Thursday, October 30, 2008


200 This is my 200th blog post! Not quite as big a deal as the bicentennial celebrations back when K and I were growing up. There will be no commemorative coins, and I doubt that NASA will paint the DIY Insanity logo on the side of the vehicle assembly building, despite the logo's Napoleonic loveliness.

I've been working on grading and adding more drainage, and yesterday K and I mixed and placed 8.5 bags on concrete to serve as the foundation for steps to her office door. There's more work to do on all those things, but they'll have to wait a while as the rain started today. Not too heavy so far, but too wet to be doing much digging in. Fortunately there's lots to do inside for the kitchen remodel. And of course the ever-important blogging about the work I'm not doing.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Reefer Madness

Here's a picture of me playing an elaborate practical joke on K, switching the hinge of the refrigerator and freezer from one side to the other, but leaving the handle on the same side. Priceless!

Actually, I'm switching the hinge and the handles in preparation for the reefer's3 stay in the living room during the kitchen remodel. It's also the side it needs to be on in the final kitchen layout which is why I'm bothering with it at all.

I ended up doing most of the work twice. I measured and thought we could get the refrigerator into the living room by leaving off the handles. I failed to measure one little bumpout on the back, which meant we had to pull it back, take the doors off again, then move it into the living room. Next time we move it, we'll take it the longer way around through the dining room, because the openings we'll have to pass through are more than large enough. Or will be by then.

It was also a good opportunity to clean the parts of the fridge and under it even though the vinyl flooring I'm sitting on will be going away. And because the refrigerator partially blocked one of the doors into the already-too-small kitchen, having it gone makes the current kitchen, well, not spacious, but not feel quite so cramped. We're both still doing double-takes, turning around from the sink expecting to find the refrigerator, but we're rapidly getting used to the new layout.

Friday, October 24, 2008

A Classy Joint

The last couple days I've been doing a variety of things, including regrading the ground between the front walk and the door to K's office. In part because it's a good idea, to help encourage the water to flow the other way around the house, instead of into the middle of the 'L', but also to make a nicer, more usable space outside her office. And I've been straining my brain to figure out the different levels of the yet-to-be-poured new front porch, the yet-to-be-built steps to K's office, and of course where the grade should be for ideal drainage. There's a French drain ('freedom drain'?) we added a few years back, which the mayhem a while back tested nicely, but every little bit helps with drainage when an El NiƱo year rolls around.

I think I've managed to explain my different ideas for the steps and the front porch to K, but I sometimes have a hard time explaining spatial stuff because I can usually picture it, like one of those CSI re-creations of a crime scene, though my mental graphics don't look as wizzy and spin around, and there's not a driving rock tune going as a soundtrack.

But today while I was digging my neighbor was practicing her singing. She sings in the choir at her church, but she also sings opera with some local productions. It made for a lovely soundtrack while I worked. How many of you have done your DIY work to the sound of live opera?

Quite a classy joint we runs here, eh?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Before and After



After doing some major spackling on the recovered 12" siding, sanding, putting up trim, and caulking, today the new wall was ready to paint.

Katarina came home early (she's been busy working on some of the docs for Android) and said it looked great, but in reality it's more like Fox News coverage. At first glance it looks pretty good, but when you look closer you see it has some dirt and has some holes, and when you see it in the full light of day you realize it just plain stinks. But at some point we need to repaint the whole house, so this will do for now.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

World Food Day

On the heels of the Blog Action Day on poverty comes World Food Day, "to increase awareness, understanding and informed, year-around action to alleviate hunger." Food is tightly tied to poverty; if people spend all their waking hours trying to get food, there's no time for anything else like education or trying to improve things for your family.

But hunger is one of those things we've licked here in the U.S., right? Wrong. With the recent economic meltdown, the numbers of people utilizing food banks have soared. Even before that, our local food bank was providing assistance for 40,000+ people, the majority of those children and the elderly.

It's likely to get worse before it gets better. In the 20th century, the U.S. went from from smaller farms raising a variety of crops to industrial farms raising a single crop. Fertilizer synthesized from fossil fuels helped create huge increases in yields, and government subsidies helped make yield the only thing that mattered (you can read more about the industrialization of food in The Omnivore's Dilemma.) It lead to corn becoming ubiquitous in processed foods, especially fast food. Corn-fed beef, corn-fed chickens, sweetened with corn syrup, fried in corn oil. If we are what we eat, a lot of us are corn. But that cheap corn is dependent on fossil fuels (even as some of it is being used to create alternatives to fossil fuels, a misplaced approach if there ever was one), and as supplies drop and costs rise, that will effect the cost of those cheap processed foods. The monoculture of industrial farming also leads to depletion of nutrients from the soil, downstream pollution, loss of genetic diversity in food plants, less nutritious foods, and a host of other problems.

There's no easy answer, but increased awareness is where it begins. Read Michael Pollan's open letter to the next president for more information. Support your local food producers. Eat less meat. (As an added bonus, it's healthier and cheaper.) Plant a vegetable garden. And volunteer and donate to your local food bank.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Blog Action Day

Today is Blog Action Day. This year's focus is on poverty. Will 10,000+ bloggers writing about poverty end it? No. It probably won't even make a major blip in traditional media coverage, which is focusing on the U.S. elections, the economic meltdown, and the never-ending war in Iraq. What it will do is get more people thinking about the problem and what they can do to help fix it.

Poverty is a complex and far-reaching problem, and it can feel overwhelming to be faced with such a huge problem. So one approach is to focus on what you can do. Volunteer with a local food bank. Donate even a small amount of money to provide clean water (there are 1.1 billion people in the world without access to safe drinking water.) Volunteer with your local Habitat for Humanity affiliate.

But do something, and together we can make a difference.

Thursday, October 09, 2008


No, not the random-people-with-extraordinary-powers TV series, but CNN's annual award for ordinary people with extraordinary hearts. With today's news coverage full of depressing news about the economy, politics and the environment, it's nice to be able to read some good news. Each of the 10 was given $25,000 by CNN. You can vote for your favorite; the winner will receive an additional $100,000.

They're all pretty amazing people, for example, my favorite:
Phymean Noun, Toronto, Ontario --
Growing up in Cambodia, Noun struggled to complete high school. Today, she offers hundreds of Cambodian children who work in Phnom Penh's trash dump a way out -- through free schooling and job training.
And keeping this post connected with home construction, there's:
Liz McCartney, St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana --
McCartney moved to New Orleans to dedicate herself to helping Hurricane Katrina survivors move back into their homes. Her nonprofit St. Bernard Project has rebuilt the homes of more than 120 families for free.
How cool are those?

I was able to go on the Carter Work Project with Habitat for Humanity to the Gulf Coast earlier this year, and although coverage of Ike's destruction is already fading from people's memories, there's still tons to do from Katrina, Rita, et al, 3 years later.

In any event, go read the article, and be inspired by these people, and vote!

Thursday, October 02, 2008

This Old Recyclable House

There's a great article over at the NY Times on deconstruction of houses to reuse as many of the building materials as possible, and recycle most of the rest. It takes a lot longer than just knocking a building down with a bulldozer, but in the end keeps a lot of stuff out of landfills:
The Stanford archaeologist William Rathje, who spent decades excavating landfills, has estimated that construction and demolition debris, together with paper, account for "well over half" of what America throws out. He called it one of a few "big-ticket items" in the waste stream actually worthy of the debates we have over merely "symbolic targets" like disposable diapers.
Rebuilding a house is usually better than tearing it down, but even remodeling generates a lot of waste:
Remodeling actually ends up generating more than one and a half times the amount of debris every year that demolishing homes does.
And in some cases, like the houses in the article, looters have damaged some parts of abandoned houses, and it's a better use of the materials to help someone else fix the house they're still living in.

Interestingly, as people are rediscovering with food, it pays to stay as local as possible:
Moreover, a study Guy wrote with two environmental engineers uncovered an empirical argument for keeping those materials local: on average, shipping them more than 20 miles away for resale can cancel out any energy conserved by reclaiming them.
I've tried to reuse and recycle as much as I can from our addition and remodel (the interior doors are from re-use sources, for example), but there's not much you can do with rotted, termite-filled wood that has paint or creosote on it like I got from the old front porch.

Locally, we've got a lot of choices for reusing materials. There's Urban Ore, Ohmega Salvage, and my favorites, the Habitat ReStore and The ReUse People store. I've donated stuff to and bought stuff from both. The ReUse People specialize in deconstruction of buildings as described in the article, and the Habitat ReStore helps support Habitat for Humanity's mission of elimination substandard housing.

And there's always Besides acquiring or getting rid of random stuff that the above aren't interested in, occasionally various construction and remodeling materials are offered up. I've received a couple of sheets of drywall for the cost of driving a couple of miles to pick them up, and given people bits and pieces they could use. It's a win-win...what's not to like?

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Kings Canyon NP

My daily fix from other DIY and home improvement blogs comes via It's been down for several days, so I've been in mild withdrawal. Thanks to This D*mn House and some others, I haven't been completely starved. So in solidarity with's problems, I won't be posting about home improvement.

Actually, Katarina and I spent 4 days camping in Kings Canyon National Park, so I don't have much in the way of home improvement or DIY insanity to blog about. Since then I've been doing more mundane things like unloading the car and cleaning the camping gear, procrastinating about doing laundry, and starting to get the house ready for the rainy season by doing things like blowing the accumulated pine needles off the roof.

We had a great time. While I've been to a bunch of different national parks in California and beyond, we'd never been to Kings Canyon NP and the adjacent Sequoia NP. Neither some smoke from (lightning-caused) fires nor a terribly loud generator on the last night dampened our spirits. Kings Canyon is gorgeous, and spending time in nature, sleeping under the stars, and being away from work, phones, email, et al, is always refreshing. So I present you with some of the images I took, along with one Katarina took of me taking them.