Monthly Archives: July 2014

2014/07/31 (W) Wrapping Up?

We were tired and went to bed early last night.  Naturally, that meant we were up earlier than usual this morning.  Linda made her fabulous vegan blueberry pancakes to get us fueled up for a long day of work.  The landscapers were also here reasonably early and had a very productive day.  More on that later.

Our first task this morning was installing a switch controlled dual LED floodlight fixture on the back of the garage above and to the left of the door (when viewed from the outside).  The location was determined by the construction of the rear wall of the garage.  I measured and re-measured the location of the cable hole to make sure the surface mounted junction box ended up in the center (vertically) of one of the siding boards.  I drilled a 1/2″ hole through the back (north) wall of the garage just to the right of the back door (when viewed from inside the garage) and just below the top plate.  I ran a 14-2+g (NM) cable (that I had previously prepped and left in the wall cavity) through the hole in the wall and then through the hole in the back of the junction box.  This was the part of the north wall where I had to remove concrete backer board, a burned 2×4, and singed insulation, so the studs and back side of the exterior plywood sheathing were exposed and accessible.

We moved around to the outside and I caulked the hole around the wire, put a generous band of while caulk around the hole on the back of the junction box, and a half circle of caulk around the top back edge of the box and mounted it to the outside of the house with the center knockout centered over the hole in the wall.  I installed the dual LED light fixture and put a bead of caulk around the top half of the junction box where it met the fixture.  (The heads of the cheap machine screws that now come with electrical fixtures and plates strip very easily making it difficult to get a tight fit.)  I caulked the wire hole from the inside and then dressed and secured the cable.  I turned the circuit breaker on, and checked for proper operation of the switch and light fixture.  It was all good.  I like it when that happens.

Our next task was to install three round blue plastic junction boxes for bare bulb light fixtures; two for the garage attic and one for the garage end of the library attic.  I was originally going to install a switch near the top of the fold-down ladder to control the lights and run power to it from a new ceiling light fixture in the utility closet, but we came up with a better solution.

There was a three-gang electrical box in the east wall of the garage just inside the door from the library.  It had two switches installed and the cover plate had openings for a duplex outlet in the third position, but no device installed there.  We thought this would be a better place for the switch—as there was already power to the box—if we could get a wire through the wall from the attic to the box.  The drywall is missing from the lower half of the wall so we had good access to the underside of the box.  (The drywall was removed by the previous owner to repair the frozen hot water baseboard heat pipes.)  I checked in the attic and it looked like we had a good shot at making this work.  The icing on the cake was that we could install a switch with a pilot light that is designed to fit in a duplex outlet cover plate.  Not only would it be convenient, it would provide a visible indication that the lights were on.

I did the attic work while Linda took care of the garage end of this task, passing me parts and tools as needed and helping feed NM cable. We ran 14-2+g (120V, 15A) wire from the attic through the east wall to the existing outlet box.  I pulled the cable over to the location by the library attic, mounted the box, cut the cable, unsheathed it, stripped the wires, ran it into the box, and secured it to the truss.  I repeated that process with the end of the free cable.  The plastic light fixtures I bought very conveniently feature pass-through wiring terminals so all I had to do was hook up the cables, fasten the fixture to the box, and screw in the 100 W rugged service bulb.

I repeated this process for the next box/fixture which I positioned just to the west side of garage ridge 1/4 of the way in from the front (south) wall.  Finally, I repeated most of this process for the third and final (for now) box/fixture which I positioned on the east side of the ridge 1/4 of the way in from the back (north) wall.  Somewhere in the middle of all that we stopped for lunch.

With the attic lights installed I needed to pull the wire that supplied power to the outlets in the west half of the garage out of the rear/north wall and up into the attic.  Easier said than done.  The cable was originally part of the circuit that powers the outlets in the northeast wall of the garage (and now powers the new floodlights on the back wall) but I disconnected it a week ago knowing that I wanted to feed it from a separate breaker.  The cable went through a hole in the top plate and I discovered that the bottom cord of the gable truss had been set partially covering this hole with the cable pinched under it.  I cut the cable from above and ran it into a plastic switch box.  Linda was then able to pull the tail end loose from underneath.  I will run a new cable from the sub-panel to the junction box after I get more pressing work done.

On that note I also realized today that I do not have to get the cables for the new circuits through the top plates above the sub-panel, which was going to be difficult-to-impossible.  The sub-panel is surface mounted and I already planned to box around it.  With the supply air duct coming out of the new HVAC unit and running straight out along the ceiling above the utility closet door I will have 16 inches of clear ceiling space.  The sub-panel is about four inches deep so I will have about three inches of ceiling above the panel and in front of the top plates where I can run new cable into the attic.  Brilliant!

Our last attic task for today was to disconnect two telephone wires in the wall cavity to the right of the sub-panel, pull them up into the attic, reroute them, and reconnect them.  One of them turned out to be the main phone/data line coming into the house from the AT&T box at the southwest corner of the garage.  There was a telephone wall outlet to the right of the old sub-panel that this line ran to before continuing on to the rest of the house.  The wires are very small gage, are unshielded, and the cable is draped through the attic over multiple 120 VAC cables.  I need to replace this with a single run of much better (shielded) cable when I have time.  Perhaps we will get less static on the phone and faster Internet data transfer rates.  (Nah, probably not.  It will still be an AT&T landline.)

While I started working on re-wiring the three-gang box in the east garage wall, Linda made a run to Lowe’s to get a 32′ roll of 16″ x 3.5″ (R-13) insulation and a switch with a pilot light.  I got the box rewired, we energized the circuit, and everything worked.  Yippee!

The landscapers today consisted of Steve (the owner), Spencer (his nephew), and Tommy.  Steve used the excavator to place four large boulders on the sides of the new front steps.  That was the last work to be done in front that required the excavator so he used it to back blade (level off) and compact (with the bucket) the pull-through driveway.  He was not able to return it to its existing condition but did the best he could with the equipment he has.

He took time out to use his chain saw to cut down a dead pine tree, cut it up into 4′ lengths, and carry the pieces back to his truck with the excavator.  He then used it to fill/grade a large low spot just southwest of the garage.  This was the route they used to get the excavator to the back yard.  It was also where all of the construction debris was piled until yesterday, and the excavator really tore the ground up in that area over the last four weeks.

Spencer and Tommy worked in the back hand-grading the slopes beyond the retaining walls and the area that was trenched for the drain tiles.  They worked in a layer of good topsoil, spread grass seed, and covered it with straw.

Steve plans to lay the brick pavers for the front sidewalk tomorrow and have the whole project wrapped up by the end of the day.  It looked like they were on track to accomplish that until Spencer informed us that there was apparently a leak in the drain tile somewhere in “the valley.”  Leak was an understatement; we had an area at least 8′ x 12′ that had turned into a pond.

It appeared that the drain line for the sump pump was somehow discharging its water at this point rather than it flowing all the way down to the drains at the back of the yard.   Spencer dug up some of the line coming down the slope and found several holes on the top side, but it did make sense that these were the source of the problem.  Our guess is that that line, which is not one continuous piece of drain tile, has become disconnected at the valley floor allowing all of the water to escape at that point, and/or crushed, causing the water to back up through a connector (which is only designed for water to flow one way).  Fortunately we kept the original PVC discharge extension pipe from the sump pump outlet so we temporarily disconnected the buried drain line and reconnected the extension pipe.

Whatever the cause of the leak, we are sure it will be found and fixed, we’re just not sure that will happen by the end of the day tomorrow.  I had thought about “testing” the system by using a garden hose to put a significant volume of water into each of the drain lines.  As of now, I will definitely be doing that.

Our final task was insulating a section of the rear/north wall.  We got three of the four plus cavities filled and ran out of steam.  Besides, it was dinner time.  Linda made one of her “go-to” dishes; angel hair pasta with onions, garlic, mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes, basil, and mixed baby greens lightly sautéed in olive oil.  This is a dish she can throw together from ingredients on hand without a recipe and it is always delicious.  We had a small glass of Leelanau Cellars Summer Sunset wine while she cooked and a small glass of Meiomi Pinot Noir with the dish.  No salad and no dessert; just a great pasta dish and nice wine.  I got cleaned up and we watched the first episode of season five of Doc Martin.  As we were drifting off to sleep we thought we heard the distant howl of a coyote.

2014/07/30 (W) Winter In July

By the time we started breakfast the landscapers were back.  Steve started to dig a trench for a drain line from the end of the lower deck and hit 2×8’s on the flat about 2-3″ below the surface, so he abandoned that work and moved the excavator around front to the trash pile.

The major construction work up in the back is nearing completion and the lads were picking up some of the smaller debris, the larger stuff having been moved around front to the trash pile yesterday.  Steve used the excavator to load some of the trash onto the trailer (normally used to move the excavator), where the crew covered and secured it.  He loaded more of it into the back of his pickup truck.  They are still having tire issues with the trailer so I charged up my 200 psi air compressor (150 psi regulated) and rolled it over so they could fill one of the tires.

Steve moved the excavator to the southeast corner of the house to dig a short (10′) shallow trench for a drain line to get water from the downspout away from the house.  I conferred with him regarding the exact location because the main propane line enters the house at that corner, the electrical service for the RV outlet runs under there, there is a tree about 12 feet southeast of that corner, and that corner is where the new natural gas meter will be installed. There will be a similar short drain line at the southwest corner of the garage, but it will be dug by hand as the main electrical service runs directly under there about 2′ below the surface.

The lads continued to work in the back placing egg rock.  They were about 1/2 cubic yard short and I asked Steve to order a full cubic yard and use the other 1/2 yard on the west end of the north edge of the lower upper deck to match what they had done at the top of the west retaining wall.  Steve gave the crew instructions on how to prep that area, add a piece of edging to define where the rock will go, and install landscape fabric.  He and I then looked at the boards he hit in the back while trenching and it turned out there were only three of them 4-6′ long and they appeared to be old construction material that had possibly been used as a step off of the lower deck.

Linda gathered up household trash and recyclables and headed off around 10:45 AM.  I finally got started on my projects for the day around 11 AM, opening the garage door so I would have light when the power was turned off at the sub-panel main breaker.  My first task was to move the new outlet I installed in the utility closet the other day.  The return air duct will be installed against that wall and would cover the current location.  When we installed the door yesterday we did not put any 2×4’s above the door and up to the ceiling.  Darryll is going to run the supply duct straight out from the furnace above the door and then angle it over against the east wall of the garage.

With the outlet relocated I cut some scrap insulation to fill the lower half of the open wall cavities and then stopped while I pondered getting a ground wire into that space.  Linda got back from running her errands about then so I decided over lunch to call Bratcher Electric to see if they could give me an idea of what it will cost to run a 100 Amp service entrance cable from the transfer switch in the southwest corner of the garage to the garage panel in the northeast corner of the garage.  (I estimated it would take 40′ of cable, but have no idea what the labor will be.)

The earliest I will be able to talk to Mike Bratcher is next Monday so I decided that I really needed to run a ground wire from the sub-panel to the main panel allowing me to disconnect the ground wires from the neutral wires in the sub-panel by removing the bonding screw in the sub-panel and giving us a code-compliant, and much safer, sub-panel until such time as it gets re-wired as a main panel.

Linda and I determined that I needed about 40′ of #10 copper wire to get from the sub-panel to the main panel.  Pondering sometimes leads to good things.  I really did not want to stop working to go get wire when I remembered that I had a length of green insulated copper wire I had used for grounding a ham radio and antenna mast at the old house.  It was coiled up on the floor in garage and when we uncoiled it we discovered it was … 40′ long!  I love it when that happens.  I checked the gage and it was #8, so it was actually larger than required for the 60A cable that feeds power from the main panel in the basement to the sub-panel in the garage.

I checked the approximate location for drilling a hole and then drilled a 1/2″ hole from the inside of the garage just above the base plate and out through the siding.  I fed the ground wire through the hole from outside the garage, pulled it up into the sub-panel, and secured it to one of the ground bars.  I dressed it and fastened it to the side of a stud and coiled up the extra outside on the lower upper deck.  I will complete the run to the main panel another day.

With the ground wire installed I was able to install the insulation I had cut earlier and secure it with our staple gun, which I had managed to locate in the tub of tools we took with us out west last summer.  With Linda’s assistance I cut and installed two pieces of drywall from an old scrap piece we had.  I then taped the seams and mudded the screw dimples.  By the time I finished it was 4 PM.  Spencer came to the garage to let me know that they would all be leaving around 4:30 PM due to a severe thunderstorm that was on course to hit our area around 5 PM.

By 4:45 PM we were hearing thunder and I decided to stop work temporarily and help Linda close up the house.  The storm came, a cold wind blew, and it rained hard, but only for a few minutes and we did not get any of the hail that was reported prior to the storm’s arrival at our location.  An hour later we had a lovely summer evening with blue skies.  Linda made roasted winter vegetables for dinner.  It’s the end of July, but we had overnight lows in the mid-40’s two nights ago.  The first six months of this year have been the coldest in 21 years, so winter vegetables were appropriate for dinner even though it is the end of July.

I had planned to do a lot of other electrical work today, but it was a full day and everything that got done was something that needed to get done.  It was also work that had to get done in the order in which it was accomplished.  My original plans were obviously too ambitious, and today’s work involved details that required time to figure out and execute.


2014/0729 (T) Utility Closet

It was in the mid-40’s when we got up this morning so Linda made oatmeal with walnuts, dates, raisins, cinnamon, and a little brown sugar.  It was a hardy and satisfying breakfast on a chilly morning.  I checked in with some of the blogs I follow using Feedly on my iPad and then, as we were getting ready to work, Steve showed up with four workers (Kyle, Tommy, Spencer, and Mark).  Steve did not stay and work today but Mark operated the excavator and the guys got a lot done.  By the end of the day we were finally able to see how it was all going to come together.

Our focus today was the utility closet in the garage.  Much of what we did required two people, and we made a long day of it.  We finished framing the west wall, stood it up, got it into position, plumbed it, and secured it.  We then framed the south wall with the rough opening for the door.

The installation of the door was challenging.  All the framing was plumb in two directions but our first attempt at installing it resulted in the bottom latch side not closing by almost an inch when the top latch side was seated correctly.  Everything was plumb on both jambs, the door was level and plumb, but something was obviously wrong.

As we started to break for lunch I got a call from Darryll.  He was wondering if we could run the 2” iron gas pipe through the attic from the east end of house to the west side of the garage.  I told him I would check the access and call him back.  While he was on the phone I got clarification on the size and location of the HVAC unit and the ducts for the conditioned air supply and return.  As a result I will have to move a duplex outlet I installed the other day, run a new/longer wire up the sub-panel, put insulation into the lower half of the wall cavities, and install/finish a piece of drywall.

We spent the afternoon trying to figure out what was wrong with the door installation and fix it.  Everything was plumb and we thought everything was square.  It turned out that the two ends of the wall were out of alignment which was forcing the bottom of the door out.  (The inside angle between the west wall and the south wall was less than 90 degrees.)  Once we realized what was wrong we were able to fix it.

We had a green salad and Amy’s roasted vegetable pizza for supper at 6:30 PM.  After relaxing for a while on the deck with a glass of Leelanau Cellars Summer Sunset wine I secured the plywood platform to the base with screws and then caulked the two edges where it met the back and right side walls.

We drove to Lowe’s at 8 PM to get a box of steel cut masonry nails.  I need two or three to secure the free end of the bottom plate of the west wall.  While we were there I got a set of new blades for the Milwaukee Sawzall reciprocating saw but forgot to buy more shims.  We always like to leave a reason for a return trip to the home supply stores.


2014/07/28 (M) Reprieve

I was awake early, fell back asleep, and finally got up at 7:30 AM.  By the time I had the coffee made Linda was showered, dressed, and starting to assemble breakfast.  We had barely finished eating when we heard the happy sound of landscape workers.  Steve had five young men on site to do the hand work and was here most of the morning and part of the afternoon running the excavator.  By the time they all left for the day a little before 5 PM they had made a lot of progress with the retaining wall project behind the house in spite of the muddy conditions from yesterday’s rains.  It’s amazing what can be accomplished when people and equipment show up and work all day.  If that happens the rest of the week they might actually get done by Friday.  Linda and I figure it will be Labor Day.

As planned, I resumed work on the utility closet in the garage after breakfast and a brief chat with Steve.  I cut a 48″x48″ piece of 3/4″ plywood down to 46″x40″ and did some minor trimming to get a clean fit on the base we built yesterday.  I then cut the top and bottom plates and the end studs for the west wall from 8′ long 2″x4″s.  I ran out of the 3.5″, 16d nails I needed so I drove to Lowe’s to get a 5 pound box of them.  While I was there I also picked up some primer and paintable caulk.  I assembled the outer pieces of the wall and added an additional stud to the free (south) end but did not cut/install the other three intermediate studs.

The wall is taller at the north end than the south end because the concrete garage floor drops slightly towards the north wall of the garage.  I stood the wall up to make sure it fit snugly (it did) and to force the top plate into alignment.  I was pleased to see that the free end will plumb quite well in both directions.  I will measure the other three studs tomorrow, lower the wall down to install them, and then stand the wall back up, plumb it, and secure it to the north wall, the platform base, and the ceiling.  Once that is done I will secure the plywood platform to the base using screws and caulk the edges along the north and east walls.  When the caulk has cured, hopefully later in the day, I will prime the plywood and the exposed 2″x12″ base board.

I quit working on the construction around noon, got cleaned up, put a load of laundry in the washing machine, had a bite of lunch, and withdrew to my office.  I searched through my Outlook inboxes for all of the e-mails related to today’s FMCA Education Committee meeting only to discover that the meeting was scheduled for next Monday and would be an informal work session rather than a formal meeting.  That was a lucky reprieve for me and allowed me to catch up on other e-mail and work on the roster and financial records for our FMCA Freethinkers chapter.

I had hoped to spend the evening selecting and processing a few photos and uploading a few blog posts but I ran out of time and did not get to these tasks.  We streamed last week’s episode of Endeavor on our Apple TV device and then turned in for the night.


2014/07/27 (N) Attic Access

We had a long day of work today.  We were up just after 7 AM, had a light breakfast of toast, fruit juice, and coffee, read a few blog posts, and got to work.  My first task was to apply a second, light coat of drywall compound to all of the divots in the wall.

Our main morning task was the installation of the fold-down ladder for the garage attic.  It was definitely a two-person job.  Per the instructions, we installed temporary installation boards to support the assembly while we secured it in place.  The installation required one of us to be in the attic and that job fell to me.  We put the assembly on top of a plastic shelving unit to get it close to the ceiling.  Once I was in the attic with all of the tools I would need, including a headlamp, Linda slid the shelving unit so the assembly was directly under the rough opening.  It was still too far from the ceiling for me to reach from above so she placed two footstools under it.  I was then able to reach one end from above and pull it up into the opening while she lifted the other end into position from below.

We read and followed the directions carefully so we already had the pull string and T-handle installed.  That allowed Linda to move the plastic shelves out of the way, carefully open the door from below, and position the step ladder.  I dropped her the cord for the worklight and then had enough light to work comfortably.  We temporarily secured the unit with deck screws.  They were cheap screws and the heads tended to strip easily, but we got them in far enough to hold the unit in place while I installed the lag screws.

The 10 lag screws got installed through pre-drilled holes, six of which went through metal hinge plates.  The instructions said to drill through these holes into the trusses and headers, but the folding ladder hardware made that difficult, and my drill buts were all a bit short to do much.  By cutting the zip ties and partially unfolding the ladder I was able to get all 10 lag screws most of the way in with my drill.  They all had to be shimmed.  The final tightening was done with a socket and ratchet.

We took a break for lunch around 1 PM and had leftover miso soup, tofu hot dogs, and fresh apples.  I made a quick run to Lowe’s to get some additional electrical parts I needed to install lights and a light switch in the garage attic.  While I was there I also bought a baby gate for our basement stairs.  Up until now we have blocked the landing for the basement stairs with a couple of chairs when grand-daughter Madeline has come to visit.  Now that she has successfully spent the night at our house we anticipate many more such visits and wanted a more permanent solution.

The device I bought had a gate with a latch.  It was designed to be installed under tension, but the directions said it had to be anchored to the walls if used at the top of a flight of stairs.  We were not thrilled about mounting it to the walls, but we did.  The installation took about an hour to complete.

Back in the garage I found an old, unopened drywall sanding/finishing sponge.  It had a 1/4″ thick coarse pad on one side for sanding.  The regular sponge side was used to wipe off the drywall and slightly wet the areas to be sanded.  I let the sanded areas dry, wiped everything down, and applied a coat of white exterior semi-gloss to the area of the two existing walls and the ceiling that will be inside the utility closet.

The probability of rain rose steadily though the day and finally resulted in thunderstorms around 4:30 PM.  Steve said yesterday he would be here today and I tried to get him to understand that based on the forecast he needed to be here early.  He wasn’t.  He showed up with the excavator about an hour after the rains, by which point the retaining wall work site had turned to mud.

He took the excavator back there anyway and we watched him work while we had dinner, which consisted of a very nice green salad with strawberries and the rest of the Pad Thai from last night.  (Even left over it was still exceptional.)  He was moving boulders and a lot of dirt trying to get rid of the small mountain range that blocked the flow of water away from our lower deck and was spreading the dirt around in an effort to create some of the final grading.  He brought a helper with him and they had long lengths of drain pipe that I think the intended to install.  But the skies darkened, the rain started, the wind came up, and the warning sirens came on.  He shut off the machine and the two of them made a run for their truck and left.  More rain is forecast for tonight with a chance of thunderstorms, possibly severe.  The probability for rain on Tuesday is currently 60%, and stays at 40% through Wednesday.  At this juncture it appears that they won’t get much work done here this week, and their machine may be stuck here until it dries out.

After dinner Linda and I finally built the base for the platform where the library HVAC unit will be installed.  It’s a 40″ deep x 46″ wide box with center cross bracing.  It’s made of pieces of 2 x 12 on edge.  We set it in the northeast corner of the garage, leveled it with shims, and secured it to the studs in the walls with 3.5″ nails.  I had to make all of the cuts with my Rockwell 8″ circular saw as the chop saw won’t cut something that wide.  I did not cut the plywood platform as I need to install it after the new (west) wall of the utility closet is in place so I can nail through the base into the wall studs.  I will, however, cut the plywood tomorrow before the wall is built as I will be able to set it on the base and trace around it on the underside to get a perfect fit.

My goal for tomorrow is to cut the platform, build the west wall, set it in place and anchor it, and install the platform.  Linda has a 12:30 PM dentist appointment, so I will have to do most of this work by myself.  By that point I will need to get cleaned up, shift gears, and get ready for a 4 PM FMCA Education Committee work session.


2014/07/26 (S) Climbing Ladders

We did not go to our usual ham radio breakfast in South Lyon today so I could get an earlier start on the construction work in the garage.  Before I even got started I got sidetracked by a small rain gutter project which led to further gutter projects.

I bought a downspout elbow yesterday and wanted to get it installed before the next rains, which are forecast for tomorrow at 20% in the early morning riding steadily to 90% by 6 PM.  The elbow is a replacement for a short straight downspout section that feeds water from the end of one gutter into a slightly lower gutter that is perpendicular to the first.  The second gutter has the main downspout at one end.  Rather than dumping water straight down into the lower gutter, the elbow will direct it towards the lower gutter drain hole and away from the house.  A picture would make this much clearer, but I did not take one.

While I was installing the elbow I noticed that both gutters had a lot of “stuff” in them and the wire mesh drain hole grates were mostly clogged.  I cleaned all of the gutters last year, although I do not remember exactly when.  I expect a certain amount of organic material to accumulate in the gutters—the house is surrounded by trees after all—but I was surprised by the amount of granular material that had washed off of the shingles.  There was a lot of granular material last year, which I assumed had taken many seasons to accumulate, and I had flushed all of it out of the gutters with a hose.

The guy who inspected the house when we bought it said the roof was “serviceable” without being much more specific.  I suspect it is approaching the end of its useful life, but is not a project we can take on this year.  We have a ranch house with a low pitched roof, probably not more than 4-in-12.  It would take me several weeks to roof it myself, but it’s something I am (still) capable of doing.  Perhaps next summer, after we build the barn.

Given the condition of these two gutters I decided to check/clean all of them.  In the process I found that the gutter on the front of the house had three mounting screws loose at the west end.  I tightened them up, completing my unplanned roof tasks for the day.

There are several interesting things about “small construction projects.”  One is that they seem small because you can conceptualize the outcome and visualize all of the major steps quickly and easily.  Another is that you assume they aren’t going to cost very much; they are, after all, small projects.  Having been educated and worked as an engineer at one point in my life I tend to design things rather than jump right into the building phase.  The design phase is where I usually get my first reality check as I start to consider all of the details of the project that I was not able to quickly and easily visualize.  The next reality check comes when I am finally ready to build, which means cutting and fastening wood, only to realize that I have many days of other tasks I must complete first.  The tricky part of construction is that stuff has to be done in a certain (correct) order.  If not, you end up having to deconstruct something and then reconstruct it, or engineer an entirely different solution which takes even longer and costs even more than what you planned to do in the first place.

So even though I worked all day I did not build the platform.  Here’s what I did instead:  removed some drywall to expose a wire that was a little too short to get the sheathing into the new sub-panel; installed an outlet box and duplex outlet using the old wire and ran a new wire to the panel; filled out the panel with circuit breakers I will eventually need for new or rewired circuits; patched holes in drywall; cut and installed two studs in the north wall to provide 16″ on center spacing for new drywall; bored holes through the new studs for an old wire; installed a switch near the rear garage door fed from the old wire; ran a new wire for a new outside light; went to Lowe’s and purchased a 36″ exterior grade door (steel), a fold-down ladder for the garage attic, an exterior LED light fixture, and a light fixture for the new utility closet; enlarged the garage attic access opening from 22.5″ x 45″ to 22.5″ x 54″; read and pondered the installation instructions for the fold-down ladder; and decided to call it a night.

Somewhere in all of that we had orange/grapefruit juice, Teeko’s Sweet Seattle Dreams coffee (a blend that Jeff does just for us) and Linda’s homemade granola for breakfast; tofu hot dogs for lunch with sweet cherries, and; vegan Pad Thai for dinner that Linda made from scratch.  The Pad Thai was a complicated dish but Linda’s efforts really paid off; it was outstanding.

By the time I showered, worked on this post, and caught up on some blogs I follow it was time for bed.  I was tired but, having exerted myself physically and mentally and accomplished tangible things, it was a good kind of tired.  I no longer climb corporate ladders.  Today I was up and down real ones.


2014/07/25 (F) Assessing The Situation

We finally got a letter yesterday from Consumer’s Energy requesting payment of the $200 fee for hanging the natural gas meter.  The letter included a rough drawing showing where the meter will be located (south end of the east side of the house where the propane currently enters).  It also shows the route the gas line will take to get there from the opposite side of the street.  The drawing did not correctly show our pull-through driveway in relation to the house, so the actual path will be different.  This was also the first indication we’ve had that the main line will be run down the opposite side of the street, which we prefer over running down our side of the street.

At 9:15 AM we still did not have any landscape workers on site so I went to my office to continue working on assessment items.  No one from Village Landscape Development showed up today and we never got a phone call.  It’s a way of doing business that I simply do not understand.

I finally got around to making my annual appointment with my dermatologist only to find out he is still on medical leave.  I didn’t know he was on medical leave in the first place.  They scheduled me with someone else in the same clinic.

After lunch I had a nice chat with our financial advisor / stock broker at Stifel-Nicholas even though we just saw him three weeks ago.  We got a post card a few days ago indicating that he and his assistant were moving to a different S-N office.  He had not mentioned this when we met in person so we wanted to see what the reason was for the move, which he gladly explained.  No cause for concern on our part, which left me free to worry about other things instead.

As long as I was making phone calls I called Butch to see how things were coming along following the sale of a large portion of their business assets to a company in Nevada.  They still have a lot of loose ends to tie up and a bus conversion to finish, so they are not sitting on their hands.  When the buyers were there a week ago they loaded up as many parts and as much material as they could transport in the vehicles they had, but by Butch’s estimate it wasn’t 20% of the total.

I also had a series of TXT messages with Joe Cannarozzi, the mobile mechanic who has taken care of our bus the last four years.  Joe is relocating from Chicago, Illinois to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina and giving up the mobile aspect of his bus repair business.  Apparently his new place has a garage where he will continue to work on rigs, but they will have to come to him.  I hope that works out for him, but it leaves us having to find a mechanic closer to home or willing to travel here.

I finished writing the assessment items for the three remaining Michigan Assessment Consortium Common Assessment Development modules and got all seven sets of items e-mailed to the team.  With that task checked off, at least until I get some feedback, I was free to go to Lowe’s after dinner and pick up some of the materials I need for the HVAC projects in the garage.  There’s a better than even chance that we will not go to our ham radio club breakfast tomorrow in favor of an early start on the garage work.


2014/07/24 (R) Back To Work

We were up earlier than normal.  Linda went into the bakery today and likes to be on the road ahead of the worst of the morning traffic rush.  Since she was working I figured it was a good day for me to also do some paid work (plus a couple of loads of laundry).  Earlier in the summer I agreed to write assessment items for some of the modules in the Michigan Assessment Consortium professional development series on Common Assessment Development.  The items are needed for use with the Lectora platform, which Bill Heldmyer at Wayne RESA is using to re-package the modules.  These are modules that other team members developed, so I have to spend some time with the content before I can write the items.

I did some work on this in June and then got busy with contractors and out-of-town trips.  I am still tied up with construction, contractors, and other projects but a timely completion for this work would be early August so I spent much of today working on it.  I already had one module done and hoped to finish the other six but only managed to complete three of them.  I am anxious to get back to work on the HVAC prep in the garage but I plan to continue working on the assessment items tomorrow as I would like to e-mail them to the team for feedback before the end of the day.

I have a lot going on at the moment.  I like being busy, but this is starting to feel like “work.”  I have a growing list of “must do” bus projects that I have yet to start:  1) fogged window replacement; 2) auxiliary air filter / water separator replacement; 3) Aqua-Hot expansion reservoir replacement; 4) Aqua-Hot exhaust leak repair; 5) motorized windshield shade repair; 6) finishing the installation of the ZENA power generator (for charging the house battery bank while driving), and; 7) redoing the water bay (that’s a big one).  I have an optional project to replace the rear view camera system.

Butch is building new ride height linkages for his bus and wants to build some for me as well, so that makes nine “bus projects” I would like to accomplish before the weather turns too cold to work outside.  Some of these are projects I can do with the bus in front of the house once I can move it back into its normal parking spot.  The rest are things I will work on once I get it down to Butch and Fonda’s place in Twelve Mile, Indiana, probably this September.

The FMCA education committee work is ramping up and I have three websites I am trying to launch, one of which has an August 11 target date, plus our own website/blog to maintain (as of this writing I am over two weeks behind on blog posts).  I am also supposed to be writing a “featured bus” article for Bus Conversion Magazine on Marty and Pat Caverly’s MCI MC-5B conversion “Scooby Doo & Bookworm.”  It’s a great conversion that has taken 20 + years to build and will be the cover/centerfold story when it is published.  I have 1,500 photos from Marty and the only way I will make sense of the project is to sit down with Marty, select images, and make notes.  Once I have a sense of the chronology of the work, and the images to illustrate it, I can weave the words together to tell the story.

Kyle and Spencer were here working on the landscaping for most of the day.  Steve stopped by in the morning to go over the work from yesterday and outline the work for today.  It’s coming along, albeit much more slowly than I think it should.  For a job that requires a lot of manual labor we normally only have two guys on site, sometimes three and sometimes only one.  And, sad to say, they simply do not work as hard and as persistently when Steve is not here.

Linda got home ahead of the afternoon traffic.  We had leftover potato and lentil curry and naan for dinner and both the dish and the bread were still excellent.  A few black grapes and dark, sweet cherries for desert and we were off to bed early.


2014/07/23 (R) My Platform

The primary elections are just around the corner but my platform has nothing to do with politics.  My platform is a 46″ x 40″ surface 12″ above the floor in the northeast corner of the garage, or will be once I build it.  This platform will be the base for the new HVAC unit for the library and I need to have it built before the equipment gets here and Darryll shows up to install it.  Once the unit is installed I need to enclose it to isolate it from the garage to prevent explosive vapors or noxious fumes from entering the combustion chamber or fresh air circulation.  That will require the construction of two walls one of which will have an exterior grade door.

John’s chop saw, which I borrowed the other night, allows me to make more accurate cuts (clean and square) than I can with my circular saw.  In the meantime I have some work to do removing/installing a few studs in the north wall of the garage and running some new electrical wire.  I need to run 120V 15A circuits for the furnace portion of the library unit and for the ceiling mounted garage furnace and a 240V 20A circuit for the library air-conditioner.  Eventually I will have a 240V 30A outlet for our radial arm saw, which would be great for the woodworking aspects of this project, but that’s a project for another day.

Three landscapers showed up a little before 8 AM (Tommy, Matt, and Spencer).  Tommy was on the phone with Steve getting their instructions for the day and then they got to work building an additional section of the west retaining wall with medium size boulders and preparing the area under the east end of the deck for a layer of egg rock.  They took off around 9:45 AM for some unknown reason, but the sound of their truck reminded us to put the trash out at the street for pickup.  They were back in a little while, worked until noon, and took their lunch break.  By 3:30 PM they had the boulder wall built, the egg rock placed, a strip of edging set into a small trench, and small boulders placed on the eastern slope below the large boulders.  That certainly looked like progress.

Linda worked at her desk until mid-afternoon and then started working on dinner.  Although simple in presentation at the table, she put a lot of time into our meal.  She made a potato and lentil curry that was very good with deep, complex flavors, and garlic naan bread.  Both were as good as anything I have ever had at an Indian restaurant and the naan was vegan, made with unsweetened soy milk in place of dairy milk and olive oil in place of dairy butter.

I spent most of the day taking the measurements I needed to turn my mental concept for the utility closet into a set of design drawings from which I could produce a material list.  By supper time I had a good set of drawings to guide the carpentry work but was still puzzling over some electrical issues.  By the time Linda had dinner ready I was ready to set thus project aside for the night.

It was after 7 PM by the time we finished eating and cleaned up, but that left us plenty of time to sit on the deck and enjoy a cool northwest breeze and the muted light of scattered clouds.  It eventually got too cool to stay outside so I worked at my computer until bedtime.


2024/07/22 (T) A Quiet Day At Home

We ran the air-conditioner all day yesterday and well into the evening.  It cooled off into the mid-upper 60’s overnight so we turned the A-C off when we got up this morning and opened up the house.

Ron and Mary were mostly packed before breakfast.  We all had some of Linda’s yummy homemade granola with fresh blueberries for breakfast and everyone agreed it was superior to any store-bought granola they had ever had.  We visited until 9 AM and then helped them load their car for the trip back to Pennsylvania after an all-to-short visit.  Still, it was nice to see them for the time they were here and they got to see our grand-daughter for the first time and chat briefly with our children.  They had a nine hour drive ahead of them, plus or minus, depending on traffic, construction zones, and number/length of stops.  The day was forecast to be sunny and very warm, with a high temperature at our house of 90 degrees F, but with no precipitation along their route.

Only one landscaper (Spencer) showed up this morning around 10 AM.  Steve had some hand work for him to do.  I checked to see that he had water and he assured me that he brought plenty to drink.  With the outside air temperature rising, we closed the house up and turned the A-C on.

We were both surprisingly tired but wanted to get something useful accomplished today.  Linda worked at her desk while I cleaned the concrete driveway leading up to the garage from the street.  The landscapers have been using the driveway to stage some of their bulk materials such as crushed limestone and egg rock.  They got all of that material moved to other parts of the yard over the weekend but there was a layer of dust, small rocks, and other debris left behind.  I swept most of it off the driveway with a large push broom and then finished the job with a leaf blower.

There was a lot of crushed limestone left so over the weekend I had Steve push it into a 8′ wide by 15′ long parking pad 4″ – 6″ deep off the west side of the driveway and adjacent to the woods that run along the road.  The pad still had tracks in it from the excavator treads so I raked those out, filled in some dirt around the edges of the pad, and tamped the edges down.  The pull-through driveway from the front stairs to the concrete driveway was also rutted from the Bobcat front-loader being driven on it so I raked that out as best I could.  By the time I was done it was noon, it was hot, and I was sweaty and thirsty.  I decided I’d had enough for the day, closed up the storage container and garage, came in, and drank a bottle of ICE brand water.  This water is lightly carbonated and lightly fruit flavored, and I find it very refreshing.

I had a phone message yesterday from Darryll of DCM Heating and Cooling with some information I needed in order to prepare the corner of the garage for the library HVAC unit.  There were a few things I still needed to know, so I put in another call to him and left a message.  For lunch Linda served the left over salads from last night’s dinner along with hummus and chips.  We sat on the back deck for a while enjoying the slight cooling effect of a warm summer breeze, but eventually went back inside to escape the heat.

We did not do much the rest of the day.  I apparently broke our grandfather clock on Monday while winding it and spent a little time looking for information online.  I found a Sligh manual that included some troubleshooting tips but did not get as far as trying to diagnose and fix the problem.  We were both tired and took naps in the late afternoon.  That was unusual for us but could easily become part of our daily routine, especially on hot days like we had today.

I worked on bus barn drawings while Linda prepared dinner.  I then called John to see if I could borrow his chop saw and if he had time to look at the drawings.  Linda went along and visited with Diane.  We stayed until almost 10 PM.


2014/07/21 (M) Matthaei Botanical Gardens

Ron and Mary are leaving tomorrow morning so we did our Ann Arbor trip today.  Before leaving we closed up the house and turned on the air-conditioning, the first time we have used it this year, as the forecast was for a warm, humid day and we wanted it to be comfortable when we got back.  It was also a good excuse to run the system and make sure it really works.

Mattheai Botanical Gardens (Univ. of Mich), Ann Arbor, MI

Matthaei Botanical Gardens (Univ. of Mich), Ann Arbor, MI

We chose the Mattheai Botanical Gardens over the Arboretum primarily based on ease of parking.  The “Arb” is located near the University of Michigan campus in the center of Ann Arbor where parking can be very difficult.  The Gardens are on the east edge of town, somewhat in the country with very little traffic on the access roads, and has parking lots with plenty of spaces.  We still had to pay to park—there’s no such thing as free parking for any facility connected to U of M—but the rates are reasonable and admission to the Gardens is free.


Gardens and Conservatory at Matthaei Botanical Gardens, Ann Arbor, MI

Gardens and Conservatory at Matthaei Botanical Gardens, Ann Arbor, MI

The botanical gardens were very nice with an emphasis on native Michigan plants which we appreciated.  After walking the gardens and conservatory we hiked one of the shorter trails along the stream.  I took quite a few pictures but it was a sunny, cloudless day, so I don’t know if any of them will be any good.  The plants were brilliant to see, but this was certainly not ideal light conditions for plant photography.  We were there for two hours, long enough for a first visit on a warm day, and left in time to have lunch before visiting our son and his family in town.


Mattaei Botanical Gardens

Matthaei Botanical Gardens

We went to Elevation Burger on Washtenaw Avenue west of US-23 for lunch.  EB is an organic burger joint with a couple of veggie burger options, one of which was vegan, and an interesting choice of toppings.  They also have fries and ice cream offerings.  Our vegan burgers and fries were very good.

We arrived at Brendan and Shawna’s around 3 PM to find Madeline already awake from her afternoon nap and visiting with Jake and China.  (Shawna’s mom, Carol, is married to Cliff.  Jake and China are Cliff’s sister’s grand-children.)  Our daughter, Meghan, drove in from Dexter to join the family gathering.  Shawna took Jake and China to see downtown Ann Arbor while the rest of us walked to Burns Park.  Madeline played for about an hour, with lots of help from Mary and Meghan, before we all headed back to the house.  Shawna returned and we visited some more until Madeline indicated she was hungry.  We left around 5:30 PM as Madeline was beginning her dinner.


Matthaei Botanical Gardens

Matthaei Botanical Gardens


Madeline shows her dad where the airplane is (Burns Park, Ann Arbor)

Madeline shows her dad where the airplane is (Burns Park, Ann Arbor)

We were going to take Ron and Mary to downtown Brighton for a stroll on the boardwalk that surrounds the Mill Pond, but we were all tired so went directly home instead.  We had a lovely dinner at home of chickpea salad, wild rice salad, sliced nectarines, and whole grain bread with vegan “butter” spread.  It was an easy meal, as Linda had prepared the salads ahead of time, and the lighter, cooler dishes hit the spot on one of the warmest days we have had this summer (upper 80’s with humidity).  After dinner we played a card game called “Up the River and down the River.”  I’m not much for games, but the other three really like them so I was a good sport and played.   I lost, but I did not care.



L-2-R: Ron, Mary, Meghan, Linda (behind), Brendan, and Madeline (in stroller).

L-2-R: Ron, Mary, Meghan, Linda (behind), Brendan, and Madeline (in stroller).

2014/07/20 (N) Company

The landscapers were back at 7:45 AM as promised.  We were up and ready for them and I was back working on the new sub-panel in the garage by 8:30 AM.  I finished the work (for now) and cleaned up the mess as best I could.  Electrical work, especially panel wiring, is very physical and tends to produce a lot of scrap.  Once the garage was cleaned up I applied the same treatment to myself.  By 1 PM I was ready for part 2 of my day, which began with a load of laundry, and then off to my desk to put a little time into our much neglected blog.

I have been taking photographs and writing daily blog posts all month but have not been taking the additional time to select and process the images and upload the posts to our WordPress site.  The last blog post on our website is from July 6th.  During the early afternoon planned to upload a few of the posts while we waited for Ron and Mary to arrive.  I ended up filing and deleting e-mails, which I have also neglected for the last few days.

Ron (Linda’s brother) and Mary (Ron’s wife) arrived at 3:30 PM.  They are on their way back to Pennsylvania after a week in Madison, Wisconsin participating in day-long bicycle rides.  They are fairly serious bicyclists; a few years ago Ron rode from Seattle to Boston with a large group over the summer.  This was their first visit to our new house so they got the full tour of the house and the property.  We were sitting on the deck enjoying cool beverages and good conversation when the landscapers returned.  They were still working with their heavy equipment, so we went back inside to talk.

Linda started pulling dinner together at 5:30 PM with Mary’s assistance.  We had a green salad with cut up vegetables and seitan stroganoff served over white rice the way I like it.  A glass of Merlot balanced nicely with the richness of the stroganoff.  Linda, Ron, and Mary went for a walk after dinner while I loaded and started the dishwasher.  When they returned we talked into the evening and Mary showed us pictures from family gatherings and their just-completed bicycle rides.  Linda had baked a vegan chocolate cake this morning and served slices with fresh cut strawberries and vanilla coconut milk ice “cream” for dessert.


2014/07/19 (S) A Busy Day

At 7:30 AM we were about to leave for our usual Ham radio club breakfast in South Lyon when we realized some of the landscaping crew was already in the back yard.  I talked briefly with Steve to see if he had any questions for us and to let him know we would be gone for the morning.  We arrived at the Senate Coney Island a little later than usual to find a big group, some of whom were not regular attendees.  We would normally have lingered and enjoyed conversation over coffee, but we needed to get to Ann Arbor for a quick visit and to pick up my socket wrench toolbox from our son.

When we arrived at Brendan and Shawna’s house Madeline was outside pushing her push toy around the front yard.  As soon as she saw us she took off down the sidewalk towards the park.  Shawna retrieved her and got her stroller ready while Brendan and I transferred things out of and in to my car.  We then walked to Burn’s Park where Madeline played for about 45 minutes before we headed back to their house.  We had hugs all around and left.  We stopped at the Whole Foods Market in our way back to US-23 and then headed for home.

Back at the house, four landscapers were working, including Steve, and lots was getting done.  Hurray!  I got busy working on the electrical sub-panel in the garage while Linda made a run to the recycling center.  When she got back she did a load of laundry, which is normally my job, while she cleaned the lower level of the house.

I had to make a trip to Lowe’s for electrical parts and Linda had to make one in the evening to buy some 15 Amp single-pole circuit breakers, but I managed to get the old sub-panel removed, the wires labeled, the new panel hung, and all but one wire reconnected.  That wire needs to be replaced and I will do that first thing in the morning.  We turned the breaker on in the basement that feeds power to the sub-panel in the garage, turned on the main breaker in the sub-panel, and then turned each branch circuit breaker and checked to see that it was working correctly.

The reason Linda had to go get 15 Amp circuit breakers is that I discovered the old sub-panel had 14 gauge (AWG) wires “protected” by 20 Amp circuit breakers.  14 AWG wires are only rated to carry 15 Amps.  If allowed to carry more than that for any length of time they will overheat which could melt the wire insulation and lead to a short or worse, arcing, which can start a fire.  I will be placing those circuits on 15 Amp breakers in the morning.


2014/07/18 (F) Tracing Circuits

When I talked to Steve from Village Landscape Development (VLD) yesterday he explained that they had not been out to work on our project because one of his employees had not shown up on Monday or Tuesday and late Tuesday informed him that he was done for the season for personal reasons.  Unfortunately for us, that employee was the crew chief for our project.  Steve said he spent Wednesday rearranging his crew assignments and assured me there would be people and materials at the house today.  When I left at 10 AM there was no sign of either, and no phone call letting us know when we might expect to see them.

I stopped at AAA Appliance to pick up the HVAC filters I ordered yesterday and then went to Lowe’s and bought the Square D Homeline electrical panel value pack.  It’s a 100 Amp main breaker panel with 20 slots and came with five 20 Amp single pole breakers.  I bought two ground bar kits, as well as a 20 Amp and 30 Amp 2-pole breaker (for 240 VAC devices).

As I was getting in the car to come home Linda called to see if I remembered to buy the weatherproof outlet covers for the outside outlets by the deck.  I had not, so I went back in to get them.  Apparently I forgot to buy some other electrical things I needed because I ended up with a non-contact voltage sensor, an outlet tester that works with GFCI outlets, and a system for determining which breaker supplies an outlet with having to turn breakers off and on until you find the right one.

When I finally got back to the house we installed one of the new filters behind the large return air grill in the living room.  We had to trim pieces of foam weather seal and pack it in to the small gap around the filter to force air to flow through the filter rather than around it.  We turned on the A-C to check the airflow and decided to check all of the registers.  There turned out to be return air ducts in all three bedrooms, which actually makes more sense than a single return in the living room.

The return air duct in the master bedroom had fiberglass insulation stuffed in it, presumably to cut down on winter heat loss, but there was no filter material.  Of the two supply ducts only the one farthest from the air-handler seemed to have airflow.  We removed the return air grill and cut a piece of the old living room filter material to fit and screwed the grill back on with the filter material behind it.

The return duct from the small bedroom had a thin piece of filter material behind the grill and adequate airflow from the supply duct.  We removed the return air grill, cleaned the filter material and re-attached the grill with the filter material behind it.  The middle bedroom had good air flow from the supply register but nothing to filter the air going into the return air duct.  We cut another piece of the old living room return air filter and installed it behind the return air grill.

I think we now have filter material on all of the cold air returns.  It strikes me as very odd that all of these air return ducts do not come together and then feed through a single filter.  We turned the A-C on and let it run while we had a quick lunch.  Except for the poor airflow to the one of the two supply registers in our bedroom, everything seemed to be working so we turned our collective attention to our next task.

The Coleman compressor/condenser unit was noticeably out of level.  Linda weeded around the base and trimmed back the rhododendron as the leaves of the closet ones were being sucked up against the heat transfer panels (radiator fins).  Once we had a little space around the base of the compressor we lifted the low side with a 3′ crowbar and slide a couple of bricks under that edge to hold it.  We had an old, unopened, bag of paver base so we used that to fill the large gap under the compressor base.  I scooped and placed it with a garden trowel and packed it with the end of a 1 x 2. We raised the unit a little and pulled the bricks out.  A minor tweak and we had it level.

We used the circuit tester to finish checking all of the outlets in the garage and the library and map what each circuit breaker supplied.  We discovered that the switch to the left of the sub-panel controlled an outside outlet mounted very high on the wall just under the soffit.  We have no idea why that outlet is installed where it is; perhaps it powered deicer cables or some other roof/gutter-related system at one time.  I was getting some very strange voltage measurements at the switch and at the outlet so I replaced both of them, but that did not change the readings.  I put a weatherproof cover plate on the outlet while I was at it.

Steve showed up mid-late afternoon with the excavator, his nephew Spencer, and a large role of plastic drain tile.  He used the excavator to move a couple of large boulders around back and then dig trenches for the drain tile.  He assured me there would be a crew here all day tomorrow, and he would be here to supervise them.

I needed to trim a stud in order to install the new electrical panel in my desired location but was unable to cut it with any of my existing tools.  What I needed was an oscillating cutter, so I headed back to Lowe’s and got one.  I was about to use it to trim out a section of a stud when I double checked a measurement and realized it was supporting the drywall that formed the northwest corner of the library.  Removing it was definitely not a good idea and that forced me to rethink the installation of the new panel box.  I do my best thinking when I’m asleep, so that was the end of my work for the day.

2014/07/17 (R) A-C Service

Allen from TOMTEK arrived a little before 9 AM to do the annual maintenance service on the air-conditioning system.  The A-C system looks to me like it was retrofitted to the house, but it’s hard to say how long ago.  The house has a hot water baseboard heating system so the air-handling portion of the A-C system (evaporator, blower, and flexible ducts) is all in the attic.  The air delivery registers are all in the ceiling of the main floor (it’s a ranch style house).  There is one air return grill in the living room with a 12″ flexible return duct a smaller register and duct from each of the three bedrooms.  The system does not supply conditioned air to the finished basement.

To service the air-handler Allen had to use a step ladder to gain access to the attic through an opening in the ceiling of a hall closet and then work his way through the trusses to the west end of the house.  He had to work by flashlight while lying down, having pushed insulation out of the way to make space.  It was a cool, but sunny, morning so at least the temperature in the attic was pleasant.  He cleaned and inspected the unit and checked it for refrigerant leaks and then had me turn it on.  He checked its operation while running and pronounced it good to go.  He also indicated that there was no evidence of an air filter anywhere in the attic.

The only other place there could be air filters was behind the return air grills.  The living room grill is up high on a wall in the northeast corner of the living room (cathedral ceilings).  I set up my 8′ step ladder so Allen could remove the grill and have a look.  Sure enough, there it was, only it wasn’t a typical furnace/A-C filter with pleated material surrounded by a frame and held in place by a wire fence.  Rather, it was just an oversized piece of loose fiber mesh filter material pressed into the square box that the return air duct attaches to inside the top of the other hall closet.  He removed it, took it outside, cleaned it, and re-installed it.  It was dirty but not completely clogged and Allen said the system was now drawing air better than before.  He then turned his attention to the outside compressor (condenser) unit.

The outside unit is a Coleman, and that is about all we know.  The information plate was so badly faded that Allen was unable to get any of the information he needed from it.  He cleaned and inspected the unit, checked it for refrigerant leaks, and then hooked up his special test fixture.  He said it was working properly and did not need refrigerant, which was a good thing because refrigerant is very expensive and is not included as part of the pre-paid service call.

After Allen was done and had left I climbed back up and measured the return air box.  It was 16″ x 16″.  We checked Lowe’s and Home Depot online and could order one that size but it would not get here until next week.  With company coming Sunday I wanted to complete this project and put the furniture back in place and not have to move it again.  I drove into Howell to check the local stores but they did not stock that size filter.  The guy at Lowe’s suggested I try AAA Appliance (AAA Service Network) just down the street.  They did not have that size in stock either, but they could order one and have it by Monday.  They were cheap enough that I ordered four of the 2″ thick ones.  (I got a call at 5 PM that they had arrived and were available for pickup.). While I was out I also shopped for a new electrical panel for the garage.  I checked Home Depot, Lowe’s, City Electric, and Standard Electric Supply.  I did not buy anything, but that’s a story for another post.

While I was out Linda moved a few more items into the storage container and dealt with much of the stuff we had moved into the library yesterday.  When I got back we worked together to move even more stuff into the container.  That, in turn, freed up space in part of the garage that allowed us to move three of the large stationery shop tools out of the area where Darryll and I will be working.  The whole impetus for the storage container is to clear out the east half of the garage so Darryll can install the garage heater and the new HVAC unit for the library.  As long as we had to make space for him to work, it was an opportunity to further empty out the garage, repair some things, and rearrange where/how we have things stored.  It seems sometimes like a never-ending process as there isn’t really a place for everything so it isn’t possible for everything to be in its place.

In the center area of the back (north) wall the previous owners had removed the drywall and installed Wonderboard to act as a heat shield for a wood burning stove.  The husband restored old cars and used the garage as a shop.  We saw the stove when we looked at the house in January 2013.  Wonderboard is normally used as the substrate for laying tile but contains concrete, so it also works as an insulator against heat and doesn’t burn.  I wanted to drywall this area and decided to remove the Wonderboard.

I removed the Wonderboard and discovered two things:  There was another layer of Wonderboard underneath and there was visible evidence of a fire.  When I removed the second layer of Wonderboard the extent of the damage was fully revealed.  One 2×4 stud was burned almost completely through for about 12″ and the paper facing on the insulation on either side of it was charred.  An electrical wire also ran through that wall and the insulation was discolored.  Such is the nature of remodeling projects; you never know what you are going to find.

I spent a little time after dinner trying to figure out what each of the circuit breakers in the garage sub-panel controlled.  There are 12 breakers occupying 14 of the 16 positions.  I figured out that four of them controlled about 90% of the outlets in the garage.  It dawned on me later as I was discussing this with Linda that the other breakers might supply power to the library.  I will have to verify that tomorrow.


2014/07/16 (W) Rat Packing

Today was not a trip down memory lane, although some good Rat Pack music would have been a nice accompaniment while working.  Tim called around 8:30 AM to verify the delivery details for our 16-foot Pack-Rat storage container and confirm that we would be home around 10 AM.

We wanted to get the container as close as possible to the garage while still being able to open the doors.  In that location it would also be out of the way of the pull-through driveway in case we wanted/needed to get the bus out.  The potential problem with this location was that the container had to be unloaded underneath and then behind the main phone line that hangs across our driveway.  The vertical clearance from the driveway to the phone line is just under 12′ 6″.  I was told when I ordered the container that they needed 13′ 6″, minimum.

We had not seen any landscapers by 9:00 AM so I called Steve at VLD and left a message.  The previous owners of the house left a large (bulky) projection TV which we had the movers bring up from the basement and put in garage when we moved in last year.  Linda called Alchin’s,  our trash collection company, to see if they would pick it up.  They said they would so we rolled it out to the curb with the rest of the trash.  I called Steve (VLD) on his cell phone and found out he was in our backyard.  Apparently he arrived just as we finished putting out the trash and went back in the house.  The landscape crew was supposed to have been there at 9:00 AM.  He called them and then left.  A Two-man crew showed up a little while later.

I placed our 8′ fiberglass (non-metallic, non-conducting) stepladder under the phone line and used an 8′ 2×4 and some short pieces (as blocking) to temporarily raise the line to 13′ 7″.  Tim showed up right on time and, after taking care of the paperwork, surveyed the situation.  He said it would not be a problem placing the container where we wanted it and it turned out that lifting the phone line was not necessary.  Here’s why…

The truck that delivers these containers is very specialized.  It has a built in crane with two long arms, kind of like a forklift, that extend down the sides of the truck and then make a 90 degree bend and connect to the main telescoping mast.  The mast is normally just behind the cab when the container is loaded and ready for transport.  To unload the container the arms are swung out away from the sides of the truck a couple of feet and then raised.  Four lifting bars are inserted into the base of the container, two on each side, and attached to the arms with chains.  The arms are then raised, lifting the container free from the truck bed (after it is un-strapped).  The entire crane assembly then slides backwards until the container is clear of the rear bumper, allowing it to be lowered.  Before final placement, however, the truck can still be moved back and forth.  (This is only true if the container is empty.  If it is loaded, the rear stabilizing jacks on the truck have to be lowered, preventing the truck from moving.)

I helped Tim position the truck so the crane mast was just in front of the phone line and the front of the container was just behind it.  We are only using the container for on-site storage so it will be empty when we finally have them come back and pick it up.  Positioned where it is they can retrieve it without raising the phone line so we won’t necessarily have be here at the time.  We will be, but it will still be less work for us.

With the container in place we started moving things out of the garage.  Some went into the container, some went into Linda’s car to go to the recycling center, some got set aside for donation or sale on Craig’s List, and some got designated to go in next week’s trash pickup.  I really hate throwing anything away that might be useful, but our limited experience with things like Freecycle have not been good, and selling things on eBay or Craigslist has never seemed worth the effort the small monetary return.

Around noon the landscapers wanted to know if we knew of an urgent care facility nearby.  That’s not a question you want to be asked on a construction site.  One of the guys was bitten by a spider and thought it might have been a Brown Recluse.  When they first started working on the retaining walls in the back they identified what they thought was a Brown Recluse (fiddleback) spider.  Although Michigan is farther north than their normal range they do occur here, so it was possible that’s what bit him.  The nearest medical facility we knew about was a hospital about five miles away, but Steve wanted them to go to an urgent care facility because he through they would get quicker service.  (They had called Steve before even asking us for assistance.)  Linda got on her computer and located one in the same area as the hospital.  They left to seek treatment and did return.

We did a little online research and found that there are a lot of spiders that resemble the Brown Recluse, which can range from gray to almost black and from the size of a penny to slightly larger than a quarter.  The name “fiddleback” comes from a pattern on the dorsal (upper) side of the spider, but is not a definitive identifier.  The most definitive characteristic is the six eyes; most spiders have eight.  Unfortunately they crew did not have the spider, so a positive ID was not possible.

After lunch Linda went to the recycling center and did some grocery shopping while I continued to work in the garage.  We had cleared out the east wall and the northeast corner which allowed me to remove wire shelving that was installed there.  I also had clear access to the electrical sub-panel so I removed the cover to have a look inside.  There were 11 load wires connected, nine to single-pole 120 VAC breakers and two to a double-poll 240 VAC breaker.  The power feed from the main panel in the basement was three-wire (2 hot, 1 neutral) not four like it should be, and all of the branch circuit ground wires were bonded to the neutral conductors.  This may have been OK at one time but is absolutely not current national electrical code (NEC).  Grounds and neutrals in an electrical system should only be bonded (connected together) at one point, usually in the main panel or at the service entrance.  For remote sub-panels, such as in a separate building, the ground wires can be connected to a pair of ground rods at least 8 feet long driven into the earth, but this is not an ideal arrangement.  If the resistance is not low enough it will limit the current flow through the ground wire to something less than required to trip the circuit breaker.

After dinner I got a phone call from Gaye, the chair of the FMCA Education Committee.  We talked for quite a while about the committee and RVing in general.  The whole committee has never met for a face-to-face meeting and many of us do not really know each other, so this was a chance to get better acquainted.


2014/07/15 (T) Files Files Files

I have been concentrating on getting my ASUS laptop set up as my primary computer.  I have most of the software (apps) installed and configured that I need, at least for now.  My focus recently has been copying files from my older Dell laptop to our network attached storage units, but it has been a bit more complicated than that.  I have to compare the folders and files I already have on the NAS units with the ones on the computer and consolidate them in such a way that I do not inadvertently “lose” some along the way, while at the same time trying to eliminate duplicates to the extent possible.  Once I have the files on the two NAS units I delete most of them from the Dell laptop and used Defraggler to defragment the HDD.

I (we, but mostly me) have what Linda considers to be a ridiculous number of files.  One backup directory related to the work I did in my 12 years at Wayne RESA had over 147,000 files with almost 15 GB of data.  That’s a lot of files, and I have them stored on both NAS units. I am NOT moving all of them to my new machine; only the ones I need, as I need them, and will probably move new/revised documents back to the NAS units and take them off of my laptop.  I’m retired, and do not feel the need to have work-related “stuff” on my laptop.  Besides, we travel with one of the NAS units, so it’s always there if I need it.  Yesterday I moved most of the RV-related files.  Today it was ham radio and then K-12 education, which included all of the aforementioned work files.  I have been putting off a couple of projects until I get the ASUS set up.

I chatted with Dan Fregin, the treasurer of our FMCA Freethinkers chapter, at length on the phone this evening.  Our chapter has existed since June 2010, but most of us have never met more than a handful of other members face-to-face or even talked with them on the phone.  We are a group of approximately 70 people spread out over North America (Canada, Mexico, and the U. S.) so we mostly interact via e-mail.


2014/07/14 (M) Education

Linda was up at 6 AM and was out the door and on her way to Twelve Mile, Indiana at 6:30 AM.  She decided last night not to have breakfast at home in favor of getting on the road.  I slept in and got up at 7:30 AM.  Lind’s homemade granola made for an easy, tasty breakfast.

Two landscapers showed up a little before 9:00 AM as I was getting ready to leave to run some errands and said Steve was on his way, so I stuck around until he got there.  We looked at a few things together and then I left.

On the way home from running my errands I got a call from TOMTEK reminding me that we have an annual service contract with them for the main house furnace (hot-water base-board heat) and air-conditioner.  I agreed to have them come on Thursday to service the A-C.  Perhaps while they are here they can figure out why it makes a noise that sounds like the thump, thump, thump of a helicopter blade.

About a mile from the house I spotted a small Painted Turtle trying to cross Hacker Rd.  A truck going the other way spotted it at the same time.  We both turned around and came back.  I got there first and put it on the front passenger floor mat after assuring the other driver that I was going to take it to our property and release it near the (neighbor’s) pond.  Turtles have very little chance of successfully crossing a road most places, including around here.

The two landscapers worked into the afternoon.  They could only go so far before needing Steve to inspect and approve their work.  He did not make it back today and I think they quit working around 3 PM.

Education is what I did professionally for the last 21 years before I retired, and I am still doing it to some small extent.  Back in the late winter I agreed to serve on a newly reconstituted FMCA national education committee.  There are 6 – 10 people on the committee, depending on how you count, and except for a couple of staff at FMCA headquarters in Cincinnati, Ohio we are spread out all over the U. S.  Our meetings are, therefore, conducted by telephone conference with ideas and information shared via e-mail in-between.  I also set up a folder in our personal Dropbox as a place to put documents so the committee can retrieve them.

We had our third meeting today from 4:00 to 5:30 PM EDT.  I spent the rest of the evening creating an outline of a possible RV curriculum and dealing with e-mail related to our meeting.  Linda got home at 8:00 PM and we had leftovers for dinner, after which I returned to my work and she headed to bed.

I have one, maybe two, days to concentrate on desk tasks.  Once the Pack-Rat storage container arrives on Wednesday I will be tied up with house-related chores through the 19th and then company through the 23rd.  I expect delivery of some HVAC equipment and materials during that window.  With any luck Darryll will be here starting on the 24th and I will be tied up working with him through the end of the month.  I’m hopeful, if not optimistic, that the landscapers will also be done with their two projects by the end of the month.


20140713 (N) Pack-Rat

Guilty as charged.  I am one of those guys who likes my stuff; it’s one of the main reasons we are not full-time RVers.  In order to get the garage and library ready for Darryll, and not trash the house in the process, we checked online for portable storage units.  We decided to order one from 1-800-Pack-Rat.  They were slightly less expensive than PODS, but the main factor was their ability to deliver a 16-foot long unit on Wednesday this coming week.  That will give us Thursday, Friday, and Saturday to clear enough stuff out of the garage to store the materials for Darryll and give him the space he needs to work.

Linda got a call from Butch at Service Motors to let her know they were back home from the Crosley Automobile Club national meet in Wauseon, Ohio and to see if she was available to come down tomorrow to finish up some critical accounting tasks related to the sale of most of their businesses assets.  The purchasers were in Wauseon for the rally and arrived at the business as I was chatting with Butch.  They plan to load all of the stuff they have bought into the five vehicles they brought with them and leave sometime on Tuesday, so Linda will be there mid-morning tomorrow and probably be home by 9:00 PM.  It will be a 15 hour day for her; 8 hours of driving and 7 hours of accounting, but she can/will do it.  I would normally go along, if for no other reason than to keep her company and share the driving, but I expect to have landscapers here tomorrow (and the rest of the week) and need to be here to interact with them.  Besides, there isn’t anything useful I can do at Service Motors at the moment so I would just be in the way and twiddling my thumbs.

We were both tired this morning and slept in a little later than normal.  That meant a later breakfast, which meant we skipped lunch and had an early dinner.  That, in turn allowed me to have dinner before going to our monthly Ham radio club meeting in South Lyon.

The morning overcast gave way to scattered clouds and blue skies on pleasant northwest winds, bringing cooler temperatures and lower humidity.  It was a perfect day for sitting on the (north facing) deck and doing sit down things, and that is exactly what we did.  Linda spent some time reading Veganomicon while I finished up a couple of blog post drafts and reviewed the SLAARC/WP website in advance of having to demonstrate it this evening for the ham radio club.  The site still needs work.  Some pages still need content, I found a few spelling errors, and I still need to resize photos so they take up less disk space and load faster.  The login feature is still working and the roster/database still displays correctly, if somewhat inelegantly.  But it’s functional enough to give the club members a preview and I will only demonstrate one photo gallery with a limited number of images so it shouldn’t be too sluggish.

By mid-afternoon it was warm enough that I decided to work in my office and get a few more blog posts uploaded to our WordPress site.  Linda made a “pasta e fagioli” recipe from Veganomicon and added some chopped dark leafy greens she had on hand.  She needed a dry white wine for the recipe and opened our bottle of Semi-Dry Riesling from Chateau Chantal, a gift from our daughter’s recent trip to the Traverse City area.  It was a little dry for my taste as a before dinner wine but paired very nicely with the meal.

I got to South Lyon just ahead of the 6:30 PM start of our South Lyon Area Amateur Radio Club (SLAARC) monthly meeting.  The business meeting was short.  We then had a lengthy presentation/discussion of our ARRL Field Day participation followed by a short preview of the new WordPress website.  It was generally well received and I got a few good suggestions during the discussion.

When I got home around 9 PM we had chocolate cake (vegan, of course) with raspberry sauce and relaxed for a while before turning in for the night.


2104/07/12 (S) Natural Gas

You might think that this would be a reference to the natural by-product of having breakfast with our ham radio friends in South Lyon this morning at the Senate Coney Island, but that is not the case.  We had a 10:30 AM appointment at the house this morning with Darryll Mech of DCM Heating and Cooling to finalize the work that needs to be done to get the house ready for conversion to natural gas.  The natural gas contractor for Consumer’s Energy (Roese Construction) started installing the main lines in our area a couple of weeks ago and they expect to have the project completed by September 26 (of this year).  That means we will have natural gas to the house sometime between now and then and we need to have everything as ready as we can before they hang the meter so the final conversion will be minimal and quick once the natural gas is turned on.

The work at our house breaks down into three pieces.  The first piece is running black pipe on the outside of the house from the southeast corner down the east side, across the back, under the upper and lower decks, along the back of the garage, and up the west side of the garage.  The gas meter will be installed at the southeast corner of the house where the propane currently enters the house.  The existing house piping will be used to supply natural gas to the house furnace, kitchen range, and outside grill connector.  The whole house generator is by the southwest corner of the garage and is currently on its own propane tank.  After the natural gas is hooked up everything needs to be on a single natural gas service/meter.

As the gas pipe runs along the back side of the garage there will be a T to supply gas into the garage.  That has to do with the second piece of the work.  We are having a ceiling mounted garage heater installed and a small furnace/air-conditioner for the library.  The HVAC unit will allow us to heat the library in the winter without cycling the main hot-water baseboard heating system, which is at the end of a long run through unheated attic space and is not particularly efficient or effective.  More importantly, it will allow us to control the humidity on humid summer days (it’s a library, after all, so it contains a lot of books and other humidity sensitive paper materials).  As part of that work we need to remove a propane space heater that is mounted in the wall abutting the garage and cap the line.  We also need to remove a window mount air-conditioner in that same wall.  Yes, that’s right, the current A-C for that room exhausts into the garage.

The third piece of the puzzle will be disconnecting the propane and converting the appliances that currently run on propane; the kitchen range, the main furnace, and the generator.  We will have Darryll take care of disconnecting the propane from the house and connecting the natural gas to the existing house piping and start up the two new furnaces once the gas is available.  We will then have TOMTEK convert the main furnace since they already service it for us.  Depending on timing we may be without our main furnace and domestic hot water until TOMTEK can complete their work.  I may convert the range, have Darryll do it, or have TOMTEK do it.  Regardless of who does the conversion I will need to get the conversion kit.  Bratcher Electric will connect the gas line and convert the whole house generator and do the annual service at the same time.

While Bratcher Electric is here we are going to have them run a 100 Amp, 4-wire cable from the outlet of the transfer switch in the southwest corner of the garage to the panel in the northeast corner of the garage.  The existing setup has the 200 A main panel in the basement of the house with a 60 A / 240 V breaker supplying the cable that feeds the sub-panel in the garage.  That means the power to the sub-panel goes from the garage all the way to the house and then all the back to the garage.  That’s a lot of unnecessary forth and back.  In part because of that, and in part because of the electrical needs of the new garage furnace and library HVAC unit, I am going to replace the sub-panel in the garage with a 100 Amp main breaker panel in advance of all of this work.

The current sub-panel is a General Electric but the main house panel is a Square D Homeline.  Lowe’s and Home Depot carry both the Homeline and QO product lines from Square D, and Home Depot also carries GE and Siemens.  If I installed a GE main panel in the garage I could potentially reuse the existing breakers and save a little money.  On the other hand, they have been in an unconditioned space for who knows how long, and they are not physically compatible with the Homeline breakers.  Indeed, the four different products are not generally interchangeable.  But the main consideration is selection and availability, and the Square D products win on those criteria.

Once the new furnaces are installed we will still have some work to do.  We will have to repair the walls in the library, insulate the hot air duct in the garage (although Darryll may take care of that), and enclose the library HVAC unit.  Because the library HVAC unit will be installed in the northeast corner of the garage it has to be in its own little sealed room to prevent automotive engine exhaust or other noxious fumes in the garage from being drawn in to the conditioned air or explosive fumes, such as gasoline vapor, from being drawn into the combustion chamber.  The furnace will have its own air intake and exhaust tubes.  The garage heater uses a sealed combustion chamber with a special concentric intake and exhaust tube, so it does not have to be enclosed.

Darryll indicated he could start the last week of July and would need about a week to do all of his initial work.  We have company coming the 20th through the 23rd, so we have the upcoming week to prep (clean out) the garage and library for Darryll.  This is the kind of situation that could give us gas if we weren’t used to it and enjoy it.  There’s nothing like a construction project to get you up and moving first thing in the morning and keep you up late at night.


20140711 (F) Nice Weather Lately

Steven’s nephew, Spencer, was here a little after 8 AM and spent some time cleaning up the driveway.  He was joined by Tommy, who was only available for the morning.  Tommy got instructions from Steve by phone and they tried working on the retaining walls, but I’m not sure what they accomplished.  One of the large boulders Steve positioned yesterday on the lower west wall had dropped 6 inches and they were unable to re-position it.

It was another pleasant day, so I decided to work outside during the morning.  I cut up some previously trimmed tree limbs and then started pruning our apple tree.  I tried to cut all of the dead limbs and branches I could reach from the ground using our new Fiskar’s ratcheting lopper.  With that material removed I was able to use the pole saw and compound lopper to remove some larger and/or higher limbs.  By noon it was getting warm and I knocked off for the day and had lunch.  Linda made the chickpea (garbanzo bean) salad that we both like so much and served it on a bed of greens with red grapes and sweet Bing cherries on the side.

Tommy had to take off for the afternoon and left Spencer to start moving smaller rocks onto the slope of the east retaining wall.  We would occasionally hear one thud against the foundation and I decided I should check on his progress.  He was doing a fine job of tossing rocks into place, but I did not like the way the earth was pitched as it appeared to slope back towards the house.  I examined the west wall and it appeared to have the same problem.

Since the whole reason for this project was to get water to flow away from the house, I asked Spencer to take a break while I called Steve.  I told him that something just did not look right to me and that I could not see any evidence of a drain tile behind the upper wall on the west side.  He was running the excavator at another job site and wasn’t able to come look at our job so he sent Kyle over to pick up Spencer, who did not have a car.  With a chance of rain in the forecast for Saturday through Monday it is looking more and more like this job will not be done until the end of July.

In the afternoon I continued working on configuring my Windows 8.1 laptop.  My challenge today was getting Outlook 2013 to preview PDF files.  I used the search feature on the Start screen to locate information, some of which indicated I would have to create and/or edit the registry.  In the end the solution only required two steps:  installing Adobe Reader 11 and then setting it as the default program for PDFs.

With that problem solved I edited my blog posts for July 1 through 9 and started uploading them.  I managed to get the posts for the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd uploaded before dinner.  I also got a return call from Darryll at DCM Heating and Cooling and we agreed he would come to the house tomorrow at 10:30 AM to finalize the work we need done and pin down a start date to prep the house for natural gas and install a small HVAC unit for the library and a furnace for the garage.  We also need the main air-conditioner serviced.  Luckily it has been a cool summer so far.  The conversion of appliances will have to wait until the natural gas line is connected to the meter and turned on, which could be as late as early October.

I got a call from Gary at GM Construction sometime in the last few days.  He finally had all of his supplier quotes for our pole barn / bus garage project and had a price for us.  It was higher than I would have liked, but less than the quote from Morton Buildings, which was for a much smaller barn.  Last night I called Phil from Precision Grading to update him on the status of the project and to see if he would swing by and look at the pull-through driveway which the landscapers have torn up more than I expected.  My best guess is that we will get a barn up somehow, but I’m not sure when or how.

For dinner Linda made pan-grilled sliced tofu with onions and Bar-B-Que sauce served on a toasted sandwich bun with a side of lightly oiled and baked potato wedges and a few fresh strawberries.  Of course, that meant ketchup with Tabasco sauce.  We split a can of cold Yuengling beer which was the perfect beverage for this meal.  Sometime in the last two days Linda made a raspberry sauce from frozen raspberries we picked last year.  Earlier today she made a vegan chocolate cake and this evening the cake and raspberry sauce came together for dessert.


2014/07/10 (R) Home And Garden

On Tuesday I agreed to demonstrate the new SLAARC WordPress website at our ham radio club meeting this coming Sunday.  I would like to spend some time working on the site between now and then but it is well enough along at this point to give folks a preview at the meeting, time permitting.  My current goal is to unlock the public portions of the website by the August meeting and then supply each of the members with their username and password shortly thereafter.  My “stretch goal” is to have the site set up so a member’s username and password also allows them to edit their roster record in the Participant’s Database.  It’s a stretch goal because it is unlikely I will meet it unless I really stretch myself, which is to say, I put aside a lot of other tasks to concentrate on this on, or I work more/harder and sleep less.  Yeah, like that’s going to happen.

In fact, it was a nice enough day today that we both decided to work in the yard.  I concentrated on pruning branches, mostly dead, from two fir trees and cutting them up into manageable size pieces for the fire pit.  Linda took some time to weed the plant beds on the east end of the house and the juniper beds behind the garage.  By mid-afternoon I’d had enough of this work for the day and turned my attention towards reorganizing our RV-related computer files.

Steve (Village Landscape Development) showed up mid-afternoon with the excavator and re-positioned several large boulders on the west retaining wall so one of his crews could continue working on the walls first thing tomorrow morning.  He also brought samples of three different color bricks so I could select one for the front sidewalk.  The one I selected is slightly darker than the pre-cast steps and similar to the reddish color mortar used on the main house bricks.  The pavers will be solid, rectangular, and installed flat in a herringbone pattern on a 45 degree bias.  We also discussed placing one or two medium size boulders on either side of the upper steps to keep folks from stepping off of the porch or the side of the stairs.

For dinner we had a large salad with lots of “extras” and then opened a bottle of NV Cesar Florido Moscatel Dorado.  This is a sherry from Jerez (Spain) that our son and daughter-in-law got me for Father’s Day.  It was recommended by their friend, Jorge Lopez-Chavez, who manages the wine department at The Produce Station in Ann Arbor, MI.  We each had a small glass (it is 17.5% alcohol by volume) served at ~50 degrees F and agreed that was very good.

After dinner I finished re-organizing our RV-related computer files, backed them up to our NAS units, and the copied them to my Windows 8.1 laptop.  We watched the last episode of season four of Doc Martin using our Amazon Video account.


2014/07/09 (W) vCard Magic And Adult Tonka Toy

This morning when I turned my computers on there was an update available for Adobe Creative Cloud so I let it download while we had breakfast using our new Corelle dinnerware.  Adobe updates are either very large or their servers are very slow or both.  Whatever the reason, their updates seem to take a very long time to download and install.

A couple of the landscapers arrived at 8:00 AM and resumed work on the front stairs.  It was overcast at dawn but the clouds were forecast to clear by the afternoon with temperatures in the low 70’s and zero chance of rain.  That would normally be a perfect day to work outside, if the ground wasn’t saturated with water from the recent rains.  They worked on the front stairs until lunch time, took a short lunch break, and then worked a little longer.  When they quit for the day they had all nine of the large precast steps installed and the crushed limestone base built for the brick paver sidewalk.  I think they left because there wasn’t anything else for them to do at our site until they either had some additional materials (slag and paver bricks), more crew members (for moving dirt in wheelbarrows or digging trenches by hand), or dry enough conditions to get the excavator around back ( to trench and set boulders in the retaining walls).

Linda decided not open more boxes today and focused instead on deep cleaning the kitchen, including the freezer/refrigerator, stove, and microwave and getting things ready to go to the recycling center and the Salvation Army donation center and resale store.  While all of that was going on I put a load of laundry in the washing machine and got to work on my computer tasks.  I checked my e-mail using my new ASUS laptop computer.  Everything looked OK, so I started reading and replying to e-mails on the new laptop.  That was a major milestone in that I am now committed to using the new machine as my primary computer.

With that transition in mind I spent much of the morning copying files from my old laptop to both the old and new NAS units.  I then copied critical files having to do with my websites and photographs from one of the NAS units to my new laptop.  Getting the new laptop setup with everything I need will take quite a while, but that’s OK as it also affords me the opportunity to move over only those things that I absolutely need when I need them.

I installed the vCard Wizard (vCard4Outlook) add-in without difficulty but the installation of the Duplicate Killer add-in failed.  I checked the website and then e-mailed their support address.  My ASUS is running Windows 8.1 / 64-bit and apparently my Outlook 2013 is also 64-bit.  According to their website the vCard Wizard add-in supports the 64-bit version of Outlook 2013, but the Duplicate Killer add-in only supports the 32-bit version.  One of my reasons for buying vCard Wizard was that I figured the companion Duplicate Killer program from the same company would work better with it than it would with a vCard converter from another company.  If I had realized it wasn’t compatible with my configuration I could have pursued other options.

I sync’d my Palm Tungsten T3 to my old Dell laptop and then did a vCard export of all my contacts and moved it to the ASUS laptop via one of the NAS units.  From there I was able to import all of my old Palm contacts into the Contacts folder in my Personal Folder, creating duplicates if/as needed.  The Personal Folder is a carryover from my previous conversion from MS Outlook Express to MS Outlook 2007.  I am a bit unclear about the distinction between the “address book” and “contacts” within the context of MS Outlook and I am not sure I have accomplished what I intended to accomplish with vCard Wizard.  I have accomplished something for sure–my Palm contacts are now clearly in my Outlook 2013–but I thought they would be added to my address book, which does not appear to be the case.  Perhaps I chose the wrong destination folder?  More research is needed.

By 4:30 PM it was obvious the landscapers were not coming back today so that gave me the opportunity to practice using the Kobelco 35sr excavator again.  I worked for about 90 minutes digging more junk out of the woods just southwest of our house and adding it to the pile I started on Monday.  Think bricks, cinder blocks, railroad ties, landscape timbers, dimensional lumber, cut up tree trunks and large downed tree limbs and you will have the picture.  In addition to the bucket for digging and transferring material, the excavator has a claw “thumb” that can be closed to hold things in the bucket, like tree limbs, or pick things up, like boulders and cinder blocks.  It turned out that the bucket/claw combination are much stronger than a cinder block; I broke several trying to pick them up.

By the time I parked the machine and turned it off Linda had dinner ready.  She made a salad of dark greens with almonds and grapes and a barley, split pea, lentil risotto with carrot, red onion, celery, garlic, and a few chopped up greens.  We finished the bottle of Merlot we bought at Whole Foods on Saturday.  At $3 per bottle (750 ml) it was competitive with box wines like Franzia, and of comparable quality.  Although slightly dry for my taste, it was a good accompaniment to the somewhat savory dishes Linda has made this week.  I would be tempted to stock up at that price if I liked a bit more than I do.

After dinner I edited photographs on my new computer for the first time.  They will appear in the various blog entries starting with July 1st, which I will also edit and upload using the new machine.  Although the transition to a new computing platform always feels awkward for a while, and there is desire to return to the comfort of the old familiar one, from here on out I will be focused on making the ASUS my primary computing platform.


2014/07/08 (T) New Dinnerware

I did not get all of the debris pulled out of the woods last night with the Kobelco sx35sr-3 excavator.  I was just learning how to use it so I wasn’t very efficient, and even if I had been experienced I could not have moved everything before it got dark.  I was up early this morning to get some more stuff moved before the landscapers showed up and needed it, but they beat me to the punch.

Steve showed up briefly to get the two-man crew on task and then left.  They worked on preparing and setting the next course of steps in front.  By the time they had one set it had started misting and progressed quickly to a light, steady rain.  They tried taking the excavator around back to do some trenching but the rain intensified and the ground was already very soft.  They almost got it stuck so I waved them off and made them take it back around to the front of the house.  They left shortly thereafter.  The afternoon weather was dry, cool, and breezy–very pleasant working conditions–but no one returned to resume the work.  The forecast for the rest of the week is for drier, cooler conditions, but it will take days for the ground behind the house to dry out enough that they can work efficiently and safely.

We still have a lot of unopened boxes from our move last year and Linda decided yesterday to start opening them and trying to deal with the contents.  She is always eager to get rid of things while I tend to be reluctant to part with stuff, but I am slowly coming around accepting that we have a lot of stuff we do not need, will never use, has no value, and that we have no place to store.

Her target was five boxes today.  I thought that was optimistic, but she dealt with five yesterday and five more today.  One of the boxes today had a collection of stemware with all the pieces individually wrapped in newspapers from circa 1995.  The newspaper was from our previous community, so we are the ones who packed them and obviously had them for some time before that.  We think we got them from my parents but no longer remember when or why.  Some of them may have belonged to my mother’s parents.

The discovery of the stemware led to them being washed and set out to dry followed by a re-thinking of what is stored/displayed in the kitchen/dining area.  That, in turn, led to a reconsideration of our everyday dinnerware.  We bought our Mikasa Studio Nova dinnerware a long time ago, perhaps more than 30 years, and it has served us well.  I still like the pattern; a simple round white plate with a colorful geometric edging that reminds me of the work of the Russian artist Kandinsky.  We have broken or chipped enough pieces over the years that we no longer have a complete service for more than four people, and many of the remaining pieces have developed stress lines and will eventually break.

Mikasa no longer manufactures the Studio Nova pattern and we have been looking for a replacement for the last couple of months.  We found one we liked at Bed, Bath, and Beyond but held off buying it while we continued to look.  We get 20% off coupons from BB&B regularly and when the rain let up Linda decided to go to the store in Brighton and buy the Noritaki set we liked, but came back empty handed.  It turned out that what we thought was a set of four pieces for four place settings (16 pieces) for $40 was just one place setting of four pieces.  We wanted to get 12 place settings plus service pieces, so this was not going to be our new dinnerware.

We spent some time looking at products online and found that the price of Mikasa products was similar to the Noritaki.  This changed our view of the price of Corelle dinnerware which we had also looked at and liked but mistakenly ruled out as too expensive.  We live about 11 miles from an outlet mall that has a Corning store (I know, I know, we live in a rural paradise) so we drove over there to see what they had in stock.  They had a 40% off sale on all open stock items (if you bought 12 or more pieces) and 20% off on boxed sets.

We looked at square designs and modern patterns, but decided to go with their plain Winter Frost White round product.  This is one of their longest running and broadest product lines with all items available as open stock.  They had boxed sets of five pieces for six place settings (30 pieces total) so we bought two of them to have a service for 12, and filled in an extra set of 12 medium plates, some serving bowls, and a couple of serving platters.  The simple white dinnerware makes any food look good and easy to see.  Our walls and appliances are white and our dining room table is a darker oak so the plates will both match and contrast nicely with our decor.

When we got home we opened everything and put it in the dishwasher.  While it ran Linda boxed up all of the old Mikasa pieces that were still serviceable.  She will donate them to the local Salvation Army store tomorrow.

My focus for today was purchasing and installing an add-in that allows Microsoft Outlook to import multiple vCards from a single file.  It’s really galling that I have to spend money to get Outlook to do something that it obviously should be able to do as a standard, built-in function, but there it is.  I researched plug-ins for this a few weeks ago so I revisited what I had previously found.  I finally selected the vCard Wizard (vCard4Outlook) along with Duplicate Killer, both from 4TEAM Corp.  By purchasing them together I got Duplicate Killer for 50% off.  As soon as the purchase was completed I received the downloaded links for both programs and downloaded them but did not install them right away.

Why all the bother?  My old Palm Tungsten T3 PDA can output my contacts in vCard format, but it puts them all in one file.  There are manual ways to import this data to Outlook, but it would take days instead of minutes.  I may be retired but I do not have the patience for that and have better things to do with my time; even a nap would qualify.  The problem with the manual (free) approach is that it requires you to review each contact and decide what to do with it.  I have over 1,000 contacts in my Palm and there was no way I was going to review them one-by-one.

Dr. Michael Greger ( recently did a nice video on the research findings about the health benefits of eating yams.  Linda picked up a nice big yam at Whole Foods on Saturday and baked it for dinner this evening, topping it with black beans cooked with tomatoes and onions, and finished off with vegan sour cream.  Yes, the “sour cream” is added fat calories, but we do not use it very often.

After dinner I copied over the Outlook mailbox (.pst) files from my old Dell laptop (Win XP / Outlook 2007) to my new ASUS laptop via one of the NAS units in preparation for moving to the use of Outlook on the new laptop tomorrow morning.  I spent a while after that selecting and processing images for blog posts going back to July 1st.  I have been keeping up with writing these posts, but not with posting them.


2014/07/07 (M) Needs And Wants

My first task most mornings is to make coffee and my second task is to eat breakfast.  Linda puts a lot of thought, time, and effort into our meals so I take my responsibility to eat them very seriously.

Bruce operating the excavator!

Bruce operating the excavator!

After breakfast I called Steve at Village Landscape to check on their plans and he said they were headed our way shortly.  He was bringing the excavator so I let him know that the retaining wall worksite behind the house was a muddy pond from last night’s rain but the front of the house looked suitable for working on the sidewalk/stairs project.  We would really like to have a front sidewalk and stairs before Ron and Mary get here on the 20th of this month.

My first computer task of the day, after starting my machines, is always to log in to RVillage and my second task is to check e-mail.  Those tasks usually recur throughout the day.  Beyond those tasks it’s whatever else needs to be done that I also feel like doing and there is often a considerable lack of congruence between those two ways of considering the tasks at hand.  At the top of both lists this morning was installing the Jetpack plug-in on the other two WordPress websites I run; the FMCA Great Lakes Converted Coaches and our personal one.  I actually managed to get this done today, but not until the afternoon.  Go back to any of the previous gallery posts and click on one of the images to see how much nicer they are to view now.

When the power flickered last night it interrupted our viewing of Doc Martin.  I was momentarily confused by that until we realized that Linda’s iPad was connected to the Amped Wireless access point in the basement which was not plugged in to a UPS unit.  It was at one point but that UPS unit failed and I had not yet replaced it so I went to the Best Buy store in Brighton this morning and bought a small APC unit.  It will be adequate to maintain power to the access point and also provide surge/spike protection for the audio equipment.  And it was on sale.  While I was out I picked up a new pruning lopper at Home Depot (a Fiskar’s ratcheting model) and some soy milk at Meijer’s.  Such is the way with tasks and errands.

The landscapers had not yet arrived by the time I got back from my errands but did arrive around noon.  Steve brought the excavator and a crew of four and they worked all afternoon on the front stairs.  They removed the old half circle step from in front of the porch, excavated for the new steps, back filled with crushed limestone, leveled and compacted it, and set the top three steps and the bottom step.  The steps are precast concrete 46″ wide, 19″ deep, and 7″ high.  They are being installed with a 17″ tread depth which is very comfortable for walking up and down the stairs.  The stairs flare out at the bottom by the driveway, so the bottom step is three of these precast units set end-to-end.  The next step up will use two of these precast units.  All of the other steps are a single unit in width.  The area between the upper steps and the lower steps will be a brick paver sidewalk.

Before Steve left for the evening he positioned the excavator over by the trash pile and walked me through the controls.  After dinner I spent a couple of hours “practicing” with the machine by picking cinder blocks, bricks, and cut up trees out of the woods and putting them in a trash pile.  The controls were “touchier” than I expected and I had a tendency to jerk the machine around rather than operate it smoothly.  I also found it tricky to coordinate the two joysticks to make it move in certain ways.  There wasn’t anything intuitive about most of the controls; certain functions are simply assigned to the two joysticks, and the buttons on them, and you have to operate it enough that it becomes second nature.  As fun as it was to play with, you would be pretty sore at the end of a long workday if you had to run this machine for a living.

Chris Dunphy and Cherie Ve Ard of Technomadia hosted another live video chat this evening for the Mobile Internet Aficionados (MIA) private/membership group.  We were going to participate but did not because I was playing with the excavator, a task that wasn’t even on my list this morning.  Membership in the group was one of our premiums for contributing to their Indiegogo crowd-funding campaign.  They used the campaign to finance the re-write of their Mobile Internet Handbook.  This is THE definitive resource for people, especially RVers, who are mobile and need to be online.  The technology is changing so rapidly that a re-write and expansion was already needed just a year after the book was originally published.

I did not accomplish all of my computer tasks today, but I did accomplish the one at the top of both my need and want lists.  It happens; sometimes.  I also got to play with a life size Tonka toy, which was very cool.  I think that is the first time I have operated a piece of construction larger than a two-person posthole digger.


2014/07/06 (N) Charmed

Between the landscapers, tree trimming, and having grand-daughter Madeline here for several nights I have not worked at my desk very much this past week.  I have several projects in process that require me to work at my computer(s) and the most efficient place for that work is generally in my office at my desk.

Since we did not get to go out for our usual ham radio club breakfast yesterday we treated ourselves to a trip to Panera in Brighton this morning.  Comfy chairs, good Wi-Fi, yummy bagels, and tasty, unlimited coffee made for a pleasant morning.  When we were working we went to the local Panera by our previous house almost every Sunday morning.  We did not expect to see the landscapers today, and that turned out to be the case.

I had three main objectives for today and got one of them partially completed.  That’s about “par for the course,” as the saying goes.  I continued to research WordPress plug-ins that would provide a better display of WP gallery images and finally concluded that the best option was the Carousel feature of the Jetpack plug-in from Automattic.  My second choice was the Responsive Lightbox by dFactory but, based on the descriptions, the Carousel more closely matched the functionality I was looking for.

I installed the Jetpack on the FMCA Freethinker website I am developing to test it.  This website only had a few image galleries, each of which only had a few images, so it was a contained experiment.  The plug-in installed without difficulty and it was easy to activate and link through my account.  It was also easy to activate and configure the Carousel component and de-activate most of the other components that I did not need/want at this time.  When I viewed the existing galleries the thumbnails on the page looked the same as before but when I clicked on an image the Jetpack Carousel took over the display of the gallery.  Instead of opening the image in a browser page it displayed the image in a full screen lightbox with forward and backward arrows.  It also had a button to view the current image at its “full size” and provided information about the technical aspects of how the image was created (camera, lens, aperture, shutter speed, etc.).  So without having to recreate galleries, or edit the shortcodes on pages/posts where the galleries appear, any native WP Gallery on the site now displayed better; much better.  And it was free.

I have learned not to be overconfident when it comes to software, so it did not surprise me when the installation on the new SLAARC/WP website did not go as smoothly as the Freethinker installation.  The SLAARC site is hosted on GoDaddy and, according to the Jetpack support forum on, users were having all sorts of problems following a GoDaddy server upgrade just a week ago.  I got an “internal server error” on my first attempt, followed by an installation failure due to the presence of pre-existing folders.  I had to log in to GoDaddy and use the file manager to delete the Jetpack plug-in folder and everything it contained.  While I was logged in to GoDaddy I had to close and re-open the file manager twice to get it to work.  I also ran CCleaner on my laptop which cleared the Google Chrome browser cache.  “The third time’s a charm,” as the saying goes, and I finally got it installed, activated, and configured.  I tested it and it worked like a charm.  I sent an e-mail off to Mike (W8XH) and Larry (K8UT) to let them know and ask them to take a look when they had time.

We watched another episode of Doc Martin, during which we had another momentary power failure.  This one was so brief that our whole house generator did not even notify us of the power blip.  As the episode was concluding we heard the faint rumble of distant thunder.  A check of The Weather Channel and Wundermap on our iPads showed a large storm cluster north west of us moving east.  It looked like it might miss us, but a little while later we lost our power again, this time long enough to trigger the notification from the GenSet, but not long enough to cause it to start.  Within 10 minutes of that second power blip we had a steady summer rain event.  It looked like it might rain through the overnight.  If so, the landscapers won’t be able to work on the retaining walls on Monday, at least not with the excavator.


2014/07/05 (S) Re-Search

Contractors who do outside work, such as excavators, builders, and landscapers are at the mercy of the weather, so they work when they can, and when they can work, they often put in long hours.  For those of us who made our living doing “white collar” work for companies with paid holidays, the 4th of July often meant a 3- or 4-day weekend.  For other kinds of workers, the 4th of July is a day off; one day, and for yet others (think retail) it is just another workday.  It doesn’t matter that it fell on a Friday this year.  The landscapers couldn’t work on Thursday because of the overnight rain.  No work means no pay.  Saturday July 5th, however, was forecast to be great weather for working outside, and with sunny skies and no rain since Thursday, our job site had dried out sufficiently to allow people and machines to work.  Alas, the holiday spirit was with them and they did not show up first thing this morning like I thought they might.

Since grand-daughter Madeline spent her second night in a row with us last night she was still here this morning.  Consequently we did not go to our ham radio club breakfast in South Lyon like we usually do on Saturday morning.  Madeline woke up hungry and Grandma Linda had her bottle warmed up and ready to go.  She had also prepped all of the ingredients for her yummy vegan blueberry pancakes.  Madeline had a little banana and some fresh blueberries while grandma cooked the pancakes and I made the coffee.  We all enjoyed our breakfast.

Madeline Eloise sitting on our fake rock in our front yard (it's the cover for our well).

Madeline Eloise sitting on our fake rock in our front yard (it’s the cover for our well).

After breakfast we played and read and went outside to walk around in the driveway.  Our son called and we figured out who was going to travel where and when to get Madeline back home.  He was working on a project to rebuild their front porch/steps and was involved in painting wood pieces prior to assembling them, so we agreed to drive Madeline to their house in Ann Arbor in time for a light lunch before her usual nap time.  That also allowed us to stop at the Whole Foods market near their house on our way out of town.  A Whole Foods market is the only thing we do not have in the Brighton/Howell/Hartland area that we truly miss.  We would shop there several times a week if we had one nearby.

I managed to sneak away to the basement occasionally to do a load of laundry and install 126 updates on our Linux computer.  The updates involved file downloads totaling just over of 310+ MB so I started the process and let it run.  We get an effective download speed from our AT&T High Speed Internet (HSI) DSL connection of just over 1 Mb/sec or 64 Mb/min.  That is roughly 8 MB/min.  At that speed, 320 MB takes about 40 minutes to transfer, assuming AT&T doesn’t detect the amount of data being transferred and “throttle” (slow down) the speed.  Cell phone companies are known to do this but it is less clear whether AT&T does that sort of thing with their landline services.

We got back to the house at 2:15 PM.  Linda developed a headache while we were out, so she took some meds, put the groceries away, and laid down to rest.  There was no sign of the landscapers and no phone call, so there was no chance at that point that they would show up today.  That was OK with us; it is a holiday weekend and it was their idea to come work today, not ours; I just said it was OK if that’s what they wanted to do.  Apparently they didn’t.  The one thing I was looking forward to was having Steve show me how to operate the Kobelco sk35sr-3 excavator and then practicing operating it by removing concrete blocks, bricks, downed trees, and other detritus from the woods by the road southwest of our house.  Just behind these woods is where they are piling all of the construction debris anyway, so I would be able to position the excavator to allow me to grab most of the trash out of the woods and then swing it over and deposit it on the pile.  Maybe Monday?

Yesterday I posted a question to the support forum for the Jetpack plug-in and I got a reply a couple of hours later that directly answered my question.  I wanted to install/activate the Jetpack on more than one self-hosted website and needed to know if I could use a single account or if I needed a separate account for each site?  I was glad to find out that I only needed the one account that I already have.  The Jetpack plug-in is massive overkill for what I need to accomplish immediately, but some of the reviews suggested that it is so comprehensive it may be the last plug-in I ever have to install.  That is unlikely for a number of reasons, and a bit contrary to the open source nature of WordPress and the international community of developers that support it, but the plug-in does have 33 different “components.”  For most of those features there are other plug-ins available–in some cases lots of them—but this provides everything in a neat package with its own special place on the admin panel menu.

Linda was feeling better after a long, much-needed nap but did not feel like cooking.  She picked up ingredients at Whole Foods today to make mock beef stroganoff but decided to make it tomorrow.  Our go-to for no-prep meals are the various frozen products from Amy’s.  We try to always have a few in the freezer for occasions when Linda does not have the time or interest to prepare a meal from scratch.  Tonight we had the lasagna.  Linda wanted some fresh greens with dinner but did not feel like making a salad so she used a bed of mixed greens as a base for the lasagna.  If that sounds a bit strange, all I can say is that it was very nice for both taste and texture.

I spent more time this evening investigating the WordPress Jetpack plug-in, the result of which was that I deferred installing and activating it.  The attraction of this plug-in is that the Carousel feature works with the existing WP Gallery shortcode(s).  That means it works retroactively with every page and post containing a WP Gallery and that I would continue to create galleries they way I always have using the native WP Gallery functionality.  That sounds like exactly what I need, except that on further investigation I started seeing comments about banner ads, and a feature that allows website/blog visitors to comment on individual images with no easy way to disable it.  The workaround involves custom CSS code.  Ugh.

I kept looking and found a plug-in where the “author” had simply “forked” (extracted) the code for the Carousel function from the Jetpack plug-in and offered it as a separate plug-in.  Ignoring whether that was even ethical, some of the reviews suggested that it did not work correctly and that support issues were not being resolved.  I need something more reliable and better supported so I kept looking and found a very extensive plug-in that was free and had been downloaded over 1,000,000 times!  Now that has to be a great plug-in, right?  Maybe; maybe not.  The reviews were very mixed and many seemed to complain about the constant “tinkering” the author does with the plug-in, issuing updates every 3 – 4 days.

If I was willing to spend money for a plug-in my options would be greatly expanded, but I have looked at those as well and they all have mixed reviews.  The leading contender is the NextGEN Gallery plug-in, but the biggest downside with all of these gallery plug-ins is that they do not work with the native WP Gallery shortcodes which, in turn, would require me to rebuild existing galleries from within the plug-in. The ones that I find the most annoying are the ones with a free version that turns out to just be a teaser; the features I need are always in the “pro” or “premium” version.  An episode of Doc Martin gave me a needed and entertaining break from my research, which is appropriate in this situation as I have searched for a good image display plug-in before and now I am searching for one again.



This is a gallery of images from today’s visit to the Howell Conference and Nature Center in Howell, Michigan with our grand-daughter Madeline, along with a few photos from around the house.  The largest dimension for most of these images is 640 pixels.  Click any image to open the carousel viewer and use the left and right arrows to move through the images.

2014/07/04 (F) Independence Day

Pictures from today are in a separate gallery post with today’s date.

In spite of a ridiculous series of very brief power failures late last night, Madeline’s first overnight stay at our house was a complete success.  She was busy and cheerful all day yesterday, took a nice nap, went for a walk around our yard, and enjoyed a hearty and substantial dinner.  After all that she was ready for her evening bottle and then went to bed without a fuss at 7:45 PM.

She slept for almost 12 hours, which meant we could get up before her at our usual time and get ready for her awakening.  It took her a few minutes to fully wake up, during which time she was a little groggy but not fussy.  By the time Linda got her dressed she was ready for breakfast.  Linda made oatmeal with raisins and cranberries and all three of us had some.  Madeline also had fresh strawberries and blueberries.  Blueberries are one of her current favorite foods, along with peas.

We played with toys, read books, and played (with) the organ until 9:30 AM and then got ready to go on a field trip.  At 9:45 AM we left for the Howell Conference and Nature Center (HCNC).  The HCNC is the largest wildlife rehabilitation and permanent care center in the State of Michigan, and is located about eight miles south and slightly west of the heart of downtown Howell.

We were there for just over two hours and spent most of that time looking at a lot of animals including the following:  Coyotes; a Sandhill Crane; Whitetail Deer; owls (Screech, Saw-whet, Barn, Barred, Snowy, and Great Horned); a Wild Turkey; Bobcats; a Porcupine; Opossums; Turkey Vultures; an American Kestrel; hawks (Broad-winged and Harrier); a Peregrine Falcon; and American Bald Eagles.  Although HCNC rehabilitates wildlife for release back into the wild whenever possible, all of the animals we saw today were permanent residents due to injuries and/or habituation to humans that have made it impossible for them to survive without human care and protection.

After we were done with the Nature Walk and Raptor Center we explored Alexandria’s Playscape for 20 minutes, by which time we needed to start for home in order to have time for some lunch and still get Madeline down for her nap on schedule.  Linda rode home in the back seat to keep Madeline engaged so she wouldn’t fall asleep and this proved to be a very successful strategy.  We all had lunch and Linda got Madeline ready for her nap without a fuss.  Once Madeline was asleep Linda also laid down to rest for a bit while I started a load of laundry, booted up all of my computers, and installed updates.

Madeline had a good, long nap and was ready to tackle the last third of the day when she finally woke up.  We played with her new set of Lego Duplo blocks for a long time.  She enjoys taking them apart but this afternoon she figured out how to assemble the square ones.  She has a very good attention span for an 18 month old, but her attention naturally shifts in response to a stimulating environment.  She is always busy, and often in motion, but takes a break occasionally to enjoy one of her books.  She is also very independent and usually knows what she wants at any given moment.  She is, however, also open to suggestions and interacts very well with us.  She verbalizes quite a bit and is developing vocabulary.  We know this because she has a few words that we are able to understand and she uses them correctly and consistently.  She has a lot of other sounds that are clearly an attempt to communicate using speech, but she can’t quite form the words well enough yet for us to really understand what she is trying to say.  Sometimes, however, we can figure it out from the context of what is going on and what she is looking and/or pointing at.  We also discovered that she knows the names of colors as she consistently picked out the correct color Lego block when we asked for it by color.

For dinner Linda made a dish with baked beans, rice, carrots, onions, and celery.  I doubt that she will make it again as none of us seemed to like it that much.  My opinion was that it simply contained too much cinnamon.  After dinner we went for a walk around our property and saw a deer in the neighbor’s yard across the street.  When we got back to the front of the house we let Madeline explore the inside of the bus for a few minutes.  By 7 PM she was ready for a clean diaper, pajamas, and her evening bottle.  She fussed for about 10 seconds and then let grandma carry her to her bedroom where she looked at the paintings before yielding to her porta-crib for the second night in a row.

We have been hearing fireworks occasionally for the last few days, but starting around 8 PM things got cranked up and between 9 and 11 PM I thought we had inadvertently attended a major fireworks display.  I have written before about how much we like living in the country, but I have also written that the country is not always a quiet place; it just has a different kind of noise.  Usually that noise is the sound of nature, and we love it.  But occasionally it is an all too human sound, such as a gun being fired, or a dog barking.  But tonight we had fireworks, and a lot of them.  At our previous house the police would have showed up, and maybe the fire department too, if someone tried to fire the size and quantity of explosives we heard tonight.  Not out here in the country; big bonfires (burn piles) and big fireworks are apparently perfectly OK.  So is shooting a gun whenever you feel like it.

The house is not overly insulated, but Madeline was sleeping in the middle bedroom with the door and windows closed and the windows covered to keep out light while she naps during the day, so the fireworks did not wake her.  I felt bad for the cats, who spent most of the day in the basement or hiding in our bedroom to avoid contact with Madeline.  She gets very excited when she sees them and runs after them because she wants to pet them, which just reinforces their desire to be somewhere else.  When they finally came upstairs after she went to bed they had to endure several hours of explosions, which they were not used to and did not like.  The celebrations were mostly concluded by 11 PM and finally settled down completely by midnight.


2014/07/03 (R) First Overnight Visit

I awoke this morning to the sound of light rain which had started sometime during the overnight.  The landscapers were supposed to be back first thing this morning to continue working on the retaining walls in the back, but the rain had made the work site muddy enough that I figured they would not be here today, which turned out to be the case.  The clouds cleared off by mid-morning and by early afternoon the site had dried out enough that they could have continued with the hand work.  With tomorrow being a holiday, however, I did not expect them to begin their workday at 1 PM.

After we had breakfast I left around 10 AM to drive to Adams Distributing in Novi to return a pair of battery chargers.  I visited with Scotty (AC8IL) for a while discussing his ham radio setup.  Since getting back into the hobby after many years he has done very well making DX (long distance) contacts all over the world.

I got back around 11:30 AM and our son and grand-daughter showed up shortly thereafter.  Today was Brendan and Shawna’s third wedding anniversary and we all agreed it was an opportune time for Madeline to have her first sleepover at our house, allowing her parents some much needed adult only time.  Brendan brought the porta-crib and portable stroller, and transferred the car seat to Linda’s car.  Brendan visited until it was time for Madeline’s nap and left once she was asleep.

Madeline had a good long nap and woke up refreshed and ready to go.  And go she did; we played with toys, read books, explored the main floor of the house, and went for an explore in the yard.  We have a five acre parcel, so it was an extended exploration.

For dinner, Linda cooked some Dr. Praeger’s vegan burgers and served them with sliced parsnips with sautéed in a small amount of water and quinoa with dried cranberries.  Madeline enjoyed all of it, along with some peas and strawberries.  I have not had parsnips very many times in my life.  When sautéed they taste like slightly peppery cooked carrots, which tend to be sweet.

We had more play time after dinner until 7:30 PM when Linda got her ready for bed and she had her evening bottle.  She was tucked in her porta-crib at 7:45 PM and quickly drifted gently off to sleep.  Brendan also brought their baby monitor and set it up, so we were able to keep an eye on her without opening the door to the bedroom and possibly disturbing her.

We stayed up a little while longer and then turned in around 9:30 PM to watch another episode of Doc Martin.  At 10:12 PM we lost power for a few seconds and a minute later it happened again.  We received a couple of e-mail notifications from our standby generator regarding the loss of utility power but never got one indicating that the generator had started.  Apparently the outages were too short to trigger the start sequence.

Even though most of the critical electronics in the house are connected to uninterruptible power supplies, I got up and shut down all of the computers, NAS units, and the laser printer.  The power flickered a couple more times but we never lost our Internet and were able to watch the last 10 minutes of Doc Martin.  Our last message from the generator indicated that it would stop notifying us of the situation until the fault had cleared for 24 hours.  The generator ran a successful self test at noon today, as it does every Thursday, so I was confident that it would start if needed.  We had a power outage while we were away this past winter during which the generator started and the automatic transfer switch transferred the house to the generator, so I was also confident that all if this would work if needed.

The worst part of this kind of momentary power outage is that the UPS units all start beeping (an alarm) as soon as they lose AC power.  It’s kind of like a smoke detector or other alarm going off; it tends to jolt you awake and once up it is hard to go back to sleep as you lie there anticipating the next alarm.


2014/07/02 (W) Trees And Rocks

Steve arrived at 6:45 AM and got right to work using the excavator to place additional large boulders for the rear retaining walls.  He was done by 8:30 AM and loaded the excavator back on his trailer to take to another job site.  I noticed that one of his trailer tires was very under-inflated so I got out my large portable air compressor to inflate it.  This tire turned out to have a puncture in the tread and was not going to hold air.  Steve knew the tires were not in good shape but I discovered that they were not an adequate load range for the weight he was carrying even if they were inflated to their maximum cold pressure, which they were not.  I inflated all of them as high as I was comfortable given their age.  If it had been my trailer I would have taken it, unloaded, immediately to a nearby tire store and had them put on four new tires with an appropriate load range.  I am not a tire expert, but we have been to enough seminars on RV tires and weight safety, that I have a better understanding of the subject then most people.

The excavator working on the rear retaining walls.

The excavator working on the rear retaining walls.

Linda made her yummy vegan pancakes for breakfast after which I decided to trim trees in the southeast corner of the yard.  It was cooler than yesterday but still a bit humid, so the working conditions were not ideal.  I worked until mid-afternoon and got one tree pruned of all its deadwood and took some low dead limbs off of several other trees.  I enjoy the pruning; it requires some thought about ladder placement, choice of tools, and where to cut, and I have a nicer/healthier looking tree when I am done.  Taking the small branches off of the larger limbs, cutting the limbs into shorter lengths, and carting everything to the fire pit; not my favorite thing to do.  Linda assures me that cleanup has never been my forte.

Two landscapers showed up around 10 AM and worked on the retaining walls.  There were supposed to be three of them, but one guy could not make it.  The hand work they were doing really needed three guys, so it was hard for them.  They got to a point where they were waiting on a delivery of sleeved plastic drain tile that wasn’t showing up in a timely fashion so I gave them directions to the Lowe’s at Grand River and Latson Roads where they bought a 100 foot roll and tied it to the roof of their car to get it back to our house.  They were then able to place the landscape fabric behind the first course of boulders, across the bottom of the shelf and up the back, lay the drain tile in the trench, and back fill the trench.  This gave them a place to stand as they worked on the next shelf.

Linda spent the morning cooking a batch of her amazing granola and her equally amazing vegan potato salad.  She boiled and then cubed red potatoes and mixed them with vegan mayo, apple cider vinegar, celery, onion, dill pickle, and dill weed.  We have been having tofu hot dogs for lunch with some regularity as it is an easy, tasty summer treat (with mustard, onions, and relish).  The potato salad was the perfect accompaniment, especially as it was still slightly warm.  Sweet cherries provided the finishing note for a tasty summer lunch.

Steve came back around 3 PM to check on the progress of his crew, gave them some specific goals for the rest of the day, and took off.  The crew was here until 6 PM.  Everyone has been working hard but we are at the stage in the project where there has been a lot more destruction than construction.  We have been through enough construction projects over the years that we know what to expect, but it is still stressful to see everything torn up.

Linda made baked stuffed acorn squash for dinner with a side of grilled baby bok choy.  The stuffing was made from carrots, celery, mushrooms, onions, sun dried tomatoes, bread cubes, raisins, walnuts, flax seeds, and sage.  It reminded me of stuffing from a Thanksgiving holiday meal.  We had a small glass of Franzia Sweet Red wine which paired well with the savory main dish.