Monday, November 28, 2016

5's the Easy Way

After five years of ownership I backed The Van into it's parking spot the other day

 with five 5's on the odometer!

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

As Dad Used to Say, There's a Fungus Amungus!

The other morning, as is my ritual, I opened up the barn and stepped out to scan the area and see whats up, and this cute little guy, about twice the size of my thumb, was sitting out there. But you have to be fast!

I took this photo only a couple hours later.

The one on the left is the same guy from the first photo, already all puffed up and finned out, with two more at different stages coming up fast behind it. (Is anyone else reminded of the video of a kid hiding under the bride's skirts?)

Some fungi are particularly partial to dead oak.

Farther down the hill from the little white umbrella dudes (Not a mycologist so I don't know the official name.) is the remains of an old rotted oak stump

and this meaty specimen found it an ideal growing spot.

Don't you just want to slice that into a hot buttered frying pan?? Yummy!! But again, not a mycologist so I didn't give into temptation. . .

But maybe it's not as meaty as it looked??  This is how I found it the next day. At first I thought maybe something else ate it, but it kind of looks like that gooey stuff around the base of the stems might be what's left of the 'shroom.

I just went down and took another look and there's a centipede, a couple beetles and a bunch of other insects crawling around in the goo and none of them look to be trippin', but still, I think I'll leave them too it anyway.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Urban Crowding

Five years ago, when we were in the grip of a serious drought, our pond dried up enough that I could walk across it at the deepest point without even leaving footprints in the hardened mud. To help out the wildlife back then I half buried a handful plastic tubs around the property and kept them filled with the well and some buckets.

I never have gotten around to removing one of those tubs,

See that amber glass statue out there? 50 years ago that used to sit in a recessed niche in my Grandmother's entryway.

the one just outside our door near the bird feeders.

Five years of Texas sun has certainly done a number on it,

slowly eroding away the plastic, but that hasn't stopped an unauthorized amphibious urban renewal project!

At one point we had a single large (as in 5" which is about max for their size range.) resident Southern Leopard Frog living in there, but apparently the mighty has fallen and now I regularly count a dozen or more smaller versions just hanging out in the neighborhood, elbowing each other aside as they try to carve out a little space for themselves. If you look carefully (Two of them are pretty hard to see.) there's 10 of the gang there in the photo above.

By late spring, assuming the tub survives, I suppose we'll be down to the single dominate female again, but in the mean-time we may have to install a traffic light!

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Water Where It Doesn't Belong, Never A Good Thing!

We're not talking biblical floods here, in fact we're not talking floods at all,

but finding water-tracks down the wall under one of the travel trailer's windows was not what I'd classify as good news!

Then again, the trailer is coming up on 15 years old now,

so a little dried out putty shouldn't be a surprise. Actually, the surprise is that all the windows aren't leaking. (Of the 9 windows this is the third one needing attention, all spaced out over 6 or so years.)

So next chance I got I picked up about 40' of putty-tape. Definitely more than I need for this window, but I figure I've still got six more to go.


After removing those miserable blinds and that horrid valence

popping off the inner retaining ring only took a couple minutes thanks to electric power.

Despite the putty being old and dried up it took longer to gently pry the window away from the frame than I expected. I could have done it faster but for some reason I thought it important not to scratch the hell out of the siding in the process.

After seeing this I was surprised the window wasn't leaking from day one!  Clearly some of the putty never got compressed during the original install and was still showing the wrinkled-paper marks from the packaging.

But that didn't make the next step, peeling all the old putty off the window, any easier. In fact this was the most time consuming part of the job.

But eventually I got all the old crap off and the frame polished up with some mineral spirits before laying in the new putty.

It's a messy job that's hard on the fingertips, but I also pressed a little extra putty into each of the divots in the trailer's siding to ensure I wouldn't have to redo this window anytime soon.

Then it was a matter of a few minutes to set the re-puttied window in place, (Right side up if you please!!) gradually screw down the inner ring, moving around and around, turning each screw just a little each time, to seat things evenly and thoroughly in the new putty and re-install those miserable blinds and that crappy valence. (I suppose I could have warmed up some of the tools in the shops and made something a little less difficult on the eyes to go back in there, but if I did that I'd have to do all the window valences, and that just wasn't going to happen!)

A little more mineral spirits to clean up the squeeze-out around the window-frame and I was putting my tools away. Though I have to admit, someone still needs to get in there and clean the stains off the wall. . .

Of course any sense of satisfaction is tempered by the state of the roof. . . If I don't get up there and re-coat it soon a few leaking windows are going to be the least of my worries!!

Monday, November 7, 2016

Fall Ritual on the Property

Mother nature constantly strives to maintain a balance. That balance shifts and changes as things evolve along her natural pathways, but it is a balance.

And then we came along; man; homo sapiens; and we are doing our damnedest to screw everything up. Paradoxically, sapien translates as wise, sensible, and/or judicious; something I'm not sure we as a species have lived up to, at least not yet. (In the immortal words of Ricky Ricardo: 'Lucy! You got some splainin to do!!')

It wasn't so bad when our ancestors were middle homo, (homo erectus) or even early late homo when we were morphing into sapien but still existed as scattered hunter-gatherer groups where there weren't enough of us around to have a debilitating impact on the natural order of things.

But that was then and this is now.

And I'm certainly not blameless. One glaring example of my meddling interference is carving a home out of the Central Texas Oak Savanna, which includes clearing a bit of space around that home.

Now Mother Nature doesn't like that, doesn't like that at all, but in the process of trying to fill that space back in, instead of jumping right back to the oaks and other hardwoods that would eventually grow back if she was left alone for five or six hundred years, there's a few other steps along the way. And she starts the process with water-sucking Cedar

and the dreaded, impenetrable tangles of Youpon Holly.

Why, with small, rounded margins instead of the true holly's spiny pointed leaves, it's call Holly I don't know, but the scientific name, Ilex Vomitoria,  fits it very well.  Not only because trying to clear the dense thickets of surprisingly stiff branches in the heat of a Texas summer will lay you out with a spewing case of heat exhaustion, but also because the berries are actually poisonous and will make you so sick you can only wish you were dead!  Although birds seem to be immune to this and snack on the tempting little suckers all winter.

But, since I'm the one that screwed things up, it falls to me to at least keep the status quo.

Which is why, every fall after the seed-heads have matured, I drag the brush-hog out of the weeds, (Which is another term for a lush, rich and diverse habitat) hang it on the back of the tractor,

and spend the next 4 hours pushing the cedar and youpon back into the margins of the space I've claimed.

In addition to reestablishing my arbitrary boundaries, this opens up forgotten views, but frankly, for the next couple weeks it looks like crap!

But not to worry. Once the straw has a chance to dry out and drop earthward to nourish the next season's growth, once the traumatized grasses and forage heal and have been jolted awake by the sudden abundance of sunlight

the clearing will look healthy and happy again, helped along greatly by the millions and millions of seeds

left behind to do exactly what billions of years of cumulative evolution has shaped them to do.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

The Begets and Begats that Begot Me!

I think I have some sort of disease, or maybe it's syndrome, or maybe just a monkey on my back. I don't know and it doesn't make any difference either way.

All I know is that though it might not have an official name, whatever it is, I've got it.

It being an insidious compulsion that sometimes leads me on from one project to the next, each one begetting the next which begats the next, and so on until I've been begot! Projectitus if you will. I never know when it will strike, but when it does I'm helpless to stop it. I'm caught up in the flow and the only way out is to ride it all the way to the end. In other words It turns me into (Gasp!!) a serial projectorist.

Depending on how you count, what follows is either one medium project or as many as seven micro projects, all stemming from my removal of the TV and microwave from The Van.

TV mount on the right, former micro cabinet in the center.

That was supposed to be it, End of project. Remove the TV and microwave, toss a few baskets where the micro used to be, keep them there with a couple cheap spring-rods, and be done.

Time to kick back with an adult beverage, a supersized bag of some girth-increasing, life-shortening fried fat something-or-other and watch a batch of over-paid, roid-raged men beat the crap out of each other in the guise of moving a ball, or maybe a puck, around a field or arena for the entertainment of those of us that have consumed too many beverages and bags of crap to have the energy, or wherewithal, do the field-work ourselves, all the while being sold more adult beverages, bags of poison, a plethora of drugs to counteract the effects of the beverages and poison, and once in a while, for the more responsible among us, perhaps a life-insurance policy.

But I can't even get that right!

Initially I told myself that it was no problem that one of the bolts for the TV mount was trapped behind the fridge. After all, I carefully saved and wrapped the electronics I removed so that if I ever passed The Van on to someone more normal than myself everything could be put right back where it was, so leaving the mount in place made sense; and it covered up all the holes too!

Well that lasted for a whole couple weeks!

That's when, without much conscious thought or deliberation on my part,  projectitus kicked in and I found myself unmounting the fridge and sliding it out far enough to remove the top vent-cover

so I could reach in there and unbolt the TV mount.

By the way, looking at this photo I just realized what great place that was to put a consumable like a fuse! My own fault for paying other people to build The Van instead of just doing it myself. . . Oh no!! (You can't see me, but I'm holding my fingers up in the form of a vampire-repelling cross.) Not another project!!!!

Of course removing the TV mounting plate and tie-down hardware left some holes behind, so now I had to move my picture-frame to cover them up. Thankfully the frame is mounted with non-marring Combat brand strips.

Moving the frame also required going through my stash of prints and deciding which one to display now.

When it strikes, I never know just how long it's going to take me to recover from projectitus, and this time it wasn't done with me yet.

Once I removed the TV mount that kind of shredded my logic for leaving the former microwave shelf unaltered for easy re-installation of said microwave. So the next thing I know I'm removing the partitions to make the shelf one big space, telling myself that makes it more usable. (Fortunately the cheap spring-rods easily expanded to fit the new, wider opening.)

In keeping with the just-in-case-plan-on-returning-it-to-original theme, I carefully wrapped all the removed bits, including the screws, with shrink-wrap and safely stored them away.

(But only for a couple of hours as you will see. . .)

As long as I was messing around in there I figured it was as good a time as any to box in the vulnerable fridge-outlet and the exposed wiring hanging out there in the back corner of my newly supersized shelf.

Need an accurate inside measurement??

Start with a pair of sticks. (Pointing one end of each helps improves the accuracy.)

Hold the sticks back to back then, making sure they stay parallel with each other, slide them apart until they touch both sides of whatever you're measuring,

freeze them there with a couple spring-clips

then remove and measure.

With this measurement I built a simple two-sided shield from some scraps. Using paints I had on hand I primed the shield with grey then lightly sprayed white over the grey.

Even though this will be pretty much out of sight I was trying to somewhat match the light grey melamine of the cabinets without having to go buy new paint. It's not perfect, but close enough.

While the paint was drying I installed a couple simple mounting blocks

then, "inspired" by projectitus, used some craft paper to make a template of the shelf.

which I used to cut a shelf liner from a scrap piece of linoleum flooring I had laying around.

Because I removed the partitions that were in there originally, the shelf was peppered with left over holes which are now hidden by the new hard-wearing shelf liner.

Finally with only two screws for easy removal, I screwed in the shield I just built to protect the outlet and wires.

The sharp-eyed will note that the shelf liner is actually a half inch short of coming all the way to the front of the shelf. That's because as I was working my way through this stuff I had - you guessed it -  yet another attack of projectitus and already knew I was going to need that half inch.

Remember that partition I so carefully removed and stored for later?? Well that didn't last!

I had reached out to Sportsmobile Texas, which is within a day-trip of us, just after removing the microwave to see if they would sell me a little bit of the 1/2 inch melamine coated ply they used to build my cabinets but, somewhat surprising considering the service I've had from them in the past, I got no response. So now, driven by this irresistible compulsion riding my back like the proverbial monkey, I was forced to cannibalize that partition to get the pieces I needed for the next project(itus).

The two vertical pieces will go up either side of the shelf opening then the longer horizontal piece will be carefully trimmed to fit across between them. Careful planning of the cuts meant I was able to preserve the existing pocket holes in the new horizontal piece so I only had to mill the four pockets in the vertical pieces and re-purpose a couple of the L-brackets I had removed along with the original partitions.

I have a whole bag full of the T-trim that used to be wrapped around the original cabinet doors.

When I made the new doors 5 years ago I foolishly discarded the originals (If I hadn't then I wouldn't have had to cut up that partition.) but for some reason I did save all the T-trim that was around those doors.

So after I installed the butchered pieces of the original partition around the opening of the former microwave shelf, I was able to trim them up with original equipment so the new work blends right in with the old.

And finally I was able to buck that nasty little monkey off my back and this particular bout of projectitus had pretty much run it's course.

Yes, I know, that new opening there is just begging for a door, and I do have some of that figured maple I used for all the other doors still sitting there on the lumber rack, but I actually have something a little more ambitious in mind. . .

Dammit! I knew that monkey hadn't gone very far!!