Thursday, December 24

Homemade apple corer—it works!

Karla was preparing the stuffing for cored apples when she discovered that our corer was not to be found. Tom to the rescue—we’ll use a hole saw instead!

I boiled the saw first to get rid of the lurking crud inside, cooled it off, then used pliers to poke it into the first apple. Success! But the core remained in the apple.


Not to worry. Use a wide flat butter knife blade that gets poked down the center of the cored part and twist it as if loosening a screw.


The core pops loose at its bottom and comes out with ease. 

Then the hole gets stuffed with things (including brown sugar! which we almost never eat!), and the apples are arranged in a baking dish ready for the oven.

Sunday, December 20

You HAVE been warned!

That seems to be the message on the power cord of our fake Christmas tree. There are—count ‘em—NINE labels, each with a dire message regarding your personal safety if you ignore any of the warnings. One of them says: This is an electric product—not a toy! Whoa. I’ll try not to play with it or put it in my mouth. Or take a shower with its cord around my neck and plugged in to a thousand-volt circuit.
Hm-m-m—neither of those activities is listed on any of the labels. I smell the potential of a lawsuit here....

Thursday, December 3

Digging a big hole when you have plenty of time

Karla is standing in a hole made by a pine tree (most likely) several decades ago. Starting as a mere nut, the tree grew really tall, then died and fell to the ground, its roots pulling up a whole lot of dirt and making a really big hole.

As time went on, the tree's body slowly disappeared except for a very few pieces and a mound of composted wood and soil. Nice stuff for planting.

So the next time you need a big hole and have a few centuries to wait for it to be dug, plant a pine nut.

Thursday, November 12

A trapezoidal parallelogram, eh?

I’ll show YOU, sez I. Throw me a curve, and I’ll set you straight! It took all of a morning and part of an afternoon to place, then re-position the main tiles for our entryway. Then do it all over again shifting the orientation maybe half a degree, then another quarter of a degree, then moving the whole mess an eighth of a — you get the idea.

The open square in the middle will be filled with a different pattern using tile which Karla is picking up at Creative Tile in Fresno this afternoon.

I guess our builder never figured the room was going to be a showcase for any fancy tile-work. It wasn’t built very square, that’s for sure. So laying big square tiles in it may seem a fool’s errand, but we’re doing it anyway. Besides, we have most of the tiles we need because they’re left over from a job where we changed our minds (again?!) and decided not to use them anyway. Not only that, it’s a shame to waste tiles that are brimming with fossilized sea life millions of years old and cost over twenty-five bucks apiece. So there.

We will fill the center square with a pattern we fell in love with at Creative Tile, but had no place for in our plan. We reserve the right to change our minds even in the middle of a job.

So there.

Monday, November 9

Making do...

We used to have a nice surveyor’s transit. Well, sorta nice. When World War II got going, the US Government grabbed hold of every surveyor’s transit level they could find. They promised to return them when the war ended. Karla’s grandfather was Fresno County’s chief surveyor, and he “donated” his very-high-end finely-crafted instrument. After the war the government sent him a mid-quality replacement instead of his original instrument. Bummer.

Meanwhile, that instrument got some rough handling and became unusable. So when in need, innovate. Shown here is our homemade transit. It consists of a stepladder, a cardboard carton, a block of Styrofoam, a five-gallon plastic bucket and a carpenter’s level. When I sight along the top of the level, I see that it matches the height of the garage floor, our target. My measuring tape shows that the difference is six feet (1.8 meters).

We want to build steps from the driveway by the house to the door of the garage, and need to know how many of them and what height they should be. Our plan is to use railroad ties for the steps, with stone bricks to fill in between ties. Well, that’s the plan anyway. Who knows what the finished product will be; we still could change our minds a few times. Maybe we’ll luck out and run across an old escalator in a junkyard somewhere.…

We’re running out of floors and walls!

There is more work to be done before our house is finished. Our builder/advisor, Randy, told us to be patient—don’t try to get it all done in a hurry. Live with it; let things evolve. (That can also be an excuse for the phrase, “Not now Honey. I’m thinking about it.”)
One of the rewards of waiting came to me a few weeks ago. I ran across a pattern of black and white squares that makes a very strong illusion of converging and diverging lines. It would make a fascinating tile design, but where to put it—a floor piece? a wall piece? Where would it work? It could be said that any permanent part of the house with this pattern on it should be easily concealable so it doesn’t drive us batty. Maybe a tabletop would work. When in need, hide it with a tablecloth.

Here is the Web address of the site where this and more illusions are shown.

Saturday, November 7

Porch tile done. Entry tile next.

Here I am using our underlayment roller to flatten the stuff that’ll be under the entry tile. Yesterday we ordered the tiles that will be in the center of the pattern in the entryway and today we laid the Schluter Ditra underlayment. All of the tile inside the house has Ditra under it for three reasons; it’s waterproof, it’s as flat as you can get any floor to be, and it insulates the tile from any movement of the floor beneath, such as cracks or swellling.

At the bottom of the photo you can see finished tile and grout on our front porch. There is some work to be done for the final touch, but we don’t have the chemicals yet. Thursday our entryway tile will be in, and we’ll pick up some scrubbing stuff for our front porch tile then. Since the tile is made of natural stone, it’s slightly porous and quickly fills up with anything you’re using as adhesive or grout. So it’s dull-looking. But we’ll get it shined up real good real quick. And when we’re done scrubbing, we’ll be real sore and real tired.


Sunday, November 1

If I knew how long this would take...

I probably would not have started. Here it is, November already! The tile-the-porch project started October 5. I learned a lot over this past month mostly about using stone versus ceramic tile. For one thing, stone tile is fragile. It was just this week that the replacements for about 20 of them that were broken arrived. I think the original order was for about a hundred, so that’s a pretty high attrition rate. Then while using them, some tiles broke in my hands if I didn’t treat them just so.

But the upside of stone tiles is that you can shape them with simple tools. I cut a lot of them in half, which leaves a very sharp edge. Using a rasp, some carbide “sandpaper” and a wood chisel trimmed up the edges just fine. These’s a downside, though, at least with this make of tile. On the back are marks made by the cutting blade. Some of them look like they were cut using a table saw, with circular arcs and one end  thinner than the other. I finally gave up trying to lay them so their surfaces match up flat and smooth. This will be my most irregular tile work, but maybe that will add a bit of charm to the final product.

Just inches away will be a whole ‘nother kind of tile job, the entryway floor. It will be covered with a different kind of stone tile, a very hard smooth stone with fossils in it! Should be interesting. I’ll write about it when the time comes.

Thursday, October 22

In order to create…

sometimes you must destroy. In the case of our front entry step, the contractor made a slight mistake by making the front edge slope upward slightly. I noticed this when I washed the entry off with a hose and the water, instead of running off completely, puddled by the front edge. I was not going to lay tile on this kind of surface, so I am using a hammer and chisel to correct the situation. 

The correction also involved removing the metal edge on the front. I did that easily with a grinder, peeling the metal off easily. But now the remaining metal doesn’t have the bend to give it strength, so I have to use a bunch of flat-headed screws to hold it down.

I will be screwing on a fascia board, and topping the board with a rubber stair-edge protector. This is one of those projects that starts out with a simple premise: Let’s put tile on the entry. Yeah, right.

Monday, October 12

Slowly, s-l-o-w-l-y, s...l.....o......

This job is the slowest-moving tile work I’ve ever done. I am not using the standard thin-set mortar to stick the tiles down, but rather a slow-setting mastic. It can take a day and a half for this stuff to finally get hard enough that you can walk normally on the tiles without shifting them. So, the project started with the large tiles, then the tiny border tiles, then the inner green glass tiles, then the outer ring of glass tiles. Finally, this morning’s contribution was the outermost rectangular tiles.

Why did I put the very small tiles down before the inner ring of green glass tiles? Well, in order to make things come out square and lined up correctly, I just had to do it that way. It took LOTS of measuring and cross-checking to get them placed accurately. Especially since the innermost tiles, the big ones, weren’t laid exactly square! Dang! It’s been awhile since I laid tile and I was rusty already. Oh well, it’s going to look just fine (and anyone coming up the walkway with a framing square hidden behind their back will be sent away without supper).

Tomorrow we will go back to Creative Tile in Fresno (the best tile store on this little planet!) and get tiles to surround this central pattern. We haven’t decided yet what the color will be, just that they will be darker in color.

To the right of the picture, you can see the bat excluder plugged into the power outlet. Reader Susan in Australia suggested that I get this kind of bat repeller. I got it a couple of days after ordering from Amazon, plugged it in, and said farewell to bats! It works great! (Greatly?) Thank you Susan!

Thursday, October 8

It HAD to happen!

I remember the day when I discovered one of the large tiles in our dining room floor sitting there crooked as it could be. Somehow I guess I had stepped on it and moved it way out of square. By the time I found the problem, the cement holding it had hardened to the point that there was no way to remove it intact. Out came the big hammer. It was kinda fun banging the tile to shreds after sweating the details of getting them all in  place just so, but at the same time in the back of my mind there was the nagging thought that we had already used almost all of the tiles we had. Not only that, the tiles weren’t being made anymore. We had bought them decades earlier for a job that never materialized, and replacements just didn't exist.

When we finished the dining room, we had, besides cutoff scraps, ONE tile left over.

Shown here is the job I’m doing on our front entry. Each tile was precisely laid with spacers, so I know I hadn’t laid the piece crooked. Again, I guess I must have stepped on it and moved it before the cement dried. Dang.

But one thing is in my favor. I don’t have to break the tile out and replace it with one of the leftovers. Since it’s made of stone, it is carvable by chisel. All I have to do is chip away at the edges to make it look square. That’s another experience to add to my collection. By the time we’re finished with this house, I will have had so many experiences in so many different areas that I can probably skip the next two or three lifetimes, and spend some much-deserved time off in whatever heavenly between-lifetimes I will find myself lollilng about in. And while I’m at it, I’ll practice putting sentences together more better.

Wednesday, October 7

It's finally happening!

That ol' Sioux-dog looks bored. She'll love curling up on the new porch when it's done though.
I can’t remember how much time we spent thinking this whole front porch thing to death. But finally it’s turning into action! This morning (Karla’s birthday, by the way) I am actually going to start sticking some tile down. It’s going to be a challenge doing it right because the stuff I have to put down first is also one of the two thinnest types of tiles I’ll be using. So it’s like thinking in 3-D; get it straight in the X-Y space, and toss in the Z axis. Depth/height/flatness. Woof!

Wish me luck.

Monday, October 5

It's tile time again

It’s been awhile, but I think I can still remember how to do it. We ran across a tiling pattern at Creative Tile in Fresno. I fell in love with it and took lots of pictures, then bought all the tiles used in the pattern. There are stone and ceramic tiles, and an unusual kind that the guy helping us said is “melted Coke bottles, I think.” Our entry porch will be very nice when I finish laying out a variation on the pattern to fit the space.

Meanwhile, we’ll have to figure out a way to keep the local bats from parking themselves in the corners of the porch and using the walls and deck as their toilet. I used our pressure washer and some powerful detergent and a very stiff brush to get rid of the stains they left over the past few months. I’m not sure how to keep them away though. Any ideas?

Saturday, October 3

It's tarantula romance time

On our evening hike, Karla spotted one of our big black friends trotting across the road. These guys spend a lot of time traipsing through the weeds in search of a willing girl to impregnate. I only got to see that ritual one time, and it was fascinating. First, the girl wasn't black; she was almost cocoa-colored. They check each other out, with her remaining for the most part in her tunnel. He stroked her with his forelegs, then his pedipalps, which look like short forelegs, delivered some sperm (I think that's how it works), then both of the spiders quivered. He was finished, so he backed away and trotted off for more girl-hunting as she backed into her tunnel and disappeared from sight.

A very short romance, indeed!

Thursday, October 1

More planting

Yesterday, Wednesday, was overcast all day long. Without the sun scorching our tender skin, we were able to put in long hours digging holes for some more agaves. We have already lost plants to hungry ground-dwellers, like gophers, so we are now making baskets out of hardware cloth (wire mesh) to protect them. Since it hasn’t rained significantly in a very long time, the ground is very dry and hard. A bit of soaking with a bit of water makes it possible to dig a fairly deep hole and after planting we keep the soil wet till the plants get established.
Karla gets a nice big hole ready for its new occupant

Today we got some rain! Only twenty hundredths of an inch (5 mm) fell this morning, but we’ll take whatever comes. There is supposed to be a big rainfall season coming. Yay. But I’ll keep my garden hose at the ready till it actually happens.

Saturday, September 26

Donating blood brings back...

Karla and I visited our doctor Friday for our occasional hour-long consultation. He suggested that we donate blood every couple or three months. It seems our blood is just a teensy bit thick, and draining a bit of it occasionally will remedy that.

I haven’t donated since I was a youngster attending Navy electronics school on Treasure Island in the San Francisco Bay. It seems there was a young lady who was desperately in need of a whole lot of blood, and my class got “volunteered” by the base commander. A photo of several dozen of us, standing a**hole to belly button, as the Navy used to call it, appeared on the front page of one of San Francisco’s daily newspapers.

Ah, yes. The Navy. That was the time when I never had to give a thought to what would befall me on any given day. All I had to do was make sure the Enterprise’s radar repeaters (the TV-set-like displays that showed what the radars were seeing) kept working. The Combat Information Center, roughly mid-ship, was my base. From there I enjoyed the hike to the bow of the ship where one of the repeaters was located. The space was called Secondary Conn, and it was used to run the ship if the normal command center, the bridge, got blown away in combat. It had five portholes, and it was very calming to stand there alone and stare out at the ocean. (The only other portholes were in the Captain’s cabin, so this was a rare treat for an ordinary sailor.)

 I read recently that the USS Enterprise was finally decommissioned. It was in active service for 50 years, making it the longest-serving ship in US Navy history. Heckuva boat, she was, and I got aboard it when it was a mere six-month-old returning from its initial deployment in the Mediterranean. My fondest memory is the trip we made circling the entire globe and absolutely nothing went wrong with any of my equipment! I really enjoyed that two-month vacation.