Tuesday, October 11, 2016

What a Mess

Houses are money sinks. Just when you get something fixed, something else needs your attention. This year, I've been lucky to find people willing to do things I can no longer do. One of those things was cleaning the gutters.

Prior to May, I don't remember when I last had them cleaned. On the north end of the house, in the front, small trees had taken root. Birds loved the gutters because bugs moved in. I would hear them digging around and would see the flying of debris as they emptied a spot and ate the insects. Squirrels had also taken to burying nuts in the gutters. I could always tell when this happened by what I'd find on the deck or front porch.

I kept telling myself that it didn't take much to get up there and clean them out. I have a ladder. I would just need to get some latex gloves to put under a pair of garden gloves I really didn't like very much and I could clean out the gutter myself. But climbing a ladder is difficult. I feel so unstable now and the need to climb to the top of the ladder made me very uneasy. I can wash windows because it's 2-3 rungs, but climbing 4-5 was a problem. Fortuitously, Pam was given a flyer from the son of one of her co-workers. He would clean gutters and do other yard work, including mowing and weeding. I took him up on the gutter cleaning.

What a mess.

It was a rainy afternoon when he showed up. I told him he could postpone the job but he said he was going to get wet anyway so rain didn't matter. This was the debris in the gutter section over the door. It was nasty; black and decaying. The smell was "ripe". He had a power washer and, after removing the debris from the gutters, cleaned the front steps and the deck. It took him a couple passes to clear everything off. In washing down the deck chair, he actually cleaned it. I was impressed.

The next day, I used power scrub for one final pass.

I didn't get the deck sealed, I just had too much to do this summer and I actually wanted to use my deck; sit on it, enjoy myself, and not spend a weekend painting. It needs to be sealed and it needs another thorough power washing.

The best part is that the heavy rains of the summer have actually gone into the gutters and down the downspouts as they are supposed to do, not slide straight off the roof. If the gutters are clear, a heavy rain helps to flush out any debris which might accumulate. The pine trees on the north side of the house sluff needles in May and that can clog gutters if there is anything in them. This year, nope. My gutters are clear at the start of fall. I probably should look them over before winter, once all the leaves have fallen, just to be sure. Clean your gutters, folks. You'll thank yourself even if the squirrels complain they have no easy place to bury food for the winter.

Beverage:  Water


A Hearty Recommendation

With the clearing of the trash trees off the north and northwest sides of the house, I had a wide open section of yard to do something with. The first thing was to get top soil and mushroom compost and even out the land.

There were rather large holes under the downspout, where overgrown bushes were removed. I decided I wanted a raised bed here; something small-ish which would handle peppers and fit in this space. I searched all sorts of places which came up when Googling "raised beds". That can be something of a rabbit hole. Would you like the Cadillac of raised beds, lacking only a gardener to tend it for you, or would you like something which looks like two squirrels slapped it together with help from a chipmunk? And pieces; lots and lots of pieces. If you are the handy sort, you probably could design your bed and just buy pieces. Me? Not so much. I needed a kit. I just wanted something I could assemble and move into place, which would fit in the spot by the downspout. Those tiger lilies, with the trash gone, will just go everywhere.

I found a bed at Home Depot. The bed is by New Tech Wood. The current price is not what I paid for it back in mid-March. I settled on this bed and then watched sales and coupons. I think I spent $50 for it and I feel that's a very good price.

Shall we talk about how it comes?

Is this a box or is this a box? I came home in late April to see this sitting on the front porch. It was a bit heavy to pull inside, but there's my raised bed. I put it together the weekend after it arrived. 

I dragged it out onto the deck and opened the box. 

Everything is contained and nicely packed for shipping. Nothing was loose. I dumped it out. 

My heart sank. Man, this is a lot of stuff. How was I going to put it together. There also were not printed instructions. There was a parts list, but nothing else. 

One of the benefits of technology is having video at your fingertips. A selling point of this bed was the video on the product description page. I watched that and felt I could assemble this without need of many tools and it would be light-weight enough I could put it together on the deck and move it to the spot in the yard where I wanted it. I have an iPad. I can watch that video, stop it, assemble and move on. 

My deck railing is just a bit smaller than the iPad, but it was fantastic to be able to watch and find the parts and move on. That's the bottom of the bed. Here's a close up.

I guess you'd call this "modular". The bottom pieces snap together and everything snaps onto or into everything else. 

When the bottom pieces are snapped together, you add the sides. You can see the sides have a distinctive shape to them. The walls will slide into the grooves on each side so you need to make sure you put the indentation the right way, not that I would have knowledge of putting them on wrong. (Oh look! A Squirrel.) 

Here you can see one of the sides in place. The plastic sheet goes over the bottom. It acts like landscape fabric in that it lets water drain out while keeping dirt in and weeds out. It just lies on top of the base.

The walls are held in place by pegs. 

One of the tools you need is a rubber mallet. This was the part which was the most frustrating. You need to line up holes in the wall with holes in the end posts, insert a peg and pound in the peg. I tried to do this while the bed was on the deck railing but until the sides are anchored, the bed would fall apart. 

You can see on the far right corner, one of the peg holes. It can be really tough for me to a) get down on the ground and then b) get up once I'm down there. Some comedian did a visual joke about that. He fell to the ground and a friend offered to help him get up. His response, "Wait. Wait. I'm seeing what else I can do now that I'm down here." There are days when that's exactly how I feel. I wound up sitting down and pounding the pegs into the holes. Here is the bed with the sides on. 

The last things to attach are the end caps. They needed a light tap with the hammer to snap into place. 

Once completed, it's rather light-weight and very sturdy. It was easy to carry it to the location where it's going to go. Here's the finished and filled product. 

I'm very pleased with it. I'll be posting photos of what I planted in the box. The cats weren't interested in the cardboard box, surprisingly. I think it might have been too big. I wound up cutting it into pieces and recycling it. I will be getting another this coming March and putting it on the other side of the downspout. This would be a great raised bed for small spaces, including decks.

Beverage:  Water


Sunday, October 9, 2016


Bohemian National Cemetery is a very peaceful place, even while being bordered by two of Chicago's busy streets. When I was inspecting the columbarium, I stood on the front steps and gazed around the grounds. The one thing I noticed, was the overabundance of tree headstones. This is the view looking northeast from the front steps.

Notice, within this view, there are two right of center. I found the amount of trees to be very intriguing. There is a tree in my dad's family.

My great-great-great uncle, Mathew Thompson, is buried under this. It's the only one in the Monona, Iowa city cemetery. I don't think the Lutheran cemetery has one. I have not been in the Catholic cemetery to know if one is there. I'd not seen another and then, driving through Bohemian, there were trees everywhere.

I was told they were used primarily by Eastern European people. I objected. "I have one in my family; my dad's side. They were Scottish, from northeast of Edinburgh." The historian looked at me. "That is very interesting." He mentioned a book a woman wrote roughly 7 years ago, about the trees in Bohemian National, but was unsure if you could find it anywhere. She had spent a couple of years photographing every tree in the cemetery. She also deciphered what the symbols carved onto the tree meant. He could not remember the name of it and didn't know if it was still available. I spent hours googling any kind of book and came up empty. He said it was a $45 book because it was filled with photos, but I'd pay $45 to have something like that.

If you google "tree headstones", you will find web sites with information about this symbolism. The historian at Bohemian National said, if I brought in a photo of the tree, he would be able to tell me what the symbols mean. That would be fantastic, but I only have this photo. I don't have side or back photos. Those were lost in the great computer melt-down of late 2011. I remember there being symbols carved all around this stone. Perhaps I have the photos stored on a CD, but I'm thinking that's unlikely. While everything is backed up today, it wasn't back then. I would need to go back to the cemetery and photograph the whole thing to present a better view for deciphering. I am very curious what the stone could be telling us that we don't know. Plus, I wonder how this compares to trees in Bohemian National.

Looks like I have a road trip in my future.

Beverage:  La Croix Berry Seltzer


Saturday, October 8, 2016

Think on This

While out and about, I come into contact with a lot of different jobs. Of course, my job provokes the "I didn't know that existed" response. But I run across other jobs which need to be done that I wasn't consciously aware of. Take this job.

You're going, "Huh?" and you can be forgiven for not having this job on your radar. According to the maintenance man, these are crematorium coffins. Bodies need to be placed in a receptacle when they are cremated and these coffins are made to be those receptacles. The whole thing is cremated. For people wishing a funeral with a body, these serve as the coffin. They are minimally decorated, just tasteful enough to resemble a much more expensive coffin. They are wrapped in plastic to keep them looking nice. In the van were 5 adult size and 2 child size. I think that's what got me, the 2 child size. But crematoriums need to have those on hand.

Somewhere, people make these. And some delivery service picked up a delivery and brought it to where I was. It was a plain panel van. They don't need a lot, just enough.

This is a necessary service but we don't think about it. When you pass on, someone will have created the casket in which your body will reside. My friend, Patt, has made arrangements for a plain wooden box, crafted by monks. You have to order these a long time in advance. She doesn't want the gigantic padded casket so took the planning into her own hands. A monk is making her casket. It will be ready for her and will need to be transported from there to wherever she is buried. Someone will have to do that.

These are the kinds of jobs which fly under the radar. If you've read this space for any length of time, you know I champion these kinds of jobs. To do them, you don't need a college education. It disappoints me when well-meaning professors release yet another study that says college grads earn x times more than high school grads. That's nice, but are college grads driving panel vans making deliveries of coffins to the places that need them?

When you're out and about, think, for a moment, about all the minimum wage jobs you encounter. Those jobs have to be done by someone. Those people should be accorded as much dignity as some lawyer or banker or movie star. I rather think if all the minimum wage people went on strike, we'd shut down, completely.

Think about that.

Beverage:  Cookies and Cream Cocoa