear.    The city also announced plans last year to replace the orange sodium-vapor lamps in the lights with bright(!) white LED lamps.   Rather than replace the dead bulb immediately with another orange bulb they would eventually replace, the city waited until our street was scheduled for the LED upgrade and replaced everything.

The change with the new bulb is rather startling, to say the least.   After several years of dull orange light, and then who knows how many months of no light at all, the front of our house is now bathed in bright white light.   There is no need for a night light in either our living room or front bedroom.   Both rooms now appear to be in a perpetual state of blue-white pre-dawn illumination.

Despite some early morning visits from the Peanut, I feel no sense of personal metamorphosis:

Then again, the Peanut is not likely to know where to find counterfeit Russian fur products.

The Late Winter Farm And Garden Report

It was a very dry winter in California. Parts of Northern California did not receive ANY rain in the month of January for the first time since record keeping began.


With what rain there was this winter, the lawn began to turn from brown to green and required mowing 2-3 times already. It’s trashed. The grass has only begun to re-grow in clumps and all sorts of weeds are opportunistically moving into the dead spots.


The rosemary is feeling decidedly prolific. It’s been blooming fantastically for the last few weeks, and the bees are loving it.   It’s enough to tempt one to take up beekeeping.


The geraniums are also starting to recover.   I gave them some organic fertilizer tea a few weeks ago, and they are really bouncing back after last summer.   This picture is a little outdated.  All these plants have many more blooms on them today.  I’m hopeful that I can plug the heads of parts of the sprinkler system so I can regularly water the geranium and rosemary flower beds and let the grass go brown.   I want to conserve water in the drought, but let a few things survive.


Moving to some potted herbs in the back patio, this thyme plant is reviving after a transplant to a larger pot on its own.  It originally shared a smaller, crowded planter box (the edge is on the right of the photo) with several other plants.   It was not doing well.


The lime tree we planted last Spring is flowering.   It flowered last year too, and produced some small buds that I suppose theoretically could have turned into fruit.   Lack of water last summer caused it to shed those buds.   I am determined to take better care of it this summer.


Here, I modified the sprinkler system to give the lime tree it’s own special sprinkler head.   There is one sprinkler circuit dedicated to the planting beds along the perimeter of the back yard, including the lemon and lime trees.   As with the geraniums and rosemary elsewhere, I’d like to run this circuit somewhat regularly to conserve water but preserve our fruit trees.

IMG_1659Our Meyer lemon tree is now flowering.   It weathered the lack of water last summer by holding on to its fruit, but it not flower through the Fall as it usually does.   Thanks to additional water this winter, it is now making up for lost time.   This picture is also a little old; its blooms are now legion.


Finally, our calla lilies are up and blooming.   To understand why they are popular at funerals, you only need look at the plants:  the lush, green bed here along the side of the house can be brown, desert-dry, and hard as a rock during the summer and yet this happens when water is added.  The plant truly is the Resurrection embodied.

Fall Finally Arrived… And All Was Well

Halloween 2014 and the weekend that followed went pretty well.

We had to be a little sneaky to do it, but the Peanut dressed in costume and went trick-or-treating on Friday night.   It rained during the day, and the weather still looked threatening as the evening began.   So, the Missus and I told the Peanut that we were going out for a walk after dinner, but that he needed to wear his “rain gear” (which happened to look like a firefighter costume) since it might rain.  He protested a bit at first, but the Peanut loves to ring doorbells; he rings ours every time he comes home from somewhere.  Once he saw that our “walk” involved going to houses,  ringing doorbells, and getting bright colored little objects from people (the Peanut doesn’t eat his candy, he sorts it by color), he forgot about his “rain gear” and had a good time.   The Missus, the Peanut, and I made it up to the end of our block and back.  After that, the Missus’ sorority sister Auntie M. showed up, the Peanut was placed in a red Radio Flyer wagon, and the Missus and Auntie M. headed out to cover the next street over.  I handed out candy from the porch to the few kids that came by, fortified against the chill with some Bruichladdich Port Charlotte.  I’ll need to think of a costume if I repeat that next year, Joy Howie.

Saturday was another cool, damp day.   We spent a good chunk of the day at 4th birthday party for one of the Peanut’s friends from playgroup.  It was at a nearby pumpkin farm/plant nursery where there was a petting zoo, hay rides, train rides, and a bounce house.   The Peanut loved the first three, but the last one not so much.  In the petting zoo, he mostly pointed at the various animals and we all marveled at the basso “baaah” sounds from the sheep.  We took multiple train and hay rides.  The ground was soft, and roof over the party area leaked a bit, but a good time was had by all.

The house felt quite cool on Sunday morning, suggesting that it was time to finally turn on the heat.  Our house has a gas floor furnace, original to the house when it was built in 1953.   It gets pretty dusty during the summer, and the smell of cooking dust and debris is never pleasant.  So, I got to spend an hour our two with a vacuum cleaner and microfiber dusting wand trying to get as much detritus out of the heater as possible.    That was a worthwhile, if somewhat unpleasant pursuit.

Since it was a positively beautiful Autumn day, something warm and hearty seemed to be required for dinner.   I decided to try a new recipe for Ancho-Orange Carnitas.  The recipe took about 30 minutes longer to cook because it took longer than suggested for the pork to reach pull apart consistency.  Consulting a number of other cookbooks, including Diana Kennedy’s Essential Cuisines Of Mexico, it seems that this was the fault of the recipe — others say about hour where this recipe said 40 minutes.   In any case, it looked fine when it got done and was a little bit of heaven on a warm corn tortilla with a little Cotija cheese:


The coming of Fall leaves me with a bit of a dilemma… well, not a dilemma as much as potentially large amount of basil pesto.   I got some organic basil plants in late August/early September on clearance at Whole Paychecks for $5.  After replanting them in a larger pot, they have taken off admirably during the warm September and October:


Now I will have to figure out what to do with all this bounty.   It’s either pesto, some thai stir fry, or both, I think.

But in the end, Fall finally arrived and all was well.

Dihydrogen Monoxide Depletion

For those of you who haven’t heard, it’s DRY in California this summer, as in I-hope-it’s-never-this-dry-in-my-lifetime-again dry.  This graphic from XKCD sums up the problem rather well:

Call it global warming.  Call it a fluke of nature.  It’s probably both.

We were pretty well fixed to weather a drought at the start of this season.    We use a high efficiency washer.   Our water heater is relatively new (and not leaking.)  Our dishwasher is also relatively new, and we try to run it when it is full.  I’ve checked the water meter with all the taps off to verify that nothing is leaking in the last few years.

On top of that, we took some additional steps to conserve water this year:

  • we installed a dual flush valve on the toilet,
  • we installed a low flow shower head,
  • we decided not to use the sprinkler system to water the lawn at all this summer (we occasionally use one circuit in the system to water plant beds and trees, as needed.)

I just had a look at our water bill between June and August, and I see that our efforts produced a noticeable reduction:


As you can see, we reduced our water consumption by over two thirds.  We also come in well under the voluntary water limit, but we’ve always done that.

There have been some losses.   Our apple tree continues to drop apples, and our lemon tree is also dropping fruit.   Our hydrangeas never really bloomed.   The lawn is developing some rather nasty looking bare spots.

I hope that there is more water next year.   We need it, badly.

Rain! The crops are saved!

The California drought nearly ended yesterday (at least in our front yard) with a dramatic downpour….


…until the rain stopped after about 90 seconds.  That is all.

The July Farm And Garden Report

Drought is the operative word in California this summer.  There was no snow in the Sierra Nevada mountains this winter, so there is no water further west during the summer.  Water conservation should be on everyone’s mind.  We’re doing our part: I installed a low flow shower head and dual flush toilet valve months ago.   We also didn’t turn on the sprinkler systems at all this year:

IMG_1414Sadly, we see other lawns that are still green.  Rumor is that the the city has started issuing fines to people who are watering too much.  Lawns need to go brown.  I hear on the news that California needs to cut water use by 20 percent.  So far, water consumption has only dropped by 5 percent.

There is still some greenery.  The geraniums are still holding their own under hand watering:  IMG_1419The blackberries running wild around the side of the house are also producing fruit, slightly early this year.  The ripest berries are sweet in ways that commercial berries never seem to be:

IMG_1413The apple tree is having some trouble.  I didn’t water it through May and June and it seemed fine, but it started dropping an apple a week during the last three weeks:

IMG_1415It’s now getting the same hand watering treatment as the geraniums. I hope we still have some apples left on the tree by November.

My most critical concern is the lime tree I planted back in March.  The little thing doesn’t have the root system to gather the water it needs.  It looks so withered at times.  It bloomed back in April.  I was hoping it would produce a few fruit this year, but it dropped what fertilized buds it had in the last few weeks.
IMG_1418Perhaps it needed some fertilizer tea?  I’ve been late with that for the fruit trees this summer.

My son’s preschool class planted flowers.  I should remember the name of the variety but it escapes me at the moment.  We were wondering what they were when we got the seedlings, but they finally bloomed:

IMG_1417Finally, the fuschia have recovered from their annual winter die back and have started attracting hummingbirds: